Authors: Adrienne Torrisi
Copyright © 2016 by Adrienne Torrisi
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. The author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the author.
Cover Design: M. ten Napel
Editing: C&D Editing
Table of Contents
This book is dedicated to anyone whose life has changed in
an instant and who had the courage to power through.
Also, to B and R, thank you for being you. I hope you will always be as beautiful on the inside as you are right now, and that you will persevere through whatever challenges life throws at you.
“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”
~ Carl Bard
Present – March
Okay, so I’m a bitch. I know I’m a bitch, and I don’t really care. Well, okay, maybe I care a little, but only because she is my best friend, and she has been since the second grade when we were both in evil Mrs. Pickerton’s class. I guess, maybe I have always been jealous of her deep down.
Mel is beautiful. Perfect, really. Her family is perfect. They have money, her parents are still married, and they actually seem happy. Her family is the complete opposite of mine, who are divorced and broke.
My dad has been out of the picture for a long time, even though he only lives three miles away. He chose drugs over me, and I have come to terms with that … sort of.
Right now, I am sitting in the backseat of Cameron’s car with Mel and half of our crew. I am definitely buzzed, which is maybe why I can admit I’m a bitch, at least to myself. Cam is going way over the speed limit, and I don’t care. In fact, I love it. I love the thrill, love living on the edge. I like to push things right to the brink.
We are on a long stretch of pitch black road, racing a car that is full of the rest of our group on our way to the next party. We are neck and neck, but we are currently losing. We have done this a million times. It’s pretty much a given that you must race when you hit this stretch of road.
“Slow down!” Mel screeches frantically.
I glance over at her, seeing the light from the lone passing street lamp glisten off the giant class ring she’s wearing around her neck. My stomach lurches at the sight. That class ring should be around my neck.
“Come on, Mel; live a little!” I shout over the roar of the engine. “You should be used to this by now. Don’t you want to win?”
“Yeah, I can take these pansies!” Cameron shouts back to us, not taking his eyes off the road.
It’s hard to say who the most popular guy in our group is, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be Cameron. He is an all-around superb athlete. He is the quarterback of our football team with three offers from big colleges already. His talent on the football field is unquestionable, but he is equally talented on the basketball court. Though he has an amazing future laid out for him, he still can’t live up to his father’s expectations. I think that is one thing we have always had in common—we didn’t hit the lottery in the father department. I also love that he pushes each moment to the fullest.
He’s cute with his wavy, dirty blond hair and green eyes, and he is a good kisser. We have hooked up a few times, but I would put him in the friend category.
“Aw, Mel, Cam is a great driver. He only failed his driving test twice,” Marcus, my boyfriend who is sitting in the passenger seat, says as he turns back to glance at us, giving me a wink.
Most girls at school would kill to be his girlfriend. He’s an incredible boyfriend, and for eighteen, he’s a real gentleman. He always does the right thing. Always. And I hate that. I love him as a person; I’m just not in love with him.
The person I am in love with is sitting right next to me, secretly holding my hand, fingers intertwined, in the abyss of black surrounding the backseat so no one can see. His touch alone drives me crazy, doing things to my body I can’t explain. That mixed with the speed of the car and the danger of getting caught since his girlfriend is on the other side of him, holding his other hand, is a major turn on for some reason. Not to mention, my boyfriend is sitting right in front of me.
Jake is the boy I truly, deeply love who happens to my best friend Mel’s boyfriend and my boyfriend Marcus’s best friend, and he has been his entire life.
Don’t get me wrong, Marcus is amazing. Like I said, girls would kill to trade places with me. He is an incredible athlete, and he’s a star basketball player. Cam is their other best friend, along with the two other guys in the car that is currently just a hair in front of us. They all make up the school’s elite five, something people have called them for the last four years since they are the five starters on our varsity team.
