To Mom and Dad, you were the first ones to show me that I could be whatever I wanted to be in this life. I am forever grateful for your love and support. I love you.
Everyone has scars. Remember that you are stronger than your broken parts. Don’t let them define who you are.
Prologue – Fran - 7 years old
My nose felt like a million tiny icicles were sitting on it, and my hands were shaking since Daddy didn’t give me any gloves, but I was still smiling because I was with Kera.
The swing set creaked and the poles popped out of the ground as Kera and I rocked up toward the sky, seeing who could pump faster. She always won because my thighs and tummy were sore, and sometimes when I kicked my legs up, my belly squished and it started to hurt.
“Faster, faster,” Kera said.
“I’m trying,” I told her. I was trying as hard as I could.
She giggled as she got higher and higher. “I’m going to touch the clouds first!” she screamed.
“No, me!” I shouted back, swinging as far as my little legs would take me.
We were smiling and laughing so hard, I thought I might have an accident in my pants, but I knew I better not because Daddy would be mad.
“Look, that cloud looks like a teddy bear,” I sang, my cheeks turning pink from the chilly winter air.
“I see a giraffe. Look at his funny, long neck!” she exclaimed, sticking her own neck out and making a silly sound with her throat.
We were giggling so hard my stomach started to hurt even more than it already did, but I stopped once I heard Daddy’s voice.
“Franny, come inside, now!”
“I have to go,” I told her, jumping off the swing and running toward the house as fast as I could.
When I looked over my shoulder to say goodbye, Kera smiled happily and waved as she skipped off to her mom who was waiting on their front step.
“Take me with you,” I whispered, before he pulled me inside. I wanted to scream those words out but it suddenly felt like there was a big ball of Play-doh stuck in my throat.
The door slammed shut, leaving me alone with Daddy.
And even if I could scream no one would hear me.
So no one could save me.
Chapter One – Fran - Expressive Dramatic
“Peyton! You know how difficult it is for me. It was hard enough overcoming my fear of elevators, but this…I just don’t know.”
I’ve had a fear of planes since I was sixteen. It’s not validated by personal experience so I realize it’s irrational. Logically, I know there’s a better chance of something happening in a car than on a plane, but the part I can’t wrap my head around is the escape route. At least in a car I’m closer to the ground and not floating in the vacant sky with nowhere to go but down, the long, agonizing drop to the earth my only thing to look forward to.
Peyton sifts through rows of clothing in my closet looking for a dress to wear to the club tonight. I say rows because I have a walk-in closet that’s bigger than our oversized bathroom and I’m a bit of a clotheshorse…oh, and shoes too. “Fran, what’s so hard? You’ll get on…take a nice, plush, cushy seat, lean your head back, and go to sleep. Or, better yet, stick a couple of mini Jack Daniels in your purse, and you’ll do just fine.”
My voice rises to a high-pitched shriek that reverberates off the walls. “It’s five freaking hours and forty-five minutes, Peyton! That’s with plenty of chances for it to encounter turbulence, storms, and who knows what else? Just like in Castaway!”
Peyton rolls her eyes and shakes her head, and I realize that I may be laying it on pretty thick. “Really, Fran…Castaway? You’ve been watching way too many movies. What choice do you have anyway? Do you actually want to be on a train to California for three days, or would you rather sit in luxury for six hours?”
I let out a huge groan and a giant puff of air releases right along with it. “Yes, because if you’re going to go out, you might as well do it in style.”
She waves her hands above her head, drawing pictures in the air. “Oh my God, Fran…you’re SO dramatic! Come on, you can do this. It’ll be a piece of cake. I have faith in you.”
“I prefer to call it expressive,” I grumble. At least that’s what my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Hemler called it when she made me sit up front in class because I talked too much.
“Okay, then.” Peyton gives me a crisp nod. “You’re an expressive dramatic.”
