Authors: Tessa Marie
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission of the author except where permitted by law.
Copyright September 2014
Cover Photo by Petrenko Andriy courtesy of Shutterstock
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Dedicated to those facing the impossible.
Anything is possible.
As I see it, the only thing worse than death is life.
life. But mine is a lonely, sad existence with no point other than to survive another day.
lotto’d out at my chance for a warm meal and a cot in a place away from the elements. The wind kicks up as if to remind me I have no way to escape it. I tug my hoodie tight around my neck and scan my surroundings.
The blue sky i
s a faded memory as each day ends sooner and dark falls earlier. I need to find a home for the night. The train trestle is my best bet, but it’s on the other side of town. I sure as hell don’t feel like making the hike.
A row of woods line the YMCA so I decide to head there and set up camp.
I find a nice clearing and put my backpack down, retrieving my towel from inside and placing it on the ground.
I take out
the only thing I have of value, say a silent goodnight, and then place it back in my bag for safe keeping.
My eyes flutter shut and I
think of the life I once had, the one where happiness existed. It was so long ago, and I’m afraid if I stop remembering, avoid replaying it in my mind, I’ll forget. And I can’t. It’s all I have left. It’s the only thing that makes my shitty life a little easier.
fuck are you?” A deep, raspy voice echoes around me and I jolt up. Every muscle in my body tenses, knowing trouble is just inches away. I take a calming breath to push my fear beneath the surface and slowly turn, holding my hands up in defense.
A tall man in ripped filthy jeans and a t-shirt that was once white, but now a grungy shade of gr
ay, glares at me. He grinds his yellow teeth and narrows his beady black eyes.
“How dare you come in my woods,” he
barks, spit flying across the space between us. I step back, but he unleashes his fury in one swift blow, and I crumple to the ground. Blood pours from my instantly split lip, and I suck in a jagged breath, bracing for another hit. He kicks the wind out of me with his steel-toe boot. Bile rises in my throat, and I push down the cinnamon raisin bagel I had for dinner.
“This is my turf
, motherfucker,” the bastard growls. He reaches into my pocket and wrestles out my last two bucks. I twist away, but my attacker places his sole on my throat. One strong shove and my trachea will collapse. A part of me wishes he would. The pain won’t last forever. It couldn’t possibly be as bad as the shit I’ve felt over the past ten years.
Just do it.
Seventeen may be young to die, but I’m okay with it. When I suck in my last breath and my heart goes still…I’ll finally be reunited with my parents.
I squeeze my eyes shut and think of my parents, but no matter how hard I concentrate on their faces, I keep seeing someone else’s.
My parents might be dead, but my sister isn’t. I promised myself the day the social workers ripped her from me I’d find her.
With a deep breath I prepare to fling
the guy’s foot off me, but I don’t have to. He removes his boot from my throat and rips open my backpack. Before I can see what he’s taking, my surroundings dim, and the darkness consumes me.
Sun shines through my window. I grab for my pillow to block out the light but come up empty handed. There’s only one explanation—Josie, my pain in the ass little sister.
She needs to get over this monster bullshit. I roll over
, and pain shoots through my gut, a scream erupts from my mouth, and my eyes pop open. Panic settles in as I realize it was just a memory, and I’m lying on the cold ground in a pool of my own blood. Slowly, bits and pieces of last night come back to me.
I jump up, ignoring the searing pain in my ribs. My eyes flick from side to side, a damn ping pong match going on in my mind. I dive to my right where my black t-shirt sprawls across a pile of leaves. I toss it aside, but nothing. I jump back up and spot my other shirt. I come to a skidding halt in front of it, reach down, and toss the shirt aside.
My heart plummets to the ground
, and I go with it, letting my head fall between my knees. The only thing I had left of my family was in that bag—the last link to my sister.
I fight the burn in my throat
and run a hand through my hair. I’ve been through nine foster homes in ten years and never lost sight of it.
and in the matter of seconds it’s gone.
