Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia


  Dead at seventeen.

  I watched students who barely knew Noah plant a stupid tree for my dead boyfriend—a guy who didn’t even recycle.

  With a Sour Patch Kids addiction like Noah’s, he would have preferred a vending machine.

  When the lopsided tree was finally in the ground, Noah’s lacrosse coach said a few words and invited us all to his house that evening for another get-together in Noah’s honor.

  Noah died three months ago, and I still couldn’t sleep at night. The wounds hadn’t stopped bleeding, and my school was already tearing off the bandages.

  It’s almost over, I’d told myself. Or so I thought.

  The poem was what sent me over the edge.

  Student body president Katherine Calder had written it herself, and she read the poem in front of the entire senior class while her mother videotaped the performance. The little bitch finally had a meaningful personal experience to write about for the college Common App essay.

  Everything went downhill from there.

  After spending an hour at Coach’s house, which included an encore of Katherine’s heartfelt poem, I swiped a bottle of wine and drank it in the bathroom. By the time I left, the combination of anger, alcohol, and sleep deprivation had turned me into an emotional hand grenade with a set of car keys.

  Mom won’t see it that way. She’ll be pissed. I actually feel sorry for the cop who got stuck calling her.

  The doorknob turns, and I sit up straighter. Officer Tanner comes in and hands me a cup of burnt-smelling coffee. “Your mother is here.”

  This will be fun.

  Mom is waiting in the lobby. Even at midnight, she looks perfectly pulled together, dressed in fitted black pants and a beige cashmere wrap. With only a hint of blush and her blond hair gathered in a low ponytail, she could pass for my older sister. When my parents were still married, her hair was the same shade of light brown that mine is now. I ditched the highlights months ago, along with any trace of the old Frankie.

  Holding the white foam cup, I walk toward her. My eyes are swollen, and my face streaked with mascara. I don’t care about getting in trouble. Listening to one of her guilt trips is a hundred times worse.

  Mom storms past Officer Tanner without giving him so much as a look. Cops only interest her if the alarm system at our house goes off. “What were you thinking, Frankie? You could’ve killed someone—or yourself.”

  “I’d never want to hurt anyone else.”

  It’s me I don’t care about.

  “Even if that’s true, your behavior over the last few months proves you’re out of control.” Her voice rises with every word. “You’ve been on a downhill slide since Noah died, but this”—she gestures to our surroundings—“crosses the line.”

  I’ve never seen Mom this angry, and I know she’s holding back. She hates making a scene in public. I stare down at my black Adidas Sambas, the beat-up pair of indoor-soccer shoes I salvaged from the basement. The old Frankie never would’ve been caught dead wearing them outside the gym. But I wear them everywhere.

  “Mrs. Devereux?” Officer Tanner uses his cop tone.

  Bad move.

  “My last name is Rutherford, not Devereux.” Mom closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, regaining her composure and trust-fund-baby charm. “I apologize, Officer…?”

  “Tanner,” he finishes for her, even though his name is engraved on the pin above his pocket.

  “The last few months have been difficult for all of us. Francesca suffers from PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder,” she explains, as if he isn’t smart enough to recognize the acronym. “It’s certainly no excuse, but she’s never been in any trouble before. If you don’t press charges—”

  Officer Tanner holds up his hand. “Let me stop you right there, ma’am. I know this situation is upsetting, and I’d like to extend your husband a professional courtesy. But we’re not talking about a speeding ticket.”

  Mom bristles when he refers to Dad as her husband, but she doesn’t correct him. “Francesca attends Woodley Prep, and if the headmaster finds out about this, she’ll be expelled.” Mom lowers her voice. “She’s already been through so much. We still don’t know what she saw that night.”

  Everything.

  I saw everything.

  I try not to think about it, but Mom’s voice fades as other sounds cut in and out.

  Don’t panic. Breathe.

  Isn’t that what the last shrink told me to do? Or am I supposed to picture my safe place? I can’t remember. A switch flips in my brain, and fragmented memories from the night Noah died hit me in rapid bursts—

  Strobe lights flash.

