Authors: Jessa Russo
Tags: #Young Adult, #Paranormal
© 2013 Jessa Russo
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Cover design by Alex & Me Design
Cover photo by Face On By Tamara
Edited by Krystal Wade
For Connie Ann Michael and her son, Trey:
Thank you for allowing me to create my version of Trey.
I hope you love him and his addition to this story . . . my characters sure do.
arely eighteen years old, and I wouldn’t live to see nineteen. My dad’s death had changed me in ways I still hadn’t completely figured out, but more shocking than Dad’s early departure from my life was the fact that Frankie had been brought back from the dead because my ex-boyfriend’s career path was…well, it was something I still couldn’t quite comprehend: soul collecting.
I wondered absently if there was a course for that in college. Speaking of…my best girlfriend would head off to college soon. Without me.
I looked hopelessly toward my future—all nine months left of it.
Nine months. People always talk about what they’d do with their lives if they found out they only had x amount of time to live. Skydiving, swimming with sharks, visiting the Seven Wonders of the World…bucket list stuff. At only eighteen years old, and having never left Southern California, my bucket list was far too long to cram into my nine remaining months. I’d also need tons of money to travel to, like, the pyramids in Egypt or something, and money wasn’t a gift Ariadne bestowed upon me when she’d decided to put a fun little countdown on my soul. Would have been nice, though.
There was a countdown on my soul. No. Big. Deal.
I found myself wondering how many other people could say the same thing. How many other people Ariadne had graced with her presence over the years. How many other people had been sucked into the vicious world of dating Toby when his psycho ex wasn’t ready to let go.
I mean, I’m sure it was natural to wonder. Maybe there was a support group for the
Maybe I should have started one.
But frankly, I was too busy soaking up every minute with Frankie, my mom, and Jessie. There were no distractions. No drama.
Except, of course, the countdown on my soul. Because yeah, there was that. Or the fact that my mom was shipping me off to a vacation in Mexico tomorrow, with Jessie but
. Because there was that as well. But we’d be back in seven days, and the vacation issue would be out of the way.
The countdown on my soul, however…not so much.
“Ever. Where’d you go?”
Frankie and I stood side by side in the kitchen, washing dishes. So mundane and so normal, like we’d done plenty of times since Ariadne brought him back. I looked over at him and smiled. Then, as I always did, mostly subconsciously, I reached out to touch him. When my skin connected with his, my smile grew.
Three months later, and I still had trouble believing it. My best friend, now boyfriend, was alive again.
He looked different, of course; we had no choice in that. His dark brown hair was dyed almost blond now, like sandy brown hair that had been sun-kissed, and cropped short—his pompadour a distant memory. He wore contacts instead of his trademark retro-style glasses, which was kind of a bummer since those glasses had been so him for as long as I could remember. We’d had to take certain precautions so people wouldn’t realize he was the
Franklyn Davis who had died two years earlier. We were also really lucky in the fact that Frankie would have graduated the year he died, so most of his old friends were scattered across the states at various colleges and what not by now, and we had yet to run into anyone who’d known us before the accident—mostly because we skipped local parties and never hung out at the places he’d loved when he’d been alive…the first time around. Some things were just too risky, even with his altered looks.
The seclusion wasn’t too bad—I’d always stayed inside with him before, why should it bother me now?
Placing a dish back in the sink, Frankie looked down at my hand on his forearm. He turned, resting his soap-covered hands on either side of my face. He smiled his knowing smile and shook his head from side to side.
“I’m still here, Doll.” He kissed me, and I tried to ignore that sinking feeling I’d had lately.
That distant look was in his eyes again, I was sure of it. He was pulling away from me.
He returned to washing the dishes, and I dried each one as he handed it to me. This was pretty much what it looked like for us lately. Doing dishes, splitting up household chores, cooking, laundry… I imagined we resembled a couple of old married people.
Water hit my face, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Hey! What was that for?”
“Pay attention—the dishes are stacking up.” He splashed me again, then the smile faded from his face. “This vacation is supposed to be fun for you, Ever. Stop looking like your mom is sending you to the gallows. Are you even just a
I knew he was right, but I was having a hard time leaving or even getting excited. What if something happened to Frankie while I was gone? What if Ariadne showed up and changed her mind, taking him instead of me?
What if Frankie really was pulling away from me?
“Ever, look at me. I know what you’re thinking. But you have to stop. Worrying about me is silly. I’m still here, see?”
I looked up into his eyes and really,
missed his glasses. He grabbed my chin, using his thumb to pull my bottom lip out of my teeth. He held my gaze, his caramel-flaked brown eyes mesmerizing me as usual. Then he started to smile.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be back in seven days.”
He pulled my face to his, our mouths connecting in another kiss.
God I love kissing him.
When we kissed, I could block out the world. My soul, its future, my worries…all faded away.
His hands moved down to my waist and he pulled me tightly to him. Turning us slowly, he pushed me backwards until my lower back was pressed against the edge of the counter. He ran his hands down my back, then gripped my butt and he lifted me up onto the wet counter. I squealed as the soapy water soaked through my jeans, but Frankie continued to kiss me. I had so much to do to get ready for my trip, but I was going to revel in these moments with Frankie. I wrapped my legs around him and held on tight.
“Have you started packing yet?” Frankie breathed between kisses.
Oh, I don’t want to think about packing!
I felt like pouting again. With a groan, I pulled back from him. His eyes were dark, and his pale lips were flush with color.
