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Authors: Emily Martin

Tags: #Young Adult, #Contemporary, #Romance

The Year We Fell Apart (10 page)

BOOK: The Year We Fell Apart
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Anyway, it’s none of my concern. I just feel sorry for Mackenzie, is all. I’m not sure what her and Declan’s deal is, but it’s obvious she likes him. She’s around here somewhere, and I bet she’ll be crushed if she sees them together.

I scowl and spin around, sloshing beer from my cup that narrowly misses Gwen, who hops out of the way.

“What’s going on?”

Pretending to be interested in something across the clearing, I say, “Nothing. Just partying. Having a blast.”

“Come on.”

She drags me back to the bonfire and sits across from me. The fire is really raging now. Even the stones around the pit are warm. Everyone looks different in the orange light, their faces glowing as they sing along to the music. I try to act as happy as they all seem, but a few minutes later, Gwen checks her phone. “It’s time for my phone date with Jason. You all right here for a bit?”

“Of course,” I tell her. But once she’s gone I change my mind and want to make her come back, because I don’t like sitting alone in a crowded party. I need something to do and oh look, my cup is empty again. So I head for the keg.

I stand and step over the log I was sitting on, only I miscalculate how high I have to lift my leg to clear it, and I trip. Right into Declan.

He catches me by the waist and I grab his shoulder to steady myself.

And we stay like that.

Heat blossoms under his touch, spreading from my ribs down to my toes. “Have fun dancing?”

Okay, so . . . not my strongest opener. But I’m pretty confident I kept the stalker-level jealousy out of my voice.

“I guess. Cat’s a nice girl.”

I want to choke her.

I go to take another drink but my cup is still empty, so I just stare at it instead.

We both stand completely still, and why hasn’t he moved his hand off my waist yet? A guy carrying a cooler tries to squeeze past us and I wind up even closer to Declan. Neither of us has said anything for a million years. Someone needs to say something.

“Did you get my card?” I blurt out.

The postcard was an ugly picture of the Carson water tower that I found last winter at the drugstore downtown and saved for three months before finally getting up the nerve to send it in time for his birthday in February.

He nods slowly. “I got it.”

The burn starts in my ears and works its way across my cheekbones. I force myself to look him in the eye.

“Just six words,” he continues. “‘Happy birthday, Declan. Thinking of you.’ Six words after all those months of nothing. What was the point?”

Biting the inside of my cheek, I trace the seam on his shoulder. “Just—I just . . .” I’ve lost all control over my fingers. They curl around his collar, the ends of his hair. Track down the back of his neck. “I missed you. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

His eyes are dark hazel tonight, smoldering. His lips part and his hand skims another inch up my side.

That same pull from the other night is back between us. And I know he feels it too, because you can’t look at someone the way he’s looking at me and not feel something.

“You missed me?” he asks. I nod and he dips his head. His mouth lingers by my ear, each of his exhales tingling down my neck. Then he turns, whispers onto my cheek, “Are you this sweet to all your charity cases?”

Frozen. My tongue, my lips. And it doesn’t matter, because there are no words.

His hand drops off my side.

“No, that wasn’t—Sadie said that. I never said—”

“It’s fine.” His lips curve but it isn’t a real smile. It’s painful. “No hard feelings, okay?”

No. I smash my lips together and shake my head.
No.

He’s straightening, not looking at me anymore, and I have to make him see.

Time stands still as my heart races faster. I lift onto my toes until we’re almost the same height. My eyes are on his mouth. Then my lips are.

And then he pulls away.

I tumble down onto flat feet and in my head I take it all back.

His hand covers my wrist. “Harp . . .”

I yank my hand down to my side. I can’t speak. Don’t dare breathe. I am paralyzed and I cannot believe I convinced myself I deserve him.

“You’ve been drinking.”

My eyes flash back to his. “I know, but . . .”

His teeth rake over his bottom lip and he looks away. I follow his gaze to Mackenzie. She’s standing next to Cory, and her back is to us. And the way he’s watching her, the longing and frustration etched on his face, it feels like swallowing acid. My insides burn. “I just don’t want you to do something you’re going to regret,” he finally says.

