Page 15

Author: Tracy Wolff

Oh, thank God. I close my eyes against the sun and the relief that swamps me. I don’t know why it seems like a big deal when I’ve done it hundreds of times before, but I am suddenly, intensely grateful that I didn’t spend last night f**king this girl who I actually can not stand in the light of day.

“That’s not going to happen,” I tell her after a second. “You should take the money.” At first it doesn’t look like she’s going to, but after Luc turns down her offer of a quickie, she grabs the cash and reaches for her phone.

I start toward the bathroom with a vague plan of being violently, disgustingly ill.

“Hey! Where are you going?” Luc demands, getting in my way. “This is your mess.”

“I’m going to puke. You’re welcome to join me if you’d like.”

He snarls his disgust, but he lets me pass as he heads over to the bed to help Stacy find a cab company.

It’s just one more reason he’s been my best friend since kindergarten.

After a shower that makes me feel at least partially human, I drag myself out of the bathroom to find that all traces of Stacy’s existence have been wiped out of my bedroom. Her clothes are gone, and so are her shoes, her purse, everything—including her.

I breathe a cautious sigh of relief. Though I don’t know she’s gone for sure, with any luck she’ll have left the premises sometime during my twenty-minute puke fest or half-hour shower.

On the nightstand next to the bed is a cup of black coffee and two painkillers. I take them both, so desperate for the relief that I don’t even care that I’ve probably scalded my throat for life.

I drag my jeans on and think about walking downstairs, maybe getting some breakfast. But just the idea takes more effort than I’m capable of, so I lie back down in bed and stare at the ceiling. Except now that I’m awake and mostly sober, I can smell her in my sheets, a combination of tequila, pot, jasmine, and something else that turns my stomach all over again.

Suddenly I can’t take it for one second longer. I bound to my feet and rip the black sheets off my bed. I take the pillowcases off, the comforter, everything, and kick them into a ball near the door. Then I sink back down on the edge of the bed and just sit there, my head in my hands.

That’s how Luc finds me a few minutes later. “Rough morning?” he asks in a voice that isn’t exactly sympathetic.

“You have no idea.”

“Oh, you might be surprised. Come on. I made breakfast.” He turns and walks back out the door, and for long seconds I think about not following him. About staying right where I am. But what the f**k good will that do? The drapes are open, the covers are gone, and I’m wide awake and sober—which, if I’m being honest, totally sucks.

When I get downstairs, there are two huge bowls of cereal on the table along with a gallon of milk. Breakfast. Right.

“Is Stacy gone?” I ask, walking to the coffeepot and pouring another cup. It’s shaping up to be a five-cup morning.

“Yeah. No thanks to you. That chick was like a f**king octopus.” He shoves a bite of Cheerios into his mouth. “Every time I thought I had her under control, she’d grow another arm and grope me somewhere else. I’m pretty sure by the time I got her out of here she’d violated me in ways that are illegal in twenty-seven different countries.”

“Sorry about that,” I say with a wince. Now that I think about it, I’m feeling pretty damn violated myself. What the f**k was I thinking, getting so drunk that I brought home some woman I don’t even recognize? Sleeping with a stranger is one thing. Doing it when I’m too wasted to even know what I’m doing is totally another. And bringing her back to my house—letting her spend the night in bed with me when I don’t actually sleep with anyone, ever—is totally f**king nuts.

Just thinking about her in bed with me makes me a little crazy, which only makes the pressure inside me worse. Like it’s been f**king building and building since the moment I walked out of Ophelia’s apartment and—

Shit. I cut the thought off before it can even form. I knew the girl barely twenty-four hours. She’s just another girl, just another resort bunny who’s here for a season and then gone. There’s no reason to let her get in my head and f**k with me like this. No need to pay any attention to her. No need to take anything she said seriously.

Except she was being serious when she said all that shit to me. When she told me she was willing to f**k me for the express purpose of driving me away. She wasn’t being cruel, wasn’t throwing shit out there to hurt me. She was telling me the truth. She’d actually been willing to have sex with me just to get me to go away.

That’s dedication, man. I mean, shit. I’ve known for years how f**king repulsive I am, but still, this is a new level. Even for me.

Suddenly I want another shot of tequila so badly that my hands are f**king shaking with it. Normally I’d ignore the urge, but it’s been a hell of a week already and it’s only Sunday. A few more shots won’t hurt anyone.

Except as I wander toward the bar for the Herradura, Luc stops me with a hand on my shoulder.

“Dude. What are you doing?”

“Getting a drink.” I hold up the bottle. “Want one?”

“It’s ten o’clock in the f**king morning.”

“Then I’m getting a late start. I should probably have two.”

“Really?” he asks, ripping the bottle of tequila out of my hand. “This is really how you want this to play out?”

“No, how I want it to play out is with that bottle of tequila in my hand, not yours. Give it back.”