Even as freshman, most of them were on varsity teams for different sports. But what brought them together and earned them that nickname is basketball. For as long as I can remember, they have all played basketball together, and for the last three years, we have made it to state. Tonight, we won our final regionals game, which means we are going back to state, so we are all celebrating. We are finally seniors, and this is it for all of us, so the fact that we won gives us even more of a reason to celebrate. Not that we ever need a reason.
All of the boys are great players, but Jake is the star. He commands attention on the court and off. He is gorgeous with his hazel eyes that are a mixture of every color of the rainbow, changing colors depending on what he is wearing. I have never met anyone with eyes like Jake.
All three boys in the car are captains of the team, but Jake is the clear leader, the player they all listen to whether they are up or down. In the middle of games, he is the one pumping up the crowd to get everyone standing up and cheering.
At the beginning of the season, he broke the school’s twenty-year record for the most career points scored. He is incredible on the court, and he knows how good he is, but he is never cocky. He doesn’t need to be. His game speaks for itself.
“Relax, Mels.” Jake puts his arm around her. I hate that he has to loosen his grip on my hand to do so.
“Hello there!” Cam yells to the car now next to us through Marcus’s rolled down window. We must be going at least a hundred, because the wind is whipping through the car like a tornado. “Lovely night for a race!”
The only thing lighting the road ahead are the headlights from our two cars. We are in the oncoming lane of traffic, but this road is never traveled on. Cam almost always wins, but Dax, who is driving the other car, is just as fast with both his car and his mouth.
“A lovely night for a loss!” Dax shouts back.
Hanna and Em are in Dax’s classic mustang, along with Nate who rounds out the elite five. Hanna and Em are cheerleaders like me and Mel. We are all tight and have been since ninth grade when we met at cheer camp.
“Suck it, Cam!” Hanna shouts out from the backseat as she tries her best to moon us. However, Dax’s backseat is pretty cramped, so we don’t really see much.
Hanna is by far the craziest one in the group. Her dad is a minister, and she’s made it her mission in life to do the complete opposite of what he preaches.
We are in Cam’s brand new Mustang. Even though his dad is a prick, he is loaded, so we don’t have that in common. We always say it’s old versus new since both boys have Mustangs.
It’s not an understatement to say, with everyone in these two cars combined, we rule the school. Sure, people envy us, and some of us are nicer about it than others, but we all know it. I dread graduation day because I know deep down life will never be this good again.
Our car is filled with laughter as we all watch Hanna’s priceless display when a bright light suddenly pierces through Cam’s windshield. Then the screech of tires and crunching metal echo in my ears. I smell burning rubber and gasoline. I love the smell of gas, yet as I inhale deeply, it registers that something must be wrong.
I open my eyes and see dirt and gravel right in front of me. We are upside down.
Holy shit, we are upside down!
I feel myself start to panic.
I instinctively look to my left to find Jake isn’t there. At first, relief soars through my veins, but then I realize the reality of it. There is no way he could have gotten out so quickly.
Mel is just coming to, so I shout her name, trying really hard to sound calm, not wanting to alarm her. Then again, I think waking up upside down will do that on its own.
“Mel! Melanie!” I shout and then see her beautiful blue eyes open. I can tell instantly she is just as disoriented as me. “Mel, we’re upside down. There was an accident.”
“I can see that,” she says, her voice groggy, but I’m relieved her sense of humor is intact.
“Are you okay?” I shout back to her.
“I think so,” she responds, trying to move.
It’s so dark, but when my eyes start to adjust, I see the ceiling of the car that is now below us, dirt and shattered glass everywhere.
“Where’s Jake?” she asks frantically. “Did he go to get help?”
“I think so.” I know the answer is no, but I want to keep her calm.
“I can see Marcus. He’s not moving.” Her voice cracks.
I know Marcus. If he could, he would be up and helping everyone. He is super human. My heart sinks with dread. “Marcus?” I try to sound calm, as if our world isn’t breaking apart.
“I can’t see Cam, either. Cam!” I shout, remembering it was more than just us in the car.
“Cameron? Marcus?” Mel shouts. I can tell by the waver in her voice she is crying.
