You read Chapter 1 yesterday…but we clearly couldn’t leave you wondering what happened, so here’s Chapter 2 of WHIPPED…just three days til launch! Enjoy!
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A thick wad will get you about anything. A thick wad of cash, that is. “Four months rent upfront. After that, I’ll have my house, and you don’t have to see me again. Except at your store.”
I throw Vi the roll of bills, and she catches it. We’ve made the introductions. We now know names, but I can tell she’s shocked to see me here. A part of me can’t believe she’s the girl I’ve been emailing and the shop owner I’ve been flirting with. Her eyes are wide and green and beautiful, and I can’t pull my gaze from them.
She stuffs the bills somewhere… probably her pocket. I keep watching her eyes. They make me forget about the five grand. Almost. A few days ago, I wouldn’t think twice about that sum. But I’m changing careers. The new one’s more important, but less profitable. Non-profitable, really. Darrel calls it charity work.
Vi grits her teeth. She must be struggling with the decision to rent. I realize the fact that I’ve been flirting with her may not work in my favor. That’s why I made my offer. Come on, wad of cash… come on…
She chews on her lip, pauses, then relaxes and smiles. “Deal. When do you want to move in?”
I want to say now, but she still looks shocked, so I say, “I’m ready when you are.”
“I’m good whenever. Let me show you around.”
The place is bigger than it looks from outside, and has a comfortable and roomy living room that opens to the kitchen and dining area. There’s a giant red couch that takes up most of one wall, with a coffee table, an overstuffed chair and ottoman and a standing lamp behind it for reading.
On the kitchen table is one of those bazillion-piece puzzles with an abstract image that looks impossible to put together. She’s got most of it done. “You like puzzles?”
She nods. “They relax me.”
I look again at it and laugh. Because that shit does not look relaxing.
She leads me through a small hallway. “There’s a bathroom on the right that we’ll share. And this is your room.” She opens the door to the left and I walk in.
It’s a small room. The bed’s a twin. There’s an empty bookshelf that goes up to the ceiling and an empty dresser that goes up to my knees. It’ll take some getting used to.
I drop my backpack on the floor and slide it under the bed with my foot. “I’ve got some stuff to do, but I’ll be back tonight.”
“Sure.” She holds up a finger. “But, first, some rules.”
“Yes. No going into my room without my permission. No sitting on the right side of the couch. That side’s mine. And no flirting with me.”
I chuckle. “Sorry, but no flirting goes against my core beliefs.”
“Fine, then no hooking up.”
“No. No hooking up. If we hook up, we might break up. I’m not living with an ex.”
“How about a fuckbuddy?”
She pauses, rubbing her chin. “No.”
Her resistance intrigues me. It’s not what I’m used to. It’s fun. “Fine. I won’t hook up with you. But what you decide to do—well, that’s up to you.”
She mocks laughter. “Ha. Ha. Don’t worry. I can resist your sexy pants.”
I wink. “But not what’s in them. Trust me.”
She blushes, then grits her teeth. Her body must be betraying her. I like having this effect. She holds her hand out. “So, do you accept the rules?”
I shake it firmly, and the blush returns to her cheeks. Women love a strong handshake. “I accept.”
“Good.” She shimmies out of the room, her jeans tight, and I’m glad “don’t look at my ass” wasn’t one of her rules. When she returns, she passes me a key. I make sure to touch her hand gently as I take it. The moment lasts longer than passing a key should. She shrugs. “Bring your stuff in whenever.”
“Sure. I’ll see you later.” I squeeze by her, letting my palm rest on her back, and walk out of the apartment. I don’t tell her all my stuff was in my backpack.
Not all of Vegas is like the Strip. There are places where the doors are falling off their hinges and the windows are full of holes. Places like the one I grew up in. Places like the one Kevin is growing up in now.
“Hey, my man Kev. How you doing?” I walk down his street, carrying a brown bag of food in my hands.
“Hey, Lach. Check this out.” He smiles at me, his dark curly hair a mess, and does an ollie on his skateboard. The board is missing half its paint, and the wheels have fallen off before.
“Nice. Try pulling your knees up even higher.” I step on the board and, still holding the bag of groceries, demonstrate the technique.
“Okay. I can do that.” He tries again, almost going twice as high. “Thank, Lach.”
We grin at each other. Kevin ran into me a few years ago. Then he attempted to run away with my wallet.
I caught him right away, and instead of calling the cops on an eleven-year-old, I found his mother. She worked double shifts, and the father had disappeared long ago. She blamed herself for the boy’s slipping grades and recent criminal endeavors. I told her I wouldn’t press charges, and she told me she’d get the boy straightened out. A week later, I dropped by to see how they were doing and offered them some groceries. A week after that, I dropped by again.
It’s become a habit. I walk up the porch and ring the doorbell. The lock clicks, and Kevin’s mother, Mary, opens the door. Her hair’s all black, recently dyed. She adjusts her glasses and waves me in, a genuine smile on her broad dark face. “You know you can just come in, Lach. Family doesn’t—”
“Family doesn’t knock. I know.”
“And you are family, my boy. Don’t you forget it.” She pulls me into a hug. Her hands are rough and covered in lines. Dark circles hang under her eyes. She’s still searching for the beauty regime that’ll make her look ten years younger. But, the way I see it, she wears the trophies of hard work. She should be proud.
I kick my shoes off by the door and tilt my head at the brown bag at my hands. “These are for you.”
“Oh, thank you, dear.” She grabs the bag from me and drops it on the kitchen counter—a sad excuse for what was once some type of white linoleum but is now more yellowed than anything, but always scrubbed spotless, like everything in Mary’s rundown apartment. Clean, but old and on its last leg. She ruffles through the contents. “Awww. Organic chicken. I told you not to spend the big bucks on us.”