My parents said I should’ve been an actress. I was always making mountains out of molehills, like going into a thirty minute monologue about the reason I shouldn’t eat peas, which by the way was because I’d turn green. It was my way of trying to get their attention which is laughable considering I was an only child.
The only attention I ever got was the kind I never wanted.
I remember everything about my early childhood, although there’s so much I’d like to forget. My fondest memories are those rare moments I spent with Mom when she wasn’t working, and time with my friends, laughing and singing on the school bus.
What I like to remember least—the way my pint-sized heart pounded in my chest as I hopped off that same bus, giving a small wave to my friends with their crooked smiles and toothy grins. They were kids in every sense of the word, happy and carefree, not weighted down by the frightful sound of a door creaking open or loud footsteps echoing down the hall. Even now the memory is so vivid: walking through overgrown weeds, nearly tripping on the cracked sidewalk leading to the beat-up yellow door of my house, reaching out a shaky hand to turn the knob, never knowing if Dad would be there. His inability to hold down a job left him at home all too often, filling the air with the stench of cigarettes and beer, and his cold, hard demeanor.
Then there was Mom, God bless her, working two jobs, waitressing at night and doing hair during the day, only to come home to complaining and screaming. I remember watching her cower in the corner, her face pale, eyes glazed over, unsure of her destiny from one minute to the next. The way my tummy squeezed tight, wanting so much to help her, but knowing as a seven year old child there was little I could do except be resigned to our fate.
I drag myself back to the present and continue to get ready for this design conference, the first of many from what I’ve been told. I was recently promoted to Design Manager after working my ass off for five years due to a proven track record of developing strong client relationships and strategic vision. The money’s great, and since my best friend Gabby is now living with her fiancée Brad, my colleague Peyton and I moved in together a couple of months ago. Peyton’s great and all, she’s tough and doesn’t take any shit. We’re actually a lot alike. She’s no nonsense and I know she’ll always give me a hard dose of reality, but she doesn’t climb into bed with me and stroke my hair when I’m having a nightmare, or know just the right words to say when I’m having a bad day. She doesn’t know all of my secrets.
I look over at Peyton, lower my head, and beg her with persuasive green eyes—the ones she usually can’t resist. “Come with me, Peyton…pretty please? I’m willing to go to all lengths of bribery. Hmph…that even includes trying to set you up with that hot design director you’ve been crushing on when I get back.”
I have no idea who the current object of her misguided attention might be, but she’s always lusting after one of my coworkers. My boss is known for hiring attractive men, it is advertising after all, and they’re impossible to ignore. At desperate times like these, I’m not above using this little fact to my advantage.
Peyton turns around with daggers in her eyes. “That’s a low blow, Fran, and as much as you know how bad I’m crushing on him, I can’t go to the conference. You know I have too much work to do on that new sneaker campaign that just rolled in.”
I sigh and fall backwards on my bed, right next to the large pile of clothes I’m bringing with me if—and it’s a very big if—I decide I’m taking the death plane.
Chapter Two – Matt – Roses, anyone?
“Why am I doing this again?” I throw out to Caleb while I scramble to get my shit together so I can prepare for the conference.
He sinks in the chair, grinning. “Because the CEO can’t go, that’s why, and as one of the vice presidents of the firm, you need to represent.”
I grab my dick through my jeans. “Well, they can represent this.”
Caleb clutches his belly and laughs. “Yeah, I’d like to see you say that in a staff meeting. You’d certainly have all of those sexy female project managers turning their heads.”
“That’s the last thing I need.” This job at the architectural firm keeps me busy around the clock and I don’t have time for complicated relationships. I’ve dated here and there over the years and had my share of women, but nobody has kept my attention. Besides, I don’t need them trying to reorganize my life. It’s perfect just the way it is. My brother Brad razzes me about it all the time. Now that he’s found Gabby and is deliriously happy, he wants the same for me.
“You, my friend, need to get laid. You work way too much and don’t stop to smell the roses…and let me tell you from experience,” Caleb taunts, inhaling through his nose, “those roses smell pretty damn amazing.”