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First pages

Chapter One

 They told him not to do it. In fact they said he could not do it. But he would prove them wrong. Every one of them.

Daniel studied Mattie—long blonde hair tied up in a ponytail, the tight kind that made her ears stick out in a funny elfin kind of way. Thick bangs shadowed large, plain blue eyes. No make-up. No style. The introvert pixie of Springfield High.

He leaned against the door and watched her. Whatever was she wearing? It was awful. The brown plaid shirt draped over her thin frame like a burlap feed-sack. Still, even though it was dreadful, she was beautiful. She just did not know it…yet.

Mattie Cochran. He had been watching her for months. Waiting for her. The one who would help him escape his prison. Robert, had come close to freedom. His plan should have worked, but he had misjudged his walker and the guardian had stopped him. Daniel shuddered. His friend had met a grisly demise.

Mattie ambled down the hall toward him, her nose in the yellow book he’d nearly tripped her with yesterday, her untied shoelace tapping an inept cadence on the floor. With her next step, she stumbled and lurched forward, her tennis shoe squawking against the tile like a shrieking chicken. The girl’s face reddened as she caught herself and continued on, shoulders slouched like the folded wings of a moth.

Daniel chuckled. She walked like a troll, but there was still something special there. Though it would be a challenge, he was convinced he could transform her. Last night gave him hope. His plan was working. She could not seem to stop reading the book he had placed in her path, though it had taken five tries and he almost tripped her with it before she finally picked it up.

Achieve What You Want Through Active Dreaming.” She was so close and didn’t even realize it.

He reached out to touch her, but as if he was a ghost, his fingers passed through her as she entered the school office.

“Tonight then, love,” he whispered. “I am confident we meet tonight.”

***

I closed the book on active dreaming and squeezed it to my chest. Could there be something to this dreamwalking it talked of? It sounded absurd, but the author said you could attain your heart’s desires if you went after it with an open mind. Maybe it would help me meet this mysterious man in my dreams. My mind wandered to the shadowy figure that had been visiting me night after night.

“Mattie.” Ms. Tooney snapped her fingers, interrupting my daydream, and pointed to the double-wide pile of paperbacks. She flipped the collar of her manly polo shirt up, her short dyed-black hair showing its grey at the roots.

I stared at the books in front of me. Did she expect me to take all these to Mr. Klingman’s room? “Do you have a cart or something?”

“You’ll manage.” The plump assistant principal waved her hand at me, as if shooing a fly away from the dinner table.

Ugh. Why did I ever sign up to be a front office runner? I held in a sigh. Because that’s how I was raised. Help out and make a difference, though I grew tired of the snobbish stares of those who didn’t understand.

“Mattie. Go!” The woman practically yelled at me and stomped her foot.

Being a military brat taught me long ago not to argue with authority so I moved on to the task. It was all I could do to lift the stack up, the secretaries laughing behind their computers as I grunted with the effort. Ms. Tooney didn’t seem to notice, too involved in picking out a donut from a tray on the back desk.

Barely able to see, I staggered into the hallway, my shoulders and upper arms screaming with the weight. A quick glance at the hall clock made my heart quicken. The bell would soon ring. I wobbled down the corridor, praying I wouldn’t trip again.

A loud buzz reverberated in the hallway. Too late.

Bodies burst from closed doors and swarmed in large groups. I dodged right, then left, the pile of books leaning dangerously with each step. The book on dreams rocked back and forth on top and I steadied the pile to keep it level.

The buzzer stopped, but the hum in the hall continued. Students talked over each other, frantically trading news and gossip. As if their lives depended on their voices being heard before being forced once again into the silence of their classrooms.

What could be so vital? I didn’t know. Moving around so much made it hard to be part of the socially adept and cool kids. Instead, I focused on my grades. They were more important than worrying about the new fashions or what party to go to. After all, knowledge is power, right?

