Serenity uses steampunk clothes, piercings, and hair dye to hide the life of abuse her and her twin brother, Quill, experience under the hand of their mother’s boyfriends.    Using the only skill she has, she does what’s needed to protect her brother, satisfying the men while biding her time until she can graduate and get as far away from her past as she can.

Jolin Daniel was popular from the minute he picked up a football.  Part of the letterman crew, dating the head cheerleader, and on the fast track to a college football career, the epitome of high school royalty; the halls part to let him through, the teachers give him the answers to the tests he doesn’t have to take.  Jolin rules the school as well as the football field.

All it takes is one moment for their lives to change forever.  One bad hit and a head injury destroys Jolin’s football dream and leaves him with a stutter.  Knocked from his pedestal he struggles to keep a hold on a popularity he isn’t sure he even wants.  When Serenity’s strung out mom returns, the money Serenity saved for her escape disappears.  To keep her life together, Serenity is forced to make a deal with the guy who wants to take Jolin’s spot on the top. With their futures in the balance can two people on opposite sides of the social circle find a common ground and help each other survive their present and heal from their past?
                                               Tuesday, September 2nd
           10:30 a.m.
The hovering orderlies were driving Serenity insane. She knew they were waiting for her and her twin brother, Quill, to say their goodbyes. To the staff her grandmother was a lifeless body needing to be wrapped up and taken to the morgue, but to Serenity she’d been their savior.  She was going to take every God damn minute she wanted.
They could fucking wait.
Serenity glanced over at where Quill stationed himself against the wall, his heel tapping out a never ending beat to some song in his head.He refused to look at the lifeless body of the only person who had ever cared about them.  She was surprised he’d lasted as long as he had. Quill didn’t do emotions.
Serenity’s thumb moved across the back of her Grandma’s cool hand before she lowered her forehead to the edge of the mattress.  She wanted to cry, but the emotions building up in her were so much bigger than what crying could ever release. 
Quill pushed off the wall, rubbing his hands up and down the front of his jeans.  “I got to get out of here.”
Serenity looked up. She knew he was going to go straight to his buddy’s house to drink the day away, but he was her brother, her twin for fuck sakeand she needed him here with her. “Don’t you dare leave me to deal with this alone.”  Her voice was thick with emotion.  He had to see she needed him.“Please Quill,” she whispered.
Quill ran his hands over his face.  The three o’clock shadow he sported scratched against his calloused palms.  “Fuck.”
Serenity watched while he worked through a variety of emotions, none of which would lead him to stay and help her with the details of their grandmother’s death.
“Ren?”  He was pleading with her to give him permission to drown his sorrows.
With a nod, Serenity told him to go.  She’d taken care of him in the past. She’d take care of him now.  “Go.  I’ll meet up with you later.”
Quill ran the back of his sleeve over his eyes and walked out.
The smell of wet earth filled the air around them.  Ren swallowed, trying to push the bile back down her throat. The last thing she wanted was to hurl in the middle of the cemetery.
“Holy fucking shit, what’s she doing here?” Quill glared down at her. “Why did you invite her?”
“What?” Ren looked up from the casket.  She couldn’t believe her grandma was dead. She couldn’t believe she was so close to graduation, and her life had turned to complete shit. But most of all she couldn’t believe her mother had shown up. “Are you kidding me? I didn’t even know she was in town.”
Ren, a very hung-over, possibly still drunk, Quill, and the pastor watched as their mom wobbled and stumbled down the path to the graveside. She was drunk, high, or strung outor maybe all of the above.  Whatever she was, as soon as she reached the hole their grandma was waiting to be dropped in, she began snorting and sniffling,continuously running her hand under her nose to wipe up a stream of snot.  Finally, she let go with a wail that lasted through the short service. Static had her mom’s dress bunched up around her knees, and her hair was askew even though it was obvious she’d tried to do something with it.  Her current boyfriend stood bare-chested, in a leather biker vest, rubbing her butt as if that would console her.  Ren was at a loss as to why her mother was even there. The woman hated their grandmother. And Ren hated her mother with every cell of her body.
Quill put an arm around Ren’s shoulder and pulled her under his oversized umbrella.  She had yet to cry.  She loved grams, but she’d run out of tears years ago.  Ren couldn’t remember the last time she cried, but she was sure it was connected to her mother.
And Ren wouldn’t give her tears again.
            “Ren would you like to say anything?” asked the pastor.
            She looked in his direction, her eyes taking a moment to focus.  Quill nudged her with his shoulder.
            Ren shook her head.  “No.  No thank you.”
            He nodded and wrapped up the service. 
