<— True Abandon JUST WENT LIVE!!!!! I love this author, and the blurb for this one gave me a jolt too. He’s her ex, and he ruined her life in high school…
“Trish Hogan’s life was destroyed when she gave her trust to her high school boyfriend, Jackson, and he abused it, changing the course of her life forever.
A decade later she’s living in Manhattan — she has a roommate, a steady boyfriend and a career. When a hurricane puts the city on lock down, Trish gets a message she never thought she’d receive: Jackson is dying and alone. In a city of millions, she is the only person who can sit by his side…”
P.S. I have some treats for you to “taste-test” it. 😉
Jean: love this series!
R: I beta-read True Abandon …awesome!
Oh yes. The author sent over the prologue AND the first chapter for us to indulge in. :D!!!
Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can see him.
“Are you ready for this? It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“I want it to be you. I’ve always wanted it to be you.”
Those warm caramel-colored eyes. His wavy brown hair falls in front of his face as he looks down at me. He is the most beautiful boy I’ve ever laid eyes on. And he’s gazing at me like he feels the same way.
“Do you feel how fast my heart is beating? That’s because of you. You’re my heart.”
“You’re my soul. You’re a part of me. Forever.”
I feel his skin as it brushes up against mine. His mouth feathers kisses on my neck. Hands gently caress me. He takes his time, knowing how scared I am.
“Thank you for letting me be your first.”
“Promise you’ll be my last.”
I reach up to brush a hair from his forehead. He leans down and softly kisses me.
“I love you, Triciana.”
“I love you, too, Jackson.”
And then the dream becomes a nightmare.
“Are you filming this?”
The voice sounds from the background. A camera appears, and it’s pointed in my direction. When I turn back to Jackson, I no longer see him but the faces of strangers—pointing, laughing, staring at my body.
My heart races. Sweat pours down my hairline and past my jaw. I want to run, but my feet are numb. Tied to the bed—not with ropes, but invisible chains binding my limbs. Regardless of how I try to move, my body remains paralyzed.
To the left, girls hiss and snicker in disgust.
“What a slut. Letting a guy make a porno with her. It’s like she wants the attention.”
I try to scream. Tell them the video wasn’t my idea. I didn’t know he was going to share it. But I can’t. I open my mouth. The words won’t come out.
“I heard she has videos with the whole football team.”
“Did you see the way she went down on him? Yeah, right, she was a virgin.”
To the right, a group of men leer at me.
“Who’s the sweet little blonde? So young and innocent. Maybe I can get a turn.”
I pull on the invisible binding. The need to run is so urgent, I panic.
“What will your daddy think now, little princess? We always knew you were trash.”
Suddenly, the scene changes. I’m at my high school. In the middle of the football field. Everyone is approaching me. Hundreds—no, it’s thousands of students and people from our town, strangers who saw the video on the internet. Everyone crowds me. They rush in to take their turn, slinging painful insults.
I glance down. I’m naked. Hugging my arms around my body, I crouch to try to cover up.
Vulnerable. Nude. Afraid.
They’re getting closer. I spin around, searching for a way out. There is nowhere to go.
Hands reach out, clawing at my exposed flesh. The callous hands of grown men and the flicking fingers of girls my age make my skin crawl. The taste of heavy fog in the air lingers on my tongue, and the disgusting scent of sweat from the mob sends me reeling in fear. I swat them away. Endless hands grab my hair, my ankles, my breasts. Tears trickle down my cheeks.
I search in horror. “Jackson,” I cry.
Where are you?
Why did you do this to me?
I thought you loved me.
Ready for chapter one?
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
I bolt up in bed, chest heaving and skin prickling with sweat. I clench the sheet beneath me as I take a second to get my bearings. My focus is on the wall in front of me, on the painting of the setting sun that hangs over my dresser.
“It was just a dream.” A sigh of relief escapes my lungs as I wipe my hand across my forehead.
It’s been months since I had a nightmare like that. At twenty-five years old, I should be able to move on from the sins of the past. Not my sins. I did nothing wrong. It’s his sins that live on my skin. His sins that have me calling out his name as I emerge from tormented sleep.
