Voyage of the Defiance - S.E. Smith - ebook
Opis

An act of defiance that will either kill her or change her life forever… Sixteen year old Makayla Summerlin's life with her drug-addled mom and skeezy boyfriend was hard, really hard, but it was hers! She barely remembers the grandfather she now has to live with. Completely uprooted, Makayla feels exactly how little control she has over anything – until she looks at her grandfather's sailboat and suddenly it seems like the perfect escape from her life. Makayla sets sail – with an unintended passenger – and begins a journey around the coast of Florida that will challenge everything she has ever believed about herself. What will it take to survive the elements? 2016 Gold Finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book Award!

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Voyage of the Defiance

Breaking Free series

S.E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Copyright

Synopsis

Map of Florida

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

25. Hillsborough High School, Tampa:

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Epilogue

Sample of Dust: Before and After

Check out these other great stories by YA Authors:

Additional Books and Information

About the Author

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my husband Steve for believing in me and being proud enough of me to give me the courage to follow my dream. I would also like to give a special thank you to my sister and best friend, Linda, who not only encouraged me to write, but who also read the manuscript. Also to my other friends who believe in me: Julie, Jackie, Lisa, Sally, Elizabeth (Beth), Laurelle, and Narelle. The girls that keep me going!

Thank you Paul Heitsch, David Brenin, Samantha Cook, Suzanne Elise Freeman, and PJ Ochlan—the awesome voices behind my audiobooks!

—S.E. Smith

A special thanks to Kaitlyn Geiger for sharing her love of her Akita, Breaker. He was the very best friend a girl could have and continues to live on in this story. Also, thank you to Bonnie Howard for her guidance and patience in helping me understand the technical language of sailing and Debbie for her letting me know I like the word ‘low’ just a little too much, as well as her patience. LOL.

Montana Publishing

Young Adult\YA Action\Adventure\Fiction

Voyage of the Defiance: Breaking Free series

Copyright © 2015 by S.E. Smith

First E-Book\print Published October 2015

Cover Design by Melody Simmons

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, or organizations are strictly coincidental and not intended by the author.

Summary: Sixteen year old Makayla’s life changes when she goes to live with the grandfather she barely remembers and discovers that not all things in life are what she expects when she meets a boy who will capture her heart, and another who will become an unlikely friend on a voyage that will test the person she is meant to be.

ISBN 978-1-942562-67-2 (paperback)

ISBN 978-1-942562-68-9 (eBook)

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

{1. High School – Fiction. 2. Schools – Fiction. 3. Action/Adventure – Fiction. 4. Florida (State) – Fiction.}

www.montanapublishinghouse.com

Synopsis

An act of defiance that will either kill her or change her life forever…

Sixteen year old Makayla Summerlin's life is uprooted when she's suddenly forced to live with the grandfather she barely remembers. Unable to deal, she sets sail in her grandfather’s old sailboat and begins a journey that will challenge everything she has ever believed about herself. What will it take for her, and a surprising stowaway, to survive?

2016 Gold Finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book Award!

1

“What’d you do this time?” Tisha whispered, leaning forward in her seat so that she was closer to Makayla.

Makayla rolled her eyes and turned to scowl in the direction where the English teacher was talking quietly with the principal, Mr. Wallace, at the entrance to the classroom. She knew the other students were glancing at her as well.

Everyone had heard the principal’s quiet question when he asked if Makayla Summerlin was in the class. She ignored Tisha as she tried to hear what Mrs. Ruiz and Mr. Wallace were saying. Her stomach dropped when the door opened again behind him to reveal a School Resource Officer from the Sheriff’s department.

“Oh, man, you are in deep sh…,” Tisha started to say before she leaned back when Mrs. Ruiz, Mr. Wallace, and the deputy all looked in their direction.

“Miss Summerlin, please come with me,” Mr. Wallace requested, staring at Makayla.

Makayla slowly slid out of her seat and turned, ignoring the bursts of whispers from the other students. Some were chuckling while a few called out jokingly for her to say hi to some of the other students at the Detention Center. She drew in a deep breath as she bent to pick up her backpack off the floor next to her desk.

“I’ll call you later,” Makayla muttered under her breath to Tisha.

“Good luck,” Tisha replied with a sympathetic look.

Makayla nodded and finished stuffing her notepad and book in her backpack before picking it up and slinging it over her shoulder. With a defiant glance at the principal, she stepped over the backpack belonging to the guy sitting next to her and walked to the front of the room.

“You’re not in trouble,” Mr. Wallace assured her, loud enough to be heard by the class.

