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First pages

Preface

This is not a story for everyone. It’s my story. It’s a story about the end of my world—well, the end of the world, to be exact—and how I woke up with nothing left and then fought my way back.

If you like stories that fit into neat little boxes, this story isn’t for you. If you like stories that don’t have angst, violence, profanity, sex, and a well of hopelessness so deep you’re afraid you may never find yourself again, my story isn’t for you. If you think people shouldn’t curse, or if you think that sex happens only after the screen fades to black, my story isn’t for you. If you only like the people who are perfect, strong, badass—the people who never feel sorry for themselves and always make the right decision during the worst of circumstances—this story isn’t for you.

This is the story of me and how I came to change the potential future.

 

C. Connor

Part I: Then

Me

I always felt like my mom loved me because I was her daughter. I know. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Let me start again. I always felt like my mom had to love me because I was her daughter, and if I had been some random person on the street, she wouldn’t have liked me that much at all.

I’m not ripping on my mom. Really. It wasn’t like she ever said, even once, ‘I only love you because you’re my daughter’. She was my favorite person in the world, and it hurt to know I wasn’t hers. My mom, for the record, loved everybody. Well, that’s not exactly true. She didn’t suffer assholes, as she would have put it, even though she did suffer me, her weird kid. My brother’s friends all loved her. My friend, Emily, loved her. The difference was: my brother had friends. Tons of friends, worshippers even. I had a friend.

My mom had said this on multiple occasions, usually with a sigh: ‘You and your brother are night and day’. Night and day. Dark and light. Pessimism and optimism. Opposites.

I’m going to be honest, because really, is there any reason not to be? I hated my brother, just not in the typical ‘He’s, like, so annoying!’ sibling way. I hated him because he was perfect. Anything he tried? He was good at it. Me? I was flawed. Anything I tried? I sucked at. It wasn’t his fault, of course. How do you blame someone for being better? I didn’t see it that way, though. I just knew it sucked getting shown up by my little brother at everything and anything.

I was kind of like that scruffy stray cat that shows up at the door looking for scraps. The kindhearted person would pity the poor thing, feed it maybe—but deep down they would know that it was ugly and flea-bitten. I’m not saying I’m ugly, despite an awkward phase in middle school, marked by braces, acne, and self-consciousness. By the middle of high school, I had started to grow out of my ugly duckling phase, and from there, I’d morphed into average. Either way, I don’t think it was ever my looks that made me awkward. It was more my internal scruffiness that people could sense. Kind of like, if your mom only loves you because she’s your mom, why would anyone else?

My mom always said that one day I would find myself. I would wake up and recognize my self-worth, and so would other people. I had written off these pep talks as her way of deflecting from the fact that I had never measured up.

I wasn’t the cheerleader, the rebel, the genius, the mysterious new girl all the guys secretly wanted. I was the girl no one remembered. If you had asked ten people at my high school who I was, chances are none of them would have remembered me.

The only thing I had been really good at was reading. Yay me, right? Locked away in my own little world. I guess it meant I was good at pretending I was somewhere other than where I was, secretly hoping something from my books would happen to me. Something that would erase the fact that I was so unremarkable and so easily overlooked.

It had never made me feel any better that the protagonists in the books I read usually started off kind of average. Like me. The difference was that they never turned out that way in the end. Instead, they always morphed into kick-ass heroines, she-wolves, beautiful vampires, angelic warriors, magical fairies. Something remarkable.

Nothing would have changed the fact that I was unremarkable. I didn’t have a superlative I could attribute to myself. I had never been the fastest, the smartest, the prettiest, the funniest. I wasn’t the -est anything.

Then, I started going crazy, and believe me, the craziest is not the -est thing you want to be.

Chapter 1: Wishful Thinking

After waking up in a cold sweat, I spent several minutes staring at the ceiling. The dream had been so real that, for a few seconds, I thought it was. Then, I began to piece together those things in dreams that always seem to make sense while you’re dreaming, but don’t once your conscious mind regains control.

It had been a bright blue sky—typical for southern California. I had felt the warm concrete beneath my feet, and when I looked up, I was standing in front of the courthouse in downtown L.A. where I had gone on a field trip during third grade. It only took a few moments in the dream to realize something was very wrong. Turning slowly in circles, I saw people lying everywhere. Cars were stopped in the middle of the street. But what I remembered most was the silence. Silence so absolute that my own breathing sounded deafening in my ears. I ran and knelt down next to the first person I saw. She was lying on the stairs of the courthouse. Her skin was cold to the touch, and she was looking up at me with unseeing, dead eyes.

