Authors: Sabrina Stark
Ten minutes later, I was sitting in the passenger's seat of Amber's car with the engine running.
Amber glanced toward the house. "Can't we go inside?"
I gave her a look. "You gotta ask?"
For one thing, I wasn't in the mood for company. For another, there was no way in hell I was taking the chance of Chloe showing up and finding me in the house with yet another girl, especially if the girl happened to be Amber.
Amber's voice was quiet. "It's because of
, isn't it?"
Well, at least she didn't call Chloe "dog girl" again.
"Listen," I said, feeling that familiar edge creep into my voice, "her name is Chloe, and after what you did to her–"
"I didn't do anything to her."
"Cut the crap," I said. "I already got the story from Brittney."
"Brittney, the liar? You're gonna believe her over me?"
best friend," I reminded her.
"Not anymore." With a huff, Amber sank back against the driver's seat. "I'm totally done with her."
This wasn't a surprise. Amber went through best friends the way kids went through cookies. It always ended the same. After a few weeks, the friend would show their ass, and Amber would finally move on, only after getting hurt.
I felt my jaw tighten. But this time, the one getting hurt wasn't Amber. It was Chloe.
Amber and I had been friends for a long time now. I did business with her dad. My life would be a lot easier if I just let everything go and forgot what she did. But I'd never been one to take the easy route.
The only reason I was out here, talking to Amber at all, was to set things straight so she didn't show up on my doorstep later on. No matter what it took, I was going to win Chloe back. And when that happened, I sure as hell didn't need Amber in the middle, messing things up.
I turned to face her. "Amber, you need to know something. We're done. Our friendship, or whatever, it's over."
She blinked. "What? Why?"
"You know why."
She gave me a confused look. "No, I don't. Honest."
Did I really need to explain it? Just ten hours earlier, I'd seen Chloe lying on the ground with a knife to her throat. The knife might've been fake, but the scene was real enough. There was no way in hell I could let that slide.
From what I'd learned over the last few hours, Brittney and Amber had planned the whole thing. Maybe Amber hadn't been the mastermind – as ridiculous as that sounded – but she hadn't done anything to stop it either.
Whether she'd been too jealous or just too weak, it was the same result. Chloe had gotten hurt, thanks to Amber and her latest best friend.
But Amber was shaking her head. "But…what'd I do?"
Oh for fuck's sake. Amber wasn't the brightest bulb in the world, but even
couldn’t be this stupid. Fine, if I needed to spell it out, whatever.
Through gritted teeth, I told Amber everything I knew, starting with the fact that Chloe had been jumped in her own front yard and ending with Brittney's lame excuse that it was all just a prank.
"But that wasn't supposed to happen!" Amber said. "At least not like that."
"Yeah?" I said, feeling my blood pressure rise. "How, exactly, was it supposed to happen?" I gave her a hard look. "Let me guess. I wasn't supposed to catch them in the middle of it? I wasn't supposed to force their sorry asses into their
trunk and make
jump out in
When Amber said nothing, I went on. "So, it was supposed to be
out there? Half-naked where she fucking works. Is that it?"
Amber drew back. "I don't know what you're talking about." She blinked back tears. "Honest."
"Oh yeah? So tell me. How was it supposed to happen?"
She was sniffling now. "It's hard to talk when you're so mad about it."
"Fine by me." I reached for the door-handle.
"Yeah. And you should, too." I opened the car-door. "And Amber?"
"Don't come back."
She paused. "Ever?"
"Ever." I got out of the car and slammed the door shut behind me, leaving Amber to drive off – or not. If she stayed too long, I'd call my usual security firm and have her hustled out like the trespasser she was.
Besides, I had something else to do, and it didn't involve being nice to a girl who didn't deserve it. I bypassed the house and went straight for the unattached garage out back.
A couple of minutes later, I was in the driver's seat of my basic dark sedan. I pulled out of the driveway, passing Amber's car, still sitting in the turnaround, with the engine still running.
If Amber was smart, she'd be gone by the time I got back.
But as it turned out, she wasn't.
I'd been gone for two hours. Now, walking through my front gate, I wasn't happy with what I saw – Amber's car, parked in the same spot as before.
The car was empty, and the engine was no longer running. That could only mean one thing. She was somewhere inside my house.
What the hell?
Sure enough, I found her sitting with Bishop in the front living room. He was still holding that stupid mug and – damn it – now, Amber had a mug, too.
Well, this was just great. My brother – who'd been a dick to Chloe from day-one – had not only let Amber inside my house, but had actually served her coffee.
I stared at them. "What the hell's going on?"
Bishop lifted his mug, but said nothing.
I eyed the mug, some big ceramic thing that my decorator had picked out. "You know where you can shove that thing?"
"Nope." He took a sip. "And I don't wanna know."
