Authors: Season Vining
“Button? You okay?” Rob asked, suddenly appearing in the doorway.
Her blank expression shifted to an enormous smile as she nodded and leapt into his
“Are you working late tomorrow night?”
“Good, we have plans.”
* * *
“Oh my God, that conversation was painful. Why the hell did I let you talk me into
that?” Josie whined, clicking her seat belt into place. “Seriously, I feel like I
need a Xanax after that phone call.”
“She can’t be that bad,” Tristan said, laughing. “Besides, I want to get to know your
“I told you, I don’t have any friends.”
“Tennessee Williams said, ‘Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made
by the friends we choose.’ Friendships are the cultivation of relationships with people
who are like you, believe in you, and share your burdens. You have Monica and Alex.
That’s more than I’ve got.”
Tristan started the car and watched as Josie crossed her legs tightly, appreciating
the rumble of the engine. She closed her eyes and laid her head back against the seat.
“I fucking love this car,” Josie whispered, not sure if she meant to say it out loud
She slid her hands down the tops of her thighs and back up again, concentrating on
the rough feel of the denim vibrating beneath her fingertips. Tristan eyed her actions,
almost losing his breath at the sight.
“She’s got a 396-cubic-inch, 325-horsepower turbojet V-8 engine with a Muncie 4-speed.”
“I have no idea what any of that means.”
“It’s a sixty-seven Impala. A classic.”
“It’s fucking hot.”
Tristan delighted in the purr of both his girls. He tried to concentrate on the road
in front of him instead of the vixen by his side, who suddenly looked like she wanted
to devour him.
“So I’m finally going to see your place? I bet you have everything covered in plastic
so that cleanup is easy when you kill your victims,” Josie teased, looking to Tristan.
His expression remained unchanged. “Maybe there are whips and chains with leather-padded
tables and shock collars?”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Tristan answered.
“Not bad at all,” Josie replied, playing along. “I’ve seen worse.”
Tristan gave her a devious smile.
“Oh! I know! You’re a geek, right? You have six thousand
figurines worth a small fortune displayed on custom shelves around your house?”
He shook his head, “Wrong again. I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.”
Josie smiled and couldn’t imagine ever being disappointed in Tristan. She watched
the city pass by, morphing from the dark alleys of her life to the amber- and neon-lit
streets of his. The sidewalks got cleaner, the buildings looked nicer, and the kids
hustling on each corner vanished with each passing block. She didn’t mind living in
the seedier part of the city, she was comfortable there. Josie wondered if she’d always
been that way.
“Dean Moloney lives right outside New Orleans?”
“Yeah, in Gretna. That’s where we lived.”
“So he had to have known me back when we lived there. I was a kid. What the hell could
I have done to him?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve been asking myself that for days now. It has to be
related to your dad. I’ll take a look at any court cases Earl was involved with and
see if I can make a connection.”
“I wish I could remember,” she whispered, the desperate longing in her voice painful
to Tristan’s ears.
Tristan watched Josie stare out the window again. He would give anything to be inside
that head of hers, to jar those trapped memories loose so that she could remember
her parents and how much they loved her. He reached for her hand and held it beneath
his on the gearshift, knowing it would bring her some comfort.
They came to a stop and Josie looked around, amazed at how much their surroundings
had changed in such a short drive. He hopped out and grabbed Josie’s bag while she
took in the building before her. It looked like a typical San Diego apartment, surrounded
by palm trees and wrapped around a courtyard. It’s stucco façade looked aged under
“I’ve never been tagging in this neighborhood. Looks like it could use some flair.”
Tristan frowned and led her across the street. They climbed a set of stairs, where
he fumbled with his keys before finally entering apartment 2D.
“I’ll just put your bag in my room. There’s beer in the fridge if you want.”
