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First pages

Ashlynn

I vividly remember the day my life changed completely. It was a Tuesday during summer and I had just gotten back from soccer camp. I was so excited to tell my mom about the people I met, and how much better I've gotten. I wouldn't say my mother and I have always been close but, she did come to my games and listen to me when I needed someone to talk to. She was a typical stay-at-home mom. She volunteered for school field trips, cooked healthy dinners, and even signed me up for this soccer camp I begged to go to this summer. Sometimes I dream about that day.

"Mom!"

"Mom!"

That's when I heard my dad come in from his room. You could tell he had been crying, which was very abnormal. Dads don't cry. Of course, I thought the worse.

My bottom lip trembled as I asked the dreaded question. "Is mom...is she...dead?" My eyes watered as I waited for the dreaded response.

After what seemed like an eternity, my father finally responded. "Spiritually speaking, she's alive. She's healthy."

I didn't get it. "What? What do you mean? What happened? Where's mom?"

Dad narrowed his eyes as he answered, "She left us. That whore left us. She's not coming back. From this day forth, she's dead to us. We will no longer acknowledge her existence in this house."

And we didn't. That was the day my mother died. Granted she didn't actually die. But to me and my father. She is dead. So, that's how my story starts. The day my life turned into a big lie. I lied to my friends, my teachers, and to myself. That Tuesday, I became motherless. And truthfully, fatherless. My father is a doctor and never was home often in the first place. Now that my mother is gone, he doesn't seem to feel like going home for dinner is mandatory. I understand it's hard for him. I look like her. I get it's not the ideal situation to be in. But I'm still here. Alone, but here.

Talan

My earliest memory was when I was about 4. I remember using my father's tools to fix my new tricycle I got for Christmas. Nothing was wrong with my bike, I just remember wanting to be like my dad. My dad always worked on cars and I loved watching him know which tools to use to fix various things. I wanted to use tools, too. So, I got a few of the coolest looking ones, and messed around with whatever I could on the bike to "fix" it.

My father came outside just as I figured out how to take the tire off. I was so excited to see him come out there as I was going to show him that I could fix things just as he did. I was going to change my first tire at the age of 4. Impressive stuff, in my opinion. My father apparently didn't agree.

"What the hell are you doing, boy?"

I knew that tone. That's the tone used when I need to hide in my room. The tone normally reserved for my mom.

Although I was scared, I thought if I explained myself, he would understand and be proud of me.

"I was trying to be like you, daddy. I wanted to work on my bike like you work on cars. See?"

I moved out of the way to show him my handiwork. Inwardly, I smiled at my accomplishment.

He grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and got eye-level to me. "You know better than to touch my tools. Who do you think you are? You stupid kids don't know how to respect property. You think money grows on trees? You just ruined your bike and could have lost my tools!"

I remember being very confused as to why he was so upset. Looking back, I can understand being mad about taking the tire off my bike. Not such a good idea. Although, I should mention again, I was 4! Didn't all kids want to be like their dads? It still didn't excuse what he did to me.

Once I realized my father was not proud of my achievements, my pride turned to fear as he tightened his grip. He jerked the wrench from my hand and hit me on the back of the leg. I cried in pain. This is the first time I remember being injured by either of my parents, and, it certain wasn't the last.

My door slammed opened, bringing me from my memories.

"Talan! I need to borrow your truck!"

My brother, Logan, is only a grade below me in school. I'm two years older than him. I was held back a year, thanks to a rough year provided by my parents. My younger brother was one of the few people I talk to these days. I try to keep him out of trouble. Deep down, I know he's a good kid. He just hangs out with the wrong crowd. I can't blame him for the stupid stuff he does considering he was raised by monsters. Thankfully, he turns to girls for his problems rather than drugs. Although, lately I wonder if he's been doing more than girls and booze.

"Logan, you don't have your license yet. You know I'm not going to let you take my truck. Quit asking." We've had this discussion over and over again. When my dad first got sent to prison, I thought I'd be the cool brother. I'd be my usual self, and he'd have no problem doing what I asked. I was wrong. Lately, I've had to sound more like a drill Sargent than an older brother. Which hasn't produced outcome. My brother doesn't realize I try to protect him. To make sure he doesn't turn out like our parents. I don't care what he does as long as he's safe. With girls, with friends, with any decision he makes.