My eyes strayed to the yellow book on top again and I reread the subtitle. “Unlock the mysteries to popularity and romance while you sleep.” It almost made me laugh, but if it could help explain my dreams it would be worth the time reading it. And I’d love to gain a few more friends. Andrea was great, but even Dad said I should widen my circle.

I slipped out of the masses and leaned against the light green cinderblock wall as the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. Someone was watching me. I searched the hall, but no one returned my gaze.

Of course no one was watching me. I fought the urge to roll my eyes. What could I be thinking? I was as invisible as a fart. Been here almost a year now, longer than I’d been at any other school, and the only time anyone noticed me was when I did something stupid… like tripping on my shoelaces. Miss graceful, I wasn’t. Mom had tried to help, signing me up for ballet when I was ten, but the teacher gave her my tuition back.

I clutched the books tighter, Ms. Tooney’s voice echoing in my head. “Mr. Klingman is waiting.”

Mr. Klingman was one teacher I liked. He seemed to understand. It had been bad enough to be thrust into yet another new school in my sophomore year, but then my dad was sent back to Turkey. What started out as a two-month mission had turned into ten…and counting. No one knew when he’d return. Being the kid of an Army sergeant sucked.

Yeah, I shouldn’t be mad at him. When the military said jump, he didn’t have much choice but say, “How high.” His position was important and he’d be able to retire with full benefits soon. That would mean more money. And my little sister’s needs required lots of it. The doctors. The therapists. The surgeries. With all the attention on Emma, sometimes I felt almost as invisible at home as I was at school.

But I couldn’t blame Emma either. No. At eight years old, my Down Syndrome sister couldn’t help any of it. It wasn’t her fault her heart acted all funky, and one lopsided smile from her round face could fill a room with sunshine. She was as sweet as Mom’s lemon meringue pie.

I straightened my shoulders and fought my way back into the stream of students, but I didn’t make it five feet before I was forced back again by a quartet of freshmen boys.

“Hey!” I shouted as they stomped on my toes, the rough cement biting into my back and arms. The boys glanced at me, though I doubt they saw me.

A hush fell over the hall and the crowds parted. Morgan Lawrence strolled through, her right arm arched in a fluid wave, as though she was Moses and the Red Sea parted at her command. A well-manicured hand flipped her long blonde hair over her shoulder and her famous half-smile teased the boys as she passed. Monica Bach and Mitzi Gerkin followed close behind, almost as hypnotizing. They strutted down the hallway like models on a New York City runway. The Three M’s. The school’s hottest trio. Beautiful, desirable and self-assured, everything I wasn’t.

The crowds collectively gasped as the trio continued their parade into the school gym. It made me wanted to puke. Yet, I too watched. Couldn’t take my eyes off them. What was it like to be so popular? To be surrounded by people who wanted to be close to you?

I gripped the books tighter and scolded myself. So, they were pretty and popular. So what? Like Andrea said, people like that are fake and shallow.

Yeah, I knew it. Still, I’d give anything to have at least a handful of the kids look at me like I was a real person. To be listened to as if I had something valuable to say. To have Corbin Remington notice me.

Right. Like that would ever happen. I couldn’t even make eye-contact with him without melting into a puddle of nothingness. He was only the hottest guy in school and a male model to boot.

I turned and trudged down the hall, dodging the bodies still frozen in place from Morgan’s trance. Needed to focus on my task of getting these books to Mr. Klingman’s classroom.

The load swayed. Sula, The Bell Jar, Tale of Two Cities. True classics. My dearest companions. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said, “Only in books has mankind known perfect truth, love and beauty.”

Yes, it was in these pages where such traits lived, confirming these stories made better friends than most people. In their pages, even the unpopular could be special.

My arms ached as bodies streamed by, faster now. I readjusted my hold and plowed on, ready to be rid of the load. If I didn’t hurry though, I’d never get my delivery made and still get to Art on time.

“Comin’ through,” a male voice roared. A shoulder shoved me hard and the stack of books exploded into the air.

