Chapter 8: Affton

Chapter 8: Affton

My phone was glowing with messages and missed calls. I'd left it on the dashboard when I first got to the house, but I regretted that now. I could have used the distraction while dealing with Cable. I told my dad I would call him when I arrived. He had no idea why I was in Port Aransas for the summer. I didn't want to tell him that he was hanging onto his job by a thread or how Melanie McCaffrey had me over a barrel. He would quit in a heartbeat, but then he would struggle to find work if he stayed in Loveless, and there really was nowhere else for him to go. I was headed to California in a few months, and his entire family was in that small Texas town. So, I lied. Something I never did. I told him that Melanie had set up an internship for me over the summer that would help me not only earn money before college but would look great when I applied to grad school. He didn't question any of it, and was, as always, so supportive and proud of every little thing I did. It made me feel awful.

Jordan had also called several times. She was dying for a rundown of the McCaffrey's beach house, and she was chomping at the bit for an update on Cable's condition. The rumor mill had started grinding away now that the news that he was out of prison and on parole was making the rounds. Jordan told me she had heard that he was horribly disfigured after the incident. She told me people were speculating that his time in prison had been brutal and he had come out a changed man. Some were saying he had joined the Aryan Brotherhood while he was behind bars, and others were saying the feds had put him in witness protection and that's why he wasn't coming back to Loveless. I told her it was all ridiculous, but small-town gossip was a living, breathing thing, and without Cable there to deny any of the things that were being said about him, the stories grew wilder.

Needing a minute of normalcy, I touched the image of Jordan's smiling face and called her back.

Jordan was as opposite from me as could be. She was dark where I was light. She was born to stand out when all I wanted to do was make my way unnoticed. Her parents were happily married and everything in her home centered on family. Her mom and dad had been together since they both went to Loveless High and neither one of them knew the first thing about having their family ripped apart by addiction and dishonesty. She was loud, outgoing, bubbly, and vivacious. She was friends with everyone, but I was the only one she kept close. She told me early on when we first started hanging out that the reason she liked me so much was because I didn't try to get her to like me. I laughed and told her it was because I didn't want her to befriend me…I wanted to be left alone. But Jordan was persistent, and she didn't have a mean or spiteful bone in her body, so there was no way I could resist her. We'd been inseparable since seventh grade, which was another reason I could gladly scalp Melanie McCaffrey. This was the last summer I had with my best friend before our lives inevitably split in different directions, and Cable's mom had snatched that time away from us by forcing me to babysit her son. I was going to Berkeley; Jordan was staying in Loveless and learning all about her parents' event planning and catering business.

Her older brother, Johnny, was supposed to take over when he graduated a couple years ahead of us, but he'd met some girl on spring break in Cancun and had followed her to Arizona. He shocked everyone by enrolling at Arizona State. Jordan, on the other hand, was made to show people how to have a good time, so she couldn't wait to dive into learning the ropes of event planning. I was sad she was set on staying in Loveless. I wanted her to want more. But I understood why she was staying, and I couldn't say I wouldn't be more willing to stay if I had more to look forward to than watching my dad get older while things stayed the same as they were now.

I couldn't bring myself to lie to Jordan when I told her why I wouldn't be around for the summer. I owed her the truth, and I needed someone to commiserate with. She knew how I felt about Cable. She was also the only person who knew I was the one who had ratted him out to his mother about his drug use.

"OMG! I've been calling you all night. I thought you might have been abducted at a truck stop. Are you okay? How's the house? Does it look like something from a magazine? How's Cable? Does he look like a felon?" The questions came so fast and furiously I could barely keep up with her.

I tugged on my bottom lip and closed my eyes as I rested my head on the back of my seat. "The house is just as impressive as the one on the ranch. It's big and has a wraparound deck. The beach is right off the back steps, and the water is within throwing distance. It's all fancy. It reminds me of a luxury hotel. I'm scared to touch anything." I blew out a sigh and ran a hand over my face. "He was drunk when I got here, Jordan. Trashed. He's not supposed to be drinking or using any kind of narcotic. He didn't even wait a day. This is going to be a disaster. I'm already annoyed and exhausted. This wasn't how I wanted to spend my last summer before school starts."

She made a sympathetic sound. "I know it wasn't, but what can you do? If Cable is already on his way to screwing up, all you have to do is wait him out. Once he messes up, he'll go back to jail, and you can come home and party with me until you leave for Berkeley."

I rubbed my temples with my free hand and sighed again. "Yeah, but then I have to worry about Melanie firing my dad anyway because I couldn't help her son. She's desperate and unpredictable. She might blame me if Cable fails."

