The peer and the puppet, p.30
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.30

           B. B. Reid
 

  Tyra managed to book a same-day reservation for waxing, so after a quick shower, we were on our way. I wish I could say it hadn’t been that bad, but even after marveling over how soft and smooth I was down there, I seriously doubted I’d ever return. Tyra assured me I could get it this way by shaving, although it would require frequent upkeep. On the drive back to McNamara manor, I began to wonder if Ever would like the change. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

  WHEN SUNDAY MORNING CAME, TYRA and Vaughn went home, and that night, Rosalyn and Thomas returned from another business trip disguised as a getaway. Rosalyn loved to be the center of attention, so how she managed to endure Thomas’s work ethic was a mystery to me.

  I was pouring a glass of milk to go with the cookies Mrs. Greene made when Rosalyn glided into the kitchen.

  “Four, how are you?” she inquired as if I were an acquaintance and not her daughter.

  “Let’s see,” I drawled with thinly veiled sarcasm. “I still have a 3.5 GPA, no injuries, diseases, or pregnancies, and I’m close to getting Jay D to roll over.” Oh, and I almost fucked your pretend stepson this weekend.

  “Four, why must you give me a hard time?”

  Because you deserve it. “So, how was Maihama?”

  The morning after our argument, they’d taken the company’s private jet to one of the resorts in Japan. I figured pretending to care about her life was better than arguing about mine.

  “It was brisk. Even more so than here. I think I may sit the next one out. I haven’t traveled this much since Chet.”

  I immediately went on alert at the mention of heartbreak number two. He had been the rock star who’d nursed her back from the dead only to get her hooked on drugs.

  “What do you say we have some girl time the next time Thomas goes out of town? It’s about time, don’t you think?”

  God, I stopped wanting that years ago. “If you need an alibi, I’m sure your friends at the country club can help.” Even though my intention was to brush her off, I sincerely hoped her growing popularity held. Rosalyn had always had trouble maintaining friendships. Usually, her friends would become frustrated, or she’d lose interest.

  “Oh, well, I just thought we could have girl talk. You know—hair, makeup, clothes. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you in anything other than greasy overalls I forgot how beautiful you are.”

  “Rosalyn.” Despite my grievances, I felt my cheeks flush.

  She giggled and winked. “I’ve embarrassed you.”

  “A bit.”

  “Honestly, dear, you’d be used to being told you’re beautiful by now if you would just get over this phase.”

  And just like that, the bubble I’d been floating in popped. “I’m pretty busy with school and Jay D. Besides, I have no intention of wearing makeup or changing my clothes.”

  “What about your gorgeous hair? I could show you different ways to wear it now that it’s grown back.”

  “Don’t bother,” I said as I strolled backward with milk and cookies in hand. “As soon as I find the time, I’ll be cutting it off again.”

  “Don’t you dare. I forbid it.” Her gaze suddenly shifted behind me. “Oh, hello, Ever.”

  “Rosalyn.”

  I peeked over my shoulder in time to see him give her a polite nod. He was standing so close I wondered how I hadn’t felt his presence.

  “Your father is in his office if you’d like to speak to him.”

  A curt ‘thanks’ was all he gave before sliding past me. I watched him pull one of his many bottles of orange Gatorade from the fridge, barely feeling Rosalyn’s soft hand on my shoulder as she clicked out of the kitchen in her heels.

  “What’s the deal with you and those drinks?”

  “The deal?” he echoed as he eyed Mrs. Greene’s fresh cookies with regret. I guess the swelling still hadn’t gone down although he wasn’t as hard to understand as he’d been yesterday.

  “Other than water, I’ve never seen you drink much of anything else. Are you addicted or something?”

  “No.” The air turned stale after that, so I turned to leave. “Hey.”

  I stopped even though common sense screamed at me to keep walking. “Yeah?”

