First and Forever (Heartache Duet #2) - Jay McLean

Chapter 1


All the days blur into one, and the only thing I care about is basketball. Because never have I wanted a way out of this dumpster-fire of a life more than I do now. Karen sits next to me in psych, Ava on the opposite side of the room, as far away from me as possible. She doesn’t talk to me, doesn’t even look at me. I spend every lunch break in the cafeteria, suffocating in the stupidity of the people around me.

There are no goodnight kisses.

No knocks on my window.

No lengthy text messages.

No late-night phone calls.

And no game day balloons.

There’s just me. Existing in a foreign world, living a life I thought I wanted while loving a girl who can’t love me back.

And there’s also my piece of shit car that decides to randomly stop working on the way home after another back-to-back private coaching session. I have just enough time to pull the car over on the side of the road before it dies completely. Dropping my forehead against the wheel, I crank the engine. Nothing. I check the fuel gauge; that’s fine. So I flick on the hazards and push open the door with both feet, my frustration making an appearance in the form of a groan. I lift the hood, and then I stare at a hunk of metal because I have no clue what I’m looking at.

I walk around the car, inspecting the tires because… I don’t know why. I’m tired, and I’m sore, and I just want to get home and die on my bed and not get up until I have to. I grab my phone from my car and dial Dad’s number. It rings out. I try it again. And again. And I’m sure there are other people I could be calling, but I’m drained, physically and emotionally, and so I sit my ass on the gravel in front of the car and take in the silence around me. Appreciate it. It’s dark out, but the skies are clear except for a few lonely stars. If a serial killer were to drive by, I’d be the perfect victim. I laugh at the thought and go to message Ava… but then I remember. And then I wonder how it is I could’ve ever forgotten.

After everything that happened with my mom, my dad thought it would be a good idea to do therapy, both alone and together. I remember sitting next to him when the therapist asked him to describe what it felt like to lose her—his wife. He said—besides his concerns of what it would do to me long-term—losing her was like waking up twice.

First, you wake up and think that everything’s normal. Like you’re going to walk into the kitchen, and she’ll be there making breakfast and playing with your son. And then you realize that that’s not going to happen, and you wake up again. To reality. And that reality is your life.

I think, in a way, I’m still at the waking-up-for-the-first-time stage. And maybe it’s not fair, or right, to compare losing Ava to my dad losing his wife, the mother of his son, but there it is.

And here I am.

Hand out in front of me, I shield my eyes from the oncoming headlights. The car slows and then crosses over, parks in front of me, headlights to headlights. I recognize the car as soon as my vision clears, and then the long legs and short skirt. Karen stands between both vehicles. “What the hell are you doing?”

I shrug, keep my eyes on her shoes because I know if I look up, I’ll see a hell of a lot more than I want to. “I don’t know, taking in the scenery?”

“What?” she huffs out, sitting down in front of me, her legs kicked out next to mine.

“My car broke down, obviously.”

She sighs. “I should start wearing a cape if I’m going to be saving your ass this much.”

“You don’t have to stay,” I tell her. “My dad can come get me. He’s just not answering his phone right now.”

Karen nods, a frown pulling at her lips. “But you’re all pathetic and miserable, and I feel sorry for you, so…”

I laugh once. “Am I that obvious?”

“Connor,” she whines. “It’s like you forgot that I lost her once, too.”

I look down at my hands, clear the knot in my throat.

“But you’re so tragic right now, and I get it,” she says with a surprising amount of sincerity. “Maybe it would help if