Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia


  I pull back just a little. “I don’t want to get hurt again.”

  Owen takes my face in his hands, and his lips brush against mine. “I promise I won’t hurt you.”

  Part of me believes him.

  CHAPTER 29

  Lie to Me

  OWEN DROPPED ME off an hour ago and I’m lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I can’t stop thinking about the way his hands felt on my skin—how it felt to kiss him and hear him whisper my name. My genius plan to keep my distance and not let him get too close was a total fail.

  My phone vibrates.

  I hope it’s Owen.

  I check the caller ID, but it’s not him. I don’t recognize the number, but it has a DC area code. It has to be Reed. I should ignore it and let the call go to voice mail. But there’s something about him calling now that sets me off, as if he knew I was feeling amazing and he had to ruin it.

  “What do you want?” I ask without confirming that it’s Reed.

  “Peyton? It’s so good to hear your voice. I didn’t think you’d pick up.” Reed sounds sweet and heartbroken, which is impossible since he doesn’t have a heart.

  “What do you want?” I ask again.

  “I want you to come home. Lucia said your mom sent you to a fancy rehab center for athletes and you aren’t coming back for five or six months, or something crazy.”

  I actually smile. Only Lucia could figure out a way to torture Reed. When I get home I’m going to buy her the reddest lipstick I can find.

  “You don’t need to worry about when I’m coming back. Nothing has changed. I didn’t want to see you before I left, and I still don’t.”

  “I miss you.”

  “Get used to it.”

  “Tess misses you, too.” He’s trying to manipulate me.

  But what if he’s not?

  “Don’t call me again, Reed.” I hang up before he has time to say another word. He calls back two seconds later, but this time I don’t pick up. I add the number he called from to a long list of blocked numbers.

  Does Tess really miss me? Because I miss her, especially when something amazing happens. She’s still the first person I want to tell.

  Maybe she’s ready to listen.

  I take a chance and hit speed dial on my cell. The phone rings three times. Either she’s not around or she still doesn’t want to talk to me.

  I’m about to hang up when someone answers.

  “What do you want?” Tess snaps from the other end of the line. It doesn’t sound like she has had a change of heart.

  “I want to talk.”

  “Does that mean you’re ready to explain why you lied to me?” The anger in her voice takes me by surprise. It’s the tone Tess uses when she talks about her father, a man she hates.

  “Tess—”

  “I’ve thought about this over and over, and maybe you weren’t trying to hurt me, and I was just collateral damage.” A hint of sadness creeps into her voice, and for a second she sounds like my best friend again. “It’s the only explanation I can come up with that makes any sense.”

  Not the only one.

  “Sometimes relationships change people and make them do stupid things,” she says. “Is that what happened?”

  All I have to do is say yes and I’ll have my best friend back.

  But I can’t.

  “I’ve never lied to you before, Tess, and I’m not going to start now. I was telling you the truth. Reed pushed me. He admits it when he calls me. I’m not confused.”

  “Right.” Tess sounds even angrier than before. “Call me when you’re ready to be honest. Or don’t call me again.”

  CHAPTER 30

  Roadkill

  “WHEN THE WORLD around us doesn’t make sense, we find ways to make sense of it ourselves.” Miss Ives is talking about the novel, but it feels like she’s talking about my life.

  “The author, Tim O’Brien, tells us a lot about the items from home the soldiers carry—photographs, comic books, good luck charms, a pebble—because these objects are more than just reminders of home. But O’Brien also writes about the intangible things the men carried, like hope, sorrow, and fear.”

  I swallow hard, but my throat feels like it’s stuffed with cotton. Owen scoots his chair a little closer to mine.

  Miss Ives leans against the front of her desk and watches the class, searching our faces for a reaction. “I want each of you to keep this in mind as you’re reading. Ask yourselves what each of the soldiers is carrying—because at the end of this unit, I’m going to ask you to write an essay about the things you carry. Not the objects you brought in when we started the novel, but the intangible things you can’t hold in your hand.”

