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I asked myself now if anything could happen with Pearl that would scare me—waiting another fifteen years, or her name with doctor in front of it and PhD after it, or a baby, or promising to love and cherish her, or her needing me for any damned thing ever.
Nothing. Nothing scared me like the thought of losing her. Which just meant I had to do everything in my power to see that didn’t happen.
I’d barely sat down in class Monday before Shanice, Milla, and Chase clustered around me.
“So. Boyce,” Shanice said.
I’d always sucked at concealing my emotions when confronted with something I hadn’t sorted out, and where Boyce was concerned I was disastrously unsorted. I felt the longing scuttle across my face before I could quash it. Accustomed to seeing him daily, I had been back home a week and had only seen him once—which had taken place in the company of eight colleagues… three of whom were scrutinizing my raised eyebrows (I lowered them), my fidgeting hands (I shoved them under the table), and my shrill, innocent-but-not-really voice (I vowed to remain silent after squeaking, “What about him?”).
They exchanged the shrewd glances. “Told you,” Chase said. If I remembered correctly, he’d picked up a guy at the karaoke bar who followed us to the next place. So had Shanice. My colleagues were making the most of pursuing graduate degrees in a place lots of people came for vacation. “She’s definitely into him. You said his name and I swear her pupils dilated.”
Pupils! Dammit. I pressed my lips together and hastily jerked my game face into position. “He’ll be leaving town soon.”
“But he said he runs that garage for his mom,” Shanice said. “I wasn’t kidding about my POS Pontiac. That thing is not happy about the humidity here. It’s been sputtering every time I start it. Besides, you’re here, and he didn’t look like he wanted to go anywhere.”
“His mother is going to sell the garage. And he’s… going to leave.” As the words fell from my mouth, they became real. They tugged until they pulled that pretense of I’m fine and unscathed and it’s no big deal right off. I couldn’t break my fall, and for the first time, I didn’t want to.
“That sucks,” Chase said. “He looked really into you.”
“Are you going to be okay?” Milla asked, a tiny crease between her brows.
“I don’t know,” I said.
No, I thought. No, I’m not.
Chapter Twenty-five
On Wednesday, Sam told me she needed to leave early for an appointment with her therapist, which she swore up and down was a complete waste of time and energy. “Dad won’t even fucking listen to what I want,” she said, crossing her arms and scowling like Vega’s boys did when they were confronted with something green on their plates.
“Get any good drugs outta the deal, at least?”
More sheltered than her rough-and-tumble attitude implied, she went slack-jawed, eyes bulging. When I laughed at the utter disbelief on her face, her expression sank right back into its routine glower. “I only take drugs when I need them,” she said, hints dropping from that statement like shrapnel shells.
I’d looked up spina bifida on the Internet—she’d told Pearl her diagnosis during one of their Here’s how I change a spark plug interactions. I was more impressed with Sam’s tenacity in the face of that shit than I would ever let on, mostly because she’d probably hurl one of my own tools at my head and say she didn’t need any damn pity.
“Do you do drugs?” she snapped.
I lifted the battery she’d just detached out of the hatchback. “I did when I was your age.” I decided against telling her I wasn’t just doing them at her age, or that I smoked the occasional joint now.
“So you think I’m a pussy because I think drugs are medication and not for recreational dumbassery?”
Whoa, Nellie. “Nope.” I lifted a shoulder, unpacking the new battery. “I was a dumbass at sixteen. I laughed because you sorta look like an anime hamster when you’re shocked. Also, full props for recreational dumbassery.”
She smirked, so I guess the anime hamster analogy was acceptable. Christ.
I set the new battery in place. “You’ve got a few minutes before your dad gets here. Hook ’er up.”
After Mr. Adams picked Sam up, I turned the Closed sign, locked up, and went inside to shower, ignoring Mom and Riley—who had decided he didn’t have to abide by my no smoking inside rule since I didn’t “own the place.” Saying horseshit like that amused the fuck out of him, so I’d quit speaking or listening to him altogether. For five days running they’d rolled outta the bed I’d bought for Pearl around noon, stumbled out of the room I’d painted for Pearl, and parked their asses on the sofa watching daytime television, drinking my beer, and picking redneck fights with each other.
I hadn’t seen Pearl since Friday night—or Saturday morning. We’d texted a few times and talked a couple. She had let me know earlier in the week that everything was cool regarding our no-condom fuckup.
“Oh good. Phew,” I said. What I was thinking: Damn, which I sure as shit kept to my fool self because she would not have shared that reaction.
I knew she was confused when I begged off seeing her, but I blamed Riley’s appearance and the need to get a few things at the shop settled. Both were true—no way I was allowing her to cross paths with that jackass, and I had some serious shit to nail down before I saw her again.
“You won’t leave without seeing me, right?” she’d asked last night.
“No way.”
I heard her answering sigh and almost caved. I wanted to talk to her about her stepfather’s offer, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t going to tell her until I had something to fucking say. Until I’d removed the obstacle that stood between us. Until then, I was spinning my wheels, scrambling for enough solid ground to pull myself out, and I’d be damned before I’d drag her into the mud with me.
“Where’re you going?” Mom asked as I crossed the living room. “Ain’t the garage still open?”
“Not today.”
She said something else I ignored, then came to the door and hollered at me as I fired up the TA and cranked the stereo like I didn’t see or hear her. She hadn’t been around for my teenage years. I reckoned she had it coming to her.
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