Trigger warnings: suicide, self harm
I woke up to the sound of my shower running, and through the open door I could see Eli’s muscular form as he washed his hair. He always sang to himself in the shower about what he was doing, a sign of how content he was in life. Nothing shook his pleasant mood, and I wished I could get to that level of comfort, but I wasn’t there, yet.
“Is it really five in the morning?” I grumbled, after taking a peek at my phone. I growled as I realized I had to pee, and forced myself out of bed.
“Sweets?” Eli smiled as he poked his head out of them shower. “Hey, since you’re awake, do you wanna get it in before I leave for work?”
“No,” I snapped. “I’m awake to pee, and that is it. I will be asleep by the time you get out of that shower.”
“I read that sex is great for pregnant women. It relieves pain!” He raised his eyebrows at me, as if there were no way I could resist his attempt to seduce me after he laid this information on me.
“If you come out of that shower and even breathe too loud, I will throw you at the bottom of the pond with all of those other poor bastards who pissed off a Hart.”
“Okay.” He pulled the shower curtain closed. “Wrong time to ask. Sweet jeez, I get it. I was just trying to be romantic.”
“Asking me to sleep with you while I am peeing is not romantic, Eli!”
“Go back to bed, ya friggin grouch. You keep being this mean and this will be the only time I impregnate you. Never seen somebody be so miserable, before.”
“Are you going to push this button, right now?” I barked, as I flushed the toilet.
“Hey!” he screamed, ripping the shower curtain open. “You know that makes the water cold.”
“Yes, I do!” I shouted. “This is my house, Eli. I live here.” I smiled wickedly as I shuffled out of the room to get back to my sweet bed that I called Luna.
“Rae?” a voice whispered from next to me as I was settling into my cloud of pillows.
I let out a terrified scream as I jumped away from my bed. My hand landed on a mostly-full water bottle I left sitting on my nightstand, and I threw it at the silhouette of a person.
“Rae!” Elaina shouted, as she turned on the lamp while holding her hand over her nose. Her wild dirty blonde curls were wrapped up in a bun on top of her head, and in a rare moment, she was wearing glasses instead of her usual contacts. “What are you trying to do?”
“What are you trying to do? I’m half asleep, coming out of my bathroom in my bedroom at five in the morning, and you want to climb into my bed and whisper in my ear? You and your twin suffered brain damage. I swear, because who is even conscious at five in the morning, much less going out of their way to irritate somebody to death? I almost died, Elaina. You scared me so much, my heart leapt out of my body and froze.”
“You’re mean.” She crossed her arms over her chest like a child.
“She’s horrible, right now,” Eli agreed, as he walked into the room with a towel around his waist. “I just wanted a quickie and she threatened my life.”
“She threw a water bottle at me,” Elaina said, pressing a tissue to her running nose. “In my own home. The disrespect is outrageous.”
“What do you want?” I hissed, pointing my finger at Elaina, while she and Eli looked at me like I was a wild ape, escaped from the local zoo.
“I want to go on a run and I was hoping to get you out there with me. You can just walk. I just need the motivation of a partner to get me on track.”
“Eight!” I shouted. “Just give me until eight in the morning. I am begging you. I’m so tired I’m about to cry.”
“Maybe, you should stay up ‘til one in the morning scrolling through Nok-Nok posts, some more.” Eli raised an eyebrow at me. “Seems healthy.”
“I am going to murder you!”
Elaina grabbed my wrist as I walked towards Eli in a rage.
“We will meet at nine. I have some posts on my streaming channel I need to release, and some emails to catch up on.” She gave me a nod. “Go to bed.”
Four laps into the run, Elaina laid down in the middle of Pacer Drive, stretching out all of her arms and legs as she fought to take a breath. “I’m going to tell you something. Running doesn’t stick with you. I used to be able to run four miles before I got winded when I was in cheerleading.”