Chapter Two

I tried to grab the flying books but it was no use. Kids ducked and cursed at the volley of flapping covers and fluttering pages. Nowhere to hide, I shrank into my plaid shirt and waited for what was to come next. Where was my shield of invisibility when I needed it?

“Walk much, Cockroach?” Sean Williams flipped up the collar of his letterman jacket.

I closed my eyes and swallowed the retort I wished I had the courage to spit out. Sean was a football jock and acted as if the whole school revolved around him. Most of the students and teachers thought it did, too.

“Hi, Sean.” Morgan’s voice floated through the clamor of conversations and locker doors. She sashayed toward the jock like a slinky cat, smoky eyes hypnotizing her prey, her lips fixed in a pretentious pout. “I need a big, strong man to carry my science project in from my car.”

Sean’s mouth twisted as his eyes lusted hungrily on Morgan’s curves. “I’m your man, sweetheart.” He puffed out his chest and swung an arm around her waist.

The Queen M squirmed free with the talent of a contortionist and flashed a tantalizing smile. “Now, Sean. Not in the school hall. Why don’t we save that for Friday night?”

His nostrils flared. “Sure thing. It’s a date. Now show me the way to your science project.”

I took a step back in an attempt to slip away but the water fountain stopped me short. My hip connected with the control bar and a stream of wet soaked my backside. Cold water trickled down my leg and puddled in my shoe. Ugh! If only the book on dreams could help me from being such a klutz.

Morgan glanced at me, as though noticing me for the first time. Her nose wrinkled. Was it disgust? Or a bad smell? I wasn’t sure and fought the urge to sniff at my arm pits, wishing I could snap my fingers and disappear.

Without saying a word, the queen M turned and sauntered away, her hips rolling with each step. Sean stared after her like a goofy hound dog, his tongue lolling out of the corner of his mouth, before his footsteps finally trailed after her.

The jock gone, I rubbed my shoulder and leaned over to pick up one of the books from my dispersed pile. A Tale of Two Cities. If only I could will myself into the pages. Maybe there, even in the middle of the French Revolution, I wouldn’t feel as awkward as I did here and now.

One by one, I gathered up the scattered books.

“Out of my way.” Sean’s bellow confirmed he’d found another unfortunate victim further down the hall.

A male voice, deep and familiar, huffed in return. “Williams, you’re such a jerk.”

Even though I couldn’t see the owner of the voice, I knew who he was. JT Fuller. He wasn’t like the other guys in school. No, he was easy going, considerate, friendly…even to me and Andrea. He laughed at my jokes, though they weren’t really funny. And he didn’t seem to mind in the least when he got stuck with me as a partner in English. He even talked to me. Not the in-depth, get-to-know you kind of discussion, but conversation just the same. He was off-limits though. Dated Callie Phillips, a girl from Madison Central.

Darting between students, I picked up the books, grabbing the yellow hard-cover from where it glared out under a bench.

The second bell rang. Dang, I was late! Ms. Tooney was going to have a fit. A version of The Belle Jar stuck part way out of the boys’ restroom. Had to get it. Inching forward, I bent over and reached. Holding my breath, I said a quick prayer no one would pop out of the partially open doorway.

No such luck.

As my fingers dangled above the cover, the door flung open and the toe of a designer sneaker stepped into view. I glanced up and froze as chocolate brown eyes stared down at me. Corbin Remington.

He watched me, dark hair flowing loose about his shoulders, tucked ever so nonchalantly behind one ear. I couldn’t breathe. My body tingled and oh, how my fingers ached to run through those thick tresses.

“Ummm…sorry? Runaway book.” I pointed to the title at his feet.

He rolled his eyes and kicked it toward my open hand.

I grabbed it, my cheeks flaming. “Thanks.” I moved to stand up, but thanks to my loose shoelace, stumbled and fell face first into his chest. Heat pulsated through my body as I struggled not to faint, dizzy on the musky cologne wafting around my head like a delicious cloud.

Corbin pushed me back and brushed at the wrinkles I’d created in his shirt. I was sure I’d spontaneously combust on the spot, but… boy, he smelled good.

