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Because of You by Sam Mariano (1)


 

Prologue-

 

For as long as I could remember I had only heard her described as a bitter, obsessive, crazy monster out to wreak havoc on everyone around her, to punish the world because she didn't get her way.

While the world around me called her insane, I only called her my mother, and while they only saw her bitterness, I only saw her love and—once in a while—her intense pain.

I remember my mother's smile, the way she would hold me as we sat outside and rest her chin on top of my head, looking out at the world in our backyard, telling me that it was our safe place, that it belonged only to her and to me, and no one else could ever take that from us. I remember when she used to sing along to the radio as we folded towels or mated socks together.

For all that they say my mother was filled with hatred and bitterness, I remember mostly her love.

But I do remember her pain, as well.

I remember when I was four years old, the very first day that I ever laid eyes on him. My mother and I were walking through the grocery store, she was holding my hand, and she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. Her grip tightened almost painfully on my hand; I started to whine about it and I looked up at her to complain, but as soon as I saw her face, how pale she was, the broken look that I will never, as long as I live, be able to forget, I forgot about my hand.

I thought she might break, that's how fragile she looked in that moment. I saw the tears frozen in her eyes, refusing to spill over and ruin the horrible moment for her.

Even at the age of four, I knew it had to be something terrible that was responsible for changing my beautiful, strong, happy mother into that sad woman with a broken expression that was holding my hand. I looked ahead of us to see what she saw that had upset her so visibly, and all I saw was what appeared to be a family.

The woman, a much heavier woman than my mother, had brown hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head, and she was pushing the cart, smiling over at the man who was with her. The man was handsome, with long blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail, his blue eyes focused on my mother, his expression unreadable. There was a little boy with them, around my age with short blond hair, and he kept whining, "Mom, can we go now?"

The little boy's mother seemed to notice that the man was looking at my mom; she lost her smile, glancing quickly at my mother, then to me. She said something to the man, resting her hand on his shoulder—a gesture that should have looked tender, but I somehow thought it looked mean.

My mother jolted out of whatever trance she had been in, and she quickly said, "Come on," then we immediately left the store without whatever we had been there to get.

I sat in the backseat on the way home, not saying anything as my mother put on her sunglasses on a cloudy day, pretending not to notice the tears she kept wiping from her face as she drove.

When we got home she sent me to play with my toys and she sat down at the table with a notebook, something she did quite often, and started writing furiously, a tear sliding down her face now and then, only to get angrily dashed away.

It wasn't until that night that I realized the sound I sometimes heard in the middle of the night that gave me bad dreams was the sound of my mother crying.

I remember hearing it at night, my childish imagination concocting plenty of scary reasons for the sound, some that gave me nightmares, some that made me pull the covers up over my face and just try to go to sleep so morning would come and the monster would go away.

But it was no monster, it was my mother.

That night when I heard the noise, something made me decide to face my fear, to crawl out of bed and tiptoe out into the hall. When I stood just outside my mother's door, I could hear the noise coming from within. Being four, I didn't realize my mother was crying, I just thought the monster was in her room, and being afraid it might get her, I quietly opened the door to go save her. That was when I saw my mother on the bed, curled up on her side, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed.

I think that scared me more than a monster would have.

My mother never cried. She always told me that anybody who made us want to cry wasn't worth our tears. But there was my mother, crying her eyes out as she had done many nights before, as she would do many nights after.

I never got out of bed again. I knew what the sound was, and sometimes I would just lie there in my bed, staring up at the darkness, hearing her tears and wondering what had made my mommy so sad, wondering how I could fix it.

The writing my mother always did in her notebooks was journaling, and she saved every notebook, packing them away in boxes for me to find many years later. Since I didn’t get to know my mother for very long, I read them so many times I probably knew the stories her journal told as well as she did.

It was a good thing I enjoyed reading, since my own childhood was a bit lonely. It’s hard to blend in when you have a family history like mine.

As far as my existence is concerned, I only exist because of another child close to my age, the little boy from the grocery store, as it turns out.

