Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia

  “You can’t slip and make a comment like that at school.” Dad gives us his serious cop look. “You both understand that, right?”

  I ignore the question.

  “Absolutely,” Lex says. “I mean … I absolutely won’t say anything.”

  “Good.” Dad nods and looks over at me. “I would never send you to Monroe if I thought it would be an issue. The high school and the rec center are in the Third District—the nicer part of the Downs. It’s nothing like the war zone where I work in the First District.”

  It’s weird to hear him describe any part of the Downs as nice. I guess it seems that way if you compare the run-down projects, abandoned buildings, and streets lined with liquor stores in Dad’s district with the neighborhoods near Monroe.

  “People in one-D think I’m a car thief. If anyone finds out I’m a cop, I’ll have to walk away from my open cases and transfer to a district outside the Downs.”

  Most people hear the word undercover and automatically think of DEA agents in movies—the ones who have to disappear without telling anyone where they’re going and move into crappy apartments so they can infiltrate the mob or the Hells Angels. But that’s not the way it works for regular undercover cops like Dad.

  Obviously, he doesn’t wear a T-shirt that says I’M A COP. But he also doesn’t have to lie to the whole world about his job—just people who hang out in, or near, his district.

  “Frankie? You understand, too, right?” He sounds irritated. That’s what I get for ignoring his question the first time.

  “I’ve never told anyone about your job except Lex, Abel, and Noah. Why would I start now? Maybe you should lecture Mom. She still bitches about it to all her friends.”

  Dad sighs. “I’m not trying to give you a hard time. I’m just reminding you to be careful what you say.”

  “Consider me reminded.” I glare at him, and Dad turns to Lex.

  “Your parents don’t mind you driving Frankie to the rec center?”

  “They’re fine with it.” They probably have no idea. Lex’s parents are never around unless they need her to pose for press photos.

  “Does your father still have family in the Downs?” Dad asks.

  “Nope. The Senator moved everyone out as soon as he could afford it.” Lex refuses to call her father Dad. Instead, she calls him the Senator because she says he cares more about being the first Puerto Rican–American senator in the United States than about being a father.

  “I don’t blame him,” Dad says in his cop tone. “There’s a lot of crime. It’s a tough place for honest people to live. Make sure to keep the car doors locked while you’re driving.”

  “We know, Dad.”

  He continues issuing instructions. “Remember to leave your purse in the car when you get to the rec center. Just take your phone and some money. And I got you something.” Dad opens the hall closet and fishes around in the pocket of his jacket. He returns with something pink in his hand. A flashlight? And two pieces of orange plastic?

  Dad hands me the pink thing.

  I take a closer look at the canister. “Pink pepper spray?”

  “I think it’s cute,” Lex says.

  “Then you can have it.”

  “It’s pepper gel,” Dad explains. “The spray can blow back at you, but this stuff shoots wherever you aim the nozzle. And the gel really sticks.”

  “I’m not carrying that around.” I try to hand the canister back to him, but he won’t take it. “What if I set it off accidentally? I’m sure there’s a rule against bringing tear-inducing toxins to school.”

  “It has a safety, so it won’t go off unless you want it to. Keep it in your bag.” Dad points at the small black shoulder bag that already feels like the wrong choice.

  I shove the pepper gel inside. Otherwise, he’ll never leave me alone.

  “And you both need one of these.” Dad offers us each an orange piece of plastic.

  Lex grabs one.

  “It’s a rape whistle,” Dad says proudly.

  I saw that coming.

  She scrunches up her nose. “Umm … thanks.”

  I take mine and toss it in my army-green backpack.

  He scratches his head as if he’s forgetting something. “Wait inside the building until Lex gets there to pick you up.”

  And I won’t take any candy from strangers.

  “I’ll be on time, even if I have to speed,” Lex teases.

  Dad misses the joke. “Do you have a clean driving record?”

  “Except for a few parking tickets, but everyone has some of those, right?” She flashes him the perfect smile that you only end up with after four years of braces.