And in that moment, I knew. I knew they were dead. All of them.

Everyone.

***

Two weeks after that dream, on the day of my eighteenth birthday, my life as I knew it ended.

The day started out like any other day. I drove to school along the molten-silver waters of the Pacific Ocean with my little brother Chris in the passenger seat. Chris, at fifteen, outweighed me by fifty pounds, was a head taller than me, and was on track to have his own car the second he turned sixteen. I dropped him off at the front of school with his gym bag full of lacrosse gear. He didn’t remember my birthday, not that I had expected him to.

Emily, my best friend since freshman year, showed up right before the first bell with a pink cupcake. Usually, I gave her a ride from her mom’s apartment in the morning, just not on the days I drove in early to drop off Chris. I watched as she stuck a candle in the cupcake and lit it. She loved cupcakes—the more frosting, the better. I hated frosting, but it was the thought that counted, particularly since she was likely to be the only person I would see all day who would even know it was my birthday.

“Happy Birthday, girl!” Em squeaked. “Make a wish! Oh, and call in sick to work so we can have a movie marathon at my place!”

She snickered. Then, the tardy bell rang. As Em took off down the hall, I stood frozen for a second, staring at the cupcake with no idea what to wish for. Just as I inhaled to blow out the candle, it came to me—my silly, desperate, juvenile wish.

I wish I was special, even if just for one day.

On my way to third, I passed Jake Adams in the hall. He was the guy that every dork like me had a secret crush on, even though, in addition to being the resident jock superstar, he was known for being an egotistical dickhead. My heart stuttered in my chest when he smiled, and I half-smiled before looking behind me and seeing Hannah Foster.

Looking down, I thought about my wish from earlier in the morning. The truth was that I was invisible to people like Jake Adams and Hannah Foster. I was just another average face in the hall. People like me didn’t exist on the same plane as they did. Sure, most of my teachers liked me, because I was quiet and didn’t give them any trouble, which made me invisible—or at least invisible until I didn’t know the answer to a question or happened to be spacing out.

At the particular moment in time just before my life imploded, I was sitting there, staring down at my phone, scrolling through the pictures on the undergraduate admissions page of the perfectly respectable public university I would be attending in the fall. The school wasn’t the sexiest or the most prestigious, but it was a solid school more than four-hundred miles away, where if I got lucky, I could pretend I was something other than invisible. And as long as I didn’t flunk Trig, which was the one class that could totally wreck my chances, I was all set to start my freshman year of college a few months after graduation, which was a month and ten days away.

“Carys? Care to share what’s so interesting on your phone?”

Ms. Kim was standing right next to my desk. I dropped the phone and looked up. Now, let me tell you something: there’s nothing like looking up at someone only to see milky, dead eyes staring back at you. After I started screaming, I couldn’t stop as the corpse of my Trig teacher stared down at me.

Like I said, fortunately for me, I sucked at math. Otherwise, there actually might have been other seniors from the rest of my classes, but most of them were in AP Calculus. Instead, it was a bunch of juniors who saw me lose it before Ms. Kim sent me to administration.

When I reached the vice principal’s office, part of the administrative annex, I shuddered. During my four years of high school, I had tried to avoid this place. The office looked like it belonged in a horror movie. The fluorescent lighting flickered; the linoleum flooring was cracked. The furniture was old, worn, cheap. I walked to the counter and waited for the woman to look up, hoping her eyes wouldn’t be dead and white.

“Yes?” she asked before looking up.

Her eyes were completely normal, of course.

“I’m not feeling good,” I told her, trying to look as pale and freaked out as I felt.

What else was I supposed to say? Oh, hey. I just full-on hallucinated? Right. And out would have come the straight jacket and the Thorazine.

Did I mention that both of my parents were shrinks? I used to take it personally when people would say therapists have the most fucked up kids. Maybe it’s true, but then how does that explain my brother, the wunderkind? His exceptionalism sinks that whole theory.

When I handed her the hall pass from Ms. Kim, she pursed her lips in a way that said she heard a hundred miserable excuses a day, and mine wasn’t any better.

“I was hoping I could go home,” I added, following up with a meek smile.

Go home, take a nap, wake up feeling less insane. That was the plan.

“You need permission from a guardian to leave school grounds,” she said dully.

“I’m, uh, eighteen.”

