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Authors: Ginger Scott

You and Everything After

BOOK: You and Everything After
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You and Everything After

 

(Book 2 in the Falling Series)

 
 

a novel

 

by Ginger Scott

Text copyright © 2014 Ginger Scott (Ginger Eiden)

 

All Rights Reserved

 
 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events is entirely coincidental.

 

Ginger Scott

 

For you, sweet and wonderful and amazing readers.

Prologue

 

Ty

 

Here’s the thing about a really good dream: no matter how hard you try to stay in it—eyes closed, hands gripping the sheets, face pressed deep into the coolness of your pillow—you always wake up.

Always.

My dreams are always the same. I can feel the pull of the bat in my hands, swinging it around my entire body, the pressure on my thighs as I push my weight back on my right leg, my hips twisting, the bat cracking against the ball. Then I’m running.
I’m really running.

I can feel it all.

Sometimes, when I can hold on long enough, Kelly is there after I round the bases. I feel her weight in my arms, her hands along my ribs, reaching around my back as she curls her legs around my body, and I lift her. It’s all so effortless. I kiss her, carry her, touch her—breathe her in.

And then it all just stops.

The buzzing of the alarm is harsh; everything about my
now
a painful contrast against the dream I was forcefully removed from. I spend the next few minutes grieving. I have to get it all out of the way here and now, because I can’t make my goddamned useless legs anyone else’s burden. And I have to get up. I have to pack and get my ass on a plane back to Louisiana to make sure my brother follows through with college. I know if I go where he goes, we’ll both make it through—through life.

He doesn’t know this, but I need him, probably more than he needs me. But I’m the strong one, and Nate’s the gifted one with the big heart. Those are our roles in life; I was crowned at birth by being born first. I take care of Nate, no matter what. Even if I’m fucked up and broken.

“Hey, you’re awake.” I barely register the half-naked brunette exiting my bathroom. It’s all a bit of a fog. There was a party, and there were a lot of underclassmen there, and I remember the flirting.
Huh
—I must have been charming last night.

I force my typical smile to my face, and push my body up so I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, still wrapped in my sheets. Reaching for the T-shirt half hanging from my dresser’s top drawer, I indulge in a quick glance at the back of her naked body while she’s facing the other way. She’s hot. Super hot. But she’s not my type. Nobody is.

“Hey, sweetheart.” I hate calling chicks that, but I have no idea what her name is. “Thanks for last night, and I hate to be a dick, but…I gotta go,” I say as I pull myself to the chair, and bend forward to grab my jeans.

“I know; you told me.
You don’t do girlfriends,
” she says, making air quotes with her fingers. Good…glad I was with it enough to have that conversation with her before anything else. “You planning on coming back to Florida next semester though?”

And there it is. She knows my deal, we had the conversation—but they always want more. “Sweetheart,” I say, her
name’s
still a total blank, “I’m probably never coming back to Florida again. And if I do, it will be in my private jet as CEO. Now, I have a flight to catch in just a few hours…and that towel you’re in? I need to pack that. So—”

She looks like she wants to punch me, and I don’t blame her. But I never make any promises I can’t keep. I’m on the hook for too many promises as it is. Promises to my parents to “be strong for my brother” and to “do something
big
despite my disability.” I’m good at playing strong—sometimes I even believe it myself. But other times…hell, I’m just fuckin’ tired.

“In case you change your mind,” she says, handing me the corner of some paper she just ripped from one of my magazines.
What the hell?
I turn it over and see her number and,
ah
…that’s right—Beth.

“Yeah, thanks,” I say, tossing it in the trash right in front of her. That pretty much seals the deal; she’s gone seconds later, giving me the finger on her way out. I deserve that. I probably deserve a lot worse. But Beth is better off without me, and as selfish as it sounds, I need to keep all of my energy in reserve to get through the things I want in
my
life. I don’t have the capacity to share with anyone else. I lost that the moment I dove off that cliff.

Finally alone, I stop everything for a few minutes, pushing myself to the window so I can watch everyone going about their lives outside. Pressing my forehead to the windowpane, I watch a couple say goodbye; the guy picks the chick up and swings her around, and then they kiss like they’re in love. You can tell the difference. My kisses are all about using and avoiding. They’re great in the moment, but I don’t taste anything, except maybe vodka or Tequila—or, sometimes, smoke. I don’t feel anything, other than my need to get off. But that kiss—the one happening two stories down from my window—is so foreign. It’s about love and happiness and the future.

My phone buzzes on the bed, so I snap myself out of my torture and put on my mask. It’s Nate. “What’s up, man?”

