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Carmen always had a wild streak about her while growing up
in this small town. Everyone use to say her only saving grace in this world was
her best friend Walker who tried to keep the flighty girl grounded. But life
was too big for her to live in this one stop light kind of town; she had dreams
and wants that could take her anywhere but staying there. Anything was better
than being stuck in the perpetuating cycle of being born and dying in this hell
hole she called the reality of a small town girl.

Walker was the only anchor that could hold her home, she
lived for that boy. So how do you explain to someone that staying there would
only suffocate the possibilities of making a better life for oneself? Running
away was the only option, and leaving a piece of her heart with him would keep
her strong out in the real world, at least she hoped it would.

After years of trying to make it on her own, struggling
through life and trying to stay clean, the only reality she sees at surviving
now is going back to the place she tried so hard to break free from. Unsure if
her old life is willing to accept the choices she has made, the lone thought
that matters to her is hoping she still has the only man she has counted on her
entire life in her corner. You can always go home, but will they be willing take
you back?

CHAPTER 1
“Second
Chance” Shinedown

 

Carmen, June 2007

“Carmen get down from there!” Walker shouted as I sauntered
across the concrete railing on the old train bridge. “You need to calm down,
nothing is going to happen.” I lowered myself to sit and face the moon shining
on the pond below. Nothing was ever going to happen to me, I was invisible to
everything. No matter how hard I tried to break the cycle of mediocrity, this
small town smacked me back in the face. I could jump off this bridge into a
pool filled with piranhas and not a single one would bite me. I had the best of
luck when it came to safety; however the sanity issue is where the problem was.
I couldn’t break free of my mind; it was always swirling with useless
information. A release was what I craved, an escape into the world unknown.
Glancing over at Walker as he meandered over to the railing, I pushed myself
off the edge and fall into the darkness below.

The cool water rushed around my body as I tumbled into the
pond below the bridge. It felt like a million little needles piercing my skin,
reminding my brain that I was still alive. I broke the surface and felt the hot
sticky air fill my lungs as I took a breath. The difference between the two
temperatures was amazing, awakening my soul and calming my mind. It was like
being in two different places at once, and in reality I was just dying to get
out of one.

 

“Carmen!” Walker screamed from the bridge. It’s not like it
was the first time I’ve done this. It was liberating to just close my eyes and
jump, and each time I did it, Walker panicked like it would be the last. “Are
you okay?” my best friend screamed down at me. I flashed him a thumbs up as he
shook his head and muttered something to himself. I’m betting it contained
curse words; he was going to lay into me again for the millionth time for this
little stunt. It’s not that I didn’t care; it was just the same thing every
time. I was being irresponsible with my life, there was so much more to do and
see that doing something so careless as jumping off the bridge into a small
pond was the dumbest idea I could possibly do in his eyes. Swimming over to the
edge of the bank I knew I could rattle off several more idiotic things I’ve
done in the past more dangerous than this, but I know it would only break his
heart.  He was the only person in this
world that actually cared about me, and it was like a punch in the gut every
time I let him down.

Pulling myself up on the embankment I caught his eyes as he
walked down the small hill. Too late I’ve
done it again
, as I noticed the hurt written all over his beautiful face.

“Calm down Walker, I slipped,” I
mentioned while ringing the water out of my hair. Walker didn’t say anything
once he reached the rocks; I knew he was pissed and was about to find out
exactly the level of anger I managed to hit tonight. “Why in the hell do you do
that? You’re not going to live forever Carmen, one day it’s not going to end
well. I refuse to be there when that happens; I love you way too much to watch
you self-destruct.” His eyes bored into mine, laced with heartache and pain I
managed to hand deliver to him tonight. 
I broke the contact and rolled my eyes at my best friend; it’s the same
story I’ve heard from him a million and one times, basically the shortened
version claims that I’m crazy. Hell I might just be a little off my rocker, I
act on impulse and normally that resulted in something dumb happening.