Makayla just shrugged. She knew she hadn’t done anything and really didn’t care what the other kids thought. She had learned back in middle school how to handle those that tried to mess with her. She, Tisha, and three other girls, Laura, Debbie, and Audrey, had perfected the art of smacking down anyone who messed with them.

Her friends were the only ones who made life fun anymore. They had known each other since primary school and had made a pact when they moved into middle school that they would watch each other’s back. So far, they had done a pretty good job of it.

She brushed her long, dark brown hair back from her face as she walked by the teacher. Mrs. Ruiz shot her a sad, sympathetic look before she turned back to the students in an effort to quiet them down.

Good luck with that, Makayla thought as she glanced at Mr. Wallace through her eyelashes.

She pushed past him and out the door when the deputy opened it further. Schooling her face into a blank mask, she walked quietly between the two men. Her mind swirled as she tried to think of anything she had done to get not only the principal’s attention, but the cops.

Her stomach twisted as a dark feeling of dread surged through her. She glanced at the deputy walking beside her. He didn’t look back, but there was something in his stance that told her he was there on serious business. She wiped her suddenly damp palm against her faded blue jeans.

“What’s going on?” she asked bluntly as they neared the double doors leading into the office, unable to contain her curiosity any longer. “I haven’t done anything.”

Mr. Wallace paused as he opened the door and glanced at the deputy beside her before he looked away. He gave her a stiff smile and motioned for her to go ahead of them. Makayla’s eyes narrowed when his gaze didn’t quite meet her eyes.

“As I told you before, you are not in trouble,” Mr. Wallace said. “We’ll meet in the conference room.”

The suspicion that something was seriously wrong deepened the closer they got to the small conference room. The room was tucked in the corner of the hallway next to the guidance counselors’ offices. The door was open and she could see Mrs. Evers sitting at the scarred table.

Her eyes swept the room as she entered, noting that only the guidance counselor assigned to her, the principal, and the deputy were there. She shrugged her backpack off and dropped it on the table before sliding onto one of the worn, padded chairs. Mr. Wallace cleared his throat as the deputy closed the door behind him.

Her eyes shifted around as a sense of panic began to build deep inside her. She glanced from one person to the other before turning her head when Mrs. Evers reached over and gently touched her hand.

“Makayla, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but…,” Alma Evers paused for a moment before she spoke in a low voice. “It’s your mom…,” she said quietly.

Makayla felt a cold sweat break out over her. She clutched her trembling hands together and glanced back to where the School Resource Officer was standing. She could feel the blood drain from her face and for a moment she was afraid she might actually pass out.

She opened her mouth, but it was as if someone had suddenly wrapped their hands around her throat. She swallowed again and began shaking her head in denial. A sob rose up, but she pushed it down.

“Is she…,” Makayla finally forced out in a trembling voice. “Is she…?”

Makayla lowered her head as tears burned her eyes. She couldn’t say the word that was choking her. She couldn’t voice the fear that her mom was… dead.

“No… She’s not dead, but she is in the hospital. She was found unconscious early this morning by a co-worker,” Mrs. Evers said, glancing at the deputy again.

Makayla turned her head when the man standing next to the door straightened and cleared his throat. She drew in a deep breath and waited. A part of her had always wondered if this day would come, while another part denied that it would ever get this bad. Her mom had a bad habit. She was addicted to painkillers, anything to numb her life. Makayla knew it and did what she could to protect her mom, but it was no use.

Her mom had begun seeing a new guy a couple of months ago. Makayla didn’t like him. He was just as bad as her mom and she suspected he was helping supply her mom’s habit.

“Where is she?” Makayla asked in a low, husky voice, glancing at the deputy’s name tag before looking him in the eye.

“Tampa General,” Deputy Masters replied. “Do you have any other family here?”

Makayla shook her head. The only family she had was a grandfather that she hadn’t seen in years. He lived over on the east coast of Florida. All she remembered was there had been a huge fight as her mom packed her in the car. She had been six at the time.

“My grandfather… My mom’s dad lives over in Fort Pierce, I think,” she said. “We… He and my mom had a big fight years ago. I haven’t seen him since.”

“Can you please write down his name?” he asked.

Makayla watched as he pulled a piece of paper and pen out of his pocket. He stepped up to the table and handed it to her. She pulled it toward her with trembling fingers. Writing down her grandfather’s name, she paused and bit her lip, looking up at the deputy with troubled eyes.

“I don’t remember his address,” she whispered.

Deputy Masters reached down and took the paper from her hand, glancing at it before he gave her a small smile of understanding. He tucked the paper and pen back into his left breast pocket and nodded to the principal. Makayla swallowed and stood when Mr. Wallace and Mrs. Evers pushed back their chairs and rose.

