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Flight 259, Chapter 1

Flight 259Chapter 1

 Heat. Unmitigated, unimaginable, unquenchable heat seared through the silk blouse Jenna wore and began melting the skin underneath. As she lay, stunned by the scene playing itself out before her, her mind screamed at her to get away—to save herself, to move, to do something, anything. But her body wouldn’t move—couldn’t move. The ground held her fast—clawing, clutching, clinging to her, holding her there even as she fought to get free. But she was paralyzed. Paralyzed by the fear, the pain, and…

“No!”

Tearing herself upward, Jenna jerked upright. Instantly the ground released her, and she came straight up, gasping, shaking, blinking. But there were no flames in front of her now, only darkness and a silence more deafening than any explosion. She fought to breathe, to right her world, but even as she lay back down on the sweat-soaked pillow, she knew nothing in her world would ever be right again.

***

The water slid over her arms as the terror from the night before dissolved from her mind. There had always been something soothing about the water to Jenna Davis. Somehow, in the water, all of her troubles disappeared, and she could pretend, if only for a few moments, that everything was all right again. In recent years the water had become her only refuge from long days—and even longer nights—filled with memories and nightmares. In the water it all washed away as though the nightmares were no more than devil dreams from her childhood. Here, she could relax and believe for one improbably desperate moment that everything was again perfect, like it used to be.

She forced even that thought from her mind as she turned at one end of the pool and pushed off for the other side. One more lap, she told herself firmly, and then she would have to go. Her arms sliced easily through the cool water. This was her domain, her solace, her world, and she was determined to enjoy every last minute of it.

 

Toys lay scattered across the room. There was no way Scott Browning was going to get all of this stuff back into the three suitcases lying open on the beds. Why did his mother have to give Lane six million toys every time they came out here? However, he smiled in spite of himself as he surveyed the mess. He couldn’t be annoyed with her. She and his father had just seen him through one of the worst years of his life. How could he begrudge them a few toys for their only grandchild?

Somehow, he would just have to make them fit. He pulled yet another carry-on bag out of the closet. He hadn’t wanted to take this much luggage. It was always such a pain to get someone to help at the airports, but with a two-year-old, three suitcases, and a carry-on bag in tow, he wasn’t going to have much of a choice once he got to Newark.

Carefully, Scott stowed his laptop into the bottom of the carry-on. The long list of patients he would have to contact when he returned played itself over in his mind. Two weeks was too long to be gone from a private medical practice, but the downtime had done him good. He’d needed it more than even he had realized when they left. However, it was a luxury that wouldn’t come again anytime soon.

And downtime was over now. Reality was back. He knew the pressures of work would descend as soon as they stepped off that plane. Raking his fingers through his off-blond hair, he thought that at least with the laptop along, he might be able to get some work done before he got to Newark—that was if Lane would behave himself. That was always a big if as Scott had learned so well over the past year.

 

When she entered the house, the same wave of expectation flooded over her that always did. It had been almost three years, and still she expected them to greet her every time she returned. With a by-now-familiar shake of her head and her spirit, Jenna pushed her mind to more pressing matters. She had spent far too much time at the pool, and now she was going to have to hurry to make her flight. It was a good thing her bags had been packed for a week, she thought grabbing them up.

She swung one bag to her shoulder, but it slipped back to the floor as she caught sight of the pictures that still lined the dresser. Slowly she walked over to them and fingered the eight-by-ten family picture that dominated the top of the polished wood. Jeff would understand why she had to go, why staying here was going to kill her. He would, even if she didn’t. She forced the emotions that threatened to overflow back into their home in her heart. Now was not the time for tears. Now was the time to move on as everyone she knew had been telling her she needed to do for three years. Yes, it was time for her to do what she had been promising herself she would for two weeks.

This trip was about moving on with her life, about finally going forward rather than backward. Her gaze fell as it always did to the band of diamonds and gold on her finger. How could she move on with Jeff’s ring still planted firmly on her finger? She looked at it as though for the first time, and the tears came again, stinging her eyes. Beautiful had never adequately described that ring in her mind, and the word didn’t come close even now. It wasn’t that the ring was huge exactly, but he had picked it out for her. For that reason alone, it was beautiful.

Still. It had been three years, and they all said… She slipped the ring off her finger and picked up the box on the dresser she had gotten out two nights before when she had planned to do this very thing and then couldn’t. He would understand, she told herself firmly as she placed the ring in the box and then slid it into the top drawer. Yes, Jeff would understand.

With a jerk of her head to get her dark braid off her shoulder, Jenna picked up her bags again and walked resolutely out of the room, her heart aching more and more with every step. She had only taken a few steps from the room when the pain stopped her. No matter how hard she fought against it, she felt like she was leaving a piece of herself in that drawer. Surely, she reasoned, it wouldn’t hurt to just bring it along. She didn’t have to wear it—just put it in her purse. Teri would never know the difference, and Jenna was sure she wouldn’t have to answer the age-old question of why she was still wearing it.

Before she could lose her nerve, she raced back, grabbed the box from its hiding place and shoved it into her purse. Instantly she felt better. With Jeff with her, she was ready to go show Teri that she was ready to move on with her life.

 

The hugs and kisses overflowed as did the tears when Scott and Lane finally broke the bond and boarded the plane for home. It was difficult to explain to a two-year-old who had been spoiled rotten for two weeks why they had to leave. Worse, Scott’s heart didn’t fully understand it either, but the fight to get Lane onto the plane escalated to the point that his heartache over the situation became secondary. Embarrassment swept over him as several of the passengers eyed him when he finally swung his son, kicking and screaming, into his free arm and warned him in no uncertain terms that he’d better start behaving or else.

The kicking stopped, and Lane lapsed, thankfully, into a pouting silence. Scott sighed in relief. It wasn’t Lane’s fault, Scott thought as he looked at his son and gave him a tired hug. As hard as this past year had been on Scott, it had been infinitely worse on Lane. He tried not to let the melancholy sink into his thoughts, but it was never far away. He was not excited about the prospect of leaving any more than Lane was, but it was something that couldn’t be avoided. They had a life on the other side of the country whether they liked it or not.

He settled Lane into the middle seat and opened the overhead compartment. Then he thought better of stowing the bag up there and took his own seat next to the window. He stuffed the bag with the laptop and snacks under the seat ahead of him. If Lane needed something in-flight, Scott certainly didn’t want to have to climb over him and the other passenger to get it. Besides, with the laptop in there, there was always that slim chance that he might get to do a little work before they touched down in New Jersey.

