Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paradise By The Dashboard Lights...Or Maybe Not

I've now realized my blog dream of spinning a MeatLoaf song into a post title.  My work here is done.

Oh...and if you're interested, here's my next FUN AND GAMES WITH K & K snip :)

Gritting his teeth, Owen put the phone up to his ear. “Uh, hey, Harper,” he said, cringing inwardly at the explosion that was no doubt brewing on the other end of the phone.


Strangling his idiot brother was probably not a good idea right then, considering he’d already been picked up by the police once today. Maybe he could hire the hit out. Truman might do it cheap. The thought gave him some small measure of comfort, which he’d definitely need once Harper was through yelling at him. Shit. This whole day had gone to hell in a seriously flimsy hand-basket long before he’d even rolled out of bed this morning.

When nearly a full minute went by and nothing but silence filled his ear, he pulled the phone away from his head to check the connection. “Harp? Are you still there?”

Silence, and not the good kind. Great. She was so furious, she wouldn’t even speak to him. That was it. As soon as Lucky regained consciousness, he planned on beating his twin senseless. What had his brother been thinking?

“Jesus, Harper. I’m sorry. Okay? Please don’t be mad at me. I can’t…I mean, I just…” he trailed off on an agonized groan. Frustrated, he ran a hand through his hair, pushed out a heavy sigh, and paced away from the bonfire and its crowd. He needed space to gather his thoughts, to come up with some reasonable explanation as to why he’d said and done some of the things he had in the past couple of days. “Shit, Harper. I don’t know what to say here, what will make things right with you. Can you just give me a hint? Please?”

She stayed quiet for another endless moment, and then when she finally opened her mouth, her first words—uttered in such a calm, quiet voice—were not at all what he expected to hear. “How drunk is Lucky?”

“Enough to be passed out by the bonfire,” he answered dryly as he shot a quick glance over to where Grace leaned over his brother, shaking Lucky gently in an effort to rouse him. “Grace is trying to get him motivated.”

“Think she can handle him for a little while?”

“Um…” As he was trying to decipher the meaning behind her question, the bright shine of approaching headlights cascaded over him, temporarily blinding him. When the car rolled to a stop in front of him, the window powered down, and Harper’s face swam into view.

“Come on,” she said, her voice soft but firmly commanding. “I need to talk to you. Alone.”

Alarms clanged loudly in his head, but he found himself nodding quickly. He half-turned, waved his hand to catch Grace’s attention. Calling out a quick promise to come right back and getting a nod and wave back from her, he turned back to Harper and the waiting car. She didn’t say anything as he slithered into the passenger seat, just shifted the car into gear, and then they were on the move.

As they drove in rigid silence, the warning bells crashed back into his head. He slid a quick glance toward her, taking in the straight line of her back, the squared set of her shoulders, lips compressed into a thin, ugly line, and the white-knuckled grip she had on the wheel. He’d do anything, say anything, be anything in order to take all this pain away from her, to see the light leap back into her eyes. The overwhelming urge to reach out and lay a gently reassuring hand over hers pounded into him like a giant wave breaking against the shore with crushing force.

But, he kept his hands folded neatly in his lap and waited for Harper to make the first move. It just about killed him.

She drove for what seemed like hours, finally bringing the car to rest in the small parking lot of the community park near the elementary school. No other vehicles inhabited the lot, and the street lamp was out, casting them in the deepest shadows imaginable. Owen couldn’t help but wonder if this absolute darkness was the reason behind her picking this spot for their talk.

“I’m not sure I like your brother right now,” she said, again in that overly-calm, emotionless voice.

“That makes two of us,” he muttered under his breath. “Look, Harper. I don’t know what he told you, but—“

“Beer is a pretty good truth serum,” she cut in quietly.

“Yeah, it kind of is.” What else could he say to that? Why even bother trying to lie about what had happened, anyway? Harper’s not stupid, he reasoned with himself. She would’ve figured it out on her own. Eventually. “I’m sorry. I should’ve been the one to tell you about what Lucky did. I just…hell, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I’m sure I can guess.” At his quizzical expression, she rolled her eyes. “You wanted to find him first, of course. I know I’d be freaking out if Truman had beaten the snot out of someone and then took off. And, it doesn’t help matters that I’ve been a major head case lately. I wouldn’t want to have that conversation with me either.”

“You haven’t been a head case.”

“Yeah,” she snorted out a hollow, bitter laugh. “Yeah, I have. I’ve been freaking out about every little thing, jumping a foot in the air when someone even says my name. Total head case. And what’s worse—“ She cut a sharp look at him when he opened his mouth to interrupt. “—is that everyone around me continues to walk on eggshells, like they’re all afraid I’ll break or something. And, there’s literally no reason for it. Any of it.”

“Harper—“

“Owen, I didn’t have sex with Mr. Haas.”

He bit down on his lip, curbing the nasty reply that had jumped up to the tip of his tongue. Harper definitely wouldn’t appreciate him lecturing her about what made for consensual acts, as well as the fact that consent meant nothing when one of the participants was a minor and the other her teacher. No, that wouldn’t help bridge this gap between them at all, but that didn’t stop the tirade from skipping gleefully through his head.

“He didn’t rape me, either,” she continued on a whisper so soft, it was nearly inaudible. “And, that’s the damned truth.”

They fell off into uncomfortable silence as he studied her in the darkened confines of the car. She chewed on her bottom lip, her eyes downcast as her fingers worried the hem of her hoodie. His hand leapt out of his lap again, stretching out toward her, but this time, he didn’t pull back just before their fingers collided. A soft gasp escaped past her tightly compressed lips and her whole body stiffened at the contact, but she didn’t retreat. He tangled his fingers in hers and squeezed lightly.

“But, something happened,” he said, his eyes burning through the darkness, pleading with her for the truth this time. “It happened, Harper. I know you just want to forget about it and move on.” She swallowed visibly, nodded. “But, you can’t do that until you admit that it did happen. You have to talk about it…with someone. It doesn’t have to be me or Truman or even Grace, but, you can’t just keep this all bottled up inside. You have to let it out, or it’ll fester.”

Staring intently at their joined hands, she nodded again. “I know.”

Waiting for her to continue took every inch of patience he possessed, and even then, he was nearing his breaking point when she opened her mouth again. But, no sound came out. Her lips parted, shaped themselves into that first sound that she’d utter. Then, she froze, her mouth hanging open in silently screaming O. Panic crashed through him at the picture of distress she made. Digging into his pocket for his cell phone, he mentally kicked himself. What made him so sure he could handle all this? He was in way over his head here.

“I’m calling Grace,” he told her as he flipped open the phone. “We’ll go back and get her and you can—“

“No.” That one hastily shouted word slammed into him, knocking the breath from his chest. Her fingers laced through his, tightened with bruising force, and she shook her head. “No, not Grace. I…I can’t talk to her. Not about this.”

“Okay. Not Grace.” He made a big show of closing his phone and shoving it back into his pocket. “You can talk to me,” he offered. He drew in a deep breath, gathering in the courage necessary to make the one promise he wasn’t at all sure he’d be able to keep. “Anything we talk about will just be between us, Harp. I won’t tell anyone, and I won’t go assaulting anyone, either.”

She considered him for several long seconds. “Promise?”

His lips quirked up at the corners, and he nodded. “Cross my heart.”

“Okay.” She shifted, turned to face him, the pale moonlight sliding across her face so that he could see the glistening tears threatening to spill over. Dragging in a ragged breath, she squeezed his hand again. “It was at the party…”

 
And, just because I now have this song playing on a constant loop in my head now: