Author: Amber Thielman
Genre: Dark, Edgy Mature YA
Cover Designer: Anna Bloom
Publication Date: February 14th, 2019
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bMZ98a
Amber Thielman is an avid reader and writer of dark, edgy Young Adult and New Adult books that push the boundaries and challenge your comfort zone.
Despite her growing love for HEA's, Amber reads too much Stephen King and grew up devouring every Fear Street novel R. L. Stine ever wrote. When she’s not writing, Amber enjoys traveling, practicing the art of staying on her horse, binge-watching Netflix, and spending time with her husband and their adorable tiny human Aidyn in Southeast Idaho. She also has an undying love for pumpkin-flavored anything and boozy concoctions.
Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/285681015515355/
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bMZ98a
“Khloe, your phone. It’s ringing.”
My eyes flickered open. I didn’t move, and instead, let my gaze flash around the room. I laid there for another moment under the comforter, motionless and silent, still half-asleep. The air in the room was stale and smelled sour with stifling heat and B.O. My head was swimming with dizziness much like it had before I fell asleep and my stomach was churning from the after-effects of booze and weed.
“Khloe,” the voice said again. I closed my eyes. Maybe if I ignored it, it would stop talking.
The tiny silver cell phone sitting on the dresser next to my bed was nothing short of deceiving. The catchy tune I had momentarily listened to on repeat, now made my eardrums want to explode. How could something so loud and annoying come from something so small and fragile?
“Khloe, answer the fucking phone!”
The male specimen lying next to me sat up, reached across, and plucked the phone from the dresser before tossing it near my head. It was still going off, shrill and violating. Christ. Why hadn’t the person hung up yet? Still groggy, I grabbed the phone and looked at the screen before flipping it open and putting it to my ear.
“Carter?” My throat was raw and scratchy. Attractive. It tasted like bile. I cleared it and winced. “What are you doing? It’s four in the morning.”
For a moment, there was silence. An eerie and unnatural silence that made my heart thump against my insides like steel drums. My throat tightened.
My best friend’s voice was different—quiet; almost poignant. I rubbed my face and kicked the covers off, sliding my feet into a pair of slippers. I padded down the hallway to the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake up the guy who was asleep again and probably drooling into my pillow. I made a mental note to wash it tomorrow if I wasn’t too hung over to function.
“What’s up?” I asked, shutting the bathroom door behind me. “Is everything okay?”
Another long silence cocooned me. I could barely hear him breathe.
“Are you with anyone?”
“Just some guy I met at work tonight. But I’m in another room. It’s alright.” I ran a hand through my tangled brown hair, trying to recall the last time I’d taken a shower and washed it. At this rate, dreadlocks would be my next fashion statement.
“What did I tell you about sleeping with losers you meet at the club?”
“Oh, relax.” I leaned over the sink to survey the mascara stains under my eyelids. I looked like a harlot. “He’ll be gone by morning. You’re going to worry yourself to death. Besides, there's nothing wrong with scoring free drinks all night.”
“You’re only eighteen,” Carter said. “You’re supposed to be a server. You’ll get fired if you keep it up.” He sighed, and silence led again. I waited for him to say something else, but he didn’t.
“I’m here.” He sounded sleepy, groggy, in and out of some dream world. My fingers tightened around the cell phone in my hand until my knuckles ached. “Besides, Ava needs to stop sneaking you booze. She’s a bad influence.”
“That's beside the point.”
Another long silence greeted me, but I didn’t push it, just waited for him to talk. Sometimes that’s all you could do.
“I care about you, you know,” Carter said after a full forty-five seconds. “And you have a habit of doing reckless… things.”
“Only to push your buttons.” I took a seat on the edge of the bathtub and crossed my legs, scanning the mysterious bumps and bruises up and down my skin. Blackout nights and perplexing injuries were not new to me, but they were puzzling, nonetheless.
“It’s not funny.” His voice tightened. I paused, startled by the sudden anger in his tone. Carter rarely snapped like that, especially not at me. The last time he’d raised his voice in my direction, I’d twisted his arm behind his back until he apologized just to escape the agony.
