Vaughan Hewson – 28 Bartender/Ex-musician/Band member of Down Fourth, recently broke-up/Having an early mid-life crisis. 6’ tattooed, lanky but muscular. Red/blonde hair blue eyes. Relaxed, chilled, doesn’t hurry over anything. Book 1
Nelle Hewson – 30 Chef/Part-owner of the Dive Bar & Café/Vaughan’s sister/Divorced from high school sweetheart Ed. 5’4, red hair blue eyes. Terse, high-strung
(Renamed Pat) Ed Olan – 30 Tattooist/Recently divorced from high school sweetheart Nelle/Part-owner of the Dive Bar & Café. 6’2 beard, heavily tattooed, rides a motorcycle. A straight forward kind of guy.
Eric Collins – 28 Bartender/Joe’s brother/Part-owner of the Dive Bar & Café/Was thrown out of Down Fourth after High School due to not taking it seriously enough/Local man whore and bad boy. He’s a charmer. Can usually talk his way in or out of anything. Long dark hair, dark eyes, not as big and built as his brother. Book 2
Joe Collins – 33 Carpenter & bartender at the Dive Bar & Café/Eric’s brother/Quiet, shy. The strong silent type. Short dark hair, green eyes, 6’ and built. Book 3
(Named Andre) *needs a name* Star – 40 Guitar shop owner & teacher/Inherited the slightly run-down Star Building in mid-town Coeur d’Alene where the Dive Bar and Ed’s Tattoo shop are also located. Vaughan’s mentor. Short blonde hair.
“Such a sad little face, I can’t bear it.” He dropped onto the couch beside me, slinging an arm around my shoulders. Personal space was apparently a thing of the past. “Alright…if it really means that much to you I’ll put out. But it can’t mess with our deal, okay?”
I stilled beneath the weight of his arm.
“You have to promise to still respect me in the morning. I don’t want things to get weird between us. Otherwise, that’s it, I’m cutting you off.” His fingers toyed with my hair.
My mind was too busy reeling to protest.
“So, how do you want it? Lady’s choice, I’m good with whatever. We can break in the couch if you like. That’d be cool. You want top, bottom, or bent over the arm?”
The possibilities he presented ran rampant through my sex starved brain. Logic, discretion, sense, all of these things were jettisoned into space. Despite the way he’d propositioned me even. I did not respect myself in that moment. Most likely, I’d respect neither of us come morning.
But was that going to stop me? No, it was not.
When it came to Mal, I’d take what I could get. At least he wasn’t drunk this time. His choices were dubious but stone cold sober.
“Don’t be afraid to get weird with the requests. Chances are I’ve done it all before.”
“Wanna see it?”
There was a rustling noise. Followed by something suspiciously akin to a zipper. It’d better not be his pants. I opened one eye. Oh mother fucking cock sucking shit. I grabbed at his hands, doing my best to stop him.
“You’re insane,” I hissed. “I do not want to see your penis.”
“Of course you do.” Unrestrained laughter broke past his lips.
“Or do you just want to touch it? Because that’s okay too.”
“Don’t!” Our fingers fought it out against the waist of his jeans.
“No need to be shy.”
His hands stilled beneath mine and he licked his lips. “You’re smiling.”
“What?” I attempted to glare at him.
“You’ve got a nice smile.” The zip on his pants went back up. The button was buttoned.
“You did that just to see me smile?” That’s it. The man was officially insane.
I spat my toothpaste out into the sink and rinsed out my mouth. The bleary eyed girl in the mirror was grinning. Best night ever. It was perfect. Also, I’d forgotten to lock the bathroom door.
“You’re taking too long.” Mal burst on in, reaching around me for his toothpaste and toothbrush.
“What if I’d been using the toilet?”
“We’re not at the peeing in front of each other stage yet?”
“We’re not at any stage. We’re not real, remember?” So I’d had to remind myself of this fact every five minutes for the last five hours. No biggie.