Eighteen as of today, otherwise known as the day I officially started going nuts.

“Oh, well you can sign yourself out.”

She nodded at a clipboard. After printing and signing my name, I walked out of the office and texted my mom. I didn’t give her any details—just that I was feeling sick. There was a chance she was in a session, which meant I wouldn’t hear back for hours anyway. I stopped off at my locker before heading to the student parking lot. By the time I got to my car, I remembered the awful truth: I was scheduled to work tonight. Sinking down into the driver’s seat, I groaned.

“Shit.”

My job. I hated my job. I hated my boss even more. Bitchy Barbara. At least that’s what I called her. Never to her face, though. The thought of me saying anything like that was laughable, even if Bitchy Barbara totally deserved her moniker. She was one of those sickeningly-sweet-to-the-customers-but-bitchy-to-everyone-else types. I always hated working a shift when she was there, because she watched you like a hawk and bitched about everything. Plus, the diner had never upgraded to actual real twenty-first century technology. Instead, they had this cash register that weighed probably a hundred pounds—and I had to count back cash, which I sucked at. I took out my phone and called work.

“Dale’s. This is Barbara.”

I winced. I’d never had good luck. Clearing my throat, I slipped into my best-sounding sick voice.

“Hi, Barbara. It’s Carys.”

There was a sigh and a long pause. This wasn’t the first time I had called in sick, mostly as a form of civil disobedience. Not long after I had started at Dale’s, Barbara had started scheduling me for thirty-five-hour weeks even when I’d told her I couldn’t work more than twenty.

After I explained that I wasn’t feeling good and probably shouldn’t come in, she didn’t say anything like, ‘Feel better!’ or ‘Are you okay?’ More like ‘Are you going to be here tomorrow?’ I ended the call and started the car.

My car. The reason I worked in the first place. To pay for gas, insurance, and repairs. The car was the best thing and worst thing that had happened to me. The car meant freedom, but with a tether. It wouldn’t have been that bad if I hadn’t known at the very core of my soul that my younger brother would get a set of car keys—most likely to a brand-new car, not a clunker—without having to get a job.

I could see it already. My mom saying, ‘Your brother’s just too busy to get a job!’ In other words, ‘Carys, you’ve got no life, so it’s easy for you to work all the time!

Part of me had been hoping Bitchy Barbara would fire me. The other part of me had been terrified that she actually would fire me.

In the end, it turned out it didn’t matter.

Chapter 2: The Last Few Moments of Normal

The first thing I did after leaving school grounds was drive a couple of blocks to the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The sky was clear, and the horizon was a straight line between the sky and the ocean. Some days, it was too hazy even to make out the horizon line. Today, though, it felt like I could see forever as I stepped out of the car and walked to the edge of the bluffs.

If I skittered down the hillside a bit, there was a giant concrete block. Sort of an ugly, modern obelisk. I had no idea what it was for. I just knew people from school would go down there to smoke, drink, or make out. At least, this is what I had heard; I didn’t know from personal experience. The block itself was littered with trash and marred by graffiti. I imagined that the people who lived in the expensive houses across the street hated the fact that high school kids came here. In fact, I was afraid if I stayed any longer, someone would call the cops on me, so I took one last look at the horizon before getting back in my car. I contemplated stopping by Starbucks for an iced latte, but I thought maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after claiming illness.

The drive from school to my parents’ house took twenty minutes. Before I got my license, taking the bus had seemed to take forever. My parents had chosen to live in one of the least convenient spots, up a winding canyon road. The town I had grown up in had a post office, a market, and some restaurants. No gas station, no Starbucks, no middle school or high school. It was about as remote as you could get in in L.A. County. I envied people at school who were able to walk home in five minutes. The only good thing about driving an ancient, manual-transmission car up a winding canyon road deep into the hills is that it makes you a hardcore driver.

By the time I reached the top of our driveway, I knew I was the only one home because both my parents’ cars were gone. I loved it when I got the house to myself. No questions, no expectations, no stories of my brother’s exceptionalism. I was hoping for a few hours of peace and quiet, enough time to burn through my AP English reading and then maybe spend an hour feeling stupid while I tried figuring out my Trig homework.

My mom was most likely at her office seeing patients. Dad worked at a think-tank somewhere downtown. I rarely went into L.A. proper, and I had never been to my dad’s office. The joke in our family was that he worked for some secret government agency that didn’t even have an acronym. Both my parents worked odd hours, and I doubted either one would be home anytime soon.

