Rachel Wells is a liar—big time. No one outside her family knows about the panic attacks or meds, the weekly therapy drive-bys or the “safe” outfit. If she could hide it all from her string of ex-boyfriends and her best friend Amy, then why should anything change? But, when the one guy as messed up as she is blackmails her into helping him, life goes from closely restrained to out of control.
Sometimes choosing between sanity and love is the craziest thing of all.
THIS EXCERPT HAS SPOILERS FOR RVHS Secrets #1 — SECRET GIRLFRIEND… yes, I’m spoiling my own book. 😉
I wish I could blame my mad dash to the restroom on what the school passed off as nutritional fare.
Instead, it had everything to do with the girl strolling down the Senior Hall neatly tucked under Jared Parker’s arm. She gazed up at him, a silly grin mixed with bliss shining from her eyes for the perfect I’m-the-happiest-girl-here expression.
Probably the same look I’d worn not even two weeks ago when school first started… and I was the girl tucked under his arm.
I slammed the bathroom stall door behind me, throwing the lock with a hand that shook like the bleachers during a home game win. This was not what I needed. This was so not what I needed. There was no way a panic attack was taking me down after how far I’d come.
I braced my hands against the door, forcing them to steady. Steady. Sometimes just not giving into the rush of sweat-drenching panic was a win.
“Rachel?” Amy may be the best friend in the entire world, but she was also not what I needed right now. “Are you okay?”
I wanted to answer her, to tell her I was fine and I’d see her in class, but the air—it wasn’t getting to my lungs. I guess I hadn’t noticed the lack of oxygen since I was too distracted by how my heart slammed against my ribs. Plus, I was hyperventilating louder than a warehouse exhaust fan. If I’d sworn on a stack of religious books that life was currently super dandy, Amy wouldn’t have believed me
Hoovering in a breath, I lifted my unsteady hands to my chest to make sure my heart was still inside where it was supposed to be.
“Yes.” Oh, Lord. I was anything but okay. “I’m all right.”
Amy was the most considerate person I knew. I could almost see her through the chipped aluminum Hiney Hider door trying to figure out if she should accept it and go, or push until I caved and spilled my guts. Less literally this time.
The panic attacks may be a get-over-get-around-get-through situation to me, but to Amy they were unheard of. As in, she’d never heard about them since I’d been hiding my disorder from her—from everyone—for years with the help of a monthly prescription and Emmy-worthy performances. I’m not sure which Dr. Meadows would give more credence to.
“Okay…” She drew the word out like she wasn’t sure what the next one should be. Like she was searching and stalling and worrying all in that one word. “So, why don’t you come out and we’ll head to class?”
My heart rate did the impossible and kicked up another speed to turbo-beat. It actually hurt—and I don’t mean in the way it spazzed when Jared dumped me. I mean, oh no should I be grasping my left arm and asking for aspirin while we wait for an ambulance hurt. I tried to chill everything out, slow everything down, find my calm—my window. It was there. I just needed a few quiet minutes to find it. I considered the stall’s latch but stayed, frozen, afraid to face her—or myself—out there.
I reached for the latch, but my hand shook so badly I looked like a junkie. God, I felt like a junkie. Maybe this was post-post-withdrawal. Coming off the meds had been not-fun enough to replace root canals on my sucks-to-be go to list.
“I think I’m just going to stay in here a while.” Was that my voice? It didn’t sound like me. I thought it would to be stronger than that. I was stronger than that.
I began to wonder if I’d really said anything as the silence drew out like someone forgetting their line in an already horrible school play.
“You can’t hide in here all day.” The stall shook as Amy leaned against the other side. A deep sigh drifted through the door. “So Jared has a new girlfriend? It isn’t a big deal. You’re always dating someone new. Just focus on who you’d like to have take you out next.”
So says the girl dating Mr. Perfect. She’d had much drama while I was gone over the summer, but came out on the other side with Luke. She’d earned it after that ass she’d kinda-sorta-not-really-dated-but-got-painfully-led-on-by-this-summer.
My summer? Yeah, not exactly that kind of dream come true. Not that I was going to tell Amy that. Ever. If I’d hidden my secret this long, there was absolutely no reason on the downside of the recovery hill to share now.
“I know,” I said, even though I didn’t. Last year I’d dated constantly, my emotional reactions and panic triggers all numbed by a little, daily pill. Jared had felt like a ballast after a long summer of trying to even out alone. Replacing that equilibrium was like trying to replace Tommy jeans from three seasons ago. Almost the same cut, but your butt looks just a tad bit not-as-good.
Oh, and did I mention? Amy’s Mr. Perfect just happened to be Luke Parker, Jared’s older brother.
“Yeah. It’s going to be fine.” Amy’s uncertainty drifted through the door. The truth was, she was right… or she should have been right. “You know, we should get to class.”
Jared and New Girlfriend flashed through my mind. She’d been perfect. Tiny waist, perky boobs and blond frizz-free hair. Perfectly proportioned. Running my hand across my stomach, I shuddered. I’d never be that. I’d always have all these things wrong.
