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Authors: Christa Desir

Tags: #Contemporary, #Young Adult, #Romance, #New Adult

Fault Line

BOOK: Fault Line
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To those who have shared their stories with me, I am deeply humbled by your courage and deeply grateful for your trust.

And to Julio, who loves even the broken pieces of me.

Acknowledgments

This book came out of the Voices and Faces Project Survivor Testimonial Writing Workshop. I am so truly grateful to Anne Ream and R. Clifton Spargo for their guidance and support and for putting so much heart into this work. I wouldn’t be here without either of you. Also to all the survivors who have shared their stories with me in that workshop and over the years in hospital ERs or other places, thank you for your trust and for your truth.

I would also not be here without my incredible agent, Sarah LaPolla, who has talked me off more ledges than I can count. Seriously. And without Anica Mrose Rissi for taking a chance on a book that I thought would never be published. And without Liesa Abrams, who poured so much editing love over this book that it sparkled. And without Michael Strother, who wears
all
the hats. Thanks to Jessica Handelman for my gorgeous and fearless cover. I adore you, Team Pulse.

I have so much gratitude for my alpha readers, who read everything I write and tell me they love it: Rebecca (who first asked where the rest was!), Molly, Bergl, Jeannie, Paige, Bruce, and my Desir family. And equal gratitude for those who read what I write and tell me I need to fix it: Carrie, Stephanie, Katy, Amy, Jus, Rebekah, Matt, and Cindy. And to the community of writers and bloggers who have followed me on this journey and have lifted me up in so many ways:
Thank you
. I love my Dark Darlings. You all rock.

The publishing world is pretty small, and I feel like I’ve had a lot of guardian angels. To Heather Howland and Mandy Hubbard. Thanks. You both read this book when it wasn’t ready and told me what I needed to do to get it there. I’m grateful to Vicki, Suzy, JJ, and Helena, who tweet about whiskey, autumn, and darkness and still manage to make me laugh. And to the Fourteenery, who took me in and listened. A lot.

Also, huge love for my teen betas. You are who I write for. I love that you text me or FB message me back within minutes, no matter what time of day it is. I love that you tell me what things are called
now
. I love that you will let me interview you and will read my books even though some of you “don’t really read.” You remind me every day why I do this.

To awesome writers who have become incredible friends: Jolene, Jay, and Lucy. I couldn’t get through a week without any of you. I couldn’t get through three days without any of you. I’m glad I talked you into me.

And finally, a mountain of thanks and love to my family. To my mom, who has watched my kids and played hours of baseball in the backyard with them. To my dad and stepmom, who taught me about the challenges and opportunities that life has to offer. To my sister, who gave me my first YA book and who continues to call me even when I disappear into edits. To my kids, who make me laugh and make me glad that I’m alive every single day. And to Julio, who has always been my center line, my first, my last, my everything. I love you.

1

I thought Ani could be fixed. The pieces of her recemented so everything could be how it was. How we were. Until I saw her on her knees in front of Mr. Pinter, his fingers clenched around her ponytail. His face contorted and his head tipped back. He’d been in such a hurry, he hadn’t bothered to close all the blinds in his classroom. Or maybe he left the last one open on purpose.

She locked eyes with me as she stood, her hand wiping her mouth, but nothing registered on her face. She tightened the belt on her dark blue winter coat and brushed away the dust it’d picked up from the floor. She smoothed down her collar with steady hands and still held my gaze.

Disgust and anger and so much brokenness swirled together inside me, collecting in the pit of my stomach. I stumbled back a step. This was my Ani. My Ani as she was now.

She blinked twice and finally turned away to grab her faded green backpack from off one of the student desks. A haze of nothingness clung to her.

I stood shaking, my eyes adjusting their focus from the inside of the room to my own reflection in the window. The overlarge hat Ani had knitted me tilted too much to the side. I snatched it off and turned to the bushes behind me. Cold wind sliced across my face, but I didn’t feel it like I should have. I took one step and crumpled, as the image of Ani slammed back into my mind. Fingers pawing at the frozen ground, I puked until my stomach had nothing left. Until my insides mirrored Ani’s empty face.

