If There's No TomorrowJennifer L. Armentrout
I couldn’t move, and everything hurt—my skin felt stretched too tight, muscles burned like they’d been lit on fire, and my bones ached deep into the marrow.
Confusion swamped me. My brain felt like it was full of cobwebs and fog. I tried to lift my arms, but they were weighed down, full of lead.
I thought I heard a steady beeping sound and voices, but all of it seemed far away, as if I was on one end of the tunnel and everything else was on the other.
I couldn’t speak. There...there was something in my throat, in the back of my throat. My arm twitched without warning, and there was a tug at the top of my hand.
Why wouldn’t my eyes open?
Panic started to dig in. Why couldn’t I move?
Something was wrong. Something was really wrong. I just wanted to open my eyes. I wanted—
I love you, Lena.
I love you, too.
The voices echoed in my head, one of them mine. Definitely mine, and the other...
“She’s starting to wake up.” A female voice interrupted my thoughts from somewhere on the other side of the tunnel.
Footsteps neared and a male said, “Getting the propofol in now.”
“This is the second time she’s woken up,” the woman replied. “Hell of a fighter. Her mother is going to be happy to hear that.”
Fighter? I didn’t understand what they were talking about, why they thought my mom would be happy to hear this—
Maybe I should drive?
Warmth hit my veins, starting at the base of my skull and then washing over me, cascading through my body, and then there were no dreams, no thoughts and no voices.
Thursday, August 10
“All I have to say is that you almost had sex with that.”
Scrunching my nose, I stared down at the phone Darynda Jones—Dary for short—had shoved in my face five seconds after walking into Joanna’s.
Joanna’s had been a staple in downtown Clearbrook since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. The restaurant was kind of stuck in the past, weirdly existing somewhere between big-hair bands and the rise of Britney Spears, but it was clean and cozy, and practically everything that came out of the kitchen was fried. Plus it had the best sweet tea in the entire state of Virginia.
“Oh man,” I murmured. “What in the world is he doing?”
“What does it look like?” Dary’s eyes widened behind her white plastic-framed glasses. “He’s basically humping a blow-up dolphin.”
I pressed my lips together, because yep, that was what it looked like.
Whipping her phone out of my face, she cocked her head to the side. “What were you thinking?”
“He’s cute—was cute,” I explained lamely as I glanced over my shoulder. Luckily, no one else was within hearing range. “And I didn’t have sex with him.”
She rolled dark brown eyes. “Your mouth was on his mouth, and his hands—”
“All right.” I threw up my hands, warding off whatever else she was about to say. “I get it. Hooking up with Cody was a mistake. Trust me. I know. I’m trying to erase all of that from my memory and you’re not helping.”
Leaning over the counter I was standing behind, she whispered, “I’ll never let you live that down.” She grinned when my eyes narrowed. “But I understand. He has muscles on top of muscles. He’s kind of dumb but fun.” There was a dramatic pause.
Everything about Dary was dramatic, from the often abhorrently bright clothing she wore to the super-short hair, cropped on the sides and a riot of curls on the top. Right now her hair was black. Last month it was lavender. In two months it would probably be pink.
“And he’s Sebastian’s friend.”
I felt my stomach twist into knots. “That has nothing to do with Sebastian.”
“You’re so lucky I actually like you,” I shot back.
“Whatever. You love me.” She smacked her hands down on the counter. “You’re working this weekend, right?”
“Yeah. Why? Thought you were going to DC with your family this weekend.”
She sighed. “A weekend? I wish. We’re going to DC for the whole week. We leave tomorrow morning. Mom can’t wait. I swear she actually has an itinerary for us, like which museums she wants to visit, the expected time in each one, and when we will have our lunches and dinners.”
My lips twitched. Her mom was ridiculously organized, down to labeled baskets for gloves and scarves. “The museums will be fun.”
“Of course you think that. You’re a nerd.”
“No point in denying that. It’s true.” And I had no problem admitting it. I wanted to go to college and study anthropology. Most people would ask what in the hell would you do with a degree in that, but there were a lot of opportunities, like working in forensics, corporate gigs, teaching and more. What I wanted to do actually involved working in museums, so I would’ve loved a trip to DC.
