Unforgivable is a new adult, standalone novel about mistakes, acceptance and forgiveness.  It is NOTHING like my other books, as Anna and Wesley first meet when they are 12 and 14 years old. It’s a slow burn full of angst. I hope you’ll give Anna and Wesley a chance to steal your heart.  Here’s the first chapter – enjoy!!

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Chapter 1: Hi, I’m Anna

Fourteen Years Ago

January

Wesley—Fourteen Years Old

“Did you see his pants?” the tallest boy in the group asks.

The girl across from him glances my way and snorts in disgust. “I know. They’re so dirty, they smell.”

“And what about his jacket?” another boy chimes in.

“What jacket?”

“Exactly. What a piece of trash. I saw him get in line for lunch vouchers. His family’s so poor, they can’t afford to buy new clothes, let alone wash them.”

The group of kids laughs like this is hysterical. The joke’s on them because I don’t have a family.

My jaw clenches, and I kick a rock on the blacktop, stubbing my toe in the process. I shoot them all dirty looks, letting them know I can hear them.

It’s my first day at this stupid school. My first week with the fourth foster family this year.

I hate this school, and I hate this family. They won’t stick. None of them do. They just want me for a paycheck, like the rest of them. I’m sure there are some good foster families in Columbus, Ohio. I just haven’t met any yet.

“I bet he only owns one pair of shoes.”

More snickering and laughter from the kids who have everything.

They’re right. I have only one pair of shoes. With holes in them.

I kick another rock in my path a bit too forcefully, and it skids across the pavement to land right in the middle of the group of kids talking about me. The small clatter of the rock is just enough to quiet the snickering and refocus their attention on me.

The biggest, loudest boy with the most obnoxious jacket meets my eyes.

“What the fuck was that?” he asks me, condescension dripping off his words.

Here we go.

“What the fuck was what? All I heard was you running your big mouth.”

The girls gape at me, eyes bouncing from me to the three boys in their group. By silent agreement, the girls step away from the boys, looking at each other like they can’t believe my audacity to talk back to their leader.

Fuck him.

The leader approaches me, all cocky and arrogant. If he were a peacock, he’d spread his feathers and prance around. “Are you talking to me?”

My muscles coil, ready for the fight that’s about to go down. There’s no escaping it. I don’t even want to escape it. I welcome it. Because then, at least I’ll have a target for my anger.

I didn’t ask for this life.

I could have just as easily been born into this douche bag’s life with his warm winter jacket, his full refrigerator, and his comfortable, safe bed. Instead, I have a hoodie sweatshirt with enough holes in it that the frigid winter air blows right through. The refrigerator at the Andersons’ house has labels on everything, giving me enough food for exactly one meal a day. All of my belongings fit into my backpack, which I keep with me at all times, just in case I need to run away from someone trying to steal something from me.

This stupid asshole has no idea what the word struggle means.

But, if I punch him in his pretty face, maybe he’ll struggle just a little bit.

We step closer together, both of us posturing. He’s taller and wider than me. Of course he is; he’s better fed.

But I’m angry. That gives me more than enough fuel to win fights.

“Hey!” a shout interrupts us.

I look to my side to see a pretty girl staring at us with wide brown eyes. She’s shooting daggers at my opponent, but she flicks curious glances at me.

“Butt out, Anna. This is none of your business,” the douche bag says while staring me down.

“Why do you have to be such an asshole, Graham?” she retorts.

Graham. Figures he’d be named after a cracker.

“Why do you have to be such a pest, Anna? Get the fuck out of here.” He shoos at her like she’s a bug.

“No way. This is not happening. It’s three against one. I’m not letting you do this.” She marches up to us and stands right next to me.

He laughs, and the two goons behind him join in.

This girl is feisty. She’s almost as tall as I am, but I can tell she’s younger than us. This school has sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, so I’m guessing she’s in sixth grade. I can’t believe how brave she is to come to my defense.

Anna.

I slightly cock my head to the side, keeping my eyes on Graham Cracker. “Thanks for this, but I really don’t want you to get hurt on my account. I got these three stooges.”

She laughs. “They really are stooges.”

“Oh, really funny, you piece of shit. How can you even stand the smell of yourself?”

My blood pressure rises, and I can feel it happening. My anger takes over, and I know I’m about to snap. I take deep breaths, trying to keep my cool just a bit longer, so I can get this girl out of here.

“Anna, I need you to walk away.” My voice is calm and quiet, hiding the rage I feel inside.