 

I’ve always been a little different; from the first day on
the playground of third grade when I went up to the most popular girl at school
and pushed her down because she wouldn’t include me in her group, Walker was
the only kid who would stand by my side after that. Who would have known he
would grow up to be an all-star athlete and that everyone in our small town
loved, and I would be the girl who people pitied. Well I’m betting everyone
knew that; considering that my parents were both druggies who dropped me off
with my grandparents when I was eight. My grandmother always said I was a free
bird like my mom; the only difference between mom and me is the drugs. Now I
love a good beer and hand me a shot of whiskey and I’ll be your best friend,
but I was not going to ruin my life like they did with the hard stuff.  Maybe it’s because my parents left me alone
that I’m this way, it always seemed easier to blame someone else for my
problems. No one expected me to do anything with my life anyhow, might as well
live up to their expectations right?

 

“Let’s go home Carmen,” Walker shook his head and held out
his hand to help me up the steep embankment.

“But it’s still early Walker, look the sun isn’t even out
yet.”

“That’s the point; your grandparents are going to be mad for
you being out this late already.”

“When are they not angry Walker, I’m like a living reminder
of their failure at parenthood.”  He got
behind me and pushed my body up the last little bit to the level ground. I
stood there sopping wet as I watched him stalk back to his truck, I wasn’t
ready to head home yet. Going back to my small room in the little farm house on
the old dirt road from the first left outside of the tiny town we lived in; my
own personal hell. I refused to die in this one stop light kind of town, there
had to be more in life then getting married and raising two-point-five kids and
joining the PTA.

Looking at the millions of stars in the sky I knew I was
destined for more, no one was going to stop me from achieving my dreams. Even
if I had no clue what they were yet.

 

“Carmen,” my grandmother yelled down the hall. I slowly
opened my eyes to read the clock sitting beside my bed; the fact that it
flashed seven-fifteen made me want to hurl it across the room. I only had to
endure getting up at this hour through the next week till graduation, which was
IF I could pass that last test in US History. Why anyone needed to know about
the stupid wars and presidents was beyond me, considering I couldn’t even tell
you who was in charge of our country now let alone a hundred years ago.

“Carmen are you up yet? You know Walker will be here in
twenty minutes to collect you.”

“I’m up I swear,” I yelled as I threw the covers back over
my head. “We don’t swear in this house young lady,” as Grams ripped the
comforter off my bed, leaving me cold and almost naked. “I know,” I snapped
while rolling out of bed. Grams gave me a stern look as she tossed the bedding
back on the bed. “Manners Carmen, a lady needs to watch her tongue,” she
lectured me while leaving the room. “Sorry,” I muttered, dragging myself to the
closet to find something clean to wear, just four more days till I could get
the hell out of here.

 

“Morning Mrs. Montgomery,” Walker’s southern drawl floated
around the kitchen. Why Walker ever put up with my ass was a million dollar
question, that boy had a heart of gold while mine was the consistency of coal.
“Alright let’s get this done,” I barked while glancing at Walker as he waited
in the doorway. “Carmen can’t you ever dress like a lady?” Grams scoffed as she
pulled a tray of muffins out of the oven.

“At least my ass isn’t hanging out.”

“Language, I don’t want to have to remind you again.” Grams
scolded while handing Walker a brown sack filled with home cooked goodies.
“Thanks Mrs. Montgomery,” he tipped his hat and flashed a smile. “Well if we
are done playing nice this morning, I’ve got to figure out how in the hell I’m
going to pass this test today.” I placed a quick kiss to Gram’s cheek and drug
Walker out the door. I slipped my sunglasses on my face and walked over to the
Bronco, I couldn’t wait to be done with school, just four more days and I was
going to be free from the awful place. I couldn’t fucking wait.

 

I tossed my hair up in a messy bun and flipped the dial on
the radio to find anything but country. “That crap you listen to is going to
rot your brain,” Walker mumbled as he flew down the old country road to the
high school. “Can’t destroy my brain, it’s been gone for a long time,” I winked
at him and kicked my feet up on the dash.