"You need to tell your dad what's going on and let him handle her." She'd been saying that since I told her about the ultimatum from Cable's mom.

"If I can't keep Cable on the straight and narrow for even a day, I might not have any choice. I wasn't sure what to expect when I showed up. I knew he wasn't going to be happy to see me, but I didn't expect him to be three sheets to the wind already." I also didn't expect him to seem so broken and battered.

"How did he seem, besides hammered?"

I knew she was asking about guilt and remorse. Anyone else would be lugging around a truckload of both those things after the incident, but I couldn't tell if Cable was any heavier emotionally than he was before that night. "He seems miserable."

He really did. There was no light anywhere in those dark eyes.

She made another noise, and I could hear her typing on a keyboard in the background. "Well, I guess going to prison didn't change much. He's still drinking. I swear that boy's face would crack in half if he ever smiled. It's a total bummer you're stuck with such a gloomy Gus all summer, especially since you're in such a beautiful spot. You should be out chasing cute surfer boys while you're there, not babysitting a grouchy, drunk, pain in the ass. This should be the summer where you let your hair down and finally have some fun."

She was always telling me I needed to loosen up and live a little. She never understood why I never went with her to parties or school activities. She swore I was missing out on making memories that would last me a lifetime. I tried to explain to her there was nothing about this time in my life I was interested in remembering. I had a destination in mind, and I was focused on the road, not the surroundings I was passing.

"I'll take it as a win if I get through the next few months with my sanity intact." No one had ever pushed my buttons as violently as Cable did. "One of these weekends you'll have to grab Diego and come down for a few days. It won't be the kind of fun you're used to since the house has to stay an alcohol-free zone, but you can come play in the water, and we can go shopping and lie around in the sun."

She hummed a little bit; the clicking of her keyboard halted. There was a long moment of silence that grew weighted and drawn out until she quietly told me, "Diego and I broke up a few days ago. I didn't want to tell you because you were dealing with your own crazy stuff and packing up to leave."

I gasped a little and sat up straighter in my seat. I wrapped my free hand around my steering wheel and asked, "What happened?" She and Diego had been together for the entirety of our senior year. She was smitten with him after their first date, and he treated her like she was his entire world. I couldn't imagine what could have come between them and caused such a major break.

I heard a shuffle as she shrugged on the other end of the line. "Real life happened, I guess. I'm spending the summer working, and he's going to visit his mom and brother in El Paso before he leaves for college. We'll see each other for a week before he leaves for good. I wasn't invested enough to work at keeping things together, and he wasn't either. I don't think he wanted to start college with his high school girlfriend holding on back home."

I bit the inside of my lower lip to keep from blurting out, "I told you so." What she was going through right now was exactly why I didn't get attached or go out of my way to bond with anyone besides her. "I'm sorry. That sucks."

She laughed a little bit, and I could practically see her wrinkling her nose at me. "How badly are you biting your tongue right now?"

I snorted. "Hard enough that it might bleed."

She laughed again. "One of these days you are going to meet someone who gets in, Affton. They're going to ignore all those 'No Trespassing' signs and all the barbed wire you have your insides wrapped up in, and they are going to get in so deep you won't be able to get them out. You aren't going to know what to do with yourself. They're going to knock you so far off course there won't be any finding your way back."

That was never going to happen. After my mom, after the loss and confusion that followed, I made sure the path to my heart was pretty much impassable. I functioned by keeping my soft spots unreachable.

"Well, you found your way inside, so I guess anything is possible. I'm going to go make sure Cable didn't suffocate in a pile of his own puke and try and get some sleep. If you're flying solo, maybe you can get a week off and come down to visit me. I'd love to see you." I'd love to see anyone who wasn't Cable, but she was at the top of the list.

"I'll see what I can do. Keep your chin up and don't let that boy get to you."

"Same. I'm sorry I wasn't paying attention and missed you going through a breakup. I'm a terrible friend."

It was her turn to snort. "No, you're the best friend ever. Cable McCaffrey is simply too distracting. He always has been. Check in with me periodically."

I hung up and tapped the phone against my thigh.

She was right…he was distracting. I could still feel the touch of his fingers on the back of my knee and the heat from his body as he leaned into my side all solid and strong…and sloshed out of his mind.

He was distracting, and it was just one more thing I hated about him…or maybe it was the fact that I allowed myself to be distracted by him that I hated. Hating him didn't seem to be as important as it once was. Either way, it was going to be one looooong summer.

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