Page 62


“Whoa,” she said. “That dumbass is screwed.” Sam had no patience for stupid, not that I could blame her.
I hated making those types of calls, but I’d learned it was best to spit out the facts and let people deal with them how they would. “Well, Bobby, you’ve hydrolocked your engine.”
“Is that bad?” he asked.
“Um, yeah. Pretty bad.” I told him I’d hold off doing anything until he authorized it, because it was going to cost a couple grand. Poor guy was nearly in tears when he called back to tell me to do it. He’d probably swerve around two-inch-deep puddles for the rest of his life.
Diagnosis required concentration. Doing the work, not so much. My mind was free to chew on everything that happened last night—and there was plenty to ponder.
Pearl had answered the door wearing a mouthwateringly short denim skirt and boots. A little white top that sorta twisted around her a couple of times and tied in the back just about finished me off. I caught sight of that bow at the small of her back when she turned to call good-bye to her mom, and all night, every time my hand grazed it, it was all I could do to beat back the image of giving it a tug and unwrapping her like a sugary, melt-in-your-mouth piece of candy.
Her friends ranged from tolerable to pretty cool. Over dinner they did a little scientist shoptalk that I couldn’t follow, but after a few drinks they slipped into stories about lab mishaps, research trips, and gossip. We hit several bars within a three-block radius. The second was a karaoke place I generally avoided at all costs because I didn’t sing and had no desire to listen to other poor fuckers who couldn’t but thought they could. It wasn’t my circus though, so I just smiled and said, “Yes ma’am.” By that point they all treated me like I was one of them, except one dickhead who wanted Pearl though she seemed oblivious to it. Kyle tested the limits of my patience all night long.
When he grabbed her hand and hauled her onstage to sing a duet, the only thing keeping me from busting his jaw wide open was the fact that I was the best friend and I’d promised to look after her, not beat the shit outta her friends. But then he couldn’t sing for shit and she sang her parts—a tad slurred—directly to me instead of to him like most people did during duets. The desire to wipe the floorboards with him eased off, and my eyes never left her face as she serenaded me with words I wanted her to mean.
Her older colleague, Kaameh, looked back and forth between us, but I held my straight face and pretended not to notice her studying my reaction. Near unbearable when I wanted to stalk up to that stage, pick Pearl up, take her straight through the back door, and press her up against the wall outside. I wanted to untie and unravel the folds of that white shirt until I freed her from it, push that little skirt just high enough to get my hands underneath, and tell her to wrap her shapely legs around me, boots and all. I wanted to kiss her until she couldn’t think. Until I couldn’t think. Which wouldn’t take more than two seconds of her pretty little mouth under mine.
By the third bar, Pearl was drunker than I’d ever seen her. I shouldn’t have liked that, but damn, I did. She giggled and leaned against me and said, “Hiiiiii, Boyce.”
She pulled me out on the floor to dance, something I wasn’t fond of doing until right then, with her. Under the light of a disco ball, we two-stepped to Lonestar and slow-danced to Green River Ordinance, and she twirled around me to some damned boy band I was happy not to know the name of while I made sure she stayed upright.
At the end of the night when I drove her home, she curled in the passenger seat with a silly smile on her face and fell asleep. I carried her to the front door and her stepdad let me in, chuckled at the pint-sized snores coming from her, and led the way to her bedroom. I didn’t let on that I knew and remembered exactly where her bedroom was.
“I take it she had a good time tonight,” he said.
“She sure did. She may regret it in the morning, but she enjoyed it fully.”
She came to when I laid her on the bed. I took her boots off and set them out of the way and moved the wastebasket closer. I wanted to help her out of that shirt and skirt—neither of which would be comfortable to sleep in—but I reckoned that was inadvisable under the circumstances of parents hovering just down the hall, waiting for me to leave.
Then she told me I was sweet, which was a cockeyed, harebrained, undeniably drunk thing to say. “That’s why I love you,” she added before nodding off, and everything tangled and froze—the heart in my chest, the breath in my lungs, the thoughts in my head.
I stumbled into the hallway and down the staircase like I was the one who’d downed margaritas and shooters like they were going out of style.
Before I reached the front door, Dr. Frank came out of the kitchen and pressed a bottle of water into my hand. “Thought you could use some rehydration for the road. Listen, I know it’s late, but if you’ve got a minute, I had a question or two about the garage.”
Still dazed, I mumbled, “Um, sure,” and followed him into the kitchen. We passed the table and sat at the granite bar on a couple of barstools like we were just two guys shooting the shit instead of me and Pearl’s stepfather at near three o’clock in the morning. I twisted the cap off the bottle of water and swallowed half of it.
That’s why I love you.
Dr. Frank knit his hands together on the bar, pointing his index fingers toward me as he spoke. “Pearl says your mama’s taken ownership of the garage and intends to sell it off. That accurate?”
I nodded once, knocked catawampus by Pearl’s drunken confession. Would she mean it sober? “Yes, sir. She’s just waiting for the official transfer to go through.”
“Have you—or has she—had a business valuation done on the garage? To know its worth as a going concern versus auctioned liquidation of the property, tools, and equipment?”
Auctioned liquidation. That jerked me right back to earth. I had no damned intention of hanging around to witness that and didn’t particularly want to discuss the likelihood. “I handed the spreadsheets over to Mr. Amos, her attorney, but I have a decent idea of it since I’ve been doing the accounting for a couple of years now.”
He rubbed his chin and then said, “The probability that your mama will find a taker for that place without you at the helm is low. She’s more likely to break everything up and unload it piecemeal, I’d guess.”
Meaning liquidation. Yeah. Got it. “I reckon so,” I said. I liked the man well enough based on how Pearl felt about him, but there was only so much of this rubbing-salt-in-the-wound shit I could take.