“Don’t worry about it,” Deputy Masters replied. “We’ll notify him of the situation.”

“Makayla, do you have any friends you can stay with?” Mrs. Evers asked.

Makayla paused as she picked up her backpack. Her mind went to the five girls that she hung out with. Each of them had their own problem. Tisha’s mom and dad were in the middle of getting a divorce and Tisha was being bounced back and forth between their two homes. Laura’s mom was out of work and Laura was the only one working at the moment. Debbie’s parents were super strict, and in Makayla’s opinion more than a little strange. Audrey was the oldest of six kids and shared a room with three of her younger sisters in a small, three bedroom house.

“No,” she admitted with a shake of her head. “I can stay….”

Her voice faded when she thought of her mom’s new boyfriend, Rob. There was no way she could stay at the apartment they shared with him. She would be better off sleeping in her mom’s old car.

“I want to see my mom,” she said suddenly, looking at the deputy.

“Give me a minute,” Deputy Masters said, opening the door and stepping out as he spoke softly into the radio attached to his left shoulder.

“Makayla, if you need to talk about anything,” Mrs. Evers began to say awkwardly.

Makayla breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened and the deputy nodded to her. She grabbed her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. Suddenly the room seemed smaller, more suffocating than she remembered.

“Thanks,” she muttered, walking around the table.

“I’ve gotten permission to take you to the hospital,” Deputy Masters informed her as she stepped out into the hallway. “They are also notifying your grandfather of the situation.”

Makayla nodded, not looking at the other students sitting in the outer office chairs. She pushed open the door to the front office and stepped outside into the early afternoon heat. It was the end of May and already getting hot.

A surrealistic sense of being disconnected from what was happening washed over Makayla as she walked along the wide sidewalk. She glanced around the huge grounds of the historic campus. She only had another couple of weeks to finish her junior year at Hillsborough High School. She paused for a moment as she walked by the statue of the school’s mascot, her hand automatically reaching out to touch the hard, bronze surface. Some of the athletes said they touched it for good luck before a game. She wondered if there might be just a touch of good luck in it for her.

“Makayla,” Deputy Masters called in a quiet voice.

Makayla looked at him and swallowed. She knew her eyes were bright with unshed tears. She could feel them burning.

I won’t cry, she whispered silently to herself. I won’t. I’m tough. I have to be if I’m going to survive. Don’t let anyone know you are hurting. Don’t let anyone see you are weak. They will only use that against you if you do.

She nodded and straightened her shoulders. Gripping the strap to her backpack tightly between her palms, she followed Deputy Masters out to the patrol car parked out front. Sliding into the back seat, she stared out the window with sightless eyes.

2

The muffled sounds of voices outside the room jerked Makayla awake. She groaned as she sat up on the hard cushion of the chair. Pushing the blanket down, she frowned as she shoved her hair out of her face. She blinked several times trying to clear the fog from her brain.

Her fingers touched the blanket as she tried to remember where she was, and why she was sleeping in a chair. Her eyes jerked up to the sleeping figure. Pushing the blanket aside, she stiffly rose and stretched before slowly walking over to the bed.

She reached over the railing and gently cupped the hand of the woman lying so peacefully on the pristine white sheets. Tears burned her eyes again when she saw the strap around the fragile wrist. The fingers in her hand barely moved, but it was enough for Makayla to know her mom was still alive.

“Ma… kay… la,” Teresa Summerlin whispered in a voice that sounded raw and strained as she slowly opened her eyes.

“Hey, mom,” Makayla whispered, giving her mom a tired smile. “You don’t look so good.”

Tears glittered in Teresa’s eyes as she stared up at her daughter. “I… don’t feel… so good,” she forced out.

Makayla bit her lip and lowered her head so her mom couldn’t see the pain in her eyes. She stared at their joined hands. Her mother’s addiction to prescription drugs had started when Makayla was nine. At first, it had been antidepressants. That changed to pain medication after a car accident three years ago. Since then, her mom’s addiction had grown as she tried to escape from life.

It was strange that Makayla saw it, but her mom didn’t. Six months ago, Rob had come into the picture. Makayla tried to warn her mom that she was making a mistake. There had been something about the guy that gave her the creeps. The feeling had been justified when the physical violence started soon after the mental abuse stopped working, mostly because of the drugs. Her mom had just stopped caring what Rob said.

“I need… my medicine,” her mom whispered, licking her dry lips.

Makayla shook her head. “They took everything,” she said with a frown, glancing at the door when the sound of the voices on the other side rose. Her lips tightened when she recognized Rob’s familiar voice. “I don’t want him near you. You’ve got to tell him to go away.”

