Sneak Peeks

Like Never and Always: Chapter Five

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This week we’re featuring a new chapter from Ann Aguirre’s Like Never and Always every day on our blog at 3PM EST from Monday, June 4 to Sunday, June 10. Keep track of them all here, and dive in to chapter five below! Like Never and Always will be available July 17.

On a hot summer night, Liv, Morgan, Clay and Nathan are on the way home from a party in Clay’s convertible. Best friends dating brothers? It doesn’t get better than that. But the joyride ends in sudden impact, a screech of brakes, and shattering glass. On that lonely country road, four lives change forever.

Liv wakes in the hospital. At first she’s confused when they call her Morgan, but she assumes it’s a case of mistaken identity. Yet when the bandages come off, it’s not her face inthe mirror anymore. It’s Morgan’s.

Morgan always seemed to have the perfect life. But as Liv tries to fit herself into Morgan’s world, she discovers endlessly disturbing secrets of the criminal and murderous variety and a dark task to finish…if she doesn’t lose her mind first.

Forced to confront the disturbing truths that Morgan kept hidden in life, Liv must navigate a world of long-buried murder, a dangerous love affair—and a romance that feels like a betrayal.

5

I’m in the front seat of Mr. Frost’s Cadillac, buckled in safely, and he’s driving ten miles below the speed limit, constant anxious glances at me as we go. It would be natural if I were terrified of cars, but I don’t remember much about the accident. It’s all jumbled in my head, and I only remember talking to Nathan moments before it happened.

“You can rest when we get home,” Mr. Frost says. “Wanda will fix you a tray. She’s been cooking all day.”

For a minute, I have no idea who that is, then I figure out it must be their housekeeper, who I’ve always called Mrs. Rhodes. But I’m not sure if that’s what Morgan says. Probably not, as the woman has been working for the Frost family for ten years. Morgan’s mom died when she was seven, and Mr. Frost hired a lady to help with household management.

“Thanks.”

“I know you’re struggling. Do you want me to make you an appointment with—”

“No,” I cut in. Therapy is the last thing I need. A smart, determined person poking around in my head? That’s a recipe for disaster. “I just need . . . some time.”

That sounds reasonable, right?

“Okay. But promise me you’ll talk to Clay, at least.”

Shit. I was planning to break up with him first chance I got, but it occurs to me that Mr. Frost will take this as erratic behavior. They’ve been together almost six months, Morgan’s longest relationship to date, and if I dump Clay, it’ll probably read as a danger sign.

I make an assenting noise, one Morgan used when she felt impatient. God, I hate that I’m copying her. The deeper into this life I sink, the harder it will be to extricate myself later. Presuming that’s possible.

“Your phone was broken,” he goes on. “I got you a new one and had the techs at work transfer all your content and contacts. Don’t worry, I didn’t read your messages.”

“Where is it?” That seems like her; she always had her cell in hand.

“In your room. I can carry you if—”

“Pass. I can make it up the steps before collapsing. I won’t tear my stitches.” The sharpness slips out because I just can’t handle his hovering.

Since that’s probably how Morgan would feel too, Mr. Frost relaxes a little as he pulls into the drive. Next, he taps the button to open the massive black wrought iron gates. Getting onto Frost property is an immense production. There are cameras mounted on the stone posts on either side and they swivel as we go past.

I wish with all my heart that I was going home to our cozy three-bedroom ranch house and that I could crawl under the covers in my own bed. Instead, an imposing stone villa comes into view as we round the curve. The variegated granite gives it a shimmer effect when the sun catches it right. As a kid, I thought of it as Morgan’s princess castle, but as we got older, so much space for two people seemed sad.

It’s a quarter mile from the gate to the mansion, lined on both sides with a lovely mix of black gum, crab apple, magnolia, and redbud trees. In the spring this drive is breathtaking, but it’s late summer, and I’m watching the rearview mirror. Those closed gates make the whole place feel like prison.