“Mel?” Cameron’s voice comes in a light whisper. “Are you guys okay?” Thankfully, his voice seems to be gaining strength, and I can see him now that he’s sitting up straighter.
“We think so,” I answer then see his expression change.
“Marc? Marcus!” he shouts. By his tone and expression, I can tell Marcus isn’t good.
“Jake, things aren’t good up here,” he calls back to us in panic.
“Jake’s not back here,” I tell him stoically, knowing what Mel hasn’t figured out yet.
“Shit,” Cam says. I have never seen him lose his cool, but he is now. He knows what that means, too.
Five months earlier – October
We are at yet another party, and I have to say I’m feeling pretty great since I’m about three drinks in. My hand is comfortably resting in Marcus’s, feeling safe and warm there, as the heat from the fire pit we are all sitting around coats my face.
Our entire crew is here, establishing our usual circle around the pit. We don’t have to say anything; it’s just an unspoken understanding the rest of our school has when our group is together. This is our spot.
Jake has his arm draped around Mel as if to say “she is mine.” The smile on her face says everything in her life is complete. I smile to myself. I’m glad she’s happy.
Hanna is currently trying to get everyone to play strip poker. The guys are all game, of course, but the girls are a tough sell, including me. I mean, I’m game for pretty much anything except stripping in front of the entire senior class. Maybe I would be if I were a better poker player.
“Come on, D; you know you want to. Then we can go swimming since our clothes will already be off,” Hannah tries to convince me as she pulls me up. Her hair is blowing wildly in the wind, and her natural highlights look almost golden from the glow of the fire. Her curly hair is exactly how she approaches life—wild and untamed—but it’s always stunning, just like her.
“I’m in if Dani plays,” Jake says, giving me a smile I can’t read.
“I’m good here.” I lean into Marcus and kiss him just to prove I can … anytime I want. He’s an incredible boyfriend, way too good for me, although he will never admit it.
Mostly, I kiss him because I see Bea approaching, a girl I can’t stand who is so clearly in love with Marcus it’s bleeding from her ears. Desperation to be a part of our group is practically dripping off of her.
“Hi, guys,” she says in an overly bubbly way that makes my hate grow.
Everyone greets her, which is the thing about our group—we are cordial, but that’s where it ends. We are tight. There isn’t room for anyone else, and we don’t want there to be. There will never be an invitation to sit down. Say hi and move on.
However, Bea doesn’t seem to get it.
She sits down on the arm of the chair Marcus and I are sharing. “Hi, Marcus.”
Marcus is by far the nicest one of the group and way too much of gentleman to ever be rude to a girl. He is liked by everyone, the only one in our group who is actually friends with people outside of our crew. The rest of us will tolerate people, but we rarely let anyone else in.
“Hey, Bea, how’s it going?” he asks, which only invites her to talk more.
I have already had enough of her, so I lean farther into Marcus and kiss him. Really kiss him. I swing my leg over until I’m straddling him, and I go for it. I can feel that he’s enjoying it, too. He gives in to me, and I kiss him until I know she’s gone. I get extra satisfaction from picturing her appalled face.
“Wow, D, that was nice,” he says when I finally pull away.
“Yeah, that’s one way to get rid of Bea,” Mel says with a giggle, knowing how I feel about her.
Marcus raises his eyebrows as if it all clicks, and I give him an innocent smile.
“Hey, Bea, Marcus wants you to come back over here!” Cameron shouts, thrusting his hips and practically knocking Hanna off his lap.
“You’re an ass,” I say, throwing a pillow at him from our chair.
He winks. “You know it.”
“What happened to strip poker, Hanna?” Dax asks flirtatiously before he sips his beer and leans back in his chair. He currently has Em on his lap, but he doesn’t care, and neither does she. She just throws her head back with a laugh.
Em is a steady hook up for Dax. Whenever there is a party or drinking involved, they are both attached at the hip until they sober up again or hook up with someone else.