Teresa shifted anxiously in the bed. Her fingers tightened on Makayla’s as a sense of desperation began to burn in her eyes. Makayla recognized the look. Her mom needed her ‘fix’.

“I can’t, Makayla,” Teresa mumbled in a hoarse voice. “I need him.”

“No, you don’t,” Makayla replied in a tone edged with anger. “We can make it without him. He’s bad news. I told you that from the very beginning. You’ve got to tell him to take a hike.”

Tears glittered in her mom’s eyes. Makayla fought against the feeling of helplessness. It was the same thing over and over. All her mom cared about anymore was escaping from the world. The anger boiled over when the door to the room swung open and Rob stepped inside.

Makayla pulled her fingers out of her mom’s hand and stepped around the bed. This time, she wasn’t going to stand back. Positioning herself between the bed and Rob, she glared at him.

“Get out!” Makayla snapped. “Get out! Now! We don’t want you here. We don’t need you.”

Rob’s mouth twisted into the ugly, smug smile that Makayla had grown to hate. It was as if he knew that if it came down to Teresa choosing between him and the next fix or Makayla, that she would choose the drugs. Bitter acid turned in Makayla’s stomach. Her biggest fear was that he was right.

“Makayla,” her mom weakly called out behind her. “Don’t….”

“Yeah, don’t, little girl,” Rob replied sarcastically. “What’d you do this time, Teresa?”

Makayla’s temper exploded. Stepping forward, she lifted her hands and pushed Rob backwards when he took a step toward her mom. Fury burned through her when she saw a small, plastic packet fall to the floor of the room.

“You son-of-a…,” Makayla started to growl, glaring up into the slightly glazed brown eyes. “She’s in the freaking hospital and you’re bringing her drugs! She almost died and you’re bringing her more?”

“Shut up,” Rob warned, glancing over his shoulder at the door. “She needs them. She needs me.”

“No, she doesn’t!” Makayla yelled. “She needs me! She needs to get off this crud before it kills her.”

“Makayla,” Teresa whimpered, pulling at the straps on her arms. “Rob’s right. I need them. I can’t… I can’t….”

Makayla turned and drew in a shuddering breath as she stared at her mother through her unshed tears. Her throat worked up and down as she tried to get her emotions under control. Something told her that if she lost this fight, she would lose not only the war, but her mom.

“No,” she whispered, her face twisting in grief as she stared down at the pale figure in the bed. “I won’t lose you. We can do this, mom. We can beat this together.”

Makayla watched as her mom’s stricken face turned to look at Rob before returning to gaze at Makayla with an expression of sorrow. Unable to accept that her mom was choosing Rob and the drugs over her, Makayla turned away from her mom’s tear-stained face.

Her eyes flickered to the floor where the packet of ill-gotten prescription medication lay. She started to reach for them when she heard Rob mumble a curse. Knowing that he didn’t want anyone else to know about them, her eyes glittered in determination as she grabbed them.

A low cry of fury escaped her when Rob wrapped his hand around her wrist and squeezed it as he tried to take the small packet away from her. Revulsion swept through her and she swung out, striking him in the nose. Makayla vaguely heard her mom’s high pitched cry as she and Rob struggled.

Makayla grunted when Rob struck her across the face. She stumbled back against the bed at the same time as the door opened and several people rushed in. One of them, an older man, grabbed Rob and punched him in the jaw, sending her mom’s lanky boyfriend back against the bathroom door where he slid to the floor.

“What’s going on?” A hospital security guard demanded, stepping between the older man and Rob.

Makayla shot Rob a nasty look as she touched her burning cheek. He sat on the floor with his head tilted backwards against the door. A slow trickle of blood seeped from his nose and lip.

“He was trying to give my mom a fix,” Makayla said, holding out the small bag in the palm of her hand.

“You sorry piece of…,” the older man muttered under his breath, taking a step toward where Rob sat on the floor.

“Enough,” the guard interrupted as he pulled a radio from his waist and spoke into it.

“Let me take a look at you,” one of the nurses said, laying her hand on Makayla’s arm.

“I’m fine,” Makayla muttered in a thick voice.

She shrugged the woman’s hand off and turned to where her mom was lying on the bed crying. Her eyes glittered with fury and hurt. Stepping up next to the bed, she held the small plastic bag up so that her mom could see it.

“This is what you want,” she said bitterly. “I’m done. You made your choice, and it wasn’t me. This isn’t what I want in my life.”

Her fingers closed around the bag and for a minute she stared back at her mom’s desperate eyes. They were glued to her hand, not her face. It was the last straw. She had done everything she could and she obviously wasn’t good enough for her mom.

