I walked in to find Picnic, Bam Bam, Max and Jeff standing around the kitchen bar in tense silence.
“Um, hi?” I asked, setting down my purse.
“Hey, Marie,” Picnic said, and while his voice wasn’t friendly, it wasn’t cold either. I guess Horse didn’t go home and talk too much shit about me. “Just talking some business here.”
“Yeah, I see that,” I replied. “How ’bout I go and grab some pizzas? Sound good?”
“Sounds great, Marie,” Bam Bam said. He reached around to his wallet, pulling out some bills and offering them to me. I was stunned.
“You don’t have to do that,” I murmured.
“Take the money and don’t forget beer,” Picnic said, his voice short. Arguing with them didn’t seem like a good idea, so I grabbed the bills and retreated. I took my sweet time getting the pizzas. I really, really didn’t want to come back home too early, but after hanging out at the takeout place for forty-five minutes I got a text from Jeff telling me all was clear. I grabbed the pies and drove home, hoping Jeff’s weirdness lately wasn’t connected to the Reapers. I kept hearing Horse’s voice in my head.
Fuck with us and we will f**k you back.
Jeff wouldn’t be that stupid, would he?
When I got back, I had another of those surreal moments that seemed to happen around the Reapers with alarming frequency. Earlier I would have sworn things were ugly between them and Jeff. Now everyone was friendly—practically jolly—and they welcomed me (or rather, the pizzas I carried) with the kind of cheer usually reserved for returning war heroes. I tried to give Bam Bam his change, but he wouldn’t take it, telling me to use it for gas.
The evening followed a familiar pattern. We ate together and then they sat around drinking beer while I cleaned up. As the night went on, the jokes got dirtier. I drank several beers. They built a bonfire. Someone suggested tequila shots. I don’t usually do shots, but it seemed like a fantastic idea when viewed through my beer goggles. But I’d been up since early that morning and I had to be up again at seven to get ready for work, so eventually I decided to hit the sack.
I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about the guys outside and how Horse should be with them. Then I thought about how it felt when he held me in those strong arms of his and we slept together, all warm and safe. That made me sad, and this was where things got ugly.
“They” always say you shouldn’t drink and text, whoever they are.
I should have listened to them. They’re pretty smart.
Me: Horse, muss yu
Me: Why dont anser?
Me: Horse like yur name. Horsey. I’d like to rid u horsey, LOL. You sleeping? Or busy with someone?
Me: I know yur there. I bet you got a new gurl alredy. Screw you.
Me: Screw you and your slut. I hate you. Take yur club and shove it up yur ass I wudn’t be yoor old lady for ten milion dollrs.
To say I was hung over when my alarm went off at seven that morning would be a bit of an understatement. I discovered the messages I’d sent between barf two and barf three, and then that particularly nasty one after barf three. I wanted to crawl under the trailer and die, I was so embarrassed. Through the force of extreme will, I managed to get myself to work on time. Fortunately the head count was low for the day, so the kids weren’t too loud and crazy. I kept thinking about those messages, trying to decide whether to call Horse and apologize, text again or what.
I finally decided to text. He probably wouldn’t take a call from me anyway, and I couldn’t blame him for that. But I couldn’t just leave it like that—I wasn’t that kind of person. I drove home after work, grabbed a big glass of water and crafted my text carefully.
Me: I’m really sorry about my messages last night. It’s no excuse, but I was drunk and wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry I bothered you and I’m sorry for the things I said. I was a bitch, it wasn’t called for and I feel like shit. I promise, I won’t bother you again.
I sat, holding my phone, not sure if I wanted him to reply or not. Shit, my head was killing me. Why did I drink the tequila? I couldn’t handle tequila, I knew that. The last time I’d done tequila shots I’d stripped off my shirt and danced on the coffee table at a party that had thankfully been very small. Gary’d stuffed dollar bills in my jeans and told me to drink more tequila. His friends had cheered me on and waved around their own money. Gary thought that kicked ass.
Guess I couldn’t claim there hadn’t been warning signs that the man was a douche…
The door slammed open and I winced.
“Marie, I gotta talk to you,” Jeff said, sitting down heavily on the stool next to mine.
“I’m pretty hung over. I don’t want to talk,” I muttered, closing my eyes.
“It’s important. I need money.”
“Um, I’ve got a little in my purse,” I replied. “How much do you want?”
“A lot,” he replied, not meeting my eyes. “I’m kind of in a bind.”
That caught my attention, and I looked at him. Really looked at him. What I saw shocked me. He’d lost at least ten pounds in the past couple weeks, and his hair clearly hadn’t been washed in a couple of days. His face was sallow and his eyes dull—not just hangover dull.
“Jeff, are you sick? You don’t look good. I want to take your temperature.”
“Jesus, Marie!” he burst out, slamming his hand down on the counter so hard I felt the trailer shake. I jumped, startled. “Why are you so damn pushy? I’m not your kid, I’m a grown man.”
I froze. Jeff never yelled at me. In fact, Jeff never yelled, period. He’d always been mellow and the pot didn’t exactly work to change that.
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching up and rubbing his shoulder, as if he’d been carrying something heavy and his back ached. “I shouldn’t yell at you. But I really need some money fast, Marie.”
“Capital,” he replied, not meeting my eyes. “I’ve got a business deal in the works, but I need startup cash. In fact, I need a lot of startup cash. Hell of an opportunity, I can’t afford to miss it.”
I shook my head, wondering if he’d lost his mind.
“Seriously? You know I don’t have money like that,” I said. “You can have all I’ve got, but it’s about twelve hundred bucks total. That’s it.”
“What about Gary?”