Falling back onto the mattress, I pull away the hair stuck to my neck and rest a hand on my chest, my palm feeling the rise and fall of each breath.
It astounds me that one man could leave a scar so deep that I’m still affected. It’s not just the dreams; it’s the way I live my day-to-day life, straddling the past and the present, unable to see the future.
The theme song from Law & Order plays as my ringtone alerts me to a call. I pick up the phone and see Kevin’s name in white.
I swipe the screen. “Hey, babe.” My voice is groggy.
“Did I wake you?”
I can picture his brows bumping together in concern.
I roll over to see what time it is. The clock reads ten in the evening, which means I must have dozed off after running errands all day.
Pressing my thumb and forefinger into my closed eyelids, I reply, “No. I’m just sitting in my room.”
“You sound shaken up,” he declares.
My eyes widen at his quick observation. While Kevin knows I sometimes have bad dreams, he doesn’t know they are about a particular person.
The fact that he can hear the distress in my voice is unnerving until he adds, “It’s the storm, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” I clear my throat and give my body a shake. “Yes. It’s really coming down out there.”
“I’ve been watching the news, and I think you should come over here. The weather’s getting rough. We should be together.”
There is a hurricane warning for the East Coast with New York City now close to the eye of the storm. The mayor has evacuated all Zone A flood areas, which consists of the beaches and coastal neighborhoods. For a city made up of islands, that’s a lot of people.
“I’m fine where I am,” I assure him while rising from the bed.
Pulling back the sheer rust-colored drapes, I gaze out the window at the rain hitting the Manhattan streets, making it look like they’re slick with motor oil.
“Trish, there’s a hundred-mile-wide storm driving up the coast. I’ll come to you,” he offers. “It’s weird that you don’t want to be with me tonight. Couples run to each other in times like this.”
Kevin and I have been together for two years, and he’s been nothing short of dedicated to our relationship. It’s just that, recently, things have been moving in the wrong direction. He has a growing desire for me to share his address, but I’m not ready. It’s not that I don’t want to live with him per se. He’s amazing. The steps that follow are what make me nervous and send caution flags flying.
A picture of us at our company holiday party is on the nightstand next to my bed. He has on a CBGB T-shirt and a huge grin on his face. His arm is slung over my shoulders as I look into the camera with a bashful, closed-mouthed smile. If there’s anyone who’s going to take care of me tonight, it’s Kevin. And that’s why I need to make sure he’s safe as well.
“If the weather is that bad, then neither of us should be traveling. If you got hurt, I’d never forgive myself.”
He lets out an irritated breath on the other end. “Fine. Will you at least check in with me? Let me know you’re okay?”
I shake my head. “You’re too sweet for me.”
“And you’re too independent for me. You know that?”
His comment makes me laugh lightly as we say our good-byes. I hang up the phone and let it roll from my hand and onto the nightstand. My chest is still pounding, so I close my eyes and try to tame my erratic heartbeat.
Kevin’s right. I should want to spend tonight with him, probably having crazy hurricane sex or something. But the thought of being trapped in his apartment during a horrific storm with nowhere to go makes me feel…caged.
“Trish, you awake?” Kelli’s voice comes from the living room.
“Yeah,” I call out.
Wearing only boy shorts and a tank top, I leave my room and walk into the living room. Instantly, I raise my arms to cover my chest at the sight of Vince, the guy who lives in 3C.
“Damn it, Kel. You didn’t tell me we had company!” I shriek.
“Don’t worry; no one’s lookin’ at your itty-bitty titties,” Vince chides with his eyes staring at the TV.
The two are watching the news, which is completely out of character for them.
I snap my fingers, making Kelli turn around. I give her a bug-eyed expression and raise my brows in Vince’s direction. She knows I can’t stand him. He’s always hanging around, eating our food, and using our Wi-Fi. Not to mention, he’s a misogynist, who consistently makes inappropriate comments about our bodies.
I take the afghan my mother knitted off the back of the sofa and wrap it around my shoulders, covering up any of my lady bits that might be exposed through my barely there outfit.
