When I pulled into the mall parking lot a dozen girls, ranging in age from thirteen-year-old classmates of Zoe to eighteen-year-old seniors, rushed up and broke over my car like a wave. All of them talking at once. Queen Zoe, benevolent monarch of the masses has arrived. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head, as I watched Zoe lead her entourage through the big glass doors into the mall. Once I was sure she had made it safely inside, I walked across the parking lot to the Bag N’Burger. I had a sudden, overwhelming, craving for a milkshake.
Inside, I was relieved to see that it was still early enough that the place was nearly empty-no lines and no screaming kids. Things were looking up. I vaguely recognized the guy manning the counter with his greasy black hair and pimple ravaged face, I probably had a class with him or something.
“Welcome to Bag N’Burger. What kin’ I do ya fer?” the kid recited shame faced. I treid to rein in my laugh, but couldn’t. One of the many reasons I loved the Bag N’Burger, and the main reason I never used the drive thru, as that every day the owner came up with a new slogan, and over time they had gotten more and more ridiculous. I almost felt bad for the kids working there, almost.
“Just a strawberry shake, extra thick, with a mighty straw.” The mighty straw was as wide as three normal straws and, aside from being the only possible way to drink an extra thick shake, was another of the reasons I love the Bag N’Burger.
“would you like diced fruit with that?” And that right there-the main reason I loved the Bag N’Burger and always got my shakes there. Any fruit you could imagine diced into delectable cubes so diminutive they melted on your toungue.
“Yeah,” I thought it over. “How about pear.”
As he rang up my order I couldn’t ignore the look of recognition washing over his face, like he was trying to remember who I was.
Here is comes, I thought and began the mental countdown at five.
“Hey, “ he said finally, waggling a finger at me. “Aren’t you Zoe Case’s brother? “
Damn. I had only gotten to two.
At the sound of Zoe’s name, multiple heads in hair nets and paper caps popped up from behind grills and around doors, all of them desperately scanning the area for my little sister.
“Yeah.” I answered, wondering where my milkshake was.
“Is she with you? “ He started looking around the practically vacant restaurant.
“um, no.” I was finding it especially hard not to ridicule this guy.
“Tell her I said hi, would you? “ he asked, passing my my milkshake at long last.
“No problem.” I grabbed the cup and bolted before the rest of the grease brigade could begin giving their messages.
“Tell her Kenny…” He yelled to my back as I passed through the exit.
I was already well on my way to forgetting all about Commander Zits by the time I got back to my car.
I swung the driver’s door open and sat with my feet on the asphalt to reduce the risk of spilling anything in my car. One day I was going to meet the founder of the Bag N’Burger and shake his hand. I noticed a few people gawking at me as they walked by. They must be wondering if I’m Zoe Cases’ brother, I thought with a smirk. It was more likely they were staring at my car-and really, who could blame them?
My father had earned my eternal gratitude when he unveiled the car on the morning of my sixteenth birthday. He told me he had gotten it cheap, but never said how cheap. I wondered how much money he made being a meteorologist. He wasn’t even the guy who reported the weather on the local news. Now that I thought about it, I had no idea what it was exactly my father did for a living. What does a meteorologist, who doesn’t report the weather do? I shrugged, figuring it probably wasn’t important, just one of the many things my parents never discussed. I had long since learned that asking my parents personal questions was a quick way to end up doing chores-their preferred method of changing the subject. Maybe they were fugitives. I shook my head and laughed aloud at the idea of my parents as dangerous criminals.
By the time I had wrung all of the entertainment value from my parents-on-the-lamb speculation I had also finished my milkshake. I threw the empty wax paper cup towards a bright orange metal drum siting a few feet away.
“And….he scores,” I punctuated triumphantly as the cup landed inside the drum with a satisfying clunk. I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes, ad allowed my mind to wander. Maybe, if I could find a way to dampen her enthusiasm, it wouldn’t be so bad letting Zoe set me up with one of her friends, I mused…then stopped in horror. What was wrong with me? Maybe that milkshake had gone bad. Zoe meddled in my life more than I could stand already and she did it without even trying, if idea of actually giving her permission…..terrifying. I shuddered at the sudden mental image of me as one of Zoe’s happy little drones. I guess I can wait until College to date, I thought morosely, after all, there had to be someplace left on planet Earth where they had not yet heard of…..
