Derailed (Clayton Falls #1)


by Alyssa Rose Ivy

Prologue

The message was only three words, but his failure to respond had changed everything. I need you… Too emotional to speak, I'd stopped at three words. The words were true. I did need him. I needed his arms around me and his reassurances that I’d be okay, that it wasn’t my fault. He hadn’t heard his phone, or so he told me that August when he pleaded over and over with me to forgive him. I couldn't forgive him. My anger was the only thing keeping me from hating myself.

Chapter One

I used to love May: the heat and the promise of a long and limitless summer. I’d count down the last weeks of April with excitement, ready for my favorite time of year. The May of my first, and only, year of law school was different. It brought the craving for change—and the need to escape.

I remember the exact moment I decided to quit law school. It was during contracts only a week before spring exams. The end of my 1L year was in sight, and I should have been excited. My first semester grades placed me firmly in the top 25% of the class, and finishing first year meant I was getting ready to pass a milestone I’d thought about for years. Of course, I should have also been getting ready for an even bigger milestone: my wedding.

“Ms. Sander, would you care to enlighten us on why the court found the agreement unenforceable?” Professor Willis’s booming bass voice reverberated off the oak-paneled walls of the lecture hall.

My head snapped up when I heard my name. I’d been reading a website on my laptop and could feel the blood rushing to my face, aware that everyone in the room was probably staring at me. I tried to pull up the case brief I’d cut and pasted from Westlaw that morning. It had been months since I’d bothered to brief a case myself. Instead, I’d been relying on the generic commercial ones our professors had warned us to avoid. My screen froze, and I was out of time. I struggled to remember what unit we were even on. “Lack of consideration?” I half asked.

“If you didn’t bother to read the case, why did you bother to come to class?” The professor sneered, and I heard light laughter behind me. Traitors. Like I was the only one who didn’t do the reading. I’d spent almost every day of the past nine months with these people, yet they made a joke out of me at the first chance.

“That’s a good question and one I don’t have the answer to.” I slammed my laptop shut and stuffed it into my backpack, slinging one strap over my shoulder. I picked up my case book and slipped past a roomful of stunned faces as I headed to the door.

“Where do you think you’re going, Ms. Sander?”

I paused to think over the question. “I don’t actually know.”

This time the laugher wasn’t light. It was loud enough that I could still hear it after the door swung closed behind me.

“Molly! Wait up!” Becca’s heels echoed off the tiled floor of the hallway. I stopped, but didn’t turn around. She didn’t waste any time, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder as soon as she reached me. “What was that all about? Are you doing okay?”

The genuine concern on Becca’s face mingled with exhaustion from trying to balance a full school schedule with taking care of her ailing mother. I felt a surge of guilt—the only thing I seemed to feel anymore. “You don’t need to worry about me, but I’m done.”

“Done? What do you mean?” She pushed a stray piece of dark hair behind her ear.

“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t pretend to care about meaningless cases or that I have any interest in being an attorney.” I sighed; it felt good to say it out loud for once.

“You don’t have to actually practice law. There are so many other things you can do with a law degree.” She sounded so hopeful and confident; I hated knowing I was going to hurt her.

“You sound like a career services pamphlet.” Even I could hear the bitterness in my voice.

“You aren’t really going to quit, are you? We’re almost done with first year. It’s all easier from here on out.” Her voice was soft, but there was some real desperation in it. We were each other’s closest friends, and I knew it scared her to watch me go.

In theory she was right, but after watching my fiancé Adam stress over making law review, getting the best evaluations from his summer associate positions, and finally land the big firm job, I knew there was still a bumpy ride ahead. I decided to keep the thoughts to myself. No reason to burden her. “I have to do what’s right for me.” Saying the words made me feel bad. I knew I played right into her weak spot. Becca had to be the most supportive person I knew.

“Okay then, at least finish the semester and take your exams. Then you can take a leave of absence and decide if you want to come back in a year.” It was just like Becca to come up with the reasonable response.

I understood why she suggested it. I was usually a very rational person, or at least I had been for the past five years. But little by little, the reasonable, rational adult mask I wore fell off, and the unbalanced, risk taking kid showed her face.

“I can’t. I’m done.” I crossed my arms, both out of habit and to warm myself against the air blasting down from the air conditioning vent.

“You mean right now? Like you are walking out that door and not coming back?”

“Yes.” As sudden as the decision was, it wasn’t one I questioned. I’d made up my mind when I walked out of the classroom.

Becca hugged me, leaning down to pull me close. Even without heels, she towered over my five foot three. “I wish I could help you. I wish I knew how to make it better.” I appreciated that she knew me well enough to know this wasn’t an idle threat. I was leaving.

“You’ve already done so much.” It was true. Becca had been there for me when, only days before Thanksgiving, I’d gotten the call that brought me to my knees. She had already proven herself an amazing friend through all of undergrad, but she’d taken it to new heights that year.

“What are you going to do? Where are you going to go?”

