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You know how the story goes. Don’t you?

Boy meets girl. Eyes lock, they fall in love, live happily ever after.
Not this story.

Lacey baby, was what he called me. He said I was too young for him but who cares, we were both young. He stopped resisting and we fell in love.

I thought we were going to be forever. We were. Until the unthinkable happened savagely ripping through us, ripping us apart, and forever turned in to never.

He was gone. I was left to pick up the shredded pieces. Punished for the life inside me I couldn’t give up. The very thing I didn’t know would bring me out of darkness years later, could be the very thing that brings us together again for a second chance.

If we can only survive the ripple effects of the pain of the past and what lies ahead…

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Cry For You
(Never Until Forever Series)
By Shaniel Watson

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU CAN HANDLE UNTIL IT COMES YOUR WAY

Chapter 1

Lacey

“Mama, how did you and my daddy meet?” he asks, the way he would ask for a lollipop: a simple, casual conversation. For most people. Never taking his eyes from his show, like it’s nothing.
“Well…” I put my book aside and look down at him, tucked into my arms, his eyes still glued to the screen. I’m not exactly sure what I should say. He’s asked vague questions before, but this is the first direct one. I take that fortifying breath I need to go through with this, letting it settle in me. I knew this was coming, but it’s sooner than I expected. But then again…guess not. I should probably be surprised it wasn’t sooner.
One day he’s a baby, and now here I am. He wants to know who he comes from. Which also happens to be the most painful time in my life. I draw it out as long as I can before he turns his big, deep brown eyes to me, full of questions. I look into those dark pools, and I’m filled with past and present fears. They are the eyes of the man he wants to know about, who was my living, breathing nightmare, haunting me night and day for so many years. I’ll try, for him.
“I was a girl who liked a guy, but was too shy to tell him. Your Aunty Shay wasn’t shy, though. She solved the problem for me.”
“What did she do, Mama?”
I think back, a faint smile on my lips. I continue the story, editing out the not-for-kids parts. “She was dating a guy who was friends with him. She walked right up to him, at the diner everyone went to after school…”

~Then~
“Hey, my sister likes you. When are you going to go on a date with her?”
I was mortified.
He took a peek around her, and I heard him say, ”Isn’t she a little young for you to be handing off to me?”
“Don’t be such a wuss. She’s seventeen and a senior.”
“Like I said, I don’t want to go to jail.”
“Keep your junk in your pants, and you won’t.”
“You’re talking to the wrong guy.”
“Do you need another look?”
“Let me get one more—see if she’s worth potentially losing my freedom.”
She shifts to the side to give him a better look, holding out her hand towards me then moving back, blocking his view. “Keep it in your pants for a couple more months. There’ll be no time served.”
“I didn’t date high school girls when I was in high school.”
“She’s going to be the fucking exception to your rule. My sister’s hot.”
“She’s cute.”
“The offer’s going once, going twice…take another fucking look before you miss your chance. I’m going to have Trigg all over your ass,” she threatens.
“Shay, we both know Trigg doesn’t give a shit if I take your sister out. But since you’re so desperate to foist your little sis off on me, I’ll do it, because I like you more than any of the other girls he’s messed around with. Plus, she’s cute. But you owe me one.”
“Whatever. Gimme your phone. By the way, don’t be an asshole like Trigg; try to be somewhat on time.”
“Don’t tell me how to do a date, and I won’t tell you about your screwed-up relationship with my roommate.” Sneering at him, she walks back to our table, flipping him off.
He laughs. “Remember, you’re my favorite, Shay.”
I’m embarrassed and pissed. “You made me seem like a desperate freak that couldn’t get a date if she tried. The only reason he’s going to go out with me is because you threatened him!”
“You’ll thank me. This could be the beginning of a beautiful, two-week relationship. What more could you ask for? You’re welcome.”
She was right about the beauty, but not about its staying power. It lasted way past two weeks, but not nearly long enough for either of us.

