In the After
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication date: February 2nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Sadie Reynolds is a liar with secrets. At school, she’s part of the popular crowd known as AE, despite being broken inside. She hides it well. She has to. The slightest bit of imperfection will land her in the same shoes as her Geeky neighbor named Ian.
Ian and his only friend are the object of Sadie’s friends’ ridicule, ire, and entertainment. The AE rule the school with intimidation and retribution against anyone who would dare question their supremacy.
Sadie steers clear of most of it, terrified someone will find out her secret. She isn’t the least bit perfect. In fact, she suffers from PTSD stemming from the murder of her mother right before her eyes when she was a child. She can barely cope from day-to-day, hiding her truth and trying to fit in. But she knows it’s only a matter of time.
Hayden is a “Waverly,” a kid with the misfortune of living in the small farming town of Waverly that borders the very affluent Lexington Parrish. The AE doesn’t mix with “Waverlies.” Ever.
Desperate to get away from her oppressive friends, Sadie crashes into Hayden at a bonfire and the attraction that sparks between them is nothing short of electric. But Hayden’s an outsider and when things heat up, Sadie will be forced to choose between her friends and her new boyfriend.
Only Queen Bee Britt isn’t having it. She will not allow Sadie to cross her. Sadie can either do what Britt wants her to do or she will reveal Sadie for the PTSD freak that she is.
Sadie does some soul searching about who she is and who she wants to be. She can’t live her life like this. Not any more. One fateful night will help her see how much things have to change.
She’s determined to no longer allow the AE to rule her life. She will be strong, stand up for Ian and love who she wants in Hayden. Determined and invigorated, Sadie goes to school feeling hopeful for the first time in forever.
But, the unthinkable happens.
Shooters attack dozens of students before the two eventually take their own lives, leaving the school a decimated shadow of what it once was.
Suddenly who lives where, wears what or loves whom seems like the least of Lexington Parish’s problems as everyone and everything changes forever in the after.
IN THE AFTER by Elisa Dane is a hard-hitting and heart-warming story of tragedy, love, loss and redemption. It is recommended for readers 14+.
@KillSwitch998: Lying bitch is gonna pay. Over the bullshit.
Moe’s Diner sat on the opposite side of Waverly, skirting the lip of the Millbury suburbs. Surrounded by lush farmland on one side, and a never-ending maze of green trees, manicured lawns, and cookie cutter houses on the other, the quaint fifties-style diner was a hidden treasure Jenna and I had no intention of sharing. My father had stopped in late one night after serving a warrant in the big city and fell in love with the cherry pie and friendly service. He’d been a regular ever since, and had been all too happy to share his special find with me.
I slid into the corner booth at the far end of the diner with a sigh, nodding a quick thank you when our hostess set a pair of menus and two waters onto our table. Jenna and I both set our red Sharpies on the table, opting to keep our Nerf guns on the seat beside us. We’d never seen anyone from Atwood High at the diner, but there was a first time for everything, and with the game of Assassin well underway, we had to be cautious.
Starving, I plucked the laminated menu off the white table and shook my head. “I don’t think I can take much more, Jenna.” My hands shook and I let the menu slide along the inside lip of the table onto my lap as I stared helplessly at my best friend. “The way they treat people … Dane and Britt? It’s seriously messed up.” I fumbled for my water, splashing half of it onto the table’s surface before Jenna came to my rescue with a napkin and a nod of support. I shook my head. “Doesn’t it eat away at you? Watching them tear people apart and not saying anything?”
Darkness crept across Jenna’s eyes, her pouty pink lips pulling into a wobbly, thin line. She dropped her head once, the nod almost imperceptible. Her voice caught on a suppressed sob. “Every day, Sadie. Every. Fucking. Day. I just … ” She glanced over her shoulder and blew a puff of air between her lips, the pink flush that had begun crawling up her neck and cheeks receding as she fought to maintain composure. She turned then, and pegged me with a stare that both tore at my gut and made me want to kick someone in the crotch at the same time. “I can’t go through what Quinn did, Sadie.” She shook her head. “I’m not as strong as he is.” She glanced across the table at me beneath a set of dark lashes that were unable to mask the defeat she so clearly felt. “They’ll break me. Britt—” she spat the name like it was a curse “—will break me.”
