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Authors: Anna Cruise

If I Fall

BOOK: If I Fall
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IF I FALL

Anna Cruise

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

IF I FALL

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2013

Mission Bay Publishing

cover design by Mae I Design Photography

This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author.

ONE

God, I didn't want to think she was beautiful. I felt like a traitor. But I did. I coveted everything about her. The short black hair, sleek and silky, that curved around her face, framing blood-red lips I was sure were pumped full of collagen. Her big breasts—
probably pumped full of something, too—that strained against the thin, cotton fabric of her pink, V-neck shirt, breasts I wished
I
had. The perfectly manicured nails and a diamond ring the size of a marble that winked in the sunlight. The ring my dad had put there. On the beautiful hand of the beautiful woman who was not my mother.


Megan.”

I blinked. “Yeah, Dad?”

“So. Cheri and I...we're heading out.” He held a small cardboard box in one hand and I pictured its contents—a book or two, a forgotten pair of sandals from the hall closet. The last remaining traces of the years he'd spent in our house.

Silence. He ran his hand over his head, his fingers weaving through thick strands of salted, brown hair.

“OK, then.” He shifted from one foot to the other, as if balancing on a tightrope. “I'll call you. After we get back. Maybe once we get settled, you can come up for the weekend...”


Sure.” I tried to sound convincing, as if this was something I intended to do, something I would actually consider.

He reached for me then and I stood frozen as he hugged me, his arms wrapping around me. I resisted the urge to pull him to me, to ask him one last time to stay with me and mom. Instead, I slapped his shoulder in a high-five, buddy sort of way. It was all I could trust myself to do.

He adjusted his sunglasses. “Be good, Meg.”

He sauntered down the three steps of our front stoop. My front stoop, I corrected silently. Mine and Mom's. Not his. He stopped next to one of the palm trees in the front yard, the one closest to the sidewalk, and looked back at me. “Be good for your mom.”

I nodded. Like my hands, my voice could not be trusted.

He loped around to the driver's side of his car and, with a quick wave from him and a nod from Cheri, took off down the street. Out of town and, I thought, out of my life. For good.

I kept my eyes trained on the empty road long after the car disappeared from view. Tears, thankfully, did not come. The sky darkened and still I stood there, watching, waiting. I don't know what I expected but I knew what I wanted, what I wished for. For the nightmare to be over.

I heard the ring of the phone and, resigned, trudged inside to answer it.

Jada popped a bubble, the phone amplifying the cracking noise. “Is he gone? Did he go?”


Yeah.”


God, that sucks, Meg.” She paused. I could picture my best friend chewing her gum and twisting her hair around her finger as she thought about what to say. “I mean, you knew he was going to but I thought maybe...I dunno...” Her voice trailed off.

I knew. I had thought the same thing, too.

Pop!
“How's your mom?”

I peered down the darkened hallway. “I don't know.”

“You gonna check on her?”

I nodded, forgetting for a minute that she couldn't see me. “Yeah, I guess. I'll see you tomorrow.” I hung up.

I took a tentative step toward the hallway. Her door was closed but I knew where she would be. Collapsed on the four-poster maple bed she'd picked out for the bedroom she'd shared with my dad, its pale blue silk comforter like a cocoon, binding her to her misery. The blinds, fabric the color of a sun-bleached seashell, pulled, blocking the light, protecting her from the overwhelming reality that existed outside of those four walls.

What on earth could I possibly say to my mother that could make her feel better? Her husband
—the man she'd spent the last twenty-two years with, the man she'd lost her virginity to, (she'd once confided after one glass of wine too many), the
only
man she'd ever been with—had left her for his real estate agent. Their real estate agent. The real estate agent who had sold them the house I lived in. My mother was forty-four, overweight, unemployed and suddenly single.

I hesitated, my feet inching forward at a snail's pace as I worked my way toward her closed door. I raised my hand and rapped; soft at first, then harder, the wooden surface stinging my knuckles.

“What?” Her voice was muffled, soft.

What did I want? What the hell was I going to say?

I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “It's almost dinner time.”

I strained to hear her. “I'm not hungry.”

But I am,
the little girl in me wanted to reply.

But I didn't. I was prepared for her response. I had to be if I wanted to eat. I returned to the kitchen and opened the freezer. A buffet of frozen dinners waited, purchases I'd made weeks ago during one of Mom's good days when she'd managed to get out of bed and get dressed. The boxes were stacked neatly in fours, three rows across, two rows deep. I chose one, a Lean Cuisine lasagna, and popped it into the microwave. I ate alone, avoiding the dining room table reserved for family dinners, choosing to sit at the kitchen table instead. I chewed slowly, counting each bite and swallowing, purposely keeping my mind blank.

Later, still at the kitchen table, I did my homework. The thoughts crept in—my dad jetting off to Miami with his soon-to-be trophy wife and my mother, miserable and alone, drowning in depression just footsteps away from me—but I focused instead on conjugating Spanish verbs and dissecting
The Old Man And The Sea
. At least I tried to.