I lifted myself on wobbly legs and realized for the first time since I’d met her, I was never going to be able to save my girlfriend.

Six months earlier

It was stupid to hang out in the mostly deserted parking lot of the 7-Eleven. The cops always showed up and sent us away, threatening us with charges of loitering. But Kevin wanted a cherry Slurpee and none of us wanted to get home before curfew. I sat on the bright yellow parking bumper block, tossing pennies at a Dr Pepper bottle I’d set up and listening to the guys argue about where to buy beer without getting carded. The pennies jingled in my hand as I launched another one at the Dr Pepper.
Plink
.

“Nah, man, that chick got fired last week for not carding.We can’t go to the KwikMart.”

Plink.

“That blows. That girl was a guarantee. Should we try the grocery store, then?”

Plink.

“Hell no, they’ve got video cameras at that place. And all those frickin’ ‘We Card Because We Care’ posters on the walls. We gotta go somewhere small.”

Plink.
Saturday nights sucked. The conversations never changed.

A faded blue minivan rattled into the parking slot next to my Dr Pepper setup, and a leggy girl opened the passenger door and slid out. Too-loud zydeco music poured from the van as she leaned in to grab her wallet. Her dark blond hair was pulled into a knot on top of her head. She had on a black clingy tank top and jeans with too many holes in them. I stopped tossing pennies and slowly checked her out. Pink toes in flip-flops, curvy hips, too-skinny waist.

“Your hair makes you look like an asshole,” she said as soon as my eyes reached her chest.

Plink. Plink. Plink. Plink.
Pennies dropped beside me. I ran my hand through the tight curls of the Mohawk I’d been sporting since the beginning of summer. She followed my movement and smirked.

“Your mouth makes you sound like a bitch,” I answered.

“Huh. Decent comeback.” She placed her hand on her hip and looked me over like she was assessing a car. I wanted to throw my shoulders back and puff out my chest, but I knew the guys would never let me hear the end of it. So I dropped my hands to my sides and let her look. Her gaze locked on the fly of my jeans.

Whoa. Ballsy girl. I probably would’ve blushed if the guys weren’t watching me. Instead, I dropped my knees open and her gaze quickly shifted to the side. Ha. Thought so.

“Do you live here?” Her focus returned to my face.

“At the 7-Eleven?” I asked.

She turned to the guys, who’d obviously forgotten their beer-finding mission to watch me fumble through a conversation with the hot girl none of us had ever seen before.

They shook their heads and grinned at me. Ass munches. They loved to give me shit when it came to the opposite sex.

“Do you live here?” she asked me again.

“Yeah,” I finally answered.

“Well, now so do I. I’m Annika,” she said, and grabbed a hoodie out of the open door of the van.

I didn’t stand up. I should have, but that sort of thing would’ve sent a definite message to the guys and I wasn’t up for spending the rest of my night getting crap from them.

“Ben . . . but most of my friends call me Beez.”

She tapped her finger against her lips and looked me up and down again. “Of course they do. I’ll see you around . . . Ben.”

She slipped her hoodie on and sauntered into the 7-Eleven like she had no idea five guys were checking out her ass. She looked back when she opened the door and gave me a little wink.

“Beezus,” Kevin said, smacking me on the shoulder, “looks like you’ve found yourself a little hottie.”

I gathered up my pennies and tried to hide the red on my cheeks. Kevin dropped to the space on the parking bumper next to me.

Plink.

“I don’t know about that. I don’t normally go for girls who call me an asshole the first time I meet them.”

Kevin laughed and snatched one of the pennies from me. “Dude, you totally do.”

Plink.

2

“You’re gonna be late. Banana bread French toast is downstairs waiting for you,” my mom called from the bottom of the stairs. The high ceilings in our front hallway made her voice echo and I winced again at the bigness of our house. We’d “relocated” to the nicer part of town after my dad got some major work promotion. Our old house was fine, but painting and redecorating projects made Mom happy.