“Fuck, no.” He walks to the bar sink, empties the entire bottle of Selección Suprema.

“That’s three hundred dollars’ worth of tequila you just poured down the drain, you know.”

“Yeah, well, you’re in the middle of throwing away about five million dollars in talent and endorsements, so what the fuck. Three hundred bucks doesn’t really mean shit to you, does it?”

“Not really, no.” I reach under the bar and grab one of the spare bottles I stock up on this time of year, in case of just such an intervention.

Luc watches in disgust as I crack the shit open and take a long swallow right from the bottle. It burns all the way down, but that’s okay. It’s just proof that I can still feel something.

“You’re acting like a total loser, you know that, right?”

“That’s not acting. It’s just truth in advertising, my friend.” I toast him with the bottle before taking another swig.

“Goddamnit.” He wrenches the Herradura out of my hand and throws it against the wall. Except it doesn’t make it. Instead, it takes down a sculpture halfway across the room, and I watch with something like awe as they both crash to the floor and shatter.

For long seconds neither of us says anything. There doesn’t seem to be anything to say. Except—

“My dad liked that sculpture.”

“Your dad hasn’t been here in three years,” he tells me as the pungent scent of tequila fills the air. “He won’t even have a clue that it’s gone.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about that.”

I stare at the destruction blankly, not sure what we’re supposed to do now. This whole intervention thing has happened a bunch of times—Luc, Ash, and Cam have been staging one around this time for years. But this whole bottle-throwing, sculpture-shattering move is new, and I’m not sure how to respond to it. We’ve been doing the same old song and dance for so long that anything new messes everything up.

Except Luc doesn’t seem to be playing. Not this time. As he stalks toward me, there’s no remorse in his face. No let’s-feel-sorry-for-Z-because-he’s-gotten-a-raw-deal look. In fact, the only thing I can identify in his face is pure, unadulterated fury. It’s kind of interesting, really, and there’s a part of me that wants to see what’s going to happen next. The rest of me just wants to walk back upstairs and sleep until this whole week, this whole month, is done with.

“What is wrong with you?” he yells, his face suddenly inches from mine. “What the f**k is wrong with you?”

“Hey, dude, you’re the one in the middle of the temper tantrum.” I hold my hands up in the universal don’t-blame-me gesture. “Maybe you should ask yourself that question.”

“You’re pathetic, you know that?”

“Obviously.” I lift a brow at him. “If you’re trying to piss me off, you’re going to have to work harder than that.”

“What the hell, Z?” He backs off, runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “We’ve been playing this scene out for years, and I’m tired of it. Tired of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Tired of coming in here and trying to pick up the pieces after you f**king shred yourself into nothing—”

“Hey, I never asked you to put the pieces back together. I never asked you for anything.”

“Because you’re a total f**king coward. Everyone thinks you’re so f**king brave with all those stunts you pull. So f**king noble to face the ‘tragedy’ of your past and still live your life on your terms.” He opens his arms wide. “But look around, asshole. There’s nothing noble about you. Nothing noble about drowning yourself in tequila. Nothing noble about f**king girls whose names you can’t remember when they’re still in your damn bed. And there’s nothing f**king noble about throwing your life away because your sister lost hers.”

“Don’t you talk about her.” I’ve been keeping my cool so far, mainly because Luc hasn’t said anything I don’t already know. But the second he talks about April, it’s like a shot of f**king adrenaline to the heart. “Don’t you f**king talk about her.”

“Why not? Because it will upset you? Because it’ll make poor little Z cry?”

“Fuck you, man!” My hands started shaking the second he brought her up, and I shove them in my pockets, hoping he won’t notice.

“Wow, great comeback,” Luc mocks. “Did it take you all day to think of that?”

“What the f**k is your problem?”

“You know exactly what my problem is. You’re just not man enough to face it.”

“You know what? I don’t have to stand here and take this. You’re in my house, not the other way around. So why don’t you show yourself out before shit gets said that can’t be taken back?”

“It’s too late for that, don’t you think? And we’re not in your house. We’re in your daddy’s house. Your daddy’s mansion. Poor little rich boy—”

I launch myself at him before I even know I’m going to move, plow my fist into his jaw. “What the f**k do you know about it anyway? What the f**k do you know about anything?”

“I know more than you.” He shoves me hard, nearly sends me sprawling on my ass. “Look around, Z. You have everything, everything, and you’re just pissing it away.”

“What have I got? Huh, Luc?” It’s my turn to throw my arms wide, to turn around in the middle of this f**king mausoleum that I hate but still can’t find the energy to move out of. “I’ve got a big f**king house that no one else wants. Big f**king deal.”

“Bullshit. You’ve got everything right in front of you. You’re just too scared to f**king take it.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“Because it’s true.” He gestures to me. “Look at yourself. It’s three weeks before the f**king Olympic trials, man, and what are you doing? Trashing your body? Trashing your life?”

“I don’t give a shit about the Olympic trials.”