(NOT FINAL COVER

)

DEDICATION

For my father, Luis Alfonso Valdes. For my husband, that I love dearly. For my brother, Kevin- and for the other siblings that I never grew up with; Never had the pleasure of getting to know. For our family that never grew up as one because of the inevitable loss of a jaded, yet beautiful soul. May God forgive him and be holding him in a special place in heaven, a second chance at paradise.

Our soul mate is the one who makes life come to life. -Richard Bach

Prologue
A young man of barely nineteen drove down the streets of Hollywood Boulevard on his sleek black motorcycle, his vision a blur and his breath infected with the taste of whiskey. Whiskey was a man¶s drink his father had told him once as a child. Watching the old man drink had always been something of admiration for him. That was until he came home one day after school to find his mother had been beaten to death-by his father¶s hands-no image could ever replace that. Until the day he had had turned sixteen, when he had received word of his father¶s suicide in the jail cell, with pictures to match. Orphaned, and no longer feeling as if life was something to cherish, he had turned to the streets; despite his grandfather¶s wealth and the fact he had been taken in. In the back of his mind, he felt like the rebellion was necessary. Somehow he had to prove to himself that he wasn¶t a monster like his father was. He could live the lifestyle his father had once led, and not be sucked in by it. How wrong he had been, he was like a vampire. Becoming greedier and greedier by the minute, and it had nothing to do with money. It was the power. The respect; and how easily he gained that just by making a few deals and a few threats here and there. Turning down the corner of where many local street kids liked to hang out, Hazel eyes looked up at the moon, his vision momentarily clear and inhaled deeply. Wondering what hell was like; he stopped the motorcycle at a stop sign and looked down at his watch. Almost two, His grandfather would be worried. Turning another corner, he suddenly had the feeling as if someone was watching him. Looking up he spotted a young boy of barely fifteen, wearing a black sweatshirt and staring at him darkly. ³I¶m Sorry,´ His mouth had seemed to say as he extended his hand, the silver flashing in the dark night, and the trigger pulled. First it had been his chest, then his arm, and right before the third shot had fired he spoke up at the sky and to the moon. ³Thank-you,´ He had whispered as relief swept over him, noting a white light. Now he could see his mother again, and that was all that mattered, for he had promised that he would never leave her. And heaven had allowed him access, despite his actions.

ONE
When you're younger you could never imagine what the feeling of loss could be. Nothing could take away someone
you loved. In fact, the idea of death seemed almost impossible. Imagining waking up to find that you will never hear their voice, smell their cologne, hug them, ignore them while they watched the television was just not something anyone should have to cope with, ever. At eight years old I had remembered the look on my mother's face one Monday morning only a week from those terrible attacks that had destroyed our city, our country, even the world one could say. My mother could barely look at my baby brother and I, she had ran to her room feigning lack of sleep. Instead, my grandmother dressed us and walked us to our bus stop where we headed to school. Once the school psychologist pulled me out of my third grade class, I knew there was something off but I never could have imagined what that was. "Do you know what heaven is?" That's how she had started the conversation that would lead to the knowledge of knowing my father was dead. Gone. No longer living on this earth but in "heaven" where all those that passed away would supposedly go. Going white, I had lost the ability to speak for what felt like hours, but must have only been minutes. My mother sat silently in the corner as tears streamed down her young and beautiful face. Once I regained the ability to communicate I screamed in anger, "No stop lying! You're lying, my daddy promised he would never leave me! And he truly had, after the divorce he promised to always be around. No matter what. And I had believed him. Even though screaming and crying was useless it was all I could do. The pain was unbearable. Like being punched in the stomach over and over again while also being choked. It hurt so badly I felt like my insides were going to explode and all I could think about were my father's kind and glorious hazel eyes. Months passed as I cried myself to sleep every single night while my baby brother hugged me, too young to realize he had lost anyone. The world was weeping over the twin towers being attacked, and I was crying over an alcoholic that had willingly driven while intoxicated. I didn't care about the attack or terrorists, they had not taken my father away, I cared about the fact he was gone. Never calling me his princess again. Never holding me in

