Authors: Lindy Zart
Published by Lindy
Copyright 2013 Lindy
Cover Design by Amygdala Design
Edited by Wendi Stitzer
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Table of Contents:
Thanks to Ana Love for letting me use her name in this story. I hope I did justice to the character her name represents. I personally think Miranda ‘Ana’ Love is pretty spectacular. Of course, she is nowhere near as cool as the original Ana Love. Just saying.
I love my betas! Thank you so much for reading my unpublished work and giving me feedback. You are troopers, especially for being able to read through the errors and inconsistencies and still somehow manage to love my work.
Tawnya Peltonen, Kim Drake, Tiffany Alfson, Migdalia Gerena, Shane Lucas, Judith Frazee, Ana Love, Melissa Yoder, Kendra Gaither, and Juli Valenti: Thank you!
Thanks to Wendi
Stitzer for using her grammar Nazi skills on this book.
And lastly, thanks to Mars, Incorporated for their Dove Promise chocolates with the special sayings—I hold no rights to them, which is a shame.
This is dedicated to Ana love and Juli Valenti, my fellow superstars and the other thirds of the Best Trio Ever.
Book One: Grayson
“If you could be anywhere, right now, where would it be?” Her voice is soft, like a caress against my splintered soul, a bandage to fix the never-ending wound inside me. I always imagined her lips and mouth must taste like honey because her voice is so sweet; a perfect melody of vocal chords. Not that I’ll ever find out. It’s a fact I accepted long ago;
something I hate and yet am able to do nothing about but endure.
I close my eyes against the sloppily painted yellow stars of my bedroom ceiling and
instead picture midnight blue eyes, light brown hair that streaks blond in the summer, and a strawberry scent unable to be imitated by any perfume. That is where I would be; with her. It wouldn’t matter where I was or what I was doing if I had her with me. But I can’t say that.
Phone gripped tight to my ear, I answer, “Far away f
rom here. You know that.”
“Yes, but where?” she insists, as she always does.
When Lily asks a question, she expects an answer. A well thought-out one even—no vague answers for her. Such expectations she places on me. I have to admire that about her because without those expectations, I’d be a whole other person from the one I am; not that I am anything special, but I would be so much worse without her.
I laugh at her sound of frustration. I can see her scowling at me through the cell phone. Her eyes get squinty when she’s irritated, her nose crinkles up, and her lips press into a thin line. It’s an adorable face.
“I am being serious. You know I have a thing for Minnie.”
“That’s true. You always have had a strange fixation for large mice wearing bows.”
“And abnormally high-pitched voices.”
Big mice wearing bows that talk in abnormally high-pitched voices. Got it.”
I sigh and answer as truthfully as I can, “I’d like to be somewhere where the sun shines every day of the week. Maybe California, Arizona, or Florida ev
en. I don’t care how hot it is, I just want the sun. The world looks so much better with the sun shining, don’t you think?”
She inhales slowly. “It does, Grayson. It does.” Lily sighs softly. “Pretty soon you’ll be able to mark California off the list.”
“Yeah.” My eyes open and I swallow, yearning sweeping through my rigid frame. “Good night.”
“Good night,” she says on an exhalation.
I let my arm fall to the bed, the phone dropping from my limp hand and soundlessly landing on the carpeted floor. I blow out a noisy breath of air and will my heart rate to slow down. Led Zeppelin croons softly from the stereo system across the dark blue room. I painted it a few years back, unconsciously picking out the closest shade I could find to match her eyes. It wasn’t until the paint dried and I looked at Lily that I realized what I had done. The color was a copy of her eyes, although where they shone like a starry night and were luminous; the walls were flat and lifeless. It seems kind of masochistic to torment myself the way I do, but I can’t seem to stop. It would be worse to stay away, and that, I cannot bear.
An uneven tread shuffles along the carpet in the hallway outside my door; the creak that always sounds in a certain spot not failing to perform its duty, and something, probably my mom, bumps into the wall. A sense of resigned responsibility lifts me from the bed and I pad barefoot to the door; the thick cream-colored carpet cushioning the soles of my feet. I hike my unbuttoned jeans back up my hips from where they’d slid down, buttoning them as I stare at the closed door for a beat. If only I could stay here, behind this door, and lock out my world.