MY thoughts were interrupted by a shadow that fell across me, blocking the sun. I felt the corners of my mouth turn down in irritation as I wondered which love sick moron had decided it was a good idea to ask the big brother if Zoe had a date for the dance yet-or whatever social function I was oblivious to was coming soon to a nightmare near me. I didn’t even bother opening my eyes because there was no other reason that anyone would approach me. I figured if I ignored him he would go away, eventually, which is why I was completely surprised to hear a familiar, and distinctly feminine voice.
I started, nearly falling out of the open car door, and turning to stare up into the clear light green eyes that had haunted my dreams almost every night. My parents had taken Zoe and me to Florida last summer and the gulf waters had been that exact shade of green. Erin Madrugada was, quite literally, the girl of my dreams. Or, at least, the eyes of my dreams. She was standing with one long smooth leg slightly bent behind the other, slowly digging the toe of her white sneaker into the blacktop. Her hands were folded at her waist, and she was biting her full bottom lip. A small part of my brain wondered why she looks so nervous, but the rest was too busy drinking in the sight of her to pay much attention. Her straight hair reached to just below her shoulders and was such a dark brown that it sometimes looked black. Her oval face, balanced right on the precipice between girl-next-door cute and Hollywood starlet beautiful, never failed to yank my breath away. My pulse picked up a notch as I noticed how her lightly caramel skin contrasted with her bright yellow mini shirt and v-neck t-shirt.
“um, thanks,” I responded a full second too late. I felt like I should be apologizing for staring, unfortunately I didn’t know how to do that without making a bigger idiot out of myself. Maybe she wouldn’t notice.
“I’m Erin.” She extended her hand towards me with a shy smile. Not only did she not know who I was, she didn’t even know I knew who she was.
I took her hand absently. I couldn’t fathom why she was speaking to me. We had been in science class together for two years running, and in that time, had never once said a word to each other. I realized I had started staring again and forced myself to stop.
“Ichabod.” I flushed a little at my stupid name. “So what kind of car is this?” she asked, leaning forward a little to look inside.
I barely heard her over the pounding of my heart. She smelled amazing-like butterscotch and vanilla. I think she might have said something more, but I couldn’t be sure, it was impossible to focus with her standing so close. I found myself ogling the thin slice of her flat belly that I could see beneath her shirt’s hem. I pulled my eyes back up to her face. It didn’t help. I was getting a little dizzy,
Everything started to look really far away. Then, just when I started to feel like my brain was about to shut off, it all suddenly made sense. Zoe.
The blood flowed back into my head with a flush of anger, allowing me to think a little more clearly. A very little. The twerp had set this up.
“Look Erin, “ I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “you don’t have to do this. I know Zoe put you up to it.” A look of profound relief streamed over her face and crashed among the jagged rocks of my broken heart. I had to admit, to myself at least, that look hurt-which of course only made me more angry.
“oh, thank God.” She laughed as she straightened and smoothed her shirt. “the look on your face…I thought you were going to bite my head off.”
I had looked angry? Well that’s probably because I was angry. Zoe wa going to pay for this. The back yard was plenty big enough and I was positive my father had a shovel somewhere around the house. I had Zoe buried up to her neck before I realized that Erin as still standing there. I glanced up to find her biting her lower lip again and scrutinizing me.
“Are you…” she stopped, going rigid as a resonant growl rolled menacingly from somewhere behind her. Oh so slowly, she turned and put her back against the car.
Standing there, with its head lowered and its teeth bared, was a smallish yellow dog. The kind of dog you normally was happily wagging its tail while a toddler yanks on its ears. This dog’s tail was not wagging. It interrupted its growling long enough to bark and hop forward, causing Erin to cringe. I scrambled out of the car, clumsily banging my knew on the open door. Time seemed to slow. I watched each muscle bunch as the dog rocked back onto its hind legs and then release as it launched itself forward. Between one heartbeat and the next panic turned to anger, and anger turned to action. Some sense within me I had never before been aware of stretched taut. My fist smashed against the side of the dog’s jaw, sending it sailing away to crash into a heap on the ground. I stood between it and Erin, wondering how I had gotten there. I watched the dog pick itself up on shaky legs. I clenched my fist anticipating another attack. It whined once and looked at me, with what I would have sworn was betrayal, as it limped away. “what the hell was that? “I asked no one in particular. It had all happened so fast that, except for the adrenaline flooding through my, it might have all happened in my head. Man, that was all I needed on top of everything-to be hallucinating too. “Are you okay?” Erin asked, erminding me she was there.