“Banana bread French toast? Seriously? I can’t believe you’re still doing this. It was cute when we were five. It’s sort of ridiculous now,” I answered, making my way past our wall of family photos and down the stairs two at a time. My feet barely touched each hardwood step before I hopped to the next one. I
may
have been a little psyched about the possibility of seeing Annika again. Eight days of hopeful drives through town and made-up errands to the 7-Eleven had me frustrated and wound up.

Mom squeezed my cheek when I reached her and I ducked out of the way. She reached out to pat the top of my head, her only acknowledgment of the twenty minutes I’d spent in the bathroom with a razor.

“Thanks for indulging me. This will be your last year, you know.” She gave me the weepy mom eyes and I snorted.

My brother, Michael, was already sitting at the table, leafing through a gamer magazine. His curly hair was uncombed and he had toothpaste on his shirt. I flicked his ear.

“I’ll give you a ride to school, shrimp, but you’re on your own afterward. I’ve got to grab some food before swim club.”

“S’okay,” my brother mumbled. “I’ve got youth orchestra anyways.”

I eyed the black case at Michael’s feet. It sort of sucked he wasn’t good at any sports. I worried how he was going to manage next year. It’s not a big deal playing clarinet in the fifth grade, but that shit’ll get you crucified in junior high. A large faded book of
Classics for the Clarinet
stuck out of his unzipped backpack.

Michael followed my eyes to the book. He shrugged. “I’m competing for first chair.”

“How many people are you going up against?”

Michael grinned. “Two, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get it.”

I nodded and dropped into the chair next to him. Michael was a really good musician. Part of me hoped he’d stick with it in spite of the beating he’d likely take for it.

“I can pick you up after school, sweetie,” Mom said, ruffling Michael’s hair. He didn’t flinch. I gave my mom maybe two more years of hair ruffling before he started to duck away from her too.

She turned toward the counter and started to dish food onto a plate.

“So, Ben, are you excited about your senior year?” She placed a giant stack of French toast in front of me.

“Mom. Really? We’re not going to have this conversation, are we?” I poured half the bottle of syrup on my French toast and forked it into quarters.

“Oh, come on,” she said, setting a large glass of milk next to me. “Humor me. What’s your main goal for the year?”

A quick image of Annika’s long legs flashed in my mind. I grinned but kept my thoughts to myself. Mom probably wouldn’t appreciate me sharing
that
goal. I took a large bite, barely chewing before swallowing the lump of gooey sweetness. Banana bread French toast. The most brilliant food blending since chocolate-covered pretzels.

I gulped down half the glass of milk, then answered, “My main goal? Scholarship, Mom. You know that. I want to swim for Iowa.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get it,” my brother said through a mouthful of French toast. He made a strange humming noise when he ate. I shook my head. This kid was never going to get a girlfriend.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, shrimp.” I glanced at the clock. “Now, hurry up, we need to roll so we’re not late. I hate finding parking on the first day of school.”

I wolfed down the rest of my breakfast in two bites and stuck my tongue out to lick the plate. Mom snatched it away before I could clean it off completely.

“Home on time, Ben,” she said, pointing to my face, then the napkin next to me. “Your dad wants to do a celebratory first-day-of-school dinner at the Marion Street Grill.”

“Oh, Jesus, he’s leaving work early?” I glanced at the napkin and then rubbed syrup off my chin with my sleeve.

“Yes.” Mom squinted. In a quick move, she grabbed the napkin and dipped it in Michael’s water, dabbing at the sides of my mouth. I pushed her hand away and stood up.

“You guys need to stop reading all those parenting books. All this ‘quality time’ isn’t good for us. It’s giving us a very distorted view of the ‘average American family’ and you know we’ll just have unrealistic expectations about our future wives and ultimately end up as divorced alcoholics who spend thousands of dollars in therapy because our parents created an ‘unattainable ideal,’ ” I said, employing mom air quotes as much as I could. Michael snorted. The two of us were merciless with air quotes, but Mom still wouldn’t give them up.

She also constantly played “how to raise healthy kids and maintain your relationship” type audiobooks in her car. I’d forgotten my iPod enough to be able to recite most of them by heart.

