Authors: Tracey Ward
By Tracey Ward
By Tracey Ward
Text Copyright ©
2014 Tracey Ward
Editor - Jessie Allen
All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the author, except as used in book review.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, events or incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to places or incidents is purely coincidental.
The first time Kellen Coulter walked into my
world I was thirteen years old. Old enough to know what beautiful looked like, to recognize it when it sat down at the kitchen table in ratty blue jeans and a gray hoody pushed away from ruffled, chestnut brown hair. Old enough to understand why I couldn’t look away from his square jaw, imperfect nose and midnight blue eyes. They were almost black, the irises blending in until he looked inhuman. Scary. Exciting.
When I walked into the kitchen and saw him for the fi
rst time, I froze. I didn’t understand then that he was used to that reaction. He was seventeen, four years older, three grades higher and infinitely more streetwise than I was. He also knew exactly what he looked like and when he smiled at me, it was the end for me.
I was ruined the moment I met him.
“Hey,” he said, lifting one hand from where they both rested on the table. I noticed that his knuckles were cracked and raw.
“Hi,” I replied hesitantly.
I had come in to get a soda from the fridge before I sat down to do my homework. I had planned on doing it at the kitchen table, but now I wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t scared of him, not really, but he made me nervous. It wasn’t that he was too good looking, it was that he was too rough looking. He was more than my wealthy, suburbia, four car garage upbringing could handle.
“I’m Kellen,” he said.
His voice was nice. Surprisingly gentle considering his exterior. The more I looked at it, the more I was convinced his nose had been broken a couple times. Without a doubt, he was a fighter.
He was also still smiling at me. I started to get the impression he was laughing at me. Probably at my tongue tied reaction to him or the staring I suddenly realized I was doing. The thought ticked me off.
I tossed my book bag onto the table across from him, my eyes unabashedly locked on his.
“Jenna,” I told him, spitting out my name like I was throwing down a gauntlet. “Are you here to see my dad or my sister?”
“Is she pretty?”
“Prettier than my dad.”
His smile widened briefly before it faded altogether. His eyes flickered to his hands, to the injured and broken surface of his skin, before coming back to mine. His entire expression changed and that quick smile seemed like something I’d made up. Something I dreamed.
“I wish I was here to see her, then,” he muttered.
“Did you get in a fight?”
He didn’t flinch. “Yeah.”
He didn’t lie to me either, something I appreciated. At thirteen years old, I was good and ready to be done with the lies that I was fed to protect me. They didn’t protect me at all, they only pissed me off when I found out about them. Like when I found out that my mom hadn’t actually gone on vacation to visit her sister on the East coast when I was eight. She’d had breast cancer and had to get surgery. She was gone for almost a month. She even gave me a souvenir when she got back – a small snow globe with the statue of liberty inside. She hadn’t even set foot in New York! She must have ordered it online. I used to have it sitting on my dresser where I could see it every day. Now it sat in the back of my sock drawer under the nylons I wore once and never needed again.
“What was it about?” I asked.
“Then why’d you fight about it?”
“Because I’m a guy.”
I scowled. “That’s not an answer.”
“When you’re from my neighborhood, it is.”
He grinned. “I already told you that.”
“Was it about a girl?”
“Do you mean over a girl or for a girl?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Tell me,” I said, starting to sit down in the chair across from him. The second my butt hit the chair, I shot back out again. “Oh, wait, hold on! Do you want a soda?”
I could feel his eyes on me when I opened the fridge door. I was suddenly very conscious of my long, dark hair, my tall gangly body and my startling lack of boobs. They hadn’t come in yet. Laney, my sister, with her stupid C cup liked to tell me that they never would. That missing piece of me had never made me feel more like a child than it did in that moment. I knew he wasn’t looking for them, he wasn’t being gross and checking me out, but I knew he saw me. All of me. He was very alert. Very aware.
“I shouldn’t,” he said.
I glanced around the fridge door to see him looking at the entryway to the kitchen. He was probably looking for my dad. Probably wondering if it was a good idea to be sitting in his lawyer’s kitchen with the guy’s daughter. But I knew from experience that my dad would never bring home a client that couldn’t be trusted. I didn’t care what neighborhood he was from. My dad had grown up rough as well, ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’ he would always say, but he worked hard, put himself through college and spent his entire adult life becoming a very successful attorney. Now he did a lot of pro bono work with kids growing up the way he did. Kids like Kellen. People he felt that, given the chance, could become better than their upbringing.
“You shouldn’t have gotten into a fight either,” I said, grabbing two sodas and heading back to the table. I firmly set one down in front of him, grinning. “But you did it anyway.”
He grinned back. It was nearly a smile and I realized I was trying to get it again. To bring it back and see if it was as brilliant as I imagined.
“You’re a bad influence.”
I rolled my eyes, not knowing what to say to that. It was weird, but I felt flattered by the comment.
“So tell me the difference,” I insisted, popping the top on my soda.
