Sneak Peeks

Like Never and Always: Chapter Six

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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 six 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.

6

Never did I picture Clay hanging out at Morgan’s house. In fact, I was never sure if her dad knew they were together. Morgan wasn’t big on explaining herself, even to me. So it’s awful, but I imagined him as a dirty little secret. See, the Claymore boys are what my Mamaw would’ve called white trash. Their dad died in a mine accident when Nathan was ten. As for their mom, well, her habits are . . . irregular at best.

None of that is Clay or Nathan’s fault. Regardless, I love Nathan. His family situation never impacted our relationship, except that he spent a lot of time at my place.

But now I’m tangled up with his older brother.

Feeling guilty, I muster a smile as Clay steps in. He hovers by the door with enough awkwardness that I can tell he hasn’t been here often, and he contrasts sharply with the décor. Everything in here but Clay is sleek, delicate, and feminine, like a room designed for a shoot at Marie Claire. But he’s not a stealth boyfriend, that’s for sure, even if he’s not who Mr. Frost would pick for his pride and joy.

At this point I have no idea what she’d say or do. But this is uncharted territory for anyone. Their relationship hasn’t been tested by tragedy, so it’s not like I’ll set off Clay’s alarm bells, no matter how I act. I’m so sorry, Morgan.

“Looks like you came from work,” I say.

Clay has on faded jeans and a black T-shirt imprinted with a logo. Before, I was nearsighted but now I can make out the words from here. The name of the shop is India Ink; the design’s pretty cool actually, red and bronze with a steampunk vibe: a skull wearing a top hat and goggles, with a cog to frame it. INDIA INK curves in a banner above, which looks like it has ink spattered on it.

“Yeah. I’ve been worried about you all day.”

I have to remind myself he’s talking to Morgan, not me. He’d want to pull my soul out through my nostrils if he knew the truth.

“I . . . hurt.” This is bald, basic truth on every possible level.

“Do you have any meds you can take?” He crosses the room and as I’m watching, I realize he’s taller than Nathan.

Because he’s thicker, Clay doesn’t register the same lankiness. I’m guessing he’s six one to Nathan’s five eleven, broader at the chest and shoulder. Nathan is lean like a swimmer, but nicely muscled. They both have hazel eyes, though Nathan’s are greener while Clay’s tilt heavier toward gold. Both have strong jaws. Nathan’s face is narrower and his brows aren’t as heavy. Clay usually looks sleepy, as if he’s bored by life and you, whereas Nathan is sharp and focused, strong on eye contact and quick with a smile. When forced to talk, Clay deploys this annoying drawl, like each word costs him money, but Nathan never met a stranger.

I love that about him.

I never told him. Because I was worried how he’d take it, I was waiting for Nathan to say it first. Same reason I never had sex with him, though Morgan said I should get it over with. She’d laughed and said, You’re so cute, Liv. You think it’ll ever be magical? Please. At best it won’t suck and it’ll be fast. Now, I can never say it. I can’t touch Nathan at all.

My chest hurts.

Belatedly I realize Clay is waiting for an answer. “Sorry, lightheaded. I have to eat something before I can take any pills. Let’s see what the housekeeper sent up.”

“Must be nice,” Clays mutters.

But he’s smiling. Clearly, he doesn’t hold Morgan’s privilege against her. Perching on the edge of the bed, he sets the tray across my lap and I uncover it. There’s fresh fruit, tofu-yogurt, homemade vegetable soup, and gluten-free rice crackers. Shit. Morgan’s a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat anything artificial and she’s sugar-free, caffeine-free, gluten-free, meat-free, and dairy-free. I want to cry because I can’t remember which restrictions stem from allergies and which from personal preference. From my earliest recollections, she was a picky eater and she went to the doctor a lot. When we went out, she never ordered much. Kids at school said she had an eating disorder or she must be stuck-up, but there are reasons she’s so careful. One time she scared me to death when her face puffed up and she had a tough time breathing.

What did we have that day? I think for a few seconds. Seafood. So now I’m taller and I have better vision but I can’t eat anything with a shell. A quiet sigh escapes me. Dammit. I love shrimp etouffee.

“Doesn’t look good?”

I glance at Clay, who’s stolen a rice cracker and is holding it to the light. Then he chomps it without prejudice. “Not bad.”

The food is delicious, actually, filling and delicately flavored. Mrs. Rhodes knows her business. I eat everything because I owe it to Morgan to take care of her body. Which makes it sound like she’s a car I borrowed. It’s all I can do not to whimper. Clay doesn’t say much until I move to shift the tray. He does it for me, then brings two pills and water.

I knock them back and swallow. “Thanks. How was work?”

Clay’s eyes widen slightly. This is not something Morgan’s ever asked, apparently. But if I don’t make conversation, he may want to make out. That train can not leave the station. Though it will be tricky—and I feel rotten—I have to put him off long enough that I can break up with him and not have Mr. Frost associate it with the accident.

“You really want to know?” he asks.

“Definitely.”

So he tells me about his boss, a woman in her forties named India, though he’s pretty sure that’s not her birth name. Four other people work as artists there: Tank, Gail, Rodney, and Blue. He talks about these folks with unusual enthusiasm; he’s lost his perpetually sleepy expression, so I’d call this his excited face.

“I have a long way to go before they’d even remotely consider me for an apprenticeship but it’s beyond cool that I’m on site and learning. Not full time.” From his expression I can tell he wishes he got more hours.

“Walk me through an average day.”

“I’m there Wednesday through Sunday. I pitch in as needed, clean up and close the place down.” His tone is quiet. “But I’m curious why you’re asking. I mean, you only cared about my days off before.”

How the hell did these two hook up?

I was with Nathan first, and sometimes the three of us hung out, but it wasn’t regular. Mostly it was Nathan and me or Morgan and me, but it wasn’t like I forced Nathan to get his brother to round out a double date. When she hooked up with Clay, Morgan told me she had a new boyfriend. I bugged her for days, begging for details, but she was delightedly sly, savoring the surprise. A few weeks after that, he took her to prom. But like the dietary stuff, I can’t ask Clay to remind me of “our” romantic past.

“I just wanted to know what you do. Is that weird?”

“Nah. It’s cool.” Clay’s got a dimple in his left cheek.

Never noticed that before.

“You’re being so nice. So . . . I’m trying too.” Harder than you know.

“That’s not really your wheelhouse, huh? We both know you only let me call you sweets because I do it ironically.”

At this I laugh because that’s so Morgan, locking onto a pet name that isn’t one at all. The motion pulls my stitches, and it hurts. Reminds me that I’m here and she isn’t. I shouldn’t be in her bed, eating her food, talking to her boyfriend. But I can’t dissolve in front of Clay again; he’ll take it as a sign that Morgan trusts him when it’s only that I’m a complete wreck.

I’m about to play the sick and fragile card when he leans in and kisses me with exquisite tenderness. My hands fly to his chest, but . . . his mouth, his mouth, his mouth, hot and rough and soft. I don’t shove, because there’s a glorious, wicked spark, low and sweet. As first kisses go, it’s all gossamer, butterfly gentle, delicate as air. While it’s happening, I don’t consider Nathan. Memories of his brother, my boyfriend, crash in on me when Clay drags rough knuckles down my cheek. And I hate myself because I don’t hate it; the path of least resistance beckons.

It’d be so easy to slide into this life and make everything of hers, mine.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Ann Aguirre

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