Mr. Frost parks the car. I always loved the fountain in the center of their circular drive. It’s rigged with special lights, so when Morgan hosts a party, it glows red, green, blue, shifting through all the colors on a timer, while frothy streams shoot up in different patterns. Today the fountain is turned off, so the stone rim is dry, catching sparkles from the sun. Despite the sweltering heat I shiver as I step from the air-conditioned car. Mr. Frost takes my arm and I throttle the urge to pull away.

You’re not my father. Don’t touch me.

But this isn’t his fault, either.

Just a little longer. Then I’ll have some privacy.

Yet when I’d dismissed that flight of stairs I didn’t realize how much it would hurt hauling myself up them. Mr. Frost hovers as I struggle but I wave him off. I rode in a wheelchair down to the car and haven’t walked all that much. Each step pulls the incision holding my guts in, and my shoulder throbs like crazy. By the time I get to Morgan’s room, I’ve broken out into a cold sweat and I fall onto her bed with a quiet groan. I put on sweats for my discharge, so I don’t have to change clothes. In hindsight this seems like awesome planning.

I’m hurting bad enough that I don’t even care about my situation at the moment. Sleep is all I need; it’s everything. In ten seconds I’m out.

When I wake, the rich glow of twilight tints the room purple, which is an improvement. Morgan’s room is all cool elegance, white plus white. Before, I was afraid to spend much time in here. One dropped slice of pizza or a broken ink pen would ruin everything. But Morgan said it made her feel peaceful . . . like a snowy field. We don’t get much snow in Renton, maybe a sprinkle once a year. It definitely never sticks or stays.

There’s a tray waiting beside the bed, which means Mrs. Rhodes came in while I was crashed out. That probably wouldn’t bother Morgan, but it’s kind of freaky for me. My mom and dad never come into my room. If they need me, they knock. My mom isn’t the snooping kind. She doesn’t rifle through my belongings or poke at my computer. It’s not that she’s perfect, but when she loses her temper, she always apologizes afterward and explains why, so I know it wasn’t me. I mean, sometimes it is my fault because I’m not flawless either. And sometimes we misunderstand each other. I think of all the times I shoveled down something she cooked and ran back to my room without saying more than ten words, and I choke up.

I’m sorry. I didn’t know how fast it could all be taken away.

My dad is a little tougher. He’s a college professor and he’s always demanding to see my homework. I swear he scores my papers harder than my actual teachers, but his criticism gets me better grades. On weekends, he’s all about cooking pancakes for brunch and then book shopping. His idea of family togetherness is a monthly book club, where we all discuss what we read. I pretend to hate it, but honestly, it’s kind of cool.

Overall, I won the parent lottery, and I can’t stand that they’re only three miles away, three miles that might as well be three thousand. My brother used to text me when he wanted something, and I’d go down the hall to find him surrounded by video games and chip bags, no matter how often Mom yelled at him for eating in his room.

Jason Montgomery Burnham, we’ll get roaches. Rats. Rats and roaches. Is that what you want? One day I’ll come in here to find you covered in them.

The light flips on. Someone’s in the room without knocking. I bite my lip against the instinctive complaint. “Yeah?”

“It’s me.” Mr. Frost steps into view. “Did I wake you?”

You just turned on the light in a dark room. Stupid question, your answer is yes. Except for two inescapable facts: one, I was already up, and two, that’s bitchy, as Morgan seldom was. Only in this cool, vague way, so the person she insulted was never completely sure if she meant that how it sounded. But I don’t have her command of verbal subtlety.

So I just shake my head.

“Have you eaten?”

“No, I just woke up.” Again, duh. It’s so awful that I think Mr. Frost is an idiot when he’s trying so hard. But I can totally tell that technology is his forte, not people.

“Do you mind if Clay keeps you company?”

“It’s fine.” I never would’ve guessed he’d be so diligent about visiting a sick girlfriend.

Seems like Morgan was right in picking Clay, against popular opinion. I remember how shocked everyone was when she showed up with him at prom. He quit school two years before and was basically off the market, dating-wise. People said he preferred hooking up with older women. In Clay’s own words: School girls are a pain in the ass . . . and a waste of time.

Morgan changed his mind. And now I’m reaping the benefit.

So damn wrong, on every level.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Ann Aguirre

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