It began to rain, a sudden, heavy downpour that fogged their windows and turned to steam on the hot sidewalks. Emerson, still damp from his shower, sat at Dee Dee’s kitchen table, sipping milk and ignoring Sarah.
She’d forgotten how sullen he could be in the morning, especially when he was mad at her. If it were later in the day, he might lance her with sarcasm. At the moment, though, she’d prefer barbs to silence. At least she wouldn’t feel so isolated.
Jay pulled up in front of the house and leaned on his horn. She turned toward the noise. Turned back. Emerson, caught looking at her, glanced away, playing hurt little boy games.
“I’m sorry.” She touched Emerson’s arm. His muscles tensed, pushing her off of him. “I have to do this.”
He said nothing.
Jamming her rat’s nest hair into a ponytail, Sarah dashed out. Cold splats of rain landed on the back of her neck. She threw open the car door.
Jay searched her hands, his eyes raking her with frantic cobalt fire.
“It’s gone, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Sarah yanked the handle behind her. “It’s gone.”
Jay cursed while pounding on the steering wheel.
Knowing better than to say a word until he calmed down, she waited, hands clenched in her lap, until he was merely gripping the wheel and muttering. Technically she’d told him the truth. Either way he would have gone berserk. But this way, he wouldn’t go berserk at her.
“Okay,” Sarah started quietly. “You have five seconds to explain how your friends knew I had it.”
Jay turned on her with an evil sneer. “They’re not my friends. I don’t know how they knew.”
She wanted to slap him. “Bullshit. What are they, telepathic? Have super-human scent glands, they could smell it from the Pike?”
“They killed Dee Dee’s parakeet.”
“And I won’t even tell you what they did to the shirt you gave me. It’s like they were sending you a message.”
Color drained from his cheeks. He stared straight ahead. The rain picked up, bombarding the car. The deluge seemed to go on forever, during which neither of them spoke. Sarah was too angry, and Jay, apparently, had lost his voice.
She crossed her arms over her chest and threw herself back against the seat. “I spent five hours cleaning last night and the place still looks like Bosnia. And my roommate’s smoking again, thanks to finding her tampons shredded and little Petie dead on her bedroom floor.”
She let that soak in a while. He wasn’t so smug anymore. Even his cut-glass cheekbones seemed to have softened.
“You don’t know,” he said finally, voice cracking. “These guys...you short them or something, they don’t exactly forgive and forget...”
He swallowed a couple of times and started drumming on the wheel with his index fingers. He looked scared. It was about time. Maybe he’d finally tell her what was really going on. “Do they have something to do with the reason why your friend never called for his stuff?”
He shook his head. “He did call. He got picked up and had to lay low for a few days. Since I already had the money, he wanted me to give his stuff to the guys who bailed him out, for payback. Turns out they’re the ones who broke my windshield. I told you, these aren’t happy-go-lucky guys.”
Sarah had a sudden, awful feeling Jay was into this deeper than he knew. And by association, so was she. “So I’m guessing you put off calling them?”
He turned away. “Something like that.”
“And maybe...they came looking for it themselves? And somehow figured out on their own that you’d given it to your girlfriend to hold?”
His eyes darkened. “Don’t push this.”
“Because...I might tell you something you don’t want to know.”
She glared at him and then turned toward the window. A maple tree shuddered behind a curtain of water on the pane. “Fine. Then don’t tell me.”
He let out his breath. His palm landed on her knee, sending a jolt up her leg. “Sarah...baby, I didn’t want you mixed up in this. All you wanted to do was help me...”
He slid closer. Leather squeaked against leather. “I’m really sorry this happened...”
The hand traveled up her thigh. He was nearly breathing in her ear. Did he actually think—?
“Baby, I’m so sorry...”
The words vibrated through her. She began to respond like a well-tuned Stratocaster. Boiling with fury, at him and at herself, she whipped around, scaring him off of her.
“Too little, too late by a long shot!”
“I can’t turn back time!” His voice was hoarse, his hands outstretched. “I’ll buy Dee Dee a new parakeet. I’ll pay for all the damage. Anything you want. I’ve still got most of the guy’s money.” He reached for his wallet.
She couldn’t look at him. “I don’t want your freaking money.”
“Then what can I do?”
Get help, she thought, but the words stuck somewhere along the way. Her eyes dampened.
He slumped against his seat, pushing a hand through his hair. “Man,” he said, after a long stretch of silence. “I really fucked this up, didn’t I?”
Sarah wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Just when I thought you and me, we had something special...”
Something in her heart went “click.” She’d assumed he was talking about how he’d screwed up the deal.