It was nearly eleven when I stowed the last of my books. I downed a glass of water, hoping to drown my own misery that lurked dangerously close to the surface. I couldn't be like my mother. I wouldn't be. I tread once again down the hallway, to my own room this time. My mom's room was dark. I climbed into bed and clicked off the light and was immediately absorbed by the silence. Like me, the house was still and hushed, as if it, too, was mourning the loss and waiting, hoping for him to come back.

TWO

Jada found me at lunch. She plopped down next to me on the bench, wriggling close so her leg was pressed against mine. Jada was like that, touchy-feely, hugging or hitting. It didn't matter, as long as she made body contact. I didn't mind. She pulled a crumpled brown sack out of her backpack and, one by one, stacked the contents of her lunch on her lap: a sandwich, Cheetos, and a bruised banana.

She ripped open the bag of chips. “Where's your lunch?”

I held up my half-eaten apple.

“What? That's all your eating?”


I'm not really hungry.” The dinner I'd eaten the night before had settled into a solid lump in the pit of my stomach.

She rolled her eyes. “Puh-leeze. You can be sad and depressed but please don't do the starvation thing. It's so totally predictable.”

I didn't answer. I finished my apple and tossed the core into the trash can next to the bench. Wiping my sticky hands on my jeans, I turned my attention to Jada's hair. She couldn't do a decent French braid to save her life. She turned her back to me and chattered while I re-braided, pulling tight as I layered the sections of thick, blond hair. Satisfied, I tugged on the tail and she whipped around to face me.


Thanks.” She sucked her cheese-stained fingers. “Did you talk to your mom? Last night?”

I filled her in. Mom had surfaced just long enough this morning to mutter a “good morning” before shuffling back to her room. I'd watched her retreating back, transfixed in a train-wreck sort of way by her matted brown hair and the short, white nightgown that hugged the rolls of fat across her mid-section and exposed her sausage-like calves, crisscrossed with thickened, blue-black veins. I'd swallowed my revulsion and looked away.

Jada listened, nodding when needed, peppering my commentary with appropriate and appreciated murmurs and exclamations. She didn't judge and she didn't tell me things were going to get better. Thank God.

Logan wandered over then, squeezing in next to me on the bench. I shifted closer to Jada, making room.

“You still up for going out tonight?” he asked us. His sun-streaked blond hair hung over his eyes like a sheepdog's and I resisted the urge to push it away. He took a swig from his Coke can. “Bonfire?”

I shrugged. It was our standing Friday night plan, when there was nothing else going on and the weather was nice. Living in San Diego, it seemed the weather always cooperated. I wasn't sure if my mood would.

“I guess.” I kicked at the dirt with my sandal.

Jada smacked my arm. “Show a little enthusiasm, Meg. It's better than going home, right?”

“Ohhh, that's right.” Logan sucked in his breath. It made a whistling sound over his braces. “Divorce is a done deal?”

I nodded. My family drama was daily fodder for my friends.

“You're coming,” he declared. “You have to. I order you to come.”

It was my turn to roll my eyes. “Whatever. I'll be there.”

“Good.” He launched his empty Coke toward the trash. It clanked against the side of the metal can and fell to the ground. He stooped over to pick it up. “I invited that new guy—Case something? He signed up for Drama Club. Thought it'd be cool to have him come along.”

Jada nodded. “He's cute.”

I pictured him in my mind. He was in my Spanish class, way in the back. Brown hair, cut close to his head, a friendly, open face. I hadn't spoken a single word to him and he'd been in my class for over a month.

Logan grinned. “He's gay.”

Jada groaned. “Nooooo.”

I seized upon the new topic. Anything to get me and my situation out from under the microscope. “Really? How do you know?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. Just guy vibes. Caught him looking at me in the locker room the other day.”

I didn't think an inadvertent glance in a locker room meant he batted for the other team. “He was probably staring at your third nipple,” I said.

He glared at me. “I don't have a third—”


Relax,” I said. “Kidding.”


Why do all of the cute guys end up gay?” Jada moaned. She squashed her banana peel back into her bag.

Logan clutched his chest. “Just break my heart, why don't you?”

She swatted at him, her cheeks turning red. She could blush at the drop of a hat. “Cut it out.”

Logan had claimed his undying love for Jada more times than anyone could count; we'd all lost track. It was hard to tell if he was serious or not. If he was, she never took it that way. He was just Logan, she insisted. He would always be 'just Logan' to her. I'd almost given up hope that she would ever be interested in guys. I'd spent eighth and ninth grade pining over celebrity photos in J-14 magazine, tacking dozens of posters to my wall, and she'd barely noticed. But all that had changed at the end of last year, about the same time her body had erupted into the curvy figure sitting next to me.

The bell sounded then and I stood up, lacing my fingers into a stretch before hurrying to Spanish class. Once settled in my seat, I glanced in Case's direction. There was nothing about him that screamed gay. Nothing. I was pretty sure that Logan's claim that he was gay was nothing more than an attempt to keep Jada from looking at him.
He wore a faded Padres t-shirt and khaki shorts, typical guy attire. His gray-green eyes were eyeliner free and he wasn't sporting a rainbow wristband or man purse or anything like that. He wasn't scoping out the guys in the class, either—Luke Griffith, the super-hot basketball player or Matt Willis, the raven-haired emo-kid in the corner. I realized, rather belatedly, that he was actually looking at me.

BOOK: If I Fall
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