Heartache and Hope (Heartache Duet #1) by Jay McLean
Ava Diaz needs saving.
She just doesn’t know it yet.
Just like she doesn’t know a thing about the boy she sits next to on the first day of senior year.
He thinks she’s a brat.
She thinks he’s entitled.
Maybe first impressions don’t always last…
Because Connor Ledger’s about to save her.
He just doesn’t know why.
Heartache and Hope is mature young-adult Sports Romance, 80k full-length novel and is the first book in the Heartache Duet
Heartache and Hope
One minute you’re sipping on your first beer at your first bonfire party, wearing a hoodie provided by a boy you’ve been crushing on for months. He slips his hand around your waist, pulls you closer to him. Then he dips his head, whispers into your neck, “You’re beautiful, Ava.”
It’s your fifteenth birthday, and you have the world at your feet, and you watch the fire blaze in front of you, watch the embers rise, float to a new existence, and you think to yourself, This is life.
Your phone rings, and you pull it out of your back pocket, see your stepfather’s name flashing on the screen, and you end the call, pocket the phone again.
The boy kisses your neck, and you take another sip, your eyes drifting shut at the feel of his lips against your skin.
Your phone rings again.
And you ignore it every time.
Every single time.
You move to the bed of a truck, your hands in his hair, his hands on your breasts, and you’re so drunk on desire it makes you high on this life.
This perfect life.
It’s 3:00 a.m. when you stumble home, drunk and delusional. Your stepfather is slouched on the couch in the living room, a single lamp casting the only shadows of the night. “I’ve been calling you,” he says, and you’re too out of it to care. “It’s your mother.”
At fifteen and one day, you sit with your stepfather in the same living room where he waited all night for you. Night has turned to day, and unlike him, you don’t look at the door, waiting. No. You look at the phone.
At fifteen and two days, the call comes through, and neither you nor your stepdad has slept a wink. Your stepbrother is on his way home from Texas, and you wring your hands together.
At fifteen and three days, you find out that the situation is so bad, they’re bypassing Germany and bringing your mother right home. To you. To her family.
At fifteen and four days, your stepbrother comes home, and you look to him for courage, find it in his eyes, in the way he holds your hand while you can do nothing but wait.
At fifteen and five days, you fly to DC, and see your mother for the first time in five months. The last words she said to you were “Be careful.” She smiled at you the way mothers smile at their children, and you hid the pain and fear in your chest, replaced weakness for courage, and offered her a smile of your own.
At fifteen and six days, you try to search for that smile on her face while you sit by her hospital bed, but you don’t find it. Can’t find it. Because half of her face is gone. Half of her arm is, too.
A grenade, they told you.
At fifteen and seven days, you say to yourself, “This is life.” And it only took seven days for you to realize how imperfect it is.
Chapter One – Connor
LeBron James grew up poor as hell with a single mother and zero privilege. His high school was completely unheard of before he showed up with three of his buddies and took over the league. At eighteen, a senior, he went prep to pro and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. His initial contract was $18.8 million over four years. Nike had offered him more than one hundred million off the court. This was before he played a single second of professional ball.
Talk about a game changer.
Obviously, I’m no LeBron James.
No one is.
Besides being raised by a single parent, comparing myself to LeBron would be like chasing rainbows.
Also, Lebron didn’t have to change schools senior year just for the slight hope of getting noticed.
I walk back down the driveway for the millionth time, sweat pouring from every inch of my body, and blink away the fatigue from driving all night. Dad’s at the rear of the rental truck unloading the last of the boxes we managed to stuff in there. After this, we only have all the furniture to unload. Fun times. I pick up a large, heavy box and ask, “Where to?”
“What does it say on the box?” Dad huffs. He’s struggling more than I am.
I look down at the box, at the somewhere written in Dad’s handwriting. “It says somewhere,” I tell him, rolling my eyes.
He chuckles. “That must have been when I started to lose my mind. If only I’d had someone to help me pack.”
I shrug. “I was busy.” Lazy.
“Just dump it in the living room, and we’ll go through it later, but I gotta go.”
“Where?” I stop halfway to the house and look at the truck, then him, and back again. “Who’s going to help me unload the furniture?”
“Just take the small stuff for now. I’ll be back in a couple hours.”
