Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
By Eliza Freed
Formats and Prices
- Trade Paperback $19.99 $24.99 CAD
- ebook (Digital original) $3.99 $4.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 3, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
Noble Sinclair has always loved Charlotte. Now seeing how far she has fallen, Noble vows to be the man who can make her happy and bring her out of the darkness that has haunted her for far too long. But to save Charlotte, he must make her learn to forgive everyone who has forsaken her . . . starting with herself.
Thank you to Megha Parekh and Marissa Sangiacomo for ushering this series into the world. I would be lost without you.
Thank you to the Kern and Waddington Families for allowing me to tag along on the corn harvest and ask a million questions.
Thank you to the farmers of Salem County and the world. You amaze me.
Would you like to get out of here?” he asks as he leans into me. His skin is hot on my own and a chill travels through my entire body. I look around the room and make eye contact with my aunt Diane. She looks as if she could burst into tears at the sight of me. It’s a look I’ve seen repeated over and over again today. From the grave sites to the luncheon—pity pulling everyone’s face into a grotesque glower.
I look up and our eyes are almost at the same level. Jason stands in front of me, broad and solid, his eyes asking me a thousand questions. “I would love to,” I answer to each of them. “I have to tell Sean I’m leaving.” Not because it’s the right thing to do but because he’s all I have left, and I’m trying not to add to his misery.
I stay still, leaning back on my mother’s countertop, and never release Jason’s eyes. I’ve seen them my whole life and right now I want to crawl inside of them and never come out. He doesn’t smile; he doesn’t say any of the useless words the others have tried to soothe me with. He only sees right through me. I take a deep breath and turn to find my brother.
Sean’s talking to some firemen, still trying to digest the known details of the accident. I overhear them saying how awful that crossroad is. The land is flat and barren there and that somehow adds to the number of accidents. People drive right through the stop sign, not expecting it. Another fireman chimes in, the drugs and alcohol in the truck driver’s system didn’t help either. The company’s words of apology and concern over how damning it is to Speed Demon Delivery’s reputation churn in my stomach. The firemen pat Sean on the shoulder as they all decide my father being killed instantly was some kind of a blessing.
I have to get out of here.
“Shame about your mother, but at least she didn’t suffer long either,” one says, and I want to be angry, but instead I smile with all the emotion of a piece of plywood. As I approach, the firemen disperse, escaping the inevitable discomfort of figuring out what to say to me.
“Sean, I’m going for a ride with Jason Leer.” It occurs to me that leaving my parents’ funeral with a classmate, for lack of a better term, may not be appropriate. The look in Jason’s eyes told me everything I need to know today. Run.
Sean looks straight at Jason without smiling. “Good. Get out of here before these people try to adopt us. They’re all so supportive it’s depressing.”
I nod and move toward the door, where Jason is waiting for me. My heart beats faster as I acknowledge the rescue operation. In just a few steps I will not be in this horrible luncheon anymore. I’ll be with Jason Leer somewhere. I don’t care where. A new purpose is coursing through me—to escape the living. I wave to Margo on my way out, sure she’ll pass word to the others that I’ve deserted without providing an explanation; I have none to give her.
Cars are lined up in makeshift rows, covering the entire bulging hill that is my parents’ front yard, and it’s quite a walk to Jason’s relic of a blue truck. We’re halfway there when he grabs my hand. It’s so small in his, so fragile. Jason opens the door for me and it lets out a loud, sharp groan, a battle cry for our retreat.
I take one last look back toward the house before attempting to climb in the truck. The dress I bought yesterday, to wear as I buried my mother and father, is a fitted black sheath and I can’t spread my legs far enough to step up. Without a word, he lifts me and I wrap my arms around his neck, hiding my face behind his ear. I shamelessly inhale the kiwi smell of shampoo mixed with cigarette smoke. The combination, or something else, makes me run my fingers through his hair. Jason places me on the seat and slowly moves away from me, never breaking his focus. His gaze steals the breath from my mouth and I’m thankful when he shuts my door and walks around the truck to the driver’s side.
There’s a cooler on the seat between us. He takes out a beer, opens it, and hands it to me. Does no one care about driving sober? Thanks to a delivery guy whacked out on alcohol and pain pills, I don’t care anymore either. He opens one for himself and starts the truck without speaking. It answers with a roar and begins to vibrate under me. The beer is ice cold and I hold it in both hands to try to combat the heat I feel from Jason touching me, but it has little effect.