  Her statement is met by a chorus of groans from the class.

  Whatever. I’ll make up something poignant and meaningful—BS that will pass for introspection. English teachers love that kind of stuff. I won’t write anything personal. So why does it feel like I’m choking on a baseball every time I swallow?

  Owen nudges my knee with his. It’s his way of asking if I’m okay without asking. I smile to reassure him.

  I’m relieved when the bell finally rings, and I rush out the door. Thanks to Miss Ives and Tim O’Brien, I dread English class. But even a depressing war novel can’t kill my mood today.

  “Why are you smiling?” Owen asks once we’re in the hallway.

  “I’m not.”

  “I know a smile when I see one,” he says. “And that was a smile.”

  We walk down the hall side by side, close enough for his hand to graze mine, which it does more than once.

  “Would it be wrong if I told you that I really want to hold your hand?” Owen asks, reading my thoughts.

  “Friends don’t walk around school holding hands.” I move closer and let my hand brush his.

  “Just friends do,” he whispers.

  We pass the hallway Owen takes to get to his locker. “Maybe my just friend wants to stop by his locker so he doesn’t have to bum paper off everyone.”

  “Mine is too far away. I’m saving trees. No one uses all the paper in their notebooks anyway. I think my time is better spent escorting you to your locker.”

  We get to my locker, and he leans against the one next to mine, watching me. I spin the lock but I keep missing the numbers.

  “Having trouble?” he asks. “Maybe you’re distracted.”

  I’m so transparent.

  “No. I’ve got it.” I’m still looking at Owen when I open the door. I catch a glimpse of something falling. It’s coming right at me.

  Is it more soccer balls?

  A girl screams, and the object hits me for a split second before Owen bats it away. It happens so fast that I don’t even see it. Owen pulls me next to him, and I look at what fell out.

  A mound of gray fur lies on the floor—a tiny leg and a long paw jutting out from underneath it.

  My stomach heaves, and I cover my mouth.

  Owen puts his arm around me. “It’s okay.”

  Cameron jogs toward us. He spots the ball of fur in front of my locker and my proximity to it. “Where the fuck did that come from?”

  “Peyton’s locker.” Owen says the words slowly, through gritted teeth.

  “What is it?” I peek at the pile of fur. It’s some kind of animal.

  A crowd gathers. This is a repeat of the soccer balls, but a hundred times worse.

  Cam yanks a T-shirt out of his backpack and uses it to pick up the dead animal. “It’s a rabbit.”

  That’s when I notice the rabbit’s body is flat. It’s not just a dead rabbit.

  It’s roadkill.

  I want to scream, but there are too many people around and I’m willing to bet one of them is the person who did this.

  Cam holds the carcass away from his body and turns his back to me so I don’t have to look at it.

  “What have you got there, bro?” Christian calls out. He’s grinning, like he thinks Cam is messing around or pulling a prank. I can’t
see Cameron’s face, but his expression must be serious because Christian’s smile instantly vanishes.

  “Someone put this in Peyton’s locker,” Cam says.

  “Are you shitting me?” Christian slams my locker door closed hard enough to dent it. “Who did it?”

  April is standing next to her locker with Dylan, and her smug expression makes me want to strangle her.

  “I’m pretty sure I know.” I slip past them and storm down the hallway.

  Owen and the Twins follow me.

  “You’re sick, you know that?” I shout at her.

  April’s expression changes from amusement to confusion. Not that I buy her act. She starts to say something, then she sees what Cam is holding.

  “You think I did that?” She points at the roadkill dangling from Cam’s hand.

  “You or your piece-of-shit boyfriend,” Christian says.

  Dylan drops his backpack and gets in Christian’s face. “What did you call me?”

  “You heard me.”

  “I’m not a sick asshole like you,” Dylan fires back. “I’d never put anything like that in a girl’s locker.”

  I stare April down. “Then she did it on her own.”