“Yeah.” I rasped. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, Thank you. Dogs have never liked me, but I’ve never had one try to attack me before.”
“My mother has that same problem.” Why would I mention my mother at a time like this? I felt myself blush and climbed back into the car to hide my face.
“Are you sure that you’re alright?”
I had the strongest urge to tell her the truth. To tell her no. To spill my guts about my frustration with Zoe and my fear about the unpredictable fits of rage. Maybe not the glowing eyes thing, but everything else. That milkshake rally must have gone bad. “Yeah,” I lied instead. “I’m okay. You don’t have to hang out. Zoe will understand, she knows what a jerk I am.”
She hesitated for a moment, flushing pink, before she whirled around and walked off in the opposite direction of the dog, towards the all with her hands folded behind her back to keep her skirt from bouncing up.
Why had she looked embarrassed? Must have been my imagination. The better question was, how had Zoe known about Erin Madrugada? It couldn’t be coincidence. Zoe was friends with every girl in town, what were the odds she had just randomly picked Erin?
Maybe if I beg and get a job to pay half of the tuition, I thought dejectedly. After all, how bad could military school actually be? I bet I could even find one where no one had ever heard of Zoe Case.
I could feel my anger building, despite my attempts to calm down and with it came the familiar urge to lash out violently. I gripped the steering wheel and concentrated on my breathing. My ears rang with the echo of blood charging through me. Sharp pains lanced through my temples. My muscles jumped, twitched, war danced. It took me a long time to regain control of myself. What if the next time it happened I couldn’t fight it down? What if that next time had happened moments before, with Erin standing there? The question rose unbidden in my mind and I shied away from even considering what the answer might be. I had turned the key in the ignition and roared out of the parking lot before I fully realized what I was doing. I was making a run for it. How do you run from yourself? I was sick of asking questions I didn’t have answers to, so I slipped a cd into the stereo and cranked the volume all way up in an attempt to drown the noise in my head. The sounds of the 80’s speed metal band Tread Marks blasted through the speakers as the car blasted through the tranquility of the highway. I didn’t bother to glance at the speedometer or to notice where I was going. What did it matter? Did anything really matter?
Sadly, the answer was yes. There were things that did matter. Things that mattered more than my anger or confusion-things that mattered more than me.
I sighed and let off the gas. Zoe needed a ride home, and besides, totaling my car wouldn’t solve any of my problems. Knowing my luck, I’d probably survive the wreck. Then I would still have to deal with all the same crap….without my car.
I pulled back into the mall parking lot filled with a hopeless desperation, my world was drowning in it. I couldn’t explain the sensation and didn’t try in any case. Life sucks, every body knows it, you just have to deal with it. So, I’d deal with it. Somehow. I felt drained, exhausted, so I leaned back and closed my eyes. I tried to clear my mind, concentrate on my breathing, I wanted nothing so much as I have all feeling erode away into the ocean of blackness behind my closed eyes……
I was pretty sure I was dreaming, either that or I had completely lost my mind. I was standing in a desolate wasteland that stretched out in all directions. Unrolled into forever. The sky above me was pitch, with only the occasional flash of lightning to illuminate the roiling mass of storm clouds that swirled there. The entire landscape glowed with a soft gray light I could feel on my skin; it felt slick, like oil, and cold. Something about this place made me feel angry and powerful. Like a vengeful God.
I took a step forward expecting to hear the crunch of dirt beneath my boot. But there was no sound-no crunch of dirt, no whoosh of wind, and no crack of thunder. I knew all of these things were present, I could feel them, but their voices were absent. Mine was not. I inhaled deeply, the sulphurous air burning my lungs, and screamed-a primal roar containing all of my fears, longings, and frustrations. Not all of my anger though, there seemed too much of it to ever give away, to ever spend itself out. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh.