The familiar fields are foreign as he drives a few miles down the road and turns right onto Stoners Lane. The entire world is different now. The lane ends where the trees open up to a circular gravel area about a half-acre wide. It backs up to a few acres of fields, and the entire clearing is surrounded by woods. Stoners Lane was always a place to go when there was no place else. Day or night you could come back here and not be seen from the road; the enclave’s only drawback is the single entry and exit. When the troopers would come to break up parties, it was impossible to get out unless you crawled through a soybean field.
He stops the truck and silences the engine; we’re alone. I take a long drink of my beer and look out the window at the clouds rolling past. They barrel in from the west and roll to the east and begin to darken on the edges; the rain will arrive before the day is over. My grandmother’s words pour into my head: Happy is the dead the rain rains upon.
Today is different from my grandmother’s funeral. We were so alike, two comrades laughing through life, but when she became ill, watching her die silenced the laughter. By the end I wanted her to go. I would sit by her bed in the middle of the night and pray she died. She shouldn’t have been alive without being able to laugh.
Today, though, today there is no sadness, and there is no prayer. Just two dead eyes watching the world with only a void to process the information. I don’t care. I don’t care about the service. I don’t care about the luncheon. I don’t care about the rain. I’ll never again care about another thing in this life. God, let it be a short one.
Jason gets out of the truck and opens my door. He lifts me out and stands me up, my back to the truck. The air smells of the coming rain; it’s just short of a mist. It’s probably already raining over the river.
“I’m sorry this is happening to you, Annie.” My middle name from his lips feels right today. My mother “tried it out” for a year as my name and switched back to Charlotte. It always stuck with the Leers and now that my mother is gone, it conjures up all the times I teased her I’d be in therapy by age thirty because you can’t just change a kid’s name.
His consuming stare is burning holes into me. He leans toward me, placing each hand on the truck by my head for support. My breathing quickens and I can think of nothing else but the chill I feel standing this close to him. There’s something in me that knows I should speak, but instead I arch my back, my breasts endeavoring to touch him for themselves. He bends his arms and comes closer to me and I sigh and raise my lips to his. Jason kisses me hard, holding nothing back.
I retaliate and force my head farther in his direction, moving my body away from the truck. He slams me into the door and the pain in the back of my head is welcome. I wrap my fingers in his hair and pull him to me, but he resists and peers into my eyes and I could scream from the hunger I see in his. My open palms rest on the hot, stiff fabric of his shirt. They move to his buttons as I concentrate to undo them. With each one I struggle to breathe. My physical needs are suffocating my emotions, drowning them to the point I no longer covet my lost life.
The urge to rip it off his body is making me angry. I’m desperate to have him. The buttons are the last obstacle to touching his skin, and something in me knows he’s what I need more than anything else still walking this earth. I breathe deeply as I push his shirt over his shoulders, knowing I should regain some control but deciding there’s no such thing.
Freed, his chest heaves as he inhales and I feel the wetness between my legs. In a single, frenzied push, his shirt comes completely off and I stop to admire the strength of his forearms. Arms that wrestle steer, and rope cattle, and ride bulls. Impatient with my exploration, he pulls his undershirt over his head and my hands are on his chest before his arms come back down. I lean forward to take his nipple in my mouth and I lick it. The wind whips up around us, and the birds circle above, and I bite it hard. I am lost with no idea how to get home.
With a finger under my chin, he pulls my face up to his and kisses me gently, sweetly, again slowing me down, and I want to punch him for it. His hard-on rests between my legs and my hips thrust toward it. He pulls back and spins me around to put both my hands flat on the truck door. He lifts my hair and kisses the back of my neck and my knees buckle. Jason catches me and wraps his arm around my waist and spreads my legs with his ankle.
My head falls onto his shoulder and I look up to the horrible sky. The clouds race from one side of the clearing to the other as he breathes in my ear. His hand reaches between my legs and trails up the inside of my thigh, dragging higher and higher until he moves my underwear to the side and teases me with the tips of his fingers. I close my eyes, abandoning the sky.
