Carry Your Heart #2

“Pumped Up Kicks”

Caleb

The clubhouse was especially packed tonight, even for a Friday night. While all the usual suspects had taken their designated places, there seemed to more of an overflow of guests than usual. Not that it mattered much to me…as long as the throngs of people kept their distance from my tight group near the pool table, I’d be just fine.

Tonight, I just wanted to let loose. To exhale. Graduation was only a week away and even though Ariel had promised me she’d enrolled in the community college 10 minutes away, I knew better than to throw all my eggs in one basket too soon. There was still a chance she could change her mind and dump me right on his ass. There was still a chance she could renege on her recent admission that she wanted to stay in Claremont with me. As long as she still had my ink, I felt like I had least had a fighting chance of keeping my life exactly the way I wanted it.

While nothing in our immediate history told me to be wary, it was probably just old fashioned paranoia that kept me from completely believing her. At some point, I was going to have to reconcile one way or another that Ariel really wasn’t leaving…and that I wouldn’t be left alone, deserted, and miserable in Claremont.

Monogamy has really turned me into a complete pussy. Christ.

I needed a shot of Jack. Immediately.

I gestured with my head towards my empty shot glass and it was filled promptly. That was one of the benefits to patching in soon–people around here were actually starting to treat me with a little more respect. And that made a surge of pride well up in my chest just at the thought. It had been a hard-won battle, but I’d still won nonetheless.

Just as I was bringing the shot of Jack to my lips, some asshole bumped into me from behind. Some of the liquid in my shot glass sloshed at my feet, narrowly missing my brand new Nikes.

“Jesus Christ!” I hollered back at the guy, who I didn’t even recognize, and shoved him back in the direction the drunken bastard came from. “Watch where you’re goin’!”

“Oh come on!” Dom yelled at me over Lex’s head. “Don’t tell me he almost spilled on your new shoes…”

“Hey,” I jabbed a finger in my best friend’s direction. “These are awesome kicks and you know it.”

“Geez, Caleb,” Lex laughed, looking up at me with an amused expression. “I didn’t realize you were such a shoe whore.”

“Um, excuse me, Lex,” Ariel cut in lightly as she leaned around me to see her best friend a little better. “I think he prefers the term, ‘shoe slut’.”

“You guys are just jealous,” I shrugged, wrapping my free arm around Ariel’s shoulders as I spoke and pointed down at my Nikes. “You know you want these, too, Dom. You’re just pissed I saw them first.”

Dom just held his hands up in surrender and shook his head, casting one sneaky glance down at my new Air Jordans before reverting his eyes back up to the bar. They really were awesome kicks, too. Black with a red striped sole, the new object of my obsession was speckled with red and green graffiti-like shapes all throughout the shoe, with the classic Air Jordan symbol nestled carefully on the tongue. The moment I’d seen them, I knew I had to have them.

Oh yes,” I’d whispered to them in the store, ignoring Ariel’s snicker next to me. “You will be mine.”

“Alright, alright,” Lex told us and promptly brought me back to the present. “Enough talk about men and their shoes. This is getting weird.”

“Amen to that, Lex,” Ariel echoed and they clinked their glasses together for good measure.

I shook my head and when yet another clubhouse patron bumped into me, I was starting to feel more than a little claustrophobic. Jesus, was it getting hot in here, too? Sweat was starting to pool underneath my armpits and I needed to get some air fast before I sweat through my entire flannel. That would not bode well for later tonight, when I wanted to be tangled up in my sheets with Ariel in my dorm. Of course…she’d probably make us move to the floor at some point so no one could hear us. I’d told her time and time again that nobody gave a shit around here about that. If people could get away with having sex in the booths, and against the pool table, right out in the open, then I was pretty sure we could get away with sneaking back into my dorm to make all the noise we wanted.

For as much as I loved Ariel, she could really be a prude sometimes. When we’d first starting dating, I’d been under the impression that I was getting one thing, and as it turned out, I’d gotten something else entirely. While Ariel wanted the outside world to see a tough, confident biker’s old lady, I had to admit that wasn’t even close to what she was really like behind closed doors.

