A fathers fight, p.1
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       A Father's Fight, p.1

           J. B. Salsbury
 
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A Father's Fight


  Also by J.B. Salsbury

  Fighting for Flight

  Fighting to Forgive

  Fighting to Forget

  Fighting the Fall

  A Father’s Fight

  J.B. Salsbury

  A Father’s Fight

  J.B. Salsbury

  Copyright © 2015 J.B. Salsbury

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved. This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Kobo.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Edited by Theresa Wegand

  Cover by Amanda Simpson of Pixel Mischief Design

  To my Fighting Girls

  Fight on, and if you must go down, go down swinging.

  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-one

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Prologue

  Eighteen years ago . . .

  I can’t believe I’m going to do this. This isn’t my first high school party, but damn, it might as well be.

  I suck back a lungful of crisp evening air that swirls with the stench of cigarettes and pot then try to shake feeling back into my hands. It’s cold, or maybe it’s my nerves, but either way, I can’t feel my fingers.

  “Come on,” I whisper-yell to myself. “Don’t be such a wuss!”

  Giggles filter to me from a group of passing girls. With a hip to my ’78 Trans-Am, I stare boldly at the cluster of hot pink and skin as they scoff and point at my ride. It may not be the first choice of most sixteen-year-olds, but it’s been my dream car since seventh grade. Those chicks can have their Mustangs and their Jettas. My car has a personality and an attitude.

  “White trash,” the head fluff-bunny says through a cough.

  These girls couldn’t be more opposite of me. They’re the bright to my plain, the color to my black, the Spice Girls to my Metallica. Dressed in the same color pattern as a candy shop, with big billowing curls, bright lips, and about half the amount of clothes on that I do, they don’t seem the least bit cold.

  I glare at their retreating asses, hardly covered by their school-girl-stripper skirts. I guess now’s as good a time as any. No more stalling.

  I head to the open gate that leads into the backyard of a middle-class home in the Seattle ’burbs. Pushing through a crowd of teenagers that huddle around the entrance, I search for a familiar face and find nothing but drones. Carbon copies of whatever’s hot on MTV. Zero individuality, every single one of them, except one. The only person I came here to see. My stomach flips on itself, and I run my sweaty—yet cold—palms along my skinny jeans.

  I’m finally going to approach my crush, the guy I’ve been loving from afar since the first day of freshman year.

  Trip Miller.

  While casually stalking him last week, I overheard him mention this party to his friends. I contemplated coming for all of zero seconds. This is what I’ve been waiting for, the chance I’ve needed. If he shows up, I’ll be here waiting, and for the first time, I refuse to let my nerves get the better of me.

  I’m going to talk to him.

  A flutter of excitement tumbles in my chest. My fingers go numb again, and I straighten my cut-up Whitesnake tee that I’d shredded in the back to show off my blue bra. It’s not the thigh-high socks and mini-skirts that all the other girls are wearing, but I refuse to conform.

  My toe taps inside my monkey boot as I wait in line to get in, and my fingers sift through and twirl the ends of my hair. The weather this time of year isn’t as humid, and I’ve managed to flat iron my hair so it hangs in sleek panels down past my boobs.

  “Five bucks, midget,” a big guy manning the door wearing a letterman jacket barks down at me, taking me in with a scowl.

  How original. I dip my chin to roll my eyes without him seeing and pull a wadded up five-dollar bill from my back pocket. He’s a senior and a football player, according to his jacket. He’s big, with a shaved head, and looks like all the other popular guys, a member of the crew that earns friends by intimidation and bullying those who are weaker.

  He stamps my hand and shoves a red Solo cup at me.

  “Thanks.” I move into the backyard and toward the sound of Snoop Dogg’s “Murder was the Case.” I bet the rapper would lock himself in the Dog Pound if he knew how many jocks were dressing like him and adding “izzles” to almost every word they spoke.

  I head on back to a couple staggered lines that lead to kegs and take my place in one of them. I’ll grab a beer, mingle a bit. There are enough kids here from other schools that it shouldn’t be too hard to fall into a conversation with someone. Then I can sit back and watch, waiting for the one guy who’s ever gotten my heart to thunder in my chest.

  As if the thought of him alone triggered my inner stalker, I scan the crowd, searching. A bright smile catches my eye, not so much because it’s attractive but because it’s so blatantly obvious. I know that guy; he’s in one my classes. Why is he smiling at me? Maybe it’s someone else he’s scoping. I turn to glance over my shoulder. Nope, it’s me.

  I toss him what I’m sure is an awkward smile-wave combo. He tilts his head, and his expression goes soft. Dammit, maybe that was a mistake. I should wait in my car. I could spy from the street until—Oh God, he’s coming this way.

  Kids scurry to clear a path as he struts toward me. He’s as big as the others and hot shit on campus. His striking blond hair is spiked, and his clean-shaven face and cologne scream of a man who spent more time getting ready for tonight than I did.

  “Hey.” He starts talking with still a few feet between us. “Layla . . . right?” And now he’s right up in my space.

