Why in the world did I agree to help with the lunch rush at The Hill? For one thing, there isn't a lunch rush, not during this time of year. And for another, I should've known that Maddy only wanted to get me here to lecture me.
"I don't like it," she tells me now, referring to Pax. And me seeing Pax again last night. "He's not good for you. He's going to break your heart and leave me with the pieces to put back together."
I stare at her. "We've been through this. Your opinion has been noted. Is there anything else?"
I stand in front of her desk with my hands on my hips and what I hope is a defiant expression on my face.
Madison purses her lips, then shakes her head.
"Good. I'm going to go finish my side-work, then I'm out of here for the day."
"Can you come back and help tonight?"
I shake my head. "No. You didn't schedule me and I have plans."
She glares. "With our resident drug dealer?"
I glare back. "He's not a drug dealer and it's not your business."
"You're my sister, so it is my business," she tells me snappily.
I don't bother to answer, I just head out to the dining room. Tony is whistling at the bar and I edge up to him, perching on a bar stool.
I smile at his tuneless song. "Tony, you're always happy. Why is that?"
He glances at me as he slices limes. "Why shouldn't I be? I've got everything I need and a pretty little wife at home. My life is good."
I nod. "Good point. It's the simple things in life that are best, right?"
He nods and examines me, his knife paused mid-slice.
"Why the long face, mia bella? Do I need to break someone's legs?"
My gaze flies to his and he is laughing.
"Are you talking about Pax?" I ask. "Has Maddy been trying to get you on her side?"
Tony sobers up. "I'm on your side. And her side. I'll break the legs of anyone who gives you a hard time, period. Either of you. It doesn't matter if it is this kid or someone else."
I eye him and he seems to be serious. I picture big, gruff Tony swinging a bat and shudder.
"What do you think about 'this kid'? You talked with him the other night. How did he seem to you?"
Tony seems to consider that as he leans on his burly arms against the bar.
"It's hard to say. He seemed nice, polite. Respectful. That says something right there. At least his jeans aren't hanging around his ass, like some of the other punks his age. But he's got baggage. You know that already, though. You always were attracted to things that needed fixing. Remember that old stray dog you dragged in when you were little?" He looks up at me and then without a beat adds, "Oh, and by the way, the kid is here."
"What?" My head snaps up and I turn to find Pax walking through the restaurant door. I have no idea how he knew I was here.
Tony smiles and hums and continues wiping the gleaming wooden bar down as I head toward Pax.
"Hi," I say as I stop in front of him. I stare at his face, trying to assess his mood. Did the therapist appointment go well? I'm not sure if I should ask.
"Hi," he answers, then he smiles. He seems tired, but definitely okay.
"Did you come for lunch?" I ask. He shakes his head.
"Nope. I came for you."
"For me?" My questions comes out more like a squeak and Pax smiles.
"Yes, for you. I want to get out of town for a little bit, to clear my mind. You game?"
I stare at him, into his hazel eyes. He seems troubled and tired. "You want company?"
"If it's you."
If it's me. My heart lurches.
I nod, knowing that I would agree to anything now.
"What do you have in mind?" I ask, knowing that it doesn't really matter.
He stares down at me. "The lake hasn't begun to freeze yet. I was thinking we could take my boat out one last time before I have it winterized."
I'm nodding before I really even think about it and head for the door.
Pax tugs on my elbow. "You might want to get your coat."
He's laughing now and I have to laugh too. I'm an idiot. It's cold outside, and even colder on the water. I head to the back and grab my coat, ignoring Maddy sniping about my side-work.
When I return to Pax's side, I grasp his arm. I can't help but notice that my fingers fit perfectly inside the crook of his elbow.
I leave my car at The Hill, and ride with Pax out to the Pier.
"The vomit smell cleaned up nicely," I observe, as I sniff the interior. It smells like leather and pine car freshener. Pax shakes his head.
"Yeah, a good detailing will do that. I'm never going to live that down, am I?"
"Probably not," I answer absently, as I stare out the window. The wintery trees blur past as we leave The Hill behind us.
It only takes a few minutes to drive to the pier and the boardwalk looks so lonely this time of year. Most of the boats have already been taken out of their slips for the winter. It almost seems abandoned here.
Pax heads around to the trunk of his car and after burrowing around for a minute, pulls out a heavy blue parka.
"It's going to be cold on the water," he tells me needlessly. "So why don't you bundle up in this?"
He helps me pull it on and when I look sufficiently like the abominable snowman, we head toward his large speedboat.
I decide it must have costs thousands and thousands of dollars, but I don't say that as he helps me climb aboard. I choose to sit on the floorboard, out of the wind, and he starts up the engine. The roar slices through the silence and we are quickly puttering out of the bay.
