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Authors: Laura Langston

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BOOK: Last Ride
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“Shields?” Blair yells. “You haven't answered. Tomorrow night? You coming or not?”

Hannah's gaze burns. She wants me to say no. She expects me to say no. But I need to go to the race. I need that Lancer to lose. I need the guys to bring their cars to Ray. “I'm coming,” I say as Aisha leads me away. “But I won't be racing.”

Laughter and a few good-natured insults follow us. They aren't as painful as the look of disappointment in Hannah's eyes. She doesn't believe me. She thinks I'm lying.

She's wrong.

Chapter Four

Mom corners me a few hours later when I sneak in the front door.

“You're late.”

I peer across the hall into the living room. She and her boyfriend, Cam, are on the couch, framed by the glow from the yellow and orange Tiffany lamp.

“Sorry.” I flip the dead bolt on the door and walk across the hall. “There was a party at Drew's. Didn't you get my message?”

“Yes, but it's a school night.” The circles under Mom's eyes look purple in the pale light. “And you have a curfew.”

“I drove some friends home. It took longer than I thought.” Mostly because I had to pull over twice so Aisha could throw up.

Cam gives me a silent salute. I nod back. Cam never says much, but he never criticizes either. That's worth a lot.

“I worry, Tom. You know that.”

“Yeah.” Guilt stings. “I'm sorry,” I repeat.

“Mr. Lansky called. He's concerned about your performance in senior seminar.”

Oh man, I don't need Lansky on my case. Not when I'm worrying about my car.

“Senior seminar is important,” Mom adds. “It prepares you for life after high school.”

Like three months of classes can prepare you for the rest of your life. I manage, just barely, not to roll my eyes. I glimpse a smirk at the corners of Cam's lips too.

“He says you missed the appointment he set up to discuss your college applications. And you didn't write your sat test either.”

“I told you last month, I'm not going to college.” At least not the kind of college Mom has in mind. Technical college is way cheaper. I can become a mechanic and be earning money in two years. And that reminds me…I dig in my pocket, pull out five twenties and put them on the coffee table. “For the bill.”

My medical bill. That'll maybe take it down to eighty thousand nine hundred. Big whoop. But at least it's something.

Mom's eyes soften. “You don't have to do that.”

A lump the size of a small engine clogs my throat. Maybe not, but Mom can't pay the whole thing herself. “I know.”

“But you do need to write your sat,” she says gently. “And talk to Mr. Lansky about scholarship applications.”

“A scholarship won't cover it all. You know that from Becky.” My sister took out a student loan and is working two jobs to cover her second year.

“We'll figure something out, Tom. Don't worry about it. In the meantime, get some sleep. You look tired.”

How can I sleep with Ray's threat hanging over me? With Lansky's phone call?

My feet are heavy as I drag them up the stairs. I reach the landing and start up the last few steps, and that's when I hear it. A chuckle in my ear.

I whirl around. Logan!

But there's only empty space in front of me. And the faint, unmistakable scent of the cherry Twizzlers he loved to chew.

My fingers are shaking so much it takes me three tries to start up the computer.
Need for Speed 2
is a poor substitute for the kind of racing I want to do, but it will stop me from imagining things. It'll keep me busy. And awake. Which means Logan won't be able to invade my dreams.

“Nice of you to join us, Mr. Shields,” Lansky says when I walk through the door of senior seminar the next morning. The bell just rang, but he's a total sergeant major about punctuality. “Please find a seat so we can get started.”

There's a spot across the room, beside Hannah. Lansky's frown bores into me as I walk past his desk. He's a squat moon-faced man who coaches the school swim team. In fact, he coached Logan. No wonder he doesn't like me.

“Hey,” I say when I reach Hannah's side. I allow myself one quick glance at her tight white sweater before I sit down.

“Hey,” she says.

Lansky clears his throat. “We'll be pairing off today and continuing with our self-assessment sheets. Your partner will read what you've written and offer their opinion.”

Hannah gives me a questioning look. I nod. People start moving chairs, breaking into groups. We slide our desks together.

“The key isn't to criticize,” Lansky says. “It's to give constructive feedback. Students are often too harsh in their self-assessments.” He starts handing out our work sheets.

“You wanna get together tonight?” Hannah asks.

I stop breathing. Hannah's asking me out?

“I'm taking Amy to a show. You could come.”

With
Amy
? My breath starts up again, a gulp of disappointment. I don't want to see Logan's ten-year-old sister. I can't. “I'm working.”

“You could meet us for ice cream after.”

Hannah's brown eyes look all innocent, but I know what she's doing. She's trying to keep me from going to tonight's race. “I'm busy,” I tell her.

She opens her mouth, but I speak first. “I'm not racing. I promised, remember? In the hospital. Never again.”

“Then come for ice cream.”

Lansky drops our sheets down, taps his finger against mine and gives me a look. “I would like to see more of an effort here, Mr. Shields. Some focus.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I mutter after he moves on.

“You've written almost nothing,”

Hannah says when she glances down. “How come?”

At least we aren't talking about the race. “Just lazy, I guess.” Her perfume is sending my heart into overdrive. “Let's do yours first.”

I skim her strengths (caring and considerate, organized) and her weaknesses (stubborn, opinionated, judgmental). Oh yeah. Especially of me in the last year.

“You're good with sick people too.” The doctors were about to amputate my leg in September, but after Hannah visited me in the hospital, I got better.

She blushes. “You think?”

