Authors: Bonnie Dee
“You can acknowledge he’s a douche and accept him the way he is, maybe even act the same way yourself. Or you can move on.”
“With you?” She bit her tongue but the words were already out.
He slanted a look down at her. “Did I say that? I’m just offering you some free advice. You seemed to want me to say something.”
.” She snorted. “Deal.”
He shrugged again. Oh, he was the master of the laid-back shrug. “If you want sympathy, go find your girlfriends. All I can give you is a good high and a bag of sour gummies.”
His arm slid away from her back, leaving her to balance on her own unsteady feet.
They’d reached Big Ben’s and he led the way across the littered sidewalk into the brightly-lit store.
It was empty inside and quiet except for the canned music that made Jen grit her teeth. The synthesizer and drum machine marked the song as an eighties tune, something her mom had probably danced to on her prom night.
Jen headed straight for the candy aisle in search of what she craved. It wasn’t until she’d picked up several prescriptions for her sweet tooth that she remembered her purse was with her wrap back at the rental hall. She’d left everything, phone, license, cash, in the little bag that should’ve been dangling from her wrist. She hoped one of her friends would notice and pick up her things for her.
What would Joann or Antia think had happened to her? She couldn’t hide out forever. She had to go back to prom. The realization snapped her out of her happy haze.
She searched for Drake and found him in the next aisle trying to decide between cheese curls and chips. He held them both up for her inspection. “Any preference?”
“I don’t have any money along. I had to put my stuff back.”
“Don’t worry about it. Told you, the gummies are on me.”
“No. That’s okay.”
He frowned, eyes narrowed, studying her. “What? It’s not a big deal. I can buy the damn candy.”
With drug money. Money you make from dealing drugs. Not just a little
pot like tonight but probably other, harder stuff too.
Did it matter? Was borrowing a couple of bucks from Drake some big ethical issue? She knew that wasn’t what was really bothering her. It was the whole evening unraveling and her pinballing off into this weird alternate world in which she got high with Drake Malinson and hit the convenience store to satisfy the munchies. This was not who she was or how she acted. It was time for the dream to end and for her to return to normal life.
“I think I should go back. My friends are going to wonder what happened to me.” Drake stared at her another moment, then threw the bags back on the shelf and walked toward her. “Fine. Whatever.” His tone was cool but his lips were pressed tight.
“I’m sorry. I was having fun, but…”
“No. I get it. I’ll walk you back.” He brushed past her, heading toward the door.
“It’s not far. I’ll be okay on my own.”
Drake stopped and stared down into her eyes. “I’ll walk you back.” Jen followed him out of the store, feeling stupid as the clerk watched them leave without buying anything. She should’ve just let Drake buy a snack. Sharing food with him hardly made this some sort of official date.
But having him hold her hand earlier and wrapping her arms around him beside the river had made it feel like more than two people who barely knew each other hanging out together. It might not be a date but it was…something. There was attraction between them and a strange bond, for lack of a better word. She
talking with Drake, even though he didn’t say much and was sometimes rude. She was comfortable with him.
Except not now. He was walking so fast she had to trot to keep up and his body was as tense as an angry cat’s. She’d pissed him off, hurt his feelings maybe, although how it was her fault she didn’t know. He’d been the first one to say she should go back and face the music and now that she was ready to, he was acting huffy?
“Hey!” She stopped walking. “Slow down. I can’t walk that fast in these shoes.” Several yards ahead of her, Drake stopped, but he didn’t turn around. He just waited.
Jen resumed walking, taking her time reaching his side. She looked up at his face, the clenched jaw and the eyes that refused to meet hers. “I don’t know what you’re so mad about.”
“Nothing. I’m not.”
“Thanks for listening to me complain and for showing me the dancing fish. And for the pot too, I guess. It was kind of nice to cut loose for once.”
“But that’s not who you are.” He looked at her at last. “And I’m not the kind of guy you hook up with—even when you’d like to.” His voice was rough and low and brushed her skin like sandpaper making it tingle.
Jen stared back at him, the last shreds of haziness blowing away leaving her mind crystal clear. She
to kiss him. It had nothing to do with being high or being mad at Tom and wanting to pay him back. She simply wanted Drake with an intensity that left her breathless. She remembered how that long-ago first kiss had felt and she wanted to experience it again.
For a moment, the air between them seemed charged like a power line. Jen leaned a little closer, reached out to touch the front of his T-shirt and tilted her face up. But just then a car pulled up in front of Big Ben’s. Some loud, laughing kids in formalwear, people from school she vaguely knew, piled out of it and headed into the store. The tension of the moment broke. The possibility floating in the air evaporated.
Drake turned away from her and began to walk back the way they’d come. Jen fell into step beside him, a few polite feet separating their bodies. It was for the best, she told herself. Making out with Drake for an evening’s entertainment would only complicate her life.
She looked to the left at the lights shining on the river and wondered if the fish were still leaping. What was the purpose of that? Some mating ritual? A reaction to the lights shining through the water? An attempt to leave their natural home and leap up to the stars? It was crazy behavior. Unreasonable. Pointless.
It didn’t take long to reach the Heritage Glen rental hall. Music and lights still poured from the windows. The prom would be winding down soon, the magic over and couples going to either the official after-prom party or private places.
Or home. Alone.
Jen drew a breath, gearing up for going back inside and gathering her things. Her friends wouldn’t let her escape without telling what had happened but she’d keep it as brief as possible. She’d seen Tom making out with someone else—actually dry-humping against a stall door or maybe even more than that, she wasn’t sure. She was upset and wanted to go home and, no thanks, she didn’t need anyone to be with her.
