Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia

  “I’ll call the police. Keep calling Owen’s cell, Grace.”

  We’re fifteen or twenty minutes from the mill. The fight is supposed to start in five minutes. It could be over before we even get there. I can’t waste any more time. I dial the number.

  “Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”


  Street Fighter

  “YOU CAN’T GO in through the front,” Tucker says. “There are cops everywhere, and they’re not letting anybody inside. So far, every guy who has walked out of there has ended up in cuffs.”

  “What about Owen? Have you seen him?”

  Tucker shakes his head. “No. And I’ve been looking. Your cousins are around here somewhere, too, but nobody’s seen him.”


  I take off with Grace and Tess beside me. I don’t have time for anything except finding Owen.

  Police cars are parked on the grass in front of the mill, and the flashing lights on top of the cop cars make it easier to see out here. A small group of middle-aged adults who clearly weren’t involved in the underground fights watch the cops cuff people as they come out of the main entrance.

  Tucker scrambles to catch up with us. “Where are you going?”

  “I have to find Owen. Who are those people?” I point at the group of middle-aged adults. Now that I’m closer, they look more like senior citizens.

  “I don’t know. Probably the closest neighbors, or people who follow the police cars. People actually do that here. Nothing ever happens, so when people see a cop car, they want to know what happened.”

  “Then I guess I’ll be one of those people.” As we get closer, I scan every face, looking for Owen.

  A burly cop walks out with Billy, whose hands are cuffed behind his back. He passes him off to another officer, who has more than a dozen other guys in cuffs sitting on the ground in a row.

  Grace cranes her neck to get a better look. “The cops are definitely not messing around.”

  “I told you, they’re arresting everyone,” Tucker says.

  An officer spots us and walks over. “What are you kids doing here?”

  “We saw all the police cars coming this way, and we wanted to see what was going on,” Grace says innocently.

  “Well, now you’ve had a look. It’s time to go home.” He points behind us. “So go on back to your car.” The officer gives Tucker a disapproving look. “And I know your mama wouldn’t want to know you’re over here, Tucker. Just be glad you weren’t inside. Now, get on out of here.”

  The whole time the cop was talking, I’ve been looking for Owen. He’s not sitting on the ground with the group in handcuffs. But neither is Reed.

  We walk away to satisfy the officer. He watches us for a moment, then loses interest and goes back to the business of arresting people.

  We only have to walk a few yards before we’re hidden by the darkness.

  “So what’s the plan?” Tucker asks.

  “I know another way inside,” I tell them as Grace texts madly.

  “Christian and Cam are already here,” she says. “They’re on the roof.”

  “What? Why?”

  “They climbed into the ducts when they heard the cops come in.”

  “Did they see Owen?”

  Grace shakes her head. “No, I already asked. Christian says they’re waiting until there aren’t as many cops inside, and then they’ll start looking again.”

  What if Owen doesn’t have that much time?

  I check my phone to see if he texted me, but of course it’s dead. I probably drained the battery with the dozens of texts I sent him that went unanswered.

  “I can’t wait that long,” I tell Grace. “I’m going in.”

  She tucks her phone into her pocket and pulls her long black hair into a ponytail. “Let’s go.”

  I lead the way as we approach the mill from the side. We stay close to the trees, so the cops won’t see us.

  “I can’t see anything. It’s too dark.” I keep one hand in front of me so I don’t walk into a tree branch. “And my phone is dead.”

  “I have a flashlight. You can borrow it,” Tucker says.

  He hands me something that doesn’t feel like a flashlight. “Tucker, this is a pen.”

  “Press the end. Not now. It’s really bright. But I’ve got my phone.”

  Luckily, the flashing lights from the police cars illuminate the front of the building, which helps me judge if I’m walking in the right direction.

  As we pass the front of the mill, we work our way closer to the building.

  “Someone’s texting me,” Grace says. “But I can’t read it without turning up the brightness on my phone.”