I turned to Amber. "And what are
It was Bishop who answered. "She's my guest."
guest?" I turned to give him a look. "It's
Normally, I'd have said my house was his house, too. I trusted the guy. He might be the only guy I trusted. I wouldn't normally give a rat's ass who he invited over, or what they did. But why Amber? And why now?
Amber shifted in her seat. "Do you want me to leave?"
"Yeah," I said, "and this time, don't come back."
She'd barely budged when Bishop said, "Sit. You're not going anywhere."
I glared over at him. "The hell she isn't." After what she'd done to Chloe, she shouldn't even be here.
Bishop flicked his head toward a nearby chair. "Stick around," he told me. "You'll want to hear this."
I didn't move. "I've heard enough."
For hours, I'd been doing a slow burn about the thing with Brittney and Amber. Brittney had been Amber's friend, not mine. Amber had brought Brittney into my house, into my life, and into my relationship with Chloe.
The way I saw it, even if Amber didn't start the problems, she hadn't done a damn thing to stop them. It made her worse than an enemy. It made her a traitor, and I'd dealt with too many of those already.
"Just listen," Bishop said. "Consider it a favor, alright?"
"Yeah?" My jaw was tight. "To who?"
"Me," he said, "for getting blondie out of your hair."
My gaze shifted to Amber.
"Not that one," Bishop said. "The other one."
"So you gave Brittney a ride," I said. "Big deal."
Okay, yeah, it was a big deal. Brittney was a royal pain in the ass, and Bishop had taken her off my hands. But the idea was to get rid of these girls. Not invite them in for coffee.
"And," Bishop continued, "Brittney was locked out."
"So?" I knew Bishop. He could pop a lock in thirty seconds.
," he said again, "I had to toss out a couple of drunks who tried to block the door."
"What drunks?" I asked.
"Her roommate." He made a sound of disgust. "And some guy."
I recalled our last visit to Brittney's place. She'd been locked out that time, too. I recalled her frizzy-haired roommate, sleeping naked on the couch with some guy old enough to be her grandpa.
I had to ask. "The same guy as before?"
"Nah," Bishop said. "Different one. Huge guy with a nose-ring."
Amber spoke up. "Oh, I know who
was. It's one of her roommate's boyfriends. I think his name is John." She frowned. "Come to think of it, a bunch of them are named John. Pretty weird, huh?"
Bishop and I shared a look.
"Uh, yeah," Bishop said. "Weird." He cleared his throat. "Anyway…" He turned back to me. "Amber has something to tell you. So just sit and listen, alright?"
I glanced toward the nearest chair, but made no move to sit.
"You owe me," Bishop said. "Did I mention the guy smelled like cheese?"
Amber was nodding. "Yup, that was John, alright." She wrinkled her nose. "I hope you wore gloves. He has this really weird skin-condition."
Well, that did it.
I made for the chair and sat.
Bishop looked to Amber. "Go on. Tell him what you told me."
Amber gave me a nervous look. "Okay. I tried to tell you earlier, but you were so mad–"
"I'm still mad," I said. "So just spit it out, alright?"
"I will, honest. But first, I have to say something."
Her voice grew very quiet. "I'm sorry."
"You should be."
"Hey!" Bishop said, "She's trying to tell you something. Don't be a dick, alright?"
"Me?" I gave him a what-the-hell look. "Now
the dick? What about
"What about me?"
"Every single time you've seen Chloe, you've been a dick to her." I flicked my gaze to Amber. "And now, you're all nice to
, the girl who tried to have Chloe kidnapped?"
Amber spoke up. "But I didn't! That's what I’m trying to tell you!"
Yeah, whatever. I crossed my arms and waited.
She took a deep breath. "It wasn't supposed to happen like that."
"Right," I said, not bothering to hide my irritation. "So, how was it supposed to happen?"
"Let me start from the beginning, because
the thing I'm sorry about." She looked down at her lap and said, "I was pretty mean to Chloe." She hesitated. "Brittney and I, well, we had her wait on us, you know, at that restaurant where she works."
When Amber looked up, her cheeks were flushed. "We were kind of awful."
In a careful voice, I asked, "How awful?"
"Well, the first time, we went in with Joey and Paul." She glanced away. "You know, the two guys who uh…"
"Attacked Chloe?" My voice was hard. "
"Um, yeah," she said. "Well, it was the night of your birthday party, actually. Brittney thought it would be fun to go into that restaurant and–"
"Give Chloe a hard time?" I said. "Yeah, I got that."
After a long pause, Amber continued. "And then, we went in a few days after that. This time, it was just me and Brittney. We were pretty mad, you know, because you made us leave your birthday party…"
"Yeah, and you deserved it."
I'd been half-drunk at the time, but I remembered exactly why I'd kicked them out. That was the night I'd learned – from
, no less – that they'd been trying to get Chloe fired.
