Chaos. Absolute chaos. Rain slams against the wooden deck of the ship as the crew rushes to get to their posts, slamming into each other in the process. Thunder crashes above and lightning shoots from the sky, breaking through the thick darkness of the night, offering Elizabeth just a moment to see him across the deck. She hikes the skirts of her gown as high as she can and hurries toward him.
He turns and spots her. There is a look in his eyes that makes her blood run cold with a fear she has never known. Her throat runs dry and almost stops in her approach, not wanting to know why he is looking at her like that. She refuses to believe what he is trying to tell her with his gaze.
She shoves through the panicked crowd of men until she reaches him. “Where is he?” she demands.
He drops his eyes to the ground, scratching at his head sorrowfully. “I don’t know,” he says softly.
Her heart drops to her feet and she can hardly breathe. “How can you not know? Were you not with him?”
“Then where the bloody hell is he, Nathan?”
He doesn’t answer her, choosing to give her that look again instead.
She shakes her head, unbelieving. “I have to find him.”
He grabs her arm as she turns to go. “No, you can’t—“
“I have to find him!”
For a moment, Elizabeth can’t understand what’s happened. Thunder claps and every single man on that ship goes silent as they stare at the edge of the vessel. Elizabeth watches as the figure of the man she has been searching for staggers onto the ship.
It hadn’t been a thunder clap. It had been a gunshot.
Carter stumbles, clutching at his stomach, blood spilling out. He struggles to raise his head, his eyes easily finding hers across the expanse of the deck, a wealth of meaning in them a split second before they roll back in his head.
“No,” she breathes as he collapses. She runs for him, ignoring the way her corset digs into her skin or the way none of his crew move even a muscle.
She drops to her knees beside him, cradling his face in her hands. “No, no, no, no—Carter? Can you hear me?”
She cries, terrible, painful sobs as she looks into his blank, unseeing eyes. Carter, the only man who could pull her back from the edge, the only man she has ever loved, is—
I snapped the book shut and practically threw it across the room where it landed on a round library table. What! He was dead? Really, truly dead? But he was the male lead! How do you kill the lead? I leaned forward and rested my head in my hands, sighing. These books were going to be the death of me.
Out of all the authors I had read, I was sure Sarah Morales wouldn’t kill off any lead characters. She had written my absolute favorite books for the past seven years. The release of the final book in the Pirates series had been record breaking, every bookstore nearly selling out of the novels in the first day.
And in the last book, she killed Carter.
I went to the table the book had landed on, picking it up and scanning over that last page again as if by sheer will I could change the words. But all I accomplished was a deeper depression and an embarrassing tear that trailed down my cheek.
“Freak,” a girl muttered as she passed me. Giggles followed from the rest of her squad.
I blushed, fidgeting in the plastic library chair and keeping my eyes downcast.
But I felt them watching me through the bookshelves, their eyes like hot pokers stabbing my skin, burning their cruel words into my flesh.
I let my long brown hair curtain my face from their view; it couldn’t block out the sound of their voices.
“She’s so weird.”
“Is she crying?”
“You think she just realized the only person willing to have lunch with her is the librarian?” More giggles.
“And the only reason the librarian’s still here is because she gets paid.”
“I bet even she wishes she could ditch the freak.”
Their voices trailed off as they walked away. When I heard the door close behind them, I let out a breath. My face was on fire and my stomach rolled nauseously. None of that was ever said to my face, always cowardly whispered when they thought I couldn’t hear. Or maybe they hoped I could. Either way, it made my life at Washington High School miserable. I had already been called at least fifteen different names and had my clothes insulted about ten times, and the day wasn’t even over yet.
It was no wonder I felt so close to books. They didn’t care how I looked or what I wore. They simply allowed me to exist somewhere else, where everything ended happily. Well, except in the last book, apparently.
As the bell for my final class rang, I slung my backpack over my shoulder and hurried out the door, eager for this day to be over.
When I got home, a note from my mother sat on the counter.
Gone out with Blake. Be back late. Dinner in freezer.
I sighed as I chucked the frozen dinner in the microwave. Whether it was her job at the hospital or her new boyfriend, Mom always found a way to stay away from the house.
Away from me.
It was how she coped, she’d told me once. After all, after Dad had died, how could I expect her to be here, where so much reminded her of him? Where I reminded her of him?
Four years. Four years I had been completely and totally alone in this house. What was one more night?
The microwave beeped. I shook my head and pulled the dinner out.
Loneliness always hit me the hardest when I was lying under my covers at night, when all was quiet in the house, when I could hear the absence of my mother’s snoring in the next room, when I realized it was only nine o’clock and I was already in bed. And when the loneliness hit, when the isolation became too much, there were only two options: I could cry myself to sleep—which I had done too many times to count—or I could crack open Pirates and allow my only companions to cheer me up.
Last night, I’d read the epic sword fighting scene, but, tonight, I flipped a few pages further to where Elizabeth meets Carter for the first time. It always amazed me how brave Elizabeth was when faced with the fearful pirate. Carter was by no means the warm and fuzzy type, but somehow the sheltered, proper noblewoman found the strength not to cry or cower. She was strong.
I sighed and snuggled deeper into my covers. I wished I could be like Elizabeth. I wished I could go right up to those snickering girls and give them a piece of my mind. I wished I could find the courage to make my mother talk to me, to get her to ask just once if I was okay. But I knew that no matter how badly I wanted to change my situation, there would always be some sort of invisible duct tape sealing my mouth shut.
The words began to blur together on the pages as my lids drifted shut.
Tomorrow, my companions promised me. Tomorrow will be better.