She was already broken, but I didn’t point that out. She’d been through hell and came out on the other side, alive and thankfully, healthy. I watched her peruse the diner’s greasy menu, thankful to God above she was no longer vomiting up every calorie she consumed. Expectation, along with her brother’s turmoil had sent her on a downward spiral the year before. A spiral no one knew about except me, her parents, and the very expensive shrink she had visited in the big city of Millbury once a week during the majority of our sophomore year. The rest of our friends believed she was babysitting for a friend of the family, a lie I gladly helped perpetuate.
“Do you ever think it would be better, though, if we just … ” I slumped against the seat with a hefty sigh and let my head fall back on my shoulders, eyes closed.
“What, Sadie?” The fear in Jenna’s voice was unmistakable. “If we just what? Stand up to Britt?”
I opened my eyes and dropped my chin, focusing on my best friend’s horror-stricken face. The fallout that would come from standing up to Britt and the AE would be monumental for sure. Those few who dared to cross the Atwood Elite never fared well. Despite knowing this, there was still a small part of me, a part that grew larger every day that would rather face the wrath of a bunch of over-privileged teenagers than spend another day hating myself for the company I kept and the horrible things I did because of it.
“”Sup, pretty girl?”
His deep, scratchy voice took me by surprise, and I flinched, my hand automatically flying to my chest. Eyes narrowed and mouth slightly ajar, I took in the source of the raspy voice. Bleach-blond, tanned, and dressed to kill in a gray T-shirt that accentuated his muscular arms, and a pair of designer jeans that hung just right off his hips, my unwanted suitor’s slick smile and chiseled face oozed confidence. He instantly reminded me of Dane, and any appreciation I had for his unnatural good looks was snuffed out with the first flirty grin he cast me.
His friend, equally handsome and athletic, flanked him on his right, and placed one hand on the table, the other on the back of our booth, effectively blocking Jenna from any escape.
My blond jock leaned in and raised a brow. “My friend and I haven’t seen you ladies here before. What are your names?”
“Not interested,” Jenna and I said in unison. I cast her a knowing grin, loving how in sync we were.
Blondie frowned, obviously not used to being turned down, and turned away with a “pssh” and a low “your loss, bitch”, his wingman silently following behind him. He stood alongside the table across from us and said something to his friends that incited a round of laughter before pulling his wallet from his back pocket. He tossed a couple of bills onto their table and the breath I’d been holding eased out in a relaxed whoosh. Jock boy and his friends were leaving, which meant I could enjoy the rest of my meal with Jenna in peace. Something I didn’t have enough of.
Jenna slapped her menu onto the table, the skin between her eyes crinkling as she pulled her features into a deep frown. “I hate high school boys.”
I pursed my lips. “You and me both, sister.” The ones I’d come across were either cheating jerks, over-confident assholes, or they were a Waverly and unavailable. And judgmental. And way too good-looking for their own damn good. I slammed the door on my thoughts before I started obsessing over Hayden and our upsetting exchange in the library earlier. I hated that he thought I was anything like the company I kept (minus Jenna, of course), and I didn’t know what to do with that. I’d sworn off boys after my disaster of a relationship with my ex, and didn’t particularly like the fact that Hayden kept worming his way into my thoughts. Thinking about him meant I cared, and I didn’t want to care. Caring got people hurt, and I’d been hurt enough to last ten lifetimes.