  “I don’t.” Dad walks over to the sliding glass door that leads to the balcony, and he looks down at the parking lot. “Is your Fiat a stick shift?”

  “Automatic,” Lex says. “Frankie is the only person I know who can drive a stick.”

  Because my dad suffers from undercover-cop paranoia and he forced me to learn in case of emergency.

  “One day you might need to drive a vehicle that isn’t an automatic,” he says.

  I know exactly where this conversation is going. “Enough, Dad.”

  “What if you’re alone and some lunatic grabs you off the street, and he drives a stick shift?” Dad asks, like it’s a perfectly normal question. “If there’s an opportunity to get away, you won’t be able to take advantage of it.”

  Lex stares at my father, dumbfounded. She has heard me recount enough of these stories to know he’s serious. Usually, he saves these questions for me.

  “You should learn,” Dad says. “If Frankie’s license wasn’t suspended, she could teach you.”

  My shoulders tense. I’m not letting him play his passive-aggressive games with me. “Is there something you want to say, Dad?”

  “Just stating a fact.” He stands his ground.

  “Why? So I won’t forget how badly I messed up my life?”

  Dad sighs. “I’m trying to help you, Frankie.” He isn’t apologizing or admitting he’s wrong.

  “I don’t want your help.” I push Lex toward the apartment door. Before I follow her out, I turn back to look him in the eye. “I’m sorry you lost your perfect daughter. But I’m the one you’re stuck with now.”



  Lex waves at Dad as she pulls out of the parking lot. “I know we’re angry at your father, but can I just say that he is still off-the-charts gorgeous?”

  “Are you serious right now?” I scrunch up my nose. “Because you’re one comment away from making me throw up in your car.”

  “What are best friends for if they don’t crush on your dad?”

  “Actually, I think your dad is pretty—”

  She pretends to gag. “Stop. New rule. Referring to the Senator as anything other than old and boring is a violation of BFC.”

  I’m surprised at how easily I fall back into my old routines with Lex. There’s something about knowing a person for most of your life that makes it impossible to un-know them. “You can’t pull Best Friend Code when you’re the one who brought up hot dads.”

  “Hot dad … singular. As in yours.” She flashes a mischievous smile. “Remind me again why your mom left him?”

  “Who knows why my mother does anything?”

  “I still can’t believe she went through with it and made you move in with your dad. She’s usually so full of crap.”

  Mom has always reigned supreme as the queen of empty threats … until now.

  I prop my feet on the glove compartment and hug my knees. “She even carried my bags up to Dad’s apartment. And Mom hates carrying things almost as much as she hates him.” I packed my stuff in black trash bags instead of suitcases to make her feel guilty, or at least to force my mother to haul around what looked like garbage. But it didn’t faze her. I’m not sure she noticed.

  I leave out that part of the story, and the lull in the conversation lasts too long.

??Enough with the silence. I get plenty of that at home,” Lex says. “Back to your mom. How did she pull this off so fast? It’s only been a week since your DUI. Even the Senator would be impressed.”

  Fast is an understatement.

  It’s Wednesday morning. Seven days after I walked out of the police station with my parents and King Richard. The minute we got home, Mom told me to pack, like she couldn’t wait to get rid of me, while my piece-of-crap stepfather hovered in the hallway.

  Don’t get me wrong—I was happy to go. The Heights reminds me of Noah and my screwed-up memory.

  But Mom doesn’t know I feel that way. That would require an actual conversation—something she left to the army of doctors, shrinks, and hypnotists she hired to bring back the old Frankie. Recovering my memories so I could identify Noah’s killer and move on was never the real goal. Once I figured that out, I stopped talking to the shrinks. I’ll find a way to remember without her help.

  The next day, Mom drove me out of the Heights—our exclusive community in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington, DC—to Dad’s two-bedroom apartment in Westridge, a neighborhood full of townhouses and garden apartments, less than six miles away. But six miles feels like a hundred when a five-minute car ride can mean the difference between living in the Heights or in Section 8 housing.