Em is almost as crazy as Hanna, but she hides it well beneath her flawless exterior. Everything with Em is always picture-perfect: her clothes; her shiny, light brown hair that falls just above her shoulders; her accessories; and even her shoes. She has the best wardrobe out of all of us by far, and unfortunately, she’s super tiny, so we can’t even share most things. She’s only five-foot-two, so it’s pretty hilarious to see her with Dax since he’s six-five.
Nate is quietly sitting back, taking everything in. But that’s Nate. He’s quiet until he has something to say, and it always seems to be incredibly profound. I can tell he is already feeling good from the smile plastered on his face. I love seeing him like this.
Nate is the youngest of our group at only seventeen, whereas the rest of us are already eighteen. Honestly, he’s only a few months younger than us, but the guys always refer to him as “the baby.” He’s never had a serious girlfriend; I don’t even know if he’s ever had sex, though it’s not like he hasn’t had opportunities.
Our town is divided into two sides: wealthy and just above the poverty line. Nate is fully embedded in the wealthy part of town. Both of his parents are highly respected doctors, which in turn has always put more pressure on him than the rest of us. People have higher expectations for him just because of who his parents are. But when he’s on the court, none of that matters—not his parents, his grades, any of it—because he is one hell of a basketball player.
I know he hates the pressure in school and at home. He rarely opens up, but there have been those few moments when he has, and most have involved a lot of alcohol. He once told me the court is the only place he doesn’t feel the pressure for everything else in life. It’s where he can truly let loose and be himself.
I don’t think we actually played strip poker, but I’m not positive. I’m trying hard not to laugh as Marcus fumbles with my keys, trying to unlock my front door.
I reach for them, yet I lose my footing and stumble forward into him. Somehow, I still grab the keys and can’t stop laughing at my success.
“Sh …” Marcus says as he tries to grab the keys back. “D, you’re going to wake up your mom. Stop.”
“You always try to protect me,” I say in what I think is a whisper as I fling my arms so they are resting on his shoulders. I was attempting to hug him, but I must really be wasted because my body isn’t doing what my brain is telling it to do.
“Come on, D; I just need you to stand here for one second.” He props me upright next to my door.
I can tell he is getting frustrated, which only makes me laugh harder.
As he holds me up, his blue eyes lock with mine, and then he leans in to kiss me. It’s an incredible kiss.
“What was that for?” I ask, excited and ready to go right here on the bench next to my front door.
“It’s the only way I can get you to be quiet,” he says with a smile as he leans back in to kiss me again.
“Whatever it takes,” I say through our kiss.
Without even realizing it, he somehow inserts my key into the lock and miraculously opens the door.
“We’re in.” He pulls back, revealing the open door.
“That was a dirty trick. You’re sneaky,” I say as I stumble into him.
He gives me a sly smile, causing me to laugh again.
“My hero,” I say more loudly than I intended and throw myself forward, forcing him to catch me.
“D, come on. You don’t want to wake up your mom,” he says, trying to help me find my footing.
“Too late,” my mom says as we turn the corner. She is standing in the dark in her bathrobe.
“Have you been standing there this entire time, listening to us?” I can’t hide my anger.
She cocks her head as if she can’t believe I’m using this tone with her, especially in front of Marcus, and then she starts to walk toward us. “Hello, Marcus. Thank you for getting her home safely. I’ve got it from here.”
Marcus’s eyes lock with mine. He knows there is nothing else he can do. There is no way to save me now.
“You okay?” he whispers.
I nod. “Go,” I whisper back with a smile so he doesn’t worry.
As soon as he closes the door, I turn toward my mother, already feeling sobriety washing over me.
“Don’t bother. I’m going,” I say with my hand up as I walk toward the sliding glass door that leads to our backyard.
“Get back here.” My mom grips my arm as I try to walk by.
“Why?” I don’t even give her the courtesy of turning around. I hate her. I hate this exchange. It’s always the same. She pretends to care since she thinks she is supposed to, but as soon as someone more interesting with male genitalia comes around, she forgets I exist.