The air is crushed out of me. Not only does Declan not want to kiss me, he wants so badly not to kiss me that he feels sorry I would even fathom the idea. And he’s right. What the hell is wrong with me? Why would I do something like that to Mackenzie? She has only ever been perfectly nice to me. What kind of person am I, that I can’t keep my hands to myself even when I know she has feelings for Declan?

My eyes fill with hot tears that I cannot let him see. I stumble back and everything around me—the deafening medley of voices and heavy bass, the chaos of people drinking and flailing—all of it collapses in.

“Too late.”

Nine

TIME IS STUCK IN SLOW
motion. I’m stuck in front of Declan, searching the crowd for a way out. My eyes fall on the fire, follow the smoke floating up, gray against the near-black sky. I step back just as Sadie throws her arms around me from behind.

“Found you!”

She shoves the bottle of vodka at me and glides over to Declan. She smiles at him, and I know that smile. Why is she giving it to Declan?

I take a sip from the bottle. She puts her hand on his shoulder, right where mine was. His eyes drift to meet hers. I take a longer drink.

“Long time no see,” she says with a seductive lilt.

“Hello, Sadie.”

“Know what, Harper? You might’ve been right,” she says without taking her eyes off him. “He has gotten cuter.”

She smiles wickedly. I blink. Or maybe flinch. What the fuck did she say that for?

Her gaze lingers on my arms, which are crossed in front of me. I shift and let them slip down to my sides.

“So, guys, what’ve I missed?”

My hand presses against my sternum. My chest is so tight. No room to breathe.

Sadie wants an answer.

“We were just . . . catching up.”

“Ah. Just like old times, right, Ducklan?”

Sadie’s nickname for Declan is more obnoxious than it is offensive. Still, he straightens and her hand slips down to his elbow.

“Just like,” Declan says.

And it is. It’s exactly like old times the way Sadie is provoking Declan, doing everything she can to get under his skin. Even though she knows, has to know, that it means getting under mine. It isn’t cute anymore, not that it ever was to begin with. If this is Sadie’s idea of keeping me from getting hurt, I might be better off without her protection.

“Oh. You’re here,” Cory says, walking up. Mackenzie and Gwen are still talking a few yards away. “Hey, weren’t you puking in Harper’s bushes last time I saw you?”

I close my eyes and when I open them, Sadie’s smile is gone. She isn’t touching Declan anymore either.

“Who can remember?”

“Not you, probably.”

Sadie glares at him.

He’s undeterred. “Because you were blackout. Get it?”

Declan smirks at Cory’s joke and I shift forward to say . . . I don’t know. Something. But I’m not fast enough. Sadie spins around and yanks the vodka out of my hands.

She tosses her hair over her shoulder and casts me a cool smile just as the other girls join us.

“Mm, yes, well. You all have fun playing catch-up. And speaking of old friends . . .” She glances over her shoulder. “I know I saw Jake Thornton around here somewhere. Oh, and there’s Jenny.” She turns back to me with combative eyes. “Better look alive, Harper.”

She storms off and even though I’m trying not to look at anyone, I catch Gwen’s eyebrows rise.

Cory rolls his eyes and moves back toward Mackenzie. Gwen hesitates before turning away.

And I have nowhere to go—can’t stay here, and it’s like the bonfire sucked all of the oxygen out of the forest. How did I let this happen? Let myself think he could still want me after all I’ve done, what I’ve become, I am nothing.

“I see you two are still BFFs,” Declan says.

The ground is swimming and I try to nod, but my head feels heavy.

He nods too, then cocks his head to the side. “Guess some habits are hard to break.”

My arms are crossed again. I hug my ribs tighter and back away, knocking into someone and turning and pushing through bodies.

I make it halfway back to the cars, past a guy peeing on a tree and a girl puking behind another, and press the heels of my palms under my eyes to keep my eyeliner from running because there is almost nothing more embarrassing than being That Girl Who Cried at That Party. And I’ve already reached my limit for humiliation tonight.

Gwen catches up with me. “What happened back there?”

I shake my head.

“Okay . . . um, I think we’re all taking off in a few minutes.”

Over her shoulder, I see Kyle. He’s propped against a card table, smoking a cigarette. He isn’t going to fix anything. But he can distract me for tonight.

I hold eye contact with him. Three. Four. Five seconds. Long enough. He flashes a cocky grin.

“You need a ride?” Gwen asks.

