Until You (Fall Away #1.5)


by Penelope Douglas

Prologue

My name is Jared.

My name is Jared.

My name is Jared.

I kept repeating it over and over again, trying to get my heart to stop beating so fast. I wanted to go and meet our new neighbors, but I was nervous.

There was a kid living next door now—probably ten years old like me—and I’d smiled when I saw that she wore baseballs caps and Chucks. Other girls in my neighborhood didn’t dress like that, and she was pretty, too.

I leaned on my windowsill, checking out the house next door, alive with music and light. No one had lived there for a long time, and even before then it was just old people.

A big tree stood between our houses, but I could still see through the green leaves.

“Hey, sweetie.”

I turned my head to see my mom leaning on my bedroom doorframe. She was smiling, but her eyes were teary, and her clothes were wrinkly.

She was sick again. She got sick whenever she drank the bottle drinks.

“I saw that we have new neighbors,” she continued. “Did you meet them?”

“No.” I shook my head, looking back out the window, wishing she’d go away. “They have a girl. No boys.”

“And you can’t be friends with a girl?” Her voice cracked, and I heard her swallow. I knew what was coming, and my stomach tightened.

“No, I can’t.”

I didn’t like to talk to my mom. Actually, I didn’t know how to talk to her. I was alone a lot, and she pissed me off.

“Jared—” she started but didn’t continue. After a moment, I heard her walk away and slam a door down the hall. She probably went to the bathroom to puke.

My mom drinks alcohol a lot, especially on the weekends, and all of a sudden I didn’t want to meet the blonde-haired girl next door.

So what if she seemed cool and liked to ride bikes?

Or that I could hear Alice in Chains coming from her bedroom? At least I think it was her bedroom. The curtains were closed.

I stood up straight, ready to just forget about it and go make myself something to eat. My mom probably wasn’t cooking tonight.

But then I saw the girl’s curtains open, and I stopped.

She was there. That was her room!

And for some reason, I smiled. I liked that our rooms faced each other.

I narrowed my eyes to see her better as she opened the double doors but then widened them when I saw what she was doing.

What? Was she crazy?

I yanked up my window and peered out into the night air. “Hey!” I shouted at her. “What are you doing?”

She jerked her head up, and my breath caught when I saw her wobble on the branch she was trying to balance on. Her arms flailed from side to side, and I was immediately out of my window and climbing into the tree after her.

“Be careful!” I yelled as she bent down and grabbed hold of the thick branch with her hands.

I crept into the tree while holding onto a branch at the side of my head for support.

Stupid girl. What was she doing?

Her blue eyes were big as she stayed on all fours, holding onto the tree as it shook beneath her.

“You can’t just climb into trees by yourself,” I snipped out. “You almost fell. Come here.” I leaned down to grab her hand.

My fingers instantly tingled, like when a part of your body falls asleep.

She stood up, her legs shaking, and I held onto a branch above my head as I walked both of us toward the trunk.

“Why did you do that?” she complained behind me. “I know how to climb trees. You scared me, and that’s why I almost fell.”

I looked over at her as I plopped down on the thick, inner part of the tree. “Sure it was.” And I dusted my hands off on my long, khaki cargo shorts.

I stared out at our street, Fall Away Lane, but I couldn’t shake the feel of her off my hand. The humming spread up my arm and over my whole body. It was like all of my hairs were standing up, and I kind of wanted to laugh, because it tickled.

She just kept standing there, probably pouting, but after a few seconds she took the seat next to me. Our legs dangled together off the branch.

“So,” she spoke up, pointing to my house. “You live over there?”

“Yeah. With my mom,” I said, and I looked down at her just in time to see her eyes drop, and she started to play with her fingers.

She looked sad for a few seconds, but then her eyebrows came together, and she looked like she was trying not to cry.

What did I say?

She was still dressed in the same overalls I’d seen her in earlier today when she was unloading the moving truck with her dad. Her hair hung loose, and other than some dirt on her pants, she looked clean.

We sat there for a minute, staring out at the street, listening to the wind rustle the leaves around us.

She seemed really little next to me, like any minute she’d fall off the branch, unable to hold herself up.

Her lips were turned down at the corners, and I didn’t know why she was so sad. All I knew was that I didn’t want to go anywhere until she felt better.

“I saw your dad,” I started. “Where’s your mom?”

Her bottom lip shook, and she looked up at me. “My mom died in the spring.” Her eyes had tears in them, but she took long breaths, like she was trying to be tough.

I’d never met a kid that had a dead mom or dad, and I felt bad for not liking my mom.

“I don’t have a dad,” I told her, trying to make her feel better. “He left when I was a baby, and my mom says he’s not a good man. At least your mom didn’t want to leave you, right?”

I knew I sounded stupid. I didn’t want to make it seem like she had it better than me. I just felt like I should tell her anything to make her feel good.

Even hug her, which is what I really wanted to do right now.

But I didn’t. I changed the subject.

“I saw that your dad has an old car.”

She didn’t look at me, but she rolled her eyes. “It’s a Chevy Nova. Not just an old car.”

I knew what it was. I wanted to see if she did.

