Perfect Lie Page 1

Author: Teresa Mummert

Genres: New Adult , Romance

Prologue

I cried again tonight. I tried to hold back the tears, but they used that word. That sickening word that opens the floodgates of my emotions. Worthless. It wasn’t that I viewed my tears as a weakness; it was that I knew what they’d said was true. I was a nothing. No one looked forward to seeing me in the morning. No one laid his head on his pillow at night to dream of me. I existed by pure accident, and no one would let me forget how unwanted I was.

I woke with a thin layer of sweat covering my body as chills ran through me. Pushing the dyed‐ blond hair from my forehead, I struggled to slow my breathing. My eyes darted to my cell phone beside my bed as I contemplated calling Marie. My vision slowly adjusted to my dark, cramped bedroom. I wasn’t in Mississippi anymore. I was someone new in a new town. I wasn’t living that nightmare that plagued me every time I closed my eyes.

Sometimes love burns so hot in your veins that it consumes all rational thought. You become a walking shell that can no longer function without your significant other whispering into your soul, telling your heart to beat.

I sighed as I slid out of my single bed, my covers falling over the edge and pooling at my feet. The hardwood floor creaked and moaned as I tiptoed my way into the kitchen in my oversize anarchy T‐shirt that nearly swallowed me. I should have thrown it away after high school. Marie would have a fit if she knew I still hung on to it—to the memory of what could have been. But I couldn’t force myself to say good‐bye to Brock and not blame myself for the way things had fallen apart.

Chapter One

One Day at a Time

“Was that you I heard creeping around last night?” Trish asked, as she pulled open the fridge and scavenged for something to eat. Trish Wentworth, the epitome of everything I’d hated in high school. I stifled a yawn as I stretched my arms over my head and watched her sift through our nearly empty kitchen.

“I was getting a drink. It’s important to stay hydrated,” I replied dryly.

Trish’s head spun around, and her blue eyes narrowed as she tried to decide if I was being a smartass or finally listening to some of her beauty advice. Her bright‐blond hair whipped across her face as she moved. It shone like gold atop her porcelain skin, and I sank lower into my seat, knowing I should take her advice more seriously. Girls dreamed of looking half as beautiful as Trish, with her pixie‐like nose and high cheekbones. Disney couldn’t create a princess as beautiful. Of course none of them were raging alcoholics who loved to get high.

“Your skin is a little dry. Wouldn’t hurt for you to moisturize.” She shrugged as her head disappeared through the open door. I rolled my eyes as I fought the urge to kick her in the ass and send her face first into a leftover meat loaf.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I yawned again, this time moaning loudly.

“Beauty sleep isn’t just a phrase. It would do you some good.”

“Thanks again, Trish. You’re a fount of wisdom this morning.” I couldn’t hide my frustration after a night of nightmares.

“Whatever. I have class in an hour, but I’m skipping it to hit the gym. Wanna come?”

I snorted, my hand covering my mouth as soon as the sound escaped. “Last time I went to that god‐awful place, I fell off the treadmill, and you said I wasn’t allowed to go back.” I couldn’t help the laugh that followed. I hated the gym almost as much as I hated pretending to be perfect. It was exhausting. “I have a meeting today anyway.”

Trish eyed me for a moment but nodded as she left to go back down the hallway, a bottle of water in her hand. “Ugh. Who puts this much time into their future?” She shook her head as she disappeared into her room. I rolled my eyes, quietly mocking her as I picked at the polish that peeled from my thumbnail. I don’t know if Trish believed my blatant lie about the meetings, or if she genuinely didn’t care what I was up to every Friday morning.

I’d vaguely explained the meetings as being a group of college students who gathered to chat about how women were being treated in the work force. I groaned loudly as I stood from the table and stretched, my favorite shirt riding up over my belly button. I was outgrowing it, and the thought of it not fitting one day set off my anxiety. I tried to focus on the novel I’d been reading, trying to get lost in the world of the characters in my head as I made my way to my room to get dressed for the day.