And while I’d rather watch my balls shrivel and fall off than admit it out loud, I knew, deep down, that there was a part of me that was deeply disappointed about that. Even though it made me feel like a complete asshole, I just couldn’t help it. She was almost…timid at times and seemed a little uncomfortable and cold with some of the things we did. But I’d never pressured her into doing anything…she’d always just offered up all the head and hand jobs a guy could ask for without any nudging on my part. Was it wrong for me to take what my old lady of over a year was offering to me? I’d never want her to feel like she had to…but sometimes, I wondered if she really enjoyed any of it.

Jesus, I really am turning into a melodramatic pussy.

On that note, I excused myself from the stuffy, stifling clubhouse to get some damn air. I needed to breathe and I couldn’t do it in here anymore. This was starting to get ridiculous. After pushing my way through the doors, my senses were rewarded with warm, breezy, and most importantly, fresh North Carolina night air.

Finally. Some room to breathe and some room to think. There were just too many people in the clubhouse tonight for my liking. Sure, it was fun when it was crowded, but it was only fun when that crowd was one I knew. It was goddamn amateur night at the clubhouse and that just made me want to get the hell out of there.

I strolled out onto the grass and quickly lit a cigarette, taking a heavy pull to get some nicotine coursing through me. At least I felt a little calmer now and sucked in a deep breath to prove it to myself. Just as my head was beginning to clear, a sniffle and some faint shuffling caught my attention. Frowning at the noise, I turned my head to find a shadow crouched down around the left corner of the clubhouse.

Figuring it was some drunken hangaround or wannabe prospect, I was just about to leave the idiot to his own devices when a flash of shimmering white reflected in the moonlight. Dudes didn’t wear shit like that. I froze in the grass, the cigarette still dangling from my lips. There was a chick over there. And she was drunk as hell.

Immediately taking another deep pull from my nearly-forgotten cigarette to buy me a little more time, I shifted from one side to the other indecisively. This was not what I’d wanted to do tonight. Damn, this is what I got for being anti-social. So, with a deep sigh at my own stupidity, I flicked the spent cherry to the cement a few feet away and started towards the side of the clubhouse.

As I took a few cautious steps in the slick grass, the shadowy figure jumped, trying and failing to scramble to her feet. I squinted, despite the darkness, to see the girl more clearly and when the moon cast enough light over her face, my eyes just about popped out of their sockets. Holy mother of shit. Isabelle Martin was crouched a mere three feet away from me on her hands and knees.

My eyes immediately gravitated down to the ample cleavage her shimmery white top was offering up to me and I nearly groaned at the sight. Oh God. This was too good. This was fucking fantastic. I watched, with almost evil glee, as Little Miss Perfect grimaced and moaned in obvious pain.

Amatuer night indeed.

She glanced up at me and then squeezed her eyes shut.

“Great, just great,” she muttered and then she raised a fist into the air. “Congratulations, universe…you win!”

Her eyes retreated to my shoes and I smirked down at her–maybe I’d made the right decision in coming out here after all. I wouldn’t have missed this sight for all the Jack and weed in the world.

“Hey there, princess,” I grinned down at her, liking this new vantage point with every moment that ticked by and shoved my hands in my front pockets. “Rough night?”

“Don’t call me that, Caleb,” Isabelle waved me off miserably and squeezed her eyes shut as she clutched her stomach. “Go away, go away…please go away.”

“Fat chance in hell, Iz,” I smirked down at her, biting my lip to mask just a little of this shit-eating grin. “I’d ask ya what you’re doin’ out here, but I think it’s pretty obvious, ya know?”

“Shut up…shut up,” she moaned again.

“Aw, come on, Iz,” I chuckled, my lips twisting up at the sides. “You know you’re happy to see me.”

“You are the absolute last person I wanna see right now, trust me.”

