Break Every Chain
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High school senior Maverick Mason has what every guy his age wants: the girl, the grades, the god-like status. Amira Abbasi is the same age and lives in the same town, but her reality couldn’t be more different. In fact, no one outside her household knows she exists. A chance encounter may change that–will it make a difference if her fate has already been sealed?
I opened the door to the smell of freedom and waffle fries.
Senior year meant we could finally leave campus for lunch. Fortunately, our favorite chicken sandwich was only a few blocks away. Unfortunately, it was also right off the interstate.
“Dude, we should’ve gone to Dairy Queen,” Paz said as he strode past me.
It was like the parting of the Red Sea as we moved to take our place in the ridiculously long line. I wasn’t small by any definition, but Paz Cazares—my best friend and the cornerstone of my offensive line—was a beast. His grandmother took pride in feeding him and his siblings, and if I ever needed to pack on a few pounds, I’d hang at his house. Homemade tortillas, tamales, enchiladas… and now I was craving Mexican food.
I whipped around at the sound of that sweet voice, all thoughts of food forgotten. “Sunshine!”
Her arms were already wide open and waiting, so I scooped her up in a hug before putting her back on her feet.
“You know my name is Sunny!” She pointed at her nametag with a smile that was worth any amount of time spent standing in line.
I loved that there were never any pretenses with Sunny. Just pure joy. Unlike someone else I knew—
“Somebody’s gonna be jealous…” The sing-song voice behind me cut off abruptly when my elbow connected with Paz’s stomach. Sunny’s grin didn’t falter or fade, so I hoped she hadn’t heard.
“I have practice today after work,” she said. “Are you coming to my next competition?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for all the money in the world.” Her smile grew impossibly wider, and I couldn’t help but smile back.
It was the truth. Helping out with Special Olympics was, without question, one of my favorite things to do. Playing football ranked pretty high, but whereas the athletes I played with were full of fury and aggression, Sunny and her teammates were all fun and friendliness.
“In the whole world? Wow…” Sunny stood there, and I could practically see the wheels turning. Probably trying to figure out how much that was exactly.
“Speaking of money”—I pointed at the cleaning towel in her hand—“I don’t want to get you in trouble.” I didn’t think she would be, but Sunny could stand and talk all day. Plus, Paz and I were already pushing our forty-five-minute lunch break by coming here. Good thing we inhaled our food on the regular.
Still beaming from ear to ear, Sunny shuffled off to work. I felt my own grin fade, thinking of how such a simple exchange with her would have been an entire production with Lacey. “I don’t want to get you in trouble” would have somehow been interpreted as me pushing her away. Or my personal favorite, “You never spend time with me.” As if I had time to spare.
With a sigh, I turned to find I’d lost my place in line. Paz was at the counter now, but he gave me a nod letting me know he had us covered so off I went in search of an empty table.
Miraculously, there was a small one available near the glass separating the restaurant from the indoor playground. It would be a tight fit for the two of us, but I sat down before we ended up with nowhere to sit at all.
While I waited, my gaze drifted around the room. I recognized more than a few familiar faces, but knowing names was another matter entirely. Being the quarterback of a championship-winning football team and the son of the head coach meant a decent number of people in this town knew who I was. I always felt bad when I couldn’t remember someone’s name, but that didn’t mean I didn’t notice details about people.
My eyes snagged on a guy wearing a ball cap pulled low and dark sunglasses. Kind of strange since it wasn’t that bright inside. Even more bizarre because he was staring down at his phone, and those were expensive aviators. Pricy sunglasses were usually polarized, and I knew from experience you could barely see anything on a phone if the lenses were polarized.
Paz grunted as he sat his big body in the tiny chair. “Your turn to buy tomorrow, dude.”
Paz’s family moved here from Southern California when we were in third grade. To my knowledge, he’s never once stepped foot on a surfboard, and I doubted a thin sheet of fiberglass would hold him anyway. But that didn’t stop him from sounding like a surfer, which everyone thought was hilarious since, supposedly, I looked like one. I wouldn’t know… I’d never been out of Texas.