“You’ll get there,” I promised, as I sat in the middle of the paved road with her. We were between the carriage house, where her mother lived, and Emmet and Nicole’s house, which was once Elaina’s childhood home. All of the flowers that Amy and Stella obsessed over were beginning to bloom, and that springtime smell of fresh cut grass mixed with the scent of a recent rain surrounded us. “You still kicked my ass, and I run every morning. Never at five in the morning, though. I can’t understand your thought process, there.”
“Babe, you started walking once we passed Georgie’s the first time. You’ve been trailing behind me for three laps. I think I passed you at the Jonas House and caught up to you again at the Elias House.” She opened her canteen and began dumping water into her mouth, before pulling off her hoodie.
“Did you see that sign? Mel and Greg turned the Jonas House into an air BNB. I haven’t even noticed.”
“Fucking Mel. Of course she would talk her dad into letting her have the place just so she could undo all of the history and try to make a quick dollar off of it. She’s the worst. She’s always been such a bitch because she was three months too late to make the cut as the second heiress of Pacer Hill.” Elaina used her hoodie to wipe a mixture of sweat and water from her chest, while I sat back comfortably with my arms stretched behind me, soaking in the sun as a breeze hit my face. “Thanks for doing this with me.”
“I hope all of the work you’re putting into yourself isn’t all for Chase. You seem happy together, but to play Devil’s advocate, what if he’s just after the benefits of being with you?”
“The night that we started talking, he took me home when nobody else was around. Our first date was at this elegant barnhouse somewhere between Pepper’s Ferry and Destiny’s Point. I was disappointed that there weren’t actual cows in there, but there was a dance floor, and a beautiful table with only two seats. I ate sweet veal bread, Rae. I didn’t even know that was a thing. And, I think the most impressive part is that when the check was handed to him, he didn’t look at me. He didn’t expect me to pull out my wallet. Do you know how long it has been since anyone has taken me out just to be nice to me? The worst thing I can tell you about him is he’s always at work and he’s a horrible text buddy. But, no, I don’t think he’s after my money.”
“I am glad that Chase is doing all of the right things, and making you smile, Laney. I am just scared that if he is the reason you’re putting yourself back together, you’ll fall apart again if you two don’t work out.”
“It’s not necessarily Chase, or any reason in particular.” Her husky voice was raspier than usual as she spoke, and I couldn’t tell if it was her emotions coming through, or a weather induced issue. “I looked around at my birthday party and I was alone. I have kept everyone at a distance since my dad died, and you were the only person who didn’t stop making an effort to have a genuine connection with me, but you have a life. I am tired of being alone, and waking up in the morning feeling sick, because I got drunk, because I am so tired of being alone.”
“You’re my girl. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life, or in yours. This is who we are.”
“It is. I forgot that for a little while, though. I’m assuming that’s why you throw water bottles at me and won’t admit that you’re pregnant.”
I laughed at her. “I don’t have to admit it. You have me figured out and you know it.”
“A baby Rae.” She clapped her hands together. “Was this an accident, or is this a planned little miracle?”
“I call it a surprise. It happened at Myrtle Beach. We were so busy going from one place to another, I’m positive that I rushed out without thinking about my birth control more than once.”
“The pregnancy test is positive of that, too.” She smirked at herself, before asking, “Have you had an appointment yet?”
“I made the mistake of going to Aunt Sara. I forgot that Nick was working there.” She rolled her eyes. “I have been stressing for three weeks that she is going to blow up my spot. Every time she sees me, she jiggles her Emma belly and starts laughing.”
“Both of my brothers are having kids and my biggest accomplishment is getting my horizontal driver’s license. Great.” She pushed herself up to her feet and crossed her arms before reaching out to lift me up. “Coffee?”
“Coffee,” I answered with a nod.
“Laney! Rae!” Amy’s voice hollered for us as we passed by the front porch of the Hart Family Mansion. She hurried out with Stella and the pair of women rushed to us. “Where are you two going?”
“Away from you,” Elaina answered Amy as she slapped her mother’s hand away from her hair. “Why are you so damn loud? It’s ten A.M. Not the time to come charging at me, screaming my name.”
“We want to join you,” Stella chimed, as she forced me into a hug. “How is everything going with the house?”