The train wreck that was my mother’s love life began to veer off course when she got her first job working at the local Burger King.

She met a young man –two years older than her— named Alex Webber. Alex was something of a celebrity in the tri-county area, known for doing everything (and everyone). All of the locals knew him, or at least knew of him—everybody except my mother.

My grandmother told me that before she turned into the "train wreck" that she became, my mother was a quiet, introverted individual, and she favored reading books over talking to anyone in her peer group.

Apparently it was Alex Webber who changed all that. He took an interest in my mother, and although she was cautious and not at all sure that she liked him at all, even as a person, she ended up allowing his attentions. My grandmother says that they dated, and each time my mother went out with Alex she came home in a rage over something he had done, saying how she hated him and never wanted to lay eyes on him again, but come the next day she would always simply be over it.

I suppose you could say that my mother and Alex started dating, although I learned from her journals that he had a girlfriend –that he denied having—the whole time. According to him, he did finally break up with the girlfriend to be with my mother, but the night he told her was the night they stopped seeing each other, because my mother went to a concert with him and he tried to get a little too cozy with her, which she didn’t appreciate.

Two days later she found out from a mutual friend that he had a new girlfriend, and she stopped hearing from him. Apparently she moped around for exactly two days, then it was as if he never existed.

Everyone thought, judging by her first failed relationship, that my mother handled matters of the heart remarkably well.

Two months later she met Mike Noble.

In the beginning she was as sensible as she always was, and while she did like him, she had hardly lost her head over him—or her heart.

My mother had what she called her "six to eight week period," and it was apparently the crucial part of any relationship, the part where she would start to feel herself falling. For the first six or seven weeks my mother was completely herself, and Mike seemed to be the first guy that would actually be good for my mom.

Although he did have "the bad boy vibe" as my mother called it, and an ex-girlfriend that still gave him rides to and from work, Mike seemed great. He and my mom started to spend time together after work. Apparently he smoked pot, but my mother didn't, so she would just hang out with him while he did it. Even though, looking back, I can't see anything special about this man (although I'm probably biased, since I knew how the story was going to end before I knew how it began) at the very end of my mother's six to eight week period, she apparently decided he was very special.

She fell in love, and she fell hard.

It's true that hindsight is twenty-twenty; looking back now I can see that my mother should have been more careful, that she shouldn't have let herself fall for him so hard, she should have paid more attention to the red flags.

The red flags started popping up just before Christmas. My mother had taken Mike his presents and everything had been normal, he had been playful, flirty, had promised to take her out later that week so she could pick out a present for herself.

Over the course of that week, she called him several times but he never answered and never returned any messages she left for him.

At first, in her journaling, she was merely worried. She finally got to talk to him the night before Christmas Eve, because his brother answered and gave him the phone before Mike could tell him to say he wasn't home. They only talked for a minute, and in that minute she knew there was something very wrong. She asked him if he wanted to go somewhere with her, and he had blown her off as he had been blowing her off at work that week. He said he couldn't, that he was with "a bunch of people."

My mother was in love, but she wasn't completely stupid, and she knew in her heart he wasn't telling her the truth. So, armed with her instinct, she got in the car and drove by his house, and sure enough his ex-girlfriend's car was sitting in the driveway.

From there, her writing turned slightly frantic. I could always tell her moods by how the passages were written. When she was writing and she was upset, her writing was messy, sometimes written so furiously that she missed the bottom line of the paper altogether. She tried to reason that Sarah –the ex-girlfriend— was probably only there to give him his Christmas present because she wasn’t letting go gracefully. In fact, she was holding on for dear life, and since she had been with him for four years before they broke up she felt it was her right.

The amount of emotional torture that man put my mother through would be enough to make me hate him even if nothing else had ever happened.

Reading her journals, I've seen that he caused her more pain than anything, more tears than she would have ever permitted herself to cry if she wouldn't have been blinded by him. Even though she tried to ignore it, Sarah had never completely gone away, although prior to the Christmas catastrophe, the way my mother wrote it (I'll never know if it was true or just wishful thinking) Mike did seem to finally be making efforts to push Sarah out of the picture and move my mother into it.