  “Let me see it,” Tucker says. I can’t see what he’s doing, but he’s messing around with Grace’s phone. He turns up the brightness a tiny bit. “I still can’t read it,” he whispers. “He tucks it under his shirt to hide the light. The light gets brighter as he turns it up a little more.

  “Who’s over there?” a man calls out. A streak of light from a flashlight waves back and forth in our direction.

  Grace grabs Tucker and pulls him away from me. The light catches the two of them.

  “What are you two doing over there? Stay where you are,” the officer says.

  Grace makes a shooing motion with her hand. “Go!”

  I step deeper into the shadows closer to the trees. I feel terrible leaving them behind, but I’m more worried about Owen. I work my way to the concrete steps Owen brought me to once before. The moment I see them, my pulse goes into overdrive.

  Am I really going to do this?

  My legs shake as I walk down the steps. I remove the padlock the way Owen showed me, but I can’t bring myself to open the door. There’s a real tunnel on the other side—not one at the entrance to a football stadium. It’s dark, underground, and completely sealed off, meaning there’s no way out until I get to the other end—which I can’t see.

  My hands are shaking so hard I can barely open the door.

  I can do this.

  My dad didn’t have anyone to swoop in and rescue him, but I might be able to save Owen. I can’t let fear stop me. But this isn’t a normal fear. I’m dealing with a panic attack–inducing phobia. I’m trapped in the quicksand again, and it’s rising fast. Instead of imagining the tunnel I’m about to enter, I picture Owen in the locker room the day I found him after the semifinals, pale and gasping for air. He could be on the other side somewhere right now, in even worse shape.

  I can do this.

  I look up at the sky, and for the first time since my father died, I talk to him. To the sky and the darkness and the heavens and the constellations—all the places I can imagine his spirit roaming free.

  “Help me, Dad,” I whisper. “Please.” I touch the dog tags around my neck. Mom’s right. He is still with us. I can hear his voice as clearly as if he were standing in front of me.

  Aim, kick, release.

  I can’t remember how old I was the first time he said it, but I remember the hundreds and hundreds of times he said it after that first day. Aim, kick, release. For every shot, those were the steps, and we practiced them over and over, passing the ball back and forth in the backyard.

  “You can’t focus on winning the game or scoring goals,” he’d said. “You have to focus on that one kick in front of you. Whether it’s a pass or you’re taking a shot, that one kick has to be the most important one you make, and you do it every time. That’s how you win.”

  I. Can. Do. This.

  I clutch the dog tags in my sweaty palm. I swallow, but my mouth is so dry it feels like swallowing sand.

  Aim. Kick. Release.

  Focus on the next kick. That’s all. I just have to focus on taking one step, and then another. And I have to keep taking them until I make it to the end.

  I cross the threshold, and the walls tilt. The concrete floor seems to shift, like I’m walking on a rope ladder. I close my eyes and extend my arms for

  Aim. Kick. Release.

  The first step feels impossible. My leg’s too heavy, and I can’t raise it.

  What if Owen’s heart stops and no one’s there?

  I lift my foot and take the first step. My body sways until I touch the ground again. I hear Dad’s voice in my head repeating the same thing over and over like a mantra: Aim. Kick. Release. Aim. Kick. Release.

  As I move my foot, I deconstruct my movements. I bring my knee up, put my foot down, and then switch legs and do the same thing. Knee up, foot down, then switch sides.

  Up. Down. Switch.

  I keep my arms extended. I can’t reach the walls, which is probably a good thing. It makes the space seem larger.

  It’s more like a room than a tunnel.

  I’m playing mind games with myself. My knees start to shake, and I close my eyes. It’s too hard to look. I know how far I’ve gone, and that if I look back, I won’t be able to see the entrance anymore.

  Up. Down. Switch. Up. Down. Switch.

  The mantra becomes automatic, and I start counting my footsteps.

  Seven. Ten. Fourteen.

