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Chapter 5: Cable

Chapter 5: Cable

Port Aransas

I liked the water.

I appreciated the way it could be calm and serene one minute, but as soon as something disrupted the surface, it could rage and churn with a scary kind of violence.

I also respected that you could never tell what was lurking beneath the surface. There was no telling how deep the water was until you waded in. One minute your feet were solidly on the sandy bottom, the next you were in over your head. Sinking, falling, flailing as you went under.

That was pretty much how I felt every single day of my life. Some days I could touch the bottom, but more often than not I was struggling to find my way to the surface, desperate for a breath of air.

I watched the water roll up over my toes, touching the torn hem of my jeans. My ass had been planted in the sand for a couple of hours now, and the tide was starting to come in. I was soaking wet, and my jeans were going to weigh a ton by the time I made my way back up to my dad's waterfront beach house. I couldn't find the energy to care about the tide or the hazy knowledge that I was going to be entirely uncomfortable when I finally got to my feet. My impending discomfort had little to do with wet denim and clammy underwear and everything to do with the reality that the solitude I'd been searching for was about to be snatched away from me. All I wanted was to be alone. I had spent the last year and a half of my life surrounded by criminals and addicts. I'd been swarmed by the worst of the worst, and all I wanted was some room to breathe.

I wasn't getting it.

My parents thought I was a danger to myself and to their pristine reputations. They didn't want to leave me to my own devices. They didn't trust me…and I couldn't blame them. But that didn't mean I wasn't queasy about the idea of having someone watch my every move while I tried to make my way back to a place where my feet touched the ground. I resented the thought that I needed a babysitter, and I hated the idea that anyone would be close enough to me to see the fractures in the mask I wore day to day. They would see the true ugliness I wasn't sure I had the ability to hide anymore. If I wanted to stay out of prison and get any kind of independence back, that meant no more leaning on the crutch of drugs to keep all that darkness at bay. No more pretending like I was fine, that life was nothing more than a party that didn't start until I showed up.

I'd been steadily working my way through a bottle of shitty, cinnamon-flavored whiskey for the last couple of hours, and I had hoped it would take the edge off the bubbling irritation that was already under my skin. I wasn't supposed to be drinking. I wasn't supposed to be doing any of the things I'd always done. No booze. No drugs. No sex. Pretty much no fun.

The vices were a distraction; I knew that even before the prison shrink tried to enlighten me. I'd never wanted to focus on myself, on the fact that I was inherently unhappy with no real reason to feel that way. I had everything anyone could want. I was privileged…special…but none of it mattered. I couldn't remember a time when I woke up satisfied and content with my life. I was always getting sucked under, lungs filling with dissatisfaction; but the girls, the partying, all helped to make the feeling of suffocation less powerful. I wasn't thinking about myself either; I was thinking about making the girls feel good, or I was too impaired to feel at all. I felt like I was treading water. Admittedly, the more I used, the more I took from others, the farther out I drifted. Every day I could see the shore getting farther and farther away. By then, I was caught in a current and there was no fighting my way back. I let it suck me under without struggle…without complaint.

I made a face as I took another pull on the bottle. I couldn't figure out why the whiskey needed to be candy-flavored, but considering I'd conned it off a group of underage, high school girls, it didn't surprise me that they'd been drinking this. They were probably only a couple of years younger than me, cute and inviting in their tiny bikinis. They wanted me to join them, and if I wasn't expecting a very unwanted visitor, I probably would have. I didn't have much of a choice when it came to giving up drugs and booze, but no one was going to be checking up on my sex life. The only person accountable for my dick was me. That was a vice I could still hold onto, and I had no doubt I would. Of all the things I'd ever indulged, girls were always the easiest to score.

I took the bottle when it was offered, told the girls I would be around for the summer, and proceeded to chug the vile stuff as the sun went down. I was going to be screwed if I got called in for a surprise screen tomorrow, not just because I was violating my parole, but because I was still technically underage as well, even though I was staring down the barrel of my twenty-first birthday. Every time I took a drink, I was risking my neck. The judge who sentenced me would love nothing more than to tack on time to my original sentence. I couldn't bring myself to care too much. I didn't want to go back to prison, but the need to numb all the emotions rioting inside of me outweighed any fear of the consequences. I never gave a shit about the consequences…that was how I ended up in this mess from the get-go.

I never cared what the drugs were doing to me, what they were doing to my life, what they were doing to the people around me. All I cared about was the way I felt when I was high. I was free. I was above all the things pressing down on me. I was out from under the weight that was always there sitting heavy on my chest. I wasn't happy…but it was as close as I'd ever been, which was why it was so easy to let the current carry me so far out.

I knew my mom blamed herself.

I also knew she loved me and wanted to help. It wasn't her fault she married a serial philanderer and an all-around asshole. If I'd given a shit about my father, I would have been caught up in all the ways he was ruining our family. It was impossible for her to hold her marriage and me together at the same time. Ultimately, she was forced to let both of those things go, but now that I was out, on my way to being clean and sober, and with my dad out of the picture, she was on a mission to make amends.

Her overzealous need to apologize, to shoulder the blame for all the things I had done, and to hold herself accountable for all the ways I had failed was too much. Her guilt felt heavier than my own, and that wasn't fair. She shouldn't be suffering more than I was. Her hurt had no right to be bigger and badder than mine. I couldn't take it. Even after everything she'd done to make sure I got the minimum sentence possible and the money she'd tossed around to make sure I got in the best after-care facility the state had to offer, I couldn't take her remorse and regret. My own was choking me every time I breathed. Hers was liable to crush me. I shut her out and since she was wallowing in blame—no matter how many times I assured her my actions were all on me and had nothing to do with her—she insisted on taking care of me. If I wouldn't let her do it, then she was going to send someone in her place.

Someone I had thought about every single day since she told me she hated me.

Someone I watched from the moment she showed up in Loveless looking as lost and alone as I felt.

Affton Reed.

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