“Yeah, Anna Banana, you might catch fleas, standing so close to garbage.”

And that’s all it takes.

Anna must sense the snap in my control because she moves away just as my fist connects with his nose. I feel the satisfying crunch under my knuckles before fists start to connect with my body. It’s three against one, as Anna so helpfully pointed out, but I don’t go down easily. I land solid punches, but then someone’s fist collides with my nose, and I know it’s broken as soon as it happens. I fall back, my head thudding against the pavement, and press my hands to my face to stop the blood from gushing all over the place. I close my eyes, resigned to taking more of their kicks and punches, when I hear a deep voice cut through the chaos.

“Hey! Get your hands off him!”

I open my eyes, but it’s hard to see anything with the Three Stooges still beating the shit out of me.

“Fuck, it’s John,” one of them mutters, and the fists stop landing.

“What are you guys doing?” John asks.

“What does it look like, Bellamy?” Graham spits at him.

“I see your little sister had to come and get you. You should tell her not to stick her nose in other people’s business. It might get her into trouble someday,” one of the goons says.

“Are you threatening my sister?” John’s voice is deeper than all of ours, sounding like a man among us eighth graders.

He steps in front of me, as if guarding me. My face and nose are throbbing, but I’ve lived through worse.

“Just stating a fact.”

“Well, here’s another fact. You’re so weak, you have to tip the odds in your favor by fighting with Tweedledee and Tweedledum here. Looks like you cheat every chance you get. Tests and fights. He would have handed you your ass in a one-on-one fight. But you can’t have that, can you?”

I’m waiting for the trio to attack John, but they don’t. Before Graham can muster a response, the bell rings, indicating the end of recess.

“Fuck you, Bellamy,” Graham grumbles as he and his friends walk away.

I’m still sitting on the pavement, pinching my nose, when John turns around. Anna isn’t that far away, and once she sees the coast is clear, she steps next to her brother. They look so much alike, both tall with dark brown hair and chocolate-brown eyes. They peer down at me, but their gaze isn’t full of disgust or mockery, like the other kids I’ve met so far today. Instead, I see kindness. It’s so foreign, I almost don’t remember the last time someone looked at me this way.

“Hey, I’m John.” His tall form bends to offer me a hand.

My hands are bloody, so I hold them up to show him what a mess I am.

“Those assholes!” Anna stomps her foot and clenches her fists in anger. She all but growls.

Is she mad because they hit me?

No one has ever given a shit about my fights before, and if they did, it was the parents of the idiots I’d beaten up, trying to get me in trouble. No one cares that I only lash out at people who make my life hell by making fun of my misfortune.

“Easy there, tiger.” John pulls his sister to his side as I clumsily stand up.

The three of us are the last kids on the playground. I debate on going back inside to finish the afternoon or walking to the locker room, washing my face and clothes off as best I can, and cutting the rest of my classes for the day.

“What’s your name?” Anna asks me.

“Wesley.”

“Nice to meet you, Wesley,” John says warmly.

I nod warily. “You didn’t need to help me.”

“Of course we did,” Anna protests.

“Why?”

“Because…” Anna trails off.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” John adds.

“Because I’m trailer trash? Did you need to do your good deed for the day? Consider it done,” I bark, not understanding why they’re being so nice to me. I’m poor, and I smell. Not to mention, I’m battered, bruised, and bleeding.

John holds my gaze. “Believe it or not, not everyone is as judgmental as those assholes.”

“Not in my experience.”

“Well then, there’s a first time for everything. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. I have a spare shirt in my locker. If we rush, we’ll only miss one class and make it to the next one.” He starts walking toward the building without looking back, assuming I’m going to follow.

But Anna stays put. When I meet her eyes, they widen. Then, she smiles and stretches her hand out to me in offering.

“Hi, I’m Anna. Want to come over after school for cookies? My mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies ever.”

I stare at her hand in confusion. “You want me to come over?” Most people want to get as far away from me as possible.

“Well, yeah.”

“Why?”

“Why not? Don’t you like cookies?” She drops her hand, her hopeful expression turning crestfallen.

I immediately miss her smile.

“I haven’t had cookies in a while.”

She beams at me. “Do you have to check in with your parents?”

“No, I live with a foster family. They won’t care.”

“Won’t they care about your nose? It looks like you might need to see a doctor.”

“I doubt it.”

“My mom is great at patching us up. I’m sure she’ll be able to help.”

“That’s okay. I’m fine.”

“You guys coming?” John shouts.

“We’d better go. I’ll meet you by this door after school, okay?”

