Authors: Regina Cole Regina Cole
Draw Me In
Draw Me In
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Flirt eBook Original
Copyright © 2014 by Gina Lamm
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Flirt, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Flirt and the Flirt colophon are trademarks of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 978-0-553-39374-3
Cover design: Regina Wamba
Cover image: Fotorince/Bigstock
Author photo: Picture People
I brushed a stray leaf from the edge of my sketchpad, watching as it fell to the dark plaid blanket below. Curling my legs beneath me, I squinted at the branches overhead. It was the largest tree in the quad, and thankfully, this afternoon I had it all to myself.
“Give me a break, tree.” I sighed and readjusted the family photo I was trying to re-create with my pencils. “This is tough enough without you getting in the way.”
I bit my lip as I stared down at the picture. It was from two years ago. I’d been dressed for the junior prom, my silver dress sparkling bright against Mom’s black top and Dad’s typical uniform, a button-down shirt and a conservative tie. We all looked happy, laughing for the camera.
I sniffed and dashed away the tear that threatened to fall on my half-finished sketch. This was stupid and pointless. My family wasn’t happy, hadn’t been for a long time. Pretending didn’t do me any good.
“Hey, Hailey, you okay?”
My friend’s concerned voice startled me, and I cleared my throat and shut my sketchbook at the same time.
“Lily, hi.” I forced a smile as she plopped down on the other end of my blanket. “I thought you were in class.”
She leaned back on her elbows, plucking a blade of grass at the ragged edge of the blanket. Her long dark hair almost brushed the ground. “I was, but we got out early to work on a research project. I already finished it.” Sticking the green edge between her lips, she looked at me in a much too perceptive way. “What’re you working on?”
“Just killing time before my tutoring appointment.” Looking down at the cover of my sketchpad, I traced the corner with one fingernail. “Nothing, really.”
“I haven’t seen you around since we got back. Did your spring break go okay?”
It was impossible to stifle my snort of derision. “I went home. It was a nightmare. Mom spent the whole time inside a bottle of wine, and Dad alternated between yelling at her and constantly texting someone, he never would say who. I played referee and kept them from killing each other.”
Lily sat forward, dropping the grass on the blanket. “I’m so sorry, babe.” Her dark eyes were soft, concerned.
I forced a smile. “It’s cool. I’m not going to lie, though, it feels great to be back at Leesville, away from all that bullshit. Besides, they both apologized before I left. Everything’s fine.”
“Good. And hey, don’t worry, we’ll get your mind off it.” Lily scooted closer and grabbed my hand. “I’m having a movie night in my room Thursday. After your tutoring, why don’t you come over and help me pick which ones we should watch?”
“Sure,” I said, pulling free of her grip to stuff my sketchbook into my backpack. “I should probably head over to Dr. Fields’s office now, or I’ll be late.”
“Mind if I keep your blankie? I’ll bring it back later.”
“No problem.” I shoved to my feet, dusting off my jeans. “And Lily, thanks.”
She tilted her head, sending her hair sliding off her shoulder. Her smile was genuine. “No problem.”
I wish I could make college last all year
. I adjusted my heavy book bag’s strap on my shoulder as the thought struck me. It was an appealing idea. Skip every break, every holiday, just stay here at Leesville College, in my cute little dorm room with my art supplies and headphones and the occasional visit from a friend. I was safe here, and more than that, here I was me.
I quickened my step and hurried toward my tutoring appointment with Dr. Fields, my student adviser. The manicured grass swished under my sneakers as I cut the corner past the campus police station. I rounded the math building toward Adams Hall. The large stone structure that housed psychology and English classes, as well as my adviser’s office, was one of the oldest on campus. But that was Leesville. Ancient stone structures surrounded by modern architecture and wonderful, colorful landscaping. A mishmash of old and new that had inspired probably a hundred of my drawings since I’d been here.
A burst of laughter caught my attention, and I moved to the edge of the sidewalk, waiting for a group of girls to pass so I could mount the steps to Adams Hall. It wasn’t until after they’d gone that I heard the last chime of my cellphone.
“Crap,” I muttered as I yanked it from my pocket. The screen flashed.
I frowned. It wasn’t like Mom to call me in the middle of the day.
As much as I hated to, I navigated to the missed call and tapped the number. With the sound of ringing in my ear, I wandered down the walk a little way. Sunlight streamed through tiny gaps in the thick canopy above, oak trees lining the shady, acorn-covered sidewalk. With the small nuts crunching under my steps, I counted the rings.
Three, four, five . . .
I frowned. Mom always answered by the third ring. She worked from home, and it was Thursday, so why the delay?
Six, seven . . .
The heavy click of someone answering was a temporary relief.
“Hey, Mom, what’s up? Sorry I missed your call. I couldn’t hear the ring until it was too late.”
