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       Jacked, p.21

           Tina Reber

  THE ROADS WERE desolate, already covered with several inches of heavy snow, but nothing could keep me from making this drive. Two snowplows passed me going the other way; their yellow warning lights flashing, lighting up the darkened sky. Visibility sucked. I’d already fishtailed it around several corners trying to hurry. My wipers couldn’t keep up and an annoying layer of frost was sticking on my windshield, making it even harder to see. Fortunately my route was well lit with streetlights. My tires slid when I turned into the parking lot adjacent to Al’s Pub. My headlights flashed over two cars; one familiar vehicle was covered with snow. The other, Kip’s truck, was mostly cleared off but a layer was quickly rebuilding.

  I trudged through the snow, trying to keep it from getting down into the inside of my jacket, and banged my cold fist on the back kitchen door. Worry was driving me hard and heavy.

  “Sorry, dude,” Kip said, holding the thick steel door open for me.

  I kicked the snow off my boots, trying to leave as much of it outside as I could, before I slipped past him.

  “I wasn’t sure if you wanted this call.”

  Actually, I was grateful he did. “No, you did the right thing. I appreciate it.” I patted his shoulder while shaking off the rest of the cold. My cheeks stung from the sudden temperature change.

  “I didn’t know how tight you were with her.” He shrugged.

  I was still trying to determine that one myself.

  Kip smacked me in the back. “Figured you had a vested interest at least. For what it’s worth, I like that you’ve upgraded, but considering her current condition, I’m not so sure that it’s a good thing.”

  Yeah, we weren’t going to go there. Gut instinct was telling me this wasn’t an everyday activity for her. I gave him a quick nod, hoping to hell I was right. “Where is she?”

  “Sitting in one of the booths by the front door, waiting for a cab that ain’t coming. How are the roads?”

  I pulled my leather gloves off and shoved them into my coat pocket. “Slick.”

  “Speaking of slick, Benny was in here tonight.”

  The short hair on the back of my neck prickled. “Benny?”

  Kip nodded. “He was sitting by her most of the night, hitting on her something fierce. He got a little pushy with her when I announced last call so I put her in my office until he shoved off.”

  My anger flared up hearing that. “Pushy?”

  Kip drew in a deep, even breath through his nose. “He was trying to convince her to leave with him. Even yanked on her arm a few times. One of my boys intervened. We got him to leave.”

  “Thanks, man.” At least I had friends out there watching my back. But Benny? I’d kill the weasel the next time I saw him. What he was doing sniffing around Erin was even more concerning. Could someone be tailing me, trying to use her to get to me?

  Kip shrugged it off. “No problem, bro. I’m going to finish locking up. Try to make it quick, okay? I still haven’t put my snow tires on.”

  I maneuvered out into the bar, catching a shock of long blonde hair that was resting on folded arms. The place was shut down for the night; only a few of the recessed lights were still on, which cast a dim shadow over her still frame.

  “She asleep?” Kip asked.

  She looked so peaceful all bundled up in her dark blue ski jacket and white knit hat, scarf, and mittens; her long hair obscuring most of her face. “Looks like it. How much did she drink?”

  He shook his head. “Apparently too much. There were a few guys playing pool earlier who bought her a few, too.”

  My soaring anger spiked up another notch. He could have saved me from that detail. My molars started to hurt visualizing that scenario all too clearly. My stitches pinched when I balled my hands into fists. “Beer or mixed drinks?”

  Kip tossed a leftover menu onto the bar. “Dude, I don’t know. I think she had a mixture, probably a few shots. I was in the kitchen most of the night so I’m not sure. She seemed fine one minute and then pissed drunk the next, okay? She was sitting by herself for a long time. I thought she was waiting on someone, but I think she was crying, staring out the window most of the night. Anyway, I want to get the fuck out of here. Just take her home.”

  I slipped a long lock of her hair off her face, trying not to let the knowledge that she’d been crying kill me. I gave her a nudge. “Doc. Time to wake up.”

  She startled a bit, blinking up at me with heavy eyes. “Mhh, what?”