Quill turned to lead Ren back toward the building that housed the offices of the Funeral Home.  Their mom stumbled toward them, her heels sticking in the wet grass causing her to stumble leaving one shoe stuck in the wet grass.  The guy grabbed her arm, saving her before she face planted in the middle of the cemetery.
            Ren closed her eyes and took a deep breath before facing her mom.
            “Serenity,” Mom repeated, losing her balance again and falling forward.  Biker boy pulled her close, supporting her on her unsteady feet.
            “It’s Ren.”
            Her mom started petting at Ren’srainbow colored hair, ignoring her correction.  “Serenity.What have you done to your beautiful hair?”  Her pupils were dialated and Ren could tell she was flying high. 
            “You lost the right to comment on my appearance when you gave up parental rights.” Ren blew out a breath in an attempt to keep from swatting her mom’s hand away.
            Her mom’s crying stopped, her gaze hard and cold.  “Well, I’m all you got now baby, and I want that shit rinsed out of your hair by morning.”
“God dammit, Quill, get me out of here.” Renturned, running into Quill in her retreat.
Mom’s hand shot out and long,jagged fingers wrapped around Ren’s arm.  “We’re moving into to the house today, so adjust your attitude. I will not put up with your shit.”
“You can’t just move in.  It isn’t your house.”
“She was my mother.  I get what was hers. And the house was hers.”
If Ren hadn’t known what a conniving bitch her mother was she would have been shocked at how quick her sorrow had turned to…well, turned to something else. But Ren was very familiar with her mother’s motives.
“We rent the house. So feel free to start paying rent,” she shot back.
“C’mon,Mel. Let’s go.  I got you.”  Mom’s stupid ass boyfriend took her shoulders and pulled her away at the same time Quill pulled Ren toward the parking lot.
“I’ll see you at home,”their mother called back, holding her palm to her forehead. “I can’t deal with you today.”
“I hate her.” Ren gritted her teeth, her fists balled at her sides.
Quill didn’t say anything as they walked to the car.  The rain cooled Ren’s anger, but she knew it would be short lived. Her mother was back and apparently they didn’t have a say in it.  Rengot in the car and dropped her head into her hands.
Quill stared silently at the windshield before starting the car and pulling out of the parking lot.“Want to get wasted?”
             Ren buried her head in her pillow.
            “Open the fucking door!” Her mom banged her fist against the thin wood.  “I told you to take the fucking lock off.”
            Ren tried to roll over, but her body was too hung over to listen to her brain.  Mom kicked at the door and swore some more, but when it didn’t give her the desired result she moved on and called for Quill.  She was probably looking for money.  Ren didn’t have any.
            Her mom had gotten to the house in record time after the funeral, moved into Grams’ room with the loser, and set up shop.  The revolving door of drugs and alcohol started as soon as she got the call out to her fucked up friends.
            Ren ran her hand over her eyes and tried to press the throbbing of her head away.  Two days ago she’d buried her grams and had been in a drunken haze ever since, hoping when she sobered up her mom would be gone.  Ren slowly lifted herself onto her elbows, letting her body adjust to the movement.  She had to get up.  She had to get to school, then work, and make some money.  Grams checks were going to stop, and mom was useless.  If Ren missed a shift they’d be hard pressed to make the rent.  Her mom certainly wasn’t going to work, and it was only a matter of time before her boyfriend moved on. Not that he made a difference; his money was funding their habit.
Ren sat up and ran a hand through her hair, letting the colorful ends graze her fingertips. She didn’t care what her mom said, she wasn’t changing it.  She’d saved for weeks to dye four stripes of bright colors across the bottom of her normally blonde hair. Even if she wanted to follow her mom’s directive and change it, she didn’t have the money to do it.  Memories of her binge seeped into the edges of her brain the longer she remained upright. She ran her hand over her mouth, vaguely remembering Brock’s lips against hers…and the overwhelming smell of Mentos.  She pulled her hair tight against her skull and growled.  She hated the alcohol hadn’t completely erased the events of the past days.
Saturday, September 6th
              6:30 p.m.
            Jolin pulled his helmet down and took a moment to breath in the cool air.  The rain stopped for the time being,but the field would still be slick.  Jolin loved football.  Loved the feel of control he had on the field.  He determined the fate of the team with each hike of the ball…pass it, run up the middle, pitch to the left…it was his call to make.  And his call was almost always right.  At least that’s what the colleges were saying.  The click-clack of cleats let him know his team was on the move.  They were playing a pre-season opener.  A smaller school would give them a chance to warm up for the season.A guaranteed win.  The team passed, touching the top of his helmet as they filed by.  A good luck ritual.  Jolin waited for the last member to pass and followed after.