  “You think I go around collecting roadkill?” She eyes the rabbit, scrunches up her nose, and looks at me. “That I’d pick up that disgusting thing?”

  “You hunt. Dead animals don’t bother you,” Cam says.

  “I haven’t hunted with my dad in years. And it’s not like we ran over things and then went back and picked them up.” April’s eyes dart to the carcass.

  “You went from soccer balls to a dead animal? That takes commitment.” I shake my head as if I feel sorry for her. “You had to drive around and look for it. Then you had to pick it up and put it in your car, drive to school and carry it in here. Personally, I would’ve puked. Did you put it in a bag, at least?”

  People in the hall start whispering and April looks around, frantic. “It wasn’t me! I put the soccer balls in your locker. I admit it. Are you happy now? But I don’t know anything about a note, and I did not touch that thing.” She points at the flattened rabbit.

  As much as I can’t stand April, I don’t think she did it. But I’m not sure if Dylan was involved.

  Dylan points at Christian. “I bet you put it in there yourself so you could come over here and start shit or get April in trouble.”

  Christian’s eyes cloud over. “What did you just say?”

  “You heard me.”

  Christian lunges at Dylan and slams his back against the lockers. Dylan throws a hook and catches Christian in the jaw, stunning him just enough for Dylan to slip out of Christian’s grip.

  “Fight!” someone shouts.

  Dylan plows into Christian, but he has trouble moving the linebacker more than a few feet.

  “Heads up, Cameron. Here comes the cavalry,” Owen says, watching four tall guys sprint down the hallway toward them.

  Cam drops the dead rabbit and cracks his neck. “You take the two on the left.”

  “No. I’ll take the two on the right. Beck Johnson wrestles,” Owen says. “If he gets you on the ground, you’re screwed.”

  Cam cusses under his breath. “I’m gonna get benched.”

  Christian and Dylan hit the floor, and within seconds they’re grappling in the middle of the hall. Dylan is taking a beating.

  “Get off him, Christian!” April shrieks.

  “Peyton, get out of there,” Owen yells.

  April scurries out of the way, and I head in the same direction. She seems like she knows the drill.

  The tall guys, who look like basketball players on Dylan’s team, don’t say a word before they start swinging.

  Cam leans forward and charges. He catches the two around their waists and tackles them. The other two go straight for Owen, but they hesitate. “We don’t want any trouble, Owen,” one of them says.

  “Then walk away, Beck,” Owen says. “It will be hard to defend your title as state wrestling champ if you can’t wrestle.”

  The other guy isn’t as smart as the wrestler. He moves to the side and tries to sucker punch Owen.

  Owen blocks the punch with almost no effort, grabs the basketball player by the back of his neck, and slams the guy to the floor.

  “Teachers!” someone yells, and students scatter.

  Owen grabs Christian by the back of his shirt and hauls him off Dylan. “Your coach is coming.”

  Christian points at Dylan. “We’re not done.”

  Dylan scrambles to his feet. His nose is bleeding all over his Warriors basketball T-shirt, and his face is red and blotchy.

  Owen walks up to Dylan and stops in front of him. Even though the basketball player is a head taller than Owen, he shrinks back.

  The football coach and another man wearing a Warriors warm-up jacket call out names. “Rollins! Carters! Law!”

  Owen takes a step closer to Dylan. “If I find out that you had anything to do with this, or you knew anything about it, I’m gonna break my rule about only fighting guys with my level of training. And I’m going to come after you.”

  Dylan swallows hard.

  “And if anything else happens and I find out that you have anything to do with it, I’m gonna come after you again. And we’ll see how well you play basketball with two broken arms. You and your boy Beck can share a hospital room.”

  Owen steps back just as chaos erupts.

  The football coach is yelling at the top of his lungs. He shoves Dylan’s friends toward one side of the hall and Cam toward the other. Cam looks fine, but the other two guys who went after him didn’t fare as well.

  “Christian Carter!” Coach shouts.