I shake my head, my eyes landing on
a pile of brush to my right. My bag!
lease let it be there. I fall to the ground and snatch the bag into my arms. My shaking fingers yank on the torn zipper, tugging, pulling, praying he didn’t take the one thing I can’t replace. I rip back the plastic pocket. Relief floods into me, and I fall to my ass. I take the picture of my family and press it against my heart. The burn in my throat is impossible to fight and spreads, but I manage to swallow it down.
hug the picture as if my family is really here and not trapped in a moment of time.
Seconds turn into minutes before
my head clears and the painful memories fade. I count my single blessing, and with one last glance at a life I will never have again, I place the picture back in its protected place.
The bastard took my blanket, but at least he left my towel and clothes. Two outfits, not a lot, but it
’s better than nothing.
I shoulder my backpack and get up. Hot searing pain s
tabs at my ribs. Shithead totally sucker-punched me. I’m just shy of six feet, but he was bigger.
hould’ve just gone to the damn train trestle. I let my guard down for three lousy seconds. I swear this is the last time I wind up motionless in the dirt, blood dripping into the ground marking my attackers so-called territory.
A laugh rumbles up my throat
at the irony then I tug my hood over my head, pulling the strings tight.
body rejects any and all movement, but I force myself to get as far away from these woods as possible. During the day, the library is my safe haven, so I head there. Heat and a bathroom sound like heaven right now, and for a few hours I can get lost in a book and forget about life on the outside.
My stomach growls
, but with my empty pockets, there’s nothing I can do about it. The glass door slides open as I approach the library, and I step inside.
The woman at the desk peers over her glasses at me, her light eyes widening slightly. I pull my hood tighter and hurry to the bathroom.
“Excuse me, young man,” the woman says as I pass. My first instinct is to ignore her and keep walking, but I can’t make her suspicious and chance losing my safe haven.
I turn, praying to G
od I don’t look as crappy as I feel. The woman sucks in a startled breath which only means I look worse than I thought.
“Are you okay? What happened? Do you need me to call someone?”
Emptiness fills my heart and rips at my soul. I focus on coming up with a believable story and ignore the fact that there’s no one to call.
“I misjudged the s
ize of a curb and hit it wrong. Flew right over my handlebars. I’m sure it looks a lot worse than it is.”
“Maybe you should get checked out by a doctor,” she says, and reflexively my hands wave her suggestion away.
I’m a runaway, the last thing I need is to be found.
“Really I’m fine. Nothing a little soap and water can’t fix. Thanks for the concern,” I say and
walk away before she can ask any more questions.
I almost don’t recognize my
own reflection. Red splotches swirl with purple and blue just beneath my eye. Dirt and grime smear across my cheeks and remnants of leaves stick to my hair.
I inhale deep and instantly regret it as pain slices its way across my sides. I bite back the scream clawing its way up my throat and remove my hoodie. Dried blood outlines my jaw and dirt is caked in my hair. I clean myself up then take my spot in the farthest corner amongst the history books.
My stomach makes more noise
, and I remind myself the soup kitchen will be open for the season in a few days. I can hold out till then. I’ve done it before.
There is one simple rule when it comes to volunteering
get emotionally involved. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way, and as much as it hurts me to not get involved, I do what I have to do. Because once you open yourself up, it’s over.
You can’t save everybody
, especially those who don’t want to be saved. The only way I can continue to volunteer and survive is to detach myself completely. Besides Princeton and Harvard aren’t going to count the number of lives I saved, just the hours I worked.
I park in the back lot
of the old church on Main, grab my planner and cross
sign up for soup kitchen
off my list then head out to meet with Barney, the soup kitchen manager.
Even though I
’ve walked this sidewalk a million times, I still stop to admire the wall of gum that’s been a staple to the town for as long as I can remember.
My eyes travel over a pink happy face
, then to a green peace sign. It’s kind of artistic in a way. I guess.
