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By Brooklyn Skye, Alycia Tornetta, Stacy Cantor Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Brooklyn Skye
All rights reserved.
"You don't remember?"
In the last twenty-four hours, I've heard these words three times now. The first — yesterday — when I forgot to wait for Dani after school. Supposedly, she'd asked me for a ride home during English, but my memory of first period is sort of a blur. Or not really there at all. I must've been daydreaming. The second — this morning — when Mom forgot to put pancakes on my plate and when I pointed it out she said, "I didn't forget. You told me you didn't like them anymore."
I stand on the dirt-covered floor of Beacon's, the abandoned cement factory, watching Shane wrap a leather necklace around my wrist. He picked it up at the boutique next to his little sister's Tae Kwon Do studio. His fingers are warm, brushing lightly against my skin as he secures the knot. The silver charm in the shape of a running shoe sparkles in the dull light.
"Fits perfectly," I say, gesturing to my wrist to avoid his question.
"Over your scar," he finishes, smoothing his finger over the inch-long layer of wound leather. It's not what I meant, but he's right, the necklace does perfectly cover the vertical white line on my wrist. If only he had leather for all the others.
"You don't like my scar?" I hide my discomfort in a pouting face. He leans down, lips barely grazing mine.
"I like everything about you, Ells. Including your scar. But I know you're self-conscious about it."
I grin. "Suddenly you're a mind reader?"
"I'd like to call it a movement analyst." He takes my left hand and cups it over the bracelet on my right. "You cover your scar when you're nervous," he says, straight-faced. Then he lets out an impish chuckle, pulling my hand away. "Now you can make better use of your hands."
I make a face and pull out of his hold. "You're, like, the weirdest boyfriend I've ever had."
"Yeah?" He snakes his arms around me. I lean back, meet his gaze.
"You can't possibly take that as a compliment!" I laugh and the sound booms off the cinderblock walls.
"Of course I can." He squares his shoulders. "I'm sure in some part of the world 'weird' means cool. And don't all girls want to be with the cool guys?"
I gesture to the dilapidated room we're standing in. Broken windows, crumbling foundation, the stench of death from the rat cemetery in the corner.
"You have a lot to learn, Prince Charming, if you think a date at the cement factory will get you anywhere with this girl." I try to squirm out from his grip, but his arms won't relent.
He hesitates. "So you really don't remember talking about it?"
The "it" being each other's firsts, which apparently we discussed the other day on the way home from practice. I shake my head and look away. "I must've been really tired."
Truth is, I don't remember the entire drive. This is usually how it happens, how I realize a memory is missing. Someone will make a comment about something — the hideous scarf Lexi was wearing at a party, the look on Shane's face when he realized I'd left the bonfire without him — and then I'll attempt to replay the scene, unable to.
A crease appears on his forehead.
"You say that a lot."
Yes. I do. I search for another excuse.
"Practice has been kicking my butt lately."
He brushes the bangs from my eyes, considering for a moment my words. He'll believe them. He always does. But first he'll have to disregard whatever doubts are plaguing his mind. Little does he know, his instinct is right. Always right. And I am a horrible person for letting him think otherwise.
He takes my hand, meeting my eyes with a grin.
"Maybe we should skip practice tomorrow then. My mom will be working and Drea won't be home till four. We'll have the house to ourselves."
* * *
Shane catches my eye from across the hall and my lips crack a smile. He's walking with Jason to his last period. We've hardly spoken a word to each other all day — no more than a hi or a see you at lunch, but between every class he's given me this look. Like he's reminding me of our little secret.
As if I could forget.
"Something's up with you two," Dani says, pulling the chewed-up pen out of her mouth and pointing it at my chest. "He's been making that face at you all day."
"What face?" I say, ducking my head so she can't see my cheeks flush red. Nevertheless, her hawk eyes catch it. She grabs my shoulders.
"Oh my God. Already?"
I shake my head, grinning. Her grip tightens.
"You're killing me here, Ell. When?" I scan the crowded hall to make sure Shane's not watching and, when I see he's already around the corner, I laugh out loud.
"Today." I glance down at my watch. "In, like, one hour."
"Holy bananas. Seriously?" She sticks the pen back in her mouth and starts gnawing vigorously on the end. "Are you ... prepared?"
I roll my eyes and take her by the elbow.
"Yes, Mom, I'm prepared," I say as I pull her through the swarm of bodies toward the language wing.
She bumps me with her hip. "Someone has to ask."
After school, Shane and I head up the stairs to his room, his hand squeezing mine. Meant as a gesture of support, his touch sends nerves prickling up the back of my neck.
Across the hall, a chalkboard hangs from his sister's door. Sara + Drea = BFF is scrawled in blue chalk along the top. Sara wrote it. I can tell by the elaborate curl on the S. My little sister's signature, which she's practiced a zillion times for the day fame finds her as the singer of an all-girl band.
