Authors: Sabrina Stark
While Chloe watched, I strode toward the back of my car. I popped the trunk and rummaged around until I found the thing I was looking for. I pulled it out, slammed the trunk, and returned to Chloe.
I showed her the tire iron. It was big and heavy, solid metal. I held it out in my open palms. "Here."
She glanced down. "What would I want with that?"
"Take it." I looked into her eyes. "And hit me."
She didn't move. "Oh shut up. I don't want to hit you."
"Alright," I said. "Get someone else. Have
She looked at me like I'd lost my mind. Had I? Probably. But that didn't mean the offer wasn't real.
"Go ahead," I urged, "find someone. I'll wait."
She shook her head. "Oh c'mon, you can't be serious."
She was wrong. I was deadly serious. At the memory of what I'd done to her, I could hardly choke out the words. "Why not? I deserve it. Just like you said."
She was still shaking her head. "You are seriously messed up. You know that, right?"
"Hell yes, I know it! You think I'm liking myself right now? You think I don't
that I deserve an ass-beating? You think I don't
it was me 'suffering,' as you say?"
With a little shiver, she wrapped her arms tight around her torso. For warmth? Or comfort? Either way, it was killing me to not take her in my arms and hold her until she wasn't cold, or upset, or afraid of anything, including me.
But instead, I held my breath and waited, desperate for some sign that it wasn't over, and praying that she'd take me up on my offer – because then, at least, we might have a chance.
As I watched, something in her eyes softened, giving me the barest glimpse of the girl I loved. I felt a shred of hope. Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance after all.
But then her gaze hardened, and she said, "Alright, here's the deal. You–" She pointed to my chest "–need to stay the hell away from me. Stay away from where I work. Stay away from where I'm living. And stay away from anywhere else you think I might be."
Her words, no matter how justified, sliced through me. "Chloe–"
"You already said that."
"Please." I was drowning in despair, and from the look in her eyes, so was she. I hated to see her hurting. I wanted to comfort her. Hell, I wanted to comfort both of us. Slowly, I moved toward her.
Her gaze narrowed. "I mean it."
It took all my control, but I managed to stop. My muscles were tight, and my heart was racing. "Chloe, please. Hit me. Yell at me. Do something." My voice caught. "Anything but this."
She stared at me for a long moment, and just when I thought I'd broken through, she said, "You heard me," and turned away.
I could hardly speak. "Chloe. Wait. Please."
She turned back. "For what?"
"I know what you're thinking."
She crossed her arms. "I seriously doubt that."
"I can see it all over your face." And I could. She didn't believe a word I was saying. She didn't know – she
know – that I'd do anything to win her back, that nothing in my whole world meant anything compared to her. I met her gaze. "You're thinking talk is cheap."
"So you don't want someone to beat my ass? I get that. But you want me to pay, am I right?"
"Believe me, Chloe. I
She looked insulted. "I don't want your money."
"I know." And I did. Chloe didn't need money. She obviously had plenty of her own. What she really needed was to see me pay, to see me lose something that wasn't replaceable. Fortunately, such a thing was here, within arm's reach.
Chloe was shaking her head. "You don't know anything."
But I did know, and I was ready to prove it. "I know you want something else."
"Oh yeah?" she said. "What's that?"
"This." I shifted my grip on the tire iron. I took one long stride toward my car – the one that I'd restored with my own two hands, the one that couldn't be replaced by writing a check, the one that I'd poured so much of myself into, transforming it from a battered heap into a turbo-charged thing of beauty.
And now, I had to destroy it.
I lifted the tire iron and bashed it against the windshield, leaving a huge spider-webbed crack on the formerly smooth glass.
Chloe's voice rang out behind me. "What the hell are you doing?"
I was paying. That's what I was doing. And I wasn't done yet. Not by a longshot. I raised the iron again. This time, I smashed it against the side view mirror. The mirror held, so I hit it again. It hit the pavement and broke on impact.
Chloe grabbed at my elbow. "Don't!"
I turned to face her. "Why?"
"Because it's stupid!" She was trembling now, eyeing the destruction with wide-eyed horror.
Obviously, it was making an impression.
I hated that it was upsetting her, but I had to finish this. She had to know I was paying. She had to know I'd keep paying, that there was nothing that mattered as much as her. Justice, that's what she wanted, right? Well, that made two of us.
I tried to keep my voice level. "Isn't this the kind of justice you wanted? My car trashed? That's what you said, wasn't it?"