“I like cars.” I kicked off my DC shoes, letting them fall to the ground, and she did the same with her red Chucks. Our bare feet swung back and forth in the air. “I’m going to race at the Loop someday,” I told her.

Her eyes perked up, and she turned to me. “The Loop? What’s that?”

“It’s a race track where the big kids go. We can go there when we’re in high school, but we have to have a car. You can come and cheer for me.”

“Why can’t I race?” She looked mad.

Was she serious?

“I don’t think they let girls race,” I said, trying not to laugh in her face.

She narrowed her eyes and looked back to the street. “You’ll make them let me.”

The corners of my mouth turned up, but I held back my laugh. “Maybe.”

Totally.

She held out her hand for me to shake. “I’m Tatum, but everyone calls me Tate. I don’t like Tatum. Got it?”

I nodded, taking her hand in mine and feeling a rush of heat spread up my arm again. “I’m Jared.”

Chapter 1

6 Years Later …

The blood spills over my bottom lip and onto the floor like a long strip of red paint. I let it pool in my mouth until it dribbles out, since everything hurts too damn much to spit.

“Dad, please,” I beg, my voice shaking as my body shivers from the fear.

My mom was right. He’s a bad man, and I wish I’d never talked her into letting me spend the summer with him.

I kneel on his kitchen floor, shaking, with my hands tied behind my back. The itchy rope bites into my skin.

“Are you begging, you little pu**y?” he snarls, and the strap whips my back again.

I squeeze my eyes shut, wincing, as fire spreads across my shoulder blades. Closing my mouth, I try not to make any noise as I breathe through my nose until the burning fades away. The skin on my lips feels stretched and swollen, and the slippery metallic taste of blood fills my mouth.

Tate.

Her face flashes in my mind, and I crawl back into my head where she is. Where we are together. Her sunshine hair floats on the wind as we climb the rocks around the fish pond. I always climb behind her in case she stumbles. Her stormy blue eyes smile down at me.

But my father breaks through. “You don’t beg! You don’t apologize! That’s what I get for letting that cunt raise you all these years. Nothing but a coward now. That’s what you are.”

My head jerks back and my scalp stings as he yanks me by my hair to meet his eyes. My stomach rolls when I smell the beer and cigarettes on his breath.

“At least Jax listens,” he grits out, and my stomach shakes from the nausea. “Isn’t that right, Jax?” he yells over his shoulder.

My father releases me and walks over to the deep freezer in the corner of the kitchen and pounds twice on the lid. “You still alive in there?”

Every nerve in my face fires with pain as I try to hold back tears. I don’t want to cry or scream, but Jax, my father’s other son, has been in the freezer for almost ten minutes. Ten whole minutes and not making a sound!

Why is my father doing this? Why is he punishing Jax when he’s mad at me?

But I stay quiet, because that’s how he likes his kids. If he gets what he wants, maybe he’ll let my brother out. He has to be freezing in there, and I don’t know if he has enough air. How long can someone survive in a freezer? Maybe he’s already dead.

God, he’s just a little kid! I blink back the tears. Please, please, please…

“So…” My father walks over to his girlfriend Sherilynn, a crazy-haired crack head, and his friend Gordon, a f**king creepy ass lowlife who looks at me weird.

Both sit at the kitchen table enjoying whatever drug is on the menu today, not paying any attention to what is going on with the two helpless kids in the room.

“What do y’all think?” My father puts a hand on each of their shoulders. “How are we gonna teach my boy to be a man?”

I jerked awake, my pulse pounding in my neck and head. A drop of sweat glided over my shoulder, and I blinked, seeing my own room and walls come into view.

It’s okay. I breathed hard. They’re not here. It was just a dream.

I was in my own house. My father wasn’t here. Gordon and Sherilynn were long gone.

Everything’s okay.

But I always had to make sure.

My eyelids were heavy as f**k, but I sat up and hurriedly scanned the room. The morning light blared through my window like an air horn, and I brought my hand up to shield my eyes from the painful rays.

The shit on my dresser had been shoved to the floor, but it wasn’t unusual for me to make a mess when I was wasted. Other than some disarray, the room was quiet and safe.

I let out a long breath and inhaled again, trying to slow down my heart as I continued looking left to right. It wasn’t until I’d made a full circle that my eyes finally rested on the lump next to me under the covers. Ignoring the ache between my eyes from the alcohol the night before, I peeled the blanket back to see who I was dumb enough—or drunk enough—to let spend the whole night at my house.

Great.

Another f**king blonde.

What the hell was I thinking?

Blondes weren’t my thing. They always looked like good girls. Not exotic or even remotely interesting. Too pure.

They looked like the girl-next-door type.

And who really wanted that?

But the last few days—when the nightmares had started again—all I’d wanted were blondes. It was like I had some sick pull to self-destruct over the one blonde I loved to hate.

But…I had to admit, the girl was hot. Her skin looked smooth, and she had nice tits. I think she’d said something about being home for the summer from Purdue. I don’t think I told her about me being sixteen and still in high school. Maybe I’d spring that on her when she woke up. Just for kicks.