To say Josie was surprised by his home was an understatement. Sure, the walls were
white and the carpet was tan, but that is where the generic appearance ended. There
was a built-in bookcase lining one wall, with a space cut out for a television. The
entire thing was filled with books. New books, old books, hardbacks, paperbacks, every
kind of book she could imagine created a patchwork mosaic look to the otherwise plain
There was an open laptop on a small wooden table with two mismatched chairs parked
beneath it. A well-worn sofa graced the living room. Besides that, there was no other
furniture. She stepped to the bookcase, trailing her finger over the spines of the
books. None of the titles were familiar to her, and suddenly she felt small and far
out of her league.
Josie jumped at his proximity. She turned to face Tristan, leaning against the shelf.
“I can see that,” she answered.
He eyed her as though she were a fixture, a lovely piece of art hanging on his wall.
His eyes stayed glued to hers as he stalked forward. His gaze pinned her there. Tristan
stopped mere inches from her body. His large arms grabbed the shelf behind her, caging
Josie in like the willing prisoner she was.
“I love having you here, in my space,” he said, ducking his head and whispering against
“Yeah, you know, the boundless, three-dimensional extent in which objects and events
occur and have relative position and—”
“Tristan,” Josie interrupted. He raised his eyebrows. “Shut up.”
She closed her eyes and reached for him. Sliding her index fingers into the belt loops
of his jeans, she pulled him closer. As always, a blaze consumed her, and she wondered
if this feeling of longing would ever be satisfied. After what seemed like a lifetime,
Tristan met her lips with his own, placing sweet, simple kisses there. Every so often,
his tongue would trace across her lip and she’d forget to breathe.
“There’s something I want to show you,” he said.
Breaking away, Tristan reached above her head and pulled down a book. He led Josie
to the sofa and drew her down next to him.
“It’s our freshman yearbook,” he said, answering her questioning eyes.
Josie looked on with anticipation, eager to see a tiny glimpse into her past, a past
that apparently had been happy and normal. While she was thrilled to learn about her
early childhood, normalcy was something she couldn’t even fathom.
As they went through each page, Tristan excitedly pointed out their friends and favorite
teachers. Sometimes he had stories to accompany the candid photos and stories to accompany
those stories. Josie listened intently, soaking in every word he said and staring
at the frozen gray faces on the page. When they got to the student section, she noticed
some sort of bookmark sticking out.
“What’s that?” she asked.
Tristan flipped the page to reveal a small metal barrette snapped onto the page.
“It was yours,” he said. “I found it in my room about a week after you moved.”
He ran his finger down the page until he stopped at her face. Josie looked on, intrigued
by the younger, fuller face and familiar eyes.
They continued flipping through the book, Tristan pointing out some candid shots of
her. These were much happier. She looked carefree and shy. Josie grinned back at the
photos, wondering if, back then, her smiles were genuine and unrehearsed.
Next, Tristan turned to his photo, not even caring that Josie laughed until her side
hurt. The sound of her genuine laughter made him want to capture it and hold on forever.
“You were so skinny! Your hair was out of control!”
“I was prepubescent. You loved my hair,” he countered. “And you loved me.”
She looked down at her lap, stunned by his words. A heavy silence fell between them
until Josie worked up the nerve to ask what she wanted to know.
“Did you love Fiona?”
“Yes, I did. I would’ve never stayed with her if I hadn’t. It was different, though.
Different from this,” he said, motioning between them.
“I kind of hate her,” Josie said softly, focused on a hole in her jeans.
“Yeah,” Tristan said, dropping his arm around her shoulders. “But why?”
“Because she hurt you. Because she had you for all that time and didn’t appreciate
Tristan placed a kiss right below her ear and whispered, “It should have been you.”
This time the silence felt different. It was warm and comforting, a blanketed feeling
of desire and love.
“Do you have a picture of her? I want to see.”
Tristan reluctantly nodded and went back to the shelves, pulling out an envelope from
between two books. He took his seat next to Josie again and opened the envelope, pulling
the photo from inside.
Josie stared at the picture. The girl was beautiful, with blond hair and sparkling
blue eyes. She was everything that Josie wasn’t. She tried to associate this girl
with the hurt and pain that had been inflicted on Tristan but failed to make the connection.
