If I'd Known_The Cursed Series Part 1, page 10
I blink away the tears stinging my eyes and swallow against the lump lodged in my throat. “It’s too late.”
I cover my eyes with a hand, wanting to hide from the cruel reality. Images too real and graphic to ever forget … Allie sprawled motionless, her blood seeping into the concrete around her. The cold disconnect in Vic’s eyes just before he shoved her. And me, standing above Allie with her bright pink wig clenched in my fist, unable to move. Then there’s that scream … that high-pitch, horror-movie scream. I swear it’s still ringing in my ears.
And I left Allie … at the bottom of those stairs. I abandoned her. I should have stayed with her. I don’t even know if she was still breathing.
“We need to go back. I need to make sure she’s still alive,” I plead, strangling a sob.
“The girl? You were there?” His tone is gentle.
I nod. “It was Allie, the girl from the truck. I tried … ” My voice breaks as I struggle to speak. “I tried to reach her before he pushed her, but I couldn’t.”
“Who pushed her?” Joey asks cautiously.
“Vic.” His name escapes before I can capture it. I bite my lip to keep from saying more.
I’m not usually this careless. I blame my chemically altered state for allowing the honesty to slip out. This isn’t me. I don’t overreact like this. I’m the one who holds it together when shit gets bad. But right now, I don’t have control over my mind or my body, no matter how hard I fight for it.
Joey’s quiet. I watch him carefully, attempting to read the contemplation reflected in his eyes. I try to convince myself that this wasn’t a secret I needed to keep. Vic isn’t someone I need to protect. But Joey is. And now that he knows the truth, I’m not sure what he’ll do with it.
Joey drops the elevator control and slowly walks to me, encircling me in his arms. As soon as he touches me, my breath evens out and the crushing sensation in my chest releases. I squeeze him tight, burying my face in his shoulder, but I don’t allow myself to cry. He holds me until the tension in my muscles dissipates and the shaking subsides. His lips press against my temple, and the last tendrils of panic fall away.
I tip my head up.
Joey brushes a strand of hair from my cheek. “There’s nothing you can do if we go back. Parker said they were taking her to the hospital. Let’s wait and find out if she’s okay before we decide what to do, alright?”
I nod, convinced leaving is the best option. He wraps his arms around me one more time, giving me the strength I need to stand on my own before he lets go.
“Ready to get out of here?”
“Yeah,” I breathe out, feeling calmer.
Joey pushes the button to lower the elevator, and when he opens it, we step out into a kind of parking lot on the ground floor, presumably for everyone working here. Joey’s red Jeep is at the far end, parked in front of the large sliding doors. Holding my hand, he weaves through the maze of cars until we reach it. Joey’s cell phone is on the driver’s seat. Mine isn’t here. I hope Parker will know to bring it with him. I can’t afford to lose it.
Two guys in black slide the giant barnlike metal doors open. Joey starts up the Jeep. I half-expect to see red and blue strobes flashing from an ambulance or a police car, but I’m not really surprised when I don’t.
Just before Joey pulls forward, a black van flies by the entrance. Joey and I exchange a silent glance, knowing that Allie must be in that van.
Just like the door we entered in the corner of the club, the private garage entrance slides shut behind us as soon as we pull out. We drive through The Point in the dark. Joey doesn’t turn on the headlights until we pass the gates and reach the road.
We don’t say anything as we drive along the deserted, winding road. I stare out at nothing. The Jeep’s top is off and the wind whips loose strands of hair around my head. Joey hands me a sweatshirt when I shiver. I take it from him and slip it on, inhaling the detergent combined with his distinct scent—a mixture of grass and rain.
I lean my forehead against the window, my thoughts continuing to jump around. I close my eyes and inhale deeply. This day should never have happened.
I can sit here and dissect everything I could have done differently from the moment I woke up. But I know everything that’s gone wrong tonight is because of Vic.