My only company would be Jack, my mastiff puppy, and Sophie, my tiny, insane red Doberman. The only problem was they couldn’t come inside. They were strictly outdoor dogs, which always made me wonder why my mom had even allowed us to bring them home—considering neither of my parents liked animals. The only reason they had pets was for us. Me, more accurately. My little brother was too busy to notice he had dogs.

I, on the other hand, sometimes felt more at home with my dogs than people. As soon as I opened the car door and stepped out, Sophie reared up on her hind legs and punched me in the stomach while Jack made whiny puppy sounds as he pranced around me.

“Hi, guys,” I whispered as I knelt down. “I missed you, too.”

When they got bored of me and trotted off, I went inside to get their food before foraging for myself. My phone buzzed—it was Em.

 

WTH? Thanks so much for ditching me. j/k but seriously, where the hell are you? I thought we were hanging out at my place to celebrate your bday until you had to go to hell

 

I scrunched up my face. By hell, she meant Dale’s. One of our favorite things to do after school was to grab some greasy fast food and two pints of salted caramel chocolate ice cream and eat until we were so sick all we could do was sit in front of the TV at her mom’s apartment. Emily and I had bonded freshman year over our love of movies and our status as boyfriend-less dorks. She wasn’t as socially stunted as I had always been, and I relied on her to avoid those awkward moments when I would otherwise find myself standing on the periphery of a group I didn’t fit in with, trying not to feel like the world’s ultimate loser.

I didn’t fit in with anyone, really. Em, on the other hand, would be fine at lunch. I debated what to tell her. I didn’t want to admit I was losing my mind, at least not yet. Or maybe I was hoping I would wake up sane by the next day.

 

18th birthday officially sucking. Went home sick. Bitchy Barbara was NOT happy. You want me to pick you up tomorrow?

 

Emily’s apartment building was a five-minute drive from school, but she didn’t have a car. It took twenty minutes to get to her place on the city bus. I didn’t mind picking her up in the mornings, as long as I didn’t have to sit in my car waiting for her, hoping I wouldn’t be late because Em had slept through her alarm, again.

Despite telling her almost everything, I had always known there were things she wouldn’t or couldn’t tell me. I had the feeling her father had been a real piece of work. Maybe even bad enough that Em and her mom were running from him, but she’d never really said. Her life definitely wasn’t perfect, but I still envied her for being relatively normal socially—or at least being better able to pretend. At least in her case, she had other friends—girls on the volleyball team, people she worked with at the grocery store a few blocks from school.

I wasn’t so much an outcast as someone who didn’t fit well anywhere. I had always felt a little off, so maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I was starting to lose my mind. When my phone buzzed again before I started in on my homework, I looked down and saw a text from Mom.

 

Happy Birthday, Hon! Coming home late. Dad’s going to Chris’s game. Are you okay for dinner? We’ll celebrate your Bday this weekend?

 

I texted her back before parking myself at the counter to read for my English paper. Eventually, I walked into the living room, took out my e-reader, and opened my latest book, knowing I would regret it later. I could spend hours reading, only to find myself scrambling to finish my Trig homework. That still never stopped me from waiting until the very last second to deal with my least favorite class.

This particular moment, though, wasn’t procrastination. It was denial. Like, ‘Hey, if I just read my book and stay in my fantasy world, then I don’t have to deal with the possibility that I’m losing my mind!’ After a couple of hours, I set the e-reader on the coffee table and curled my legs up under me before closing my eyes.

 

I blinked. It was dark in the room, but there was a light coming from the door. When I turned my head, I saw a man, lit from behind, standing in the doorway. I held my breath, watching as he started walking toward me. As he got closer, I stopped breathing and stared stupidly at him. He was ridiculously good-looking. Then, I realized something was very wrong. When I tried moving my arms, I couldn’t. Panicking as he bent toward me, I finally realized that I was strapped to a bed.

 

I sat up on the couch and looked around, disoriented by the darkness and the sound of my dogs barking. It had been a dream. Closing my eyes, I tried to conjure the face of the man, but I couldn’t. I only remembered that dream-guy had been too good-looking to be a figment of my imagination. My imagination wasn’t that good.

Stretching, I realized that I had slept the day away—probably another symptom of incipient mental illness, as my mom would have called it. And, crazy or not, I still had Trig homework to get through. As much as I liked having the house to myself, being alone in the house at dusk was creepy. My parents had opted for hilly and remote instead of cookie-cutter and close-to-civilization. They had pretty much chosen the house on a hill where everyone gets murdered by a serial killer.