It wasn’t lost on me that she called me out on just about every nickname I’d ever attempted to call her. She sure hadn’t wasted any time, even as drunk as she was, to pounce on my mocking use of princess, but I could call her Iz as much as I wanted. Sure, it’d earned me the stink-eye on more than a few occasions, but she’d never asked me not to call her that, not that I’d probably listen anyways.

“Oh God. Someone hates me. Why is this happening?” She was clutching her face now with one hand. “Go away, go away…please God, go away.”

She shook her head as if to wipe away what was happening right now and when she dared a glance back up at me, she just squeezed her eyes shut again.

“So, what are you doin’ out here then?”

“It was just so hot in there…I couldn’t breathe. And I thought I was gonna throw up.”

My eyes widened and instinctively jumped back a few feet to put some space in between us, my eyes darting around the grass to look the tell-tale signs that she’d already emptied her stomach. If there was one thing I wasn’t prepared to handle tonight, other than seeing Claremont’s resident good girl drunk off her ass, it was puke.

“Don’t worry,” she eyed me warily and I was now acutely aware that she was still on her hands and knees just a few feet away from where I stood. “I didn’t throw up. At least not yet. I don’t feel so good though. You know what they say–one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor…or I think it was more like one tequila, floor, for me.”

I chuckled, impressed that she had enough control to even attempt a joke.

There was no telling how long it was going to take me to scrub this image clean from my mind. The real problem was that I didn’t really want to–from the cleavage, to her position on the grass, to the way the moonlight shimmered in her hair and fell into her face…Jesus, what was wrong with me? This wasn’t normal. Nothing about this situation was normal.

In an effort to solve some of my current problems, I crouched down to her level and gripped her shoulders.

“Come on, Iz,” I exhaled tiredly. “Let’s get you on your feet.”

She frowned up at me and I could practically see the wheels in her head turning. She was probably wondering why I was even attempting to be nice to her, given her current predicament, and for the life of me, I didn’t really know why I was still standing here. I should’ve cut and run after snickering at her drunken humiliation and went back inside the clubhouse to my friends–and my old lady.

“Come on,” I repeated, adding a little more force this time and held a hand out to her.

She eyed me carefully, like she was trying to figure out if I was going to let her fall on her face the second she reached her hand out to me. I figured that was only fair, given our history, or rather, my tendency to make fun of her at every opportunity. This was as golden an opportunity as any, but, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to leave her out here by herself. It just didn’t seem right…and it wasn’t often that I tended to do the right thing. This was weird.

After a few moments of contemplation, she gingerly extended her hand and slid her tiny, soft hand into my rough one. I carefully pulled her to her feet, gripping both of her hands now, and when she was safely upright, we stared blankly at each other for one long, frozen moment. It was like she was seeing right through me, even though she was wasted, and I suddenly felt incredibly small underneath the weight of her deep, sapphire eyes.

And then, like something had suddenly crawled inside her body and possessed it, she lurched forward and proceeded to empty her stomach.

All over my new shoes.

I blinked down at the mess on my feet in shock and barely noticed that she seemed frozen in front of me, our hands still impossibly intertwined. Then her hand jerked free from mine to cover her mouth in horror. Still…I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even breathe. That did not just happen right now. I’d literally just bought these shoes today. They were practically right out of the box and this was the first time I’d actually worn them. No way. No fucking way they were ruined already. Because of her. Because of some stupid drunk chick who couldn’t take handle her shit.

“Jesus Christ,” I swore hotly, staring furiously at the chunks of food and recycled tequila now covering my second most prized possession.

“Oh my God,” she whispered weakly. “I’m so sorry, Caleb. I’m so sorry…”

Just as I was rearing up to lay the hell into her, her eyes glazed over and then her head jerked in between her knees as the rest of her stomach emptied itself onto the grass. With less than a split second to make my decision, I was reaching out to help her before I even really knew what I was doing. My hands found their way to her hair and I quickly brushed it out of the way so it rested safely away from the projectile. Biting my lip, I rubbed her back a little as she heaved violently and winced at the strangled sounds coming from her throat.