I gave him the sink, moving over to my favourite perch on the rim of the bath.
He watched me in the mirror while he brushed his teeth.
“Your lips are swollen,” he said around his toothbrush, showing me a mouthful of white bubbles.
“Why can’t you admit to liking me kissing you, Anne?”
I frowned and studied the wall behind him, the floor at my feet. This was not good. Worse, it was distinctly unsafe. My stomach rolled over queasily. Probably care of the hang-over.
Plenty of noise still came from the kitchen. Lizzy was nowhere in sight. But I lowered my voice just to be sure. “We don’t have chemistry. It’s not a big deal.”
“You think you and Reecy-boy have chemistry?”
Honestly, it had never occurred to me to wonder. What that said about my latest crush, I did not need to know. “We have a lot in common. We’re very good friends.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Mal nodded slowly, a faint smile on his lips. “Hey, Lizzy. There’s a band practice later today. You wanna come with your sister and me?”
Something clattered to the floor in the kitchen. “Absolutely!”
Seven years ago…
Apparently I wasn’t much of a shoplifter.
The old man sat me into a small room out back then stood guard in the doorway, thick arms crossed and scowl firmly in place. Every couple of minutes he’d stare at the phone with rheumy eyes. The thing was almost as antique as him, curly cord hanging off the end of the desk. It was like a snake, waiting to strike.
“I should call the cops,” he said for not the first time.
I kept my face down and my mouth shut. If he called the cops…man, there’d be so much trouble. I swallowed hard, but the dryness in my throat went bone deep.
“Kids like you, you’re no good,” he continued. “Coming in here, stealing stuff. What’s happening to society these days? Where’s the honesty, the respect?”
All of this over a cruddy $2.99 shell bracelet. Not like I even wanted the thing but then Amber had dared me and Dane joined in and now here we were. I’d been so worried about losing face in front of him, about all the flirty looks Amber swore she wasn’t giving him.
I shut my eyelids tight for a second, squeezed. But everything remained the same. There was no magic hey presto to get me out of this mess.
“Mr Sallis, I’m so sorry.” Finally (thank god) Anne came rushing in, huffing and puffing, her carrot colored hair sticking out all crazy. We didn’t really look related, my sister and I. And given how their marriage had gone, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if mom had done the dirty on dad some fourteen years back. My caramel colored hair and dumb little nose didn’t come from dad. The hard ass jawline was 100% mom, however.
“She’s never done anything like this before, I swear,” said Anne.
“If it had been anyone else!” The old guy poked her in the chest with a finger.
“I know. It was so good of you not to call the police. I really appreciate it.”
“I still might, you know.” Now the finger pointed toward heaven like he was calling down the wrath of god. “She needs to learn that actions have consequences. She needs discipline. And why isn’t she in school?”
“Good question,” my sister mumbled.
I rolled my eyes and picked at the hem of my faded black hoodie, anxious to get gone.
“Please, let me pay for whatever she took.” From her jean’s pocket, Anne pulled forth a fifty dollar bill. I sat up with interest, wondering if there was more where that came from. Dad must have sent some money. And really, so good of him to remember us. Anne held the bill out to the man, face pleading, puppy dog eyes and all. “I appreciate this so much. I promise Lizzy’ll be grounded for a month, at least. No, make it two.”
Greedy eyes narrowed on the cash. “Well…”
“Please, Mr Sallis. She’s only a kid. This was just a stupid mistake.”
The fifty disappeared into his hand like a puff of smoke. “This time. But mark my words, if I see her in my shop again––”
“You won’t,” I said, rising out of the chair.
“Come on.” Anne hooked my elbow, pulling me past the old douche. This close to him, the stench of Old Spice and mothballs was as subtle as a smack around the head, stinging my nose and making my eyes water.
“Say ‘sorry’,” my sister instructed, voice firm.