Kelli ignores my qualms about our neighbor and her sometimes boy toy. Her short, dark hair whips around her cheeks as she turns her head in my direction. “Get dressed. We’re going to a hurricane party on the fourth floor.” She rises from her seat and runs her hands down the sequins of her silver minidress. The shiny metallic acts as little plastic mirrors that I can faintly see my afghan-clad reflection in. “Cute, right?”
“Adorable,” I deadpan as I look over at the flat screen TV mounted on the wall next to our Warhol-like pop art we got from a street artist when we moved in. We have portraits of Steven Tyler, Oprah, Bette Midler, Bruno Mars, Clint Eastwood, and Jesus.
Lonnie Quinn, the local weatherman, has his sleeves rolled up as he points to the wall behind him, showing a graphic of the city. The red hurricane icon hovers over the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of the island of Manhattan and the areas around it are highlighted in yellow to illustrate the danger while Lonnie continues to make circular motions over the map. He uses rhetoric like tidal surge and gale-force wind to depict the severity of the situation. You know it’s serious when the meteorologist has removed his jacket and tie.
“What’s that thumping sound?” Vince asks, his eyes glaring around the room.
“That’s Trish. She does that when she gets nervous,” Kelli responds, as if my nervous tic is completely ordinary.
I glance down and see my right leg is indeed shaking, so I walk over to the kitchen where the bags from my trip to the store earlier are sitting on the counter. I reach inside one and pull out a box of candles.
“Are you expecting company tonight?” Kelli asks, wiggling her eyebrows, as she walks over to the small island. Her hips sway with her strut.
“I got them in case we lost power. I picked up extra batteries, granola bars, Band-Aids, and two gallons of water.”
She rolls her eyes at my purchases as she skims through the plastic bags. “You’re such a worrywart. Surprised you don’t have one of those hand-crank radio thingies.”
I raise a finger in the air at her reminder while making an aha face.
Turning on my heel, I go down the hall of our small apartment and get the red-and-black toolbox from the top shelf of the linen closet. Manhattan has seen everything from the 9/11 terrorist attack to Superstorm Sandy. One can never be too prepared.
“What the hell is that?” she asks when I return.
“Our survival kit.” I flip open the lid and find my flashlight, more batteries, a first aid kit, whistle, moist towelettes, and my battery-powered radio inside.
“It’s just a little rain.” She glares out the window and back to me. “Besides, what could happen to us all the way up here?”
Her question makes the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention. “What could happen?” I repeat her question and then explain, “The power could go out for days, and we’d be stuck here with no food, water, or supplies.”
Kelli saunters into the kitchen and opens one of the cabinets where I’ve stocked more water, cans, and boxed food. She gives me a questioning glare.
I continue, “The water might get turned off, meaning sanitary conditions could get pretty rancid.”
She twists her face. “That’s beyond gross.”
“Looting. Flooding. We could be here for days. Two girls on their own…” I jolt and start to make my way back toward my room. “That reminds me. I have a Swiss Army knife under my bed—”
“Trish!” she cuts me off.
“Calm down. You’re doing that thing again.”
“Man, I knew you had issues, but I didn’t realize you were so uptight,” Vince chimes in as he moves from the couch to the kitchen. “Must be a redheaded thing. You’re all crazy,” he jokes as he picks up the small handsaw and duct tape I have on the counter. “You’re also a little kinky.”
He takes me in with beady eyes, trying to see what’s beneath my afghan. I pull the blanket tighter around my chest, and my stomach rolls at the same time my toes start dancing inside my sock.
Kelli looks down at my foot and then turns to Vince. “Hey, why don’t you head down to the party? Trish and I’ll meet you there.”
Vince’s eyes rake me in as his tongue rests on the outside corner of his mouth, and then he looks at Kelli before shrugging. “Yeah, whatever. I’ll see you down there. And, Trish, wear one of your schoolgirl skirts. Your legs look killer in those.”
If I could vomit, I would.
Kelli escorts him out. Her hand is on his back as she opens the door. I turn my head to avoid watching her sloppily kiss him good-bye.
No sooner is the door closed than her back is to it, leaning on it like she’s posing. “He’s harmless.”
“He’s a jerk,” I retort, throwing the afghan toward the couch.