 

The lights of the police cruiser flashed behind her as Jenna heaved a sigh and pulled to the side of the road. Now there was no way she was going to make her flight.

“Is there an emergency?” the officer asked as he approached the car.

“No, Sir,” she said, already digging for her identification. “I’m just late for a flight.”

He checked the usual papers and registration which took another precious five minutes. Jenna sat helplessly in the car willing him to hurry. So many things she hadn’t planned for, and now she was going to miss her flight to Newark and her chance to move on.

The officer returned and issued her a citation. He wished her a nice day and told her to slow it down, and once again she was on her way. Why do they always seem so happy to give you a ticket? she wondered angrily as she pulled into the overflowing parking lot of the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport. There was no way she would make this flight.

 

“No leave. No leave!” Lane cried for the millionth time as Scott tried desperately to distract him from the memory of Grandma and Grandpa standing at the last checkpoint.

“Look, Lane, see the big planes,” Scott said pointing out the window.

“No leave,” Lane wailed as he kicked even harder. “No leave!”

“Lane,” Scott said sharply, his patience running thin. “Listen to me. You need to sit there and be quiet! Here.” He fished for the Tell-a-Bear Grandma had given him as a going away present. He handed the bear to Lane who immediately hugged it to him.

“No leave,” Lane said pitifully as a man in a three-piece suit took the seat next to him.

Scott took Lane’s tiny hand in his and willed him to go to sleep. The eight hour flight was going to be a disaster if Lane behaved like this the whole way. The whining stopped for the moment, and he seemed to settle down as Scott made the final preparations for them both. Then they taxied down the runway, bumped once, and were airborne—leaving Grandma and Grandpa waving at the window.

 

Why had she packed so much stuff? The bags crashed into her legs as Jenna raced through the crowded airport. They were draped over every inch of her as she made her way to the ticket counter. Lines and more lines. She let out an exasperated sigh and attached herself to what looked like the shortest one, praying it would move quickly.

However, by the time she reached the front of the line another thirty minutes had slipped by, and now she had only a few left before her precious flight to sanity would leave.

“Flight 734 to Newark,” Jenna said as she reached the front.

“That flight is going to leave soon,” the agent said.

“I know, but I need to catch it.”

The agent looked doubtful even as she punched in the numbers. “That will be Gate 84, follow the Concourse down through the security checkpoints and then take a right.”

“Thanks,” Jenna said and took off for the gate as fast as her legs and the carry-on would let her. The line through security was another maddening delay. Shoes. Jewelry. Belt. When she finally made it to the Concourse, she checked her watch—two minutes to spare. “Please be late. Please be late.”

Her legs were about to give out when she finally spotted Gate 84, but she pushed on with every remaining ounce of strength. She had to make this flight. However, just as she rounded the last corner, she could see the plane backing out and the attendant closing the door to the boarding platform.

“No!” Jenna yelled, rushing to the door. “No. Please. I have to make that flight.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” the attendant said, shaking her head and latching the door behind her.

“No, you don’t understand,” Jenna said as panic gripped her soul. “I have to make that flight. I have to be on it.”

“I’m sorry,” the attendant repeated and walked away.

“But I have a ticket, and I’m here.” Jenna knew she sounded like a spoiled brat but she didn’t care about anything other than getting on that flight.

“I’m sorry,” the attendant said as she resumed her position at the counter and went to work on her computer.

“But you don’t understand. I need to get to Newark. I have to go to Newark.” Jenna stepped up and dropped her bags around her. It was true—Teri didn’t even know she was coming, but Jenna felt like this was her last chance, and she was doubtful that she would ever get herself to take another one.

“I may be able to get you on a plane that doesn’t go directly to Newark,” the attendant said.

Hope surged. “Oh, could you? That would be great.”

“Now, you would have to pay for it again,” the attendant said, her fingers poised over the keys.

“I don’t care.” Jenna shook her head and re-righted the last bag strap on her shoulder. “I have to get to Newark.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” The attendant started punching buttons on the computer as Jenna watched hopefully. “Yes, Flight 971 leaves in about thirty minutes from Gate 92. It will make a stop in Chicago where you can catch Flight 259 to Newark.”

“That’ll be great,” Jenna said, nodding. Anything. Anything at this point was great as long as she could leave.

“Now, you won’t get to Newark until around nine.”

“That’s all right,” Jenna said.

The attendant took the necessary information, punched some more keys on the computer, and Jenna was on her way to Gate 92.

 

“Eat, Da-da,” Lane whined, squirming in his seat. “Eat!”

“Lane, come on, you just ate at Grandma’s,” Scott said, and as soon as he said it, he regretted it.

“G’a’ma.” Little Lane became more pathetic. “No leave.”

The man in the seat next to Lane looked at him with sympathy. Scott smiled what he hoped was a winning smile and continued to work with Lane.

“I’ll tell you what.” Scott fished again in the bag at his feet, while commending himself for his foresight in stowing it where he could get to it. “I have some animal crackers.”

“C’ackers.” Both little hands shot out, reaching for the food and dropping the bear, which Scott retrieved. Scott gave him a few crackers, hoping they would get the chance to get some more at Chicago. If not, he would be down to a health bar and gum.

 

Finally on the plane, Jenna slipped the headphones over her ears and closed her eyes. She had never been a big fan of flying. That was why she and Jeff had gone to Colorado on their honeymoon. He had tried so hard to talk her into going to the Bahamas, but she wouldn’t budge—no flying, no way. The grudging compromise had been Colorado. However, she recalled with a smile, it wouldn’t have mattered where they were as they hadn’t seen much of anything for the week other than the inside of the cottage where they had stayed and each other.

The opening strains of St. Elmo’s Fire poured over her like rain, and she settled in for the three-hour flight.

 

The gentleman seated next to Lane was quickly becoming annoyed. His glances at Scott had turned from sympathetic to annoyed somewhere over Nebraska, and Scott was now fighting to keep his son occupied and happy—neither of which was working.

“Do you want to look out the window?” Scott asked as cheerfully as possible.

“No.”

“Do you want to read a storybook?”

“No. G’a’ma!”

“Lane.” Scott shook his head. “Grandma had to stay at home, but we can call her when we get home. Okay?”

“G’a’ma,” Lane wailed, a move that ripped Scott’s patience in two. In one motion he snapped off the seatbelt, pulled the little boy up out of the seat and crossed in front of his annoyed fellow passenger. This couldn’t continue. He headed for the lavatory and once inside, locked the door.

