Authors: S.R. Grey
I saw Abby’s problem every day when I looked in the mirror.
Standing in a cramped and steam-filled bathroom, hot water running, can of shave cream poised in hand, I couldn’t deny the truth in front of me. I’d swipe at the misted mirror with my free hand, leaving it streaky, but mostly clear. And it wasn’t me I saw in the reflection, it was my father. That’s how much I looked like Jack Gartner, even at eighteen. And
was my mother’s real problem.
Even thinking about it now—two years later—fucks with my head.
I glance over at Tate. He’s quiet, taking long pulls from the bottle. I shift in my seat and wind up the window the rest of the way. Time to assess my bleary reflection, time to compare it to what it was, time to compare it to the man who made me…I sometimes do this just to fuck with myself.
When I take in my reflection, I laugh. Hell, the resemblance is still uncanny. And just like when I used to stare at the steamed-up mirror in the bathroom, it’s my dad’s eyes staring back at me now. But these pale blues are all mine. Yeah,
whites were never shot with red like mine.
Still, even with the bloodshot eyes, similarities far outweigh differences. Though it’s not
short and tidy
—like Grandma Gartner would like it to be—my hair is the exact same shade as her son’s once was, light brown. Jack also blessed me with his straight nose, his square jaw, and his defined cheekbones. Everyone used to say my dad was good-looking, I guess I am too. Girls seem to think so, that’s for sure. And my mother sure was smitten with my dad.
Abby used to lean across the front seat of the sporty car my dad bought for himself during the good times. Will and I would be in the back, rolling our eyes at each other. My mom would kiss my dad, making him swerve a little as he drove. She’d tell him he was gorgeous, and that she loved him. Dad would laugh and tell Abby he loved her even more. He’d say his love for her burned hotter than the Vegas sun above us. My mom loved that shit. Will and I, however, would groan in disgust and make gagging noises.
Shit, I feel like gagging now. Not because of the memory, but at how closely I still resemble my dead father. I turn away from my reflection. I can’t bear to endure this self-inflicted torture any longer. No wonder I was fucking sent away. Too bad I couldn’t disappear completely just as easily right now. Guess, in a way, that’s why I live my life the way I do, filling it with drugs…sex…violence.
Back then my very presence in my mom’s life must have been a constant reminder of all she had lost. When you’re striving to move on, you don’t need an anchor to the past. She could move forward with Will, he was just a kid. Besides, he looked like her, not like my father. But I was eighteen, an adult, and far too much my father’s son for everyone’s comfort. I guess it was just too difficult for Mom to look at me—see
—and be reminded of all she’d once had.
So the day steady boyfriend number three, a guy named Gary, told her she could move in with him, I kind of fucking knew the invitation wouldn’t be extended to me.
Sure enough, on a blistering hot afternoon, my mom sent Will out to ride his bike and told me we had to talk. She sat me down on the ratty couch in our shitty apartment. I felt like a condemned man waiting to hear his fate, and all the while the noisy air conditioning unit in the window behind me kept blowing gusts of lukewarm air across the back of my neck.
Not that it mattered. I barely noticed. I was mostly numb. In preparation for this “talk,” I’d done a couple of lines of coke in my room. Of course, I hadn’t brought that shit out until after Will had left. One thing I stuck to was that I never let my little brother see me taking part in any of my newfound vices.
Anyway, that day in the living room, I couldn’t sit still. Fidgeting, fidgeting, tapping my foot. Mom took no notice, she was almost as bad. Pacing back and forth in front of me, smoking a cigarette, a new habit she’d just acquired. Gary smoked, so she’d picked up the habit too.
, I remember thinking.
My mother appeared so edgy and wired I almost asked her if she was dabbling in drugs, like me, or if what she had to say was really just that fucking bad. She started speaking before I ever got the chance.
“You’re not a kid anymore, Chase,” she began, still pacing, ashes peppering the olive-green carpeting.
She took a drag, crinkled her brow, and leaned over to stub her cigarette out in a plastic ashtray on a low table.
“You have to get started on doing something, somewhere, kid,” she said as she spun to face me.
She stood right in front of me, and though my head was down I watched her every move. She blew out a breath and I watched her dark blonde bangs lift up off her forehead. A few strands stuck to her skin. Mom was starting to sweat.
