Better When He's Bold(5)

By: Jay Crownover

My mom was sprawled sideways across the bed. Her head was hanging over the edge and the same whitish-blond hair that I had on my head was in a tangled mess, touching the floor. An empty bottle of vodka was resting on the pillow and light snores were coming from her. I put the bottle of beer down on the dresser and went in to set her to rights. Clearly Dad hadn’t bothered to pull himself away long enough to make sure she was all right. He had just left her to her own devices, and this was always the end result.

She peeled one watery eye open to look at me and mumbled my name as I wrestled her under the covers. I snatched up the empty bottle and resisted the urge to smash it on the floor. Just barely. She hadn’t always been this way. She was always a little off, struggled with emotional ups and downs, but then a car accident, a horrible back injury and endless amounts of pain, plus the inability for her to go back to work, and my mother had become this drunken, sad shell of a woman. It always made my heart twist and my guts tug because it didn’t have to be this way. She could get help, my dad could support her, and maybe my life could go back to some kind of normal, but that wasn’t happening, and for now I just had to make do until Karsen was old enough to get out on her own.

I flipped off the TV and shut the door behind me with a thud. It would take a tornado to rouse my mom from that kind of drunken slumber anyway. I sighed heavily and finally found my way to my own room.

Living back at home as an adult was so weird. It wasn’t like I had a curfew, or the same rules and regulations to follow as I had when I was a teenager, but everything about this childhood room felt wrong. I felt like I left some part of myself outside the door every time I resigned myself to another night, another day, spent here.

I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and pulled up the last message I had sent to Dovie asking her to go to the party with me tonight. Now that she had a full-time job at a group home for all the kids lost in the system, I hardly saw her anymore. Add in the fact that she was living with and involved with the only guy in the Point I considered scarier than Race meant I rarely went by her house or saw her outside of school anymore. Tonight she had declined the invite because she had homework to do, but I secretly wondered if Bax had told her not to go.

He hated everything that had to do with the Hill. He was from the streets, an ex-con, a thief, and there was no doubt he was up to his eyeballs in Race’s criminal enterprise. Shane Baxter had a reputation in these parts that was as legendary as the man who sired him. The man he and Race had taken down. They were not the kind of guys you wanted to mess with, but I really liked Dovie, so I braved the shark-filled waters she swam in to keep her in my life and call her my bestie.

I twisted my phone around and sent her a message:

Saw Race at the party tonight.

It took a few minutes for her to answer back.

What was he doing there?

He said working.

I bet.

I rolled my eyes a little at what was construed as “work” for him and typed out:

Someone had a gun and fired off shots inside. Race got me out but took off because of the police.

I was still pretty steamed about it, and still heated from the inside out by that kiss. Why did he have to taste so good, feel so right, yet be so wrong?

She answered back in a matter-of-fact way only someone firmly immersed in the Point could do:

He can’t risk messing around with the police. No one from here really can. I’m not surprised he took off. Is everyone okay?

Fine. Everyone was fine.

I wasn’t fine. Having an idea that someone was a criminal, that they might not be on the up-and-up, was something entirely different from having the proof right in front of your face. I didn’t understand that world, didn’t want to understand it, therefore, no matter how hot he was, how much he pulled me out of the monotony of my day-to-day life, Race Hartman would never be the guy for me, and that made things deep inside me burn.

Dovie and I chitchatted some more. Me about nothing in particular, and her about the guys. Bax scared me so much I was nervous and anxious around him, and I think Dovie tried to make him more human, more likable in my eyes, to offset that. And Race . . . well, he spun me around and it took every effort I could make to pretend disinterest instead of rabid curiosity every time she mentioned something about him. It was getting harder and harder to do.

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