"Talan. What's the big deal? It's for two hours! I just need to take Mindy...eh...Mary...back home."

Really? The kid can't even keep up with the name of the girl he spent half the night with?

A redhead pushed the door a little wider. She saw me and smiled. I'm guessing this is Mindy...or Mary.

The redhead stuck her hand out with a smile. "Mallory." She introduces her self as she narrows her eyes to my brother. She obviously heard the name debacle.

I don't grab her hand. I don't do friendliness. I also don't allow my brother to drive my truck. Especially without a license. This chick had to go. I could Logan didn't care how she got home. So, I did the responsible thing and offered her a ride.

I got into the truck and waited for her to shut the door.

She looked to me with a frown on her face. "So, you're Logan's brother? I think we are in the same grade. I'm Mallory James. Have you heard of me?"

I had. But I wasn't going to admit it. I know her crowd. She's one of the elite on the soccer team. Soccer is a big sport in our school. Girls on the soccer team are legends. A few had already been scouted for some of the top colleges close by our North Carolina high school. Duke, Virginia Tech, and UVA had already had their eyes on some of the girls from our team. I can't say that I blame them. Not that I go to many school events, but you can't live in Eden North Carolina and not know when you've got some talent living close by.

I finally decide to answer her. "Can't say that I have." I'm a man of few words. Especially if I don't like a person. And I don't like her.

She gives me a knowing smile with a wink, "Whatever you say."
That was basically the entire conversation we had to her house. She pointed her house out when we got close and I pulled into her driveway. I didn't even respond to her as she waved good bye. Honestly, I'm not a mean guy. I just don't have time for people. I have my brother and myself to care for. This is my first year back to school since my father went to prison. I was held back a year after missing so much school for various reasons - father induced injuries, running errands for my parents, and just not caring about school. Now that he's locked away, I know I need to finish school to set a good example for my brother. And to get a job so I can get the hell out of this place.

Ashlynn

Today is the first day of my junior year. Normally, I'm one of those kids who are excited to be back in school. I'm popular, so I have a ton of friends and stay busy with extracurricular activities. After my mom left, I knew this year would be rough. To my friends, I have the perfect life. Good grades, great family, and just being an overall likable person. It helps that my father is one of the only doctors in our small town. My mom was like everyone's mom. She came to every soccer game, every PTO meeting, and even chaperoned most of my field trips throughout middle and high school. Now, I have no loving mother and a sorry excuse for a father. It wasn't just my mom who abandoned me that day. Ever since, my father has been spending every hour at the hospital. Don't get me wrong, he's always worked long hours. But now, my father can't find a reason to come home at night. He normally stops in a couple days a week to get more clothes but, the visits are getting few and far between these days. I suspect before too long, he'll have all of his clothes moved out and he will no longer need to make the trips to the house. Which brings me back to the realization that junior year is going to suck.

Until now, I never realized how good I actually had it. I honestly never had to hide much from my friends. I never got in trouble at school, I have always been a pretty good student. I had no deep, dark secrets in my closet. Well, until now.

As I search the halls for my two best friends, I replay my story in my mind. The story I made up to pretend to be the old me. I don't like to lie but no one wants to be the kid who was abandoned by both parents and who had their life flipped upside down in a single summer. Especially when they were known as "Miss Perfect" by the everyone at Eagle High School.

Spotting my friends, I plaster on the fake smile I've learned to perfect over this summer. Time to get this over with.

"Mallory! Marisa!" I run over to give my friends a hug. As bad as I dreaded coming to school today, I was honestly excited to see my friends again. Even though I had no plans to tell them how my summer went, it was nice to have them back in my hectic life.

The two of them squealed, no doubt causing half of the student body to look over at us. They should be used to it by now, we three have been inseparable since soccer camp in 9th grade, where we first met. I met Mallory first, behind the bleachers, she was making out with one of the guys from an opposing team. Needless to say, she made quite the impression. Marisa, on the other hand, was less outgoing than Mallory, but has always been a loyal friend - on and off the field.