“Ben,” Mom answered in a chipper voice, “that’s more words than you’ve said to us in two months. I’m delighted to see our ‘nefarious plan’ to include you in this family is working. We’ll see you at the Marion Street Grill at six.” She kissed my head and handed me my backpack.

•••

The first day of school reeked of the same bullshit every year. All the teachers gave mind-numbing lectures about class expectations and the importance of turning in assignments on time, while we stared out the windows at the too-green lawn and too-blue sky, wishing summer break lasted a few more weeks. The halls filled with squealing girls talking about their vacations as if they hadn’t texted each other every day. New clothes, new hair, new couples. Same crap.

I wandered between classes, searching the freshly painted halls for Annika. Sucky scenarios where she was homeschooled or went to Catholic school kept popping into my head, but I pushed them back. I was a senior. This was the Year of Beez. Kevin met me at the door of the cafeteria, his stocky frame bouncing from foot to foot. He wasn’t built to swim, but he could hold his breath longer than any guy on the team. He started in on me as soon as we found a table, before I could even put ketchup on my fries.

“Dude, have you seen Annika?”

“No.” I took a bite of fry. “Have you?”
Please. Please. Please
.

“No, but I heard some of the swim guys talking about her. Fresh meat and all.”

Anger and relief battled in my gut. She was
here
. But dammit, the guys already knew about her. I cringed. I didn’t want to get all possessive since she wasn’t really mine, but it bugged the crap out of me that other people were interested in her. Maybe thinking about her legs too.

Kevin must have seen the irritation on my face. “Don’t worry, dude. I told them you’d already staked your claim.”

“I haven’t staked my claim. I’m not a caveman.” I’d totally staked a claim, but I wasn’t about to tell Kevin.

“Whatever you say, man. Hey, did you hear Morgan’s having a back-to-school party this weekend?”

I grunted in response. Morgan’s house was awesome, full game room in the basement, five bedrooms upstairs, parents who spent weekends at their place in Michigan, but she was more trouble than she was worth. Always had been.

“Come on, man. It’s not like you have to hang out with her. There’re gonna be, like, a thousand people there. Five kegs and Jack’s band is playing.” Kevin was ADD and could be like a hyper puppy when he had his mind set on something. If I didn’t shut him down, he’d mention Morgan’s party fifteen more times before lunch ended.

“I’ll think about it.”

Kevin smiled. “Probably Annika’ll be there.”

I grinned back. He was totally playing me, but it didn’t matter. We’d been friends forever and he knew how to push my buttons as much as I did his.

“I said I’d think about it.”

He punched my arm. “You’ll be there. I know you, dude, and you won’t be able to resist.”

The afternoon dragged on and even though I kept hoping I’d see Annika, she didn’t end up having any classes with me. Probably she was in all those AP classes with the poseurs who pretended they didn’t care about grades, but then did shit like take classes at the community college on the weekend and over the summer.

The parking lot was a bitch to get out of after school. I usually waited fifteen minutes for everything to clear out before I ventured to my car, and even then the lot wasn’t always empty. People leaned on hoods, playing music out open windows, wanting to be seen with the cars they’d nagged their parents to buy them when they turned sixteen. Not that I could really talk, since Dad had handed over a set of keys on my last birthday, but at least his reason for doing it involved carting Michael around. And being the designated driver for my friends.

Kevin was riding shotgun in my POS Jeep and going on about whether some junior girl I barely knew had gotten a boob job over the summer when I finally saw Annika. She had on shorts and a scoop-neck black shirt that showed off the bones of her neck. She leaned over to unzip a backpack that rested at her feet and I followed the line of her bare legs, which were even better than I imagined. I rolled my window down.

“Annika!” I called. She looked up and a small smile tugged at her lips.

“Where’s your Mohawk, Bumble?”

I scrubbed my hand over my newly shaven head. “Apparently, it makes me look like an asshole. And it’s Beez.”