It wasn’t my mother who answered. It was Dad. “Hales, I’m sorry.”
“Dad, why are you home? What’s wrong? Is Mom okay?” I stopped there, in the middle of the sidewalk. My stomach tightened and my nails cut into my palm as I made a tight fist and waited for his answer.
His heavy breath was full of sadness, even through the phone’s tiny speaker. “I’m sorry, but it’s over, Hales. Your mother and I . . . we’re through.”
I slammed my eyes shut. I’d known it. Before he had said a word, I’d known what he was going to say. But that didn’t stop the bolt of shock from slicing me in two. I took a deep breath to steady myself, then answered. “When, Dad?”
“Yesterday.” His voice broke. “It’s not my choice, honey. It’s hers. She left, and she’s taken all our savings with her. I did everything I could, but she read my text messages and misinterpreted them to mean I was having an affair. I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen.”
I cradled my forehead in my hand. Nausea swirled in my belly. I didn’t care if they split up, I really didn’t, but for him to pull this shit . . . “How can she believe that, Dad? It’s not like this is the first time.”
“Hey, I’ve told you both that I was drunk at that New Year’s Eve party, and that it didn’t mean anything . . .” He trailed off, but his voice came back much stronger. “I don’t have to explain myself. But listen, this is going to affect you. Why don’t you come home tomorrow after your classes and we can talk about it?”
“I can’t do that. Whatever it is, can’t you tell me now?” I didn’t want to know, not really, but I sure as hell wasn’t stepping foot back home, not for as long as I could swing it. I wrapped my arm around my midsection, trying to hold myself together.
Dad made a sound deep in his throat. I waited him out, and after about ten seconds of silence, he broke. “I’m sorry, I was trying to figure out a way to keep you in school, but I can’t. We’ll have to put your education on hold for the time being.”
The world shimmered around the edges, and I swayed. Leave school? He had to be kidding. There was no way.
Shocked tears tracked down my cheeks. I hated the way the oxygen couldn’t find my lungs, how my icy fingers gripped the phone so hard it creaked. It wasn’t my parents’ split. It was something much, much worse. “You can’t do that.”
“I have no choice. It’s going to be ugly, Hales. We’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for a while, and your college savings have filled in some of the gaps. But now? I’m sorry, but the divorce will wipe us out if you can’t talk sense into your mother. We won’t be able to afford tuition for Leesville, even with your scholarships. You need to come home and help me fix this. And then maybe this fall you can start a couple of classes at the community college, live at home, keep your mother from—”
“Save it, Dad.” My voice was strong now, despite the wetness tracking my cheeks, despite the way my heart thudded frantically against my ribs. “You can’t take this away from me, too. You’ve done enough.”
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that, Hailey, I—”
I stabbed the “end call” button. Dropping the phone by my side, I stared up at the softly waving leaves and gave way to the tsunami of emotion. How could they do this to me? I’d known they had major problems and divorce was always a possibility, but I never thought they’d take my education out with their marriage.
I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t be caught in the middle again. It was too painful. Dropping my bag to the ground, I curled my hand into a fist and punched a nearby tree trunk. My yell came from the very bottom of my lungs. This was
time now, my life, for God’s sake! I was supposed to be discovering who I was. How could I do that in the middle of their screaming, vicious fights?
I blinked at the sky, but the tears wouldn’t stop. The panic choked me, making me shudder uncontrollably with emotion. I leaned against the trunk, the rough bark scraping my back. I wouldn’t surrender to it this time. Damn them, they didn’t deserve it.
With a shaky breath, I rubbed my cheeks. I needed to talk to someone, needed help. I whirled and bolted straight back to Dr. Fields’s office. He’d always been kind and understanding. Hell, he was a doctor of psychiatry, and he’d been at Leesville forever. I’d talked to him before about my parents’ fights and how much they bothered me. He’d probably helped other people through this a billion times before. He’d know what to do.
My feet were heavy, solid like lead weights, as I plodded back down the curving sidewalk behind Adams and mounted the concrete steps to enter the building. The office door stood open an inch or two, but I knocked anyway.
“Come in.” His soft voice emanated from the crack. “Hailey? Is something wrong?”
I didn’t bother to pretend otherwise, because what was the point? My tear-stained cheeks stung as I sniffed and sank into the chair, dropping my bag as I did. “Yeah. I’m sorry. Do you have a few minutes?”
Dr. Fields closed the lid of his laptop. “Of course I do.” With a graceful movement, he rose and clicked the door shut, closing us in. Behind the door was a cabinet, a weird little blue thing with a combination lock. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but now I was focusing on anything I could to try to keep from falling apart.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
I fought to keep my lip from trembling. I failed. “I don’t know if I can stay in college.” A strangled sob burst from my throat, and I swallowed hard to keep any more from following it. My chest felt tight, like an iron band was tightening around me. It was like drowning in a roomful of air.