I clench my jaw so tight, my teeth feel like they might shatter. If I ever see him again, I’m going to kill him.
“Why was Vic with you tonight?”
Joey glances at me quickly before looking back to the road. “You don’t have to worry. Parker won’t bring him to the country club.”
“That’s not why I’m asking.”
Joey shifts uncomfortably. “We’re not friends, like I said. We go to the same boarding school. His mother died of cancer a few months ago, and my father asked me to … I don’t know, make sure he’s okay. My family knows his family. Our fathers went to college together.”
“Did you know he was a psychopath?”
“No!” Joey answers adamantly, turning his head to me. “He’s not the nicest guy, but I never would’ve believed he’d push a girl down the stairs. Or that he’d bring a gun. I’m really sorry, Lana, for everything he’s done.”
“It’s not your fault,” I reply quietly, sinking into the seat. “His father … is he … powerful?” I have to know what I’m up against since I seem to be the only witness to the truth.
“Vic lives with his grandfather,” Joey responds carefully.
When he doesn’t say more, I silently urge him to answer the question.
Joey nods regretfully. “He has a lot of connections. He’ll cover this up before Vic is accused of anything. That’s why I said we should wait to see what happens with Allie before we decide what to do. If it comes down to his word against yours, it won’t be good.”
I laugh humorlessly. “Of course, because the truth never wins.” I say this more to myself than to Joey. I turn away from him, the muscles in my jaw knotting up again.
The engine whirring and the tires crunching along the dirt road fill the silence. Staring out the side window, I attempt to focus on our surroundings for the first time since we veered off Sherling’s paved roads. I have no idea where we are. It’s dark. There aren’t any streetlights … or houses. Just woods. The forest appears endless. The tall silhouettes feel like they’re closing in around us.
I’ve never been outside of Sherling before tonight. That town has a way of trapping people within its borders. They’re deceived into believing their miserable existence is an inescapable sentence of minimum wage jobs and child support payments.
I can’t say I’m convinced there’s something better waiting for me outside Sherling, but I refuse to be another one of its stories—predictable and meaningless, doomed to repeat itself. Always the same ending. But, after tonight, I don’t think I’ll have a say in what happens to me. Maybe I never did.
Parker’s words find their way back to me in the quiet. “Say nothing.”
I know he didn’t tell me this to protect me. If Parker really believes I pushed Allie, then he knows I’d never admit to it. And Vic isn’t the reason either. He didn’t even know Vic was with us. And then I remember how he took charge of everything. Insisting Joey leave with me. Confident Allie would be taken to the hospital. Securing our quick exit with just a few words spoken into his cuff.
Parker needs my silence to protect himself.
“Parker’s one of the organizers, isn’t he?”
Joey hesitates before responding. “You know I can’t say anything,” he says, concern evident on his face.
But I don’t need Joey to confirm it. I know. Parker’s always been one to take risks in the name of success. He’s cursed with Confidence. Failure has never been an option for him. He was our source of amphetamines a couple summers ago when we first started doing everything our parents told us not to. I’ve heard he’s had his hands in other recreational habits as well. He’s discreet, so I don’t know anything for certain. He’s
“I won’t tell anyone,” I promise. “But if the police find out he’s one of the people running an illegal club, then … ”
“It would be really bad for him, especially if someone got seriously hurt,” Joey finishes, his meaning understood.
A dark pit opens up in the bottom of my stomach. There isn’t anything I can do to make this right. The one person who deserves to go down for this is evidently untouchable—and not just because his grandfather would pay to cover it up, but because everyone I remotely care about would suffer, myself included, if I told the truth. I clench my jaw, fighting the urge to scream.
Joey clears his throat, drawing my attention away from all the ways my life sucks right now. “I probably don’t want to know this, but how do you know my brother?”
