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       Forever Ours (Shattered Hearts Book 1), p.1

           Cassia Leo
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Forever Ours (Shattered Hearts Book 1)

  Forever Ours

  Book One of the Shattered Hearts Series

  Cassia Leo


  Shattered Hearts #1

  by Cassia Leo

  * * *

  First Edition

  Copyright © 2014 by Cassia Leo

  All rights reserved.

  Cover art by Sarah Hansen at Okay Creations.

  * * *

  This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without expressed written permission from the author; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.

  All characters and events appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  For all the Chris Knight fans.

  This one’s for you.

  Note to the Reader

  Music is an important part of this series. Some chapters in this eBook correspond with songs on the Forever Ours playlist. Please feel free to open the playlist on a mobile device or computer and listen as you read.

  The playlist is available on YouTube at:

  * * *

  The playlist is available on Spotify at:

  Forever Invisible

  April 2009

  When I was six, my mom told me that fish can breathe under water because they don’t have lungs. And she left it at that. What she didn’t tell me is that, not only do fish never drown, but they also feel no pain. As I lie down on the filthy concrete behind the grocery store, all I can think is that I want to be a fish.

  I wish I could say that I’m homeless through no fault of my own, but that’s not true. I’m not homeless. I’m a runaway. There is a slight difference, though the sleeping accommodations are basically the same.

  I adjust the pillow under my head as I attempt to get comfortable. It’s not really a pillow. I pulled a cereal box from the dumpster and emptied it out, then I stuffed it with a bunch of discarded plastic grocery bags. I turn my face toward the pillow to smell the box. I never thought I’d actually want a pillow that smells like corn flakes, but it’s better than the smell of the dumpster that’s standing ten feet away.

  It’s dark out here. It’s 1:30 a.m. If there’s anyone left in the grocery store, it’s just a couple of employees. I’ve been coming out here for the past seven nights to sleep. I let myself have a two-hour nap, then I leave. I wander the streets of Raleigh, trying not to feel sorry for myself. I’m a runaway. This is my choice. Then I think of what happened seven days ago — my last day at the Walkers’ house.

  * * *

  “Aaron wants to know if you’re a virgin.”

  Lyle grins when he says this. He knows it’s going to piss me off. I’ve been at the Walker residence with Mr. and Mrs. Walker, fourteen-year-old Lyle, and his older sister Stephanie for three days. Three days may actually be a record for me. I think one week is the shortest amount of time it took me to get kicked out of a foster home before this. Lyle’s parents must have said something to him about my history, because he seems to think this comment is very amusing.

  Aaron is another foster kid who’s supposed to be leaving in a couple of days. The Walkers are getting tired of him hanging out in the bedroom all day with his door locked. I don’t blame Aaron. And I highly doubt he’s the one who wants to know if I’m a virgin.

  “You should tell Aaron that if he wants to know if I’m a virgin, he should sleep with his door unlocked.”

  Lyle’s eyes widen. “Whoa…. You’re gonna have sex with him? Just like that?”

  “I never said I was going to have sex with him. What I have in mind is much more fun for me than it is for him.”

  “You’re a fucking psycho. No wonder your mom killed herself.”

  “She didn’t kill herself. She OD’d.”

  “She should have killed herself.”

  * * *

  When Lyle’s mom finally managed to pull me off of him, he had a bloody nose, swollen cheek, and sore crotch. I had a bloody lip, a bump on the head, and a reason to run.

  Here I am now, trying to melt into the background of a grocery store. Trying to become invisible. But it’s difficult to fade into the scenery when your stomach is growling and your bones ache from sleeping on the hard concrete for seven days. Every movement makes me feel as if my hipbones and ribs are slicing through my delicate skin.

  I’ve lost at least five pounds this week. I can feel it in my clothing. And I didn’t really have much weight to spare. One of the consequences of moving from one foster home to the next is that you never really feel comfortable eating. You’re always adjusting to someone else’s mealtimes and food preferences. I’ve been underweight for years.

  In fact, I’m so underweight right now, I’m convinced this is the only thing that’s kept me from being hassled by the cops ever since I left the Walker house. I’m so thin I’m practically invisible. I’m used to being invisible. I actually prefer it. It’s the homes where people try to get you to talk about your feelings, or the other kids try to get friendly, that make me want to split.

  I’m going to have to find a place to stay soon. When I checked in the library today, I discovered it’s supposed to rain in Raleigh tomorrow. It’s the last week of April. Can’t we leave the April showers behind us already?

  The corner of the cereal box starts digging into my cheek and I lift my head so I can adjust it. That’s when I see the police car cruising by. Shit!

  My heart pounds as I try to force myself to think fast. What am I going to do? I can’t run. They’ll see me if I try to hide behind the dumpster. Maybe if I just lie still they won’t notice me.

  The police car stops and the one driving shines his spotlight on me. I cover my eyes with my forearm and he quickly points it a few feet to my left. The car door opens and the tears come instantly as I sit up. They’re going to put me in another home with another shitty family that doesn’t care if I starve or if their son is a perverted jerk.