On Christmas Eve he worked but she didn't, so she took a stocking filled with his favorite candies up to him, and when she came home she was terribly upset because she wrote that she could feel the difference in the way he hugged her and he wouldn't look her directly in the eye.

It was two days after Christmas that a mutual friend of theirs let on that she thought my mom should just find someone new to love. Since the friend seemed to know something she didn’t, my mom pushed and pried until her friend finally blurted, "Sarah's pregnant!"

There is a little bit of writing from that night, but it's mostly smeared with tears and written so frantically that it’s more or less illegible. But I don't have to be able to read it to feel the pain she felt. She wrote so hard and so desperately that there were holes where the pen pushed through the paper.

The next day she decided she had to go to Mike, let him tell her himself and ask him the question she feared the most: Were they back together?

I know from the entries she wrote prior to visiting Mike that my mother had every intention of backing off if they were back together, that although it would hurt her, she would do it. But something happened when she went to see him that night.

When she got home there were pages filled with rambling passages about how he had "broken her heart and stolen it at the same time," and she claimed that it was in those moments with him that she realized she couldn't walk away. She had even come right out and asked him, after he verified that he "guessed" they were back together, as if there was nothing he could do about it. She had asked him if he loved Sarah or if he was only with her now because of the baby. He assured her he was only with her because of the baby.

My mother saw hope here, thinking if he was only with her because of some feeling of duty, time would pass, the sense of shock would pass, and someday he would be hers again. She asked him that night if he wanted her to give up on him, and he had looked up at her and told her no, he didn't. So she held his hand, feeling empowered, and she promised not to let go, not to give up. Apparently they shared many tender moments that night, and she said she could feel how much he cared about her in the way he held her close, the way he curved his face into her neck and pressed his lips against her skin.

The months that followed would be pure hell for my mother, her only small moments of relief being a stolen kiss in the break room or a brief touching of hands as they passed each other.

Since Mike was technically back with Sarah, no one was allowed to know they still had feelings for each other, and I believe this is another one of the things that taints my mother's memory. Once he had her heart, it was hard for her to cover it up, while apparently he was much better at it. (I suspect that he was playing my mother to a certain degree, although she would have never been able to see that.) Other people could still see her adoration in the way she looked at him, while he would only show her affection or attention of any kind when they were alone.

Sarah would continue to pick him up and bring him to work, and my mother said that it hurt just to see her car. Even though she disdained Sarah for using pregnancy to hold on to a man who no longer wanted her, she couldn't help envying that at least Sarah could kiss him in front of people if she wanted to, and she wouldn't have to sneak a moment in the break room and risk getting caught.

The secrecy and the torment took a toll on my mother, and it was a mere month later when she journaled in very small handwriting –there are hardly any of her entries with this writing, but it means she's worse than upset, she's emotionally devastated—that she knew she couldn't take it anymore. She had tried to give him time, tried to let him realize on his own that he didn't have to be with Sarah, that he could still be there for his child, but she had to know that was what he wanted. She needed him to see it soon, because she didn't know how much more her heart could take.

In one of her entries she pleaded,"Can't he see that he's killing me? With every mention of her name with his, every word I hear about them at work, every time I see her drop him off ...it's killing me."

She wrote him a letter, pouring her heart and soul out to him, and she gave it to him before she left work one day.

Since she didn't work with him, she didn't get an immediate response, and finally he came in one Saturday night with his best friend, just to visit her like he used to before he and Sarah got back together. She tried to wait for him to say something to her, but he didn't.

Finally, she pulled him off to the side and asked him about it. "So, you read my letter?" she asked him.

"Letter?" he laughed a little. "Hon, it was a novel."

Her heart soared that he had called her "hon" again, but she tried not to look too eager. "Well, what did you think?"

She didn't write exactly what his response was, but I believe it was something along the lines of, "I don't know," because she was in disbelief. How could he not know, she wondered? She had poured her heart and soul into that letter, told him she was at the very end of her rope, that she didn't want to let go, but it was killing her to hold on the way she was, and he couldn't even give her a proper response?

