That's when I hear the gun cock. I turn to look in the direction of the sound. The old guy with the crazy mustache is standing with a shotgun in his hands. He lifts it so that Dean and Peter are in his sights. The old guy spits on the ground, then wheezes, "Take this foolishness somewhere else. Now."
Peter looks pissed, but he releases Dean. The two of them step apart, but when their gazes meet it looks like they want to kill each other.
Dean backs away with his hands in the air. "I don't need this shit." He walks across the parking lot and slips into the truck. The engine starts, and he pulls away. I watch him leave, wondering where my brother was during all of this.
Peter and Millie are flanking me. They glance at each other before the old man drops his gun to his side and walks toward us. "Don't bring trouble around here again. You're not welcome. Get going."
Millie's mouth is hanging open. "We didn't—"
Peter shakes his head at her, trying to get her to shut up. He's polite to the guy with the gun. "I apologize." Then Peter glances at Millie and says, "Stop at the next rest area. I'll follow you."
I don't argue. I just grab Millie's arm and push her into the car. The old guy is watching me like the entire incident was my fault. Guilt climbs up my throat, because deep down it feels like he's right.
Millie stares at me with her jaw hanging open so wide that I can see her tonsils. "Did you see that? Did you see Dr. Peter Granz—a friggin' English teacher—kick ass back there?" Millie tucks a curl behind her ear. She glances back at the black car following us and waves at Peter. He doesn't wave back. There's a scowl on his handsome face. "I heard he got his butt kicked last night. Did he? I mean, what the hell was that? He came in all vigilante style. I thought he was going to snap Dean in half."
"Peter didn't fight back last night. He's not—" I make an aggravated sound in the back of my throat. The rest area sign says it's a few miles away. I don't want to stop. I don't want to talk to Peter.
"He's not what? 'Cause, holy shit, that was so awesome I can't stop fanning myself. A guy rescued you!" She darts upright in her seat and corrects herself. "No, wait! He saved you twice. Sidney—"
"Millie, Peter isn't what he seems—"
She glances back. Appreciation is strewn across her face, like I landed the man that makes all other men look like monkeys. "I know…"
"You don't know! He's not. Damn it, Millie, pay attention." Millie turns around and looks at me, I mean really gives me a once-over. I'm so upset that I could rip the steering wheel off in my hands. "Peter is Peter Ferro. Do you know what that means?"
Her eyes slowly grow as big as dinner plates. She turns her head and looks back at the man following us. "Holy shit."
"You see it?" It's obvious once you know to look—the dark Ferro hair, the strong jaw, the stunning blue eyes, and that temper. All of the Ferro men have it, and the daytime talk shows love to point it out.
Millie nods. "He looks like the pictures I've seen. Everyone's seen him. Pete Ferro is hot. Why is he pretending to be a teacher?"
"I don't know what he's doing. Listen, no matter what he says at this rest stop, do not leave me alone with him. Do you understand? Nod and say yes."
She nods and gives me a crooked smile. "Fine, but—"
"No buts. Say yes. I don't care what he says or what he wants me to do. If Peter tries to get me alone with him, say no. Don't leave." Desperation floods my mind. Peter had offered to come with me. He wanted me to call the cops. He wanted to make sure I was safe, and this is how he finds me, in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere with Dean dragging me across the asphalt.
"Okay, okay. I won't leave, jeez." A wicked smile spreads across her face. "You know what they say about Pete Ferro; so is it true?"
I pull off the interstate and slow the car. There's a rest stop with picnic tables and a little brick building with restrooms. "Is what true?"
She giggles and leans in closer to me. Her hand keeps flying to her mouth, like she's embarrassed. "His dick—is it as big as they say?"
"Millie!" I stop in a parking spot and throw the car into park.
"It's not like you haven't heard it before. Pete Ferro, super lover to the supermodels, and their moms, and their friends, and their kitchen staff, and—"
"Yeah, I get it. He's a male slut."
"He's a strapping male slut who's done every woman from coast to coast." Millie's grinning like a love-struck teenager. She glances back at Peter.
"Shut up," I say and kick open the car door.
Millie jumps out after me. She places her hands on the roof. "Oooh! Testy! Are you protecting his virtue?"
I open my mouth, but Peter cuts me off.