“No. Thanks.” I watch as Kyle ditches the girls around him and makes his way over to the sure bet. “I’m staying.”

“Oh . . . okay. But if you need a ride later, you can call me. Here, give me your phone.” She takes it and saves her number in my contacts. “Call anytime.”

I thank her again, even though I know I’ll never call. I’ll tell my parents I’m sleeping at Sadie’s. When we’re sober, we’ll drive back to her house. That’s our routine.

Kyle stops in front of me a moment later. “Walk?”

His arm wraps around my shoulders, guiding me down the trail to his Ford Escape. Behind the barrier of trees and outside the ring of people, the music is quieter. Distant. I can hear my own footsteps and Kyle exhaling smoke from his cigarette. Suddenly all of his friends hovering near his car get real interested in tossing around a football, leaving us in relative privacy.

He pops the trunk and flips open a cooler.

“You know . . .” He twists the cap off a beer and hands it to me. “A few of us are planning on camping out here. You should stay.”

“I’m just waiting for Sadie.”

He takes a sip of his beer and cocks one eyebrow, and I know he’s thinking the same thing I am: I’ll be waiting for a while.

He sits down in the open trunk and pulls my hand along so I’ll sit next to him. I let him.

“No problem. We can still have a good time while we wait.”

His arm falls back into place around my shoulders, and he holds his cigarette up for me. Heavy-lidded eyes watch me lean forward and take a drag. I blow the smoke straight up at the stars.

Rolling the beer bottle between my palms, I wait as he takes one last puff and stubs the cigarette out. His hand slips under my hair and curls around the back of my neck. Straight out of the playbook. His thumb traces my jaw and he leans closer and I know what his next move will be. I know. And despite the fact that he isn’t Declan, isn’t anyone to me, I also know what I’m going to do.

I’m going to let Kyle kiss me.

Ten

FIVE WEEKS INTO HER TREATMENT
, Mom still hasn’t let me see her cry. But I can’t pretend not to hear it today.

I’m sitting on my bed, reviewing the files from last week’s photography class, but about a half hour ago my attention was hijacked by the shot I took of Declan out on the rocks. At the sound of her shower shutting off, I stow my laptop away. Mom’s sobs travel through our shared wall and vibrate right through me, shaking loose any lingering thoughts of Declan or the disastrous bonfire last weekend.

I wait a moment for Mom to get dressed before I go to check on her.

“Mom?” I call from outside her bathroom door. “Everything okay? Do you need Dad?”

“No, honey,” she says in a high-pitched voice. She clears her throat. “No, I’m fine.”

I hesitate on the other side, half turning away before reaching back for the doorknob. “I’m coming in, okay?”

No answer. I push open the door. She’s sitting on the edge of her bathtub, wrapped in a towel. Her hands are in loose fists on her lap, clutching thick clumps of her own hair. More of it is spread across the damp bathtub behind her. She’s still crying, but silently now. Trying to hide it.

It’s not like we didn’t know this was coming. She started waking up with strands of auburn hair on her pillowcase a week ago. We even went to pick out a couple of wigs. We were prepared. But the nausea and the fatigue following each chemo treatment are one thing. Actually seeing all this hair—an impossible amount, considering there’s still some left on her head—is something different. I can tell by the way she stares down at her palms that she feels the same way. Seeing it makes the cancer real.

I grab the waste bin from under the sink and hold it out for her. She cleans her hands over it and I help her get into bed, towel and all. She pulls the covers up to her chin and I go back to rinse the bathtub.

My hands shake and I want so badly to run and hide in the forest until this is all over, because that’s what I do best. Flee from the problems I can’t fix. But this is my mother, and I can’t just leave her all alone right now, so I focus on the one mess I can clean up.

When I finish, I curl up beside her. She strokes the side of my face like she used to when I was little. It’s unnerving, how quickly this cancer has become the center of her whole identity. It’s present in the hair left on her head and the deep cracks on her lips. I can see it written on her cheekbones that seem to become more defined with each passing week, and in the sores in her mouth that keep her from eating any real food.

Everyone says I’m the spitting image of my mother—same wide eyes and full lips. It’s terrifying how little I recognize the woman beside me now.

I prop myself up on one elbow. “Want me to shave my head in solidarity?”

BOOK: The Year We Fell Apart
7.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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