My phone buzzed in my back pocket, and I scrambled to answer.
“I am,” I said, brushing the snow from my hair.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Cheap drinks at a dive bar?” she said. “I’ll pick you up.”
Jon Bon Jovi played from the jukebox in the corner, its yellow, green, and blue glow one of the only sources of light in Turk’s besides the fluorescents over the bar.
A small group of local snowboarders were shooting tequila in the corner, and despite my occasional flirtatious glances in their direction, they weren’t going to share.
Annie stayed busy behind the bar, raking in the last of the ski season’s share of tips. I was sitting on a stool in front of her soda gun, watching her mix drinks I couldn’t afford. Jojo had already bought me two, and I wasn’t going to ask for another. Unfortunately, no one was looking to flirt with a jetlagged, hungover party girl too broke to party.
I looked around, feeling more desperate as the minutes passed, listening to Jojo go on about Liam and his invitation for her to meet him in North Carolina.
A shot was placed in front of me, and I turned to thank whoever it was. My smile faded when I saw a platinum pompadour and sweet grin.
“You look like you’ve had better days, Ellie,” Paige said, straightening one of her enormous gold leaf earrings.
“That’s not very nice. I just bought you a drink.”
I craned my neck at her. “My sister won’t speak to me because of you.”
Jojo leaned forward. “I can’t believe you did that, Paige. What the fuck were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t,” she said without apology. “I was drunk and maybe a lot high.”
Jojo wrinkled her nose. “What happened to you? You used to be so sweet. Now you’re full of holes and covered in cheap artwork.”
“You’re a cunt rag, Paige. Your fake, innocent smile fools no one,” Jojo said, turning to watch the television overhead.
Paige seemed unfazed, resting her cheek on her palm. “I wasn’t trying to be mean. I didn’t realize it was a secret.”
“If you’re going to pull something that heinous, at least own it. I’d respect you more,” I said, grabbing the shot and throwing it down my throat.
“Want another one?” she asked, arching an eyebrow. She had plans for me, and I didn’t care what they were. I just wanted to get drunk and not care for a night.
“It depends. What did you put in that shot?”
“I’ll just take another drink.”
“Where’s your boy?” Paige asked, lifting her leg to climb onto the stool to my right. She was wearing tight jeans and a tank top under a flannel shirt, showing off her curves and cleavage all while staying warm.
“Not here,” I said, throwing back the next shot Annie sat before me.
“Hey,” Paige said with a giggle. “Wait for me.” She lifted her chin and the dark liquid left the glass, emptying down her throat. She placed the glass upside down and slid it toward Annie, ordering two doubles.
I drank them as fast as Annie could make them. Finally, Paige cut me off. “You’re going to drink my paycheck. I came in with a fifty, and it’s gone.”
“Thank you,” I said, holding up my empty tumbler.
“Pace yourself,” Jojo said. “When Dad falls off the wagon, it’s easier for him to climb back on without a hangover.”
“I’m already hungover,” I said. “Or I was … six drinks ago.”
Jojo snorted. “Only counting to six would be impressive to you, Miley Cyrus.”
“Why did you bring her to a bar if she’s on the wagon, Jojo?” Paige asked, leaning forward.
“Why did you bring her Crown to her house? Why are you buying her shots now? I just wanted to have a couple of drinks and chat, not get her wasted so I could talk her into ungodly things.”
“Now, ladies,” I said, smiling when I felt the warmth settling into my muscles. “No need to fight over who is the best enabler.”
“It’s not funny,” Annie said, glaring at us with her round, chocolate eyes while she furiously dried a glass. “You’re both assholes if she was trying to get sober.” She looked at me. “You’re cut off, Ellie. Get the hell out of here.”
“You let me serve drinks to an alcoholic. I better not see you in here again or I’ll call Wick. Jojo … shame on you.”
Jojo made a face. “Oh, please. Like Daddy doesn’t come in here and get drunk when he fights with Mom.”
“Not for a long time,” Annie said, her shoulder-length brown curls shaking as she scolded and worked at the same time. “Take her home.”
“Okay … okay, we’re going,” I said, standing to gather my things.
“I’ll take you home,” Paige said.
“No.” I shook my head. “You still haven’t apologized for New Year’s Eve.”
Paige took a step toward me, six inches too far into my personal space. “What do you think I’m trying to do?”
She leaned in, tilted her head, and pressed her lips to mine. The snowboarders in the corner cheered like their favorite hockey team had just scored.
“Buy those girls a drink!” one of them yelled, pointing at us.
I looked to Annie, but she pointed to the door.
Paige led me out by the hand, but once we stepped into the alley, she backed up against the wall and yanked me toward her. Her tongue ring banged against my teeth, her hands firmly on each side of my face.
I heard someone giggle to my left, and I turned to a woman in the same position as Paige, pulling Sterling’s face against hers. Her knee was hitched to his hip.
His red-rimmed eyes drifted, and when he recognized me, I could see that he was just as drunk as I was, if not more. We watched each other for a long time, and then Sterling’s friend pulled him to face her again, demanding his attention.
Paige tried to do the same, but I backed away.
I walked toward the street, passing Sterling and his new friend and turning right toward downtown. I stopped on the corner, looking down when a police cruiser rolled by. The light changed, and I hurried across the street to the only twenty-four-hour convenience store in town.
The clerk pointed to the back, and I ran.
I burst through the door and leaned back against it, sliding down to the floor. Pieces of toilet paper and paper towels were lying all around me, and I could feel the ass of my jeans getting wet from one of the many small puddles on the floor. I reached back for my phone, my thumb hovering over the display.
Before I could change my mind, I pressed the last name I ever thought I’d dial—a number Finley had programmed into my phone three months before.