WRECKLESS – Chapter One

Girl Cropped 2


Chapter One

“Are you calling me a liar?”

The whole situation was unbelievable. You’d think having spent years trying to be the perfect daughter would grant me the benefit of the doubt in a sticky situation. I don’t mean years spent convincing people you’re the perfect daughter. I mean working pretty darn hard to be as good a daughter as you could possibly be.

Mama cocked an eyebrow at me as if she could bring herself to say, Yes, Bridget. I am calling you a liar, but not saying anything out loud I could argue against.

My mama was ruining my life.

So what if ninety-seven percent of teenagers felt that way ninety-seven percent of the time? I never had. I was a cherished child. Loved beyond belief and sometimes loved too much. Not smothered necessarily. Just…protected.

Typically “protected” was good. Really good. I had no problem with it. But when it turned into locked-down-parental-dictatorship… Yeah. Not so much.

Now I was left feeling caught off-guard by everything happening in our sunny, little kitchen. Trapped between the sink and the butcher-block table, I was on trial. And I wasn’t liking it. Not one bit.

Heat rushed up the back of my neck as I tried to keep my voice low and calm.

“Not only did I not cheat on that test, I didn’t have to cheat. I didn’t even need to study for it.” I saw the flaw in that statement as soon as Mama’s eyebrows disappeared under her sun-bleached hairline. But still, you’d think logic would work on people her age. She was almost forty for goodness’ sake. “I’ve never cheated before. I can’t believe you’d even think it was an option.”

“You’ve never had a boyfriend before, either.” She kept folding the laundry as if perfectly squared towels were more important than the end of my very—very—short social life.

“What does Tanner have to do with this?”

My parents glanced at one another. Three years ago this show—or any show—of solidarity between them would have made my night. Today, I wasn’t a fan.

“Sugar.” My mom reached across the granite expanse of counter to pat my hand. “You’ve just gotten this boy in your life who isn’t…”

“Isn’t what?”

My dad mumbled something I was pretty sure I didn’t want to hear about Tanner—or as my dad referred to him, “that boy.

Now my mom was patting his hand. As if he were the one being grounded for no reason whatsoever two hours before his biggest date in dating history.

“Tanner isn’t as bright as you are. I can see where you might—” She held up a hand before I could jump in. “Just might want to try to help him pass math.”

“Yeah. By studying with him. Like the school hired me to do. As his tutor. I’d never cheat.” I crossed my arms, trying to go for an injured-yet-serious look. “And besides, he is passing math. He just wanted to do better. He’s not an idiot.”

My mother shook her head. They weren’t going to believe me. One note from a teacher and they weren’t even willing to discuss it.

Did these people have no idea who I was? The kind of person I was?

It had come as a complete surprise earlier when my best friend Leah and I had gotten home from the mall to find both my parents sitting at the kitchen table with an open letter in front of them. I’d already learned that no good news came via the post office. I mean, the only things I ever received in the mail before that had been invitations to family events and clothing catalogs. In the grand scheme of things, one of the few things worse than having to socialize with cousins you barely knew was deciding what to wear to said social event.

But there it was, lying where my mother’s hands had flattened it out on the table. A new low, even for the United States Post Office.

Glaring at the letter, I tried to piece everything together. I still couldn’t believe—or understand why—Miss Farris had done it. Since when did teachers send letters home without talking to the students about their supposed actions? At least accuse me of something so I wasn’t blindsided by the mailman.

The flat, rude letter didn’t even have any details. It just stated that Miss Farris would like to discuss my cheating on the math exam this past week with one or both of my parents at their earliest convenience, and gave the school’s phone number for them to reach her at.

Which was doing me absolutely no good at all, since it was Saturday.

And of all the Saturdays for this to happen, this was not the one.

“How about you ground me after you confirm I cheated?”

That seemed fair. I should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Obviously knowing this proved I wasn’t cheating in social sciences.

But glancing at my parents, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Past life events—no matter how little they’d had to do with me—meant going from a peaceful existence to a DEFCON 8000 situation in a heartbeat and I wasn’t going to be able to sway them.

“Bridget, you know we can’t do that. You’re going to have to miss the fair.” My mother put the current towel aside and gave me a hard stare I’d never seen directed my way before. She knew what she was saying. That fair was the biggest thing each fall. It had been her first date with my daddy. It evoked every dream of romance I’d ever had. And now she was taking away my first chance to go with a boy. She knew what that meant. “That’s what happens when you break the rules.”

“I didn’t. When have I ever broken a rule? Do you really think I’d start randomly breaking rules now, and it would be to cheat?”

I glanced from one parent to the other and down to where their hands had wrapped together, signaling the end of the conversation. They looked at me as if I was informing them that today the sky was blue. They obviously didn’t care.

“I’m sorry.” She shrugged, and I could see her disconnecting the words from any real meaning.

