Full Tilt (Full Tilt #1)


by Emma Scott

Fifteen months ago…

White light pierced my eyes. I struggled to keep them open, then gave in and let them fall shut again. I listened to the machines instead, let their sound pull me out of unconsciousness. The beeping pulse was my heart. My new heart, pumping slowly in my chest. Yesterday, it belonged to a twenty-three-year-old basketball player who’d been in a car accident outside Henderson. Now it was mine. Grief and gratitude danced at the edges of my consciousness.

Thank you. I’m sorry, and thank you…

God, my chest. It felt as if an anvil had crushed me, smashed my ribs. Somewhere within the deep, heavy ache was my heart. A great swelling agony underneath my sternum that had been cracked open like a cabinet, then stapled shut again.

I groaned and the sound surged out of me, riding a current of pain.

“He’s waking up. Are you waking up, honey?”

I forced my eyes open and the white light was blinding.

Maybe I’m dead.

The white of hospital sheets and stark fluorescents seared my eyes, then settled. Dark shapes took form. My parents hovered over me on my right. My mother’s eyes were wet and her hand reached to brush a lock of hair from my forehead. She adjusted the nasal cannula that was jammed up my nose though it probably didn’t need adjusting.

“You look wonderful, sweetheart,” she told me in a tremulous voice.

I felt like I’d been run over by a freight train, and before that I’d been deathly sick for weeks. But she didn’t mean I looked good. She meant I looked alive.

For her sake, I managed a smile.

“You did good, son,” my father said. “Dr. Morrison said everything looks real good.” He gave me a tight smile, then looked away, coughing into his fist to hide his emotion.

“Theo?” I croaked and winced at the deep bruise of pain in my chest. I breathed shallowly and looked for him on my left.

He was there, crouched in a chair, his forearms resting on his knees. Strong. Solid.

“Hey, bro,” he said, and I heard the forced lightness in his deep voice. “Mom’s pulling your leg. You look like shit.”

“Theodore,” she said. “He does not. He’s beautiful.”

I didn’t have the energy to give my brother a joke. All I could manage was a smile. He smiled back, but it was tense and hard. I knew my brother better than anyone. I knew when something was eating at him. Anger burned in him like a pilot light and now it was flaring hot.

Why…?

I cast my gaze around the room and then I knew. “Audrey?”

The air tightened and my mother jumped as if someone had poked her with a needle. Looks were exchanged all around me, like birds darting over my bed.

“It’s late,” my father said. “She’s gone home.” He was a city councilman, and he’d turned on his politician’s voice, the one he used when he needed to tell an unpleasant truth in a pleasant way.

My mother, a kindergarten teacher and adept at comfort, swooped in. “But you should rest now, honey. Sleep. You’ll feel stronger after you’ve had more sleep.” She kissed me on my forehead. “I love you, Jonah. You’re going to be just fine.”

My dad took my mom by the shoulders. “Let’s let him rest, Beverly.”

I rested. I fell in and out of fitful, pain-soaked sleep, until a nurse tinkered with an IV in my arm and then I slept deeply.

When I awoke, Theo was there. Audrey was not. My new heart began to thump a dull, heavy pang. All the adrenaline circuits were reconnected, or whichever hormone kicked in when something you thought might last forever was over.

“Where is she?” I asked. “Tell me the truth.”

Theo knew whom I meant. “She left for Paris yesterday morning.”

“You talked to her? What did she say?”

He pulled his chair closer. “Some fucking sob story. How she had a plan for her life and this…” His gaze swept the room.

“This wasn’t it,” I said.

“She couldn’t hack it…” He tore his hand through his hair. “Fuck, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head a little. “I’m glad you told me. I needed to hear it.”

“I’m sorry, bro. Three years. Three years you gave her, and she just…”

“It’s okay. It’s better.”

“Better? How the fuck is it better?”

Already, my eyes felt heavy and wanted to close, to drop the curtain and let me sink back into oblivion for a little while. I didn’t have the strength to tell him that I didn’t hate Audrey for leaving me. I had seen it coming. Even sick with a rapidly failing heart, I could see how she twitched and jumped, eyes darting to the door, plotting an escape route from my illness and the life it would leave me.

It hurt—I felt every one of those three years we’d been together like a knife driven into my new heart. But I didn’t hate her. I didn’t hate her because I didn’t love her. Not in the way I wanted to love a woman—with everything I had.

Audrey was gone. Theo could hate her for me. My parents could marvel at her cruelty on my behalf. But I let her go, because at that moment, I didn’t know she’d be the last…

July, a Saturday night

I was drunk.

Why else would I have my cell phone in my hand, my thumb hovering over my parents’ house number in San Diego?

Drunk dialing, I thought. Not just for ex-boyfriends anymore.

I snorted a laugh. It came out more like a sob and echoed around the stairwell. I sat in the dark, narrow space, knees pulled up, trying to make myself small. Invisible. On the other side of the cement wall I could hear the muffled shouts and whistles of three thousand people waiting for Rapid Confession to take the stage. Our manager, Jimmy Ray, had given us the ten-minute cue a good twenty minutes ago and my bandmates were probably looking for me.

I took a sip from my Evian water bottle, three-quarters filled with vodka—because I’m clever like that—and contemplated my phone. I dared myself to call. I warned myself not to, just put it away and join the band in the green room. We’d hit the stage, play for yet another sold-out show. I’d get hella famous, make some serious money and continue to screw a different guy every night.

Because, rock and roll.

What a joke. I wasn’t rock and roll. I looked the part, especially tonight in my miniskirt, thigh-high boots and bustier. My hair—bleached to almost white—curled around my shoulders in pin-up girl perfection. My lips painted red and my eyes lined in black. Tattoos decorated my skin, adding to the impression of a grunge rock chick, but they weren’t a costume. They were mine.