Saving Myself For You, страница 1часть #1 серии McRaes/Next Generation
Saving Myself For You
A YA/NA Crossover Novella
Excerpt: Making A Fool Of Myself Over You
Excerpt: The Edge of Heaven
Excerpt: Bed of Lies
The McRaes Series in Order
About the Author
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Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Hill. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Edited by Ali Cunliffe
Cover © Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations
Created with Vellum
Don’t we all love the bad boys?
I grew up on stories about my father and what a bad boy he was, back in the day.
He’d tell us that he “grew up rough,” lost his mother when he was really young, was pushed aside by his father’s next wife and was mothered by an older sister more than anyone else.
He left home at sixteen to take care of his younger brother, who’d been kicked out of their unhappy, dysfunctional home by their stepmother.
Daddy found them a room above a pool hall for a dollar a day, and he went to work. Somehow, they made it.
He liked to fight a little too much and said it was a miracle he ever made it to adulthood.
My mother says he still had that air of a bad boy when they met, while he was playing his guitar at the church she attended. Her parents did not approve, but she couldn’t resist.
She married the bad boy and went to work on taming him. She must have done a good job, because they were married for more than fifty years before we lost him last spring.
Until writing this dedication, even I didn’t realize how much of him I had in mind when I wrote about Dana’s bad boy, Peter.
I love you, Daddy. This one’s for you.
Sometimes, life gets too good for too long, and if you’re smart, you know something bad is coming. I don’t know how I ever forgot that, but I did. Completely.
So when I see Zach walk into basketball practice, I’m surprised, but not worried at first. Coach doesn’t usually let anyone who’s not on the team into practice. I figure some last-minute thing came up. Zach has to go out of town, and he needs to tell me something before he leaves, or he needs to make sure I can handle something at home for him.
No big deal.
He isn’t my dad -- he isn’t old enough to be -- and I know he isn’t that interested in being my parent. He’s my sister’s husband, and they let me live with them.
Zach walks down the sidelines of the court to my coach, and I hear, “A family thing,” and then, “I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t important. Sorry.”
Coach isn’t happy. Practice has barely started. I haven’t even worked up a sweat, and it’s February, tournament time. But he looks at me and nods toward the locker room.
What the hell?
I take my time tugging on my faded jeans and the long-sleeved shirt I wore to school that day, because it’s cold out. Or maybe because I’m starting to feel a little sick inside and need a minute to get myself together.
Shit. I haven’t felt like this in a year, maybe more, and that’s surprising. I pretty much lived with this sick feeling in my gut for most of my life. I was used to it.
But the thing is, sometimes things get better. And sometimes, the worst things can turn out to be the best. My parents got arrested three and a half years ago -- embezzling from the bank where my mom worked -- and went to prison. It wasn’t like life was good before that, but I was sure it was going to get a lot worse afterward.
We didn’t have a lot of family to start with, and my parents managed to alienate a lot of people. Honestly, who’d want to be close to them? I certainly don’t, and I’m their son. I was headed to long-term foster care -- was actually there for a few days. But the half-sister I hadn’t seen since I was six – one I thought I’d never see again -- showed up in town and agreed to be my legal guardian.
I knew Julie hated the little town we’d grown up in and didn’t want to be back here. I never thought she’d be willing to take care of me. I was a fourteen-year-old wanna-be bad-ass who was pissed at the whole world. She married Zach a year later, and I know nobody wants to start off their married life with a mad-as-hell teenager, especially one who isn’t their own kid.
But they did it, and lately, we’ve figured it out. At least, I thought so.
Zach told me early on he had no interest in being a hard-ass or even telling me what to do. It was basically a get-your-shit-together talk, and I resented the hell out of it. But then he said we’d try some simple house rules, and if I followed them, he’d get off my ass. He claimed we’d all be a lot happier that way.
First Rule: Don’t make Julie cry. He said he hated it when I made my sister cry or worried her or made her mad or sad. It pissed him off more than anything else I did, and it needed to stop. He wasn’t going to stand for it.
Second Rule: Take care of my own shit.
Which meant, get my ass to school, get decent grades, stop getting into fights and stop being a pain in the ass to live with. And I pitch in with him and Julie to keep the house running, because that’s what adults do. They take care of their own shit.
