Authors: Dee J. Stone
Dee J. Stone
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form without written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to real life, movies, television, games, or books is entirely coincidental and was not intended by the author.
Table of Contents
“Elvis, feet off the furniture.”
Mom barges into the room. Steps in front of the TV.
I munch on a potato chip. “Name’s Cruiser.”
She folds her arms over her chest. Stares me down. I clench my jaw.
“You’ve been back only a week and all you’ve been doing is stuffing your face with junk and watching even more junk on that damn TV. Why can’t you be more like your brother? Reagan spends his afternoons out with his friends, or playing the violin, or doing extracurricular activities—”
“I get it.”
She shuts her mouth. Lifts a finger. “Don’t interrupt me.”
I’m sixteen years old. Don’t go wagging your finger at me.
She steps closer to me. Hovers. “I don’t know what nonsense your grandfather put in your head, but in my house we do as I say. And right now, you’re getting up and cleaning this mess.” She gestures to the potato chip bags and empty soda cans cluttering the table and couch. “Do you understand me?”
“I get it. Can I watch my show now?”
She pushes my legs off the table. Stomps out of the room. I prop them back on and tune in to
Navy SEALS: Untold Stories
A soft voice floats in through the window. Plants itself in the depths of my soul. I grunt and stalk over, preparing my mind for the sight I know will hurt me. I push aside the curtain and peer out. Almost drag it back when I see her sitting on his lap.
She’s cuddling my brother as they sway back and forth on the swing my parents built when we were little. Her wavy black hair blows in the wind. My hands itch to run down her body, slide down her thigh. I imagine sneaking in kisses as the wind carries her hair off her neck. Wish I
could pluck her off the swing, into my arms.
I snap the shade shut.
My twin never bothered to send me the memo that they got together. Six months ago. Not even an email.
I plop down on the couch.
The lovebirds appear ten minutes later, hand in hand. I yank my eyes away from their interlocked fingers, to the TV screen.
Rey drops himself on the adjacent recl
iner. “Pass the chips, Cruise.”
I grab the bag and hand it over. Keep my eyes on Rey. I don’t want to meet her gaze. Can’t. Haven’t seen her in
over a year. She’s so beautiful.
She sits on the recliner’s armrest
and twists her body away from me.
Rey chomps on some chips. Washes them down with my nearly-empty can of soda.
Flicks it at my face. I catch it in my hand and hurl it back at him. Rey’s what you’d call physically uncoordinated, so it comes as no surprise that the can bounces off his shoulder and onto the floor.
My gaze creeps to Lex. Her eyes are on my face
, for half a second. She jumps to her feet and says, “Let’s go.”
“Where are you two off to?” I ask
new restaurant opened down by the beach.” Rey stands and puts an arm around his girl, pulling her close. “Derek told me they have these sweet baby ribs.” He grins down at her. “Perfect for our special night.”
“Our six month anniversary.”
“Have fun.” I turn back to the military channel.
Man, you need to find a chick and double date with us sometime.”
I emit a fake laugh. “I got enough girls
lining up, Rey.”
tugs on his arm. “I want to be back in an hour. Rosie’s coming home from physical therapy.”
My eyes slowly trek to hers. “How is she?”
She presses her lips together before saying, “None of your business,” then grabs Rey’s arm and pulls him out of the living room. I mute the TV. Though they’re whispering, I hear every word perfectly. Must be twin telepathy or something.
“Hey, hey,” Rey says
. “He was just asking.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, and I should stop blaming
him for everything that happened. But I just feel like…never mind. Let’s go.”
“Sure you’re okay?”
A seven-second pause. Yeah, I counted.
,” she says again.
The door shuts.
I get to my feet and scan the room. It’s not such a mess. I almost forgot how crazy Mom gets.
After cleaning up, I stretch my arms.
Walk to the door. I feel like going for a ride.
Mom’s on the phone in the kitchen. Dad’s at work. Rey’s out with Lex.
No one will miss me.
I push the door open and step into the living room. Just like every evening, my eight-year-old sister is perched on the sofa, staring at her laptop. Her wheelchair is close by.
“Hey, Rosie.” I sit down and wrap my arm around her shoulders. “How’d it go?”
She’s wearing her favorite outfit today—jeans and a T-shirt with the words “Real Girls Have WHEELS” sprayed across the front in hot pink letters. I bought it for her a few months ago, and Rosie fell in love with it the second she saw it.
is still on the screen. “Fine.”
“Do you like the doctor?”
She clicks the mouse. “Yeah, he’s nice.” Digging around in her pocket, she pulls out some stickers. “He gave me these. I told him I was too old for stickers, but he said I’m not too old for anything.” She rolls her eyes. “Want them?”
I smile. “Okay. I think I have my old sticker book somewhere.”