  Yeah, there would be no way should could drive, even though we were only a mile or two from her place.

  “Time to go.”

  She grunted, or was that a groan? “Adam, what? Why are you here? I called for um, a taxi. Just go.”

  Erin was great at waving me off. Don’t know why it surprised me to receive it again. After the way I’d left her last time, I shouldn’t have expected anything else.

  “Cab isn’t coming. Come on, Doc. I’m taking you home.” I tried to pull on her arm, which got her to at least slide to the edge of the bench.

  “I don’t need you. I can drive. Just need coffee first.” Erin tried to push me away which, after a couple of days of trying to convince myself otherwise, hurt a hell of a lot more than I wanted to admit.

  Her anger and sadness was my doing, so I’d take the heat from her disappointment. “Roads are slippery, Erin. I wouldn’t like the idea of you driving on them sober let alone drunk.”

  “I’m not drunk,” she mumbled, searching through her purse.

  Yeah, I think I’d said the same thing quite a few times. Flashbacks of others carrying my sad sack of a drunken ass out of a few bars—this one included—hit me hard. I must have been a huge disappointment so many times to my family and friends after my partner was killed. I tightened my grip around her waist. That’s when I noticed her shiner. “What the hell happened to your eye?”

  I tried to tilt her chin up to get a better look.

  She covered her face. “Stop.”

  “Let me see it. Who hit you?” Thoughts of someone raising a finger to her blistered through me like wildfire.

  “Just leave me alone.”

  “Not until you tell me what happened.”

  “I don’t want you to see it.”

  “Too late, sweetheart. I’ve already seen it. Now tell me, who hit you?”

  “Doesn’t matter.”



  I pegged Kip with a glare. “This happen here?” He’d better answer no because if this shit went down on his watch and he didn’t call me the second it happened, we’d have another major issue to deal with.

  He held his hands up. “Not in my bar, brother.”

  Back to square one. “Erin, one last time. Who hit you?”

  She pushed my forearm away and then covered her face with her mitten. “I wanna go home now. I’m going.” She tried to elbow me out of her way. Tried, but failed. “Move please.”

  The second she stood up, she swayed and then seized the table top.

  “Come on, babe. I’ve got you.” I swung her up into my arms before she had a chance to have an opinion. “Kip, get the door.”

  “Put me down! Fuck, Adam. Stop. I’m too heavy.”

  I felt his hand pat my back. “’Night, bro. Drive safe.”

  “Thanks, man. You too.” The minute we hit the cold air, Erin and her leather purse shrank into my chest, shivering. She wasn’t the only thing I felt shrinking in from the extreme cold and biting wind.

  “Put me down.”

  “Why? So I can pick you up out of the snow?”

  “Where are you taking me?” she chattered again.

  I kept my eyes pinned on my truck, trying to keep my footing in the slippery snow while carrying a hundred and thirty-forty some pounds. With any luck, it should still be warm inside. I set her down on unsteady feet, opened her door, and urged her to climb in. “I’m taking you home.”

  I turned the heater up as high and fast as it would go, knowing that if I was cold, she h
ad to be freezing. Her forehead was leaning on the window the entire drive and the way her head lolled about, I was wondering if she’d passed out. She surely wasn’t talking to me.

  “This isn’t my house,” she whispered gruffly when I started to turn into my snow-covered driveway, her words steaming up a small patch on her window.

  I hit the overhead door opener; the light guiding my way in. “I know. It’s mine.”

  Erin’s head whipped in my direction, gaping at me. “You said you were taking me home.” Her tone, still quite groggy and slurred, was now incensed.

  I put my truck in park, shut off the lights, and hit the button again to close the garage door. “No, I said I was taking you home. Never said whose home we were going to.”

  I opened her door and took in her reluctant demeanor, wondering if I’d have to resort to lifting her out. She could be mad all she wanted; I just would rather she be pissy inside the house where it was warm. “Come on, Erin. It’s cold out here.”

  I grabbed her arms and waist before she stumbled over my Harley.

  “Whose motor…” She sighed heavily. “Motorcycle?”