  A mass of bodies swells on the dance floor—arms raised. House music blaring and bass pumping.

  My head pounds along with it.

  Noah told me to wait inside while he got the car. But it’s too loud.

  Black velvet curtains part at the main entrance, and cool air hits me.

  Dim streetlights glitter against the wet asphalt. I walk around the side of the building to the parking lot. Where did he park? I didn’t pay attention. Noah always remembers.

  The Sugar Factory’s pink marquee glows above me.

  Noah’s voice, low and muffled. A glimpse of his baby-blue polo shirt. A guy standing in front of him, his face obscured by black shadows—as if it were erased.

  But I see Noah clearly, and I can tell he sees me. He shakes his head slowly, the movements almost imperceptible. I recognize that look, and it sends pinpricks up my arms. I’ve seen it after lacrosse games when a player from the opposing team came up to Noah off the field, looking for a fight.

  The look means: Don’t come over here, Frankie.…

  “Frankie?” Mom’s voice scrambles the images, and Noah’s face disappears.

  I open my eyes and blink hard, battling double vision.

  “Are you still drunk?” My mother doesn’t recognize when I’m having a flashback, which only proves how wrong things are between us.

  “I’m just tired.” And completely screwed up.

  The glass door to the precinct swings open, and Dad charges in like he owns the place. From his faded green Indian Motorcycles T-shirt and five-o’clock shadow to his scarred knuckles and crooked nose, he looks more like a middle-aged boxer or construction worker than an undercover cop. I guess that’s the point.

  He flashes his Maryland State Police badge at the county cop sitting behind the counter. Did Mom call him? Or one of the officers here?

  It doesn’t matter. He knows.

  “Why don’t you go sit down while I talk to your parents?” Officer Tanner nods at a row of red seats bolted to the wall. He doesn’t have to tell me twice. He meets Dad in the middle of the hallway. “I’m sorry, Jimmy. I’d like to make this go away, but—”

  Dad cuts him off. “You know I don’t walk that line and I would never ask another cop to walk it, either.”

  I’ve heard my father talk about the line between right and wrong so many times. It defines every aspect of his life, and tonight I crossed it.

  I slouch against the molded plastic seat and count the black rubber marks on the floor. My long hair falls over my shoulder and hides my face. I want to disappear, especially when the precinct door opens again.

  “What the hell is going on?” King Richard, my pathetic excuse for a stepfather, bursts into the lobby.

  “Why don’t you take it down a notch, Richard? This isn’t your office,” Dad says. “Nobody here works for you.”

  “James.” Only Mom calls my father by his given name. “You could at least try to be civil.”

  Dad crosses his arms. “I could do a lot of things.…”

  Nobody pisses my mother off more than Dad. At least he gives her another target.

  “That’s enough, Elise.” My stepfather shoots her a warning look.

  Mom’s heels click against the floor as she scurries over to her place beside King Richard. He rests his hand on the small of her back in case he needs to pull her i
nvisible puppet strings.

  Within seconds, they’re arguing. It’s nothing new, and I don’t worry until the shouting dissolves into sharp whispers. Never a good sign.

  Snippets of the conversation drift through the hallway, and I strain to listen.

  “—ruined her chances of getting into Stanford.” Mom.

  “If she keeps this up—” King Richard.

  “Ever since Noah died—” Dad.

  “It’s a shame she can’t ID her boyfriend’s killer.” Officer Tanner doesn’t bother whispering. “That son of a bitch should be locked up.”

  My stomach lurches like someone kicked me.

  He’s right, but it’s not a shame.

  It’s pathetic.

  My mind is damaged—shrink code for too weak to handle what I saw that night. Now I’m a hostage to the flashbacks that hit without warning and the insomnia that keeps me from sleeping more than three hours a night.

  Mom and Dad walk toward me shoulder to shoulder. A united front. They divorced when I was three, and they get along about as well as two rabid dogs locked in a closet. If they managed to agree on anything, they must think I’m a few weeks away from hooking on a street corner.

