Joyride Page 33

Plus Arden knows his uncle isn’t capable of keeping up with these sorts of things anymore. He’d never say it out loud, because stubborn makes up part of his bloodstream—the part that isn’t alcohol.

“You didn’t ask, so that’s why I’m paying you. And anyway, it would tickle your pa’s temper to see you making money instead of asking him for it all the time. You wouldn’t have to go to him for anything. Especially if I’m the one paying you. That’s worth it all by itself.” This is true. The great Sheriff Moss has always been opposed to Arden picking up a job. He’d always assumed it was because his father wanted him to play sports, make good grades, get into FSU. But Cletus just made him realize it’s more than just that. It’s exactly what Arden has been trying so hard not to relinquish to anyone.

His freedom.

If I had a job, I wouldn’t have to go to him for anything.

Arden hasn’t played sports or made good grades since Amber died. He hasn’t resembled a good son since then. Yet, his father still leaves money on the kitchen counter for him every Sunday night. Before, he was glad to relieve his old man of some cash and blow it on whatever he wants. He thought that was hurting his father somehow, to waste his money on frivolous things. Now he realizes what it really is. Taking his dad’s money doesn’t hurt his dad, it hurts himself. It’s a way of controlling me. Of making sure I’m dependent on him. So he can say he did all he could for me. Just like he did with Amber.

Materially, Amber had it all. A new car that she never got to drive, new clothes, new laptop whenever she asked. But Amber never had her father. Not after he found out she was schizophrenic. Not after he realized she didn’t fit in with the “normal family” image he was trying to maintain because God forbid the county sheriff should have mental illness running in his blood, sleeping in his own house. Election years were the worst. He kept Amber on a short leash, sometimes locking her in her room for days at a time. Never letting her go out in public, lest potential voters get a chance to see her talking to herself. From the minute their father found out she was ill, she was homeschooled. Cut off from her friends. Cut off from the world except through television and the Internet and whatever news Arden could tell her from school. He even stopped letting her come to Arden’s football games—something she loved dearly.

Amber was alive but not living.

Arden’s mother didn’t like it, thought it was a bit extreme, but she never disagreed. Never stood up for her daughter. Nope. What Dwayne Moss said was law. Period.

After Amber died, his mother was torn to pieces. At first, Arden was glad. He thought his mom deserved the torment. To be a rag doll with few signs of life except for lung capacity and a beating heart. But then he realized she was a victim too. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep, would hardly talk. She needed help, Arden knew, just like Amber did, but Dwayne Moss was too prideful to let his wife actually see a therapist. So she got pills from the family doctor—a good ol’ boy who would refill the prescriptions without requiring something so inconvenient as regular visits. With Sheriff Moss, it’s all about appearances. Which is why his father went on with his life without much outward remorse, or really any kind of reaction, about his daughter’s death. In fact, he actually blamed Amber for what she did in the end.

That’s what happens when you’re not content with your lot in life, he’d said. We did all we could for her.

Arden had wanted to kill him.

“You’re right,” Arden says, unballing fists he didn’t realize he’d clenched. “It would make him mad if I got a job.”

Cletus scratches his belly, nodding. “It would gall the hell outta him, I’d say. Getting paid cash under the table, not paying your taxes on it. How could he explain that to his precious voters?”

Arden laughs. “He’d say I was working for free. That you didn’t pay anything. That he always paid for everything I needed.”

“Guess I’d better write you a check then.” The mischievous glint in his uncle’s eyes says it’s a done deal. Arden would work here on the weekends while Carly worked at the café. Uncle Cletus would pay him under the table. Arden would no longer accept money from his dad. He and Carly could turn the county upside down with their reverie.

Life just got perfect.

Fifteen

Life sucks.

At least, it sucks when your feet feel like anvils in your nonslip work shoes. And the swelling. Oh my God, the swelling.

As soon as I’m done closing down my tables—filling up the salt, pepper, sweeteners, and jellies—I sit down at the last one and hoist my feet onto the closest chair. I wanted to untie my shoes and rub my feet, but I hold back for a couple of reasons. For one, I know they stink like hot dog water, and two, my trainer is making her way over to me. My only hope at this moment is that I don’t have anything else to do before I leave, because I don’t think my new blisters can take it. Plus, I know Arden is in the parking lot waiting for me; he revved his engine as soon as he got here. Must be some weird sort of redneck communication.

Darcy, my trainer, sits beside me at the table and pulls out a bundle of neatly folded cash from her apron pocket. She starts counting aloud and stacking the bills by denomination. When she gets to two hundred dollars I start getting really excited. Then she counts the ones. Together we earned two hundred seventy-five dollars in six hours.

I think I might pass out. She gives me my half. “You earned it,” she says. “I’ve never seen someone move so fast in my life. When you’re fully trained, you’ll be pulling this all by yourself. I don’t know what I would have done with that family from Spain. Thank God you can speak Spanish.”

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