In the midst of her lecture, however, he cut her off, saying, "I don't know, hon. Me and Sarah broke up today, she moved out... I don't know the specifics yet."

My mother wrote that he looked so happy to be sharing that news, and she was so elated that she nearly burst into tears.

Despite her self-control, he must have seen it in her face, because he adopted a playful look and shook his head, saying, "And what's this? I don't even get my damn hug?"

Of course she hugged him with all of her heart and didn't let go until she knew she could contain herself.

But her heart had wings that night.

After all the pain, all the tears, all the difficulty, all the patience, the man she loved was finally going to be all hers.

She was so happy that week that reading those entries in her journal makes my heart ache for her, even after all these years. Her heart was so full of hope, her dreams just a breath away from becoming reality, and she loved him so much. She went shopping for a new outfit that week, and decided to buy a matching bra and panties set, too, because even though she wouldn't admit it plainly, she was planning to finally make herself his in the only way that she wasn't already.

She stopped journaling for three days, and on the fourth day she wrote hysterically, most of it not even making sense, just desperate started sentences that went unfinished. She finally told herself to get it together, and she wrote that she had just gotten off the phone with Mike, that he was packing his things. His mother had kicked him out, and he claimed he didn't have anywhere else to go. She asked him with dread where he was moving. He responded lowly, "Sarah."

Her heart broke again.

Even though he initially claimed they were not back together, that it was just a living arrangement, she knew that with him under Sarah's roof, she would never see him. Sarah would get him back before long, and she would be right back where she was before, but worse, because she couldn't even go to his house to see him after Sarah went to work.

My mother did make one last, desperate stab to stop it; she asked him to move in with her. She said she would get a place, which she had been planning to do anyway, and they could live there together. He made up an excuse about not knowing if he had enough money for rent. She told him he didn't have to, that she could pay the rent on her check alone. My mother was willing to do anything that she had to do to be with Mike, go to any lengths. By that time, she had lost more than her heart to him; she had lost her entire soul to him.

It was then that Mike finally told her that it wasn't about the rent or having a place to live. He admitted that Sarah wouldn't let him see his child if he wasn't with her, and he told my mother that she couldn't ask him to choose between her and his own kid. Crushed once more, she could only stare at him, before finally saying, near tears, "I would never ask you to do that. You have to know me well enough by now to know that."

"I do," he replied, but went on to tell her that's exactly what it came down to. Sarah was making him choose between my mother or his child.

My mother was outraged, and she told him that Sarah couldn't do that, that they could reason with her, they could figure something out— if all else failed, they could fight her in court.

But Mike was certain that if he did that, the courts would rule in her favor and he would still never get to see his child. She wrote in her journal,"I wanted to push, I wanted to open his eyes and argue with him until he saw reason, and I wanted to tell him he was wrong, that wouldn't happen. But what if I'm wrong? What if I pushed and made him believe me, and he did lose his child? He would never forgive me, and I would never forgive myself."

She cried in front of him that day as she realized that it was truly over, that it was really goodbye, and he looked at her sadly, tenderly, and told her as he wiped away her tears with his thumb, "This is exactly what I didn't want to happen."

My mother was terribly depressed for a couple weeks after that; she claimed that she cried all the time, at the tiniest things, that she felt completely worn out, too tired even to get out of bed.

It was a month after their goodbye when Alex came back. During my mother's six to eight week period with Mike, apparently Alex moved in with his girlfriend two hours away where she was going to college, a fact she only added as an afterthought before she signed off and went to bed.

Alex was still with the girlfriend, but he called my mom the morning he got into town and told her he'd love to see her while he was there.

Just two days before Alex called she made a remark that she needed something to distract her, to make her forget about Mike, even if only for a little while. Alex was nothing if not a good distraction.

Alex decided to come up to her work that night and visit her, and when he got there she ran out and gave him a hug, like any old friend, although she noted,"He gave me that affectionate squeeze as he hugged me. Made me sad."