Mallory started first with the hellos. "I've missed you so much, Ash! Where have you been? You've been M-I-A since school let out. Not cool." I almost cracked under pressure at the mere look she was giving me. If looks could kill, I'd be dead.

Marisa nodded in agreement. "Seriously! You had us both worried sick! I thought you were dead until you sent us that lame text telling us you were alive and visiting relatives out of town. You could have at least let us know or called more often." I could tell they were exaggerating, but I really wasn't in the position to call anyone out.

And this is where I lied for the first time to my two best friends.

"Sorry, girls. Like I said in the text, I had to go out of town randomly to visit some family. We were deep in the West Virginia mountains so I didn't have good service." I once heard if you have to lie, tell partial truths so that it is easier to keep up with. Thankfully, I did have family in West Virginia, and I normally can't get signal in some areas. Did I mention how much I hate lying to my friends? I could already feel sweat forming above my brow.

Mallory rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I still think you could have called on a land line if you really wanted to. But, this is a new year, so I'm willing to let you off the hook -- this time. But, next time you disappear, you better call us I don't care if you are kidnapped by the Russian mafia and have to kill three mobsters to get to a phone. You get to a phone and you call us!"

Mallory can be a bit dramatic. But, she made me laugh for the first time in a couple months. I realized how badly I have been needing my friends. I could tell she was wanting to lecture me more but thankfully, the bell rang, signaling us for our first class.

Talk about saved by the bell.

I've got to be honest. This technically isn't the first lie I've had to tell my friends. Honestly, I've been misleading everyone since I started high school. I'm pretty smart. I mean – really, really smart. I can solve complex math without a calculator, I have a 4.0 GPA and I don't remember ever failing a test. Unfortunately, in our school, the smart kids are classified as nerds. I've always tried hard to fit in. I'd like to lie and say I'm confident enough to not care what people think of me, but I like being popular. I strive to be accepted by every one. I don't want to sound like a snob because I'm really not one. I'm popular but I'm not a bully. One reason I have so many friends is because I am friends with people, no matter what clique they're in. I'm nice to everyone. I love to talk and I don't see a point in being mean to people for no reason.

So, my first class of the day -- Statistics. To seniors, it's a required math class for those who failed one of their other math courses and need another math credit to graduate. As a junior, I'm just taking it as an elective. I get that sounds completely nerdy of me which is why I my friends think I'm taking it because I failed Algebra 2 last year and need another math credit.

Thankfully, I didn't see too many people I really know in this class. I hate acting dumb, especially in classes I enjoy. It's easier to be myself when I don't have to worry about people thinking I'm a nerd.

The final bell rang, and the door flew open. With every eye turning towards the door, in walks the elusive Talan Preston. I can almost see every female's jaw drooping towards the ground.

Honestly, I don't know much about Talan other than the obvious, he's hot. I mean, drop dead gorgeous, hot. The guy has the darkest eyes I've ever seen and dark, spiked hair. He's also very tall. Granted, nearly everyone is tall compared to me. But he's at least 6 foot tall to my 5'4 statute. Talan has bad boy written all over him. No, literally. I'm talking sleeve-tattoos he so proudly displays. I was a little shocked to see Talan walk in, especially since he missed all of last year. I always wondered what really happened to him. I don't buy into most rumors but some of the things I heard about him had me question what his story was. I've heard just about every thing that could have possibly happened to him. I've heard he was arrested, sent to rehab after an overdose, and that he's been on house arrest for beating someone up pretty bad. Freshmen year, Talan had girls swarming him. That only lasted a semester though. It's not that girls don't think he's physically attractive, obviously that's not the issue. I think people are just scared of him. He isn't the most approachable person in the world. He gives a "pissed off at the world" vibe and has a scowl that is permanently plastered to his face. I've seen girls attempt to go over and flirt with him in the past, it's pretty amusing. They get within 4 feet of him and something on his face just makes them turn and walk away. It's almost admirable. Honestly, I'm not intimidated easily, so he doesn't scare me. I feel like it's all an act. Like he's not being himself. I guess I'm one to talk.

