Pepped Up Forever(60)By: Ali Dean
I was driving around town now, my panic mounting, when I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize.
“Is this Jace Wilder?” a male voice asked nervously.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“It’s Matt Rifkin,” he replied hesitantly. “I was a senior when you were a freshman. We were on the baseball team together at Public.”
Oh yeah, I vaguely remembered him. He was a tall guy, a little overweight but a decent hitter. Why the hell was he calling me right now? This was not what I needed.
“Yeah, I remember you – listen, Matt, this isn’t a good time to catch up,” I told him.
“I’m not calling for that,” he said. “I just, I thought I should call you because I just saw Pepper Jones.”
“What? Where?” I interrupted him.
“I work the front desk at the Marriott in Brockton, and I was going into the back office when I saw her come in a side door with Clayton Dennison.”
I was already turning toward the Marriott, but I kept listening, my insides twisting with panic. “I wasn’t sure whether to call you, but I know she’s like, um, your girlfriend, or best friend or something, and she looked a little, well, nervous? I decided it wasn’t my place, but then I got to thinking, and I got your number from–”
I cut him off. If he wanted to get in my good graces, be part of my inner circle or something, I could’nt’ve cared less right then. I just needed information. “How long ago?”
“When did you see her?” I thought I might be shouting or growling but it didn’t matter.
“Oh, um, maybe half an hour ago.”
“I’ll be there in two minutes. Find out what room he’s in and go in there. Get security.”
“Dude, I don’t really have the authority…”
“Just do it!” I yelled. “She’s in trouble and he’s dangerous.”
I hung up and focused on getting there as fast as possible.
“Can I go to the bathroom first? I’m, well, I’m on my period.” I try to fake embarrassment, but he’s not buying it. I’ve never been a very convincing liar and I’m wishing more than anything I’d worked on the skill. “And I really have to pee,” I add.
He rolls his eyes and follows me to the bathroom, and it takes a moment before I realize he’s planning to stand there while I go. I didn’t really have a plan, I guess I thought I might be able to text someone, but just then there’s a knock at the door, and Clayton immediately covers my mouth with his hand before I even think to yell.
The next sixty seconds happen so fast, I have no time to react. Someone tries to open the door but is blocked by the dead bolt. Clayton’s hand tightens around my mouth and I’m not only unable to speak, but I’m also having difficulty breathing. I don’t think he realizes he’s covering my nostrils, too. I attempt to claw at his hands but he squeezes a huge arm around my own, and I’m stuck in place, trying desperately to move my head back and forth to communicate that I can’t breathe, but Clayton’s focused on the door. There’s a loud crash, and suddenly his hands are off of me, and I gasp for air.
Clayton darts for someone and I’m blinking through blurry eyes. There’s a guy standing there, mouth agape, wearing a Marriott polo shirt, and he’s watching something. In slow motion, I turn to see Clayton pinning Jace to the ground, but in the next moment Clayton’s crashed into the television, and Jace is over him.
Their movements are violent and furious and I just stand there, in some sort of shock, unable to speak or react, for who knows how long, before uniformed officers are there, breaking them up. When they start to put Jace in handcuffs, I snap out of it.
“No! No, he’s the one who saved me,” I blurt out, but no one’s listening. A strong arm goes around me, and there’s Frankie, the biggest person in the room, holding onto me.
“Shhh… Pepper, we’ll get this worked out, okay? Don’t worry.”
The guy in the polo shirt and Frankie talk to the three officers, and the room feels much too crowded, like we might not all get enough oxygen if someone doesn’t step out. Clayton’s gaze burns through me but I refuse to look at him. What is he thinking now? How could I have been so blind about him? I’m starting to shake, knowing he’s watching me, and even though he’s handcuffed and restrained by an officer, I don’t want to be anywhere near him, and I push away from Frankie until I’m alone in the hallway, sucking in air in giant gulps.
When I finally look up, I realize there are a couple of people poking their heads out of the hotel rooms curiously, wanting to see the show. I’m tempted to run and hide because I don’t want these strangers using my life, the horror that just happened, almost happened, as a juicy story to tell to their friends. I don’t want them to see Jace and recognize him and say things about him that aren’t true. But then he comes out of the room, looks at me and wraps me in his arms and none of it matters anymore.