Before long, Pax's face is red from the wind. It's been a mild winter so far, but it's still frigid out here. The water makes the wind absolutely bitingly cold.
"We'd better not go too far out," I yell to him. "You're going to freeze to death."
He rolls his eyes and continues to steer us past the huge lonely buoys that mark the channel-way into the bay. When we're out in open water, he finally cuts the engine and the silence seems enormous.
He drops down onto the floorboard next to me.
"You're right," he says, leaning into me. "It's fucking cold."
I giggle as he rams his hands into my pockets, trying to absorb some of my warmth.
"We're crazy for being out here today," I tell him. "We're going to get frostbite."
He grins. "I'm crazy for many things, but not this."
The rest of me might be cold, but my heart warms at his words. And then I feel like a sap. A freezing cold sap.
I huddle together with him, enjoying the way we seem like the only two people in the world out here as we bob with the current. The cold air stings my lungs, but I take a deep breath anyway, enjoying the briskness.
"Do you come out here a lot?" I ask.
Pax nods. "I come out here when I want to get away from the world. No one can find me here, although not that many people come looking."
I laugh and lean against him, and he wraps his arm around my shoulders.
"I should've brought some hot chocolate from The Hill," I moan, trying to warm up my red fingers. "I think I might lose a hand or my toes."
Pax rolls his eyes. "A little melodramatic, aren't we?"
"Speak for yourself. I need my toes." I squeeze into his arm tighter, then look up at him.
"How was your appointment today? Are you glad you went?"
He goes still and his jaw is clenched. I stare at him and try to decide how to handle this delicate situation.
He still hasn't said anything, so I ask, "Are you going back?"
Pax sighs. "I don't know. I don't see the point, really. He seems focused on my drug use and I just want to figure out my dreams. It's pretty startling to dream about your dead mother all of the time."
"Maybe he thinks the two things are connected," I suggest, trying to keep my voice light, but in reality, I'm dying to know what the doctor might have said.
"Doubtful," Pax answers. "The only correlation that he seemed to draw was one between you and my mom."
This startles me and I stare at him.
"What? He compared me to your mom?"
For some reason, this horrifies me. Being compared to his mom isn't exactly how I want him to see me. He shakes his head.
"I don't know what he's thinking. He's got some crazy ideas."
"But your dreams didn't start until you met me, right?" I ask slowly and I know the answer before he nods.
"Yes. But that doesn't mean anything."
"Okay." My voice is quiet here in the boat buried under the lip of the fiberglass. He squeezes me tight.
"Don't worry about it. I'm the fucked up one, not you. Trust me, I don't think of you as my mother, if that's what you're worried about."
I smile a bit, in relief and he laughs, looking at my face. "That's what you were worried about? I'm fucked up. But I'm not that fucked up."
I relax and sag against him and he rubs my hands to warm them. We can see our breath, the white wisps floating away as we talk.
For at least an hour, we chat about nothingness; high school, family and old pets. He laughs because I was a cheerleader for a while. And then I laugh because he owns every Star Wars movie ever made.
"What?" he demands imperiously. "They're good movies."
I laugh and try to pretend that my feet aren't blocks of ice and that I can't hear his phone. It's been buzzing every few minutes for at least an hour. He looked at it once, then shoved it back in his pocket and hasn't looked at it since.
"Do you need to get that?" I ask him as it buzzes again. "Whoever it is really wants to talk to you."
He shakes his head, clearly annoyed. "No. It's no one that I need to worry about."
I'm dying of curiosity, but I don't push it. He clearly doesn't want to talk about it. But I realize for the first time, that when he gets like this, so secret and closed-away, that it makes me nervous. What other parts of his life don't I know about?
I guess I fall silent because after a while, Pax nudges my foot.
"Why are you so quiet? Are you upset?"
I really want to say no, to pretend that I'm not unnerved, but I don't want to lie. Nothing good can come from lies and the deck is stacked against us already.
"It makes me nervous when I feel like you are hiding something," I tell him hesitantly. "I don't want to think bad things of you, but when I don't know what you're thinking..."
"Then you automatically assume the worst?" he interrupts, his eyes narrowing. "You automatically assume that I'm trying to hide something if I don't want to talk about it? That's a bit judgmental, isn't it?"
He's ticked now, I can tell, because he's clenching his jaw. It's a habit that I've noticed he has when he is angry. I see the muscle in his cheek tick and I swallow.
"I'm not trying to be judgmental," I tell him gently. "It's just that we started out on the wrong foot and I've been trying to gain ground here with the trust thing, and I'm sorry. I'm just a bit nervous. I'm out of my element."
