6 Years Before
My head is spinning, and my body feels like dead weight. I’m falling into everything, as if I were top-heavy, and can barely stand straight. I lick my lips, and they tingle with an unusual sensation. I giggle and trip on my heels, falling right into a dresser. My elbow crashes into it, but it doesn’t hurt. Though I doubt I’ll be saying the same thing in the morning.
“I am so fucked up,” I slur. I drank way too much. I smoked too much. Drugs and liquor don’t mix well. My brother Tyler threw a party for landing his first DJ gig and invited everyone he knew.
“How many have you had to drink?” I look behind me and see two Erics. God, two of him is way better than one. I blink my eyes rapidly, and he finally comes into focus along with the rest of the room. A bedroom. How did I get in here? His arms are so muscular from college football. He’s played since high school; only before he was a bully to me. Always teasing me and calling me names. Now, he wants me, and has been flirting with me all night. He closes the gap between us and I stop giggling.
“You wanna fool around?” he whispers into my ear, his breath smelling of alcohol. I throw my head back and laugh.
“And why would I want to do that? You used—” I pause, trying to get my thoughts right. “You used to make fun of me in high school.” I sway on my heels, the drugs and booze wreaking havoc on my balance. He tilts his head to the side, his long, blond hair falling to his chin.
“Did I now?” His voice comes out like silk, enveloping me in a warm cocoon.
“Freckled-face Lindsay Cole, has an ugly pie hole.” I shake my head. Hearing the words leaving my lips sound just as ridiculous as they did back then.
He laughs and rubs at his chin. “Yeah, well, that was high school.” He steps forward and grabs my hips. His touch shoots sparks through my body, and I mewl in response. Drunk Lindsay has no control of her sexual reactions, apparently.
“You were just a girl.” He pulls his brows together. “You’ve really filled out nicely since then.” He chuckles and tilts his head back, assessing me. “Are you still a girl, Lindsay, or has some lucky man made you into a woman?” My body sobers, and my legs clench beneath my little pink dress.
“Wh-what?” I stammer, my eyes widening. Eric smiles and pulls away from me. He kicks the door shut, the music from the party drowned out instantly.
“I am going to take that reply as you’re still a virgin.” He turns and pulls his shirt over his head, revealing all his muscled glory. I sway and lean over, trying to get my fucking eyes to focus on his lean torso.
“Oh, wow,” I mutter. He steps forward and grasps my hips, walking me backward until the backs of my knees hit the bed.
“I’m going to make you a woman tonight, Lindsay Cole,” he whispers as my back presses into the mattress. I close my eyes and sigh.
Finally. Eric McCormick wants me. For some reason, I feel like everything I ever wanted to achieve as a naïve nineteen-year-old has just been accomplished.
Eight Weeks Later
I cough and choke on my thick saliva over the toilet.
“Just puke already,” I slur, trying to encourage my body to give in to the nausea. I’ve been sick for two weeks and cannot for the life of me shake this fucking flu. My brother Tyler hangs out at those stupid clubs; he probably gave me something.
I stand and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, my mission to vomit failing for the fifth time this morning. When I see Tyler, I’m going to chew him out and then demand he make me a grilled cheese sandwich with chicken noodle soup for getting me sick.
I zombie-walk into the living room, my tongue filling my mouth like it’s too big while my gag reflex is twitching with the urge to puke again. I close my eyes and swallow hard, trying to get a hold of myself. Slowly opening my eyes, I spot Tyler putting groceries away. I don’t live here, but I visit often. I moved out of the house when I was young. I couldn’t stand my father punching me in the face anymore so I said fuck it and bolted. I have learned to handle things on my own, and not expect others to do things for me. Tyler offered our old trailer to me once our dad moved out. He found some butch-looking woman who drove a Mac truck and ran off with her. Good riddance. I took the trailer ‘cause living in a shelter sucks, and I was done spending sweltering nights in my car. But, I hate that fucking trailer. It brings back too many memories.
“Damn, Lindsay, you look like shit,” Tyler states, putting some cereal in a cupboard.
“I feel like shit,” I groan, plopping on the couch. I can’t stand this couch. The material feels like old yarn, and it’s rough and itchy against my skin.