“Well, they had the groundbreaking, so I guess it’s going okay. Eli stays busy with it all day long. I hardly ever see him, so I’ve been keeping myself busy getting the plans to remodel Georgie’s together with Elaina.”
“Oh, and how is that?” Amy gushed. “Rumor has it that people around town are already whispering about Georgie’s being a hotel. Some lady asked me if you two were going to offer weddings there.”
“Possibly. I guess it would depend on the size,” Elaina said. “I made a video on my channel just hinting at the idea. There were so many people who seemed into it just for a chance to talk to me or Paul about the history of Pacer Hill. I guess people really enjoyed it when we did that Beautiful Homes podcast episode.”
Stella nudged me in the arm with her elbow. “I asked your dad this, and he just laughed at me. What is a podcast?”
“It’s like a radio show, but pre-recorded. You know how you obsess over true crime documentaries? There’s at least a hundred different podcasts you could listen to that cover that topic alone. You could even find one about gardening, I bet.”
“So, how do we listen?” Amy asked. “Because that would be great while we’re drinking and playing a game of dice.”
“Try the big purple app that says ‘podcasts’ on your phone.” Elaina cracked a smile at me as she answered her mother.
“Forget listening. You two should host one,” I said with a snort. “You’d be perfect. You make me laugh all day long.”
“Well, thank you,” Stella chimed. “Maybe we could. I’d have to listen to a couple and get a feel for them first. So, when does the work on Georgie’s start?”
“Next week we’re meeting with an interior designer who is driving up from Harbor,” Elaina answered. “She’s scheduled to show up at nine-thirty on Monday, and then she’ll be bringing her team in to start the work. She already has my sketches, and I took about a thousand pictures of the inside of the place for her.”
“What happens after the remodel is finished?”
“We hire a team, get our licensing and insurance, and we launch,” I said. “We’re just waiting on some kind of acceptable timeline and we’ll start planning the grand-opening.”
“That’s terrifying,” Elaina whispered, as she pulled her hoodie on, again. “
“Because you care,” Amy pointed out. “Because, you want to be successful.”
“Mmm.” Elaina led the way down the steps next to the Pepper’s Ferry Family Courthouse as she said, “I don’t know about successful. I just want to be enough.”
“You have always been enough,” Amy insisted, as she squeezed her daughter’s shoulders.
“No, no, no. I’ve always done what I am supposed to do. I stayed quiet when I was supposed to stay quiet, I smiled for the moments that counted, and I showed up when requested. I have only ever felt like I mattered for the money, right? Because, if my hand wasn’t required for signing the checks, what good am I?”
“You are talking to three women who love you and have been beside you for everything. We know who you are, and you have never been just a signature. You’re the one laughing the hardest and doing backflips off of a bar top. You bring life to where you are. You fell down for a little bit, but we all do, Laney. What matters is that you got back up, and you’re on your way to amazing places. You have got to stop being so hard on yourself. It’s not healthy,” Stella snapped, as she stepped in stride with Elaina and wrapped their arms together. “One bad day does not make a bad life unless you let it.”
“I’m fine. I’m good.” Elaina shook her off. “It’s just a work in progress, and I’ll get there. I am getting there.”
Elaina walked ahead of all of us as Stella tried to talk me into making egg rolls for family dinner night. “If you could just do a few of those taco ones you made for the New Years Eve party, it would be amazing.”
“I am not cooking hamburger meat. I’m not doing it,” I snapped at my mom. “Anyway, those are pocket rolls. If you want the egg rolls you’re going to have to settle for the shrimp ones.”
“What’s wrong with hamburger meat, all of a sudden?” Amy asked. “You’ve devoured burgers your whole life.”
“You’re right, and I could probably inhale two of them right now, but I am not cooking them. I have to break the meat up with my hands, and I just can’t.”
“Fine!” Stella whined, as she stomped her feet. “Isn’t this what you used to do on mornings when I made you go to school with a headache? Just stomp around the kitchen and throw your arms around like noodles to make your coffee and oatmeal?”
“Yes, because a headache was never a headache.” I laughed at the memory of my high school years. “Laney told me it would get me out of school to ditch with Eli. I was always so hurt that you didn’t love me as much as Amy and Darren loved Elaina.”