I’ve lost count of how many doctors Rosie’s seen over this past year. Twenty? Thirty? Each one starts off the same. He learns about her situation, examines her, and then sets up an intensive plan that “will surely bring even the smallest results.” Every time, Mom’s eyes shine with hope. Mine used to shine the same way. So did Dad’s, and Rosie’s, too. But the light left our eyes after a year of seeing…nothing. Mom’s just won’t die.
Rosie continues playing
her game. There’s so much I want to say, but the words stick in my throat. No one understands what she’s going through—she’s made that clear. The last time I told her to keep her chin up, she yelled, “Leave me alone.”
Rosie hugs her pink
, worn-out stuffed elephant to her chest.
“So the program was intense, huh?” I ask, squeezing her close.
She shrugs. “Are you tired?”
She shrugs again.
My fingers play with her black hair. It was soothing when Mom did that to me when I was younger. Rosie’s head droops toward my shoulder.
“I’ll tell Mom to help you get ready for bed. Okay?”
She doesn’t protest, unlike the years before the accident. It’s only seven o’clock. If things were different, if Rosie was her old self, her head wouldn’t rest on my shoulder and she’d whine to stay up as late as her big sister.
I head to the kitchen
where my parents are at the table drinking coffee, and sit down near them. “How’d it go?”
Mom takes a few sips before turning her full attention to me. “It’ll be hard to adjust to at first, but Dr. Griffin is positive this new program will do wonders for Rosie.”
My father’s staring at his full cup. “Dad?” I ask.
He doesn’t answer at first, as if his thoughts are drowning in the liquid. After a moment, he gets to his feet, and the coffee sloshes onto the table. “It’s useless.” He
spills the rest down the drain.
, Lisa!” He dumps his mug in the sink. “This new program will cost us more than I make in half a year. And for what? To be told once again that Rosie will never walk?”
“Is no miracle worker!” He glances toward the living room and lowers his voice. “It’s been over a year and Rosie hasn’t regained any movement in her legs. The chance of a recovery is slim to none.”
Tears glisten in Mom’s eyes. “Jack…”
“Why do you insist on dragging our daughter from one doctor to another? Leave it alone. Come to terms with the fact that Rosie will never walk again. Count your blessings, Lisa, because we sure have plenty.”
He marches down the hall and locks himself in the den, which he likes to call his study even though there’s nothing there
except for a TV and a recliner. He does that a lot.
Mom rubs her temples, sighing as though someone’s sucking the energy out of her body. Heaving herself
up, she pours her coffee down the drain and stands there, shoulders rising and falling as ragged breaths leave her mouth.
Finally, she turns around,
gives me a strained smile, and wanders to the refrigerator. “Are you hungry?”
“I went out with Rey.
Look what he got me for our anniversary.” I hold up the heart pendant hanging off my necklace.
Mom shuffles through the shelves. “Hm
I let go of the pendant.
This isn’t the first time my words get lost in the air. “Never mind. I already ate.”
“Oh, that’s right. How was
I don’t know
. Lately things have been off with us, and I hoped tonight would fix that. But it didn’t. We don’t seem to click anymore.
I remember how
we wouldn’t shut up when we first started going out. Rey would tell me about an article he read in the
Wall Street Journal
, or about a documentary he watched the night before. I’d tell him some juicy gossip going around at school, or about a new TV series or movie I was obsessed with that he
to watch. One time he and I had a heated discussion on the research paper he was working on for his political science class. As each date progressed, my heart started opening up to him until it leaped into the palm of his hand.
don’t understand what’s wrong.
“It was fine,” I tell Mom, who’s munching on a celery stalk. Dark circles hug the bottom of her eyelids,
almost identical to my sister’s.
“Put Rosie to bed, Mom. She’s falling asleep on the couch.”
I say goodnight to my little sister and lock myself in my room. Plugging in my earbuds, I crank up my iPod and start the reading assignment for my science homework. Three long chapters.
My phone rings. I
scan the screen and grab it. “Happy Anniversary again!” I say.
chuckles. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Nothing much. Just reading some bio.”
“Yeah, did that already.”
“Of course you did,” I tease.
The silence continues.
He clears his throat.
“Nothing. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”
I open my mouth to say something, but I don’t
anything to say. “Yeah…good night,” I mumble and hang up.
The kitchen’s quiet the next morning. Dad eats toast while reading the morning paper, Mom leafs through the pamphlets Dr. Griffin gave her, and Rosie twirls her spoon around the alphabet bits floating in her bowl. Her hair is swept into pigtails.
It’s always like this at breakfast.
“I’ll see you guys later.” I pat Rosie on the head and walk next door to the Daltons. The twins have lived here all their lives, just as I have. I was too shy to befriend them when I was a kid, but once I did, the three of us became inseparable.
If only things were that simple again.
The garage door opens and Cruiser, dressed in jeans and an opened leather jacket, guides his motorcycle out.
