The Year of Second ChancesJessica Sorensen
The Year of Second Chances (Alternative Version)
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Other books by Jessica Sorensen:
The Year of Second Chances Jessica Sorensen
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Copyright (c) 2016 by Jessica Sorensen This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
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Cover photo: Regina Wamba (c)MaeIDesign and Photography
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A song by Brand New flows through my grandma Stephy's guestroom, which is now my permanent bedroom. Soft sunlight glistens against the window as the sun rises over the shallow hills of Sunnyvale, giving me just enough light to doodle in my sketchbook. To an outsider, the drawing may seem like a normal superhero sketch of a tall woman with long brown hair and wearing a cape. To me, the drawing is haunting, painful, and reminds me of all the horribleness that's happened since yesterday morning.
Yesterday was probably one of the worst days of my existence, maybe even worse than when my dad and Lynn threatened to send me off to a reform school in Montana. Not only did someone spread flyers all over the school that divulged my mom was in jail for murder, but I discovered the person my mom is accused of murdering is Jamison Anders, Lynn's son from before she married my dad. What I really want to know, though, is how my grandma Stephy didn't know about any of this? I haven't gotten the courage to ask her yet, though, fearing she might have been lying to me this entire time. And, if she doesn't know about it, I fear telling her.
While Kai has been trying to convince me I shouldn't believe anything until we know all the facts, it's difficult not to wonder if my mom is a killer, if she did an unforgivable, horrible thing to the son of the man she was having an affair with. And way, way in the darkest, self-loathing part of my mind, I fear I'm just as terrible a person, that every horrible remark Lynn and Hannah ever said to me is true. Maybe I am a loser, a freak, an embarrassment to my dad. Perhaps he really does hate me. Perhaps no one wants me.
No, stop thinking like that! Stop being so weak!
Tears burn in my eyes. I try to suck them back, but a few escape and splatter across the page, smearing the drawing of a woman who looks like my mom. Well, at least how she looked in the one photo of her that I've seen. How she looks now is a mystery.
Because she's in jail.
My chest constricts as I replay the details printed all over those flyers. Horrendous details about what my mom has been accused of doing. And now the entire school knows about it.
I wouldn't be surprised if, come Monday, everyone is terrified of me. I fear returning to school and finding out. If it's as bad as I anticipate, I might take the cowards way out and transfer schools. The only problem with that is explaining what's going on to my grandma Stephy.
I want to tell her, but with everything going on, she's been more exhausted lately than usual. I'm worried my problems are taking a toll on her health, and I don't know if adding more stress is a good idea.
I've tried to call Indigo to talk to her about all of this, but after her dad got caught having another affair, she had to go back home to check up on her mom. She hasn't been answering her phone or responding to texts, and I have a bad feeling something is wrong. However, grandma Stephy insists everything is A-OK and that I need to take a chill pill.
That's kind of hard with the blue car showing up everywhere I go, making me a nervous wreck. Plus, there's the unknown caller who texted minutes before I found the flyers all over the school. It's game time, the message said.
What game are they playing? Were the flyers the only part of the game, or is there more to come? Are the caller and the car connected? Why does someone seem dead set on ruining my life? And why does it feel like I'm always being watched?
So many questions with no answers.
I feel so lost.
Drying my eyes with the back of my hand, I dare a glance at the window. Paranoia sets in as I scan the parking lot and then the street. It's early Saturday morning, and the road is empty, the parking lot is quiet, and the lawn is bare. But the stillness is unsettling, like the quiet moment in a horror movie right before the killer makes their attack.
Killer, like my mom could be.
My eyes flood with tears again. My heart stings. My body aches. I want to fall apart.
No! Stop thinking about it, Isa! Just stop!
Sniffling, I flip the page of my sketchbook and work on a different, unrelated to my mom drawing, one that evokes just as much emotion and confusion.
Kai, Kai, Kai. His name is doodled at the top of the page right above a portrait of him with an overly large head--Ego Man, the superhero name I gave him.
Kai Meyers has really been there for me and is quickly becoming one of my closest friends. I just wish I knew if he felt the same way about me. I've never had a best friend before except for maybe Indigo, so I'm an amateur at being able to tell whether someone considers you half a heart-pendant-worthy. Sometimes, I question if Kai and I are even friends, especially after the neck sucking incident that occurred between us. Kai may have been messing around and being his flirty self. He does that a lot, like when he drunk kissed me then told me it was no big deal, that he drunk kisses almost everyone.
I'd be a huge liar, liar, holy crap my cape is on fire if I said I wanted to be just friends with Kai. I'm starting to like him a freakin' mountain-of-ice-cream ton, probably too much considering I have no clue if he reciprocates my feelings. I wouldn't blame him if he didn't want me like that, just like I wouldn't blame him if he bailed out of this situation.
My life right now is a lot to take in, and he has his own problems. Yet he seems determined to be my sidekick.