I take a deep breath and open the door. It’s dark and I see a murky shape heading down the hall, the light slivering out of the opening of my door gleaming off a framed family photograph and momentarily blinding me. “Mom?” I call, blinking my eyes.
The shape pauses and half-turns toward me. “’Night, honey,” she slurs, fumbling with a doorknob
“Mom, that’s Aidan’s room.” A tightness forms in my chest and I
think I should be used to it by now, but it’s never easy to see her like this, no matter that it’s every day, no matter that she’s always been like this for as far back as I can think.
Right. I knew that.” She giggles and swings around to the right, opening the door to her bedroom. My mom says something unintelligible as she almost falls into the room, waving a pale hand in the darkened hallway before the door slams shut.
I fist my hands, watching the door to see if it will open again. It doesn’t, but Aidan’s does. He stands in the doorway, swaying with the pull of slumber; his white skin glowing as he sleepily blinks his eyes. His black hair is disheveled and sticking up in tufts. “What was that sound?”
My jaw is clenched so hard it hurts to talk. “Nothing. Go back to bed.”
“I heard a noise.”
“It was Mom. She’s fine. Now go to bed.”
Aidan stares at me with his
large brown eyes, finally sighing and turning away, his narrow shoulders slumped. I let my head fall back against the wall, the resulting stab of pain in my temples somehow comforting, wishing I could erase all these memories from my brother’s mind. The kid is only eleven; he shouldn’t be seeing shit like this, not at his age. It doesn’t matter that I went through the same thing growing up, it doesn’t matter that he’s too young to realize it’s not normal; what matters is he shouldn’t have to watch his mother get wasted every single night of his life;
Voices rise inside the bedroom, and again, I wish I could take it all away from my brother’s head
, or temporarily make him blind and deaf to shelter him from the painful reality that is killing his innocence a day at a time. What makes me the most furious; what makes me want to lash out and slam a fist against the wall, is the acceptance he has for it all. It’s normal to him. It is so fucking not normal.
My teeth grind together as my mother’s drunken words sift through the walls and out into the hallway once again. It infuriates me that they don’t even care that their son is right across the hall and can hear every horrible word they fling at one another. I stride toward Aidan’s room, opening the door and tripping over some kind of Lego set; pieces scattering as I demolish whatever he built. It smells like old food and sweaty boy in the room. I lean down toward the bed and jerk back when I realize two large brown eyes are staring at me.
“I can’t sleep,” he tells me in his reedy voice.
I sigh, straightening. “I know. Come on.” I put my hand on his shoulder and usher him out of the room, unconsciously squeezing his bony shoulder as our parents’ yelling drifts into the hallway.
“…just want to relax! You never let me relax in peace!”
“I didn’t realize the definition of relaxing was drinking yourself into a stupor,” my father’s voice, lower than hers, but just as heated, replies.
I shuffle Aidan into my room, far enough down the hall to block out the sound of their argument. He settles himself into my bed, pulling the blue and black striped blanket up to his chin. I grab ear buds and my iPod off the dresser and a silver flashlight. My movements are without thought, fluidly without hesitation; they are the actions of someone participating in a routine performance.
“Just for a little bit. Listen to your music and if you need me, flash the light through the window, okay? I’ll see you.”
Aidan nods, putting the ear buds in his ears and clutching the flashlight to him like it’s a stuffed animal, or maybe a piece of the always unraveling virtue he’s had taken from him. I swallow with difficulty as I watch him hold that flashlight as if it’s his only friend. I’m torn between staying for my brother and leaving for me. The pull to go is strong. In my absence from this house and my presence with her, I am at peace. I need that peace; need it like I need air to breathe. I need
I sigh, clenching my teeth in indecision. I can’t leave him, not if he’s scared or worried. “Do you want me to stay? If you do, tell me, and I’ll stay.”
He shakes his head, his small lips pursed into a heart shape. His fingers move and I know he’s turning the iPod on. Aidan’s eyelids are fluttering open and closed as he struggles to not give in to the dream world. Affection unfurls through me and I gently mess up his soft hair and he sleepily smiles, turning to his side and toward the window across the room from the bed, the flashlight close to his face.
Aidan looks nothing like me. In fact, it’s hard to believe we
’re related. His brown eyes, black hair, and pale skin come from our father. I have our mother’s dark blond hair and pale blue eyes with naturally tanned skin, but the features of my father. Basically Aidan has our father’s coloring, but our mother’s features, and I have our mother’s coloring, but our father’s features. I hate that I look anything like the woman who never really wanted me.
