Take Me On (Page 40)

Take Me On (Pushing the Limits #4)(40)
Author: Katie McGarry

Haley watches me intently and places the plate on our joined legs. “You’ve never had deer before, have you?”

When she reaches for another piece, I do, too. “How can you tell?”

“Your expression. It’s like when I used to watch my younger sister try baby food for the first time. Your face squishes up because it’s new and then it goes blank as you try to decide if you liked it or not. What do you think?”

“I’m eating it.”

She giggles and the sound warms my blood. “I’ve eaten crap that looked like someone puked. Eating it and liking it are two different things.”

I savor my second piece a little longer. “It’s good. Though I’d probably enjoy it more if Bambi wasn’t watching. Has that cannibalistic feel. Is your uncle gun crazy?”

“Crazy, yes, but he’s not a militant gun guy or anything. He likes to hunt, and so do my dad and brother. I tried it once, but I suck at it and it’s boring. Dad likes deer season and goes turkey hunting occasionally. My uncle hunts everything and he expects everyone to eat it. What’s up with you and Abby?”

Nice abrupt change in subject. Haley eats half of the green beans, then passes the fork to me. Something tugs inside me, at my heart. It’s strange and I like it.

“She’s my sister’s best friend,” I say between bites. “Abby and I tolerate each other.”

“You’re kidding? I thought maybe she was making that up.”

“I wish. Rachel’s not like Abby. She’s sweet and kind and…” In the hospital. Using a pay phone, I call the hospital every day and, because I’m family, they give me an update, but there’s only so much I can gather between “still in the ICU” and “condition appears to be improving.” My throat swells and I return the plate to Haley. “I miss her.”

Haley scoops up some potatoes and grants me a reprieve. Silence with her is never uncomfortable. She picks up the cup and I watch her delicate throat move as she swallows. Haley hands it to me and her eyes hold mine as I drink. The water is cold against my mouth, but every other part of me heats.

The wind blasts the house and the window rattles. Hail begins to pelt the siding.

“Where did you park your car?” she asks.

“At the strip mall.” That was one of Haley’s instructions—the car couldn’t be left anywhere near the house.

“Sorry.” She’s referring to the thousands of tiny dents I’ll find on my car in the morning.

“It’s fine. At least I’m not in it.” The space heater clicks on and the metal wires glow red. We both stare at it, like it’s a fireplace. I can almost imagine it: Haley and I at a lodge in the Smoky Mountains, relaxing after a day of skiing and snuggling near a warm fire. I could have offered her that a couple of weeks ago. Now I’ve got nothing more than my word.

“Why were you kicked out?” she asks.

It seemed clear when it happened. I was mad. Dad was mad. I hated him and he was wrong. Dad obviously felt the same way. But night after night, alone and cold, the replay of the fight between us distorts and the blame shifts. “Someone made fun of my sister and I hit them.”

“So your family threw you out?”

“Yeah… No.” I inhale, then let the air out. “My dad and I don’t get along. We haven’t for years. My sister was in a bad accident and she’s in the hospital and he blames me.”

Haley puts the plate on the floor and kneels beside me. “Were you driving?”

“No. Dad was, but I was the reason why Rachel was where she was at. She was in trouble and needed money and if it wasn’t for me…” How do I explain my messed-up family? “I let Rach down. I let my whole family down.”

She weaves her fingers through mine, but my hand remains limp on the floor. “Have you ever thought they let you down?”

There’s a pain inside me that’s worse than an ache. It’s continual and I’ve fought it night after night. “I failed.”

“I may not understand everything going on with you, but I can’t imagine failing at anything that’s worth being thrown out over. Whatever it is, it’s not your fault.”

“It is.” My fingers tighten around hers, hating the truth, hating that Haley persistently sees my weaknesses. “I promise I won’t fail you.”

“I know you won’t.” She tilts her head and the dull lamplight creates a halo around her hair. Haley is gorgeous and strong and kind and she’s more than I deserve. “It’s late and I’ve got to be up early. We should sleep.”

I nod and join Haley as she stands. She flitters her hand at a pair of pajama bottoms and I turn to give her the privacy she needs. The sound of cotton shifting off her body makes me close my eyes. If I turn, would she be naked? I imagine her beautiful curves.

“Okay.” She wears pink flannel bottoms and a matching tank top. Her hair falls over her nearly bare shoulders. Talk about breathtaking.

Haley crawls onto the bed and lifts the comforter up as if inviting me in.

“I can take the floor.”

“Well, you are my boyfriend.” The tease in her voice causes me to chuckle. The window rattles again and the gust penetrates the frame. “I don’t have another blanket or pillow and the temperature will drop up here. Besides…I trust you, West.”

I flip off the lamp and the space heater follows with a click, leaving us in the dark. The air mattress dips with my weight and I take my time unlacing my shoes and slipping them off.

Thank God it’s not a twin mattress or we’d be on top of each other—literally. Haley lies beside me, curtain-rod straight, and I knot my hands over my stomach. At home, I slept in my boxers. Because of the past two weeks, I’m getting used to sleeping with everything on.

“Where are you going to stay tomorrow?” she asks into the darkness.

“I don’t know.”

Under the covers, her fingers find mine and I clutch hers with both hands. There’s something intimate about lying here with Haley. Maybe it’s because I’ve been alone, but honestly, it’s her. Sleeping in my car, I’ve had a lot of time to think and even though the silence is new, the loneliness isn’t. How is it possible to have been surrounded by people and never feel complete?

“This is a huge risk for me,” she says. “If we get caught, my uncle would throw my entire family out onto the street. I wish I could offer you more than tonight.”