Maybe it was just the inner gentleman in me coming out–hell, I didn’t even know it had ever been there in the first place–but I didn’t have the heart to walk away from her. Not after she ruined my brand new, beautiful shoes and not after she continued to vomit all over the clubhouse’s small lawn. Maybe it was the humiliation in her eyes. Maybe it was the fact that leaving a girl out here alone in the middle of the night wasn’t such a great idea. Or maybe it was just because I wanted a few more moments with her…what the hell was wrong with me?

“I’m so sorry, Caleb,” she whispered again hoarsely. “Your shoes…”

She trailed off, her mortified eyes glued to the mess she’d made on my feet and I couldn’t bring myself to follow her gaze. Every time I looked down, I just wanted to punch something and that wouldn’t really help either of us right now.

“Who’re you here with, Iz?”

“Becca,” she whispered and squeezed her eyes shut again, prompting me to snake an arm around her shoulders for support.

She eyed me warily at this new closeness and I couldn’t get a good read on her expression. It didn’t really matter anyways…I just needed to get her into the clubhouse and safely on her way home. Even that was pushing it, but I didn’t have the energy to think about anything beyond the matter at hand.

“Alright,” I nodded to her. “Let’s get you inside, so we can find Becca and get you ladies home.”

She started to follow my lead and then stopped abruptly, gazing up at me with wide, curious eyes.

“Why are you doing this? I mean, you don’t have to. I can get inside on my own, you know.”

Even as she spoke, she teetered unsteadily on her feet and I had to gingerly place both hands around her waist to keep her on her feet.

“Nevermind,” she murmured lazily. “I just wanna go to sleep.”

“Yeah, I got that,” I muttered under my breath.

By the time I kicked off my ruined shoes and ushered her through the clubhouse to find Becca–who just as wasted, if not more so–and waited while Isabelle called that douchebag boyfriend of hers, I was just about done with the nice guy act. Shit, there was only so much of this I could take in one night. Thankfully, Dom had fallen into place beside me, dutifully shouldering some of this shit responsibility while we waited with both girls outside the clubhouse for their ride.

And when that asshole Davis pulled up in his stupid-ass truck to pick them up, I knew I should’ve felt relief that she was gone and out of my hair. That I could enjoy the rest of my night now. But it never came. Those few moments we’d spent in the dark had completely messed with my head. And even though I’d never admit it out loud, I had a sudden urge to leap onto my bike, chase that truck down, yank her out of it, and haul her ass back to the clubhouse, even if I had to drag her kicking and screaming. Wow. There was something seriously wrong with me.

Congratulations, universe, I thought bitterly. You win.


Isabelle

The morning light seeped through the cracks in my blinds and I moaned in agony, rolling over onto my side so I could bury my face in my pillow. While that effort might have drowned out the light, it did not, by any means, relieve the pounding in my head. Oh God…why did I take those shots last night? I’d never done tequila shots before and the absolute last place to start was at the Horsemen’s clubhouse. What was I thinking letting Becca talk me into that? So stupid…

Sure, I’d needed a little liquid courage to even stay there for longer than a minute, but that didn’t excuse away the shots I’d taken after that. The whole night had just been a bad idea. One horrible idea. It had easily been the worst night of my life. Not to mention the fact that Brandon had been pissed beyond belief that I’d even been at the clubhouse last night in the first place.

As all the pieces of the previous night slid into place, I suddenly shot straight up in bed. Oh God, no…it didn’t happen. It was just a bad dream. A terrible, horrible nightmare. But there was no amount of lying to myself that could make the reality go away.

It happened.

I’d thrown up on Caleb Saywer.

At the clubhouse.

After I’d gotten completely wasted and fled the clubhouse for fear of throwing up inside the clubhouse.

