“Fine, but I’m not done bitching you out yet. How long’s the ride to Jersey?”

“A few hours.”

“Good, that should be long enough to drive into your head how stupid that was, and then you can give me details.” Mel rubs her hands together, grins, and runs back to the dorm.


Mel is in the passenger seat in my car. It runs okay and gets great gas mileage, but the rickety nature of the rusted frame makes Mel jumpy. Plus we have to yell because the window seals are pretty much shot.

“So, I wanna see some pictures of the infamous Sean Ferro in compromising positions… or at least his nak*d ass.” She holds out her hand for my phone.

“Uh, it wasn’t like that.”

She stares at me for a second. “He didn’t send you any pictures at all?”

“No. Why? Is that weird?”

Mel makes a face and picks up my phone. “Depends on what he said. May I?” She holds up my phone and I know she wants to look at the messages.

My face flames red, but I nod anyway. “Since when do you ask?”

“Since when do I go through your personal shit? Never, that’s since when. I might butt my nose where it don’t go, but I—” Her eyes go big as she reads the screen. “He had you do this shit? Like all of it?” Her eyes continue to read as I answer.

“Yeah…” I’m getting the impression that something is off. “I’ve never done it before.”

“No shit.”

“So, did I do it wrong?”

“I don’t know. To each his own, you know, but it’s weird he didn’t send you some dick shots or something—maybe even record himself jerking off so you can see.” She squints at the screen and turns it sideways like there’s a hidden dick in the letters.

“It sounded like he wanted to do that another time.”

She puts the phone down and looks over at me. “I didn’t picture him as the type. Shows what little I know.” She shrugs. “So, little Miss Chastity Belt, did that get you off? I’m not watching the video. By the way, you should delete that shit. If you lose your phone, it’ll be on YouTube faster than you can say f**k me.”

“I know. I’ll delete it. I don’t like having stuff like that around, at the same time, it was with Sean.” I smile into space.

“You look like you’ve been hit in the head with a brick, Avery. Stop that. Sean is trouble. Like a big fat sack of damaged goods. Marrying him means you’re okay with all his shit—the hookers, his dead wife, and his freaky ass family. Did you think this through?” Mel moves her hand to recline her seat. Before I can stop her, she pulls the lever and the seat falls back. She spews some choice words as she flies backwards. “What the fuck?”

“Steve’s broken—uh, the seat.” I reach for the chair back, but I can’t help her fix it since I’m driving. Mel gives me a look, so I explain, “Yeah, I named him Steve the Seat. He does all the way up or all the way down. That chair isn’t really into foreplay—no in the middle. He’s an all or nothing kind of chair.”

She laughs and spews spittle all over the dashboard. “Oh my God. You’ve been hanging out with me way too long! You’ve turned your passenger seat into a personified pervert.”

“Steve thanks you for sitting on him. He hasn’t had this much action since Sean used a screwdriver on his little bits. Steve likes things rough.” Grinning, I look out the windshield and change lanes to take the Tunnel.

Mel cracks up and before too long we’re on the Turnpike, headed straight for Cherry Hill. Peter gave me the information last time I saw him. It’s weird, but I like Sean’s family. Normally, I feel like I don’t fit in—like at all—but Peter was easy to talk to. I didn’t feel like he was looking down at me, even though he knows what I do. Gotta admit, that’s weird—and awesome. Especially since he didn’t proposition me later.

Mel chatters about nothing for a long time, keeping my mind off of Sean, but whenever a lull works its way into the conversation, there he is—Sean Ferro. Mel’s question prompted another one in my mind. It’s not that I can’t accept Sean’s past, it’s more a question of whether or not I can handle what it means for the future. Will his dark side get darker? Will Sean still need the different faces of nameless women to control to forget what he lost? Sean said he doesn’t want that anymore, but what if that need comes back? What happens when I’m not enough? I don’t expect to overshadow his past, and there’s no way to just walk away and forget about it. If that were true, neither of us would be hanging out in graveyards, talking to the dead.

Can I handle Sean day in and out? Do I want to? A guy like Marty—a normal guy, with normal problems—would give me a normal life. Isn’t that what I wanted—normal—as in a little Cape Cod with pansies on the porch and kids under foot? Sean isn’t that guy, so it washes that future away and I can’t picture what my life will be or who will be in it with that footing removed.

How do you pull someone out of hell anyway? Is it even possible? Growing up, I’d heard to never reach out. If a person slips off a ledge, the only way to help them is to throw down a rope or something. If you reach out, they pull you down with them. I’m terrified that I’m reaching out, that there’s no rope, and it’ll destroy us both. Maybe Sean knows that. Maybe that’s why he left.

But he wants you. He sexted with you. Sean wouldn’t have done that if we were making a clean break, would he?