Her fingers opened and she watched almost in slow motion as the packet fell to the bed, just out of her mom’s reach. Turning on her heel, she walked over to pick up her backpack lying next to the chair she had slept in. She bent and picked it up, sliding it over one shoulder as she brushed her hair away from her heated cheek. She ignored those watching her with concern as she stepped around them and out of the room.

3

Makayla stood for a moment in the bright hallway, trying to ignore the surreptitious looks of the other staff and visitors as they walked by. Turning left, she started down the hallway toward the elevators. She didn’t know where she was going, and personally, didn’t really care anymore. She just knew she needed to get away.

She breathed a sigh of relief when the doors to the elevator finally opened. She stepped aside as two people exited it before slipping through the doors and pressing the button for the lobby. Turning, she leaned back against the mirrored surface of the wall and stared blindly out the doors, willing them to close. A dark scowl crossed her face when she saw the old man from her mom’s room step in just as the doors started to slide together.

He didn’t say anything, just glanced at the buttons on the elevator. The ride only took a minute or two, but it felt much longer. She pushed off the wall when the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. Turning toward the entrance, she picked up her pace as she headed toward the set of double doors.

The feelings of claustrophobia built as she pushed through the throngs of visitors at the front desk checking in. She twisted around an elderly man using a walker and burst through the doors out into the warm, muggy air. Thick clouds hung low in the sky and promised an early morning thunder shower.

Makayla looked around as she drew in a deep breath. In the back of her mind, she registered the traffic and people walking past her. Turning to the right, she walked over to an empty bench set along the curved sidewalk.

She shrugged her backpack off and set it on the bench before sitting down next to it. Bending forward, she rested her elbows on her knees and covered her face with her hands. Her hair fell forward, creating a silk curtain around her bowed head.

Her mind felt like it was short-circuiting. Random thoughts and images flashed through it until she was dizzy with them. Small flickers of her life, conversations between her friends, her and her mom, and things going on at school all merged and collided together in an avalanche of confusion. She was vaguely aware that someone had sat down on the other end of the bench, but she just wasn’t up to moving or dealing with anyone at the moment.

Maybe my mom has it right, she thought in despair before she pushed the thought away.

“Did you mean it?” A husky, male voice asked.

Makayla slightly turned her head to peer through her hair at the voice, wondering if they were talking to her or someone else. A flash of irritation swept through her when she saw it was the old man. Pushing her hair back, she sat back and glared at him.

“Are you following me?” she demanded, tucking her hair behind her ear. “You know stalking is against the law. I’ll scream bloody murder if you try anything.”

“Did you mean it?” The man repeated, turning his head so he could study her rebellious face. “That this isn’t what you want for your life?”

Sitting on the bench beside his granddaughter, Henry Summerlin absently rubbed his knuckles as he stared at a white pickup driving by. To say he had been shocked at his daughter, Teresa’s, appearance would have been an understatement. Regret and a deep sense of loss had pulled at him when he first saw her.

He had been expecting the visit from the sheriff’s office a long time ago. In truth, he was shocked that it had taken so long to happen. Teresa had always been hard-headed and rebellious, especially during her teenage years. She’d always had a weakness for the easy way out. Now, he wondered if his own stubbornness might not have contributed to her downfall.

His eyes flickered to where Makayla sat at the end of the bench. She looked so much like her mother, that for just a moment, he had been stunned. The fierce light in her eyes brought back memories that he wished he could change.

He had arrived at the hospital an hour earlier after driving almost three hours across the state. He didn’t know what he expected. The deputy that had knocked on his door was a friend of his and lived just a couple of houses down from him.

A sigh escaped him as he thought about that early morning knock. Jasper knew that he was an early riser and had come down before he headed in for his shift.

It was strange how a day could appear normal and suddenly turn into a nightmare. He had risen at five and was in the middle of preparing his usual breakfast of cereal and coffee when the knock on the front door came. The moment he opened it, he had known it was about Teresa. He had silently stared at Jasper, waiting for the inevitable news.

“Morning, Henry,” Jasper had said in a gruff voice, moving from one foot to the other as he glanced over Henry’s shoulder when Breaker, the old American Akita, trotted up to stand behind Henry. “You got a minute?”

Henry raised an eyebrow. “Of course, what’d you think I’d have at this time of morning?” he remembered retorting before he stepped back and nodded his head. “You want some coffee?”

Jasper had shaken his head even as he reached down to rub Breaker’s head. The Akita wagged his tail before turning to follow Henry back into the kitchen. Jasper had followed him to the back of the old, cracker style house. Henry remembered the sound of Jasper’s soft shoes squeaking against the polished wood floors.