"I have no virtue." Peter's window is down. He hears Millie as he pulls in the parking space next to us. He cuts the engine and gets out. Millie's face turns beet red. "She told you who I am?" Millie nods but doesn't look at him.
Peter walks around the car and comes straight at me. He stops short, like he just remembered what happened when I left. "Are you hurt?"
I shake my head. My heart is pounding. I lose all my bluster, which drives me nuts. In my head I'm roaring like a lion, but I sound like a mouse when I actually speak. "What are you doing here? Did you follow me?"
Peter smashes his lips together and then smiles at me, like he's really mad. "Yes, I did. I didn't think you'd leave without me. I didn't think you'd walk away in the middle of a fight."
"The fight was over. You said if I left not to come back, so I didn't."
Peter lets out a rush of air. His anger fades and he looks at me with so much remorse in his eyes that I want to melt into his arms. Peter considers me for a moment and then says to Millie, "You can't skip out on finals. Get back to the university before someone fails you."
"But there was an emergency and—"
"This doesn't count. You can't be nice to get out of finals. Every single professor will fail you." Peter tosses his car keys at her. Millie catches them. "Drive my car back. I'll stay with Sidney."
"No, you're not. Millie is coming with me, not you." I fold my arms over my chest. My head sways from side to side when I say the last two words. I may have lived in Texas for a few years, but I'm still a Jersey girl through and through.
Peter smirks at me, then says to Millie, "Toss me the bag on the front seat." Millie does it. I give her an evil stare. My eyeballs are bugging out of my head as I shrug with my palms up. It's a what the fuck pose and I mean every inch of it.
Millie beams at me. "I think this'll be good for you. You need to go, and it seems like you two have some issues to work out." I want to kill her, but I'm too shocked by her betrayal to speak. I just stand there with my mouth hanging open.
"And you," she says to Peter and walks up to him, poking him in the chest, "if you hurt her—if you lay a finger on her—I will get my daddy's gun and shoot you. It's a promise, not a threat." Millie is so small and pretty that it looks like he's being threatened by a china doll.
Peter grins at her. "Good. I wouldn't want it any other way."
"Damn straight." Millie looks over at me again. I'm so mad at her that I can't speak. My arms are folded tightly against my chest. She knows how betrayed I feel.
"Sometimes you need friends, Sidney. You can't do everything by yourself. Let someone help you, okay?" I don't say anything to her. Millie smiles awkwardly and slips into Peter's car, and drives away, leaving me behind.
Peter is standing next to me. He works his jaw before saying, "We need to talk."
"There's nothing to talk about."
I'm sitting in the passenger seat, staring out the window at the night sky. I feel like an emotional train wreck. It's strange, but I thought I already grieved and mourned my mother. As I sit, memories that were lost to time pop up randomly in my mind. The hand of death is the only thing capable of freeing them. I see myself on a swing and know that I can't be more than three years old. My mother pushes me, and I try to look back at her, making my hair tangle in the chains. I can feel the sharp tug on my scalp like it's still happening. I remember the tears that covered my face and how afraid I was. My mother untangled me and held me. It's not a recollection that I would normally remember, but it surfaces now. My mother loved me then. I wonder what she'll say when I walk in the door now.
A chill races down my spine, making me shiver. It's late, well past dinner time. I rub the goose bumps away with my hands while trying to avoid Peter's gaze. We haven't spoken since the rest stop. I feel so betrayed by him. It's like someone turned me inside out. I hate that I feel his eyes on me. It makes me want to open up and spill my guts. I want my Peter back, but he's gone. That Peter was never real anyway.
After a few more exits pass, Peter pulls off the road. We're in a little town in Tennessee. It's so hilly here, the opposite of where we were in Texas where everything is as flat as a frying pan. I shift in my seat and look over at him. Peter has that same look he's had all day. I can't tell if he's angry or annoyed.
I don't care.
Yeah, keep telling yourself that.
Peter pulls into a dark parking lot and drives to the front of an old hotel located at the back. One yellow light floods the front door.
"What are we doing?" I don't want to stop here. The place looks like it's owned by Norman Bates.
"We need to stop for the night, and this is the only place showing any vacancy." He notices the expression on my face and adds, "Don't worry. It'll be fine. I've stayed here before." Peter cuts the engine and steps out of the car. Then he walks around, opens my door, and extends his hand, waiting for me to get out.