I took a deep drag from the joint before passing it to the girl next to me. She clasped it easily, lifting it between her plump lips. I watched her inhale deeply before I looked away, turning back to concentrate on the fire dancing in the dirt ring before me. My eyes wouldn’t adjust though, and it kept swimming in and out of focus.
Man, I’m cross-faded already, I thought. Then again it would probably be more surprising if I weren’t, considering how much I’d been partying lately. If I were being totally honest, my days were starting to run into one another. My life was definitely not what it had been before . . . everything . . ., but I didn’t want to think about that.
I reached for the bottle of beer sitting on the ground and lifted it, taking a heavy swig. I didn’t even notice the bitter taste anymore. I was feeling numb, and that’s exactly the way I wanted it.
“Hey, Chase.” The girl leaning against me nuzzled the underside of my jaw line, placing a little kiss there as she traced a finger down my chest. “Wanna get out of here and go someplace we can be alone?”
“Maybe later . . . um . . . ,” I chuckled as I pushed her away slightly with my elbow.
“What’s so funny?” She stuck her bottom lip out in a pout as she stared at me.
“The fact I can’t remember your name,” I replied bluntly.
“You’re a jerk!” she said, shoving me and walking away.
I caught myself before I fell to the side. “Yes, I am!” I shouted at her retreating figure, and I tossed back another long swallow of beer. I did feel sort of sorry. I really should remember, seeing as we’d been dating for weeks now.
I glanced to where my friend, Connor, was making out with his girlfriend. It was funny, but I could remember his name fine. I gave another chuckle and leaned against the large rock behind me, closing my eyes. I must not be blitzed enough yet.
Someone shook me, and I woke with a start, not realizing I’d fallen asleep. For a moment, I was unsure where I was.
“Hey, buddy. Where are your keys?” Connor’s voice broke into my hazy thoughts.
“Keys?” I questioned, confused.
“Yeah. You’re too drunk to drive, and my mom is threatening to send my dad looking for me if I’m not home in the next thirty minutes.”
“Yep. Party’s over, bro.”
I grabbed my beer and slowly got to my feet while Connor hollered over his shoulder for the two girls to get in the truck.
He turned toward me, narrowing his eyes a bit before letting out a laugh. “Feeling a little unsteady there?”
“Maybe,” I replied with a grin.
My friend offered me an arm, and I leaned heavily against him for support as we made our way to the vehicle. I briefly handed my drink to one of the girls in the truck so I could reach into my pocket to drag out the keys and hand them to Connor.
He helped me inside and closed the door before going around to the driver’s side.
“Be careful with my truck. It’s my baby,” I joked as we started off down the bumpy road.
“It’s in better hands than yours right now,” Connor ribbed back.
“I thought I was your baby,” the girl beside me said, squeezing my thigh with her fingers.
“Really? Hmm. Wonder where you got that idea,” I replied as I lifted the bottle to my lips.
She sucked in a hurt breath and pulled her hand away, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.
“You’ll never make it home in time,” the other girl whined as we left the desert road and turned onto the highway. “We’re still at least twenty minutes away from town.”
“Yeah? Watch me.” Connor laughed, hitting the gas heavily. The engine revved loudly, and the truck shot off down the road, causing the scenery to flash by in the blur of headlights.
I closed my eyes, fighting the nausea the motion caused. All of a sudden I felt sick. Clenching my teeth, I gripped the door handle, trying to calm my stomach. I wrestled with the overwhelming sensation for several minutes before finally giving up.
“Dude, pull over.”
“I can’t,” Connor replied. “My mom will kill me if I’m late.”
“I’m gonna throw up, man. Pull over!”
Connor let out a stream of cuss words and hit the brakes so hard I felt like I was going to pitch right through the windshield.
“What the hell?” I yelled, as I braced myself against the dashboard and turned to look at him.
That’s when I noticed the red and blue lights flashing behind the truck, and the sound of a short, clicking siren filled the air. I glanced down at the container of beer I had tucked between my legs and started laughing.