“Yeah. Yeah.” Dary hopped off the red vinyl bar stool. “I got to go before Mom freaks. If I’m five minutes past my curfew, she’ll call the cops, convinced I’ve been abducted.”
I grinned. “Text me later, okay?”
Waving goodbye, I grabbed the damp rag and ran it along the narrow countertop. Pots clanged together, echoing out from the kitchen, signaling it was close to shutting down for the night.
I could not wait to get home, shower off the scent of fried chicken tenders and burnt tomato soup, and finish reading the latest drama surrounding Feyre and the fae courts. Then I was moving on to that sexy contemporary read I’d seen people talking about in the Facebook book club I lurked in, something about royals and hot brothers. Five of them.
Sign me up for that.
I swore half the money I made waitressing at Joanna’s went to buying books instead of filling my savings account, but I couldn’t help myself.
After wiping around the napkin dispensers, I lifted my chin and blew a strand of brown hair that had escaped my bun out of my face as the bell above the door rang and a slight figure stepped inside.
I dropped the lemony-scented rag with surprise. A breeze could’ve knocked me flat on my face.
For the most part, the only time anyone under the age of sixty came into Joanna’s was on Friday nights after the football games and sometimes Saturday evenings during the summer. Definitely not on Thursday nights.
Joanna’s made its bread and butter off certified AARP members, which was one of the reasons why I started waitressing here during the summer. It was easy and I needed the extra money.
The fact that Skylar Welch was standing just inside Joanna’s, ten minutes before closing, was a shock. She never came in here alone. Never.
Bright headlights pierced the darkness outside. She’d left her BMW running, and I was willing to bet she had a car full of girls just as pretty and perfect as her.
But nowhere near as nice.
I’d spent the last million years harboring a rabid case of bitter jealousy when it came to Skylar. But the worst part was that she was genuinely sweet, which made hating her a crime against humanity, puppies and rainbows.
Tentatively walking forward like she expected the black-and-white linoleum floor to rip open and swallow her whole, she brushed her light brown, blond-at-the-end hair over her shoulder. Even in the horrible fluorescent lights, her summer tan was deep and flawless.
“Hey.” I straightened, hoping she wasn’t going to place an order. If she wanted something to eat, Bobby was going to be pissed, and I was going to have to spend five minutes convincing him to cook whatever she wanted. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing much.” She bit down on her
glossy bubblegum-pink lip. Stopping next to the red vinyl bar stools, she took a deep breath. “You’re about to close, aren’t you?”
I nodded slowly. “In about ten minutes.”
“Sorry. I won’t take long. I actually wasn’t planning to stop here.” I silently added a sarcastic Really? “The girls and I were heading out to the lake. Some of the guys are having a party, and we drove past here,” she explained. “I thought I’d stop by and see if...if you knew when Sebastian was coming home.”
I clenched my jaw shut. It should’ve been obvious the moment Skylar walked through those doors that she was here about Sebastian, because why else would she be talking to me? Yeah, she was sugary sweet, but we didn’t operate in the same circles at school. Half of the time I was invisible to her and her friends.
Which was okay with me.
“I don’t know.” That was a lie. Sebastian was supposed to come home from North Carolina on Saturday morning. He and his parents were visiting his cousins for the summer.
A twisty pang lit up my chest, a mixture of yearning and panic—two feelings I was well acquainted with when it came to Sebastian.
“Really?” Surprise colored her tone.
I fixed a blank expression on my face. “I’m guessing he’ll be back this weekend sometime. Maybe.”
“Yeah. I guess.” Her gaze dropped to the counter as she fidgeted with the hem of her slinky black tank top. “He hasn’t... I haven’t heard from him. I’ve texted and called, but...”
I wiped my hands along my shorts. I had no idea what to say. This was so incredibly awkward. Part of me wanted to be a total bitch and point out that if Sebastian wanted to talk to her, he would’ve responded, but that just wasn’t me.
I was the kind of person who thought things but never said them.
“I think he’s been really busy,” I said finally. “His dad wanted him to check out some of the universities down there and he hadn’t seen his cousins in years.”