It pissed me off even more, because that’s who I was back then, so angry I felt like I could explode at any minute -- and often did. And really, that deal sounded too good to be true. Take care of my own shit, and they’d basically leave me alone? I didn’t think my life could ever be that good.
But I finally got tired of being pissed off all the time and pissing everybody else off. I tried what he wanted, and you know what? It worked for us.
I’m not the easiest kid in the world. I’m not the smartest, either. I’m used to taking care of myself, doing what I want, not having to listen to anybody really. I like to fight a little too much, and I’m good at it. As the social worker keeps saying, I have anger issues. Big surprise after the way I was raised. But despite what my teachers would have said back then, I’m not stupid, and I finally figured out I’d be crazy to screw this up. It was the best my life had ever been.
So, what the hell just happened?
I search my mind for anything I’ve done lately to piss anybody off, and I swear, I can’t think of a thing. Seventeen years old, and I don’t do shit except exactly what I’m supposed to do ninet
Mostly, I keep my head down, stay quiet and try to stay out of the way because I think if I do that, I might actually get to keep this life. Just until I’m out of high school and can live on my own without someone from social services freaking out. No way I’d let them put me back in a group home. That totally sucked.
Sitting in the locker room, I go cold all over just thinking about things going back to the way they were before. I’ve gotten soft, living with Zach and Julie. The electricity never gets turned off. Neither does the heat. There’s always food in the refrigerator. Nobody passes out drunk on the floor or disappears for days at a time, until you wonder if they’re lying dead somewhere. You wonder if that might be better in the long run, even if it sounded kind of scary, especially when I was a lot younger.
I can do it, if I have to -- go back to whatever kind of crappy life is coming my way. I think I could get through pretty much anything, and a lot easier now than I could have at fourteen. But I don’t want to.
Should have known better. Should have known this kind of life wasn’t for me, that it would never last.
Figuring I’ve stalled as long as I can, I grab my jacket and duffle bag. Zach’s waiting for me right outside the locker room.
Putting on my best I-don’t-give-a-shit look, I ask, “What happened?”
Behind us, my coach blows his whistle and starts yelling, making it hard to hear, and Zach nods toward the gym door. I follow him outside and into the big foyer, while that familiar, sick feeling starts to eat a hole in my gut.
“Mom get out of jail again?”
My dad’s already out. He didn’t get as much time as she did, because she was the one who actually worked at the bank. He got out and moved to Cleveland, about as far away from us as he could get and still be in Ohio, so he’s not violating his parole. I never hear from him, and I’m just fine with that. When I was growing up, he wasn’t exactly parent-of-the-year material. And he had really bad taste in friends.
Mom was worse, maybe because she was around more often and more into being a parent, just not a good one. She has six more months on her sentence, but Ohio has too damned many people locked up and not enough space for all of them, so the state keeps letting people out early. I know it’s a possibility. It’s also the worst thing I can think of, and if I know anything about my life, that’s what just happened -- the worst thing.
Like I said, life has been too good for too long.
“No, not that,” Zach says.
Jesus, I’m so relieved it takes me a minute to remember I still don’t know what’s wrong. And as I look back at Zach, I can tell by the look on his face that it’s bad. He’s a big-shot lawyer, defends teenagers in death-row cases and is working to end the death penalty for any crime committed by anyone under eighteen. He knows how to hide what he’s feeling. Usually. Right now, he looks like he feels as sick inside as I did a minute ago, as I do again now.
“It’s Grace’s husband,” Zach says finally.
Grace is one of Zach’s sisters. When he said a family thing, he meant his family. Mine, kind of. We all pretend. Well, his family does. His parents, his two sisters and his sisters’ families pretend that when he and Julie got married, it wasn’t just Julie who became part of Zach’s family. It was me, too.
I never expected that, and it’s nice sometimes. Zach’s parents are great. So are his sisters. Grace is the youngest, sweet and happy, one of those ultimate good, good girls. I’m not that crazy about her husband, Luc, this stuck-up Frenchman, but everybody loves Grace.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Car accident this afternoon. It was bad. He’s gone.”
Gone? “As in … dead?”
“Jesus, he’s like … thirty years old.”
“What about Grace?”
“She’s fine.” Zach swears softly. “I mean, she wasn’t injured, wasn’t even in the car with him. But we just told her about Luc – me, Dad and Rye. Then Dad went and got Mom. Rye got Emma and Julie. They’re there now. I want to get back as soon as I can.”