“How long have you been sick?” Tyler questions. I turn in my seat and look at him. His hair is dyed black, with some blue and red streaks through it. Piercings in his eye and nose shine with the sun coming through the blinds. He looks like a punk.
I shrug. “About two weeks.”
Tyler shakes his head. “You got a fever?”
“Nah, no fever. Just tired and feel like throwing up. I can’t shit, either.” I lay my head down on the couch and yawn.
My eyes snap open in panic. I sit up and look over the couch, leveling Tyler with a look of dread.
“You better go get a test. Then tell me the fucker you screwed so I can tear his nuts off.”
“Fuck,” I whisper, throwing my head into my hands.
“I got one in the bathroom. Go piss on it. Now!” Tyler points to his bedroom that holds a private bathroom. I tilt my head to the side and squint my eyes.
“Why do you have—”
“This chick I was fucking thought she was knocked up. I bought the whole damn shelf,” he informs. I roll my eyes. That doesn’t surprise me. Tyler is a player when it comes to girls.
I find the test under the sink and piss on it quickly. Setting it on the counter, I turn, waiting for it to show a plus or negative sign.
“What’s it say?” Tyler mumbles from the other side of the door.
“I can’t look,” I mutter, not sure if he even heard me. I can’t look at it ‘cause I know what it will say. It’ll say I’m pregnant. Pregnant with Eric McCormick’s child.
Tyler pushes into the bathroom. My back is still turned and I’m facing the tub, the test sitting on the sink behind me. I hear him sigh loudly, and with that exhale, my heart literally sinks into the pit of my stomach.
“No,” I whisper, tears filling my eyes. He grabs me and engulfs me in his arms. I sob ‘cause I’m too young to be a mother. I cry because Eric McCormick would be a shittier dad than I would a mom.
“Shhh. It’s okay. You can do this, Lindsay,” my brother comforts. This is why I love him. Granted, growing up we did the typical brother and sister shenanigans—he’d destroy my Barbies, and I would annoy him and his friends. But we always had each other’s back. My mother left when I was a baby; being a mother just wasn’t her forte, I guess. Our father became a drunk when I was around the age of six and was nonexistent unless he was out of beer, which was when he was at his worst. My presence alone angered him; I think I reminded him of my mother. Tyler stepped in front of my father a few times, when our dad would get rough with me. It granted Tyler a broken arm once.
“Tell me, whose is it?” Tyler pushes me an arm’s length away and searches my face. I bite my bottom lip, tears sliding down my cheeks.
“Eric’s,” I mutter, looking down.
“Fucking seriously, Lindsay?” Tyler knows how much of a hard time Eric gave me in high school.
“What can I say, I like the challenge. Bad boys.” I shrug.
“Goddamn boy is about right!” Tyler hollers. He turns and shoves his hand through his hair angrily before lowering his head. “Do yourself a favor and stay away from the bad boys, Lindsay. They’re nothing but assholes who will just hurt you in the end.” I cross my arms as a barrier to protect myself. Seeing Tyler disappointed stings.
“You didn’t use any,” he pauses, still not looking at me, “protection or anything?”
Wow, this is very embarrassing.
“We were really drunk,” I explain. Tyler winces, like I just gave him a mental image.
“Look.” Tyler glances up at me with dark eyes. “Go find that piece of shit, and tell him. Maybe he’ll step up.” Tyler shrugs. I roll my eyes and scoff. “Do it, Lindsay,” Tyler’s voice comes out bitter.
I roll my eyes and grab the pregnancy test off the counter. How do I begin to tell a one-night stand that I’m pregnant?
Standing on the porch of Eric’s house, my body trembles with the amount of adrenaline surfing through my veins. Fear wracks my kneecaps, and my fingers clench the pregnancy stick in my hand. Eric lives in the same trailer park I grew up in as a kid, so basically he’s my neighbor. His father built this two-story house at the end of the park and gave it to Eric just recently. Told him to watch over the trailer park while his father and stepmom traveled the world. He’s my landlord, in short.
Sweat cascades down my spine as I lift my fist and knock on the door. It swings open, and I gasp.