“Hey, I’m picking you up from the airport. Parents are staying put,” he says. “Anything special you want since you’re getting in late?”

“Yeah, to hit the strip club on our way home,” I say, half kidding.

“Right, so a bunch of singles then. Got it,” he says, without even as much as a laugh. We’re playing this straight, like we always do. I love my brother. He’s my best friend. But Nate’s not strong enough to bear the weight of everything that happened to me. So I finish making plans with him on the phone, and when I hang up, I spend the next two hours packing the rest of my things—a job that would take anyone else fifteen minutes.

Before I leave, I push myself back to the window to watch my life that
should have been
happen outside, but only for few more seconds. With the heaviest bag on my lap, and the roller behind me, I make my way to the hallway and ask another student to help me wheel the roller to the taxi out front. Once the door is shut and we’re on our way to the airport, I forget it all—the dream, the scene out my window, the last four years at Florida State; it’s all meaningless. And so is everything that’s to come. I’m just going through the motions. You know…being strong.

Whatever.

Chapter 1

 

Ty

 

“Come on, princess. Get your ass up! It’s time for workouts. Early bird gets the worm, and all that shit,” I practically sing to my brother, whose head is buried under two pillows. He’s still nursing himself a little after our late night. Nate’s not used to my schedule. I’ve never needed much sleep, a side effect of constantly waking up in pain—however real, or not, it may be. I pretty much filled my undergrad years with party after party, and I still finished with a 3.8 grade point average.

“Gahhhhhhhhh,” Nate bellows, his voice muffled by his mattress as he throws the top pillow at me, hitting me in the chest. “What are you, part robot? How are you not tired?”

“I’m just that awesome. Awesome people don’t need to sleep as much as you mere mortals,” I say, tugging the blanket from his body to really piss him off.

“All right! I’m up. I’m up,” he says, pushing his fists into his eyes and rubbing like he did when he was a kid. He’s still that kid to me—probably always will be. “The team doesn’t even start workouts until nine anyway, asshole!”

He’s complaining, but he’s still getting dressed. I push Nate. I push him because he takes it, which means he secretly likes being pushed. And I push him because the kid is seriously talented. I was good…before I got hurt. I
maybe
could have played college ball, probably for some junior college back home. But Nate, he could go all the way, as in big leagues, and stay there—for years.

“Hey, that’s
awesome asshole
, thank you very much. Now get your shoes on so we can get our miles in,” I say, pushing into the hallway to wait for him.

We go five miles every morning—Nate takes the treadmill at the gym, and I work the hand cycle. My body, at least what’s left of it, is something I can control; so weightlifting and fitness have kind of become an obsession. School has always been easy, which is probably why the partying never seems to get in my way. But throwing myself in the pool, and making my arms pound the water for a mile or two is a challenge—I need those challenges to remind me that I’m still alive.

“You’re like this happy little morning elf, and I hate you,” Nate says, throwing his workout towel at me before turning to lock up our room.

“Dude, it’s not like I’m the one putting the hard stuff in your hands. You know, you can get drunk on just beer, bro. You don’t have to do shots and shit like that. That’s why you’re always so tired in the morning,” I tell him.

Nate was a goody two-shoes in high school, always hanging with the same group of guys and his girlfriend. The switch flipped when he found out she cheated on him. Thank God I was home when that happened. He left the party, came home to me, and we shared our first bottle of Jack. Damn, maybe it is my fault—I should’ve started him out on something weaker.

“About that, man…I think I’m out,” he says, pausing right before the doorway exiting our dorm.

“Out of what?” He’s lost me on this one.

“Out…of this partying and trolling-for-random-chicks thing we’re doing every night. It’s…it’s just not me,” he says, and I can’t help but laugh, but Nate’s not in the mood. “Fuck off, I knew you’d make fun of me.”

“Sorry, sorry dude. That was just—”I have to pause again, trying to keep a straight face. Tucking my big-ass grin into the side of my arm to hide it, I force myself to take a deep breath—and to take my brother seriously. “I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t see the downside.”

“You wouldn’t,” Nate says, walking ahead. My smile’s gone at that—he’s right, I wouldn’t. And that stings a little.

Workouts go the same, and when Nate heads off to join the team, I put in some extra time. There’s a posting for personal trainers that I’ve been looking at, I just haven’t had the balls to ask about it yet. But today’s the day. There’s a cute girl working the main counter, so I hit her up first.

“Hey, Nike!” I call her
Nike
because that’s what her shirt says. She looks down, smirks, and then looks back into my eyes. My grin makes her smile and bite her lip, and I know I’ve got her. “Sorry, didn’t know your name.”