Mortification, embarrassment, and humiliation didn’t even begin to cover the depths of what I was feeling right now. He would never let me live this one down. It didn’t matter that graduation was only a week away…he’d use any and every opportunity to make my life miserable from now until then and maybe even after that, too. I wanted to crawl into a hole and just die. Or maybe jump off a cliff. Could I skip school for the next week and still be able to graduate? That would show him…wouldn’t it?

With no real, plausible option available to me, I flung my face into my pillow and screamed. I was still screaming when a knock sounded from the other side of my door.

“Isabelle?” my mom called out from behind the door. “You up, yet? Wanna grab some lunch before we go to the store?”

Oh great. One more thing I’d completely forgotten about. I moaned into my pillow one more time before lifting my head and groaning back hoarsely: “Okay, Mom.”

“Sounds good, sweetie. You gonna be ready to leave soon, then?”

All I could do was just groan into my pillow. F my life, I thought bitterly.

About 45 minutes later, my mom and I were sitting outside under the shade of an umbrella at Claremont’s sole cafe. The waitress had just dropped off our coffee and I had to admit, the caffeine was already doing wonders for my hangover. Showering and a fresh change of clothes made me feel a little more human again. The warm sun definitely helped too, especially as it absorbed into my skin, but that tingling, swirling feeling in my stomach hadn’t yet dissipated.

“So,” my mom started casually. “How was the clubhouse last night?”

I just about spit my coffee out all over the table.

“Wha…what?” I sputtered in disbelief.

Her lips twitched in amusement. “Oh come on, Isabelle. You really think I didn’t know? You and Becca didn’t do a very good job of hiding it last night.”

“Crap,” I muttered and winced into my coffee.

“Well,” she continued. “All I can say is, you’re lucky your father wasn’t home last night.”

That was the understatement of the year. If my dad had caught wind of our plans last night, he wouldn’t let me the leave the house for the rest of my life.

“So…”

I sighed and regarded my mother’s watchful, omnipotent eyes. My dad liked to say that Mom’s beauty was like a fine wine and it was completely true. At 43, faint lines were starting to show on her face and the weariness one evolved into with age was finally making an appearance. Her honey-highlighted waves shone bright, but with a few specks of grey. The crow’s feet and laugh lines were a little more pronounced now, but her skin was still as luminous as ever. She still glowed with youthful radiance and an ever abundant desire to embrace every day to the fullest.

Katherine Martin had a knack for knowing just about everything there was to know about a person just by looking at them. Which was why, of course, she’d seen the need to torture her hung-over teenage daughter by waking her up way too early for a Saturday morning. Besides, I knew my mom was very aware, when she’d knocked on my door this morning, that I was hung-over.

All the better to torture me with.

“I don’t really wanna talk about it,” I answered finally and bit my lip at the defiance that crossed my mother’s beautiful face. That was not a good sign. There was no way she was letting me off the hook, even if I did change the subject.

“Okay, okay,” she held her hands up in the air. “Fine. Don’t tell me how the clubhouse was last night.”

My eyes narrowed suspiciously and chewed on my bottom lip in thought. “Wait a minute. Why does it seem like you’re okay with this?”

“I never said I was,” she just shrugged. “Just curious.”

“Right.”

“Come on,” she laughed. “Don’t give me that. Maybe I’m just happy to see you let loose a little.”

My eyebrows shot up into my forehead and for a moment, I almost didn’t believe what I was hearing. While I was well aware that my parents were worlds apart in their parenting styles, this was more than a little out of character even for my mom. It wasn’t like she hadn’t lived in Claremont her entire life…and my mom, just like everyone else in town, was very familiar with the Horsemen’s reputation. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where my mom–or any normal mother, for that matter–would be supportive about their teenage daughter going to the debauchery-laden drunkfest that I had witnessed firsthand at the clubhouse last night. While I’d kept my eyes strictly to no less than three feet in front of me, I was positive there was a lot more happening in the clubhouse than just drinking and smoking cigarettes.

“Don’t look at me like that, Isabelle,” my mom playfully swatted at me as she spoke. “You can’t blame me for wanting to know what it’s like in there anyways…was it fun, though?”