Someone out in the BMW slammed on the horn and Skylar looked over her shoulder. My brows rose while I silently prayed that whoever was in the car stayed in that car. A moment passed, and Skylar tucked bone-straight hair behind her ear as she turned back to face me. “Can I ask you one more thing?”
“Sure.” Not like I was actually going to say no even though I was picturing a black hole appearing in the diner and sucking me into its vortex.
A faint smile appeared. “Is he with someone else?”
I stared at her, wondering if I lived through a different history of Sebastian and Skylar.
From the moment she moved to Clearbrook, population meh, she’d attached herself to Sebastian. Not that anyone would blame her. Sebastian came out of his mom’s womb stunning and charming everyone around him. Those two got together in middle school and had dated all through high school, becoming the King and Queen of Coupledom. I’d resigned myself to the fact I’d have to force myself to attend their wedding at some point in the future.
But then spring happened...
“You broke up with him,” I reminded her as gently as I could. “I’m not trying to sound like a bitch, but what does it matter if he’s with someone else?”
Skylar curled a slender arm across her waist. “I know, I know. But it matters. I just... Have you never made a huge mistake?”
“Tons,” I replied drily. The list was longer than my leg and arm combined.
“Well, breaking up with him was one of my mistakes. I think, at least.” She stepped back from the counter. “Anyway, if you see him, can you tell him that I stopped by?”
That was the last thing I wanted to do, but I nodded because I would tell him. Because I was that person.
Skylar smiled then. It was real, and made me feel like I should be a better person or something. “Thanks,” she said. “I guess I’ll see you at school in a week or so? Or at one of the parties?”
“Yep.” I fixed a smile on my face that felt brittle and probably looked half-crazed.
Wiggling her fingers goodbye, Skylar turned and walked toward the door. She reached for the handle but stopped and looked over her shoulder at me. A strange look crossed her face. “Does he know about you?”
The corners of my lips started to turn down. What was there to know about me that Sebastian didn’t already know? I was legit boring. I read more than I actually talked to people and was obsessed with the History Channel and shows like Ancient Aliens. I played volleyball, even though I really wasn’t that good at it. Honestly, I would’ve never started playing if it hadn’t been for Megan conniving me into it when we were freshmen. Not that I didn’t have fun, but yeah, I was as stimulating as white bread.
There were literally no hidden secrets to uncover.
Well, I was scared to death of squirrels. They were like rats with bushy tails, and they were mean. No one knew that, because that was super embarrassing. But I doubted that was what Skylar was talking about.
Jarred out of my thoughts, I blinked. “What about me?”
She was quiet for a moment. “Does he know you’re in love with him?”
My eyes widened as my mouth dried. I felt my heart stutter and then drop to the pit of my stomach. Muscles locked up in my back and my gut churned as that wall of panic slammed into me. I forced out a wheezing-sounding laugh. “I’m...I’m not in love with him. He’s like a...like a brother I never wanted.”
Skylar smiled slightly. “I’m not trying to get up in your business.”
Sort of sounded like she was.
“I saw the way you would look at him when we were together.” There was no bite to her tone or judgment. “Or maybe I’m wrong.”
“Sorry, you’re wrong,” I told her. I thought I sounded pretty convincing.
So there was something that I thought no one knew about me. One hidden truth that was just as embarrassing as being afraid of squirrels but completely unrelated.
And I’d just lied about it.
I lived about fifteen minutes from the center of downtown Clearbrook, in a neighborhood that was within walking distance of the elementary school where I used to spend my time daydreaming. The streets had a mixture of small and large homes and all sizes in between. My mom and I lived in one of the medium-size ones—a house that Mom could barely afford on her own with her insurance-agent salary. We could’ve moved into something smaller, especially now that Lori had gone away to college and I’d be doing the same in a year, but I didn’t think Mom was ready to let go of the house. Of all the memories and all that should have been instead of what was.
It probably would’ve been for the best for all of us if we had moved, but we hadn’t, and that was a flood under the bridge now.
I pulled into the driveway, passing the used Kia that Mom had parked on the side of the street. I turned off the engine and breathed in the coconut-scented interior of the decade-old silver Lexus that had once belonged to Dad. Mom hadn’t wanted it, and neither did Lori, so I ended up with it.
It wasn’t the only thing Dad had left me.