            The noise from the stands pulled him into the zone.  Every game was the same.  His pre-game ritual had him leaving the locker room first, standing by the field to center himself, letting the team go on without him, then he jogged in after…and now would look to the track surrounding the field for where the cheerleaders stood.  On the far end stood Elizabeth, his girlfriend and the captain of the squad.  He nodded, and she smiled, waving one pompom in his direction.  
He was ready to play.
He joined the designated captains for tonight, grabbed them by the hand and together they walked to the middle of the field.  Each week the coach chose two guys to walk with him.  He was the only consistent captain.  The team looked to him for guidance. 
They won the toss, and even though they would normally choose to kick off, tonight they would receive.  With this team it wouldn’t matter if they got the ball after half time.  It was supposed to be a blow out.
The team lined up, Jolin felt the adrenaline race through him.  When the ball came at him, he grabbed it, stood, and pulled back for a pass.  Letting the ball go, he was surprised by a defensive end who broke around the line and tackled him.  A yellow flag flew through the air.  The ref called a penalty for roughing the passer.  Jolin got up and straightened his pads, staring down the guy who thought he’d intimidate him. He pointed a finger and shook his head.  No one scared him. 
The team circled around him, waiting for their instructions.
“Tighten up the line. This team is a bunch of pussies.”  He pointed at his offensive tackle.  “Do not let them touch me again, or I will fucking beat your ass after this game.” 
They clapped their hands as the huddle broke then lined up again. Jolin called out the play and set them in motion.
He felt their presence before the contact was made, but there was nothing he could do to stop it.  The defensive end broke free again, coming around the side just as a lineman broke free, heading straight for him.  Jolin let the ball go hoping the player he was supposed to connect with was in position.  It was the last thing he remembered before being sandwiched between the two players and blacking out.
                                                            Tuesday, September 9
                                                                        3:00 p.m.
            “It’s okay, honey.  I’m right here.” 
            Jolin felt a hand grip his and another rub softly up and down his arm.
            He turned his head to look for her,but a sharp pain shot through his neck. His dad was standing behind her and turned away, his face looked ashen.
            “No, sweetie, don’t move.  I’ll call the nurse.”  She turned and ran into his dad, they danced back and forth before she took him by the shoulders and pushed him to the side, walking out of the room. Leaving Jolin on his own with his dad.  Jolin knew things were bad if his dad was here.  His parents had been divorced for years. He lived in the next town and only came around if Jolin was in trouble or had a game.  Jolin blinked a few times trying to focus on his surroundings.  It was definitely a hospital room, but he couldn’t remember why he was here.  Mom came back in the room followed by a doctor.
            “So, how are we feeling young man?” The doctor took a stethoscope from around his neck and a light thingy from his pocket.  He leaned in, shining the light into Jolin’s eyes.  “How’s your head feeling?”
            Jolin took a moment to see how his head did feel.  “It hurts…I g-g-guess.”
            “Do you have any memory of how you got here?” he asked.
            He shook his head.  Pain shot through his neck again.  Jolin cringed.  “N-n-no.”
            The doctor sat on the edge of the bed.  “What’s the last thing you remember?”
            Jolin closed his eyes, the words were in his head, but didn’t want to come out of his mouth.“P-p-playing football?”
            “Are you asking me or telling me.” He smiled.  He was older, and his hair was thinning.  He seemed nice enough.
            “T-t-telling.  I had a g-g-game.”
            “Yes you did.” He nodded.
            “It was three days ago, Jolin.  You’ve been unconscious for three days.” Mom grabbed Jolin’s hand again and started rubbing it against her cheek, tears pooling in her eyes.
            The doctor shot her a frustrated look.  “Yes, you have been unconscious for a few days.  You had a severe impact to the head.  Helmet to helmet contact.”
            Jolin’s mind couldn’t process what he was saying.  If the doctor was saying he had a severe concussion, he’d be sidelined.  It was his senior football year.  He had colleges looking at him.
            “You also had an injury to your shoulder.  Rotator cuff was torn.  We’ll need to do surgery, but wanted to wait until you woke up.” 
            “When?”  His words failed him, but he already knew the answer.  He needed to hear someone say it out loud. 
            His mom brought his hand to her lips and kissed it, holding it there, unable to look into his eyes. Jolin shifted his gaze to his dad.  He forced the words to come.  The one question he needed to know, but was afraid to ask.
            “When can I p-p-lay?” he stuttered.  His dad dropped his head, running his hand through his short hair, diverting his eyes from Jolin.
            “Jolin.  I won’t be able to clear you to play again.  Your brain is severely bruised.  Your short term memory may have been compromised.Now that you’re awake it’s apparent your speech has been affected.  If you had another head impact, even minor, it could cause serious damage. Even death.You’ll never play again.”