***
Landon
“Jackson, we can’t wait. Your mom’s waiting on us at your grandpa’s.”
“Please, Daddy, please. We can’t leave him alone. He’s my best friend.”
“He’s not alone. Your teacher’s with him. I’m sure his parents will pick him up soon.”
“Dad, his grandma picks him up. Sometimes she’s late. I’ll tell mom it’s my fault we’re late, and I won’t ask for anything else this week. Not extra dessert, not to stay up late—”
I look down at the jumping bean in front of me and smile. At least he’s a good friend. “We’ll stay with him for a little bit, but if his grandmother isn’t here in ten minutes, we have to go. Your mom is going to kick my don’t say.”
“I won’t say, but I know.” He laughs, running off to his friend. It’s amazing how fast kids make friends. Two weeks into the school year, and he’s already made a best buddy. If only it was that simple for grown-ups.
Nine, not ten. Nine minutes and I’m blown back in time. I see her, and it’s all changed, but she’s the same. Slow, slow, quick, quick quick—the beating in my chest. She was the best thing to ever happen to me. The worst thing I ever experienced, when I lost her. I’m paralyzed with thoughts and emotions, memories I try so hard to forget but are forever with me. Bitter and sweet mixed into one, as I watch her talking to my son and his friend.
Snapping out of my daze, my feet move one in front of the other, taking me closer with each step to a place and a person I once knew so well but who is a stranger to me now. And it’s clear and heartbreaking when I hear, “Mommy, this is my friend, Jackson.”
I approach them with her back turned to me. I place my hand on my son’s shoulders. In a heart-stopping moment, her head turns and her eyes meet mine. She was supposed to be my life; she was my everything, and my feelings have not changed. One look into eyes as dark as mine, with flecks of gold, confirms it. The memories, the tastes, and the sight of her long, black hair choke me with so much—I can’t speak. Her lips part, but no words come. Her eyes well and blink, scanning my face. I have no words. Just regret for the past, love in the present, and the overwhelming need to apologize, to tell her I know I let her down.
“Mom!”
“Dad, hello?”
I look down at my son and realize they’re talking to us. I clear my throat and do my best to focus. “Yeah, son?”
“This is my friend, Jacob, and his mom.”
My eyes drift back over to the little boy standing next to him. Same height, about the same age, a mop of black hair, same as Jackson’s, both dressed in sneakers, jeans, T-shirt, about the same size. Just a little boy. No monster. Just a little boy, the same as Jackson. The only exception—the eyes—those are not the same. Not hers.
Her hands go around him in a protective gesture, pulling him back toward her. My head turns to her. I see a spark of something—I can’t place if it’s anger or something else. Her body is relaxed, but her lips come together in a tight smile. I understand. I smile at her and hold my hand out. “Hi, Lacey.”
She hesitates then takes it. “Hello, Landon.”
Nothing like the first touch, a fusion of sparks. She quickly pulls back. My phone rings, and I reach into my pocket to answer it. “Hello. We’re on our way. We’ll be there soon.” Not breaking eye contact with her, I tell Jackson, “We have to go. Your mom’s waiting for us.” I take one last look at her and then I look at the little boy she’s still holding against her. I smile and hold my hand out to him. “Jacob, it’s nice to meet you. Jackson talks about you all the time. I hear a lot of good things about you. He says you’re the fastest runner in the whole school—next to him, of course.”
A smile lights up his face when he agrees and says, “Jackson and me are tied.”
I ruffle his hair and say, “That’s fair of you. See you around, Jacob. Lacey.” She smiles a genuine smile this time, loosening her hold on her son, just a little.
You know when you’re not looking for something—you’re not expecting it—and it inexplicably drops into your lap? That’s Lacey.

~Then~
“What do you know of life, young Lacey?”
“I know stuff,” she says, with more confidence than I believe she has. “I was born, and I’m here. I’m still alive after seventeen years. I must know something.”
“Staying alive for seventeen years with the help of your parents isn’t what I would call life experience and survival of the fittest.”
“Says you.”
“You haven’t experienced much of life, have you? That’s no fault of your own. You’re young, maybe too young for me.”
Her eyes fix on me. “My father died when I was eight. Massive heart attack. Went to school, came back, he was gone. No goodbyes, no ‘I love you.’ Nothing but memories and old photographs. I know what it is to lose someone.” She smiles a sad smile. “See, don’t let my age fool you, Landon. I’ve experienced life. I might not have had the vast extent of life experiences you have, being a whole three years older than me, but I have emotional life experience.”
“My bad. There’s something about you, Lacey.”
“What?”
“Something I wasn’t expecting from a high school senior. When is your birthday again?”
She looks away. “I didn’t say.”
“Your sister did. She said it was in two months.”
“Yeah, about that…”
“What about it?”
“She kinda, sorta…”
“Spit it out, Lacey. I don’t think I’m going to like this.”
“My birthday’s further out than that. Instead of 18, I’m going to be…17.”
“What? So you—you’re not even a senior!”
“I’m sorry. She said you wouldn’t go out with me if you knew I was sixteen.”
“Wait until I see her. You’re practically still a baby. No, of course, I wouldn’t have gone out with you.”
She turns her face down, and I instantly regret raising my voice and the sharpness of my words. I stop walking and move closer to her, lifting her chin, looking into those sad, beautiful eyes. “Lacey, baby, sorry. I don’t know if this will work. I’m upset with your sister because I really like you, and I don’t want to take you someplace you’re not ready to go. I can tell you’re innocent, in more ways than one. But I still want to know more about you, even though I shouldn’t.”
“So get to know me, before you dismiss me and my innocence. How bad can it be to just get to know me?” She looks at me with wide eyes, and I know she’s clueless.
“Lacey, baby, you have no idea how hard it’s going to be. This is new for me, and I’m crazy for considering it, but what the hell. Let’s cement this newfound friendship. Can I kiss you?”
“You’re asking me?”
“This is what I’m talking about. New. What do you say?”
“Yes.” She beams.
“You might want to stop smiling so hard if you want this to work properly.”
“Oh, yes, sorry.”
I laugh and give her the chastest kiss I’ve ever given in my life. Well, I tried. She was too damn cute. “By the way, don’t ever apologize for that beautiful smile.”
I remember the last thing I said when I left her at her door, walking away backward to keep my eyes on her.
“Tell your sister I hate her. She is not my favorite anymore.”
The last thing I thought was: I hate her, but I’m sure glad I listened to her and took a chance, because Lacey McQueen is something different.