I’m done with her, her games, and her fair-weather parenting. I’m done with everything: all of the missed dance recitals when I was kid, the false promises of dinner being on the table, and coming home to an empty house—all of it. A parent should be there through good and bad, not just when it’s convenient.
If I think she’s bad, my dad has her beat in the parents-not-giving-a-damn contest, so I guess I will have to take what I can get when I get it. Instead of saying any of this to her, instead of showing her just how much her absence hurts, I go through our usual routine of screaming at each other.
I finally turn toward her and go for the jugular. “What, was no one better available tonight?”
Then I feel the back of her hand slam into the side of my face. “You little bitch.”
I just give her a smile. Success. That’s my free pass out of here, and it works like a charm.
I’m finally in my sanctuary away from home, the only real thing my father ever gave me—my tree house. My dad built it with his own two hands. I still see the blood, sweat, and I would like to think love that went into every piece of plywood that makes up this six-foot by six-foot box in the sky.
It has been my salvation, my escape, my sanity since I was six. Whenever things get too hard or I need to shut the rest of the world out, this is where I come. As I got older, it became more of my hangover cure. This is where I come to sleep it off. I have a small battery-operated fridge stocked with water, a jumbo sized bottle of Advil, and a full-size mattress that takes up almost the entire floor space. It’s everything you need for a full-fledged hangover antidote.
Getting up here is a challenge sometimes when I’m wasted, but anger was my trajectory tonight. Honestly, almost every night.
Just as I pull my springtime flower sheets that I have had since I was a kid over my head to drown out the rest of the world, I hear a knock from underneath me. I ignore it and cocoon myself farther into my soft sheets, feeling the cool cotton envelope my skin.
“Dani? Are you in there? Actually, I know you’re in there. Can I come in?”
I knew it was Jake before I even heard his voice. For almost our entire lives, our backyards have kissed each other’s, one fence separating his backyard from mine. This tree house was as much mine as his growing up. We both would come here to get away from whatever it was we needed to escape. This was where we first practiced kissing in the fourth grade, where he came when he first discovered his dad wasn’t as faithful as he’d vowed he would be to his mom in the seventh grade, and where he first admitted he liked my best friend Mel in the tenth grade. What’s spoken in the tree house stays in the tree house; that’s our rule.
Jake and I have always been close. It has been a protective, older brother kind of close, even though we are the same age. Where he went, I went. As kids, we were inseparable, which was a definite perk when I discovered boys since I always had Jake’s friends surrounding me. His best friends have always been his teammates, so I had the top choice of boys to pick from. For a long time, it was “Hands off Dani.” Thankfully, his friends didn’t follow that rule, and neither did I. What Jake didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him was our motto.
My name is Daniella, although almost everyone calls me D. Jake, on the other hand, has always called me Dani. He was the only one at first, and now a few other people use it.
The night he told me he liked my best friend Mel, everything changed between us. No longer would I let him protect me or set “rules” for me with his friends. I may have gone a little overboard, but I didn’t care. Deep down, I think I wanted him to see what he was missing. I know that now.
Then Marcus came along. He was different. He cared about me, not just about getting me into bed for the night. It was what I needed—to be wanted, cared for, loved for once—and I love him for it. I’m just not sure I’m actually in love with him. Sometimes, I think I am.
The makeshift floorboard door pushes open.
“Can I come in?”
I pull the sheets even farther over me as I turn so my back is to him. “You know you don’t have to ask.”
My head is starting to feel the effects of what I put into my body tonight, and the slow, steady throb is starting. I know this is going to be a full jackhammer pounding soon, so I pop two Advil, unsure if I even took any before.
The side of my bed dips down from the weight of his body, and he gives a deep sigh. The tree house is small for his six-foot-three frame, so it’s funny to see him try to fold his body into this tight space now.
I don’t have to look to know his head is buried in his hands as his elbows rest on his knees, his fingers running through his messy, dark brown hair. I know Jake so well, and he’s pretty predictable.