IncompleteBy: Lindy Zart
Thanks to Ana Love for letting me use her name in this story. I hope I did justice to the character her name represents. I personally think Miranda ‘Ana’ Love is pretty spectacular. Of course, she is nowhere near as cool as the original Ana Love. Just saying.
I love my betas! Thank you so much for reading my unpublished work and giving me feedback. You are troopers, especially for being able to read through the errors and inconsistencies and still somehow manage to love my work.
Tawnya Peltonen, Kim Drake, Tiffany Alfson, Migdalia Gerena, Shane Lucas, Judith Frazee, Ana Love, Melissa Yoder, Kendra Gaither, and Juli Valenti: Thank you!
Thanks to Wendi Stitzer for using her grammar Nazi skills on this book.
And lastly, thanks to Mars, Incorporated for their Dove Promise chocolates with the special sayings—I hold no rights to them, which is a shame.
This is dedicated to Ana love and Juli Valenti, my fellow superstars and the other thirds of the Best Trio Ever.
Book One: Grayson
“If you could be anywhere, right now, where would it be?” Her voice is soft, like a caress against my splintered soul, a bandage to fix the never-ending wound inside me. I always imagined her lips and mouth must taste like honey because her voice is so sweet; a perfect melody of vocal chords. Not that I’ll ever find out. It’s a fact I accepted long ago; something I hate and yet am able to do nothing about but endure.
I close my eyes against the sloppily painted yellow stars of my bedroom ceiling and instead picture midnight blue eyes, light brown hair that streaks blond in the summer, and a strawberry scent unable to be imitated by any perfume. That is where I would be; with her. It wouldn’t matter where I was or what I was doing if I had her with me. But I can’t say that.
Phone gripped tight to my ear, I answer, “Far away from here. You know that.”
“Yes, but where?” she insists, as she always does. When Lily asks a question, she expects an answer. A well thought-out one even—no vague answers for her. Such expectations she places on me. I have to admire that about her because without those expectations, I’d be a whole other person from the one I am; not that I am anything special, but I would be so much worse without her.
“Disney World.” I laugh at her sound of frustration. I can see her scowling at me through the cell phone. Her eyes get squinty when she’s irritated, her nose crinkles up, and her lips press into a thin line. It’s an adorable face.
“I am being serious. You know I have a thing for Minnie.”
“That’s true. You always have had a strange fixation for large mice wearing bows.”
“And abnormally high-pitched voices.”
“Right. Big mice wearing bows that talk in abnormally high-pitched voices. Got it.”
I sigh and answer as truthfully as I can, “I’d like to be somewhere where the sun shines every day of the week. Maybe California, Arizona, or Florida even. I don’t care how hot it is, I just want the sun. The world looks so much better with the sun shining, don’t you think?”
She inhales slowly. “It does, Grayson. It does.” Lily sighs softly. “Pretty soon you’ll be able to mark California off the list.”
“Yeah.” My eyes open and I swallow, yearning sweeping through my rigid frame. “Good night.”
“Good night,” she says on an exhalation.
I let my arm fall to the bed, the phone dropping from my limp hand and soundlessly landing on the carpeted floor. I blow out a noisy breath of air and will my heart rate to slow down. Led Zeppelin croons softly from the stereo system across the dark blue room. I painted it a few years back, unconsciously picking out the closest shade I could find to match her eyes. It wasn’t until the paint dried and I looked at Lily that I realized what I had done. The color was a copy of her eyes, although where they shone like a starry night and were luminous; the walls were flat and lifeless. It seems kind of masochistic to torment myself the way I do, but I can’t seem to stop. It would be worse to stay away, and that, I cannot bear.
An uneven tread shuffles along the carpet in the hallway outside my door; the creak that always sounds in a certain spot not failing to perform its duty, and something, probably my mom, bumps into the wall. A sense of resigned responsibility lifts me from the bed and I pad barefoot to the door; the thick cream-colored carpet cushioning the soles of my feet. I hike my unbuttoned jeans back up my hips from where they’d slid down, buttoning them as I stare at the closed door for a beat. If only I could stay here, behind this door, and lock out my world.
I take a deep breath and open the door. It’s dark and I see a murky shape heading down the hall, the light slivering out of the opening of my door gleaming off a framed family photograph and momentarily blinding me. “Mom?” I call, blinking my eyes.
The shape pauses and half-turns toward me. “’Night, honey,” she slurs, fumbling with a doorknob.
“Mom, that’s Aidan’s room.” A tightness forms in my chest and I think I should be used to it by now, but it’s never easy to see her like this, no matter that it’s every day, no matter that she’s always been like this for as far back as I can think.
“Oh. Right. I knew that.” She giggles and swings around to the right, opening the door to her bedroom. My mom says something unintelligible as she almost falls into the room, waving a pale hand in the darkened hallway before the door slams shut.
I fist my hands, watching the door to see if it will open again. It doesn’t, but Aidan’s does. He stands in the doorway, swaying with the pull of slumber; his white skin glowing as he sleepily blinks his eyes. His black hair is disheveled and sticking up in tufts. “What was that sound?”
My jaw is clenched so hard it hurts to talk. “Nothing. Go back to bed.”
“I heard a noise.”
“It was Mom. She’s fine. Now go to bed.”
Aidan stares at me with his large brown eyes, finally sighing and turning away, his narrow shoulders slumped. I let my head fall back against the wall, the resulting stab of pain in my temples somehow comforting, wishing I could erase all these memories from my brother’s mind. The kid is only eleven; he shouldn’t be seeing shit like this, not at his age. It doesn’t matter that I went through the same thing growing up, it doesn’t matter that he’s too young to realize it’s not normal; what matters is he shouldn’t have to watch his mother get wasted every single night of his life; that’s what matters.