He's on the fast track to nowhere.
For Nick and Fallon, it starts with a kiss—a kiss that becomes the calm before their storm. Because Nick is not the only guy in love with Fallon, and Fallon is not the only girl with her eyes on Nick.
As Nick's past returns to haunt him, Fallon's home situation will shift from precarious to dangerous, leaving them both to pick up the shattered fragments of a life from which they were desperately trying to break free.
Can Nick shed his slacker skin to prove himself worthy of the girl he fell in love with on a playground almost a decade ago?
Can Fallon take a leap of faith, opening her heart to the guy who, despite his shadows, is promising to be her everything?
Because if they can, they just might find a happily ever after they were too scared to even imagine.
*In addition to spending more than 100 days on the Amazon Teen Top 100 Bestseller List in its first year of release, Klein's CROSS MY HEART was also a 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best YA Fiction.
Release date: September 7, 2018
Print pages: 342
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
I am not a lost cause.
But sometimes you have to pick your battles. Draw lines in the sand.
Fight for what you want.
"What about the ice?"
My mom shouts at me from the front porch of the one-story ranch we've called home since she began dating Ron. The bricks are brown, the shutters brown, bleeding into brown grass and trees and pavement. Into brown, winter sky. . . .
I learned about lost causes in first grade, when they taught us how to walk third tile from the wall in a straight line, hands behind our backs, metal handcuffs the only thing missing from thin wrists on what amounted to a prison march. Teachers joked about this with fear in their eyes. Fifth grade. That was the benchmark. We had to read on at least a fifth-grade level. Fifth grade and we'd have a surviving chance. Anything less and we'd likely end up walking the line in a real prison. Living on the street.
Drowning in a sea of lost causes.
At least that's what the hotel manager where my mother cleaned rooms at the time said. I sat nearby—in a wobbly chair at a sticky round table in the middle of the staff break room. Walls flamingo pink. No windows. The smell of someone's microwave-burnt popcorn assaulting my nose. I pretended not to hear, worked hard on my coloring page, making sure the number ones were yellow, the number twos red.
A scarlet red—like the highest note of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" from the lullaby CD our teacher played for us during rest time. The prettiest red.
I colored carefully that day, staying within every line.
I stop mid-lawn, turn to face my mother, the wind biting my cheeks and nose. "It's Michael's last day home," I argue, pulling my gray coat tighter against my body—a gray coat too thin to be of any use in the weather they're calling for later.
Brown, gray, black—these colors don't exist in the music in my head.
For that, I am grateful.
Most of the kids looked like me. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Had mothers who dropped them off at the front doors, waved goodbye, drove their SUVs straight to yoga, coffees in hand. In the afternoons they were ready with snacks—something healthy. They checked homework folders. Made dinners. Asked how school was.
But there were a few of us. We rode the bus. Came home to empty apartments. Brought back those folders information unread, untouched, unsigned.
This new school required uniforms—both blessing and curse. A blessing because we were like little clones, no one caring what we wore from one day to the next—that I alternated between khaki and navy blue pants. White shirt. Green shirt. Purple shirt. White. Green. Purple.
Until red shirts were required for our field trip to the science museum.
I sat at a booth at the Chinese restaurant where my mom was working at the time, sipping on a chocolate milk one of the waitresses sneaked to me while my mom talked to her boss of the month, asking for an advance on her paycheck. I waited in the car while Mom stood at the ATM pressing buttons, nothing coming out.
We drove to the uniform store "just to look." Mom found a red shirt in my size. I remember trying it on—the first dressing room I ever stepped inside—pulling the stiff material over my head, the tag itching my neck at the hairline.
"Here," Mom said, shoving keys at me when I finished. "Go to the car. I'll take care of this."
It was spring. Early spring. Everything that new green color, trees beginning to blossom, a thin layer of pollen sprinkled across the hood of the car. My mother hurried out of the store a few minutes later, sped all the way home, glancing in the rearview mirror every so often. It wasn't until we were safe inside our apartment that she reached in her purse and removed the red shirt. I remember asking why it wasn't in a bag. That she cried.
Welcome to Hamilton.
More standing in line, third tile from the wall. But I could read at my grade level.
I was nearly there—had almost reached that threshold. That precipice. That milestone of miracles that would allow me to take on this world. Be anything. Become anyone. My future large and vast. Endless possibilities before me.
And then a strange woman arrived to class one day, violin tucked beneath her arm. I closed my eyes as she played a song for us—imagining—and watched intently as she explained each part of the instrument, played every string.
