Authors: Danielle Sibarium
First printing, 2011
Copyright © 2011 by
Cover art copyright © by Andrew Gioulis
Cover photograph copyright © by Andrew Gioulis
Book design by Andrew Gioulis
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher.
The persons and events portrayed in this work of fiction are the creations of the author, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely
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For my mother –
The bravest most courageous person I know.
For teaching me to never give up!
Thank you to my wonderful husband. Without your love and
support, I could not have done this. Thank you for always believing in me, and for never letting me walk through the darkness alone.
I entered the world with a massive defect. I attracted death. Like a magnet. I could feel it all around me. It wrapped its icy fingers tight around my chest, leaving me no room for escape. It enveloped me, draped over my shoulders like a heavy dark shroud.
The day I was born my cousin died in a car accident. Eight days after my birth, while holding me in her arms my mother’s mother closed her eyes, bowed her head, and breathed her last breath. At four years of age, while sleeping at her house, my mother’s sister suffered a cerebral hemorrhage caused by an aneurism.
The gurgling sound of retching woke me. I opened my eyes to see my aunt on the other side of the bed, eyes open and rolled to the back of her head, vomit oozing out of her mouth. I ran around the bed and brought the small garbage pail to her bedside. I shook her shoulder trying to wake her, to get her attention. She didn’t speak or move. I called my mother. And then I dialed 911.
I brought bad luck to all around me. Pets only reinforced my beliefs. Dogs died prematurely. One suffered a heart attack at only three years of age. Another suffered smoke inhalation.
The candle’s flame danced and burned on the kitchen table, holding me mesmerized in front of it. I’d been drinking water and spilled some. I reached for a paper towel on the other side of the candle to wipe up my mess.
The paper towel seemed to slice right through the orange, flickering flame. I never saw anything so amazing! As if it were a magic trick that needing perfecting, I tried it again and again and again, until I felt the scorching heat move with me and the smell of fire tickling my nose. I didn’t know what to do with the paper towel. It was burning so fast and the flame kept growing.
I looked around quickly wondering what to do. I had only an instant to decide. My mother lay on the living room couch, napping in front of the TV. I didn’t want to wake her, afraid she’d be mad I played with the candle. I threw the blazing paper into the plastic garbage pail next to the table.
The fire grew and now large flames shot out of the pail. I blew on the fire, trying to put it out like a birthday candle. It didn’t help. The smoke detector sounded, chiming in a steady rhythm of loud beeps, like an obnoxious car alarm.
I felt arms pick me up and spin me away from the shooting flames and melting pail. My mother screamed for me to get out of the house as she ran for the hose attached to the kitchen sink. I stood frozen in place. I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave her to die trying to fix my mistake.
Once the fire was under control Mom poured huge pots of water into the garbage, and eventually picked up the pail and placed it in the sink with continuous water running over it. We didn’t even look for Lucky, our five year old pug, until well after the fire had been extinguished. She hadn’t come out at all. Not to go for a walk. Not for a drink of water. Mom called Lucky. She didn’t move from her spot under the kitchen table.
Small dog, small lungs.
There were others, too. We had a gerbil, Frisky. I took Frisky out and held him in my hands, petting him gently with my pointer finger while my mother cleaned his tank. I held Frisky up near my nose.
“Who’s the sweetest little gerbil?” I asked.
Frisky, living up to his name liked to move a lot. I didn’t want to drop my squiggling ball of fur, so I tightened my grip just a bit.
Frisky bit me. I yelped as I dropped him on the floor. Mom, squeamish around him to begin with, panicked and dropped the twenty gallon glass tank squarely on him. Gerbil pancake.
The most devastating loss of all came at eight years old. My father left for work in the morning and never came back. He suffered a massive heart attack on the train. No pain. No warning.
The only constants in my life were my mother, my best friend Maria, who saw past my defect, and the great black cloud of despair that ruled my world. It was the only thing I could count on to never leave me alone.
Until Jordan changed my life.
I looked around the swarm of people as I felt my stomach twitch and lurch. I hated being in a crowd. I felt like they stared and laughed at me, like they knew with just a simple look that I was defective.
I twirled my dirty blonde hair around my pointer finger as I scanned the lobby of the movie theater. I looked to see if I recognized anyone, hoping by some miracle that a kind face might stand out. And then I saw him.
My heart hammered against my chest with excitement. I felt the swish of blood flowing through my body with every heartbeat. The drumming of my pulse pounded in my ears. I tried to take my eyes off him, to force them away, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move.
His eyes lit with recognition and his lips curled up. In that fraction of a heartbeat, nothing else in the world existed.
Coming to my senses I immediately dropped my eyes to the ground. It wasn’t me he smiled at, couldn’t have been me, I realized. Maria Deluci stood next to me. My beautiful best friend. He must have smiled at Maria. Next to her I was invisible.
Even at fourteen, Maria knew how to use her big brown eyes and long, wavy hair to get attention. And if that didn’t work, she had no trouble walking over to a complete stranger and striking up a conversation. Maria would never be considered a wall flower. I on the other hand could only aspire to be a wall flower. I was more like wall glue.
