A new heart, a new life, a new love...and a mystery she can't explain. Can she unite her divided heart?
Mishca Richardson’s life is at an all-time high after her heart transplant. With new boyfriend, Ryder, she has the perfect summer romance. Even the nightmares plaguing her sleep since her operation can’t dull her new dream world.
Yet, life starts to unravel when Mishca develops superhuman abilities. She does her best to hide them so as not to end up a laboratory experiment, but she can’t ignore the strange instant attraction she experiences when she meets her university professor, Colin Read.
Torn between love and obsession, Mishca must unite her divided heart and decide between the two men. But when the truth about her weird powers comes to light, she’ll have a lot more to worry about than romance.
"Authors like Sharon M. Johnston keep the genre from getting stale by taking a creative bent and exploring overlapping elements." - LIBRARY JOURNAL
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An Open Heart Novel: Book 1
By Sharon M. Johnston
City Owl PressCopyright © 2015 Sharon M. Johnston
All rights reserved.
SOMEONE MUST DIE so I can live. I've come to terms with that. Before it turned my stomach, thinking about my donor's death, but now I'm used to it. Most likely, it'll be a car accident or a drunken fall. It won't come from illness or any other natural causes that corrupt human organs and make the deceased ineligible to be a donor. A violent, painful death will be my savior. It's the only way I'll ever get my new heart.
I open my eyes and stare upward, hoping the white fluffy clouds splotched against the blue sky will distract me from my imaginings of people dying. I guess I'm not as used to the idea of getting someone else's heart as I thought. The harsh Australian sun makes me squint.
I swing my legs around and hoist myself upright on the stadium bleacher, looking over the sports field. Readjusting my tank top strap that had slipped off my shoulder, I try to conjure up happier thoughts. At least I won't be responsible for the person who dies, even if I get a new heart out of the mess.
Yeah, happier thoughts.
A sigh escapes. This isn't how I expected to be spending my first year out of high school, watching my dad as he puts hopeful rugby league players through their paces. It's been that and hanging out with Mum at home. My friends have taken a gap year, backpacking their way through Europe. The seasons are the exact opposite in the Northern Hemisphere to Australia, so spring in October here is autumn in Europe. All my friends are watching leaves turn orange and spiral to the ground, while I sweat it out at home. When Mum and Dad found out I was near the top of the transplant list, they insisted I still take a year off, but vetoed my plans to join my friends in case someone croaked. A lovely thought. So all my friends left, minus me. I've barely heard from them during the past eight months. And most of them won't be back for at least another few weeks, just before Christmas.
I don't hold it against Mum and Dad. Even though, a rugby arena is not my idea of a good time. But whatever. They do it because they care. They've proved time and time again you don't need blood ties to be great parents or overprotective ones. Mum joked that if we get the call soon about a heart for me it'll be an early Christmas present. Will someone die in the next month? I really don't want to be in hospital over Christmas. I purse my lips and twitch my mouth from side-to-side trying to push away the insidious thought.
"All right, boys. That wraps it up for today," Dad calls out to the pack of sweaty guys. "Hit the showers, and I'll see you all tomorrow."
I do my best not to ogle as the group heads in my direction. Half of them are shirtless, their muscles glistening after the training session. Okay, so I'm totally staring. A cute red-haired guy catches me gawking and winks. I simper at him in a lame attempt at sexy. A guy I went to school with nudges Cutie Ginger and shakes his head. I suppress a huff. I thought with the end of an era, I could have a fresh start, but it appears my reputation will haunt me beyond high school. Mishca the untouchable.
Dad lingers behind, deep in discussions with the managers and trainers, no doubt talking over the fates of the young men desperate to break into the rugby league at a national level. They were all trying so hard to get Coach Tom Richardson's attention. If only I had that many guys chasing after me. If only I had any guys chasing after me.
I pat at the edges of my almost-afro to make sure it doesn't look like I've stuck my finger in an electric socket.
Finally, Dad makes his way to me, leaving his entourage behind.
"Any contenders in your latest batch of victims?" I ask, picking up my discarded copy of West Side Story. I'd been rereading my university audition piece, torturing myself on how I could have performed it better. There was no way I was putting off uni for another year, new heart or no new heart. I wish I had tried out for plays at school, but I remained a closet actor, only performing in drama class for fear somehow my weak disposition would get in the way. Next year, I swear, will be different. A new heart and new hope — surely someone suitable will die soon. I wince at how heartless that sounds.
"There may be some," Dad replies, humoring me and fully aware I have little interest in his latest player acquisitions. He puts his hand on my shoulder. "I've got to grab some paperwork from the office before we go."
"Sure thing," I say to his back as he retreats up the tunnel under the stadium. I trudge behind him, my book clutched in my hand.