“Are you going to be able to graduate Saturday? I swear I
will drag your ass across that stage, all you have to do is pass this test.”

“Yeah genius, I’m completely prepared for this exam,” I
mock, knowing damn well it was going to be a miracle if I scored anything over
a sixty percent. I only needed a sixty-two on this test to graduate, nothing
like flying by the seat of my pants with the future unknown. Walker just shook
his head with a look of pity on his face, I needed to pass this test and prove
everyone in this damn town wrong.

“I don’t need your sorrow Walker; you know I’m going to be
just fine once I get the hell out of here.”

“That’s what I’m scared about Carmen; I keep hoping you are
going to realize that life here isn’t that bad.”

I rolled my eyes under my dark glasses, this boy was crazy.
I am so close to packing up my shit and heading out west. The land of glamor
and opportunity was just screaming my name and nothing was going to stand in my
way of it. Not graduating, not my family, and for sure not this town.

 

 

“How did it go?” Walker hurried to catch up to me in the
hallway after fifth period. “I don’t really know, I mean I answered all the
questions,” I shrug.

“Carmen it was a multiple choice test, I hope you at least
filled in all the bubbles?”

“Oh shit, I knew I missed something,” I sneered while
turning the dial on the lock attached to my locker. After several failed
attempts Walker pushed me out of the way and spun it till it clicked. I sent
him a loving glare; it was almost a year now that I’ve been stuck with the same
combo that apparently I would never remember. “Oh my savior, what am I ever
going to do without you?” I teased while batting my eyelashes and pouted my
lips.

“Knock it off Carmen; you know I hate the idea of you
leaving.”

“Well get used to it champ, this chick is going to see her
name in lights!” I slap him on the ass while I closed my locker. “What am I
going to do without you?” Walker expressed as he grabbed my bag and headed down
the hallway for our government class. “Enjoy life? I don’t know maybe date
someone?” Instantly my mouth went dry and my stomach plummeted when I mentioned
dating someone. I know I can’t keep him forever, but I hated the thought of him
with anyone else but me. It’s not like we ever took that step from our
friendship but I still thought of him as my soul mate. Dating someone else just
made me angry and bitter, maybe I was meant to stick around this lonely little
town after all. Finding love was meant to be everything in life, I just wasn’t
so sure it was the life for me.

 

I waited on the top of the Bronco for Walker to finish with
baseball practice. Stripping off my t-shirt I laid back on the roof in just my
black lacy bra, closing my eyes and soaking up the rays. The hot metal of the
truck was scorching on my exposed skin, but it was worth it as I developed a
darker complexion to my naturally tan body. “Carmen put your clothes on,”
Walker sighed as he slipped his bag into the back and stripped off his shirt. I
couldn’t help but drool over his body. The years of sports and working in his
father’s fields have done this man good. His abs were ripped to the point where
they looked unreal, and his chiseled pecks were something that no eighteen year
old should have. If he was a tall drink of water I wanted to bathe in it, hell
I would drown in the liquid of him. “You don’t have a shirt on,” I replied
while resting my body up on my elbows.

“Carmen my dear you are absolutely stunning!” a team member
of Walker’s shouted out as he climbed into his truck. I smiled and gave him a
wave as Walker stood down on the concrete crossing his arms looking like he was
about to murder someone. “Seriously Walker, you’ve seen me in less,” I grumbled
as I tossed my shirt over my head and slid down the front windshield. “Yeah
well you’re my best friend Carmen, the whole world doesn’t need to see you
naked.”

“It’s a bra; my swimsuit covers less than this!” I grabbed
my boobs and gave them a squeeze, for gosh sakes it’s just extra flaps of skin
attached to my chest. I don’t know what his problem was; it wasn’t like he
liked me in that way. I knew I was a little slutty; hey I might even be called
the town whore. It’s not like I’ve slept with the entire senior class, just
maybe a quarter of them. “Maybe I’m practicing for my big porn debut,” as I
smacked his rock hard abs and walked around to climb in the passenger side of
the truck.