Mike was working that night, and he knew Alex because they had grown up going to school together and living just down the road from one another. He also knew from talk at work that she had been involved with him before she met Mike.

My mother wrote that she could see and feel the difference in Mike after Alex came to see her. She wrote that Mike made fun of her for ever dating Alex, and that he was mean to her for the rest of the night. Reading the following entries, he seemed to only get meaner as the entries progressed after that night.

Personally, I think he was jealous, but he had absolutely no right to be, especially not after all she put up with from him.

Anyway, I don't know what happened between my mom and Alex that night, because she seemed upset about it, ashamed, and even in her own private journal, she wouldn't state plainly what had happened. Apparently she was angry at the way Alex achieved whatever he had achieved. She wrote that he had manipulated her, played her in a way that he had never played her before. He pounced on her vulnerabilities, probing about Mike, asking questions that made her sad, feeding on that vulnerability, touching her, rubbing her shoulders, stroking her face. She tried to just ignore him, not rejecting him and making things awkward like they had been before, but not accepting, because she certainly wasn't going to sleep with him.

I kept telling myself, she wrote,I am not that jaded.

Whatever did happen between them that night, it helped her forget about Mike for approximately four days, and by the end of a week (Alex was gone again, since had had only been visiting) she was completely miserable again, with nothing to distract her and with Mike suddenly treating her by her own description, "like a whore."

Another month passed and my mom and Alex stayed in touch, not enthusiastically, but there was a phone call here and there. Then, one night, she received a phone call and he declared, "I think I'm kind of in love with you. Is that bad?"

"Well... you have a girlfriend," she responded.

To her annoyance, he told her he didn't see what that had to do with how he felt about her, but she didn’t argue about it.

One of the days Mike was being mean to her, she told him that he was a liar. He demanded to know how he was a liar, and she told him he had lied to her when he told her he had ever cared about her. I don't know what he said, but whatever it was she acknowledged that it bothered him when she suggested things like that, and she said after that remark she caught him flirting with her, maybe unintentionally, and she thought it was probably to reassure that he had cared about her, but she still wondered if he knew how cruel that was.

My mother wrote about much of their flirting, so I can understand easily how he would send her mixed signals. Even after he let her go, he would continue to flirt suggestively with her. She guessed at the time that he just didn't realize that it still bothered her, but I suspect that he was completely aware of what he was doing, and it was a boost to his ego—at my mother's expense.

Whatever else there wasn't, there was passion and desire between them, and I know that only made my mother's devotion deeper.

But passion and desire aren't always good, I've learned. Together they can bring bitterness and destruction, jealousy and betrayal, longing and obsession.

In the journal, I could see her love changing, not dying, but holding onto her with its death grip as it poisoned her heart. She began to acknowledge that she never should have trusted Mike, and she tried with all her heart to make herself stop loving him. It didn't work, but it was a valiant effort.

The night that decided everyone's future was a party at the house of someone from work. My mom got drunk that night for the first time in her life, and Mike was there. Once she was good and drunk, apparently, by her recollection, she went off in search of Mike, and while I don't know entirely what happened, I do know that apparently she chased after him and he ran away from her which confused and annoyed her. When she finally caught up to him she asked him, "Mike, why do you hate me?" She said he didn't respond at first, merely asked her in a mean, nasty tone, why she had to follow him around.

"Because I wanted to ask you why you hate me," she responded sensibly.

"Because you follow me around," he responded harshly.

My mom wrote that she could only stand there, not sure if the alcohol dulled the pain she had expected to feel or if it was just really anticlimactic, but she stood there thinking, "That's it?"

After that night, my mom was full of hurt and anger. If necessary, she reminded herself hourly that she hated him, that he only had to tell her he hated her once, and that he would never have to worry about her following him around again. Her love seeped over into regret, and she wrote about how she wished she would have never gone over to his house, never given him her number, never given him a second glance. She said that if she would have known how it would all end, she would've gone so far as to quit her job before he started working there if she had to, anything to just stop herself from ever meeting him.

As their baby boy's due date grew closer, my mother became more and more bitter.