Thankfully, a distraction in the form of our waitress saved me from getting lost in my own head. Fran, our favorite fifty-something server, with her salt-and-pepper hair and a blinged-out pair of coke-bottle glasses, took our order with a wink and a smile. She cooed over our hair, and sugared us up with a couple “darlings” and “honeys”, and before we knew it, two chocolate shakes and two large baskets of fries decorated our table. Starving, I shoved a handful of fries into my mouth, barely bothering to chew before I swallowed the greasy, fried goodness down. Potatoes were God’s greatest creation. Jenna and I’d had entire conversations before about living off the wonderful brown tubers in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Society could collapse all around us, and undead freaks could roam the earth feeding off the flesh of unlucky victims, but if potatoes were still around, we knew we’d somehow survive. I shoved another small handful of thin-cut goodness into my mouth, resisting the urge to groan with pleasure.
Jenna dunked a fry into her chocolate shake and cast me a wry look. “I don’t know how to perform the Heimlich, my friend. You might want to slow down.” She bit her shake-covered fry and giggled before lifting a brow and giving me a pointed stare. “You know, before you get a food baby.”
My jaw dropped in mock horror and I plucked a fry from my basket and chucked it across the table at my sassy BFF. “Hag!” I took a big sip of my shake, positive I could dance circles around Britt and the rest of the AE, food baby and all.
“What the hell are you doing here, Geek Boy?” Blondie’s voice rang out high above the oldies music blaring throughout the diner.
My entire frame seized up, the familiar sound of vicious heckling tensing every muscle in my body. I glanced over my shoulder toward Blondie and his battalion of evil-doers, half expecting to see Dane or one of the other AE guys bullying poor Ian or Newton. What I saw wasn’t far off.
A short, stalky guy with a round middle, saggy pants, and a buzz cut, stood five feet from the men’s restroom with Blondie purposely blocking his path. Every time saggy pants moved, Blondie moved with him while his table full of obnoxious friends laughed and egged him on.
“I thought I gave you a warning last week. No geeks allowed at Moe’s.”
Seriously? What is it with people and their ridiculous bullshit? Righteous indignation blazed beneath my skin as I watched the familiar scene play out, and I was out of my seat before I had time to think about what it was that I was doing. Jenna hollered at me from behind about Assassin and forgetting my red Sharpie, but I didn’t care. I was too riled up to care about the game. If someone wanted to take me out, so be it.
Freedom, a luxury I didn’t have in my hometown, was a powerful aphrodisiac, and I felt drunk under its influence. I wasn’t in Lexington Parrish, which meant I wasn’t subject to anyone else’s rules. A rush of excitement rippled though my veins as I slid alongside the chubby victim and wrapped my arm around his middle. I couldn’t help anyone in my hometown, but I could help this saggy-pantsed boy, and it would feel damn good to do so.
“Hey, babe,” I said with a flirty grin. “I’ve been waiting for you. When did you get here?” Play along. Play along. Please, play along.
Saggy pants peered up at me with a mixture of surprise, morbid curiosity, and outright shock. He recovered quickly, though, his eyes that had widened to the size of saucers quickly brightening with understanding and appreciation. Thank God! He wrapped an arm around my waist, then ran his other hand through his hair, playing into my ruse with only a minimal amount of awkwardness. “Uh … Sorry, babe. I, uh … just got here. I was gonna wash my hands and then come get you.” He flashed me a toothy grin, showcasing a set of pearly whites that were just a bit crooked on the bottom.
Mouth ajar, Blondie watched our friendly exchange, a hefty amount of disbelief dancing behind his eyes. His gaze bounced from me, to Saggy Pants, then back to me. “I don’t get it. You’re fucking hot.” Incredulity oozed from every orifice as he eyeballed Saggy Pants with a serious amount of disdain. “You actually know this asshole and you still want to spend time with him?” He glared down at me in challenge.
I pulled Saggy’s arm from around my waist and laced my fingers through his, before leveling Blondie with a vicious stare. “The only asshole I see around here is you, jerk. I suggest you leave before I tell the manager you’re harassing me and my friends.”
Overjoyed at finally being able to do the right thing, I tugged on Saggy’s hand and led him back to the booth I shared with Jenna. I refused to give that bullying asshole another second of my time.
Jenna stared at me, dumbstruck, as I slid into our booth alongside my nameless new friend. A slow smile curled at the corner of her mouth and I knew, in that moment, I had her full support.