  I straightened her up. “Mine.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “You have a motorcycle?”

  I gave the passenger door a shove. “Yep. Come on, Snow White. Let’s get you inside.”

  “You didn’t tell me you had a mo… a motorcycle.”

  Negotiating two bodies between the front end of my truck and my long wooden tool bench was tight. “Yes. I did.”

  She groaned.

  Or was it a purr?

  “I like motor… bike things.”

  That made me smile inside. “Good to know, Doc.”

  She patted my chest. “You’ll take me for a ride sometime. Promise, Adam. Promise me.”

  Visions of her arms around my waist, her chest pressed to my back with those thighs squeezing on me, flashed so hard and fast that I didn’t quite know what to do with them. Were they a glimpse at a possible future with her? Premonition? Thoughts of her becoming a part of my life happened all too easily every time I was around her, blasting right through the doubt and the months of counseling.

  “I feel sick,” she mumbled.

  I had hoped she wouldn’t puke in my truck, although she wouldn’t be the first. I helped her into my kitchen, the warm air instantly leeching the cold from my bones. I had wondered for five miles of slippery, shitty roads whether or not she’d hold her liquor or if this was a typical way she burned off the stress, hoping to hell this was a rare occurrence.

  Erin hiccupped. “Adam, I really… I don’t feel so good.”

  I pulled off her knit hat and scarf and tossed them somewhere into my living room. “Come on. Let’s get you into the bathroom.”

  I barely got the lid to the toilet up before she lurched for it. I stood there and watched her wretch, hovering close to make sure she didn’t choke or pass out. My mind whirled as I watched over her, knowing now with absolute certainty how helpless it feels to be on this side of the drunk. I bit back the automatic urge to gag and courtesy flushed the toilet, wondering what demons plagued her to go out drinking alone. I planned on figuring that out right after I gave her time to sober up.

  SOFT BREATHING COMING from behind me was the first thing I’d noticed when my eyes opened to the darkness. It was a gentle and manly snore—rhythmic, peaceful—something I hadn’t realized my soul was parched without. He was definitely asleep and I couldn’t help but want to savor the moment.


  Just the whispered thought of his name triggered the escalation of my heartbeat with flutters; unfortunately though, that moment of elation was immediately followed up by a Mariachi band tap dancing in my head. My throat was dry, sore, and hinted of an aftertaste that was very distinguishable and completely unpleasant.

  One too many shots of pity-flavored tequila combined with beef gravy and deep fryer oil roiled through my stomach again, exacerbated by the recollection that I vomited profusely in Adam’s toilet.

  I closed my eyes, recalling how he’d hovered over me as I hurled my guts and my dignity. Oh God, how embarrassing.

  I hadn’t been that sick on alcohol since my freshman year of college when I learned the hard way that mixing alcohol inside your internal organs usually doesn’t work out so well.

  I ran my hand over the soft pillowcase and then over my face, thinking that taking the walk of shame was all that was left of another monumental catastrophe in my history with men. But damn, his pillow and this bed were comfortable. It was as if I were cradled in the soft pillow top of the mattress, giving my body the sensation of floating on a lovely cloud. I slid a foot, realizing that I was no longer wearing socks because I could feel the silky sheets without obstruction.

  When did I lose my socks?

  Oh cripes… my legs are bare, too. What the hell am I wearing?

  The memories came back with painful clarity: Adam stripping off my socks and laughing without humor at my condition; him pulling a shirt over my head while holding me steady.

  Oh God, how pathetic. I will never, ever, ever get that drunk again. What was I thinking? Oh, yeah… the four-hundred different ways my life sucked.

  I’d been on this path for so long, this “I have to become a doctor and never fail another human being again” endless loop, that I’d stopped paying attention to everything else going on around me.

  There’s nothing worse to top a hangover than a healthy dose of self-loathing. I listened to Adam’s steady breathing, wondering what his reaction to me would be when he woke up. Maybe I should just leave. Get dressed and sneak out, leave him undisturbed and avoid seeing him struggle for a subtle way to get rid of me. He’d been nothing but kind to me so far tonight, so I was betting he wouldn’t be a complete asshole while washing his hands of the puking mess.