He abruptly removes his arm from my shoulders and stands up. The boat rocks and I clutch the side.
"If you don't want to be with me," he says coldly. "Just say it. If you can't trust me enough, just tell me now. I'm trying to change for you. But I don't want to waste time on this thing if you can't get over my past."
I'm frozen, not by the bitingly cold wind, but by his words, by his angry face. He seems so ready to discard me, as though I'm not worthy enough of even a conversation. It's enough to suck the air right out of me.
"You'd throw this away, just like that?" I'm incredulous. "I didn't say that I can't trust you. But your phone has been blowing up for an hour and you clearly don't want to deal with it and you don't want me to know what it is. Your 'past' isn't very distant so you have to understand that I'm a little nervous. And you shouldn't be changing for me. You should be changing for you."
Pax stares at me and his eyes are cold now, like they were when I first met him. All traces of warmth are gone and I shudder, hating the look on his face and hating this conversation. I don't know how it went downhill so fast.
"Don't be mad," I tell him. "I'm just trying to talk about this with you. This is what people do in a relationship."
"People attack each other?" he asks, his voice raised. "Because that's what I feel like you're doing. You don't know who is texting me, so you're insecure. And all of a sudden, your insecurity is my problem."
Pax is seriously pissed. He is flexing his hands so tightly that his knuckles are white. I gulp and try to figure out how to calm the situation down. I hate conflict, but I hate even more that he has misunderstood.
"I didn't attack you," I begin. "I was just curious about who was trying to reach you."
He raises an eyebrow angrily. "Really? If you were that curious, then why didn't you just ask to see my phone?"
I am flabbergasted and stumble around for something to say as the wind whips my hair around my face. "Because in a relationship that is built on trust, people don't ask to see each other's phones."
"Yet you really want to see mine, don't you?" he challenges, his eyes spitting. "Because you don't trust me."
He digs in his pocket and pulls out his phone, turning the screen to me. There are 57 unread text messages.
"Here you go. Look to your heart's content."
"Holy shit," I breathe. "Did you see how many there are?"
And they're all from one number.
"Who is it?" I ask hesitantly, afraid he's going to yell again. He shakes his head.
"It's Jill. I told her that I'm not going to see her again and that I'm not going to supply her habit. But from these texts, it looks like she's desperate and she's begging for it."
"But you don't have anything to give her, right?" I ask slowly. He'd told me that he dumped it all out.
He stares at me harshly.
"I didn't lie to you," he says abruptly. "I said I dumped it, and I dumped it."
"Have you seen her since you had that conversation with her?" I ask slowly. It just doesn't seem normal that someone who had been rejected would be this persistent. Unless they were insane. "Is she crazy?"
He shakes his head again.
"No, she's not crazy. She's just a desperate addict who needs help. I should have cut her off long ago, but I was too much of a dick to care. And no. I haven't seen her."
As he speaks, his phone lights up again, with yet another text. 58. He rolls his eyes and I eye him uncertainly.
"Shouldn't you at least answer her?"
"No. It won't do any good. She's desperate. She's not thinking logically so it wouldn't matter what I say. I've seen her act like this before. She gets hysterical and there's no reasoning with her. Fuck this. I'm not going to let this stupid wench cause problems with us."
He raises his hand and I flinch.
He freezes, as hurt washes over his face.
"What the fuck? Did you think I was going to hit you?" he asks, his voice both wavering and furious. "Do you really think I would ever hurt you, Mila?"
He stares at me, waiting for an answer, but I don't know what to say. I doubt that anything I say would help so I just look at him limply. He shakes his head again.
"I was just going to get rid of this. Fuck, Mila."
He throws his phone into the lake. I watch it sink into the frigid depths and then turn to him.
"Pax, I??- "
"Don't," he snaps coldly, turning his back on me to take the wheel. "Just don't. I can't talk to you right now."
He fires up the engine and guns it. The force of it throws me back onto the sidewall and I grip it with freezing hands. He's pissed and I know there's no reasoning with him. He needs to cool down.
We speed toward the shore and after each swell we crest, we land hard on the surface of the water. It's bone-jarring.
And as we speed along, I get more and more pissed.
"What makes you think you have the right to be mad at me?" I shout above the wind. "I was curious, that's all. I have a right to be curious, Pax."
He doesn't answer. His hand just pushes the throttle even more and we speed faster.
I grit my teeth.
"Would you slow down?" I demand. "You're going to kill us both."
He doesn't slow down.
I grit my teeth again but before I can say anything, we hit another huge swell. And this time, before I can think or move, we come down hard.
Only instead of staying inside the boat, I am thrown right over the edge, right into the frigid, churning waters of Lake Michigan.