He swaggered past me, then, by some miracle, turned and glanced back, his luscious lips curving up.

My heart thumped out of control. Was he smiling at me?

Then he laughed.

I let out the breath I’d been holding. He just thought I was some kind of weirdo perv. I’d always wanted to make an impression on him. Just not quite like this. Man, if the dream book could only deliver on its promise to help my romantic life…or lack of one.


A hand touched the back of my shoulder and a book materialized in front of my face. Help was here at last. “Andrea, you’re a life-saver.”

“Sorry?”

I whirled around at the male voice.

JT leaned over and picked up three more paperbacks hiding under a small table. “I saw what happened.” He handed me the books.

Perfect. He’d witnessed my pitiful performance with Corbin. I glanced down the hall, thankful the dark-haired god was now gone.

“You know Sean’s an idiot.”

Oh, good, he was talking about the jock. “Yeah. A jerk.” My words tumbled out like loose marbles as I retrieved yet another book by the gray lockers, hoping to hide my embarrassment.

“So is this what Mr. Klingman has in store for us? The Bell Jar? Bet you’ve read it already. You’ve probably read all of them.”

“Yeah.” I nodded, then stopped. Was he baiting me? Everyone knows only geeks like to read the classics.
He continued. “I need to read more. Wish I could be more like you. You’re a brain.”

Was he serious?

“Am I going to like it? You know I detest writing a report on a book I hate—like last spring.”

I laughed, then covered my mouth, sure it had come off as dopey. JT had caused quite a scene and made sure Mr. Klingman knew how much he hated “Animal Farm.”

“Corbin almost killed me,” JT handed me another book. “I had a horrible time writing my own report, let alone helping him with his. I think he got a D on it. I’m sure he hopes I like the book better this year, too.”

“You help Corbin?” My heart thumped again. I’d give anything to help him with his English report. My insides puddled again.

I sat behind the model god in Government. Though Corbin never noticed. I’d watched him though. Knew every wave in his hair, the funny little freckle on the side of his neck, the way his muscles rippled when he stretched…like he was posing. But then he was always posing. He was a model after all.

JT placed a couple more titles on my growing stack. “Well, I better get to class. I’ll see you in English on Monday. Have a nice weekend.” He waved and was gone.

The weight of the books pressed against my chest as I continued down the hall, still pondering how to get JT to introduce the idea of me helping write a report to Corbin.

“Hey,” Andrea called from behind. “What’re you doing?” Her breath came out hard and fast as she rushed to catch up, her ample chest lifting with each inhale.

“Hi.” I motioned to the stack of titles. “Sean ran into me. Literally. Knocked the books everywhere.”

“He’s a jerk.” My friend brushed a damp lock of mousy brown hair from her round cheek. “Oh well. Mr. Klingman called the office looking for these.” She grabbed part of the stack, nearly sending the books skyward again. “Ms. Tooney is livid”

“Figures.” I set the yellow book on top of my pile.

“What’s that?” Andrea’s gum smacked as she read the title. “What’s this all about? You meeting the man of your dreams...in your dreams?” She laughed.

“I don’t know.” My face flushed with heat. “I’ve been having some pretty vivid dreams lately. Hope this helps explain them.” I didn’t want to tell her about my mystery man just yet.

With a flip of her wrist, Andrea tossed her candy bar wrapper in the garbage. “Probably means you need to lay off the spicy stuff at bed time.” She grinned and marched down the hall. “Let’s get these to Klingman so we can get to art. I have a clay pot calling my name and begging to be finished into a candy bowl.”

Yeah. Andrea was practical. Rational. Not into frivolous dreams. But she was also loyal. Dependable. A good friend. And she had a really pretty face if the kids could just get past her weight.

My thoughts returned to the dreams book. I couldn’t figure out how it had gotten under my chair yesterday in Speech. As if someone had been placed there so I’d find it. Nearly tripped over it actually. The author seemed to know a lot about dreamwalking. But could it really help me become popular? Or get guys to notice me? Doubtful, but I tucked it in my backpack anyway so I could finish reading it.