  For the first time tonight, I’m scared.

  Mom looks at me like I’m a stranger. “I’ve tried to be understanding, Frankie. But you’re out of control. Avoiding your friends, sneaking out of the house, drinking with the lifeguards from the club.” Maybe she has been paying attention between tennis matches.

  “That was one night,” I argue. At least that she knows about.

  “I hoped you would snap out of this and go back to being the girl you were before.”

  Before I watched someone beat my boyfriend to death in a beer-stained parking lot. Before I realized that doing all the right things doesn’t matter. Noah was an honor student, a star athlete with offer letters from three Ivy League universities, and a good person.

  And he’s still dead.

  “I just want you to feel like yourself again, sweetheart,” Mom says.

  She doesn’t realize that girl doesn’t exist anymore.

  “Your father and I think it’s time for him to get more involved.”

  More involved?

  Based on how involved he is now, that’s a pretty low bar. I spend two weekends a month with Dad, if he isn’t too busy working undercover in RATTF—Regional Auto Theft Task Force—a supercop unit. When I do see him, it’s not exactly quality time. I usually end up eating leftover pizza until he gets home from pretending to be a car thief. On his days off, we practice what Dad calls Critical Life Skills—and what I call Ways to Dodge a Serial Killer. Fun stuff … like how to escape from the trunk of a car if it doesn’t have an automatic-release handle inside.

  “Maybe your father will be able to help you get back on track,” Mom adds.

  Doubtful.

  “How is that supposed to work when we barely see each other?” I ask, ignoring my dad, even though he’s standing right next to her.

  Dad steps between us. “You’re moving in with me.”

  CHAPTER 2

  CLEAN SLATE

  When I open my eyes, the first thing I see are sunny yellow walls—at least that’s the way they looked to me as a kid. Now they make me feel like I’m trapped inside a stick of butter.

  Reality hits me, like it has every morning for the last seven days.

  I’m living with Dad.

  And this butter stick is my bedroom.

  I’ve spent the night here plenty of times, but this is different. I won’t be standing by the window on Sunday afternoon waiting for Mom to pick me up. I’m staying here until at least the end of the school year.

  For now, this is home.

  I dig through a dresser drawer, searching for an outfit the old Frankie would hate. Frayed white button-down or black tee? Tough call, but I go with the button-down. The loose threads would drive the old Frankie crazy. I pull on a pair of skinny jeans, and my elbow whacks against the dresser.

  This room is the size of my walk-in closet at Mom’s house, and it’s decorated like it belongs to a ten-year-old: a dresser and matching nightstand covered with hand-painted flowers and green vines, a twin bed with ruffled sheets—and let’s not forget the yellow walls.

  Unfortunately, I have bigger things to worry about today.

  In the hall, Cujo, Dad’s huge gray-black-and-white Akita, sits next to my door.

  “Hey, buddy.” I scratch the dog’s big, square head, and he follows me. The apartment has a simple and borderline-claustrophobic layout—two bedrooms and bathrooms at one end of a narrow hallway lined with mismatched frames, and a living room–dining room combo and a galley kitchen at the other end.

  In the kitchen, Dad surveys rows of cereal boxes in the pantry. There are at least a dozen different kinds.

  “You’re not making me a real breakfast?” I ask sarcastically, walking past him on my way to the fridge.

  Dad swears under his breath. “Sorry. I’m not used to—”

  “It was a joke.” I scan the shelves stocked with Dad’s staples: Diet Pepsi (Coke isn’t sweet enough), whole milk (for his cereal), white bread and American cheese slices (in case he gets sick of cereal and switches to grilled cheese), and a gallon of 2 percent milk (store brand).

  “I bought extra Diet Pepsi and the milk you like,” he offers.

  “I drink Diet Coke.” And I stopped drinking 2 percent milk when I was ten, a fact I don’t bother mentioning anymore.

  My father memorizes dozens of car makes, models, and license plates so he can bust car thieves and the chop shops that sell stolen parts, but he can’t remember what kind of milk I drink? Skim. I should make him a list of my food preferences and stop torturing us both.

