Leah Kurtz has finally found a place to call home, a town where she and baby Addy can live in peace, far from the drug-infested place she grew up. Chris is one of the best parts of her new life, the only person who’s ever made her feel safe. And now that she’s found him, there’s no way she can tell the truth:
Her real name is Faith, not Leah. She’s seventeen, not nineteen. And the baby isn’t hers—Faith kidnapped her.
Faith’s history catches up with her when a cop starts asking questions and Chris’s aunt spots her picture in the newspaper. She knows it’s time to run again, but if Faith leaves, she’ll lose Chris. If Chris is in love with a lie, though, did Faith ever really have him in the first place?
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Leap of Faith
The bangbangbanging of Mom’s headboard against my wall needs to stop before my head explodes. I’m exhausted and wish he’d just leave so I can sleep. Of course Mom’s bed has to be shoved right up against the other side of my wall.
I roll my eyes and take a deep breath, pulling the covers up higher around my neck. After a few minutes, her door creaks open and he comes out shirtless, his stained T-shirt dangling from his fingers. She’s wearing a dingy terry-cloth robe around her skeleton-thin body. I squeeze my eyes closed and roll over, trying to block out the sound of their voices.
Disgusting. I’ll be shocked if I ever have a normal sex life. My ex, Jason, says she’s scarring me in some kind of sexually repressive way. He’s probably right. I’ll be a virgin forever.
Sex isn’t dirty, Faith, he whispered on our last night together while trying to slide my jeans down over my hips. You’re not your mom, and I’m not some random guy. I love you.
I wouldn’t do it.
The chain on the front door slides, then rattles against the wood frame as it dangles and the door is tugged open.
“Bye, hon,” Mom says. I hear her lighter flick to life. Her voice is raspy from everything she smokes. “Cross your fingers.” She laughs, and I picture his sausage-size fingers crossed. His feet must be back in his boots, because they tromp out onto the stoop. “Tell Angel hi for me, and have her cross her fingers too!”
The door closes, and she lets out a whoop of excitement. “Faith, honey, you asleep?” Her bare feet patter to my bedroom door, and she snaps on the light.
I flip over and glare at her. “Oddly enough, no.”
She rubs a thin stack of twenties between her thumb and finger. In the dark hallway, the cherry at the end of her Marlboro Light glows in her other hand. “It’s a shame Dave and I had to try again. Knocking me up is getting expensive for him.” She laughs and fans herself with the cash. She’s three weeks pregnant but is milking him for all the money she can before telling him.
He might be drug-dealing scum, but he and his girlfriend, Angel, don’t deserve to be lied to. They just want a baby. They couldn’t have picked a worse person to be their egg donor-baby carrier, but Mom comes cheap—well, cheaper than the traditional route. Mom will do anything for money.
Throwing my blanket back, I shove off from my mattress on the floor and stand up. The worn, shit brown carpet feels gummy under my bare toes as I walk toward her. “Give me that.” My hand darts for her smoke.
“Don’t be stupid. My mother smoked with me. I smoked with you.” She throws her hand behind her back, out of my reach. Her hair’s matted and sticks out in all directions. It reminds me of a dog’s butt after it scoots across the carpet.
I tilt my head and sneer at her. “It’s not your baby this time. Let’s try to keep it alive, shall we?”
“Christ, Faith. Can’t you just enjoy the moment with me?” She waves the stack of bills in my face.
“Why?” I push past her. “It’s not mine.”
She follows me through the living room, into the kitchen. “No shit it’s not yours. You’re not the one who’s going to be as big as a barn in a few months, have to push this thing out and be left with stretch marks all over your ass. I deserve to be paid for suffering through this, don’t I?”
I bend and stick my head in the fridge. “You chose to do it.”
She grabs my arm and yanks me up. Her lips are drawn tight and quiver with anger. “You don’t pay the electric bill. You don’t put food in the fridge.”
I laugh, knowing it’ll piss her off. “You don’t put food in the fridge either. Never have. Who do you think you’re kidding? Hope and I had ketchup packets for dinner some nights when we were little. . . .”