“Er- Eric,” I stammer. I can’t seem to speak; the words are lodged in my throat. That night after Eric took my virginity, I passed out and woke up with dried blood streaking down my legs and him gone. He’s given me the cold shoulder since. I figured it was a one-night stand and brushed it off. I was so fucked-up I could barely remember any of it anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it sucked knowing my first time was a one-night stand and not some love-struck moment you see on TV. But look at where I grew up—shit like that doesn’t happen here.
“What do you want?” he questions, his tone harsh. He leans against the doorframe, one arm resting above his head. He’s not wearing a shirt, and that six-pack I thought he had weeks before is definitely not a six-pack. Gotta love the fairytale effect alcohol can give.
“I need to talk to you,” I reply meekly. I look past him and see a bunch of his buddies eyeing me. Buddies who used to join in with him bullying me in high school. Insecurities shift in my head, and I swallow hard.
He looks over his shoulder then back to me with a crooked smile. He knows I’m uneasy and is getting off on it. Asshole.
“Just spit it out and get the fuck off my porch.” His words shoot straight to my heart like cancer. My blood runs toxic and my lips curl. Total prick!
“I’m fucking pregnant!” I snap.
His eyes go wide, and his friends go quiet. Eric glances over his shoulder with a look of embarrassment, and walks out of the house, slamming the door.
“What the fuck do you mean? You weren’t on the pill?” He strides up to me, his body way too close.
I hold my hands out and push him away from me.
“No, I wasn’t on the fucking pill. I was a virgin, you dumbass.” I throw the pee stick at him.
“I don’t want anything to do with it - with you.” He holds his hands up and walks backwards like the baby growing in my belly might jump out at any minute.
“I can get an abortion or something,” I mutter, not really thinking. My brain feels stuffed, like it’s at max capacity and pushing against my skull. All of this is happening at once and I can’t deal. I press the heel of my hand to my forehead trying to ease the pain, the racing thoughts.
“What? Jesus, Lindsay. I guess you can just put me first on a long list of those, huh? They’ll know you by name in a couple years, I bet.” He chuckles, his tone back to that bully in high school. My hands clench, and I want to rip his smug face off his head. I don’t want to give the baby up, I’m just nervous and word vomited before I could really think about what I was saying. This baby has a piece of me, and I would never harm him or her.
“But it’s probably for the best looking at who her mother is,” Eric clips. My heart sinks, knowing he would want to cause harm to our child just because of me though.
“Yeah, know what? I’ll keep it and get your ass for every fucking dime.” I turn to walk down the stairs and he grabs my arm.
“You wouldn’t dare.” His face holds a deathly promise, but I don’t falter. Eric’s real mother left his dad when Eric was young, after she bled his father dry for years. Everyone around the trailer park heard the fights late at night. I knew saying I would take all of Eric’s money would spark his wick of anger.
“Try me, ass-wipe,” I grit. He digs his hold into my arm, and I whimper.
“You don’t want to mess with me. I know people, Lindsay Cole,” he threatens. I bring my knee up and slam it into his balls. He instantly lets go of my arm and drops to the porch. If I learned anything from my piece-of-shit father, it’s that the balls are your best option when you want to get away.
“You don’t want to mess with me. I don’t need people to do my dirty work, Eric. I’ll just fucking tear you to shreds myself.” I step over him, a smirk of pride fitting my face.
“I’m not scared of you, freckled-face Lindsay Cole.” His voice is laced with a screech from the amount of pain he’s in.
I walk down the steps and flip him the bird. “Then you’re one stupid motherfucker!”
10 Months Later
“Judge, Mr. McCormick is an unacceptable guardian for the child. He-”
“I’m going to cut you off right there, counselor. Looking at Ms. Cole’s file here, I would have to beg to differ,” Judge Calhoun interjects. I swallow the dry lump in my throat, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth. A nervous sweat breaks out on my forehead. Judge Calhoun is an older man; his hair is curly and mostly white, with a few specks of black sweeping through the back. He’s wearing rimless glasses that sit on the bridge of his nose, and he has that ‘don’t give me shit’ look down pat.
“Judge, i-if I m-may,” my lawyer stammers, and I give him a sideways glance. I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so I was handed this fucktard, who doesn’t seem to know what the hell he’s doing. I can’t tell if he’s trying to be bad at this, or if he just sucks outright.