My hand shot up: "Why does it look like sunshine?"
She smiled, said that some notes just sound happy. Joyful. But she didn't get it. It didn't only sound happy. It looked happy. Bright yellow—like the crayoned half-sun at the top right corner of my coloring pages.
Forget lost causes.
I wanted that violin. I wanted that sunshine forever.
My mother remains cemented to the top step of our front porch, arms folded as I climb into my car, an old black Eclipse. She's gained more weight since that day at the restaurant, the ATM, the uniform store. It's the look in her eyes that hasn't changed. That pervasive sadness—someone long since given up. And more than anything else in the world, I'm afraid that one day I will look in the mirror . . . and I will see her.
I lock my doors, glance at empty streets, empty yards, dial Michael's cell phone number as I wait for my car to warm. Four rings and it goes to voicemail.
"Why is it so freaking hard to answer your phone?" I mutter, locating a different number and typing a quick text message:
CAN I COME OVER?
I send this to Nick. Nick, Michael's younger brother. A senior. Eighteen—just a few months older than me. I text Nick because his phone is tethered to his palm. No matter what, I can always count on a reply.
Ten seconds later: YES.
Ice had been falling from the sky going on two hours when Mom called to tell us she would be late. New Year's Eve hit the motel hard, and she was up to her second chin in beer cans and wine bottles—her words, not mine. Too many one night stands to count.
It was past time for dinner. Mike and Fallon and I snacked most of the afternoon, feasting on ninety-nine cent potato chips and a bag of popcorn, so Mom suggested we order in. It was a holiday, after all.
I search the junk drawer in the kitchen for the phone book, because we are the last demographic to need this antiquated volume of numbers. No computer. No internet. No smartphone. Our cell phones are "no plans." Pre-paid. For emergencies, mostly. And text messages from Fallon, so when she asks if she can come over, I can answer: hell yes.
I flip to the restaurant section, lick the tip of my finger, turn page after page after page searching for stars and circles, numbers underlined in black Bic. Restaurants we can afford within delivery distance. And while my older brother and Fallon share the couch in the living room, eyes trained on the football game on television, I dial. I dial number after number after number.
Hope fades with each new ring in my ear. The restaurants that are open on the holiday aren't delivering.
Too messy outside.
Roads aren't safe.
The same excuse every time.
"Any luck?" Fallon asks. She curls against Mike on our old, sand-colored couch, legs tucked beneath her, blonde hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, wearing the same ivory sweater she wore the day after Christmas. And two days after that. A gift from her mom.
Michael and I got new boxers and socks because in our world holidays aren't about getting what you want but what you need.
The storm blew in after Fallon arrived—she timed it perfectly—and now layer after layer of ice coats the sidewalk, roads, grass, trees.
"No one is delivering. Weather's too crappy."
"Check the freezer, then. I'm starving." My older brother grabs the bag of potato chips on the coffee table, long since empty, and searches for remnants. Crumbs. Anything. It's the only thing powerful enough to tear his eyes from the television screen—the football game he's watched the last three hours. My brother is two hundred-twenty pounds of solid muscle. Football is his life. Eating, a close second.
Football, eating, and Fallon.
I exhale a frustrated breath, hunger gnawing at my insides. Empty cupboards. Empty cabinets. Empty wallets. I open the freezer door and a cool gust of air billows into the already cold room. Beneath a bag of frozen peas and a couple of TV dinners is the last pizza wrapped in cardboard and plastic. The "buy one get one" weekly special at the drugstore up the road.
I pull it out, rip open the box, and turn on the oven. "I'm heating a pizza," I announce, removing a pan from the drying rack on the counter by the sink. I steal a quick glance at Fallon, toss the trash into the plastic bag hanging from the silverware drawer knob. "Fallon?"
"Yeah?" She turns toward me, expression softening, and my heart stutters, slowing, before kicking back into gear. I clear my throat because it's something to do in this moment, to compose myself. "Pizza okay?"
"Sure," comes her quiet reply. "Need any help?"
And even though I assure her the dinner situation is under control, this doesn't keep her from rising from the couch, separating herself from Mike, from making her way toward the kitchen.
"How long does it take?" she asks, opening a cabinet—cheap, laminate surface peeling apart at the edges—and removing three plastic cups scratched and faded from overuse.
Fifteen minutes at four-twenty-five instead of three-fifty because the oven has never worked right, never reaches the temperature it's supposed to.
At least it might warm the room.
