Rules of a Rebel and a Shy Girl, Page 10Jessica Sorensen
“But, anyway.” She shifts her weight. “I let some of the details about my home life slip out, particularly the details about my mom doing drugs and me taking care of her, and the therapist said that sometimes, helping a drug addict by giving them money or paying their bills actually does more harm than good.”
“Then you should definitely move out, right?” Please, for the love of God, just say yes.
“I don’t know if I can … just leave her like that. I mean, what happens if she gets really drunk one night and no one is here to take her to the hospital to get her stomach pumped?”
I rack my brain for a persuasive enough answer. “Maybe you could come check on her every day. You could drive out here before or after work.”
Her skin pales. “Yeah … maybe …”
“You could borrow my car, too.” Disregarding her frown, I add, “It’d be safer that way, which is kind of the point of getting you out of here.”
She thrums her fingers against the side of her legs. “Maybe I could borrow Wynter’s car or take the bus.”
My jaw clenches. “Why are you okay with borrowing Wynter’s car, but not mine?”
“I’m not okay with borrowing anything, but with Wynter …”—her gaze collides with mine, and an ocean of fear pours from her eyes—“it’s just less complicated.”
My heart stings a bit, and I massage my chest. “Wynter is anything but uncomplicated,” I tell her, trying not to sound like a wounded pussy, yet I do just a little bit. “But if that’s what it’ll take to get you out of the house, then okay.”
She nods, but I’m not letting out my breath yet. No, I won’t breathe freely again until she’s far, far away from her mother and a life that’s never been good enough for her.
The revising of the list….
The next few days are a routine of driving to work, returning to a bare house, and hours of studying. Work. Study. Alone. Work. Study. Alone. The pattern is starting to drive me insane. I can’t relax, either, not when bills are piling up, and I’m drowning in a stack of assignments up to my elbows. I also haven’t figured out where my mom took off to, which makes me extremely nervous since she was in a terrible condition the last time I saw her. Plus, the person I saw across the street has me on edge.
While no one has flat-out knocked on the door and demanded money, I did notice someone lurking around my car last night. I don’t know what their deal is or if it’s the same person or not, but I feel like I’m playing a waiting game and will eventually lose.
I really need to talk to my mom and find out if she owes someone money.
I’ve searched the local bars and clubs for her and tracked down some of her friends, who aren’t the most reliable sources. The only real lead I have is from a bar owner who informed me that my mom was there Monday night, flirting with a guy, and the two of them were chatting about driving to Vegas to elope. So now, not only do I have to worry about my mom going on a bender, but she may have gone on a bender with her new hubby, whom I’ve never met before.
Needless to say, by the time Friday night rolls around, I could really use a break from a sucky little thing called the stress of life.
Beck has been bugging me to hit up his party, and while I’m not much of a partier, I decide to go and attempt to let my hair down for a few hours.
At work, I count down the hours until I’m off while trying to decide what to wear since Beck insisted that the party was definitely a strict black-dress dress code. I cracked a joke when he reminded me of that, telling him I was excited to see what dress he was going to wear. Beck, being the goofball that he is, replied with a, “Just you wait. It’s really sexy. Probably even sexier than yours.” I laughed, already feeling better and growing even more eager to get away from the soul-draining apartment.
My eagerness takes a nosedive when Van, my thirty-year-old manager, informs me that we need to talk.
“Come back into my office for a second, Willow,” he tells me as I’m passing by the bar, carrying an empty tray. He’s behind the bar with his long-sleeved shirt rolled up, a cigarette tucked behind his ear, and a contemplative look on his face.
“Okay.” I set the tray down on the countertop, wrestling back my anxiety.
I’m sure it’s nothing. You haven’t done anything wrong.
Part of me wishes I’ve messed up, that he’ll fire me or force me to quit. But it’s the only job I’ve been able to get over the last six months that can pay all the bills, my tuition, and support my mom.
I follow Van past the stage, the neon pink lights flickering as the song switches and a set of new dancers enter. A group of guys catcall and make obscene gestures while waving money in the air. The girls onstage don’t seem too bothered. Me? My stomach constricts to the point that I feel sick. In fact, for the last month of working here, I’ve had a constant stomachache, either from the environment or from my guilt.
When Van and I reach the back hallway, he motions for me to follow him into his office. Then he closes the door.
“Have a seat,” he says, plopping down into the chair behind his cluttered desk.
I sit down, resisting the urge to tug on the bottom of my shorts as his eyes sweep over me. He’s silent as he lights up a cigarette and takes a long drag.
“So,” he starts, a cloud of smoke puffing from his lips, “you’re probably wondering why I asked you back here.”
I nervously nod. “I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?”
He ashes the cigarette into a dark green ashtray, causing flakes of ash to circle the smoky air. “No, not at all. You’re doing a great job, sweetheart.”
I cringe at the sweetheart reference then hold my breath, sensing a but coming.
“But I’d really like to move you on stage. You’re a beautiful girl.” His eyes drink in the cleavage peeking out of my top. “It’s such a waste to have you down on the floor. You deserve to be in the spotlight.”