Blondie, on the other hand, did not share my best friend’s pride and admiration. He and his band of idiots blustered for a few moments, casting me dirty looks and muttering crude names for me beneath their breath. They oozed out of the diner like an infectious disease. Too bad the powers-that-be couldn’t inoculate against assholery. The world would be a very different place.
Jenna slapped her hand against the top of the table and leaned forward. “That was—”
“Crazy,” I said, cutting her off. My heart felt like a hummingbird trying to bust its way out of prison, it was slamming so hard against my ribs. My hands shook as I reached for my shake, the adrenaline that fueled my ballsy attitude now wreaking havoc on my food-starved body.
Saggy Pants twisted in the seat so that he faced me directly. “I don’t know who you are, or why you did that, but … ” His face crumpled for a brief moment, the weight of an insufferable amount of degradation clear behind his sorrowful gray eyes. The moment didn’t last but a second before he recovered, his mouth quirking up into a goofy grin that once again showcased his crooked teeth. “That was really awesome. Thank you.” He thrust his hand forward and eyed me expectantly. “My name is Ezra.”
I wanted to scream. Cry. Fall apart quietly in my booth with my best friend because I’d finally been able to do the right thing. I’d finally stood up to a bully and taken away someone’s pain, if only for a brief time. Somehow, I didn’t think Ezra would understand, or appreciate that particular type of reaction, and I didn’t want to taint his special moment with a breakdown. So, I steeled myself against the rush of emotions whirling inside my head and my chest, took his hand in mine, and gave it a shake. “I’m Sadie.” I inclined my head toward my BFF and smiled. “That’s Jenna.”
His face flushed red, and he nodded once with a shy, awkward smile that was entirely endearing and bittersweet all at once. Ezra would never be mega-hot or popular. He’d probably never win Homecoming King, or date the prettiest girl in school. But he would be someone’s best friend. Some lucky girl’s sweet, attentive boyfriend. He’d never cheat on her, or embarrass her, or make her feel anything less than special. He’d be loyal and kind to all those who took the time to know him, but would be largely forgotten by the judgmental masses. Life was cruel that way, and I hated it.
Ezra nodded his head in the direction of the bar area. A lanky boy with shaggy brown hair and a laptop situated in front of him stared at us with equal amounts of shock and excitement. “I should probably get back to my friend and tell him what happened before his head explodes.”
I squeezed Ezra’s hand before he slid out of the booth. Part of me wanted to tell him to stay strong, that things would get better. But the truth was, I didn’t know if things would get better for him. The bubble I lived in cast a harsh picture for people like him and I prayed … I prayed to whatever artist out there painting his life story, to give him a different canvas than mine. Ezra deserved happiness as much as the rest of us, and I hoped against hope he’d get it.
Jenna and I finished the rest of our fries and shakes in silence, basking in the warmth and goodness of the moment we were never afforded back home. Acutely aware of the time and knowing we’d be late to practice and our fitting if we didn’t haul butt back to Lexington Parrish pronto, we dropped some cash onto our table before making our way toward the exit.
We’d waved to Ezra and his friend as we passed the front of the diner, and that’s when I felt it.
The tingle. The breathless sensation I’d felt earlier in the library. The bone-liquefying warmth that rushed through my veins every time I came within fifty feet of him.
I stopped. Turned slowly. Heard Jenna’s breath catch in surprise. Felt her hand on my arm. Heard her mutter a soft, “Is that … ”
The last person I expected to see at Moe’s stood just off to the side of the grill wearing a white apron and holding a gray plastic tub filled with dirty plates. His gaze captured mine and refused to let go. His piercing blue eyes were no longer icy and cold. Their deep blue reminded me of tropical waters and warm sunny beaches, and they held a tenderness that made me want to melt into the floor where I stood.
He turned and set his tub onto a nearby cart, then strode toward me with a swagger that made me weak in the knees.
