Authors: Bijou Hunter
My Favorite Mistake
The hotel room is too quiet. Pacing around, I try to watch TV. When nothing settles my nerves, I take a walk in the hundred-degree heat. A block from the hotel rests the heart of Last Dollar. Main Street is lined with tiny restaurants of every variety.
Who'd have thought I could find Thai food in such a tiny town?
I walk down the street, wiping sweat with the back of my hand until I'm soaked.
"Come and sit," an elderly woman says, patting a bench in front of a deli.
After I join her, she shows me no more interest. Her little wrinkled fingers type furiously at her phone before she suddenly stands and wanders off.
Left alone, I pull out my phone and dial. My older sister Harlow lives in Houston, and I decide I should talk to her about my Sawyer issues. The phone nearly slides out of my sweaty hands as I hear her answer.
"How's Last Dollar?" she asks.
"How did you know?"
"Please," she says, and I can nearly see her smiling. "We have an Ellsberg phone tree going. The minute Sawyer was out of town, Farah told everyone, and Winnie told me. Bailey was the one who called to say Cooper sent you to bring Sawyer home. How's that going, by the way?"
"She hates me."
"I thought she'd be over that by now."
"I did too, but it's like no time has passed. She's as mad now as she was the day I ended things."
"She is Sawyer, so it's not like you didn't know what you were getting into."
Nodding, I glance at the passing cars. "She claims she wants to stay here."
"She's grieving. I'm sure she's saying a lot of things."
"I don't know how to convince her to return to Ellsberg when I can't convince her not to hate me."
sighs. "Jodi once said her kids were so stubborn that the only way she could convince them of anything was to stop trying and let them convince her. Maybe what you need to do is stop doing anything. Just relax and pretend you're on vacation too. Give her nothing to fight against. A relaxed Sawyer is a smart Sawyer. Let her figure out where her home really is."
"That's a good idea."
"I've been waiting to tell you my idea since I heard you were coming to Texas. I've had time to go over my advice with Rafael, so you're hearing the edited version."
"Glad I didn't call right away then."
"How are you handling spending time around Sawyer again?"
"I wish she didn't hate me," I say like a dumb kid.
"You hurt her. Sawyer spent her whole life protected from the ugliness in life. Do you remember that asshole who roughed you up during the paintball matches?"
"Her immediate reaction was to make the problem go away. When she didn't like school, her family kept her home. When she wanted something, she got it. Sawyer is tough in many ways, but she's never had to survive. You ending things was the first time life didn't bend to her will. She never really coped with that because she didn't need to. She wallowed in her anger. Now, she's lost her dad, and the pain might eat her up. Unless she learns life won't bend to her will like people do. Once she learns to accept things, she'll get over her anger at you."
"She's not wrong to be angry at me though. I never warned her I wanted out."
"I'm not going to explain why that is."
"What does that mean?"
"You always want to belong. I'm curious how you'll handle being in a place where you don't."
"I liked it better when you were analyzing Sawyer."
"Of course you did, little man."
I laugh since a decade has passed since I got tall enough to stand over Harlow. Hearing voices in the background of the phone, I realize my nieces and nephew are home from school. I love imagining my sister happy in her suburban McMansion. Harlow found the right man and tossed aside the pain of her past. I figured I'd do the same eventually. Except the only woman I ever wanted was Sawyer, and I'd let her go.
One More Last Chance
is a bowling alley and ice skating rink. The siblings ignore the former, making a beeline for the pizza restaurant near the latter. I follow behind them silently. They're not speaking, but no doubt sharing silent insults. Colbie shoves Bodie at one point while Zane ducks out of their way.
My mind on Jace, I keep checking the side door for his arrival. An elderly couple enters and a man with his teenagers. No Jace though.
"Pizza toppings," Colbie says suddenly next to me.
"I don't care."
"I wonder what color shirt he'll wear," she says and sighs. "I hope it's tight." When I glare at her, Colbie smiles back at me. "Can you blame me for wanting pretty things to look at?"
"Friends don't ogle friend's ex-boyfriends."
"That doesn't sound like a real rule. So what kind of toppings do you want?"