In the distance I could see someone striding towards me. Even from so far away I could tell their steps were filled with confidence and purpose. A growl like the sundering of continents rolled out from my chest and I charged towards the figure, the energy, just as it began to charge towards me. I ran with the relentless determination of time, each stride propelling me forward over ground as lifeless as I felt inside. There was something familiar about my energy, something about his balled fists, his frenzied charge, the flashing light in his eyes. Too late I recognized the figure, too late I recognized myself.
Too late to stop.
I crashed into my enemy, into myself, with an impact that caused the world around us to shudder. An impact shattering us both like glass…….
I awoke with a gasp, covered in sweat, and heart pounding out a Tread Marks drum solo. The nightmare hadn’t just been weird and terrifying-it had also been incredibly vivid.
It was about an hour later when Queen Zoe led her court, now numbering closer to two dozen, out of the mall. I was still so disturbed by my nightmare it took me a minute to remember that I was supposed to be mad at her, Zoe’s friends split off from her, waving good bye, before she got to the car. An early separation could only mean one thing-they knew I was angry. Great. If military school was too expensive Maybe I could convince my parents to let me just join the military. I could lie about my age and, you never know, maybe I would get lucky ad somebody would shoot me. Hopefully I could find a way to pull of this off before the entire town found out abut my little sister forcing Erin to talk to me. Knowing Zoe and her friends, it was probably already too late.
When Zoe opened the door and slid into the passenger seat her look of doe-eyed innocence was so adorably comical I started laughing and gave up trying to reignite my anger at her. Amazing, I marveled, even though I know better, the brat still manages to work her magic on even me sometimes.
“What?” She asked.
“You’re a very cute little brat.”
Since I had decided to forgive her, I figured it was best if I didn’t bring up the Erin incident, it would only make her angry again, so I drove in silence while Zoe played with the radio tuner. When she finally settled on a station she turned the volume almost all of the way down.
“Spit it out, Zee”, I prompted when she seemed to hesitate.
“Are mom and dad coming home tonight?”
That had not been what I was expecting at all, and it caught me off guard. “Uh, no. Tomorrow night.” How could she not know that?
“Oh.” She seemed to withdraw into herself, deep in thought, lightly tapping her chin with a finger. “Where did they go again?”
“Some bed and breakfast upstate, I forget where.” I answered, starting to get suspicious. Zoe always knew more about our parents’ travel plans that I did. She was obviously up to something. My tone must have tipped her off to the direction of my thoughts because she immediately resumed her her innocent face. “Forget it, twerp.” I said with mild irritation. “You already got one freebie today, so whatever it is you’re up to – just forget it.”
“Up to?” She asked in mock astonishment, raising one tiny hand to rest lightly on the hollow of her neck. “I’m not up to anyth-“ She cut off, reaching for the radio and turning up the volume with one hand while using the other to wave me to silence – as if I had been the one talking.
“…incation goes out to Ichabod from Erin. She wants to thank you for saving her and she hopes you’re feeling better.” The DJ’s voice blared out of the speakers over top of the introduction of some bubbly pop song I would never listen to, but which was probably a play list favorite among Zoe and her friends. This week, anyway.
“Zoe…” I groaned, reaching over and switching off the radio. “Leave Erin alone.”
“I had nothing to do with this.” She insisted angrily. For a brief moment I almost believed her. Thin I remembered who it was I was dealing with.
“Oh, I see.” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “You just happened to know that Erin would dedicate a song to me. On this station. At this exact time. Makes sense.”
“Well, of course she told me what she was going to do.” Zoe rolled her eyes was she explained. “Otherwise, how could she be sure you would hear it?” She smiled, obviously pleased with her logic. Clever little twerp. I had to give her credit, though. She had apparently covered all of her bases. Of course, it didn’t matter what story she came up with, I could see her fingerprints all over this.
“I’m not stupid, Zoe. Erin and I have never spoken one word to each other before today, the same day you suddenly decide I need a girlfriend.” There, let’s see her wiggle her way out of that one.
“You really hurt her feelings today.” I felt my heart wrench as a riptide of guilt pulled me under. Good wiggling.
“What are you talking about?” My voice sounded wrong, slightly horse for some reason.
“She was flirting with you and you shot her down.” She answered, seeming oblivious to my reaction.
“Because you told her to flirt with me!” I tried sounding angry, but only succeeded in sounding miserable.
“No, I didn’t.” She responded too quickly. Then she smiled and asked, “So you think Erin’s pretty then?”