  My knees shake and knock against each other, and the urge to puke my guts out hits. I take deep breaths through my nose, trying to settle my stomach.

  Twenty-eight. Thirty-five. Forty-one.

  The only light comes from Tucker’s flashlight pen, but my eyes are closed anyway. Until the pounding starts. Not just pounding … footsteps. Coming fast.

  Maybe it’s Owen.

  The footsteps echo louder, reminding me that I’m still in a tunnel.

  Where are they coming from?

  My heart beats wildly as the sounds grow louder. A beam of light bounces off the tunnel walls, getting closer and closer. I can make out a silhouette, but not much more. Broad shoulders and a muscular body race toward me.

  The floor still feels like it’s shifting beneath my feet, and another wave of nausea hits. I gag and cover my mouth.

  The person running toward me isn’t Owen.

  It’s Reed.


  Losing Faith

  REED AND I see each other at the same time and he stops.

  “Peyton? What are you doing down here?” His voice sounds strange, like I’m underwater. “Worried about your new boyfriend?” He drops his gym bag at his feet.

  “Is—is he okay?” I stammer.

  Reed holds the flashlight between us, and the light casts an eerie glow on his face. “I don’t know. The little bitch didn’t show.”

  “Owen isn’t here?”

  “I figured he was with you. But I’m glad you’re here. I wanted a chance to talk to you alone.”

  I’d rather eat nails.

  Reed seems oblivious to the fact that I can’t stand him.

  “If you want to talk, let’s do it outside.” I start to turn around, but Reed blocks my path.

  “No, we should talk now, while we’re alone. I think that’s part of the problem. We had a misunderstanding and other people kept getting involved. That’s when everything got out of hand.” His demeanor has completely changed, and he’s playing the apologetic ex.

  “Other people ‘getting involved’ wasn’t what caused the problem. What you’re doing to yourself is the problem.”

  He scratches the back of his head. “What do you mean?”

  The tunnel walls look as if they’re getting narrower, squeezing closer to Reed—and me. I take a shuddering breath.

  Don’t let him see how scared you are.

  “Please don’t play this game with me. I broke up with you because you were doping. Then you decided to push me down a flight of stairs. I don’t really think there’s much left to talk about. Unless you want to discuss the fact that you’ve been stalking me and leaving dead animals in my locker. Because that kind of stuff definitely shows a girl how much you love her.”

  Reed’s jaw twitches, and I scoot my feet back rather than taking a step. If he senses fear or weakness, he’ll attack.

  “I told you I was sorry about your knee. I didn’t mean it. Nothing like that will ever happen again. And you can’t blame me for wanting to check up on you. You just disappeared.”

  “Reed, I think we should get out of here. The cops are searching the building and arresting everyone. They already have a bunch of guys handcuffed out front, including Billy. It’s only a matter of time before they come down here.”

  “First, they have to find the entrance to tunnel in that thrashed-out basement.”

  “You found it.”

  I can’t see the end of the tunnel from here, which means it isn’t as close as I thought. Suddenly, I’m dizzy.

  “And then I covered it up.”

  “With what? It’s a tunnel, not a porthole.” The panic is getting worse.

  “I don’t want to waste any more time talking about cops and tunnels,” Reed says, moving closer. “I want to talk about us. I messed up. I admit it, and I’m sorry. But we belong together. You know that. I just won the regional championship. Aren’t you happy for me? Everything is going to be great now. Just give me one more chance. I won’t screw it up.”

  The tunnel walls look like they’re expanding and contracting around us. I know I’m imagining it, but it feels so real. I can’t leave because I’m stuck listening to Reed’s bullshit. The panic recedes and another feeling replaces it.


  “We don’t belong together, Reed, and we’re never going to end up together. I saw what you did to Tess.”

  He flinches.

  “Yeah. I saw her face. You haven’t changed; you’re getting worse. If you could do that to your own sister—”

  “Shut up,” he growls.