Alex came back to visit again and my angry, cynical mother consented to go out with him again. Her mother told her she was stupid for going, that she was just asking for trouble, but my momwrote,"But I don't care. I'm going. They could be having their baby within the next week or two, and I need something to make me forget about that, even if only for a night. Alex is good at making me forget."

She journaled when she got back that night, and I gathered this time that she had slept with him, and apparently that wasn't even what pissed her off— it was that he had the nerve to tell her he loved her.

Apparently, unable to stop herself, she snapped that he didn't love her and he didn't need to lie to her, because that was just going to piss her off. Apparently he fed her a whole load of shit to try to charm her, so before she let him get what he wanted she said, "Let's get one thing straight, Alex. You don't love me and I don't love you, and that is the only reason this is about to happen."

I didn't understand that comment when she wrote it, and I doubt he did either, but my mother explained in the next entry what she meant.

She had loved Mike and he had shattered her heart. She decided she would rather sleep with Alex for the first time knowing that it meant nothing than to sleep with someone else thinking that it meant something, only to find out later that it didn't. She swore she would never let love blind her again, that from there on out she was going to live with her eyes wide open.

One day later, she put in her two week notice at Burger King, deciding that she needed to get away from Mike.

It was two days after she went out with Alex that Mike, having heard that she was leaving, decided to make peace with her out of nowhere. He said something about how she had been so mean to him lately and she had thrown back some remark that yeah, she was going to be mean to someone who told her he hated her. Baffled, he claimed he never said that. She told him he most certainly did. Mike said she had gotten on his nerves that night, but he didn't hate her, and he wouldn't say he did.

This seemed to depress her since she had already slept with Alex. She wrote in that tiny handwriting again that she felt like crying, that she felt cheated, that Mike could so easily make her doubt herself and her righteous indignation.

For two weeks she was miserable. As the end of her two week notice drew closer, I expected to see her leaving Burger King. Instead, I flipped a page and read, "I think I'm late."

As I read on, I realized that what I was reading was when she first found out she was pregnant with me.

For the first time since Mike had started screwing her over, I could see that she was getting excited. In the first entry she was freaked out. She was 19 years old, she had just quit her job, and now she might be pregnant with her ex's kid? And Alex, of all people. She seemed particularly annoyed that she would always have to think of him as the father of her child initially, but she reasoned it out and she decided it would be convenient that way.

Since she didn't love my father, she wouldn't have to worry about her feelings turning bitter. They could always be friends, and she would just raise me on her own with him making periodic visits.

Mike and Sarah had their kid in August, and she did write it down, but I noticed that she didn't seem to care quite as much because she had me to focus on. She decided to clean out her life and in doing so, she did have to remove Mike from it, so even though it scared her, she followed through with quitting her job. Before long, she had a new job as a waitress, and things were looking up.

From there she started planning our life together. She didn't factor men in at all, because she decided they were bad and she wanted nothing more to do with them. When she told Alex she was pregnant, he was pretty mad, but she yelled at him, telling him she hadn't asked him for anything, she was just letting him know. That seemed to ease his mind.

I believe I gave my mother something to live for. From the moment I was born, I became the center of her universe. Honestly, even though other people say they knew she was unhappy, I know I certainly didn't. She never appeared sad or bitter to me, in fact, I never really knew her pain until I found her journals. I got a glimpse that day at the grocery store, but usually she was loving and happy, everything a mother could be. I thought she was perfect.

I was only six years old when it happened.

I remember one minute I was sitting in my room playing with my dolls, then I heard a cry from the other room. My grandmother started screaming so incoherently that she scared me and I started to cry. She just screamed, calling for my grandpa and hyperventilating. I had no idea what was going on, but she finally started gasping, "My daughter! It's Jamie!" I knew my mother's name was Jamie, but I didn't know why a phone call from my mother would upset her so much.

But my mother wasn't on the phone.