Her blue eyes flame. She clenches her jaw so tightly, her dyed red hair shakes. Her hands grip the belt of her bathrobe, and she yanks it tighter. “Find yourself somewhere else to live. I’m done being your mother. You’re nothing but a bitch and have been since the day you were born.”
“Done being my mother? That’s funny.” I roll my eyes. “I didn’t know you ever started.” She tells me to get the hell out all the time. She’d be screwed if I ever really left—less cash from Uncle Sam for her dependent minors.
I turn back to the fridge while she stalks out of the kitchen and into the living room, fishes her cigarettes out of her pocket, then lights another.
Her anger cuts a smile into my face. I slam the refrigerator door and stride into the living room for round two. “Give me that cigarette!” I snag it from her fingers, burning my palm in the process. “Shit!” The cigarette falls to the carpet.
Mom swoops down and snatches it up. “I hope it hurts like hell. The carpet’s singed.” She shoves me, but I don’t budge. She’s not strong enough to hurt me physically, and she knows it.
I laugh at her again. “I’m going to have the best nine months of my life keeping you from smokes, pills, booze, weed—all the things you love.”
The only time I remember my mom sober was when she did it for Frank. Frank was a trucker she met when I was eleven. She was a waitress at the all-night truck stop down by the highway exit. Frank had been sober for ten years and wouldn’t date a junkie. Mom went to rehab. For him. Not for me and Hope.
We had our first and only family vacation ever—plus Frank—in Florida. Under my mattress I still have a picture of me, Mom, and Hope standing in the surf. When Mom’s trashed, or being Bitch from Hell, sometimes I pull it out and go back to my Happy Place beside the ocean. I try to hear waves instead of her headboard.
Mom was sober for three months, then she met Dave. Frank left and never came back, and so did Mom’s sobriety. She’s such a trashy loser.
The front door squeaks as Hope pushes it open. “Is it over?” She comes inside and looks back and forth between Mom and me.
“Yeah, you missed quite a performance tonight too,” I say, and plod back to me and Hope’s room.
“Thank God.” Hope walks past Mom and follows me.
I lie back down on my mattress and pull the blanket over my shoulders. Hope kicks off her running shoes and tugs the elastic band out of her golden blond hair. I’ve always wanted her hair. Mine’s the dirty beige of my mom’s roots when they grow out. Hope has beautiful blue eyes too, and I’m stuck with the same shit brown color of our carpet.
Maybe if we’d had the same dad, we’d look more alike.
Tomorrow’s the first day of school, Hope’s first day of her senior year. She’ll be graduating a couple months after Mom gives birth to Dave’s demon spawn.
Hope will leave.
The baby will leave.
It’ll just be Mom and me for another year.
I have to get out.
Hope strips off her sweaty running clothes and heads out of our bedroom in her underwear. “Jumping in the shower.”
“Whatever. Turn the light off.”
The thought of Hope moving out makes me nauseous. It’s always been the two of us against Mom. Hope joined the track team in eighth grade and hasn’t stopped running since. It’s not just an immediate way to get the hell out of the house but an escape from this shit life altogether. She has a scholarship to Ohio State. She’ll leave and never look back.
I’m not so fortunate. My grades kind of suck. I’m not athletic, since Mom smoked when she was pregnant with me, giving me the lifelong gift of asthma, and I’ll need to get student loans if I want to go to college. If there’s a college that will even accept me with . . .verage. Working five nights a week in a pizza parlor for the perk of free food doesn’t leave a lot of time for studying.
I roll over and face the wall. My stomach growls. I should’ve eaten at work. I glance up at the red and white cardboard Leaning Tower of Pisa that I cut out from a pizza box and taped to my wall. I make pizzas at Giovanni’s at night and on weekends. Pepperoni grease clings to everything and makes my hair slick and my face break out. That’s the only downfall, though. I’ve worked there for a year now. I’d love to have my own pizza place someday. But that’ll never happen, because this is my shitty life. I won’t fool myself into thinking it could ever be more.
