Read Where You'll Find Me Online

Authors: Erin Fletcher

Where You'll Find Me

Where

You’ll Find Me

Erin Fletcher

Table of Contents

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Erin Fletcher. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Edited by Heather Howland and Sue Winegardner

Cover design by Jessica Cantor

ISBN 978-1-62266-443-6

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition January 2014

To my grandma, who knew I was going to be a writer long before I did.

Chapter One

The third step down holds my fate in its hands. There, the padding beneath the beige carpet is almost nonexistent. The supporting boards and beams creak with age. I learned these facts the hard way back in eighth grade, after my parents discovered the word “curfew” and once again earlier this year when I was too excited, too drunk, too
something
to remember the Third Step Rule.

Tonight I don’t forget. I clutch the wooden banister and step over Third Step onto its silent neighbor, Fourth Step. It takes a long second before the familiar chainsaw of my dad’s snoring sounds again. I’m in the clear for now.

I tiptoe down the remaining stairs. The front door is before me, freedom within reach, but that door creaks and groans too much for my needs. The well-oiled door to the garage is my escape route of choice.

On the way to said door, I pause to pick up my black knee-high boots. My sister Heather calls them “stripper boots” and steps on them every chance she gets. My parents nag me to keep them in the closet, but I need my shoes available for times like this. Opening and closing the closet door is an unnecessary risk.

Escape is close when my nose tickles.
Shit.
If I had a petite, polite sneeze like most girls have, this might not be a problem. However, my sneezes measure on the Richter scale. I obeyed the Third Step Rule and had my shoes ready to go, but now I’m going to ruin it all with a sneeze.

The door leading from the house to the garage is thick. If I can just get on the other side of it, my family might not hear me. As I step into the garage, those familiar sneeze-preceding sniffs start up.

My eyes water as I close the door and turn the handle back into place without a sound. Before I can step away from the door or cover my mouth, I sneeze so hard that my teeth clink together and I think that maybe I should have peed before leaving the house.

The sound echoes off the walls. I tense, waiting for one parent or the other to throw the door open. To ruin my plans. But that doesn’t happen.

Instead, from across the frigid black garage, an unfamiliar male voice says, “Bless you.”

Chapter Two

“Who’s there?” My voice shakes as much as the dumb girls with the big boobs who ask that question in horror movies, usually right before they get killed.

There’s no response. At least not one that’s audible over the blood rushing in my ears. It must have been my imagination. I force my hands to stop shaking as I pull on my boots.

“Aren’t you going to say ‘thank you’?”

My heart stops. That was not my imagination. Ohmygod,
there’s someone in my garage
. A
guy
someone. I’m going to die. I’m going to be raped and tortured and cut up into tiny pieces, but I can’t do anything about it because my limbs are frozen in place.

“That’s usually what you say, you know. When someone says ‘bless you.’ The polite thing to do is to respond with a ‘thank you,’ especially after a sneeze like that. Wow.”

My legs are still paralyzed, but I’m able to reach to my left and feel along the wall until I find the switch. The lights are such a shock after the pitch black that I flinch. After a few blinks, my eyes adjust. The three-car garage is bigger than most in our neighborhood. Closest to me is my dad’s white Chevy Malibu. The middle space contains my mom’s white Trailblazer. Heather’s hand-me-down Lumina (white, of course) is in the driveway, because the final spot in the garage is reserved for my dad’s prized possession: his black 1977 Firebird Trans Am.

What I don’t see between the cars and the rest of my family’s belongings is the owner of the mysterious male voice. “Who’s there?” I ask again. My gaze darts from one car to the next, waiting for any sign of movement.

The choices of possible weapons near me are lame: a bag of dirty car-washing rags, a garden hose, and a container of rock salt for icy steps. Something rustles over by the Trans Am. Lameness aside, I grab the salt in one hand and the hose in the other.

There’s a laugh. “What are you going to do with those? Give me a salt water bath?”

At least the tone is more teasing than menacing, but I still tighten my grip on the hose. “Who are you? Where are you? And what are you doing in my garage?”