I glared at my mother, sitting there, taking away the biggest date night of the year—outside of homecoming and prom—and said the first thing that came to mind. “No, you’re not.”

Her face closed in on itself, that protected, blank expression I’d been forced to look at for the last three years and had thought was gone for good. Apparently not.

Without looking back or apologizing, I stormed upstairs to my room and slammed my door.

It was the first time I’d ever had a reason to slam my door, and it felt pretty darn good. So I opened it and slammed it again.

If the parent route wasn’t going to work, I needed to go right to the source. There was no way I was missing the county fair because there’d been some type of insane misunderstanding.

I flipped open my laptop and headed directly to Facebook. Miss Farris had a locked account just for students—all the teachers did. I’d never used it before, but I was glad it was there now.

Most of the other teachers were someone’s parent. Or your Sunday school teacher. Or neighbor. Or your parent’s friend. Most of them lived in Greenville.

Not Miss Farris. She drove the forty minutes to school every day so she could live in what she called “The Land Where People Outnumbered Cows.” Unfortunately, it was true. Cows definitely outnumbered people in Greenville. It was the typical fly-over-state-small-town place.

Usually I thought she was really brave for living on her own and making that drive every day. But tonight I wished she wasn’t. I wished she were someone’s mom and my parents could just call her up and see what was going on.

Facebook it had to be.

Miss Farris,

It’s Bridget from your third period math class. My parents just got a letter from you saying I cheated on our exam this week. I would never, ever cheat, and I can’t believe they don’t believe me. I’m not sure why they got the letter since you never accused me of cheating in class. Can you please call my parents and tell them I didn’t cheat? I’m grounded until then.

Thank you,

Bridget Larson

I could only hope if I got Miss Farris on the phone, the whole thing could be cleared up in time for Tanner to come get me.

While I was online, I glanced at my email. If they were going to ground me, the next step would be taking my computer away—once they thought of it. Luckily, my good behavior meant my parents were far from pros at grounding someone.

But then, once they got on their game, I bet it would be Total Isolation.

And that was saying something, since my world was almost as isolated as a Survivor set already. Between living in Tiny Town, USA and how far out our house was, life was pretty quiet. Add to that the Me Factor, and there wasn’t much of a jump from everyday isolation to isolated isolation.

As usual, my email box was neat and sparse. Nothing exciting going on in the online world. Basically just the latest school newsletter– which, in a town of six hundred, why we needed a newsletter was beyond me—and a note from Leah with a link to a skirt she was attempting to get me to buy. Good thing she noted it was a skirt. I probably would have thought it was a headband.

I glanced at my phone, knowing it might go the way of the electronically separated, too. Who knows how far into tyranny my parents might step.

The little text message envelope icon smiled up at me.

Tanner: Hey B ~ Picking you up at seven.

I could feel the sappy grin as I reread the message. Even a Tanner-text made me silly. Mama—in her more sane days—referred to it as “First Boyfrienditis.” Glancing at the clock, I wondered if I should text him back to let him know about the grounded situation or try to wait it out. I didn’t want him making plans with his guys if there was a chance sanity would reenter my household. You’d think the parents were suffering a blow to their collective heads, they were so out of touch with what I was—and wasn’t—capable of.

I glanced at the clock. One more minute gone. The drive to our place wasn’t exactly on the way to the fairgrounds—or anywhere, for that matter. The driveway alone added almost a mile. If I texted Tanner too late, there’d be no night for him to enjoy, either. And with our spotty cell reception, it was iffy he’d get it in time.

I tossed the phone on my dresser and stretched out on my bed.

It was only five o’clock. I lived in hope. I mean, this was crazy. I’d never cheat. Anyone who knew me knew I’d be as likely to cheat as to steal.

I grabbed my Kindle and pulled up the newest we-can’t-be-together-because-we’re-not-even-the-same-species romance Leah had loaned me and dug in. So far, being grounded wasn’t that different from normal life.

I’d only been dating Tanner five weeks. Before that, my weekends had been filled with hanging out with Leah and chilling around the house.

Now I was down to chilling around the house.

Of course, in their ridiculousness, they might confiscate my Kindle, too. I’d have to go old school and read paper.

At six thirty, my mother called me to dinner.

Never before had dinner with my parents sounded like torture. The way Mama cooked on the weekends, we’d have a full meal and then I’d have a full meal clean-up. There’s no way we’d be done before seven.

Then there was the No Phone Calls During Dinner rule.

Time was up. I was out of luck. My first boyfriend-county-fair-date was dead in the water.

I texted Tanner to let him know about the lockdown so he didn’t show and have to deal with the glaring thing my father did every time he saw him.

Me: Hey, letter from Miss Farris. Parents think I cheated. Grounded.

I hit Send and waited for a response as my mother shouted for me again.


Tanner: No way. That sucks. Call you tomorrow.

