Authors: J. M. Darhower
Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, place and incidents are the product of the author’s imaginations, and any resemblances to actual events or locales or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. These books contain material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the author/publisher.
Copyright © 2015 JM Darhower, ASIN: B00SAAAH7S
Snowflakes & Fire Escapes
This isn’t my life.
This freckle-faced, natural redhead with the ghastly pale skin that is splotched with red from the persistent sun … she isn’t me. I’m not that girl who doesn’t wear makeup, that girl who can’t remember the last time her hair wasn’t sloppily pulled up into a bun on the top of her head. I don’t wear cut off jean shorts and flimsy tank tops and cheap two-dollar flip flops, my feet dirty and toe nails unpainted because there’s just no reason to paint them anymore.
This isn’t me.
It can’t be.
It can’t be
Thick, dark sunglasses cover my once lively green eyes, partially because the sun is so goddamn blinding but mostly because I just don’t want anyone to look at me anymore. I stand along the side of the northbound lane of Highway 77, beside my formerly reliable late model Chevy Malibu, watching as smoke rolls out from under the hood, and think about just how much this can’t be happening.
I think about just how much this life isn’t mine.
Just how much this person isn’t me.
Sighing, I walk around to the passenger side of the car and yank the door open, the metal hinges groaning as I do. My fist bangs against the jammed glove box in the dash, the force making it pop right open. Fishing around inside, I pull out the heavy Motorola cell phone and flip it open, pushing the button to turn the ancient thing on.
There’s only one person programmed into the contacts. I press the button, dialing the number, and lean back against the side of the broken down car as it rings.
I’m about to hang up, to give up on finding any sort of help today, when the line clicks, the ringing stopping. “Hello.”
“Hey, it’s … uh …” I hesitate. “It’s me … Grace.”
The voice coming from these lips is timid. I don’t like the way it sounds.
“Grace,” he echoes, his tone steady and confident like mine used to be.
He doesn’t ask me what I need.
He knows I’ll get to it.
“Look, this car crapped out on me and I’m stuck out here on the highway and I …” I trail off, kicking at the dry ground, sending a small cloud of dust around my feet. Sweat beads along my brow and runs down my back, my clothes sticking to me. It’s uncomfortable, but nowhere near as uncomfortable as the next words feel coming out of my mouth. “I need help.”
“Where are you?”
I glance around, seeking out some sort of landmark I can describe for him. My eyes land on an old sign down the highway, barely close enough for me to make out. “I’m just outside of town on Highway 77. I can see the city limits sign from where I’m standing.”
I know what he’s thinking: I left town without talking to him, without
him, something he’s told me before is completely against the rules. But his rules are really more like wishes, and I know better than anyone that wishing is for fools. He can’t scold me for something I’m not obligated to do, but the frustration in his voice is enough punishment.
I hate feeling like a disappointment.
“Got it,” he says. “I’ll send someone.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, but he’s already hung up before I get the words out. Snapping the phone closed, I toss it onto the passenger seat through the open car door. My eyes drift back toward the sign down the highway, reading the white writing standing out against the grungy green paint.
It’s an oxymoron, really, one I don’t find any humor in. A town in the sweltering state of Arizona, not far from the Painted Desert, ironically named Snowflake.
This isn’t my home.
Home is somewhere else, somewhere far, far away from this hellhole.
The sound of tapping glass echoed around me, rousing me from my light slumber. I blinked away the sleep, trying to adjust my eyes. The apartment was dark, the only light from the glimmer of the moon streaming in from outside, the soft glow splayed out along the wooden floor. I lay on the couch, staring straight ahead, watching as shadows dance along the living room walls.
It was quiet …
quiet … until I heard it again. The windowpane rattled behind me as the tapping once more reached my ears, sending my heart feverishly racing. Sitting up, I carefully peeked over, my eyes instantly meeting
—green eyes that shone so bright they were damn near the color of emeralds.
Instead of calming my heart, the sight of him sent my pulse racing more.
He stopped tapping when he noticed me looking, instead curving his pointer finger and beckoning me to come to him. Jumping up, I tiptoed over to the window, holding my breath as I shoved it open. It groaned, and creaked, like nails on a chalkboard, making me cringe.
He, on the other hand, just shook his head. “Way to be quiet, Gracie.”
I could feel my face heating, and I knew the blush was visible thanks to my pale skin. I hoped he thought it was from the warmth and not because of him, but the twinkle in his eyes told me he was on to me.
He had always been on to me, honestly, ever since we were little kids.
“What are you doing here?” I asked incredulously as he crouched on the metal fifth floor fire escape outside my apartment window, like him being up here was the most normal thing in the world.
He shrugged. “I wanted to see you.”
“You scaled a fire escape in the middle of the night because you wanted to see me?”
West Side Story
“Yeah, well, just don’t expect me to start singing.”
I knelt down on the floor and leaned against the old windowsill as I regarded him curiously.
. Shaggy brown hair and fair skin and the brightest eyes I had ever seen. A scar marred the left side of his face, running from the corner of his mouth down along his chin.
It made him look a lot harsher than he ever had it in him to be.
He had the kind of smile that could knock the breath right out of you, the kind of smile that left you speechless, a weapon that could disarm even the strongest person once he unleashed it. It was a smile he rarely used, though, except for when he was alone with me.