I glanced down my arms—my very, very, very disproportionately long monkey-like arms—and wondered how I’d even found a shirt with sleeves to cover them. I forced myself to stop. Stop and back out of that thought. Logic and therapy told me I was wrong—that the misshapen monster I saw wasn’t the one everyone else saw.
They didn’t see a freak whose body was messed up… arms, legs, head, stomach—all of them the wrong size, the wrong shape.
I blinked, forcing that image stained on my mind away.
“Amy, I just need to stay here, okay?” Please let her say okay. When she didn’t answer I felt like verbally kicking her out of the room. I was doing this as much for her as for me. She didn’t need to see the dark thoughts I carried in my mind. “Please. I just need to chill. I’ll see you at lunch.”
The door shifted again as she straightened. Her feet took a step away from the space under the stall door.
“You don’t want to miss Art, right?” I asked, knowing Amy’s one weakness. Well, her one academic weakness. Oil paints were her Kryptonite. “I’m totally good.”
Lies. Lies. Lies.
I watched her bag disappear from the little place beneath the door as she lifted it.
“Okay. I’ll see you at lunch.” Her hesitation couldn’t have been clearer if she’d said, I’m not so sure I should leave you here… and did you at some point go insane and forget to tell me? But a moment later, her footsteps tapped toward the hall door. Before she opened it, she finished, “Maybe you should go to the nurse and lie down for a bit or something.”
Just leave already.
Isn’t that horrible? Someone cared and all I wanted was her gone. All I needed was her gone. I couldn’t manage myself while trying to manage the situation.
“Yeah. Maybe I’ll do that.”
“Okay. Well, see you at lunch,” she said again.
The door opened to an almost quiet hallway and fell shut behind her. I counted to twenty, knowing when I got to the end I’d have to face my worst enemy in the mirror across from the stall.
I knew the rules. I’d have to look her in the eye and measure out the thing I saw against the thing I knew was “real.”
Reaching in my messenger bag, I felt for the small box at the bottom. Just knowing the funny-shaped pills were in there made me feel better. Breathe. Calm. Breathe.
I braced my hands on the cool metal of the stall door, lowering my forehead between them. Breathe. Calm. Breathe.
You can do this. It’s no different than at camp. I snorted at my own self talk. Yeah, it was no different except for the lack of psychiatrists and counselors—and other kids dealing with their own issues and meds-withdrawal.
Last year, I’d decided I couldn’t live life med-dependant anymore. I wanted to be normal, boring. I’d decided I wanted to go to college as me. Not chemically-enhanced me. But just deciding hadn’t gotten any closer to tossing that little pill bottle away.
Dr. Meadows had suggested a summer camp where they stepped you off the meds while you did daily work with groups and one-on-ones.
I’d been all over that… and coming back for senior year to the new me—and apparently new Amy and school world order.
Now, I just needed everything to line up. I looked for an inner-window, that place between where I was and a full blown panic attack. The crack of hope would be there, and I’d crawl through it. Even if it meant kicking its figurative glass out.
Muscles tight, eyes closed, I pushed out of the stall. Following the edge of the wall to the full-length mirror, I raised my gaze to meet her head on. To meet me head on. I was not getting sucked down that rabbit hole. I’d become too much of a fighter for that.
Nothing but stubbornness and months of training kept me standing there vulnerable to my disproportionate self. Big head, long arms, stomach that looked four months pregnant. And my legs. I knew this was my… problem trying to take over. Unfortunately, knowing and knowing in your gut weren’t always the same thing.
For some of us, what’s in our head is the reining truth.
Geez. I couldn’t even think about it, let alone get it under control right now.
I stared at my face. Stared. Waiting for the details to become just geometric shapes. Nothing more. Nothing. Less. Things shifted—eyes, nose, mouth—shapes. Back to normal. As normal as it got.
My heart slowed and that dizzy, can’t breathe feeling eased from my chest.
The nurse wasn’t a bad idea. Quiet, dark, alone—I could pull myself together without worrying about a hall pass. Plus, it reeked of smoke in the girls’ room and I did not need to attempt talking my way out of that. Especially with my prescription on me. Zero tolerance had its place, but adults could be so shortsighted.
I pulled a small, pink bag out of my tote and sorted through my emergency stash. I bypassed my Smack Me In The Mouth Pink lip gloss for my very safe, very neutral Dew Kiss. It was calming. Lip gloss had an oddly centering effect on me. It was easy, portable and made me feel better. Almost as good as a pill. But the best part? I didn’t need to look in a mirror to apply it.
Through the over-frosted window of the door, the florescent glow of the hall lights shone without interruption, the quiet brush of sneaker-on-tile absent from its normal place.
Bracing myself, I pulled my bag over my shoulder and stepped into the deserted hall knowing danger lurked in the eyes of every person I saw.
Check out SECRET LIFE on Goodreads HERE.
Did you miss the cover and first chapter of book one, SECRET GIRLFRIEND? You can read that HERE.