Dark Hunger


Page 33



“Defense team.” Now I just repeated her last words.

“Yes. If we hire the right lawyers, I think we can plead this down or beat it. But with a $10,000 retainer and then more billable hours, this will....” The fund. We called our college money “the fund.” Mom had saved an equal amount for each of us, and I’d gotten decent scholarships for undergrad, leaving a lot of money in mine—making my library science master’s degree possible.

“Wait—but what’s left of my half of the fund is for my grad school,” I said slowly, the implication of what she was saying crystallizing in my head.

“I thought you’d say that,” she said with a prissy expression. “You can’t be selfish like this. Not now. I can’t be asked to choose between my kids.”

Oh, you chose long ago.

“And that’s the only money that we have for Evan’s defense. His original half isn’t enough to cover the basic lawyer’s fee—we need more.”

Practically speaking, my first semester was covered. A tightness in my chest bloomed and closed, a well-worn pattern that meant my body was going in to fight or flight mode. Living away from home had made the physical sensation go away, but Mom’s proximity and the monumental unfairness of this rooted itself in my body and made me unable to speak.

Because this really was unspeakable.

Knock knock knock.

We both flinched and stared at the door. A rush of outrage took me out of my frozen contemplation and I found my voice. “You brought Evan here?”

“No!” she protested.

Knock knock knock.

I crossed the room and looked through the peephole.

Two very familiar green eyes topped with copper waves stood inches away.

Sam

Nerves almost got the better of me. Slipping in her apartment building might be a bad idea, but I didn’t want to have any artificial barriers. If she was home and didn’t want to see me, fine—she could just say it to my face.

The alternative—that she was hurt, or sick, or something had gone wrong—worried me much more. The knock on her door held more urgency than I’d intended, and the shuffle of sounds near the thick wooden threshold filled me with relief. Amy was there and alive.

Exhaling, I ran through what I’d intended to say as the click of locks unlocking rattled out into the hallway. All the words disappeared when I saw her, her hair darker than normal and slightly wet, her grey yoga pants curving in the right places and a pink v-neck showing enough breast to make my mind shove relief away and make room for far more carnal thoughts.

“Hi,” I said. Brilliant, dude. Nominate me for an Oscar for best screenplay.

“Um, hi.” She was nervous and twitchy, in an uncomfortable way, but it had nothing to do with me.

“Is someone there, Amy?” an older woman asked, her voice tight and angry.

“Hang on, Mom.” Amy stepped into the hall and shut the door behind her, walking into my space so fast I couldn’t move quickly enough, our bodies brushing against each other. She smelled like vanilla and coconut. Good enough to eat.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called or texted,” she whispered, avoiding eye contact. “It’s just—”

The door swung open, sending a rush of air over us, making the ends of Amy’s hair fly up. “Who’s this?” her mom demanded, peering at me, a polite smile on her face. She looked at my face then at Amy, whose cheeks burned.

You couldn’t have cut the tension with a knife.

You’d have needed a chainsaw.

“I’m Sam, “I answered, reaching out to shake my hand. “Sam Hinton.”

Our palms met and she pumped once, then halted, her polite smile turning into a quizzical frown. “Sam...the same Sam who...” Letting go of my hand, she turned to Amy and raised her eyebrows.

Amy nodded and reached out to take my hand, her fingers interlacing with mine. A grounded warmth flooded me, arms tensing out of a protective instinct, my body moving unconsciously closer to Amy. This had not been a mistake. Coming here was the right thing to do.

“Same Sam,” Amy said, smiling at her mother with such ferocious enthusiasm she might have been auditioning for Mean Girls.

“I see. Amy, can I have a minute with you?”

“No,” Amy said sweetly, the incongruity jarring, looking at her mother with eyes I’d seen only on women betrayed. Back in college if a woman looked at a guy like that, his shit would be out on the common with beer poured all over it within days.

What did it mean to have a woman look at her own mother like this?

Amy’s fingers tightened around mine and I realized she was unhinged. Whatever conversation had taken place before I arrived, it created some sort of crazy dynamic here, and I happened to come along at the exact wrong moment.

My specialty: lousy timing.

“Amy. Be reasonable,” her mom cajoled. My neck tightened and shoulders straightened, so involuntary I couldn’t have stopped it if you’d tried to force me. I knew that voice.

My mom had that voice.

“I am being reasonable, Mom.” The voice of Death incarnate might have been less devoid of emotion. I tried to remain completely unreadable, cheering Amy on silently.

“You’re letting yourself be walked all over by an unstable boy—”


“Enough.” Amy’s last word rang down the hall like a gunshot as she actually took her mother by the hand and led her to the door. Stepping awkwardly past me, Mrs. Smithson seemed to find me a safe target for her anger, because her face was like a dragon’s, ready to turn me into a piece of crispy toast with one breath.