"Was that really so hard?" she asks, nudging me playfully. "Wouldn't it have been easier to just pick the topping without me making you jealous first?"
"I'm not jealous."
"Sure, kitten," Colbie says, winking before returning to the pizza counter.
I'm so busy glaring at the back of Colbie's head that I miss Jace entering the building. My first thought when catching sight of him is that his tee is gray. My second thought is he purposely picked a tight shirt to make me miss him.
"Sawyer," he says, nodding at me before focusing his gaze on the siblings. "Are we bowling?"
"You're no better at it than me," he murmurs, smiling easily. "I'm guessing the twins are great bowlers."
Colbie smiles from a nearby table where she sets down her drink and one for me. "Of course. We won the league championship two years in a row."
"Our team name was Unicorn Rainbow Tears," Bodie says without a hint of humor. "We crushed everyone in our paths."
"We decided to quit," Colbie whispers as if sharing a secret.
"Why?" Jace asks.
"Dad pointed out how the people on the other teams were losers, so winning the league championship might be the best moments of their lives. We have so much and really shouldn't steal away their chances to shine."
"We retired for the betterment of mankind," Bodie adds.
"Did mankind appreciate your efforts?" Jace asks.
Colbie stares at him with her pretty eyes, and I want to punch her.
"No, it really didn't. Of course, mankind is notoriously bitchy."
Jace shares her smile, and my hand forms a fist. Even unsure who to punch, I can already feel the sweet pain of my knuckles meeting one of their faces.
"What kind of toppings do you want on your greasy pizza?" Colbie asks Jace.
They walk to the counter together, leaving me with no one to punch. I glance around and find Bodie grinning at me.
"If you were smart," Bodie says, "you'd punch him. Jace won't fight back while Colbie always goes for the eyes."
"I'll remember that."
We sit at three small tables. Jace joins Colbie. I'm with Zane who ignores me. Bodie sits with her Doberman. When I ask how she can bring Lynyrd into the skating rink, she informs me she's visually impaired and dares me to prove otherwise.
For the next ten minutes, I hate them all.
Okay, maybe not the dog.
Despite my bad mood, I love roller-skating. I grew up watching family friends Raven and Lark's roller derby team. They were so badass, and I planned to be just like them. Turned out, roller derby involves more than skating. There are rules, and I failed at controlling my temper. I was on the team for a single game before getting the boot.
I still love skating, so I focus on the rink rather than Jace. As soon as I swallow my slice of pizza, I hurry to the counter to rent skates.
Tying my laces, I hear Colbie explain to Jace how the siblings rent skates just like average Joes. Keeps them humble, she says. I roll my eyes and leave them to finish eating.
After a few times around the rink, I relax in my childhood memories. Pop couldn't skate, and he never wanted to learn. He always stood just outside the rink and watched me. Every time I passed him, he'd smile. I could pass him a million times, and he never failed to act like seeing me was a big deal.
I ignore Bodie and Zane when they pass me. They're babbling about vaginas, so I'm happy when they ignore me too. Out of nowhere, Colbie decides we're besties. She brings Jace along for the fun.
"Jace is very tall," she says.
"So?" I growl at her.
Man, my growl normally puts an asshole in their place.
Not with Colbie though. She reaches over and caresses Jace's face.
"I like stubble on a man."
"Are you drunk?" I ask.
"I wish. Can you imagine how fun skating would be if I was wasted?"
Jace smiles at her, but he also smiles at me. He'll probably smile at just about anyone. He's so fake when out of his element. As a kid, he hid in his head when nervous. Now, he imitates everyone around him.
"I'm surprised you want my sloppy seconds, Colbie."
Jace's smile fades. While he hides his irritation, I see the anger in his hazel eyes. Even after all these months apart, I catch his signals.
"Everyone is someone's sloppy seconds, now aren't they?" Colbie says. "I mean, I'm not since my flower hasn't been sullied yet. One day, I'll be used like you. When that happens, and I end up with a second guy, I'll be sloppy seconds. Who cares? We all end up the same eventually."
"Same or not, I'll always have better hair," I mutter.