“I’m Sage,” she says, leaning over the counter just enough to give me a nice view of the frilly white-lace trim on her bra.

“Sage, nice name,” I smile, falling right into my routine. “I was checking out the posting for the personal trainer. That filled yet?”

“Nope,” she says, her smile bigger now. “You interested?”

“Yep,” I say, playing off of her flippant answer. She’s oblivious though.

“Hang on, I’ll get the manager,” she says, pushing back with a skip from the counter and heading into a back office. I allow myself a glance at her tiny shorts and perfect ass while she bounces away.

The manager wasn’t as charmed by my dimples and good looks, so I had to win over all six foot four of him with my skills. After six years of physical rehab, I know my stuff; he was happy to hire me to work with freshman students who were just looking to stay in shape.

I type Nate a text on my way back to the dorm, making our now-regular lunch plan for burgers at Sally’s. It’s probably our dad’s fault. Preeter boys like their routine. I think maybe only two or three days have passed that we haven’t eaten at least one of our three meals at our new favorite hole-in-the-wall.

I have a good hour to kill before Nate’s practice is done. Alone time. At least during school, I can sink my mind into something for one of my classes; I usually end up working ahead—just because I can’t stand being idle. But there’s not much to distract me now. Even
Sports Center
is lame in August. McConnell is not known for its football team, so like hell am I going to get into
that.

It’s a bad idea—it always is—but my phone is in my hand, and my fingers are typing and hitting send before I can stop myself. It’s been three weeks since I’ve talked to Kelly. She had her baby two months ago. That was a slap in my face, a reality dose I probably needed. That’s why I broke up with her in the first place—so she could have these things. I did it because I loved her; I wanted her to have it all. But damn did it hurt seeing her live her life and move on from me so effortlessly.

Kelly stayed with me after the accident, through our junior year of high school. We were going to go to the same college, too—that was always the plan. But I could tell by the look on her face, the look she wore more and more every day, that she was forcing herself to go through with it all. She wanted out. But she loved me too much to hurt me. So I pushed her away instead. I broke it off and went on a dating binge at the end of my senior year. Somehow, through it all, she stayed my friend.

My phone buzzes back with a response, and I hover over the screen for a few seconds, afraid to open it. I just asked her how things were going at home with Jack, the baby. We’ve managed to remain friends for four years.
Friends
—even though every conversation with her is like driving a stake through my heart. Last year, she got married. A few months later, she told me she was pregnant, and I died a little more.

Swiping the screen, the first thing I see is a picture of tiny feet nestled inside Kelly’s hands—the diamond ring on her left finger like a banner waving in my face. Her husband, Jared, tolerates me, but I don’t think he’d mind at all if Kelly and I just stopped communicating…completely. I have a feeling he’ll get his wish one day; distance and time, they do funny things to the heart—they make you…forget. Or at least, want to forget.

He’s beautiful.
That’s all I can say.

Thanks.
Her message back is just as simple. I know we’re near the end, and I feel sick. I’m getting drunk tonight—with or without Nate as my wingman. Hell, I might just pull up a stool at Sally’s and join the regulars who plant themselves there all day.

 

Cass

 

“Oh my god. You literally brought your entire life from Burbank to Oklahoma, didn’t you?” I huff, dragging two extra bags, as well as my own trunk, along the walkway toward our dorm.

“That was the deal. I would come
here
, but I still get to be me—and I like to have my things,” my sister Paige says, prancing ahead of me with the lighter bags. She’s a full minute older, but you’d think years separated us with the authority she holds over my head.

When it came time to decide on a college, Paige’s choices narrowed down to Berkley and McConnell, and Berkley was definitely her preference. But for me, it was always McConnell, and only McConnell. They had the best sports and rehab-medicine program in the country, and that’s what I wanted to do—what I was destined to do. But my parents wouldn’t support me moving thousands of miles away without someone around to keep an eye on me. Supervision—the word made my skin crawl, I had heard it so often.
Supervision
and
monitoring
were words bandied about so often—in conversations about me, but never in conversations with me. God, how I wished just once someone threw in the word
normal.

So, as much of a pain-in-the-ass as my sister is, she’s also a saint, because she picked McConnell…and I’m the only reason for that. I owe her—I owe her my life.

“Okay, so here’s the deal,” Paige starts as soon as we get our bags, mostly hers, loaded into our dorm room. “I want this bed. And I’m still going to rush a sorority. Mom and Dad don’t need to know that I won’t technically be living
with
you.”