According to the stories, my mother was driving down the road on her way home from work, and she noticed Sarah's car pulling out of the road that she and Mike lived on. Of course nobody can know exactly what happened, but what we do know is that my mom was driving down a road that had a posted speed limit of 45, a road she took every single day, so she was surely aware of the speed limit, and when she hit Sarah's car head on in the left lane, police say she had to have been doing at least 80 to 85 miles per hour.

My mother and Sarah were both killed in the accident—although it isn't referred to as an accident, of course, it's referred to as a murder. A murder-suicide, to be more precise.

When my mother died, I was given to my grandmother rather than my father since he really didn't want me anyway. He still came to town to visit his friends sometimes, and usually for his Christmas visit he would stop to see me and give me a coloring book or a cheap doll.

Unfortunately for him and for me, my grandmother died of a massive heart attack and my grandfather couldn’t take care of me on his own, so when I was 14 years old, Alex had no choice but to take me in.

I went from living in a modest two bedroom house with my mom, to a four bedroom family house with my grandparents, to a two bedroom trailer that always smelled of beer and cigarettes.

Alex never married, going from girlfriend to girlfriend, never without one, always cheating on the one he had.

I knew from pictures that he had been very handsome in his younger days, because my mom pasted photos in the backs of her journals and I used to love the one photo she had actually displayed of me, her and Alex when I was three-years-old at an ice cream stand when he came home to visit. In the picture he had me in his lap and an arm around my mom, a smile on everybody's face.

The family we could have had, if they hadn’t both been so screwed up.

Growing up, I realized that I had trouble making friends. I wasn't sure why at first because I didn't think I was a mean person, but for some reason people seemed to dislike me before they even met me. It wasn't until second grade when I overheard my name as I walked past the principal's office on the first day of school that I realized what the problem was.

"You cannot put Derek Noble in the same class as Nicole Harmon. Her mother killed his mother, Edward. You cannot expect those two children to sit in the same classroom. You have to change it," a teacher was saying.

Suddenly it made a little more sense why no one wanted to sit with me at lunch, or swing with me at recess.

I was the murderer's daughter, and nobody wanted to be associated with that.

Grades one through five were very lonely for me. All I ever did was homework, and when I was done with that, I would find what sanctuary I could in my room with a book, getting lost in someone else's life.

It wasn't until I turned 14 and moved in with Alex that I seemed to get another identity. Yes, I was still the mysterious Murderer's Daughter, but now that the kids were older they weren't afraid of me or my dead mother.

The kids in the trailer park weren't afraid of me, but I still didn’t make friends easily, and it was only boys that ever wanted to hang out with me. When the first one I had ever let in my room decided to try to shove his tongue down my throat, I immediately threw him out, locked my door, and went back to my books.

Of course, being an ass, the kid told all his little buddies that much more happened than what actually did, and they believed him. After that even if I would have wanted to, it wouldn't have been safe to hang out with the boys, because I had somehow developed a bad reputation in their corner of the world. I didn't care about their corner of the world, but still, an undeserved bad reputation was no picnic.

I fell off of everyone's radar until high school, somewhat intentionally, I have to admit.

By the time I reemerged as a freshman, nobody remembered what the stupid boys at the trailer park said, and anyone who had even looked at me funny after that got an icy glare that could have frozen the sun, so hopefully it would have had no merit even if they did.

The teachers had always been careful to keep me and Derek Noble apart, but come high school, they either forgot or decided they didn't care anymore.

Honestly, even though our lives—the lives of our parents— had been so entwined, I hadn't laid eyes on Derek Noble since that day in the grocery store when I was four years old. I knew nothing about him. I didn't know if he hated me along with the rest of the world, or if he even knew who I was.

I was so used to being separated from him that it came as a surprise when I walked into the lunch room and sat down at what appeared to be a non-descript table, and a pair of gorgeous, somehow familiar blue eyes looked up at me, eyebrows raised as if surprised.

I glanced at the kid, a boy with shoulder length golden hair, bright blue eyes and a strong, slanted jaw, but I simply gave him a funny look—because of the one he was giving me—and opened up my lunch bag.

"Wow," he said.