  Mom left me on his doorstep with the garbage bags full of my stuff—like she had finally taken out the trash.

  “Frankie?” Lex sounds worried.

  I force a smile. “Sorry, I spaced. Dad is all over Project Reform Frankie, and it’s stressing me out. If things had worked out the way he planned, I would’ve started school yesterday. But according to Dad, a Dolly Parton look-alike in the office at Monroe refused to call Woodley for my immunization records. She told him to drive over there and get them himself.”

  “That’s Mrs. Lane. She doesn’t take crap from anybody. Couldn’t your dad get you out of community service?”

  If hell froze over.

  “In Dad’s universe, rules don’t bend. Everything is black or white. There is no gray.”

  Lex glances at my hands locked tight around my legs. “Nervous about your first day?”

  Anything is better than going back to Woodley. Not that it was an option. Mom met with the headmaster and begged him not to expel me and ruin my chance at getting into Stanford. But she wasn’t persuasive enough. Knowing Mom, she’s probably devastated.

  I’m relieved.

  The Stanford dream belonged to the old Frankie—a girl who learned how to spin the straw she was given into the gold everyone else wanted.

  The old Frankie played up her cute features with makeup tricks, hunted for jeans that made her boyish figure appear curvier, and adopted the style of her favorite fashion bloggers because she didn’t trust her own. At parties, lots of fake giggling and bathroom trips to flush vodka shots down the toilet allowed her to act cool without doing anything that could jeopardize the Plan. A nothing-special-but-cute-enough girl who landed the captain of the lacrosse team because he’d had a crush on her since they were kids.

  It’s hard to believe I was ever that girl.

  I lean against the headrest. “Monroe has to be an improvement.”

  “Was the first day at Woodley really that bad?”

  “It was basically the seventh circle of hell. People taped notes and cards all over Noah’s locker and left flowers and teddy bears on the floor in front of it.”

  “Woodley is full of attention whores. Getting kicked out of that place was a relief.” Lex has been expelled from four private schools in two years, beginning with Woodley—not easy to pull off when you’re the daughter of a senator. Lex takes pride in her academic rap sheet because every expulsion embarrasses her mother with her socialite friends.

  She turns onto Bellflower Parkway, where the garden apartment complexes end and the nicest of the low-income developments in the Downs begin. Tan brick buildings with barred windows line the street, identical except for the collections of plastic high chairs, toys, and tricycles piled on the balconies.

  Monroe High is only a few blocks away, in the good section of a bad neighborhood. But barred windows are barred windows.

  Lex rakes her fingers through her hair, messing it up a little. “At least we’re finally at the same school again.”

  A few months ago I would’ve loved the idea. But now I just want to start over. As much as I love Lex, that’s harder to do with her around.

  She glances at me, her lips pressed together.

  Crap. That was my cue to act excited. I suck. “I know you have other friends at Monroe, Lex. I don’t expect you to hang out with me all the time.”

  A hint of disappointment flickers across her face. “If you keep dressing like that, I won’t. Your shirt looks like it came from the donation pile at the Salvation Army.”

  I used to waste hours shopping. Not anymore. “Think of it as my attempt to fit in.”

  She eyes my frayed white button-down and faded skinny jeans. “With who? Meth heads? Are you trying to ruin my carefully crafted image at Monroe?”

  Lex reinvents herself whenever she switches schools. Judging by her smudged eye liner and the combo of skinny jeans and kitten heels, she has rocker chic nailed.

  “So what did you go with this time?” I ask. “Rich and Misunderstood Hottie? Or Unattainable New Girl Who Doesn’t Give a Shit?”

  She gives me a mischievous smile. “Scandalous Bad Girl with a Secret. A triple threat.”

  “I guess that makes me Screwed-Up Girl with Secrets She Can’t Remember.”

  Her smile vanishes. “You can’t change the past.”

  Not if you can’t remember it.