Except she still needed a ride. She’d call a taxi or, better yet, take the limo they’d arrived in and leave Tom stranded. He hadn’t even seen her when she’d walked into the restroom. He wouldn’t know what had happened to her. She’d just be gone.
Jen watched a couple come out of the building smiling and talking. Happy couple having the time of their lives. Disappointment rushed through her. A fantasy destroyed, an illusion evaporated. It was for the best. She’d rather face the truth about Tom Bradford sooner than later, but oh, it was bitter.
“You okay?” Drake asked.
“All right then. Bye.” He started to walk away but she grabbed his arm to stop him.
“I mean it. Thanks for hanging out with me this evening. It helped. A lot.”
“Sure. No problem.”
“And, uh, you probably want your shirt back.” She slipped her arms out of the too-long sleeves which she’d rolled up and handed it to him. “You’re not the hard-ass you want people to think you are. You’re actually pretty nice.”
“Gee thanks,” he mocked, jamming his arms into the sleeves. He rolled down the sleeves that ended halfway up his forearms and nodded toward the building. “Better get back to your prom.”
Jen didn’t want the evening to end like this, with him pissed off about whatever it was he was mad about. A surge of pure adrenaline rushed through her and she didn’t stop to think about consequences. She stepped close to Drake, slid her hands around the back of his neck and pulled his face down to hers. She planted a kiss on his lips—no hesitation, no tentativeness, just a solid, uncompromising kiss.
His lips were soft. His arms wound around her, holding her. He drew away and sucked in a quick breath before molding his mouth to hers once more.
Jen had meant to stop at one kiss but she lingered. Drake knew how to kiss. There was a lot more finesse in his technique than in Tom’s. She couldn’t have described what the difference was but she sure felt it. His lips plucked softly at hers before he slipped his tongue lightly between them. He seemed to know instinctively what she wanted, coaxing her response with gentle pressure, igniting the fuse of her desire with sweet licks, making her want another kiss…and then another…and then much more than kissing. She wanted his hands all over her, not just on her back where they rested, but all the places she’d kept mostly private up to now. The wildfire of need blazing through her took her aback. She clung to him, scorched.
But once more they were interrupted by the closing of a door and excited voices.
Someone else was coming out of the building. Jen opened her eyes and saw Drake’s face close up. She pulled away and their mouths parted.
For a moment more they held onto each other, breathing a little hard. Jen’s pulse was racing. She couldn’t think why they’d stopped that wonderful kissing, but then reality set in and dragged her back down to earth. She let go of Drake and stepped back.
He cocked his head and studied her with a slight curve of his lips—almost but not quite a smile. Then he nodded. “Okay.”
“Goodnight.” This time Jen turned away, surprised at how hard it was to do.
She’d almost reached the door when Drake called, “Hey, Adams. You look good in that dress.”
Jen looked down at her pink dress, smoothing her hands over the cool, silky material, and Drake’s compliment shone like light in the dark. Maybe prom night hadn’t been completely horrible after all.
She turned toward him, but he’d already disappeared into the shadows like some creature of the night. Gone. And though they might see each other at school next week, she knew they wouldn’t speak again.
Jen felt the shadow of the courthouse envelop her as she neared the building—not a physical shadow, for the December day was bright and clear, but a kind of negative pall that crept as insidiously as fog into her spirit. A courthouse wasn’t a happy place.
Contented, well-adjusted people usually didn’t wind up here—and that included those who worked in the criminal justice system.
She wondered, not for the first time, if she’d made a faulty detour on her career path. Maybe she shouldn’t be working as a public defender. Maybe something clean and clinical like tax law would have suited her better than the endless parade of human misery she’d encountered since she started her new job. Or perhaps she should’ve steered clear of law entirely. She could’ve been a pre-school teacher working with cute little kids every day. But she was here now and there was no escaping the full docket of cases confronting her.
She entered the building, passed through security then made her way to the office to pick up her new cases. As she headed toward the holding cells where her first client waited, she studied his file. The guy was arraigned on drug charges—possession with intent to distribute. Why did she always get the drug dealers? It wasn’t until after she’d skimmed the details of the case that she glanced at the name on the file. Malinson, Drake Allen.
The acid from her morning coffee churned in her stomach as she read the name and long buried memories fluttered through her mind like confetti. She recalled the humid heat of a summer’s day with such vivid intensity her body prickled with sweat.
The smell of the marsh, the gleam of white feathers and the light pressure of a boy’s lips quickly blew away to be replaced by other memories of a chilly night and lights shining across river water. Hazy bits about high heels rubbing her feet raw, a long dress swirling around her legs, the sharp burn of smoke in her throat tumbled by. She swore she could even remember the timbre of Drake’s voice that night as they’d talked about everything and nothing. And the end of the night kiss? Well, that was etched in her memory too.
How many times had she almost approached him after that night but backed down? She’d seen him many times at school or around town but she was always with one of her friends or he was with his crowd. She didn’t have his cell phone number although she probably could’ve gotten that or his email or simply stuck a note in his locker. But he hadn’t given her any impression he wanted to talk about what had happened that night.
Tim had passed and not another word had ever passed between them. Then she graduated, went to college and put her childhood behind.
“Something wrong?” Karyn’s voice brought Jen out of her swarm of memories.
Her co-worker had joined her in the hallway. “You look upset.” She quickly shut the folder as if caught looking at a skin magazine. “No. It’s just a blast from my past. Old high school friend. Took me by surprise is all.”
“Somebody you know. That could be conflict of interest, not to mention awkward. You want to trade cases?”
Jen hesitated only a second. “No. It’s not a big deal. Not even a friend really.