“Oh, shut up!” Stella giggled. “I could see right through you.” She winked, opening the door of Coffee Break to let me inside. “I always can.”
Elaina stood in the middle of the lounge, glaring towards a booth. A man wearing overalls over a black t-shirt, with a faded black baseball cap on his head, stared out of the window towards the sidewalk. He spotted Elaina and she turned around in a hurry.
“Oh my fuck.” Elaina looked at Stella with fear in her eyes. “That’s Arthur Lake.”
“Nick mentioned that he was being released.” Stella crossed her arms over her chest as she also became awkward at the sight of the man. “Let’s just get our coffee and go.”
We waited for Eden and Jaycee to grab our coffees at the pickup window in silence. Elaina continued looking nervously over her shoulder.
“Who is he? He’s Nicole and Thaden’s bio dad, right?”
“Yes. An abuser, a murderer, and our old gardener.” She nodded her head at me. “That’s how your mom and dad even knew about them to adopt them.”
“Elaina, why am I getting such a weird vibe from you?”
She shrugged my question off before taking her usual large vanilla iced coffee with extra vanilla from Eden. “Thank you, Sister. I hate to rush out on everyone, but Rocki agreed to meet me for therapy this morning, and after this I am in desperate need of a purge.”
I looked back at Stella and Amy as Elaina hurried for the door.
“So, what is your problem with red meat?” Amy asked.
“Oh sweet jeez, the vanilla.” Eli crinkled up his nose as he walked into the Merlin House. “Please tell me you have no intention of keeping our place smelling like this.”
“I’m thinking sugar cookies,” I teased, before falling onto the couch with him and laying a kiss on his neck. “Your sister already has the vanilla scent as her signature.”
“What about the sweet smell of Mary Jane?” He grinned from ear to ear. “Break it up with lavender and burn it in one of those potpourri warmers. Swear, Amy Pacer probably has like fifty in storage.”
“Those damn things. I remember not realizing they were on and burning my fingertips all of the time.”
“Girl, what are you doing?” he chimed, as he pulled me onto his lap. “Why are we sitting on the couch?”
I stood up and raced for the bedroom, with him playfully chasing after me, his socks slipping on the hardwood floor as we rushed down the hallway.
“Hey,” I giggled, after he slammed my bedroom door shut and tackled me into my bed. “You have to be more careful.”
“I will be the most careful,” he promised, as he pulled off my panties. “I just got too excited.”
He ripped off his shirt to expose the muscles he built up while spending his days building furniture at the Sky High Workshop, his home away from home. He climbed into my bed and the two of us snuck under the sheets. I held onto him with a death grip, just to feel those muscles move against me.
“See? You could’ve got that this morning if you weren’t being such a turd.” He fell into my bed with a satisfied smile on his face.
“I almost forgot the damn egg rolls,” I growled as I hurried into my closet to get dressed.
“What egg rolls?” He lifted his eyebrow at me as I stumbled out, tripping over myself to get into my jean shorts. “Baby, are you making your egg rolls?”
“The ones I promised to make for family dinner in…” I looked at my phone and sighed in exasperation. “An hour. Dinner is in an hour.”
“I can call Lucky’s.” He dangled his phone in front of me. “We can get it delivered here and they won’t know the difference.”
“Okay,” I agreed, as he followed me into the kitchen. “What else am I going to do? Order fifty of them and I’ll put them in my own dish.”
“You got it, sweets. Haha, we will fool everyone!” he sang, as he took out his phone and made a call to his favorite restaurant. I had to listen to him chat with Lee about four-wheeling in the Hollow for twenty minutes before he finally hung up the phone and smiled at me. “Twenty minutes.”
“So if you would’ve cut the bro-talk short, they’d already be here?”
“Why do you think I got it like that at Lucky’s?” he asked. “Nobody else is getting an order of fifty egg rolls in twenty minutes, because Lee is my bro.”