I turn away from him. I can’t believe he’s back from New York. He dropped i
n with no warning a week ago.
He wheels the bike over.
I don’t look at him, just
so I won’t stare at the way his brown hair curls over his eyes or how his abs strain against his tight T-shirt. He looks so different from the last time I saw him, a year ago. He’s been working out and grew his hair long.
Heat pulses through my body. I fist my hands to rid the feeling.
“Want a lift?” Cruiser asks, holding out his black helmet. I shut my eyes for a second. He sounds just like Rey. Though the twins aren’t identical, their voices are pretty similar. It was easy to differentiate them growing up, but now that I’m so distanced from him, I can’t tell anymore.
I swallow so my voice won’t shake.
“C’mon, you know you wanna.” He jabs the helmet into my arm, lifting his eyebrows.
I press my toes onto the sidewalk to hold back from hopping on behind him and wrapping my arms around his strong body.
I purse my lips. “Will Rey be out soon?”
“Yeah.” He climbs onto the bike, slides on his helmet, and raises the visor. “You sure about the ride?”
, my mind yells. “Yes.”
He keeps his eyes on me for a few seconds before kicking into gear and zooming off. I pat my hair in place and fold my arms over my chest.
The front door opens and Rey hurries down the steps, pulling a vest over his white button-down shirt. Although the average temperature doesn’t fall below seventy during early December in Miami Beach, Rey wears a vest almost every day. One of those dorky things I love about him.
He smiles when he sees me,
wrapping an arm around my waist.
“Hey.” I kiss his lips.
“Hey,” he says, leading me to his car. Once we’re pulling out of the driveway, he asks, “What are your plans after school?”
“I’m meeting Dani. I haven’t been spending much time with her because of you.” I punch his shoulder playfully. “I want to hang out with Rosie after that. It’s always hard for her to adjust to a new program and I just want to spend some time with her. Want to come over?”
He drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “Not sure. I should probably practice the violin. Only a few days ‘til my recital.”
“Oh. Yeah, good idea.” I rest my head against the window. “I’m worried about Rosie. Her therapist says she’s doing great, but she’s so…different, you know? Quiet. She doesn’t even want friends over.” Once
when I asked her why she refuses to leave the house, she said, “Why? So everyone can stare at the Wheelchair Girl?”
I glance at
Rey and find him concentrating on the road. “Rey?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
I watch him for a few seconds. “Why are you so quiet? I mean, last night—”
“Just got a lot on my mind.”
He turns into the school lot and parks, then slips his keys into his pocket and grabs his schoolbag. “See you later.” He gives me a quick peck before rushing inside.
I know he
feels uncomfortable when I bring up Rosie and the accident because he doesn’t want to choose sides, but I can’t help it. I want to be open with him, tell him everything in my heart, even though the topic makes him cringe.
As soon as I enter the building, my gaze jumps to Cruiser who’s standing at his locker. He’s surrounded by two giggling girls.
I don’t know why I thought things would be different—that he would be different. He left home a man-whore. He returned a man-whore. He slept with Christie Jennings the day before he left. He slept with her the night he came back.
I stop at the bulletin board
a few feet away from him and his posse. I can
him. Goose bumps crawl over my skin and my stomach does jumping jacks.
.” Dani comes up to me and looks at the flyers on the board. The pom squad tryouts poster that was put up the first week of school glares at me in neon colors.
taps my shoulder. “You okay? Still got doubts about the squad?”
My fingers reach up to the sign and trace the lettering. I was so excited when I tried out for the team my freshman year. It was all I talked about. My parents threatened to call the coach and convince her to
take me because they were scared I’d never shut up. In my sophomore year, the drive and passion were still there, but started to dwindle. And this year? I feel like a robot, doing a routine.
“Yeah,” I tell Dani, fingering the big letters in the center of the flyer:
We placed third in nationals last year!
“What are you going to do? You—”
, Cruiser, that’s
My head snaps to the lockers. Cruiser’s eyes catch mine. I whirl away from him.
Dani eyes me. “What’s up?”
“Nothing.” I shrug. “I’m being stupid, right?”
“About…?” She raises an eyebrow, and peeks at Cruiser.
“About quitting the squad,” I quickly say before she gets the wrong idea.
“Yeah, you’re being stupid. On
I don’t want to deal with that right now, so
I focus on the poster and think back to yesterday’s practice. I was never that annoyed with my poms before. I touch the letters one last time, hoping they’d ignite a spark in me. They don’t.
“I’ll see you
,” I say.
I have no choice but to pass Cruiser on my way to history. The girls’ giggles have magnified, like they’re holding mics to their mouths. The only thought running through my head as I walk by is
don’t look at him, don’t look at him
. But my eyes refuse to obey. His arms cross over his chest lazily and a lock of hair kisses his eyelashes. In the split second that our eyes meet, he flashes me a cocky grin.