One month earlier April 13th
“You lucky bitch!” I drop back down on my pink bedspread, phone to ear, knowing Brandy is dancing on cloud nine and I’m dancing with her. I glance at the door to make sure Mom isn’t hovering and about to freak over my language. Again.
She isn’t there.
Lately, I can’t seem to control what comes out of my mouth. Mom blames it on too much daytime who’s-the-baby-daddy television. She could be right. But hey, a girl’s gotta have some fun.
“Where he’s taking you?” I ask.
“Pablo’s Pizza.” Brandy’s tone lost the oh-God shriek qual- ity. “Why . . . why don’t you come with us?”
“On your date? Are you freaking nuts?”
“You go to the doctor’s office, you could—”
“No. That’s hell no!” I even hate going to the doctor’s office. If people stare long enough they see the tube. But this isn’t even about me. “I’d die before I get between you—”
“Don’t say that!” Brandy’s emotional reprimand rings too loud. Too painful.
“It’s just a figure of speech,” I say, but in so many ways it’s not. I’m dying. I’ve accepted that. The people in my life haven’t. So, for them, I pretend. Or try to.
“But if you—”
“Stop. I’m not going.”
There’s a gulp of silence. That’s when I realize my “lucky bitch” comment brought on the pity invite. Brandy’s worried I’m jealous. And okay, maybe I am, a little. But my grandmother used to say it was okay to see someone in a beautiful red dress and think, I want a dress like hers. But it wasn’t okay to think, I want a dress like hers and I want her to have a wart on her nose.
I don’t wish Brandy warts. She’s had the hots for Brian for years. She deserves Brian.
Do I deserve something besides the lousy card fate dealt to me? Hell yeah. But what am I going to do? Cry? I tried that. I’ve moved on.
Now I’ve got my bucket list. And my books.
The books are part of my bucket list. I want to read a hun- dred. At least a hundred. I started counting after I got out of the hospital the first time I survived an infection from my arti- ficial heart. I’m at book twenty-eight now. I won’t mention how many of them were romance novels.
“Leah,” Brandy starts in again.
The chime of the doorbell has me glancing at the pink clock on my bedside table.
It’s study time. Algebra. I hate it. But I kind of like hating it. Because I hated it before I got sick. Hating the same things as before makes me feel more like the old me.
“Gotta go. Ms. Strong is here.” I bounce my heels on the bed. The beaks on my Donald Duck slippers bob up and down. Lately, I’ve been into cartoon-character slippers. They make my feet look happy. Mom’s bought me three pairs: Mickey, Donald, and Dumbo.
“But—” Brandy tries again.
“No. But you’re gonna tell me everything. All the sexy details. How good he kisses. How good he smells. How many times you catch him staring at your boobs.”
Yep, I’m jealous all right. But I’m not a heartless bitch. Well, maybe I am. Heartless, really heartless, but not so much a bitch. I carry an artificial heart around in a backpack. It’s keeping me alive.
“I always tell you everything,” Brandy says.
No, but you used to. I stare up at my whirling polka-dot ceil- ing fan. Even Brandy’s walking on eggshells, scared she’ll say something to remind me that I got a raw deal, something that will make me feel sorry for myself. I’m done doing that. But I hate hearing that crunch as people tiptoe around the truth.
“Leah.” Mom calls me.
“Gotta go.” I hang up, grab my heart, and get ready to face algebra.
I really hate it, but it’s number one on my bucket list—my last hurrah. Well, not algebra, but graduating high school. And I don’t want a diploma handed to me. I want to earn it.
I spot Mom standing in the entrance of the dining room turned study. She’s rubbing her palms over her hips. A nervous habit, though I have no idea what’s got her jittery now. I sur- vived the last infection and the one before that. She hears my footsteps, looks at me. Her brow puckers—another sign of serious mama fret.
I stop. Why’s she so nervous? “What?”
“Ms. Strong couldn’t make it.” She’s rushes off faster than her hurried words.
I hear someone shuffling in the dining room. I’m leery. Hes- itant. I move in. My Donald Duck slippers skid to a quick stop when I see the dark-haired boy at the table.