Jenna leaned close and pressed her mouth to my ear. “I’ll wait for you in the car.” She squeezed my arm once before leaving, and then it was like the whole diner melted away. It was just him, and me, and my traitorous beating heart that threatened to give away my fierce attraction to him.
“You work here?” My mouth felt like it was full of cotton and my voice sounded wrong.
His gaze was unyielding as was his presence. “This is my second week.” He glanced over his shoulder toward Ezra, then pierced me once again with the shade of blue that was fast becoming my favorite color. “I saw what you did for that kid.”
Every cell in my body felt like it was wound up, attached to some invisible line that was pulling me toward him, inch by glorious inch. Prickly heat slithered up my neck and onto my face, and I looked down at my feet, unsure how to respond to him. “Oh. I … ”
“Look at me, Ginger.” His voice was deep, and clear, and reminded me of love songs, and starry nights, and orange, flickering bonfires on the beach.
I glanced up at him through my lashes, a small smile crossing my lips. “My name’s not Ginger.”
He grinned then. A heart-stopping smile that threatened to singe the flesh from my bones with its radiance and warmth. “You surprised me, Sadie. That doesn’t happen very often.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” My palms felt sweaty and I resisted the urge to swipe them across my pants. “I’m a firm believer that people should enjoy a good surprise at least once a day.” Am I flirting with him now? Did I really just say that? The look he gave me was light years away from the harsh glare he’d treated me to this morning, and I wanted nothing more than to bask in its delicious glow for the rest of my days. Why? Why couldn’t he and I talk like this back home? Why was my home such a fucked-up, divided mess?
“I’m not what you think I am.” My words came out fast, my tone borderline desperate. In truth, I felt a little desperate in that instant. Moments like this didn’t happen very often for me, and I had to take advantage of it while I could. There was no telling if I’d ever get another chance to speak to him so openly again.
Hayden crossed his arms over his chest and cocked his head to the side. “I don’t know what to think, Sadie. Especially after what I just saw.”
I swallowed thickly, the tacky lump in my throat making my voice sound garbled and weak. “What does your gut tell you?”
He huffed out a single laugh. “My gut tells me you’re nothing but trouble and I should stay away.”
His words were like a punch to the stomach. My lips parted, but for the life of me, I couldn’t make any words come out. To be honest, I’d no clue how to respond. Anything witty or fun that might have graced my lips withered away the moment he admitted he thought he should stay away from me. I bit the inside of my cheek and looked away, feeling as though I might melt into the floor.
He placed his finger to my jaw, and tiny sparks of electricity fanned out from the point of contact as he forced me to meet his gaze. The left side of his mouth hooked up into a smirk. “I’ve never been one to shy away from trouble, though.” He rubbed his thumb across my cheek and treated me to another full-blown smile before dropping his arm to his side. “Especially when trouble is all dressed up in a pretty red package.”
“Hayden! We need you in section two!”
He turned his head and offered up a wave of acknowledgment to his co-worker before facing me once again. His smile was gone, but so was the harshness behind his eyes I’d been unfortunate enough to witness earlier in the day. He looked at me like he had on Saturday before everything turned to crap. With gentleness, and hope, and a very heated attraction. “I’ve gotta get back to work. Maybe I’ll see you in here again?”
I nodded and smiled. “Definitely.”
We ate at Moe’s every day for the rest of the week.
ELISA DANE is a self-proclaimed book junkie. A lover of handbags, chocolate, and reality television, she's a proud mother to three All- Star cheerleaders. Writing is her absolute passion, and it's her mission to create stories that will not only take you on a romantic journey that will warm your heart, but help you find a new respect and interest in the sport of All-Star cheerleading.
Elisa is no stranger to the publishing world. She writes steamy paranormal romance under her real name, Lisa Sanchez. Her adult works include the Hanford Park series (Eve Of Samhain, Pleasures Untold, and Faythe Reclaimed), Obsessed (an erotic suspense), and a paranormal novella, Cursing Athena. Elisa lives in Northern California with her husband, three daughters, and a feisty Chihuahua who stubbornly believes she's human.
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