“No, you may not,” the judge cuts him off. He holds up a piece of paper, tilting his head back to look through his glasses. “Lindsay Cole, two counts of theft, illegal substances, assault,” Judge Calhoun rambles onward, reading my record of all the unlawful incidents I’ve been pegged for over time. How does he have that shit on me? He sighs and swipes his glasses off his face, narrowing his eyes at me like I’m the Devil. “She has a rap sheet a mile long. As for the father, he’s as clean as a whistle. I think I would be doing this child a favor taking the mother out of the picture.” I gasp with dread and pull on my lawyer’s arm. My ears ring, and I feel like I may faint.
“How does he know about those things? All of it happened when I was underage,” I whisper in disbelief. “You have to do something!” My lawyer has a look of ignorance written on his face, like he’s in above his head, and my mouth pops open. I’m dumbfounded at how stupid he is for a fucking lawyer.
I avert my eyes from my lawyer and glance at Eric across the way. He’s sitting back in his chair, an arrogant smirk across his face as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. He thinks he’s going to win this, and by the way this is going, he just might. Gah! I just want to slam his face into that table. My fingernails dig into my chair with the unbearable urge to do it. He doesn’t want Piper; he just wants her so I can’t tarnish his name. He wants to prove a point his father couldn’t prove with his mother. He wants to hurt me ‘cause he knows he can. That is who he is, after all; he’s a bully and he won’t change. A little boy with a magnifying glass, and I’m the ant that was stupid enough to walk right in his line of sight.
The gavel slams, making me jump.
“I’ve made my decision. Lindsay Cole, you are denied guardianship over Piper Cole. Full custody is granted to Mr. Eric McCormick.”
The air is sucked from my lungs. “No!” I wheeze, shooting up from my chair. I glare at Eric, who is smiling proudly. Stepping forward, I’m more than ready to give myself the treat of slamming his face into that table. My lawyer grabs my arms, stopping me. “You’ll be held in contempt if you touch him,” he warns.
“No. He can’t get away with this!” I scream, pointing at Eric.
My eyes fill with tears as my heart is smothered with the inevitable feeling of being empty. I carried Piper for nine months, had her naturally all on my own. Then he showed up at the hospital, and that was when it all went wrong. He saw how happy she made me, and he knew he could take it away… and he just did. This is a game to him. A tug of war based on control and I just fell on my ass, letting the rope slide against my palms.
The courtroom is empty, but I can’t seem to get my ass out of the chair. Everything from the moment I saw Piper’s ultrasound picture, to hearing her heartbeat, and hearing her first cry play in my head. I sob. How did that judge know all that about me? I thought those things were hidden from your record when you turned eighteen. Why didn’t my lawyer fight for me? I narrow my eyes and bite my lip in confusion. I need to know. I demand to know. I stand on shaky legs and walk to where the judge sat. He slipped into a room just behind his stand. I’ve heard voices muffled through the door for the last thirty minutes, so I know he’s still here. I close my eyes and blow out a slow breath. Maybe if he sees how determined I am, he’ll have second thoughts on his ruling. I push the door open and open my eyes. The judge is standing behind his desk, my lawyer standing beside him, and Eric and his lawyer standing on the other side of the desk. Eric’s lawyer is handing Judge Calhoun and my lawyer a big stack of cash. I blink a couple times. Surely this isn’t real.
“You paid him off?” I whisper, looking at the group dumbfounded. That’s why my lawyer didn’t fight for me. That’s why the judge was so uncaring of a daughter needing her mother. He was being paid by Eric and his lawyer. Anger fills my veins.
The judge sighs and snatches the cash from the lawyer.
“Sit, Ms. Cole,” the judge demands.
“No!” I respond firmly.
“Sitting would be in your best interest,” he insists, counting his money. My nostrils flare as I inhale a breath of rage. “What is it you want? Money? Your daughter on the weekends? What? What will it take for you not to have seen this?” The judge sets the stack of cash on the desk and pinches the bridge of his nose.
My face cracks as my lips tremble with humor before I laugh. I laugh so hard, the group of dishonest bastards look at me as if I’ve gone crazy. Maybe I have.