“Shit.” I suck my lips into my mouth in hopes I didn’t say it loud enough for him to hear.
He grins. He heard me. That smile is as good as the ones I read about in romance novels. Smiles described as crooked, mind-stopping, or coming with a melt-me-now quality. I swear my artificial heart skips two beats.
He’s one of the Kenner twins, either Eric or Matt, the two hottest boys in school. I used to be able to tell them apart, but now I’m not sure of anything. If I combed my hair today. If I brushed my teeth. If I have on a bra?
I close my mouth, run my tongue over my fuzzy-feeling teeth, trying to quietly suck them clean.
Glancing down, away from his eyes, I rock back and forth on my heels, my Donald Ducks’ bills rocking with me. Should I run back to my room? But how pathetic will I look then? And if I do, he’ll leave. Lifting my gaze, I realize I’m not sure I want him to go. I kinda like looking at him.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I mimic and realize I’m hiding the backpack behind my leg. I give my bright red tank top a tug down to cover the tube that extends from the backpack and pokes into me under my left ribcage. A hole that kinda looks like a second belly but- ton. Yup, I’m hiding the very thing that’s keeping me alive.
“Ms. Strong couldn’t make it,” he says as if reading my mood and realizing he needs to justify his being here. “She asked me to sub.”
“For how many extra credit points?” I wait for him to tell me he did it just out of kindness. And, if true, it would mean he did it out of pity. I’m not sure I’d enjoy looking at him anymore. I’d rather be someone’s means to a better grade. Brandy told me that everyone in school knows about my dead heart.
“Fifteen. I got lazy and didn’t turn in some homework.
You’ll pump me up to a B.”
“You should have held out for twenty.”
He smiles again. “I don’t think it was negotiable.”
Moving in, I try to guess which twin he is. I try to figure out how to ask, but everything I think of sounds lame. Let him be Matt.
I had a thing for Matt since seventh grade. It might have been wishful thinking, but in tenth grade I thought he liked me too. Not that it ever went anywhere. He was football, I was book club. He was popular, I was . . . not. Then I started dating Trent. A guy in book club. A guy I let off the hook as soon as I found out my heart was dying.
“Your books?” he asks.
I don’t understand the question, until I see he’s pointing to my backpack.
Crap! I freak a little. I have several pat answers in my head that I came up with when Mom, afraid I was turning into an agoraphobe, insisted I get out of the house. But I can’t remem- ber them. The silence reeks of awkwardness.
So I go with the truth. “No. It’s my . . . heart.” “Shit.” He spills my favorite word.
His eyes meet mine and he smiles again. Yup, it’s kinda crooked. My mind’s not working. And I’m melting.
“Oh, you’re joking,” he says. “Right?”
I nod yes then shake my head no as if I don’t know the answer.
His smile fades like a light on a dimmer switch. “Seriously?” “Seriously.” I move to the desk in the corner. One-handed.
About the Author:
C.C. HUNTER is a pseudonym for award-winning romance author Christie Craig. She is lives in Tomball, Texas, where she’s at work on her next novel.
About the Book:
Seventeen-year-old Leah MacKenzie is heartless. An artificial heart in a backpack is keeping her alive, which will only work for a few years. And with her rare blood type, a transplant isn’t likely. Living like you are dying isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But when a heart becomes available, she’s given an amazing second chance at life. Then Leah discovers who the donor was—a boy from her school—and people are saying he killed himself. Plagued with unsettling dreams since the transplant, Leah realizes she may hold the clues to what really happened.
Matt refuses to believe his twin killed himself. When Leah seeks him out, he learns they are both having similar dreams, and he’s certain it means something important. While unraveling the secrets of his brother’s final moments, Leah and Matt find each other and a love they are terrified to lose. But life and even new hearts don’t come with guarantees. Who knew that living took more courage than dying?
Events for This Heart of Mine
Monday, February 26, 7:00 PM
LAUNCH PARTY at Blue Willow Bookshop
14532 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77079
Monday, March 5, 7:00 PM
10720 Preston Road, Ste 1009B, Dallas, TX 75230
Thursday, March 22
Katy Budget Books with Farrah Penn