Kelli has notoriously bad taste in men. Vince is just the latest of her revolving door of sad choices. It’s a shame since she’s a talented hairstylist, a dedicated friend, and incredibly pretty.
“You hate all men,” she says as she pushes off the door.
“Just the undeserving ones.” I try to untie the plastic handle on a bag, but it’s knotted tightly. “And I’m not uptight. I’m just prepared.”
“If you think things are going to be so bad, why didn’t you head home to your parents’? They’re, like, an hour train ride away.”
I pull so hard on the plastic that it tears. A few oranges fumble out of the bag and onto the floor. I drop to my knees and start picking them up. “Because this is where the story is. We’re gonna be in the middle of the action. We have enough supplies to help those in need and be available if the news need eyewitnesses to what’s happening on the ground.”
“It’s a shame you gave up that dream of being an investigative reporter.”
With the oranges in hand, I place them in the fruit bowl and ignore her comment. “Did you charge your laptop?”
She gives me a cutesy smile and then walks toward the television. “Yes, Mom. And my phone, just as you requested.”
Kelli and I have been friends since I moved from Wyndham, Virginia, to Cheshire, Connecticut. I was sixteen and in a dark place at the time. I became aware my life was sh!t when my parents had to uproot our entire family and move to a different state, so I could start over. I didn’t want any friends. I just needed to keep my head low and graduate high school. Yet, somehow, Kelli weaseled her way in, and we became friends. It wasn’t until sometime in college when we roomed together at Eastern Connecticut State University that she finally got me to confess.
About the video.
“Sh!t, this storm is going to be a motherf**ker!” Kelli exclaims, raising the volume with the remote.
“Told you. Everyone said it was going out to sea, but the European-model weather tracker was the only one that predicted this.” I dump the rest of the supplies on the counter and start putting them away.
“Freaking meteorologists. They have one job to do, and that’s to tell the weather. They can’t even do that right.”
“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“At least I won’t have to worry about hurricanes when I move to Hawaii.” She tosses the remote on the coffee table and it falls to the couch behind her.
I nearly drop the pack of Duracell in my hand at her wildly incorrect statement. “Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
She waves me off. “Whatever. They’re Hawaiian hurricanes. Totally different.”
“Totally different is right,” I mutter under my breath.
Kelli is living a pipe dream right now. Every month, she says she’s moving somewhere new. Last year it was LA. Before that, Vegas. She seems to keep relocating her next destination further west. Soon, she’ll be saying Japan. Truth is, she isn’t going anywhere. She’s a dreamer and a flighty one at that.
She puts her hands inside the top of her dress to lift her boobs up in her bra. She’s staring at her cleavage with an appreciative look. “Speaking of which, I bought my ticket.”
“For Hawaii. I’m moving at the end of next month.”
This time, I actually do drop something. Thankfully, it’s only a box of Band-Aids. “What do you mean, you’re moving?”
She looks at me with her head tilted to the side and brows creased in confusion. “Trish, I’ve been talking about moving to Hawaii for months. I told you I was applying for jobs. I even showed you condos I was looking at.”
I stare at her. Not moving. Not flinching. Not uttering a sound. I know she said the words, but they’re not quite registering at the moment.
She rises from the couch. “What’s wrong? Why are you staring at me like that? Do something,” she demands. “Fidget, twitch—you know, do that thing you do.”
Kelli went to school for business before she decided she wanted to be a hairstylist. At twenty-five, she should be focusing on her career, not moving to the middle of the ocean on a whim. This is the time to establish yourself, make something of your chosen vocation, put down roots. Not that I should talk. I’m just a lowly assistant at a digital production company, Asher-Marks Communications. I’ve been trying to make a name for myself, but I can’t seem to get a permanent promotion.
“Trish, please say something. You’re scaring me.”
“You’re really moving?” I ask in disbelief.
“Yes. I got a job at a hotel, working at a high-end salon.”
I blink at her in confusion. “Why would you do that when we have the best salons in the country right here?”
She shoves a hand on her hip and points out the window. “Because it’s dark and dreary here. I want sunshine and adventure.”
“Where will you live?”
