Published: July 16, 2013Publisher: Skyscape
What does it take to rise from life’s depths, swim against the current, and breathe?
Weighted down by the loss of her parents, Blythe McGuire struggles to keep her head above water as she trudges through her last year at Matthews College. Then a chance meeting sends Blythe crashing into something she doesn’t expect—an undeniable attraction to a dark-haired senior named Chris Shepherd, whose past may be even more complicated than her own. As their relationship deepens, Chris pulls Blythe out of the stupor she’s been in since the night a fire took half her family. She begins to heal, and even, haltingly, to love this guy who helps her find new paths to pleasure and self-discovery. But as Blythe moves into calmer waters, she realizes Chris is the one still strangled by his family’s traumatic history. As dark currents threaten to pull him under, Blythe may be the only person who can keep him from drowning.
*This book is intended for mature audiences due to strong language and sexual content, and is recommended for Ages 17+
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Six o’clock on a Saturday morning is not exactly my preferred time to wake up. I glare at the clock. Well, there is nothing to be done. I am awake. My choice is either get up and deal with the day or stay in bed and spend the next several hours being sucked into the unpleasant and familiar vortex of racing thoughts, panic, depression, and listlessness that has dominated my life for the last four years. Better to get out of bed. As I blink into the dark, I am again hit with how tired I am and how little fight I have in me.
My lack of fight was clear enough yesterday when I met with my fifth, and presumably final, academic adviser, some woman named Tracey. A woman who seemed to think that reviving my career at this liberal arts college might be easy. She clearly doesn’t know who she’s dealing with. Or maybe she forgot to factor in that I only have eight months to drag through until graduation.
I take a deep breath and wiggle my toes. At least I am not hungover, since I’ve stayed true to my vow and gotten through a whole twenty-four hours without drinking. It’s a nice change of pace. After that disastrous phone call with my brother two nights ago, I’m filled with regret over what I’m capable of while drunk. Not to mention how horrifying it was to meet with my advisor while dealing with the hangover of a lifetime. I’m quite sure that I left a pool of alcohol-laced sweat on the seat of her office chair.
I turn on the light by my bed and push the sheets down with my feet, again grateful that I do not have a roommate to growl at me for my odd hours. The yellow light shines over my body, and I involuntarily wince as I sit up and see my legs, which are covered in bruises from falling down while wasted two nights before. As a general rule, I give little thought to my appearance, but even I can see that it’s not just the bruises that make me look like a mess. My legs and bikini line are in dire need of a good shave. Upon further examination, I accept that I could probably stand to work out once in a while. Surviving on little food and too much beer and tequila is, unsurprisingly, not serving my body well. I tap my feet together and watch my thighs. They’re both bony and jiggly; it’s a super-attractive combination.
The shade that covers the one large window in my room retracts with hurricane force when I tug on it, and I flinch at the loud noise it makes. It’s still dark outside, but the act of opening the shade seems like something that people—normal people—should do when they get up. It’s an important gesture, and for some reason I think that today should possibly be a day of important gestures, if not actual connectedness with the real world. I have already made the decision to get out of bed early and not drink for another twenty-four hours, and that’s better than I’ve done in a while.
After pulling on jeans and a hoodie, knotting my hair into a twist, and brushing my teeth, I stuff a few things into a backpack and head for the student union. If I hope to make any other important gestures today, I will need coffee.
Although it’s normally swarming with students, the union is empty at this hour, save for the unfortunate work-study victim who is behind the register at the café. "Coffee?" he asks.
I nod. "Two, please. Extra large. Black."
He peers behind me.
"Yes, they’re both for me."
I tap my fingers rhythmically on the counter as I watch him pour.
"Here you go." He snaps a lid onto the top of each cup and swipes my student ID card.
I thank him and look around the room. Normally I sit by the wall near the emergency exit door, but since the place is so empty today, I decide to sit down in a chair in the center of the room and kick my legs up on the seat of another. The first big sip of coffee is so strong and bitter that it makes me cringe, but I know that by the fourth sip it will go down easier. Just like shots! I think.