I nodded my head in agreement, then wasted no time tearing open one of the chicken sandwiches and shoving half in my mouth. My mother would have a coronary if she saw me—
Just like that, my appetite was gone. Even the waffle fries didn’t look good, and I freaking loved waffle fries.
Putting my fist to my mouth, I forced myself to chew the chicken and swallow. I wasn’t sure what expression was on my face, but Paz stopped shoveling food and stared at me.
“What’s up, Mav?” he asked. Shaking my head, I put the rest of the sandwich down on the tray. “Hey, you’re not gonna eat that? Practice on an empty stomach is no bueno, mi amigo. You know that.”
I did know that. I also knew I couldn’t take another bite.
“Talk to me, Maverick.”
“Just missing Pops,” I ground out, my fists clenched beneath the table.
A look of understanding crossed his face, and Paz went back to wolfing down his food. He knew the recent—and unexpected—death of my grandfather was eating my lunch. Quite literally, at the moment.
It wasn’t fair. Pops had been one month shy of retiring from the police force. One month from the surprise party we’d been planning to celebrate a lifetime of service to our community. One month away from endless days filled with hunting, fishing, and watching football.
I felt my jaw tighten. I knew it was illogical to blame football, since there was no way I would have been with him when it happened anyway. But while I was hours away at quarterback camp, Pops was leaving the station when his heart suddenly stopped beating right there in his chest. Mom told me he didn’t even make it to the hospital. She also reminded me that he wouldn’t have wanted me to be anywhere else. My grandfather loved watching me play football more than anything.
Paz started babbling about the upcoming homecoming dance. Since he knew I couldn’t care less about the dance, it was obvious he was trying to get my mind off Pops. I appreciated the effort.
While Paz spoke, my gaze once again landed on the Top Gun wannabe—because Tom Cruise would totally have had the latest Samsung Galaxy if cell phones had been around in the ‘80s. The guy didn’t have any food in front of him, not even an empty box or wrapper. Had there been anything on his table before? And why did I care?
I knew why. Just like my grandfather taught me to always sit facing the door in case a potential threat entered the building, he also taught me to trust my gut. And my gut told me there was something off with this man.
My Spidey sense went into overdrive when I noticed him staring at the indoor playground area while pretending to look at his phone. Then again, it’s possible he was keeping an eye on his kid, which would explain why he wasn’t eating. The guy was probably just trying to get some work done and keep his child happy.
“We riding together?”
It took me a second to realize Paz had asked me a question. “Huh?”
“Bro, to the dance. Tomorrow night. You and Lacey, me and Olivia. Want to ride together?”
Shaking off my obviously paranoid thoughts, I focused on Paz. “I want to, but Lacey said her dad asked to meet me. So looks like I’m gonna be driving out to the middle of…”
My words trailed off when I saw Paz’s eyebrows shoot up high on his forehead. “You ready for all that?” he asked.
“Ready for wh—?” Then it hit me. “Oh man, you don’t think she thinks…” I swallowed hard. “This isn’t like meeting the parents, is it?”
Paz laughed. “Sounds like it from where I’m sitting.”
“I will never be ready for that,” I said, and he laughed even harder.
But not for the reason Paz was thinking.
Although Lacey Dixon and I had been a couple since last spring, I really didn’t see it going anywhere. We barely saw one another this summer, what with my football camp and practices, and her traveling all over the world with her father when she wasn’t at cheer camps. The fact that not seeing her didn’t bother me… that should tell me something, right?
“Hey, isn’t that McCready’s little sister?” Paz asked.
I looked in the direction he was pointing and nodded when I saw the girl with blond ringlets climbing on the net outside the playground’s ball pit. She always stood in the stands directly behind our benches, dressed in a miniature cheerleader’s outfit. Just last week, Jake, a sophomore wide receiver on our team, told me that was his kid sister and asked if I’d say ‘hi.’ I recalled her name was Annabelle, because I thought she looked exactly like an Annabelle.
