Joyride Page 56

“It’s an election year, boy. You’ve caused me nothing but trouble, all these fun little screwups I’ve had to cover up for you. And now you’re running with a girl trying to smuggle her illegal parents over. What do you reckon would happen if the news media got wind of that? What do you think the good people of Houghlin County will think of it?”

“You want me to stop seeing her.” It’s not a question. It doesn’t have to be.

Arden feels gut-punched. Carly is his salvation. She pulled him from a trench he didn’t even know he was in. She made him take a good hard look at himself and he found himself wanting. Wanting more for himself, for his life. Wanting to be more.

And wanting her.

But how can I hold on to her when she stands to lose so much?

The sheriff laughs. Sneers, really. “That’s a good start, boy.”

A good start? What else could he possibly want? Arden lays his forehead on the cold hard table in front of him. “Dad, I just … I don’t know what you’re asking. What else do you want?”

“Let’s just say ‘stop seeing her’ is an understatement. You’re to cut off all communication with her. I mean that if she says hi to you in the halls at school, you look the other way. If I so much as catch you smiling at her, I’ll bring down the rain.”

Fury clenches inside Arden like a wound-up vise. Slowly he brings his head up off the table. “You bastard.”

“That’s not all, boy, so keep your enthusiasm to a minimum until I’ve finished. I’ll be needing a few other things from you as well.”

“Like what?”

“Did I mention it’s election year? Your grades are piss poor. You dress like common trash. All that changes. You’re going to talk to Coach Nelson about getting back on the team. Enough football and you’ll sleep well enough at night. Which reminds me, curfew is at eleven p.m.”

“Why? Why do you have to be such a prick?”

His father shrugs. “Giving my son a curfew, encouraging him to join a school team, and telling him to dress nice means I’m a prick? I’ll take it.”

“You’re blackmailing me. What does any of this matter?”

“I’m negotiating with you. It’s all about appearance, son. And I’d advise you to think very carefully on it.”

But there’s nothing to think about, not really. There are a million reasons why he doesn’t want to let his father get away with this and only one—the biggest one—why he’s going to take this deal and run with it. That reason happens to have the longest eyelashes in the county and the idea of those lashes being soaked with tears makes Arden want to punch through this cinder-block wall.

The sheriff must mistake Arden’s silence for hesitation. “You do all of this for me, Arden, and I’ll drop the charges against Carly and Julio. Clean slate. I’ll turn a blind eye when her parents arrive. We’ve already ascertained they have safe passage here. I won’t deport them when they get here. I’ll leave them alone, all of them, if you do.”

Arden stands, putting both palms on the table and leaning so that he towers over his father still sitting in the metal chair. “I just want one thing to be clear, Sheriff Moss. I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing it for her.”

Arden walks to the door and waits to be let out.

Twenty-Five

The rain outside hits the metal roof of the trailer like BB gun pellets. In the hall, even through my closed bedroom door, I hear the gravid drops of water hitting the bucket placed under our ever-present leak. It’s been storming like this for the past two days, which I find so appropriate.

Lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling has become my favorite pastime these few days. I’m like a sponge teeming with oil; I can’t absorb what happened. I can’t accept that Arden and I are never going to speak to each other again.

My tears feel like razor blades running down my face.

I didn’t have to tell him, didn’t have to break his heart. I think his father already did that for me, saint that he is. No telling what he told Arden I’d done or said while I was being detained. Whatever it was, whatever he said, it makes Arden walk right past me in the halls at school every day, with sunken eyes and an indifferent expression.

And a silent mouth that used to cover mine with such eagerness.

I had this breakup speech all prepared about how I’m going to concentrate on school and accuse Arden of being a distraction and that getting arrested really opened up my eyes, put things in perspective for me. All BS, except for the perspective part.

I got perspective in one big overdose.

It made me realize that I’ve been slaving for the wrong things. That if I felt truly free, then I wouldn’t have to do things to prove that I am. I’ve been slaving for my parents, for Julio, but never for me. I’m sixteen years old and have yet to experience a childhood. I’ve been robbed, and I’m pissed about it. And so when Arden came along and offered me an alternative to childhood, I took it and ran. And never came back.

But now it’s over.

It’s over.

Why is it over?

Could I have done something differently? Couldn’t I have negotiated better with Sheriff Anus? How could I have given up Arden so easily?

Or maybe this all worked out for the better. Maybe I’m being selfish about the whole thing. Shouldn’t I want to labor for my family? Shouldn’t I want to do everything I can to bring them over? Who cares if I didn’t have the greatest childhood? I have the rest of my life to make it up to myself. What’s more important is getting my family back together. Right?

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