Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

Aly Martinez


I wish I had told you to live in the seconds.

And I wish I’d been there more often to experience them with you.

But most of all, I wish I had one more second to laugh with you.

Fly high, Jamison.

Love, Sassy Sasquatch

“Squeeze together,” my sister ordered from a few yards away. She was holding the small disposable camera I’d gotten for my eighth birthday up to her eye.

It wasn’t exactly what I’d meant when I’d asked my parents for a camera. But that hadn’t stopped me from taking thirty-five sure-to-be-incredible pictures of my friends, my school, our iguana Herman, and even a few sneaky shots of third-grade heartthrob Brad Harris.

I’d always loved photography—or at least I’d loved what I could do with my mom’s old thirty-five mm. I didn’t know much about anything else. I’d been begging for a digital camera like the ones I’d seen at the electronics store, but it was never going to happen. My parents were old school to the core. If they hadn’t had it growing up, we weren’t getting it, either. And considering that our grandparents had been the original old-school parents, this meant no TV, no computers, and no cell phones. Short of a horse and buggy, we were as close to Amish as you could find in Watersedge, New Jersey—a sleepy suburb of New York City.

My father owned a bakery off Times Square, but according to him, the dangerous city was no place to raise a family. I didn’t figure that the dozens of young children we saw on the occasional Saturday picnic in Central Park would agree, but there had been no convincing my parents otherwise.

My dad put his arms around my mom and me and curled us into his sides. “I’m pretty sure this is as close as we can get without melding into one big Banks-family monster.”

I rolled my eyes as my dad lifted his hands like talons and roared.

I loved him, but he could be such a dork.

My mom giggled, the sound as gentle as snowflakes on a tin roof. “Just take the picture, honey. I’m sure it will be great.”

It wouldn’t be great. Not at the angle she was taking it. I’d probably be cut out of the frame completely, but then again, that was more than likely her plan. What were big sisters for if not to torment you?

Whatever. I didn’t particularly care if I was in the frame or not. The only reason I’d even agreed to a stupid picture in the middle of the mall food court was to finish my roll of film so I could get it developed. Film was a dying art—rightly so—and Sixty Minutes was one of the few places left in Watersedge that would develop it while you waited.

And, trust me, if you’d seen Brad Harris, you would understand why I was in a rush to get those pictures back.

“Say cheese!” Mom singsonged, no doubt through a breathtaking smile.

My mother was gorgeous in a way that made people stop and stare. Not in a sexy way. Not even in a traditional way. No, Keira Banks had a classic beauty that was all her own. Luckily, she’d passed on her red hair and green eyes to me and my sister. I hated my frizzy, orange curls most of the time, but she’d promised that one day they would turn into deep, rich waves of amber like hers. I wasn’t sure I believed her, but I held out hope nonetheless.

I scowled at the camera, ready to get the dang picture over with and head to Sixty Minutes.

“You call that a smile?” Dad said, tickling my side. “I’m going to need something bigger than that, buttercup.”

“Dad, stop,” I grumbled.

Those were the last words I ever said to my father.

He fell face first, a gaping hole in the back of his head, before the sound of gunfire met any of our ears.

Chaos exploded. A symphony of screams and cries echoed off the white tile floors as the constant boom of a firearm played the bassline.

People ran. Everywhere. In all directions. Scattering and blurring past me in streaks of denim and cotton. I started to move, maybe to follow them, but some primal instinct inside me screamed at me to get down. Panicked, I looked at my mother. She’d know what to do.

She was standing only a few feet away, and our eyes locked just in time for me to see her body jerk from the impact. First, her shoulders, one at a time. Then her torso, her head snapping back from the sheer force of a bullet.

And then she fell, landing over the top of my father’s dead body.

“Mama!” I screamed, diving toward her.

The gunfire continued, each shot bleeding into the last.

Dropped to my knees, I took her hand. “Mama, Mama, Mama,” I chanted, hot tears streaming down my face. Blood leaked through her pale-pink sweater, and pure terror glistened in her eyes as she stared back at me.

I was only eight years old, and Hell was raining bullets all around us, but there was no mistaking the look on her face.

She knew she was dying—and she couldn’t figure out how to make sure I didn’t.

Suddenly, the gunfire stopped, and in a moment of clarity, I popped my head up to look for my sister. But the only thing I could see was death and despair. The once-busy food court had been transformed into a graveyard. Bodies lay crumpled over, rivers of blood merging into pools, those pools joining to form a sea of red. The screams had turned into moans and the shouts into whimpers. The few remaining living souls were hiding under the tables or clinging to injured loved ones much like I was.

Only, when I looked back at my mother, she was no longer injured.

She was dead.

My shoulders shook wildly, silent sobs tearing from my throat. I needed to run. I needed to get out of there. But the fear and helplessness were paralyzing. I rested my forehead against my mother’s the way she’d done to me so many times in the past, calming me after a bad dream.

I needed her—glassy-eyed and unmoving—to fix this. I needed her to sit up and tell me that it was over. I needed my father to rise to his feet and pull me into his strong arms, where nothing could hurt me. And I needed my sister to appear, take my hand, and tease me relentlessly for overreacting.

I needed this not to be real.

Suddenly, a man got up and darted toward the double glass doors. With one single gunshot, he dropped to the ground.

My scream mingled with the gasps and cries of others trapped and hidden in that war zone. Desperate, I scanned the area for help.

More death.

More blood.

More hopelessness.

I caught sight of a man around my father’s age. He had his back to a flipped table, his face scrunched and his hands covering his ears as he rocked back and forth. With a thick beard and muscular arms covered in tattoos, he was someone I would have thought I could turn to for protection. The pure panic on his face made him more of a child than I was.

My stomach seized when another gunshot sounded followed by the thud of what I now knew was a body hitting the floor. I could have lived a lifetime without ever knowing what that sounded like. Yet, now, I’d never be able to unhear it.

“Anyone else want to make a break for it?” a man asked in a deep, gravelly voice.

I didn’t know where he was, but I sucked in a sharp breath and flattened myself on the floor, hoping he wouldn’t notice that I was still alive.

It was eerily silent after that. The only sound besides the thunder of my heart in my ears was the squeaking of his shoes against the tile every time he turned. They were slow, like he was taking his time surveying his damage. Or maybe they were deliberate as he searched for his next victim.

My stomach wrenched each time the sound got closer.

Then I’d shudder with relief when they faded into the distance.

It was only a matter of time though. My parents were dead, maybe my sister too. I would be next.

Lying as still as possible, I closed my eyes and prayed for the first time in my entire life. We didn’t go to church and I’d never been taught religion, but if God was real, He was the only way I was going to survive.

Through it all, I held my mother’s hand.

She would protect me.

Or, as it turned out, she’d send someone who could.

“When I say go, I need you to crawl with me,” he whispered.

My lids flew open and I found a teenage boy, maybe fifteen or sixteen, with dark hair and the bluest eyes I’d ever seen staring back at me. He too was on his stomach, facing me with his cheek resting on the cold tile and a red baseball cap turned sideways to hide the majority of his face. How he’d gotten there, I would never know.

I shook my head so fast that it was almost as if it were vibrating.

His eyes bulged. “Listen to me, kid. He’s pacing a pattern. Right now, he’s down near the froyo place. After he makes his next pass, we’ll have about sixty seconds to get over to the Pizza Crust. They have a door in the back we can escape through, but you gotta stick with me.”

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