Broken beautiful hearts, p.1
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For every girl who is struggling and doubting herself—Speak your truth. You're stronger than you think.
The shell must break before the bird can fly.
—ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
When the Stars Align
I BELIEVE EVERYTHING happens for a reason and usually the reason sucks. I also believe the laces from my eighth-grade soccer cleats are good luck, Adele is the most talented singer to ever walk the earth, and popcorn without butter is just corn.
But more than any of those things, I believe that if you’re lucky—at least once in your life—you might have a perfect day. A day when all the stars in your personal universe align and your dreams seem possible.
The crazy part?
I think today might be mine.
Except Dad isn’t here.
The thought bears down on me, but I push back against it.
Today might be the only perfect day I’ll ever get. Dad wouldn’t want me to waste it.
I pick up the letter on my desk and reread it for the tenth time since it arrived yesterday.
Dear Miss Rios,
After careful consideration, the women’s soccer staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill believes that you have the qualities we are looking for in a student-athlete. As the head women’s soccer coach at this university, I want to formally offer you early acceptance and an opportunity to play soccer for the team that has won 21 out of 35 NCAA national championships.
Please understand that this acceptance is contingent upon you:
• maintaining the recommendation of your high school coach
• remaining in good academic standing
• continuing to demonstrate strong leadership and soccer skills
• playing in your current position, center forward, next fall.
I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember, but now that it’s actually happening, it doesn’t feel real.
“Peyton?” Mom calls from downstairs.
“Coming.” I fold the letter and tuck it in my bag.
I gather my dark, wavy hair into a ponytail, pull it through an elastic, and take a quick look in the mirror. My wardrobe consists of a steady rotation of skinny jeans and cargos that show off my long legs, layered tanks and fitted henleys, and ankle boots. Today is no exception.
I do my standard two-minute make-up application—concealer under my eyes and berry-tinted lip balm that doubles as blush.
Now I just have to find my black boots.
“You’re going to be late,” Mom yells.
“Coming!” I bend down and check under the bed—a pair of balled-up soccer socks; my elementary school yearbooks; a bottle of nail polish; old issues of Soccer 360; a Luna Bar that’s hard enough to use as a hammer; and … my boots. I drag them out by the laces and put them on.
Dad’s dog tags slide back and forth on the silver chain hanging around my neck. I never take them off. When I insisted on wearing them to the Spring Fling with my strapless dress, Mom figured out how to pin the tags inside the dress so they wouldn’t be as noticeable. I would’ve worn them either way.
On the way out, I grab the black leather jacket draped over the chair next to my door, under a poster of my soccer idol, Alex Morgan. The jacket belonged to my dad. I slip it on. The sleeves hang past my fingertips and the leather is cracked, but I love it anyway.
I jog down the steps and walk into the kitchen.
Mom holds up a brown muffin. “Do you want one to take with you?”
“Not if it has oats, nuts, dried fruit, or seeds in it.”
She breaks the muffin in half, which takes some effort because it’s as dense as a hunk of fruitcake. Dad used to do all the cooking. He was Cuban and every morning started with café con leché—strong Cuban coffee with steamed milk—and thick toast with butter. After he died I took over the cooking, but I couldn’t bring myself to keep eating the same breakfast Dad used to make me. Now Mom is determined to learn to cook, too. Muffins are her latest experiment.
I rummage through the pantry. “Do we have any doughnuts?”
“Doughnuts are pure sugar. They don’t qualify as breakfast.” She pours a cup of coffee and hands it to me.
I add milk and sugar. “Then why do doughnut shops open at five o’clock in the morning?”
“It’s one of life’s great mysteries.” Mom takes a bite of the muffin and scrunches up her nose when she thinks I’m not looking. “Have you told Tess yet?”
“I’m surprised you held out this long.”
“I want to see the look on her face when I tell her.”
“What about Reed?” she asks.
I haven’t heard from my boyfriend yet this morning. “He worked late. He’s probably still asleep. And it will be more fun to tell people in person.”
I down the rest of my coffee and put the cup in the sink. “I’m taking off.”
“Drive carefully,” Mom says as I walk out the door.
I toss my bag in the back seat of my red Honda HR-V and slide behind the wheel. The road is carpeted with colorful fall leaves from the oaks and maples on my street. My neighborhood is only twenty minutes from downtown Washington, DC, and ten minutes from the outdated mid-rise apartment buildings in Tess’ complex. But you’d never know it.
My street looks like it belongs in a small town—the huge trees arching over the road, the Cape Cod–style homes, and the “tiny library” on the corner that reminds me of a pink dollhouse.
