Authors: Joy Elbel
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places,
events and incidents are either the products of the author’s
imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to
dead, or actual
Life can change in the blink of an eye. We experience
it so many times, but each time always feels like the first. We
fall and feel like we’ll never get up again. And then something
happens to turn it all around. Then we rise and think nothing
can ever bring us down. But just when we think we have it all
figured out, life throws us a curve ball.
Sometimes we can
let that ball sail right past. And
sometimes it hits us square in the forehead. I always seem to
fit into the last scenario. I never see it coming until it’s gone
and I’m left with nothing but confusion and doubt. And
someone else always seems to get hurt in the process.
There are times when fate opens a door that just can’t
be closed and the one thing we once wanted most out of life
becomes the last thing we need.
Even after everything I
survived since moving to Charlotte’s Grove, what happened
next shocked me in a way I never could have anticipated. As
my world fell apart for what felt like the millionth time, I had
one thought in mind.
Be careful what you wish for—because
when you least expect it, you just might get it.
“We’ll have the results of your test in about three
minutes. Until then, have a seat in the waiting area,” the old
lady at the front desk said gruffly. “I’ll call you when they’re
“Thanks,” I mumbled back. I was so damn nervous
and the fact that she was utterly emotionless about the whole
thing grated on my last nerve.
She dealt with kids in my
situation every day—a little bit of compassion would have
been appreciated. Thanks—thanks for nothing.
“I don’t know yet—I won’t have my results for about
three minutes.” Glancing at the clock on the wall, I watched
the second hand tick slowly around second by second. “But I
don’t have a good feeling about this.” My chest tightened as I
said the words.
Zach took a deep breath and reached for my hand.
“You have to think positively. I came here with Rachel last
year. She had a bad feeling about it, too.
But she was wrong
and everything was fine. I’m sure you’re wrong, too.”
“I hope you’re right. But there are so many reasons
why I think this is going to end badly.” My bottom lip
quivered, signaling that I was on the verge of tears. “Maybe I
wasn’t ready after all. Maybe I should have waited a little
But as I looked around, I couldn’t think of anything to
say. I stared at the cold, impersonal décor thinking how much
easier this would be if I at least had a comfortable chair to sit
in or a TV to watch—anything to ease my nerves. “I really
don’t want to talk right now. I just want to get out of here.”
There were two other girls in the waiting area looking
hyperventilating as her mother tried to calm her down. The
other sat to Zach’s right, her father lecturing her about the
mistakes she’d made.
Dad and Shelly insisted on
accompanying us, but they were busy pacing back and forth at
the back of the room—at least I had Zach by my side.
announced, “I have to pee.” I rose out of my chair only to have
Zach pull me gently back down.
“No, you don’t—you
remember? It’s only nerves. You don’t want to miss it when
they call your name, do you? I know you’re scared, but
dragging it out will only make it worse.”
He was right—rationally I knew that.
But part of me
wanted to hightail it out of there and pretend like I’d never
even walked in that door. Most kids do it the second they get
the chance and without a single worry. I wait for what seems
like forever and yet here I sit scared to death. It just didn’t
The lady at the desk peered around her computer and
called, “Johnston.” The girl with the critical father stared up at
her like a deer caught in the headlights but remained glued to
her seat. “Johnston,” she called again, more impatiently this
I watched as the girl walked slowly to the front.
couldn’t hear a word of their conversation but I didn’t need to.
She was at the desk for no more than twenty seconds when
walked back to her father, tears
gushing from her eyes. My heart sank as I watched her slink
out the door. Would I be in her shoes a minute from now?
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Dad and Shelly
had stopped pacing and were now anxiously watching us as
we went to get the results. We must have been moving too
slowly for Ms. Personality at the desk because she called
“Matthews” again in an irritated tone. And me—well, I threw
up in my mouth just a little bit. My life may or may not be
about to change in a big way.
Her face was blank, devoid of any hint of what news
she was about to deliver.
She simply handed me a card and
said, “You passed. Step to your right to get your photo taken.”
Immediately, I flung myself into Zach, squealing, “I
passed! I passed my driver’s test!” Dad and Shelly each
tossed me a thumb’s up and I returned the sentiment.