“You know, someday, someone’s going to fix Sean good.” Andrea glanced over her shoulder at me. “Did anyone at least offer to help you pick the books up?”

“Ah…Corbin kind of did.” I tried to keep the wistfulness out of my voice, but knew it hadn’t worked. “And JT,” I added hastily.

Andrea stopped short and stared at me. “For real? Corbin, the god? The one you’ve been crushing on since you moved here?”

“I have not.” I glanced down the hall, praying no one was within earshot. Didn’t need that rumor to get spread around.

“Oh, yeah, right.” Andrea let out a half-laugh, half-snort. “It’s okay. Your secret’s safe with me. Doesn’t matter anyway, right? The gods don’t even know we exist. All we can do is watch and drool from the sidelines.” She turned the corner to the English hallway. “Besides,” Her finger pointed at my jeans. “If he had noticed you, he’d probably think you wet your pants.”

My hand instantly went to the giant wet spot on my behind. Oh, gawd. I stumbled after Andrea, wishing I’d never been born. She was right. I should stick to finding true love in the pages of Pride and Prejudice.

Andrea prattled on. “We still on for lunch and a movie tomorrow? I want to see that new movie with Aaron M.” A dreamy expression engulfed her face. “Now, he’s my eye-candy.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. Andrea was as much a dreamer as I was after all.

***

Daniel could hardly keep himself from jumping and shouting at the top of his lungs. Mattie’s longings were obvious and she was searching for answers, just as he had predicted. Soon, they would meet and he would expose the beautiful woman he knew lived inside. He had a lot of work to do, but then she would be his.


Chapter Three

I lowered my book and rubbed my eyes, imagining the sights and sounds from Pride and Prejudice. What would it have been like to live back then? All the balls and cotillions. Where men were perfect gentlemen. My thoughts lingered on Mr. Darcy. If the guys today could only be like him. Ha. JT came as close as anyone she’d ever known. He was nice. Too bad he was taken. Not that I’d know what to do with him anyway.

The boy from my dreams wavered in my thoughts. Mr. Darcy’s younger brother maybe? The thought made me chuckle. Right.

Still, who was this guy that haunted me? The yellow book lay on the bed beside me. I’d scoured several more chapters. It said people in your dreams signify something you want… “When you dream about a pirate, you may have an unrealized longing for adventure. A craving to step out of the ordinary.”

 If that was so, what did a handsome guy with a knee-length duster on a black horse mean? Did I secretly long to live in smelly horse barn?

Weird. He’d been in my dreams for weeks, though he’d remained elusive. Would he ever get close enough for me to see his face? I could only hope so. According to the book, when you find the romance you crave in your dreams, it’s sure to follow in real life. I’d tackle the guy to the ground if it would only come true.

The digital clock flipped over. Twelve-thirty a.m. Mr. Darcy and solving the ‘mysteries to popularity and romance’ would have to wait. I stuck a tattered bookmark between the pages and set the books on the night stand. My pint-sized Papillon, growled his annoyance as I leaned over to turn off the light.

“Oh, Mozart, you shush.” I tousled his brown butterfly ears and he offered a wag of his fluffy tail as if to apologize.

Settling down under the covers, I let my head sink into the pillow. Sleep should come easy. I was tired. Relaxed. And like the book said, this was when I could create my magic.

***

The darkness settled upon me and a sweeping current of warm air embraced me like a cozy blanket. I raised my arms, a thrill spreading through me as though I stood at the edge of a precipice, a mysterious world spread out before me.

The currents carried me, gently, swiftly. Then, I was walking. Not a hurried walk. More of a stroll, down a cobble-stone path. Shadowed trees surrounded me and my heart skipped.