Well, it was safe to say Katherine Martin wouldn’t be winning any Mother of the Year awards with an attitude like that.

“No,” I shot back hotly. “It was not. I was miserable there.”

Her face softened almost immediately and then her head tilted to the side in a tender, motherly gesture of genuine concern.

“Oh sweetie,” she exhaled quietly. “I’m sorry you didn’t have a good time last night. You wanna talk about it?”

“No.”

“I’m sorry. I’d just like to see you actually experiencing things for once, Isabelle, and not always just letting other people have all the fun for you. I know you’ve decided on Duke, and I know we’ve discussed this before, but you can always change your mind, you know.”

I blew out a shaky breath. Yes, we’d been over this before, but I’d never seen my dad so proud when I’d opened the acceptance letter from Duke. There were so few opportunities I had to actually get that reaction from him that there was no way I could just throw it away. Besides, there was nothing wrong with being a lawyer. My dad was one. My grandpa had been one. It was basically a family tradition to go to Duke and become a lawyer. What was so bad about that?

My mom sighed, like she’d heard my thoughts, and took another sip of her coffee. We sat there in silence for a few moments and I was grateful when the waitress finally brought out our food. At least now, we’d have something else to distract us for awhile and my mom could forget about my personal life for about 10 minutes. That peace and silence lasted for all of two minutes when the tell-tale roar of a motorcycle echoed from down the street.

My eyes widened in shock. Oh God, it was headed straight for us. The universe wouldn’t hate on me that much that it would send he-who-shall-not-be-named to witness my humiliation–again. While whoever was riding the motorcycle up to a parking spot right in front of the cafe was certainly affiliated with the Horsemen, it didn’t necessarily mean that the universe would be that cruel.

But when I timidly turned my head to hope my worst nightmare wasn’t coming true, I slid down a little further in my chair at the sight of Caleb Sawyer swinging his leg over the side of his bike with Ariel Hawthorne right behind him as she pulled off her helmet.

I immediately swung my head back to face my mom and was met with more humiliation. She was regarding me with careful, ever-watchful eyes and I suddenly wished that my mom wasn’t so damn perceptive all the time. She seemed to know everything–it just wasn’t fair.

The universe was a spiteful bitch.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse…

“Oh, hi there, Caleb!” my mom called out and waved happily.

“Mom!” I hissed. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Just saying hi,” she waved a hand dismissively to me. “And watch that mouth, young lady.”

I just groaned in response and slid further down in my chair. The mounting panic and mortification couldn’t be ignored now…because Caleb was headed right towards our table with a slow, cocky grin tugging up the left side of his face as he steered Ariel behind him.

“Hey, Mrs. Martin. Looks like you two ladies had the same idea we did. How’s it goin’, Iz?” he asked brightly, grinning down at us as Ariel tucked herself underneath his arm.

I just smiled back weakly and hoped the chair would swallow me whole. It wasn’t lost on me that Ariel looked extremely uncomfortable to be standing directly in front of our table. Well, at least I wasn’t the only way hating every second of this.

Thankfully, Caleb turned his attention back to my mom. “So, how are you, Mrs. Martin? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“I’m well, Caleb. Thank you.”

I watched in horror as my mom slid a cigarette out of the case in her purse and brought it to her lips. It was like this was all happening in slow motion and Caleb didn’t hesitate to dig a lighter from his pocket. I squirmed in my seat as he flicked the lighter and held out the open flame so my mom could lean in and light up her cigarette.

“Thanks, Caleb. That was awfully sweet of you,” my mom rested her chin on her free hand as she spoke and I wanted to smack my face into the table. “How’s your mom doing? I’ve been meaning to give her a call about the fundraiser this summer, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Oh my God. They were sitting here chatting like they were old friends. What the hell was going on?  Was the entire world against me today?

Yes.

Yes it was.

I could only watch the exchange completely frozen in place, wishing I’d just stayed in bed this morning. Maybe if the sidewalk could just open up and swallow me whole, maybe then I’d be finally be put out of my misery. And before I could stop myself, my eyes traveled down to Caleb’s feet and I winced.

