Four years ago…
It would take dying to slow my pulse. And I’m not being dramatic. I’ve tried everything for that last hour and a half; nothing has worked. Deep breathing, prayer, meditation—none of it does squat to calm me down.
My fingers drum against the steering wheel while taillights from the cars in front of me blare bright red. If being asked by the most beautiful girl at Vegas High isn’t enough to make my nerves want to rip through my skin and drown themselves, then the added pressure of being late because I’m stuck in traffic sure as heck will.
No, it’ll be fine. Even if I am a little late, Axelle will understand. She’s not like most girls. I mean, even though my experience with girls is limited to the occasional joke at my expense or tutoring session I get roped into, I never have been able to turn down a pretty girl.
But Axelle is different from the rest. She actually seems interested in me. At first, I thought we were just friends—which was more than I’d ever expect from someone like her—but then she asked me to the dance. Not just any dance, the Valentine’s Day Dance.
So tonight I’m going to tell her. I’m finally going to spill my guts that I’ve been in love with her since the day we met. I never thought I’d have the courage to do it, but she asked me. That’s gotta mean something, right? It doesn’t make sense because she’s so freakin’ beautiful and nice. I mean…why me?
I have a four-point-oh GPA, so I know better than to dwell on the why and just live in the holy heck this is really happening. If Peter Parker can get the girl, why can’t I?
I push my glasses up my nose and squint around the line of cars in front of me. The tie I borrowed from my neighbor Mr. Heeber is suffocating, and I’m starting to sweat while the traffic remains at a standstill. I crank the AC on my Mazda 323, and the twenty-year-old thing sputters to life. Maybe I should call the restaurant and let them know we might be a few minutes late. I pull my phone from my center console and see I have two missed calls from Axelle and they’re only a minute apart.
I still have eight minutes until I’m supposed to be at her house, so why…? My phone vibrates in my hand and I immediately answer it.
I’m met with silence and then the soft clearing of a throat. “Hey, Killian?”
“Axelle, hey…” She sounds off: sad or something. “I’m almost there to pick you up. I’m stuck in stupid traffic.”
“Oh, yeah, about that, um…” She’s whispering. “Listen. I can’t go tonight.”
My pulse finally slows to a crawl. Okay, so I’m not dead, but with the way my chest feels, I may as well be. “What? I mean…why?”
“It’s not a good night.”
“But you said you got a dress and we picked the restaurant so—”
“I know. I feel so bad. I—”
A man’s voice filters through the phone. I can’t make out his words, but he sounds irritated.
“Is that Blake? Is he there?”
She sniffs. “No.” God, she sounds so tiny.
“Axelle,” I whisper. “What’s going on?”
“I…my dad’s back. He—”
“Say good-bye, Elle,” the man’s voice commands.
“I’m so sorry, Killian. I have to go. Please don’t be mad, okay?”
I don’t even get the good-bye out before the phone disconnects.
My gut churns with worry. Her dad is in town? She never talked about him much, only to say that she was grateful to be away from him.
It was something we had in common. My dad was a mean son of a bitch, but luckily, he left when I was young. Granted, he left me with my mom, who wasn’t much better, but it’s easier to defend myself from the verbal attack of one rather than two, so I never complained.
Still, I wouldn’t wish any of this on Axelle, and there was fear in her voice. I go with my gut and hit a number on my phone then press it to my ear. My heartbeat kicks faster with every ring.
“Killer, what’s up, man?”
“Mr. Slade, I’m so—”
“Enough with the ‘Mr. Slade’ shit. You’re going to have to get used to calling me Jonah.”
As if I could ever get used to having the Universal Fighting League’s Heavyweight Champion’s personal cell phone number programmed into my phone much less actually talking to him.
“Okay, sure. But, um, I just got off the phone with Axelle and, uh…” It’s freakin’ Valentine’s Day for crap’s sake, and I’m about to pull this man away from his wife. I better not be wrong about this. I push my glasses up my nose; nervous sweat makes them slide right back down. “I don’t have Mr.…er…Blake’s phone number, but I figured you would, and I think—”
“Spit it out, Killian.”
Damn, he sounds mad. “Axelle sounded…off. She cancelled on me tonight, and when I asked her why, she mentioned her dad was there.” I’m met with silence. I check the phone to see if we were disconnected. “Are you there?”
“How long ago did you talk to her?”
“I called you right after we hung up. I was in traffic on the way to pick her up when she called and cancelled. I don’t have a good feeling about this. I’m sorry. I know it’s Valentine’s Day and you probably have plans—”
“Don’t worry about that. You did the right thing.” He quickly catches Raven up on what I told him and she replies, but I can’t understand what she’s saying. “Killian, you go on over to Layla’s, but do not go inside. Wait for us in the parking lot and keep your phone on you, understand?”
“Chances are everything’s fine, but we’ll be there in about thirty minutes, so just hang tight until we get there.”
“Okay, sure, sounds good.”
“See you in a bit.”
Time drags on. I’m pacing the lot with my phone welded to my palm.
It’s been over thirty minutes, and I’m about to call Jonah back when his truck comes barreling into the lot.
He parks next to my car, and he and his wife Raven hop down from the truck. They both look insanely pissed off, which only ratchets up my panic. That and…there’s no Blake.