“Shouldn’t she be in school?” I asked, noting that there was only one other person in the playground area. A college student, by the looks of her, but it was difficult to tell since her eyes were glued to her phone. Some babysitter.
“Jake is a giant. Maybe she’s just tall for her age,” Paz said through a mouthful of food. My food.
I started to ask him how he was enjoying my lunch when a thought struck me. The only kid in the play area was Jake’s sister, and as far as I knew, Top Gun wannabe wasn’t Jake’s dad.
In football movies, important scenes often occurred in slow motion, sometimes with no sound, sometimes set to music. It was never like that in real life. Outside linebackers never came at me slowly. They came fast and hard and hell-bent on knocking me flat on my back. And the only music I’d heard was the sound of my bell getting rung when hit too hard in the head.
This particular scene—one more important than any game I’d ever played—also unfolded in slow motion. But instead of being at the epicenter of the action, I felt like a spectator on the sidelines. One who had a perfect view of the field and didn’t like what was happening, but was helpless to change the outcome.
Annabelle, picking up plastic balls near the entrance to the playground.
Babysitter still looking at her phone.
Top Gun wannabe, no longer in his seat, opening the door to the playground.
Babysitter still freaking looking at her phone.
Annabelle gasps, eyes widening in surprise as Top Gun wannabe grabs her around the waist.
Babysitter finally looks up, confusion on her face.
Top Gun wannabe halfway to the restaurant’s side exit door, dragging a stunned Annabelle.
Babysitter screams bloody murder.
I wasn’t sure if it was the ear-piercing scream or the realization that everyone was now looking in the direction of the play area, providing the ideal distraction for the man to make a clean getaway. But I was out of my seat before I even consciously made the decision to move. Because helpless I was not.
“Stop!” I roared. I didn’t even know I could roar.
The guy yanked open the door, saw me barreling toward him, then glanced at the parking lot before tossing—no, launching—Annabelle straight at me. The door slammed shut with enough force to shatter the glass.
Though the little girl didn’t weigh more than forty pounds soaking wet, as a projectile, Annabelle still managed to knock me backward a good couple of feet—right into my best friend. Paz always had my back, and this time was no different.
Annabelle began sobbing, and she wrapped her arms and legs around my body like a defensive end determined to make me eat dirt. As much as I wanted to chase after the guy who’d just tried to take my teammate’s sister, I couldn’t put her down.
Paz cursed and began sprinting toward the now glass-free door when the sound of screeching tires stopped him in his tracks. He spun back around, and I knew without him telling me that Top Gun wannabe was gone.
We stared at one another, both in shock. The sitter now wailed louder than Annabelle. Everyone else in the restaurant either sat or stood, eyes wide and mouths open.
Everyone except Sunny. True to her name, she gave Annabelle her sweet, toothy grin as she approached to lay her hand on the little girl’s back. The sobs didn’t cease, but I felt the exhale of a shivery breath. I was fairly certain it was Annabelle’s.
“You just saved that girl, Maverick,” Paz whispered.
I wasn’t sure why the irony of the nickname I’d given the guy struck me at that moment, but it did. Maybe because what just happened—or rather, what could have happened—was too horrifying to think about.
A little girl was almost kidnapped at a crowded restaurant in the middle of the day. Those kinds of things didn’t happen in our somewhat sleepy and secluded West Texas town.
I felt a sudden chill snake down my spine. For the first time, I wondered… if something like that occurred in broad daylight, what else happened here when no one was looking?
"New to Kindle Vella and I'm so happy I discovered it! This story alone is worth my little treasure chest of tokens. I love the characters and I'm looking forward to see what happens next."
- Amazon reviewer (Nevaeh)
"I love how this story addresses real issues but is entertaining to read as well. Looking forward to see how it all plays out!"
- Amazon reviewer (Michele)