“I live here.”

I almost laugh. “Um, no. You don’t.
I
live here, and I think I would know if there was someone else living in my house.”

“I didn’t say that I lived in your house. I said that I live here. In your garage.”

I roll my eyes. “Right. Well, I’d like to be able to see the crazy guy who claims to live in my garage, so can you…show yourself or something?”

“That depends. Can you lose the salt and the hose?”

After a second of hesitation, I set the weapons down, making sure they’re still within reach. There’s more rustling as a guy stands from between the Trans Am and the far wall of the garage. His hands are raised in the air like he’s the one who’s afraid of me, like I was holding something a lot more dangerous than a mineral and a garden tool.

“I’m innocent,” he says. “See?”

He looks a little bit older than me, though not by much. His hair is light brown and super short, like it has been shaved or buzzed recently. Even with the distance between us, the bright blue of his eyes catches my attention. Everything about him screams “Michigan in winter,” from the thick navy and gray North Face jacket to the pink skin on his nose and cheeks. Everything except hanging out in a garage.

The guy shrugs, and his jacket makes the rustling sound I heard before. “This is the perfect place. Your parents leave the garage door open when they come home. I make sure I’m inside before they close it, and then I unlock the side door so I can come and go if I need to. The Trans Am doesn’t seem to mind sharing the parking place with me. What year is it? A ’76?”

Wow. My family needs to do a better job with the whole “security” thing. “It’s a ’77,” I say. The Firebird is always covered with a brown tarp, and my dad would shit a brick if he knew a stranger was standing this close to the car, let alone lifting the tarp enough to guess at what year it is. “Just like in the movie—”


Smokey and the Bandit
,” the guy finishes with a nod. He rests his hands on the roof of the car, and I’m shocked that it doesn’t trip some kind of alarm. The car has been around since I was a kid, and I’ve never touched it. There’s rumored to be a picture of me sitting in the driver’s seat, probably on a bright, sunny day—the car has never seen a single drop of rain—but since I’ve never seen the picture, I’m not certain of its existence.

My phone buzzes in my pocket, and I glance at the display. Rosalinda found a ride for us and is waiting at the end of the subdivision. If I don’t get there soon, she’s likely to drive down the street with the horn blaring. If my parents can’t sleep through a squeaky step, there’s no way they’ll sleep through that. “You need to leave. Now.”

“Aw, come on. If I was going to rob your house, I would have done it a long time ago. That’s not why I’m here.”

“Then why are you here?”

He smiles, tight-lipped. “Long story.”

“If it’s such a long story, why say anything? Why give your hiding place away?”

He gives the coat-rustling shrug. “You sneezed. It was the polite thing to do. Besides, I can trust you.”

His confidence borders on arrogance that makes me cross my arms over my chest. “And how do you know that?”

He motions toward the house, then nods toward the door where I will make my escape. “Because you know about needing to get away.”

On one hand, he’s right. Who am I to call out someone using my garage as a getaway when I’m about to use a party at someone else’s house as my own escape? On the other hand, whatever he’s getting away from could be dangerous. Illegal. “Sorry. Not saying you have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

“You should know that I’m not above begging.”

“And you should know that I’m not above calling 9-1-1.”

“Okay, okay,” he says, pushing off the car and picking up a backpack, which he slings over one shoulder. “I’m going.”

My phone buzzes again. Really, ridiculously time for me to go, too. As I approach the side door, the space between me and the stranger shrinks to a few feet. Up close, the jeans and Puma tennis shoes he’s wearing make him seem far too normal and rich for a guy who claims to be living in my garage. His blue eyes shine even brighter than they did from a distance.

He opens the door for me in a gesture that would be sweet if the situation wasn’t so bizarre. “After you.”

“No, really. After you.” I check the door handle to make sure it’s locked before following him out of the house.

“Have a good time tonight.” His smile reveals a crooked front tooth, and I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to kiss that mouth with that crooked front tooth.