The lady at the desk repeated, “Step to your right,”
and pointed impatiently to the next line.
attitude wouldn’t get me down. I was now Ruby Matthews,
I walked out of the DMV staring at nothing but the
newly minted driver’s license in my hand. My photo turned
out wretched, of course, but I was too excited to care. The
man behind the camera offered to snap another shot in the
hopes that the second time would be a charm but I declined
hastily. There was that little gnawing fear in the back of my
brain that said “take it and run before they change their
minds” so that was exactly what I did.
“Don’t worry about it Ruby—those photos
look awful,” Shelly assured me. “Show me one driver’s license
with a flattering picture and I will be willing to guarantee it’s
a fake. I had one once where my eyes were only half open and
I looked like a zombie.
And back then, they never even
offered a do-over.”
“She’s right, honey. You passed and that’s the only
thing that matters. I’m proud of you, Ruby,” my dad said as he
threw his arm around me and gave me a hug.
“Thanks, Dad,” I said returning his hug with an even
bigger one. It had only been a few days since the explosive
events at Rosewood the night of the big storm, but already
our relationship had gone back to what it was like before Lee
died. No, scratch that—it was better than it had ever been.
The things I learned that night during my near death
experience changed every relationship I had for the better.
Shelly and I had already started to connect over the summer,
but we felt closer than ever now. And the changes in my bond
with Zach—well, I could feel my cheeks get hot just thinking
Once my dad released his hold on me, Zach swiftly
took his place. “I told you that you were worrying for nothing.
Rachel did the same thing.” He gave me a warm squeeze and
a quick pat on the rear while Dad wasn’t watching.
I was dying to be alone with him. Now that the ghosts
were gone and nothing stood in our way, things were really
starting to heat up between us. When we weren’t together, all
I could think about was kissing him. And when I was kissing
him, all I could think about was doing more than just kiss him.
hadn’t gone any further than that, but things were
definitely getting intense.
Everything felt right for once and
I’d never been happier in my entire life.
Dad and Shelly promised to buy me a car as soon as I
got my license and they were true to their word.
Zach and I
followed them in his car as they drove to Big Al’s car lot just
down the road from the DMV. I scoped out the choices the
night before when Zach took me for one last round of parallel
parking before my test. The perfect car for me sat in the same
spot where I last saw it—waiting for me it seemed.
Shelly and I took a seat in the grass while Dad made
Big Al pop the hood so they could get a look at the engine. I
didn’t know who he was trying to fool with that maneuver,
but it certainly wasn’t me.
Dad knew nothing about cars
except how to drive them and how to call a mechanic when
something went wrong.
Zach, on the other hand, was an
entirely different story.
I watched with fascination as he placed his hand on
the front of the car and leaned in close.
The muscles in his
forearm flexed as he loosened and re-tightened everything to
be sure it was in good working order. As I watched him work
his way around the engine, I imagined those muscles working
the same way around me which gave me a warm shiver up my
spine. He turned and gave me a wink as he lowered the hood
and I had a feeling that he knew exactly what I was thinking.
Twenty minutes later I was pulling off the lot in my
new car. Well, it wasn’t exactly new, but it was new to me—
just like a lot of things in my life since I moved here at the
beginning of the summer.
But summer was basically over
now. The past week was nothing more than a blur to me. It
was hard to believe that it was only a week ago that I almost
drowned in the fountain at the mansion—not to mention
everything else that happened that night. But the dust settled
fairly quickly and Dad and Shelly had repairmen working
nonstop to get the house back in shape. And at my insistence,
Levi’s remains were laid to rest in the mausoleum in the crypt
next to Scarlet’s where I knew they belonged. The house and I
were both finally at peace.
But I was
about to embark on a completely new
journey—one that frightened me just as much as the haunting
did. The first day of school was only two days away and I was
starting to get nervous already.
Sure, it helped that I was
hottest guy in school and was friends with his
insanely popular sister, but I was still petrified. It wasn’t my
classes that really worried me—I was always a good student
and I didn’t see how that would suddenly change. It was the
fact that I was the new girl in school and I already had
As many times as Zach told me not to give Misty a
second thought, I did anyway. I couldn’t help it. Her reaction
in the cafeteria during open house proved that I wasn’t overreacting.
She wanted Zach and I was convinced that she
would stop at nothing to break us up.
Not that there was
anything she could possibly do to come between us, though.
After what we endured this summer, we were solid—I was
certain of that. But I still didn’t relish the drama that she
would be sure to create.