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When Ace leaves home to spend the summer in Cherokee, North Carolina the last thing she expects to find is a boyfriend—until she meets Cherokee Tribe member John Spears. As Ace and John's friendship blossoms, they find their life experiences mirror each other and they fall in love. Despite hurdles thrown by well-meaning family members and jealous frenemies, the star-crossed lovers remain committed to their mutual belief that the universe has drawn them together. However, when Ace sends John a strange text and then suddenly disappears, the two must rely on their trust in each other to save both their lives and their love.
Page Count: 332
Word Count: 84399
I’m late. My self-imposed curfew ended an hour ago, but sometimes I have to get away just to breathe. My hand trembles as I sweep the key card through the lock mechanism. The green light blinks, and I let myself in. A warm lamp burns in the large living area, but the sharp angles of the ultra-modern furnishings keep the place from looking like a real home. Who am I kidding? A suite in a casino resort in Cherokee, North Carolina isn’t a real home, but thanks to Dad’s job, that’s where we’re living for the summer.
“Mom, I’m home,” I call.
I toss my purse on the counter and run to the bedroom I share with my twelve-year-old brother, Zack, to be sure he’s okay. He’s in bed asleep with the light on, an encyclopedia draped across his chest. The book rises and falls with each of his shallow breaths. I sweep his long brown bangs to the side and kiss him on the forehead. He would never let me do that if he were awake. He’s sensitive to touch, so he only lets me show him the love he deserves when he doesn’t know he’s getting it.
Now to check on Mom.
I only make it halfway to her bedroom before my stomach cramps, and I have to stop. I really have no reason to worry. She’s been fine since we got here, even happy. She’s probably just sleeping.
A couple steps further and I’m knocking on the door. “Mom, are you awake?”
No answer, still.
I take a deep breath to keep my anxiety in check, then let myself in. The room is dark and quiet, lit only by the full moon bleeding through the solid glass wall.
I squint while my eyes adjust. My mother sits in the Jacuzzi in the far corner of the room, a mere silhouette, a lonely black ghost. She rolls in my direction and mumbles something. A glass slips from her hand and shatters on the tile floor. Before I have a chance to react, she sinks into the tub.
“Omigod!” I dash to her side, grope through the water, and fish her out. She coughs and sprays chlorinated saliva over my favorite shirt—the blue one with the beadwork horse on the pocket. A design I spent hours creating.
I shake her. “Wake up. You have to get out before you drown.”
She fights me, but I hold strong while glass crunches beneath my sneakers. To my advantage, she isn’t very big—a whole size smaller than my size seven frame—and I’m able to get her on her knees. While this isn’t the first time I’ve had to take care of her, I’ve never seen her this drunk. My mother is like a stranger to me.
She groans when I drape her over the side of the tub. With one hand on her back, I brush away the glass shards with a neatly folded towel. Then I ease her forward, and she tumbles out with a wet thud.
“Don’t move. You might cut yourself,” I say.
She lies sprawled like a naked rag doll while I run to get a clean towel from the bathroom. I return in a flash and help her to a sitting position, then wrap it around her middle.
Mom scrubs her nose with the back of her arm and rasps, “Your father left me. He’s with another woman.”
Here she goes again. The alcohol has damaged her brain. There’s no other explanation. I mean, they fight a lot, but Dad loves her. He loves us. “Stop with the nonsense. You’re imagining things. He’s working. You know that.”
“You left me. Zack fell asleep early. Why does everyone always leave me?” Her breath is ragged and tears flood her already damp face.
I’m mad as hell, but her sobs, as usual, evoke pity in me. I don’t want them to, but they do. I knew Dad was going out, and I left her. It’s my fault she’s in this condition. Now I have no choice but to undo the damage I’ve done, right my wrong. I’ve got to fix things before anyone finds out.
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