I got up and started turning lights on. Then, the TV. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I would wake up and hear the coyotes in the hills. The only time you ever heard coyotes yipping was when they had caught a kill.

It’s an unnerving sound, hearing a pack of animals about to devour another living creature. But coyotes have to eat, right? At least, that’s what I always told myself.

I went into the kitchen and got a glass of orange juice from the fridge. After taking a sip, I puckered and looked down at the glass. The juice tasted off, like it was expired. I threw the rest down the sink and got a bowl of cereal. After that, I came back to the living room just as my mom’s key had turned in the front door. I looked over as the door opened.

Then, I saw her eyes.

Dead eyes.

Chapter 3: Promise

I tried to move, but a strange fog held me down. People came and went just beyond my closed eyelids. I had no idea who they were. I felt time passing even though I couldn’t seem to join in.

Then, I woke up, but even the act of blinking my eyes open took a lot of effort. My thoughts were muddled—and I couldn’t move my arms.

“What the hell?” I mumbled, jerking my wrists against what felt like leather belts.

It had occurred to me in that moment that maybe I had woken up in some sort of hell, considering the itch on my nose that I couldn’t scratch. As I looked around the darkened room, I realized I was in a hospital room—and I was tied down.

“Hello?” I called weakly.

Nothing. This is one hell of a karmic bitch slap for calling in sick was all I could think. Suddenly, I remembered seeing my mom’s eyes. No. No, no, no. I was in the psych ward. Adrenaline started pumping through my veins. It only got worse at the sound of someone opening a door. Not opening a door. Sliding a deadbolt. I had woken up in a damn horror movie. What were the chances?

When the door began to open, I closed my eyes almost all the way and tried to keep my breathing even. The door clicked shut, and then I heard someone walking toward me. The footsteps stopped.

“Carys? Can you hear me?” the deep male voice whispered close to my ear.

Minty. His breath smelled minty. That was the only thing that came to mind as he began loosening the restraints on my wrists. A second later, it dawned on me that he knew my name. Before I had any chance to decide what to do—scream, play dead, or answer him—I heard voices, and I was pretty sure they weren’t in my head. I felt his breath at my ear.

“Shhh. Don’t tell them I was here.”

Then, he was gone, and a few seconds later, the door opened and lights flickered on. My heart was about to jump out of my chest, and I couldn’t even pretend I was asleep.

“Check the monitors—her heartrate is spiking.”

“Where the hell am I? Who the hell are you?” I demanded of the middle-aged man in the white coat as a woman in scrubs came up on my other side.

“You can go ahead and start her on the primer solution,” the man in the white coat said. “We’ll see how she does without any time in the sim program first.”

The woman in scrubs jabbed me in the arm with something.

“What the fuck was that?” I hissed.

“You’re perfectly safe, Carys,” the man said before moving away.

Suddenly, my vision blurred. I rolled my head to the side and frowned. I was almost sure I saw my dad standing in the doorway. I blinked. Then, the room was empty and dark, and it felt like I was floating. The smell of mint drifted back to me.

“I’ll come back for you,” the voice whispered.

Opening my eyes, I saw him staring down at me, his eyes glittering in the glow of medical equipment. I smiled, oddly comforted by his words. They didn’t sound like a threat. More like a promise.

***

When I opened my eyes again, I blinked at the harsh fluorescent lighting. My lips felt like they had been baked in the summer sun. I was a compulsive lip balm person. Not because I had expected any kind of epic lip-lock—far from it. I was an addict. If I went more than an hour without reapplying some form of lip-specific moisturizing agent, it felt like I was being tortured.

“Good morning, young lady. I’m Dr. Barry.”

Biting my chapped lower lip, I looked across the room at the same middle-aged man I had seen before getting stabbed with a syringe. He was sitting in a chair in the corner holding a clipboard. I squinted. Was he the same one from before? I couldn’t tell. He had a disturbingly pug-like face. Round and pushed in. Like a garden gnome, only with blotchy, red skin. Silver hair and dark, thick glasses. The eyes behind the glasses were black as coal and seemed to stare into my soul.

I had been hoping that last night—or whenever it was—had been a nightmare. I tried to lift my arms, then my legs. Nope. Still strapped to a hospital bed. Fantastic. I looked down and saw a rubber bracelet, bright red, on my wrist—like I was a lab animal that had been tagged.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Considering I’m strapped to a bed?” I rasped.