“Oh, God,” I mutter, my laughter gone and my voice cracking with emotion. I run my hand through my hair and put the other on my hip. How can this be? I just walked in on the father of my child paying off my lawyer and the judge handling our custody battle. How many times has this judge and team of lawyers been paid off? How many mothers have lost their kids? How many people lost unfair cases?
My eyes snap to theirs, my blood running ice-cold to the point goosebumps race up my arms.
“You know what? No.” My voice is deadly serious.
“No?” The judge tilts his head to the side, confused.
“No. I am taking this higher. I will get my daughter the right way, and you guys will burn for this. I’ll bury all of you to your fucking necks.” I point at every one of them as I back my way out of the door. “This isn’t over, Eric,” I promise then hightail it out of there.
Two Days Later
I pay for my pack of gum and leave the gas station, heading back to my car. I had reported the judge and the lawyers, and was waiting on a return call to reclaim my case with someone from the courthouse. They said they’d call me back with the next step, but the sound of their voice made me unsure. Maybe I should go back and demand to talk to someone else. The hairs on my neck suddenly stand as I pop a piece of gum into my mouth. My gaze slowly trails up the street, trying to find what has my body in a sense of alarm, when a green raggedy truck creeps beside the gas station. Men stand in the back, holding large guns. My breath shallows, and people begin screaming.
Pop Pop Pop sounds in the night air. I’m frozen with fear.
“Get down!” a man yells, knocking me to the ground. I look up from under the strange guy who is laying over me and see the green truck come to a stop.
“Did you get her?” one of the guys in the cab of the truck questions.
Sirens sound from afar, and fire spreads from one of the gas pumps.
“It doesn’t matter. We got company. We’ll go to her trailer and wait for her there!” Hearing those words, I knew right then they were sent from the judge and lawyers, maybe even Eric. My heart goes cold, and my hope of having my daughter back evaporates into ash, along with the piece of my heart that just died. I can’t go home. I can’t go to the police. I’m fucked. I’m alone. All because I wanted the attention of Eric fucking McCormick. Now I have it, and it’s the last fucking thing I want.
The car is hot and acting as a barrier against the breeze. Well, what breeze there is in the middle of summer in LA. Pulling my hair away from my sweaty face, I fan myself with my hand. I managed to get one guy to stop yesterday, so hopefully I can get another person to stop today. I have been living out of my car for two days now. I haven’t contacted my brother, because I don’t want whoever is trying to kill me to link us and put Tyler in danger. If they haven’t already. Every day, I stop on the side of the road miles away from my old stomping ground and act as if my car is broken down. I’ve been conning men, women, anyone who stops. It’s not something I’m proud of, but what choice do I have? I’m running and I’m desperate. I step out of the car, the back of my legs streaming with a steady sweat from the heat. Popping the hood of the car, I lean against the hot metal that makes up the front bumper. My eyes prick with tears that this is what it’s come to. I lean my head back and close my eyes against the hot summer sun.
“God, give me a sign that you’re up there and can see the pain I’m in,” I whisper to myself. My family was never big on religion, but when you get desperate, when you reach the point nobody on Earth is going to help you, you pray that there is a higher power, something that can pull you from the dark pit you’re in. You hope with all your might that things will get better; otherwise, why the hell are we even here?
A loud rumble speeds down the off ramp. I jump where I stand when I notice a motorcycle suddenly stop next to my car.
“Looks like you’re having some car trouble.” The man smirks, swinging his leg over his black bike. My mouth goes as dry from the heat wafting from the pavement. I can’t reply because I’m dumbstruck. He is sexy. Fucking deliciously rugged and good enough to eat, in fact. He has short hair that’s brown but with a tone of copper streaking through it when the sun shines on it just right. He has tattoos across his arms and a piercing in his lip that makes my panties instantly wet. He’s wearing a leather vest and torn blue jeans. He looks so strong, and oozes bad guy. Staring at him, my body comes alive with a warmth I haven’t felt since that night I got drunk with Eric. Only this warmth is much more intense.
“You okay?” he asks, the words falling from his mouth roughly. His shoulders are built, making his arms hang from his sides with a distance, his strides long and masculine. He looks massive, and delicious. I blink and open my lips to speak.
