Authors: Sabrina Stark
Something was ringing. My cell phone. Instantly awake, I jerked upright in the bed. It was Chloe's ringtone. I grabbed the phone from the nearby nightstand and hit the button. "Chloe?"
Her voice, soft and sweet, was music to my ears. "So, I've got this mysterious car in the driveway."
I knew which car she meant. Hers, obviously. Last night, or more accurately, this morning, between my two conversations with Amber, I'd driven to the restaurant where Chloe worked.
Sure enough, I'd found her car parked in the same spot as before. And sure enough, just like she'd told me on my own doorstep, the thing didn't want to start.
"Yeah?" I said into the phone. "How mysterious?"
like mine. But apparently, it can drive all by itself."
"Even when it's broken down."
"Or maybe," I said, "it was just a dead battery."
One quick jump with my jumper cables, and the engine was up and running. I'd left my sedan in the restaurant parking lot, and then, I'd driven Chloe's little Fiesta back to her place.
I'd parked it in her driveway, and then I'd walked back home. A peace offering? Maybe. But I'd have done it regardless.
"Aha!" she said. "You went and got it, didn't you?"
The smile in her voice warmed me to the core. "It depends," I said. "If I did, is that a good thing? Or a bad thing?"
She hesitated. "What if it
a good thing?"
"Then it was all me."
"And if it's a
thing?" she asked.
"In that case," I told her, "blame Bishop."
"Your brother?" she laughed. "Why him?"
"Because he's already on your list, so I figure, eh, what's the difference?"
"Heeeey," she said, "
on my list too."
"I know. And I’m trying like hell to get
"So, that's why you did it?"
"Nope. I'd have done it anyway."
"I've gotta ask," she said, "how'd you do it? It's not like you had my keys."
Who needed keys? Not me. "Long story," I said.
"Yeah, I just bet." Her voice warmed. "Still, thanks for the help. Seriously."
"You might wanna get a new battery."
"Yeah. The car's starting okay now, but you know how these things go. Vintage cars. They're tricky, right?"
She was quiet a long time. When she finally spoke, the smile in her voice was gone. "How about your car? Is it, uh–"
I'd seen my car on my way into the restaurant parking lot. It was dented and battered, with shattered headlights and missing mirrors. If the towing company had followed my instructions, it was now sitting in my bonus garage, waiting for me to fix it up again, or who knows, torch the thing and be done with it.
"Oh c'mon Lawton," Chloe said, "I know it's not fine. I was there. Remember?"
"Yeah. I remember."
"Why'd you do that?"
"Because it needed to be done."
"No, it didn't."
"Yes," I said. "It did."
"Because I meant what I said. For what I did to you, I deserved a good ass-beating. Still do. But
wouldn't take me up on it. So that car, it was the closest thing I had."
And it was. With the kind of money I had now, I could buy anything I wanted. They were just things – replaceable, interchangeable. But that car, it wasn't. I'd restored it my own two hands. In a way, it was part of me, just like my wrists, just like my sanity, which had taken a serious beating over the last couple of days.
Chloe's voice grew softer. "You shouldn't have done it."
"You're right. I shouldn't have done it. But I'm not talking about the car."
She was quiet for a beat, and then said, "Speaking of cars, I've got to leave for work in a little bit, so I'll catch you later, alright?"
I didn't want her to go. But I forced myself to say. "Alright. We're still on for tomorrow, right?"
"Yup, it's a date."
At this, I had to smile. "A date, huh?"
"Um, well," she stammered, "I'll guess I'll see you this time tomorrow, huh? Okay, uh, goodbye then." And then she was gone.
Holding the phone, I was still smiling. There was hope. She might deny it, but I could hear it in her voice.
She still loved me. And, like the bastard I was, I was going to work that for everything I had.
I checked the time. It was mid-afternoon. I sank back onto my bed and looked up at the ceiling. Tomorrow – it felt like too damn long.
Later that night, I was in the bonus garage out back when I heard Amber calling out from somewhere outside. "Hey Lawton! Are you in there?"
Reluctantly, I opened the garage-door, and there she was, standing just outside the opening.
She was smiling. "I've got super-good news, and I wanted to tell you before anyone else did." Her smile widened. "I just saw Chloe."
"You know, the place where she works. That restaurant."
Damn it. So once again, Amber had been bothering Chloe on the job. I tried to keep my voice level. "Why'd you go
"Because that's where she was. I mean, she wasn't
place." Amber pointed toward Chloe's house. "And she wasn't
, at her place. So anyway, I found her where she was. See?"
saw was another reason for Chloe to hate me. "And you said this was
"Definitely." Amber was smiling again. "I stopped by, had some pancakes, and told her that I was really super-sorry."
Amber wasn't the only one who was sorry. Earlier today, when Amber had made noises about apologizing, this wasn't what I had in mind.
Amber was still talking. "And I explained about the other stuff too, so I think we're good."
"What other stuff?"
"Well, I explained how we
kidnap mascots." She gave it some more thought. "And I told her about the car…"
"You know. Joey and Paul's car. You remember, right?"
Like I'd forget. It was the same car that they'd tried to drag Chloe into. It was also the same car that I'd left at the restaurant, with those guys locked in the trunk. "I remember."
"Anyway," Amber continued, "I think Chloe thought it was paint."
I shook my head. "
"You know, the stuff you wrote."
Finally, I got it. In the trunk of Joey and Paul's car, we'd found a bottle of white shoe polish, the kind with a built-in sponge. It didn't take a genius to figure out what it was for. They'd been planning to write something on Chloe's car.