Neither man spoke while Henry poured himself a cup of coffee. It wasn’t until Henry turned back around and leaned against the counter that Jasper cleared his throat and began to speak.

“You have a daughter named Teresa, don’t you?” Jasper asked as he stood in the entrance between the kitchen and the living room.

“Is she dead?” Henry asked bluntly, not mincing his words. No sense dancing around the facts of life. “What about Makayla? Teresa has a daughter named Makayla.”

Jasper released a breath before his lips twisted in wry amusement. Henry knew he had a reputation of speaking his mind. He never did have the patience to play games. If someone had something on their mind, they needed to just spit it out. Dancing around the truth never did anything but prolong the misery.

“No, she isn’t dead, but she is in the hospital,” Jasper replied. “I don’t know much, just that they were looking for her next of kin. I don’t know anything about her daughter. The call just came in that they were looking for a Henry Summerlin from Fort Pierce. Since you’re the only one I know, I figured it must be you.”

“It’s me,” Henry said, staring down into his coffee cup with a frown before he looked back up at Jasper. “Where is she?” he asked, ignoring the questioning look in Jasper’s eyes.

“Tampa,” Jasper replied. “She was admitted to Tampa General yesterday afternoon.”

Henry and Jasper talked for a little longer before Jasper told Henry if he needed anything to let him know. Henry just nodded. He wasn’t the type to ask others for help.

Five minutes later, he had grabbed his old hat off the peg by the front door, patted Breaker on the head, and stepped out of the house that he had called home for the past sixty-two years. Sliding into the old, blue Ford F150 pickup, he started the engine and stared out at the river. For the first time in years, he released his tight hold on the memories of his daughter.

He and Mary Rose had two children, a boy, Jason, and Teresa. Jason lived in the Village and worked at the local boatyard. The oldest by sixteen months, he had been a breeze to raise compared to Teresa. Shifting the truck into reverse, he slowly backed out of the narrow spot and turned. He vaguely wondered if Teresa had discovered that life outside the small town she had left wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Henry jerked back to the present when he heard Makayla’s suspicious retort. For a second, she reminded him of Breaker when the American Akita had been a pup and wasn’t sure if he wanted to trust Henry. It had taken a while for the malnourished stray to accept that Henry wasn’t going to hurt him.

“What’s it to you?” Makayla demanded.

Henry’s lips twitched at the fierce tone. Yep, he thought, just like Breaker.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” he asked instead.

Makayla’s eyes narrowed as she searched his face. Finally, she shrugged her shoulders and turned her head away so that he couldn’t see her eyes. What she didn’t know was that the defiant stiffness in her body and the thrust of her jaw showed that she didn’t want to admit that she did.

“We don’t need you,” she whispered in a barely audible voice.

“You don’t have much choice,” Henry replied with a grimace as the first sprinkles of rain began to fall. “Your mom needs help.”

Makayla rose up off the bench and turned to glare at him. He could see the trembling in her hands before she clutched her fingers into two tight fists. A muttered curse escaped her before she turned and grabbed her backpack.

Henry rose up off the bench when she started to turn away. He understood her anger, but it didn’t change the fact that he was the only family she had at the moment. Whether they liked it or not, they were going to have to work things out.

“Makayla, you’ve got a choice, girl,” Henry said, watching as she stopped with her back to him. “You said you didn’t want to live like this anymore, prove it.”

He watched as her head bowed at a slight angle before she walked away from him. He stood there, gazing after her retreating figure as the sky opened up. Adjusting his hat, he turned back to the entrance of the hospital. There were things that needed to be taken care of. First, he would deal with Teresa, and then he would deal with his granddaughter.

4

Makayla moved slowly up the stairs outside the apartment that she shared with her mom and Rob. It had taken her over an hour to walk back to the apartment. She was exhausted, depressed, and soaking wet.

Shrugging her backpack off, she reached into her back pocket and pulled out the key to the door. She unlocked it and stepped inside. A sigh escaped her as she shut and locked the door behind her. Dropping her backpack by the door, she kicked off her wet tennis shoes and padded down the narrow hallway just inside the entrance.

She fumbled for the second key on the key ring. She had insisted on installing a locking doorknob on her bedroom door when Rob moved in. The key slid smoothly into the lock and she twisted it. Pushing open the door, she stepped inside her bedroom and closed and locked the door behind her. Only when she was in the safety of her room did she allow the tears she had been holding back to escape.

Makayla slid down the door as harsh sobs escaped her. Sitting on the floor, she pulled her legs up so she could rest her forehead on her knees. Powerful tremors shook her narrow shoulders as the events of the past day burst through her mind in vivid detail. The most powerful emotion was overwhelming despair. Her mom had made her choice and it hadn’t been Makayla, that was all she could think about.