  The coach wearing the warm-up jacket lays into the basketball players.

  Owen turns toward me.

  “Not so fast, Mr. Law.” Miss Ives marches down the center of the hall with her hands on her hips. “I think you should stay right here while we sort this out.”

  CHAPTER 31

  Handsprings and Happiness

  THE HALLWAY FIGHT earned Owen, the Twins, and Dylan and friends three weeks of morning detention—a disciplinary action the principal cooked up as a way to keep the Twins on the football field. The possibility of detention must not worry April, because she had the guts to mess with my locker again. This time she left a note taped inside with a message written in huge letters: GO HOME. NO ONE WANTS YOU HERE.

  Whatever.

  April can write all the notes she wants as long as she doesn’t put anything gross in my locker. I didn’t mention the note to Owen or the Twins. The last thing they need is more detention.

  Coming to the football game tonight wasn’t my idea. Cam guilted me into it with, “Don’t you want to come support me and Christian and Grace?”

  Well played.

  Grace is my only girlfriend in Black Water, and her spot on the cheer squad means everything to her. So unless I want to hang out at one of her practices, which would involve unnecessary exposure to April and Madison, the only time I can watch her perform is at a football game.

  Christian and Cameron bugged me to come, too, so I’m killing two birds with one stone.

  The home team side of the stadium is packed. I spot Miss Ives sitting near the front, wearing a Warriors jacket and a blue scarf.

  The cheer squad is already on the field, hyping up the crowd. April is front and center, gesturing and issuing orders.

  Tucker stands up and waves at us from the middle of the bleachers. There are two empty spots next to him.

  “Looks like Tucker saved us seats,” Owen says, moving aside so I can walk in front of him.

  “That’s weird, considering I didn’t decide to come until a little while ago.” I feel Owen’s fingertips touch the small of my back as he walks behind me, and my spine tingles.

  “I guess he was hoping.” The flirty way he says it makes it clear that Tucker wasn’t the only one.

  I peek over my shoulder at Owen. “You don’t even
like football.”

  He glances at the stands. “I thought that was our little secret.”

  “We’re starting to have a lot of those.” I make my way up to where Tucker is sitting at the end of the row.

  “I knew you’d end up coming.” He grins and scoots over.

  “I’m being supportive.”

  On the field, the band plays a new song and the cheerleaders move into position, fanning out to form the shape of a star. April is the front tip of the star. She claps three times, and the rest of the girls snap to attention. The routine consists of lots of marching, jumping, and ponytail tossing. But I have to admit, the stunts look difficult and each girl’s movements are perfectly synchronized.

  “They’re good,” I say.

  Tucker leans forward and watches. “Just wait. They haven’t even gotten to the stunts yet.”

  “He’s got a crush on Natalie Wynn.” Owen reaches behind me and messes up Tucker’s hair.

  Tucker looks around as if he’s worried someone might have overheard. “I don’t. We’re just friends.”

  “Who’s Natalie?” I ask.

  Owen points at the field. “The brunette. Third from the left, in the front row.”

  “Isn’t she the girl from the cafeteria?” The one Coach picked to go find Dylan’s basketball coach. The poor girl was so embarrassed.

  “That’s her,” Owen says.

  Natalie is pretty. She looks younger than the other girls on the squad. I nudge Tucker with my shoulder. “She’s cute.”

  He blushes and shakes his head. “I don’t have a crush on her.”

  “Whatever you say,” Owen teases.

  When the band hits the chorus, all the cheerleaders rush to the center of the field and begin assembling a pyramid. The taller girls on the squad form the base. Another group forms the second tier. The cheerleaders waiting to take their places boost up the other girls. Grace is the last cheerleader to join the pyramid. The two girls on the tier below Grace link hands to form a platform for her. Grace stands, her arms stretched out in a V.

  “She’s so high up.” I bite my bottom lip and hold my breath.

  “Relax,” Owen says. “She does this all the time.”

 
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