“Okay.”

* * *

Anna—Twelve Years Old

“Please, Mom. Please. He really needs a friend and someone to take care of him. Can’t you see?”

I ran ahead of Wesley and John to make sure Mom doesn’t say or do anything to make Wesley feel bad. He’s already had enough of that all day, and I’m determined to cheer him up.

I lean against her open window and plead my case.

“He looks filthy, Anna. You can’t just invite strangers over. What if he’s dangerous? He looks like he’s been in a fight.” She warily eyes Wesley.

“It was his first day here, and Graham and his loser friends were picking on him during recess. They got into a fight, three against one. Everyone has been making fun of him all day, and you always tell me I should show kindness when no one else will. He says he lives with a foster family and that he hasn’t had cookies in a long time. We need to show him kindness. Please, Mom. Don’t you always say to judge people based off their character and not their looks?” I talk as fast as I can to convince her before the boys can hear me, giving her my best puppy-dog eyes.

She stares down at me with her worried mom face, eyebrows pinched and forehead wrinkled, and I continue to beg with my eyes as the boys get closer and closer. She glances up again, studying Wesley, and I can see the moment she changes her mind. Her features smooth out, and she nods at me with a small smile.

“Okay, honey. Let’s show him some kindness. But don’t make it too obvious. I have a feeling he wouldn’t like that.”

I smile in triumph. “My thoughts exactly.”

She gets out of the car to greet the boys.

“Hey, Mom. This is Wesley,” John juts his chin toward Wesley.

Wesley looks ready to bolt, eyes darting all around, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

“Hi, Wesley,” Mom says, holding out her hand.

Wesley shakes it, briefly meeting her eyes. “Hi,” he mumbles.

Before there’s a chance for any awkwardness, she opens her car door. “I hope you like lasagna and chocolate chip cookies because that’s what we need to rescue from the oven.”

I take the passenger seat, and the boys slide into the back. Once we’re on the road, Mom starts firing her normal after-school questions at us.

“So, how was your day?” she asks no one in particular.

Since the boys are looking out the window, I start, reporting pretty much everything that happened to me today—from the A I got on my math test to the project coming up in English class, leaving out the part about getting in the middle of Graham and Wesley before the fight broke out.

“What about you guys?” She looks at John and Wesley in the backseat through the rearview mirror.

My brother grunts—his typical response these days. Mom says that’s a sign of being a teenage boy, but I think it’s stupid. We’ve always been super close, and I don’t want that to change just because he’s growing up. He’s only two years older than me, for crissakes.

Mom tries to hold back her smile. “Really? That good, huh?”

“It was all right. Except for Graham. He and his crew are always causing trouble. I hate him.” John scowls and looks out the window.

Mom sighs. “I’m sorry you have to deal with him. He’s been a thorn in your side since kindergarten. But jerks are everywhere. There’s no escaping them in the real world.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes, it sure does. What about you, Wesley? From the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like you had a great first day.” She nods at his reflection, indicating his busted nose and bruised face.

Since I’m in the passenger seat, I look at the side-view mirror and find that I can see him in the backseat.

He raises his hand to his face, as if embarrassed that my mom is seeing him like this, and shrugs. “I guess not,” he mutters.

“Do you have to call home and let your parents know you’re coming over?”

“No.”

We’ve reached our driveway, and I’m still watching Wesley when he gets his first look at our house. His eyes widen, mouth falling open as he gawks. I look at the house, trying to imagine what he sees. To me, it’s just…home. I guess it’s big. It’s three stories high with a large, fenced-in yard and a U-shaped driveway. We have a pool in the backyard, too, which is covered right now for the winter, and a pool house right next to it. I love my house, but I’ve never stopped to think how lucky I am to have it.

“Here we are. Don’t go running off. I need your help in the kitchen. You can show Wesley around later, okay?” she warns John, who usually escapes to his room the first chance he gets.

From the attached garage, we all make our way into the house. In the mudroom, there’s a wall with hooks and shelves where John and I put our jackets, book bags, and shoes, and we quickly put everything away. Wesley stands awkwardly, holding on to his book bag and staring down at his shoes.

“Here’s an extra hook where you can hang up your stuff, right next to mine.” I smile at him, pointing to the free space. “And you can put your shoes right here.” I kick the shelves on the floor that house our shoes.

For some reason, he seems reluctant to let go of his bag or take off his shoes, and he eyes the door to the garage, almost as if ready to run away. His eyes meet mine, and I notice how beautiful they are—a color that’s not quite blue but not quite gray, like a storm cloud. I smile and nod, trying to convince him that it’s okay.

