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Rule #1 from my father: Never let them know you’re scared.
I cradle my cell against my ear, shut the upstairs bathroom door of my house, lock the knob, then use the chain I had installed for the extra security. “Next you’ll tell me the stars realigned themselves to foretell my doom and a voice called down from the heavens telling you I should stay in bed.”
Ricky laughs. He always laughs. At least with me. I make him nervous, and in our line of business, trusting the wrong person can be a fatal mistake so he chooses not to believe I’m crazy and instead chooses to think I’m funny. By the way, I’m not funny, but I am crazy.
“I’m telling you that you should cancel your plans for the evening,” he says.
I move the plastic shelves that hold our towels to the side, roll up the wallpaper that was Velcroed in place, then use the screwdriver to take the wooden “door” in the wall off. “Because your fortune cookie warned you off from bad business meetings. If you’re going to listen to the crap, at least do it right and read your horoscope in the paper like the rest of us.”
The loud background laughter and conversation on his end fades and I wonder if he’s also entering his private space that includes his personal cubby hole full of cash. “I heard from reasonable sources there are people going after some of my assets this evening.”
“Not my problem as I’m going to a club tonight.” True. After I meet a few clients to sell them what they’re interested in buying, I’m hanging with friends and then I’m meeting with a new potential client. I interview potential clients before I sell because I’m paranoid like that. “I’m going to be the teenager that everyone, even you, keeps reminding me that I am.”
Four screws out and the door loosens. Every time I open this little compartment I’m half relieved and half sickened. Too many stacks of cash for someone my age, but at the same time, not nearly enough.
“It’s Sunday night,” he says. “Friday and Saturdays are your paydays.”
“I’ve got regulars who get cranky when I don’t meet their expectations, plus it’s summer. I try for a faster turnover rate now because school can eat into my delivery time, and I like for them to have memories of a time when I delivered immediately. Maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction and retention while getting my beauty rest and finishing my homework isn’t as easy as I make it seem. Flawless takes work and planning.”
“The honor roll employee with the customer’s always right attitude.” He fake cackles and it’s the type that swamps me with the urgent need to shower and clean myself of filth. “It’s always a pleasure to speak with you. Maybe I should force everyone to adopt your customer service philosophy.”
“You said it.” My customers are right unless they try to cheat me and then I’m nasty.
“I’ll give you a paid vacation day. Whatever it is you’re scared of losing in cash, I’ll pay.”
My heart skips a terrified beat. Ricky doesn’t make offers like that, and I don’t like that he’s making them with me. “I get that you’re worried I’ll lose some of your supply if I get jacked, but I’m smarter than that. I don’t carry enough at one time that it’ll matter if someone is stupid enough to steal from me. I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine.”
I retrieve the package I picked up from another of Ricky’s “assets” an hour ago from my hoodie pocket and sort what I need to fill orders for the evening. I also withdraw from my cubby hole cash, small bills to be exact, because God forbid people bring exact change and none of them believe in tipping.
“Abby.” Ricky switches to serious and I pause with a roll of ones in my palm. “I’m not worrying over you having to reschedule a few appointments and the asset I’m concerned about doesn’t fit into a pocket. I think they might be going after my best sales representatives.”
“Then call them and tell them to read horoscopes.”
“You’re the asset I’m worried about.”
“I’m small time.” I stay that way on purpose. I sell drugs for money. I sell drugs because I’m desperate for more than minimum wage. I’m protective of my territory—Dad’s neighborhood, my school, the college boys who I make bank off of. I keep my number of clients just high enough to pay my bills and cover my future bills, but low enough that I don’t become any more involved in this “life” than I need to.
Ricky’s concern over me—this is “involved” and it makes my skin crawl.
“You have loyal customers because you’re a pretty young girl who makes them comfortable, but they respect you because deep down you’re scarier than any horror movie they’ve seen. You’re smart, brilliant even, and you keep yourself small time because you think it buys you power, but that’s another discussion for another day. In the meantime, I’m ordering you to stay off the streets tonight.”