I duck my head, as if he can read my thoughts through eye contact. “You, too.” And ugh, that was stupid. The chances of him having fun while finding someone else’s garage to live in are slim to none. It’s like when someone wishes you a happy birthday and you say, “You, too” without thinking about it. “I mean…stay warm. Or something.”

“I will.” He turns left, and I turn right, toward the end of the subdivision. We’re a few feet apart when he says, “Bye, Hanley.”

I don’t stop to ask how he knows my name.

Chapter Three

“Earth to Hanley,” Rosalinda yells. The sharp scent of vodka snaps me back to reality. The song she’s yelling over is from a couple of years ago, before my world fell apart. Music from back then never fails to catapult me on an unwanted trip down memory lane. “You want?” Rosalinda holds a brim-full shot glass in front of my face. I snatch it out of her hand before she gets impatient and downs it herself. It has happened before. She leans close to my ear, and her Love Spell body splash overpowers the smell of the alcohol. “What’s up with you?”

The song is loud enough that the bass vibrates in my feet. I close my eyes and down the shot. It burns. A chaser would be nice, but the threadbare armchair I occupy is way too comfortable to abandon for beer. Basement house party furniture is ugly, but it has an uncanny ability to swallow occupants for hours at a time. “Just…thinking.”

Rosalinda’s dark curls bounce against her shoulders as she claps and says, “I can take care of that.” She takes my empty shot glass and dances away.

Part of what I love most about Rosalinda is that she didn’t ask what I was thinking about. No talking or explanation required. The best kind of friend to have. Though she’s had more to drink than I have, she’s still coordinated enough to dance while she fills two shot glasses. She’s wearing a white tank that shows off her tan skin and a hot pink bra. Even when Michigan’s temperatures dip below zero, Rosalinda rarely wears a jacket because it covers her outfits. The guy from my garage obviously doesn’t share her concern. He’s got bigger problems than fashion, now that I kicked him out.

“Stop thinking so much,” Rosalinda yells as she hands me the refilled shot glass. “You look constipated.”

“Who’s constipated?” Clinton yells as he approaches. This is his party, but he’s been in a corner, making out with a blond junior all night. A bit of lipstick stands out on his cheek and the collar of his polo shirt. He must own a polo shirt in every color and pattern ever made. It’s all he wears, and I’ve never seen the same one twice.

“Hanley,” Rosalinda answers.

Clinton leans on the arm of my chair and plants a kiss on my cheek before saying, “Hope everything comes out okay.” He gives a dimple-laden smile, like he’s funny or something. I narrow my eyes and flip him off. He laughs and tucks my finger back down. “Drink up,” he says, clinking his half-empty beer bottle against my shot glass hard enough that vodka spills onto my jeans.

“Drink, drink, drink,” Rosalinda yells. Her own shot glass is already empty.

The second shot goes down easier than the first. It doesn’t burn so much as warm away the song, the memories it brings, and all thoughts of the stranger who claims to live in my garage.

“Atta girl!” Clinton takes our shot glasses and kisses Rosalinda firmly on the mouth. “Don’t cause too much trouble, you two,” he calls over his shoulder as he walks away.

Maybe I should tell him about the lipstick stains, but before he can even put the empty shot glasses down, a brunette senior loops her arm around his waist, fingers hooked through his belt loop. Nah.

“He’s such a slut,” Rosalinda says. I don’t argue. The song changes to an annoying one I’ve heard way too many times this winter, but I’ll take it. “Ohmygod, I love this song! Let’s dance.” Before I can cling to my chair, Rosalinda pulls me to my feet.

The room sways for a second. Alcohol never really hits me until I stand. The familiar fuzzy feeling takes over as I do what I do best. Dance. Drink.

Forget.


I love my boots. Really, I do. But walking in heels while drunk is a challenge. I keep twisting one ankle, then the other as I walk from the driveway to the sidewalk that leads to the side door. The junior who drove me and Rosalinda home beeps the horn of his truck twice as he drives away.

Waving in his direction throws me off-balance enough that I twist my left ankle. Again. “Shh,” I exclaim to the horn-honking truck driver, even though he’s already long gone.