Talan

First day back to school and I'm already late. Great way to prove the principle wrong. In order to come back to school, I had to agree to go to all of my classes, and quit skipping. I also had to refrain from fights and stay out of any other trouble they think I'm sure to cause.

I'm not stupid, I know people talk. I think people believe I've been in jail or some shit like that. I think jail would have been like heaven compared to the hell I've been through this past year.

I just barely missed the final bell, and was only seconds from being late to my statistics class. I breezed by our teacher in hopes that he didn't notice me.

"Nice of you to join us, Mr. Preston. Let's not make this a habit." Mr. Pierce, my statistics teacher says, with an eyebrow raised. Yep, he noticed.

I continue walking to take the last seat available, behind one of the soccer princesses of the school. At least I'd have something nice to look at during this class. I take a seat and notice the all of the attention I received by coming in late. Every set of eyes was focused on me with a variety of emotions passing each person's face. Emotions that I recognized on their faces ranged fear, envy, and lust. Only the soccer princess had the decency to at least act like she wasn't phased by my attendance in class. I wasn't sure if it was because she was too scared to look or because she genuinely didn't care. Probably the latter, I'm sure the spoiled brat had more important things to worry about -- like the new Nicholas Sparks movie coming out tonight (not like I keep up with that kind of thing), getting her nails done, or whatever those types of females think about. As I turned back to the teacher, I waited for class to start. I could tell this year was going to be a rough one. Between half of the student body thinking that I am some sort of criminal and the teachers thinking I'm a loss cause, it was going to be tough.

Last year I missed so many classes that they were forced to hold me back a year. After that, I withdrew from school completely. At that point in my life I saw no reason to stay in school. My father made it damn near impossible to go to school between the injuries I received from his drunken abuse and having to stay home to make sure my mother wasn't going to get herself killed by talking back to him. It was no wonder I missed the entire year. After my father was locked up, I knew it was up to me to get my brother out of this town -- away from our sorry excuse for parents. My mother, after my father was sent to prison, started drinking more often and picked up where my father left off with the drug business. I really thought hose days would be over when he was finally arrested. That's the only reason I worked against him to get him locked up -- not that I'll ever admit that to anyone. I'd be a dead man. But now, my mother is just as big a problem, minus the abuse. Well, physical abuse anyway. The verbal abuse only happens when she is sober enough to make conversation, and that doesn't happen very often. As far back as I can remember, I've always been the one who cooks, clean, and took care of my brother Logan. Logan was always a sweet kid until a few years back. I did my best to keep him out of trouble but I've learned to pick my battles. He swears he doesn't mess with drugs, and he better not be lying about that. He does like booze and girls. He also tends to hang out with idiots who try their hardest to keep him into trouble. Me and Logan have always been close as brothers. But now that I'm more of a parental figure, he only sees me as a ball buster. One day, I hope he realizes why I have to be this way. It's not that I don't want to be his side kick and partner in crime. Hell, I'd love to be a kid again and not have to worry about the consequences of my actions. But, that's not an option right now so he'll have to suck it up and put up with me at least another year until he graduates.

Thankfully, today was just an over view of what's to come in this class. I didn't really pay attention to anything but I knew I'd need to do my best to pass this class. I need another math class to graduate. I could have taken an easier class but I felt like I'd have a better shot passing by taking Mr. Pierce's class.

When I first decided to enroll back in school, I had some people who didn't think it was a good idea. They had heard I was a trouble maker and it was left up to the principle to make the final decision whether I could come back to this school. The alternative was the private school in our area and there was no way in hell I'd go there, even if I could afford the tuition. Something tells me my mostly black wardrobe wouldn't meet their dress code standards.

I remember the school board meeting that discussed me coming back. Most of the teachers voiced their brutally honest opinions about how badly they didn't want me to come back to school. They said I would be a distraction to the other students and a danger to everyone. They said I was a lost cause, seeing as I probably wouldn't come to class. I could have told them that I couldn't come to class because my eye was too swollen to see the white board. Or that my hand was broken trying to fight off my father from hurting my mom so I wasn't able to do homework. I could have, but I didn't. I didn't owe any of them an explanation, especially since they all seemed to not care for the truth anyway.

