I let the thin notebook paper fall to my lap.
Of course it would be Taylor fucking Maddox. The last person on Earth who I want to need is my one quick ticket to Eakins. I pushed the thought from my head. I didn’t want a plan or to even think about it.
I just needed to get there. No expectations. No hopes. Just the opportunity to knock on their door. Even if they wouldn’t forgive me, maybe I could finally forgive myself.
I wiped my cheeks, smiling as the dad in Poltergeist pushed the television out of the hotel room and onto the balcony. The credits and eerie music began to play, and I scowled at the empty mug of coffee on the carpet next to me.
My fridge contained only a moldy jar of cheese dip, ketchup, and two cans of Red Bull. Phaedra had given me a used coffee maker, but I didn’t have any coffee or sugar … or water if I couldn’t afford the bill. I cringed, thinking about having to go downstairs to use the toilet. I would have to clean that restroom on occasion, and although I made a conscious effort not to be a snob about most things, public restrooms made my skin crawl.
I stood up and made my way downstairs to the kitchen. The loud chatter of customers instantly infiltrated my head, especially the squeals and cries of children. They always seemed to hit an octave that stood out to me, grinding inside my brain like a metal fork on a plate.
The water splashed onto my T-shirt as I rinsed the mug. Then I put it into one of three dishwashers.
Hector smiled at me as he rounded the corner, wiping his hands on his apron. “Are you going to get outside and see the world today, Miss Falyn?” he asked.
I sighed. “Are you ever going to stop calling me that?”
Hector just smiled, carrying on with his duties.
Phaedra’s face appeared in the food window. “Hey, kiddo. What do you have planned today?”
“Nothing.” I took a bite of celery that had been left on the prep table.
Pete slapped my hand as I grabbed for another, and I tried not to laugh.
My grin fell away. “He said I had a nightmare,” I said to Pete.
“It’s been a long time … since …” I said, trailing off.
Phaedra came over to stand next to me and gently pulled on one of my tawny waves, moving it away from my face. “You sure you don’t have anything planned?” she asked.
She gestured behind her with a nod. “Because that boy’s here, looking for you.”
I scrambled to the doors, pushing through to see Taylor standing on the sidewalk outside. He waved to me.
Taylor shoved his hands into his jeans pockets, his short sleeves showing off the lean muscles in his arms.
“If you tell me you were in the neighborhood, I’m going to be disappointed,” I said, crossing my arms.
He chuckled and looked down. “No. I was bored and came straight over.”
“You have the day off, too?”
“I do. Wanna do some stupid touristy shit with me? You listed all that stuff before.”
“My truck is over there,” he said, turning slightly and gesturing toward a shiny black foreign job with mud tires. He turned back to me, dubious. “How do you get around?”
Taylor held out his hand, one side of his mouth pulling into a mischievous half smile. “With me.”
My first impulse was to say no. I had gotten used to being broody and spitting words that would make any man retreat, but I didn’t have to do that with Taylor. My insults had no effect on him, and he’d just keep coming back until it was time for him to leave. If I managed to get him to take me to Eakins, I wouldn’t even have to push him away after our return to Colorado Springs. His job and the distance would do it for me.
He flashed his dimple, and saying yes to him was nearly compulsive.
“Just don’t do anything stupid, like open my car door.”
“Do I look like that kind of guy to you?”
“No, but you don’t look like the kind of guy who makes friends with girls either, and it feels like I’ve got the job.”
He pulled me along, looking both ways before crossing the street. “What can I say? You’re the opposite of my better half.”
“So, I’m so horrible that I make you feel like a better person?” I asked, standing next to the passenger-side door.
He pointed at me. “Exactly.”
He reached for the door handle, but I smacked his hand away.
“Don’t worry, Ivy League. I wouldn’t open your door for you even if I liked you,” he said. “You’re driving. I don’t know where to go, and I damn sure don’t want you barking directions at me.”
“You want me to drive your truck?” I asked, feeling a bit nervous. I hadn’t driven anything in years.
The doors clicked, and Taylor handed me a set of keys—some shiny, some not so shiny. Walking around the front end and then climbing into the driver’s seat, I tried not to show fear, but mostly, I didn’t want to feel it. I closed the door and pulled on my seat belt, horrified that my hands were trembling.
“Do you even have a license?” he asked.
“Yes. I know how to drive. It’s just … been a while.” I sniffed and felt even sicker. “You spent the morning cleaning your truck, didn’t you?”
“She. She is not new, no. I bought her last year.” He took the keys from my hand and chose the largest one to stab into the ignition.
“Jesus,” I whispered. “I really don’t think I should drive … her.”
“No country?” I asked, resting my hands on the wheel at ten and two.
He laughed once. “Country’s for dancing and crying. AC/DC is for cleaning your truck.”
“The classics never get old. Let’s go.”
I pulled down the gearshift and turned around, slowly backing out of the parking space. A car appeared and honked, and I slammed on the brakes.
Taylor looked at me, his eyebrows shooting up almost to his hairline.
“I desperately want to keep up my cast-iron bitch persona, but I don’t think I can do this,” I said.
“How long did you say it’s been?”
“Ever? Or did you wreck yours?”
I stared at him, unable to answer.
He unfastened his seat belt. “You’d better just tell me where I’m going. I’ll learn to live with directions from a girl. We can reintroduce you to the road another day.”
“Directions from a girl? Shall I assume you’d even ask for them? Or is that too far from the ancient stereotype?”
He stared at me with dead eyes. “Ivy League, stop talking to me like you’re writing a fucking paper.”
“Let’s just do this,” I said, climbing over the console.
After jogging around to the driver’s side, he climbed up and settled in. “I feel better about this,” he said, nodding.