My feet turned left at the path’s intersection, instinctively, like they had a consciousness of their own. A golden glow illuminated the surroundings. The soft kind of light that diffused the colors and smeared them into a watercolor, like the painting of Monet’s garden at Argenteuil. Oh how I loved his art. Uncomplicated. No blunt edges or harsh lines. I reached out and plucked a ruby chrysanthemum from the bush. Its petals brushed my skin, silky smooth against my fingers and I lifted it to my nose to sniff at the fresh, herbal scent.

Things were even more vibrant tonight. It was as though I’d walked into the very pages of my book, ready to meet Mr. Darcy himself. Oh, how I loved the old English flair.

I glanced warily about, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. Would I finally meet my mystery man tonight? One look at my wrinkled t-shirt and sweat pants and I hoped not.

Still my feet moved on and the trees gave way to a cluster of white stucco buildings. A village of some kind. Brown trails and white cobblestone paths crisscrossed between the houses. Bold stone walls bordered fragrant gardens and flowers grew up and over, splashing the gray rock with color. My hands tingled with anticipation. I’d never been this far before.

In the center loomed a steepled tower with a small window at the top. A light radiated from it, like a red eye staring down. My heart beat faster as my feet forced me closer to the ominous building. Apprehension tugged at me to stop, but I couldn’t. Where was this path leading me?

At the next turn, I found myself in a picturesque garden and the loveliness of it calmed my pounding heart. Pink roses draped from an iron arbor while chrysanthemums, lavender and phlox lined the beds. A small creamy-white house gleamed near-by, its pitched roof dark, in dramatic contrast. A young man leaned against an arched wooden gate, holding the reins to a magnificent black stallion. Was this the faceless guy I’d longed to see?

He looked to be just a little older than me though he exuded much more confidence. I couldn’t help but admire his broad shoulders and trim physique. My gaze moved up to see him smiling at me, a teasing gleam in his eye. Busted. Heat roasted my cheeks.

He lifted a hand to his hip and pulled his long coat back to reveal a cream-colored shirt and brown pants. Dark hair, a little unruly, curled about the nape of his neck in all the right places to give him a casual, yet refined appearance. With his left hand, he draped the horse’s reins over a post, then strolled toward me.

My pulse quickened and I lowered my eyes, but as though there was a magnetic pull, I looked back up. I’d never seen him before, yet I recognized him.

“At last,” he said, his words low and hushed. “Mattie.”

His rich baritone voice was like softened butter, smooth and mellow, as he reached for my hand. At first I pulled back, but when he persisted, I let him take it. A burst of electricity zinged up my arm, raising every hair on my head.

He smiled. “I have waited so long to meet you.”

“You’ve what?” A flash of lightheadedness rushed over me. How did he know my name? And why was he waiting for me? The colors of the garden swirled and my knees wobbled. Two muscular arms caught me, holding me secure and strong.

“Not to worry, love. I have you.”

His face was close now and I gazed into a pair of steel-blue eyes. A woodsy cologne delighted my nose. Earthy scents like clover and pine. “Who are you?” I asked, my voice barely a whisper, as if I talked too loudly, I’d upset the serenity of the setting.

He smiled again. “I…am Daniel.”


Chapter Four

Daniel watched Mattie’s reflection in the bedroom mirror. His compliments were working. She fussed with her golden locks as she brushed her hair and let it ripple soft and smooth past her shoulders.

His strategy should be most successful. Mattie, so innocent and pure, would be the perfect protégé. And he would transform her into the magnificent beauty she should be. His suggestions from last night were already affecting her routine. Before, it was tight pony-tails and baggy clothes. Today, she dug deep into the back of her bathroom vanity and pulled out the tool she called a curling iron. She dusted it off and wrapped her long locks around the heated barrel. And what a transformation it made.

He smiled as she turned her head this way and that, eyeing her reflection. Curious. Excited. Like a colt, allowed into the wide open pasture for the first time. Yes, everything was now going to come to fruition.

***

Mozart lay on his pillow on the corner of the bed. He cocked his furry head at me, ears perked.