  But it was still dark out, I was warm and toasty and comfortable, and maybe, just maybe I could get another hour of sleep in before slipping out undetected?

  As I lay there thinking about my options, that urge to go hit me. My mind did the mental math trying to determine how long I could lay here before having to pee goes from necessity to urgency.

  I leaned up on my elbow and squinted, mapping out a path to his bathroom in the dark. His window coverings were so thick, even the streetlight didn’t break through.

  A large hand slid over my hip. “Where you going?” he grumbled.

  Shit. I cleared my rancid throat. “I have to go.”

  His hand gently clenched me through the covers. “No, you don’t. Lay down, babe. Go back to sleep.”

  Was he worried I’d leave? A small simper erupted from hearing him call me “babe”. “I have to use the bathroom.”

  His hand tensed, eased, and then quickly slid away. “You feeling sick again?”

  “No, just have to use the bathroom.”

  “You sure?”

  I nodded in the dark. “Yeah.”

  Adam took a deep breath and yawned. “Light switch is on the left, inside the door. Yell if you need me.”

  I glanced back at his darkened silhouette; one very impressive shoulder was bare and visible to the naked eye. He was on his side, right behind me. This was all so very confusing. He’d avoided me for what? A week? And now he’s practically spooning with me?

  And then he called me babe? Even after making an idiot out of myself, defiling his private space, he had a pet name for me? A chill hit my bare legs and feet while the residual drunkenness made me crave to lie back down. It made the need to pee even more urgent.

  I gently closed the door behind me, squinting at the sudden brightness of the lights above the vanity. I flipped the next switch, finding the overhead fan. The third switch turned on the recessed lighting, which wasn’t so hard on my bloodshot eyes. Now that I wasn’t so ill, I was able to absorb more of his very nicely appointed bathroom.

  He had a large, glass-encased shower with what looked like sandstone tiles in soothing earth tones that dominated the space. Two
shower heads. Nice. The vanity was dark mahogany and looked like an oversized antique chest of drawers with a beautiful granite countertop and black metal loops for pulls that coordinated with everything. It was rustic and gave the room a very masculine spa-like vibe.

  The entire bathroom looked brand new, completely remodeled, and made me think that my bathroom in my house was an outdated joke compared to what he had going on. A hot shower in that tempting space would certainly feel like heaven right now. A hot shower with someone as sexy as Adam in there with me sounded even better.

  I rubbed my face, trying to push away the slight spins. I was glad he made me take aspirin before I tried to lie down. Maybe he really does like me? He did leave wherever he was to come pick me up. That has to count for something. Doesn’t it? And he called me “babe.” Why would he do that if he didn’t have some sort of feelings for me, unless I was just one of several babes. Could we be back together? Wait, we were never together. But I was just sleeping next to him in his bed. Is that? Are we? What does that mean? Oh my God, my head hurts.

  I pulled the last five squares of paper off the roll. Figures. Everything was so pristine and yet there were no visible extra rolls? I leaned forward, catching the edge of the vanity door with the tips of my fingernails, fumbling and coming up empty.

  I washed up, rinsed my mouth out several times, and contemplated whether searching for a new roll of toilet paper would be considered snooping.

  I gingerly pressed the door handle down on the linen closet, peering inside for anything that resembled a roll.

  Even his closet was neat. Well, the towels were shoved into a haphazard pile, but they were folded. Huh, a bachelor that folds stuff? I glanced back at the shower, noting two dark brown towels hanging over the top of the glass.

  He had a few rolls of paper wedged under another pile of towels that required shifting the load off of them. That’s when I noticed the pink, green, and baby blue swirl on the edge of a box.

  I pulled the box free, my bleary eyes taking in the words “plastic applicator” and “fresh scent.”

  Disappointment cracked into my chest and up into my skull like a lightning strike. Sure enough, there on the shelf right next to the empty space where the box had been was a ladies’ deodorant stick. What the hell else does he have in here?

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