On the drive to Tess’, I try to come up with a cool way to tell her about UNC. But I’ve got nothing. We both know that colleges mailed out early admission and athletic scholarship letters this week. If I show up at her door holding a folded piece of paper, it’s too obvious. Not that it matters. Even if I don’t manage to surprise Tess, she’ll still make a big deal about my news. That’s what best friends do when something amazing happens to you.
I park next to Tess’ building and I start to get out with the letter in my hand. But at the last minute, I drop it onto the passenger seat for her to find when she gets in. I jog up the concrete steps, avoiding the crumbling stair the city was supposed to repair two years ago. I punch in the security code for the front door.
I’m dying to tell Reed my news. A benefit of dating my best friend’s brother is that when I come over to hang out with one of them, I get to see them both.
Seven months ago, Reed was just Tess’ hot older brother—until a party, four games of beer pong, and a car ride changed everything. Tess and I weren’t the only juniors who showed up at the epic spring break party at Chicken Johnson’s house. But we were the only juniors stupid enough to play beer pong with Chicken and the wrestling team. The guys were all seniors like Reed, and they outweighed and outdrank us.
After I spent an hour in the bathroom holding Tess’ hair while she puked, Reed carried her out to his car. He looked hotter t
But he had sexy nailed.
Tess passed out in the back seat, and I ended up riding shotgun. It was a first. Tess always sat in the front, and I preferred it that way. I’d harbored a monster crush on Reed for years, but I didn’t really know him—or do things like sit next to him in the car … or talk to him.
I didn’t say a word until we got back to the apartment, except for the occasional “uh-huh” to make it seem as if I was participating in the conversation. Reed carried Tess to her room and deposited her on the bed as I stood in the doorway.
“Make sure she takes Advil when she wakes up,” he said as he walked toward the door—and me.
I froze and Reed had to squeeze by me to get through the door. He moved to his left and I moved to my right, and I ended up with my back against the doorjamb and my face inches from his collarbone.
He wrapped his arm around my waist and looked down at me. “You have really pretty eyes. They’re sort of gold.”
People had complimented the color of my eyes before. From certain angles, the contrast between my light brown skin and dark hair made the hazel flecks in my brown eyes look gold. But this was the first time a hot guy was saying it.
“They’re just brown.”
“Golden brown.” Reed brushed my hair over my shoulder and his fingers grazed the back of my neck. I bit my bottom lip and held my breath.
His eyes lingered on my mouth. “Do you know how sexy that is?”
At that moment, with my heart racing and Reed touching me and staring at my mouth, the only thing I knew was that I wanted him to kiss me. He ran his thumb across my bottom lip, and I gasped.
Reed tightened his hold on my waist and backed me out of Tess’ room, pulling the door closed behind him. His hand slid down to my ass and he leaned into me. “I should’ve done this a long time ago.”
I had to remind myself to breathe.
When Reed finally kissed me his lips were rough from years of fighting. But I didn’t care. His mouth kept finding mine—over and over.
“I want to kiss you again,” Reed whispered. “Tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. How does that sound?” He kissed me again.
Then he pulled back and flashed a cocky smile. “You want to get something to eat tomorrow night? I have a fight, but that won’t take long.”
It took a moment for me to realize he was asking me out. With his battered good looks and scraped knuckles, Reed wasn’t homecoming-king material, but that didn’t have a negative effect on his social life. He had a reputation for being protective, wild, cocky, and fun—something that had been seriously lacking in my life.
Girls stopped Tess in the halls at school to dig for information. Did her brother have a girlfriend? Where did he hang out? Would Tess put in a good word for them?
Reed Michaels—the object of their affection—had spent the last ten minutes kissing me, and now he was asking me out on a real date? How could I say no?
Why would I?
It’s hard to believe that night was seven months ago.
I was stumbling through my life back then, trying to figure out how to keep going without my dad, and Reed helped me through some of the low points.
On the other side of the apartment door, something heavy hits the floor with a thud.
I knock and Tess yells, “Just a sec.”
She opens the door, holding her braids together behind her head with one hand. “I’m almost ready.”
“That’s what you say every day.” I follow her inside, dodging the binders and textbooks spilling out of her backpack onto the floor.
“I dropped it.” She kicks the bag and another book slides out. Tess huffs and finishes braiding her pale blond hair. It reaches past her shoulder blades, but she never wears it down. Right now she’s in a braiding phase. She secures the braids behind her head and rolls the rest of her hair around them to form what looks like a crown. I have no idea how she does it. I can barely make a neat ponytail.
I gesture at her hair. “This is new.”
“What do you think?” She tucks a few uncooperative strands behind her ears. “It’s kind of warrior-princess. Right?”