I check my phone. It’s been two days, and still no message from James. Not that I expect one, really, but it is hard not to hope. Aha, I think. There it is again. Hope. Maybe one night he will call me after a college party, drunk and full of rambling, incoherent questions that symbolize everything that’s wrong with our hideously damaged relationship. All of a sudden, I feel like an idiot. Could there be a stupider thing to hope for? What I should want is for the two of us to have a sober, heartfelt conversation in which we work out all of our unspoken issues and wind up the best of friends. The way that we used to be. I grimace to myself. Like that’s gonna happen. It’s probably good that he goes to college in Colorado, far away from me, so that he does not have to deal with my being able to just stop by his dorm anytime I want.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Just get through the day, Blythe. You can fucking do this. It would have helped if I hadn’t woken up at the crack of dawn, thereby making this day longer than necessary. But I’m out of bed, out of my room, I have coffee, and I even have my earphones so that I can listen to NPR. I don’t listen to music much. Not anymore. Before—when everything was good—I would spend hours flipping through radio stations, downloading music, and dancing around my room. I’d drive around in my parents’ Honda and get lost in music. Music that had heart. That moved me. It used to be fun to fantasize about the future.
I open up the NPR Web site and scroll through stories until I settle on a rather disgusting-sounding piece about a former vegan learning to embrace butchering. Just as I near the end of the story and am learning that said former vegan’s favorite cut of meat is pig’s feet, someone crashes into the seat across from me.
"Hey! You got me a coffee! That was very thoughtful."
Startled, I look up. A scruffy-looking guy in a ripped T-shirt and jeans faces me. He removes a cowboy hat, revealing black hair that is sticking out every which way—although in an admittedly adorable manner—and he has at least three days of good stubble going. Even though they’re bloodshot, his eyes are sharply blue. He is a big guy. Not fat, just bulky. Based on his general aroma, I guess he’s carrying a fair amount of beer weight. What’s most noticeable, however, is the big grin plastered across his face. Well, that and the fact that he is helping himself to the second cup of coffee that I so recently purchased.
He takes a sip. "You know, this really isn’t bad coffee. Sure, sure, everyone likes to make a fuss and complain that campus coffee is grotesque sludge, but that’s just an excuse to get Mommy and Daddy to fund repeated trips to that overpriced coffee shop down the street. What’s it called? Beans, Beans, right? What a dumb name. Not, however, a dumb name for the show that I’m producing, called Beans, Beans: The Musical. Since you generously got me this coffee, I shall thank you for your kindness by giving you front-row seats. And backstage passes! Wait until you meet the guy who plays Evil Grinder Number Three. He’ll scare the hell out of you in the show, but he’s a really good person deep down." He pauses to take a long drink from the cup, and then bangs his fist on the table and grins. "This is hot as shit, huh? Just how I like it."
I blink a few times and wait to see if his one-man show is over. He tips his head to the side and continues looking at me while I try to figure out what to do next.
He leans forward. "Too much?"
Yes, you weirdo, just a bit. But I say nothing.
He sticks out his hand. "I’m Sabin."
"Blythe." I put my hand in his. As much as I’m uncomfortable with physical contact, I feel surprisingly at ease when his big hand engulfs mine. The touch is somehow soothing.
"Blythe, it is my true honor to meet you." He claps his other hand on top of mine, and I still don’t pull away. "Now tell me, what are you doing up so early?"
"Just . . . I don’t know." I wrinkle my forehead. Who is this guy? "I couldn’t sleep. Why are you up so early?"
"You caught me! In my case the question should be, why am I up so late?"
I smile shyly. "Oh, I see."
We sit without speaking for a few moments, my hand still in his, while he looks at me expectantly. I should take my hand away, but I simply can’t. He is too odd and too endearing.
"Aren’t you going to ask me why I haven’t gone to bed yet? Given our close relationship, I’d think that my whereabouts would be an extremely pressing issue here. Your curiosity should be driving you insane. Was Sabin at an all-night karaoke amusement park? Was he abducted by alien cowboy goats?" He points to the hat on the table and raises an eyebrow. "And subsequently subjected to a humiliating yet arousing strip search? Or did a well-intentioned but inept and drug-addled tattoo artist foul up ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and forever brand him with ‘I Love Cheese’?"
"Oh." Even given this bizarre speech, I feel less uncomfortable than I normally do talking to strangers, although I am still quite lost. "I should have immediately asked those questions. Sorry." I try to get a handle on the situation, wondering if he is trying to flirt with me. It doesn’t quite feel like it. "So," I say, "why haven’t you?"
"Why haven’t I what?"
Good Lord. "Gone to bed yet?"