He licked them absently, and I was tempted to kiss him again. Screw packing and screw my vacation.
“No,” I grumbled. “And I still have to make dinner.”
Frankie leaned in and kissed me once more, then helped me down off the counter. He finished washing and drying the dishes while I gathered all the stuff I’d need for the meal prep. I was making my mom’s favorite meal, since I’d miss her birthday while I was gone. Another reason I wasn’t thrilled about this vacation. But Sharon’s timeshare was for this week, and this week only, and she’d lose the week if we didn’t go, and Mom really wanted us to go, and blah blah blah. So going we were.
And by golly, I was going to like it.
I knew how to make the casserole by memory—Mom made it for me my entire life. The pie recipe on the other hand, I’d definitely need to read.
Frankie dried off his hands and grabbed the keys off the counter, catching my attention as he reached up to push his phantom glasses up his nose. Something about the gesture always made me stop and stare at him. His old habit reminded me of the old him, before we’d had to change his appearance. I missed that Frankie.
“All right, Doll, it’s almost five. You get started on the food, and I’ll run to the cleaners to pick up your stuff before they close.”
“Oh shoot! The dry cleaning!”
Frankie laughed, and I shook my head. I was so forgetful, and he was so on top of everything all the time.
After a too-quick kiss goodbye, he left, and I set to work, a mixture of feelings coursing through me. I was happier than I’d ever been, yes, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that as perfect and happy as I felt, Frankie wasn’t in the same place. He’d never said anything to make me think that, but I’d occasionally see these looks pass over his face, and they were forlorn, melancholy…distant. I didn’t know what to do for him, or how to fix it.
Something was just…off.
Then there was that
thing, and God knows
had to be done about the countdown on my soul. As it was now, I’d already lost 89 days of the rest of my life. The clock was ticking.
By the time Frankie returned, dry cleaning in one hand and fresh flowers in the other, I’d gotten the casserole and the pie in the oven—
I think I can cook them at the same time
—and I was only
covered in flour. Making pie crust was a lot messier than I’d imagined. Frankie took one look at me and laughter rushed from his lips. He actually bent over from laughing so hard, dropping the plastic-covered clothing on the ground in the process.
Annoyed by Frankie’s laughter, but also totally curious, I pushed past him and made my way to the mirror in the living room, surprised to see the massive coating of flour on my face.
And there I was thinking I was only
covered in flour.
“How long does it have to be in the oven?” Frankie asked between chuckles. His voice startled me, suddenly behind me in the living room. He leaned against the doorjamb, all long and trim. I rolled my eyes at him—dramatically, and very much on purpose—he was being absurd. It was just flour, for Pete’s sake.
I thought back to his question and remembered the timer on the stove, and what it said the last time I’d glanced at it.
“About thirty-five minutes left, I guess.”
He stopped laughing, pursed his lips, and looked off to the side as if pondering something.
A wickedly sexy grin pulled at his mouth. “Yup,” he nodded. “That should do it!”
He sprinted over to me from the doorway of the kitchen, and before I could even react to what he was doing, he’d flung me over his shoulder and I was flailing like a crazy person in his arms. He didn’t put me down until we were in my room, and only when he tossed me onto the bed did I realize what he was thinking.
He stood over me, looking down with that lopsided grin of his, and wiggled his eyebrows—the wicked sexy quickly being replaced with goofy and loveable—but only for a second. The sly smile crept back onto his face as he assessed me on the bed. I loved both sides of him equally, but this sexy side accelerated my pulse.
“You look pretty hot covered in flour. Like a sexy Betty Crocker or something.”
I busted up laughing, shaking my head at him again as he climbed onto the bed with me. In a moment, his lips were on mine, the connection heating my blood as our mouths moved together in that perfect way they did—so naturally.
He pulled back for a second, his expression heated, but serious. My heart skipped a beat, and I searched for that distant, melancholy look in his brown eyes. It wasn’t there. Maybe it never had been.
“You know something, Doll?”—he paused, but I could tell he wasn’t actually waiting for a response—“I can’t imagine life without you. I don’t think I’d want to live in that kind of world,” he whispered, his lips barely resting against mine. “No matter what happens between us.”
‘No matter what happens between us?’
What the hell was that supposed to mean? Did he mean no matter what, like, if we broke up? He’d still want to be friends?
Or was I just being insecure?
Before he said anything else, or I could even voice my concerns, he slid his hand behind my neck and pulled me to him again, crushing me in a hard kiss. A kiss that assured me I was being ridiculous. I pushed my fears and insecurities aside and focused on Frankie.
Everything else faded away. I didn’t worry about Ariadne, or her countdown on my soul. I didn’t worry about my vacation tomorrow, or the list of chores I still had to do in preparation. I didn’t worry about my mom, or the fact that she’d be back any minute and if she caught us in here she’d end me way before Ariadne could.
I didn’t even worry about my fears surrounding Frankie’s feelings, the weird emptiness I sometimes felt between us, or that occasional doubt I’d experienced lately when I caught that unexplainable sadness in his eyes.
I pushed all of that aside because all of it could wait.
I could only think of one thing.
Frankie. In my arms.
And I didn’t even worry about the fact that later tonight, after I’d packed my suitcase and laid out my travel outfit, said goodnight to Mom, and kissed Frankie before he headed off to his room across the hall, I would drift off to sleep with foreboding in my stomach.
Because it wouldn’t be Frankie in my dreams.
It never was.