“The restraints are for your safety.”

“Oh, really?”

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Well, this is the nuthouse, isn’t it? So, I’m assuming you think I’m nuts.”

I was caught between feeling terrified and being really pissed off. The man smiled, which just made me want to punch him in the throat.

“We don’t like to use the term nuts, Carys. We prefer the term”—Don’t say special, don’t say special, I pleaded in my head—“special.”

The way he said my name made me queasy, like I was a two-year-old, and I cringed as I remembered my birthday wish: to be special for a day.

“All right,” I asked. “Enough suspense. Why am I really here?”

“Do you remember anything from the night before?”

My teeth clicked together.

“Nothing that would explain this.”

I lifted my arms against the restraints to illustrate. Fucking shrinks. My parents could be like this sometimes—creepily calm, condescending, eerily emotionless. At least they weren’t like this all the time, though. I imagined this guy was this creepy all the time.

“Your father said he came home and you were very agitated.”

Agitated. A good shrink word. I shrugged.

“I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember?”

I hated that. I hated the tendency to repeat your last few words as a question. It was a good thing I was tied down.

“Richard said you confronted her with a knife. That you attacked her.”

I shook my head, feeling tears leaking from the corners of my eyes.

“I don’t believe you. I want to see my mom.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea right now, do you?”

“Screw what you think. I want to see my mom.”

I racked my brain, trying to remember something that would explain all of this. What was wrong with me? I swallowed and looked over at the doctor as he got up and started moving toward the door.

“Is my mom—is she all right?” I asked in a tiny voice.

He stopped and turned around.

“Don’t worry, Carys. Everything is going to be just fine.”

I wanted to believe his words. The problem was that I didn’t. It was just a feeling I had, but somehow, I knew that nothing was going to be fine. Nothing was going to be fine ever again.

Looking back, I think if I had been able to see the future—no, wait—if I had been able to see the future clearly, I’m still not sure what I would have done. I’m not sure what I could have done. Or what I would have been capable of believing.

One thing I do know for certain now: when you wake up in a nightmare, all you want to do is go back to normal, average, ordinary.

 

 

After the kindly mad doctor took his leave and I heard the deadbolt slide into place, I realized two things. First, I was really hungry. Second, and more pressing, I really had to pee. For a few seconds, my mind drifted to a movie I had just watched where the main character had spent the better part of a week unconscious in a snowbound cabin—and somehow the issue of having to pee had never come up. In real life, you’ve gotta pee.

“Hey?” I called. “No joke. Unless you want an accident in here, somebody had better let me get up!”

I waited several beats. Then, panic started to set in. Granted, pissing myself should have been low on my list of worries, but really having to pee has a tendency to whittle down your priorities in a hurry. As I tried to focus on anything but how badly I needed to pee, I saw movement through the reinforced window at the top of the door. I heard the deadbolt slide back. The door opened, and a man walked in.

Oh, son of a bitch! This was totally a nightmare.

The guy I was staring stupidly at was anywhere between twenty and twenty-six. Then again, I was categorically horrible at guessing ages, so he could have been fifteen or forty, for all I knew. He wasn’t just a man, though. He was so ridiculously good-looking that my stomach began to somersault repeatedly—my body’s little warning that some godlike version of the opposite sex has just entered the picture. My cheeks went up in flames as reality became epically worse in smallish increments.

My eyes slid from the broad shoulders attached to the man walking to my bedside to the pale pink hospital gown I was wearing. I was willing to place a bet that my gown didn’t have the hideous open back, because that would require string, which I was guessing they didn’t want mental patients having access to.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

C. J. Valles is the author of The Ever Series, a young adult paranormal romance series. She also writes contemporary adult fiction and new adult romance under pen names. She grew up in southern California and now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband in a home full of crazy animals. To learn more, visit cjvalles.com.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I really liked the idea of writing a story about a character who goes down the rabbit hole, so to speak. When I first started writing this story, I was listening to "White Rabbit" on repeat, and I think the fantastical, Alice in Wonderland theme of the song really made its mark on the story.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Many of my stories start from character studies of normal people who go from everyday events to these wild paranormal or dystopian adventures. I love that element of leaving the reality you know for another world, even if that world is based in this one.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
Writing, when it’s going well, feels very natural and exhilarating to me. I love following characters and letting them tell me where to go. I see writing as similar to surfing or skydiving—having a natural force outside of myself driving my motion, at least on the good days.

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