Deserve. As if it’s a reward.
“I’m not sure I’d be very good up there.” I wipe my damp palms on the tops of my legs. Stay calm, Willow. “I don’t even know how to dance.”
He sucks in another long drag from the cigarette. “It’s not really about the dancing. All you need to do is show some skin and work the pole. I can have the girls teach you a few moves if that makes you feel more comfortable.”
More comfortable? Yeah, like that’d ever happen.
“I appreciate the offer, Van.” I will my voice steady. “But I really would just prefer to stay on as a waitress.”
He grazes his thumb along the end of the cigarette. “You’d probably make triple what you’re bringing in now.”
For an insanely stupid moment, I consider his offer. Triple what I’m making? That’d be enough to pay for my mom’s rent and get my own place. Then I picture getting up on stage, wearing pretty much nothing, and vomit burns at the back of my throat.
I cross my arms and legs, feeling too exposed. “I think I’ll just stay on as a waitress if that’s okay.”
He puts out the cigarette and leans forward. “Look, Willow, you seem like a sweet girl, which is why I think you’d be so great on stage. Guys love the whole innocent, tortured act you’ve got going on.”
That’s how he sees me?
“But, when I hire my waitresses,” he continues, overlapping his hands on his desk, “it’s a trial to see how they’ll handle the environment. If you do well, then you get moved to the stage.”
My heart thrashes. “So, you’re saying that I either have to get on stage or I’m fired?”
“Not so much fired as let go.” He swivels back and forth in the chair. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll give you a couple of weeks to get used to the idea before I put you up there.”
He acts like I’ve already agreed, and I wonder if anyone has ever told him no. Possibly not since working in a place like this requires a certain kind of desperation, a desperation I’m way too familiar with.
dding, I leave the office with a strange sense of numbness. When I enter the table area, my attention drifts toward the stage where two girls around my age are dancing on the poles, wearing nothing but a thong.
Bile burns at the back of my throat. I can’t go up there. I shouldn’t be working in this place to begin with.
Two weeks, Willow. You have two weeks to figure something out.
The rest of my shift drizzles by in a blur of serving drinks, ignoring crude remarks, and dodging advances. By the time I exit the club and head out to my car, the sky is pitch black, the air chilly, and I don’t have a clue how to solve my problems.
You could always just accept Beck’s offer.
I shake my head. No. You already let him do too much this week, not only towing your car home, but buying a part so he and Ari could fix the thermostat.
Gravel crunches underneath my boots as I weave around vehicles, heading for mine. Music drifts through the air, and a few guys are smoking near a lifted truck. When their eyes dart to me, I zip up my jacket, feeling naked in my jeans and plaid shirt.
My legs shake as I quicken my strides, one foot in front of the other. I hug my arms around myself, keeping my head low, trying to become invisible. Still, I can feel their eyes on me, tracking my every move. Their attention has me so distracted I don’t notice the Mustang parked beside my car until I’m only a few steps away.
I grind to a stop immediately, an icky chill slithering up my spine as the driver’s side door swings open.
Dane hops out with a huge smile on his face, like we’re long-lost besties. “Hey, it’s the girl from the street.” He rounds the front of the car, walking toward me. “I was hoping I’d run into you again.”
I force down my nerves the best that I can. “Why?”
“Because you made quite the impression on me.” He stops in front of me, his gaze deliberately skimming up and down my body. “Although, you looked way better in the uniform.” He fixes his dark eyes on mine. “Did you just get off?”
“I was just leaving.” I move to sidestep around him, but he matches my move, blocking my path.
“Why don’t you stay for a little while?” He lowers his voice, putting his face inches from mine. His breath reeks of beer, and his pungent cologne makes me want to puke. “Come into my car. Let’s have some fun.” He seizes hold of my hip, stabbing his fingernails into my skin as he jerks me closer. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”
My heart hammers as I lift my leg, preparing to knee him in the balls and run like hell. Then footsteps sound from behind me and cause me to freeze.
“Is this guy bothering you?” One of the guys who was smoking by the trunk steps up beside me. He looks around my age with sandy brown hair and kind eyes that seem oddly out of place.
“She’s fine.” Dane glances at me with a threat in his eyes. “We were just talking. We’re old friends, actually.”
The stranger turns to me. “Is that true?”
Swallowing hard, I shake my head. “No. I don’t even know him.”
The stranger’s gaze locks on Dane. “You have three seconds to walk away.”
Dane smirks, turning to face the stranger. “And then what? You’re going to beat me up?”
The stranger folds his heavily tattooed arms across his solid chest. “Yeah, pretty much,” he replies simply.
Dane’s eyes fleetingly snap wide before he hastily composes himself. “Whatever, man. You don’t look that tough, but I’m going to walk away, anyway, because I have shit to do.” Dane shoots me a nasty look that causes a zap of fear to shoot up my spine. Then he stomps off toward the windowless entrance doors to the club.
Once he’s gone, the stranger turns to me. “Are you okay?”