“Works for me,” I say, already unzipping my bag and flipping open the lid on my trunk. I feel Paige’s purse abruptly slam into my back. “Ouch! What the hell?” I say, rubbing the spot where the leather strap smacked my bare skin.

“The least you could do is pretend to miss living with me,” she says, her eyes squinting, her frown showing she’s a little hurt.

“Oh, Paigey, I’ll miss you. I just hate that you have to be my babysitter—
still
!” And I do hate it. I think that’s the worst part about being a teenager with multiple sclerosis—everyone’s always waiting for something to go wrong.

It started in the middle of my freshman year. I would get this pain in my eye. It would come and go, weeks between each occurrence. When I couldn’t ignore it any longer, I told my parents, and we went to the eye doctor. My vision was fine. He told them it was probably stress from school, or the running in soccer leaving me dehydrated. What a simple and succinct diagnosis. It was also complete crap.

The fatigue hit next. Again, easily summed up with too much soccer practice, which, of course, led to truly uncomfortable fights between my parents—my mom wanting me to quit completely, my father saying I just “need more conditioning.” It was because of these fights that I hid the tingling from them. That went on for months, until it was summer. Then one day, I couldn’t walk.

I could stand from my bed, get to my feet, but that was it. The second I attempted to move toward my door or drag my feet toward my closet to get dressed I wobbled and fell. I felt like the town drunk without the benefit of the booze in a paper bag. I screamed for Paige and my parents, and I knew by the look on their faces that my life as I knew it was done.

After my first steroid IV treatment, I was able to walk again—all of my symptoms gone, like the round ball the magician waves in front of your eyes until it isn’t there. Only, just like that magician who secretly tucks the ball behind his hand, my MS isn’t really gone either. It’s…hiding.

The fights continued, and my parents separated for a while. After the MS diagnosis, my mom insisted I quit soccer. I got depressed. My dad supported my wishes to play again—of course, under strict circumstances, and with limited workouts. Everything pretty much sucked for the next year.

It was a series of med trials, seeing how certain drugs affected me, then finding out what side effects I could handle. I also got really good at giving myself a shot—three times a week, for three years, until they came out with the pill version last year. I didn’t mind the shots, though. What I minded were the constant questions and lectures from my parents: “How are you feeling? Are you fatigued? You should rest; stop working so hard.”

Paige never lectured. Through it all, she just stayed the same. True, she’s terribly self-absorbed—there were moments that she resented the attention I got because of my disease—but it was more about the
attention
and the fact that it wasn’t on her. And I liked that.

We made a deal with my parents, coming here as a package. We fought for it for months—my mom really wanted to keep me at home. But that’s the thing about MS. It never goes away; it’s always with me. The shots, drug trials, therapies—they can’t cure the disease; they can only slow it down. Like the front line of the Pittsburgh Steelers—except nowhere near as effective. Maybe more like the front line of the Miami Dolphins. So in the end, I got my way. Now that I’m here, I’m not going to let MS be a part of any conversation. I’m just Cass Owens, and my story ends there.

“Hungry. Now,” Paige says, snapping her fingers at me. I smile out the window, not offended in the least. I’m free.

“Let’s go eat greasy fried crap,” I say, grabbing my purse. Blowing right past her, I ignore her eye-roll protest and impending whine about needing a salad with low-cal dressing. Freedom!

 

Ty

 

I’m two beers ahead of Nate by the time he walks into Sally’s, and I can already see the lecture building with every step, the closer he comes. He’s doing that thing, where he cracks his neck on one side and looks down, shaking his head at me in shame.

“Save it, bro,” I say, picking up my glass and finishing off the last of my second beer while he sits down and admires both empty mugs.

“You called Kelly, didn’t you?” It’s not really a question, so I don’t answer. “I don’t know why you torture yourself. It’s not like you can’t meet other women. Damn, Ty—that’s like your best skill. You meet women every five minutes, and they’re in love with you after ten minutes.”

“Yeah, but I don’t love them. No one is Kelly,” I say, feeling every bit of my self-loathing settle over my body.

“No, but maybe…just maybe, someone could be better, you know, like
different
better. If you’d just give it a damned chance,” Nate says, stretching his legs out from the booth, and pulling a menu out from the rack on the wall. I can’t help but watch his muscles stretch, and I hate him—just for the smallest second—for being whole. I don’t really hate him, but sometimes it’s hard to be so damned positive all of the time. “Order me a cheeseburger and chili fries. I’m hitting the head,” he says, pushing out from the booth, and walking to the restrooms in the back.

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