Authors: Teresa Mummert
Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Mummert
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
ISBN 13: 9781508755135
y life was meticulously planned, and I refused to deviate from that path. While my peers were partying, I prepared for the future. Then a tragic event destroyed everything, and I learned that while I was looking ahead, I forgot to live in the moment.
Starting over seemed impossible until I met Cara McCarthy, who lived every day like it was her last. She opened my eyes to a world of chaos and disorder. I loved every minute of it. She was also dating Tristan Adams, one of the most gorgeous men I’d ever seen.
The three of us became inseparable. Our parents were oblivious, and soon lines became blurred, feelings began to grow, and someone’s heart was going to get broken. I hoped it wasn’t mine.
woke up on a Tuesday. My eyes fluttered open, and I glanced around the stark white room. I was surrounded by paper swans that hung from the ceiling, and I held my breath, afraid that I didn’t survive my attack.
Was this heaven? Had they somehow let me slip through?
The beeping of machines filled my ears, but a blurred vision of Ellie was what I struggled to focus on.
“I’m here,” she spoke, and the beeping of my heart monitor increased as her fingers wrapped around mine.
I tried to speak, but my throat was raw and sore. A nurse was quickly by my side to give me a sip of water.
“Your throat was injured in the attack. Just take it easy,” the nurse said as she placed her hand on my shoulder. I kept my eyes locked on El as if she was an illusion that would vanish if I looked away.
Please don’t disappear.
The nurse made a few notes on a clipboard and asked me a few questions before finally giving me a moment alone with Ellie. She leaned down, placing her forehead against mine, and I finally let my eyes close.
“We don’t have much time,” she whispered as she pulled back to look me in the eye. “You have to tell them that this was a hate crime, Cara.”
I shook my head as I croaked out the word no.
“You can’t let him get away with this, Cara. I won’t let you let him get away with this.”
I shook my head again as she held up my cup of water so I could take another drink. “No one can know, El. Please. My mother…”
“Isn’t a mother at all if she doesn’t care about your safety or happiness.”
“What happiness?” I asked, and she gave me a sad smile as her hand covered mine. My knuckles hurt, but I squeezed her back, needing to be closer to her.
“El, there aren’t any laws in Georgia to prevent hate crimes.”
I watched her lip quiver as that reality hit her. Our own government didn’t accept us as equals.
looked around my new bedroom, my heart heavy in my chest as a tear slipped down my cheek, burning another scar into my soul.
Just a few more hours, and then you can cry into your new pillow.
“Ellie, time for dinner,” my father called from downstairs, his voice an echo from the past. It felt weird to even think of him as my dad. I didn’t even remember him outside of the home videos I’d watched obsessively as a child. He’d left my mother without looking back when I was only three years old.
“I’ll be right down.” I grabbed my mother’s necklace that hung against my chest and slid the clasp to the back of my neck, my fingers ghosting over the single round pearl.
Pushing from my bed, I opened my bedroom door and hurried down to the dining room. I offered my father a weak smile as I pulled out a seat across from him and his girlfriend, Dawn. She smiled at me sadly and cleared her throat.
“You have beautiful hair, Ellie. I’ve always envied girls with thick, dark hair.” Dawn tucked her short light-brown hair behind her ear as she scrunched up her nose.
My eyes went to my father’s auburn hair as I cut off a bite of my chicken. “I have my mother’s hair.”
“It’s very lovely,” she replied, but her voice wavered, making me feel guilty for not being more polite. Even mourning my own mother, I knew bringing her up would make things uncomfortable, and heaven forbid I express my true emotions.
“Thank you, Dawn. That was very kind of you to say.” I was raised to respect others. My mother was a stickler for manners and felt kindness was the greatest gift you could give to the world.
“Cara has hair like yours.” My father had told me all about Cara on the hour-long drive this morning to his home. She was incredibly kind but had a tough past and was still struggling to move on. He seemed agitated while talking about her, and it made me curious.
As soon as the words left his mouth, the front door opened, and a beautiful brunette entered, sucking all of the air out of the room with her. She was a few months older than me, but her curves were more pronounced, and she was a little taller with deep-green eyes.
“Sorry I’m late!” She hurried in, her smile large and bright. She kissed Dawn on the cheek and then my father, who seemed to tense, causing my stomach to sink. How was this girl so close with my own father, and I was the stranger in their home? Her gaze drifted to me, and I realized I had my eyes narrowed.
“Cara, this is Ellie,” my father informed her, and her perfect smile widened.
