Ballad Excerpt


Sometimes it’s easier to just stop thinking. Sometimes it’s easier to stop feeling. Sometimes it’s impossible to stop either. A few months ago was one of those times. Watching Trace Styx toss Meggie Melody over his shoulder and promise to remind her who she belongs to, well, it was a swoon-worthy moment. It got me thinking and when I do that, it’s never good. It’s usually best if I just roll with the punches and not try too hard to make anything happen, try not to hope. Hope is a luxury I can’t afford anymore—and it’s free. I had hope once and I even indulged in it. Then my world got ripped out from under my feet, I ended up in “the system”—which is a shitty system, I’ve gotta tell you. So many kids get missed, slip through the cracks, and those are usually the ones that can actually be helped, the ones who want to be helped. But they’re overlooked because they’re average. There’s nothing wrong with average. I’d give anything to be average for just one day in my life, but that’ll never be. Yet, another reason why I no longer luxuriate in the wistful whim of “hope”.
But now I’ve got a sliver of hope inside me that maybe, just maybe, I could be an average girl one day. Sure, I’m still taking medication for my leukemia, but I’m not in chemo. I’m not in radiation. I’m in remission. I’ll have to take medication whether I’m in remission or not. At least my hair is starting to grow back now. Granted, it’s just strands of hair sticking up all over the place and in every direction, but oh how it warms my heart to see that hair on my head. I cried the other day when, after I can’t remember how long, I noticed I have eyebrows. Eyebrows! It’s the little things that people overlook every day that I’m most grateful for. Just last week Kennedy’s leg brushed against mine and he lifted one of his dark brows and asked me if it wasn’t time for a shave. When I burst into tears, he didn’t say a word. He just pulled me close and held me, rocked me, and called me his baby sister. The dam burst majorly then and he chuckled and kissed the top of my head. This is where that fragment of hope began to bloom.
“Stop daydreaming, Coley, and get your sweet little ass into wardrobe,” Spenser scolds.
I grin. “You just want to touch my boobs again.”
He laughs. “If I swung that way sweetie, I’d be all over you like white on rice.”
It’s my turn to laugh now. “Are you tarting me up again?”
“You know it… even if you’re too skinny.”
I roll my eyes. “Again, Spenser, I’m eating. I’m eating a lot. Ask Kennedy. He makes sure I eat twice what I probably should. Before long I’m going to be overweight and then what?”
“Then we make you custom clothes like we’re doing for Lucy,” Xander says as he walks down the hall with a hugely pregnant Lucy. I can’t remember if she’s six or seven months along now but, holy Hannah, she’s humongous. When she punches Xan in the arm I snicker. I love that she gives as good as she gets, and I get a little extra satisfaction because it’s Xander she’s slugging. I still, after two months, haven’t figured out what it is about him that I don’t like. I just can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something…
“Fuck off, Xander,” Lucy tells him and heads for Spenser, giving him a hug and touching his side like she’s done every single day we’ve been on the road. “You’re feeling okay?”
“Luciana, baby doll, I’m fine. I tell you this every day. Believe me when I say that that bitch didn’t get to stick it in deep.”
Wait for it.
“Not like Carmine and his big D.”
And there it is. We all burst out laughing.
“Gawd, you’ve got no shame,” I tease.
“Absolutely none,” he admits, closing the door in Xander’s face and leading me to the makeup chair where he studies me in the mirror.
“What?” I ask, trying not to squirm under his intense stare.
“Nothing. Just looking at your beautiful face.”
I make a face at him. “You’re so weird.”
“And you can’t take a compliment,” he counters.
“Touche.” I wait a beat then ask, “What are you going to do to me today?”
“Hmm,” he murmurs. Then, without warning, he unties the do-rag from my head.
“Hey!” I squeak.
“Oh, shush up. You act like we don’t know you’ve only got peach fuzz under there. I just like looking at the gorgeous color. I’m beyond fucking thrilled for you that the chemo and shit they fed you didn’t ruin your color or your porcelain skin. Women would kill for both.”
I just grunt, arms crossed over my chest. “I don’t like people looking at my nearly bald head.”
“Tough. I’m looking. Deal with it.”
He’s so bossy.
“Now, blonde, redhead, or brunette tonight?” he hums.
“For my debut? Let’s go natural with red.” I’ll feel better as myself. It’s easy to pretend to be someone else with the wigs, but tonight I want to be comfortable and to do that I need to be me.
“Red it is.”
Spenser reaches over and grabs a red wig with long, curling locks much like the hair I used to have. I won’t hold out hope to ever be able to grow my hair to those lengths again. I’m a realist and realistically speaking I’d have to be without invasive treatment for a long damn time in order to have them and that just isn’t going to happen. Remission, like love, is a lie. It’s false hope. It’s the calm, the eye of the storm, the reprieve from the shit that’s about to hit the fan.
He tugs the wig into place and I blink rapidly, fighting the tears that burn as I remember how much better life had been back when I was healthy. Now, well now I’m sick even when I’m not sick.
“This is gorgeous on you,” Spenser tells me and I smirk at his enthusiasm.
The dressing room door flies open and in walks a tall cool drink of water. Long dark hair framing an angular and spectacular face. And those eyes. I can’t see what color they are from here, but they pierce and look through a person right down to the very soul. I’m not sure I like that. Especially from someone I don’t know—and someone who looks as dangerous as this man.
“Knock much?” I snark.
“Nope,” is his only reply as he makes his way to the chair next to mine. Spenser gets all atwitter as dark and delicious walks with total control and masculinity in his ripped jeans, combat boots, t-shirt, and leather jacket.
“Who are you?” I ask as he takes a seat next to mine.
He smirks. “There are just enough people out there who have no clue who I am to keep me humble.”
Spenser rolls his eyes and tsks. “You, Lucian Cordero, do not have a single humble bone in your body.”
“Sure I do, only one but it’s the one I’m not letting you touch.”
Spenser snorts. “That’s the least humble of them all.”