  “I’ve got cereal.” He shakes a box of Froot Loops.

  “No, thanks.” I close the refrigerator empty-handed.

  Cujo’s ears perk up and he bounds for the front door.

  “Did you hear something, partner?” Dad asks.

  The dog barks, and a split second later, the doorbell rings.

  “It’s probably Lex.” I give Cujo a quick scratch behind the ears and start unlocking the deadbolt.

  “Frankie!” Dad shouts as if I’m a child about to run out into traffic.

  I turn around, searching for a sign of danger. Nothing looks out of place. “What’s wrong?”

  Dad points at the front door with a fierce look in his eyes. “Never open a door without checking to see who is on the other side.”

  It’s official. My father has crossed over from paranoid to crazy. “That’s the reason you yelled at me like I was about to set off a bomb?”

  “Depending on who is on the other side, you could’ve been.”

  I gesture at Cujo sitting next to me calmly, with his head cocked to the side. “Cujo isn’t growling. He always growls if there’s a stranger at the door.” A retired K-9 handler trained Cujo as a protection dog. He’s the definition of an intruder’s worst nightmare.

  “You can’t let anything lull you into a false sense of security. Letting your guard down one time is all it takes.”

  Does he think he’s telling me something I don’t know? I stifle a bitter laugh.

  “This isn’t funny, Frankie.”

  No, it’s painful and pathetic, and I live with it every day.

  Parents are supposed to understand their kids, or at least make an effort. Mine are clueless.

  The doorbell rings again.

  Crap. Lex is still standing in the hallway.

  I make a dramatic show of peering through the eyehole and turn to Dad. “Happy?”

  “These are critical life skills. As in, one day they might save your life,” he says as I open the door.

  Lex stands on the other side, smoothing a section of her choppy hair between her fingers. It’s dyed a lighter shade than her usual honey blond, except for an inch of brown roots where her natural color is growing in. The inch is deliberate, like the smudged charcoal eye li
ner that looks slept in and makes her blue eyes pop against her coppery-brown skin.

  Her eyes remind me of Noah’s.

  Thinking about him feels like standing in the ocean with my back to the waves. I never know when it’s coming or how hard it will hit me.

  “I was starting to wonder if you left without me.” Lex breezes past me. “Ready for your first day in the public school system, or, as my mom calls it, ‘the place where every child is left behind’?”

  We haven’t seen each other since the beginning of the summer, but Lex makes it feel like it’s only been days. I spent the last three months trying to leave the old Frankie behind, avoiding Lex and Abel, my closest friends, in the process.

  “How’s it going, Lex?” Dad asks.

  “Pretty good.” She yawns. “Please tell me you have coffee, Frankie. The line at Starbucks was insane.”

  “There’s a pot in the kitchen,” Dad offers.

  “Thanks, Mr. Devereux.” If she keeps acting this cheerful, Dad will think she’s high. We’ve known each other forever, but when Lex developed a gross crush on my dad in seventh grade, it almost resulted in best friend excommunication.

  “Don’t thank him yet,” I whisper. “His signature blend is burnt Maxwell House.”

  “I’d rather go without food for a week than caffeine for a day.” Lex pours herself a cup of liquid coffee grounds.

  Dad fishes a Velcro wallet out of his back pocket and lays two twenties on the table next to me. “Swing by the store after school and pick up some Diet Coke and anything else you want.”

  I leave the crumpled bills on the table. “I won’t have time. Community service starts at three thirty, right after classes let out.” Thanks to King Richard, I already have a probation officer and a community service assignment. He called in a favor at the district attorney’s office, and my case was bumped to the top of the pile. “Lex is dropping me off at the rec center and picking me up when I’m done.”

  I told Dad all this last night.

  “You don’t mind?” he asks Lex. “You’re already driving Frankie to school in the mornings. I would take her myself—”

  “But you can’t blow your cover. I totally get it.” She takes a sip of her coffee and cringes, but Dad doesn’t notice.

 
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