A hard bump to my shoulder
takes me by surprise and sends me off balance. A blur of black whizzes by as I stumble into the wall. I regain my footing and let my eyes focus on the retreating figure.
!” I call out to the boy in the black hoodie. He comes to a skidding halt with his large shoulders hunched and hands jammed into his pockets, and my heart plummets to the depths of my stomach. Oh God why did he stop? Me and my big mouth.
Barney always tells me to be careful.
Surrounded by a brick wall on one side and a cast iron fence on the other, I’m stuck. If this guy is a psycho my only option is to run back to my car and hope to God I beat him there.
I’m not going to wait and find out.
I place my foot behind me, ready to run like heck when he turns. All those self-defense classes, and they never once told us what to do when fight or flight is no longer an option because you’re too petrified to even blink.
moves towards me, and my legs suddenly become heavy weights. A black curl falls onto his forehead, and he meets my gaze, giving me a glimpse of his copper colored eyes. Beautiful eyes filled with sadness and despair. I take in the rest of his face, following the lines of his jaw to his swollen split lip. I’m sure if he had to choose, it would be to fight.
A chill of terror crawls up my spine.
Maybe if I scream loud enough Barney will hear me.
His tongue swipes at the wound
. “Sorry,” he mumbles, then he tightens his hood and continues on his way.
My heart slams back
into place, and I gasp for air, thanking my lucky stars I didn’t just become another dead girl on the ten o’clock news.
As soon as I get my
act together, I run down the concrete steps and into the church basement, shut the door, and move away from it as quick as possible. I take comfort in the scent of bleach because it means Barney is close by.
shake the remaining fear away and walk around the counter. Barney is body deep in the fridge—the only thing visible are his designer jeans and loafers. I knock on the open door, and he jumps, rag in hand and a spray bottle in the other.
“Anna, darling. A smile spreads across his tanned face.
,” I say as he places a kiss on each cheek. “I’m here to sign up.”
He rolls his dark eyes and
rests his hands on either side of his waist. “I don’t know why you bother. You know Stan and I have your name on the list. It’s always at the top.”
I playfully push his shoulder.
“Fine, you caught me. I just wanted an excuse to see you two. Where is that handsome man of yours?”
“At home with Leonardo.”
I rack my brain trying to recall one of their friends, a neighbor, relative, but no recollection of a Leonardo.
Barney grabs my hand and gives it a playful shake
, a huge smile spreading wide across his clean-shaven face. “We adopted a puppy!”
You?” I put my hand on my chest as if this news just changed my world completely. “You hate animals.”
them. They’re just dirty little things. But not Leonardo. He’s the cutest little terrier mix that doesn’t shed.”
“No really he is the cutest. Look.” Barney pulls out his phone and shows me three hundred and twenty-two pictures with the little guy.
“How long have you had him?”
“And only three hundred pictures?”
“So I got a little carried away.”
“Oh you stop that. “
He swats his hand at me. “Do you have anywhere to be?”
“I’m free for a couple hours.”
“Good. I have so much to do and only a few days to do it. Plus we have a lot of catching up, so grab a stack of napkins and come sit.
plop down at the large folding table set up for the buffet line and start wrapping napkins around forks and knives.
“How’s your mom been?”
Barney being Dad’s college roommate and Mom’s best friend, he’s been there since the day I was born. It’s still weird that he has to ask me about her. There was a point in time when Barney was at our house for every Sunday dinner. Until the Sunday dinners stopped and Mom started pushing everyone away.
“The last time I saw her, she seemed okay,” I respond.
Concern tugs at the corner of his eyes. “When was that?”
I take a minute to think about it. “What’s today?
Wednesday?” I ask and Barney nods. “Then it was...Friday.”
Displeasure streaks across his face. “I don’t like you in that house by yourself. Your father wouldn’t like it much either.”
My heart aches at the mention of
Dad. No matter how much time passes it doesn’t get any easier. Every time I think about him I’m right back in my living room, finding out I’ll never see him again.
