Sneak Peeks

Like Never and Always: Chapter Seven

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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 seven 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.

7

I spend a week convalescing.

At the end of that time, Mr. Frost takes me for a checkup, where Dr. Jackson compliments my healing prowess. Another three weeks and Morgan’s body will be more or less recovered—with a few fresh scars to show for the experience. It’s quiet on the way back from the clinic, mostly because I don’t know what to say.

I’m still marshaling my strength and formulating my next move, but the problem is, there’s no roadmap for a problem like mine. I can’t even use Morgan’s computer to search for similar cases; I don’t know her password and all of my guesses resulted in an admin lock. I might have to “accidentally” drop it so Mr. Frost will get a new one. That bothers me but he can afford it. Plus, I’m sure he’ll just bring home a spare Frost Tech model.

Using Morgan’s phone feels weird, especially when Clay messages me. I’ve dialed way back since he kissed me. Like a chicken-shit, I asked for space via text, and he hasn’t been over to the house since. It’s possible that I can kill the relationship with neglect, though that route is circuitous and painful. In my real skin I’d never do that; with the guy I dated before Nathan, I made a clean break. But I have to walk a delicate line between sanity and survival.

“You don’t have to go to school tomorrow,” Mr. Frost says. “Nobody expects you to. I’ve already spoken to the principal. He said the teachers will be happy to e-mail your assignments until . . .”

Until when? I feel better? My best friend isn’t dead? Or when some other tragedy has supplanted this one, so people don’t stare and whisper as much? None of those responses are suitable, so I dredge up something else.

“What did the doctor say?”

“That it’s up to you. You’re still recovering, so if school takes more out of you than expected, you can always go home early.”

For the first time, I don’t try to guess what Morgan would’ve said. “It’s better if I at least try to go. Get back into a normal routine. That’s supposed to help, right?”

Mr. Frost smiles. “I agree. But don’t push yourself. You’ll be excused from PE for the next month, obviously. I’ve arranged to get you into study hall that period.”

Most people opt out of PE as soon as they can, but Morgan likes it. She says it’s her easiest grade and she gets a workout during the day, guaranteed. I’m the reason Morgan doesn’t go to a pricey private school twenty miles away. When she finished sixth grade, she begged her dad not to make her attend Glen Forrest on her own. Since our school system is decent, he agreed. Otherwise, I’d be headed off to an academy where I don’t know anyone.

Nathan. Tomorrow I get to see Nathan.

My old life is over, I get that. At least until I figure out how to prove I’m not crazy. But God, I miss him, almost as much as my family.

Almost as much as Morgan.

I haven’t let myself think too much about how she’d feel about this. She could be hard to read, so it’s possible she’d think the whole mess is hilarious and would make popcorn to watch me struggle. But she was also possessive, so she might be furious, too. And it’s that side of her that I imagine watching me, judging, condemning.

Mr. Frost drops me off at the mansion before heading back to work. I let myself in; with gates like those, they leave the front doors unlocked during the day. Mrs. Rhodes comes out of the kitchen to greet me with an uncertain smile. She’s wearing black pants and a white shirt with a patterned apron over the top, not quite a uniform, but a nod at one.

“Can I get you anything?” There’s a subtle tension here, some history I’m not privy to.

The older woman stands quiet, eyes down, like she’s expecting . . . something. Maybe she was temperamental with the housekeeper? But if Morgan used to throw fits in private over the wrong brand of rice cracker, I can’t because I have no clue what the right one is.

“I’m fine. Thanks.”

A little breath slips out of her as I turn for the stairs. Relief?

I go down the back stairs to the patio. There’s a pool out here that I can’t swim in right now, but I can sleep in the sun until I feel better. Before I can settle in, Mrs. Rhodes is beside me, wearing an alarmed look.

“Are you feeling all right?” She peers at me.

“Uh. Well. I thought I’d take a nap.”

“Did you put on sunblock?”