Fallon pulls a new package of paper plates from the top shelf in the pantry and rips open the plastic, then grabs an ice tray from the freezer. The movements are easy, practiced. She knows her way around the place.
"You okay?" she asks, bending the sides of the tray, popping out ice cubes.
"Why do you ask?" The oven beeps, ready to go. I open the door and slide the pizza directly onto the rack. Close it back. Check the time.
"Because you're not talking."
"False. I asked if you wanted pizza, then I told you how long it would take," I remind her.
She divides the cubes evenly among cups, shoulders lifting. "You just don't seem like yourself tonight."
By the time I think of something witty to say in response, she's already refilled the trays with water, returned them to the shelf, closed the freezer door. The moment passed.
So we ring in the first day of the new year together—me, Fallon, and Mike—my brother and I each eating three slices of pizza tasting like the cardboard they came in, and Fallon consuming two. Slices that are more like slivers. A snack for everyone but Fallon, who doesn't eat much anyway.
"How is Gloria going to get home in this?" she asks, glancing toward the window, where the occasional ball of ice pings against the sill.
"I told her I'd go get her if she had trouble," Mike says, mouth full.
I laugh, nearly choking on a string of melted cheese caught in my throat. "You? You can't drive for shit on a good day. Mom lived up north forever," I remind Fallon. "She spends half the winter making fun of all the pussy Hamilton drivers who act like they've never seen a snowflake before, clearing out bread and milk aisles and shutting schools early for snowpocalypses that never happen."
"Yeah, well, it better melt by morning," my brother says.
Michael is a student at LSU, a state school about an hour away. Everyone—my mom and my aunt and my Yaya and Yayo—kisses his ass because he's the first person in our family to go to college. Like this is a big deal. He's only going because he snagged a football scholarship.
He's not even getting a real degree. He's a recreation major.
He's literally majoring in how to play dodgeball.
At any rate, he leaves in the morning, traveling this week since the team earned a freak spot in one of the bowls—some stupid post-season game no one talks about, that special channels are needed to even watch. But for Michael, this is a Big Deal. It means TV time—special channel or otherwise—and TV time is important if you want to go pro. It's his dream, to go pro. I can't imagine what will happen if he does. He's a douchebag now. Imagine the douche with money. And God—underprivileged, first-generation college student makes the draft? He's already a freaking ESPN special.
But I'm not bitter.
Fallon finishes her remaining slice of pizza, gathers our trash and carries it to that plastic bag. Thanks me again for cooking. When she returns to the living room she doesn't take her usual spot beside Michael. She heads to the easy chair instead, steps behind it, and peeks through the blinds at the parking lot.
Watching. Waiting for someone. Something.
Another touchdown and Mike rises, lifts his glass, cheering.
I can't make myself get into this football game, know nothing about the teams playing, couldn't care less. So I join Fallon at the window, watch tiny drops of ice ping off the sidewalk for several quiet moments until:
"We should check it out."
Fallon looks at me, a smile nearly turning her lips, and nods. "We should."
Cool air seeps between cracks at the window. Winters at the Trevino apartment are always too cold, summers too hot. The view itself is unimpressive. Parking lot, mostly. Another row of apartments across the street. A dozen or more cars filling spaces, one of which is on blocks and has been since my mom and I stayed here last summer.
But something else happened in the last few hours—this winter storm charging in as predicted, layering everything in a clear coat of ice, crystallizing the world. Beneath streetlights even the expired, tire-less car raised above the others seems magical.
So do the trees.
And even now tiny flakes of ice fall to the ground, catching light.
I imagine everything is slick. Breakable. An entire world made of glass.
Nick returns with two puffy winter jackets. One black and one royal blue. Christmas gifts from their Yaya and Yayo—Gloria's parents. Tags still attached.
I take the largest from him—Michael's. It smells brand new, still stiff. Way too big.
Michael is a cornerback on the defensive line at Lawrence State. He has never been small.
A rush of wind bites my cheeks and nose as we enter the storm.
Nick goes first, the steps frozen solid, smothered in a thick glaze. I grip the railing to stay steady, trying to think "heavy" as the thin soles of my ballet flats meet the ice, but I'm not wearing gloves and the metal is so cold it burns my fingers.
So when Nick offers his hand, I take it.
Her hand is small in mine. Cold. She takes a confident step toward me and slips, left foot sliding out from beneath her. In a second my free arm hooks around her waist, our bodies pressed together as she hovers precariously above the sidewalk.
"You okay?" I ask, breaths fast and hard, smoke fading between us, vanishing.
