This week we’re featuring a new chapter from Ann Aguirre’s Like Never and Always every day on our blog at 3PM EST from Monday, June 4 to Sunday, June 10. Keep track of them all here, and dive in to chapter two below! Like Never and Always will be available July 17.
On a hot summer night, Liv, Morgan, Clay and Nathan are on the way home from a party in Clay’s convertible. Best friends dating brothers? It doesn’t get better than that. But the joyride ends in sudden impact, a screech of brakes, and shattering glass. On that lonely country road, four lives change forever.
Liv wakes in the hospital. At first she’s confused when they call her Morgan, but she assumes it’s a case of mistaken identity. Yet when the bandages come off, it’s not her face inthe mirror anymore. It’s Morgan’s.
Morgan always seemed to have the perfect life. But as Liv tries to fit herself into Morgan’s world, she discovers endlessly disturbing secrets of the criminal and murderous variety and a dark task to finish…if she doesn’t lose her mind first.
Forced to confront the disturbing truths that Morgan kept hidden in life, Liv must navigate a world of long-buried murder, a dangerous love affair—and a romance that feels like a betrayal.
[dropcap type=”circle”]T[/dropcap]hat means Morgan is dead, and they don’t know.
Not Morgan. I can’t breathe.
Maybe the doctor was right to withhold judgment on whether I was strong enough for shocking news. If I’d known that night at Emma Lin’s party was the last time I’d ever talk to Morgan, I’d have said something more meaningful. I can’t even remember exactly what we rambled about, stupid stuff on the Internet, what the hell was Amanda Olsen wearing and whether Eric Mitchell would ever get up the courage to speak to Kendra Sanchez. A thousand moments like that, a million, but they couldn’t encompass the magic that was Morgan Frost.
I close my eyes. Take a choking breath.
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Frost says again.
He’s trying his best to comfort me and I have lost my best friend. That’s when it hits me. My parents think I’m gone. I imagine their numbness and grief, making arrangements, notifying other relatives. My whole body shrinks. More and more awful, piled like bricks until it’s Empire State Awful, a hundred and two stories tall.
I can’t process or fathom how the hospital could’ve made this mistake. Even if we were both really hurt, they should be able to run tests, right? Dental records are always used in TV shows. With every fiber of my being, I want my parents; they need to fix this.
Everyone thinks I’m dead—my family, friends at school, and Nathan. Oh my God, Nathan. How am I supposed to break the news to Mr. Frost? I’m so cold my teeth are clacking. “What . . .” My words trickle off.
Is it grisly to want details? But I need them. I can’t remember anything except that damn song on the radio. Hope I never hear it again.
“Olivia didn’t have on her seat belt. She was thrown from the car and they found her body in a field nearby. The police . . . they said it was quick.”
It’s so strange, hearing about my own death, knowing it’s my best friend they’re talking about, not me. Morgan had only been home a week when we went to Emma’s party. One last summer blowout before we buckle down, she’d messaged.
I’m still unable to believe any of this, processing slow like an outdated computer. My brain keeps skipping; it won’t stick on the idea that Morgan is really gone. This must be a morphine dream. Any minute, I’ll wake up, and my family will be here. They’ll tell me that Morgan is just down the hall, right?
I try pinching myself and then squeezing my eyes shut, but it only makes Mr. Frost ask, “Are your eyes bothering you?”
Damn. This is reality.
I should just tell him. Then he can call my parents; I need them here. This situation is too much for me to handle on my own. He’s waiting for an answer so I shake my head, working up the courage to drop this massive bomb.
“What about Nathan and Clay?” Shock has me asking random questions. I can’t make myself tell the truth yet—I’m Liv. Morgan is the one who died. Not right to her father’s face.
“Nathan spent one night in the hospital. Clay walked away with cuts and bruises, probably because he was drinking.” Mr. Frost’s tone says he disapproves, but if he argues with his daughter about dating the town bad boy, she’ll dig her heels in even more.
And he’s not wrong. She enjoys the risks associated with Clay. He’s not like the guys at school; he has an edge. With Clay, you never know if you’ll get the carrot or the stick, though I admit he treats Morgan better than I anticipated. When they first hooked up, I expected a hump and dump, then a night of tears punctuated by too much ice cream.
It never happened.