“Now you listen here,” Scott said, trying to keep his own anger in check. It wasn’t easy. “Look at me. You cannot keep crying like this. There are other people on this plane, and you have to be a good boy. Do you hear me?”

“No,” Lane wailed, trying to squirm away from his father’s grasp.

“Lane Scott Browning,” Scott said furiously, and without thinking he did something he had rarely ever done—he reached down and swatted Lane—hard. Lane whimpered and cringed away. The sight twisted Scott’s heart right out of him. “Now look. You’ve got to behave. Okay? We’re going out there, and you’re going to sit still, and be quiet. Do you hear me?”

Lane said nothing, just sucked his thumb with big, scared eyes.

The puppy dog look was no match for the anger. “I said do you hear me?”

Lane looked at him, and the tears trickling down his son’s face ripped Scott’s heart out. This was not what he had bargained for when Amber had announced she was pregnant what seemed a lifetime ago. Then again, he hadn’t bargained on much of any of the rest of it either.

“Okay,” Scott finally said more calmly as he picked the child up. He unlatched the door and walked with his son in his arms to his seat. He could feel the eyes of every person he walked by on him, and he was thankful he was only a few seats from the back. Lane continued to whimper even as he settled back down into the seat. Maybe holding him wasn’t such a bad idea, so Scott simply cradled Lane next to him. It seemed the better idea for both of them.

 

Jenna’s mind was working overtime. This was exactly why she had avoided being alone. Alone meant time to think and remember. Her thoughts bounced back and forth until they found a resting place on the events of the previous evening. She willed the thoughts away, but nothing would replace them for very long. Finally she gave in and let them take her.

It wasn’t the first fight she’d ever had with her mother, she reasoned, and surely her mother would eventually understand her decision, but right now the fight was replaying itself over and over in her head.

Had her mother really said those things to her? Had she really said those things to her mother? Jenna shook her head at the thought as the familiar tears threatened. Why did her mother have to be so clingy? Why did Jenna have to be so stubborn? They were questions that would never be answered, but they plagued her just the same.

She could still see her mother standing in the kitchen, the hurt and the anger in her eyes, yelling at Jenna that she was throwing her life away by leaving.

“What life?” Jenna had yelled back furiously. “Playing tennis with my mother during the day and coming back to an empty house filled with memories every night? I’m 29 years old. I can’t live like this forever. It’s not my fault you think you can’t start over. I’ve spent three years trying to make up for what happened, but I’m tired of trying, Mother. I’m tired. Do you understand that? I am sick of it, and I can’t do it anymore. Nothing I can say or do is going to bring them back. Don’t you get that? Nothing! They’re gone! And they’re not coming back!”

“But we still have each other,” her mother said as the tears overflowed her eyes.

“No, we don’t.” The pain tore holes in Jenna, and she cringed from the words. “I don’t have you. You have me, but I’ve never had you. I can’t talk to you. I can’t lean on you. I spend all my time trying to fill the void that is my life and yours, but I can’t do it anymore. I can’t, and I won’t!”

“So, you’re leaving then? Just like that. You’re going to pack up and leave me here by myself—your own mother? This is your solution? To run away? That’s just so typical of you.”

Hurt crawled over the ache. “I can’t stay here. Don’t you see that? I have to find a place to start, and then maybe I can go on with my life.”

Her mother still looked regal even under the haggard scowl she wore. “But you can do that here.”

“No, I can’t.”

Crossing her arms over the satin sheen of her blouse, her mother looked like a petulant two-year-old. “Yes, you can.”

But Jenna knew better, and this time she wasn’t backing down. “No, I can’t, Mother. You won’t let me!”

Hate bled through her mother’s eyes. “And Teri will?”

“Yes, Teri will—at least for a while, for now—and then we’ll see.”

“What does that mean?”

Tired slithered over Jenna’s spirit as she sat down heavily on the little stool overlooking the kitchen counter. “I don’t know what it means. It means I’m leaving, and I don’t know when I’m coming back.”

“But what am I supposed to do?”

It was at that moment something in her snapped. She stood, pulled her purse to her shoulder, and looked her mother square in the eye. “You know what, I really don’t care…”

Those had been the last words she had spoken to her mother before walking out and slamming the door behind her. Now, here she was flying somewhere high over Missouri—headed who knew where, and strangely for the first time in a long time, she felt almost free.

 

The final hour of the flight had been mostly uneventful. At least they hadn’t had to go back to the lavatory again. Scott had regained some of his confidence in his own parenting abilities, which was saying something. Lane was now sleeping peacefully in his arms, and the man across the abyss of the seat next to him had long since ceased the dirty looks.

“Sir,” the attendant said kindly. “You need to put the little boy back in his seat for landing.”

Scott looked at her with unseeing eyes. She couldn’t be serious.

“He needs to be buckled in,” she said, indicating the middle seat. Okay, apparently she was serious.

“Oh, sure,” Scott said, sitting up straight. “Okay.”

He tried to deposit Lane into the seat without waking him up, but one too many jostles brought the child back to life, and he whimpered softly.

“No, Lane,” Scott said softly. “Shh. It’s okay. Just sleep.”

As gently as possible he buckled Lane’s belt, and the transfer was completed successfully. Scott breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ding!” The speaker above him crackled to life. “We are now preparing to make our final decent into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.”

Scott did not hear another word of the announcement because Lane let out a terrified scream that obliterated all other sounds.

“No, Lane, hey buddy, it’s okay,” Scott said, jumping into frantic action. “It’s all right I promise. No, no don’t cry. Lane, we’re going to land, see…”

 

“Flight 259 to Newark, now boarding at Gate 134.”

Jenna gathered her things, fighting tired with everything in her. One more flight and she would be in New Jersey—far, far away from Texas. If she could just get there, surely everything would be better.

She glanced out the window once again, and apprehension rose in her. The rain outside zigged and zagged down the windows in crazy patterns. This was something she hadn’t counted on. Flying was bad enough, but flying in the rain was worse.

Her courage was harder to gather up than her luggage. It was all she could do to keep her eyes from wandering back to that window—back to the dismal scene outside.

 

“Excuse me, Miss.” Scott hailed a passing flight attendant. “Could you tell me if we have enough time to go get some extra snacks?”

“I wouldn’t advise it,” the attendant said, eyeing Lane squirming to get into the aisle. “It’s only going to take us a few minutes, and we should be back in the air again.”