“In the condo I rented,” she answers slowly, like I’m an idiot for not knowing her plans.
“But you haven’t seen it. How will you know the area is safe? What if you get there and it’s a dump? Or the neighbors are sex offenders?”
She takes an exasperated breath. “I don’t, Trish. It’s called taking a chance. Ever heard of it?”
“I don’t gamble.”
“You don’t live.”
My jaw drops with a gasp. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Kelli tugs on the ends of her brown hair and closes her eyes in frustration. “It means, you let an asshole from high school destroy every decision you make today.”
I furrow my brows at the mere mention of Jackson. The nightmare I had is still too fresh. “That’s not true.”
She crosses her arms and lowers her forehead. “It’s not? You’re in a career you hate. You can’t commit to save your life, and you’re writing every word I’m saying right now on your thumb.”
I cast my attention to my hand where my index finger has been tracing words on my thumb. It’s a habit I have when I feel like I have zero control over a situation. I force my hands apart and splay them on my hips.
She takes a step toward me and places a hand on the counter. “We both know you’re never moving in with Kevin.”
“You don’t know that,” I argue but am cut off by her raised brows and pursed lips, daring me to finish my sentence.
My face must contort into an odd expression because she quickly adds, “You can come with me.”
“What would I do there? I don’t see Hawaii bustling with television jobs.”
“You act like I’m moving to the wilderness. There are jobs in Hawaii. And so what if you can’t get a producing gig? You never wanted to work there anyhow; it was your fallback job. You can put your years as an assistant to good use and work in a hotel or any other office. I’m sure that fancy boss of yours has connections. Doesn’t he own hotels or restaurants or something?”
“I’m not asking Alexander Asher to get me a job. Besides, he’s dismantling the company. He’s not exactly my boss anymore.”
Her arms dramatically fly out. “Exactly! You’re gonna be out of a job soon anyway!”
“The new board of directors might want me.”
Kelli leans in closer. Her potent scent of dahlias and spice makes my eyes water. “Why are you staying in this city? Don’t vie for a job at a company you don’t want to be with when there are so many other opportunities out there. Haven’t you ever just wanted to take a chance and do something so out of the box that it scares you?”
I shake my head. Not because the answer is no, but because the answer is always. I’m always taking chances—putting myself out there, doing dumb things in an attempt to right a wrong.
As if seeing I’m not in the mood to have this conversation, she steps back and adjusts her dress, making sure the sequins are all facing in the downward direction. “Think about it, okay? At least come visit.”
I offer her a sideways smile. “Of course I’ll visit. You can show me how to hula.”
“I’m gonna get some hot guys to teach us how to surf!” She spins on her heel and prances into the living room, stopping in front of the television. “Do you really think this storm is going to be as bad as they predict?”
The deluge of swirling rain echoes as it hits the panes. An ominous cloud of the unknown sends a chill up my spine and makes my hair feel like it’s standing on end.
“I think it’s going to be worse.”
Kelli scrunches her lips. “Well, we have everything we need here, right? Go get dressed.”
“I’m not going to that party.”
“Come on! What the heck are you going to do up here, alone, all night?”
I glance around the apartment. “Work out and catch up on some reading.”
She points a finger. “Don’t sit with your Kindle all night. The battery will die.”
“Look at you, worrying about losing power.”
She gives me a sly grin and grabs her purse off the end table. “If you change your mind, you know where I’ll be.” She slides on her shoes, gives her hair a toss, and blows a kiss in my direction before leaving.
As soon as the door closes behind her, my hands are in my hair, and I pull on the strands as hard as I can without hurting myself. With a loud exhale, I walk around the kitchen island and pace the living room.
Standing still with Kelli here was driving me insane. Between my dream, Kevin, Vince, the storm, and now Kelli’s announcement of her impending move, my anxiety is off the charts.
I breathe in and out with measured beats and try to calm myself. Shaking my arms away from my body, I jog in place in an attempt to expel this pent-up energy.
After all her threats of skipping town, Kelli is actually leaving. I can’t sort out my feelings. I’ll miss her like crazy. That’s a fact. I’ve only had one true confidant since high school, and that’s her. I have a lot of friends, but those relationships are superficial—bar nights and shopping excursions with acquaintances—not true friends. Kelli is the only one who knows the real me.