“I thought, you know, that you were the one...I wanted to ask you...” He smiled sadly as his gaze fell away. “Never mind.”
She blinked at him through tears. “What?”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve blown it. End of story.”
She should get out of the car. Go upstairs to Emerson and cry on his shoulder for the hundredth time. But she stayed. She had to know.
He worked his hands together between his knees and worried the long fingernails he used instead of a pick. “I was going to ask you to help me get into rehab. Not that half-assed place I went to before,” he added quickly. “But something that’s really going to work. Maybe a therapist. Or hypnosis. Or that thing at the hospital. I know I can do it if you’re around to support me. And then maybe...maybe we can talk about the future?”
He suddenly met her gaze, eyes never bluer, lashes never longer. Eyes not just touching her everywhere at once but also doing things to her she’d never had done before. And she was thinking about them. He squeaked against the seat, pulling at his jacket.
“Baby...” His voice was a low purr. “Look, this is kind of uncomfortable, talking in the car. You want to go to my place for a cup of coffee?”
“Oh...Jay, I don’t think...” She knew what would happen if she went to his apartment. He’d continue this magic trick and she’d have sex with him, and it would be great because he felt so guilty, so great she’d forget about times like this and all the other times before when she’d wanted to strangle him.
“I just feel so...” The hand was back on her leg. The eyes glittered. “You know, close to you right now. Now that all of this is out in the open.”
Except for the fact that she’d flushed his coke down the toilet and let him believe it had been stolen. “I can’t,” she said. “I’m too upset.”
“Come on. I’ll help you take your mind off it.” The hand drew music along her thigh: G chords and grace notes and adagios. “Just one little cup of coffee?”
The voice was soft and heavy. Her lids were sinking; her lips parted moistly. She wondered if she could be alone with him and not succumb. They did need to talk, after all. And it was getting awfully damp and stuffy in the car.
“All right, I guess, but...” She thought of Emerson upstairs, waiting for her, worrying. She looked up and saw a shadow move across the window. She imagined him behind it, eyes haunted, mouth drawn down.
“Mutt and Jeff, huh?” He peered up to her apartment. “Don’t worry, I’ll have you back before they miss you. Which one’s Emerson? The Brit or the one who sounds like his balls just dropped?”
“How’d you know one of them was Emerson?”
Frowning, he started the car. “Lucky guess.”
They slid away, spraying up water.
Sarah couldn’t help herself. “Like those guys knowing I had your coke was a lucky guess?”
“I told you,” Jay said. “Don’t go there.”
“Tough. We’re going there.”
He missed a red light and blew out a relieved breath at having done it unscathed and uncaught. “Can’t you at least wait until we get home?”
“I need to know now.”
“You won’t like it.”
“That’s for me to decide.”
He swerved to avoid a pothole, nearly driving a cyclist into a parked car. “Shouldn’t even be on the fucking road in this weather,” he muttered.
“Tell me or I’m going to the police,” Sarah said.
“That’s not funny.”
“I’m not joking.”
The sneer canceled out any sexual thought she’d been having about him. “What are you going to tell them?” he asked. “That you were hiding a bag of coke? What do you think that makes you?”
She’d forgotten that part. “I was doing you a favor,” she snapped. “You got me into this mess, something you did got me in trouble. You owe me an explanation.”
“Okay, okay! Maybe...maybe I sort of...may have led them to believe you had it.”
The world stopped revolving for a moment. Cars around them froze. Even the rain seemed to hang in mid-air. “You...what?”
“I said you wouldn’t like it. I caved. One of them called, it was late, I was half toasted. He wanted to come over and get his stuff. I wasn’t ready to deal with that, so I said I didn’t have it.”
“Because you were hiding it at your girlfriend’s house and—no, wait, let me guess—she wasn’t home.”
“Well, uh, yeah, kind of. But I never mentioned any names.”
He said this like she should have been proud. But the subtlety of the grammar wasn’t lost on her. “Names. Like more than one?”
Her stomach dropped as a blade of silence cleaved them neatly apart. “More than one?”
“They weren’t you,” he said finally.
She sniffed back tears. The calm in his voice made it that much worse. Of all the other times he’d acted guiltily, why not this one? “None of them got to hold your coke for you?” she said. “Is that supposed to make me feel special?”
“Baby...can’t we just...go talk about this like adults?”
“I’m not going anywhere with you. Let me out.”
“I can’t stop here. We’ll get creamed.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’ll take you home.”
“Don’t do me any more favors.”
“We’re a mile from your house. You don’t have an umbrella.”
“I’ll live. I just can’t look at you anymore.”
“Let me out!”
He pulled to the curb. She slammed the door. He peeled away, drenching her from the knees down in road grit and cold water.
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