Forever Now (Forever - Book 1) (5 page)

BOOK: Forever Now (Forever - Book 1)
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“Maybe she left you survival money or a note with instructions,” he said.

We searched for about an hour. We scoured every drawer, ever table. Besides a dirty cup and bowl in the sink, my mother had left me nothing. I wasn’t surprised. I mean, if she cleaned out my cookie tin, I didn’t think she was going to leave me any presents.

No presents. No money. No survival.

I didn’t need much, but I really liked showers. And my bed. I had slept in my bed every night since I could remember. I had gotten attached.

Now I was headed to Skid Row, and I didn’t think I could bring my bed or my shower with me. With my fate as a future bag lady sealed, I lost my ability to swallow. I started to hyperventilate.

“Whoa,” Cruz said. “You’re turning blue. Breathe. Don’t panic. All is not lost. Why don’t you call her? Ask survival questions.”

I got my cell phone and dialed her number. On the second ring, her familiar Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” ringtone went off on the couch. My mother had left her cell phone behind.

“What the—“ I picked it up and turned it off.

“Her phone plan probably doesn’t cover Mexico,” Cruz explained. “My dad warned me that I couldn’t call him. That’s why she left it.”

It was like I was Robinson Crusoe but in the suburbs and with homework. Like Tom Hanks on a raft. I was shipwrecked in my house.

“May I panic, now?”

Cruz emptied his pockets onto the kitchen counter. “I’ve got fourteen dollars and change. How much do you have?”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about the cookie tin, about how my mother had not only stolen my money but had stolen my dreams. I couldn’t even say it out loud.

“I’m broke,” I said. “The Maclaren triplets are in daycare, but I might be able to pick up some babysitting hours on the weekend.”

“I’ve got an interview for a job at Neiman Marcus,” Cruz said. “And hopefully I’ll get some modeling gigs. I’m hungry. Let’s see what we can scrounge up.”




We figured we had enough food to last until the end of the week. I could eat two meals a day at school during the week, and Cruz, it turned out, was on a diet because he was becoming a model.

Meanwhile, I made macaroni and cheese, and he put together two ham sandwiches. We moved around the kitchen together without saying a word. My brain swirled with thoughts of my new reality, about whether I would be able to stay in school, keep my grades up, and manage to make it to Paris.

Nope. It was like pooping in space. I couldn’t figure out a way to do it.

Cruz opened the refrigerator, and I took out the milk. He put slices of bread on the counter, and I handed him the ham. He cut the sandwiches into four pieces, just like I liked it. We worked with each other naturally, as if we had been preparing meals together all our lives. Like we belonged together.

It was a lifesaver, having him there. You know, in a Twilight Zone what-is-a-beautiful-boy-doing-in-my-house kind of way. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t shown up. He was my crutch, a hero figure, my knight with fourteen dollars and an interview at Neiman Marcus.

We took the food and migrated outside to the table next to the pool, where we had sat a month before and talked about nice things instead of the possibility of becoming homeless. It turned out that Cruz had already been homeless for the past two weeks.

“Friends have been letting me sleep on their couches,” he explained, as we ate. “It’s just until I get a job. I know the manager at the men’s cologne counter at Neiman’s. She said she can hook me up. It’s minimum wage plus commission.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Are you sure you can do that with school?”

Cruz ran his fingers through his hair and grinned, forming two dimples on his cheeks. “I kind of quit school.”

“But your friend Eric said he was taking you tomorrow.”

“Oh, well. You see—“ He grinned again, and I realized he grinned when he was embarrassed. “I’m going because there’s this thing. It’s stupid. You don’t want to hear about it.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “I understand if you don’t want to tell me.”

I was hurt that he didn’t want to share with me, but I wasn’t surprised. After all, I was still surprised that he was speaking to me. Sharing was another thing altogether. A few notches up. Like surf 'n' turf instead of a Big Mac value meal.

Already, he had given me more attention and consideration than I had ever received from another person. But there was a line he wouldn’t cross. He didn’t want me to get too close. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed.

Cruz was like potato chips. I couldn’t be satisfied. One taste and I wanted the whole bag.