Slightly crooked, one dimple deeper than the other, one corner of his mouth not wanting to cooperate, like it held secrets it wasn’t yet ready to spill. Some people might have called it a sinister smile, like he was somebody’s conniving villain, but it brought me to my knees whenever I saw it.
Reaching through the open window, Cody grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me toward him without another word, like he could read my mind and knew I was thinking about his mouth. I leaned forward, my eyes drifting closed when his lips met mine. His were chapped but somehow still soft, his kiss sweeter than he looked capable of being. A bitter hint of alcohol lingered on his tongue, mixing with the flavor of spearmint from his gum.
He took his time, never deepening the kiss, holding me there with his grip, before finally pulling back. He left a trail of pecks near the corner of my mouth before letting go, laughing under his breath. “
worth hauling my ass up here for.”
With that, he was gone.
The fire escape shook, the metal violently rattling as he carelessly took the steps two at a time. I opened my eyes and craned my neck to watch, leaning out the window in just enough time to see him fearlessly leap over a railing on his way back down.
I was grinning like a fool, watching the reckless boy.
God, I loved him.
The stern voice behind me sent me into a sudden panic. I jumped, startled, and misjudged how much room I had.
The back of my head banged against the window, shooting sharp pain through my skull and forcing tears to my eyes. I grimaced, pulling myself back into the apartment as I grabbed my throbbing head. “Shit.”
The curse slipped from my lips and hung in the air around me, squeezing all the oxygen from the room.
. Shit was right. My watery eyes peeked across the dark living room, coming face-to-face with my father.
He stood in the doorway to the apartment, the front door wide open with his hand still grasping the knob. He was dressed casually, as usual, but his expression was perpetually stern. His hair was light colored, sort of long around the sides. He looked a bit like a guy from the old west. He even carried a Colt revolver tucked away somewhere, except … you know … he wasn’t what I’d call a cowboy.
“Uh, Dad, hey.” I rubbed my scalp, damn surprised that it wasn’t bleeding considering hard as I banged it. “I didn’t hear you come home.”
“That’s because the place was wide open,” he said. “What did I tell you about locking doors, Grace?”
“To always do it.”
“Exactly,” he said. “So why wasn’t this door locked?”
I had no excuse, except that I forgot, but I knew that answer wouldn’t fly with my father, so I didn’t bother saying anything at all.
He stared at me skeptically as he closed the front door, making a point to lock it before addressing me again. “What are you doing over there?”
“Just, uh, sitting here,” I said, looking down at myself.
Yep, still kneeling on the floor
. “I was hot, you know … it’s warm in here … so I thought I’d get some air.”
I hoped that would explain the flush on my cheeks if he noticed it, but I was a terrible liar. Always had been. I couldn’t fool anybody.
His expression clouded with suspicion as he strutted across the apartment, keeping his gaze fixed on my face until he was right beside me. His eyes flickered past me then, out of the open window, studiously scanning the fire escape before drifting toward the sidewalk. I glanced out, spotting Cody right away as he jogged across the busy street to where a group of boys were gathered on the corner. One of them playfully shoved Cody as soon as he reached them before pulling him into a headlock. Cody sucker punched him, breaking free from the grip, as another boy lit something and took a drag from it before passing it over to Cody.
From up there, the glowing embers looked just like a cigarette as he inhaled deeply, but I knew it wasn’t. Cody had vices, and he certainly wasn’t perfect. Not even close. He smoked weed and fought and didn’t listen to
, but there was more good to him than there was bad. I had known him for as long as I had been breathing, and in that time, I saw the heart he tried to conceal.
It was the things he did when he thought nobody was watching—generously tipping, picking up litter, trapping spiders instead of killing them—that truly made him who he was, but I sometimes thought I was the only one who saw them … the only one who really saw
. Everyone else saw the boy with the filthy mouth and a tongue he didn’t quite know how to hold … the boy with the bloodshot eyes and the constant scowl. The truth is, he was soft, and sweet, and compassionate … he just wore armor over all of it, armor meant to shield his sensitivity.
He had no choice.
He had to do it.
As the only son of Cormac Moran, notorious leader of the largest Irish gang to ever run the streets of Manhattan, Cody had no choice but to put up walls of protection around him. In these streets, children often paid for their parent’s sins, and he was no exception.
I watched as Cody blew a puff of smoke, releasing it from his lungs, before passing the joint on to another guy. The group started to leave, to walk away, but Cody hesitated on the corner and glanced back my direction. He didn’t acknowledge me—I didn’t know if he could really even see up there—but I could feel his gaze burn through me, anyway.
My father reached over then, not even pretending to be delicate as he slammed the window shut. He turned the squeaky old lock on top, securing it. “He’s too old for you, Grace.”
“He’s only eighteen.”
“And you’re sixteen.”
“And a half,” I clarified. “Sixteen and a half.”
and a half
His voice was borderline mocking as he stood there, staring down at me. His suspicious eyes had an edge to them as he clenched his jaw, like he was fighting the urge to say something more.
Something we both knew I wouldn’t agree with.
Saying anything else about Cody was a waste of breath.
“Get some sleep, Grace,” he decided on before turning to walk away. “Get a fan if you’re hot, but don’t open that window. It’s not safe.”