It's like a slow dance, righting ourselves, taking extra care not to fall. I hold her until she finds her balance, until she steps off concrete and onto grass.
She gasps at the sound of ice shattering, crunching beneath her thin shoes. Her lips turn. Almost smiling. "Do you feel that?"
What she's asking is if I feel the power of my weight in this delicate world, the crushing of every shard of every blade. But this isn't the only thing I feel. The pounding of her feet matches the pounding of my heart, every part of me wanting to reach out to stop her, to tell her. . . .
I fell in love with Fallon Oakley the first day I saw her. It was a Saturday. Our moms cleaned rooms at the same motel at the time, which mostly involved stripping sheets and gathering still-damp towels from bathroom floors. Removing other people's garbage.
Mike was playing football by then—junior city league—so he wasn't available to watch me, even though he was only a couple of years older and not much in the way of "responsible." Babysitters were expensive, and Mom didn't feel comfortable leaving me home alone, so she took me to work. Fallon and I met on the playground. Her mom couldn't afford a babysitter, either.
We played for hours that day. She took a tumble off a ladder and skinned an elbow, told her mom it was an accident, but I'm pretty sure I pushed her. Details are hazy—it's been years. And I didn't know I loved her. Not yet. She was scrawny, with stringy blonde hair that always needed washing and thick glasses. She was just starting to play the violin, and whenever she practiced. . . . God—it was awful. The instrument hissed and shrieked. It practically refused to play. I covered my ears, told her she sucked. Over and over and over again.
Until one day she was sitting on the rusted merry-go-round, practicing scales on that wretched instrument. Up and down, up and down and back again.
"Why are you wasting your time?" my ten-year-old self demanded to know. "You suck. You're not even getting better."
It was a lie. She was getting better. I could tell.
She lifted her bow, pulled her violin away from her chin, pushed her glasses further up her nose, frowning. She was good at frowning, even back then. "Oh, yeah? Well, at least I'm doing something. All you do is sit around and tell people they suck. What's the point of that?"
She called me out. The bony little girl with her flat, dishwater hair called me out on my shit.
She was right.
I was already a lost cause, even back then.
I move closer to a taller version of that little girl, feeling the crackle of ice beneath my feet.
"It's insane," Fallon says, eyes bright. "I've never seen anything like it."
I study the roofline of our row of apartments, icicles grasping the edge. "Came out of nowhere," I agree.
"I was kind of hoping for snow, but this is way better. Can you imagine what it'll look like when the sun comes up tomorrow? The whole world is going to sparkle."
Fallon is still scrawny. Still blonde. But the glasses were lost to contacts by junior high, and now you can see her crazy-big gray-blue eyes. Her violin-playing has improved a hundred times over.
And I love her like mad.
"Fallon?" But my voice hits this weird pitch. Too high. I cough. Try to clear the nerves out of my throat.
Her eyes catch mine, reflecting the streetlight. "Yeah?"
And standing out here in the cold it's like we're the only two people left in the entire universe. And if there is ever a right time, this is it. It doesn't get any better than this. The two of us. Alone. A new year ahead.
And so I reach for the sleeve of that over-sized winter coat, pull her closer, and bend low, my lips grazing hers.
And it must be my imagination that she comes alive against me.
For just a second.
Until she jerks back, breaths exhaling tiny puffs of smoke.
"Oh my God," she moans, feeling her forehead.
"What was that?" she asks, eyes searching mine.
My shoulders lift as I shove my hands in my coat pockets. "I, um. . . . It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."
"The right thing to do? Nick! You can't just go around . . . I'm not one of your girlfriends that you can just . . ."
"What are you doing out here?" Mike yells at us from the door. Fallon takes another step backward, distancing herself from me. I wipe my lips—the evidence—heart pounding its way out of my chest. "It's too freaking cold!" he continues.
Fallon's eyes flick toward mine. A warning.
Did he see us?
"You have to come out here!" she calls back.
"I can't. You stole my jacket."
"Correction. I stole your jacket," I clarify.
"You could fit two of you in there," he teases Fallon, ignoring me as he makes his way down the steps at a turtle's pace. Because God forbid he fall and break something important.
She pulls the coat tighter, hugging her elbows. "I know. It's toasty in here."
"I'll bet." He meets her mid-lawn—the tiny strip of grass barely qualifying as a yard—and wraps his massive arms around her.
I turn away from this moment, knowing it's over. Whatever I thought would happen if I kissed her—if I told her how I feel—it's gone.
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