his arms and watching the Flintstones with me over and over again. This then, had been my favorite movie. Ten years later, I never imagined having to experience anything like that« "Jay, are you ready?" My brother Louis knocked lightly on my bedroom door as he stood shuffling his feet by the entrance awkwardly. Not answering I stood from my bed where I had been spending the last few weeks in and walked towards my vanity picking up a small white gold ring that held a heart shaped diamond stone. Watching me in what looked like pure anguish, Louis almost winced as I placed it on my left ring finger. "You look pretty..." His voice was meek, as he played with whatever was in the pockets of his black trousers. "Thanks." Walking towards him I helped him fix the tie he didn't seem to know to put on properly. The black dress shirt he wore underneath already had a white stain on it. At fourteen Louis wasn't very clean and being a jock and pre-Madonna at almost every sport in the world didn't help. Looking down at my short black dress I smoothed it out feeling strange in anything but marine t-shirts, it was all I had worn in the last three weeks. Rushing into a pair of black heels and smoothing out my ³poop´ colored hair (As I liked to call it),I followed my brother out of my bedroom, down the stairs, and into the black limo outside. Closing my eyes, I dreaded today more than anything and all I wished for was death. If only the grim reaper would swoop down from wherever he resided and asked me if I still wanted to live. Gladly, I would have said no. "Are his parents already there?" Abigail my best friend at times, and wonderful mother asked from somewhere across from me. "I'm sure they are honey," Gio her husband, and someone I considered to be like a father replied. Louis considered him to be that more than I did because once he had swooped up my mother like a Cinderella story; I had already considered myself grown up. For a nine year old I had thought highly of myself then. Noticing I wasn't in the talking mood,nobody else said anything the whole

gruesome forty-five minutes there. Trying to keep my mind blank was physically impossible. Because my heart just wouldn't allow it. Feeling ripped apart into a million pieces it pounded in my chest as a reminder of how it could never be whole again. Another broken promise. My eyes closed and it was insanity to think I could keep my mind blank as images and memories taunted me. And then just like that I remembered the day the pinky promises had started fighting back tears: "Jaylynn. Please don't cry. I promise everything will be fine. I'm doing this for us." His hazel eyes stared into my boring brown eyes worriedly. Those eyes so kind and reminding me so much of my father's was what had me intrigued by him in the first place. "I don't want you to leave me. Please« don't go." I had sounded so weak, even to myself. But the thought of having him anywhere away was unbearable. Especially when he would be away like this. "Baby. I will never leave you. You know that. Joining will help us start a future together ,faster.´ Closing his eyes momentarily. ³Don't you want that?" As if I desired anything else. I nodded meekly looking away from him and staring at the blankness of what he considered his bedroom. A futon sprawled out on the floor, which is where we both sat. And a small old television on a wooden stand he had built himself. That was it. There had been a computer he had also built himself on the farthest corner of the room, but he had sold that a couple of months ago to buy me a necklace. I wore it then, it was two silver hearts linked as one. That¶s what he and I were, we we¶re one. "Can't you just go back to college?" He had dropped out about a year ago shortly after meeting me. Grabbing my hand he shook his head. "I can't afford it. I'm still paying bills from the one semester I did. I'd have to have a job and I already work six days a week. Ten hours a day." Being sixteen and dating a nineteen year old had required a lot of sacrifices, including a social life because he occupied all my time. His schedule was rigid and I couldn't imagine going a day without seeing him. And that's what

had me so petrified at that moment. Not being able to see him for months or who knew maybe years. I knew that going on the way he was- wasn't getting him anywhere, but the military- How could he have joined the marines, how could he just leave me? I hugged him because I knew that would make him happy and I supported him because that's all I could do. Just as long as they were both okay. "I'm going to miss you." He held me tighter as he shed tears. "I know baby but I'm not leaving yet and we still have a couple of months." Nodding I kissed his cheek. "You will come back, Right?" Chuckling lightly he wrapped his arms around me as we laid back on his futon. "You know I will, I could never leave you behind. Once boot camp is over I will visit and all my leave time will be dedicated to you. Besides we can talk on the phone or« email." "But what if you get sent to... Iraq or something?" I shuddered at the thought and fought back horrid images. His face became a statue of Greek wonder. "Then I go. It is my duty to my country." Always the loyal patriotic type, at that moment I both loved and loathed it. "Even then, pinky promise you WILL come back." Staring at my outstretched pinky questioningly his perfect lips twitched into a smile. "Pinky promise?" "It's something I used to do with my dad..." I didn't need to finish because he had his pinky wrapped around mine and then he raised our hands kissing mine. "Sealing it with a kiss." He had whispered as I followed suit starting our own little tradition.