“So, Grandma Gartner called the other day,” she continued, her words deliberate, pointed, like a knife. “She said she’s got lots of room in that old farmhouse back in Ohio. And she sure could use some company.”
I looked up at her in disbelief. This woman who’d given me life tried to smile, but she could not. She knew damn well she was spewing pure bullshit. She just wanted rid of me.
“Just spit it out,” I ground through clenched teeth, my voice far from even.
“Okay, of course, honey.” She looked everywhere but at me. “Uh, so, Gram thinks moving back to Harmony Creek might do you some good, get you out of Vegas, give you a chance to start over, and—”
“Mom, I’m only eighteen. Start over?” I blew out a quick breath. “I haven’t even had a chance to get started
Her expression grew stern. “Chase, don’t act like I don’t know the things you do behind my back.” I tried to protest, but she shushed me. “I know you use drugs. I know you bring girls back when Will’s not around. That shit isn’t going to fly once we move in with Gary. He won’t stand for it, Chase. He has standards—”
I snorted, “The fuck he does—”
“I’m not going to argue with you about it,” she said, her voice tired and cracking.
When she reached for her pack of cigarettes, I noticed her hands were shaking. “Honey, I just think Grandma Gartner’s is the best place for you right now, okay?”
I picked at a hole in my jeans. “Do I have a choice?” I asked, defeated, and, truthfully, feeling like I’d just been set adrift.
She shook her head no.
I’d known it was coming, but her words still flayed me up the middle and pierced my already damaged heart. I was shocked that my heart could continue beating, since it felt all smashed to hell. But beat it did. In fact, my heart pumped faster and faster, like it was going to burst right out of my fucking chest. Whether my reaction was from cocaine…or despair…I couldn’t quite figure.
With my heart pounding like a sped-up death knell, I tried to push some words out of my cotton-dry mouth. “Mom…” I croaked, my voice catching.
I just couldn’t finish.
Verbal communication failed me, so I tried to meet her eyes, speak to her soul. Was this really what she wanted? Send her eldest son away? Give up on me? Just like Dad did with all of us.
I searched and searched, but my mother had no answers in her big green eyes, no more than the stone angel had at my father’s grave.
Abby took in a stuttered breath and turned away. She swiped at a tear. “It’s for the best, Chase,” she mumbled.
And then she left me sitting there, all alone, warm air blowing across the back of my neck.
I went back to my room and cut up three more lines.
That was nearly two years ago and here I am. Mom is still in Las Vegas with Will, on steady boyfriend number six, last I heard. She’s still chasing the elusive jackpot too, hoping to recapture the life she once knew.
Good luck with that
, I think bitterly.
Jackpot, my ass
. If anyone needs to hit a fucking jackpot, it’s me.
Suddenly, drug-induced visions of flashing pots of gold swim lazily into my head, along with some break-dancing leprechauns, and I can’t help but chuckle.
Tate looks over. He must think my mood has improved, ’cause he starts talking all excitedly about how much money we’re going to make from our new business venture with Kyle. I listen to his voice, not really hearing any words, but then the cell buzzes and I am alert, very alert.
Tate tosses it my way. “That there would be the ladies,” he says—all smooth like—as I catch the cell with one hand. Even impaired, my coordination is impeccable.
“Ladies, my ass.” I roll my eyes.
Tate laughs, knowing as well as I do that the two girls we’re meeting up with tonight are no ladies. They’re looking for the same thing we are, but therein lies the beauty.
“What’s it say?” he asks, nodding to the cell.
The text is kind of blurry, but, then again, everything is. I blink a few times and my vision clears. When I read it out loud, I mimic a high-pitched girl’s voice, just to be an ass. “Crystal and I are almost at the lake. Come prepared. Tammy. Laugh out loud, winking smiley face.”
“Dude-e-e.” Tate shoots me a knowing sidelong glance. “You know what
means, right? You got that covered, yeah?”
As reckless as I am—and that’s pretty fucking reckless—I always make sure I wrap my shit up. Better safe than sorry. But as I feel around in the pockets of my jeans I realize I’ve left the condoms at home. “Fuck,” I mutter.
Welcome to Pennsylvania
sign looms ahead, our headlights flashing off the reflective letters.
Tate asks, “What?”