“You’re not doing porn Carmen.”

“Oh come on, two chicks one guy staring the fabulous Carmen
Westin!” I gave him a wink. It’s not like I’d do porn, well I might if the
money was right. Never say never right?

 

“So when will we know if you passed?” Walker asked as he
turned off the Bronco in my driveway. “I hope tomorrow, but who knows. I think
they have to have the list to the principal on Wednesday so he can sign off on
the ceremony. How about we intercept it before it reaches him, we can dress
like ninjas and show off our karate moves. Then slip my name on that bad boy
and deliver it with a smile,” as I wiggled my eyebrows with the crazy idea.

“First you’re going to pass that stupid test. Second what
ninja skills are we talking about?”

“The ones I’ve been practicing for the last ten years, duh
Walker,” I laughed as I flung the door open and hopped out. “You did dance for
a couple weeks when you were like ten. That was the last time you did anything
that resembled working out,” He replied as we walked up to the kitchen door.

“You don’t know everything about me Walker, I do have some
secrets.”

“Don’t give me that, you are about as open as a twenty-four
hour drive thru McDonalds.”

“I hear we are getting one of those,” quickly trying to
change the subject. “Nice try, but I know you Carmen. I’m starting to believe I
know you better than you know yourself,” Walker mentioned while he opened a
cabinet and grabbed two glasses. Walking over to the fridge I seized the milk
and poured the ice cold liquid into the cups. Handing one to him we both took a
seat at the table, letting the silence from our awkward conversation fill the
air.

I don’t know what I would do without this man sitting across
from me. He had been there through thick and thin; sitting with me in detention
because he wouldn’t let me take the full blame on something I always messed up
on, breaking curfew with my grandparents and having them ground me for weeks so
we would spend every Friday night watching movies until they set me free again.
This was the man who would pick me up and brought me home from school, always
made sure I had eaten a meal, held my hair back when I partook in too much
alcohol, and loved me unconditionally. How was I going to make it without him
watching over my dumbass self, why couldn’t he just come with me? Oh that’s
right; he is already stuck in this trap of a small town. Local sports hero who
would join the sheriff’s department after he graduates, basically a parade
should be thrown for how fricken’ fantastic he is. I quickly gulped down the
remainder of my milk in jealousy; all I wanted was to feel free from the
constrictions this town placed on me. I was Carmen the screw up, the girl who
would never be good enough for Walker the town prince. Some messed up
Cinderella story my life has turned out to be.

 

 

“Walker sweet boy, would you go grab Henry from the barn?
I’ve got dinner on the table,” as Grams handed the plates over to me to set
out. “Sure thing Mrs. Montgomery,” Walker responded while walking out the back
door in search of my grandpa.

“That boy is something special, why can’t you two just go
steady?”

“Grams it’s not like that between us. Besides no one goes
steady anymore when it’s just a matter of heading to Vegas and stopping by the
drive-thru chapel of love then a quick jaunt over to the local court house to
void the papers.”

“Life isn’t as negative as you paint it to be Carmen.”

“Really because my parents are junkies, I can barely pass
high school, and am dying to get out of here!” I refused to cry over the shitty
deals my life has been given. Yes my parents are drug addicts, shit happen.
They don’t deserve a single tear to fall from my eyes. The best thing they ever
did was leave me here, and that says a lot considering I’m counting down the
seconds till I get on a Greyhound out of here. There is nothing but a big ass
black sucking hole in this town, just waiting for the new graduates to step out
into their future at the local Dairy Queen and Quickie Mart. No one ever leaves
this hell hole, it’s like an invisible force field that blocks people from
moving on, however I’m about to shake up that electrical current. I wasn’t
going to die in this one horse town, I wasn’t made to have lots of babies and
teach Sunday school. I was meant to travel the world, bare my soul to anyone
willing to listen, and show that there is life after high school. It was about
time for someone to kick this town in the ass; I refused to get stuck here.

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