  I rock back to try to gain a few inches between us. “Yeah, um . . .” I squint one eye. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name.”

  He smiles in way that feels patronizing, as if it’s absurd that I wouldn’t know who he is. “Stewart.”

  I snap my fingers. “That’s right.” I don’t really remember, but it does sound a little familiar now. I think.

  “Wow, you look”—he drops his gaze to my feet then makes his way back up to my eyes—“really interesting.”

  “Thanks?”—I shake my head and desperately need something to do with my hands, so I fumble with my cup—“I think.”

  Where do we go after the non-compliment? My cheeks flame as his gaze burns against my skin. An awkward silence builds between us, and it’s almost as if he’s finding enjoyment in watching me squirm.

  “It’s um . . . colder than I thought it’d be.” It’s lame, but I’m desperate for a diversion, something that will get his eyes off me.

  He blinks, jerked from whatever he was thinking about. “Oh yeah, you cold?” He starts to shrug off his letterman jacket.


  “No!” I hold up my hand.

  He freezes and his eyes narrow.

  I clear my throat. “I’m sorry. I mean no thanks. I’m good. I think I just need a beer. That’ll help.” A stupid girlie laugh falls from my lips, and I internally growl at how easily this guy can unnerve me.

  “Suit yourself.” He adjusts the collar of his jacket and slides his gaze down the line of people waiting for the keg, me being at the end of the line. “You’re going to be waiting here all night.”

  The line moves up one tiny step, punctuating his statement.

  More silence.

  “Yeah, well . . .” Well what? This is freakin’ painful. Maybe if I turn my back on him, he’ll leave.

  “How ’bout this?” He moves in closer to me, leaning to say something in my ear. “See that?” He nods toward a fire pit, his hot breath blowing against my skin.

  “Yeah?” I swallow hard, nervous about how close he is. Why has this guy never made an effort to talk to me before, and now he won’t freakin’ leave me alone? Or give me room to breathe?

  “Why don’t you come over there with me? We’ve got a small ice chest with some beers, shots, and mixed drinks.” He leans back, his blue eyes flashing with . . . what is it? Humor? Excitement?

  I avoid whatever it is and turn back toward the crowd clustered around the fire. The heat of the flames is enticing, but the company is absolutely not. It’s them, the popular kids: a group of guys in various forms of preppy flannel shirts and khakis, and girls in half-shirts more appropriate for a weekend in Florida than Seattle.

  “That’s okay, but thanks.” I motion to the line with my empty cup. “I’ll take my chances here.”

  He tilts his head again, giving me a look as if he’s trying to read my soul but then flashes a smile that’s friendly and even kind. “We don’t bite, Layla.”

  “Ha!” That’s it? Ha!

  “Come on. You’re practically shivering.” His logic can’t be argued. I am shivering, although it has little to do with the temperature. “At least come grab a beer with us and warm up until the line dies down.” He lifts one eyebrow.

  Pushing up on tiptoes, I lean around the people in front of me to see how much further I have to go. The sound of cheering comes from the keg. What the—?

  “Keg stands.” He shrugs one shoulder and takes a sip of his beer. “They’ll probably go on most of the night.”

  I worry my lip with my teeth. Crap! I was hoping for a tiny bit of liquid courage before I faced Trip. The fire does look nice. Maybe one beer and a warm up? Surely I can avoid conversation for one beer, not that any of them will want to talk to me. And from that side of the yard, I’d have a better vantage point for seeking out Trip.

  “Okay, sure.” I throw my shoulders back and nod. “One beer.”

  His face lights up in a wide smile, teeth too white and a little too straight. Are they fake? “Great.” He grabs my hand—grabs my fucking hand—and leads me to his friends.

  Flashes of every teen-nerd movie I’ve ever seen flicker through my mind. I’ll end up the butt of one of their pranks, something I’ve seen many times over the last two years of high school, the very reason I keep my head down around them.

  I tug my hand, ready to make the excuse that I have to run out to my car and get something. I see a hint of black leather and a gasp falls from my lips.

  He’s here. My heart kicks double-time, breath speeds up, and goose bumps skate down my arms.

  Trip.

  He’s leaning against the wall, red cup in hand with a cigarette pinched between two fingers. He’s nothing like the other guys in school, and even the other rocker dudes he hangs with have more of a grungy, in-need-of-a-shower, Kurt Cobain thing going on. But not Trip.

  Shaggy hair the color of milk chocolate hangs down over his ears and what I know to be icy-blue eyes. I dig his style: black jeans, Doc Martens, and a black concert tee that I can’t quite make out under his leather biker jacket, complete with zippers and buckles.

  Has God ever made a more beautiful boy?

  The spice of his cologne mixed with cigarette smoke and the buttery scent of leather gets me every time I pass by him in school. And even now, even though I can’t smell him, my stomach dips at the thought.

  He must feel my ogling because, as I’m being dragged across the yard, his eyes meet mine. I suck in a quick breath and stare in fascination as he narrows his glare and takes a long drag off his cigarette. As the cherry on the end glows bright orange, the heat in my body expands.