My jog turns into jumping jacks. Letting my arms fly over my head, I think about what this will mean for me. I could get a new roommate, but who would that be? I can’t live with a stranger, and all my friends have roommates or boyfriends or prefer to live alone. Even if they wanted to move in, I don’t know if I could handle that. What I show on the surface is different from what Kelli knows about me on the inside—and I haven’t even shown her everything.
Sweat drips down my neck as I fall to the floor and do sit-ups. Working out helps clear my head. Tonight, as the rain pelts the glass, the thought of the impending hurricane spinning around the city has me pushing myself harder than usual.
Kevin will want to move in. He’ll hate the idea of me living alone, and without Kelli, I’ll have no excuse not to take our relationship to the next level.
My abs burn, the pain stinging from my hips up to my collarbone, and my chest constricts with each rise.
I have to interview with the new board of directors. This could be my chance to get a promotion, but in order to get it, I’ll have to showcase all I’ve done for the company. They’ll give me more responsibilities and look into my past.
My back tightens. I push myself until it hurts and then do ten more.
Kelli is leaving me.
My stomach grows numb. My body wants me to slow down, but I fight through the pain.
She said I hated my job. I do but no more than any other person in the world.
It gets harder to pull myself up from the supine position. My stomach shakes as the muscles weaken.
She said my romantic life was sh!t. Why? Just because I’m not ready to play house with my boyfriend?
I push harder, rising up, and my knees lock.
She said I let him destroy me.
I fall to the floor with a thud.
My lungs are on fire with each breath. My hairline is coated, slick with sweat—worse than when I woke from my dream. Staring at the popcorn ceiling, I lie in personal silence, waiting for my muscles to relax.
My fingers fiddle with the necklace I wear every day—a gold rosette, a gift from Jackson before he left for college. It’s the one thing Kelli doesn’t know about; otherwise, she’d make me take it off.
With my body exhausted, I also give my brain a rest for the remainder of the evening.
I get up from the floor and then walk to the refrigerator. I pour myself a large glass of iced water and chug it. The cold liquid feels good inside my overheated body.
A news story on the television catches my attention because the newscasters are actually reporting stories instead of the weather.
“The Congressional Subcommittee on Energy was in town today. The group, made up of eight US senators, was set to discuss a new proposal for solar energy at the United Nations. The meetings were cut short due to the storm and will reconvene in a few days. In other news…”
I groan and exit the living room in favor of the bathroom and turn on the shower, undress, and walk in. Placing my palms against the smooth porcelain tiles, I bow my head to allow the stream to pummel my spine. The heat energizes my sore muscles and rejuvenates my spirit. Sometimes, a baptism by faucet is all a person needs to serve as a reset button on a sh!tty day.
I dress in black pants and an orange tank top and then zip-up my dad’s old Virginia Tech sweatshirt over it. With my hair brushed and my favorite fuzzy socks on my feet, I sit in the most comfortable spot on the couch.
I welcome my newest paperback in my hands and raise it to my nose, inhaling the scent of fresh pages. The aroma is familiar and cozy. It’s rare that I read a physical book. With the convenience of a Kindle and the significantly lower price of e-books, I find myself entranced by a screen more often than not. But this paperback is part of my hurricane preparedness. The battery can’t die on this baby.
But the lights can.
Just as I open my book, the electricity flickers. TV, microwave, refrigerator—all of them turn off.
Feeling my way around the now pitch-black apartment, I find the kitchen and grab my flashlight from the toolbox. Nestling myself back on the couch, I pull out my laptop from under the coffee table. It’s fully juiced, so I tap into the Wi-Fi, using my mobile hotspot, and log on to Facebook.
The virtual world is pandemonium. Post after post show what is happening in people’s neighborhoods, coupled with news stories from the South where the storm originated. Images of destruction clutter my News Feed.
I hear the noise from the party on the fourth floor. Despite the lack of electricity, they all seem to be having fun.
Lord help us, I hope they don’t burn the place down with candles.
I could go down there, but I prefer being alone.