Right. Shit. Morgan was paranoid about skin cancer, so she’d never bask in direct sunlight. I wasn’t thinking about Morgan, only that I was so freaking cold. But now that it’s on my mind, I can recall countless afternoons where I’d be in a bikini and tanning oil while Morgan hid under an umbrella with a sun hat, huge glasses, and SPF 75. I always thought that quirk was adorable and slightly glamorous, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass now that I’m not allowed to act like my sleepy, sun-worshiping lizard self.

“I forgot. Could you get it please? My hat and sunglasses, too.”

She gives me a look, like she thinks it’s more likely that I’m possessed than I forgot my sun aversion. But then she does as I ask, leaving me to drop my head against the back of the lounger with an exhausted sigh. At least it’s warm out here. Damn, it’s not easy being someone else, even if she’s your best friend.

I finish out the day with a cozy, if overly protected nap, then I go upstairs and destroy a helpless laptop. Since Frost Tech makes good gear, I drop it four times before it looks good and broken. An hour later I’m having a late dinner with Mr. Frost. Since I’m going to school in the morning, I can’t really keep pleading that I need to eat in my room. Got to keep my story straight. So I ask questions that I hope don’t set off any alarm bells.

“Developing anything new and exciting?”

Mr. Frosts grins. “You never get tired of trying to work me, do you?”

“You don’t trust me?” I pretend to be hurt.

“I’m not exempt from the NDA.”

What’s an NDA? But I imagine Morgan would know, so I keep quiet and eat. During the next conversational lull I say, “I’m sorry, but . . . I broke my laptop earlier today.”

He shows the first sign of impatience I’ve seen since leaving the hospital. “Dammit, did you get it wet again? No matter how good a product is, it will never be Snapple proof.”

I know exactly how Morgan would reply to this. Leaning in, I give him a cajoling smile. “Can’t you consider this part of quality control testing?”

He sighs. But I can tell he’s not seriously mad. “What happened this time?”

Huh. I guess Morgan wasn’t good at making her electronics last. That’s something I didn’t know, and it makes me feel closer to her, even though she’s gone. It’s so strange that I could miss her this much when I see her face every time I look in the mirror.

“I tried to take it downstairs but I guess I’m not as steady as I thought. I dropped it.” That should explain the four times I threw it, right? I have no idea what a tech can tell from a broken computer but TV detective shows have taught me to be cautious.

“Down the stairs? Well, that’s a new one.” He sets his jaw like he’s sucking back a spate of chastening words. “Okay. I’m just glad you didn’t fall. I’ll have one of the techs look at it and if it can’t be fixed, I’ll bring you a new one tomorrow night.”

“Thanks.”

“Try to make this one last a little longer, okay? It’s only been three months since you Snappled the last one.”

“I feel like you need to put that on Urban Dictionary. I’ll invent a definition for Snappling, don’t worry.” When I smile, his face softens.

“I’m glad to see you’re . . . coping,” he says quietly. “I thought it would be months before I saw anything like that again.”

He’s right. I shouldn’t be joking. Morgan wouldn’t if I were dead; I’m the worst person in the world. I can’t be happy when she’s gone, and I don’t know where she went, if she’s all right—and all this while my family is mourning me. My face crumples. I tuck my lips in, and I can see Mr. Frost realize he shouldn’t have said that—because he’s reminded me that I’m a selfish asshole for not grieving every minute of the day. But he doesn’t understand; this isn’t survivor’s guilt.

Or maybe it is, just not in the form he expects. I get up from the table and retreat upstairs.

As I head down the hall toward Morgan’s bedroom, her cell pings with a message. Since I expect it to be Clay, I try to ignore it. Not surprisingly, I can’t.

Finally I take the phone out of my pocket, but Clay’s picture hasn’t popped up. Instead it’s the baseline icon, the default for when you don’t have the person in your contacts. Curious, I tap it open to find:

You look pretty today, sweetheart. But time’s running out. $10K or I tell your dad.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Ann Aguirre

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