Finally, a few teachers spoke up about everyone deserving a second chance. My eyes stayed glued to the floor through the entire meeting until I heard one teacher speak up for me. Mr. Pierce. I hadn't had him in any classes previously but I knew who he was. It surprised me that he would stand up for a kid he didn't know. I remember him stopping me after the decision was made for me to return to school on the condition I made good grades and stayed out of trouble. He told me to come to him for anything and to work hard. So, when I was signing up for classes and seen that he taught a math class this year, I signed up for it. I figured the other teachers probably wouldn't give me the benefit of the doubt and would probably think I was cheating if I happened to pass a test so, Mr. Pierce seemed like my only option. I don't like most people but something about the guy made me think he genuinely cared. There should be more teachers like him. I may not like statistics but I respect the guy – as a teacher and as a person. And my trust isn't easy to earn.

Ashlynn

I survived my first week of school. It's scary how easy lying was starting to come. Of course, I didn't have much time to lie to my friends seeing as I didn't hang out with them as much. I can tell it's becoming pretty obvious to them that I'm avoiding them. It's getting to the point that they don't even ask me if I want to get together, they just go out together without including me. Not that I'm complaining or can blame them, I purposely have been staying busy so that I don't have to lie about being busy. Lying. It's a never ending circle of deceit. I hate it, but at the present, I feel it's necessary. Honestly, I just feel like being alone. I'm not sure if it's some sort of depression that I'm slipping in to, but I just don't want to be around others. I just want to go to school, work out, and binge-watch TV shows on Netflix. School is pretty easy for me so I rarely need to study. The only class I actually look forward to is statistics. Of course, it has nothing to do with the class itself. I can't help but be fascinated by Talan. Talan sits directly behind me. He smells just as good as he looks. I get that he's supposedly a trouble maker. Maybe he was just going through some stuff. I can relate. Maybe that's why I'm so fascinated with the guy. His looks doesn't hurt his case, either.

Hitting ignore on my phone for the second time in an hour, I decide to go to bed early. I was starting to get pretty lonely at the house. Not that my father and I were ever super close but, I was starting to miss him. When he first started staying away from the house, I was sad for him. I knew my mom leaving was taking a toll on his emotions. I even understood it would be difficult to see me daily, seeing as I look so much like my mom. But now, I'm just pissed. The way I see it, he's no better than my mom. They both left me. I'll admit, I've become a little bitter over the whole situation

Normally, I spend a good hour or so applying makeup and fixing my hair. These days, I pull my hair up and just wear whatever I see that looks decent together. Of course, I still wear some makeup. That's probably has more to do with a certain bad boy that sits behind me in statistics, smelling like a freaking Axe commercial. And, let me tell you, the Axe effect is so very real.

I purposely got to school later than usual so I could go straight to class, avoiding the girls once again. I knew they'd eventually question my whereabouts seeing as I was ignoring their calls all night. Surprisingly, Talan was already in class when I got there. Our eyes met briefly and I smiled at him before he swiftly returned his dark eyes to his desk. Rude much? What's with this guy? Not to brag but I wasn't bad looking. He's probably the only guy who I haven't caught checking me out yet and for some twisted reason, that made me even more interested in the mysterious bad boy.

The bell ring and Mr. Pierce rose to the front. “Alright class. I'm passing out your graded quizzes from yesterday. Unfortunately, only half of you passed. Seeing as I count participation as large part of your final grade, I've come up with a win-win system for all of you. Some of you will like it, some of you will hate it. All of you will participate. Your grade, and possibly your diploma, count on it. I've matched each of you with a partner. Someone who is doing well with someone who needs some extra help. I don't want to embarrass anyone, so no one will know which is which. Except for your partner, obviously. I've written your partner's name on the bottom of your test. I expect you to exchange numbers at the end of class and set up a study schedule to work on making corrections on your quizzes. For the remainder of the course, you may work with your partner on homework. This does not mean one person does the work while the other person does nothing. And, I'll know if that's the case because of how well you do on all tests and quizzes. For the final exam, I will average both partner's grades on the test. You will both be getting get the average of the two exam grades. Which means, you will have to work together to keep each other accountable for your grade through the entire course."

