Hannah Alexander
Heart beat
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Second Opinion Excerpt pg 1


Chapter 1

Gina Drake awoke with a violence so frightening that she cried out. The voice she heard was that of a stranger, and she winced at the sudden onslaught of light from a window that looked ragged around the edges. Sudden tears blurred her vision. The sound of her pitiful gasps punctuated the roar in her ears, and she leaped to her feet in a panic. She was lost.

Past the unfocused edges of furniture, she saw a door and stumbled toward it ... had to get out of this place ... had to get to air. She was suffocating, couldn’t get enough oxygen, couldn’t fight her way past the attack of piercing light.

A garbled cry, soft and plaintive, reached her through the haze and the pounding of her heartbeat and checked her escape for just a moment. But she couldn’t see past the tearing in her eyes. The cry didn’t come again before the threatening roar returned to envelop her in terror. She grabbed the doorknob and forced her way outside. Had to find her children. Had to protect them! She tripped and nearly fell, and that strange, soft cry reached her once more, this time from behind. She turned and saw nothing except blurred shapes and gray splotches. She had to escape! There was danger here! She ran, and kept on running.

* * *

Evan Webster stared at his father across the dinner table, thinking about the pills. Shouldn’t he be feeling better by now? He glanced at the large clock on the wall. Twenty minutes, and nothing had changed. Kent had told him the pills would give him more energy, make him feel more alive, be more coordinated. Ha! Coordinated. That would be an improvement.

A sudden hard thump of his heart startled him, and he caught his breath.

“Evan?” Dad said. “Are you okay?”

Evan nodded. Maybe the pills were working. He took a deep breath and once again felt the thumping pressure of his heartbeat pound through his system. He even felt the jolt of its force for a couple of seconds.

“How’s the goulash?” Dad’s voice came in sharp spurts of sound, lashing across the table like bullets.

Evan blinked. Weird. “Good, Dad.” He straightened in his chair and forced himself to eat, trying hard to concentrate on what he was doing. Dad didn’t need to know about the stuff that was going on right now.

“You’re not eating much,” Dad said.

Evan took a bite and chewed automatically. He usually loved Dad’s special family recipe, and Dad knew it. He cooked it almost every visitation weekend. Tonight, though, it tasted like dirt. So did the homemade rolls and the butter, even the milk.

Norville Webster laid his fork at the side of his plate, picked up his napkin, and patted around his mouth in his precise way, then swallowed and cleared his throat. “So, how’s life treating you these days, Evan? Is it good to be out of school for the summer?”

Evan shook his head. “Not really. I like school.” He wouldn’t admit that to a lot of people, but Dad expected it.

Evan missed his friends already, even though he’d only been out of classes for two days. He looked forward to seeing them tonight, though. He glanced at the clock. Ten minutes before he had to leave for the theater, and he hadn’t broken the news yet. He reached for his milk glass, and his arm jerked involuntarily. He nearly knocked over the glass, and his hand continued to jerk. He placed it in his lap, hoping Dad wouldn’t notice.

“Did you get a summer job down at the mill?”

“Unh-uh.” Evan swallowed. “I told you, Dad, they won’t hire me until I’m sixteen.” Five months before he could get a driver’s license. Five whole months. How was he going to last that long? Every one of his friends had a license.

“The school grades were okay, then? Your mother didn’t send me a copy of them this semester.” Dad was just staring at the table. His voice had that casual tone he used when he wanted to disguise his disapproval of his ex-wife.

An alien rush of anger caught Evan unaware. “Why didn’t you complain to her about it?” he snapped. “You could have called her, you know. You don’t have to use me as your messenger—” His voice skidded to a stop as Dad blinked at him in shocked surprise.

It surprised Evan, too. He seldom got mad at his father, and when he did, he never said anything about it. What is happening to me? Evan grimaced. He knew how his dad would react to that outburst.

“I’m sorry,” Dad said. Some of the color drained from his face. “You’re right.”

“Oh no, hey, Dad, listen, I didn’t mean—”

Dad held his hand up. “I know better, I just forget sometimes. I guess the grades were as good as always.”

Evan slumped in his seat, feeling worse than ever. He knew Dad was bitter because Mom had won custody. And Mom would rather be with her stupid boyfriend than with her own son. Why did she fight so hard for custody when she didn’t want it? She was the one who’d wanted the divorce in the first place, not Dad.

It was getting easier and easier to hate life.


“Yeah?” Evan looked up again to find those serious eyes studying him a little too closely.

“Is everything okay? The grades were as good as always?”

“Oh, sorry. I meant to tell you—I’m on the honor roll again. And I got this award in English. My teacher says I should think about being a writer.” His heart thumped loudly a couple more times, and he flexed his neck muscles to push away some of the tension that made him want to squirm in his chair. “They want me to help on the school paper next year.”

Some of the lines of terminal sadness lifted from Dad’s expression for a few seconds, and his pale lips raised in the closest thing to a smile Evan had seen tonight. “That’s great. I’m proud of you.”

Evan hunched his shoulders forward, then he straightened and leaned closer to the table. At least he was good for something. He stared at his skinny arms and hands. He’d never been good in sports, and everything at school seemed to revolve around football or basketball or something else that demanded coordination. The jocks didn’t need anything between their ears to be popular; they just needed the right moves. Evan didn’t have those.

“Evan? Are you okay?”

“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine.”

“I said I’m proud of you. I always have been.”

“Thanks, Dad.” The good thing was, Dad meant what he said. He always meant what he said. Not like Mom, who’d promised to come to the debate last month, then canceled at the last minute because her boyfriend had come into town unexpectedly. Dad had been there, though. And he’d made it embarrassingly obvious to everyone in the audience who his son was and how proud he was of him. Dad had never been the kind of guy to hide his feelings about anything.

Evan figured that’s why this divorce thing had been so hard on Dad—Dad blamed Mom for the breakup, and Evan could tell Dad had to work hard not to say bad things about her to him. Too much pain hovered in this house. Dad was like a black hole. He didn’t know how to have fun, didn’t know how to laugh, and he took everything way too seriously. Evan never told him anything important anymore. And Mom wasn’t just impatient, she was spastic—always nagging him to pick up his things and do his laundry and put the toilet seat—


Second Opinion Excerpt pg 1