I’m silent. He’s silent. My head is right next to the toilet bowl.
“This is an order, Abby.”
“I made plans with friends,” I whisper absently as my forehead hits the cold porcelain. I thought I was smart. I thought I had played this hand my father dealt me well, but like him, I’ve messed up. Stupidity, it seems, is genetic.
“Abigail,” he pushes.
I made a promise to the one person I dare to love that I would never let this go to Dad’s level. That I would never end up like he did and I’m failing.
“Tell me you’re going to follow orders,” Ricky says, and a wave of dizziness overwhelms me.
This was only supposed to be a means to an end, and I only needed this to work until I could land a real job. A job that pays well enough to cover the impossible burden on my shoulders. But this phone call—his words to me—I’m in too deep and walking away may never be an option and God help me…I crave options.
“I want confirmation and I want it now,” he demands.
“I won’t sell tonight.”
“Good,” he replies. “That’s good and soon we’ll discuss your growing position with me.”
He hangs up, I hang up and I close my eyes. Shit. Just shit.
“Do it,” I say. “It’s your turn to bring it, girl, or I’m the king of this night.”
My chest is puffed out and by the way Abby grins from ear to ear, I imagine I must look like a rooster ready to strut and I’m not too far from it. She dared me to climb up the side of the wall and swing from one rafter to another along the ceiling of the bar.
I did it and never broke stride.
The entire club is clapping and shouting their approval. Girls are pushing through the crowd to see the crazy man who just caused a scene, and the guys I’m here with are laughing. Isaiah pats my back then states the obvious, “You’re fucking insane.”
Yes, yes I am.
There’s an ache in my biceps from having to make the big swings from one beam to the next and it didn’t help I went the entire length of the club, but Abby dared me and I like doing anything that pushes the limits. Abby is one of the few people who can keep up with me, and she’s willing to go as far as me in the quest for crazy.
Abby offers a side glare full of pain to three girls who were three steps away from approaching me. They scurry off like they met the reaper.
“Block much?” I mumble even, though the most interesting and gorgeous girl in the room is the one standing in front of me.
Abby smirks. “You can do better. Back to business. What do you want me to do? Run naked through the club? Steal the wallet of a frat boy? Flirt with a bouncer and steal his club keys?”
Abby’s a loaded gun, and if you get within a few feet of her, the click of the safety switching to off is audible. People with an ounce of sense back off this girl in an instant, but to me her intensity is an addiction.
“Same thing.” I tilt my head in the direction of the wall. “Start climbing.”
Abby wraps her fingers around my bicep, or at least tries. Her small grip doesn’t fit all the way around. She squeezes the muscle and a jolt of electricity races through my bloodstream. Wonder if she feels the electricity whenever we breathe the same air.
“I don’t have your muscles,” Abby says as an explanation. It’s a pity when she lets go.
“So I win.”
Her hazel eyes narrow on me, unhappy with the idea of losing. “Fine. Lift me up.”
“You didn’t lift me up.”
“I don’t bench press two hundred pounds with my pinkie.”
I sweep my hand for Abby to head to the wall, but a ball of blond slips in between us. “Nope. Not happening. This is my first night dancing and you two will not have us thrown out. Do you hear me?”
Rachel’s a short thing, but full of spunk and she’s wearing a don’t-mess-with-me-expression. She’s been waiting months for a night like this, and neither Abby nor I would want to be the reason it was ruined.
I toss my hands up in a show of submission. “Games for the night are done.”
“Good.” Rachel extends her hand to her boyfriend Isaiah. He links his fingers with hers then leads her to the dance floor, leaving me and Abby alone.
Abby sucks in her lower lip like she’s trying not to laugh and I understand the feeling. That was the equivalent of being reprimanded by mom and dad for having our hands caught in the cookie jar. Abby and I met because of Isaiah and Rachel. Abby and I were two different parts of Isaiah’s life and then we wound up fighting side by side of Isaiah when things got rough for him and Rachel on the streets a few months back.