Maybe it was a joke. Maybe it wasn't. Either way, I didn't like it. Sometimes, that stuff didn't come off.
So, I'd given them a taste of their own medicine. I'd taken their own shoe polish and wrote things of my own – profanity mostly. Recalling what I'd written across the hood, I said it out loud. "Asshole patrol."
"Yup, that was it," Amber said. "And you know, it's kind of true, about them being assholes, I mean."
Obviously, she didn't get it. "You think I was calling
No. I wasn't. Simple name-calling wasn't my style. Those words were a warning. The asshole was
, and if they messed with Chloe in any way, they'd see that for themselves. I'd told them so, and I'd meant every word.
I had a lot of friends, in high places, in low places too. Those guys could run, but they couldn't hide. But Amber didn't need details, so I shrugged off the question by saying, "It doesn't matter."
Amber glanced down, and her body became very still. When she never looked up, I ducked my chin to see what she was staring at.
At what I saw, I stifled a curse. If I was lucky, she wouldn’t ask. But luck, apparently, wasn't on my side.
Amber was still staring at my wrists. "What happened?"
After showering, I hadn't replaced the bandages. I figured I didn't need to. I wasn't going anyplace, and there was no more dripping blood, just long dark scabs and raw skin around the edges.
It was ugly, but not as bad as it looked. Still, I didn't like anyone looking.
I crossed my arms to hide the damage. "It's nothing," I said.
When she looked up, her eyes were troubled. "You didn't try to kill yourself?" She hesitated. "Did you?"
She bit her lip. "You know, if you want to talk–"
"I don't." I looked toward my favorite car. The windshield was busted, and the side mirrors were missing. But the dents were my biggest problem. They'd be the hardest things to fix, assuming they were fixable at all.
The way it looked, my car had sustained a lot more damage than I had. Skin healed itself. Metal and glass, not so much.
I was still looking at the car when Amber spoke again. "You really love her, don't you?"
"Yeah." I turned to meet her gaze. "I do."
Her eyes were wet. "Lawton?"
Just great. More drama. When I spoke, my voice came out too fast and too sharp. "What?"
"I'm sorry." She blinked back tears. "About everything. Really. This is all my fault."
"No." My voice softened as I realized that this time, it wasn't jealousy that had her upset. "It's not."
"But it is," she insisted. "If I hadn't become friends with Brittney–"
"That's not it." I paused, thinking of the bigger issue. "But there's something you need to hear."
"It's not just who you
friends with, it's what happens after." I thought of my old friends. Some of them, I still had. But a lot more of them, I'd kicked to the curb after I'd gotten famous. And it wasn't because
Well, okay, I
changed. But the bigger thing was how
had changed afterward. Guys I used to know suddenly became ass-kissers, or worse, users, who tried to cash in on my fame to make themselves rich and famous, too.
Even that sex tape, it wouldn't have happened if I'd surrounded myself with better people.
Amber blinked up at me. "What do you mean?"
how Brittney was," I said. "But you never called her on it. Whatever she wanted, you just went along, no matter how rotten it was." I shook my head. "If you do that too much, bad things happen."
And this, I knew from experience.
"But we're not even friends anymore," Amber said. "In your driveway, you saw us, right?"
"I'm talking before then." Feeling like some sort of amateur shrink, I went on to say, "You're a nice person, Amber. Maybe you should hang out with nicer people. That's all I'm saying."
"Oh." Her face brightened. "You mean like Chloe?"
I froze. "Uh…"
seem nice." Amber was nodding now. "And she's a pretty good waitress, too. Like tonight, she remembered the extra syrup and everything."
I stared at her. "What?"
"You know, when I apologized, I asked her to bring extra syrup for my pancakes, and she was really nice about it, too."
What the hell? "You made her
"Well, yeah." Amber frowned. "That wasn't a bad thing, was it? I mean, I left her a really nice tip. And she totally earned it, too."
I closed my eyes, trying to block out the image of Amber sitting there at some table while Chloe waited on her – and the way it sounded, was sent to the kitchen for extra condiments.
Amber's voice broke into my thoughts. "Lawton? Are you okay?"
I opened my eyes. "You shouldn't have done that."
"But why not? I knew it was really super-important to you, and I didn't want to wait
long." Her gaze drifted to my crossed arms. "Especially now, with you all suicidal and stuff."
Through gritted teeth, I said, "I'm not suicidal."
"Are you sure?" she asked. "Because one of my sorority sisters, she works for a suicide hotline, you know, like a volunteer." Amber squinted up at me. "Do you want the number, just in case?"
My head was pounding now. "No."
"But I want to do
to help." She perked up. "I know. I could run to the store for bandages. Or maybe some ointment or something."
"But you need
." She winced. "Because those cuts looked pretty bad."
"They're not." Hell, they weren't even cuts, but I didn't want to get into it. Looking to shake her off, I glanced toward the house. "You really wanna do me a favor? Stop in and say 'hi' to Bishop."
She brightened. "You think he'd want me too?"
"He let you in the gate, didn't he?"
"Yeah, but only through the intercom. It's not like he came out in person or anything."
"Then at least stop by," I said, "you know, as a thanks for opening the gate."
Bishop wouldn't be thanking
afterwards, but at this point, it was better to have him dealing with her than me. And besides, I hadn't been the person who let Amber in.
When she finally turned and headed toward the house, I shut the garage door and threw on a dark jacket. A moment later, I was heading out the side door – and not only to escape Amber.
Maybe I couldn’t see Chloe. But with a simple walk around the block, I
see her house, and I figured, hey, it was better than nothing.
But it wasn't. Because what I saw when I got there didn't exactly make me happy.