Home > Falling Embers (Tattered & Torn #2)

Falling Embers (Tattered & Torn #2)
Author: Catherine Cowles









“Hads, you know there’s no way she’s going to let you go.”

I leaned back against my bed and cradled the phone against my ear. “I think I can convince her.”

Jenna was silent for a moment before speaking. “I know you’ve got megapowers of persuasion, but your mom is on another level.”

I didn’t need my best friend to tell me that. I lived with my mother’s overprotectiveness every day. No, overprotective wasn’t the right word. It was paranoia.

“I’m going to go talk to her now. I’ll call you back when I’m done.”

“Okay.” Doubt dripped from Jenna’s tone. She’d watched me go down this road too many times before.

But I wouldn’t let her doubt get to me. I was holding on to hope. I pushed to standing and started for the door. I paused as I pulled it open, listening. I could hear voices wafting up from downstairs and moved in that direction.

“It sounds like a herd of elephants is invading,” my dad called as I pounded down the stairs.

“Just one daughter,” I told him, rounding the corner.

He had a baseball game on mute as my mom worked on hand-stitching a quilt.

“Where’s Shiloh?” I asked.

Mom’s jaw tightened, and I knew I’d already made a misstep. I shouldn’t have asked. My dad gave me a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. The kind I’d seen far too many times during the past eight years. “She needed some air, I think. She’s in the barn with the horses.”

My sister practically lived out there these days. And every time she ran off, a muscle in my mom’s cheek fluttered, or her knuckles bleached white—as they were now.

I didn’t know what to say. Not when we were already starting here. Instead, I shuffled from foot to foot, rethinking my approach.

Dad patted the couch cushion next to him. “Take a seat and tell us what you’re working through in that big brain of yours.”

His words had my mom lifting her gaze from her stitching and eyeing me carefully. I swallowed as I sat, my throat seeming to catch on the movement. I tucked a leg under me. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Go ahead,” Dad said.

I toyed with a loose thread on the couch cushion. “Jenna is going to a party at Toby Jacob’s house tonight. I know you’re not crazy about parties, but I really want to go. I promise I won’t drink anything but sealed bottled water. You can breathalyze me if you want. And I’ll text you every thirty minutes, so you know I’m okay. I’ll stay with Jenna the whole time.”

Mom’s knuckles lost even more color. “Hadley—”

“Are his parents going to be home?” Dad cut her off.

“Um, no. But they know he’s having the party. They’re in Portland this weekend.”

My mom tossed her stitching onto the coffee table. “I can’t believe the Jacobs would be that irresponsible. Letting a bunch of kids run wild in their home while they’re away. Drinking. Probably drugs. Anything could happen.”

“Now, Julia,” my father began, but Mom cut him off with a glare.

“Anything, Gabe. Absolutely anything could happen.”

“But not to me. I’ll be so careful. I promise.”

Mom’s gaze shot to me. “You might be careful, but you could still get hurt because of someone else’s reckless decision. I won’t risk it.”

“Please, Mom,” I whispered. “Everyone in my class will be there. I don’t want to be the freak anymore.”

She stiffened. “You are not a freak simply because your parents want to make sure you’re safe.”

But I was. Everyone whispered. The girl whose sister had been kidnapped. The girl whose parents practically kept her locked in a bubble. The girl who never got invited to anything anymore because people had given up. Jenna was my only friend, but I could feel even that relationship waning. It was too hard for her.

I looked at both my parents. “I only have one friend because no one wants to put up with the insanity it takes. I have no life. It’s pathetic.”

“Hadley,” Dad warned. “You’re not pathetic. And you have a wonderful life. You ride horses, we go to the lake, go on hikes. That would be a pretty good life to some people.”

“But what about the life I want? To go to a party. God, maybe even on a date. To ride the bus to away games like everyone else. But, no. All of those things are too dangerous.”

“Stop it.” My mom’s voice lashed out like a whip. “How can you be so selfish? You know what we went through with your sister.”

“Newsflash, Shiloh’s fine. It’s awful what happened to her, but it was eight years ago. Please don’t steal my life because of it.”

“Go to your room, right now,” my mother barked.

I turned on my heel and ran. But not upstairs. I went out the front door. The house walls felt too claustrophobic, my parents bearing down, everything closing in around me. I tried to suck in air as the door slammed behind me. But I couldn’t seem to get my lungs to obey.

I started towards the paddocks as tears streamed down my cheeks, and I willed my lungs to cooperate. As I rounded the corner of the barn, I collided with a solid form.

Hands encircled my arms to steady me. “Shit, Hads. Sorry, I didn’t see you.”

I tried to get out my own apology, but no words came. The fact that I was struggling to find my voice only made it harder to breathe.

“Hads? What’s wrong?” There was a slight panic to Calder’s voice. “Want me to get your mom and dad? Hayes?”

I shook my head quickly, but the movement was jerky. I didn’t want my older brother, and I certainly didn’t want my parents.

“Okay. I won’t get them, but I need you to slow your breathing, okay? You’re going to pass out.”

He would know the facts about that. While my two older brothers had gone to college, Calder had only had eyes for the fire department. He’d done both fire school and EMT training but opted to focus on being a firefighter.

He guided me towards a bale of hay and eased me down onto it. “I’m going to count. Just follow me. In for one, two, three. Out for one, two, three.”

My lungs burned as I struggled to hold the inhale and exhale for his counts. Then he upped the count to five. Then eight. Then back down to five again. I couldn’t figure out the rhyme or reason for the pattern, but the burn slowly receded, and it no longer felt as if my rib cage was crushing my lungs.

“Thank you,” I croaked.

Calder’s dark eyes searched my face as he stayed crouched in front of me. “What brought this on?”

I stared down at my boots, thankful the darkness would hide the worst of my splotchy face. “Fight with Mom and Dad.”


“Having a life. What else?”

Calder pushed up and leaned against the fence. “You know they went through a lot when Shiloh was kidnapped. It’s hard for them to loosen the reins now that you’re all home and safe.”

“It’s been eight years. Am I really supposed to give up everything because of it? I have no one because there isn’t a soul who’s willing to put up with my parents. And, sometimes, it’s just too much. I just want a little normal. I want to be able to breathe. To feel alive. Just once.”

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