“Um, yeah. Yeah, I’m n-not sure what’s wrong w-with it,” I stutter on my words, trying to wake myself from eye-fucking him and wave my hand toward the car. It’s a beat-up station wagon that has seen better days. With the hood up and the constant smoke rolling out from under it, it’s easy to pull off that my car has broken down.
He bends over the car, eyeing the engine, and I take the opportunity to check him out. My eyes sweep down his muscled back; his tattooed biceps are built and stretching the sleeves on the white shirt he’s wearing under his leather vest. His ass looks fit and hard. The way it appears in those jeans should be illegal.
He fiddles with caps and oil sticks under the hood, trying to figure out the problem, and I keep checking his hard body out, imagining what it would be like having it over me. Yeah, ‘cause the last time that happened it went so well. I close my eyes and shake my head at myself, but I can’t help but open them again and look back at his body. When my gaze catches his wallet, I’m reminded what I’m really after. Money. Food. Gas. I walk around him and trail my hand along his back seductively. His head slowly turns, eyeing my hand that caresses his shoulder. That’s the key, getting him to focus on this hand instead of where I’m about to put my other hand.
“Yeah, I’m not sure what’s wrong with it,” I lie, trying to distract him. He looks at me from the corner of his eyes and smirks before sliding his tongue along his bottom lip. The way his tongue flicks his lip ring, I almost forget to swipe his wallet. Almost. I slide my finger along the top of the billfold and gently pull it loose at the same time I slip my hand off his back.
I shove the wallet down my shorts quickly as he continues to look at the engine. “I’ll try and start it again,” I offer. Side-stepping him, I crawl behind the wheel and start it with ease.
“Yup. I think it just got too hot or something.” I shrug. He gives me a confused look and runs his hands through his hair.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he replies softly.
“See you around.” I give a little wave and watch him climb on his bike. He looks over his shoulder and pins me with a stare I’ll never forget. A stare that says a thousand things. Like he doesn’t want to go, that he wants to say something else. I don’t want him to leave either, but I am in no position to be with anyone, no matter how fucking hot he is. I tear my eyes from his first and look at the seat beside me.
After he leaves, I open his wallet, reading his name, address, weight. All of it.
“Phillip DeLuca.” I taste his name running off my lips as I trace my finger over his picture. He’s so handsome. He’s the kind of guy most people would be afraid of, but not me. I want to get to know him. Lost in a daydream, my car door is yanked open.
“Where the fuck is it, bitch?”
“What?” I shriek as I’m pulled out of the car and slammed forward onto the hot hood. “I don’t have anything!” I scream, trying to pull free. He shoves me back down on the hood. His hand tangled in my hair.
“Don’t think about moving,” he spits, his tone harsh. I roll my eyes and continue leaning over the hood. My heart slams against my chest in pure panic, and my hands shake. He pulls away and leans in to the car. Within seconds, he finds his wallet. Shit.
He peers at me with a fierce energy in his eyes. The intensity has me pulling off the hood, scared out of my mind.
“You have some balls,” he mutters, shoving his wallet back in his pocket. His tone is soft and tender suddenly. I turn my head and eye him angrily.
“Fuck you.” I cross my arms and lean my hip against the car. My choice of words more confident than I’m feeling.
He steps up to me and grabs my hips hard with both hands. My skin burns, and my mouth parts with desire. His brown eyes find mine, and his hands yank my body closer to his. I feel like all the air is sucked from my lungs as I search his dark eyes. Placing my hands on his solid chest to steady myself, my palms buzz with excitement.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” He looks me up and down and leans in close. “You’d like it if I pushed you over the hood of this car and fucked you ‘til your legs gave out.” His words feather against my lips, he’s so close. I hold my breath, willing my body to pull away, but I don’t move. Just when I think he’s going to kiss me, he grabs my hand and pulls it upward. I furrow my brows and watch as he pulls a pen from his back pocket, pulling the cap off with his teeth. He writes his number and the word ‘Lip’ on my hand.
“Call me. Don’t make me come find you, Cherry.”
“Cherry?” I ask out loud.
“Your swimsuit,” he yells over his shoulder before starting his bike. I look down at my white shirt noticing my cherry bikini peeking out from the bust line. A smile creeps across my face. I know I shouldn’t like him, but I kind of do. Driving past me, he winks and I swear I sigh like a damn fool.