He was prompting me, still gently. He didn’t want me to sit and stew so my guilt would flare up. I was here. She was there. She was hurting, and I’d been the cause. But after he said my name again, I told him about her other side.
“Single moms, young moms, they don’t want to grow up sometimes. That was her too. I mean, she was. She was grown up. But in other ways she wasn’t. I was the one who didn’t want to party on New Year’s Eve, and she did. I didn’t like to go trick-or-treating. She did. She’s everything I’m not, honestly. Ditzy at times with social things, everyday life things. Money, parenting, work, that stuff she’s great at. Everything else, not. But she’s fun.” I was grinning before I knew it. “She got tipsy one night at the VFW and she was playing peekaboo with me from outside the house that night. I thought it was so funny.
“She likes adventures. You know that story on the news, of the woman who drank wine out of a chip container in that discount store, riding around in the cart? That’s something she’d do. She wasn’t reckless. She’d be smart about it. But yeah, she liked doing silly things like that. Like getting pulled on a sled behind a lawn mower because we couldn’t afford any other way to do rides like that. Or building forts in the living room and sleeping there for a few nights. Ghost stories. Sneaking up on her friends when they’d go camping and scaring them. Things like that.”
I was missing my mom. I was missing her a whole lot.
And after I finished talking, when the tears rolled down—the good but missing kind—Kash picked me up and carried me to bed.
We stayed there the rest of the afternoon.
I could feel the bass through our feet.
Once we stepped inside that nightclub, the same one Matt had brought me to so long ago, the dry ice assaulted us. The difference from that night to this one was that I was walking inside with Kash. My hand held with his. He was leading me. We came in through the back way, greeted by the same worker who had helped us last time.
She nodded, a ghost of a smile on her face.
“Welcome, Mr. Colello. Ms.” She still didn’t know my name, and that was partly my work, partly my father’s. His program was still at work, and every photograph of Kash that hit the internet disappeared after minutes. Even the print news referenced Kash but not me. There were pictures of me, but no name printed. They apparently didn’t know who I was, and I had to wonder how long that would last.
Knowing who Kash was, exactly, told me what a feat that was, for him to remain as mysterious as he was. He explained that it was partly because his grandfather had never publicly announced him or his relation, and Kash had never stepped up to take over his father’s shares. Once he did that, his privacy would be gone. He’d be firmly in the spotlight. I understood why he kept to the background as much as possible, but with his association with my father’s family, I also had to wonder how realistic that would be. It was only a matter of time before someone got a picture that couldn’t be deleted, no matter how magical my father’s program was.
So the worker not knowing my name was partly because the ones who’d gotten pictures of me didn’t know who I was. There’d been one, but I had hacked her and deleted everything she had of me, Kash, and Matt. And there’d been an entire file on Matt.
Camille Story was still interested in Matt, if I had to go by the amount of information she had on him.
I hadn’t told Kash I did that—or anyone. I wasn’t sure if I should, but glancing around, taking note of the attention we were drawing, I figured I should. Everything came around. I believed in that. So yes, I had to tell him.
He was leading us toward the same back VIP section that I’d sat at with Matt before, and like that night, Matt was at the same booth. He didn’t have a girl on his lap, but he was sitting in the back, his arms spread out over the top of the booth beside him, and two girls were pressed to either side of him. One was toying with his shirt. The other’s arm was under the table, toying with something else.
Matt’s gaze was trained on us, and he wasn’t happy. His top lip sneered up. Nope. So not happy.
I slowed, but Kash tightened his hold and kept going. Judging from the locked jaw on his face, he wasn’t happy either.
I was starting to recognize some of Matt’s friends. Chester was there, nuzzling into a girl’s neck, but not the other guy, who had been talking to Matt, or so I assumed, because he had an arm up behind the girl next to him. She was toying with his shirt, but he turned to watch us come in, too. There was light curiosity from him. Anger from Matt. And fear mixed with caution in Chester’s face, when he sensed something was happening and lifted his head from the girl’s neck.
The four girls didn’t look over. They didn’t even seem to know that other people were there. They kept doing what they’d been doing: flirting, teasing, and rubbing, judging by the girl whose hand didn’t move from Matt’s lap.
Once we were within earshot, Matt drawled, his eyes sparking, “Well, well, well. Look who finally decided to have a chat with me.” His eyes were mean. “You’re usually on top of me, Kash. You’re slipping. It’s been a good two days since you beat the shit out of me.”
His bruises were still there, but fading.
I winced, seeing them.
Chester and the other guy were enjoying this. Both seemed eager, and they leaned forward, resting their arms on the table.
Matt didn’t move. Not an inch.
His eyes switched to mine. The ugly glint was there, but as I met his gaze and raised my chin, it faded. A glimmer of regret flashed briefly, but then it was gone. And with it, some of the fight lessened too. His shoulders went up and down, smoothly, and he broke free, leaning forward to match his friends’ positions.
“And you … I am actually sorry.” He grimaced. “Again. And again. And again.” All the fight was gone. His shoulders slumped down. He mouthed a swear word, then motioned to the girls. “Leave. Go.”
They didn’t move quick enough, so he growled, “Get lost! Now.”
Chester scowled. “What the fuck?” But he slid out, letting the girls out. His, too. The other one looked up at the third guy, and he nodded to her, dipping his head in the direction of the bar. She stood up and he smacked her on the ass, then cupped it. “I’ll come find you. Don’t go far.”