She had asked the question innocently, as if I wouldn’t know it was a loaded gun aimed straight at every one of my vital organs. “That’s not my point, Zee.”
“Is that a yes?”
She waited patiently, keeping her smile locked on me, until I finally just gave up and admitted the truth. “Yes. Okay? Erin’s pretty, she’s beautiful, that’s not the point. I don’t want pretty girls flirting with me because you told them to.”
“So what you’re saying is that if I hadn’t said anything about fixing you up this morning then you would have asked Erin out?”
“Yes.” I answered after a moment’s consideration.
“Liar. You’ve been in her class for two years and never even introduced yourself.”
“Okay, fine. Maybe I wouldn’t have, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m never going to be ale to show my face in school again.”
“Don’t be melodramatic.” She chided. “How do you know that Erin didn’t already like you and just needed some prompting? You’re not exactly the easiest person in the world to approach.” That was probably as close to an admission of guilt as I was likely to get. I could feel the incredulity on my face. Was this really the angle she was going to play? Did she really think I was dumb enough to believe that Erin Stevens had been harboring a secret crush on me? I concentrated on my driving, trying very hard not to lose my temper. Thankfully, Zoe seemed to sense this and let me be, for once.
After we got home I sat along in the car for a long time, debating on whether or not to just drive off into the sunset; just me and my car. I was more rational than I had been earlier, when I’d had similar thoughts, so I couldn’t ignore the fact that I didn’t have much money and probably wouldn’t make it very far. Why did there always have to be another sunrise?
Zoe was waiting for me, hands on hips, when I walked through the front door.
“Just leave me alone, Zee.” I complained without much hope she would actually listen to me.
Her eyes squinted and her mouth pressed down into a tight line. That was the only warning I got before my entire body itched. I felt like I was wearing a wool straight jacket. “You ARE going to listen to me.” She enunciated each word slowly. “Sitting in your room by yourself all of the time isn’t healthy. I can’t even imagine how lonely it must be, constantly living in a bubble – yet you choose to. You refuse to make friends, you refuse to go to parties, and now you’re refusing ERIN?” She was practically screaming at me by the end and took a deep breath, then started again more calmly. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand your anger, and I don’t understand your depression. I’m trying to help you. You’re my big brother and I love you, Itch.”
I had no idea how to respond to any of that, and for once I was glad for the excuse of being too busy scratching to for a coherent answer. My throughs must have been clear on my face because Zoe relaxed her stance slightly and loosened her drawn face, the itching vanish instantly. Along with my excuse. I really had to figure out how she did that.
“I’m not lonely or depressed.” My voice sounded defensive, though I hadn’t meant it to. I really wasn’t lonely or depressed. Definitely not. I was sure of it.
She continued to glare and I braced myself for another wave of itching, but she merely threw up her hands and stalked away, muttering something about me being difficult.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about her little speech. Angry? Of course I was angry, she was meddling in my life; but I didn’t think I was depressed. Who wanted to go to parties where you didn’t know anybody? Who wanted friends that would spend all of their time ogling your little sister? And did she really think that I would believe her story about Erin Madrugada, she could have any guy she wanted. Well, she could if Zoe lived in another county – but still, it wasn’t like Zoe could date every guy in town. Not all at once, anyway. I knew that none of my mental protestations mattered. Zoe was tenacious: once she got an idea stuck in her head she never gave up on it. Erin and I were doomed to suffer through a lot more awkward moments. I wondered if it was sick that a small part of me looked forward to the next one.
I needed a distraction – fast. Well, I thought glumly, I could always clean my room. It wsn’t my greatest or most thrilling idea ever, but it was slightly less miserable than standing there brooding, and so was an improvement of my circumstances. Hurrying upstairs, I kicked enough of the mess out of the way to allow to close the door, then carefully made my way to the pile of clothes which I was reasonably sure covered my stereo. After some digging, I was rewarded for my keen memory with not only my stereo, but also a shoe box of CDs. I put on my favorite Neon Black album and stood in the middle of the room, taking that moment to simply soak in the music. The sounds of a feminine voice weaving beautifully ribbons around raging guitar riffs filled the small space.