I absent‐mindedly pulled on a worn pair of fitted jeans and a navy‐blue tank top. I gathered my hair in messy ponytail as I stared at myself in the mirror over my dresser. I had changed a lot over the last year, and I barely recognized myself. My hair, once a dull brown, was now vibrant blond. I had traded my dark eyeliner for rosy cheeks and a pale‐pink gloss on my lips. Still I was a plain Jane by anyone’s standards. Freckles dusted over my nose and across the apples of my cheeks. My lips were thinner than I would like, and my eyes were big and wide like a Kewpie doll’s.

I slid my feet into my matching blue sandals and grabbed my bag, an old army‐green tote with a strap that was long enough to wear across my body.

“I’m leaving,” I called out, but Trish didn’t respond as I shuffled to the door of our cramped apartment then pulled it closed behind me and locked it.

The warm air assaulted me as I stepped into the bright Orlando sun. I chose this state to go to college because it was far from Mississippi, and people who lived this close to the ocean were supposed to be happy. At least that’s what movies and television had led me to believe. It also happened to be where my uncle lived, even though I avoided him at all costs. He still had that look in his eye whenever he talked to me, and I couldn’t stand the pity. I regretted ever showing up on his doorstep and burdening him with my baggage. I just wanted to forget and move on.

Marie’s office was only a few blocks away, so I didn’t need to bother catching a bus. I enjoyed the walk. It was the only time I could really be alone, though I always felt I was, even in the most crowded rooms. It was hot, but there wasn’t as much humidity compared to back home, so it was still easy to breathe, not like a ton of bricks pressing against my chest as I inhaled.

I climbed the white iron staircase outside the small pale‐pink stucco building as my breathing quickened. I tried, as always, to talk myself out of going through with my appointment. The door popped open, and June stuck out her head from behind the door with a large smile.

“Planning your escape, Delilah?” She winked as she pushed the door open farther so I could slip in past her.

I smiled back as I stepped inside and closed my eyes. The temperature was a good fifteen degrees cooler than outside, and it felt incredible. I made my way to the three folding chairs along the wall, but June stopped me before I could sit down.

“She’s already waiting for you.”

Of course she was waiting. I had taken my sweet time walking over here and was now ten minutes late. I grabbed the handle to Marie’s office and shoved it open.

“You’re late,” she said with a playful smile as she brushed her shoulder‐length chestnut hair off her shoulder, revealing the birthmark that ran from her left ear and disappeared below the collar of her blouse. She used to cover it with makeup, but after a few sessions, she no longer tried to hide it, which made me feel more at ease. She trusted me with her secret, and I felt I could trust her with mine.

“You didn’t see that in your crystal ball?” I teased, and Marie shook her head, her cheeks blushing to the color of the mark.

“I told you about that psychic in confidence.” She gave me a hard look but was still smiling. “And she didn’t say I was a mind reader—although it would make my job a whole lot easier.” I closed the door behind me and made my way to the black leather chair across from her as she wrote something in the notebook that rested on her lap.

“Right. You like to sleep with dead people,” I replied, straight faced. I loved poking fun at her.

“Delilah! She said I was a necromancer in my past life. They talk to dead people.” She shook her head as she laughed from deep in her stomach, revealing the laugh lines around her mouth. “What you’re referring to is necrophilia and absolutely disgusting.”

“That makes me feel a little better.” I smirked as my eyes danced over the caricature of her that hung in a simple wood frame over a dusty fake palm plant. It wasn’t an over‐the‐top room, and it reminded me more of a small living room than an office. Marie added little personal touches all around. I suppose this was to make people feel more comfortable and at home, but it bordered on unprofessional. Still there was something about Marie, the way she tucked a leg under herself as she sat, as if we were old friends; the way she laughed inappropriately at my sarcastic humor instead of judging me.

“It was just in good fun anyway.” She waved her hand.

“Please don’t tell me you went to that crackerjack trying to find out when some guy was going to come sweep you off your feet.”

