This Heart of Mine by C.C. Hunter Blog Tour

Excerpt:


1


One month
earlier April
13th


“You lucky bitch!” I drop back down on my pink bedspread,
phone to ear, knowing Brandy is dancing on cloud nine and I’m
dancing with her. I glance at the door to make sure Mom isn’t
hovering and about to freak over my language. Again.
She isn’t there.
Lately, I can’t seem to control what comes out of my mouth.
Mom blames it on too much daytime who’s-the-baby-daddy
television. She could be right. But hey, a girl’s gotta have some
fun.
“Where he’s taking you?” I ask.
“Pablo’s Pizza.” Brandy’s tone lost the oh-God shriek qual-
ity. “Why . . . why don’t you come with us?”
“On your date? Are you freaking nuts?”


4 C. C.
HUNTER
“You go to the doctor’s office, you could—”
“No. That’s hell no!” I even hate going to the doctor’s office.
If people stare long enough they see the tube. But this isn’t even
about me. “I’d die before I get between you—”
“Don’t say that!” Brandy’s emotional reprimand rings too
loud. Too painful.
“It’s just a figure of speech,” I say, but in so many ways it’s
not. I’m dying. I’ve accepted that. The people in my life haven’t.
So, for them, I pretend. Or try to.
“But if you—”
“Stop. I’m not going.”
There’s a gulp of silence. That’s when I realize my “lucky
bitch” comment brought on the pity invite. Brandy’s worried I’m
jealous. And okay, maybe I am, a little. But my grandmother used
to say it was okay to see someone in a beautiful red dress and
think, I want a dress like hers. But it wasn’t okay to think, I want a
dress like hers and I want her to have a wart on her nose.
I don’t wish Brandy warts. She’s had the hots for Brian for
years. She deserves Brian.
Do I deserve something besides the lousy card fate dealt to
me? Hell yeah. But what am I going to do? Cry? I tried that. I’ve
moved on.
Now I’ve got my bucket list. And my books.
The books are part of my bucket list. I want to read a hun-
dred. At least a hundred. I started counting after I got out of the
hospital the first time I survived an infection from my arti- ficial
heart. I’m at book twenty-eight now. I won’t mention how many of
them were romance novels.
“Leah,” Brandy starts in again.
The chime of the doorbell has me glancing at the pink clock
on my bedside table.
It’s study time. Algebra. I hate it. But I kind of like hating


THIS HEART
OF MINE


7


it. Because I hated it before I got sick. Hating the same things as
before makes me feel more like the old me.
“Gotta go. Ms. Strong is here.” I bounce my heels on the
bed. The beaks on my Donald Duck slippers bob up and down.
Lately, I’ve been into cartoon-character slippers. They make
my feet look happy. Mom’s bought me three pairs: Mickey,
Donald, and Dumbo.
“But—” Brandy tries again.
“No. But you’re gonna tell me everything. All the sexy
details. How good he kisses. How good he smells. How many
times you catch him staring at your boobs.”
Yep, I’m jealous all right. But I’m not a heartless bitch. Well,
maybe I am. Heartless, really heartless, but not so much a bitch. I
carry an artificial heart around in a backpack. It’s keeping me
alive.
“I always tell you everything,” Brandy says.
No, but you used to. I stare up at my whirling polka-dot ceil-
ing fan. Even Brandy’s walking on eggshells, scared she’ll say
something to remind me that I got a raw deal, something that
will make me feel sorry for myself. I’m done doing that. But I
hate hearing that crunch as people tiptoe around the truth.
“Leah.” Mom calls me.
“Gotta go.” I hang up, grab my heart, and get ready to face
algebra.
I really hate it, but it’s number one on my bucket list—my
last hurrah. Well, not algebra, but graduating high school. And
I don’t want a diploma handed to me. I want to earn it.
I spot Mom standing in the entrance of the dining room
turned study. She’s rubbing her palms over her hips. A nervous
habit, though I have no idea what’s got her jittery now. I sur-
vived the last infection and the one before that. She hears
my footsteps, looks at me. Her brow puckers—another sign of
serious mama fret.


4 C. C.
HUNTER
I stop. Why’s she so nervous? “What?”
“Ms. Strong couldn’t make it.” She’s rushes off faster than
her hurried words.
I hear someone shuffling in the dining room. I’m leery. Hes-
itant. I move in. My Donald Duck slippers skid to a quick stop
when I see the dark-haired boy at the table.
“Shit.” I suck my lips into my mouth in hopes I didn’t say it
loud enough for him to hear.
He grins. He heard me. That smile is as good as the ones I
read about in romance novels. Smiles described as crooked,
mind-stopping, or coming with a melt-me- now quality. I swear
my artificial heart skips two beats.
He’s one of the Kenner twins, either Eric or Matt, the two
hottest boys in school. I used to be able to tell them apart, but
now I’m not sure of anything. If I combed my hair today. If I
brushed my teeth. If I have on a bra?
I close my mouth, run my tongue over my fuzzy-feeling
teeth, trying to quietly suck them clean.
Glancing down, away from his eyes, I rock back and forth
on my heels, my Donald Ducks’ bills rocking with me. Should I
run back to my room? But how pathetic will I look then? And if I
do, he’ll leave. Lifting my gaze, I realize I’m not sure I want him to
go. I kinda like looking at him.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I mimic and realize I’m hiding the backpack behind my
leg. I give my bright red tank top a tug down to cover the tube
that extends from the backpack and pokes into me under my left
ribcage. A hole that kinda looks like a second belly but- ton. Yup,
I’m hiding the very thing that’s keeping me alive.
“Ms. Strong couldn’t make it,” he says as if reading my
mood and realizing he needs to justify his being here. “She
asked me to sub.”
“For how many extra credit points?” I wait for him to tell me
he did it just out of kindness. And, if true, it would mean


THIS HEART
OF MINE


7


he did it out of pity. I’m not sure I’d enjoy looking at him
anymore. I’d rather be someone’s means to a better grade.
Brandy told me that everyone in school knows about my dead
heart.
“Fifteen. I got lazy and didn’t turn in some homework.
You’ll pump me up to a B.”
“You should have held out for twenty.”
He smiles again. “I don’t think it was negotiable.”
Moving in, I try to guess which twin he is. I try to figure out
how to ask, but everything I think of sounds lame. Let him be
Matt.
I had a thing for Matt since seventh grade. It might have
been wishful thinking, but in tenth grade I thought he liked me
too. Not that it ever went anywhere. He was football, I was book
club. He was popular, I was . . . not. Then I started dating Trent. A
guy in book club. A guy I let off the hook as soon as I found out
my heart was dying.
“Your books?” he asks.
I don’t understand the question, until I see he’s pointing to
my backpack.
Crap! I freak a little. I have several pat answers in my head
that I came up with when Mom, afraid I was turning into an
agoraphobe, insisted I get out of the house. But I can’t remem-
ber them. The silence reeks of awkwardness.
So I go with the truth. “No. It’s my . . . heart.” “Shit.”
He spills my favorite word.
I laugh.
His eyes meet mine and he smiles again. Yup, it’s kinda
crooked. My mind’s not working. And I’m melting.
“Oh, you’re joking,” he says. “Right?”
I nod yes then shake my head no as if I don’t know the
answer.
His smile fades like a light on a dimmer switch. “Seriously?”
“Seriously.” I move to the desk in the corner. One-handed,

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