"No!" She tightened her grip. "This isn't what I wanted."
Maybe not. But at this point, it was the only thing I could do to prove my point, to make her see that I was deadly serious.
I looked into her eyes and softened my tone. "Well, I do." Gently, I removed her hand from my elbow. "Because, Chloe, let me tell you something. Compared to you, this car means nothing to me."
I turned and strode to the passenger's side. I raised the iron high in my hand. "Compared to you, it means
than nothing." I bashed off the other mirror, and then walked to the front, where I destroyed both headlights, leaving shattered glass on the dark pavement.
She was yelling now. "Stop it!"
No. Not yet.
I raised the iron higher and slammed it down on the hood, leaving a huge dent in the glossy finish. And then, I did it again. And again. I kept at it, watching as the sleek lines were pounded into an ugly, mangled mess.
I didn't stop until the sound of a new voice, this one male, broke my focus. I turned to see Chloe arguing with the same guy who she'd been talking to earlier – the shaggy-haired idiot who'd dropped her on the pavement.
Whatever he was saying, Chloe didn't like it. So neither did I.
I dropped the iron and strode toward them. "You," I said, giving the guy a hard look. "Get away from her. Now."
With a shrug, he stepped away and turned toward my car. "Oh man." He smiled. "That is so messed up." He held out his cell phone, camera style. "Total viral." He stepped closer, zooming in on the hood.
I spared the phone half a glance, recalling what the older guy had told me earlier, about Shaggy's phone getting busted up. The way it looked, he'd found a replacement. Big deal.
He could take all the video he wanted. On my list of problems, this was too low to register. Or at least, that's how I felt until Chloe lunged toward the guy and said, "Stop that!"
He shook his head. "No way."
She turned and gave me a pleading look. "Are you just gonna stand there and let him take video of–" She gave a vague of her hands. "–this?"
The guy spoke up. "It's called freedom of the press, baby."
I felt my fingers flex. Baby?
Shaggy turned to call over his shoulder. "Am I right, or what?"
"Got that right," said a voice in the crowd. Yeah, people were watching. Maybe a dozen or so. Some were taking pictures – or whatever – with their phones. So what? I was long past caring.
But the way it looked, Chloe cared enough for both of us. She looked down and covered her face with both hands. "Oh my God," she groaned, looking way too unsteady for my liking. "This isn't happening."
Instantly, I was at her side. I placed a hand on her elbow. "Chloe? You okay?"
She gave a bark of laughter that kept on going. It grew into a crazed, foreign sound that tore at my heart. She was losing it. This, like everything else, was all my fault.
And then it got worse.
Because she started crying.
Suddenly, I couldn't stop myself. I gathered her in my arms, holding her tight against my chest, shielding her as best I could from everything around us.
I murmured into her hair, "God, this is all my fault. I'm so, so sorry. Baby, c'mon, don't cry."
Nearby, a camera flashed. I looked up and saw Shaggy too damn close for comfort. His phone was aimed straight at Chloe. I wanted to rip it that thing of his hands and shoved it up his ass.
Instead, I gritted my teeth and told him, "You take one more shot of her, and you're gonna be out more than just another phone."
I turned away, holding Chloe tighter and shielding her from the guy's view. But he shifted along with us and zoomed in on Chloe's face, which was still buried against my chest. What the hell? Did the guy have a death wish or something?
I gave him a murderous glare. "Get the fuck away from her!"
The guy shrugged and took a half-step backward. He raised his phone again, looking too stupid to be afraid until a new voice – this one female – rang out across the parking lot. "Chester! You son of a bitch!"
Shaggy whirled toward the sound of her voice. I looked over and spotted a crazy-eyed redhead marching toward us. Her face was flushed, and her hair was wild. She stopped on the opposite side of my car and glared at Shaggy. "I knew it!" she hollered.
Holding Chloe tighter, I looked to see his reaction. His eyes were huge, and his mouth was open. He took a couple of steps backward and glanced around, as if looking for the best escape route.
"You bolt now," the redhead warned, "and you're walking home." Her voice rose. "And when you get there, guess what? You're gonna find the locks changed, because I've just about had it with this crap!"
Shaggy gave her a shaky smile. "Heeeey Jen. So what are you doing out here?"
"Me?" she shrieked. "What am
doing out here? You're kidding, right?"
"Yeah. I mean no," he stammered. "I thought you were gonna wait for me."