Now, I cared about the terrorist attacks, now I recall and weep not only about what had happened with my father ten years ago, but the fall of those

two towers. Jace and I had been like that, two towers, soaring through the sky side by side, looking and feeling indestructible while we were together. Jace's mother sat beside her husband holding his hand tightly and staring at the coffin before us. Her face was blank, as if too hurt to register expressions. Too numb maybe« I had greeted them as politely as I could while fighting back the tears that were threatening to drown me. Which I wished they would. Our family sat right beside his parent's. Why? Well because in eight months we all would have been family. His ring sat glimmering like an empty future on my hand. Yeah so what if everyone had said I was too young. So what if I was still in my senior year of high school. So what if I may have been giving up getting into one of the best colleges in the country. None of that mattered because spending the rest of my life with Jace Carlton was all I had ever wanted. Blocking out everything the marine soldiers said to honor Jace, I shut my eyes trying to remember his smell and eventually it even felt like I really could smell him as the wind briefly swept through the ceremony. Jace always smelled like honey, a bit of sweat, and badly washed laundry. Even when he was on leave he always seemed to forget to put the clothes from the washer into the dryer before they developed that musty smell. I could only imagine how much trouble he would sometimes get in with his uniforms. They had an American flag laid over his coffin and I had the urge to remove it. It didn't matter to me that he was a war hero now. It didn't matter to me that he was an American soldier. It only mattered to me that he had risked his life and died over this stupid war I had no understanding of. We're all proud and dandy when fellow loved ones are serving and walking around in uniform alive. But, what to come when they aren't? Grief, regret, pain, and of course anger. Another loss. And when you compare this one loss to the hundreds and maybe thousands that occur people stop thinking they matter. It does matter though. Every loss matters. A month ago I had been proud to say I was going to be an American soldier¶s wife, today I am left with nothing. Emptiness. A red rose suddenly appeared in my hand and feeling like a robot I stood

laying it over Jace's coffin. Regret. If only....well it was too late to think about that.

Mr. and Mrs. Carlton had a humble home. They were the extremely hardworking middle class sort. And Jace being an only child had also been that type. He liked to work hard. Enjoyed helping both my mother and his garden, and mow the lawn. When Gio's car seemed off,Jace would get his jeans dirty with oil to try and fix it, which he usually did. Being a football star back when he used to go to my school he helped Louis practice his throws and tackles. After getting a puppy the responsibility of grooming and washing him had been mine, but Jace had taken it upon himself. Spoiling me with everything he seemed to do just for me. Eating some pastries from the dining room table I took off to ignore everyone that kept repeating how sorry they were for my loss. Making my way to what used to be Jace's bedroom I closed the door and looked at the futon. Staring at it like it was some foreign object I sat on the blue carpeted floor, my head against the door as the fountain of tears sprang from my body. Rocking myself I stared at the damn futon thinking about the day he had taken my virginity and then I began to suffocate. I suddenly couldn't breathe and I was gasping for air. Gasping to feel Jace's breath on mine. Gasping to hear his voice, or just feel him. Why had he left me? Couldn¶t he have stayed with me! Did he really have to go« No, he didn¶t, I could have stopped this. Somehow I felt like this was all my fault. Don¶t take away someone else from me, lord, please just bring him back. Tell them all it was a mistake« On the way home, again it was silent. Louis looked out the black window as if he could see anything through it. Gio looked down at his cuffed sleeves and my mother looked away from me pretending to be interested in the glass bar. She wasn't of course. Alcohol was a huge no in our family for obvious

reasons. Upstairs and down the hall I dashed into my bedroom closing the door behind me, almost ripping off the black dress I wore and throwing on the marine t-shirt that was Jace¶s. Then like every other day, I buried myself under my covers praying to sleep before the tears overtook me. The tears won. And like every other night the last few weeks when sleep did come, as did the dreams« and the memories of him.

Another week had passed and although I had no desire to...or care to really, it was time to go back to school before I completely failed at life. I had always been considered one of those girls that cared about what they looked like. And even though I didn't attend fashion shows every weekend I wasn't someone that had buried themselves in a shell, I cared about trends. Call me girly, whatever. But, today I didn't bother doing anything with my wavy and seemingly impossible hair. Instead I put it up in a messy bun, wore no make-up, andput on my marine shirt once again, even though I had not washed it. At least though, I myself had showered. And my jeans were still a bit tight and hugged to me. Despite the obvious weight loss, considering I had lost my appetite completely. If I had owned a pair of sneakers other than running shoes, I really would have put some on. I didn't though, so flip-flops had to do. Surprisingly, my pedicure from however long ago didn¶t look like complete crap. Not that it mattered then. Downstairs in the kitchen my mother had prepared coffee and was up and waiting, looking at me sadly she went to hug me tightly. "Are you hungry?" My mom barely ever made anyone in the house breakfast, let alone cook. This pity fest needed to end. "Yeah..." The way my voice came out sounded strange to me, I guess it was

because I had barely used it in about a month. Louis came tumbling down the stairs holding his spring sport equipment, his baseball bag. Avoiding my gaze it seemed he sat beside me. Did I look that awful or was I really that sad to look at? Both, I thought. Only imagining how everyone at school was going to act I grimaced. Oh look at her, the almost widow. Technically, you had to be married to be considered a widow though, so maybe they¶d deem me something worse. Like girl that never married the love of her life, because god took him from me«Yeah that fit me well. It had been what seemed forever that I had spoken to my friends and I had no idea how they would react to seeing me back. Not that I cared. Honestly, nothing mattered anymore. It was as if I was just on this earth for no purpose at all. Waffles especially chocolate chip dipped in butter and a whole bunch of syrup had always been my brother and I's favorite meal, after a month of barely eating I ate half of one and became instantly full. Louis stood to clear both our plates which I didn't protest too, although he had never been one to pick up anything from the table before. "Ready to go?" My mother stood in front of us jiggling the keys to her new Audi with forced cheer. "Um. Why are you driving us?" They both looked at me cautiously as if I were ready to explode at any single moment, a walking TNT bomb. "Well... I have been driving your brother to school lately and I just thought you weren't up for driving..." Abigail Capolitano looked around her kitchen nervously not meeting my questioning gaze. "No. That's fine mom I'll drive us both to school." It took my brother a couple of minutes to follow me out, I guess they finally figured that if I was to kill myself I wouldn't risk my brother's life as well. Besides my Acura had always been a safe and reliable vehicle. No suicide mission today. I'm not going to lie and say the thought of killing

myself had not flickered through my brain, because it had. Many times.I had even contemplated all the many ways and possibilities of how I could go about such a task, yet here I still was driving Louis and I to East Gates High. Back to normal life. A part of me argued that it would be selfish to take my life and make those that loved me suffer the way I was now and even a small part of me was still in denial that Jace was truly gone. In the back of my mind I still felt like there was the slightest possibility this was all a lie or some terrible nightmare and that in eight months he would be at my front door expecting to try on his tuxedo. Louis fiddled with the radio looking at me from the corner of his eye as if I was going to stop him. Nothing good was on apparently because he soon plugged his phone in as a new rapper I had never heard before blasted through my car. "Who is this?" "Mac Miller." Listening to the beat I finally mumbled as we pulled into the school parking lot, "I like him." Rap was never really my thing, maybe I¶d pick it up now. Times were indeed changing. "He's great, right?" Nodding I took the bag filled with my books from the backseat where it had been for the last few weeks and got out of the car and made my appearance in the parking lot, dreading every second of it. Just a couple of seconds ago it had been filled with laughter and chatter. Now it was as if everyone had gone mute, staring directly where I stood by my car. Feeling like an extraterrestrial object I looked down. Closing the door I pressed the lock button on my keys and followed my brother inside the building, avoiding everyone. God, I really did not want to be here at all. No one approached me, yet. By my locker, I froze because I had completely forgotten what my schedule for this year had been. Where had my brain gone?