Shane's door shuts with a click and I sit on his tiny twin bed, fidgeting with the frayed blanket. I run my fingers back and forth across its blue threads, dragging them under my fingernails.
In front of me on the nightstand is a picture of Shane and me at our first race together. His arm is slung loosely over my shoulder, both our faces reddened from the cold but smiling at the first-place ribbon Shane earned. It's not visible in the picture, but I was holding my pink Participant ribbon behind my back. The picture is tilted against a black-framed photo of Shane and Lexi from when they were kids. They look about ten and are building a sandcastle at the beach. I've never told Shane, but I can't stand this picture of him and his best friend.
The mattress sinks beside me. His hand falls onto my thigh.
I look him in the eyes. I still remember the first time I saw Shane, this year at our first pep rally. He was with Coach Mills promoting the cross country team, announcing the dates for tryouts. His hair was shorter back then, not hanging past his eyebrows like it is now. That day, as he stood below me on the basketball court, he spoke confidently into the microphone, made eye contact with even the seniors. He was utterly unforgettable.
Needless to say, I tried out for the team the next day.
"If you wanna wait ..." he adds, skimming his fingers up my stomach. I love the gooeyness his touch brings, turning my insides to Jell-O. But then his hand keeps going, and his fingers gently brush the underside of my bra. My nerve endings zap to attention.
Would waiting make this sinking feeling in my stomach go away?
I take a huge breath. No, this is Shane. He loves me, and I love him, and I'm ready for this. I am. "No waiting," I say as smooth as I can and then tug on his T-shirt until he comes closer. Warm breath skates across my cheek, my neck as he lays me down, slipping his hand around my back. Fiery tingles follow as he runs a line of gentle kisses along my jaw, up to my ear, and back down. Is this what sex is going to feel like? My body on fire and freezing cold at the same time? His tongue glides into my mouth, and the fire wins out as I knot my hands into his hair. He kisses me deeply and then, breathing hard, pulls away.
"Thank you," he says.
I laugh. "For this?"
Shaking his head, he lowers his lips to my ear. "For giving me a reason to smile."
I grin at his cheesy words — he's always been so good at sounding like a greeting card — and slide off his shirt, noticing a dull pain in the back of my head. A tiny thread yanking on my consciousness. He leans in, sweeping his lips over my shoulder, my collarbone ...lower, and, suddenly, I feel like I'm slipping.
Like I'm trying to stand on ice and can't find my footing.
Reaching for me. Grabbing me. Pulling me.
Shane's fingers slink down my belly and pop the button on my jeans free ...
Then everything goes black.CHAPTER 2
Water. Rushing to my left. At least I have an idea of where I am.
I open my eyes to a blur of green and gray. Sharp pain clings to the back of my neck and I attempt to blink it away — once, twice, three times. It won't work. The sting will stay for hours, but I have to try. Seconds go by before I start to see the defined edges of what's around. Trees. Looming over me.
The feeling inside my chest is so split it's impossible to put into words. I'm near Shane's house. I know this. And am enormously comforted by the familiar roar of the river. But the trees are gigantic, which makes me feel small and weak. Incapable of getting to my feet and finding my way home. Or back to Shane's.
His bed, his arms, the taste of red licorice on his tongue — that's the last I remember. But is that all? Or did we do more? I glance down. Below the hem of my shirt, my jeans are unbuttoned. Mud covers my shoes and knees. It looks like I was running and tripped.
I want to scream.
My last blackout was only two days ago — Saturday — when one minute I was standing before a bonfire down at the river and the next I was waking up to Shane calling, asking why I left the party without him.
This is too soon. I don't want to do this again.
"Ellie!" Shane calls from the edge of the trees. Footsteps squish into the damp forest floor.
I don't answer. I don't know how. I have no idea why I'm this far from his house, or why I'm covered in mud.
"If you didn't want to do it, you could've just said so." Shane's sharp words bite through the trees. He must see me by now. "Instead of making me feel like a complete jerk."
I pull my knees close, wrap my hand around my wrist. The scent of the river drifts on the wind. "I didn't —"
"Do you treat all your boyfriends like this?"
I've never had a boyfriend like him. So, no.
He emerges from behind a tree, then stops a few feet away, hands outstretched to the sides. His face is set into a hard mask, one so unfamiliar to his face.
"What is it with you and leaving me?"
This is the first time I've heard Shane yell. I wince and look up at him. I hate that I've caused this. And that I have no idea what he's talking about. Hot tears claw at the back of my throat as I will the truth to come out.
"I don't ... I don't remember what happened."
He snorts. "Just like you don't remember our conversation the other day?" He spins on his heels and starts back through the trees. "Go home, Ellie. Call me when you want to tell the truth."