            “I’ll get b-b-better,” Jolin insisted.  He watched as his dad struggled to keep it together, finally excusing himself from the room.
            “Yes, you will improve, but you won’t play again.” The doctor stood to leave.
            “I have t-t-to.” Jolin looked at his mom.  “I have a scholarship.”  Football was the only thing keeping his relationship with his dad together.  He wanted to scream, but he knew everything was already gone.  His dad… was gone.
“It’s okay, baby. We’ll figure it out.” A tear fell down her cheek.  “We’ll figure it out.  Just get better.”
Jolin closed his eyes.  He couldn’t bear to watch his mom cry, he hated that it was him causing the tears, but knowing he’d failed his dad was all he could think about.
Monday, October 6
                                                                     7:30 a.m.
                It was a month since Jolin had been in school.  Between the concussion and surgery, things had gone slow.
              “Jo!  Jolin!”
            He turned around just in time to catch his girlfriend catapulting herself into his chest.  Jolin’s back slammed against the lockers absorbing her momentum, and his good arm caught her around the waist.  If she hadn’t wrapped her arms around his neck she would have slid straight to the floor.  As it was she was painfully pushing his already injured arm into his stomach, pulling the sling tight across the back of his neck.
She smashed her mouth against his in a possessive kiss.  “I didn’t know you were back!” 
            “Hey Lizzie.”  Jolin pulled his mouth away and let go of her waist, attempting to remove her from his chest.  She was still attached to him and it took an effort to get her to let go.  “J-J-Jesus, Liz.”  Jolin shook his head in frustration as the words fought to stay in his mouth.   “G-Get down.”
            Elizabeth slid down his body, her face showing shock at the stutter of words he’d just said.  Her fake smile quickly returned when she leaned in, sliding her hands into his letterman jacket, trailing her fingertips across his abs.  “Can you come over tonight?”
            Jolin raised an eyebrow.  “What do you meanby….”  He pressed his lips together to stop the stutter, but it came anyway.   “T-t-tonight?”
            She flashed what he thought was supposed to be a seductive grin, but it kind of scared him.  “Later…later.”
            He lifted his chin to avoid another one of her overly enthusiastic kisses.  She seemed oblivious to the fact this was his first day back at school after three weeks in the hospital rehab facility.  “Not sure.”  The words failed him again.  Jolin closed his eyes giving his mind time to catch up with his mouth.  The doctor said his speech should return to normal eventually, but with severe head trauma he couldn’t tell him when. He also said to avoid stress and try to relax.  He’d only been in school for fifteen minutes and his stress levels were already skyrocketing.  He took a deep breath.  “If Mom works.  I’ll t-t-text you.” 
Her smile faltered again.  He figured realization he’d actually gotten hurt during the game was sinking in.  Elizabeth stood on her toes to brush her lips across his neck, but ended up smashing her face into his chest when she was pushed from behind.
            “What the hell,” she snapped, her flirty demeanor falling away.
            “Hey, sorry,” Quill one of the football players waved her off.  A tall girl followed at his heels not even glancing their way.
            “Fucking whore,” Elizabeth said under her breath.
            The girl didn’t break her stride as her hand came up to flip Elizabeth off.
            “She’s such a waste of air.” Elizabeth ran a hand down her cheerleading uniform, smoothing invisible wrinkles from the polyester.  Then she ran a hand over her slicked back hair, pulling the gigantic bow on the top of her head tight.
            Jolin pulled her in and planted a hard kiss on her mouth, hoping to prove to her hewas still the old Jolin, even though he wasn’t sure he was.  “D-d-don’t worry ab-b-out her.”  Jolin paused to let the words come.  “She’s not even on your p-p-planet.”
            That’s all she needed to hear.  A big smile filled her face; her perfect day glow teeth blinded him.  “Isn’t that the truth.”  She snuggled into his side and they headed off to their Biology class.  The mass of students parted like the Red Sea as they made their way down the hall.  The Captain of the football team and the Head Cheerleader, king and queen of the school.
            The bell rang before they got to class.  Lizzie had pulled Jolin into the dark corners of the hallway, making up for lost time she’d said.  He was thankful for his baggy jeans or else what they’d been up to would be obvious to everyone.  They walked past Mr. Carson without batting an eye.  They ran the school, and the teachers let them come and go as they pleased.  The perks of being popular.
            “Glad you decided to join us today,” was all Mr. Carson said before assigning Elizabeth and Jolin to be lab partners for a Biology project. 
            “Dude.”  Brock gave Jolin a fist bump when he sat down.  “Keeping busy?”
            Jolin raised an eyebrow and sunk down into his chair for the lecture.  Not that it mattered.  The football team always got a list of questions before the test.  It would be unheard of for a member of the team to not make grades.

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