  With a motion for me to follow, he left the kitchen and headed for the stairs in the west wing. We didn’t exchange words until we entered his workroom. Standing by the doors in case I needed a quick getaway, I watched him move to the other side of the room to his drafting table. After setting down his drink, he picked up some papers and began studying them. I could see the wheels turning in his head but couldn’t tell what he was thinking or what made him seem almost nervous. I could definitely tell the feeling was a novelty for him—because who would ever tell Ever McNamara no? I certainly didn’t seem to be able to.

  After a few seconds, I lost my patience and cleared my throat. “So, is there a reason you brought me here?”

  With papers in hand, he crossed the room until he stood in front of me, and I was surprised when he handed them to me. I hesitated to take them until I noticed the logo at the top.

  “What is this?”

  “I did as much as I could, but you’ll have to prove you don’t have a concussion before you can apply for a license. You can take the test online, so I created the account and paid the fee. Your login, password, and membership details for the network are also there. Rosalyn still has her health benefits through the company, so I used that as proof of medical coverage.”

  My mouth opened and closed for a few seconds. “So is this an apology for insulting me earlier?”

  “It’s not the Road to Rookies Cup, but it’s a way in, right?”

  My heart swelled at his hopeful look. The night he insisted on pillow talk, I’d told him all about my dream to race in the Grand Prix and how Rosalyn had denied me my best chance: the Road to Rookies Cup.

  “I don’t hear any singing, so it’s not over just yet.” I smiled shyly, causing his own boyish grin to appear.

  “You’ll just need to fill out the direct deposit and tax forms and provide a copy of your birth certificate before you can complete the application.”

  “I—I don’t have a bank account.”

  His eyebrows bunched. “Where did you keep the money you earned at the shop and from racing?”

  “I worked for Gruff before I was legal, so he paid me cash off the books, and of course, the money I made from racing was dirty.” I shrugged while feeling a little embarrassed. The more we learned about each other, the further apart our worlds seemed.

  Ever studied me for a long moment before kissing my lips. “No biggie, baby.” He was backpedaling across the room before I could register what had happened. I touched my fingers to my lips, feeling them tingle while he booted up his laptop and hopped online.

  “What are you doing?” Deciding this wasn’t a trap, I moved to stand next to him, only for him to pull me into his lap. He had a banking website pulled up and began the process to open up an account.

  “Do you know your driver’s license number?”

  “People actually memorize that?”

  With a chuckle, he grabbed the laptop and said, “Hang on, baby.” As soon as I circled my arms around his neck, he stood and headed for the private stairs with me wrapped around him. We got my license from my room before heading to his. After setting up my bank account, we completed the tax form, and I promised Ever I’d ask Rosalyn for my birth certificate at dinner. I could tell he knew it was a conversation I was not looking forward to having and that if he left it up to me, I’d probably back out.

  Jamie had invited us out to go bowling, but we declined and spent the day locked away in Ever’s bedroom, talking about everything and nothing at all. At dinner that night, Ever tempted fate by barely taking his eyes off me. I was having a hard enough time figuring out a way to convince Rosalyn to fork over my birth certificate. Since I was eighteen now, she couldn’t legally keep me from racing. That left my birth certificate as the only card left she had to play.

/>   “Hey, Rosalyn?”

  “Yes, dear?”

  My words tumbled out quicker than I intended. “I need my birth certificate to complete an application.”

  One perfectly arched eyebrow rose. “A college application, I hope.”

  Not good. Rosalyn was well aware I planned to skip college. I was already bordering ancient for a pro-motocross rider, so wasting another year much less four wasn’t an option. I filled my lungs with as much air as I could. When Ever’s brows drew together, I remembered to exhale and prepared for the shitstorm. “It’s for my motocross license.”

  I watched her take a sip of her water to disguise the crack in her composure. “We talked about this.”

  Each time I broached the subject was the same. Rosalyn would say no, and I’d beg until she guilt-tripped me into a corner with tears and accusations. Not this time. “We have, but now that I’m eighteen, the discussion is over. I’m racing.”