Yep, I thought, dragging a shaky hand through my short dark hair as the truck came to a complete stop. Tonight is about to get fun.
I opened my door and puked.
The door to the holding cell clanked open loudly against the wall, and I groaned as I held my head in between my hands. Were all jails this loud, or was I being specially punished? Wasn’t it enough I’d spent most of the night vomiting into the corner toilet? At one point I was almost sure death would’ve been more beneficial.
“You reek,” a soft voice said, and for the first time I felt a real momentary stab of regret as I looked up into my mom’s face. I quickly moved my gaze back to her feet so I wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in her eyes and noticed the boots of an officer walking toward me.
“Time to go home, son. Your mom has posted bail.” He grabbed me by the elbow.
“I’m not your son.” I yanked my arm from his grasp. “Back off.”
“Look, Mr. Walker, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. It’s up to you.” He took hold of me once again.
I growled under my breath and turned aggressively toward the man, intent on showing him a thing or two, jail time be damned.
“Chase.” My mom’s voice had almost a pleading quality to it. “Please. Haven’t we been through enough?”
I turned and saw tears brewing in her eyes. Guilt returned to prick at my conscience. I clenched my jaw so hard it felt like my teeth might break, but I backed down. A few minutes later I watched as my mom signed her name—Tori Lynn Walker—with a flourish, and I was allowed to leave the police station in her custody.
“Where’s my truck?” I asked, scanning the parking lot.
“Where do you think it is? It’s been impounded.”
“Are we going to get it now?”
“No.” She hit the clicker on her key chain to unlock the doors of her red Toyota.
“When, then?” I asked, trying to ignore the dull, pounding ache in my head.
She sighed heavily as she glanced at me over the roof of the car. “I’m going to sell it.”
Suddenly the dull, pounding resembled a roar. “Excuse me?”
“No. Excuse me, but I can’t take watching you drink your sorry butt into oblivion anymore. You aren’t being responsible. Having a vehicle is a privilege—one you clearly don’t deserve. If you’d been the one driving it last night, you’d be in a whole lot more legal trouble than you are right now. Connor is being charged with the DUI. You’ve been charged with underage drinking and possession of an open container. From the smell on you, I’d say you were lucky there isn’t a marijuana charge against you too.” She slid into the car and slammed the door.
I did the same, intent on arguing and instantly regretted the movement, my head throbbing.
“So now what?” I leaned back against the seat, suddenly feeling too tired to fight. “Am I grounded? For how long?”
“Oh, it’s going to be much worse.”
“What do you mean?” I didn’t like the tone of her voice.
“Well, first we have your court date on Thursday. Then after we find out what the judge has in store for you . . . we’re moving.”
“What?” I said incredulously. “You can’t do that!”
“I have, and we will!” She threw the car into gear and pulled from the parking space.
“To live with Grandma and Grandpa.”
“You aren’t serious, are you? Please, say you’re joking! Do you really want to make my life a complete living hell?”
My mom hit the brakes hard as she came to the stop sign, turning to stare at me. I could see the anger written plainly on her face, but when she spoke her voice was soft again.
“The only person responsible for making your life hell is you, Chase.”
“Mom,” I groaned. “Please don’t.”
“It’s done. I’d already been talking to them about it. I made the plans final as soon as I found out you were arrested last night. Grandma and Grandpa are waiting for us.”
“I can’t do this. Don’t take us there. It’ll be worse than it is here. There’s no possible way for me to fit in. It’s like Hicksville! Even Dad hated it. Grandpa is totally insane and . . .” my voice trailed off when I saw the hard look in her eyes.
Neither of us spoke again for the rest of the ride home, but I was biting the inside of my mouth in an attempt to keep my comments from spewing out. I knew it would only hurt her more, and despite everything I’d done to add to her burdens, it had never been my intention. I wasn’t trying to be bad or make things harder. I was only trying to forget it all.
The memories resurfaced for the millionth time, despite my desperate attempts to ignore them.
