“I’m going to take a shower.” Echo slips off the bed. After she’s done, I’ll probably take a long, cold one.
Echo gathers her actual pj’s, not her tank and underwear, and I glance at the clock. It’s late, and if Echo painted that much she didn’t eat lunch or dinner. I may not be able to spend the rest of the night bringing to life my fantasies, but I can do the small things that cause her to smile.
I grab her keys off the dresser. “Chicken sandwich or Chinese?”
“I’ll make a ham sandwich.”
“Nonnegotiable. You choose or I will.”
Echo kisses my cheek, and the caress burns past my skin and into my blood. “Chinese.”
She disappears behind the bathroom door, and my eyes catch Echo’s laptop. There’s a reason why I dragged Echo to Vail and it’s time I man up and face my mother’s past.
There’s something intimate about emerging from the bathroom fresh from a shower and in the clothes I intend to sleep in for the night so I can crawl into bed with someone. With Noah, I’ve actually reveled in that moment of entering the room. Especially when I’ve worn way less than this. His already deep brown eyes will darken, and a shadow of lust will cross his face.
After my scars, I thought no one would want or love me again. Noah’s proved me wrong.
With that being said, I brushed my hair five times in my attempt to build the courage to walk out the bathroom door. With Beth and Isaiah waiting on the other side, I find myself as nervous as the first night Noah and I spent alone.
Taking a deep breath, I leave, and the cooler air of the bedroom rushes my skin. Goose bumps form, and I rub my arms. Isaiah and Beth sit on the bed and munch on a shared container of pepper steak.
“Stop bogarting the rice.” Isaiah moves some of the pile from Beth’s side of the container, and she darts her fork as if to stab him, but he quickly snatches his hand back.
“You got the egg roll,” exclaims Beth. “I get the rice. That’s how stuff works between us, so stop messing with the system.”
“You ate half the egg roll, so I get half the rice.”
I roll my eyes and ignore them. The scent of sweet-and-sour chicken drifts in the air and the Styrofoam container sits on the table with a plastic fork and bottled water, but Noah is missing.
“He dropped off the food then left with your laptop,” says Isaiah, reading my mind. Which means Noah’s in the business center.
“Thanks.” I glance down at my outfit: a T-shirt that slightly shows my midriff and gray drawstring pants. It’s not glamorous, but it’ll do for the hotel hallways. I grab my dinner and set out to find Noah.
With Echo’s food left for her in the hotel room, I drop into the chair in the business center and watch as her laptop springs to life. Anxiety snakes within me, and I think of Echo and her tapping foot. At least she has a way to release the pressure.
Echo’s Skype account appears with that annoying whooping sound, and as I minimize that window her email pops up. I notice a few unread messages: one from her dad, one from Lila, another from Mrs. Collins. I log Echo out and sign myself in, holding my breath as the account I hardly use loads.
I click on the lone new email from Keesha, and I briefly cover my eyes at the first sentence
Yes, your mother’s family has contacted me, and they would like to meet with you, but…
There’s always a but. I skim through the rest of the email, most of it legal shit that’ll protect her ass if I sue or they sue, but at the end of the message is a Vail address.
Even though she closes with if you ever need anything, please feel free to contact me bullshit, there’s an unsaid “you’re on your own.” A slow pulse throbs in my brain, and I massage my temples to ward off a headache. This situation is no good.
I’m a few miles from my only living blood relatives, and a part of me feels compelled to meet them. Another part of me feels the compulsion to leave a hundred miles between us. Then yet another jacked-up part wants to charge their door and ask them what the fuck they did to my mother that she would bolt from them and never mention a word to me of their existence.
Echo’s computer beeps, and a direct message conversation box through Skype appears in the right-hand corner.
L. Collins: I’ll make an assumption that yesterday was a computer glitch. I’m up if you’d like to chat.
She thinks Echo’s on. I kick my legs out and lean back in my seat. The lady is a damn nutcase, but my mind ticks back to the hundreds of times she cornered me. In the end, she helped shed light on things that I didn’t know how to tackle.
L. Collins: Echo?
I switch windows and push the button that says call. A computerized melody plays for two seconds, and I cross my arms over my chest as she accepts. With her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail and a Grateful Dead T-shirt, Mrs. Collins finishes hole-punching a stack of papers. “I was surprised to see you on so late. I would have thought you and Noah would be out.”
“I hear you’ve been fucking with my girl.”
My lips twitch with how fast Mrs. Collins’s eyes snap up to see me coming through her screen. Without missing a beat, she masks her shock. “Language, Noah.”
“From high school, yes, but those rules that are put in place in school are meant to help you learn how to function out of it. So…” She rests her chin on her linked fingers. “This is a nice surprise. How has your summer gone?”
“I asked about Echo.”
“You did, but if you remember correctly, I won’t discuss Echo with you, but you’re more than welcome to tell me how things are going with her.” She practically bounces in her chair. “In fact, I’d love it. Dish all the details.”
I snort. “I don’t dish.”
“Neither of you ever do. So what’s up?”
Less than a minute and she’s already digging. Six months ago, I would have stormed out of her office and slammed her door, but it’s the familiar that puts me at ease. “Not much.”
“In all seriousness, is Echo okay?” she asks.
I answer because Mrs. Collins cares more for Echo than her own parents do. “She’s good.”
Mrs. Collins kneads her red eyes. It’s ten here so it’s one there.
“Up a little late, aren’t you?” I ask.
“I keep strange hours.” She flashes a weak smile. “What’s going on with you?”