“To be continued,” I say. “Unless you’re chicken.”
Abby skims her eyes over me as if she likes what she sees. “I’m not scared of you or your crazy dares.”
“Good to hear.”
Abby steals my bottled water and keeps direct eye contact as she drinks more than half of it in several continuous gulps. When she finishes, she maintains that steady stare. “Remember when we best friends in Kindergarten and we got crazy and messy when we were locked in the art room because we hid under the desks because we didn’t want to do nap time?”
Abby owns this devilish glint in her eye that has attracted me to her from the moment we met and that glint has a habit of brightening whenever she looks at me.
I’m attracted to her, she’s attracted to me, but we have a habit of ignoring what’s brewing between us. But that’s all right. Life, for us is a game, and we both love to play.
Our group claimed a corner in the back a few hours ago in the club. It’s teen night and the place is crawling with people our age—seventeen, eighteen, a few sixteen year olds who should be put in protective custody due to their lack of common sense. Most haven’t been outside their safe bubble and this is their first taste of protective freedom.
Table was easy to claim as three of us in our group are over six feet and scares the hell out of everyone. Isaiah has enough tattoos that most people assume he’s been in prison even though he’s only eighteen. Then there’s West. He’s the golden hair rich boy who sports a nice shiner from an amateur MMA fight last weekend. It’s the type of bruise that makes you wonder how bad off the other guy is. And me? Doesn’t take long for people to figure out I’m bat shit crazy.
I rest my elbows on the high table and ease into Abby’s space. “I remember. You couldn’t just chill with the clay and decided to go Picasso with the paint and redecorate the walls. Principal was pissed.”
The floor beneath us vibrates from the drums and the bass guitar and the place has a sweet smell. Like too much cleaner combined with spilt soft drinks. But the scent that absorbs me is an aroma that’s distinctly Abby—wild honey.
Her forehead crinkles and a bead of sweat drops from her hairline. Before she bounded over with her dare for me to climb, Abby had been dancing with Rachel and I enjoyed watching.
Abby’s like a rare mythical creature—rare, unique. One of those people you think only exist in your dreams, and she draws the attention of everyone. Long dark brown hair, hazel eyes and she’s blessed in all the right places.
What she wears is simple. Always simple. Tonight, it’s jeans, a pair of black knock off Chuck high tops, and a dark blue lace tank that sparkles. There’s something mysterious in how she chooses simple yet soft. Abby’s possibly the strongest, hard core girl I know, yet she’s exotic and feminine. She’s one of a kind and sexy as hell.
“Yeah, the principal was mad,” Abby says. “But we didn’t get caught because if you recall I had the brilliant plan of climbing out the windows and then sneaking back into our class before our teacher missed us.”
“It was my strength that pushed you through the window back into our classroom.”
“My knight in shining armor.” She flutters her eyelashes at me before finishing the water.
None of this happened as we haven’t even known each other a year yet, but Abby spins stories of a past we never shared and I go with it. Sometimes, she’s so convincing I begin to question my own memories. Maybe she’s not as convincing as much as I would prefer her version of our make believe past over my real life.
My cell buzzes and it’s Ryan, my best friend from Bullitt County. Abby bumps my hip so that I’m out of her way and she confiscates my cell. I grin because the girl is incorrigible and I love it.
“Let’s see.” Abby angles the phone so I can’t read Ryan’s text. “Ryan says he’s been eaten by alligators and that he’s left you a million dollars.”
“That’s so.” She taps buttons on my cell and she glances up from dark eyelashes to see if she’s found a way to push my buttons. She can keep trying. It’s tough to find buttons I care enough about to be pissed they were pushed. “I just told Ryan we eloped.”
My cell buzzes again, and I’m immersed in her sexy grin. “He’s pissed you skipped the bachelor party. He said you promised him naked chicks before you ever got married. Wow—I didn’t know guys actually had those conversations.”
She scans my face and when nothing she said phases me, she slides my cell back in my direction. “Can I go?”