With each step the tips of my curls brush lightly against my bare shoulders. It tickles and I regret agreeing with Mum to grow it out. Appeasing her is my way to bridge the gap between us. Or so I argue with myself. But it's like the more I align my way of thinking with Mum's the more I can show the world I am truly her daughter, despite how different we look and sharing no DNA. I shove my hands into the pockets of my denim shorts and focus on the blissful shade I'll get once I'm inside.
My nose wrinkles when I step through the door. The whole place smells like dude, and not in a good way, but in the male equivalent of a stinky wet dog. I hold my nose, walk down the corridor, and lean against the cool cement wall outside Dad's office. I sneak a peek down the hall. Naked guys. There are naked guys right down there. The closest I've been to male nudity of a datable age. I bite my lower lip. Stupid heart gets in the way, as usual.
My heart transplant operation is like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, but without a countdown to watch. Evil thoughts invade my mind again, now about my parents. Would they still have wanted to adopt me if they'd known I had a congenial heart disease — this hole in my heart? Do they regret adopting me with all that baggage?
A voice floats down from the locker room, invading my thoughts. "That girl was hot. Who was she? I could love on some brown sugar."
I squee inside, hoping it's the Ron Weasley look-a-like.
"Seriously, don't go there. Apart from being Coach Richardson's daughter, she's got a broken heart, and I mean literally. Mishca couldn't even do sports at school cause it might've killed her. There's no way you can hit that. She might die on you during sex, and you'd be left screwing a corpse."
"You're kidding me?" His eyebrows rise. "Thanks, man. Dodged a bullet there."
I suck in a breath and run down the corridor to the seating. A mini cyclone of rage mixes inside me with a swirl of sadness, both fighting for control. Part of me fights not to breakdown and cry while the other half holds back a scream and the insistent urge to pummel any guy that comes near. Instead, I throw my playbook onto a chair, then curl my fists and stand rigid. My breath comes in ragged gulps and my chest burns. Stupid weak heart! It's gotten in the way for so long. I wish someone would die ... right ... now.
My fist connects with the wall in a feeble push. Crap, that hurts! I blow on my now pink knuckles in an attempt to ease the throbbing. Note to self, UFC isn't the career for you. I flick my hand about as though it will disperse the pain.
Dad races toward me. Something's up ... or he's extremely happy. His face morphs between the two emotions faster than I can tell. He stops in front of me and grabs my hands. I glance down trying not to wince at the pain from my pink knuckles and hoping he doesn't notice.
"What's going on, Dad?"
He looks me in the eye and nervously rubs his thumb over my hand. "They've got a donor. It's time."CHAPTER 2
"HOW NICE THAT YOU'RE coming to give your friend support," says the nurse to my mother, handing the hospital admission forms to me.
"She's my daughter," snaps Mum as she snatches up the clipboard and starts poring over it. I shift my weight as though it will allow my discomfort from the misunderstanding and my mum's reaction to slide off me.
Dad gives the nurse apologetic grimaces. It's an easy mistake to make, and one made all too often. Not many people would pick me as the daughter of a blond Australian supermodel. I look more like I should be Lenny Kravitz's kid.
I glance sideways at her. She's not taking this whole your-daughter-needs-a-heart-transplant saga well. Come one, Mum. Get it together for once, for me. The pen shakes between my mum's delicate fingers, threatening to rattle against her gold rings. She attempts to fill in the paperwork.
"You don't have to do that, Mum," I attempt to keep my voice even. "I'm nineteen now, I have to sign this myself anyway."
"No," she replies. "You've got enough to deal with."
I wonder how long she'll be able to keep this up. Mum and stress are not friends. Inevitably, she falls into a dram-filled pile of goo that Dad has to nurture back into the form of a functional person. It's exhausting for all of us.
She continues staring at the paperwork without writing anymore. If anyone doubted my mother's strong denial of plastic surgery, they'd only need to check her out now to see the truth. Her forehead creases as she studies the form.
Is there any family history of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure?
I watch with intent to see what she'll do. The only sections she fills in with confidence are my personal details, immunization history, and the fact that I don't smoke and I'm not pregnant.
Mum pushes the board holding the uncompleted form to the nurse with a faint, "I'm sorry," and rushes out of the hospital reception room, dragging me behind. I roll my eyes at Dad. He gives me a rueful shrug, mouths that he'll catch up, and then turns to the nurse. I huff and let Mum yank me further away from the desk. Not today, Mum. Please. This is hard enough. I squish my eyes tight, willing the ungrateful thoughts away. If someone without my parents' level of wealth had adopted me, I might already be dead. They've given so much to help with my medical condition.
We move so quickly down the blinding white hallways that my chest tightens and my breath becomes raspy. Shooting pains attack my ribs. I want to slow down, but reminding Mum about my defective heart won't help the situation. Her falling in a heap on the floor and making an even bigger scene would compound things.
We escape from the claustrophobic corridors into the front garden, snagging a park bench nestled in the nearby foliage. People going by would pick my mother as the one nearing death's door rather than me. I hug Mum to me, breathing sharply as my chest continues to sear in protest. More than her slight frame pushes against me. The guilt of my defective heart, the anger at Mum's ability to play the victim, the fear of going under the knife, all of it suffocates me. I gasp for air, resisting the urge to shove Mum off me and onto the ground so I can scream at her.