I rake my fingers through my hair. “I forgot the goddamn things at home.”
“Not a problem. We’ll just stop at the convenience store across the state line.”
“Bad idea,” I counter. “Cops are always hanging out in there. You think they won’t notice how fucked up we are?”
“How fucked up
are,” Tate corrects, laughing. “I didn’t smoke nearly as much as you.”
“You smoked plenty,” I mumble under my breath.
But Tate is right, I smoked more. And Tate smoked only weed. Plus, my friend didn’t see the pills Kyle slipped me before we left.
Still, I nod to the almost-empty bottle. “You pretty much drank that whole thing, dickhead. You’ll never pass a field sobriety test.”
“Yeah, but I don’t plan on taking one, my friend. And, I hide it better than you.” He shrugs. “Trust me, I got it covered. Just wait in the car. It’ll only take a sec.”
Tate’s always confident like this. He can talk anyone into just about anything. I always tell him he’s a natural-born salesman. Maybe if we ever get our shit together he can do something legit using his smooth ways. It’s cool, it’s Tate’s thing, and it helps make him popular. He’s an okay-looking guy—brown hair, brown eyes, kind of skinny—but it’s his smooth talk that gets him in with the girls. They eat that shit up.
We cross the state line, turn into the convenience store. No cop cars. “See, we’re good,” Tate says, still as confident as ever.
I flip up my black hoodie hood and slouch down in my seat. “Just be quick,” I mumble.
Tate hesitates, and I know something is up. “What the fuck are you waiting for?” I ask.
He begins his sentence with “Don’t be pissed—” and I cut him off right away, hoping I won’t have to kick my good friend’s skinny ass. It would be a damn shame really, since Tate wouldn’t stand a chance against the likes of me. I am way bigger and far stronger, and the rage within me has no match.
“What?” I spit out, clenching my jaw.
Tate ignores my attitude; he’s used to it. “I kind of need you to hold on to something while I go in there. Just in case.”
“Just in case of what?”
I am running out of patience. I scrub my hand down my face, wary to hear what Tate the salesman is up to now.
He smirks, and I tell him to knock that shit off, save it for the “ladies.”
“Okay, okay.” He raises his hands in mock surrender. “I may have kind of asked Kyle to give us a little something to get our entrepreneurial gig started.”
“Us?” I say, feeling the anger rise up. “You didn’t even know I was going to sell with you until about ten minutes ago.”
“What can I say, man.” Tate places his hand over his heart. “I had faith.”
I try to stay pissed, because what he did was really out of line, but my anger fades fast. High as I am, these strong emotions are too fucking slippery to hold on to for very long.
Tate hands me a plastic packet filled with little pills, a rainbow of color. “Jesus.” I know all too well exactly what this shit is. “X? You’re fucking higher than I thought. We’re supposed to start small, bitch. Move a little bud, see how it goes.”
Tate shrugs. “We’ll make more money this way. Like, I know we can sell to the girls tonight. Hell, I bet we can talk them into buying
He’s laughing at his own ingenuity, but I ignore him. I’m too busy trying to count the pills in the packet. But being in the condition I am in, it’s a bit of a challenge.
“How much is this anyway?” I ask, giving up on figuring it out for myself.
“Twenty hits,” he tells me, and then he has the balls to throw another packet in my lap. “Make that forty…maybe a little more.”
“You’re fucking crazy. If we get caught, Tate, this isn’t possession. This is possession with intent to sell.”
“That’s why I’m leaving the shit here with you.”
“Oh, that’s real fucking cool.” Back to being pissed, even my high can’t calm me now. I whip one of the packets back at Tate. “I am so not getting caught with forty hits of Ecstasy, asshole.”
“Calm down, man.” He gingerly picks up the packet I’ve just thrown and holds it out for me to take back. “If a cop shows up just hit the road.”
“What about you?” I ask as I grudgingly accept the X.
Tate grins. “Don’t worry about me. You know I can play it cool. Just swing by after the heat’s gone, and we’ll be back in business.”
“The heat? What is this, the seventies?” I ask, laughing, but Tate’s already out the door.
I tuck the two packets of Ecstasy into the back pocket of my jeans and think nothing more of it. Until a few short minutes later when a state cop pulls into the lot. Then, I panic.