As I’m scrolling through my News Feed, the Facebook Messenger light pops up. I click on the icon, and my stomach drops at the sight of the name in bold on the incoming message.
My fingers tap on the silver frame of my Mac with nervous anxiety. I haven’t heard from Ella in years, and her message, although still unread, sends my stomach into twisting, painful knots.
We became Facebook friends a while back, but that’s not a real friendship. I’m not lying when I say I accepted her friend request because, at one time, the two of us were very close. And, if I were to lie to myself, I’d say it wasn’t due to my burning curiosity to keep tabs on Jackson, to catch a rare glimpse of him in a family photo she’d posted around a holiday or her daughter’s birthday. Or maybe to even see her brag about his recent accomplishments. Imagine my surprise when I discover that the boy who was once the apple of his daddy’s eye and a future lawyer and politician grew up to be a tatted-up musician who goes by the name Jax.
Cliché, I know.
The subject line under her name displays part of the message.
Trish, I need your help. Jax…
I move my hand closer to the mouse pad, about to click, and then pull back. I can’t open it, not if it has anything to do with him. She knows Jax was the guy in the tape and that he’s the reason my family uprooted and moved to Connecticut. She has one hell of a nerve, reaching out.
The bottom of the computer feels hot on my thighs as my palm hovers over the mouse. The moment I click the message, she’ll know I read it. According to her profile, she lives in Tennessee. I can’t fathom what she could need from me or what would have made her reach out after all this time—in the middle of a hurricane no less. She hasn’t contacted me in years, even after we connected online.
Still, this is Ella Davis—the respectable, courteous, sweet, and proper girl I once studied with and later became good friends with. If she needs my help, then it must be important, and I shouldn’t ignore her.
I click on the message. My heart threatens to beat out of my chest before I read the first word.
Trish, I need your help. Jax was in an accident tonight and taken to Holy Samaritan in NYC. I called, and it doesn’t sound good. I’m freaking out. I’m trying to get into the city, but all flights are grounded. I know this is the craziest request, but you’re the only person I know there, and I need you to go to him. From what I’ve been told, he’s dying, and there is no one there to sit by his side. Please. I don’t have anyone else to ask. If my brother doesn’t make it through the night, I don’t want him to be alone.
My body shakes.
I try to breathe, but the air can’t inflate my lungs fast enough. I take sharp, shallow breaths—so quick, I can’t keep up. With each gasp, a severe burn radiates within my chest and back. The words I just read have me hyperventilating.
I walk over to the kitchen and bang my foot on the end table, unable to see in the dark. My toe throbs as I fall to the floor, and crawl, fingers pawing at the vinyl flooring, desperate to catch hold of anything to cling to.
In the cabinet under the sink, I grab a brown paper bag and slam my back against the cabinet door. With my knees pressed tightly to my chest, I raise the bag to my mouth and take a series of deep breaths, inhaling for as long as possible. It’s hard, and it takes a while, but eventually, my lungs resume normal function.
Jax is in the city.
Jax is dying.
His family wants me to go to him.
I want to tell her no. I should type back and say that Jackson deserves whatever happens to him tonight. A part of me died years ago at his hands, and I’ll never get it back.
A thunderous boom sounds from outside the window, making a car alarm sound.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The lights from the vehicle reach our fifth-floor apartment, providing a faint spotlight on the wall—the same wall that has the Technicolor picture of Jesus wearing sunglasses and giving the thumbs-up. With pulsating beats and every flash of the alarm, his holiness is illuminated like a neon sign.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I shout into the pitch-black apartment.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
Over and over, the blaring noise continues. If the owner of the vehicle would please turn their stupid alarm off, it would be of great assistance because, right now, I’m freaking the f**k out. If I ever believed in signs, this would be the one to heed.
My darkest enemy, the Judas of my life, is lying alone in a hospital room, dying, and I have been summoned to his bedside.
I cover my ears, but the incessant wailing of the car won’t stop. Neither will the light blasting across the wall, leaving me to contemplate the plight and answer the moral question of the night: Do I go to Jax, or do I leave him there to suffer alone?
Ready for more? ➔ True Abandon 😀