But I was wrong about the line he wouldn’t cross, wrong about him not wanting to share himself with me. Cruz would always be generous. He would give and give and never hold back where I was concerned.

In fact, later, he would give me too much. He would love me and cherish me, and out of that love would come pain and more. But sitting there by the pool the day my mother abandoned me, I didn’t understand the other side of love. Why would I? I had no experience with that particular emotion.

“Don’t forget I warned you that it was stupid,” Cruz said, grinning. “I’m sort of in a play.”

“A play?”

“Promise you won’t laugh.”

I nodded. “Cross my heart.”

Cruz took a deep breath. “Okay. It’s a musical. West Side Story. I’m Chino. It’s not a big part, which is a good thing because I can’t sing or dance or act. Are you smiling or laughing?”

“Smiling!” I said. “I think it’s great.”

“Yeah. So, I’m holding on to do the part Friday night. Otherwise, I’ve quit school. I’ve been busy working on getting a portfolio together for modeling. Eric has been helping me.”

I nodded. I was unclear about Eric’s role in Cruz’s life, but I didn’t feel like I could ask him. Besides, I had other things to think about.

“Maybe I should quit school, too,” I said. “Get a job.”

I swallowed back tears. My hopes and dreams of going to the Sorbonne were being snatched away, replaced with being a high school dropout and trying to find a job to keep me out of the homeless shelter.

“Nah,” Cruz said. “You’re a minor. If you drop out, they’ll come looking for you. You’ll wind up in foster care. I think you need to act as normal as possible. Go to school, get some babysitting hours. We’ll work this out.”

Tears rolled down my cheeks. I was so grateful to him for letting me stay in school, for telling me I would be okay.

You know, for lying to me.

“We’ll throw away all the bills unless they have ‘shut off notice’ written on the envelope,” he explained. “That’ll give us time. Eric said I’ll be able to get modeling gigs pretty quickly.”

“Okay,” I breathed.

Cruz wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. “Pretty girls shouldn’t cry,” he said.




Cruz took the third bedroom, which was more or less a tiny storage room with a single bed. We left my mother’s room empty. We spent the evening sitting on the couch, watching
Big Bang Theory
reruns, while I did my homework.

I guess Cruz’s calm and positive attitude didn’t help me as much as I thought because I woke up screaming at two in the morning. I had been having a nightmare that my mother was smothering me with her pillow. As she tried to kill me, she shouted, “Go away! Go away!”

I gasped and sputtered and flailed my arms, but I couldn’t get her off of me. Just as I thought I would die, Cruz woke me up.

“It’s just a dream,” he said in his soft, deep voice.  I opened my eyes to see him leaning over me. He wore boxers with no shirt. It occurred to me that I might still be dreaming.

“You were dreaming,” he continued. “Bad dream.”

“My mother was trying to kill me,” I croaked.

“Yeah, I figured,” he said. “Is it okay if I stay with you until you get back to sleep?”

“Aren’t you tired?”

“Move over.”

I scooched over, and he lay down next to me, covering us both with the blanket. He was warm, and he smelled clean like a forest after a rain.

“I hate nightmares,” he said.

“Me too. Normally I don’t remember my dreams.”

“I do. It’s like a movie theater in there,” he said, pointing at his head.

“This one was so real.”

“Dream about money this time, Tess. Or steak. I’d love a steak.”

“I’ll do my best,” I said.

“Sleep, now. You have an early morning.”

“Okay,” I said, but I knew I would never be able to fall asleep with Cruz in bed with me. He was half-naked, only inches away from my body. He was giving off an electrical current that hit me in my belly and made me dizzy, even while lying down. It would be impossible to relax enough to sleep, I reasoned. I would be awake the rest of the night, focused on the position of his body compared to mine, focused on the possibility that my hand would travel and rest on his. Focused on the possibility that he might want to hold me, to touch me. No, I would never be able to sleep like that.

But I was wrong. Lying there next to Cruz, I was asleep within seconds. I slept the sleep of a person who was cared for. Soundly.



Chapter 6


Truth is so rare that it is delightful to tell it.

--Emily Dickinson


So, now I was living with a boy.

Let me repeat that: I was living with a boy.