“Some of my colleagues thought it would be fun. That’s all. I don’t take any stock in what those psychics have to say.”

“Psychics? As in plural? How many have you seen? You’re never gonna get hitched if you’re hanging out in seedy palm readers’ basements.”

“What’s with your fascination with my love life?”

“It’d be nice if one of us was getting some action.” I let my shoulders fall as I looked at her. “Any guy would be lucky to have you.”

“Thanks.” She picked up her glass of water and took a sip. “But I just don’t think it’s in the cards.”

I picked at her playfully. “Marie, did you just make a joke? Was that a tarot‐card joke? I want to make sure. I’d hate to miss it.”

“All right. All right. Enough about my nonexistent love life. We’re here to chat about you.”

“I almost didn’t come,” I said, as I picked up chess piece from the small glass table between us and studied it.

Marie shrugged and glanced down at my hand, watching as I turned it over between my fingers. “I’m trying to learn how to play, but I haven’t been able to really get into it. Do you play?”

I shook my head and put the piece back on the board as I relaxed in my seat.

“You never played any games with Brock?” she asked casually, as she pulled a pack of mints from her pocket and popped one into her mouth. She held the container out to me, but I waved it away.

“Not really. Just a little at the shelter. How’s quitting going?” That was my lame attempt to change the subject.

“I haven’t had a cigarette in three days.”

“Congrats!” I was genuinely proud of her. My mother was a smoker, and no matter how hard she tried, she never could kick the habit. I think she viewed it as the world’s slowest suicide attempt.

“Tell me about the shelter.”

I sighed as I glanced at the large window along the back wall. Raindrops splattered against the glass, which was normal for this area. It seemed to rain every five minutes, but usually it just made the heat worse. My eyes focused on a small pink potted flower as I thought about Brock.

“I met Brock at the shelter.”

“Why were you there?” she asked, as her gaze followed mine to the window before settling back on me.

“I ran away. I just needed a break. Mom and I had been fighting as usual. She grounded me, which didn’t mean much. Our arguments were getting worse, and I needed to get away from her.”

“Where did you go? Did you have a plan?”

“No. It wasn’t like that. I didn’t really care where I ended up, as long as I was away from her—away from everyone.”

“You said before they found you more than an hour from home. How did you get so far away in one night?”

“I had the weird pervy guy down the street take me.” I laughed nervously, knowing how stupid that sounded. “Then the cops found me and told me my mother didn’t want me to come back home. She was afraid I’d run away again. So instead they took me to the shelter.”

Marie didn’t scold me; she only cocked her head to the side and shook it slightly. “Tell me about meeting Brock.”

I swallowed hard as I got lost in the memory of the boy who changed everything.

“Whatchya writin’?”

I glanced up to see a pair of gray eyes.

“A novel.” I covered my notebook with my free arm so the stranger couldn’t read anything I wrote.

He laughed as he shook his head. “You been inside one day, and you’re already writin’ your memoirs?” he joked with a thick Boston accent.

“No. I’m a writer—at least I wanted to be before I ended up in this place.” My eyes scanned his dark buzzed hair and haunting gray eyes.

“You don’t just end up in a place like this, sweetheart. You had to be a bad girl to get in here.”

“Would you believe I was innocent?” I tried to suppress my grin as I narrowed my eyes at him. He didn’t, and I caught a flash of his perfectly white teeth and the deep dimples that settled into his tanned cheeks. His jaw was strong and square, like a statue of a Roman gladiator. The only imperfection was a thin scar that cut across his right eyebrow, which only made me focus on his intense stare.

“Not a chance.”

My breathing caught as I was trapped under his gaze. He grabbed the chair in front of him and sat directly across from me. His shirt was pulled tautly across his chest, and I had the urge to reach out and run my hands over his muscles.

“This isn’t prison. It isn’t even juvie. It’s some dumb‐shit place for our parents to get rid of us for a while and not feel like they’re the bad guys. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

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