“Annie,” he says as he slips his finger into me, and I moan with only the birds to hear me. Jason unzips my dress and pulls it down to my waist, leaving my arms hooked in the fabric and still at my sides. He spins me around hard and stares at my bare breasts. My skin confines me as my chest heaves. Jason stares at me for an eternity and I reach out to pull him down to me but my arms are trapped.
He smiles, a tiny devilish smile, and picks me up and carries me to the back of the truck. Jason tosses me down and my head lightly bounces off the pickup bed. The pain is exquisite and I arch my back, raising my breasts to the darkening sky. He forces my skirt up to my waist and rips off my panties.
With one arm he yanks me to the edge of the truck and I want him in me. I say his name with as much sound as I can create without air in my lungs, and he unzips his jeans. He spreads my legs wide and my skin burns where his hands are. I want to reach out and touch his chest, but I still can’t move my arms. Holding my thighs, he drives into me hard and my back scrapes on the bed of the truck. He pauses, still breathing heavy, and waits for me to say something, but I can’t speak. My tongue is only good for touching now. I part my lips and breathe to regain some control.
“Again,” I demand, and brace myself. He drives into me again, and again I feel alive. Jason starts a rhythm I can barely tolerate. I’m arching my back and matching his thrusts, my body trying to protect itself and lose itself at the same time. I can see the clouds blackening the clearing. His hands are on the tops of my thighs and he pulls me toward him, maximizing each movement. I want to touch his chest, his face, and try to move my arms, but he slows and puts my arms back at my sides.
I won’t move again.
He cannot slow down again or I’ll lose my grasp on the world and float up to the clouds. The dark, dismal clouds. He places one hand on my thigh and the other around my neck. He picks up his pace and I cannot hold on to myself. The clouds advance and I feel him one last time before I crumble around him, arching, moaning, and shivering as he continues his rhythm that is breaking me.
“Jason,” I whisper, and he surrenders, letting go of my neck and falling on top of me.
And I cry.
At first only a few errant tears, but it evolves into deep sobs I can’t control. He pulls my dress onto my shoulders and lifts me into his lap. Jason is silent as he holds me close, willing the pieces of me back together. I quiet the deluge and concentrate on his bare chest touching my face.
“Happy is the dead the rain rains upon,” he says as he rocks me back and forth. The rain comes hard from the start and he carries me to the passenger side, placing me on the seat.
It’s the most I’ve felt in three days.
~ 1 ~
August 14, Two Years Later
The pain in my head won’t stop. It’s a hammer pounding the sides of my skull, gutting my existence. I wrap my arms around my head, holding it tightly, trying to thwart the pain. The room is completely black, but the hammering doesn’t mind the darkness.
I rock back and forth, repeating, “Please, God, just make the pain stop. I’ll do anything if you just make it stop.”
Like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces…
Thanks be to God.
~ 2 ~
A Slow Death
The roar of the plane about to hit my house wakes me. I roll onto my side, annoyed the sun has risen again. It’s unfortunate the plane won’t actually hit the house. The pilot will pull up just before impact and descend again on the other side. It’s deafening. I’ve heard it my whole life and know it won’t crash. It always reminds me of what World War II bombings must have sounded like. If only this crop duster would drop a bomb on my house.
The windows are open; the temperature dipped into the low seventies last night. The breeze is still present this morning and the sheers covering my windows billow out on one side of the room and are sucked in on the other. I close my eyes and roll onto my stomach as the attack continues. Fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides…whatever it is…I should go out there and open my mouth. Drink it in. It’s better than opening my eyes. My stomach churns. It’s either a response to utter despair or the mere concept of another day beginning. When will the daybreak finally break?
The house phone rings. It must be 8:00 a.m. Every morning his calls begin at eight. As usual, I don’t pick up, but the machine does.
“Annie.” My middle name on his lips cuts through me and I begin to cry again. “Please pick up the phone.” His voice is low, tormented. “I love you.” I run to the bathroom and make it to the toilet just in time to throw up, a little bit getting into my hair. I can still hear his voice, but I can’t make out the words. My back aches as I try to stand and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My reflection is horrifying—bloodshot eyes, mangy hair, and dry, cracked lips. I look like I have a serious drug problem. I shrug at the fresh idea and go to my parents’ room to search their medicine cabinet for any kind of painkiller. As I enter the hall, I hear, “Not knowing where you are is killing me. I need you. I need to talk to you. I need you here, Annie. Or there. Anywhere, please pick up.”
