Read Vertical Lines (The Vert Series Book 1) Online

Authors: Kristen Kehoe

Tags: #Romance, #Love, #New Adult, #College, #changing POV

Vertical Lines (The Vert Series Book 1)

BOOK: Vertical Lines (The Vert Series Book 1)
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Vertical Lines

The Vert Series Book 1

 

Kristen Kehoe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the girl I was, and the woman she became: I’m sorry I forgot to believe in you.

XO

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Kristen Kehoe

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing.

Book Cover design by James at GoOnWrite.com

Editing by Billi Joy Carson at EddingAddict.com

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Jordan

I don’t know what made me do it.

Correction: it’s hard to narrow down the list of possibilities and decipher just which one was the catalyst for why I pushed my brother’s dinner plate into his lap.

Was it because I wanted it, but was unable to have it since I’m a girl and, therefore, not qualified to consume that many calories? Or was it because he chewed and talked all at once, with such speed that it was off-putting to both watch and hear as he masticated his beef while regaling us with his fraternity endeavors? Or could it have been both of those things added onto years of repressed anger and mother-loving hunger?

Sweet bleeding Jesus am I hungry.

I’ve been at dinner with my parents and my older brother, Mason, for the past hour and a half. In those ninety minutes, I’ve had water, one bite of bruschetta, and salad—excuse me,
mixed greens
(overpriced restaurant-speak for less than salad; we are not a Chili’s and there is no bacon in this concoction). While Mason has consumed a cup of clam chowder, two baskets of bread, the rest of my bruschetta (jerk), sautéed mushrooms, and now, his own dinner. Well, some of it.

Like I said, I don’t know if it was the sight of him gulping down calories and flavor, of rolling
prime rib
around in his cheeks while stuffing his face with caramelized baby carrots and garlic mashed potatoes—while I pushed around my mixed green and salmon salad (no dressing) that sent me over the edge, or the fact that when I stopped and really watched him, I saw more than just the difference in our meals.

I saw our childhoods in an onslaught of memories: his full of fun and games and adventures, bugs and dirt and bicycles, while mine was music lessons, art lessons, and horseback riding lessons, cotillions and tea parties.

I saw my present—the here and now where I’m attending a school, because Mason wanted to, because Mason had gotten a letter from the dean expressing his sheer joy in obtaining a student of such a high caliber. Please, a 3.1 GPA in high school merits the word
caliber
? Just thank Mr. and Mrs. Richards for their generous donation next time.

And worse than the past and present flashing before my eyes while my brother galumphed and gulped and grossed out everyone in a four-table radius, was the sight of the future that slammed into me.

I’m almost nineteen; a freshman in college, about to begin my time at a university I did not choose—and though I’m young, my life is already planned. I will graduate in three years, because I’ve come in with so many credits from high school. I will attend a respected graduate school to receive my masters and complete my degree in elementary education, but not so respected it will make Mason look bad if he chooses to do post grad work and doesn’t get accepted to the institution I do, after which I will get a proper job at a posh school.

In between all of this schooling and job getting, I will meet and marry the man of my dreams who will also be perfect—which means he will be a carbon copy of every man I’ve ever been allowed to be in contact with: well groomed, on the medical, financial, or justice track (law, not police), and backed by family wealth. Yes,
wealth
. Money is new and ugly, but wealth is hard earned and generational, ensuring security.

In five years, Mr. Boring and I will have children, along with two homes, an apartment in some swanky city where I will travel to twice a year to buy new clothes and have a girl’s weekend. I will have a grocery fund, and a Mercedes station wagon. My time will be spent between garden club, Junior League, the arts foundation, and raising my children, and my diet will somehow be carved down to limit even my intake of water. Eventually, smelling food is the closest I will come to ever consuming it.

My stylist will rave about my bony figure and willpower, while keeping me well stocked in staid and expensive suits with matching jewelry and shoes.

This is my life, just like my dinner.

Pre-ordered.

Bland.

Tasteless.

Gaunt.

Everything about my life is small, while the bigmouth behemoth across the table gets all of his own space and food along with most of mine. Well, no more. Today is the day that ends. Today, I’m not filtering or starving or waiting.

Today, I am rebelling… and I’m starting with carbs.

I set my fork down with a
clink
, ignoring my mother’s quick side glance and frown—not because I set my fork down, and she’s concerned I’m not eating, but because I’ve dared to make a sound. I ignore her, my eyes on my target as I reach across the table to where the third bread basket sits and snag a piece. I don’t know who is more shocked, my mother or Mason, since he has stopped talking for the first time since we sat down eons ago. Maybe it’s because his number-one fan is no longer focusing on him, rather, her eyes are trained on me as if I’ve had a seizure and require medical attention.

I don’t know what horrifies her more: the fact that I reached across the table, where I took something from Mason—her beloved little boy who has never been denied anything a day in his life—or that I’m about to consume an empty calorie. Yep,
empty
. As in, has no nutritional value and will go straight to my tummy, or thighs, or hips, or ass, or who the hell cares, because it smells so delicious I’d give my left tit just to continue smelling it for the rest of my life.

Feeling brazen, I rip a piece of the bread off and pop it into my mouth. Sourdough, still warm.
Hello, Heaven, I’ve been waiting to meet you
. Is there such a thing as a foodgasm? Because I just had one.

“Pass the butter, please.”