Amber's voice was almost a whisper. "I know."
"That we deserved it. I knew it then, too. But…" She wiped at her eyes. "I just got so caught up in everything. You know what I mean?"
"No. I don't."
It was true. Chloe hadn't done a damn thing to deserve all the grief they'd given her. If they wanted to give
grief, fine. I could deal with it. But to gang up on a girl who'd done nothing wrong, especially a girl I loved, well, apology or not, I couldn't let that slide.
Amber was staring down at her hands. Other than the fact she was supposedly sorry, I hadn't learned anything new.
I stood. "Are we done?"
It was Bishop who answered. "Not yet." He turned to Amber. "Go on. Tell him the rest."
I didn't bother sitting back down. The way I saw it, we'd be done in a minute, maybe less.
Amber looked up and started talking again. "About the prank, it wasn't supposed to happen like that."
I made a sound of disgust. "It shouldn't have happened at all."
"But I was trying to be nice," she said. "You know, to make up for being
nice before." She gave me a shaky smile. "See?"
Bishop said, "Start at the beginning."
"Okay," Amber said. "You know at my sorority, we do these kidnapping things. Usually, it's just a mascot or something."
"Chloe's not a mascot," I reminded her.
"Yeah, but it was supposed to be fun. For her, I mean."
I stared at her. "Fun?"
"Yeah. You know, like we'd all show up and 'kidnap' her, like for a party or something." She smiled. "Or maybe a spa treatment. Like a girl's day out. Anyway, I was telling all of this to Brittney, and she said, 'Yeah, we should do that.'"
Amber's voice picked up steam. "And I said, 'Yeah, we totally should.' And I was totally planning something nice, but then before I knew it, Brittney set it up without me." Amber frowned. "Except she totally messed it up."
Amber looked to Bishop. "
see what I mean, right?"
He nodded. "Totally." He looked to me and said, "Eh, women. What are you gonna do?"
Amber slumped back in her chair. "I know what
going to do. I'm never talking to Brittney again." She glanced up. "You know, she's not even
my sorority. I just let her
that to be nice."
"Maybe that's your problem," I said, "you're too nice to the wrong people."
Even as I said it, I felt like a giant shit-heel. I was one of those people, and for years now, Amber had been nicer to me than I probably deserved.
Suddenly, I felt too drained to think about it. I'd been awake for how long now? At least twenty-four hours.
"So anyway," Amber said, "that's why I'm sorry, not just for being mean before, but because the prank got all messed up." She gave me a hopeful smile. "So, do you forgive me?"
Her question hung in the air. If it had been
who'd gotten hurt, it would easy to let this slide. I said, "It's not
you should be apologizing to."
"Oh, I'm gonna apologize to Chloe, too," Amber said.
I thought of Brittney's apology. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea."
Amber leaned forward. "Oh, but it is. I'm gonna wear clothes and everything." She glanced at Bishop. "I heard what Brittney did. God, what a slut."
An hour later, Amber was gone. From the open front doorway, I watched her car pull out of the driveway and turn onto the quiet street.
From somewhere behind me, Bishop spoke. "You'll be glad you did that."
I turned, and there he was, watching me with those sharp eyes of his. I didn't want anyone studying me, and I sure as hell didn't feel like talking.
"Glad?" I made a scoffing sound. "There's nothing to be glad about here."
Yeah, I'd given Amber another chance. But it was more for my own sake than for hers. Karma – I wasn't a big believer in that sort of thing. But desperately, I wanted another chance with Chloe. And maybe, just maybe, if I gave a chance to someone else, Chloe would do the same for me.
It was worth a shot, right?
I strode past Bishop and made for the stairway. I needed a shower, and to crash for a few hours. It was Sunday, and for once, I didn't have anything planned.
Over my shoulder I said, "When the tow-truck comes, open the garage, will ya?"
I didn't wait for his answer. Instead, I went upstairs and made for the master bathroom, where I turned on the shower and then stripped out of my clothes. Waiting for the water to warm, I stood naked, looking into the full-length mirror.
like a monster. My face, my body, it all looked the same as yesterday. There was the same dark hair, the same dark eyes, the same body that was famous for more than fighting.
I recalled the words of some famous blogger. I had the face of an angel and a body for sin. I'd sinned, alright. Against Chloe.
In front of the mirror, I peeled off the wrist-bands and studied the raw skin underneath. I lifted my wrists for a closer look. The wounds went beyond simple rope burns. There was dried blood and damage so deep, it looked more like cuts than superficial scrapes from old-fashioned friction.
I thought of Chloe's wrists. My handcuffs. My fault.
I hadn't meant for her to get hurt. I hadn't even known. But I should have.
With a heavy sigh, I turned and headed into the shower, where I tried to scrub away the filth of the last twenty-four hours. But when the water ran cold however long later, I still felt dirty.