Sweat drips into my eyeballs. “A couple hours?” I drop the box, use the bottom of my shirt to wipe at my eyes, then search for a hose so I can drown myself. Maybe I don’t even need the water. I could just use my own self-pity. There’s sure as shit an abundance of it. I look over at my dad as he struggles to open the front door with his foot while carrying two boxes. Shit. I need to suck it up and quit complaining. He’s given up a hell of a lot more than I have, and besides, he’s here for me, no other reason. I rush to hold the door open, then I plaster on the most genuine smile I can muster. “No worries, Pops. Take your time. I got it.”
“Don’t overdo it, Connor. Just the small stuff.”
When he leaves, the first thing I do is try to lift a three-seater couch on my own. Because I’m a shit of a kid and I don’t listen apparently.
“Yo, you need a hand?” a guy calls from behind, rushing to lift the other end of the couch before it falls off the back of the truck. He asks, “You thought you could lift this on your own?”
I’d be annoyed by his words if he wasn’t laughing when he said them. Besides, the guy’s huge. If Shaq had a long-lost son, he would be it… so it’s probably best not to start off on the wrong foot.
“Apparently so,” I murmur.
With his help, we get the couch into the living room within seconds.
“Hey, man. Thanks for that.” I throw out my fist for a bump as we walk out of the house.
“Nah, it’s nothing.” I expect him to leave, to go back to wherever the hell he appeared from, but he simply walks back to the truck, jumps in, and comes out with a mattress.
“Dude, honestly, you don’t need to help.”
He jumps down, then lifts the mattress onto his back as if it’s air. “I got nothing going on.”
“I can’t, like, pay you… or anything.”
He shakes his head. “Man, shut up with that.” Then he motions to the rest of our shit in the truck. “But I’m not doing this on my own.”
An hour later and the entire truck is empty. I’m completely drenched in sweat. So is Trevor—whose name I just asked a minute ago. “I’d offer you a drink,” I tell him, rolling down the truck door, “but we don’t really have anything.”
He looks over at my house. “You got AC?”
I nod. “I assume so.”
He slaps my arm. “Get it on. I’ll be back.”
A minute later, AC blowing in the living room, he returns with two beers and hands me one. I take it without a second thought, down half of it in one go while he makes himself comfortable on the couch. Legs kicked up on the somewhere box, he says, “I live next door by the way.”
I sit on a desk chair opposite him. “I figured. Hey, I can’t thank you enough. My dad had to run out, so you showed up at the right time. Or wrong time for you, I guess.”
He chuckles, his voice deep, low, when he says, “I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t want to.”
“Well, thank you. Again.”
He lifts his beer bottle in a salute motion, looking around the room. “So, you’re here with your parents?”
“Just my dad.”
“That him walking up your porch steps right now?”
I look through the window behind me, and sure enough… and I’m too late to remember the beer in my hand because it’s the first thing Dad spots when he walks into the house.
The second is Trevor.
“This is Trevor,” I tell Dad, standing, trying to hide the beer in plain sight. “He lives next door.”
Dad clears his throat, takes the beer from my grasp. “Nice to meet you, Trevor,” Dad says. “And I assume my son didn’t mention he was a minor.”
“Oh, my bad.” Trevor gets up to shake Dad’s hand. “To be fair, I didn’t ask.”
Dad simply nods, enjoying the ice-cold beer that I once called mine. “You help him bring all this furniture in?”
Dad opens his wallet.
I cringe a little on the outside, and a whole lot on this inside.
Dad tries to hand him a twenty, but Trevor shoves his hands in his pockets, declining. “You’re good, sir. I just saw him trying to lift more than all our weights combined. Didn’t want him hurting himself, you know?”
“Well, thank you. I appreciate it.”
Trevor eyes me. “A minor, huh?”
I nod, face heating with embarrassment.
“Nah. St. Luke’s Academy.”
Trevor’s eyes widen. “Oh yeah? That’s my old stomping ground.” He takes a quick glance around our two bed, one bath, paint-peeling-off-the-walls rental, and all our belongings, focusing a few seconds on the framed Larry Bird jersey. When his eyes meet mine again, he’s smirking. “Let me guess. Basketball scholarship?”
“Yeah,” Dad and I answer at the same time. Dad asks, “You play ball?”
Trevor looks down at his feet. “Football. Well, I used to. Not so much anymore.”
“You in college?” Dad asks him, and I hold back from doing the whole ohmygod Dad stahhp, you’re so embarrassing! thing and keep my mouth shut.
“Nah,” says Trevor. “I just work full-time now. Got my own company.” He pulls out a card from his wallet and hands it to Dad. “Electrician. If you need anything, my number’s on there.”
“You got it,” Dad asserts.