"I do bow to your poodle hair."
"Anal bleach," she says, batting her eyes at me before skating away.
"She really likes anal insults," Jace tells me. "I heard her call Zane an anal plug. She also referred to her pizza toppings as an anal emergency. I don't even know what the hell that one means."
"Don't talk to me."
I skate faster, but Jace easily keeps pace. "I see why you like it here. The town has a quirky vibe."
"Eat shit and die horribly," I growl at him.
Jace sighs. "Really? We've known each other for most of our lives, but you really want me to eat shit and die horribly?"
Rolling my eyes, I skate backwards so I can glare at him. "Fine. Eat shit and die quietly in your sleep."
Jace smiles in the great way that breaks my heart. "Was that really so hard?"
Spinning around, I skate faster even knowing he'll keep pace.
"We were skating the first time I ever held your hand," he says.
"I don't give a shit about the past."
"I wasn't talking for your benefit. You know, Sawyer, just because you think or feel something doesn't mean the world gives a shit."
"I know, but I like remembering about when life was simpler."
I pretend to ignore him, so he keeps talking.
"Cooper was already a man when you were born, so you'll always be a little girl in his mind. That's why he'll never see you as his equal. The problem isn't you. It's him."
"Well, I know too. Again, not everything is about you."
Jace smirks. "If you plan to keep mooching off the McLaughlins, you might want to be nicer to them."
"They don't appreciate lies. It's why they're so rude."
Jace glances around the rink, focusing on the twins skating in sync. "Do you really think they talk in their heads?"
"I do. That's why I asked."
"Why ask me?"
Jace shrugs. "I could ask those teenagers over there or their bored dad or the lady behind the counter, but I figured it be easier asking you."
"Leave me alone."
Jace gets the devious expression of a kid wanting to start shit. I know that look well. He didn't get it a lot, but when he did, I knew to watch my back.
"Want to hold hands?" When I glare at him, Jace's smile widens. "No? Well, do you wanna race?"
Tightening my lips, I struggle not to smile.
Fucking Jace and his tricks.
He knows I love racing. Skating, driving, running, brisk walking, I don't care what the method. I just want to win.
Finally giving in, I smile. "Don't be a sore loser."
"Not going to be a problem," he says and speeds up. "Twice around the rink. The finish line is the bench where Zane is sitting."
Saying nothing, I shift my skating into a second gear. Jace doesn't give an inch, also speeding up. I fall behind until he needs to maneuver around the teenagers. His size slows him down, and I take the lead. I'm near the finishing line when Jace passes me and wins.
"Fucker," I growl.
"Don't be a sore loser."
"I hope your balls rot off from untreated gonorrhea."
The teenagers giggle when they pass us, leaving me to glare at their backs.
Jace leans down until our noses are an inch apart. His warm breath smells like pizza. I both want to kiss and hit him.
"Rematch?" he offers.
I smile without thinking. "Hell yeah."
We share a smile, and the race begins. For the next half hour, we challenge each other in different races around the rink. I manage to forget how much I hate him. We're back to the ease of our childhood. Jace is again the damaged boy who lost his family and discovered a new one. Struggling with his grief and fear, the younger Jace wasn't perfect. Yet, he made me unbelievably happy until the day he broke my heart.
I don't know where the siblings are by the time we find ourselves alone in the rink. Jace doesn't speak before wrapping me in his arms and kissing me softly. I hate him for wanting me but not enough to push him away. His lips suck gently at mine. Suddenly, my eyes burn with tears.
Skating away from him, I can't speak. My words won't sound right. Nine months of questions rise up in me, but I refuse to face the answers I assume he'll share with them.
"See you tomorrow," I say, skating out of the rink.
Jace doesn't follow after me. He remains in the rink, skating in a circle. After returning my skates, I find the siblings in the adjoining arcade. My worry is they'll ask questions or tease me about Jace. Instead, they only want to talk about which one of them smells the most like feet.
Before I disappear out of the building, I glance back to find Jace still circling the rink. I can't imagine what he's thinking. Until he kissed me, we felt like the old Sawyer and Jace. Once again, he made me happy. I hope he will again.