“What do you need from me?” Elaina asked her phone as she walked in through the back door, just as Eli and I were transferring the egg rolls from the restaurant’s containers to ones out of Elaina’s cupboard.
Wearing a black dress with a jean jacket on her arms, she kicked off her black heels and dropped her purse onto the island.
“I just thought you should be aware. I was in a relationship with him for three years, and I know what it’s like. He’s always going off to pick up drugs for his mom, and he is always stressed about money. Elaina, I think he might be using you.”
Elaina looked at me as she rolled her eyes. “I’ve been on one date with him, girl. He paid for it, by the way.” She took a seat, playfully tugging on Eli’s ear. “And, forgive me for not wanting to take a warning from his ex-lover seriously. I’m more concerned with how you got my number.”
“We have mutual friends.”
“Who?” Elaina demanded. “Because, whoever agreed to set me up for this conversation isn’t my friend. Do you know what we should really talk about? Why you are so pissed at this man that you’re willing to take drastic steps to ruin his life. Was the dick that good? Do you miss it this much? Because, if it’s so great that you’ll ruin his chance to give it to any other woman, I’m going to have to give it a ride.”
“Gross!” Eli shoved his sister, almost pushing her off of the chair, as I cracked a grin at my genius best friend.
“Contrary to what you said when I answered your call, I am not Chase’s girlfriend. I have no idea what we are, but I really enjoy him, and your need for revenge—or whatever the hell this is—isn’t going to back me down. In fact, I am more determined than ever to see him again. Have yourself a great night, yeah?”
She ended the call and left her phone on the counter as she headed to her luxurious black bathroom.
“I’ll be back,” I promised, squeezing Eli’s shoulder as somebody knocked on the front door. “Can you get that? It’s probably Chase. She invited him to eat with us tonight.”
“Ah, she’s trying to scare him off, already.” He smiled at an egg roll as he took a bite of it.
“Stop eating them, Eli.”
“Stop telling me how to live.”
“Oh my fuck,” Elaina whispered to herself, as I walked into the black bathroom to find her hands shaking as she pulled a makeup bag out of the cabinet behind the mirror. She turned to me and placed it in my hands. “I need you to dispose of this.”
I looked at the purple bag to see the word “GOODBYE” written on it in black permanent marker.
“What is it?”
“My emergency suicide bag.”
“Ohhh-kay.” My jaw dropped slightly as I looked for a hint of humor in her eyes, but only found slight panic mixed with determination.
“I just had the hardest day at therapy. I am so exhausted from it. She gave me homework, and this is one of the things. Give this bag to somebody that I trust, and have you handle it. Don’t ask me what it is. Don’t ask me why it is in here. Just…burn it.”
“Hey.” I pulled her into a tight hug.
“Why this?” she asked, as I squeezed until I could feel the calm run through her.
“I just love you.”
She furrowed her eyebrow at me. “Look, I know you’re going through something, but don’t be weird with me. I love you. Of course I love you. Okay?” She rubbed lotion into her arms as she looked at me. “We can do this lovey-dovey stuff when we’re both too drunk, or when one of us is falling apart. Despite what it looks like, I’m not falling apart. I am the best I have been in a long time. I just need a long sleep to recover from all of the emotional purging I did today.”
“So, therapy went well?”
“Mmm.” She started dousing herself in perfume as she gave me a nod. She waved her hand in front of my face when the overwhelming scent of vanilla made me cough. “Sorry, I burned one in the car while healing myself with a Taylor album in the Price Park parking lot.”
“Yes. Therapy went so well that I almost don’t mind how much Rocki charged me for needing an emergency meeting on a Sunday. It’s the first time I have ever admitted to anyone that I held myself responsible for my dad’s death. He was going for a squishy pop for me. Whenever I had a migraine coming on, I would take my meds and get a squishy pop to make the ache go away. I tried coffee and tea, but pop seemed to be the only thing that did the trick. My mindset has always been that if I would’ve just dealt with it and got the pop on my way home, I would’ve had a headache but I would still have my dad.”
“It’s not that way.”