“Cara McCarthy. It’s so great to finally meet you!” She rounded the table, and before I could say a word, her arms were wrapped around my neck as she pulled me against her. I could feel every curve of her body, and I wanted to swallow myself whole for how inadequate I felt next to her. I also wasn’t much of a touchy-feely person, and Cara made it apparent that she was.
“Elise Lancaster. Nice to meet you,” I mumbled into her hair, which smelled of lilacs and honey and a warm summer breeze. It was amazing birds and tiny woodland creatures didn’t follow her around. She didn’t seem to be struggling with anything at all, or maybe she was as good as I was at hiding who she really was. I hated that even in my own subconscious I was being mean. I wasn’t normally so negative, but after my life had been turned upside down, I was no longer sure I could continue to hide behind this facade. Everything wasn’t all right, and I wanted desperately to scream it to the world, but these people were strangers.
As she pulled back to look over my face, her brow furrowed slightly as if she could see I was on the verge on crumbling. I averted my gaze, not wanting her to look me in the eye and see below the surface.
Hold it together. Not much longer.
“I can’t wait to get to know you.”
I smiled back, genuinely relieved that at least she was kind; perhaps I would have someone to confide in. Cara slid into the seat next to me, cut into her chicken, and stuck a bite in her mouth. I took another bite as I glanced up at my father, who looked pleased at our interaction, oblivious to my inner turmoil.
“Cara has been volunteering over at Mayweather Hospital for summer break,” my father said as he dished more green beans onto his plate, explaining her late arrival.
“Interesting.” I took a sip from my glass of water. All I could picture was my mother, lying in a hospital bed with tubes running across her body. I’d never felt so helpless. For all of my planning in life, I wasn’t prepared for what had happened, and just the mention of stepping foot into a hospital put my nerves on edge.
“I know they are always looking for extra hands. I could ask around if you’re interested.” Cara looked at me, her emerald eyes wide as she waited for my response.
“That’s kind of you to offer, but I’m not sure I’m up for something like that just yet. Maybe after I’m settled.”
I hope I’m long gone before I’m forced to get to know anyone here.
After a pause in conversation Dawn spoke up, trying to fill the void. “I found this recipe online.”
Cara beamed. “It’s fantastic.”
“It really is wonderful.” I smiled, feeling more at ease. I don’t know what I expected coming into this new home, but at least their lives seemed to be structured.
“I could teach you how to make it. I’m always happy to have some help in the kitchen.”
“Don’t let her fool you.” Cara elbowed me lightly in the arm. “She will make you peel potatoes for hours,” she added with a wink. Everyone chuckled.
“That was one time, and you left half the peel on each one!”
We didn’t speak much for the rest of the meal. Although I was curious about my new family, my mind was still trying to absorb the events of this last week.
I volunteered to do the dishes because I felt like an intruder, and to my surprise, Cara offered to help me. I scrubbed the plates, and she rinsed them and stuck them in the rack to dry, humming a song I couldn’t place.
“I’m really glad you’re here, Ellie.” She slipped her hand down into the soapy water and wrapped her fingers around mine, giving them a gentle squeeze. “I’m really sorry to hear about your mother. It’s not so bad here, I promise. You will make friends in no time.”
“Thank you…for being so nice.”
She released my hand and went back to humming her song. I sighed, not realizing I’d been holding my breath.
Why did her touch feel so…personal?
“Is there a library close by?”
“There is one right by the high school, down on Jefferson Street. What type of book are you looking for?” Dawn’s voice startled me. I’d forgotten she was still in the room.
“Just something to get lost in.” I shrugged, avoiding her eyes as Dawn brought our glasses over from the table and set them on the counter.
“Cara has an e-reader. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind letting you look at it.”
“Yeah, you can borrow it anytime you like. It’s mostly sad stuff, but I’m sure there is something on there you’ll like,” she added with a wink when Dawn wasn’t looking, and I couldn’t help but smile.
We finished up our work before I slipped up to my new bedroom and lay on the twin-size bed, my eyes unfocused on the blank walls. After about an hour there was a light tapping at my door. My father peeked his head through as he glanced at the still-packed boxes stacked along the wall.
“Dawn and I are going to bed. I have an early day tomorrow. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” His eyes were trained on me for a moment before he added what felt like an afterthought. “It’s great to have you here, Ellie. I think it will be really good for you and Cara.”
I nodded, but another stabbing pain ached through my chest. I needed a father fifteen years ago; now all I wanted was my mom. He pulled my door closed, and I listened to his footsteps retreat down the hallway.