It was an incredibly mind-numbing chore, separating the clothing into piles – clean and dirty – and I quickly left my anger and embarrassment behind. I was amazed at how fast I had gotten all of the rumpled clothing packed up, revealing tiny islands of green carpet and stacks of discarded CDs. I stuffed the clean pile into my trunk and grabbed the much larger pile of dirty clothes for transfer to the laundry room.
On my way through the kitchen I passed Zoe, who had reconnected with the phone and was whispering furiously with one hand cupped over the receiver. Probably some boy problem with one of her friends. Such arguments were common enough occurrences, as some boy one of Zoe’s friends liked would, inevitably, be more interested in Zoe. Nobody ever asked Zoe to talk to a boy for them. It wasn’t the twerp’s fault, but I still felt kind of bad for a lot of the girls; the irony of watching them cry on Zoe’s shoulder after they were done screaming and yelling at her was painful. I imagined it must have been hard for those girls knowing they had to compete with Zoe for the attention of every eligible bachelor in town, especially if they realized that she wasn’t even trying. It must have been really frustrating for the girls who were older than Zoe. It always surprised me that not one of those girls ever waged a smear campaign against Zoe. Sure, they would show up at the house to cry, scream, and yell at her – right before they forgave her – but they never started any nasty rumors. It seemed to be a common enough tactic among teenaged girls, judging from some of the things I had seen on the internet and bathroom walls at school. But everyone loved Zoe too much to drag her name through the mud. It was kind of eerie now that I though about it, like they were automatons under her commad. Zoe the zombie queen.
I’ve been watching way too many B-horror movies, I chuckled to myself and finished loading the washing machine, throwing the rest of the dirty laundry into the hamper. I headed back to
ward my room, noticing Zoe – still on the phone – had visibly relaxed and was flipping through some DVDs spread out on the kitchen table. I suppose the crisis has been averted…brains for everybody!
I made it half-way up the stairs when Zoe’s call stopped my short. “Itch? Could you come down here for a sec?”
I briefly considered making a run for it, but where would I go? I instinctively know that whatever it was Zoe wanted, I wouldn’t like it. In the end, I settled for a sigh before turning around and trudging back into the kitchen.
“Your Highness.” I bowed deeply and took a seat across from her. I was surprised to see she wasn’t on the phone. Surprised and worried – this could only mean she expected an argument.
“Har-har.” She rolled her eyes, but then cleared her throat and put on a serious face. “Did you have plans tonight?”
“Is that what you were whispering about?” I asked. “Forget it. I’m not taking Erin out on some date you had to talk her into.”
“Geez, paranoid much? This has nothing to do with Erin.” Her voice and face were the very picture of innocence, which is why I was suspicious. As crazy as it was, I also felt disappointed this had nothing to do with Erin. Like I said, crazy.
“What, then?” I demanded.
“I want to invite someone over…I need a chaperone.” She actually blushed a little. Cold horror washed over me, this was far worse than anything I could have imagined. I was uncomfortable with guys asking me if Zoe had a date. I certainly didn’t want to play chaperone – ever, if at all possible, but especially not tonight.
“Why to you hate me?” I asked her seriously.
“So would you rather I have a boy over without supervision?” She arched an eyebrow. She had me there. I hung my head in defeat.
“What time?” I mumbled, still not looking up.
She squealed with delight and came around the table to hug me around the shoulders and kiss me on the cheek. “Six o’clock. You’re the best big brother ever!”
“Yeah.” I slid my head onto the table beneath my folded arms. How had it come to this? Even worse, that traitorous part of me which was disappointed this hadn’t had something to do with Erin was still pulsing away in the back of my mind. It occurred to me this was what Zoe’s questions about our parents had been about earlier. She must have known I would get suspicious, so she set up the radio dedication to distract me. Okay, that sounded paranoid even for me. But then, I couldn’t really put anything passed the clever little twerp, she had carried out far more elaborate plans in the past – nothing I could prove, of course, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t behind something.
What really worried me, though, was that she hadn’t tried to get me out of the house for her date. I had the sickening feeling she had just gotten me to volunteer for a trap and now I wouldn’t be able to avoid whatever it was she had planned since I was obligated to chaperone her and whatever boy-wonder she’d managed to rope into helping her. My inner traitor hoped this might still have something, anything, to do with Erin.
I should’ve driven off into the sunset when I’d had the chance.