I fluffed my curls, talking to his reflection in the mirror. “Do you like?” I looked back to my own image. “Daniel said he likes my hair down.” I could almost feel his arms around me, just as they’d held me last night, his eyes holding my gaze, his fingers in my hair. I tilted my head back and laughed. “Oh, man, this is so stupid. Why can’t I get him out of my head? He’s just a dream.” My insides rocked. “But…I do like my hair down. Makes me feel kind of pretty.” A light woodsy aroma tickled my nose and I breathed deep.

Oh, man, I was losing it. My imagination was working overtime.

“What ya doin?” Emma peeked around the doorframe. Her wide-set eyes crinkled with a question and she coughed as she shuffled into my bedroom. “You hair—it diffrent.”

How could I not smile at her? She was as bright as sunshine. “So what do you think?” I spun in a circle, letting my long hair flow around me like a gypsy skirt.

Emma hopped up and down, clapping her hands. “I like. It pretty.”

In a flurry of spins, I tripped over my shower towel and landed in a heap on the floor next to the bed. I laughed out loud while my sister’s giggles resounded off the bedroom walls, then turned into a deep barking cough.

“What’s going on in here?” My mother stood in the doorway, smiling. “You two having a party without me?”

Emma skipped toward her and pointed back to where I sat. “Mattie...funny.” The words came out broken as she gasped for air.

“I see that.” Mom stroked Emma’s head. “And I’m sorry to break up the fun, but we need to go see the doctor now. Can you get your jacket like a big girl?”

Emma coughed again, the whole top half of her body rocking with the motion. She waved at me and waddled out of the room.

“Her cold is getting worse, isn’t it?” I watched my little sister totter down the hall.

Mom sighed. “I could kick myself for not getting her in to see Doc Mitchell at the beginning of the week. I’m worried.”

The dark circles under my mother’s eyes meant she must’ve been up all night with Emma…again.

“I’m sorry I have to leave.” Mom leaned against the door frame. “Between work and all Emma’s therapy and doctors, it seems like I haven’t seen you in weeks.”

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. Take care of Emma.” I busied myself picking up the towels on the floor. “I’m meeting Andrea for lunch and a movie anyway.”

“Oh, good. Well, have a good time. Tell Andrea she needs to come over for dinner. I haven’t seen her in over a week.”

My friend would be happy to hear that. She said Mom was a much better cook than her mother. And our dinner table was always filled with laughter as she acted out funny skits for Emma. Maybe I’d even ask her to spend the night one night. We hadn’t binge-watched “The Big Bang Theory” is several weeks.

Emma’s voice resonated in the hall, followed by Mom’s footsteps down the stairs. The front door clicked closed and the house fell quiet. I flopped on the bed next to Mozart, worried about Emma and wondered how Mom was going to pay for the doctor visit this time. Dad’s checks hadn’t been coming in and I’d overheard her anxious phone calls with the bank.

A glance to the clock by my bed sent my heart into overdrive. I was late. “Oh, man. Andrea’s going to kill me.” I reached into the vanity drawer and pulled out a hair tie.

***

Daniel lunged for Mattie’s hand, but it was no use. His fingers went through her arm, and in a matter of seconds, she had her curls gathered into the usual tight ponytail. She dashed out the door, leaving him alone in the bedroom, shaking his head.

“Whatever am I going to do with you, Mattie Cochran?” He sighed and faded into the shadows of her baby blue curtains.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Daniel Mainwaring said, “The mind is a strange and wonderful thing. I’m not sure it will ever be able to figure itself out.” I definitely believe that. I’m not sure I’ll ever know where my muse and the stories it creates comes from, but I’m enjoying the ride and meeting some great characters along the way. Maybe a few characters very similar to myself as well.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Everyone is both good and bad. If you want something bad enough, how far are you willing to go to get it? Would you go for it, even if it means hurting others around you? The answers might surprise you. It is a fine line we walk to stay true to the person we want to be.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Every story has some kind of message. If my readers takes one thing away from this story, I hope it is to believe in themselves. You are what you believe you are. Let your light shine.

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