  “Reed, please. You need help. Can’t you see what this is doing to you?” I don’t actually care if he gets help anymore. Too much has happened. Seeing Tess’ face was the final straw. But right now I’ll say anything to get away from him.

  “I still love you, and I’m not giving up. I went easy on that guy Owen, but if you won’t give me another chance and you start screwing around with someone else, I’ll make him pay.” Reed narrows his eyes. “And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.”

  The voice in the back of my head whispers to me, Do whatever you can to get away from him.

  My instincts failed me the night Reed pushed me. I didn’t see it coming. But now I know what I’m looking for—the empty look in his eye. My little voice is right this time, and I need to listen.

  The tunnel is cold, but Reed is sweating. I wonder how long ago he took a dose and what that means for me.

  Get away from him. Now.

  There’s no way I can outrun him. Not when my knee still isn’t a hundred percent.

  I flash on an image of Owen and Tucker in the ring, when Owen was teaching him self-defense. The palm strike doesn’t require a lot of strength to execute, and an attacker’s size doesn’t matter unless you can’t reach the person’s nose.

  Still …

  I haven’t really practiced.

  What if I try it on Reed and it doesn’t work? It might set him off.

  My heart pounds against my rib cage, like it’s trying to break out. I’m not sure if it’s because of Reed or the tunnel.

  “What we have isn’t the kind of thing you walk away from, Peyton. And once we work things out, our relationship will be different. You’ll see. I’ll stop doping, if that’s what you want.”

  He’s lying, and he’s not even doing it well.

  Reed paces back and forth in front of me.

  “You’d really quit?” I pretend his answer matters to me. Maybe it’s the wrong move, but I don’t have time to think it through. It’s a Hail Mary—a last-ditch effort to save myself—and right now it’s my only shot.

  Reed stops pacing and stares at me for a moment. “Yeah. I swear. Then we can pick up where we left off.”

  Like nothing happened.

  That’s what he means.

  “You can quit just like that???
? I ask. “Isn’t your body used to that stuff now?”

  “People quit all the time. Other guys on my team have done it. You just stop.” He smiles and moves closer. “You don’t know how happy that would make me. One chance. That’s all I’m asking for. I won’t screw things up this time.”

  You’ll just punch me in the face the first time I piss you off.

  Reed reaches out to tuck my hair behind my ear, and I try not to cringe. His touch makes my skin crawl. “I knew you’d come around. What we have is special.”

  I’m playing a dangerous game. And the huge smile on his face tells me that if I lose, I’ll lose big.

  “I’ve really missed you, Peyton. Things haven’t been the same. Even winning doesn’t feel the same without you. I think that’s why I’ve been so stressed out.”

  Stressed out? Is that what he’s calling it?

  The sound of muffled voices drifts into the tunnel from somewhere inside the building.

  Reed doesn’t seem to notice. He’s busy planning our future. “We could get an apartment together in the fall. We’d save a lot of money, and I could still help my mom.”

  He seems to have forgotten that I’m going to college. But I’m not about to remind him—not when the improvement in his mood is buying me time.

  Suddenly, the air in the tunnel feels heavier and it’s hard to swallow.

  What if I don’t make it out of here?

  My chest squeezes tighter and tighter.

  I hear Dad’s voice in the back of my head. It’s now or never, kiddo.

  I doubt this is the scenario Dad envisioned when he said it, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I’m running out of time.

  It’s getting harder to breathe. Any minute, I’m going to have a panic attack and start hyperventilating. Or Reed is going to want some kind of confirmation that I’m giving him another chance—like a kiss.

  My throat spasms.


  Thinking fast, I fake-cough into my elbow to hide my real reaction.

  “You okay?”

  I’m not confident enough to attempt a heel strike on Reed. I’d rather rely on human nature. I slide my phone out of my back pocket without Reed noticing. When he turns around, I toss it up in the air. Reed looks up, just like Owen said people do if you throw something above their heads.

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