Scott sighed, nodded, and thanked her. With one hand on his son, he pulled the bag out from under the seat and fished through it trying to get an accurate assessment of how many snacks they had left. The sad and terrifying truth was he would have to be very sparing in his snack offerings this flight. He was already dreading the next three hours. This trip was murder on him. Lane, he was sure, couldn’t take much more.

 

Jenna stowed her purse under the middle seat about halfway from the front of the plane. She had no desire to sit by the window and watch it rain so she chose a seat next to a man who was busily reading a magazine next to a closed window.

The plane around her filled quickly. Surely it couldn’t be long before they would take off. She surveyed her fellow passengers. They all looked much like she was sure she did—harried, tired, and frazzled. Traveling like this was one of her least favorite things to do, and she contemplated simply driving home when that time came, if it ever did.

“Stop it, Jenna. Just don’t think about it.” The words under her breath came as she flipped the dark strands that were rapidly coming loose from the braid back.

A nice-looking, young couple passed her on their way to the back. She smiled to herself—probably on their honeymoon. The thought slid through her mind, and it snagged in the deep dark webbing that now surrounded her heart. There was something about honeymooners that set them apart from everyone else. She thought of Jeff again. He was never far from her thoughts. Tall, lean, dark and very handsome. They had made such a great couple.

“But, sweetheart,” Jenna heard the young man say just above her, “there just aren’t two seats together.”

“But I want to sit by you,” his bride said, and fear tinged the words.

“I…” The young man looked around in barely disguised frustration, trying to find a way out of this situation.

“Here.” With no further thought, Jenna jumped to her feet and yanked her purse up from the floor. “You can have my seat.”

“Oh, no, we couldn’t.” The young man shook his head even as his eyes pleaded with her not to rescind the offer.

“No, no, I insist.” She smiled kindly. “You two should sit together.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” the young woman asked, her eyes spilling gratefulness everywhere.

“No, of course not.” Jenna moved out into the aisle so they could slip in front of her.

“We really appreciate this,” the young man said. “It’s her first time to fly.”

“Don’t mention it.” Only then did Jenna realize she had to find another seat. Looking around, she realized that wouldn’t be easy. Except for a few unoccupied middle seats, there weren’t many left. Finally she saw an aisle seat toward the back of the plane. She headed for it and smiled to the young man and little boy sitting there. “Is this seat taken?”

The man who sat by the window with his arm around the child looked up, and pools of clear blue gazed out from under the tumble of disheveled blond hair. “What? Oh. Uh. No. No.”

Jenna wasted no time getting into the seat. She pushed her purse under the seat ahead of them. The flight attendant requested that seatbelts and tray tables be readied for take-off. But as Jenna reached for hers, there was an un-Godly scream from right next to her. Instinctively she put her hand out to sooth the child.

“Shhh, it’s okay, sweetheart,” she said without thinking.

Suddenly she stopped and looked up in embarrassment. He was staring at her over the child’s head. Nothing moved. All she could see were the incredible blue eyes gazing right through her soul.

The squirming between them brought them both back to reality.

“Lane,” the man said harshly. “Settle down!”

However, Lane continued to squirm and was now starting to scream.

“Here.” Jenna grabbed up her purse and reached inside. “Look what I have.” She produced a sucker from the depths of the bag and held it out to Lane who reached for it without hesitation. She unwrapped it and handed it to him just as she realized what she had done.

“Oh!” she said more embarrassed than before. “I’m sorry. Do you mind?”

“Are you kidding me?” The man blinked and then smiled. “I think you’re our savior.”

She looked down at Lane already happily munching away on the sucker, and it was clear he was not going to relinquish it anytime soon. It was all she could do not to reach out and touch him. He looked like a tiny angel that had alighted on earth. “He’s precious.”

“Thanks.” The man settled Lane back into his own seat and buckled him in before checking his own. He was young, early thirties she guessed though she didn’t dwell there. He smiled at her again with an impish, weary shrug. “But you might have a different opinion by the time this ride is over.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Jenna said, and she couldn’t stop the smile as she looked down and watched Lane. He was beautiful.

The guy’s smile faded. “Yeah, well. You didn’t see the last guy who got to sit by him. I think he was more than happy to see the airport.”

“Oh, you didn’t just get on then?” Jenna asked as the plane began taxiing to its take-off point.

“No, we’ve been on since Boise.”

“Boise? Oh, wow, no wonder he’s tired of that seat.”

“Tell me about it.” He laughed, seeming to relax.

“We’ve been cleared for take-off,” the attendant announced.

Jenna sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. Take-off and landing—the worst times of the flight. She would fly forever if it weren’t for those two times.

The plane made a final turn and began to pick up speed. The points outside the window became indecipherable blurs until the bulk of the plane lifted off the runway, and without so much as a bump, they were airborne.

Available June 28 in the “Whispers of Love” Collection

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Mirror Mirror, Chapter 1

Mirror Mirror Large coverChapter 1

“She’s coming. I cannot believe she is coming. Seriously.” Jaycee Lawrence plunked down next to Luke Baker for two seconds and then jumped back up and continued to pace in front of the back step of his parents’ home. He watched her—back and forth, back and forth—unsure of just what to say to defuse the time bomb in her voice and movements.

“Is it really so bad?” Luke finally asked, his longish, blondish hair threatening to slide down his forehead and into his eye as it always did. He scratch at the summer scruff on his jaw in concern and worry. He’d been trying for ten minutes to calm Jaycee down, but he of all people knew when she got riled, calm was a long shot on a short horse.

Just like that she spun on him, sending her high, light brown ponytail swinging behind her. She glared at him through the harsh black glasses she insisted on wearing so everyone knew she was not just a dumb girl. “You’re kidding me. Right?” She crossed her arms and the glare became a scowl. “Please tell me you’re kidding. How can you even sit there and ask that question? You know as well as I do that nothing good can come from her coming here. And for the whole summer too!” Jaycee’s hands went into the air simultaneously and then crashed down onto her hips. With a shake of her head, she pursed her lips and her eyes narrowed as if focusing their laser-heat onto a target. “I cannot believe they are doing this to me. This was supposed to be my summer. Mine. Not hers. Mine.”

“Well, how long is she staying?” Not that there was any way of talking Jaycee down at this point, but Luke was still searching for an angle just the same.

“Three months.” Storm waning, she sat down next to him in a huff and shook her head, the desolation trailing every movement. “I’m done. Seriously. I am so done. She is going to waltz in here like the Queen of Persia, and I’m going to totally be yesterday’s news.”