There was an innocent happiness imprinted on the glossy paper. Fiona was smiling and
hugging a boy who wasn’t Tristan.
“Who’s he?” she asked.
“That’s her twin brother. I never knew him. He died when they were sixteen. I stole
this photo when I left her. It was stupid. I just did it to hurt her.”
Josie nodded, understanding completely.
The next morning, Josie woke to find herself in a real bed with clean sheets and fluffy
pillows. Her head lay on Tristan’s bare chest while one arm and leg were thrown across
his body. She stifled a yawn and rolled onto her back, stretching the muscles in her
arms and legs. The room was flooded with sunlight and she couldn’t believe that she’d
slept so late despite it.
She turned toward Tristan, her eyes memorizing every nuance of the man before her.
He lay on top of the covers, his bare feet crossed at the ankles. His black pajama
pants sat low on his hips, immediately coaxing her eyes upward. Each peak and valley
of his muscled chest and abdomen were highlighted by the sun’s rays, causing golden
shadows across his skin. The vibrant shapes and twisting lines of ink clung to his
arms as if they never could belong anywhere else. Long fingers wrapped around a weathered
paperback book that was folded over on itself. His hair was growing out now and had
become a bit of a zigzag-patterned mess. The stubble on his jaw caused a slightly
darker shadow to his face, and she hummed at the memory of what it felt like beneath
her fingertips. Tristan’s mouth was open just slightly, his pink tongue sliding back
and forth across his bottom lip keeping time with his eyes on the page. Perched halfway
down his nose sat a pair of black-rimmed glasses.
“You’re staring,” he said without looking up from his book.
“Since when do you wear glasses?”
“Oh,” he said, instantly reaching to pull them off. “Sometimes when I read.”
Josie grabbed his hand, halting his movements and smiled up at him.
“I love them.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Yep. You’ve got that hot nerd thing happening.”
“Hot nerd? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
“What did you just call me?” Josie teased.
She placed a kiss on his lips and hopped over, heading to the bathroom. Tristan shook
his head in disbelief, loving how she always had a way of surprising him. Marking
his page, he placed the book on the nightstand and closed his eyes, trying to clear
He’d been up since dawn, his thoughts reeling. Josie was in danger, and he needed
to know why. He couldn’t believe that he let her talk him into staying three extra
days. This time could be better spent assuring her safety.
She emerged from the bathroom and instantly he understood exactly how she’d persuaded
him. Her mere presence sang to him, called to his weaknesses. Josie was beautiful
with her tousled hair and endless legs standing at the foot of his bed. It had been
awhile since he’d wanted to share his life with anyone, but here she was and Tristan
cherished the sight of her.
* * *
Mort stepped into the shower and let the water run over his face. He leaned his forehead
against the cool tile and grinned, still excited about yesterday’s find. He had sat
outside Josie Banks’s North Park apartment the previous day waiting to catch a glimpse
of her. He couldn’t wait to lay eyes on her, if for nothing else than to confirm that
she did exist. He stared at the building with loathing, begging it to reveal her.
Finally she’d come trotting down the steps with a large bag slung over her shoulder.
She was a dark and brooding beauty compared to the teen girl in the photo he’d memorized.
She was small, an easy target for someone like himself. But she hadn’t been alone.
The guy by her side was young, probably her age. His arms were covered in tattoos.
His smile for the girl was easily recognizable as one of affection.
Mort had snapped a few photos of the couple and watched as they disappeared down the
block. He grinned sinisterly at the idea of being rid of her. Hell, killing her would
probably be doing her a favor. After all the shit she’d been through, she might even
welcome him like an angel of mercy. He’d never spent this much time and effort on
a job and felt a bit put off that he’d become so attached to the girl. Not that he
wouldn’t carry out his mission, but it would definitely feel different from every
Stepping out of the shower, he dried off and swiped at the mirror. His speckled, foggy
reflection stared back. But he wasn’t sure what he saw there. He seemed changed in