"Wait!" I scramble to my feet and run after him, grabbing his arm. "I am telling you the truth. The last thing I remember is kissing you." And the hands. But I don't want to tell him about the hands.
He swipes my grip from his arm. "So you don't remember telling me to keep my hands off you? Or slamming the door in my face? Or running away?" He pushes past, his shoulder bumping mine. "Not sure how you could forget that. It's a little extreme."
I would never do those things to him. My hand catches his shirt.
"Please, Shane." Six months and I've perfected the tone it takes to really get his attention. Which I need right now because I'm at a complete loss for any other words. How do I explain that the memory has vanished into thin air? That I was there on his bed, and then here in the forest, with nothing — not even a breath or a heartbeat — in between?
He's still recovering from the sprint, breathing deep, neck stretched and corded. His black hair is sticking up in the front, glistening from the moisture in the air. I hug myself, waiting for him to say something. He clenches and unclenches his jaw, scanning the forest in a way to avoid looking at me. Then he sighs, rubbing his face.
"Did you really want to?"
"Yes," I say with no hesitation. Even so, I'm not certain he'll believe me this time. It's not like I can pass this off as being tired or unable to find him in the dark down at the river. A moment passes and then his face softens.
"Were you scared?"
I think back to his room, to how the feel of his hands warmed me. I start to shake my head, but stop. Because there was something else, too. The buzzing in my veins. The feeling of being pulled under.
Nerves. They were just nerves.
"Not at all," I finally say, and he shoves his hands deep into his pockets.
"Okay, so tell me what happened."
I detach my gaze, looking down at my muddy shoes. "I don't know." He starts to turn away and I quickly add, "Shane, I'm not just saying that to blow you off. I really don't know. Maybe it's stress," I lie. I don't know why. I guess because I have no other explanation. "From school. Or anxiety about the meet ..." I exhale, my hands flipping into the air. "I don't know."
It isn't either of those. I'm not the type to fret over school, or sports. He knows this. I shift on my feet, wanting to step closer. To sink into him. My eyes brim over with tears and a long minute passes with me just standing there blurry-eyed, and I start to think that maybe this is it, that he'll break up with me because he's tired of me forgetting things, but then my tears whittle away his anger and he pulls me into his arms with a much heavier sigh, holding so much more frustration than mine.
"Maybe you're right." His breath sends a few strands of my hair drifting upward, and as if trying to convince himself, he says, "After this weekend, after the meet, everything'll go back to normal."
That night I dream that I come to in the halls at school. Naked, with mud up to my knees. I try to make it to the bathroom for cover, but a cluster of football players blocks the door. They corner me, pinching my breasts and slapping my backside and Shane is nowhere to be found. I scream out for help, but nobody comes.CHAPTER 3
Dreams don't always disappear when you wake up. I wander the halls at school with my hands over my chest and a sickness in my stomach until Shane finds me, guides me to class.
Lie number two: "I'm sick."CHAPTER 4
Turns out, I pull off "sick" better than I do well. I've got everyone around me taking each shard of bait I present to them — it's hard to swallow, my head's throbbing, I feel like I'm going to puke ...
Even Dad, who's a doctor — or surgeon, whatever — is convinced I should spend a day home from school. Perfect.
In the morning, Mom comes in with a tray of tea for my throat, ginger slices for my queasy stomach, and aspirin for my head. She presses her hand to my forehead, deciding I don't have a fever but should still rest, and then she's off to work, with Dad and Sara just behind her. Dad will drop my little sister off at Jefferson Middle School, honking once from his Lexus SUV, and head to the hospital for the day.
I stay in bed until I hear both cars rumble down the street and the house is silent.
The silence is heaven.
No one to question what I'm doing as I settle in front of my computer, open up a browser, and search "medical reasons for blackouts" in Google. I don't know why I didn't do this before, after I woke up to Shane on the phone asking why I left him at the party down at the river, when the last thing I could remember was being there.
But it has to be something simple. Something easily pinpoint-able and fixable. Like a low sugar level or not enough potassium or something.
On the screen, surprisingly, more than ten pages come up with a match. I start with the first, a medical website listing thirty-eight causes for blackouts. Heart conditions like aortic dissection, congestive heart failure, and arrhythmia are listed. I can't be certain, but I doubt there's anything wrong with my heart. I'm too young for that.
I keep scanning the list and there are the obvious reasons a person might black out — wide of the mark of my lifestyle: drugs, alcohol, medication. And the other causes are just as unlikely: diabetes, psychotic episode, seizure, stroke, epilepsy ...
Excerpted from Fragile Line by Brooklyn Skye, Alycia Tornetta, Stacy Cantor Abrams. Copyright © 2014 Brooklyn Skye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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