I was living with a boy who wasn’t my brother or cousin, and he was gorgeous and was nice to me. Yes, I did pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. I was black and blue from all the pinching.

I had never lived with any kind of boy. No brothers. No cousins. So, I didn’t have much to compare. But now, by definition, I was living the end of a romance novel. I was living with Mr. Darcy, Edward Cullen, and Romeo, himself. By all accounts, I was the luckiest girl in the world.


However, we weren’t in a romance.

No kissing. No handholding.

In fact, Cruz went out every night without me. Eric, Dana, or other perfectly beautiful people would pick him up at the house, they would finalize his outfit and man-beautify him some more with hair products and facial moisturizer, and off they would go into the night. He wouldn’t come home until long after I was asleep.

It was a lot like living with my mother, except that Cruz was nice, and I didn’t have to wake him up in the morning. I did have to clean up after him, though. He seemed to belong to a religion that didn’t believe in hanging up wet towels.

How fun to play house, you might think. Cooking with Cruz, cleaning up after Cruz, sleeping across the hall from Cruz. But we were playing house only in as much as
The Outsiders
were playing house.

I mean, we watched our food supply dwindle, and we threw away the bills, unopened. We sat on the couch watching TV every afternoon, holding our breath, in fear that Child Protective Services would find out that I was abandoned and put me in Foster care and throw Cruz out onto the street.

Fun times.

Every time the home phone rang, I would leap for it, but it was never my mother, never The Boyfriend. If it weren’t for the frilly, lacy stuff around the house, I would have thought my mother had never existed. She had disappeared in a puff of BMW exhaust and not a word from her since.

It was absolutely crucial that we kept our predicament top secret. Since my only friend was Dahlia, that wasn’t too hard. And Cruz’s friends had no interest in me. Obviously, I wasn’t one of the beautiful people and didn’t rate.

I had no problem keeping the giant secret. I didn’t need to tell anyone, because I wrote every last detail down in my notebooks. I could write pages on Cruz sneezing, alone. Ditto for the way he walked, how he ate. I was fascinated by everything he did, and I was desperate to figure out what he was thinking.

Sometimes when I was with him, I would have to bite my lip not to ask him, “What are you thinking about?” I had read enough books to know that boys hate when girls ask them what they’re thinking. But I wanted to know his innermost thoughts. I wanted to know every time a neuron fired up in his brain. If I had been a zombie, I would have eaten his brain first.

For sure.

Cruz was a fathomless, inscrutable mystery, as far as I was concerned. He didn’t seem all that worried about being a high school dropout, without any family and no way to make a living. He seemed happy.

Weird, right?

But there were moments, infinitesimal, tiny moments where he would catch my eye, and I would see something travel over his face. What was it? Worry?  Anxiety? I had no clue.

“What are your plans for the weekend?” Dahlia asked me that Friday morning in humanities class. It was the end of the first week of school. Day four of living with Cruz. Despite her quirkiness, Dahlia had become extremely popular in school.

Cheerleader, star of the school play, it didn’t matter that Dahlia wore outlandish clothes and spoke whatever was on her mind. She had been immediately thrust into the cool crowd.

That’s why it was so strange that she still talked to me, still sat with me at lunch. She was determined to be my friend, and I soaked up every moment in her light. Dahlia was all light and no shadow. Fresh.

“Uh, actually I’m going to a play a friend is in,” I told her. “I mean, after I babysit.”

Mrs. Maclaren promised to give me ten hours of babysitting a week. Two hours, five days a week in the evening. She was actually relieved when I asked her for work during the school year. With triplets, she explained, she needed all the help she could get.

Ten hours a week would keep me in food and notebooks, but God help me if I needed new panties or the city was going to shut off our water. I put out fliers for more babysitting work. I was hoping for steady babysitting on the weekends. Ten more hours would allow me to breathe easier.

I couldn’t get a regular job, like at McDonald's, because I needed a work permit, and I needed a parent’s permission for that. So, I had to work for cash only.

“A play? How exciting!” Dahlia exclaimed, drawing stares from the other students. “What play?”

BOOK: Forever Now (Forever - Book 1)
9.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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