She angrily wiped at the tears when she felt her cell phone vibrate in her front pocket. Leaning back, she pulled it out and looked at the front screen. Tisha was calling her. Makayla didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now, but she knew Tisha wouldn’t give up. Drawing in a deep breath, she pressed the connect button on the smooth glass.

“Yeah,” she answered in a voice husky from her crying.

“Hey, are you okay? You were supposed to call me last night and you weren’t in school today,” Tisha said in a hushed voice. “We were worried about you. What happened? Why did Mr. Wallace and the SRO come for you? What’d you do?”

Makayla laid her head back against the door and released a shaky breath. She knew the other girls had put Tisha up to calling her. Out of all of them, Tisha was the most tenacious when it came to finding out information.

“I didn’t do anything,” Makayla replied, looking up at the glow-in-the-dark star-covered ceiling. “It’s my mom. She’s… sick. She’s in the hospital.”

Makayla heard Tisha’s shocked hiss before she mumbled something to someone. A moment later, she heard a chorus of sympathetic words. A reluctant smile curved her lips. The gang was together. Her eyes flickered to the small SpongeBob clock on her nightstand. It was only one-thirty. They should all be in different classes right now.

“Where are you guys at? You should be in class,” she asked in curiosity.

Several smothered giggles echoed through the phone. Even Debbie and Audrey had skipped out. She silently hoped they didn’t get caught. Debbie’s parents would ground her and Audrey would get the lecture about how important school was and how she didn’t want to end up with a houseful of kids and no way out.

“We bought tickets to the Junior Fling,” Tisha explained. “We all had to go to the bathroom in the gym. Coach doesn’t care as long as we don’t cause any trouble.”

“What’s wrong with your mom, Makayla? Is she going to be alright? Do you need a place to stay? I can ask my mom if you want to stay with me. She won’t mind,” Laura said. “The couch isn’t that bad.”

“No. I’m good, but thanks,” Makayla replied with a watery smile as she watched the raindrops on her bedroom window slide down the window pane. “I… She should be home… soon. I need to be here for her when she does.”

“It’s a good thing school is almost out,” Audrey said. “Are you still going to try to get that job down at the local Smoothie place with Laura?”

“I don’t know,” Makayla responded. “It depends on how my mom is doing.”

Makayla listened absently as Audrey talked about trying to get a job where Laura was working. Debbie muttered that her parents were sending her to a summer camp in Europe, while Tisha would be going with her dad and his new girlfriend on a cruise. Makayla didn’t say anything. There wasn’t much to say as she didn’t have any idea what was going to happen today, much less in a couple of weeks.

“Hey, we’ve got to go, the bell is about to ring,” Tisha finally said. “Listen, if you need to talk, give me a call later. I’ll be at my mom’s until about eight, and then my dad is supposed to pick me up for the weekend, that is, if he shows up.”

“And your mom doesn’t kill him,” Laura chuckled. “You should see Tisha’s dad’s girlfriend. She came into the store last night. I think she is a senior over at Leto High.”

“Knock it off,” Tisha muttered. “She graduated last year. She’s two years older than me. My dad’s going through a mid-life crisis right now.”

“He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t end up in jail,” Debbie warned.

Makayla recognized Audrey’s amused snort. “Or six feet under. My dad tried that one time and my mom swore if he ever brought her back again, she’d shoot them both. Dad believed her cause he’s never brought any of his other girlfriends by the house. Of course, since mom took him back to court for more child support, he hasn’t had time to think about a new wife,” she said with a sigh.

“It’s his fault for having so many kids,” Debbie pointed out.

“We’ve got to go,” Tisha mumbled into the phone after she turned the speaker function off.

“You’d better before Debbie and Audrey get into a knockdown, drag out fight again,” Makayla said with another sigh. “Thanks for calling.”

“Just remember, if you need me, I’m here for you, girlfriend,” Tisha said as a bell echoed in the background followed by the afternoon announcements. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” Makayla whispered before the line went dead.

She laid her head back against the door again and closed her eyes. For a moment, she was tempted to just curl up on the floor and go to sleep. At least in sleep, she could escape the world for a little while.

A shiver ran through her when the air conditioner kicked on, reminding her that she was still soaking wet from the rain. Pushing up off the floor, she quickly stripped out of her damp clothes and pulled on a soft, gray T-shirt and fresh jeans. Grabbing her black hoodie from the end of her bed, she pulled it on before crawling onto the bed and closing her eyes. Perhaps she would escape, for just a little while.

Makayla woke several hours later. She rolled over onto her back and looked up at the ceiling. A frown crossed her face when she heard the muted sound of knocking. She grimaced as she looked at the time. It was almost five.

Rolling, she slid off the bed and crossed to her bedroom door. Unlocking it, she released a low moan when the knock sounded again, this time louder. It had better not be Rob, she thought. If it was, she wasn’t letting him in.

“Who is it?” she yelled in aggravation, pushing her tangled hair away from her face.

“Social Services,” a woman’s voice replied. “Please open the door.”

“Not likely,” Makayla muttered under her breath, even as she stepped up to the door to look through the peep hole. A groan escaped her when she saw a woman in her thirties standing on the other side. Keeping the chain on, she fumbled with the locks before opening the door just a crack. “What do you want?” she asked in a blunt tone.

“Makayla, my name is Sylvia Craig. I’m with the Department of Children and Families,” the woman said with a smile. “I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”

Makayla scowled at the woman. “What about?” she asked, leaning against the door and looking at the woman with suspicion.

“Open the door, Makayla,” a rough male voice said.

Makayla’s gaze shifted to the old man from the hospital before quickly turning away. His brown eyes were way too familiar, she thought. It was almost like looking into her mom’s. She released a sigh and shut the door to pull off the chain. Opening the door again, she stood back and waved her hand to the two people standing on the narrow corridor outside the apartment.

She followed them with her eyes as they entered the apartment. She knew they were assessing the condition of the apartment and making a judgement. A feeling of defensiveness overcame her. There were empty beer and prescription bottles on the coffee table and a pair of dirty socks sticking out from under it.

The dinette table was littered with unopened mail, and the dirty dishes from yesterday were still on the kitchen counter and in the sink. She hoped they didn’t ask to look in the refrigerator. The only thing in there was probably a couple of cases of beer. She either ate at school or grabbed something out. The only food was some peanut butter, week old bread, and boxes of macaroni and cheese.

Brushing past her unwanted visitors, she removed some laundry from the couch and tossed them onto the coffee table in an effort to cover the stuff on the coffee table. She grimaced when one of the orange prescription bottles fell to the floor. Raising her chin, she crossed her arms and glared at them as they were looking around the cramped apartment.

“Okay, talk,” she said.

Sylvia Craig turned and nodded. “As I said, I’m with the DCF. There is some concern for your welfare and safety,” she explained.

“I’m fine as you can see,” Makayla interrupted, tucking her hair behind her ear.

Sylvia’s eyes swept over her cheek, reminding Makayla of this morning at the hospital when Rob hit her. She hadn’t looked in the mirror, so she didn’t know if it was bruised or not. Tilting her head, she reached up and untucked the hair, running her hand through it to cover her cheek again.

“Makayla,” Sylvia said in a gentle voice. “The incident this morning at the hospital was reported and I’m required to investigate. Can you tell me what happened?”

Makayla shook her head. “Nothing happened,” she said stubbornly.

“Who was the man in the room with you and your mother?” Sylvia asked instead.

Makayla pressed her lips together in a firm line. It wouldn’t matter what she said. Deep down, she already knew that the woman knew exactly what happened. She just wanted Makayla to jump through the hoops and hang herself and her mom. The best thing would be to just keep her mouth shut and hope that they left her alone.

“Makayla…,” Sylvia said again, trying to prompt her to say something.

Makayla glanced at her grandfather. Henry… Her mom hadn’t spoken his name in years, but Makayla remembered him – barely. Memories of him taking her out on his sailboat, showing her how to fish, and teaching her how to swim rushed through her mind.

Resentment also rose inside her. All she could remember was her mom yelling at him as she pulled her by her arm before picking her up and putting her in the back seat of the old red car that she drove. Makayla remembered crying as her mom pulled away from the old house on the river. She had turned to look out the rear window from the back seat of the car as her mom drove down the narrow lane. He had stood in the driveway watching them leave.

“How is my mom?” Makayla asked quietly, staring into Henry Summerlin’s eyes.

She saw a glimmer of sadness come into his eyes, but he didn’t look away. He looked older than she remembered. His dark brown hair had thinned to the point of baldness. He had gained a little more weight, too, than she remembered. His face was worn, as if he spent a lot of time outside.

“She isn’t doing too good,” Henry replied. “She needs help, Makayla. More help than you can give her.”

Makayla’s eyes burned with tears. She bit her lip and turned away. Her eyes darted to the empty beer bottles on the coffee table. They mocked her, showing just how pitiful her attempts to keep the family together were. It wasn’t right that a child should be the one to have to make it work. She shouldn’t have to worry about anything but whether she was going to pass her next class or if the boy she liked was interested in her.