  “Whatcha doin’ back here?” the officer asks as he approaches.

  I look up at him for a moment then cover my face to hide the tears. “I’m lost.”

  Forever Waiting

  Time stood still the first time I held a guitar in my hands. It was a kind of love that surpassed anything I’d ever felt. I don’t know if this means I’m screwed up or just that something broke inside me the day my dad left; and music was the only thing that seemed to fill the empty space. But nothing compares to how I feel when I’m lost in a melody. Even when I’m struggling with lyrics or time signatures, it always feels like I’m exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I was created to do.

  This is why I get really fucking annoyed when Tristan shows up late to practice. I know he doesn’t have the best home-life, but I’m eager to get this first set practiced so we can start trying to book gigs. I’m not sure who, if anyone, will take a band of unknown teenagers seriously. All I know is that I won’t stop until someone does. Until then, I’ll keep waiting for Tristan and hoping for our big break.

  “Don’t you think this song should be a little more uptempo?” Jake asks as he sits on a stool behind his drum set, reading the notes I gave him for “Hunger,” a song I wrote about one of the foster kids my mom took in last year.

  I still remember that kid’s name: Justin. His mom was addicted to meth and in an abusive relationship. Justin was six years old when they brought him here, and he was skinny as a leaf. His mom kept forgetting to feed him while she was high. These are the kinds of stories I hear all the time ever since my mom started taking in foster children a
few years ago. I remember getting so pissed off just thinking about that kid lying in bed, his stomach growling, while his mom was off somewhere getting high or fighting with her boyfriend. I got so angry with my mom for allowing social services to take Justin back to his mom after she got a job and completed her mandatory drug counseling and parenting classes. That’s when my mom told me I had to learn to see the situation from the kid’s point of view.

  All the kids that come through our house love their parents. No matter how shitty their parents treat them. And that taught me a little about love and forgiveness. If a kid can forgive a parent who nearly starves them to death, then I can forgive my father who abandoned me when I was six. Even if he doesn’t know I’ve forgiven him.

  “We already have three uptempo songs. This song is about starving. Not exactly an uptempo topic.” I plug my electric-acoustic guitar into the amp and sit on the barstool I stole from the breakfast bar in the kitchen. “Where’s Rachel?”

  “She’s at her sister’s soccer game.”

  “I thought she hated her sister.”

  Jake taps his foot on the bass drum pedal as he continues to leaf through my notes. “Her parents made her go. It’s some fucking state championship thing.”

  “I didn’t know she played at that level. No wonder she’s hot as fuck.” I grab my digital tuner off the coffee table and set it down on my knee so I can tune the guitar. “Is Rachel still gonna play on this one?”

  “Yeah, yeah. I already talked to her about it.”

  The doorbell rings and I’m confused for about four seconds before I remember the call I got from my mom this morning. We’re getting another foster kid today. We haven’t had any kids for over a month and, truthfully, I’ve enjoyed the peace. I like being able to practice whenever I want without having to worry if I’m waking up a napping toddler. But they weren’t supposed to bring today’s kid until four p.m. They’re two hours early.

  I open the door, prepared to greet the social worker with the usual, My mom will be here any minute, but when I open the door Tristan is standing there with Freddy Zimmerman from auto shop class.

  “You’re late. And why the fuck are you ringing the doorbell?”

  Tristan enters ahead of Freddy and they both head straight to the living room with their instruments. Freddy started practicing with us a couple of months ago when I casually mentioned to Rachel that she should play piano on “Hunger.” Tristan hates Rachel, so he took it upon himself to invite Freddy over to practice the piano part on his keyboard. I warned Tristan that I didn’t want this guy playing that fucking keyboard on any of my songs. His response was to remind me that they’re not just my songs.

  Tristan sets his bass down on the recliner and his amp on the floor, then he pounds fists with Jake. “I rang the doorbell to make you get your sorry ass up.”

  “I thought you were a fucking foster kid,” I reply, closing the door.

  “I thought you guys didn’t have any kids right now.”

  “Nah, we’re getting a new one today. A runaway.”

  “Girl or guy?” Tristan asks, slinging the strap of his bass over his shoulder.

  “Girl. I think her name is Claire.”

  “Maybe they’ll send one your age this time,” he says, wiggling his eyebrows.

  “Nah, an older girl would be better. They know what they’re doing,” Freddy says, plugging in his keyboard.

  I shake my head. No matter how many times I tell them that I’m not allowed to even say anything inappropriate to a foster kid, Tristan still always suggests it.

  “You know I can’t do that. And you can’t talk like that when she gets here or my mom can get cited.”

  “Whatever. You need to get laid. How long has it been since… what was her name?”

  I set the tuner back on the coffee table and settle the guitar in my lap. “Erin. And that was only two months ago.”

