“Shit,” I whispered, catching the sight of the darkening stain on the white tank top. It was pretty low on Lucy’s side, but the color was distracting, continuously pulling my eyes off the road.
“Focus, Wyatt,” Lucy hissed, leaning back on the seat and cupping a hand to the wound. He grunted under his breath.
“We should go to a hospital—” I started before Lucy cuts me a sharp look.
“No, no way. Insurance.”
“This seems like an emergency.”
“It only grazed m—WYATT! Watch the road!”
I quickly turned back to face the street and swerve from incoming traffic, having switched lanes without noticing. There was a lot of honking but all of it sounded like white noise.
Lucy brought his hand up into the dim traffic light, painted in dark red. My heart rate spiked. “It’s worse than it feels.”
“You’re in shock,” I said, seeing the garage in the distance. The neighborhood was relatively deserted, not a light from a window in sight.
Lucy laughed. Something so rare it nearly had me running the car into the fire hydrant right outside our place. “I think you’re the one in shock.” I shot him an incredulous look and he smiled at me, the wildness of his eyes sharing that he was just as terrified as me.
I pulled into the garage and a calmness washed over us. I parked, kicked the door open and looped around to help Lucy out. He stood on his own before doubling over and I caught him in the nick of time. “No hospital, fine. But we have to do something about it now.”
Lucy’s feet couldn’t support him, his knees buckled every time he tried. “We can call Vickie?”
“Get on my back,” I demanded, not waiting for his answer before crouching down. Lucy was silent for a moment, eventually sighing and wrapping his arms my neck and draping himself over me. He might have been taller, but I’ve dealt with heavier and I hoisted him up without much trouble.
The elevator was down. It’s always been down, hell it’s down right now. It doesn’t matter how many times I fixed it. The loft is right above the garage so there’s only a floor of stairs, but when you’re carrying your best friend on your back and you can feel something wet soaking up your shirt, it’s a long set of stairs.
I made it slow, making sure every step was purposeful as I pulled Lucy along with me. He wasn’t talking, which wasn’t unusual, but his head hung low to press his cheek against my neck. Almost as a form of apology. I couldn’t say anything.
I shouldered the apartment door open and made my way straight into the bathroom. “Dump me in the tub,” Lucy ordered, his voice hoarse and soft against my skin.
He rolled off my shoulders into the porcelain, his skin looking pale enough to make the moles on his face pop. Once he was settled, I snaked the denim jacket off him and threw it away, leaving him in his wife beater, stained a dark color on his left side. His tattoos, caricatures of hell that descend down his right collar to his knuckles, seem to be moving. As if in my panicked state, every small face that drifted in the lakes of fire were looking at me and laughing, aware of my fear.
“You’re bleeding a lot,” I whispered, in awe how Lucy managed to sit himself up and pull off his shoes before taking a red soaked hand to the facet. He turned on the shower head, hitting us both with ice and hissed again.
He left a handprint on the white tiled wall.
“Call Vickie. Or Oli.”
“Shit, I left my phone in the car.”
“Grab it,” Lucy grunted, pointing at the sink cabinet. “And get me the alcohol.”
“Okay,” I said, standing up and handing him what he asked for. “Okay.” Once I was sure of myself, I left the bathroom and raced out the door. I realized, upon entering the garage, I had left the sliding entrance wide open and quickly locked it shut before checking for my phone in the car.
Except it wasn’t in the car.
This is the part of the movie where the audience laughs.
I heard Lucy’s wheezy laughter in the back of my mind.
“Fuck,” I muttered, rushing back up the stairs. “I can’t find my phone, Lulu. Where’s yours?”
I walked into the bathroom. The shower was running on hot now and Lucy was completely soaked, the bottle of alcohol drained and empty, rolling on the floor. “Good news,” he said after a quiet minute, where I couldn’t peel my eyes off his heaving chest. He’d been crying from the sting. “There’s no bullet, it really did just graze me.”
I remember I felt relief so strong that it carried my legs until I could collapse right beside the tub, laying my arms out to slowly help him remove his shirt. The wound looked impossibly large to me, right by his hip bones, nearly dipping into his jeans. “We have to wrap it. Prevent infection.”
“Yeah, we do,” Lucy mumbled, head falling back against the wall. His eyes could barely stay open and I realized the excitement was waning from both of us. The worst was over, I thought.
“Don’t sleep,” I warned. I found the first aid kit and did my best to cover the wound. With the adrenaline gone, it took considerably more effort to hoist Lucy from the tub and carry him to my bedroom. I did it eventually though, managed to remove his jeans and get him into a fresh shirt. Somehow, I convinced him to take some pain killers despite his fussing and getting him under the blankets.
“No hospital,” he said when he was finally settled. His black hair was wild across the pillow, almost like billowing smoke.
“No hospital,” I agreed. “But you can’t leave this bed for a long time. If I catch you up, I’m gonna—”
“What? Shoot me?” he deadpanned, the idiot.
“I’ll cry,” I said.
Lucy peeked out from under the covers, his eyes focusing with effort on my face. He’s quiet. “Okay, I won’t.”
“Good boy,” I teased, but Lucy was too tired to respond. I closed the bedroom door behind me.
The loft felt inexplicably darker now, and eerily silent. Still shaking, albeit mostly put together at that point, I reached into the fridge for a beer and plopped down on the couch. The TV was clicked on without a second thought but before I could begin shifting through the channels, what was on the screen gave me pause.
YOUNG MAN FOUND CRITICALLY INJURED AFTER HIT AND RUN
“Well,” I said, taking a swig of beer. “That’s a fucking problem.”
The party was a mistake.
As Lucy brushed hands with God and Wyatt realized our lives were about to get harder, Vickie, arm wrapped around mine, and I were schmoozing some nameless politicians. It had been a while since I had been to one of these gatherings, the last one being right before my old man was shot through the heart on his way out of Five Guys. I was around fifteen.
These events are common. Vickie’s father, senator of our homey state, wanted to assure everyone he was friends with that nothing will change now that he was a hot shot. His wife, sipping wine like water, assured the wives that she was still holding her charity functions in the next upcoming months. Vickie’s an accessory, the recent graduated success story, the only daughter. And I was her aimless friend, dressed up like I knew what I was doing.
I shook hands a few times and complimented when I should, acted surprised when I was supposed to and laughed when it was cued. So maybe I did know what I was doing. When I was sure no one was noticing, I snuck into one of the Addington hallways, away from the event and texted Lucy.
This party is boring. Send nudes.
I didn’t get a response, but I rarely do unless it’s an emergency. If anything, I should have texted Wyatt, maybe realized what was happening in a Howdy Hut parking lot. Vickie found me before I began contemplating sending my own dick pic.
“If you unzip those pants in my house, Oliver. I will have you taken out back and put down.”
Vickie stood at the end of the hallway, her dress sparkling in the dim lighting. She looked tired, as if the party was draining all her power and leaving her a walking corpse. “Usually I’d offer you weed when you give me that look but something tells me this isn’t the time or the place.”
“Smart,” she giggled, walking up to me. I fixed my pants. “Running away?”
“I needed a break.”
“Break over. This whole thing is almost done. We still have to meet the people my father wanted me to.”
“Men,” I groaned. Vickie nodded, pulling my arm back into the room where everyone was gathered. We passed by the women again and I remembered my mother, with her little hats and white gloves. I imagined her sitting with them, taking the smallest space on the couch and laughing when cued.
“Victoria,” her father called, booming across the small room and snapping both our eyes to meet him. Senator Addington was a handsome man, I’m half convinced he won the vote purely from looks alone. His hair was slicked back, and he wore a three-piece suit, though the jacket was long discarded. He looked like he belonged in a movie, not about politicians but about mobsters. When he smiled at us, even I felt the color rise to my cheeks. Vickie elbows me.
“Your dad is still so fucking hot,” I whispered, putting a smile on my face as we approached.
“Oli, you pig.”
“Dad,” Victoria greeted, bowing slightly. “I brought Oliver with me.”
“Long time no see, Mr. Addington,” I said nervously, reaching my hand out. The Senator gave me a smile that made the blood rush down to my—“Thanks for having me.”
“It’s been a while. You’re growing into a fine young man.”
“Ah, Thanks,” I said, immediately chastising myself. You already said thanks, you idiot.
“Of course.” The Senator voice was a low hummed lullaby and I suddenly remembered looping his speeches on YouTube with such horrifying clarity. “Your father would be proud to see you.”
The magic was gone with a snap of his tongue and I felt my hand fall free from his grip. I found myself straightening up, as if my towering height would provide some sort of shift to the tension that had been injected into our interaction. Vickie coughed, and I smiled.
“I am sure he is,” I pushed out, reaching up to place long strands of brown hair behind my ear. I took all the piercings out for this party and touching the bare skin there instead of a silver stud provided no comfort for my nerves.
“Victoria,” her father returned, and fuck if he still wasn’t hot and I wasn’t so pissed about it. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet. He’s an intern in my office back in DC.”
Great, I thought and could tell by the slight change in Vickie’s expression, so small you’d have to know to look for it, that she felt the same way.
Senator Addington turned to his left and gestured for someone behind him to move into the small social circle we created. I had never seen him before. Blonde hair and sharp blue eyes nearly reminded me of Vickie but that probably had to do with pedigree. And when he examined us, his lips sneered in the same way hers did. He was young, around our age, but more put together, knew how to do the handkerchief in the suit fold. When he smiled, it mirrored the tailored handsomeness of the Senator.
“Axel Winder will be placed in my old office here, helping me with some smaller projects.”
“Acting as your eyes and ears?” Vickie supplied. I watched the way Axel chuckled, thought how brief it was compared to the hearty laughter of Wyatt.
Her father smiled but ignored the question, as if placating a child. I could feel Vickie’s fingers tighten before sliding off my arm. She reached out to shake Axel’s hand, who in turn, was sure to hold her eyes. Ah, I realized, another ah moment. Her father wanted to set them up.
“We’ll take good care of you,” Vickie said evenly, breaking their hold and gently reaching out to take the drink from Axel’s hand. He let her, shock evident on his features as she brought the glass to her lips, taking a small sip. Vickie hated gin, but there was no give away. “We’ll help you find your way around.”
How was I supposed to know Axel Winder’s handsome face would meet the beautiful fist of my best friend so many times he’d be unrecognizable? How was I supposed to know that taking care of you meant hiding you in a bed of concrete?
Axel Winder winked, charming as ever. “I’m sure you will.”
Damn, still mad we didn’t fuck.
I slept like the dead.
We found out what happened with Lucy and Wyatt the next day. From Wyatt, because Lucy was sleeping like the dead.
“You were shot at?” Vickie shouted, the color completely drained from her face. Wyatt gestured to the bedroom and brings a finger to his lips. “Sorry,” she whispered and then again, more quietly, “you were shot at?”
“Yeah,” Wyatt explained. “The guy shows up at Howdy. Apparently, my car was recognizable.”
“How bad?” I asked. I’ve been pacing the space between the couch and the wall since I’ve entered their loft. My hair is pulled back into a ponytail but much of it had slipped out in my frantic movement.
“Just grazed him, he’ll be fine.”
“He needs stitches, Wyatt,” I said.
“The man survived. He’s at the hospital.”
“That’s not important,” Vickie said.
“It is,” Wyatt continued. “It’s all important. We shouldn’t have been so stupid.”
“We should have never taken that job,” I shouted, ignoring Wyatt’s sharp look. “It was meant to be a joke.”
“I’m sorry.” Vickie looked distraught. Last night’s makeup still painted on her face and the mascara had speckled into her undereyes. “I don’t know what to do.”
“There’s nothing to do,” Lucy called, startling all of us. Wyatt stood up immediately and I found myself racing him to the door, losing by a fraction and shouldering myself inside right after. Vickie followed close behind, calmly and waited until Lucy sat up to shut the door.
We gathered around him. He was wearing one of Wyatt’s sweaters, swallowing him whole. His hair framed in his face in this frizzy halo and the bags under his eyes never looked worse. Despite all that, when we found our places in the room, Lucy gave us a dazzling smile.
“I’m fine,” he started but before anyone could interject, he raised a hand. “I’m serious. I’m fine. No one is to blame.”
“The stalker—Jonathan Vandris. That’s his name.”
“Oh,” Wyatt said, like it was a revelation.
Vickie continued, “He’s alive. In the hospital. You guys ran him over.”
Lucy frowned. “I guess caring for my wellbeing is over with.”
“You did say you were fine,” Wyatt joked.
“I like being spoiled.”
“Maybe you were meant to be daddy’s princess. We can call Vickie’s dad and ask him if he’s into boys.”
“Slightly older boys.”
“What do we do about Jonathan?”
“Nothing,” Lucy mumbled, leaning against the headboard. He’s been shot and looked like the dead, but when he tilted his head to the side, he was just as alluring as he always was. “He won’t talk. He was the one with the gun.”
“I didn’t see anything about the gun on the news,” Wyatt supplied. “Maybe.”
Vickie’s eyes narrowed, deep in thought. “That’s interesting.”
“See,” Lucy sighed. “The signs are in our favor. The natural order tolls not for us. We persevered.”
“We went to a party, Lucy, while you and Wyatt were fighting for your life.”
“Sounds just as shitty, to be honest.”
Wyatt busted into laughter, a boisterous sound that carried across the room and caught all of us in its current. The tension melted from our bodies and spilled into the floor, dripping out of the loft and leaving a bunch of idiots laughing at nothing.
“Okay, assuming Jonathon won’t talk, this is something we should continue?”
Vickie shrugged. “I have nothing to lose but my father’s respect.”
“And Axel Winder.” I made a kissy face.
“Who’s that?” Wyatt asked but Vickie brushed him off.
“Heal up, Lucy. We’ll decide what to do then.”
Lucy was fine in a week.
He had to be careful with anything extraneous, so that meant more shifts at the café with me rather than the garage with Wyatt, but the costumers weren’t complaining. He wasn’t allowed to serve tables, considering he would just stand around a group of people until an order was called at him and said nothing in acknowledgement. People adored to look at him though, fixing coffees and staring angrily at the machine when it didn’t work the way he wanted it to.
“It’s broken,” Lucy said.
“You’re just bad at it,” I said.
Lucy stuck his middle finger at me, narrowly missing getting caught by the boss.
At this point, it seemed like we were finished with that other gig. We did smaller things, scare a few vandalizers for a couple hundred, caught a cheater, and walked a waitress home one night. Lucy remained in the car for the most part, Vickie filling in by wearing this ugly tracksuit she bought.
“It hides my figure,” she justified it with.
“Sure,” we all said.
We get the jobs from a local anonymous app. It’s never directed directly at us, but people put small job listings on it, some that fit right with a bunch of aimless fools wandering around in plastic masks.
A week, and that was all we did.
“Why is Vickie even into this? Like I get you,” I looked directly at Lucy as we cleaned up for closing. “And Wyatt is pretty lax considering. And I’m a slut for punishment. But Vickie? She’s got the most to lose.”
Lucy pushed away the tables to broom under them. He favored his right side. “I think it’s about control.”
“Like whip and leather?”
Lucy frowned. “This is some part of her life that her father isn’t privy to. You know he used to keep tabs on us.”
“How could I forget? He sent Wyatt a Congratulations ecard when he won the school spelling bee.”
“Exactly,” Lucy hummed, sticking the broom handle up to rest his chin on it, lazily. “He doesn’t know about this, though. It’s, uh, how you said it, non-daddy money.”
“That’s a sin coming outta your mouth and no one will believe me.”
And the bell chimed.
“Hey Maria,” I called, without looking up. I heard her heels click against the floor.