  “Apparently, not without your birth certificate.”

  The malice in her response didn’t go unnoticed. Ever leaned forward as if ready to pounce while Jamie, with his mouth set in an O, leaned back in his chair. Thomas, the last to react, slowly lowered his glass of scotch with a scowl.

  “Rose.”

  She didn’t respond as we locked gazes. “Fine. Then I’ll petition for a copy.”

  “You won’t do it under this roof.”

  The icy sensation started at the tip of my fingers and quickly spread until I was mute and immobile. Had she just threatened to kick me out?

  It wasn’t fear that snuffed my fire. It was the wound she’d carved so mercilessly. For years I’d been her crutch when she was terrified of standing on her own. But then Thomas stepped in and looked beyond what the others couldn’t and provided what they wouldn’t.

  Did Rosalyn no longer believe she needed me? Was she no longer willing to endure me?

  “That’s not for you to decide,” Ever growled. “This isn’t your home.”

  “That’s enough,” Thomas barked at his son. With a gentler tone, he said, “Four isn’t going anywhere.” His sharp blue gaze moved to my mother dearest. “Rose, you’re out of line.”

  “The only one out of line is my ingrate of a daughter and your boorish son. Why is he even defending her when they barely speak? It’s getting to become a habit.” She threw a withering look Ever’s way.

  Ever, cool and uncaring as always, slowly relaxed in his chair. Jamie patted his shoulder, barely biting back a grin.

  “Be reasonable, Rose. It’s her life, and while we can encourage her to take a safer path, we cannot force her onto it.”

  I wondered if he’d say the same if he knew about his son’s extracurricular activities. Jamie must have shared my thoughts since he now wore a smirk.

  “Thomas, you can decide what is best for your son, and I will decide what is best for my daughter.” I felt the force of her glare once again and matched it. “You should remember the pain it cost me to give you the life you’re so eager to risk. You’re ungrateful and unworthy.”

  She stood from the table and strutted away with Thomas on her heels.

  “Damn, that was cold,” Jamie muttered. His pensive tone was the straw that broke me. Rosalyn’s claim was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but this was the first time it had been witnessed by others. Besides, being pitied by two people who were broken themselves must mean I’d sunk to a new low.

  Shoving away from the table, I fled.

  “Are you going to talk about it, or am I going to have to guess?” Tyra questioned as we cracked open our textbooks.

  I had asked Tyra for a ride to school and was gone before Ever or Jamie had a chance to corner me. After dinner, they had come to my room separately, but I let their knocks go unanswered and cried until I fell into a deep sleep. At school, I dropped Jay D off with Dave and headed for the library with Tyra to study for our midterms next week.

  “Do you want the detailed version or the summarized?”

  “Ugh.” She pushed her textbook away and turned to me. “I can’t wrap my head around calculus this early anyway. Give me the detailed.”

  By the time I finished giving her the rundown and had answered her millionth question, the first-period bell was ringing, so we packed up and headed to class.

  “I’ve always been bummed about not having a mother, but after hearing all of that, I think I’m good.”

  Only after we’d grown close and after very careful prodding did Tyra share that her mom had died giving birth to her. She even admitted that the hardest part was having to settle for knowing her through everyone else’s memories.

  “They’re not all like Rosalyn, or so I hear.” A wave of guilt made me want to take the words back. Truth is, no one would have blamed Rosalyn if she had given me up. While she had never been cruel, she kept an emotional distance between us. Not so much that she couldn’t reach out when she needed me but far enough that I couldn’t threaten her sanity.

  Tyra and I went our separate ways, and before heading to first period, I stopped by my locker to stash my books. I planned to spend my first period figuring out how I could get a copy of my birth certificate. Knowing Rosalyn, she’d probably already destroyed the original.

  “Why’d you take off this morning?”

