Rachel’s eyes widen and she slams her hands on the table. My head rips to the left, my eyes searching for the danger.
My shoulders jerk back as I process her words. “What?”
She slides out of the booth and in one slick motion, shrugs off her coat, revealing a short, sleeve blue cotton shirt that hugs her curves. Hugs. Parts that are north and parts that are south. Nicely hugs. As in those clothes had to made just for her. Hell, they probably were made just for her and damn if I’m not grateful for the person who sewed that outfit. Rachel’s not stacked, but she’s definitely a woman.
“We should go closer. To the stage,” she says with excitement.
I blink. She’s a year younger than me. Barely out of sixteen. A girl.
And her cheeks are becoming the color of fire.
Rachel becomes suddenly interested with a ring on her hand and fidgets with it. “So we can hear the song better, because, yeah, because…” she stutters out.
She’s caught me staring and suddenly I feel awkward and the emotion doesn’t sit well in my stomach. Why should I feel awkward? She’s a girl, with curves, and guys look. I look at plenty of girls. Hell, I’ve done stuff with those girls that would make her flush red everywhere.
But with her, it’s different.
And that instinct I learned to listen to years ago, the one that makes my skin feel tight? It’s telling me I’m in a world of hurt if I stick around her any longer.
I don’t have a clue what she wants from me. Girl’s look at other guys like that, not at me.
“Have you ever felt alive?” she asks from out of nowhere.
“Yeah,” I answer immediately. Every time I slam on the gas of my car searching for a quarter mile.
“I mean, really alive.” And Rachel finally meets my eyes. “Like every cell vibrates and for the first time you realize that everything about you from your toes to your fingers to your lungs is all individual parts working in sync and nothing about you is trivial. Like alive. The song I love the most is playing and even though I know I don’t belong here, I do know that this is the most real moment I’ve had in my whole life and I’m going to regret it every single day of my life if I don’t get closer to that stage.”
What the hell is wrong with me? I slide out of the booth and curse under my breath when her smile becomes so blinding it’s close to a supernova. She actually claps her hands and performs a small bounce.
Her cheek bones fall as she becomes solemn. “I don’t drink.”
I roll my eyes at myself. Of course she doesn’t. “Come on.”
I want to touch her again, to claim her as mine as we weave through the backroom to reach the stage area, but I don’t. Earlier, I took too many liberties. Even angels have to have a threshold.
Isaiah, Noah, and Abby
Crash Into You Deleted Scene from Isaiah’s Point of View
A couple of hours later, I enter my apartment building and take the steps two at a time. I’ll be seeing a lot of more Logan, especially after I score the parts for his car. My hope is that I never again see Beth. In one day, I made a deal where a powerful guy owes a debt to me, I made plans to work on a ’57 Chevy, I found a way to piss off Beth, and I’m going to get paid.
Life can’t get much better.
Any good feeling slips out of my body when I see Abby sitting next to my door with her knees pulled up. She types into her cell and finishes up her text when she spots me. “My patience with you is gone.”
I unlock the door to my apartment and push it open far enough that Abby can catch it by the time she stands. We met when we were twelve. My then foster father used to take me to the shop I work at now and she used to hang in the ally behind the shop to play. We struck up an odd friendship that never went away and never stopped being odd. Abby is the longest steady relationship I’ve ever had with one person which makes her special.
Special means, I’ll put up with her.
Inside, Noah has the television up loud enough in an attempt to drown out Elvis singing Blue Suede Shoes. The old lady downstairs must have hit the sherry. Using a coat hanger, duct tape, and cardboard, Noah and I made our own TV antenna that brings in three fluttering local stations. The reception sucks, but our rigged way is cheaper than cable.
Noah sits on the couch and raises a hand in greeting. “S’up, Abby. I invited her in, bro, but she insisted on staying out.”
“Don’t talk to me.” She closes the door behind her and deadbolts it. “I don’t like talking to traitors.”
Noah smirks at her mention of him going clean. “Aw, don’t be like that. I’m sure you found someone to take my place.”
She wiggles her fingers in disgust. “It’s the whole lot of you. First you go clean, then Beth leaves town, and Isaiah hasn’t bought from me since Beth left. The three of you were an easy buy. I never had to worry about watching my back.”
“There’s always a fast food joint hiring.” Noah keeps his eyes locked on the TV. “Don’t have to worry about a gun being pulled on you at a place like that.”
“Depends upon which one you work at,” she responds.
Noah snorts. “True.”
I open the fridge and I’m greeted to the sight of food and beer. “Did you rob a convenient store?” That was the only time I saw this much food in a fridge when I lived with my mom.
“No,” he says. “We’ll talk about it later.”
And I drop it because Noah can be a private guy. “Beer Abby?”
She shakes her head. “I’ve got to work later and it’s better to be sober. Anyhow…” She plops down on the couch on the side opposite of Noah. “Since I’m being forced into the same room as you, we need to chat.”
Noah looks at her from the corner of his eye.
“I want you to stop going to the pool hall.”
My best friend frowns. “Why’s that?”
“You’re bad for business.”
He laughs. “I’m what?”
With two fingers barely touching it, she picks up a pillow Noah must have dragged from the bedroom and deposits it on the floor. “You heard me. Bad for business.” She scrunches her pixie face in disgust. “You come in, play pool with that little red head, and everyone is in awe over the local boy who went clean, got the girl and is going to college. You, sir, represent hope and hope is bad for business.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Abby slides back into ice princess mode. “And I’m back to ignoring you.” She trains her eyesight on me. “You and I need to talk and we can do it here or someplace else. Your call.”
Noah turns off the TV and stands. “I’ve got plans with Echo.” He grabs his keys and jacket off our cardboard table. “See you later, bro. Abby.”
I tell him bye and Abby flips him off. As soon as the door’s shut Abby stretches out on the couch like one lazy controlled cat. “What’s up with you and the fuzzy bunny?”
She turns her head so she can look at me. “Really? When I saw you guys together, you looked…” Abby waves her hand in the air as if the word will magically appear. “Like a couple. And you’re not a couple type of guy.”
I’m not, but with Rachel I would have liked to try. “We’re not together. End of story.”
Her dark eyes survey me for a few minutes. “So it won’t matter to you if I tell you that Eric found her?”
My muscles go stone solid and ice water rushes through my veins. “What?”
“Last week, Eric found out the identity of the two college guys that jacked him. That’s why I’ve been searching for you. He tracked them down today. They squealed and told him where she goes to school. He’s going to corner her tomorrow.”
Isaiah and Noah
CRASH INTO YOU deleted scene from Isaiah’s point of view:
In the Social Services parking lot, Noah sits on the hood of his piece of crap car reading from one of his text books, his black leather jacket laying on the hood beside him. Yeah, that’s right—a piece of crap. Not everything that has four wheels and a motor should be called a car.
He closes the book when I approach. “S’up, bro.”
“Thanks for meeting me here, man.” Noah’s been so busy with school, work, Echo, and his brothers that we haven’t talked in days. When I texted that I needed to talk, he said this was the only time he had and I took it.
“Anytime.” Noah’s eyes drift to the building. Even though he got his happily-ever-after with Echo and a sweet deal to visit his brothers, he still hates this place. Too many bad memories. “What’s going on?”
“I got problems.” More problems than I can count.
“With a girl?” he asks with a sly grin. “Blond hair, comes to your shoulder, shy as hell?”
I relax and fall back against my car. “That’s the one.”
“What’s the issue?”
Rachel’s not what I came here to talk to him about, but since he brought her up…“She’s rich.” And beautiful and kind and naïve. Everything I’m not.
Noah contemplates it for a second. “How rich?”
“Lives in Summitview.”
He whistles. “You go big or go home, don’t you? Parent problems?”
“I doubt they know I exist.”
“Does that piss you off?”
“No.” Rachel and I have too many problems without involving more complications. I stare up at the gray sky, wishing the answer would fall out of it. “Would you tell me if I were making a mistake?”
Noah scratches the stubble on his jaw, buying himself time. We’ve been brothers for over two years and he knows I don’t handle emotions well. I only told Beth how I felt after it was too late.
“You like this one, don’t you?” he asks.
“Yeah.” Nothing I have ever said has been more honest. “I don’t want to mess this up. Echo was from a different world than ours. How did you keep her?”
Noah cracks his crazy ass grin. “Does Rachel have a file that needs stealing?”
I laugh. If only it were that easy. “No.”
“Then date her. Make her feel special. Echo eats that crap up.”
I shake my head. “I don’t have money.”
“I’m not talking money, I’m saying let her in. She sees something in you that she likes and I’m assuming it’s the same with you.”
“Yeah.” It is. Speaking to Noah was supposed to make me better, but instead my gut twists. Rachel would flee if she saw what lived inside me.
“Did your no money comment mean you didn’t find the rent money?” Noah asks.
I close my eyes. Rent money. I now need five-thousand two hundred and fifty dollars. “Yes.”
My eyes snap open. I must have misunderstood my best friend. “Good?”
“You were going to street race to get money, weren’t you?”
I learned early in life there are times to stay silent. This is one of those times.
“Look, you’re a genius behind a wheel, but those people on the street are bad news.”
Those people? My teeth click together. “Maybe you forgot that you used to be one of those people on the street.” Maybe he forgot I’m still one of the maggots.
His eyes narrow. “I haven’t forgotten, but I have learned a few things. Look, we’re desperate right now and I don’t want you doing something messed up to fix it. Because here’s the reality, you’re smarter than that. Smarter than what Abby’s mixed up in. Smarter than hustlers like Eric. You don’t need them to survive.”
I rotate my shoulders back. “I don’t remember asking you to be my dad.”
Because my brother has never feared me, he takes a single step, placing him within swinging distance. “What’s your problem? You’ve been a walking dick for weeks.”
I want to tell Noah that I know. That first it was my mom, then our money problems with rent, then the street race going to hell, meeting and losing Rachel, Eric being jacked, taking on an impossible debt to keep the girl I care for safe, the pressure to help some guys pass the ASE, and wondering if the only family I have ever known—him—is outgrowing me.
All of that is why I asked him to meet me.
Rolling my neck, I hold it in. Beth left. Noah’s already using the rent money as an excuse to leave. It won’t be long until he rejects me and returns me to foster care.
Noah checks his cell for the time and grabs his jacket. “We’ll work out the rent money, all right? Echo already said she’ll cover our cells until we get on our feet.”
I curse under my breath. The three of us are on a plan. Her dad pays for the main bill and she added Noah and me for ten dollars a month, which we had been covering. “I already owe Echo money. I don’t want to owe more.” Money I took to take care of Beth last fall.
He slides his arms into the jacket. “And Echo has already told you she doesn’t want it. That money is on Beth, not you. In the mean time, eat as much as you can at school and I’ll bring leftovers home from work.”
Because I can’t let him leave with tension between us… “You’ve been overcooking the hamburgers lately.”
He flips me the bird and I flip it back. Turning toward the Social Services building, I take a few steps then freeze as if I was slammed into a force field. I have to go in today or I’m breaking my deal with Courtney. But she only said to come in after school, never stating a specific time. I pull out my phone and push call.