“I have no idea what that means, but it looks cool.” I glance down the hallway behind her. “Is Reed sleeping?”
Reed knows how much I wanted to get into UNC. Maybe I should wake him up and tell him? Then he could go right back to sleep.
Or he could end up in an awful mood for the rest of the day.
I’ll let him sleep.
A few months ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about waking him, and I probably would’ve jumped on his bed to do it.
“Did he get home late last night?” I ask.
“Super late. And he looked like crap.” Tess looks away with a hint of guilt in her eyes. She bends down and collects the mountain of crumpled paper, pens, and textbooks. She tries to shove it all back into her bag, but it won’t fit the way she’s jamming it in there.
“Was he at an underground fight?” I ask.
“He didn’t say. But his hands were banged up when he came home, and he was walking around holding a bag of frozen peas against his jaw.”
Reed got involved in the underground fight scene two months ago. He figured out that he could make more money in one night’s worth of street fights than he could earn in two weeks training other fighters at the gym.
He dragged me along one night to watch him battle it out in a parking structure while people placed bets. Bloody and brutal, with no rules or referees, the fights barely resembled MMA—or any sport. And Reed loved every minute of it.
“I’m worried about him, Tess. He could get hurt.” She’s never seen an underground fight firsthand. “Whenever I try to talk to him about it, we end up arguing.”
She tugs on the zipper of her backpack, but it still won’t close. “Please don’t be mad at him. I don’t want him in those fights any more than you do. But my mom can’t cover the bills on her own.”
I take the bag from her and reorganize it so everything fits. “I’m not mad. Just worried. If he gets caught, he’ll get kicked out of the league.” And that will be the end of his dream of competing in the UFC.
When we first started dating, Reed and I used to talk on the phone at night, dreaming out loud. He would climb the MMA ranks until a sponsor, or a high profile trainer, recognized his potential. I’d play soccer for a Division I college and get recruited to play professionally after I graduated.
“He’s doing it for me,” Tess says softly.
“You can’t blame yourself.” I work the zipper of her backpack until it closes. “Reed makes his own choices. No one tells him what to do.”
She smiles a little. “Like someone else I know.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Tess laughs and her blue eyes light up. She and Reed look nothing alike, but they have the same amazing blue eyes. Ocean blue—like the water in the photos of my grandparents on the beach in Cuba, before they immigrated to the US. I’ve never seen water that blue in real life.
On our way out, I notice a hole in the drywall behind the front door. “What happened? It looks like someone punched a hole in it.”
Her eyes dart to the damage. “Close. Reed and TJ were messing around in the hallway when Reed was opening the door. TJ slammed into him, and they hit the door so hard that it swung around and the knob went through the wall. My mom wasn’t happy. She’s making Reed fix it.”
There’s something weird about the hole, but I can’t figure it out.
Tess opens the door, and her mom is standing in the hallway, fumbling with her house keys.
Mrs. Michaels gasps. “I didn’t hear
The shadows around her eyes are darker than usual. She’s probably coming off a double shift at the café. Tess holds the door open for her mother.
“Thanks, sweetheart.” Her mom wanders inside like she’s sleepwalking. She tries to hang her keys on the wall hook, but she misses and they drop on the floor.
I rush to pick them up.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Mrs. Michaels yawns.
“You worked eighteen hours straight and you’re exhausted,” Tess says, rushing to the kitchen.
Her mom smiles at me. “How’s everything going with you, Peyton?”
“Good.” Better than good. And suddenly, I feel guilty about it.
Tess returns with a coffee mug and hands it her mom.
“Thank you.” Mrs. Michaels eases herself onto the sofa, takes a few sips of her coffee, and sets the mug on the end table.
“Do you need anything before I leave?” Tess asks.
“No, I’m fine.” Tess’ mom unties her apron and tosses it on the chair. “Go ahead to school.” She rests her head on the arm of the sofa and closes her eyes.
We tiptoe out of the apartment and Tess locks the door behind us. On the way to my car, she walks along the edge of the curb putting one scuffed brown boot directly in front of the other as if she’s on a tightrope. It’s obvious she hasn’t heard from any colleges yet.
Now I wish I hadn’t left the letter on the passenger seat.
When we get to my car, I try to hop in first and grab it, but Tess is faster. She picks up the letter and flips it open.
“Wait—” I reach for it, but she’s already reading.
“Holy shit.” She looks over at me. “You got in! Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I wanted to tell you in person, but it didn’t seem like the right time.”
She closes the letter and places it on the dashboard. “Why? Because I’m feeling sorry for myself?”
“Stop. This is the biggest thing ever.” She grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me. “You got into UNC! You’re going to be the next Alex Morgan!”
Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia / Young Adult / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes