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My Clarity by M. Clarke/Mary Ting
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* * * READERS' FAVORITE GOLD MEDAL AWARD WINNER--ROMANCE 2014 * * *
Still reeling from the death of her father, Alexandria hopes to find both independence and reprieve from her grief by heading off to college. However, life throws her a serious curve ball when she discovers that her roommate isn’t quite the person she had imagined.
Smoking, tattoos, and street racing for fast cash are Elijah’s only interests. A harsh life has made him apathetic and indifferent, until Alexandria enters his life. When their paths cross, turmoil abounds.
An inevitable encounter, an undeniable attraction, and an unexpected chance at love-will it be enough?
"At first glance, no one would believe Elijah's tough guy exterior
hides a genuine and giving heart. But, you cannot help whom you
fall in love with and when opposites attract, the
chemistry is undeniable!"
READ My Serenity Prologue and Chapter 1
Book Two (Follow-up to My Clarity)
Most children were afraid of monsters, either in the closet or under the bed. They weren’t real. But my monster was real. She wasn’t made up. My monster was my mom—a living, breathing nightmare I had to endure day and night. The kind of monster I couldn’t simply run away from or wish away.
“Josefina! Get your ass over here, right now!”
My body stiffened, feeling like I’d swallowed stones. I always felt sick to my stomach when my mom yelled at me like that, and it was usually over something small. I dashed out of my room as fast as I could. Mom hated when I didn’t come immediately after she’d called my name. Even a second was too long.
“Yes, Mama?” I asked sheepishly. Standing by her bedroom door, gripping tightly to the hem of my dirty shirt, I prepared for her roar.
Mom didn’t say a word at first. It was the look of evil that got me shaking. She looked angry, and if she could, fire would have scorched out of her eyes. Wearing a pretty floral dress, she had accessorized with a pearl necklace and earrings. Her hair was neatly combed with a fake flower pinned at the side. Never had I seen a strand out of place, nor had I seen her without makeup. My mom wasn’t pretty. Although she was more on the heavy side, her clothes made her look beautiful. She pointed to the bottles of perfume lined up on her dresser.
“Do you see something wrong with that?” Though her tone was calm, it was as deadly as a rattlesnake’s venom.
Already knowing what some of them smelled like, lavender, honey, and jasmine fragrances filled my nose despite the fact the bottles were capped. The one at the end was slightly out of line, but I kept my mouth shut. My mom’s face was suddenly directly in front of mine. Her brown eyes turned darker—cold as a deadly storm. “Are you deaf, child?”
I held my hands together, preparing for what would come next. As always, the drizzle had turned into a full-blown hurricane. My lips quivered, desperately trying to find the words to bring calmness, but nothing came.
Mom grabbed the lobe of my ear, forcing me closer to the last bottle. I bit my lip, trying to stop the tears, and begged, “Mama, please. I didn’t do anything.”
“You lying to me?” Her voice got louder. “How many times do I have to tell you not to touch my stuff? You think I’m stupid? Well, I think you’re stupid. You’re seven years old and you can’t even answer a simple question.”
“I didn’t.” I tried to pull away, but the more I resisted, the more the pain intensified.
I stumbled backward as my mom pushed me away. She grabbed her favorite hairbrush—the yellow one with pretty crystals that were glued into the shape of a butterfly—the one I had wished for. That was before she had beat me with it. “Bend over.”
Tears streamed down my face. I covered my butt with my hands as if I could protect myself from her, and being that it wasn’t the first time, I could already feel the pain. “No, Mama. I promise. I didn’t touch it.”
Mom stood in front of the door so I couldn’t get out. Before I could blink, she grabbed my wrist and dragged me to the bed. With my body slumped across her lap and one arm holding me secure, she slammed the brush on my butt. Every word she spoke was a whip across my ass.
“Don’t—you—ever—touch—my—stuff!” Her breath was labored, beating me until she was tired.
All she cared about was her material things. And I, her daughter, was the object used to vent the rage that dwelled inside her.
“You’re ruining my dress,” she sneered and pushed me off her. My body thumped, landing on the floor. I felt broken, worthless, and not deserving of love. Curling my body into a ball, I lay there shaking and sobbing quietly. My butt felt like it was on fire. Mom hated to hear me. I knew she would beat me again and tell me to shut up. Usually when she was done, she would walk out of the room, but she didn’t this time.
“What are you staring at?” she snapped.
I wiped my tears and looked through my blurry eyes. My dad was standing by the door. He looked like he’d just gotten out of bed—more like he’d just gotten off the sofa. Dad’s jeans were unzipped and his T-shirt was molded to his Santa Claus belly. With an unshaven face and uncombed hair, he was holding a bottle in his hand, as usual.
Scratching his head he asked, “Why are you being a bitch, screaming so early in the morning? You woke me up.”
“It’s afternoon, idiot.” She pointed at me. “Your daughter touched my perfume bottles again.”
He took a sip from his bottle. “I don’t know if she touched them, but I did. I don’t think she deserved a beating.” His words were slurred, the way they always sounded. When he was sober, he didn’t sound like my dad.
I wished I could have framed the guilty look on my mom’s face. It was as if my prayers had been answered, but more importantly, my mom knew I wasn’t lying. I was waiting for her to apologize, to hold me in her arms and tell me how wrong she was. I wanted to hear her say that she loved me, and that she would never hurt me again. But those words never came.
“Don’t make up stuff, Frank,” she sneered. “Anyway, she’s probably done something bad I don’t know about. She deserved it.”
My dad shrugged and took another sip. “Maybe.” He paused, smiling at my mom with a funny look—the look I would always see before they made a lot of noise in their bedroom. They didn’t know, but I could hear them through the walls; or maybe they didn’t care. I didn’t know if they were wrestling or exercising, but from the sounds coming from their room, they seemed like they were out of breath. And then I would hear my mom scream, but a different kind of scream.
When Mom sat up tall and straightened her dress, I scurried away. I stared at my dad, waiting to see what he would do next. Dad rubbed his hand along the zipper, but didn’t zip it up.
“Donna . . .” He gave that funny look again.
“Josefina!” my mom hissed. “Go make Mommy a sandwich, then go to your room. Got it?”
“Yes, Mama.” I stood up, sniffling. I was happy to leave her room.
“And Josefina—” my mom called to me just as I was a step away from the door. I turned to listen. “Next time you fuckin’ touch anything of mine, you’re going to get it hard. Do you understand?”
I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why my mom hit me when I didn’t do anything wrong—not that I should get hit like that, regardless of what I had done. I didn’t understand why she treated me like she wished I had never been born. I didn’t understand why my dad drank all the time. And I didn’t understand why my parents were the way they were.
But yet, I still answered, “Yes, Mama.”
Dad ruffled my hair like I was a pet when I walked past him, then he closed the door.
“I’m on my way,” I said through the Bluetooth, already knowing who it was.
“You have the directions?”
“Of course I have the directions. I told you I was on my way.” I huffed a little. Elijah was like a brother to me, but sometimes he drove me nuts.
“Just checking, ‘cause last time you told me you were on your way, you lost the directions.”
He was right; the last time I forgot the directions at home. I had been helping my mom at the restaurant and didn’t want to drive back to get them. “I called you then,” I reminded. “I didn’t call you now. You called me. Stop being a nag and let me get to you. I’m hanging up.”
“How far are you?”
I was going to be about thirty minutes late, which was my fault because I hadn’t correctly estimated my time of arrival. “Okay—so I forgot about the traffic.”
“SETH!” I pulled back the phone. He was not happy with me. “I have to get to work soon. How far are you?”
“About twenty.” It was somewhat the truth. I hoped traffic would be on my side for the next several miles. If so, I would definitely make it.
“Okay, I can do that. Drive carefully.”
“I will, but would you relax? You’re not proposing today.”
“I am relaxed. I’m always relaxed, but not when you’re late.” Elijah was joking, but he tried not to sound like he was.
“Okay, okay. I’ll be there as soon as I can. The traffic is better now. See you soon.”
“I love you too,” I mumbled under my breath. I was just a little annoyed that in the first week I was back from Berkeley for summer vacation, my mom’s employees had quit. Not just one, but several of them, so I had to fill their shifts. I told her many times to hire more responsible people that needed a job, not just college students that left to go home during the summer.
Regardless, I was ecstatic for Elijah. He’d been through so much, but in the end, he’d finally found his happiness . . . Alex. He had also managed to get into grad school and get a paid internship. He was interested in the same field as Jimmy and me—financial banking. And I couldn’t believe he was going to propose to Alex. They had lived together for almost two years now in the same condo where they fell in love. Leave it to Elijah to be the romantic type. Even though he was known as the player, he knew how to treat women. I respected him for that, and for many other reasons. He also knew how to swoon them. I wasn’t very good at it though.
How fast time flew. I couldn’t believe I’d just finished the first year of my MBA at Berkeley. I had to turn down an internship with a promising business company to help my mom take care of both the restaurant and the auto shop, since my dad had passed away from a heart attack about three months ago. That was the hardest time of my life. Jimmy, Lexy, Elijah, and Alex had been there for me. I didn’t know what I would’ve done without them.
The sound of a loud horn snapped me out of my thoughts. I had to slam on my brakes hard and pray that I didn’t hit the car in front of me. Asshole! He almost made me crash into him when he cut so sharply in front of me. He freakin’ cut me off! Not having had a great day, I felt confrontational so I purposely tailgated the idiot. It was immature, but I couldn’t help the anger that coursed through me like a blazing fire. I’m not the angry type, but I was today—especially when he purposely slowed down afterward, even though he had a clear path to pick up speed.
Being blocked on both lanes, I couldn’t swerve to either side to pass the car. I was just about to change lanes when he shifted to the left. Then that bastard slowed down. This was the perfect opportunity to give him the finger. Elijah had mentioned before that God had created our middle fingers for moments like this, and I was going to use it.
When our cars were side by side, I turned my head to get a good look at the asshole—holy shit! It was a woman, and she was “take my breath away” gorgeous. My heart did a funny flip inside my chest and continued down to my stomach. And for some reason, my anger subsided. I hated to admit it, but pretty girls could do that to me.
My finger never lifted as I stared for a second, then turned back to see the road ahead of me. Getting into an accident, while gawking at a beautiful woman, was not a good idea. When her passenger’s side window started to roll down, I turned to her again. The wind tousled her long, wavy brunette hair. Her eyes grew wide while she bit her bottom lip. Maybe she thought I was cute? Maybe she wanted to get my number? Excitedly, I rolled down mine too. Before I could wave to apologize or give her my charming smile, she gave me the bird and shouted, “ASSHOLE!”
Nice! I just got burned. I didn’t know why I was so pissed off again, besides the fact that it was her fault in the first place, but I gave her one right back. Her level of beauty diminished right away with her dirty gestures, not to mention her bad temper. At least it would be the last time I’d ever see her. I was sure of it when she once again cut in front of me and sped away.
I parked next to Elijah’s car and texted him, letting him know I was there. After I slammed the door and tucked my keys and cell inside the back pocket of my jeans, I trekked down the uneven slope. The pine-scented air whiffed through my nose. The gravel didn’t agree with the soles of my tennis shoes, causing me to almost trip a couple of times on the way down.
There wasn’t much to see except for the trees, shrubs, and fabulous scenery of the city below. A white blanket of what reminded me of cotton balls covered parts of the mountain, making it difficult to see the view that it hid. Nevertheless, it was a breathtaking sight.
“Seth.” Elijah waved, appearing from behind a tree, meeting me halfway. “You made it.” He was wearing jeans, a black T-shirt, and holding his signature leather jacket—the one he always wore when he raced. His dragon tattoo appeared below the sleeve of his shirt. He was no longer racing since he’d promised Alex, but that jacket always reminded me of those good ole days in college.
“You look surprised.” I greeted him with a slap on the back. “Have a little faith in me.”
Elijah released a sound as if I had punched him in the gut and then rolled his eyes. “Love you too, man,” he grumbled, then his tone changed to one of excitement. “What do you think? I was thinking of proposing to Alex here. This is our special place. It’s where I brought her on our first date. No one knows about this place—well, you’re the second person now.”
He stopped jabbering and looked at me when I didn’t answer. “I’m the second?” I stared at him hard. “I’ve been your best friend forever and you never brought me here? So . . . you’re only asking me to come to your special place because you want something from me?”
He ruffled the hair at the back of his head and gave me an apologetic smile. His whole face lit up. “Come on, Seth. You know how much you mean to me. Don’t be jealous.”
Though I was just giving him a hard time, the way he was joking sounded disgusting and wrong to me, like we were lovers or something. “All right, all right. It’s fine. I’m just giving you a hard time. So—besides it being the place you had your first date, why here? There’s nothing here.” I threw my arms about, looking for something to make this place more appealing besides the view.
Elijah looked at me as if I were crazy. “Seriously? You don’t see the potential?”
“The view is nice. And there are trees and bushes. I’m sure the night will bring out the colors of the city, making it all uhh, sparkly . . . and pretty.” I couldn’t think of any desirable adjectives to make this place sound as nice as he wanted it to be.