The minute those words cross the threshold of my lips, my mother’s fork hits her plate with a
clank
(louder than a
clink
, but you don’t see me give her a dirty look) and her breathing becomes ragged. I ignore her as I tear off another piece of crusty sourdough and take an actual bite from it this time. My teeth sink in and I tear the bread apart, my lips folding around the golden apple known as
yeast
.

“Hey, I was gonna eat that.”

Unlike my mother’s heavy breathing and wide eyes, this statement stops me. I swallow the half bite in my mouth and set down the rest of the bread, eyeing my brother the entire time. There’s a sensation coursing through me, different from the pleasure I experienced a moment ago after one bite of food that contained flavor and actual sustenance. This isn’t pleasure; it’s darker, more foreboding. A sense of déjà vu washes over me as Mason reaches across and snags the bread back from my plate, and somewhere in the recesses of my mind I hear a
snap
.

Twig, bonds, sanity… who knows what’s breaking at this moment, but whatever it is, the feeling I’m experiencing now has a name, and I think it’s called liberation.      

There is a piece of meat on Mason’s fork and another in his gullet, one that his teeth and tongue were working furiously a moment ago. When I watch him shove the rest of
my
bread in there as well, my eyes widen and I understand he’s waging his own kind of power struggle, one meant to keep me from usurping his thrown at the table. What he doesn’t know is that while he was playing at war when we were younger, I was being groomed to wage one while wearing pearls and a pink dress. No one, and I mean no one, is more vicious and calculating than society women when their princess is in danger of being overthrown for someone prettier and smarter.

I smile, and I hear my mother exhale slowly. My father hasn’t once looked up from his plate, which is now almost completely wiped clean. He learned long ago in their marriage that the minute he set the fork down, the rest would disappear into the well-tipped hand of our waiter. Mason turns back to my mother, who’s picking up her fork and also turning to him; both pause when I stand.

I grab my small, and appropriate, Tory Burch handbag that matches my pale, flesh-colored dress and cardigan perfectly.

“Excuse me,” I say, as if I’m going to the ladies’ room. One step, two; the minute I’m close to Mason’s plate, I reach out and upend it in his lap with a quick flick of the wrist.

Although I would have preferred to stay and watch the entire scene play out—unlike my idiot brother, who never saw the move coming, and is even now just staring in shock at his lap where the garlic mashed potatoes and juicy run off from his meat seep into his pants and shirt—I understand that when one makes a move so bold as that, they need to be prepared to make a stealthy retreat. I’m walking out, almost to the door when I hear the first scraping of chair feet and rushing of waiters.

I don’t look back, and it is not because I’m afraid. No, right now I’m looking forward and it feels pretty damn good.

 

Chapter 2

Brooks

The attendant at the 7/11 counter is staring unblinking at my face while I stare at the cigarettes and consider my choices. Not in brand—if it were that easy, I’d have my Marlboros already in hand and the lighter would be leaving my pocket. It’s not a matter of which box to ask for, it’s a matter of whether or not I should ask at all.

This dilemma isn’t what brought me out of my house two hours ago, but it’s sure as hell a lot easier to focus on than the one that did. My walls are blank, just like my mind. There are no drop cloths on my floor, there are no easels set up or paint splatters on my pants or boots. There is no photo fluid or ink on my hands, no gritty eyes from spending so much time at my computer manipulating images. No charcoal stains, no led prints on my fingertips.

In short, there is nothing going on inside of me. No art, no soul, no feeling that will break through and let me see something and put it together. I had to leave my house before I punched a hole in the wall and broke my hand. Not that I’m using it to do anything.

I tried walking, immersing myself in the people and the lights and the crowds of the boardwalk and taking their energy, their life, their emotion and sucking it into myself. But two hours of hating the sound and sight of everything and everyone led me back to my place where I cranked the engine of the truck and floored it up the Eight.

Now, I’m back, emptier than I was before I left, hitting my last resort: nicotine. I haven’t had a drag in three months. I haven’t had a decent session of drawing or painting or photographing in almost that same amount of time. Maybe there’s a correlation.

Or… it’s because Ashton was in the hospital again last month. Her heart isn’t doing well, the muscles weakening, and her pulse rate low. They think her liver might go next. She’s nineteen-years-old. Jesus Christ, she’s nineteen and she’s dying.

I can’t fix it—I’ve tried. Just like I have never been able to fix my mother after one of her marriages goes bad and she falls apart. Obviously, quitting smoking was my way of trying to save one of the three of us. A dumbass idea.

Right when I’m about to say the hell with it and ask for a pack, the beep of the sliding door sounds and the distinctive click of high heels cross the threshold. It’s instinct that has me glancing when the clerk’s eyes do, and when I light on the brunette—scratch that, near redhead—in the Stepford Wives outfit, the trendy little purse with the chain link shoulder strap and small heeled sandals the same color as her sweater and dress, I look away.

San Diego is full of beautiful women—unfortunately, it’s also full of empty ones. Women here don’t see their beauty, they only see the surface, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been interested in looking at one for more than a cursory fuck. The one who just walked in isn’t any different, only I’m not even in the mood to see if she’d be up for a roll around my bed.

Jesus Christ, no sex? I need out of this funk,
now
.

“Marlboro Reds,” I say to the clerk. He doesn’t glance at me; he turns around and grabs them, putting them on the counter and ringing them up. I’m digging my wallet out when the clickety-clack of heels is behind me again.

BOOK: Vertical Lines (The Vert Series Book 1)
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