She knew without me telling her that I was leaving Boston. Without school, there was officially nothing left for me in the city.

“I don’t know.” I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but I went with the first idea that popped into my head. “I’ll probably go home for a while.”

“Home? You mean to North Carolina?”

“Yeah… My mom’s not there, so the house is just sitting empty. It could work.”

“Are you sure an empty house is a good idea for you…” she trailed off, likely noticing the telltale signs that I was about to snap at her.

“It’s not any worse than an empty apartment. At least I don’t have memories of Adam there.” Of course, lots of other memories waited for me, but they weren’t quite as new or raw.

“Okay. I know there is no way I’m going to change your mind, so I’m going to go ahead and give you my blessing.”

I cracked a smile. “Your blessing?”

“You know what I mean. Maybe this will be what you need. Maybe you’ll finally heal. Promise to stay in touch? You’ll call me?”

“Of course I will. I’m not leaving the country; it’s just a different state.” It was my turn to hug her. I had trouble letting go.

She wiped away tears, smearing some of her mascara. “I love ya, Molly.”

“I love you too.”

I made myself continue down the hallway before I could take a look back at my friend and lose it completely. I had a fleeting thought of trying to return my casebooks to the bookstore for some cash—lord knew I needed the money—but I didn’t have the strength. I threw my contracts book in the trash, enjoying the thud it made when it hit the bottom of the empty barrel. Putting the second strap of my backpack on my back, I headed out the door for the very last time.

Chapter Two

Clayton Falls looked exactly the same as it always did when I turned off the interstate. The old highway leading into town was desolate as usual, and I knew that, without my headlights, I’d be in pitch blackness.

I rolled down my windows and drove through town slowly; I wasn’t in the mood to piss off the local police. I probably went to school with half the department. I could already smell the ocean. The thick scent of salt reminded me that I was really back home. I felt a sudden surge of adrenalin. My eyes no longer drooped.

I turned into the new traffic circle, ‘new’ being a relative term since it had been installed ten years before. Where I came from, anything that hadn’t been there when you were born was new. I turned left and drove around the town square. I studied the closed storefronts, wondering if the same people still owned them. It had been years since I’d been back. Yellow-tinted lights illuminated the grassy median, revealing that the graduating class had already gone to work on the statue of our town’s founder. With an animal print bikini top, large sunglasses, and a swim cap, the makeover wasn’t particularly original, but it was still funny. I passed the square, into a more residential area of town.

With some trepidation, I pulled into the driveway of my childhood home. The dark windows reminded me how empty it was. When I’d called my mom to tell her I was going to stay for a while, she warned me the house might not be in good shape. She hadn’t been home in over a year, not since my sister Shayna had her second baby. Parking in the blacktop driveway, I grabbed my purse and one small bag from the passenger seat before heading to the faded yellow front door.

Inserting my key, I pushed open the door, flipping on lights before closing and locking the door behind me. I’d get the rest of my bags in the morning. Even hundreds of miles from Boston, I still had the city security mentality. I’d bet a lot that half my neighbors never bothered to lock their homes. Clayton Falls wasn’t exactly a hotbed for crime.

I took the steps two at a time, eager to collapse onto the twin bed of my childhood. Maybe it would be easier to sleep in a bed meant for just one. The nameplate on the door displayed “Molly” in bright pink, still my favorite color. I smiled slightly before pushing open the door.

The pink and blue quilt called to me, and I answered, curling up into a ball with one of my favorite teddy bears. With only the light brown bear to witness, I let out the tears I had held in for the entire drive. The grief wasn’t new. Months had passed since Adam died, but it never seemed to get easier. I knew from experience how impossible it was to get over the sudden death of someone you loved. I also knew that I would never escape the guilt that ate away at me every second of every day.

I pulled myself off the bed long enough to unpack my toiletries and went to the small bathroom I used to share with my sister. Just as I got ready to turn on the water for a hot shower, I heard a knock on the front door.

Groaning, I climbed back downstairs. Looking out the front window, I noticed the red Lancer belonging to my childhood best friend in the driveway. Opening the door, I tried to plaster on a smile.

“Molly! Oh my god, it’s really you!” Kelly pulled me into a hug, nearly squashing me.

“Kelly, wow. How’d you know I was home? I just got here twenty minutes ago.”

“Tom heard a call about a disturbance at your address, and your mom already called to say you were coming, so I put two and two together.” Kelly’s brown eyes lit up when she mentioned her boyfriend’s name. It still seemed funny to me that my former partner in crime was in love with a cop.

“My mom called you?” I wasn’t actually surprised; it was just like my mom to go over my head in a misguided attempt to help.

“Yeah, she’s obviously worried. Anyway, aren’t you going to invite me in?”

“Sorry, come in.” I opened the door wider and moved to let her pass.

Kelly led the way into the kitchen, flipping on a light before flopping down in a chair the way only someone who has spent considerable time in a house would do.