“Sure,” I say, because the thing about Zach’s family? They’re tight. When one of them has a problem, they all have a problem. “What can I do?”
“We need Dana.”
The best and worst part of this whole me-as-part-of-the-family thing, and the real reason I gave up fighting and most every vice I had, the reason I buried my anger so deep it almost never gets out. The reason I try hard to pretend I’m not some eternally fucked-up bad boy, the kind who has fathers snarling when I so much as look twice at their daughters. Well, okay, hers still snarls at me, but I don’t think most fathers would.
Dana is such a good girl, perfect in every way.
Her father hated me on sight three and a half years ago.
With good reason.
I have a bad feeling he knows exactly what I’m thinking every time I look at his daughter.
Which is that I want her. In every way possible. He’d wring my neck before he ever let me have her. I can’t really blame him. I know she’s too good for me, but I want her anyway, can never seem to help myself where she’s concerned.
She’s Zach’s niece, just turned sweet sixteen and – as proof the universe has a truly twisted sense of humor and really is out to make me crazy -- she’s family, kind of. Which means I see her all the time. Our lives are intertwined in impossible ways. And that means my life is a constant battle of being close to her, being her friend, and nothing else.
Yeah, that’s the other thing.
She’s my best friend.
I can’t resist being whatever I can to her, and for some reason, she wants to be friends.
She was the first person to ever see anything good in me, to ever believe in me, to ever make me want to straighten up. If there’s any real hope for me, it’s because of her, because I really didn’t care about anything until she showed up in my life.
I look up and realize Zach’s talking, and I kind of hear him. Dana’s siblings are at home with a neighbor, but she can’t stay long and Dana’s parents want to stay with Grace. Apparently, there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done when somebody dies. They want Dana to go home and take care of her sisters and her brother.
“Maybe you could help her?” Zach asks.
“Sure.” She’s going to be upset, and knowing her, she’ll try not to let it show, so her siblings won’t get upset, too. I don’t want to her to do it all by herself.
“She’s not answering her phone,” Zach says. “Emma said she’s at some kind of meeting somewhere at school. She couldn’t remember what exactly. It’s … everybody’s a little rattled right now. Do you know where she is?”
“Yeah. It’s Student Court day. She was all excited earlier today about getting to defend a girl who got in trouble for smacking a guy who was sexually harassing her. Ms. Graham’s the faculty supervisor. I think they meet in her room, down this way.” I nod toward the hallway to the right.
Zach’s phone rings, and he frowns at what he sees on his Caller ID. “I have to get this.”
I hear him asking about Luc’s car, where it’s been towed and whether the police will hold it for a while for the accident investigation and where it will go after that, and then Zach tells me, “Just get Dana outside, okay? Her mom wants to be the one to tell her what’s happened.”
So I go down the main hall to the classroom, glance through the window on the door, and there she is.
I swear, she gets prettier every day. Her big, dark eyes go
Yeah, she tells me this stuff, and my tongue trips all over the words I try to get out to tell her she’s perfect, just the way she is, without telling her I’m crazy about her. This is my life, the best friend part that I hope hides everything else I feel for her. She has a smile that hits me deep in my gut and seems to fill up all the empty places inside me with warm, silly things like hope and happiness, things I never really felt before, hadn’t even believed in.
She’s one of those rare girls who’s beautiful inside and out, genuinely kind and sweet and happy, although she has fire in her, too, strong opinions about what’s right and wrong. She’s my little rule-follower, my good, good girl. Who’d ever believe I’d fall for someone like that? But I have. I adore her, and she makes me want to be the kind of guy she could fall for, even if I know I don’t stand a chance.
But damn, I want to be that guy.
I finally go inside the room and watch her eyes light up when she spots me, one of those big, bright Dana smiles spreading across her face. I walk over to the faculty advisor first and quietly say, “Sorry for interrupting. Dana’s uncle’s outside. He needs to take her home. Family emergency.”
Ms. Graham says that’s fine, that Dana’s case has already been heard. I tell myself to smile as I walk over to Dana and try not to look too freaked out, so I won’t freak her out.
“Don’t you have basketball practice right now, Peter?” she asks.
“I did, but something came up. Can you come with me?”
“Sure.” She stands up and tells her friends she’ll be right back, but when I pick up her coat and her backpack, I can tell she starts to worry. “Are you okay?”