Authors: Steph Campbell
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Published by Steph Campbell
Cover Design: The Cover Lure
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2014 Steph Campbell
All rights reserved.
They say that hard times will always reveal your true friends.
I’m so thankful to call you one.
“Make hummus not war! Make hummus not war!”
I push my way through the crowd, trying my best to keep my eyes on the ground and not roll them in the faces of the people I pass at their chosen slogan.
Is that really the best they’ve got?
I scan the crowd, looking for the familiar dark hair, at the same time I’m straining my ears trying to make her voice out in the chants. It’s pointless, this pile of people is just too thick. I need to find her and get the hell out of here, but it feels damn near impossible in the endless sea of crimson t-shirts.
“Dude, you need a sign!” a girl calls to me, and offers up one of her cardboard, STOP THE BOMBS signs.
“No thanks,” I say. I shouldn’t even be here, and not just because I don’t know which side I’m on. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I, a seventeen-year-old kid with no horse in this race, has all the answers—or
answers. But what I do know is that this protest is getting out of hand, and I need to get her out of here before the cops get involved.
She’s standing on the brick steps wearing the only blue shirt in the crowd.
I should have looked for something other than red right off the bat. She always has to stand out.
“Listen up!” a cop calls into a megaphone right next to me. I flinch away from his booming voice, cover my ears, and keep moving. “Time to vacate! Students need to get back to their dorms! All others are trespassing!”
“Hey, kid, time to go,” a cop in uniform says to me.
“No problem,” I say but keep walking toward Jemma.
“Hey!” he calls after me. There’re plenty of other people here for him to hassle though, so he doesn’t press on. But that moment of hesitation causes me to lose sight of her. She must have slipped through the tight group of people.
I wish I didn’t care. I wish I would learn to walk away from people.
I cup my hands around my mouth and yell, “Jemma!” But she doesn’t look in my direction.
This isn’t the first time she’s gone to one of these things and it turned out to be more than she bargained for. Or, at least that’s what she wants me to think. She’s pro at sending me texts or leaving me voicemails claiming she’s in over her head. That she’s terrified. That she needs my help.
She’s the kind of girl who starts fights with guys twice my size just because she gets off on watching me defend her. She’s the girl who claimed she thought someone put something in her drink and I had to come and get her, when in reality, she just didn’t want to spring for a cab and had missed the last train of the night.
She’s my girlfriend—she
I would have picked her up if she’d just asked—but Jemma could never do that—something as simple as ask. She always had to make it dramatic. She always had to make a fool out of me.
Like the text she sent me thirty minutes ago, before I raced across town to pick her up because she was scared things were getting out of hand. But from the looks of things, she’s just as into this rowdy protest as the rest of the participants.
I wonder if she even knows what she’s protesting.
Jemma will sign up for any cause, she’ll be anything—except honest. With me, with her family, hell, with herself. She’s a chameleon who has no idea who she is, or what she stands for. But dammit she dragged me into her life and I’m here now, foolish as it is, because I’m loyal to a fucking fault—despite how hard she stomped on my heart with her vegan shoe, I can’t watch her go down. So I push on, through opposing sides of an issue that I can’t make sense of, just trying to get to my ex-girlfriend before she gets arrested.
“Jemma!” I call again.
I’m almost to her when I see an arm go up and wrap around her tiny waist.
That’s when I haul ass to her.
That’s when I punch without looking.
“Gabriel.” Her voice is sharp and wakes me up like a bad nightmare.
I pull myself up to sitting, touch my cheek, and wince at the pain.
“Did…did someone hit me?” I ask, working my jaw back and forth. It doesn’t feel good. “Did a
hit me?” I blink a few times, trying to put together the memory of what happened before I took a solid right hook to the jaw.
My mom scoffs.
“The official report says that another protester hit you, though I suppose it could’ve been a police officer. I don’t want to hear another word about that though,” she says. Her arms are folded tightly over her chest and she taps one shiny, black heel with each clipped word.
“I told you to stay away from her,” Mom says, then holds one hand up. “All of this could have been avoided if you just would have listened to me and stayed away from her.”
I don’t answer, because I have no defense. This is the one time my mom has ever been right as far as I’m concerned.
“Never mind, we don’t need to discuss that now. What we need to do is get you out of here. I’ve already signed all of the paperwork,” she says.
Don’t have to ask me twice to leave the white cinderblock walls and the comfort of the matching cement bench.
“Thanks, Ma,” I say.
She shakes her head. “Oh, don’t you thank me, Gabriel. The man you punched—the man
assaulted at that protest—
was a police officer.”
I close my eyes and visualize the arm reaching for Jemma’s waist.
I shake my head and say, “He wasn’t in uniform.”
“None of that matters, Gabriel. This isn't a game any longer. This isn’t about her or her family anymore. This is about you. You’re the one sitting in jail right now.”
Mom leans in as she talks and points one, long, manicured finger in my face like she used to do when I was a kid and I’d interrupted her work.
“Okay,” I say in a flat voice, and let my shoulders drop. “What do you want me to do then? I’m sure you’ve got a plan, right Ma?”
Of course she’s already got a plan. Always a fixer. Mom looks over her shoulder to make sure that no one is in earshot, because appearances matter above all else. Who, other than my mother, would have taken the time to put on the black suit and a full face of makeup just to pick their kid up from jail? She flips her black hair back over her shoulder and purses her red lips.
“I will not tolerate this behavior any longer, Gabriel. I’m up for re-election. Have you forgotten that?”
How could I? Mom and her career have been the center of our entire world for as long as I can remember.
I touch my tongue to my lip and taste dried blood.
When I was six, I had a really bad case of pneumonia. When I wouldn’t get well, the doctors thought I had meningitis, so I had to have a spinal tap. The nurse came in to assist and she held me still while the doctor performed the test. She pressed my face into her chest while I cried, as my mother stood in the corner of the room. I remember thinking that the way the nurse held me was probably what real comfort felt like, what real mothers did when their children were sad or scared or hurt. They were warm to their children, and stroked their head and held them close.
Real mothers didn’t
But mine does.
“Where am I going this time?” I deadpan.
“To stay with your grandmother. It was the only option at the last minute.”
There are worse places to go than down to my Babci’s house in Gloucester. It’s still close to home, it’s comfortable, and I bet Babs could use a little company now that my grandfather is gone and my dickhole dad up and left a few months ago.
“Your car is staying here, though. Hell, I may even sell it.”
“Fine,” I say. I don’t care. I honestly don’t. “Whatever you want, Ma.”
“How about I tell you what I
want—what I absolutely won’t stand for, is you back in this city until we clear this up.”
“Whatever,” I say, grabbing my coat from the cement slab I’d been napping on.
“And stay away from that girl. I mean it this time, Gabriel. Enough is enough. You’re only making a fool out of yourself at this point.”
I can do.