“It’s not.” She busied her hands with applying eyeliner to the top of the rim around her eyes. “He saved that gas station clerk’s life that day just by walking in. If my dad lived, there would be a baby girl out there missing her daddy. I saw them together at an ice cream shop on Maine Street a couple of days ago, and it brought up a bunch of feelings. I was craving a shake and they were behind me in line, so I paid for their order. She smiled at me and thanked me. Rae, it was her smile that lit a fire in me. I want there to be a day when my own child smiles at me like that, and when I know that my dad would be as proud of me as he was to show her off to me. I am realizing that I can’t keep living in the moment of the pain. I’m going to spend the night with everyone that I love, and everything is fine. I am fine.“
“Ha.” I laughed, widening my eyes at her. “I wouldn’t say that. No one is fine here.”
She pointed to the door. “So, let’s go. Let’s serve up your fake egg rolls.“
“They’re not fake!” I shouted as I followed her. “Lucky’s made them, and I swear to god, you better not say a damn word to Stella and Amy.”
She laughed as she rounded the corner into the kitchen, and I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as I heard her greet her brother by screaming, “Get your nasty, Rae eating mouth off of my bottle of Tito’s. Dude, there’s ten million shot glasses in the cupboard right next to you. Don’t be gross. Don’t be gross!”
I opened the purple makeup bag to find a fistful of razor blades and pills, along with a note.
If I am dead, I’m sorry.
It is not a lack of love or motivation to live.
It is fear.
This bag is a quick exit. An emergency escape.
If I took that route I had no choice.
It was death by my hand, or torture by the hands of another. I will not live like that ever again.
So, goodbye. I love you.
I will always love you.
“Are you Rae Hart?” An unfamiliar, excited voice interrupted me as I shoved a bite of chicken noodle soup into my mouth.
I covered my mouth as I chewed my bite of food. “Who is asking?”
“This is going to sound weird, but my name is Cassidy.”
I smiled at her. “That’s actually a fairly common name. Not weird at all.”
She took a seat across from me as I wiped my face with a napkin and stared her down in awe. Never in my life would I walk up to a stranger in a cafe and join her for lunch.
“My brother is Chase, and I have been a fan of Elaina’s forever. But, it’s actually you that I really love.”
“A fan?” I raised an eyebrow at her. “Like, how would you be a fan? And what about me? We were cheerleaders but that was in high school, and I got benched in junior year when I broke my leg. I never cheered again, so what are you talking about? Because, besides holding the books of this place together for Eden, I don’t do a whole lot.”
“Have you never seen Elaina’s streaming channel? She has over a million followers. She’s a big deal. She posts videos just talking about her life and showing us different things. She just posted one of her art room, last night. But, she posts videos of you singing a lot. She always titles them Rae’s Music Corner, and people love them.”
“No, of course I haven’t. My best friend who I have known my whole life is just full of surprises, isn’t she?”
She gave me an awkward smile as I slammed my hand down on the table. “Well, look it up. It’s called The Real Pacer Hill, and it’s on Redview. I’m
kind of here to take advantage of my brother being in a relationship with her by asking you if you’ll open for me on stage? I’m having a live show for my podcast, Chilling with Cass in seven weeks.”
“No.” I took another bite of my soup and gave her a glare.
She stared back at me with this puppy dog look on her adorably freckled, pale face. She had the same jet black, straight hair as her brother, with a hint of a cowlick at the front of her forehead.
“I’m not a singer. I’m a soon-to-be hotel owner, a pretty sweet girlfriend, a kind-of-okay sister, a terrific daughter, and an amazing friend to Elaina, which apparently does not go both ways. I am not a singer. I don’t know what she posted on her streaming channel, but it’s a lie.”
“This is a lie?” She started playing a video where Elaina was obviously sneaking outside of my bedroom door as I sang a song I wrote for Jenna while Eli played his guitar. “I looked up the lyrics. They’re yours. They have to be, because they’re nowhere else on the internet. Just three songs, Rae. Give me three songs, and I’ll compensate you. Have you ever been paid for something that is all your own? Because, I’ll bet you haven’t. This is your chance.”