Luke’s smile only lifted half his lips, and he anchored his arm on the porch planks behind her. They weren’t together in a dating sense, but they had known each other since well before kindergarten, and with only one year separating them not to mention only a little more than half a mile between their houses, they had been fast friends for practically forever. Jaycee was more the tomboy, basketball-playing type where Luke much preferred more laid back pursuits that didn’t involve scoreboards or report cards. But somehow, their friendship fit them both.

Besides, Jaycee had her eye on Rory Harris, the top jock at Ridgemount High School, and that didn’t look to change any time soon. With no warning, she put her forehead over onto Luke’s shoulder and moaned. “Ugh. My life stinks on ice.”

Gamely, he put his hand on her opposite shoulder and patted it. “I think you’ll survive. I can almost guarantee it.”

But that only brought out another moan. It was going to be a long summer.

 

Sage Wentworth pulled out her compact to check her makeup once again. Yes, she was being banished to nowheresville North Carolina, but she didn’t have to show up looking like a doormat. Lips, perfectly perfect red; eyeliner remarkably holding up even after the second leg of the cross-country flight, and blush that had begun to fade just slightly. Ugh.

Taking out the applicator, she brushed a touch more on, checked her reflection in the tiny mirror and clicked it shut just as the stewardess came to offer ice water.

“Ma’am,” the stewardess said, handing her the water.

However, Sage expertly dogged the offer. “Do you not have some that’s room temp? I don’t do ice. And not this off-brand either.”

The stewardess swallowed whatever she was about to say and smiled. “Certainly.”

When she was gone, Sage wiggled herself straight up in the first class seat. At least not everything was completely, horrifically awful about her life at the moment. Okay, so her parents were starting their summer trip around the world—without her. And, true, she was being shipped off to live for three months with people she barely remembered. And, granted, she had wanted to stay in Beverly Hills for the summer, shopping with Mackenzie and Patelyn.

Sage sighed. Okay. Her life stunk, royally.

Why had they insisted on making her completely miserable? What had she done to deserve this exile to the netherworld? Carefully, she ticked through the options. Her grades were good. Not stellar maybe, but adequate. She didn’t overspend. Sure there was that binge two months ago, but no one could blame a girl for wanting to look good at the Prom. She wasn’t a druggie or an alkie. Though both were frequent options in the crowd she ran with.

No. There was no real rhyme or reason to this banishment.

They said it was because her dad wanted to see her before she headed into senior year and then off into her life, but the sad fact was, Sage wasn’t even really sure what that “life” might look like. College? Maybe. Okay. Probably. But where?

Berkley? UCLA? Or somewhere farther away?

Maybe she could study abroad for a semester. Sweden or France. Studying in Paris. How amazing would that be?

“Ma’am.” The stewardess was back with the requested water. So this brand wasn’t much better, Sage accepted it with the graciousness due her station in life.

“And may I have just a bit of lemon?” she asked in her sweetest, asking-for voice.

It was truly astonishing how quickly the stewardess could eat words that never came from her mouth but shot from her eyes. “Of course.”

It was to be expected. The help, helpful though they were, often seemed one request away from losing it completely. Her mother always said it was the plight they suffered under—trying to keep good help. Sadly, it was true. As she sipped on her water, Sage let her mind trace back through her childhood nannies. There were truly too many to count. Of course, most of them were less than adequate, but still…

There was Mika from Italy, and Olga from Germany, and Carmela from Spain or was it South America? Sage had never really been sure. But she had learned, her place was to tell the nannies what to do, and it was their place to do it. When they got that dynamic out-of-sync—and they always did, it was time for a new nanny.

Sage reached into the pocket with the reading material and thumbed through the fashion magazine that held little fascination for her. Those people didn’t know how to dress, and they wouldn’t know a tasteful accessory if it walked up and introduced itself.

Bawdy and classless. That’s what most of them were, and those were the ones who were trying. She flipped three more pages and gave up completely, pushing the magazine back into its holder. Putting her head back, she let her gaze go out to the soft, sunlit day beyond. They had told her that her father would be meeting her at the airport, and her mind traced back over the one photograph she had of him along with the dusky images she barely remembered.

In the picture he was young, mid-twenties, maybe, with dark curly hair. A nice nose. Nice eyes. Her mother had said once that she had her father’s eyes, which seemed a strange thing to say at the time. Then again, she was five and didn’t know you could have someone else’s eyes without actually having someone else’s eyes. She took another sip and let the sigh out in an inaudible breath.

Ladies of her station didn’t sigh, not for others to hear anyway. No. If nothing else in the whole world, she had learned how to carry herself in public, how to be graceful, charming, and cheerful—even if the whole world was falling apart around her. She wasn’t royal exactly, but her training had gone right up to that gate and knocked. Teas. Ballet. Violin in the orchestra.

Oh, yes. She had culture running out her ears, and she was proud of it.

So all she had to do was get through the next three months, and when she returned, her mother was planning the biggest coming out party for her 18th birthday that the Hills had ever seen. No one would ever, ever forget it, and to Sage, that was what life was all about—being completely unforgettable.

 

“I thought I told you to dust the living room,” Jaycee’s mom said in an all-out panic. The queen would arrive in less than two hours, and the place still did not resemble the palace her mother clearly wished it was.

“I did dust. Twice.” And with that Jaycee turned and stalked off. Halfway to her room, she stopped when her mother called something about the entertainment center.

Putting her head back, she fought the frustration clawing at her. “You have got to be kidding me. I don’t think a little dust is going to kill anyone.” But she knew her mother was frantic, and she knew why. Everyone was—her father, her mother, even her little brother, Ryder who had taken an outright shower that morning without being asked, something he never did. In fact, most of the time they were lucky if he wasn’t covered in dust, dirt and grime when they went to church.

It was what normal 10-year-old boys did. So long as the queen wasn’t coming. But today, the queen was coming, and so nothing was normal.

“Jaycee!” her mother called again, and Jaycee had to say a quick prayer to get God to give her patience. The only question was, could she conceivably pray her way through an entire summer?

 

“Sage?” The man was older, much older, than the picture. However, he had those same grey-green eyes and the nice smile that was at once boyish and a question.

“Dad?” It was such a strange place to stand in life—with fellow travelers bumping this way and that around them, staring at her past as the present swirled around her.

His smile filled out with even more questions and words he never said.

