UNDER MY SKIN
by Laura Diamond
PUBLISHER: Swoon Romance
Publication: April 12, 2016
Ages: Young Adult
Category: Contemporary Romance
The pressure is getting to him. Adam stops talking to his friends back home, refuses to meet kids at his new school, and shuts his parents out entirely. His days are spent wondering if can cope with having a dead man's heart beating inside his chest, or if he should surrender to the thoughts of suicide swirling around in his head.
And then a donor is found…
Outspoken artist Darby Fox rarely lets anything stand in her way of achieving her goals . Whether it’s painting, ignoring her homework (dyslexia makes a mess out of words anyway), kissing a hot boy she doesn't even know, or taking the head cheerleader down a peg , no one has ever accused Darby of being a shy. She also happens to be the twin sister to a perfect brother with good looks, good grades, manners, and the approval of their parents - something Darby has never had.
Darby's always had bad timing . She picks the worst time to argue with her brother Daniel. In a car with bald tires, on an icy road in the freezing cold, the unthinkable happens. In a split-second, everything changes forever.
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Dr. Shaw, my psychiatrist, wants me to check in with her whenever I think about death, even if it’s the middle of the night. I don’t go so far as to text her at three am, but lately it seems like I’m phoning her all the time. She reassures me that therapy is working. I feel it’s making me more obsessive.
* * * *
Best to get it over with now. I type: I had the thought today.
I click send.
For a few seconds, I watch the screen, waiting for her to reply. I can’t expect Dr. Shaw to be right there to answer me. She’s probably in session with someone.
A group of students pass by, chattering and laughing, light at bubbles. They halt at the curb to wait for the light to change. They’re all wearing NYU sweatshirts and carrying messenger bags or laptops with silkscreen logos about “being green” and “tolerant of diversity.” Adventurers embarking on the quest known as Life. What it must be like to have a whole lifetime to look forward to, no dead end staring back at you.
My mobile buzzes.
It’s Dr. Shaw. Tell me the exact thought and context.
I had a flutter. After, I saw Mum and Dad. Their backs were turned to me and I thought: They’d be happier without me. They’ll be fine after I’m dead. I click send and try to ignore the gnawing pit in my stomach. My message seems dramatic now that I’ve sent it off for her to scrutinize. It was better left unsaid.
A bubble with three dots surfaces at the bottom of my screen. She’s typing right now. I suck in a dry, exhaust laden breath.
She replies: What evidence do you have that they’ll be happy?
That was simple. They were laughing.
Your death will be devastating to them.
My heart twinges a bit. Will be? Does she somehow know I won’t make it until I find a donor? Maybe the surgeon told her I’m not a candidate. I blink and re-read her statement. No, I’m over-reacting. She’s just countering my argument with logic. It’s her style to challenge me with the opposite idea so I’ll find the reality somewhere between. Still, I’m not ready to admit she’s right. Mum and Dad don’t need me dragging them down. I text, Yes, but they’ll be alright.
Of course they will. Life goes on.
Dr. Shaw is unrelenting in her approach. So different from Mum who tries to comfort me with delusional happy thoughts.
Right. And I’m such a burden on them now.
Whatever you think they’re sacrificing is nothing compared to how much you mean to them.
I’m tired of waiting for my heart to stop.
Do you want it to stop? You won’t suffer anymore.
* * * *
Mum drives me to school. No school buses for me. Her excuse is that it’s on the way to work, but the real reason is she doesn’t trust that I’ll be okay out of her sight. Quality time has turned into every waking moment time and the pretense of making every moment last has turned into Cardiac Arrhythmia Watch 24/7.
I clutch my well-worn paperback of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein close to my heart. The doctor robbed graves, stealing body parts to create his monster. I suppress a shiver. In a way, the transplant surgeon does the same thing by harvesting a donor’s organs when they’re on the brink of death. If I get prioritized on the list, I’ll be waiting for that poor victim to arrive. Then I’ll steal his or her heart and with it, their life.
Then I’ll be the monster.
* * * *
“Wait a minute.” Mum grabs her purse from the back seat. She frets with a loose string on the strap.
My fingers grip the door handle. “Mum?”
After sucking in a deep breath, she opens the clasp. Slowly, she pulls out a pill bottle.
She reads the label. “Ziprasidone. Doctor Shaw prescribed this for you last week. She said I’d know the right time to talk to you about it.”
My throat goes dry. Changing meds had been part of Shaw’s plan all along. She must think I’m getting worse. “Why didn’t she say anything to me?”
“She doesn’t want to give the impression of being a pill pusher. You are doing therapy and she doesn’t want you to associate medication as the go-to solution for everything. She said it clouded the therapeutic relationship.”
My eyes cross at the psychobabble. “Hiding things from me isn’t okay.”
Mum tips her head to the side. “She said you might challenge this.”
“She gave you control over medications I put in my body.” Inside, I’m shaking. I clench my fists.
Mum uncaps the bottle and shakes a tablet into her palm. “We’re all on the same team, Adam. This is supposed to work with your anti-depressant to make it more effective. Doctor Shaw said it will also help keep you calm so your heart won’t be as stressed. You’ve been acting more upset lately and after what happened in the city…”
“More upset?” My voice cracks, something it hasn’t done since I hit puberty.