“Happy seventeenth birthday, Chase!” my dad said, smiling as he handed me the keys to the gorgeous, white extended cab Dodge Ram pickup, with dark tinted windows sitting in the driveway.
“Are you for real?” I exclaimed as I took them and hurried toward the truck. “I can’t believe you got it!”
My dad laughed. “Well, it was either that or listen to you go on about it every time we drove past the dealership together. I even got it in your favorite color. I still think the cherry red one was better, though.”
“No way. White is always the best,” I replied, and he chuckled again.
“White isn’t a color. It’s . . . white, like the absence of color.”
“I don’t care. It’s my favorite.” I grinned as I opened the driver’s side door and hopped in, running my hands in awe over the steering wheel before leaning over to check out the stereo system.
“So, do you like it then?” Dad’s voice broke into my thoughts.
“I love it!” I said, sliding from the vehicle.
He clapped me into a big bear hug, patting me hard. “You deserve it. You’re a great kid!”
“Don’t forget I love you,” he added quickly. “Now get to school, and hurry straight home after football practice tonight. Mom’s going to need some help with your party.”
“Yes, sir.” I smiled, bending to pick up my backpack I had dropped on the concrete.
“Sorry I won’t be there. I’ll try to call you tonight from Denver.”
“Okay, sounds good. Hope your meeting goes well.” I climbed inside the truck and started it.
He stood in the driveway, waving at me as I drove away and headed to school.
Later, I came home from practice to find my mom sobbing on the couch, nothing ready for my party.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, dropping my gear and hurrying to her side.
“Your dad’s secretary called. His plane crashed on the way to Denver.”
“What?” My heart sank. “Is he okay?”
“No one onboard survived.”
Her words seared into me, sinking like a branding iron, burning through every layer, and for a moment I forgot to breathe.
I took a deep gasp now, bringing myself back to reality as I realized I was holding my breath once again. My hands were clenched into fists, and I flexed them, forcing myself to relax as I turned to stare out the window.
That was the day my life had turned for the worse. Everything, it seemed, started falling apart in that moment. My dad’s estate was settled, and most of the money went to pay off the debts of our family’s high-priced lifestyle. We lost our ritzy Canyon Heights home and moved from Scottsdale to a cheaper neighborhood in Mesa, Arizona.
I had to change schools, which caused me to lose my spot as quarterback on the football team, and the friends I had seemed to disappear into the woodwork. No one cared I was an all-star athlete at my last school. I went from being popular, to simply the new face in a sea of four thousand others.
A few kids from the partying crowd befriended me early on, and I quickly joined in with them, eager to escape the thoughts banging around in my head. They invited me to hang out over the weekend, and when they passed the blunt to me, it suddenly seemed just the thing I needed. A little something I could get lost in to help take the edge off. All it took was one time, and I was hooked. I’d never really considered myself the drug and alcohol type, but that soon changed. I lived for the next party, knowing I’d be able to sink into the blissful numbness awaiting me there.
I tried to hide my new lifestyle from my mom in the beginning, and was fairly successful. Over time though, I started growing more careless as I sunk deeper into my new hobby, and she started growing suspicious. I knew she was catching on when she started grilling me about being late and who I was with.
I became the master of evasion, unwilling to give up the new world I’d created for myself. She started grounding me for breaking the rules, or she would take away my phone and truck. I quickly solved this problem by keeping a stash hidden in my room, breaking it out when she would leave for work, or I’d lock my door, turn up the music and climb through the window onto the roof to smoke.
My dealer was a hot girl from school, and I started dating her. Sometimes she would come party with me all day at the house. My mom never knew some of the worst things I’d ever done happened right in my own bedroom while she was punishing me. Thankfully, she’d never caught on.
I had a nice system going, and I thought things couldn’t get any worse—until now. Now my mom was dragging me to live on a ranch in the middle of Podunk-freaking-nowhere with my psychotic grandpa who believed ranching was the be-all, end-all, to learning life’s lessons.
Even before my dad died, I hated going to visit because all I ever did was work. I’d spent entire vacations feeding cows, straining milk, planting giant fields of corn, and mucking out stalls until I was sure the manure smell would never come off.