"You mean in the fucking restaurant?" she yelled. "Where do you think I've been the last hour?"
"An hour?" Shaggy gave her a nervous look. "Oh c'mon, it hasn't been that long."
She reached into her big red purse and pulled out a foil-wrapped container. "Still want that romantic dinner?"
Shaggy took a step backward. "No, I'm good, but uh, thanks."
Jen laughed. "Oh, you haven't been good for a long time. And you wanna know why? Because of you and your stupid Web site!"
She dug through the foil container. "You know how many times you've left me sitting alone while you chased some stupid story?" Her hand emerged from the container with – what the hell? Was that a jumbo shrimp?
Shaggy was still backing away.
But Jen was moving forward. "And you know how many places?" She raised her arm, and the shrimp went flying.
Shaggy ducked to the side. "Aw c'mon Jen! Not again!"
She reached into the container a second time. "At my sister's wedding!" She hurled another shrimp. It hit Shaggy's chest and bounced to the pavement.
Somewhere nearby, a camera flashed. Shaggy whirled toward it and yelled, "Hey! No pictures! C'mon, dude!"
But the dude – as Shaggy had called him – wasn't backing down. He took a couple more shots and then studied his phone, as if checking to see what he'd captured. Standing next him was a tall woman in a plain black jacket. She had her phone out, too. She aimed it straight at Shaggy, but I saw no flash. Was she taking video? Probably.
Funny, I'd been in Shaggy's shoes more times than I could count. For the past five years, I'd starred in thousands of amateur videos. Some were normal – me getting into my car, me eating dinner at some public place, me walking down the damn street, just trying to grab a sub or whatever.
And then, there were the other shots – me getting a blowjob from some chick in a parking garage, me beating the crap out of two guys who jumped me in some club, me at some urinal, taking a piss, for God's sake. It was the reason that these days, I skipped urinals and went straight for the stalls.
Sometimes, it felt like every private moment was right out there in the public eye. Some guys got off on that stuff. Not me. Not anymore.
The way it looked, Shaggy wasn't liking it any more than I had.
I thought of his phone, aimed at Chloe's face while she cried against me. What kind of assholes does that? Maybe I should make
cry. It wouldn't be hard. One quick punch, and he'd be sobbing on the sidewalk like the pussy he was.
And then, I could take a picture of
– see if
cheered Chloe up.
Probably lucky for him – and who knows, maybe lucky for me – that his girlfriend had come along when she did.
From the other side of my car, she was still screaming at him. "At my class reunion! At my uncle's funeral!" She reached into the shrimp container and pulled out a whole fistful. She flung the mess in Shaggy's direction and cursed like a truck-driver when none hit home.
I glanced around, taking in the crowd. At least they weren't watching Chloe anymore. I looked toward my car, wondering if I could rush Chloe into it and drive off, leaving Shaggy and the redhead to fight it out while the crowd gawked at them instead of us.
No. I couldn’t. Because like a dumb-ass, I'd already destroyed my headlights, along with the windshield and mirrors. I wouldn't be driving Chloe anywhere, at least not safely.
Besides, the argument was winding down. Jen was practically on him now. As I watched with the rest of the crowd, she ripped the phone from Shaggy's hand and hurled it to the pavement. It hit hard and shattered into broken bits.
"My phone!" Shaggy yelled.
Jen gave a bark of laughter. "Your phone?
"Hey, you gave it to me."
"No. I let you use it," she said, "It's
phone! And what did you promise?"
"You promised to leave it home tonight. But
you?" She turned toward the crowd. "Did he?"
A few people shook their heads. Someone near the back was still taking pictures, lighting the scene with random flashes.
Shaggy turned toward the flashing. "Dude, c'mon! Cut that out! Give us some privacy, will ya?"
I heard a laugh. It was Chloe, laughing against my chest. And just like before, the laughter sounded wrong – sharp and half-crazed. She pulled herself away and stumbled toward the shattered phone, lying a few feet away. She looked down at the thing and choked, out, "It doesn't look okay anymore."
Shaggy gave her an annoyed look. "What's so damn funny?"
Chloe was still laughing. "Do you really have to ask?" She turned to the redhead. "Sorry, I know it's not funny. I just–" She looked to the phone. "Oh my God. I
wanted to do that."
The redhead gave Chloe an odd look. "Weren't you our waitress?"
A new male voice rang out somewhere behind us. "She's not gonna be anyone's waitress if she doesn't get her butt back to work, pronto."