Twisted ankles aside, I make it to the door without further interference. I dig my keys out of my pocket and close one eye as I try to fit the correct key into the keyhole. Instead, I drop the whole ring. As I bend over to pick it up, I fall against the door and slide to the ground. When I look up, the door handle is at least a mile away. I’ll just sit here for a little while. Let the world stop spinning. I close my eyes and lean my too-warm cheek against the cold door.

“Need some help?”

When I open my eyes, I expect to see my dad standing over me with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Instead, the voice belongs to the mysterious garage boy. The one I’d forgotten about.

“I’m fine.” Or at least that’s what I try to say. But with my alcohol-affected brain and tongue, it comes out as a tangled mess of consonants.

“Fine, huh? So dropping your keys and falling are things you meant to do?”

“Yes.”

Once his hand is free from his jacket pocket, he picks up the keys. He puts the key in the door and turns the handle. “There,” he says as the hinges creak open.

“I told you to leave,” I say. Still more consonants than anything. Vowels are hard.

He must be fluent in Drunk because he says, “You told me to leave your garage, which I did.”

For no reason, the world spins again. Closing my eyes, I reach for anything solid, which happens to be Garage Boy’s leg.

“Whoa,” he says. “Easy. If I help you inside, are you going to call the cops on me?” My response is less verbal, more clutching his leg even tighter, but he seems to get the idea. He stands behind me with his hands under my armpits. “One. Two.” On three, he hoists me up off the ground.

Attempting to get my feet under me is a useless effort. He pulls me over to the space between the Trans Am and the wall, and I watch as my feet drag against the ground. On some level, I know my boots are getting scratched, but on a much more prominent level, I can’t bring myself to care. He deposits me on something semisoft, and I collapse into a horizontal position that makes my dizziness quadruple. I close my eyes against the garage lights and enjoy the rush.

“Hanley,” he says with two light pats to my cheek. “Hey. Open your eyes, Hanley.”

When I do, Garage Boy is leaning over me, face inches from mine.

“Your eyes,” I mumble, captivated by the gorgeous color.

“How much did you have to drink?”

Drink. Mmm. The party. Body shots. Beer pong. My eyes slide shut. But before I can fall asleep, I’m pulled into a sitting position and something solid is pushed into my hand. This time when I open my eyes, I’m holding a gray Nalgene water bottle.

“It’s water,” Garage Boy says. “Drink.”

The room is spinning, and I’m tired, and I can’t do anything more than stare at the bottle and blink.

Garage Boy sighs and takes the bottle from my hand. He opens it and holds it up to my lips. “Drink,” he says, and this time I obey.

The water is cold, and I’m parched. I push his hands away and grab the bottle myself, drinking greedily. The water tastes like plastic and the kind of ChapStick that comes in the black tube.

“Easy,” he says as he pulls the half-empty bottle away from my mouth. “I really don’t want you to puke all over me.”

I stare at him as he twists the cap back onto the bottle. The water has sharpened my grasp on reality. “How do you know my name?” The sentence almost sounds like six individual words. Almost.

He shrugs and sits cross-legged in front of me. “I’ve heard you and your parents talking. It’s a cool name, you know. Hanley.”

Hanley Helton and Heather Helton. My parents have a thing for the letter H. I lean against the wall because sitting up takes too much effort. “What’s your name?”

Garage Boy smiles. “What did you drink tonight?”

When I point at him, he flinches to the side, like maybe I almost poked him in the eye. Oops. “Subject changer.”

He laughs, leans in my direction, and sniffs. “Vodka?”

“Maybe a little.” Then I belch, and Garage Boy pulls away again, as if his warning about puking might not be unfounded.

He wrinkles his nose. “Beer, too.”

I laugh. “Maybe a little.”

“Maybe a lot. Aren’t you going to be hungover tomorrow? Don’t you have school?”

“Don’t you?” I’m surprised by the speed with which my retort reaches my blurry brain.