I study the convo between Abby and Ryan. He’s confirming that I’m going to Chris’s grandfather’s farm in southern Kentucky again and bailing hay for the week. We’ve been doing it for the past few years. It’s back breaking work, but we make nice money. Abby demanded we take her along, signing her text as Abby, Queen of Logan’s World. Ryan told her she had to talk to me.
“It’s boys only,” I say.
“Rules don’t apply to me. You should know that by now. Anyhow, you guys let me hang when you bailed hay at Chris’s farm.”
“That was one day and this will be for a week. Camping and dirt your thing, Abby?”
“I can make anything my thing.”
I believe that.
“I heard that Noah and Isaiah are going. Noah’s going to use that money to buy Echo an engagement ring.”
I heard the same thing from Noah, but it’s not my business. “Point?”
“If Noah gets to go, I want to go. Maybe I want to buy myself a diamond ring.”
“You’re going to help bail hay?”
Abby scowls. “Hell, no. I just want to go and get paid.”
I laugh, she smiles and the drummer of the band on stage begins the count and for the third time this evening, the electric guitarist comes in late and starts off beat. I came here tonight because I heard this band was on the verge of kicking him out. I’ve been searching for a new high, at least for the summer, and this just might be it.
“Dance with me, Logan.”
That rips my attention away from the guy making a fool of himself on stage. I examine Abby and wonder what piece she just moved on the chess board. Wouldn’t put it past Abby to sacrifice a pawn in order to kill a queen. Abby, if anything, is strategic.
“I don’t dance.” I don’t.
She slowly raises her eyebrows, and I fight the tilt of my lips. Abby doesn’t like being told no. “You’ll dart into traffic to run after a stranger’s balloon, but you won’t dance with me?”
I ran into traffic because I was curious if I could make it to the other side. The balloon made it interesting. “I don’t dance with anyone.”
“You were the one that suggested we come here.”
I shrug. I’m here because an opportunity presented itself and I’m fascinated by the new and shiny.
“Dance with me, Logan,” she says again and I have to admit I like how her hips sway to the music. “Why else would you come here if it wasn’t to touch me on the dance floor?”
I chuckle because that caught me off guard and Abby laughs, her real laugh. It doesn’t happen often and I like when it does.
“Rachel said she wanted to dance,” I say.
And she is, with Isaiah. While everyone else is grinding it out to the hard beat, Isaiah is slow dancing with his girl. Her head’s on his shoulder, his arms are wound tight around her waist. They look like they could die now and wouldn’t notice they had landed in heaven since they’re already there. That right there is love and it’s one in a million.
I’m no foolish enough to believe that the odds of something like Isaiah and Rachel share will happen to me, but I’m fine with that. Emotions are overrated.
My cell buzzes on the table and I swipe it before Abby can read this one. Dad: Stay out of trouble. I texted your mom to see if she knew you needed to be up in the morning for the meeting and she said you never told her. Don’t do this, Logan. Not again.
My jaw twitches with annoyance. I shove my cell into my pocket. Abby’s watching me with a baffled expression which means she must have read it. “That was sweet of him. What type of trouble is he referring to? The type where you drag race with Isaiah or where you jump out of towering trees or play in traffic?”
All things I’ve done and those weren’t even the top three dangerous feats I’ve taken on recently. “Remember when I told you to mind your own business?”
“That never happened. Get your memories straight. And what’s this meeting in the morning?”
Nothing I’m interested in attending. “Let it go.”
This time, Abby is the one who leans forward on the table and she knows what’s she’s doing as she hugs her waist so that her cleavage peeks out. She’s the tiger after her prey. “The more I think about it, you never talk about your parents. In fact, you really don’t talk at all.”
“We play,” she says, and my gaze meets hers with the raw honesty. “What was that text about?”
“Not your business.”
“Make it my business.”
“I’m telling you to back off.”
“Not sure if you noticed, but I’m not the back off type.” Abby scans the room like she’s searching for someone, and it’s not the first time she’d done that tonight.
“Who are you searching for?” I ask.
She sneers as I just called that right. “I’m not looking for anyone.”