Mr. Frost is rambling about how alcohol loosens you up, so that’s probably why Clay isn’t hurt as bad. But part of what he’s saying is true; I mean, I remember that I didn’t put on my seat belt that night. No big deal. We’re only driving five miles to Morgan’s place, and there’s no traffic. I didn’t consciously think that or anything, but Clay’s Corvair doesn’t exactly encourage thoughts of modern safety. There’s a timeless air to that car—or there was. It’s probably totaled.
But . . . I can’t wrap my head around an error of this magnitude. A slow throb starts in my temples as I try to put it together, and it physically hurts to imagine how damaged Morgan’s body must be. Was she not wearing her seat belt either, so we were both launched while the boys held on . . . ? Clay wouldn’t let Morgan get hurt, I think, so she can’t be dead. She can’t be.
This is a mistake.
But the other explanation is that I’m dead. Which makes no sense. They found a body in the field; that’s a fact. Before I can decide how to bridge the subject of mistaken identity, the medical crew traipses back in with a frozen treat and the promise of another test. Mr. Frost takes off like he was waiting for this chance while I swallow a cowardly wave of relief and suck on the Popsicle. The cherry is too sweet, cough syrup instead of juice, and it’s like I can taste the red dye 40 in actual chemical tang. That’s something Morgan would’ve said, though I always thought she was being dramatic.
I should’ve just blurted it out, before. I force the Popsicle down.
The doctor talks a little more about my care and recovery plan, detailing my injuries, but I’m distracted by how he constantly calls me Morgan, like I need anchoring. This is probably some bedside manner thing, but in my case it’s a jolt, a needle-sharp poke. Each time, I take the bait, chasing the rabbit down the hole, and I drink the bottle marked I’m not Morgan. It feels like hours later when the specialist finally leaves.
Then it’s just me and Nurse Pink Pants, wearing a sympathetic look. “We’re moving you to a regular room now. That means you’re doing great.”
“We’ll do all the work.”
They do. I stay in bed, which gets wheeled to my new digs, a private room that my parents never could afford. They should be here. How can they not know . . . ? The numbness and shock are wearing off, and I want my mom so much it hurts. She would hug me and my dad would bring a thermos of my favorite tea. Hell, I’d even settle for my little brother, Jason, who spends more time with his handheld games than me. I’d trade all this hospital luxury for a minute with my actual family.
I get isolation instead.
Morgan’s dad is the CEO of a small IT company, Frost Tech, and he employs a lot of locals. Morgan tells the most hilarious stories how all the MILFs about town hunt her dad like big game. The truth will wreck him; Morgan is the only family he has left.
The TV is on, running a special bulletin about missing girls in Monroe County. That’s too depressing, and I already have enough darkness in my brain. I turn it off as the pictures of the lost flash on screen.
A bit later, Nurse Pink Pants bustles back in with some gear on a tray. “Let’s get those bandages off. I’m sure you’re probably worried about your face, a pretty girl like you.”
That’s the last thing on my mind, but it occurs to me that once I’m unbundled, that should clear everything up. No more worries about how to explain—my features, however distorted, will be all the clarification they need. Then someone can call my parents and . . . Morgan will be dead; it’ll be official. I swallow hard. There’s no way I can be relieved . . . or anything but empty. There’s no bright side here.
She gets to work when I don’t reply and is snipping away when the door cracks open. Clay comes in first, shadowed by Nathan, who looks like deep-fried shit. My gaze lingers on his face. He hasn’t shaved since the accident, it looks like. Normally, Nathan and Clay are like night and day, but right now, I see the family resemblance.
“We’re just in time for the unveiling, huh?” Clay smiles at me.
“Hey, Morgan.” Nathan doesn’t look at me, and it’s hard to see him so heartbroken, but he’ll cheer up soon enough.
I imagine him running to me when the gauze comes off. We’ve been dating for a while now, and I don’t doubt Nathan loves me. Thinking that I died because of him, while he was driving—it must be eating him alive. I’m unsure how Clay will cope with learning that Morgan died on that dark country road, but the truth has to come out.
“There,” she murmurs at last, offering a hand mirror. “Don’t focus on the stitches or the swelling. Try to believe that it’s not as bad as it looks, okay?”
I steel myself . . . and stare.
It’s not bad. It’s worse, a thousand times worse. Because despite the damage the nurse mentioned, I’m definitely registering Morgan’s face: her nose, her mouth, her chin, her black hair and blue eyes.
But I’m not Morgan Frost. For the last sixteen years, I’ve been Liv Burnham . . . and apparently, I am dead.
Copyright © 2018 by Ann Aguirre