Beck must sense my nervousness because he hauls me closer and steers us toward the car.
“I would’ve waited in the house, but my mom told me I had to wait on the porch.” I clutch his hand, wishing I never had to let go.
I can’t see his face, but he tightens his fingers around my hand as he opens the back door and slides into the backseat, pulling me in with him. Once the door is shut, Theo drives out onto the street.
“Are you okay?” Theo asks, casting a quick glance in the rearview mirror.
Theo usually teases Beck and me, making kissing faces and cracking jokes about liking each other, so his niceness throws me off.
“I’m fine.” But I’m shaking, which can’t mean I’m fine, right?
Beck notices, shucks off his hoodie, and places it over my shoulders. “It’s going to be okay.” He drapes an arm around my shoulder and kisses the side of my head. “I won’t ever let anything happen to you. I promise.”
I know it’s silly, but a guy has never kissed me before, not even on the cheek. My skin burns from where his lips touched, and all I can think is, I feel so cared for.
I lean into him, resting my head on his shoulder, believing his promise way more than I do my mom’s. “Thank you, Beck,” I whisper, “for everything.”
“You’re welcome.” He gives me a sideways hug. “I’ll always be here for you, Wills.”
I hope he’s right. I don’t know what I’d do without him.
Five years later…
Sometimes, I wonder if luck has a vendetta against me. Perhaps I unknowingly offended it, and now it’s pissed off and determined to break me down. That would explain a lot about my life.
I know how cuckoo I sound. And in reality, I don’t actually believe luck exists, at least in a physical sense. But pretending it does makes situations like this easier. Then I don’t have to deal with the truth: that my life is just really, really shitty and that lately, I’ve made it shittier by making shitty choices.
“Goddammit, not again,” I curse as I steer my car over to the side of the road.
Smoke funnels from the hood, and the engine growls like a dying Gremlin as I shove the shifter into park and shut down the engine. Leaving the headlights on, I unbuckle my seatbelt and slip on a hoodie over my work uniform, trying to cover up one of the many bad decisions I made tonight: not changing out of my outfit before I left work. In my defense, I was in a rush to get home and check on my mom who hasn’t texted me in over six hours. And that would be yet another bad decision: leaving my mom home alone after she spent the entire night sobbing and drinking away her broken heart, searching for the pieces in the bottom of a bottle.
I really should’ve called in sick.
But then how would you pay rent?
I send my mom another text, but she doesn’t reply. Shoving down my anxiety over something possibly being really wrong this time, I climb out of the car to check out the damage. The cool November air nips at my bare legs and stings my cheeks as I go to the trunk and grab the flashlight I put in there after the last time my car broke down. Then I walk around to the front of my car and pop the hood open.
Smoke plumes into my face as the engine hisses, which probably means it overheated, something that’s been happening on and off for a month now. I need to take it to a shop to get fixed, but my mom hasn’t been able to hold a steady job since boyfriend number forty-five dumped her for someone half her age. And with me starting college, our financial situation has gone from crappy to desperately nonexistent, which leads me to my third bad decision: my new job.
I pull the jacket securely around me as I glance up and down the dark, desolate highway that stretches between Ridgefield and Fairs Hollow. Fairs Hollow is where I attend college and work, but I’ve been staying at home in Ridgefield because I can’t afford to pay my mom’s rent and mine. Plus, I really need to keep an eye on my mom after her boyfriend just dumped her. That may not sound that bad, but my mom doesn’t handle breakups very well. No, scratch that. My mom doesn’t handle breakups at all. She buries her pain in alcohol until the next guy comes along. Then she either gets high with him or gets high off the relationship, and for as long as that lasts, she’s happy. But when they break up, she sinks into a pit of despair. This has been going on for years, and I’ve spent many nights making sure she doesn’t die in her sleep after days of binge drinking and drugs, something she was doing before I left for work earlier.
Uneasiness crushes my chest, and I retrieve my phone from the pocket of my shorts to send her yet another message. Then I get back into the car and send Luna, Wynter, and Ari, three of my best friends, a pleading text that I’m stuck out on the highway and need help.
While I wait for them to respond, I lock the doors and flip on my emergency lights, crossing my fingers no one stops. That might sound crazy, but the last time my car broke down, a guy stopped and offered me twenty bucks if I sucked him off in the backseat. He was forty-something with a godawful comb-over, and he was sporting a shiny wedding ring. So, not only was he a complete creeper, but a cheating bastard, just like a lot of the guys my mom dates.
When I told him just that, he looked as if he wanted to slap me. Thank God Wynter showed up, or who knows what would’ve happened?
I shiver at the thought, nausea winding in the pit of my stomach. The ill feeling expands as my mind wanders to my job and how many creepers I’ve met there over the last couple of months. It’s my own damn fault. I chose to work at the shithole when I knew the shitty rep the place has. I chose to put myself in that situation in order to pay mine and my mom’s bills and still afford to attend school, which will hopefully help me get ahead in life instead of continuously being behind like I’ve been for my entire childhood.
I chose, I chose, I chose my luck.
I lower my head to the steering wheel. “God, what I wouldn’t give to have just one single moment when it doesn’t feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest. Is that too much to ask? To just have one lucky day when my cards align?”
I don’t even know who I’m talking to, but they definitely answer with a big fat no as my phone buzzes with messages from both Luna and Wynter.
Wynter: I’m actually at the airport, getting ready to head to New York to see my grandma, so I can’t :( You should try Luna, though. I think she’s in Ridgefield for the week.