I decided that even though I didn’t plan to live here very long, I still needed to unpack a few of my things. Reluctantly, I got up from my bed and flipped open a box. Inside were pictures of my mother and me together. The tears slipped easily from my eyes as I looked at her smiling, carefree face. I set them on my dresser and pulled out my notebooks that were full of life goals and plans for my future. My sadness turned to anger as I thought of all of the plans my mother had that would be left undone. We spent our days making sure we would have a better tomorrow, and now that had been ripped from our lives.
For the first time, I questioned it all. As my vision blurred I ground my teeth together, ripping out page after page of my ideal future, letting it fall to the ground around me. Sobs ripped from my chest as I fell to my knees. I’d shed a few tears since my mother’s death, but this was the first moment I’d finally been able to let the walls come down. No one was around to see me crumble, and it was liberating to break apart without judgment.
There was a quiet tapping, and I stifled my cries enough to realize someone was at my door.
“Ellie?” Cara called out. I quickly wiped the tears from my cheeks and cleared my throat.
No, not now. You can’t see me like this.
“Can I come in?”
I looked around at the cluttered mess of papers, the chaos in the otherwise orderly room. It was a direct reflection of the turmoil that was plaguing me. I began gathering up the scraps of crumpled paper in a desperate attempt to hide my breakdown.
“I’m getting ready for bed,” I called out as I feverishly struggled to collect the evidence. The click of the door unlatching caused my head to shoot up, and I locked eyes with Cara. I must have looked like an absolute mess, and I could see the pity in her eyes.
“I was just…” A few stray papers fell from my arms and fluttered to the hardwood floor. A shudder shook my chest as I dropped the remnants of my abandoned future, clasping my hand over my mouth. Cara rushed to my side, dropping to her knees and wrapping her arms around me. I fell apart, crying into her hair, clinging desperately to the kindness of this stranger. I had no one else. Her hand slowly stroked the back of my head as she began humming the same haunting tune that she had while we were washing dishes together.
“It’s going to be okay,” she whispered before humming again. All I could do was shake my head, refusing to believe life could ever be the same again. “It gets easier.”
My fingers gripped the back of her shirt, desperate to not feel so alone. After what felt like an eternity I whispered, “It’s never going to be the same.”
She pulled me back from her embrace, her thumbs running over my dampened cheeks as my eyes fluttered closed momentarily. “It doesn’t need to be the same, but it
get better. I promise.” Her eyes were locked on mine, her expression serious. I swallowed back my self-pity and nodded, because something in her eyes told me she was speaking from experience. She gave me a small smile before tucking my hair behind my ears. “I brought you my e-reader. I thought you might want something to occupy your mind.”
I glanced to the floor beside us at the small square device. “Thank you. You didn’t need to do that.”
“If you want to talk about it…”
I pushed to my feet, sniffling. “No. I’m fine. I just lost it for a minute, but I’m okay. Really.” I forced a smile through the crippling agony.
Her eyes scanned me as she grabbed the device and stood as well. “It’s okay to not be fine, Ellie. I understand.”
You couldn’t possibly.
“I don’t think anyone else could understand.” I took the e-reader from her hand and nodded once. She didn’t say anything else; as she turned and left the room, I looked down at the mess of papers around me. My world was a disorganized upheaval.
I tossed the device on my new bed as I exhaled deeply, groaning with regret for how I’d treated the one person who’d shown me kindness.
I slipped down the hall to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face. As my eyes met my reflection, I winced at the puffy, pink-stained face staring back at me, the happiness no longer evident in my soil-colored eyes.
I brushed my teeth and headed back toward my room. Cara’s room was just above the staircase. The light was off but I could see a flicker of light from a television. I tiptoed down the hall and lightly tapped on the door, needing to let her know that I wasn’t the mess she’d witnessed. There was no response, so I knocked again before turning the knob and slowly pushing it open. The room was empty as I slipped inside, my eyes dancing over the flickering space. Her bedspread was vibrant red, a direct contrast to the earthy tones of mine. I pulled the door closed again, and I slipped back into my own room and curled up in a ball in the center of my bed. I clicked the button on the bottom of the electronic library and flicked my finger across the screen to try to decide which cover looked most appealing. Nothing caught my attention and I was going to forgo the idea all together until the title
The Good Girls
caught my attention. The book had been favorited by Cara, and it made me curious. The cover was a teenage girl in a beautiful dress, but there was a haunting sadness in her eyes. That’s exactly how I felt: haunted. I swiped my finger over the cover and began to read, page by page, until the words were too blurred to comprehend.
Images of the heroine named Claire, struggling through her life to be the person everyone expected of her, plagued my dreams. She lived vicariously through elaborate fantasies.