"Jay..." Leila's eyes scanned me to see if it was okay to talk. Today, the queen of fashion and my best friend wore a striped black and white mini-skirt and a ruffled black top, paired with studded black and silver sandals. Hugging her white backpack to her she looked passed me and froze not waiting to hear or see if I had responded to her presence. "Hello to you too." She didn't blink or move. It reminded me of a frozen bobble head. For someone that liked to talk a lot and move as she did so, this was bizarre to me. Leila had never been so still. Her eyes were intently frozen passed me. Shoving some notebooks that I didn't think I needed inside my locker I closed it and turned to see what had my friend so stunned. There he was in all his mighty glory, a new guy. Even I had to stop myself from growing breathless. Wearing a white polo, brown shorts, and loafers, he looked like he walked right out of an Abercrombie catalog. This guy was tall six something and as he walked down the hallway nearing where we stood I could tell his body was very toned, although lean. A tan summer glow covered his skin giving anyone the impression that he had moved from somewhere south or maybe some place like California. His dark brown hair was ruffled in waves reminding me of how Jace's used to be before he went and got it buzzed for boot camp. Wincing, I turned back to my awe stricken friend snapping my fingers in her face. "Earth to Leila." Blinking a couple of times she finally turned to me looking dazed. "Uh, sorry. Have you ever seen such a beautiful boy?" Not answering her question I tugged a strayed hair from my messy bun behind my ear and walked as she followed. Yes, I had one. "How has school been?" "Shitty. I've missed you." Gulping the knot in my throat, "I've missed you too..." Avoiding my friends had been a task, but I had done a great job at doing so making me feel

almost guilty. Hesitantly she asked what I knew she had wanted to ask from the start, "How are you... I mean how have you been holding up?" "I'm okay." A lie, but I knew she could tell. Not calling me on it she luckily changed the subject. "Do you know what your first class is?" Pretending to think I shook my head as she smiled at me sadly and gestured for me to follow her. "You have A.P literature. Then Speech and Debate. Followed by Chemistry..." "Uh. No. I may just skip that." I had failed chemistry last year. Anything with math and science I was horrible at. Although math was a bit easier. And I was not in the mood to suffer through more torture. She continued, ignoring my comment, "Economics, Lunch, College Math, and Creative writing." I groaned as we reached my first classroom. Giving me a small hug she turned on her heel and left me to the torturous wrath of the academic system. Unlike ever, today I sat in the back of my classroom as several of my peers walked up to my desk apologizing and expressing their regrets for Jace's death. Even Aida White, a girl who had once been both Leila's and I's best friend came up to my desk looking sorrowful and telling me how she was deeply saddened by my loss. Trying my very hardest not to be rude, I had thanked her. Mr. Jameson finally called our class to order and then to my utter dismay looked at me. "Miss Damon. I am deeply sorry for your loss and hope for the rest of the year that we won't be too hard on you considering work load. I am also very happy to see you back." Nodding meekly I looked down at my English textbook as he proceeded to instruct the assignment for the day. Mr. Jameson had been my teacher for the last four years because he was, well; the only equipped one to handle

the honor and advanced placements students in our English department. He was the best, and my favorite. At the moment though I kind of wished he wasn't there. Those knowing eyes bore into mine sadly as I read the assigned pages or at least pretended to. Once upon a time I had been one of those girls that wrote poems about her beloved and handed them in as my creative writing assignments. Yes, he was my teacher for that class as well. Which was the reason for my discomfort. Fifteen minutes into class there was a knock on the wooden door, I looked up to see it open and in stepped him, the new guy with the waved hair that reminded me so much of Jace's. Looking down I felt the room zoom in on him and everyone was nosing in on the conversation before us. He was going to be the talk of the town for a while. "New student?" Mr. Jameson asked sounding as if he had grabbed something from the young man's hand. "Yes sir. Jagger Broderick.Pleasure to meet you." His voice was musical it almost sounded like velvet and wine. And what kind of old English name was that? Sounded like the rich snob type. Looking up I saw him extend his hand politely to Mr. Jameson's surprise and then in all of God's strange way of hating me he was gestured to sit in the last empty desk in the room, beside me. Why, this annoyed me I had not realized at that point. And it got worse. "Jay I hope you don't mind sharing your textbook with Mr. Broderick, I don't seem to have any extra copies with me." With that, I watched in horror as the boy named Jagger gave me a lopsided grin that reminded me too much of someone's and scooted his desk closer to mine. Agitated, I pushed my book closer to the edge of my desk and looked straight ahead.