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Authors: Laura Diamond

Tags: #teen, #young adult, #death and dying, #romance, #illness and disease, #social issues, #siblings, #juvenile fiction

Under My Skin

BOOK: Under My Skin
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks mentioned in this work of fiction.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Laura Diamond

 

UNDER MY SKIN by Laura Diamond

All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Swoon Romance. Swoon Romance and its related logo are registered trademarks of Georgia McBride Media Group, LLC.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

ISBN: 978-1-944816-43-8

Published by Swoon Romance, Raleigh, NC 27609

Cover design by Hunter Blue

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to those who dare to follow their heart.

 

 

 

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”

― Blaise Pascal

 

 

PART ONE

 

LIFE AND DEATH

Chapter One

 

Adam

 

 

Waiting for someone to die so I can get their heart makes it hard to fake things like happiness, joy, and laughter. Anything my parents and I do—a spontaneous weekend trip to New York City (Mum says she needed a change of scenery), splurging on front row tickets for a concert (because I scored an A+ on the latest English essay), or celebrating yet another round of blood tests by clinking spoons over a hot fudge sundae (fudge is brilliant, there’s nothing else to say)—amounts to killing time. The goal of so many seconds’ and minutes’ silent deaths? A phone call from my heart surgeon saying they’ve a heart for me.

Every moment I wait is another moment wasted, time lost to a life I shouldn’t be living while wishing for a healthy one I’ll probably never have.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump
.

With a slow exhale, I press a palm to my chest. “Keep beating,” I whisper. “We’ll get through this together.”

My poor bum ticker is tired, too weakened by the marathon of keeping me alive to make it to the finish line. Unfortunately for me, I’m not sick enough to be prioritized on the transplant list, but I’m too ill to survive much longer on this cocktail of meds. I have to hover one beat away from a fatal arrhythmia before they’ll grant me the coveted Level 1 status. Then it’s a gamble if they’ll find a matching donor.

Odds are I’ll die before I graduate high school.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump
.

A gust of wind slashes across my body, burrows up my nose, and yanks at my hair. I hook my fingers through the wire fence wrapped around the Empire State Building’s observation deck and toggle my lip piercing—two black hoops side by side—with my tongue. Spires top the fencing, curving inward far above everybody’s heads to prevent suicides. I wonder what it’d be like to leap off the building’s edge. Death would be surprised that I found him before he called on me.

I close my eyes, imagining falling, flying, letting go. The initial rush of it collapses into near panic. My stomach plummets, shooting down fast, and my wobbly heart races, alarmed. I grip the fence links tighter, clenching my jaw.

“Easy now, we’re okay,” I murmur. How cruel of me to test my heart like this. He can’t take it. I should know better.

I force my eyes open, reciting apologies in my head. Below, the city crowds its little island, holding millions of people within its streets, all oblivious to my suffering. Skyscrapers stab at the pale blue horizon and white clouds streak across the sky like scars.

NYC, Manhattan, The Big Apple … it’s
so
different from my London. Mum and Dad insisted on coming to the US “for the best care possible for their only son.” The little upstate New York town we three Brits invaded boasts having one of the most successful cardiothoracic surgeons in the world. It’s also stuffed with quaint New England-y type homes, thick clusters of trees eager to assault me with their pollen, and more cows than people.

That was months ago. Along with my heart’s steady decline, we’d crossed a bunch of things off
my
(my parents’) bucket list (for me). Mum and Dad call it progress. I call it pretending. I do my homework, excel at classes, and say “thanks, Doctor” at the end of every check up. Isn’t this all going swell?

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing it for. Then I remind myself Mum and Dad gave up their whole world for me. Being The Good Son is the least I can do for them.

My heart, calmer than before, slows some, then pauses a little too long between beats. I count: one, one-thousand, two, one-thousand, thr—god, it’s too long.

I hold my breath for a second, willing my boggy ventricles to contract. They don’t.

Time slows. The edges of my vision darken. My chest tightens as if anticipating the stillness of death. A distinct pressure builds in my skull.

My legs weaken. Palm pressed to my breastbone, I drop to my knees and squeeze my eyes shut.

Ba-thump-rump!

A powerful beat explodes in my chest. I exhale sharply to force air out of my lungs. Dizziness swirls before settling into a frothy bubbling.

“Hang on. Don’t pass out,” I say, shuddering.

My heart rumbles in reply.

Clipped footsteps rush toward me.

“Adam! Are you okay?” Mum kneels next to me, digging her fingers into my shoulders. Her fear hides in the breathlessness of her question. We share the same terror that I’ll slump over, dead, at any second. She’d never admit it though. Saying it out loud means it’ll happen.

“Peachy.” I nod, stuffing down the thought of Paramedics dragging my body to the lift and out of the building on a gurney. Mum would throw herself on top of me, sobbing and wailing. Dad would pry her off me. He’d tuck her in his arms and whisper soft words of encouragement. Things like, “he’s not suffering anymore” and “he’ll always be with us in spirit.”

“What happened?” A naked intensity infuses her voice.

“Nothing. Retying my shoelace,” I say, fingers fumbling at my trainers. I bite back the urge to fold into her arms.

Mum tucks a loose strand of hair behind my ear. She hates it this long, but I don’t want to cut it. A minor rebellion, along with my lip ring. Her pupils almost entirely eclipse the dark blue of her irises. She manages a half-decent smile, but the line in the middle of her forehead deepens with worry. “Are you sure? Did you have an attack? Any chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness?”

She whittles off the questions rapid-fire. The standard rundown, like an automatic diagnostic system check. My cardiologist trained her well.


Adam?
” She presses two fingers to my neck, checking my pulse.

I shirk away. “Yes. I mean, no. I’m alright. It wasn’t an attack.”

She frowns, sitting next to me. We press our backs against the concrete half wall, sights of the city forgotten. She clasps her free hand with mine so tightly that her knuckles turn white. People circle us, some glancing down with annoyance, others simply walking past like it’s a normal thing for two people to plop on their bottoms at the top of the Empire State Building.

“It was more of a flutter, really,” I say. She deserves some honesty.

Mum nods like she understands, but she doesn’t. She can’t know what it’s like to wonder which heartbeat will be your last or when it’ll happen—while you’re sleeping, taking a shower, walking to class, climbing a flight of stairs … All she can do is watch.

“I hate this.” I tip my head back to stare at the cloudy sky.

“Oh, honey, I know. I hate it too. You’re so brave, how you’re handling this, you know that right?”

I snort. Standing up to a bully is brave. Bungee jumping is brave. Eating fried cockroaches is brave.

Wondering if today will be my last day is not.

I don’t say any of those things to her.

Mum pats my knee and stands up, facing the city, face set with determination. She will be victorious over my failing heart, not because she believes it, but because she
wills
it. Whenever I have a “hiccup,” she rushes in, quickly assesses my status, and, if things are okay, resumes life as normal ASAP.
Don’t give the sickness too much attention or it’ll become a reality,
she says.

Mum takes a cleansing breath, wiping the slate clean of my little scare. “Isn’t the view beautiful?”

“It’s great,” I mumble, rising to my feet.

“Your father is on the other side. Let’s go find him.” She leads the way, weaving between couples and families. Giggles and excited screeches embrace us. Bleats of car horns, carried by the breeze, add question marks and exclamation points to the general chatter. Sharp stones of energy jostle inside me.

Dad stands at the barrier with his hands in his pockets. His back is to us, but I recognize the trifecta of contrast that is my father—bomber jacket, shaved head, and cowboy boots—something he embraced with abandon when we moved to the US, much to Mum’s dismay.

BOOK: Under My Skin
8.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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