  “What the hell are you doin’, Stewart?” A female voice sounds pissed off and I’m jerked to a halt.

  I’m forced to rip my eyes away from Trip and realize I’m a foot away from the fire and engulfed in the popular crowd.

  “Chill out, Daphne,” Stewart says, sounding bored, bends over, and reaches into a large ice chest, still keeping hold of my hand.

  It’s the girl from out front. I try to wriggle my hand free, but he only holds it tighter. Maybe because this Daphne girl is giving me the evil eye he’s keeping me close?

  She rolls her over-made-up eyes as if Stewart brought home a stupid toy to play with. “What’s up with the goth chick?”

  I hate dumb girls. “I’m not goth.” Not that it matters. I’m actually kind of hoping they kick me out so I can go talk to Trip who . . . I slide my gaze over to him, and he’s now leaning with his shoulder against the wall, his back toward me. Dammit.

  “Goth, Hessian, whatever.” She crosses her arms over her chest and kicks out a hip. “Go hang with your people. You’re not wanted here.”

  “Easy, Daph.” Stewart stands in front of me, and I finally pull free my hand. “She’s with me.”

  I cringe. “No, I’m no—”

  “Stew,” Daphne says in that overly affected whiney way girls do when they’re trying to get what they want.

  “Leave it alone.” Stewart’s words carry a threat, but he turns his back on her, and his bright eyes and smile are fixed on me with kindness.

  She huffs out a breath but turns without another complaint and stalks away.

  “Sorry about that.” His eyes are intense, and his expression is genuinely apologetic. “Here.” He hands me a water bottle filled with red juice. “Peace offering.”

  I grab it, give it a quick onceover, but can’t help my eyes from searching out Trip. “What is it?”

  “Jungle juice.” He throws an arm over my shoulder and guides me to a seat close to the fire. “Two parts fruit punch, two parts vodka, and a healthy shot of lime juice.”

  The urgency to find Trip rides me hard. If I don’t talk to him before he leaves, this entire night is nothing but a fat waste of time. I unscrew the lid, give it a sniff, and recoil slightly.

  Stewart laughs. “Oh come on. It doesn’t smell that bad.” He lifts one eyebrow. “Does it?”

  A grin pulls at my lips. This guy is kind of funny. “No, it’s fruity, but . . .” I take a sip and shiver as the liquid fire rolls down my throat. “Whoa.”

  “It’s strong. Just have a couple shots. You’ll warm up in no time.” He winks and takes a long pull off his beer.

  I take another swig of jungle juice, hoping to hide behind the bottle. I dart my gaze over to Trip, who is talking but stops for a split second to study me, his eyes moving between me and Stewart.

  Freshman and sophomore year Trip didn’t know I existed, but so far, even only a month into our junior year, I’ve caught him watching me. Never for more than a second, and he’s never attempted to talk to me, but there’s something there.

  Right?

  Just as quickly as the thought runs through my head, he turns his back on me. I came here on a singular mission. I will brave a conversation with Trip before this night is over.

  I smile and take another swig, contemplating my plan of action. I just need to confront him, introduce myself, and see where the conversation leads. I take another long pull from the juice. Huh . . . it actually doesn’t taste too bad.

  “You warmi
ng up?” Stewart nods to the water bottle I have pressed to my lips.

  “Hmm? Mm-hm.” I choke back another shot-worth.

  He watches me swallow and lick the sweet sticky stuff off my lips. “That’s good, Laylay.”

  I cringe at his ridiculous nickname. He doesn’t even know me!

  “Here.” He cracks the pop-top and hands me an ice cold can of beer he must’ve pulled from the ice chest. “Chaser.”

  “Thanks.” My tongue is suddenly ten times bigger than it was when I got here. But, damn . . . I feel great: strong, ballsy, and ready to break through any weird tension that lingers between me and Trip.

  “Cheers.” Stewart holds up his cup. “To a life-altering night.”

  Fuck yeah! “Absolutely!”

  A tap of our drinks moves in slow motion. Whoa . . . I blink and try to hold open my heavy eyes. Eh . . . screw it. I let them droop, feeling too good to fight it.

  Another sip, then another, and . . .

  One

  Present Day

  Blake

  It never fails.

  Sprawled on my patio lounger, legs crossed at the ankles, the tip of my nose feels numb against the mid-January early morning chill. I pull my beanie down low over my ears with one hand, while my finger absently toys with the corner of a printed and folded up email I have shoved in my jeans pocket. The flimsy paper curls beneath my thumb, worn thin from carrying it around and reading it with the hope that something will pop out at me: a clue as to what it all means. If nothing else, carrying it is a good reminder of what I have to deal with and soon.

  Go figure. When life finally starts smelling like roses, there’s always something that comes along to drop a big fat fucking shit on my damn bouquet. If I could put myself in a headlock, choke myself out for being such a pussy, I would, but unless I miraculously become a double-jointed contortionist, I need to face this head on.

  But how?

  An uneasy flutter batters the backside of my ribs, and I don’t have to wonder what’s bringing on the distress. I remember it all too well.

 
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