“Oh, of course, that’s right. Well, I hope you didn’t shave it on my account,” she said, but I thought I saw a spark of interest in her eyes. Hoped it was a spark of interest
.
I switched off the car radio and hung my elbow out the window.

“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m a swimmer.” I didn’t mention that last year I sported the Mohawk for most of the swim season and didn’t go completely bald until regionals.

“Huh. I thought swimming was more of a white guy sport?”

“Whoa. Did you just say that . . . out loud?”

She tilted her head. “Yeah. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong, but I’ve seen the team pictures in the gym. And I’ve watched a lot of college sports. It’s pretty white.”

“Well,” I said, trying to keep my eyes from zeroing in on her tan legs, “I’m half-white and I play basketball sometimes on the weekends so I don’t think I’m going to lose my NAACP card.”

“I don’t know. They’re kinda strict about that sort of stuff,” she said, and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

“Did you come from the South? ’Cause that racist shit doesn’t really fly up here.”

She flashed me a smile and leaned over to root in her backpack for something. I shifted higher in my seat to peek down her shirt, but she put her hand over the scooped neck and blocked my view.

“No,” she said, and pulled out a pair of sunglasses. “I earned the right to make sweeping generalizations about black people after dating the varsity center at my old school. He was six nine. And vain as hell. I practically had to beat down the entire cheerleading squad to get to him after a game. It was no small feat, believe me.”

Kevin elbowed me and snorted. “Holy shit, I like this girl.”

“Yeah,” I called to her, “I’m not sure you’ll be able to play that card here. Sweeping generalizations don’t really go over too well. You’re gonna have to start from ground zero. Most people are just gonna see you as a mouthy white girl.” I grinned and stared as her tongue licked her bottom lip. Crap. Did all girls know that move?

She put the sunglasses on her head to hold her hair back. “Well, I’ll let you know if I’m interested in reinitiation. In the meantime, looks like you’re backing up traffic. You better run along.”

I looked into my rearview mirror and saw a silver Audi idling behind me. A girl was leaning into the driver’s-side window, arms stacked beneath her boobs, probably trying to call attention to her cleavage. My guess: The driver wasn’t in that big of a hurry.

“Where’s your new house?” I asked. Weak and obvious stalling, but I didn’t want Annika to walk away yet.

“On Harrison, above Studio Pink.”

“Across from Buzz Café? I know that place. Where’d you move from?” I asked. My eyes shifted to check the car behind me; the leaning girl now had her tongue in the driver’s mouth. Yeah, I had some time.

“California. Listen, I’d love to play twenty questions with you. Really. But I’ve got someplace to be.” Her eyes darted to the blue minivan that had pulled into the opposite side of the school lot. She slung the backpack onto her shoulder.

“Is that your mom?” I asked.

“That’s good deductive reasoning, Ben. I’m glad the removal of all your body hair hasn’t affected your brain cell count.”

Kevin smacked my arm and chuckled. “This girl’s gonna be a pain in your ass.”

I shoved him and turned back to her. “Well, I didn’t actually shave my whole body, but if you’re volunteering your services . . .”

“Pass,” she said, and took a step toward her mom’s car before swiveling back to me. “But if you want, I’ll be home later. My standards are pretty high, but I’m willing to give you a shot.” Then she walked the rest of the way to her mom’s van without once looking back at us.

It took me a second to absorb what she’d said, but then I looked at Kevin with a huge grin on my face.

“Straight shooter,” I said, and flipped the radio back on. “Nice.”

“Yep,” Kevin agreed. “That’s your kind of chick. Although, if she’s not feeling you, let me know. I might go for her.”

“I don’t think so. She’s got way too much personality for you, my friend. And I’d venture to guess her boobs are real.”

Kevin laughed. “You’ll have to let me know later.”

I shifted the Jeep into drive and wore a goofy smile all the way to the KwikMart.

•••

A woman with crazy curly hair opened the door when I got to Annika’s after swim practice that day.

She crossed her arms and looked me up and down with a small scowl on her face. I blushed and shifted from one foot to the other. Meeting parents sucks.

“You must be Ben?”

I nodded my head. “Nice to meet you. Is Annika here?”

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