“She’s good,” Caleb just nodded to my mom good-naturedly, but not before shifting his eyes dangerously on me. It only lasted a second and for a moment, I could’ve sworn that he winked at me…right in front of my mom and his girlfriend, no less. God, he really had no shame.

My mom’s eyes slid over to me immediately after the moment passed and a ghost of a smile crossed her lips. Then the warm, friendly smile returned and she was grinning back up at Caleb, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun with one hand, and she blew out a puff of smoke in the opposite direction.

“Well, tell your mom I said hello, okay?”

“Will do, Mrs. Martin,” Caleb grinned back at her.

“You two enjoy your lunch. It was nice to see you!”

Caleb waved again as they retreated towards the cafe’s main entrance and Ariel awkwardly waved too with a forced, albeit grim, expression pressed to her lips. When my mom turned back to face me, it took all of my resolve not to lean forward and strangle her.

“What?” she asked innocently.

“Don’t what me. You know what,” I shot back.

“I was just being friendly, Isabelle. I guess I didn’t realize it would make you uncomfortable.”

I laughed bitterly and just shook my head. “Sure you didn’t, Mom.”

“So…Iz, huh? What’s that about?”

I just pushed out a deep sigh, not wanting to get into that today too. “It’s nothing. No big deal.”

“Well,” my mom exhaled. “I’m just saying. If I were 17 again…”

“Nope,” I shook my head and held up a hand. “Stop right there. I don’t wanna hear it.”

She just lifted a shoulder nonchalantly. “He’s awfully cute, don’t you think?” She didn’t even give my a chance to answer. “Besides, it’s a shame some people seem to think he’s nothing but bad news. It’s like all they can see is that cut and that’s not really fair to him.”

I eyed my mom warily and it didn’t take a genius to get the hint. “Why are we talking about this, Mom?”

Instead of simply side-stepping her question, she went all out and cocked an eyebrow at me. “So what happened at the clubhouse last night, huh?”

Knowing my mom well enough to know that there was no way we’d be able to move on until I fessed up, I knew I had no other choice but to divulge the dirty details of the most humiliating moment of my entire life. At least it looked like I wasn’t going to land myself in too much trouble by telling her what happened. Now, if my dad found out, that’d be a completely different story.

So, with a heavy sigh, I squeezed my eyes shut for a brief moment and then opened them again to find her waiting expectantly.

It all came out in one big rush.

“Ipukedonhisshoes.”

My mom frowned and leaned forward slightly. “What? Say that again, sweetie. A little slower this time…”

I blew out another breath and winced. “I puked on his shoes.”

My mom’s blue eyes widened the size of saucers and then her shoulders started shaking. A hand shot up to cover her mouth and soon, she was wiping tears from her eyes.

“Nice, Mom,” I shook my head and crossed my arms over my chest. “Real nice.”

“What?” she laughed. “I can’t help it. How did that happen?”

“Let’s just say I had a little too much…juice…”

She bit her lip and nodded knowingly. “Right.”

“And I wasn’t feeling so hot and went outside. He came outside a few minutes later, found me, and I puked on his shoes. Then he took me back inside to find Becca. End of story.”

My mom just chewed on the side of her cheek in thought, but that didn’t do anything to mask the grin she was fighting. “Oh honey, it’s not that bad. You make it seem like it was a disaster, but that’s not even close to a disaster, Isabelle. It’s actually kinda sweet, don’t you think?”

My eyes just about bugged out of my face. “Sweet? What are you talking about? It’s embarrassing and mortifying and humiliating and I wanted to die. I still want to die. Those were really nice shoes too…”

“Oh, come on,” she batted a hand out. “Stop being so melodramatic. I think it’s nice he took care of you like that.”

“Mom,” I warned.

“He didn’t have to do that, you know. He could’ve just left you out there by yourself. I’m glad he didn’t.”

“Well, it wasn’t like that…” I trailed off mid-sentence as the reality hit me like a ton of bricks.