I feel the wedding band I picked out for him in the pocket of my jeans. I guess it’s more of an engagement ring than a wedding band. I wanted something different, and I found it. The ring is white gold with a Celtic pattern carved into the band. A single blood red stone is woven into the pattern and sits on the top of the ring. It’s exactly what I wanted, Old World looking, but still a band—a circle—the symbol that means eternity.

Mel tries to put Steve back into an erect position, and comments on it. “Dude has issues getting a boner, doesn’t he?”

I laugh. “Yeah, you gotta rub him just right or he doesn’t stay up.”

“We’re both going straight to Hell. You know that, right? Damn, we’re sick. Sick, I tell you!” She’s laughing, trying to get the seatback to stay up, but Steve isn’t feeling it. “Well, now what?”

“Rub him harder?”

Mel bursts out laughing. “You’re so f**ked up. You know that right? I think you had this mentality for messed up shit before I brought you to Black. As much as I regret that, it’s nice to see you acting out on your… uh, whatever the hell is wrong with you.”

“Oh, shut up. There’s duct tape in the glove box. Tape him up.”

Mel gives me a weird look and then does it. She runs a piece of tape behind her chair, after pulling it up and ties it around mine and her door. She leans back gingerly, expecting to topple over, but it holds. “Viagra for the challenged chair.” She holds up the duct tape and nods, before stuffing it back in the glove box. “So, how do we find him?”

“Peter said Sean’s been around. I guess we go into stalker mode and play ‘spot the biker’ until we find Sean.”

“You don’t have an address?”

“It’s not like it’s the City,” by which I mean Manhattan. “Besides, if that doesn’t work, we can try hotels. There are only a few here and I doubt they’re all having biker conventions this weekend.”

“Fine, but you gotta buy me some pancakes when we’re done here. I feel the need to spread the urban legend of the IHOP bl*w j*b into the TriState Area.” She smirks at me and nods, while tucking her hands behind her head like she’s too awesome for words. The movement makes the tape slip and her seat falls back.

I nearly crash the car because I’m laughing so hard. Tears sting my eyes by the time we take the exit, and it’s strange to be laughing so hard when I’m about to do something that scares me to death. My emotions never respond the right way at the right time, but I’ll take any laughter when and where I can get it. Life’s been too damn hard lately and a fit of giggles is good for the soul.


We pull off the road and fix Mel’s seat so that she isn’t duct taped to the door anymore. When Steve fell over, all the tape went down too. Some of it sprung back and stuck to her hair. Talk about words I thought I’d never hear. Mel gave me an earful and threatened to castrate the seat (although I’m not sure if that’s possible).

“Avery, this isn’t going to work.” Mel groans. Half a second later, she cocks her head like a terrier. “Well, I’ll be damned. There it is.” Mel holds up a finger and points at the shiny bike Sean bought with me on Long Island. It’s parked out back at a hotel, right next to the back door.

I hesitate. “Should I go in and look for him?”

“They probably won’t give you his room number, but I could get it for you. What do you want to do?”

“Follow him around and see what he’s doing. How creepy does that sound?” I glance over at her, knowing it’s past creepy, but I’m curious about what was so urgent that he had to run off.

Mel shrugs. “Fine by me, but I need some food. There’s a Wag-a-Bag back there. Let’s grab something and stalk him the right way.”

We load up on carbs and soda and sit across the street. My car isn’t really noticeable in a parking lot, but if Sean spots it, he’ll know it’s me. I mean, how many old Capris are still running around?

I park the car at the convenience store, facing the street, so we can see his bike and sit back to wait. Mel opens a bag of Bugles and puts the cone-shaped chips on her fingertips. “I’ll get you and your little dog too, my pretty little call girl.” Her voice is a perfect witch’s imitation.

“You’re not quite green enough to pull that off.” I snatch a Bugle from her fingertip and pop it in my mouth.

Shifting back to Mel’s normal don’t-screw-with-me voice, she sways her head and waves a finger in my face. “Don’t you go saying nothing about the color of my skin. I could make a perfectly perfect nasty witch—”

“I know.”


“Mel, you walked right into that one. What’s with you lately?” Mel seems distracted. That’s the best word for it. It’s like she’s here, but her mind is somewhere else. Grinning at her, I elbow her side. “So, who is he?” It was a wild stab in the dark, but by the way she turns her claws on me, I know I guessed right.

“What the f**k makes you think there has to be some—” Her hackles are raised and I brace for impact, but at the same second, I see Sean walk out of the hotel across the street.

Lifting my hand, I point. “It’s him.”

Mel slaps me. “Put that down. If he looks over here, he’ll see you wagging your finger at him. Slip down into your seat. I’ll see which way he goes and then we can follow.”