He did the same. “Fighting
a girl is pointless. Either she’s yours or she’s not, you don’t have to beat a guy to the ground to find out. If you do, she’s not worth it. Fighting
a girl, that’s different.”
He took a sip of his soda. I knew he was stalling but I waited patiently. Patience was something I inherited from my dad. We both had it in spades. The ability to wait people out, to let them come to us and tell us what they needed to, even if they didn’t want to.
When Kellan finally set his can down, he kept his eyes on it. He spun it in circles on the table over and over again between his battered hands.
“I don’t know,” he said softly. “It just means something being able to defend someone who can’t defend themselves.”
“A girl can defend herself,” I said, bristling.
He looked at me then. His eyes were so dark it was impossible to read him, but his smirk told me he was laughing at me again.
“I think you can, Nonpareil. But not everyone has as much piss as you.”
I looked at him in surprise, shocked by his phrasing. My mom would go through the roof if she heard him talk like that in her house. It wasn’t a curse, but she would consider it vulgar and she’d never stand for it. I wasn’t even allowed to say ‘crap’ or ‘butt’. I was pretty sure ‘piss’ would earn me an old school mouth full of soap and a weekend of grounding.
My mom ran a tight ship. Loving, but tight.
“What does nonpareil mean?”
“It’s French for unequaled. It means nothing can measure up to you.”
I felt it then, the traitorous heat of a blush creeping up my neck and into my cheeks. I knew he could see it but there was no way I could hide it so I owned it instead.
“Why would you call me that?” I asked quietly, embarrassed by the question. But I had to know.
“That’s what they called Jack Dempsey. He was an Irish boxer in the 1880s. He couldn’t be beat.”
Okay, so not exactly the compliment I had thought it was, but I was intrigued anyway.
“Because he was full of piss?” I asked, feeling a little wild saying it.
Kellen chuckled. “Yeah. And please don’t tell your parents I taught you that word.”
“I knew it before you got here,” I said defensively. “I go to public school. I don’t live under a rock.”
“But did you say it before?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow. When I didn’t answer, he nodded. “I should have watched my mouth. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. So he never lost a fight?”
“Dempsey? No, he did. One to a guy he later went back and beat. Two more to a guy that had rigged both fights to win. He lost his last fight because he had tuberculosis.”
“If he lost so many fights, how did he get that nickname?”
“Because fighting isn’t always about winning. Sometimes it’s about not giving up.”
I would look up Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey that night. What I’d find out was that of his first 65 fights, he never lost one. In one of his later fights he was obviously beaten but he refused to go down. His opponent begged him to quit because he couldn’t stand to keep hitting the guy, but Dempsey refused. He fought till the last, stretching the fight out to the 13
round until it finally ended. The other guy had to knock him out to make him quit.
That’s a lot of piss.
“Why do you know all of this about him?”
Kellan shrugged. “He’s a boxing legend.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
“Because you’re not into boxing. I bet you’ve heard of Mike Tyson.
Muhammad Ali? George Foreman?”
I scrunched up my nose. “The guy on QVC with the grills?”
Kellan laughed. It was so full, so surprisingly loud that it startled me a little. He laughed like he didn’t care. He did it with his whole body, his entire voice and it rang through the house until I was sure it had slipped under every door, into every corner. But best of all, it came with that heart stopping smile.
“Yeah, that’s the guy,” he told me, still chuckling.
I could read his eyes then. He wasn’t laughing at me anymore. He was looking at me like a person, maybe even an equal. It gave me butterflies in my stomach.
“You’re really into boxing? Is that why you fight?”
He shook his head, his face turning serious. “No, I told you. I fight because I’m a guy and I’m stupid. Boxing is different. It’s a sport, one I’m into because my grandpa was a boxer. He came over from Ireland to fight in Vegas.”
“Did he ever get big enough to sell barbeques on TV?”
He smiled again, drawing one out of me too.
“Nah, he couldn’t even sell matches on the side of the road.”
“That’s too bad.”
Kellen shrugged. “It’s a tough sport. How ‘bout you? You play any sports? I’m looking at you and thinking basketball.”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s what everyone says. Just because I’m tall I’m supposed to play basketball?”
“I guess not. What do you play?”
I felt embarrassed again. “Golf.”
Kellen nodded. He didn’t seem terribly surprised and after walking into our house, how could he be? My mom had decorated it to look like a friggin’ country club. The kitchen was pure designer for a warm country chic feeling that actually made me feel like I was in a showroom instead of our house. The entryway was immaculate, the living room was unlivable (I was yelled at one time for leaving an indent of my butt after sitting on the couch) and my dad’s den was completely ridiculous. Tough leather chairs, dark wood paneling and wall to wall bookshelves full of books he never touched. My mom
hadn’t even picked them all out. She had a decorator do it based on the color, size and texture of the spines. I liked to go in there sometimes and move books around just to watch her head spin. She could never tell exactly what had been changed but she knew something had. I never told anyone I was doing it. Some joys are only for yourself.