I stop breathing with the question, not sure how honest I should be right now. I’m not about to tell him that Parker was my first kiss. I don’t think Parker even knows he was my first kiss. It was two summers ago. I was thirteen, almost fourteen—don’t want it to sound that bad. Parker and Joey are from Oaklawn, so Parker didn’t know anything about me. He thought I was sixteen—not because I told him. He assumed, and I didn’t correct him.
Tori and I learned the art of dressing a certain way and applying makeup just right so that we appeared older. I started covering shifts for my mother at Stella’s around that time, so I’d also acquired the attitude to back it up. No one’s ever questioned my age, even if I can barely see over the bar. It’s all in how you present yourself to the world, and I had no fucks to give … until tonight. It helps that I possess an ID that says I’m twenty-two. None of the bars we go to ever blink twice at it. But we live in Sherling. They’d rather have the bodies in the bar and money in their tills.
The first party Tori and I crashed was this high school party at a two-family house a few streets over from Tori’s place. Parker was there on “business,” just stopping in on his way to a party of his own. But he ended up staying. I may have had something to do with that. He was smooth—still is—saying all the right things and focused on me like I was the only girl in the room. As aloof as I may have tried to act, I was jumping around and screaming with excitement on the inside. Here I was, at my first party, and this absolutely gorgeous guy was hitting on me. I wanted to die!
I did my best to play hard to get. I didn’t give him my number when he asked for it. Actually, he still doesn’t have my number. But when he leaned over in that dark corner I was pressed against, his arm resting on the wall above my head, I didn’t move. I didn’t push him away. I didn’t turn my head. I stood there, perfectly still, and let him press his lips to mine. He teased with slow, playful kisses. And when his tongue entered my mouth, he was slow and gentle. It was … perfect. I think my knees would have given out if the wall hadn’t been holding me up.
That was the first and last time Parker Harrison ever kissed me. And it’s the kiss I will never forget.
Parker must have asked around about me after that because the next time we saw him out, he was pissed. Kissing a thirteen-year-old wasn’t exactly good for his reputation, no matter how old he thought I was. He had just graduated and wouldn’t have been caught dead with a junior, forget about a girl who hadn’t even entered high school. Then he saw Nina with us …
Once they happened, he was completely off-limits to me. Even when he came around again and got to know me better.
I refuse to give him a chance, no matter how many times he asks.
I must have been quiet too long because Joey suddenly says, “Forget it. Don’t tell me.”
“It’s not like that. We just … see him around,” I assure him, trying to sound casual. “He and Nina have a thing. Or whatever. And he sometimes goes to the same bars we do in Sherling.”
“You have a fake ID?” Joey asks in surprise.
Joey shrugs. “I don’t really use it. It’s one of Parker’s old ones. I’ve never tried to get into bars. The town where I go to school is too small. I’m afraid I’d get busted with it. But I buy beer outside of town sometimes.” He shifts uncomfortably again. “So … he and Nina, not … ” Joey shakes his head. “Never mind.”
“Nothing’s going on between me and Parker.”
“Sorry,” he says with a weak smile. “It’s happened before … ”
I laugh. “You and your brother have hooked up with the same girl?”
“No,” he replies adamantly. “This girl and Parker had a … thing, and when he ended it, she thought I could be the perfect revenge. Except, I couldn’t stand to talk to her, let alone kiss her.”
“If I remember right, you don’t need to talk to kiss,” I tease.
I swear his cheeks redden. “You know what I mean.”
I’ve been trying to figure out Joey’s curse since the party. But whatever it is, it isn’t obvious. As much as he looks like a mussed, youthful version of Parker, he is nothing like him. And so … I guess I should stop comparing them.
“I wouldn’t use you as revenge,” I tell him sincerely. “I’m not interested in your brother. Most of the time, I wish I didn’t know him.”
I roll my head against the seat to face him, my cheek pressed against the cool leather, expecting him to be joking. But he just stares out the windshield, his expression a bit solemn. When Joey looks over at me, he offers a half-smile, just enough to give a hint to the dimple on his right cheek.