“What makes you think that I need to be on a stage singing in front of a bunch of strangers? I don’t even sing in front of my mother, and she loves everything that I do. Always has. I breathe and she applauds.”
“Don’t do this for me.” She stood up and placed a business card in front of me. “Do it for yourself. Reach out to me if you change your mind, okay?”
I took a deep breath as I studied the business card in front of me, before slurping another bite of soup. It wouldn’t be the worst. I was on the verge of becoming a mother at the age of twenty-one. I experienced a lot of traveling, finished an associates degree in business management, fell in love, and I felt like I found the place I belonged in the world—or it found me. But, I never faced a challenge outside of my comfort zone, unless you count hugging sobbing strangers at Jenna’s funeral. At the least, opening for Cassidy would be a confidence boost.
I had nothing to lose, except maybe whatever I ate for dinner that night. I wasn’t like Elaina in the way that she felt comfortable with being the center of attention. It made my skin crawl when all eyes were on me. In fact, I had to have her give my high school class president speech at graduation, because I started panicking and had to step into a hallway to hit my inhaler. But, what if I threw caution to the wind and let myself feel like somebody who mattered for who I was, and not for the place I called home?
I thought I was just the best friend of the girl from Pacer Hill and nobody ever noticed me. Never mind that I grew up on that hill with her, and that I was a part of the Hart family, which had a money trail much longer than the Pacers, much dirtier, and much richer. Her family built hotels. My family built casinos, banks, and professional crime rings. Her family put people to sleep in luxury rooms, while my family threw them in the bottom of a pond they built just to hide the bodies. Not that it’s a competition, and not that the Pacer Family wasn’t built on dirty secrets…But, the Harts and the Pacers rose to the top together, and when it came to Elaina and me, I always thought I was falling behind. When I was in bed cuddling with Eli, people were posting pictures of her dancing on top of a bar. When I was waking up to get into work, she was passed out on the living room couch with a bottle still in her hand. A lot of the times, it felt like she was living her life out loud, while I whispered from my deathbed. I didn’t know how to be wild and rebel. I was the youngest of five daughters, with parents that cracked a whip, and she was the middle daughter of two parents who were always smoking weed in the garage. Her dad was a detective, my dad was a teacher. Her mom was an art dealer, my mom was a nurse. Our worlds were so different, but so much the same, and that’s what kept us together. Our differences built that bridge between us that always kept us running back together, but for one time, it would be nice to stand out on my own and have her looking up at me.
“Babe.” Eli grabbed my shoulder in the middle of my thought process and made me jump. “Sorry, babe. I called out to you a couple of times. I’m getting a smoothie. You want one?”
“I forgot we were even meeting here.” I looked at my soup, getting cold in the bowl in front of me. “A chocolate banana would be great.” I stuck Cassidy’s business card in my wallet. “We have to hurry to the appointment, though. I didn’t even notice the time. I got lost in a daydream.”
“What’s the daydream?”
I started pulling at my hair. “What if I did a live music show?”
“I would be right behind you, playing my guitar and cheering you on.” He winked at me, a tuft of his bright blonde curls falling into his eyes. “That shouldn’t be a daydream. You should be living it.”
As Eli approached with the smoothies, a man bumped right into him, in such a rush he almost knocked Eli over.
“Hey.” Eli looked at Arthur Lake with a hatred in his eyes that I had never seen before. “What the fuck, dude? Are you running from another murder scene?”
The man gave him a wide eyed, crazed look. “You’re a Pacer boy,” he sneered. “Part of that cult up on the hill.”
“Go somewhere else,” Eli ordered, before he put a smile on his face as he approached me.
“What was that?” I asked him.
“This is one chocolate banana smoothie.” He gave me that big grin, with a tuft of his bright blonde curls falling into his eyes as he handed it to me. “Come on, let’s go check on that kid and make sure he’s holding on tight through all of those mood swings.”
“Babe!” I shouted, punching him in the shoulder.
“Hey. That has to be a wild friggin ride. Poor guy’s gonna come sliding out with whip lash.”
I looked at him with disbelief, before I bursted out laughing. “You are such a dick. I can’t even take it.”