Maria had been lucky enough to score Jordan Brewer as her guide when she visited the high school last April. She took that to mean they were lifelong friends. But Maria wasn’t looking in his direction at the moment. My body trembled on the inside. I wanted to take another peek at him. But I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to get caught staring, especially since he didn’t know who I was.
I needed to clear my mind, get it off him. I turned to the concession stand. The lines were already crazy long with people buying treats. The smell of freshly popped popcorn wafted to the ends of the lobby. But my attention remained elsewhere.
I sucked in a deep breath of air and spun toward the voice. He stood a foot in front of me. Twelve measly inches separated us. Close enough to feel warmth radiating off his body.
I swallowed hard, my eyes fixed on him. Jordan spoke to me. He actually said my name out loud for everyone to hear. Awestruck and mystified, I looked into his dark eyes, getting lost in them.
Of all the dumb things I could’ve said, that was about the dumbest. Of course he was here. Where else would he be?
He chuckled, a twinkle in his eyes and said, “See you.”
He disappeared somewhere in the midst of the pack waiting to be let into the theater. What an impression I must have made. I felt like I just lit a giant neon sign on my forehead blinking “Loser.”
I went back to twirling my hair around my finger, scanning again. I stood on my tiptoes and craned my neck ever so slightly, trying to look cool and totally nonchalant. I just wanted to look at him, just one more moment. As if I’d ever be satisfied. But I couldn’t find him.
“What was that about?” Maria asked with a look of horror.
Fear immediately replaced the excitement I’d been feeling. The night could only get worse. If Maria figured it out, she’d tell him for sure.
I shrugged, “I don’t know,” I answered in a small voice trying to keep any hint of anxiety off my face.
“I mean he didn’t even say hello to me. How rude!”
Relief washed over me. She wasn’t the least bit suspicious. I released my breath. I had to keep my emotions in check. Maria couldn’t know I liked him. I couldn’t bear the humiliation. Especially since, two weeks ago, she persuaded me to call him and find out if he liked her.
When school started, Maria met some random guy named Sammy and thought he was going to ask her out. Maria wasn’t sure she wanted to be Sammy’s girlfriend. But she wanted to be someone’s girlfriend.
She had a thing for Jordan, but not because he turned her into a pile of melted butter, like he did with me. Maria was interested in Jordan because he could help her social standing in our new school. Being older and incredibly hot, she believed he could offer instant popularity, and make her the envy of all the freshman girls who swooned over him, myself included.
And so, she talked me into calling him, by making the case of how helping her, would be helping myself as well. It was an obligatory call. A call of duty.
While doing nothing at her house one night, Maria grabbed my cell phone and punched in Jordan’s phone number. She hesitated for a brief moment before hitting send and handed me the phone.
“What am I supposed to do?” I asked mortified.
“Just find out if he likes me,” she answered sliding over to sit next to me on the bed.
I sat frozen, listening to the ringing phone. My stomach fluttered wildly, wondering what to do if it went straight to voice mail. I couldn’t possibly leave a message.
Hang up, I told myself. What if Jordan announced in front of everyone at school I called? They would laugh me out of the building. Where does a freshman girl come off calling a senior boy, who has never even spoken to her?
“Hi,” I finally answered after clearing my throat. “Jordan?” Like the possibility existed it could be anyone else.
“Yesssss . . . ” he drew the single word out and extended it, almost turning into a question.
“Did he answer?” Maria mouthed.
Mentally I marked this moment. I coded it to store in long-term memory. I was going to talk to him. To the boy I had a secret crush on since high school orientation six months earlier. My goal: talking him into going out with my best friend.
This was so not right.
“Hi. Jordan?” My voice went up an unnatural octave as I said his name. My hands trembled, my stomach did somersaults and I felt my face getting red hot from nerves. I ran my pointer finger and thumb over the piping of a throw pillow on Maria’s bed. “You don’t know me, but my name is Stephanie Barrano. I’m Maria’s friend.”
“I know you.”
The possibility existed for him to know who I was. He’d seen me with Maria often enough. When we’d get to school early she made sure to pass by his locker. Most of the time he’d be there talking to his friends. She’d drag me over to talk to him and I’d just stand there. Staring. Or worse, I’d gnaw on my finger nails, with my eyes downcast, drawing lines in the tile with my toes.
“I’m sure you don’t,” I began a long almost incoherent ramble. “What I mean is, I seriously doubt it, cause, um, Maria talks to you, and you talk to each other, but you and I, we’ve never really spoken.”
“That’s because you ignore me, but I know who you are,” he insisted.
I ignored him? That proved he couldn’t possibly know me. When Maria dragged me down the main hall of school, right over to Jordan’s yellow locker, I held on to his every word, trying with great difficulty for him not to notice how intensely aware of him I was. And I always said hello and goodbye. He’d mistaken me for someone else. I didn’t expect a miracle, but still it stung.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m calling about Maria.” She hit me hard in the stomach. “I mean, I don’t know if you know him, but this guy Sammy Cooper wants to ask her out.”