Elijah rubbed his finger across his chin, then strutted closer to the edge. “This is where I’m going to set up the tent.” Then he walked away from his imaginary tent in a straight line. “This is where Alex will walk down to the tent, but there will be rose petals along the white flooring I’m going to create for her.” Elijah pointed to the trees to the left and right of him. “Those trees will be decorated with sparkling lights, and I’m going to place electric candles everywhere and make this place glow like a motherfucker.”
“Wow.” I stared at him in awe. “I knew there was that romantic side of you, but you just made me fall in love with you, hard.”
“Yeah—and I bet you wished it was returned.” He chuckled. “That ain’t happening.”
“Real funny. But seriously, she’s going to be happy. I mean, really happy. Got any plans for uhh—you know, just in case?” I twitched my brows.
“Get your mind out of where my mind is right now. None of your goddamn business—” he started to say, then softened his tone. Like always, he caved in, “I have stuff.” He did that funny grip to the collar of his T-shirt with both hands like a badass, then turned back to the imaginary tent area.
I shuffled my shoe against the dirt. “Like what?” I knew I was being nosey, but I wanted to know. Elijah was a natural when it came to asking girls out. He was always the one with the smooth words and moves. Romance was his specialty. “Come get me. I’m hot” was written all over his mannerisms, his looks, and just simply his presence. Girls turned their heads when he walked into the room. He demanded attention before he had even said a word. I wasn’t jealous. I just wished he could give me a tiny piece of the charisma that came so easily to him.
Elijah looked like he was in deep thought when he turned to me. “Still working on that part, but I was thinking about bringing a blow-up mattress and blankets. You’re available on that date to help me, right?”
I took my phone out of my pocket and checked the date he’d mentioned to me several months ago when I was up in Berkeley. “Yup, I’m all yours.”
His smile was contagious. “Great. I can’t wait. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Did you get the ring?”
“I did.” He looked at his watch. “Shit. I have to go. I can’t be late for work.”
“Who’s going to bring Alex here?” I asked before he could sprint to his car.
“Lexy will bring her. I just need you to help bring all the equipment and help me set up.”
“Sure. No problem.” I gazed at Elijah warmly. “I can’t believe in a month you’re going to be engaged. I knew it would happen one day; I just didn’t know it would happen this soon and that you would be the first.”
Elijah rested his hand on my shoulder. “I can’t believe it either, but when you know that person is your forever, you go for it. Why wait? Life is unpredictable. You just never know what can happen.”
I broke my gaze and looked down at my shoes. “Yeah, I know,” I said somberly, thinking of my dad. Elijah had been through his mother’s suicide and the death of his younger brother to leukemia, so I knew he understood how I felt. But being that my loss was so recent, I couldn’t keep the tears from pooling in my eyes.
My dad’s death happened suddenly and was a major shock to all of us. I was sure my dad’s heart attack was due to stress and lack of attention to his diet, especially with all the sodas and junk food he consumed. He’d never exercised, nor did he try to change his eating habits. Mom’s nagging didn’t help; her words went in one ear and out the other. He had weighed well over what was considered healthy.
That was one of the reasons why I’d shaped up and started exercising again. All that beer and partying had added a few extra pounds. I didn’t have a girlfriend and I didn’t care to impress any girls. But while rooming with Jimmy, Alex’s cousin, up in Berkeley, I’d gotten a few reminders that I was gaining weight, so I had started working out at the gym with him. I was almost back to feeling like myself again.
Elijah placed the other hand on my shoulder, forcing me to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry, Seth. I know how hard it’s been for you and your family. If there’s anything I can do, you know I’m here for you. If you need an extra hand at the restaurant or the shop, don’t hesitate to ask. And don’t hesitate to ask Alex either.”
“You’ve been great, Elijah. I love my brother and sister, but you’ve always been like a brother to me. You’ve always been there when I needed you.” My voice cracked a little and I gulped down my tears. I didn’t want to cry in front of him. He’d already seen enough of that from me at my dad’s funeral.
Elijah draped his arm around my shoulders, leading us back to our cars. “Thanks. You’ve been there for me too. That’s what friends are for.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I shrugged, even though I agreed.
Elijah unlocked his car and got inside. As he started his engine, I got in my car. When his window rolled down, I rolled my passenger’s side one down also to listen to what he had to say.
“I see that you’ve started working out again. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself. There was a point in my life when I didn’t give a fuck, but you have to. There’s no choice. You have to move on.”
“I know,” I agreed.
“You’re coming tomorrow, right? To Lexy’s birthday dinner party?”
“Do you need a ride there?” Elijah asked.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to the restaurant, Mama Rose. My mom isn’t feeling well.”
“Okay. See you then.” He waved and drove off.