“Anna, Wesley, you hungry?” Mom hollers from the kitchen.

“Coming!” I shout. “Let’s go eat!” I start toward the kitchen and motion for Wesley to follow me.

I hold my breath, afraid he just might decide to leave. But I hear him stack his shoes on the shelf and hang up his book bag. Then, his footsteps follow me.

I smell the chocolate chip cookies before I see them, and my stomach grumbles. John laughs at the sound, and I cover my stomach, embarrassed by the noise. Mom puts the cookies on a cooling rack as we take a seat at the stools around the kitchen island.

“Who wants milk?” she asks.

“I’ll get it,” I offer, hopping off the barstool to collect three tall glasses and fill them up.

I slide one in front of each spot. Just as I’m about to put the milk back in the fridge, I see that Wesley’s practically finished with his. I turn back and pour him another.

“Thank you.” He blushes, and I wonder if he’s embarrassed for some reason.

“So, who do you have for history class?” John asks him.

The boys run down which teachers they have for each class, discovering that they have five classes together. I get four plates and put a giant cookie, still warm and gooey from the oven, on everyone’s plate. Mom gets one, too. She likes to sit with us after school and catch up.

Wesley picks it up and takes a huge bite, gasping in surprise and spitting it out almost immediately. “Ow!” He grabs his glass and takes a sip of the cold milk to soothe the burn from the hot cookie.

“Careful. I just took them out of the oven,” Mom warns a bit late. “In fact, why don’t I take a look at your nose while we wait for the cookies to cool down?”

“You don’t have to do that. It’s fine,” he says.

“Nonsense. It looks pretty swollen.” She peers at it, holding up his chin to turn his face from side to side. “It’s probably broken. Maybe your parents should take you to the doctor.”

He sighs. “The Andersons…they’re my foster parents. I don’t have…” He trails off, looking at the floor. He rubs the back of his neck, avoiding eye contact.

“Well, it doesn’t look too out of place. I don’t think a doctor would do much other than tell you to put ice on it and give you some ibuprofen, and we can do that here just as easily. Why don’t we clean some of that blood out of your nose?”

“You don’t have to bother. It’ll be fine,” he repeats stubbornly.

“Come on, Wesley. I’m a mom. It would make me feel so much better if you let me help. I’m really good at nagging until I get my way.”

John and I chuckle.

“She is. You might as well give in and let her help,” John tells him

He stares up at her, and she gives him a kind smile. He sighs heavily, then gives the smallest nod.

“Anna, honey, can you get a bag of peas out of the freezer? John, can you get some Q-tips from the bathroom?”

I dig through the freezer to find the peas while Mom fusses over Wesley’s face, wetting the Q-tips John got for her and getting all the dried blood out of Wesley’s nose. He tries to act normal, but I can tell he doesn’t like being the center of attention. I bring the peas over and drop them on the counter next to my mom. As I turn to go back to my cookies, I notice his feet—or rather, the feet covered in socks that have so many holes in them. I’m not sure how they’re still attached. I look to my own feet. The wool socks covering my skin keeps my toes nice and warm in the winter. I think I’ve complained about these socks to my mom before, about how they’re thick and ugly. I’m never going to complain about them again.

“This shirt looks familiar,” Mom observes.

“His shirt got blood all over it, so I gave him my spare,” John explains.

Wesley flushes. “I-I can give it back right now. I wasn’t going to keep it.”

“No worries. Why don’t you take a nice hot shower? Then, John can give you some spare clothes to change into while I throw your things in the laundry. I was already going to put a load in, and we need to treat your shirt, so the blood doesn’t stain it.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I insist. If you have anything else in your book bag that needs to be washed, we can throw that in, too. Now, scoot. We’ll save the frozen peas for after your shower. Go with John. You can shower in his room.”

“Come on. I have a bunch of clothes that don’t fit me anymore, but I think they’ll be just right for you.” John heads for the steps, assuming Wesley is going to follow him.

Wesley looks at me and my mom, hesitating for a beat. “Thank you,” he says quietly, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows.

“It’s nothing, honey,” Mom says.

His serious blue-gray eyes meet hers. “Not to me it isn’t.” At that, he slips off the barstool and follows John.

Mom looks at me, her eyes glassy, nose turning pink, like it does when she cries. “I think you’re right. He could use some friends and some kindness.”

I beam at her. “I’m going to be his new best friend.”

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