I quickly learned to create reasons not to go by joining all the sports teams at school. Games and practices didn’t allow me to leave town much. During the summer I worked as a lifeguard for one of the local pools, and trips to grandpa’s house became fewer and farther between. My dad volunteered to stay home with me, sending Mom away to see her parents by herself.
The car pulled into the driveway, and I hurriedly exited the vehicle. I rushed into the house ahead of my mom and locked myself in my room. I sank down on the bed, stretching out to bury my face into the pillow.
Her declaration shocked me. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Yes, I could admit I was on a massive downward spiral—failing classes, not playing sports—not caring about anything in general. I submersed myself in partying and trying to cover the hurt inside. Mom threatened on several occasions that I better straighten up my act, or I wouldn’t like the consequences. I thought it was all talk though, and never did I think she would resort to moving again.
Silver Creek, Arizona. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never survive there. There wasn’t anything to do—unless kids really were into cow tipping these days. And the only weed a teenager could score was probably the ones growing on the sides of the road.
I slammed my fist into the headboard and felt my knuckles split open. I looked to see the blood running down my fingers before I flopped back to my pillow.
Let it bleed, I thought. I don’t even care.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I dug it out, seeing the battery was nearly dead since it hadn’t been charged during the night.
U home? The screen showed a text from Conner.
Ya. Dad yelled 4 an hour. Says I’m going 2 jail.
I felt sick to my stomach. Sorry, bro. I typed back.
Guess we finally got caught.
Guess so. Mom’s making me move 2 Silver Creek—with my grandpa.
Man! I think I’d prefer jail, Connor replied.
The phone buzzed once loudly as it died. I tossed it onto the nightstand and buried my face back into the pillow.
Everything was so messed up.
“The sentence is a five hundred dollar fine, and one hundred hours of community service, as well as a weekend rehab session on the destructive nature of alcohol and drug use.” The judge’s gavel struck down, and I tried to keep my expression neutral as I left the courtroom.
“You got off easy, if you ask me,” Mom said once we stepped outside.
“Easy? You’re kidding, right?” I complained. “What do I need rehab for? I’m not addicted to anything.”
“You might not be, but you’ve been abusing substances, and addiction usually follows. I think it’s a good call on the judge’s part.”
I kept my mouth shut. Arguing wasn’t going to do anything but get me into more trouble.
“You’re lucky. If you had been caught at school they could’ve suspended you and kicked you out of sports—not that it matters since you haven’t played anything since football season anyway.”
“So now what?” I asked, wanting to get off the subject.
“Now you’re going to pay the fine from your checking account. Then we’ll make an appointment with the court liaison so we can get your rehab and community service transferred to Silver Creek.”
I groaned. “Please, Mom. Isn’t there any way I can talk you out of this? I promise I’ll be better. Just stay here.”
“No, my mind is made up. I think the change in environment will be good for both of us. It’ll be nice to feel like part of a family again.”
Not Grandpa’s family, I thought. The guy was a hardnose about everything. He expected things to be done a certain way, at a certain time, and you couldn’t argue with him. I knew part of my grandpa’s attitude came from being a corpsman in the Marines in his younger years. He’d learned to love rigid order, and he brought that into his everyday life when he left the service.
“It’ll be like living in the middle of a military barracks,” I grumbled, pausing at the door to the office my mom was ushering me into.
“Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think,” she replied, looking up at me. “We can both use a little structure in our lives right now.”
“Speak for yourself,” I replied under my breath, but she heard every word.
“Do you remember where we’re at?” She arched an eyebrow. “I don’t need any more attitude.”
“Let’s get this over with,” I said with a sigh and walked quickly through the door, but she grabbed my arm, turning me back to face her.
“Chase, I only want what’s best for you. Trust me.” Her direct look was full of emotion, and it caused me to feel a moment of regret again. I couldn’t hurt her any more than I already had. She didn’t deserve it.
“I’m trying to, Mom. I really am.”
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