“Evening Oliver. Lucy,” she said politely, taking her place by bar. She began counting coins as I prepared her usual.
“I see you’re no longer wearing the red jacket.”
I watched the coffee drip into the cup. “What can I say? I’m a quick study.”
“Good. But pretty sad work lately, huh?”
The coffee was done, and I turned to set it down in front of her. There stood the tower of coins, perfectly stacked, but there was something new. A cellphone, the screen shattered but the bright yellow sticker decal told me everything.
“This is Wyatt’s…” I began, blinking at it. That snapped Lucy’s attention back to us.
“Yes,” Maria said, bringing the black liquid to her lips. “Carelessness.”
“You’re the one that called the ambulance, weren’t you? Wyatt said the parking lot was deserted.”
Maria shrugged. The broom fell from Lucy’s grip and he was with us in a blink of an eye, his hands slamming on either side of the bar beside her, trapping her under his presence. “Lucy—”
“Are you fucking with us?” He said, his voice so low I almost missed it. Maria seemed completely unphased, taking another sip.
“Hardly. Oli, call off your dog.”
“He’s not my…” I was at a complete loss. “Lay off, Lucy.”
The twist of Lucy’s mouth told me he wanted to argue, but the hands left the counter and Lucy gave up some space, each step back deepening his scowl.
“Now, now. No need to get rough. I only bring good news. Real work.” Maria reached into the back pocket of her jeans and placed a small flash drive on top of Wyatt’s phone. I stared at it.
She finished her coffee, slid the items toward me and shot Lucy a wink. “I’ll see you soon, if you take it.”
The bell chimes.
“I hate her,” Lucy said, angrily picking up the broom. The flash drive was so small in my hands.
“I know,” I said.
Axel Winder was a handsome man and maybe I would have enjoyed his company if he didn’t remind me so much of my dad.
I was instructed to show him around our small town, take him to the sights and a few eateries, maybe an event or a parade if there were any. To my credit, I was perfect. I pushed my nightly activities further down the line and focused on hearing stories of his climb to success, and success was being my father’s intern.
Apparently, Axel Winder was a very connected guy. He ran with an influential crowd and although he was intentionally vague on the details, I gleamed that his path had been very much set up for him. I tried to remember any of the faces he talked to at the party but they all seemed unassuming.
“Have you always been interested in politics?”
Axel waited to answer, pausing as if in thought and it looked rather cartoonish on his features, as if he were meant to be a marble statue and flesh was an afterthought. “I suppose, though I have definitely been guided.”
We were at a small coffee shop, on the upper side of town where people were constantly cycling and there were water dog bowls on the outside of every shop. He had something sweet and I had tea, the color of Wyatt’s eyes.
“Your parents?” I inquired, and Axel shrugged.
“Who else? I’m sure you’re in a similar situation yourself. Minus certain expectations.”
“Yes, minus a few things,” I agreed. Cunt tacked on the end only in my mind.
“Your friend at the party was quite interesting. Are you two, uh, together?”
I made a face. “Oliver? No, we’re just friends.”
“I see, that’s—”
“I’m not interested in men.”
Axel is masterfully cheeky. “Pity,” he said. “I’ll be posted here in the next week.”
He’s quick to move on. Smart boy.
“Yes, my first project is on the crime rate.”
“That’s interesting,” I said, because it was. We’re in a relatively small town, hardly enough to have a crime rate.
“You’re probably thinking ‘what crime rate?’ Well, I’m not stationed here here. But the city over, an actual metropolis.”
“Uh huh.” I had finished my tea.
“Crime tends to leak into these cute small towns. Take it from a city kid.”
“Uh huh.” I refused when the waiter asked to refill.
“You know how it is. You’ve seen your father’s work. He’s done a lot.”
When he spoke, my thoughts wandered to the past week, the silly tracksuits and smell of plastic. “Of course.”
Axel’s phone rung and he answered, barely sparing me a glance. He only talked in short curt sentences but when he was finished, he was sure to say goodbye. “I hope everything is alright,” I said.
“It will be,” he said.
And it was, for the most part.