I don't know what I'd do without him, I think to myself as I trace his name across the paper. I really don't.
After another half-hour of drawing, I set the pencil down to shake out the cramp in my hand. It's eight o'clock in the morning, and I've been awake for hours after a very Princess and the Pea kind of night sleeping, during which I was stuck in a nightmare of a blue car chasing me down a long, narrow road, haunted by a mist of flyers. When I woke up, I was restless and worried, and I debated going out to the living room and waking up Kai. But he's been so determined to crack the code on that flash drive that I'm concerned he's neglecting himself and not getting enough Zs.
Dark circles have permanently resided under his eyes, and yesterday, he dozed off mid-sentence when we were driving home from the park. The last thing he needs is for a needy girl to wak
e him up before sunrise because she had a bad dream.
It didn't feel like just a bad dream. It felt so real, and when I first woke up, I swore I saw a blue car parked out on the street, though it was too dark to tell for sure.
A knock on my bedroom door tears me from thoughts of blue cars and scary dreams.
"Isa, can I come in?" Kai's voice floats from the other side of the door.
"Yeah, sure," I say, sitting up in bed.
The door creaks open, and then he strolls into my room. His light blond hair is sticking up all over the place in a sexy bedhead way, and he's wearing the same dark grey T-shirt and black jeans he had on last night, like he never went to bed.
My lips part, about to ask him if he slept at all, but then his eyes light up like a box full of glow sticks.
"Close your eyes. I have an awesome surprise for you." He drops his gaze to my sketchbook, which is still open to the page of him, making me look one step away from being a stalker.
I quickly shut it, crossing my fingers he didn't see his name written all over the page.
"A surprise? Really?"
He casts a curious glance at me, but thankfully, he doesn't comment on the drawing.
"It's actually two surprises, but I'm not going to give you either of them until you close your eyes."
"Okay." I scoot to the edge of the bed and close my eyes, bubbling with excitement. No one has ever given me a surprise present before, not even grandma Stephy or Indigo. I feel more upbeat than I have in weeks.
After a couple of minutes of waiting for Kai to tell me I can open my eyes again, I realize there's a downfall to surprises. It sometimes requires patience, and I'm not a very patient person. In fact, I might be the least patient person ever.
My heart beats like a cracked-out unicorn galloping through a field of bright-ass rainbows as I bounce up and down on the mattress, unable to sit still. I can hear Kai moving around in my room, doing who knows what. The little evil villain. I know he's enjoying this slow torture. I seriously want to open my eyes and ruin his fun, but it'd be a pretty mean thing to do.
"How long do I have to keep my eyes closed?" I ask, bouncing up and down like an out of control bouncy ball.
"Would you sit still?" Kai playfully scolds. "You're worse than a little kid."
"I'm sorry." I tuck my hands underneath my legs and try not to wiggle so much, but my knees have other ideas and jiggle up and down. "But you can't just announce that you're going to give me a surprise then ask me to shut my eyes and wait patiently. I'm too excited."
"Yeah, I can see that." He chuckles. "It's kind of cute, though. And it makes me want to take my sweet time."
"That's so mean." I pretend to be annoyed, but my flaming Hot Tamales cheeks reveal the lie.
My flushed reaction is typical whenever Kai calls me cute, adorable, and the like. It's something he's been doing a lot of over the last week or so. I don't know if it's because he feels sorry for me, if he's trying to cheer me up, or if he actually does find my quirkiness, as he puts it, "adorably cute."
"You know what?" I say in an attempt to shift the attention away from my blushing. "Just because you said that, I'm totally taking you out of all my superhero drawings. From now on, you're going to be the evil villain."
"And what'd be my form of torture? Torturing you with awesome surprises?" he questions with a hint of laughter.
"You say that like that couldn't be a real thing"--I cross my arms and elevate my brows--"but you're totally wrong."
He snorts a laugh. "You think so?"
"Nope. I know so."
"Okay, explain it to me, then. And if it sounds believable, then I'll let you open your eyes and see the surprise."
"Deal." I clear my throat. "So here's how it works. The excitement I'm feeling right now is making my heart race super-fast, like mad crazy, The Flash, kind of fast. And, if you kept up the whole suspenseful, buildup-to-the-surprise thing for long enough, my heart would eventually get exhausted and stop beating. Then I'd die."
He chuckles. "Well, we wouldn't want that now, would we?" Light footsteps sound across the room. I may not be able to see him, but I feel him stop in front of me and lean close. "All right. Open your eyes before your heart gives out."
I uncontrollably shiver from the feel of his breath against my ear, and my skin warms like melted, gooey caramel.
Great job, Isa. Way to react like a spaz.
I wait for Kai to tease me about my ridiculously silly reaction, but he gives me another surprise by remaining silent.
Taking a steadying breath to calm my flustered nerves, I open my eyes to see Kai has put a little room between us, which I'm grateful for ... well, sort of.