“Topic of conversation was you and your dad and that text. Stick with the subject.”
Anger begins to bubble up in my bloodstream. “I told you, let it go.”
As if she’s a toddler, Abby stomps her foot. “Well, I’m not. I want to know.”
Abby and I usually don’t play this way, but if she wants to go there, then I’m throwing both of us over the edge. “You’ve been off all night. Acting like the boogey man is out to get you. What’s your deal?”
Her expression blackens. “There’s no deal.”
Bull. “You think you’re unreadable, but I got your number.”
“Back the fuck off, Logan.”
Like she backed off of me? “Is it the drugs? Are you bringing trouble to Rachel’s doorstep? This is the first time she’s been out like this since the accident. She doesn’t need any more problems than what she’s got.”
She blinks like I backhanded her and I hate the heaviness in my stomach. Yeah, tonight was about me checking out the band, but tonight was also a scheme created by Rachel. She’s bent on saving Abby. All of us are. It’s a feeble plan. Hang together, have a great time, ask her to leave with us and hope she ignores her chosen path for at least one night. It wouldn’t win the war, but we’ll celebrate any small victory.
Abby’s head jerks in an angry way. “I would never put Rachel in the line of fire.”
“I may not understand what you do, but I’m not seeing how you can minimalize those risks. You’re not God.”
“What? You judging me now? Do you think I’m a threat? Do you think I’m unworthy of her friendship? Of yours?”
“No. Just trying to understand you.”
“We play, remember?” And the ache in her eyes cuts me deep. “We aren’t real friends so stop acting like you care.”
Damn me for hurting her. “Abby—”
It’s as if a mask covers Abby’s face, and where there was pain, there’s now a smirk. A fake smirk. A mere shadow of the girl who was playing make-believe a few minutes ago. “You’re too serious, Logan. We get along because neither of us do emotion. Let me know if you change your mind on the dance.”
I almost consider the dance if it would erase the last few seconds, but even I know, there’s no changing the past.
“You’re wrong,” I call out as Abby had turned her back on me to slip into the crowd.
She pivots to face me again, but still walks backwards. “That never happens, but to placate you, how was I wrong?”
“It was my brilliant plan to sneak out the windows in Kindergarten and then sneak back in. I’m the one with the massive IQ, remember?”
That devilish glint reappears in her eyes along with her heart stopping smile. “I only let you think it was your plan, but it was really mine. And on the IQ? I’ll put my test scores up to yours any day and I’ll win.”
A smile stretches across my face and Abby winks before disappearing. And the game continues. We both moved pieces and neither of us are any closer to winning, but I’m not sure what’s at stake to be won.
Abby’s a drug dealer.
I’m a ticking time bomb.
Neither me nor Abby are reliable or stable. We’re like a tidal wave of gasoline approaching a nuclear power plant, but yet we still like to play with matches.
Doesn’t make sense. I guess it doesn’t need to. I work well in the undefined.
I pull out my cell, ignore the text from Dad and scroll through the trail of messages between me and Sly. He’s an ex-boyfriend of Moms. He was around before neither me nor him learned to not get attached. Sly was a hard lesson for me and I was an even harder lesson for him.
Me: I’ve heard the band. I want in.
Sly: I’ll get you ten minutes with them this week. Don’t fuck it up.
Sly: You’re good with the traveling?
I scan the bar. Isaiah and West are playing pool on the other side of the room. When Isaiah catches my eye he jerks his chin for me to join them. I tip my head to let him know I’ll be there soon. Another sweep of the room and I spot Abby dancing with Rachel again. They’re holding hands, twirling together, and laughing.
Like Ryan and Chris, Isaiah and West also graduated this spring. Moving forward. Moving on. Rachel’s still in school, transferring this year to my new school in fact. We’re friends, but not close friends.
All I’ve got left in this life is Abby and nobody knows Abby. She doesn’t belong enough to anyone for her to have friends. Like all mythical creatures should live.
Me: Yeah, I’m good on the traveling. I’m good with starting a new life.