  We run through the song a few times before Tristan decides he’s going to try to get the neighbor to buy us some beer. He takes off and I decide to start playing something else. I don’t want to give Freddy the impression that Jake and I want him there or that he’s part of the band. Rachel’s playing the piano on this song no matter how many times Tristan brings this asshole over here.

  I grab my electric guitar and plug it in so I can play “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix. Jake and Freddy look on as I transition right out of the opening solo into “Stairway to Heaven.” About thirty minutes pass before the doorbell rings again, right when I’m in the middle of playing “I Want You” by the Beatles. It’s probably Tristan being a dick again.

  “Come in!” I shout at the door from where I’m now sitting on the carpet next to the coffee table.

  The doorknob jiggles a little then it slowly begins to turn. I knew it was Tristan.

  I go back to playing and I’m nearly at the end when I hear the thud of something dropping on the floor behind me. I turn around and a skinny girl with stringy blonde hair and wide blue eyes is staring at us like she just walked in on a fucking murder scene.

  Forever Asleep

  I’m dead on my feet. I’m so tired I can barely drag myself out of Carol’s SUV. I just want to go to sleep and wake up in August when I’m sixteen and I can get a work permit; or in two years and four months when I’ll be eighteen—when I age out of the system—and I can say goodbye to foster homes forever.

  A woman with short brown hair and round hips comes out of a white van labeled Wickedly Sweet Bakery. She slides the side door open and grabs a pink box off the seat, then she turns on her heel and makes her way toward Carol and me. The smile on her face vanishes the instant she sees me.

  “Oh, my goodness,” she says with a slight Carolina accent. “You’re bone-thin, darling.”

  I turn away and pretend to adjust my backpack on my shoulder so I don’t have to respond to this.

  “She hasn’t slept all night. I know you just got home from work, but is her room ready?”

  “Oh, yes, yes. Everything’s all set. Honey, you go on ahead and Chris will show you to your room while I talk to Carol. Here, I’ll take that backpack for you.”

  “I don’t need help,” I say, backing up as she holds her hand out for me to give her my bag. “I’ll just go inside.”

  I carry my backpack up the front walk of the two-story house in West Raleigh. At least this place is a little nicer than most of the homes I’ve stayed in. A lot of foster parents are just in it for the money, and the money’s not even that great. But I guess to some people, it’s better than sitting in an office all day for a little more than minimum wage. One of the foster families I stayed with was pretty nice, until they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to hang out and watch Disney movies with their kids all day long. People are inherently greedy. If they take you into their home, it doesn’t matter to them that they’re getting paid. They want you to get down on your knees and thank them for taking you in. They question why you don’t want to eat their shitty meals. Or why you wake up screaming in the middle of the night with the image of your dead mother’s body half-hanging off the sofa. There’s no privacy. I’m just tired of feeling like an unwanted guest. I want my own home with my own food, my own bed, my own shower.

  But I’d give all that up to have my mom back.

  I hesitate for a moment before I press the button for the doorbell. Immediately, I hear a male voice shout for me to come in. His mom probably told him to expect me, but he could at least answer the fucking door. I shake my head as I turn the doorknob and slowly push the door open.

  My caseworker, Carol, flat out told me that this would be my last placement. If I screw this one up, I’ll be sent to a halfway house until I turn sixteen in August. The moment I step into the living room, I know I’ll be seeing the inside of that halfway house soon.

  Three guys sit around a coffee table, two of them on the sofa and one cross-legged on the floor with a guitar in his lap. The one with the guitar wears a gray be
anie and his dark hair falls around his face in jagged wisps. He’s humming a tune I recognize as a Beatles song my mom used to play: “I Want You.”

  The thud of my backpack hitting the floor gets his attention and he looks straight into my eyes. “Are you Claire?” he asks. His voice is smooth with just a hint of a rasp.

  I nod and he sets his guitar down on the floor in front of him. My body tenses as he walks toward me. My mom taught me never to trust men or boys. She was so candid with me about the ways she was violated by her uncle from the time she was nine until she was fourteen. I followed my mom’s advice for eight years and I haven’t been so much as hugged the wrong way. I’ve kept myself safe, but only by getting myself kicked out of every foster home at the slightest hint that someone might see me as prey. This guy in the beanie doesn’t look like a predator, but looks can be deceiving.

  He grabs the handle of my backpack and nods toward the stairs. “I’m Chris. I’ll take you to your room.”

  I follow him up the stairs and down a hallway to the last door, which stands open, waiting for me. The house smells like a mixture of lavender and cupcakes. It’s kind of comforting, but I don’t want to get too comfortable here. Chris sets my backpack down on the floor in a plain bedroom with a teddy bear wallpaper border. I’m accustomed to sleeping in bedrooms decorated like a toddler’s playroom, so this is nothing new.

  “My mom wouldn’t let me take that stupid border down,” he says, lifting his chin toward the ceiling as he digs his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He’s apologizing to me over a wallpaper border? Great. I can already tell this guy is going to get too friendly with me.

  As he looks up at the wallpaper, I see a thin nose ring dangling from his septum.

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