  I nearly jumped out of my skin, which caused me to drop my textbook. The sound was loud, slowing gaits, lowering voices, and redirecting gazes. As usual, Ever ignored his admirers as he retrieved my textbook from the floor and placed it in my locker. The moment his hand cleared, I locked up and took off for the computer lab. I knew I was being a tad bitchy, but I couldn’t stand being pitied right now. The computer lab was empty, so I sat in the first vacant seat. I didn’t realize I was being followed until Ever sank into the empty seat next to me.

  “Don’t you have class?” I questioned as I booted up the computer.

  “Don’t you?”

  I sighed while keeping my gaze locked on the computer screen. “I can’t do this right now, Ever.”

  There was a pause and then, “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

  “No, you wanted to be controlling.”

  My chair scraped the floor when he jerked it sideways until I was facing him, and if that weren’t enough, he grabbed hold of my chin and forced me to look him in the eye. Bastard. “The last thing I’m feeling right now, Four, is in control.”

  And I believed him. It was right there in his eyes. The last thread unraveling. I pulled my chin from his hand, but I didn’t look away. The plea in his eyes had won me over. “I took off because I didn’t want to face you, so please don’t make me.”

  The plastic groaned when he gripped the sides of my chair and leaned forward. “You think I give a shit that your mother’s a cunt?”

  I made a noise that sounded like desperation and despair. “Rosalyn just thinks she’s protecting me.”

  “Enabling her doesn’t make you a better daughter. It doesn’t make you more worthy of life. It just makes you her prisoner. Last night wasn’t her illness talking. It wasn’t about love and protection. It was Rosalyn being selfish.”

  “I don’t care if she kicks me out or never speaks to me again. I actually think she’d be better off, but what if I’m wrong? What if I do this, and she goes off her meds? I’ve always been the one to put her back together, not tear her apart.”

  “You aren’t the reason her head is fucked up. It’s no one’s fault, but the choices she made were her own. Don’t let her stop you from making yours.”

  “I’m not backing out.” I didn’t miss how the tension left his body at my assurance. “I just wish racing didn’t come with such catastrophic consequences.”

  He unfolded my fist, and I realized I had been digging into my palm with my fingernails. Ever kissed the abused skin. “Don’t fret, princess. We just need a game plan.”

  “We?”

  The late bell rang, but we both ignored it as his hands slid around my hips and cupped my ass. We were close. Clo
se enough to kiss. Close enough to become one. “I know what I want, and nothing’s going to stop me from taking it. Can you say the same?”

  I leaned in until our foreheads touched, wanting nothing more than to feel his lips pressed against mine. His eyes gleamed, daring me to take what I wanted—racing, Rosalyn or what’s right be damned.

  But then the door opened.

  And the chorus of laughter that followed suddenly stopped.

  My back was to the door, but the whispered curse that fell from Ever’s lips told me what I needed to know.

  We had been caught.

  Ever leaned back in his chair as his hardened gaze followed the whispering group heading for the back row. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the glances and snickers gave me a pretty good idea. This was not good.

  “Don’t worry about them,” Ever dictated. I tore my gaze away from the group, expecting to see his cool demeanor firmly in place. Instead, there was calculation and a burning urge to do damage control.

  “You first.”

  He rose with the grace and authority, resembling a king rising from his throne, and dragged me to my feet. “Let’s go.”

  As if we didn’t have an audience, he led me with his hand on the small of my back all the way to my classroom. I was thinking of an excuse to give my teacher when Ever pushed me against the wall and took the kiss we’d been denied.

  My heart was racing. Because someone could catch us at any moment and also because he was sending a message with his lips and his hard body pressed almost desperately against mine.

  He wasn’t backing down.

  He needed me.

  Maybe as much as I needed him.

  My stomach growled when I walked into my Women’s History class, and I immediately regretted skipping breakfast. I still had another hour until lunch, but there was no way I was going. Getting through second period without spending it locked in a bathroom stall had been hard enough. Word about my almost-kiss with Ever had spread quickly, and for once, it wasn’t just a rumor. There was no mistaking the compromising position we had been caught in.

 
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