“Adam, you don’t do anything, talk to anyone, or have any fun. You’ve cut off everyone from home, and—”
“My heart is dying,” I interrupt.
“You’re still alive.”
“For how long?” I mumble.
Mum’s eye twitches. “This isn’t the time to give up.”
I cross my arms and squint at the dashboard. “I’m not taking any more pills.”
Mum plucks her water bottle from the center console. “And I’m not taking no for an answer.”
* * * *
Right now, I’m nothing more than a sixteen-year-old in a physical rehabilitation room with ancient relics who could probably beat me at arm wrestling. Hell, they could probably beat me in a competition of mall walking.
A layer of sweat creeps across my upper lip. Damn mask. I tug it under my chin and take a deep breath of real air. Relief floods me, though my heart continues to pump faster and faster. My pulse rushes in my ears.
I close my eyes, but nothing can dull the competing scents of stale body odor, cleaning fluid, and overused equipment.
This place sucks.
I keep pumping my legs. What would it be like to ride a real bicycle in a park on a summer day? How serene it would be to glide past pastures of green grass, to skim under shade trees, and a pause at a pond to catch the sunset. I almost feel the wind dragging through my hair. All of a sudden I feel lighter, freer. I’m normal. Healthy.
“I’ve never seen someone so happy to be excercising.” A girl’s voice tears through my fantasy.
My eyes fly open. I’m face to face with a petite girl wearing a plastic collar around her neck. Her baggy black t-shirt and gray sweatpants are covered in paint stains. Her crystal blue eyes study me with curiosity, a striking compliment to the cobalt streaks in her black hair.
I stop pedaling, struck by the clarity of those inquisitive eyes. I open my mouth, but have no idea what to say so I close it again. Lamest of the lame.
The right side of her mouth ticks up. “The silent type. I like it.”
She slides her fingers along the machine’s center console then rubs them together, testing for dust. “Okay, Mister Tall, Dark, and Quiet. You got a real name?”
“I, um…” I clear my throat.
“Um is not a name.”
We’re face to face with me sitting and her standing, yet it’s like she’s peering down at me from a tower. “A-Adam. My name is Adam.”
“Adam. Like Adam and Eve?”
“No, I mean, I guess.”
“Is that a yes or no?” She laughs. It’s one of those wow-this-bloke-has-no-idea-how-to-talk-to-girls laughs.
Heat builds in my cheeks. A bead of sweat slides from my temple down my cheek. My hold slips on the bike’s handles. “What’s your name?”
She shifts her weight. “I’m Darby.”
* * * *
The party throbs around me, pulsing with the head-crunching beat. Arms flail, hair whirls, and bodies thrash. I ride the wave and let the collective energy take me over. I don’t know the Asian kid dancing in front of me, but I like him from the top of his spiked black hair to the tips of his neon green sneakers. The guyliner and painted black nails are the perfect icing to this sweet piece of cake.
He smiles at me. My stomach squirms, screaming with a bad case of the go-for-its. I wrap my arms around his neck and slide my fingers through his hair.
The guy responds by grabbing my waist. Yanking me close, he kills the space between us.
I meld to his lean body, stretching my neck so our mouths are even. His spicy cologne circles me as tight as his arms. It feels like the room has warmed by at least ten degrees. I inhale another breath of him. The room, music, and lights all fade away until it’s just him and me, a fire pit ready to ignite.
I lick my lips. His hands slip to my butt as his mouth closes over mine. He tastes like beer, chaos, and good times. I rise to my tip-toes, digging my fingernails into his neck.
He slithers his tongue past my lips. Me-to-the-ow he’s got a tongue piercing!
I duel with him for the title of Most Passionate Kisser until a strong hand clamps around my shoulder to haul me backward.
* * * *
Images blur on a merry-go-round from Hell that spins faster with each turn. Sleet pounding the windshield. Daniel fighting with the clutch and brake. The truck’s headlights impaling us. Crunching steel. Daniel’s bloody face.
Pain stretches from my head, dragging its dirty talons down my neck and across my shoulders, ending in cold numbness at my chest. Something presses my body down. I can’t move. I can’t escape it.
* * * *
I force myself to take my time over to the plastic utensil dispenser, but I let myself rush—a little—back to the table. And Adam.
“Here.” I offer him a spoon.
Our fingers brush against each other. My skin tingles from the contact.
“Thank you.” He stares up at me. The light above him catches his eyes. They’re a color I’ve never seen before, a mixture of blue, green, and brown. Didn’t look that way yesterday. Chameleon eyes. Beautiful.
I sit, trying to settle the somersaults in my stomach. A simple idea hits me: Paint them.
Guilt stomps it out. How can I think about picking up a paintbrush when my brother is dead? He’ll never shoot a basketball again, or drive his precious car, or get the sports scholarship Dad’s been rooting for. I don’t have a right to enjoy anything if he can’t.
“You all right?” Adam asks.
I chew on the spoon. “Y-yeah…Hey, you wear contacts?”
“No. Why?” The lean muscles in his forearms ripple and the tendons in his hands work as he fiddles with the ice cream container.
I sort out the color combinations I’d have to mix to get just the right shades to match his irises. I can almost feel my fingertips sliding across a blank canvas, reading it, urging it to tell me its story. My fingers twitch, aching to hold a brush again. Can I?