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Copyright 2012 Melissa Pearl
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 author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, businesses, characters and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.
Cover art (copyright) by Brenda Howson. All rights reserved.
Cover photo (copyright) by Al Ronberg. All rights reserved.
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Table of Contents
Thanks for finding me.
Thanks for marrying me.
Thanks for being my jester.
I love you.
My boots make a sharp tapping sound as I clomp my way home. The loose gravel at the edge of the road jumps away from my anger, skirting ahead of me then tumbling down the steep embankment.
I can't believe I'm in this situation. How could my boyfriend be such a jerk? I cross my arms and shiver, trying to block the last thirty minutes from my mind. What will people think? I blink away tears as I imagine the gossip tree shaking with mirth. How am I going to face everyone tomorrow?
I should have just given in and done what he wanted me to. I have before.
I look up at the night sky. It is clear and cold, the stars are brilliant with no streetlights to hinder their glow. I'm guessing it's around midnight. I can't see my watch face in this dim light. I can barely see two steps in front of me.
A cool wind whistles through my clothing and I wish, yet again, that I hadn't chosen to wear a sleeveless shirt with a plunging V-neck that left nothing to the imagination. Maybe Trent was right. I had dressed for it.
I look down at my knee-high boots and skinny jeans so tight they'd have to be peeled off. I suddenly feel like a hooker. My lower lip wobbles. I can feel the melt down setting in. I struggle to hold it together.
I'm stuck in the middle of who knows where. I have no idea how long it's going to take me to walk home... I don't even know which direction home is.
Trent said it would be romantic, the best vista point he'd ever found, but it wasn't a scenic overlook. It was just a clearing of darkness where mischief could never be discovered.
Bile swirls in my stomach.
The metal dog tags clink against my sternum. I can feel them swinging back and forth in time with my march. I grab them through my clothing and squeeze. I'm tempted to take them off and hurl them into the trees beside me, but I can't. I blame them though... well not them exactly, but the person who gave them to me.
Why had I put them on? They had been hidden in my jewelry box for months. My fingers had brushed over them as I was searching for my hoop earrings and I'd been compelled to slip them over my head and stuff them beneath my shirt. If I hadn't put them on, I wouldn't have thought of him and if he hadn’t been swimming around in the back of my brain, I wouldn't be in this situation.
Dale Finnigan and his 'you should know better look' had a lot to answer for tonight. I hitch my bag higher onto my shoulder. My march is getting faster and the need to be out of here burns. I start the long descent down the winding road, my mind playing tricks with me.
Maybe you should call, Dale.
You know he'd come and collect you.
'No he wouldn't,' I say to the air. 'He hates me.'
The word sends a shudder through my system and I slam the door on my brain. It can just shut up right now.
I won't be calling Dale.
I reach into my bag and fish around for my phone. I stop in my tracks to have a better look, but with no light, the endeavor is hopeless. It looks like I won't be calling anyone. I grit my teeth and keep walking, picking up my pace as I round the corner. The wind whistles through my clothing again and I shiver. I should stop and put my jacket on, but I don't want to. If I just keep walking I won't have to stop and really analyze the crap I'm in.
My brain doesn't play fair and I analyze it anyway.
It's Tuesday night. Most normal sixteen year olds would be home in their beds having done their homework, watched a little TV, and said goodnight to their parents, but not me, right? I always have to do things differently.
I can feel my mouth pinching into a tight line as the simplicity and bliss of that kind of life feels a million miles away.
I shake my head.
'What am I talking about? My life rocks.' I say the last word way too loud as I continue to convince myself. 'I have just been at study group.'
I laugh. Why did we even call it that? We never studied. It was basically Tuesday night party time. Matt's parents were out of town, so we had blasted the music and stood down by the lake goofing around and laughing until our bellies ached.
I grin as I picture the scene in my head - friends surrounding me, Trent's arm around my shoulders making me feel safe.
I wish his arms were around me now.
The second part of the night had not been so great.
I wrap my arms around myself and squeeze, trying to eradicate the memories, the look of annoyance scouring his perfect features, the harsh words of disgust and the sound of gravel spray as he drove away from me.
Who needs him?
I ignore the 'you do' in the back of my mind and sniff. Lifting my head, I pick up my pace again as I enter a dark patch of road. The trees loom overhead and I try really hard not to think of ghosts and demons as my breath quickens.
The distant sound of an engine distracts me. The faint glow of headlights appear behind me and I smile. Trent feels guilty. Yes! Man, was I going to give him hell for this.
I glance behind me and disappointment sears my insides. The headlights are sitting way too low on the car to be Trent's. He drives a Jeep Cherokee, this car looks more like a sedan? Or maybe a sports car?
I toy with the idea of sticking out my thumb as it draws near. I'm sure it would be safe enough. I'd just ask for a lift to Big Bear Village then walk from there. No big deal. Maybe I could even ask for a ride to L.A.. The idea of running away skirts through my brain as I squeeze my thumb inside my fist.
It fights to break free, but I won't let it. I even start filling my mind with every hitch hiking horror story I can think of. That works like a charm and my thumb relaxes into submission.
The car is cruising down the hill towards me when a sudden fear rips up my spine. I can see it swerving out of the corner of my eye and turn to watch its erratic movements. I move to the very edge of the road, my boots pushing piles of dirt and stone off the edge of the embankment. My legs hit the guardrail. With eyes the size of dinner plates I watch the car swerve. Hasn't it seen me? Doesn't it know I'm vulnerable on the side of the road here?