What was the protocol in such a situation? Should she shake his hand or Heaven help her, hug him? A moment more and he put his hand out even as his gaze continued to drink her in. Thankful it was turned for a handshake and not a hug, she took it and let her gaze drop beneath his.

“I’m so glad you could come,” he said, sounding choked.

“Thanks for having me.”

His hand dropped from hers, and she lifted her gaze and fought to put it on his and keep it there. But it was just all so awkward.

“Did you have a good flight?”

She nodded. “It was fine.”

“I’m glad.” Standing there in jeans, a pressed shirt and a light grayish jacket, he looked like all the dads on television. Nothing at all like her dad. Okay, her stepdad. Jason Wentworth the Fourth. The man she had called dad practically her whole life if you didn’t count the short visits during the first five years of it, which she hadn’t until this very minute.

His eyebrows went up questioningly. “I’m sure you have luggage?”

“Some.”

“Great. Why don’t we go get it and get you home and settled?”

Home and settled. They were such strange words.

 

Luke wondered as the day wore on if Jaycee’s stepsister had made it yet. Truthfully, he couldn’t imagine the whole step situation. The youngest of five, he had never known a time until just this past year of not having siblings who were in the bathroom when you had to go or who could keep their hands off of your stuff even when it was clearly marked My Stuff!

Down the aisle of the grocery store he went, ticking off items for the church outreach day. It was a twice-a-month thing for their youth group. The other two weeks were taken by the women’s society, and sometimes the youth helped out for those as well.

As cultures went, their little town didn’t really have any homeless people, but they did have their share of disadvantaged ones. Luke pulled several large cans of tomato sauce from the shelves and put them in the cart. If he had learned no other words in the time Pastor Steve had been there, the words “help others” were seared into his brain and on his spirit. That was, according to Pastor Steve, the point of everything in life and especially Christianity—helping others, reaching out to them, making them feel welcome and loved. It truly didn’t matter if they ever showed up for church beyond those meals. That was what the church was about, and if they failed in that mission, nothing else really mattered.

He looked at the list Ms. Patty had given him. Ms. Patty, or Ms. P, as most of the youth referred to her was a large, African-American woman with a personality to match her girth. She had never met a stranger because according to her, once you hug a person, they are no longer a stranger, and Ms. P hugged everybody—whether they needed one or not.

In fact, Luke had had his fair share of hugs from Ms. P because next to introducing herself with a hug, she also paid with them as well. As president of the youth group, he was often tasked with… well, tasks. Cleaning the church center’s kitchen, getting the groceries, working out the schedules, covering when others couldn’t make it.

“He’s my Superman,” Ms. P often said of Luke, and though it embarrassed him, he’d learned not to try to get out of the compliment because Ms. P really came after you good then.

Pulling five large bags of spaghetti off the shelf, he added them to the growing mound in his cart. Only bread remained on the list, and he pushed his way around the aisle cap to get it. As soon as he finished here, he needed to get over to the church. They wouldn’t be cooking until in the morning, but the food needed to be put away, and he would probably have to do some cleaning on the kitchen as well. The last thing he wanted was for Ms. P to show up and have to do it. She did enough.

Grabbing loaves of bread, he thought again of Jaycee. Normally she would be here, meeting up with him with another cart about now. But not today. Today, she was re-meeting her sister, and Luke had to admit he was glad he was here rather than there. “God, help them… both,” he breathed as he headed for the checkout.

 

From her seat in the aging family minivan, Sage did her best to check her adverse reaction to practically everything as they rolled through the little town and out into the country. Somehow she hadn’t really remembered this part. Not that the town would have been any better. She was quite sure the newest home there was at least a decade old and had not weathered its age very well.

“Jaycee and Ryder are really excited you’re coming,” her dad said, glancing over at her. “It’s all they’ve been talking about.”

Sage smiled, but it was forced. Had it not been for his efforts, no one would have even spoken on the ride. She just didn’t know what to say to the man. It wouldn’t be, couldn’t be what she was really thinking, and the truth was, pretending her thoughts were something they were not was not working at all.

“So, do you remember any of this?” he asked as if hoping she might.

The smile got swallowed in her fight to cushion the truth. “Not much. I kind of remember going to the church. It’s the little one, right? With the wooden floors?”

His smile was the brightest one she had seen so far. “You remember that, huh?”

“Yes.” Clutching her white handbag, she willed the panic in her to settle down. Why had she agreed to this? The second she got the chance to text her mother, she was going to find another option and take it because this was a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.

 

“They’re here.” Jaycee’s mom veritably swooned as she checked both children before heading for the front door of their house which no one ever used. It took more than one wrench of the doorknob to get it open after she fluffed and fretted about her own appearance.

Jaycee knotted her arms and shook her head. “Mom, come on. This is ridiculous.”

When her mother turned and caught sight of her, she scowled. “Jaycee Marie, stand up straight. We want to make a good impression.”

With a deep sigh and a roll of her eyes, Jaycee straightened. This was going to be a long three months.

 

The house was small, tiny in fact, and as Sage exited the vehicle, she took it all in, wondering how many rooms it could even have. Five? Six? And that was being generous.

“I can come back and get your bags,” her dad said, coming around the front of the van to walk with her. Wow. That felt so off-kilter, him standing there waiting for her, looking at her like she was an angel fallen from Heaven.

Fighting every horrible thought in her, Sage squared her shoulders, lifted her chin and put her head back. Somehow she managed to smile at him brightly.

“Ready?” he asked, and he offered her his arm.

The nod was kind of sideways, but she did get her head to go down. Her heels clicked on the concrete sidewalk as they passed the modest flowerbed that was filled with growing things and a few flowers all the way to the front door. There, he opened it for her, and called, “We’re home!”

He took a step back to let her enter first. Stepping up and into the home was a challenge mostly because it seemed so very dark and dim inside. The last thing she wanted to do was trip.

“Oh!” The woman with the long, dark wavy hair on the other side of the threshold clapped her hands and put them to her mouth. “Sage. Oh! You’ve grown so much. We’re so glad you could come.”

Without warning, she was pulled into a hug that lasted mere seconds but felt much longer than that.

“Oh. Yes. Thank you.” Exiting the hug, Sage tugged on her short white skirt and had to square her shoulders again to get her composure back in hand. “Hm.” Smiling was beginning to hurt.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Mrs. Lawrence, Gregory’s wife.” The woman was going in five directions at once, and Sage did her best to keep her own nerves in check as the woman shook her hand. “You can call me Mrs. Lawrence or Emily or… Stepmom if you would like.” She laughed a hollow, nervous kind of laugh.