My words must hit their mark, because Garage Boy shrugs and says, “Point taken.”

“If you won’t tell me your name, at least tell me how old you are.”

Before I have time to think he won’t answer, he does. “Seventeen.”

If my drunken math is correct, he’s only one year older than me. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“There may be things I can’t say, but I always tell the truth.”

“M’kay.” My eyelids grow heavy again, but he shakes my shoulder.

“Hey. Stay awake. Here. Drink some more water.”

Thirst quenching is enough of a reason for me to drag my eyelids apart. A few more gulps make my mouth feel slightly less desertlike.

“So, you went to a party?”

The hair on his head is so short. It must be soft. I reach one hand out and pet him. “Feels like a baby duck.”

He laughs. “How many baby ducks have you petted in your life?”

“None. But I bet that’s what one feels like.”

“Maybe,” he says as he reaches up to touch his own head.

“I was at Clinton’s party.”

“Clinton. Is he your boyfriend?”

The thought makes me laugh so hard I snort. “No. But he throws good parties.”

“Yeah? Tell me about it.”

His eyes are so imploring that I do. I tell him about the dancing and the beer pong and how I am the world’s best flip cup player. I tell him about Rosalinda and Clinton and the drinking game we made up. “I don’t remember the rules,” I say, “but the winner was the person who got the most drunk.”

“I bet you won.”

“When drinking is involved, I always win.”

“Except when the game is getting into your house.”

This time when I point to him, I’m much farther from poking him in the eye. “Except that.”

He smiles the sexy, crooked-tooth smile and asks, “Are you sobering up at all?”

I laugh. “Being sober is overrated. Terrible way to live.”

The smile falls, and he scoffs. “You don’t know much about life, do you?”

Where’d
that
attitude come from? It’s a jerk thing to say, especially when he doesn’t even know me. I fold my arms over my chest. “I know too much about life.” For example, how short and painful it can be. Thus, the alcohol.

He pinches the bridge of his nose, then releases it and looks to me. “Maybe you should get some sleep.”

“O-kay,” I draw out, shaking my head. The attitude seems to have disappeared as quickly as it arrived. I’m too tired to keep up with male mood swings. Motioning in the general direction of the watch on his wrist, I ask, “Time?”

“Almost five.”

A groan escapes. Depending on what time my mom set her alarm, I’m going to be cutting it close. I unzip my boots and tug them off because I’m sober enough to know I’m too drunk to walk in them. Garage Boy stands and helps me to my feet. He holds on to my hands until I’m steady. His fingers are freezing. Squeezing them before I can change my mind, I say, “It’s cold outside.”

When he smiles, it’s tighter than before. Forced. “Cold in Michigan in winter? Alert the media!”

I would roll my eyes if I didn’t suspect it would make me dizzy enough to fall over. Instead, I wave a hand in the direction of the tarp and towels covering the ground. “Maybe you can stay. Until you find somewhere else.”

“Yeah?” he asks, hope in his raised eyebrows.

“As long as you’re not…like…a fugitive or something.”

He shrugs. “Hopefully not.”

“Hopefully” isn’t the assurance I was looking for. But that is going to have to be filed away for later, because right now alcohol has sent most of my concerns packing, and the few that remain revolve around making it into bed before I get grounded.

As I step past him, I manage to bang into the Trans Am. “Ouch. Thanks for the water. And for helping me…you know…” I motion to the door where I might still be stuck outside if it weren’t for him.

“No problem. Good night, Hanley.”

Sneaking into the house drunk is a lot harder than sneaking out sober. Thankfully, I avoid the Third Step and make it to my room without getting caught. As I change into my pajamas, I run into my nightstand but manage to squelch the stream of obscenities that wants to fly out of my mouth. I limp to my hamper and bury my clothes at the very bottom. They reek of alcohol and smoke.

The world still spins as I crawl between my sheets. My eyes are barely closed when my mom’s alarm clock blares in the room down the hall. Just made it. My last thought before sleep overtakes me is wondering whether Garage Boy will follow me into my dreams.

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