If you have been keeping up on the blog and my latest projects, you should already be familiar with Stranded. I am proud to say that it is doing wonderfully. I can't wait to finish That First Kiss, the second book in the Night Calls series and share it will y'all!
In the meantime, I want to share a new project with you that I am really exited about. Like anything that I write, this one has a bit of me in it. Unlike my other projects, this one has much more of me in it than anything else I have ever written. It's far from being an autobiography, but I'll leave it up to you to figure out what parts reflect my life and what parts are purely fiction. Here is the first chapter. Feel free to weigh in, share your thoughts and suggestions, and most importantly, enjoy!
Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.
That moment when you realize that you care about others more than they will ever care about you is the moment you realize that you walk alone in this world. It has taken my whole life to learn this lesson, and I have learned it well. Caring is in my blood. It is who I am. I don’t know that I can ever change, and I don’t know that I want to. Opening myself up to others leaves my heart vulnerable to their abuse, and although I am weary of being kicked, I have no desire to kick back. For those of you who think I need to grow up, stand up for myself, know this. This thing that I have, it’s a soul deep affliction, an illness nearly impossible to overcome. The world needs people like me. It needs someone willing to love even if they are not loved back. This is my story.
“He cheated,” I say, looking down at my shoes, my face awash in embarrassment. As if I am the one who has sinned.
“You’re kidding,” Charity gasps. “How did you find out?” Everything in her voice tells me that she is invested in my heartache, just as surprised as I am, and maybe even a little angry on my behalf. But her eyes, they tell a different story. While I pour my heart out to her, her interest is on something in the distance.
“He told me last night.” As I speak, I follow the direction of her gaze to a group of boys standing alongside a row of bright orange lockers. They’re seniors, two full grades ahead of us, but Charity watches them with an interest that suggests she doesn’t care. In fact, I know she doesn’t because Charity is a firm believer that age is just a number.
“What an ass.” She shakes her head. “Did he give you a reason? Did you guys break up?”
Again shame grabs hold of me, hanging on my shoulders and pressing them down until I feel like the added weight might finally break me. It’s unreasonable to feel this way, I know, but I can’t help feeling that what I am about to tell her will make her think I am a fool. Hell, I think I’m a fool. “He liked the attention.” I tell her exactly what he told me. “He doesn’t feel like I have been giving him enough of that lately. He was lonely.”
As the words pour out, a tremor takes root in my stomach. I feel sick just thinking about it. We haven’t had much time alone together lately because of my new job. Between school and work, our relationship has been pushed to the back burner.
Charity huffs a laugh. “Ethan only said that because he still wants to have his cake and eat it too. You know that, right?”
I do know that, intellectually. But my heart aches just thinking about walking away from everything that we’ve built over the last year—and eternity in high school terms. “Yeah,” I say, because how am I supposed to respond? I feel like an idiot.
Charity stops in the middle of the hall and turns to face me. “You didn’t break up with him, did you?” Her tone is filled with disappointment, as if she already knows what my answer will be. Maybe she does. We’ve been tentative friends since the third grade, best friends since the summer before sixth. I can still remember the night we met. Laney, a mutual friend of ours, introduced us one evening. During an enthusiastic bike race in which we were pitted against one another, Charity and I bonded over talks of our moody friend and, realizing that we made a good pair, rode off into the sunset together. Well, toward her house at any rate.
“No,” I tell her, trying desperately to hold my head up, but I can’t look at her. I can’t take my eyes off the three boys we’re closing in on. I wonder if any of them have a girlfriend and if they are cheaters too. In the back of my mind, I realize that at the age of fourteen I am already becoming jaded, but I don’t know how to stop it. Life happens. It changes you, and not always for the better.
“He’s going to do it again,” Charity warns.
I know the chances of that are high. Once a cheater, always a cheater, they say. Whoever “they” are. But all I can picture is Ethan’s face, twisted in agony, as he knelt before me in the middle of my bedroom floor. “I’m so sorry, Tess. I never meant to hurt you.”
Tears are streaking down his face. My chest is so constricted I can’t breathe. My heart hurts. I think it might have actually fractured in two, but I know that’s not possible because I’m not dead. It want to die, though, it hurts that bad.
Looking down at him, with his arms wrapped around my waist, his face buried in my abdomen, I resist the urge to hug him to me, to weave my fingers through his soft black hair and never let him go. Yesterday he was mine, today he feels like a stranger. But I still want him. How is that possible?
When he tips his head back and peers up at me through those big brown eyes, anger tears through me. I want to punch him. To make him hurt as much as he has hurt me.
“Please,” he whispers, his voice sounding choked. “I don’t know what I would do without you.”
I know right then that I won’t break up with him. Not because I think he will die without me—he’s already proven that he would find someone else to take my place—but because I don’t know what I would do without him.
I don’t say anything. I can’t speak for the lump in my throat, but Ethan must have seen the answer in my eyes because he lets out a shuddering breath and stands. His strong hands envelope my face and he pulls me to him, kissing my nose, my mouth, my forehead and uttering a million breathless ‘I love you’s’ as he hugs me to his chest. I feel his relief, but all I feel is a pervading sadness seeping into my soul like poisonous tar. And the anger hasn’t gone away. The longer I stand there, feeling his thudding heart slowly return to a natural pace beneath my cheek, the more my muscles tense. When he leans back to smile down at me, I tell him I want to punch him.
“I don’t blame you,” he responds. “I deserve to be punched for what I’ve done to you.”
And so I punch him.
I expected to feel better, like hitting him would liberate me from this turmoil slowly eating me away inside, but I don’t. I feel worse. You should never hurt someone you love.
Charity continues to chastise me as we make our way past the seniors who barely glance our way. I nod and ‘Mm hmm’ in all the appropriate places, but I’m not really listening anymore. There is only so much guilt a person can take before they begin to shut down.
The lunch hour is over and I have just enough time to make it to my locker and my next class before the late bell. Located on the first floor, my locker is the perfect distance between both of our midafternoon classes, just like Charity’s locker on the third floor is perfect for our morning classes. To make things easier, we decided to share the too small space.
“You’ll be okay,” Charity assures me as she opens the locker and reaches in for her change of clothes. Her next class is gym.
“Yeah, I know.” I try on a smile, but it feels as forced as it is. She frowns. “No worries. Hey.” Reaching in for my math book, I opt for a subject change. “Do you want to stay over tonight?”
“No, I can’t. Shay and some of the other cheerleaders invited me to this party at Greg’s.”
I nod my head and try to look cheerful and accepting even though inside I feel my tentative hold on my emotions slipping. Ever since high school started and Charity decided to join the squad I’ve felt the line between us growing thinner. We talk every day, but it’s not the same as it used to be. She’s pulling away, our lives are going in different directions, and I hate it.
“Oh, hey,” she places her hand on my arm. “You can come if you want?”
Charity doesn’t realize she has a tell, but I recognize the too bright smile and arched eyebrow for what it is. She thinks she’s hurt my feelings and so she is offering to include me in her plans even though it’s the last thing she wants to do.
“That’s okay,” I tell her. I start backwards down the hall, needing to put distance between us before I do something stupid, like cry. “I’m not really in the mood for a party tonight.” I purse my lips and give her a meaningful look. I don’t miss the relief behind her eyes when she nods sympathetically.
“Okay.” She starts to walk away, but spins around like she’s forgotten something. “Oh, I almost forgot. Can you give me a ride home after school?”
And there it is; our unbreakable bond. Charity knows she can always count on me, even though I'm sure I can’t say the same about her. “Sure. I’ll wait for you in the parking lot.”