Trevor smiles at the both of us. “It’s been fun, but I gotta get going. Hope y’all settle in all right.”
“Hey, thanks again,” I tell him.
Dad says, “Are you sure you won’t take any—”
Trevor lifts his hand, already halfway to the door. “I’m good.”
“Well, if you won’t take money, maybe come around later this week. I’ll grill some steaks for us.”
Trevor stops, his hand on the door, and turns to us, his grin from ear-to-ear. “Now that is an offer too good to refuse.”
He’s gone a second later, his footsteps heavy on the porch.
Dad waits for him to be out of earshot before stating, “Good kid.”
“Good beer, too.”
I clamp my lips together.
He laughs. “Come with me?”
He places the empty bottle on a box labeled Boy Spawn and heads out the door.
I follow as he leads me to a hunk of metal on four wheels.
“So…?” Dad asks, his eyes wide and waiting. It doesn’t take long for his face to switch from his usual overtired, overworked, over-the-every-day-struggles-of-life frown into a full-blown grin. All it took was a twitch of my lips, a semblance of a smile. ”Do you like it?”
He’s asking the wrong question, because honestly? Do I like it? No. The car’s a piece of shit. Way beyond its expiration. Beaten to death and then brought back to life only to be beaten again. Rust forms the majority of the two-door’s roof. Door handles have been replaced with what I assume are coat hangers. The rear windshield… well, there is no rear windshield. There’s just black plastic in its place, so… again… do I like it? Fuck no.
Do I appreciate it? Hell yes. “Dad, are you serious?” My grin matches his now. “You didn’t have to. I mean, you shouldn’t have. Things are hard enough with the move and—”
“Connor,” he cuts in, shushing me with one hand, while a finger of the other runs along the dirt of the car’s hood. “It’s my job to worry about what’s too hard and what isn’t.” His shoulders heave with his inhale as he focuses on the perfectly clean line he’s just created. When his gaze meets mine again, I can see the exhaustion in his eyes. He’s worn out. Done. He tries to cover it up with the same smile he’s kept on, but I can tell it’s waning. Slowly. Surely.
I inspect the car closer. Or at least pretend to. Because my mind is elsewhere, running on empty, doing a play-by-play of every possible scenario my future has waiting for me. And not even my entire future. Just tomorrow.
The first day of senior year is daunting for anyone, but the first day as the new guy in a new school full of rich kids who I’m sure can sniff a poor, scholarship kid from a mile away? Yeah, tomorrow’s going to suck. And showing up in this car? It’s going to be hell… but there’s no way I’m telling Dad that. Or anyone else. Because the truth is, I don’t have anyone else. It’s 598 miles from Tallahassee, Florida, to Shemeld, North Carolina. Physically. But for my so-called friends and teammates back there, I may as well have moved to Mars. The second rumors started to spread about my moving for a better chance at my dreams was the exact second the invites and phone calls stopped. In one breath I was the team hero, and in the next, I was getting a stream of Fuck you, Traitor text messages.
What a time to be alive.
I grip the makeshift handle and pull up, cringing at the sound of metal scraping metal.
“She’ll get better. Don’t think she’s been used in a while,” Dad says, kicking at the tire. The hubcap separates from the wheel and falls to the ground in a circular motion—around and around—and I watch it, feel the chuckle building in my chest. I clamp my lips shut and try to contain it because the last thing I want to do is offend him.
His laughter starts low from somewhere deep inside him, and a moment later, he’s in hysterics, a belly-rumble type sound that has me doing the same. “Goddamn, it’s a piece of shit,” he murmurs, trying to compose himself.
“It’s not,” I assure.
“At least this way, you’ll be sure to get to school and games on time. Besides, it’s all for the end game, right?”
I nod. The “end game” is what we call the plan for my future, and St. Luke’s Academy is the first step. My agent, Ross, suggested the move, and Dad and I agreed early on that whatever Ross says goes, and he says to “trust in the process.”
So… I trust in the process.
Ross had organized everything. All I had to do was show up, play ball, keep my grades up, and he’d make sure I’d get into a D1 college.
Ross—he’s not big on the four-year part of the plan, but Dad’s adamant on it and in a way, so am I. A pro-athlete can only maintain the physical demands for so long. Besides, one injury could end it all and then what?
I catch the keys Dad throws at my chest.
“You need to drive me back to my car.”
“What? You ain’t worried about ruining your street cred by being seen in this?” I joke.
“Boy,” he mocks, pulling open the passenger door. “Being seen with you ruined my street cred a long time ago.”