“Fuck you, Jason Leer!” I yell at an outdated answering machine.
No pills here. How difficult would it be to establish a drug connection? Apparently lots of people are hooked on drugs. I can probably get an addiction up and running in a few days. If I’m not going to kill myself, I’m going to need something to cope. This house is like walking around in an old photo, except my parents have been missing from the picture for the past two years.
I turn each bottle in my hand and read their names and birthdates on the prescriptions. Kathryn O’Brien…Jack O’Brien. Where are the Percocet, Mom? Didn’t you guys ever have any pain? I’ve always blamed the delivery truck driver for their deaths, but everything’s different now. I completely understand the desire to be out of my mind on something. Now I assume the driver discovered that his reason for living had sex with someone else, and he only knew about it because there was a baby on the way. For the first time in two years, I feel some empathy for him.
I head back to my bedroom and stare at the bed Jason spent every night in last summer. It’s still at least six inches lower on the top left corner from the time we broke the frame…yet another source of agony. I walk over to the headboard and untie the scarf he gave me last Christmas. It’s never been worn except that first night when he tied my wrists to the bedpost with it. A dull ache in my pelvic bone subsides and I put the scarf in the pile on the floor with my semiformal dress, my Oklahoma sweatshirt, and some pictures of Jason and me.
I walk to the garage and get a screwdriver. The headboard detaches more easily than I thought it would. I put it next to my mattress with the other things that need to be destroyed.
“I hate you, Jason Leer.”
This is my new daily affirmation. I should be looking in the mirror when I say it, but after that first glimpse, I can’t stand the sight of me.
I fall back on my bed and switch on my laptop; the homepage announces it’ll be sunny today with a big, happy sun. Yippee! It’s August 21, officially seven days since I heard the outstanding news—Jason had sex with Stephanie Harding and now she’s having his baby—and I’m still not recovering as well as my brother would like.
I shut the laptop and toss it across my bed. This is not a life. I slide off the side of the bed and wander back to the mirror in the bathroom, this time wanting to masochistically bask in the effects of loving Jason Leer.
“What? I look awesome,” I say sarcastically as I wince at my reflection. This is what safety looks like.
I am gross. My emerald-green eyes have been replaced by blood-drenched circles surrounded by black shadows. My hair, once long and lustrous, is a matted web atop my head. I think there’s a hair tie in there, but I’m no longer sure. There’s barely a trace of its former bright, blond color. Angry, selfish, and gross. No wonder he cheated on me with Stephanie. Oh yeah, and depressed. Angry, selfish, gross, and depressed. Wretched in general.
My pep talk is interrupted by a knock at the door. In keeping with my new system of communication, I ignore it completely. Whoever the hell it is can continue to lead their life without interrupting my progress through the stages of grief. I yawn and my lip cracks and starts to bleed.
I return to my computer and google “signs of dehydration.” This is fun. Much better than moving all my things to Oklahoma to be with the man I love.
Want to set on fire.
I have one more week off from work for the move. A move from a city I love and an office I love. Six months it took. Six months of working insane hours with impeccable results to sell my boss on the idea of me telecommuting from Oklahoma. Now I’ll have the pleasure of explaining why I’m still in New Jersey. First I’ll have to figure it out myself because when I can complete a thought, it’s usually, What the hell am I doing in my hometown? Our hometown. Mine, Jason’s, and that whore Stephanie, who’s carrying his baby. I think I’ll just quit my job and focus full-time on sleeping.
The knocking stops and I head back to bed, exhausted by Day Seven of my new life.
* * *
“Hey, it’s your brother.” Sean comes in the same way he’s come in the last eight days, without me answering the door. He follows the sunlight into my room. Yet another beautiful day. “I heard you’ve been starting fires,” he says as if this is normal. “Camping out?”
“How did you hear that?” I sneer.
“By living in Salem County, that’s how. What are you burning?”
“Old clothes.” I don’t bother to even lift my head off the pillow. From this vantage point, he looks much taller than his six-foot-one-inch height. Sean goes silent and I assume he gets the nature of the fire.
“Do you have any other old clothes to burn?”
“Am I breaking some sort of ordinance or something?” I mock.
