Authors: Stacey Jay
Table of Contents
Published by the Penguin Group
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eISBN : 978-1-101-51319-4
Copyright © 2011 Stacey Jay
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To the resilient people of Nashville.
t was raining so hard I could barely see my hands as I wrapped my fingers around the tree house step and started to climb. Even the shelter of the leaves still clinging to the branches didn’t offer much relief from the downpour. I was climbing blind, the lack of visual cues making the swaying of the massive trunk and the groans lurching from deep inside the tree even more disturbing.
It was a horrible storm, worse than it had been the first time around. Freezing wind whipped through the valley behind my house, cutting through the tightly woven fabric of my fleece v-neck, plastering it to my skin with another layer of cold and wet.
But still I climbed, shouting his name as I went. I had no choice but to go to him. He hadn’t heard me the first or second or
time I’d called from the ground.
Or maybe he was just ignoring me.
“I’m coming up!” I screamed again, the act of forcing my stiff lips to form words helping keep my mind off the fact that I was six . . . seven . . . ten . . .
feet in the air. I shivered, fingers clawing into the damp wood, fear of heights throbbing through my body in new and powerful ways.
I could feel the empty space behind me growling, a hungry void that wanted my slick hands to slip, wanted to watch me fall and gobble up my fear as I dropped. I licked my lips, tasting salt and sticky, and thought for a second I must have bitten myself.
Cramped fingers dared a brush up and down my face, swiping away water and something hotter that rolled down into my mouth. The blood was coming from my nose, from the place where the locket’s chain had scraped away my skin.
The locket . . . . It had drawn blood.
Bringing both hands to cling onto the ladder once more, I turned and brushed my face against my shoulder, leaving a spot of black on the gray fabric.
“Go away,” he yelled above me, his voice slurred and thick.
“I’m not going away. You shouldn’t be drinking up here,” I said, shouting to be heard over a sudden gust of wind. The tree rocked back and forth, moaning, while my pulse raced and my hands gripped the ladder step so tightly my knuckles snapped and cracked.
For the first time since that night in Isaac’s truck, I felt the obscene weight of holding the future in my own hands. I had to get us both out of this tree before something bad happened, before someone was seriously hurt, before anything else was lost or broken . . . .
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10, 5:25 P.M.
avender and rotted peaches and old-lady face cream.
The smell was enough to make me cringe even if it hadn’t been underscored by VapoRub and the fruit-flavored Tums Gran ate like candy. My bathroom had been hijacked, right when I needed sanctuary more than ever.
Since the day my family moved into my great-grandmother’s old house, my big room with the window seat and private bath had been my safe place. It was where I felt peaceful, in control, no matter what was going on in the outside world.
Unfortunately, my sanctuary had been violated by Gran’s arrival for her first visit in years. She was sleeping in the guest room, but sharing my bath. The counter was covered in pillboxes, the vanity buried in jewelry and face cream, and the entire room reeked of sweet and flowery old person.
I loved Gran to death, but really . . . her nose must have ceased to function or there was no way she’d be able to live with her own odor.
As I rushed through drying my hair and brushed blush on my cheeks, I wondered if the scent would linger on my clothes. Would Isaac smell it and think I’d used that body spray he hated? The one my mom had given me for my sweet sixteen that Rachel Pruitt had said made her nauseous and Isaac had made me promise never to wear again?
My forehead bunched, making the penciling in of my light red brows more challenging than usual. More than anything, I wanted this night to be perfect. I
it to be perfect. It had only been two weeks, but it felt like I’d been living with this horrible ache in my chest for years. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be at home in my own skin.
Even before my screwup, there were times when I’d felt out of place. In the lunchroom, at parties, even just hanging out at Ramon’s or Jukebox Java after school, I was just . . . awkward with Isaac’s crowd, the girl who never said the right thing, who never knew when to laugh or toss her hair. Despite the fact that I’d been dating the star of the basketball team my entire dateable life, I’d never fit in with the perfect people. I was pretty, but not
pretty, smart, but not
smart, and I didn’t possess a single athletic bone in my body, so volleyball or cheerleading—the approved platinum sports—were out of the question.
I wasn’t even a good drama geek. The closest I’d come to landing a starring role was being cast as first understudy in
had happened. Because I’d felt uncomfortable, and frustrated with Isaac because of it. I had to do better.
better. I had to make sure nothing like
happened ever again. Our anniversary had to be perfect, romantic, unforgettable.
I didn’t even care that today was also my birthday. Seventeen was a weird number anyway, and celebrating three years with Isaac was what really mattered.
I’d spent the better part of the morning choosing the perfect anniversary outfit—a silver-and-black-striped tissue tee with a clingy black cotton skirt—and for once was happy with the way I looked. I felt sexy, but casual, and my pale skin actually looked dramatic rather than sickly. My red hair had cooperated and dried in smooth waves down to my shoulders and—slightly crooked eyebrows aside—my makeup had turned out better than usual. I looked as pretty as I ever did . . . but something still seemed to be missing.
I was stabbing around in my jewelry drawer, looking for my oversized hoop earrings, when I spotted the locket in the tangle of necklaces on top of the vanity. It was silver, engraved with intricate swirls and a cursive
on one side. It looked old. And expensive. And it was
pretty. My inner cat perked up and demanded I bat my paw at the shiny object.