"So, which hand first. Left or right?" he asks with his hands tucked behind his back.
"Um ..." I thrum my finger against my lips. "Left. No, right. No, left. No, definitely right."
Kai works to restrain a smile. "Is that your final answer?"
I hesitate then nod. "Yep."
His grin slips through as he sticks out his right hand, revealing a purple and black paintball gun.
"We're going paintballing?" I ask, going into bouncy ball mode again.
"Not just paintballing. Zombie paintballing."
"I'm not sure what that is, but it sounds awesome."
"It's definitely awesome. You'll be running around, shooting people dressed up as zombies. It'll be like starring in your own zombie movie." He hands me the paintball gun. "The gun's a little used, but a friend of mine was giving it away, and I thought you might want your own instead of renting one."
I clasp the handle of the paintball gun, struggling not to burst into tears. I don't even know why I'm getting all teary-eyed. I'm not sad or anything. I'm actually happy. Like, really, really, living in a real version of Candyland happy. It's just that it's been so long since someone has done something this nice for me, and I'm overwhelmingly touched.
When Kai notices my impending waterworks, he panics.
"Shit. I didn't mean to make you cry." He reaches for me but then lowers his hand nervously. "I'm sorry. I thought you'd like this."
"I do like it. I promise. It's just that ..." I suck back the tears, set the paintball gun down on the bed, and throw my arms around him. "Thank you. I love it. I really do."
He slips his free hand around my waist and presses his palm against the small of my back. "You're welcome ... But it's not really a big deal. I actually got the tickets from a friend. Technically, everything was free."
"I don't care if it was free." I hug him more tightly. "It's still the best present ever."
"You're too easy to please." He buries his face into my hair. "God, if you get this excited over the paintball thing, I can't wait to see how you'll react to my other surprise."
Smiling, I start to move back, but he urges me closer.
"Hold on just a second."
I do what he asks and keep my feet planted with my arms wrapped around him.
"Is something wrong?"
"Nope. Everything's great. More than great, actually," he murmurs into my hair as his fingers brush the sliver of skin peeking out between my tank top and pajama bottoms.
I fight back a shiver, my mind going all tilt-a-whirl. I'm not sure what he's doing, but the longer we stand with our bodies smashed together, the more we step out of the buddy-buddy zone and into touchy-feely, holy-crap-I-can-feel-his-body-heat-along-with-a-lot-of-other-things zone and the more I go into the overanalyzing-guys-way-too-much mode.
But seriously, what is he doing? Why does he keep smelling my hair? Does it smell good? Or can he tell that I haven't washed it for few days and is about to tell me I would blend right in with the zombies because I smell as bad as rotting flesh?
I've opened my mouth to ask him when he steps back and smiles as if nothing just happened, as if he didn't just treat my hair like an aromatherapy candle.
I comb my fingers through my long, brown hair, feeling self-conscious. "Are you sure everything's okay? You're act
ing kind of ... I don't know ... weird."
He waves me off, making a pft sound. "I'm always fine." His brow teases upward. "But are you? You seem a bit flustered."
"Why would I be flustered"--I point at the paintball gun--"when I just got the coolest present ever?"
"Coolest, huh?" His smile grows but then fades with a heavy sigh. "All right, I'm going to give you the next surprise, but you have to swear that, after we talk about it, you'll still come with me paintballing. You can't back out, okay?"
I nod, confused. "Why would I back out of something I really, really want to do?"
"To obsess over the other present." He frowns when I visibly tense. "It's not a bad thing"--his lips quirk--"or it wouldn't be a present. I just know you've had a really shitty week and want to make sure you get out and have some fun, so I'm going to make you promise this paintball thing will for sure happen."
Worry and eagerness arise inside of me. Just what kind of present is he about to give me?
Ready to find out, I nod, agreeing to his terms. "I cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle through Hannah's eye that I'll go paintballing with you today no matter what happens."
"Good. Now that we have that settled..." He relaxes a smidgen then removes his other hand from behind his back.
My brows knit at the sight of his empty hand. "Um ... thanks? I've always wanted one of those." I slap my palm against his, giving him a low five like a total spaz, not knowing what else to do when he's acting like he has something awesome in his hand, and all I can see is his palm.
Hmmm ... Maybe it's an invisibility cape.
He gives me a tolerant look then snatches hold of my hand and threads his fingers through mine. "The surprise isn't my hand." He pulls me toward the door. "It's out here."
"I didn't think it was your hand," I protest as he leads me into the hallway.
He throws an amused glance over his shoulder. "Then what'd you think it was? Because you looked really confused."
"I thought it was an"--I shrug, feeling silly--"invisibility cape or something, and that's why I couldn't see anything."
He bites back a smile. "Silly girl, if I was going to give you an invisibility cape, I'd get a cool enough one that you could at least see it turn invisible."
A goofy smile spans across my face. "So you're admitting you think they exist?"