I soon discover that Wynter is wrong about Luna as I open the other message I received.
Luna: Oh, my gosh! That sucks! I wish I could come get you, but Grey and I are already on the road to Virginia. We’re about three hours out, but we can totally turn around and drive back if you need us to.
Despite the panic strangling the air from my lungs, I can’t help smiling. Luna’s one of the nicest people I know, and if I told her to turn around, she would. But I’m not about to make her bail out on her road trip with her boyfriend so she can come pick up my pathetic ass.
I text back and tell her it’s okay. Then I message Wynter to have fun in New York with a tiny flame of jealousy burning in my chest.
It’s Thanksgiving break. I should be going on trips to spend the holiday with family or at least doing something other than being stuck on the side of the road after getting off from a job that makes me feel disgusting inside.
I shut my eyes and take a few measured breaths, but the memory of a few hours ago flashes through my mind and my chest constricts.
Music booming, lights flashing, and the air reeks of alcohol and dirty money.
As I walk by the bar, a man slips a twenty in my back pocket. “Let me buy you a drink, gorgeous,” he says with a toothy grin, his hand resting on my hip.
I fight back the urge to smash my fist in his face for putting his hand on me and, instead, smile sweetly. “Sorry, but I can’t drink on the job.”
His other hand finds my waist, and he drags me toward the stool he’s sitting on. He smells like stale peanuts, and his bald head reflects the neon ceiling lights.
“How about this, then.” He leans in, dipping his lips toward my ear. “When you get off your shift, you meet me out back.” His hands wander toward my ass. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”
I lift my hand instinctively to slap him across his face, but Gus, the manager, shoots me a warning look from behind the bar. Correcting myself, I plaster on the fake smile that’s starting to feel more real with each passing day.
My phone buzzes in my hand, startling the bejesus out of me. My fingers tremble as I swipe open the message, hoping upon hope it’s from Ari, replying that yes, he’ll come pick me up. But Luna’s name pops up across the screen again.
Luna: I texted Beck and he said he stayed home instead of going with his family to Vail, so he’ll come get you. Just let him know where you are. And make sure to text me when you get home, so I know you made it back safely :)
Her text is sweet, but the mention of Beck makes my stomach ravel into knots. Beck is still one of my best friends in the entire universe, maybe more than even Wynter, Luna, and Ari combined. But even though I tell him almost everything, I’ve never mentioned and never plan on mentioning my new job. And if he sees me in my uniform, reeking of sweat, beer, and disgustingness, he’ll know something’s up.
I flop my head back against the headrest and stare up at a hole in the fabric ceiling. What the heck am I going to tell him? I usually bring an extra change of clothes, but I stayed up for half the night, trying to track my mom down at the local bar, and ended up sleeping in later than I normally do. I was in a rush when I left the house and forgot to grab my normal clothes.
Before I can come up with a solution, my phone rings, and the screen illuminates the dark car.
“Speak of the devil.” Summoning a breath, I answer, “Hey.”
“Hey,” he replies in a light tone. “I heard you got yourself into a bit of trouble.”
“Yeah, my car broke down again, but can I point out that you sound way too happy about the fact?”
“I’m just happy I get to come play knight in shining armor for you again.”
“Haven’t you done that enough? I thought you’d be tired of it by now.”
“Is that why you didn’t text me yourself? Because you thought I was a lazy knight in shining armor?” he jokes, but a drop of hurt resides in his tone.
“No, I thought you were in Vail,” I reply, eyeballing a car driving by.
The truth is that I wasn’t sure if he went to Vail or not. I just didn’t call him because 1). Beck already does too much for me. And while that seemed okay when we were younger, I feel pathetic for still needing his help all the time when I’m now an adult. 2). The whole seeing me in my work outfit thing. And 3). Beck comes from a very wealthy family and sometimes has a hard time understanding financial struggles, like why I don’t just get my piece of shit car fixed. Answering with a “because I can’t afford it” leads to an offer to give me the money, which I’ll never accept, despite his persistence.
There’s also a number four, but I hate thinking about that one, mostly because I hate that the number exists. But it has to. Otherwise, Beck and my friendship would become too complicated. The middle of senior year was a perfect example of this.
We were at a party, and after way too many drinks and way too much time dirty dancing, we ended up in Beck’s bedroom, which wasn’t odd—we did that a lot—but that night felt different. That night, his touches and smiles caused my stomach to flutter.
“You seem nervous,” he said as we sat on his bed, facing each other with our legs crossed. Music vibrated through the floorboards, and soft light filtered across the room.
“I’m always nervous,” I admitted. This was Beck, the only person who truly understood the depth of my anxiety. “You know that.”
“I do know that.” He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “But that doesn’t mean I want to know why any less, so spill.”
“You’re just making me a little nervous tonight.” I didn’t know what else to tell him other than the truth, even if it had to do with him.
He pressed his hand to his chest in shock. “I am?”
I nodded, staring down at the comforter. “I don’t know why, though.” Or maybe I did, and I just didn’t want to admit it.
He cupped his hand underneath my chin and angled my head up. “I don’t ever want you to be nervous around me. What can I do to make it better?”
I shook my head, and for some wildly weird reason, my gaze roamed to his lips. I’d been doing it all night, wondering what kissing him would be like. I knew he’d kissed a handful of girls and heard rumors that he was a great kisser. I was curious, not just about kissing Beck, but kissing in general. I hadn’t done it. I had rules against it. Rules saved me from turning into my mother. Of course, with alcohol in my system, breaking rules seemed easier.