I didn't know if he was talking to me or not, but I glanced up anyway, my father's green eyes meeting his father's blue eyes. "Are you talking to me?" I asked.

"You've got balls, Harmon, I'll give you that," he stated, tilting his head to the side a little.

I honestly did not know who he was, but a feeling of discomfort settled in my stomach. "Excuse me?" I said.

He merely stared at me as if I was mentally challenged.

I cleared my throat. "Are you...?"

"Derek Noble," he verified with a nod.

"Oh," I said lamely, dropping my apple back into my bag. "I'm—”

"Nikki Harmon," he said for me. "I know. Your mom killed mine, but sure, let’s do lunch.”

Nobody ever called me Nikki but my mom, and I didn't feel like he had the right to call me that. He also didn’t seem inclined to make nice, so I decided it would be easier to get up and move to another table.

"Oh, you're too good to sit here now?" he asked when I stood.

My brow furrowed in confusion, and my lips pursed in annoyance. "You don't act like you want me to sit here. If you don't, I understand, I'm not in a big hurry to swap friendship bracelets with you either, but don't confuse me by acting like I've committed some atrocious act by getting up to move."

That amused his friends, who all kind of laughed into their hands or ate something to cover their smiles. Derek, however, just stared at me, again making me feel stupid.

I finally gave an annoyed huff and left the table, going off to find my own.

That was just the beginning of my trouble concerning Derek Noble.

I always attempted to avoid him at lunch, but Derek seemed to have inherited his father's belief that it was his duty in life to torment the Harmon women.

I kept to myself, always brought a book to lunch to read while I ate, and carefully navigated my way past him in the hallways. Still, he would find time to walk by my table and "accidentally" knock my book off my table or "accidentally" knock my books out of my arms as he passed me in the hallway, and at every opportunity he would give me a sarcastic little wave and say, "Hi, Nikki. Pick out my friendship bracelet yet?" or some similarly stupid comment.

Honestly, he annoyed the hell out of me.

One day in 10th grade we had to share a math class, and I wasn't particularly good at math, while he could apparently solve every problem with his eyes closed, so I got to class early and started studying my notes before the test.

When Derek entered the classroom he made sure he "fell" into my desk and grabbed a fistful of my notes, ripping them out of my binder and “accidentally” crumpling them up in his hands.

Seeing as I had spent many painful hours making those notes, and I was PMSing that day anyway, I snapped. I jumped up from my desk and grabbed his hand with the fistful of my notes and exclaimed just a little too loudly, "What the hell is your problem?"

The teacher looked up from his desk at hearing me, and he saw me grasping Derek's arm as Derek just looked at me in mild surprise. "Is there a problem, Miss Harmon?" the teacher asked sternly.

I was just about to release Derek's arm when Derek added, "Yeah, Nikki. You're not gonna kill me or anything, are you?"

My eyes narrowed and it took everything in my power to keep from punching him right in that smug, sarcastic mouth of his. "What, is asshole hereditary?" I asked him.

"I don't know," he shot back, "is psychotic whore hereditary?"

"Okay, that is quite enough," the teacher said, walking over to separate us.

It was a good thing he did, too, because I was about one second from saying school be damned and punching Derek in the face.

"Don't you ever insult my mother again," I said as the teacher came to stand between us.

"Oh," Derek said, putting his hand to his heart, "no, I would never want to insult the memory of your dear, beloved mother. It's not like she killed mine or anything."

"Okay, you two, go to the office," the math teacher said, not seeming to know what else to do with us.

We both stared at him at that point, wondering if he really wanted us to walk out into the hallway together, knowing we might not both return in one piece.

"Separately," he added, reading our thoughts. "Nicole, you go first."

That wasn't fair! "But Mr.—!"

"Go," he said firmly.

I saw Derek smirk at me behind the teacher, but I merely glared at him, collected my things, and stormed out of the classroom.

He didn't get any less hostile over the course of the school year, and even come junior year he would smirk at me when we passed each other in the halls. Honestly, I found it completely ridiculous that he had decided to hate me before he even met me.

After all, I had lost a mother, too.

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