Deep breaths. 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 5 ... I inhale and exhale, willing my heart to slow. You know that's how she is. When I can get it into a semi-steady rhythm, I gasp, "Mum?"
She angles her tear-stained face toward me with that startled kangaroo-in-headlights expression. The shame of her breakdown starts to creep along her cheeks in shades of pink. She reaches out and pulls a flower from the surrounding hedges, methodically plucking off the petals.
I want to grab her head and make her look me in the eye. I need her now, more than I've even needed her before. Come on. Look at me, Mum. I wait a heartbeat. When she doesn't comply with my unspoken demand, I sigh, and try to catch her attention with a question.
"Mum, won't the adoption records have my health history in them?"
She freezes as though she's searching for the right words. Before she can respond, Dad strides over from the hospital entrance and grabs us both in a massive bear hug. I sag into him; my head against his chest, letting him absorb all my anger, all my fear. Tears trickle down my cheeks, but I won't let them overtake me. I need to be strong so I can face what's waiting for me in the operating room. The rapid thumping of my heart eases until it beats in a steady duet with Dad's. Mum's hair falls like a veil protecting me from the world.
After a collective deep breath, we separate, Mum easing her head from Dad's shoulder before I extract myself as well. Surveying them both, I straighten my spine. I'm determined to get answers this time.
"Won't my medical history be in the adoption papers?" I repeat my earlier question.
Dad shakes his head, and Mum's hand flies to her mouth as though to suppress a sob.
"It wasn't a regular adoption, Mishca. At the time, we chose a more," Dad pauses searching the sky for the words, "selective agency. We'd heard of other cases where the birth parents became too involved after recognizing their child with a celebrity parent. The service had additional security, but it went both ways. We were given the bare minimum of information about you, and the birth parents knew nothing about us. We knew you were from a mixed race couple in the United States who couldn't keep you." Dad's eyes glisten and his words catch in his throat. "We wanted you so bad. At that time it worked well for everyone."
The words sink in deep. My starved mind eats up each one like an inedible morsel of food. I stare at the ground. My gaze flickers to Mum's stomach as it always does when I think of the baby they lost before they adopted me.
"This isn't the first time I've been admitted into the hospital and we haven't had all the information. It's not like Dr. Thompson won't operate on me because he doesn't know if diabetes runs in my family, right?" I try my best to sound reassuring, even though part of me wants to run away as fast as I can and hide. But I can't run more than 100 meters without wheezing, and I suck at hide-and-seek.
Mum's face relaxes. "We have the best doctor, the best hospital in Brisbane, and it isn't like this operation hasn't been performed successfully before." She manages the first smile I've seen from her today and it's enough for us to head inside. Dad tackles the form with advice from the nurse. I work on keeping Mum calm, still wishing it were the other way around.
It takes less time than I expect before I'm in the unflattering hospital gown and hugging Mum and Dad goodbye. Then, a nurse bustles me onto the gurney. I want to watch my parents until the last second, but seeing their tears will break me apart. I can run from things like Mum. I have to take this chance to live a normal life. I focus on the florescent lights in the ceiling until the orderlies wheel me to my final destination.
When we enter the stark stainless steel lined operating room I long for the comfort of the warm waiting room. I expect to wake up a bit sore and sorry after the operation, but how much pain will there be? I have no idea and it makes my insides tighten. A niggling thought tells me to make peace with my maker because it could be my last chance. So I do. But that small thought gets much bigger — and a helluva a lot scarier — in the reality of the operating room.
The medical team mills around, but no one says a word to me until it's time to go under, leaving me feeling like a piece of meat. I gulp as the doctor asks me to count back from ten. I make it to nine.
Voices drift around me. Murmurs and faint whispers flow through my mind, but I lack the focus to hold on to them. A blanket of fog embraces me, pulling me into what I thought would be nothingness.
I run into blackness. An intense guilt weighs me down. Guilty ... wrong ... bad ... the words ripple around me, filling my soul with emotions. What had I done? What did I do to warrant this shame? I want to turn to the light. Don't take me away from the light.
My eyelids flutter open still thick with drug-induced sleep. I see my mother leaning against the wall, twirling the ends of her hair between her fingers. Dad sits in a chair off to the side.
I attempt to rise from the pillow to greet her, but the pain makes me weak and I sink back to the bed.
"She's awake." I roll my eyes. Way to state the obvious, Mum.
Dad rushes to my side and kisses my forehead. I shake my head, not wanting to return to the freaky drug-induced dream. I shiver at the memory. When you are close to dying, don't you run to the light, not away from it?
Excerpted from Divided by Sharon M. Johnston. Copyright © 2015 Sharon M. Johnston. Excerpted by permission of City Owl Press.
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