“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Lawrence.” Okay, the truth was, she didn’t really remember seeing her the last time, but it was something to say that didn’t sound totally ridiculous.

“Oh good. Okay. And these are our children.” Mrs. Lawrence went over to the two figures on the other side of the room. “This is Jaycee. You probably remember her from last time, and this is Ryder.”

Nodding and trying to smile at both of them, Sage willed her polite training to overtake her judgment of everyone and everything. “It’s nice to meet you both.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ryder said, staring at her as if he had been star struck.

“Yeah,” Jaycee said, and Sage noted without any trouble the dismissive nature of the syllable from the young woman in jeans with the hard, black framed glasses. Then Jaycee looked over at her mom. “Can I go now? I’m supposed to meet Luke at church to do the groceries.”

Mrs. Lawrence glanced over at Sage with an apology in her eyes and then leveled her gaze at her daughter. “Don’t you think it would be better to stay and help Sage get settled? Maybe she could go with you afterward.”

The tilt of Jaycee’s head and eyebrows told Sage loud and clear that if that happened, it would not be a welcome change of plans.

“Oh, that’s fine, Mrs. Lawrence,” Sage said quickly, wanting to rescue the situation if that was even possible. “I’m sure Jaycee has better things to do than to wait on me. I’m sure I’ll be fine getting my things set up.”

Hope and vindication sprang into Jaycee’s eyes as she looked at her mom. “Please. Can I go now?”

A moment and Mrs. Lawrence sighed. “Fine. Go.”

“Awesome.” And that’s all it took for Jaycee to be out of the room.

“But be back by seven!” Mrs. Lawrence called.

“Will do.” And a door somewhere on the other side of the house banged closed.

Mrs. Lawrence looked down at Ryder who was still staring at Sage with a goofy look on his face. “Ryder, why don’t you show Sage to the guest room?” Then her gaze came back up to Sage. “It’s not much of a guest room. It’s honestly my sewing room, but we’ve moved some things around, and there’s a daybed in there.”

“I’m sure it will be lovely.”

 

Lovely it was not. Cramped, crumpled and befuddled came much closer. The cabinet didn’t even close for all the scraps of cloth sticking out of it, and Sage had no desire to open the closed closet doors to find out what else might be in there.

“Like I said,” Mrs. Lawrence continued, “it’s not much.” She worked on fixing and fluffing the daybed which didn’t help at all.

The bedspread was lime-green and white striped with small pink flowers on it. Sage didn’t even want to contemplate how old it might be. Her skin crawled just thinking about sleeping there.

“We freed up a little room in the closet.” Pushing the things in the closet back, Mrs. Lawrence stepped back to show Sage who wondered what she was going to do with the eight suitcases of stuff waiting in the van.

“It’s wonderful,” Sage said with a smile, wondering how she could even say the words.

“Ryder,” her father said from the doorway, “why don’t we go get Sage’s things?”

In a daze, Ryder followed his father out.

“Don’t mind him,” Mrs. Lawrence said when they were gone. “He’s just discovered that girls are on the planet.”

“He seems very sweet.” Sweet. It was how her voice sounded, and she was having great difficulty trying to force it not to crack right down the center.

“We’re so glad you’re here. Gregory was thrilled when your mom called about this.”

Sage was still a little fuzzy on the details of how her banishment had come to be, but she smiled and nodded as if she knew every fact by heart. “I’m glad it worked out.”

“Ryder!” her father’s hushed voice traveled with nearly no trouble down the hall and right to her.

“I’m just saying. How much stuff can one person need?”

Horror and surprise coursed across Mrs. Lawrence’s face as she rushed for the door. “I’ll just go help the guys.”

 

“No. I’m being serious. She looks like a Barbie doll. Perfect hair, perfect nails, perfect makeup. It’s like she’s made of plastic.” Jaycee was transferring the lettuce into the refrigerator from the bags on the counter, and Luke was becoming a bit concerned that it might be both bruised and shredded in the process. “I think her hair is made of real platinum. And you should have seen Ryder. His tongue was practically hanging out. Ugh.”

“Well, at least she’s not an ogre.” Not that he was trying to help, but Luke knew that wasn’t going to sit well.

“And you should have seen Dad. He looked like someone could snap a flashbulb in his face and he wouldn’t have even noticed. And Mom, oh my gosh, she was just… ‘this needs dusted… put this away… fluff these pillows… why didn’t you dust this?’  It’s a good thing I had to come here, or someone was going to be put out of their misery in that house.”

Finished with the lettuce, she turned and put her hands over the back pockets of her jeans. “What else?”

“We need to get the trash bags in the cans, and the plates and plastic ware out on the line.”

“Got it.”

Luke watched her as he worked to get things in order in the kitchen for the next morning’s marathon cooking session. Efficient. Hardworking. Down-to-earth. All the things he’d always thought he would want in a girl. The smile that crossed his heart was sad and futile. No, Jaycee Lawrence would never see him like that, and he really didn’t blame her. What did he have to offer in the boyfriend department anyway?

He wasn’t the guy who stood out in the class pictures, and he was as apt to make a goofy move as to make a smooth one. Truth was, he admired her taste in not choosing him. She was smart enough to know he wasn’t worth the time or the effort. Pushing those thoughts back and away, he finished up at the sink and went to take care of the trash on his own. Even Jaycee shouldn’t have to be subjected to that job.

 

Ten seconds after they left her to the room, Sage yanked out her cell and typed like her life depended on it, which it almost certainly did. She had to get out of here. She could act with the best of them, but this place would require more than acting. Mom. I made it. I know we talked about me going to stay with Aunt Anna as well this summer. Can we talk about doing that sooner rather than later? PLEASE!

She hit send and sat very gently on the edge of the bed. It squeaked with the movement. Pulling up the next number in her phone, she sent a text to Patelyn and then one to McKenzie. Desperation texts, meant to explain the horrible plight she now found herself in. There was no mall here, no shopping centers that she had seen. There was one grocery store that they passed on the way through town, and it had cars with actual dents in them sitting there.

Her fingers told the sad, sad tale of just how far she had fallen in the world, and the more she typed, the worse it got. When she finished, she considered letting the tears start, but she didn’t dare. First off, they would surely ruin her makeup. Secondly, if anyone knew she was crying… Well, they couldn’t know. She would put on the Wentworth charm until she could escape this disaster, and then she would leave and all things Lawrence would be forever behind her, a sad chapter in her life that she would never have to think of again.