"Oh! Yes!" He grips my hand tighter and stands, pulling me up with him and then pressing my hand into his chest. "I have met a woman, so technically I have gone to bed already. I just haven’t slept. Her name is Chrystle, and she is utterly ethereal. Heart-stoppingly beautiful. And," —he says with a wink—"angelic in the most unangelic way. I am in love."
I can’t help but laugh. Especially because he most certainly didn’t seem to be hitting on me. He is already in love. Or at least lust. "Saved by a good woman?" I offer.
"For now." Another wink. He drops my hand, flops back into his chair, and puts on his cowboy hat again. "So now you know all you need to about me. Let’s hear about you, Miss Blythe. You’re a freshman?"
"What?" I say too defensively. "No. I’m a senior."
"My apologies. You have that lost lamb way about you. It’s sweet. Sitting here alone, a backpack probably full of overpriced textbooks…. I know the type. Besides, I’m a junior and I haven’t seen you around before, I don’t think. And you don’t seem to know who I am."
"Understandable, I guess, but the truth is that I don’t have a backpack full of textbooks. And I’m not really around all that much. I’m more about counting the days until graduation at this point." I shrug. That’s not entirely true, of course, because it’s not as though I have plans I’m looking forward to—but it’s one way to explain my lack of engagement with campus life. "Am I supposed to know who you are?"
"If you’re not a big fan of the theater scene here, then probably not. When I’m not wooing the lady folk, I’m in the theater. So you didn’t see me in The Glass Menagerie? My performance was none too shabby, if I do say so myself. And I directed A Doll’s House last winter." He waits expectantly. "No? Nothing?"
I stare blankly at him. "Sorry."
"I’m hurt. Very hurt. Considering that you and I are close friends now, I expect you to attend each and every performance of mine from now on. Deal?"
"We’re close friends now?" His shtick is both disarming and amusing.
"We are. Don’t you think? This feels right."
"Sure," I say. He is, in fact, onto something. The mood in the room has shifted. My mood has shifted.
"So you’ll come to see me in The Importance of Being Earnest? It opens four weeks from last night."
"Fine. I’ll be there." I can tell that it is easier to agree than to try to explain my general aversion to public events. At least sober ones.
"And I, in turn, will attend anything you invite me to."
"That’s . . . sweet. I don’t expect to have occasion to invite a guest to anything in the foreseeable future, but I’ll keep you in mind." The lid on my coffee cup keeps me busy as I avoid looking at Sabin. He has to be as hyperaware of the differences between us as I am. I’m mortified and feel as though being honest about my complete lack of a life looks like a cry for attention. The last thing I want.
"Wait a minute!" Sabin suddenly exclaims. "I have seen you! You funnel beer better than any girl I’ve ever met!"
"Oh God." I drop my head into my palm.
"I’m friends with a true champ. This is fantastic." He folds his arms across his chest and beams.
"Fantastic, indeed. So, so fantastic," I mutter.
"Listen, new friend Blythe, thank you very much for the coffee, but I have to get back to my dorm and get some sleep." He helps himself to my phone and begins typing, then pulls out his own phone and coaxes me into telling him my number. "There. Now we have each other’s digits. What dorm are you in? I’m in Leonard Hall, room 402, if you want to stop by."
"Okay. I’m in Reber. Room 314."
"Cheer up." He leans in and kisses me on the cheek. "You’re beautiful when you smile."
And then the whirlwind that is Sabin exits the building, stage right.
I shake my head. That was . . . that was . . .
That was kind of nice. In fact, I am noticeably moved.
And then I am crushed—overwhelmed, really—with sadness. That small interaction is the best thing that has happened to me in ages. And how goddamn awful is that?
Of course, this guy has no idea what a mess I am, and he’d probably never have come over to me if he knew that I am such a despondent dope. I sigh. He will find out sooner or later. Probably when he sobers up.
But the encounter has undeniably energized me, and I decide to take what remains of my first coffee—the second one was polished off by Sabin—and head down to the lake. Today I will be able to say that I did something unexpected. This walk will be my important gesture.
Jessica is the author of New York Times bestselling FLAT-OUT LOVE, RELATIVELY FAMOUS, and the NA novel, LEFT DROWNING. She lives in New Hampshire where she spends an obscene amount time thinking about rocker boys and their guitars, complex caffeinated beverages, and tropical vacations. On the rare occasions that she is able to focus on other things, she writes.
Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
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