My phone buzzes. A text from Darrel. He’s my manager, soon to be my old manager. I ignore it. “Can I help with dinner?”
“You’ve done enough for us, my boy.”
I pull the bag toward me and pull out the kale and carrots. “You can repay me with the pleasure of your company.”
She shakes her head, smiling. “Let me cut the carrots.”
We divide up the vegetables, and I throw the chicken in the oven. Kevin runs in, skateboard in hand, half-ripped shoes on, his nose tilted up. “What’s cooking?”
Wrong move, kiddo.
Mary turns on him, hands on her hips. “Kevin McAllister. What are the rules of this house?”
His shoulders droop. “No running.”
Mary waves a spatula at him. “And?”
“No shoes inside.” He smiles apologetically and walks back to the door, kicking off his shoes and dropping his board.
Marry lowers the Spatula of Order and Justice and mixes the green onion sauce. “Good job.”
When the dinner is finished, she asks me to eat with them and, after some nagging from Kevin, I agree. The organic chicken with sauce is delicious. The company is even better. Kevin’s math grade went from a C-minus to a B-plus. Mary’s boss finally paid the overtime he owed her. The prick. He manages Bill’s Burgers four blocks away and still insists on high-heeled waitresses. Though Mary barely mentions it, I know her feet hurt every day.
I finish my meal with a sip of green tea—Mary doesn’t keep soda or alcohol in the house—and Kevin asks about my work. “You found a place for the center yet?”
I smile. “You know the Spacey Mall that closed down?”
Kevin smacks his fork down on the table. The excitement in his face reminds me of why I’m changing careers. “Oh man, that place is huge.” He’s right. I examined the location yesterday. It’s one of those malls you could get lost in.
“I could modify it,” I say. “Or maybe even tear it down and start new.”
Mary’s lips are tight. I call it her “holy shit” face, because she never swears. She just makes that face. “That’d be really expensive, wouldn’t it?”
“It would be,” I say. “But it’s worth it.”
“You have enough for that sort of thing?” she asks.
Kevin pats her on the arm. “That’s why he’s getting investors, mom.”
“Ah, I see.” She smiles and twirls her chicken with her fork.
“I have a meeting with a few interested parties this week.” If it goes well, I can finally stop counting dollars and start helping people.
My phone buzzes, and I check my texts. Darrel’s asking if we’re still meeting tonight. I text back yes. Might as well get it over with. I say goodbye to Kevin and Mary and jog to my BMW down the street. The sky’s dark, the stars invisible. When I arrive at the Wynn, one of the finest hotels on the Strip, I hesitate at the door. This was my old home. I’d hoped to avoid it for a while.
The hotel greeter, a young man with a skillful fake smile, swings the door open for me, and I, not one to keep people waiting, stride inside. I navigate the tall hallways to the Sinatra Restaurant, barely having to watch my way. “Darrel Fowler is expecting me,” I tell the staff member. He nods and escorts me to a table for two, where Darrel waits with a glass of wine. My hands are slick with sweat. I wipe them on my jeans.
“Lachlan, my friend.” Darrel stands and hugs me. His voice is deep. His smile white and full of teeth. His skin is dark. People are often surprised by his Australian accent.
We sit down, and I order a chicken salad with extra vegetables. Darrel orders a barbecue steak and whispers something to the petite waitress. She giggles and saunters away. Another one-night-stand in the making. I don’t judge. I know the waitress. Her name is Micky, and I had her giggling a few nights ago, too.
“You know I’m not coming back,” I say.
His smile doesn’t falter. “One more year, Lach. One more tour.”
“That’s what you said last tour.”
He sighs, rubbing his bald head. “Because you’re meant to perform. This thing you’re trying to do, this…”
“Youth Center,” I say. I wonder if he forgot, or just couldn’t stand the words. A week ago, I asked him if he wanted to invest. He laughed and patted me on the head.
Darrel nods. “It’s not you, Lach. You’re meant for the stage. And besides, the guys need you.”
“The guys will be fine. They’ve been doing this for years.”
“Not without you.” He frowns. He doesn’t often. Darrel taught me how to dance, meet girls, spend money.
He did more than my father.
I feel my temper rising. I down my glass of ice water, and it cools me down. “I’m done.” I stare into his dark eyes and see the disappointment.
He bows his head. “Two million.”
“We’re prepared to offer you two million for the tour.”
I can’t stop myself. I laugh. “I could have used that last year.”
“Last year, I knew you wouldn’t leave.”
Son of a bitch. I imagine punching him, something I haven’t done for years, and it feels good. I want to say, “You can shove that two million up your ass,” but I can’t. I may need it to open the center. To help kids like Kevin.
So instead I say, “I’ll think about it.”
I leave my food half-eaten and pay my bill. Darrel flirts with Micky as I walk out and search for a liquor store. On the way, I scroll through my contacts. I land on Jessie. Good with her mouth. Doesn’t talk a lot. She’s what I need tonight. However, as I pick up a bottle of rum, my mind fixates on images of Vi. But I’m about to sleep with Jessie, so this is… hmm. Strange. The alcohol should fix that.
I grab a second bottle.
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Alcohol is an easy fix for a hard problem, Lach…but we’re thinking you might need a little stronger. Like perhaps a hearty dose of feisty redead? 😉 Read on to Chapter 3 here when you’re ready…but in the meantime, here are the links where you can preorder WHIPPED:
Lach clearly can’t resist Vi. And can you really blame him? 😉