Mr Sallis snorted and Anne’s grip tightened around my arm, dragging me onward. Out through the maze of gaudy shit jewelry, out into the noise and bustle of the mall. Freedom, liberty, hooray. No sign of Amber and Dane, surprise, surprise. As friends went, they kind of sucked.
“Mom couldn’t make it?” I joked, tearing my elbow out of her grip.
Beneath all these lights the dark shadows under her eyes were obvious. For a moment, I almost felt guilty. But fuck them all. I didn’t owe anyone anything.
“She tried again last night,” said Anne, her voice eerily empty.
“She’s fine. I don’t think she was even that serious about it this time.”
It took a long moment to come unstuck, for it to sink in. “I wish she’d succeeded.”
Anne said nothing.
“So, can I go now?” My tone was pure smart-ass, practically begging for a reaction.
But she just nodded dully. “I can’t stop you, can I? I can’t make you stay in school and stop messing up your life, no matter how much I want.”
I raised my brows. “This again, really?”
She looked away, crossing her arms over her chest. “I checked on you last night. You weren’t in your bed.”
“I was out.”
“Yeah, you were out. The Crème de Menthe is missing from Dad’s liquor cabinet. Bet that tasted like crap.”
It did actually, but it got the job done. Everything had gone away, just for a little while. I’d been numb, wasted care of the minty green bad booze and some weed Dane had managed to pinch off his big brother. Good times.
“I see you took out the nose ring,” she said.
It had actually gotten infected and been a red pussy mess. No way would I be admitting that to her. I’d give Amber’s home piercings a miss from herein, however.
Anne raised her hand in greeting to the manager of the Icy Blue Ice Cream stand where she’d worked last summer before things went bad. When she turned back, a tear was sliding down her face, over her cheek and along her jawline, leaving a watery trail. To my horror, she let it fall unchecked.
“Anne?” Another slither of guilt slid through me. This one was bigger, badder. God, I hated it and I didn’t deserve it because none of this was on me. Well, apart from the shoplifting, sneaking out and stealing from Dad’s liquor cabinet, of course.
“Jamie dumped me last night,” she said.
A shrug. “He wants to go out with his friends, do what other seventeen year olds are doing and I can’t.”
“But that’s not your fault. You really like him. You two were good together.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Glossy tear-filled eyes stared right through me. “It’s what he wants. I ah…I better get back. Shouldn’t leave mom alone too long.”
Bitterness rose up like bile, burning the back of my throat. “She’s ruined everything, her and dad. I hate them. I hate them so much.”
Anne just sighed.
My eyes itched and my chest hurt, like something big was pushing out against my insides. I could hardly breathe.
“Come home with me.” She spoke so softly I could barely hear her. “Please.”
The hum of chatter and tinkling of music surrounded us. Everywhere people carried on living, oblivious to the hot stinking mess our lives had become. So much for leaving it up to the adults to be in control, to know what’s best. What a joke.
“I’ll write a note from mom, say you were sick or something.” Her fingers firmly laced with mine and we held hands, same as we used to when we’d walk to school together. “It’ll be okay. You can go back to class tomorrow, hang out with your old friends. You can have better than this.”
“I don’t know.”
“I can fix this for you.”
“You can’t make dad come back,” I said, pointing out the blazingly obvious.
She raised a brow. “Would you want him back?”
“No,” she agreed, blue eyes bright. “Fuck him. Fuck both of them. Just you and me, we’ll stick together and get through this.”
“Absolutely. Think about it, in three years you’ll be finished and out of here, off to college.”
“What about you?” I asked, clutching her hand so tight my knuckles turned white.
“I’ll work something out. Trust me. Please?”
I stared at her, my mind a whirl. Her eyes looked so old, it hurt to see them. But it was the desperation in her voice that undid me. We used to be friends, Anne and I, before all of this. Our parents had so much to answer for.
“Do it, Lizzy. Do it for both of us.”
I let out a deep breath, nodded.
“I’m sorry about today,” I whispered. “If you can fix it, then okay. I’ll be good, I promise. No more boys or sneaking out or anything.”
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