I nod with a tremulous breath. “Yeah, I think so.”
“You really shouldn’t walk out to your car alone. It’s not safe. You should have one of the other girls walk out with you.”
“I will from now on,” I assure him. “And thanks for doing that. Most people wouldn’t have intervened.”
“It wasn’t that big of a deal. The guy was just a rich punk who needed to be put in his place.” His forehead creases as a pair of headlights sweep across us, giving me a better view of his face. “Hey, I think I know you from somewhere.”
“I don’t think so,” I say, inching away from him.
He points a finger at me. “I think we have chemistry together. Professor Bralifington on Fridays, right?”
My insides fizzle as I become painfully aware that we go to the same university.
His name is Everette. We have a couple of classes together. While I don’t know him very well, he could easily tell the wrong person my dirty, little work secret. People around the university do love to gossip. What if word gets back to my friends? What if word gets back to Beck?
Why have I never thought about this before?
“I have to go.” I whirl around and jog for my car.
“Wait,” he calls out.
I don’t stop, hopping into the torn seat and peeling out of the parking lot. Anxiety chokes me as I drive away from the club, wishing I never had to return.
Find a way to fix this, Willow. You’re good at solving problems. It’s time for you to start figuring it out.
Instead of driving home, I go to Luna and Wynter’s place to get ready. As I dig through Wynter’s closet with Luna, searching for a dress to wear, I contemplate telling her about my job, confessing everything before this Everette guy blabs my dirty secret and word spreads like a wildfire.
Could I do that? Would she understand?
“Is everything okay?” Luna asks, sifting through Wynter’s trendy designer shirts, dresses, and skirts. Her brown hair is pulled into a messy bun, and she’s wearing yoga pants and a tank top. Like me, she doesn’t own many dresses, so we’re both looking for an outfit to wear tonight.
I open my mouth to spill the truth to her, but the words get caught in my throat. How can I tell her? Luna, who’s never gotten into trouble? She’s sweet and kind and innocent and thinks I am, too.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I chicken out. “I’m just stuck in my own head today.”
“A couple of shots of tequila and a hell of a lot of dancing should cure that.” Her boyfriend, Grey, appears in the doorway, wearing a long-sleeved black shirt with the sleeves rolled up, jeans, and sneakers.
“You’re breaking the dress code,” I tease. “Where’s your pretty, little dress?”
“Guys are supposed to wear a black shirt,” Grey explains, checking out Luna’s ass as she bends over to grab a pair of strappy heels off the floor.
“Well, that’s just sexist,” I reply, pulling a face at the short, fitted dress hanging up in front of me. “Maybe I should wear a suit to protest.”
“You could.” Grey braces his hands on the doorframe. “But I think you might break poor Beck’s heart if you did.”
“I doubt Beck’s heart will get broken if I don’t wear a dress,” I say, debating whether or not to go through with my suit threat.
He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, right. Everything you do breaks his heart, and yet, he keeps coming back. He seriously is a glutton for punishment.”
Luna’s attention whips up, and she mouths, “shut up.”
“What’s going on?” I glance back and forth between the two of them. “What did you mean by that?”
Grey backs out of the closet with his hands out in front of him. “Just ignore me. I think it’s the tequila talking.” Then he bails out like a guy who’s about to get his ass handed to him by his girlfriend.
I face Luna with my hands on my hips. “Okay, spill.”
She diverts her gaze from me and focuses on a knee-length pencil skirt. “This looks nice. I think I’ll wear it.”
“Luna …” I warn.
She hightails it out of the closet, and I chase her as she races past the bed and makes a beeline for the bathroom.
“Come on; just tell me what he meant.”
She dives into the bathroom and slams the door. “He didn’t mean anything. I think he’s just drunk.”
I check the doorknob. Locked. Of course.
I rest my forehead against the door. “I know he meant something, or he wouldn’t have brought it up and then run off. And I know Grey and Beck are friends and talk … Does it hurt Beck … when I ask him for favors? Does he feel obligated?”
The lock clicks, and I move back as the door opens. Luna steps into the doorway, her expression masked with wariness.
“Helping you doesn’t hurt him,” she says. “It’s when you don’t let him help you that hurts him.”
I rub my chest. My heart hurts. I never want to hurt Beck.
“Did Beck tell you that?”
“Not me, but he said something to Grey.” She leans against the doorframe with her arms folded. “To give him credit, I think they were both high when the conversation went on, so I’m not sure if Beck actually meant to tell him some of the stuff.”
“What other stuff did he tell him?”
“Not too much. Just that sometimes, it hurts him when he can’t help you.”
“But he helps me all the time. Too much, probably.”
She hesitates. “I’m sure if someone can help someone they love too much.”
My heart sputters into a mad frenzy. “Love?”
Just like Wynter said.
“Like a friend,” she sputters. Then an off-pitch laugh bursts from her lips. “You know what? Please forget everything I just said. Grey talked me into doing a shot after dinner, and you know how I get when I drink. I talk before I think. I definitely think it’s time to sober up.” With that, she scurries back into the bathroom and closes the door.