I can’t change the past, but I don’t have to accept it either. Mom on the oth
er hand chooses to run from it, leaving me alone most of the time while she’s off looking for antiques. My brother, Seth is no better. As soon as he turned eighteen he took off for college and hasn’t been back since. Though, he still checks in from time to time.
“Why don’t you tell
that?” I mutter.
“Oh honey, I’ve tried. That woman is as stubborn as the day I met her.
” Barney offers a sympathetic smile then pushes his fingers into the bridge of his nose and rubs. “So how’s school going? Any acceptance letters yet?”
tuck a stray brown strand behind my ear. “It’s good. I won’t find out till December or January.” Not that it keeps me from checking the mailbox
Then you need to keep your mind off it. What’s new in the dating department?”
I roll my eyes. “
You know I don’t have time for that.”
Barney drops the fork he’
s holding. “Oh honey please. There’s always time for a little romance.”
He arches his brow, and I throw a napkin at him
. “Don’t point that eyebrow at me.”
it, and another napkin flies in his direction.
“Just because you and Stan are all hearts and sunshine doesn’t mean that’s the
case for everyone else.”
“Of course it
is!” Barney exclaims. He gets the glossy sympathetic look in his eyes before resting his hand on mine. “Anna, I just want to see you happy.”
“I don’t need a guy to make me happy. This is the twenty first century.
Independent women are kind of a thing.”
He crosses his arms.
“I was an independent woman for years and let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s nice to have someone to share in your happiness, help carry the burden of your sadness. It was great to claim independence, but it was a very lonely place.”
’s nothing but truth in his words. I may have more on my schedule than most, and never a moment of downtime, but even though I’m always busy, constantly with people, I always feel completely alone.
Even if I
have time I wouldn’t know the first thing to do. I’ve never been on a date. I’m not exactly Miss Popularity and guys aren’t lining up to ask me out. Dating and I are like peanut butter and tofu. They just don’t go together.
Ask me to cite the names of all forty-
three presidents, piece of cake. Want to know every element on the periodic table and their atomic number, you got it. Test me on the works of Shakespeare and Euripides, and I’ll ace it. But question me on guys and dating? You might as well slap an F on my forehead and call it a day.
“Do you have any
more pictures of Leonardo?” I ask, willing to subject myself to five hundred more images of his dog rather than talk about my lacking love life.
I didn’t show the pictures of us at the park.”
“Bring them on,” I say relieved.
When I don’t think my hands can roll another napkin, or my eyes can look at another picture, I give Barney a double cheek kiss and say goodbye.
The sun has set, leaving
the sky completely black. With Barney it’s easy to lose track of time since he never runs out of things to talk about. Unfortunately for me, without the sun, the temperature has dropped about ten degrees. My thin cardigan is no match for the crisp autumn night. I pull it across my chest and make a mental note to wear my jacket tomorrow.
ne quick scan of the sidewalk I pick up speed. I don’t want another encounter with a mysterious stranger, so I keep my eyes straight ahead. Every leaf that crunches underfoot sends a nervous chill up my spine. Every shadow fuels my fear until I’m practically running down the path.
y car finally comes into view, I’m full on sprinting. I’m scared, but also freezing. The brisk autumn wind whips my partially grown-out bangs into my eyes, impairing my vision. I swipe the hair out of my face just as I’m about to walk right into my bumper.
cold fingers tremble as I fight with the door handle. Once in, I slam the door and smack the locks.
Note to self: Need more than a
jacket tomorrow. Bring gloves too.
put the car into drive, but before I get too much pressure on the gas I slam on my brakes, my body bobbing forward. The seatbelt tightens across my chest and forces me back against the soft leather. My darn bangs flop in my face again, and I whack them away. The headlights shine brightly at someone in a dark hoodie, his arm shielding his face, inches from my bumper.
My heart batters my chest as I try to take slow steadying breaths.
I need to make sure he’s okay so I reach for my seatbelt. But before I can unlatch it, he drops his arm and I’m met with the same copper eyes as before.