“Actually, yes. The state of New Jersey is under a water-emergency restriction because of the drought. You can’t go around starting fires. You’ll burn the whole town down.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes because, even though I couldn’t care less how many towns burn down, I do care about Sean. He’s already lost his parents; he doesn’t need a bitch for a sister as well. I sit up in bed and my beautiful appearance registers on his face.
“Man, you look rotten.”
“Rotten or rotting?” I enunciate the last syllable. “Because I think I’m both.”
“Come out to the kitchen and eat. Michelle sent soup. She’s worried sick about you.”
I lower my eyes to my blanket in guilt.
“I wish she wasn’t. I wish neither of you were,” I say, rather than I’m sorry, because I’m a selfish beast. I follow Sean’s bearlike self to the kitchen. His usual lighthearted expression has been replaced with one of debilitating concern.
“Eat,” he says as if he’s not leaving until I do.
The soup’s still warm and it burns the crack in my lip. The pain feels good. Maybe I’ll start hiring some of those people who will come to your house in leather and beat you.
“Look,” he starts, wringing his hands, “I have no idea how this feels, but I’m starting to grasp that it’s beyond shitty.” I nod just to help him out. “You’ve got to start showing some signs of…recovery.”
I keep eating silently.
“I’ve started researching facilities to send you to if you can’t turn this around. I don’t know what else to do. You won’t talk to anyone; you won’t take care of yourself.” Sean runs his hand through his blond hair and I become distracted, eyeing the mange that used to be my hair—it used to be the same color as his.
Angry, selfish, gross, depressed, and crazy. It’s a new low. I like it.
Sean leaves. I promise to shower every day and head back to bed as I hear the phone ringing.
~ 3 ~
The Specialists Are Called In
The doorbell rings and I ignore it. I’m not receiving any visitors today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day.
I think I can make out two people talking but refuse to take my head off the pillow to utilize both ears. I hear the key in the door. Most people would be alarmed, but I still don’t care, because Jason fucked Stephanie and now she’s pregnant and because I’m not receiving any visitors today.
“Charlotte?” one voice yells, and its familiarity causes my eyes to flood with tears.
It’s impossible. It is absolutely not possible.
A second voice bellows, “Charlotte Anne O’Brien!”
I sit up too quickly and get a head rush. “Margo? Jenn? What are you doing here?”
They bound into my room and stop at the sight of me. They are repulsed.
“That bad?” I ask, already reading the answer in their eyes.
Yes, I am gross. My two best friends, the girls whose backpacks hung on the hooks next to mine in pre-K when I was suddenly covered in chicken pox marks, the teenagers who watched me throw up spaghetti in the back of the bus during our senior trip to Disney, the women who held my hand at my parents’ funeral, now think I’m gross.
“Geez, Charlotte. I knew it was bad, but you look like hell! What have you been doing?”
Embarrassed, I meekly say, “Resting. How did you guys get here?”
“Sean called,” Margo says quietly. “He’s scared to death. He flew us in last night.”
“Sean flew you in? From Hawaii and Colorado?” I ask, not quite believing her.
Understanding, Margo answers, “Yes. It’s that bad, Charlotte. Have you talked to him?”
I know she doesn’t mean Sean.
“Just long enough to beg him to stop calling me. I can’t talk to him. I can’t even say his name…” I trail off in a whisper. Margo hugs me as Jenn surveys my room. She yanks my closet door open and throws my overnight bag onto my bed. Methodically, she begins opening my drawers and pulling out clothes.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m packing your bag,” Jenn says. “It’s Labor Day weekend and we’re going to the shore.”
“No,” I answer to everything. No shore, no restaurants, no bars, no fun, no people, no living.
My protest is met with her complete disregard. “Get in the shower and shave everything. You’re turning into a woolly mammoth.”
“Is this your version of a pep talk?” I ask, and swallow hard. The thought of moving is terrifying. I can’t live without him.
Margo senses I’m getting upset and tries to mediate. “Look, you’ve been cooped up in here for two weeks and I’ll bet you don’t feel any better than you did the night you came home from Oklahoma. It might be good to go to the shore for the weekend.” She is tiny and merciful and somehow her confetti-blue eyes start to make sense.
- On Sale
- Feb 3, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Forever Yours