“Don’t you use that tone with—”
“I worry about you.” He cut me off. His voice was softer now, his anger diminishing. He sounded off somehow… buzzed, maybe, or high. But Carter didn’t drink. I’d never seen him cradling so much as a Dr. Pepper at parties. “I really do. I worry about you.”
“You don’t have to,” I retorted. “There’re a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to get through without you. But the rest is up to me to decide for myself.”
“If this guy in your bed is gone before tomorrow morning, I won’t have to kick his ass.” For a moment Carter sounded like his old self, and some of my concerns faded.
“Oh, best friend, what would I do without you?” I stood and turned on the cold water in the sink, then leaned down and filled my mouth, swishing the stale taste of beer and cigarettes out the best I could. I didn’t have the energy to brush my teeth, so this would have to do.
“Carter?” I said, drying my mouth with a towel. “Are you sure you’re okay? It’s usually me calling you at four in the morning, not the other way around.”
“Jusqu’ a la procaine fois.” It was our secret phrase, meaning, ‘until next time' in French.
“That didn’t answer my question,” I said with a smile. From my bedroom, I could hear the guy snoring in my bed. I didn’t know his name, barely knew his face, and I didn’t care to.
“Take care of yourself, ami.”
“Will you stop speaking French and talk to me?” I sat back down on the edge of the bathtub. The beer from earlier sloshed around in my stomach. “I know something is wrong, Carter. You’re my best friend. Talk to me. Why do you sound so weird?”
The beep in my ear was so distinct I almost flinched. I held the phone away from me and stared at it, dumbfounded. Even during our worst fights, sometimes even the ones that had escalated to a screaming match, neither of us had ever hung up on the other one. It was an unwritten rule.
“You ass,” I said aloud, dialing his number and pressing the green button. We were going to get to the bottom of this, upset or not. After the fifth ring, I snapped the phone shut, opened it, and then dialed again. I figured he’d have to forfeit, eventually.
“Carter,” I said to his voicemail. “If you don’t answer this phone, the next time I call, I’ll come over there and pound your fucking door down.” I snapped the phone shut for the fifth time and sat fuming on the edge of the bathtub, giving him time to listen to my voicemail. He never could bear to hear me upset, so I didn’t doubt the phone would be ringing any time now.
I dialed again, a small lump of panic rising in my throat as the phone rang and rang. Flipping it shut I shoved it into the pocket of my jeans, grateful—though not for the first time—that I’d passed out in my clothes. In my bed, the male was still snoring even louder now. I kicked off my slippers, yanked on some shoes, and sneaked out the door, careful not to wake the stranger. I could only hope he’d be gone by the time I got back.
The chill of a Washington morning in early spring hit me as I fumbled in the dark for my car keys and slid into the driver's side of the piece of shit Grand Prix that almost didn't qualify as a car anymore. It started on the fourth try, sputtering and wheezing like it was having an asthma attack. I slammed it into drive and headed towards Carter's place, unwilling to admit my high school car, Missus Betty, was probably nearing the end of her eventful life. We’d all known it for a while, but the reality of the situation was still harsh—especially when she was still chugging along after two-hundred-and-fifty thousand miles.
“We're almost there,” I said to the wheezing car. “I know it's cold outside, but just a little further—” Missus Betty wheezed up the hill in the direction of Carter's off-campus apartment. The lights were off when we finally arrived, and I put the car in park and turned off the engine, patting the dashboard with a thank you. I slid out of the car and trudged across the lawn to the front door. I tried the handle. Locked, per usual. What a girl.
“Carter Drake, open the damn door!” I shouted. In the house next to his complex, a dog began to bark, shattering the stillness of the early morning. I spun around to face the general direction of the barks. “Shut the hell up!” I didn't care if I woke the neighbors. They were uptight assholes, anyway. The window to Carter’s bedroom was obscured and I couldn’t see a light on. I wondered if he was asleep or in the bathroom.