As one of the smarter kids in the class, I know I should be pissed off about this assignment. Honestly, I think it's genius. For one, I'll have someone bringing my grade down to make me look like an average student, all while helping another kid out. It's really a win-win for whoever I get partnered with. I flipped my quiz over and had to blink a few times to make sure I saw the name correctly. Well, this class just got more interesting.

I turned around and saw that Talan must have saw my name. Only, he has a really pissed look to his face. Seriously? What is this guys problem? He should be glad he has me to pull the slack for him in this class. Am I really that terrible that he'd be so upset he'd have to work with me. Finally, he looked up to meet my eyes. He just coldly glared at me and looked back up to the front of the class.

I turned around in my chair, starting to get pissed off more and more at his reaction. I really had no idea what his deal was. But, I was going to figure it out, I had all semester to do so. I was so upset by Talan's reaction to being my partner that I didn't even pay attention in class. I wrote down our homework assignment, then gathered my books to leave. Halfway down the hall, I remembered I forgot to exchange numbers with Talan to work to plan a study schedule. I turned around and stopped short of the classroom door. I heard Talan talking to Mr. Pierce pretty loudly. About me.

"Did she pay you or something?" Talan fiercely questioned.

"Mr. Preston, I don't know what you're talking about. I assume it has something to do with your partner?" Mr. Pierce was holding his own. Most people would back down to Talan, not Mr. Pierce. He's pretty much a bad ass.

"Damn straight it has something to do with my partner. You know that I need this class to graduate. So you pair me off with some spoiled brat who pays her way threw school? I seriously thought you were one of the good guys. But you're just like the rest of the teachers in this school, aren't you?"

"I really have no idea what you're talking about, Talan. You need to calm down. I assigned you with Ashlynn because I know you need the extra help. I think she is your best bet. She's smart and I think you'll find she's pretty easy to work with."

Talan gave a sarcastic chuckle and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you've got the easy part right."

That was it it, that's the straw that broke the camel's back. I haven't done a thing to this guy and he has the audacity to call me stupid and easy? He didn't know me! I was the one who would be helping him. He should be begging me to work with him! I stormed in, handing him my number I had scribbled down in the hall. He looked at me, shocked that I had obviously over heard him. If he didn't still have the pissed off look, I'd say he almost felt guilty for his words.

I looked at him square in the eye to make sure that he knew I wasn't intimidated by him. If I were being honest, I'd admit that I was a little intimidated by him, but he didn't need to know that. "Here's my number. Despite what you think, I didn't beg to be your partner. I get that you're probably used to girls worshiping the ground that you walk on and desperately you to call them, but I'm not one of them. I could care less if we talk again after this semester is over. But you will call me. Tonight. You will call me and we will set up a schedule so that we can study and do our homework together because my grade for this class depends on it."

I took a deep breath and turned on my heels. I could tell Mr. Pierce was holding back from laughing. I think I surprised him. Both of them, actually. But, I'm done with him acting like I'm some girl that is so obsessed with him that I'd pay my teacher to partner with us. Maybe this semester wouldn't be so fun after all.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I am a twenty-something year old living in a small town of Virginia. I am a social worker and foster parent. No children of my own but I do have an adorable fur baby named Minnie. I've had a love of reading and writing since I was a child. My brothers and sisters are my best friends and I'm the world's best aunt. Up until recently I've stuck to reading and blogging. There are so many authors who have inspired me and really made me want to write on my own.

Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
I can see Blake Lively as Ashlynn, the leading lady in my book. She has the body of a soccer player and the perfect hair and personality to match Ashlynn's discription. I imagine Clint Eastwood's son, Scott Eastwood as Talan. I get the bad boy vibe from him if you put him in a leather jacket.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I think the biggest message is to not judge a book by it's cover. These two characters appeared to be something they were not. Ashlynn doesn't have the perfect life her peers believe she does. Talan may seem like a bad kid but he's just doing his best for his family. He's got a good heart.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I'm a sucker for romance. I love to read but I find myself drawn towards the love stories with a happy ending. I've tried writing other genres but didn't get pulled in like I did with this book. I've found writers have more luck when you write what you enjoy reading.