Deeper(7)

By: Jennifer Michael


I’m in a moving car before I realize it.

“What are you doing?” I can barely manage the words.

“Getting you out of there.” Aria concentrates sternly on the road in front of her.

“But you can’t drive.”

“For today, I don’t think that matters. Besides, it doesn’t seem too hard. I’m doing fine. We’ll stay in the neighborhood. A gated community doesn’t see much traffic. We’ll be fine.” The car jerks as she presses too hard on one of the pedals.

“Your mom will be pissed.”

“Our parents have bigger things to worry about. They probably won’t even notice.”

“I think we should go back, Aria. I need to be with Dad.”

My sight stays on the passing houses I’ve seen every day for my entire life, but today, they look different. She doesn’t stop or turn the car around.

“You said good-bye, Rylan. You don’t need to be there for the rest.”

What she means dawns on me. Those EMTs aren’t there to save him. They’re there to verify his death, and soon, someone will come to take him from his bed, his house, take him from me. My breathing begins to escalate. I concentrate on pushing away the panic, but worry flitters through my thoughts.

Those people are going to take Dad away from me. A vision of Mom crumpled over in the grass outside as they take Dad away, covered in a white sheet on a gurney, flashes through my mind. I fight to push the haunting image away.

I try to act normal, but nothing seems right. Aria is my safe place, but everything is off. My eyes dart around the car, and a different kind of panic seizes me.

Should I act like I’m having fun? Will I seem cold if I play that part? Should I be sullen and withdrawn? Will that project my awkwardness onto Aria? These petty insecurities rush into my head in an attempt to not focus on what’s really going on.

The death.

In one night, followed by one morning, my life has just changed forever.

“Your turn. Think you can do better than me?” My best friend stops the car and offers me the wheel.

We switch places, and I drive.

On the day I’ve lost Dad, I drive a car for the first time with my best friend in the passenger seat, just being with me. There is no excitement or pride about the rebellious act. There is only grief and a need to escape.





Callen


Sweat drips down my face. My breathing is even and paced. The muscles in my legs contract and expand as my feet hit the pavement. I run hard against the cool wind. I’ve been in Connecticut for two weeks, and this the first moment that I haven’t been consumed with work.

Maplefield isn’t anything like Florida, which is still blistering hot this time of year, and it isn’t anything like Nevada where I grew up. Here, the towns are small, and the neighborhoods are quiet. It’s the type of place children can safely roam the streets. Nine out of ten people’s last names end with a vowel, and family-owned Italian restaurants are on every corner.

It’s a little too peaceful and a little too reserved for my tastes.

I won’t be staying long.

I never stay in one place longer than I have to.

Not one woman under the age of fifty inhabits my new neighborhood, which is a huge disappointment. I would welcome the chance to end this run with a bang. I’ve been amped up for days, and not even exercise is expelling my pent-up energy. I need a wet and willing pussy, and I need it before I do any more work.

My phone rings in my pocket, but I ignore it.

It rings again, and I grow frustrated.

“What?” I speak into the phone.

My contact for this job ignores my aggravation and replies, “The client was very pleased with your first job.”

“Yeah, and? Is there a point to this call, or is that it?”

His laughter pours from the phone. “Your mother never taught you manners, did she?”

“That bitch never taught me a thing. I don’t even know the woman.”

“It shows. Your first payment is at my office with my receptionist. You can pick it up whenever.” He hangs up.

Prick.

I pocket my phone and return to my run.

Within a few minutes, I’m back at my place, and I don’t like what I see. The old man from the next lot over is sitting outside my RV.