“I’ll break your window!” I threatened. As I stood on the front porch in the dark, the dog’s barking grew louder, and I became colder. Too annoyed to stand there until the sun rose, I picked up a small stone from the garden, pulled back my arm, and heaved it at the second-story window. It made a sharp splitting sound against the glass before bouncing off and hitting me in the face. I cursed, holding my nose, suddenly remembering the spare key hidden under the rock in the garden.
“Damn you, Carter,” I mumbled. I fell to my hands and knees to grope around in the dark for the flat stone that hadn’t moved for two years. My fingers brushed the smooth surface, and, using my cell phone for light, I grabbed the key and brushed the dirt from my pants before sticking it in the lock and pushing the door open.
The entire apartment was dark—silent. Aside from the buzzing of the fridge in the kitchen, there was no sound. I pocketed the key and felt against the wall for the light switch, flipping it on and shutting the door quietly behind me. The living room lit up, blinding me momentarily. I looked around, seeking for some sign of Carter, but the house was still. Just as expected, the place was spotless. Over the suede chaise sofa laid a hand-woven quilt, the quilt I’d made him during my long-ass, torture-filled summer at camp without him. The coffee table in front of the couch was tidy, only flaunting a few stacked magazines and an Aloe Vera plant. The apartment was clean—cleaner than my place had ever been, which was typical for the two of us.
“I’m coming up,” I hollered at the stairs. “I hope you’re decent.” I waited for some reaction; some grumbled reply or sleepy bitch-out. Instead, there was silence—a silence that chilled my core. “I know you're here. I saw your car by the curb.” Trying to ward off the dizzying effects of my hangover, I climbed the stairs one at a time, giving Carter enough time to fully wake before I reamed his ass for hanging up on me. “It's your fault I'm not sleeping right now,” I said. My head was starting to pound, vision fuzzy as exhaustion overcame me. I stopped in front of his door and let my hand rest on the handle, pushing it open. “I may very well kick you out of bed and—”
There was silence, an eerie, terrifying silence that seemed to freeze time. In that silence, someone started to scream. For a fleeting second, I wanted to cover my ears and yell at them to shut up: grow up, be quiet, get the fuck out. Shut the fuck up.
Then I realized it was me.
I spotted the bottle of pills first, a neon orange prescription bottle lying open on the floor. The lid was off, and it was empty. Next to the empty bottle of pills, he was there.
With a sob, I dropped to my knees in front of him. I could hear my breath coming in quick, short gasps of panic as I reached out and allowed my trembling hand to feel for any sign of life. His lips were tinged blue, his eyes partially open and staring at the ceiling above us. His skin, at one time running so much warmer than everybody else’s, was cooling down. Chilled and waxy.
“No,” I screamed the word until it hurt my throat. “I don't understand what's happening. I don't understand what's happening. Carter? Carter. Tell me—tell me what's happening. Carter!” I collapsed onto him, letting my head rest on his chest. “I need to call 911,” I murmured. Jumbled thoughts raced through my mind, none of them making a bit of sense. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and dialed the emergency line. My hand was shaking so severely that twice I dropped the phone.
“It's okay,” I said to Carter. “They'll be able to help you.”
“911, where’s your emergency?” asked the operator on the other end of the line. I touched my face, only just noticing the tears rolling down my cheeks.
“My friend,” I said. I reached down and squeezed Carter's hand. “He's-he needs help. I need an ambulance. We’re in the Kirkwood Meadows apartments, number sixty-one.”
“I’m sending Paramedics now,” the dispatcher said. “Ma’am, can you tell me what happened?”
“No. I don't know. I just-I need someone to come and help him. I need someone to come and save his life and I—” The cell phone dropped from my fingers. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard it clatter to the floor, bouncing against the hardwood floor of his bedroom. I reached for him again, resting my hand on his, our temperatures clashing. I could feel my face and fingers start to tingle and numb, threatening a panic attack.
“It's going to be okay,” I said, lacing my fingers together over his chest. I began compressions, holding my breath, as the seconds ticked by in slow motion. I paused for a moment and checked for a pulse. There was nothing. “I love you, Carter,” I whispered, pumping his chest again. “I’m so sorry, just stay with me. They--they'll help you.” Then, in the silence of the house, amongst the midst of death, I lost it.