The shower blasts on in the bathroom, making the pipes bang. We get three minutes’ worth of hot water, so we shower fast.
I hear mom shuffle into her bedroom and shut the door. The dragon’s in its den for the night.
I think again about harassing the hell out of her for the next nine months and snicker to myself. This is going to be the best revenge ever. She’ll be miserable, and I’ll be the one making her that way. I feel like laughing diabolically and drumming my fingers together.
Hope opens the door, and a waft of steam floats into our room. I roll back over as she comes in. In the dark, I only see a shadow of her arm rising and tugging a comb through her hair. She plops down on her mattress. Hope has a box spring too. Guess I’ll inherit that when she leaves. It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, though.
“How was your run?”
Her shoulders rise and fall. “Fine.”
“Is Brian in any of your classes this year?” Brian and Hope have dated since they were freshmen. They plan to get married. He’s going to OSU after graduation too, to play football. She spends more time at his house than she does at home.
I need a boyfriend. I used to spend a lot of time at Jason’s before he dumped me. I should’ve just screwed him. At least I’d still have somewhere to go.
“A couple.” She sounds down.
She sighs. “Just . . . I don’t know. Did Mom tell Dave she’s pregnant yet?”
I snort. “What do you think?”
She throws herself back on her bed. “I can’t believe she’s doing this. I mean, it’s low even for her.”
“Yeah.” And I’ll be stuck here another year. “Don’t worry. I plan to make her suffer through this pregnancy. She’ll take care of this baby whether she wants to or not. First thing tomorrow, I’m flushing all her pot. A new school year, and a fresh start.”
“She’s going to kill you.” Hope scoots under her blanket.
“I can’t wait to see her try.”
“You have issues.” She yawns.
I laugh. “So do you.”
• • •
I empty the three baggies I found into the toilet and press the corroded handle. The water lurches into a spin, taking the weed spiraling down, down, down. Then it’s gone.
Hope walks by the bathroom with her backpack. “I can’t believe you really did it. Seriously, she’s going to kill you.”
I shrug and turn back to the empty toilet bowl. “She won’t be awake for hours. I’ll be at school, and then work.”
She walks into the living room, her golden hair trailing down her back. “You have to come home sometime. Hey, Brian’s here. You riding with us?” I hear her yank the front door open.
“Yeah, I’ll grab my stuff.”
When I get outside to Brian’s car, they’re staring at each other with googly eyes. I want to puke. His big football-grabbing hand is wrapped around her thigh. Her hand’s on his cheek. Hope has no issues with sex. That’s something else she managed to escape.
I open the back door of the Honda coupe and slide in after my backpack. “Please stop groping until I’m out of the car, ’kay? Thanks.”
Brian laughs and looks over his shoulder at me. “What’s up, Faith? How’s work?”
Brian and I have zero to talk about, but I have to give him props for trying. “Good. How’s football?”
For the next fifteen minutes, until we pull into North High School’s parking lot, Brian fills me in on every detail of their summer practices, and how they’re going to kick Central’s asses all over the field next Friday night—the first game of the season.
I know Hope’s heard all of it already, probably more than once, but she listens, riveted. God, that has to be love, because I’m bored out of my skull and want to kick my own ass for asking him about football.
After we park, I lug my bag out of Brian’s car and wave. “See ya.”
“Need a ride home?” Brian asks, closing his car door.
“No. Thanks for asking, though.”
Hope darts out of the car and grabs my arm. “I have track after school, and then Brian and I are eating at his house. I won’t be home until late.” She bites the inside of her cheek.
“Don’t worry. Mom isn’t going to actually kill me, you know.” I pat her on the head like a little kid and chuckle. “See ya tonight.”
Even though I try to appear like it doesn’t bother me, like I’m not terrified of Mom’s wrath, my insides are a twisted knot. I shouldn’t have flushed her weed. She loves it more than she loves me. It’s possible that she will kill me.
It takes until lunch. A student assistant finds me in the back corner of the lunchroom. “Your mom’s in the office,” she says.
My stomach lurches, threatening to heave up the chocolate Ho Hos I just ate.