“Maybe we should tell people to go home,” I suggest. “It’s really late, and the neighbors might make a complaint again.”
She waves me off, ducking her head to look inside the fridge. “Those neighbors moved out, like, a month ago. And all I have to say is good riddance. They were ruining the unwritten rules of this apartment.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as someone moves up behind me. “What rules?”
“The keep your mouth shut rules.” She grabs a beer from a six-pack in the fridge, which is pretty much the only thing in there. “Where the hell did all the food go? I thought you went grocery shopping.”
“I did a few days ago.” I shuffle forward as my personal space gets stolen away. “And there was way more food in there when I left for work.”
“Well, you should probably go again because there really isn’t much left.” She closes the fridge and faces me, unscrewing the lid off the bottle. “Where do you work, anyway? And why are you dressed like that?”
“You mean like a slut?” I ask with bitterness, wrapping my arms around myself.
A drop of remorse emerges in her dazed eyes. “I’m sorry about that, sweetie. I was caught in the moment. I get that way sometimes.”
When I was younger, I latched on to her apologies and the rare moments when she resembled the mother I had before my dad left. Now I understand that most of the time, she’s either trying to butter me up because she wants something, or she’s blazed out of her mind.
“It’s fine,” I lie, ramming my elbow into the guy behind me. He curses and calls me some not-so-nice names, but thankfully, backs off. Still, the confrontation makes me feel out of control and breathless, and not in the good kind of way, like when I sometimes look into Beck’s eyes and feel like I’m spinning out of control. “But I still think maybe you should ask everyone to leave.”
“Nah, the fun’s just getting started.” She downs a swig of the beer then steps toward me. “Don’t worry. We probably won’t stick around for very much longer. There’s supposed to be live music down at the corner bar. We’ll probably go check that out.”
“Please don’t drive,” I plead. “Take the bus or walk, okay?”
“Of course.” Her dismissive tone leads me to believe she’s lying. And she already has a revoked license because of too many DUIs.
Once she leaves the kitchen to do shots with her friend Darla in the living room, I sneak into her bedroom and steal her keys out of her purse before heading for my bedroom. On my way down the crowded hallway, a guy smirks and reaches for me.
“Look, it’s a mini-Paula,” he tells one of his friends.
I smack his hand away, my heart an erratic mess. “I’m nothing like my mother.”
Then I glance down at my clothes, painfully reminded of what I was doing only hours ago.
Maybe I am.
Tears flood my eyes as I shove the guy away, run into my room, and lock the door. Then I peel my clothes off and change into my pajamas, wishing I could take a shower and wash tonight off me. But the last thing I want to do is go into that madness again.
Before I climb into bed, I receive a text from Beck.
Beck: Just want to make sure you’re okay before I take off. Things sound pretty intense in there …
I tiptoe over to the window and peer out, wondering if he’s still out there. I spot his BMW almost instantly. It stands out here like a cheerleader at a Goth club. Strangely, though, a Mercedes is parked beside Beck’s car.
Two fancy cars in one night. So weird.
I wouldn’t think too much of it, but here, I worry some rich drug dealer is inside, staking out my apartment because my mom owes them money.
It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.
Fear lashes through me, causing my heart to pound violently in my chest. I want to confess everything to Beck, admit I want him to come inside, throw me over his shoulder, and carry me out of this hellhole. I want him to save me. On my way, I’d tell my mom I’m never coming back. And I’d mean it. I wouldn’t care.
The problem is I do care about my mom, even if I don’t want to. And besides, asking Beck to save me isn’t what I want. I want to be able to save myself. I want to be a strong person who doesn’t break when they’re alone.
You can handle this. You’ve done it a thousand times.
Me: Yep, I’m fine. It’s not as noisy in my room. And I have the door locked, so no one will bother me. Thanks for the ride, Beck. I really do appreciate everything you do.
He doesn’t reply, and I lie down in bed, staring at the snow globe collection my father gave me before he left. They are the only items I have left that are connected to him since my mom pawned off everything else he left behind.
Front and center is the snow globe Beck gave me after he came back from Paris. It’s my favorite one because it came from him. Beck is my favorite person in the entire world, and knowing that is scary.
Tumbling, falling, out of control—that’s how I feel when I’m around him.
I like him too much.
I try to convince myself that Beck’s silence is for the best. Maybe he’s finally giving up on being my knight in shining armor. The stinging ache in my heart has nothing to do with the fact that maybe, just maybe, he’s finally moving on. Still, my heart twinges.
I rub my hand across my chest, willing the pain away as I lie in my bedroom, battling sleep.
About ten minutes into the battle, a light tap hits my window. I don’t budge, terrified I was correct about the drug lord.
The tapping happens repeatedly, and then my phone hums with an incoming message.
Beck: Would you please just come to your window? I can see through the curtains, so I know you’re awake.
My gaze darts to the window as I climb out of bed.
Padding across my room, I pull back the curtains, seeing Beck smiling at me, his posture stiff.
“What are you doing out there?” I ask as I slide open the window.
“Making you a real, live princess,” he jokes, tossing a glance over his shoulder at the parking lot.
“How does this make me a real, live princess?”
“Because I’m your Prince Charming, here to rescue you.” He motions for me to move. “Now move back so I can climb in.”
I want to argue, but loud music and yelling makes me easily step back.