“Yeah. You should write that down.” I read her academic strengths and weaknesses before looking at what she's written under
Future Plans
.

I plan to become a kinesiologist
because I care about others and I'm
interested in the healing professions.

“You should be a doctor,” I say when I finish reading.

“That's for Cole, not me.”

How perfect that Mr. Perfect is going to graduate and save lives. We're alike in one way at least. I will graduate.

“And anyway, I don't want to be a doctor.”

“You should. You go around touching people and they get better.” I grin. “Maybe you're a witch.”

Her brown eyes turn stormy. “Shut up, Shields.”

“Don't worry, I don't think so.” She starts to smile. “And judging by the way Cole ‘the Mole' Murray looks at you, he doesn't think so either.”

Her smile dissolves. “His name is
Cole,
and the way he looks at me is perfectly normal.” She snatches up my paper. “We're just friends.”

And my day just got a little bit better.

She twirls a curl of hair between her thumb and forefinger as she reads my sheet. I stare at the tiny mole beside her lips, and I grow warm.

Frowning, she looks up. “This is lame.”

I pretend to misunderstand. “I know. The whole thing is. I don't need to do this stupid self-assessment.”

“I don't mean the sheet. I mean your answers. The only strength you've listed is good with cars.” She raises her brow. “What are you going to do? Work for Ray the rest of your life?”

Her comment stings. “We can't all be doctors. Or kinesiologists.”

She gestures to the section marked
Future Plans
. “You've left this part blank.”

“Give the girl an A.”

“Don't be stupid.” She leans over to grab my pen. The heat from her body makes my head swim. “What are you doing after graduation?”

Needing air, I inch back. I wish I had something better to say than “I'm going be a licensed mechanic.” It sounds like nothing beside Cole “I'm going to be a doctor and save lives” Murray.

She stares at me like I'm a specimen in science class. “This is about Logan, isn't it?”

“No, it's not about
Logan
!” A couple of people turn to stare. I lower my voice. “That's a stupid thing to say.”

“It's not. I don't know what's going on in your head.”

Goodthing. I've been mostly thinking about her breasts in that sweater since I sat down. And telling myself I don't smell cherry Twizzlers. Not at all.

“Maybe you think you don't deserve to go to college or something.”

My left eye starts to twitch. “That's lame.” And way too close to the truth.

“Okay, fine.” She taps the pen against the section marked
Future Plans
. “Well?”

It's now or never. “I'm going to become a licensed mechanic.” I stare straight at her, daring her to laugh or wince or roll her eyes.

But all she does is nod her head and start to write. “Good.”

I'm shocked. She has accepted, without question, the thing I most want. Even though it probably reminds her of Logan.

“With a good garage,” I add. “Maybe even my own some day.” Her acceptance has made me nervous. “Just as soon as I can get the money together. Which might take a while, 'cause, you know…I have expenses.” Epic understatement.

She finishes writing and looks at me. “You could always sell your car.”

You
should
sell it, she's thinking. “It's been in an accident, remember? I wouldn't get anything for it.” Besides, whatever I got, Ray would take.

“Why not apprentice? You could go to school and earn at the same time.”

And just like that, Hannah Sinclair gives me the key to my future. And maybe the ticket to getting Ray off my back. “Yeah,” I say, “I can be an apprentice.”

I wish I could throw my arms around her neck and kiss her lips. I wish I had the hots for someone other than my dead buddy's girlfriend.

The smell of cherry Twizzlers threatens to choke me.

I wish I could make Logan go away.

Chapter Five

I can't wait to talk to Ray about the apprenticeship idea. With any luck, he'll go for it and let me keep my car. Unfortunately, when I get to the garage after school, he's in a lousy mood.

“I'm two cars behind, and everybody wants their job done yesterday.” Scowling, he slams the hood on a red Solstice. “I've barely had time to take a piss, never mind have a smoke.” He pulls a cigarette from his overalls and heads for the door. “Make coffee, and if anybody phones, make no promises.”

My question will have to wait.

I make the coffee and then get back to work on the 350Z. My phone's in my pocket, set to vibrate. Blair will text me the time and place of the race. The way the cops are, races are never held in the same place twice, so I have no idea where it'll be tonight, other than somewhere in the south end of King County.

Around eight, Ray orders pizza. It's still freaking cold outside, so I convince him to shut the garage door, and we sit by the desk in the corner. I wait until he's eaten three pieces of pepperoni and cracked a beer before I bring up the apprenticeship thing.

“One of my teachers called Mom yesterday.” I grab another slice. “About planning for college. Mom wants me to go. She figures I should be an accountant.”

His beer can stops midway to his mouth. “Don't tell me you're going to turn into a suit, Shields?” His beady squirrel eyes are glued on me. “
Don't
tell me.”

I lick grease from my thumb. “Of course I'm not.”

“Whew.” The can meets his lips.

“I'm gonna be a licensed mechanic.” I wait one heartbeat, two heartbeats. “I was thinking you could take me on as an apprentice. That way I can train while I work.”

Ray stares like I've asked him to fly me to the moon. “What?”

I start to repeat myself, but he stops me with an impatient wave of his hand. “I heard. You're already working for me. You're already trained. I don't need you to apprentice. I don't care if you have a license.”

I do. I need a license to make decent money. To open my own place some day. “If I line up an apprenticeship, Mom and the teacher will get off my back.” Plus, I'll make money while I go to school.

BOOK: Last Ride
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