With that thought, she glanced across the room at her luggage stacked there. It was pointless to unpack. She wouldn’t be here long enough to make it worth the effort.

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Excerpt: Whisper If You Have To

Whisper cover FINAL 7-28-2014Wings couldn’t have felt faster as Chad hurried to English. Once there, he questioned which direction to turn. She was already sitting over in her customary corner. His customary corner was empty.

“Wow. Running those lines must’ve helped your speed,” Kyle said, clapping him on the back. Chad let himself be led to the back. “You think coach is going to run us again today?”

“Of course.” Chad slid into his chair, noticing that she never so much as looked up from reading. He wondered if she hadn’t gotten it read the night before. Maybe he’d misjudged her as deep when in fact she was a flake. However, assessing her outfit today— same white sweater with a white shirt underneath and a simple navy skirt, he began to wonder if maybe she was Amish. She was certainly different from every other girl at Jefferson. Make up and clothes seemed not to be in her vocabulary.

“Ugh. Tell me we’re not doing Beo-boy again today.” Kyle put his head all the way back in agony. “Could this be any more boring?”

Mrs. Whitman walked in and took one look at the class. “Did you all forget? Get in your teams already. You only have today to finish reading this thing— unless you want it for homework.”

Groans crossed the room.

“Good luck,” Chad said, fighting the urge to appear too eager.

“Luck,” Kyle said with much less enthusiasm.

 ***

Alison really should’ve at least made an effort to move, but she just couldn’t. She’d read the assignment, and discussing it with someone interesting sounded so cool. However, how this guy who was walking up looking like cool personified could be someone interesting was beyond her. In fact, his bright, neon-blue T-shirt proclaimed, “Same shirt. Different day.” 

“One question,” he said without pleasantries as he slid into his chair. “He shows up and kills Grendel. Villain vanquished, what’s left to tell?”

She laughed at his assessment. “I don’t know. Maybe he runs off with the queen.”

Chad’s eyes grew wide at the statement. “No. Seriously?”

With another laugh, she shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s a thought.” She swung her book open to the page. “So, what’d you think?”

“Well, I felt sorry for that one dude who got eaten before Beowulf swung into action. Munch. Munch. Munch.” He shook his head. “Got to be a rough way to go.”

So he had in fact read the passage. That was encouraging. “Yeah, I would’ve thought he’d have a better plan than to let one of his guys get eaten. I think next time I’d be like, ‘Uh, could we go over this whole plan thing before we start? I don’t really wanna be lunch.’”

His smile was at once soft and amused. “No kidding. But that Beowulf guy was pretty cool. Like irresistible force meets immovable object.” He put his hands together, fist into palm, struggling with himself as Beowulf had struggled with Grendel.

“And then when he ripped his arm out of its socket,” Alison said, the excitement growing at the climax of what they had read. “That was like, ‘Ugh. Gruesome.’”

“The ripping of the sinews,” Chad said, echoing her wonder perfectly. “And all the other guys were like hitting him with their swords, and it wasn’t doing anything.”

“I thought that was cool because mortal weapons were nothing against him.”

“Beowulf knew that.” The battle fell away as Chad’s dark eyes flashed with awe. “And what was up with that other dude? The little guy who was all like, ‘Beowulf. Big deal. I’ve battled monsters before too.’”

“Jealousy, I’m sure, but I think he was pretty impressed when Beowulf hung up that big ol’ hand.”

Chad’s face fell into disturbed disgust. “I’d be impressed too.” He clapped as if to someone standing next to the desks. “Yeah, man. Way to go, Beowulf. Good job, dude.”

“I so think the king is going to get jealous though,” Alison said, dropping the excitement from her voice. “I mean, here’s Beowulf, and everybody’s all in awe of him. He beat Grendel. Don’t you think they’re going to be like, ‘Come on. Be our king’?”

“Bad news though if that happens because the king isn’t going to take too kindly to that. Shades of Julius Ceasar me thinks.”

That surprised her. “You’ve read Julius Ceasar?”

He shrugged. “Sophomore English. Et tu, Brute?”  Putting his hand to his heart, Chad made as if he was dying. Then he sat up. “Figures. They put you on a pedestal and then figure out a way to get rid of you.”

“That’s kind of the way of heroes though. Look at John the Baptist or Jesus. Why’d they die? Because people were jealous of them.” Suddenly she stopped, realizing her mistake. She looked at him for one second, horrified at her slip, and then she ducked. “Sorry.”

Concern wafted through his soft, dark features. “For what?” He shrugged with one shoulder. “You’re right.”

“No.” Embarrassment flooded her heart. She tried to laugh, to smile, but it didn’t make it that far. “I forget sometimes.”

The concern in his eyes deepened. “Forget what?”

She smiled to the best of her ability and shook her head. “Never mind. We need to get reading.” With a glance back at the rest of the class, she confirmed that belief. “We’ve got to get this read by Monday.”

Chad looked like he wanted to argue, but after a moment, he let it drop as his gaze found his book. “So you want to read it out loud or like we did yesterday?”

Quietly Alison cleared her throat. “Like yesterday I guess. That seemed to work pretty well.”

“Okay.”  He bent his head and started reading.

Berating herself for her stumble, Alison anchored her own gaze at the words. Focus. She needed to focus.

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Review: Whisper If You Have To

Whisper cover FINAL 7-28-2014How can a life “look perfect on the outside (but) be full of turmoil and sorrow underneath?”

This nagging question haunts Alison Prescott as she starts her senior year in a new high school. Not only does she face a whole new world, but she must bear the weight of her parent’s expectations, rules and closely held secrets.

In strolls basketball star Chad Dourozette. . . .! The two are paired together for an English assignment. I so love their innocence. They are young and are experiencing strong feelings and emotions for the first time. Ms. Stallings develops this relationship gently and with such care. Nothing is rushed, including the thoughts and feelings of holding hands for the first time.

“His were the color of chocolate, deep, rich, decadent chocolate.” Ok, what girl wouldn’t swoon!
And Chapter 13!!!!!!!

In time, the weight of this secret becomes too heavy for Alison and she must confide in someone. . . Chad. Their bond strengthens as she quietly tells her story.

I know Alison’s story is one that Ms. Stallings herself has kept silent but I also know she has poured her heart and soul into every word. So I will BOLDLY stand up and shout. . . THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST READ!  — Farm Girl

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