Breaking the Rules (Page 30)

Breaking the Rules (Pushing the Limits #1.5)(30)
Author: Katie McGarry

I lift my head, going on high alert. Isaiah disappears into the bathroom, and the sink turns on. What the hell? He returns and places a towel next to Beth on the edge of the bed, a wet washcloth to her forehead and a trash can on the floor. “Sleep, Beth.”

* * *

Isaiah eases onto the other side of the bed, careful not to touch her as he lies down. Beth doesn’t shrink away from Isaiah, and she wouldn’t. He’s her closest friend, and though she won’t admit it, she hates being alone.

Beth appears small curled up, and that’s because she is. She couldn’t reach five-five if she tiptoed in heels. She’s also thin. Unless she’s at her Aunt Shirley’s—my foster home—food can be a rarity, and Shirley isn’t conscientious about stocking the fridge.

Isaiah and I stay silent and after a few minutes, Beth flinches in her sleep. Isaiah surveys Beth then whispers to me, “Turns out if Beth’s in a moving vehicle for over two hours, she pukes. She didn’t sleep during the trip.”

Which means Isaiah didn’t, either. He’s always searching for the threat that follows Beth. “Did you know she’d get sick?”

“Beth didn’t know it. When has she been in a car longer than thirty minutes?”

Her life has been limited…and so has Isaiah’s. “This your first time out of state?”

“Since entering foster care.” Isaiah rubs his red eyes. “Can’t shake the vibe I’m a criminal on the lam.”

“Felt like that, too, when Echo and I crossed the state line. You and I have had so many social workers up our asses, I thought the cops would pull Echo and me over as soon as we crossed the bridge into Indiana. Then I realized no one gives a shit.”

“True.” Isaiah chuckles then falls somber. “It’s good to see you, man. It’s been…not right without you.”

“Same here.” He’s my brother, not by blood, but in the way it counts. We’ve stood strong on the streets together. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him or Beth.

“What’s going on with you and Echo?”

Fuck if I know. “Can’t get our shit together.”

“You’ll work it out. Have to.”

“Have to?”

“One of us has to get a happy ending.” His gaze drops to the sleeping girl beside him.

“Yeah.” Yeah. “Some days I don’t know why Echo’s with me. What she gets out of it. A messed-up kid from foster care with jacked odds of giving her a future. I’m a real prize.”

“She looks happy to me when she’s beside you.”

I laugh bitterly. “She looked real happy when she left.”

“She looked hurt. Hurt means she cares. It’s indifference that should scare you. The same look foster parents give you when you come and go.”

I can’t live like this anymore. Jumping around from place to place, knowing no one cares. Echo keeps me grounded. Gives me roots. “You think happy endings happen to people like us?”

He scratches the top of his shaved head and settles back on a pillow. He’ll be out in seconds. “Who the fuck knows.”

I snatch Echo’s laptop. The urge is to rush the coffee shop, but with the mood Echo left in, she’d probably pour boiling coffee down my pants. Instead, I’ll find a dark corner in the hotel and dig for info on my blood family. “Shut down, bro. I’ll be heading to work later, and I have a feeling that Echo will be AWOL.”

Isaiah extends his hand, and we share a short shake. “Tell Echo I’m not freeloading. I’ll cover me and Beth.”

“It’s all good.” But as I walk out the door, I’m drowning in worry.

Echo

I should have brought pepper spray.

Noah bought me some the day before he started his shift at the St. Louis Malt and Burger. Even though the campsite we stayed at was so family friendly it bordered on annoying, and despite the fact that I planned to call on art galleries, Noah felt uneasy with me being alone.

He also tried to teach me how to throw a punch, but all I ended up doing was accidentally kneeing him in the crotch. As he held on to the trunk of the car, half bent over, he didn’t see the humor, but I giggled.

The memory causes me to pause outside the coffee shop. After the past few days, thinking of such a lighthearted time with Noah honestly stings. If going home is the problem, maybe we should stay away forever.

A part of me floats—maybe we should.

At a back table of the coffee shop, Hunter looks up from a sketch pad and spots me. In seconds, he moves from startled to relieved, then waves.

“Not the Bates Motel.” I enter and inhale the rich scent of ground coffee beans.

It’s a quaint shop with seven older-than-me round wooden tables and just as worn wooden seats. What I like are the raw sketches tacked onto the walls, creating a wallpaper of art in progress. I feel like a missionary Jesuit priest walking into St. Peter’s Basilica and a bit like a child skipping into Disney World—small, high and enlightened.

Near the front, two girls with their heads huddled together whisper intently, and midway through the shop, a guy has his legs propped up on a chair as he sketches with charcoal. Behind the counter, a cute girl with blond hair slicked into a ponytail sits on a stool and reads a worn paperback with yellow pages. She gives me a cursory glance and when she notices Hunter stand, she returns to the words on the page.

“Now, that look,” says Hunter, “is what I like. That means you like my shop.”

“Your shop?”

In a dark blue button-down short-sleeve shirt and too-baggy-for-him jeans, Hunter flashes an I’m-a-proud-daddy smile. “Opened it four years ago on my twenty-fifth birthday.”

In other words, he’s much older than me, still sort of young, and is business savvy.

I smirk. No reason to make his life easy just because he’s an artist and established. Though I won’t admit it to Noah, the guy did creep me out this morning. “Is that your way of getting me to share?”

He laughs. “Maybe.”

And I’m smart enough to not answer, for now. “Let’s discuss the painting.”

“Fair enough. Coffee?”

I’d love coffee, but for the moment, it’s best not to accept drinks. “I’m fine. Thanks.”

He motions for us to sit, and when I do I become enthralled with the sketch of a baby cuddling near a delicate shoulder.

“It’s for my sister,” he says. “She had her first child last month.”