Her mouth puckered into a tight starfish as she reluctantly walked into the hallway, and she sniped, “The least you could do is call your poor father. After what you did to him and what he’s going through.” And then she actually tsk tsked me.

My what? What did my father have to do with any of this? Huh?

Amy’s gasp sounded like a sonic boom and then I found myself being dragged into her apartment, the door slamming as if Amy had telepathically commanded it, the locks clicking like tongues clucking.

And then she faced me. The soulful eyes big as saucers lived on one half of her face, her mouth and jaw dragged low and long by conflict and despair. Her mom didn’t knock. Didn’t shout. In fact, the carpet muffled the first few steps she took away from the door, and then she was gone.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I said, ready to apologize. What was that shit about my dad? The words floated to the surface but died in my throat.

“Sam,” she said, my name a broken word, cracked in half by a sob that made her crumble into a ball in the middle of her futon.

I cracked in half, too, and took the two pieces of me—the two Sams, from four years ago and now—and wrapped them around Amy, hoping my warmth and love and comfort would be enough, because it was all I could give her right now.

Wishing it were more, I rocked her as she cried, no words forthcoming. Just tears.

Maybe my timing wasn’t so bad after all.

Amy

What had just happened?

What the fuck had just happened?

Had my mom seriously just come to my apartment to convince me that it was OK to guilt me out of my college fund to pay for Evan’s drug felony defense?

Our bodies began to shake as Sam did his best to cover every square inch of my body with his, legs entwined in mine, arms and chest pressed softly against my back, the steady rise and fall of his breath, in concert with mine, helping me to find my way home to some sort of inner peace that quelled—for now—the massive hurricane unleashed inside.

Standing up to Mom didn’t mean some big blowout fight or a screaming match. Being true to myself had been a surprisingly quiet affair, like a tidal wave that you can’t detect without the most subtle, sophisticated instruments—but one that lurked fast beneath the surface, the accumulated force of the waves amplified by time, the energy so strong when it finally hits shore that nothing is left standing in its wake.

Except it hadn’t washed away anything but my mother’s unreality.

Gone. All those years of dancing like a marionette with its hair on fire, wearing tap shoes and a tutu, trying to please an audience of haters—gone. The ins and outs of lies and half-truths she expected me to memorize like state capitals represented more mental real estate than any formal school curriculum.

And Mom’s standardized testing wasn’t once a year.

It was every.fucking.second of my life.

Until now.

“I can tell you what it means when my mom wrings her hands,” I hissed, still curled in a ball, my hot breath mingling with Sam’s. “Or how to read a glance she sends my way when Evan comes to a football game at the high school, drunk off his ass.”

He grunted, the sound an encouragement.

“I know how to word everything so that no one in our family looks bad. What to say when someone mentions a transgression of Evan’s. Even that damn word—transgression—is my mom’s.”

“I’ve been hiding from you because I was embarrassed—ashamed.” Memories of the phone in my hoohaw made me start to laugh, a loopy, deranged sound that made Sam’s arms tighten around me. Most guys would have bought themselves more space.

Sam dug in and held on for the ride.

“Ashamed of Evan?”

“Ashamed to be in a family where my brother just got arrested.” As the words came out of my mouth in a perfectly formed line, like little drummers on a football field at half time, the steam dissipated. They had no power, no oooomph, no magic hold over me. I was stating a fact. Not opening myself up to judgment.

“Your brother did that. Not you.”

I sniffed and realized I was crying, still. Wiping my nose with the back of my sleeve, I laughed, the sound pure and mature, the chortle of someone older than their years. “I know that. And you know that. But Mom has spent my entire life catering to the least reasonable person in the room.”

“And today she thought that was you,” he whispered.

Thud.

There it was again. He knew me so well. My jaw dropped as Sam nailed it.

“Is that why she gave up quietly?” I asked. He shrugged, pulling my arms up a bit with the movement, making me unwind a bit and stretch out, finally meeting his eyes.

Kindness. Kindness and acceptance and a touch of something I’d seen in Dr. Alex.

Goodness. Untouched, untainted goodness.

Sam’s fingertips brushed my damp hair out of my eyes, pulling a strand that had been caught in my mouth. “Just because your mother wants to hook you into her created reality doesn’t mean you have to oblige.”

“Easier said than done.”

He snorted. “I know whereof I speak.”

“Do you?” New territory with Sam. He’d opened up that night we’d reconnected but the distance between our emotional realities had widened. My fault for some of that, but Sam’s, too.

“I told you what happened after the debate. My dad and mom have their own fucked up version of how life’s supposed to be. I get it.”

“You do?”

“Amy, there’s way more fakery back home than you’d ever imagine.” His voice was tight and I could feel him slipping away.

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