“This night … ” He lets out a dry laugh before looking back out the windshield with a shake of his head. “I’d say I wish it was over, except … ” He looks at me again, peering right into my eyes. “I keep thinking it’ll get better.”
“It did. For a couple hours,” I say with a weak smile.
The Jeep slows and Joey turns down a dark drive. The headlights shine on a large wooden sign—Oaklawn Country Club. We follow a long road that splits the golf course in half, eventually reaching an expansive building with a wall of windows.
A small Clubhouse sign is posted in the middle of a dimly lit circular drive where a chandelier glows above carved wooden doors. The building is dark with no signs of movement behind the glass. Joey continues to the left side of the clubhouse where a Deliveries sign beckons us into the shadows.
Parking the Jeep on the far side of the dumpster, Joey shuts off the engine. We’re not completely concealed here, but at least the Jeep won’t be obvious if someone drives by. Unbuckling his seat belt, Joey shifts to face me. He doesn’t say anything. We just look at each other, a thousand words confessed within a few seconds of silence.
“You going to be okay?” he asks. The question he’s asked so much tonight.
“If I’d known—”
The ringing of his phone keeps the truth from leaping off the tip of my tongue.
Joey looks from me to his beckoning phone, hesitant. He lifts it from the cup holder. “It’s Parker,” he says apologetically, sliding his thumb across Parker’s face to answer it.
Panic rushes in like it never left, quickening my heartbeat, stealing my breath and tying my stomach into intricate knots. I fight the urge to rip the phone out of his hand and demand to know if Allie’s okay … if she’s alive.
I stare at Joey as he listens, trying to read the expression on his face with each nod. But he won’t look at me, and his eyes give nothing away. I’m about ready to scream when he shifts and holds out the phone.
“Parker wants to talk to you.”
I stare at it without making a move to take it, suddenly afraid to know the truth. I glance at Joey. His brows rise in encouragement. I smile weakly and accept it, slowly bringing it to my ear.
“Yeah?” My voice is weak.
Music blasts through the speaker. I can hear Tori and Nina singing out of tune at the top of their lungs.
“You have nothing to worry about.” Parker’s distinct voice cuts through the noise.
“What do you mean?” I can feel Joey watching me. “Is she—”
“She’s fine, Lana. A broken leg and a concussion. But she’ll recover,” Parker assures me. “And no one saw you. The guys who found her are contracted not to disclose anything. Keep quiet, and all’s good. Nothing’s going to happen to you. I’ve got you.”
“Okay,” I respond quietly, trying to let it all sink in, ignoring the fact that he still thinks I’m the reason she ended up at the bottom of the stairs. And he obviously doesn’t know about the screaming girl who thinks the same thing.
“Who are you talking to?” Nina demands impatiently, her voice slurred.
“I’ll see you in a bit,” Parker says, hanging up before I can ask which hospital she’s at.
I slowly lower the phone and hand it back to Joey.
“She’s going to be okay.” Joey reaches for my hand, enveloping it in his warmth.
Tension immediately seeps from my muscles. Just like that … I can breathe again, my chest visibly collapsing with the release of air.
“Would Parker lie? Do you think she’s really okay?” I ask, knowing how much trouble this could mean for Parker. I’ve learned to never underestimate what someone is capable of when they’re desperate and have everything to lose.
Joey hesitates thoughtfully. “I don’t know how he could cover it up. He’s done some questionable things to protect himself, but … he’s not a bad guy.”
“How can he keep someone from talking?” Regardless of whatever influence Parker has over people, I strongly doubt his weak threats of denied access to a party or social suicide would keep mouths shut.
“I don’t think he can,” Joey answers simply. “But what can they say other than a girl fell? No one knows, not even the people working there, that he’s one of the organizers. And only you and Vic know the truth. They’ll have to change locations just in case, but I don’t think Parker has anything to worry about. Neither do you.”
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