A door slams and I exhale loudly, looking to see if it awakened my brother. Music in his ears and eyes closed, his breathing has already deepened and become even. He’s asleep.
I quietly leave the room; closing the door behind me, and hurry down the stairs, the need growing inside me. It’s pathetic how much I need to be near her, to breathe the same air as her, to do nothing but allow my eyes to look at her. With her, I am whole. With her, I am not a mistake; I am not unloved and unwanted. I am not
There is no scent to it, and yet the taint of disillusion lingers in walls of the structure, in the air, its tendrils reaching out to me as I move down the stairs. It’s corrupted the whole house and all its inhabitants, entwined us all in its relentless clutches, squeezing away everything that makes us happy.
It’s in the set of my father’s shoulders as he unfolds a thin red blanket; it’s in the jerk of his hands as he tosses the blanket and a pillow onto the couch. I see it in the grimness of his features.
The scent of it is thick as fear, sour as rotting hope. And the feel of it is like a thick cloak of dead love and something close to hatred and resentment. It feels like suffocation and futility.
Though it has no shape or scent; I see it, I feel it, I even
it. It is cloying, sickening.
. We’ll be nothing soon. I can feel it. One day, it will all come crashing down around us; this house of mistruths and bitterness. I wonder what will be left of us when it happens.
“You okay?” I ask as I pause by the stairway, impatient to escape my reality, yet bound by blood to stay if needed. A lamp in the corner of the room casts a dim glow to my father, illuminating his despair. He is turned away from me, but I see it; it rolls off him, seeping out to me, pulling me into it. I want to run. I want to run from this room, this house, and never return.
Jeffrey Lee’s brown eyes, my brother’s eyes; jerk to me, surprise flittering across his worn face before his expression dissipates back to bleakness. His dark brown hair is unkempt and there are shadows under the eyes that flicker over me.
“Where are you going?” he asks in a tired voice.
I shrug, shoving my hands into the pockets of my jeans. “Out.”
“It’s almost eleven, Grayson. You have school tomorrow.” My dad moves to the wall and flips a switch and the room is flooded with pale light. He rubs his face, sitting down on the black leather couch as though he cannot bear to stand a moment more.
“Tomorrow is Friday and first period is physical education. I’m good. I won’t be gone long,” I add.
He absently nods, his face still covered by his large hands.
It’s a nice room; this makeshift bedroom of his. There is a flat-screen television mounted above a fireplace outlined with brick, a bay window on the wall to the right of that with curtains in gold, and well-maintained, expensive furniture in black leather. The floor is dark wood with a gold and black oriental rug taking up the middle of the floor. I suppose there are worse places to sleep, but the living room being used as a bedroom is totally whacked. My father has used the couch as a bed for over eleven years. I always wondered why my mom and dad stayed together when they were so clearly miserable. Then I found out why and wished I hadn’t.
I remember the words, the helplessness I felt. It is crystal clear in my mind. Time has kept it enshrined, never to dim, never to fade.
“I never wanted this! Any of this! I never wanted a son. I wouldn’t even be with you if he hadn’t been born. The only reason I’m here is because I got pregnant. And then it was too late.”
I shrug the memory away, it sliding into the crevices of my mind to lurk, to force itself out on a whim to show me how worthless I really am.
“Are you okay?” I repeat, moving away from the stairs and stopping beside the couch.
His hands drop from his face, showing me he is
okay. “Sure. Don’t stay out too late, all right?”
A part of me; a small, easily ignorable part, tells me to stay and talk to my dad, but the tug of freedom; the reprieve that comes with her, is too great and my feet move of their own volition.
The pressure in my chest builds as I get closer and closer to the door, my heart pounding twice to every footstep I take. An irrational fear whispers in my ear that the door will be locked, barred, and I’ll be stuck here, forever, in this hell until I take my last gasping breath. I jerk my head, trying to dislodge the thought. The lights turn off behind me as I grip the doorknob tightly within my damp palm. I turn my wrist; the doorknob cool and smooth in my palm, and open it with a heaving breath. I vaguely hear my father wearily sigh in the dark, but self-preservation keeps me in place. I close my eyes, inhale deeply, and step over the threshold to outside. The pressure fades.
My heartbeats slow. I am free.