  Lex pulls into the parking lot. “A new school is a clean slate.”

  “I hope so.”

  Instead of tennis courts and a swimming pool, Monroe has DRUG-FREE ZONE signs posted every ten feet and temporary classrooms that look like orange shipping containers on the front lawn.

  “Are you ready for this?” Lex asks.

  “Ready is a relative term.”

  “You could get a private tutor instead,” Lex teases. “It’s not too late to guilt-trip your mom into letting you come home.”

  “Yes, it is.”

  It was too late the moment Noah’s head hit the ground. Once the rumors spread through the Heights like bird flu, too late came and went.

  The only thing left is now.


  In Lot B, we drive past dozens of restored muscle cars and rusted-out Hondas. A vintage black pickup with yellow flames painted on the sides eases into a space in front of us, and Lex stops.

  Outside my window, a group of guys stand huddled around a midnight-blue Mustang, checking out the engine. Noah and his friends from the lacrosse team used to form an almost identical huddle whenever one of them showed up with a new car. Except they were more interested in the upgrades inside than what was underneath the hood. Noah and his friends lived in lacrosse T-shirts or wrinkled button-downs with the sleeves rolled, and they all projected the same brand of confidence that comes from growing up with money.

  In Lot B, there isn’t a button-down in sight except mine. Instead, the guys wear low-slung jeans, have tattoos, and they are marked with the kind of confidence you earn.

  The dark-haired guy standing closest to the Fiat leans over the side of the Mustang, looking under the hood. The black ink on his arm catches my eye. A pile of skulls begins at his wrist. Above them, more tattoos snake their way over his light brown skin—a tree twists up from the skulls and one of the branches transforms into the stem of a black rose. Tribal lines curve from its center and disappear under the sleeve of his dark gray T-shirt.

  He looks over as if he senses me watching him. Dark eyes lock on mine. I stop breathing for a second. Guys at Woodley don’t look like this—rough, inked, and muscular. His hair sticks up in the front like he started spiking it and lost interest halfway through the process.

  He tilts his head, and a ghost of a
smile crosses his lips.

  The Fiat lurches forward and Lex swears under her breath. “Are you insane, Frankie? We’re not in Kansas anymore. You can’t stare at people from the Downs. They’re not like the kids at Woodley.”

  I’m not naive. Washington Heights and Meadowbrook Downs didn’t get their nicknames by accident. Money is the dividing line—the street you live on, the type of car you drive, and whether your family has a country club membership matter more than anything else.

  Lex gestures at a Chevy with a spoiler that looks like it’s worth more than the car. “I mean, who puts a spoiler on a piece of junk like that? You have to walk into this place like you know you’re better than them, or they’ll eat you alive.”

  “Are you listening to yourself right now? Because you sound like my mom, and that’s scary. And hello? Your dad is from the Downs.”

  “That’s the reason the Senator spends so much time trying to clean it up. If he knew I was driving you to the rec center, he would freak.”

  “But you and Abel went to some Monroe parties last year when I was out with Noah.” I push away the memory of sitting in a movie theater with my head on Noah’s shoulder, our hands bumping in the popcorn bucket.

  Lex turns into Lot A and slips into an empty space between an Audi and a Lexus. “Most of those parties were near your dad’s apartment, and one of them was up the street from my house. We’re not the only people from the Heights at Monroe. All the private-school rejects go here.”

  “I know how it works.” Everyone does.

  Parents in the Heights are always bitching about it. The county is divided up into zones based on income, and every public school has one wealthy neighborhood and one poor neighborhood that feed into it. The rest fall somewhere in between and make up the difference.

  A zip code in the Heights means you end up at Monroe. Technically, we’re only ten miles from the Heights, but it feels like ten thousand. That’s why parents send their kids to private schools like Woodley Prep if they can afford it.

  “So you’ve never been to a party in the Downs? Not even once?”

  Lex glares at me. “You couldn’t pay me to show up at one of those parties.”

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