I stared at the message, far less sappy-happy than before, and texted back.

Me: K. Talk to you tomorrow.

Well. That was that.

At dinner, I couldn’t believe my parents tried to make small talk. They really thought I was going to sit at the same kitchen table where they’d grounded me without proof and chatter about our football team’s chance of making states?

I don’t think so.

They finally gave up and went back to discussing plans for the church potluck next week—something I had zero interest in help with. Don’t me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a good potluck, but compared to the county fair, it was kind of dim.

I was clearing the table when the phone rang in the kitchen. There wasn’t really a big Ah-Ha! when we heard it. The acres around us created an ocean of dead zone so most of the time we all took our calls on the house phone since cell reception came and went with the weather.

My father gave my mom the nod, letting her answer the phone and then watching her reaction almost as closely as I did.

“I see. No idea at all? Is she the only one?” My mother nodded and gave my father a look I couldn’t see since her back was to me. “Is this the first time it’s happened?” More nodding.

This wasn’t sounding good. I had no idea how I’d gotten sucked into whatever was going on. I was the quintessential girl next door. I had plans to remain drama-free. Whatever was going on—if it had to do with coloring outside the lines—I could pretty much guarantee I would not be in on it.

Coloring inside the lines was safe. Safe was good. Good was easy—for everyone.

This? This was killing my drama-free zone.

“Okay. Thank you for calling. If you hear anything else, could you let us know?” My mother nodded and said thanks one more time before hanging up.

“Well?” I asked, surprising both of them. I’m not sure why. I was standing right there and more than a little curious what was going on since my fate was hanging in the balance.

My mother passed me in the doorway to sit with my daddy on the couch. In the last year, everything they did, they did as a unit. Usually I was glad for that. More than glad. Thankful.

Of course, usually I was part of that unit.

Not so much tonight.

“Well, we owe you an apology. I’m sorry we didn’t believe you. But if there was a chance you’d started cheating to help Tanner, then there was a chance you’d started lying to cover it up.”

Seriously? That was her idea of an apology? As apologies went, it kind of stunk.

“What did Miss Farris say?”

My mom shook her head again, that crease between her eyes deepening. “She said she’d never sent a letter and she was surprised you’d be the victim of such a prank. Of course, she didn’t think it was funny and is worried how many of those letters went out. She said to tell you she’s glad you emailed her and let me know you got a ninety-eight on the test.”

I wondered why she seemed so laidback about this now. It was such a big deal five minutes ago. Now my parents were playing it off like it was nothing? They weren’t angry about someone doing this to me…or about how they had treated me?

My feelings were more than a little hurt. That I’d be accused of cheating and lying and then get the biggest non-apology ever? I mean, seriously?

Still, I was relieved. And not just because of the cheating thing. I’d never argued with my parents before.

“So, am I ungrounded?”

Mama glanced in my daddy’s direction, as if this might even need to be discussed. No cheating should equal no grounding.

“Of course.” She stood and came around to give me a hug. “Sugar, I hope you understand that when a teacher tells us something, we have to look into it.”

Her voice trembled at the end, the sadness pushing out at the last moment. I got why she felt that way. Really. When you spent the last three years in a house reliving an event every time you walked in the front door, it affected your whole world. Sometimes I wished we’d left. Just packed up and moved away from all those memories Mama sometimes still couldn’t seem to escape.

But that had nothing to do with me. I hadn’t given them any reason to doubt me. There’d never been any calls or letters home about me. There’d never been any broken curfews or rules fudged. I’d never taken any risks, given them any reason to worry, gone anywhere they couldn’t reach me. I was easy. That was the way they liked it. That was the way I liked it.

But she still looked so worried that I finally smiled at her.

“Thanks, Mama. I have to go call Tanner.”

And escape. I couldn’t help it. Sometimes I felt an overwhelming need to escape the people I loved the most—even if it was only for a minute.

I rushed to my room to find my phone. I could have sworn I’d tossed it on my bed, but after a few minutes looking through my stuff I found it on the dresser…where I’d left it, I guess. Me and phones, we were like repelling magnets. I glanced at my alarm clock. Quarter past seven. Hopefully Tanner was running late and could still pick me up. At this point I knew I’d be hanging out with his friends, but that was okay. We barely ever did, and they were always nice enough. No one actively making me feel uncomfortable.

After the sixth ring, his cell went to voicemail. I wasn’t surprised. The fair was way outside town in the Dawson’s unused pasture running along the back acreage of two other farms. A long way out from every direction. There was zero reason to expect cell reception out there.

But this was even better. I’d just meet him there. It was totally out of character for me to be spontaneous like that. It would really surprise him.

And, I mean, who doesn’t love surprises?



Thanks for checking out the start of Bridget’s messy, beautiful night. I can’t wait to share the rest, Bridget won me over watching her earn her bravery and kick some emotional butt on a journey that could have destroyed her instead.

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