Wait…he had sort of taken care of me last night. I didn’t even bother to tell her the rest of it, that Caleb had waited patiently with me while I called Brandon, and then waited patiently with me again outside the clubhouse until Brandon pulled into the parking lot to take me home. I’d never understand why he did it and frankly, I wasn’t so sure I ever wanted to anyways.

“Well,” my mom was saying now. “I’m not advocating that you go out and get drunk every night. There is a time and place for that and that time is college. But I’m glad you finally decided to let loose for once because I know that’s not something you feel comfortable doing and I’m glad he was there to watch out for you. Just proves my theory that, deep down, he’s one of the good ones, too.”

“Are you sure you haven’t been drinking, too, Mom?”

“What?” she just shrugged.

“Mom,” I shot back pointedly. “I’ve gone to school with him for…what..12 years now? And I’ve had the misfortune of having to sit next him all semester in American Lit class and I haven’t seen much that would suggest he’s ‘one of the good ones’. He just thinks he’s hot shit–excuse my language. And he’s a jerk. A really big jerk.”

“I’m sure he’s not so bad once you actually get to know him.”

“Right, because you know him sooo well.”

“Don’t be a snot,” my mom chided, shaking a pointed finger at me. “And it’s not like you’re exactly an expert on the subject either. You can’t tell me you’ve ever actually sat down and tried to have a real conversation with him. So, you wouldn’t know, would you?”

“What…are you telling me you want me to date Caleb Sawyer?” I muttered through clenched teeth, looking around nervously to make sure no one was eavesdropping on our current topic of conversation.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea,” she just shrugged.

“You’re kidding, right? He has a girlfriend and he’s a criminal…he’s been arrested, Mom.”

“So he got drunk and high once and ran around town like an idiot with Dominic. So what? That’s just harmless fun. And girlfriends come and go anyways. Besides, that one doesn’t seem like she’s going to stick around for too long.”

“What about Brandon, hmm?”

My mom just cocked an eyebrow at me and I didn’t need to hear her say it out loud.

“Okay, well, he’s part of a gang. Or at least he will be.”

“Okay, okay,” my mom conceded with a wave of her hands. “All I’m saying is a boy like that–who looks at you the way he just looked at you before–will grow up into a man who’ll protect you until the day he dies with every ferocious bone in his hot manly body. That kind of love, that dangerous kind, will eat you alive if you let it…but I think it would also be worth it.”

I gaped at my mom like she’d just sprouted a second head. “What are you talking about, Mom?”

“I’m just saying I want you to be happy, honey. And if you end up with a man like Caleb, I think you’d be doing just fine. There’s good in him, Isabelle, even if you can’t see it. It’s there…if he’s anything like his father, and I suspect he is, there’s just a good man in there just waiting to break out.”

“I think you’ve lost it.”

And really, this was only making my already pounding head throb that much worse.

My mom just watched me carefully and then, something terrifying flashed in her blue eyes. It was like she’d come to a sudden conclusion and there was no talking her out of it. I had no interest in finding out what that sudden conclusion was.

“I think,” she called out softly from across the table. “That if you were to ever give him the opportunity, he’d probably shock the hell out of you.”

“Watch that mouth,” I grumbled from my chair and couldn’t shake the sour mood that had crept down my spine.

It didn’t matter that my mom had silently, thankfully, gone back to finishing her long-forgotten sandwich. The conversation had somehow taken a turn I couldn’t have predicted and certainly didn’t like. Nothing about this really made sense to me and I really didn’t appreciate the way my mom kept sneaking those knowing glances as she chomped away at her sandwich. Graduation was in a week and then I’d be off to Duke to start on my pre-determined pre-law degree. That was the plan and I was sticking to it. I’d probably never see Caleb again after graduation anyways. My mom didn’t know what the hell she was talking about.

Because there was no way, under any circumstances, I could imagine a situation where I’d be in close enough proximity to Caleb Sawyer to ever give him that opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

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