I stand before you judge.., p.1

I Stand Before You (Judge Me Not #2), page 1

 

I Stand Before You (Judge Me Not #2)
 



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I Stand Before You (Judge Me Not #2)


  I STAND BEFORE YOU

  S.R. GREY

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not considered to be real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  I Stand Before You (Judge Me Not #1)

  Copyright © 2013 by S.R. Grey

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Copy Editing: Gail Cato at CreateSpace

  Cover Design: Damonza at Awesome Book Covers

  Print and E-book Formatting by Benjamin at Awesome Book Layout

  ISBN-10: 0615839878 (print edition only)

  ISBN-13: 978-0615839875 (print edition only)

  PLAYLIST

  Wanksta ~ 50 Cent

  Radioactive ~ Imagine Dragons

  Dream ~ Priscilla Ahn

  Angels on the Moon ~ Thriving Ivory

  Halo ~ Beyoncé

  A Man I’ll Never Be ~ Boston

  Sweet Surrender ~ Sarah McLachlan

  Tautou ~ Brand New

  Breathe Me ~ Sia

  Change ~ Deftones

  Stay ~ Rihanna (featuring Mikky Ekko)

  Hanging By a Moment ~ Lifehouse

  Heavenly Day ~ Patty Griffin

  Kiss Me ~ Ed Sheeran

  Good Enough ~ Evanescence

  My Lover’s Prayer ~ Otis Redding

  Excuse Me ~ Fools For April

  Sweetest Thing ~ U2

  Found ~ Christel Alsos

  Have A Drink On Me ~ AC/DC

  Be Here to Love Me ~ Norah Jones

  You Make It Real ~ James Morrison

  PROLOGUE

  CHASE

  I lean my head back against the headrest, crank the passenger window down the rest of the way. The June night air rustles through my hair, reminding me I desperately need a trim. I run my fingers through the strands, chasing the path of the breeze.

  My grandmother likes to lecture that I shouldn’t have hair sticking out at odd angles, strands curling at the nape of my neck.

  “You’re such a handsome young man, Chase,” Grandma Gartner said just this morning, tsking when I sat down for breakfast. “You look so much like your father did when he was your age. But, you know, he always kept his hair short and tidy.” And then there was a pause, a long, dramatic sigh. She set down a plate of eggs—over easy—in front of me. “My poor Jack. God rest his soul.” My grandmother crossed herself.

  Her poor Jack, my father with the short and tidy hair—dead and gone.

  I thought: I am not my dad, Gram. He failed us, he gave up on us. But the words never passed my lips. And they never will. Hearing them would only hurt my grandmother’s feelings and she’s too good to hear the angry thoughts poisoning my polluted mind. So I keep all that shit locked deep inside.

  This morning was no different. I kept things light, said something like, “The girls like my hair like this, Gram. Got to keep the ladies happy, ya know.”

  Then I ducked and waited for the inevitable swat with the dish towel. But it never came. Instead, the lines in my grandmother’s face deepened.

  “You don’t need to be concerning yourself with keeping ladies happy, young man. You’re only twenty. Messing with women at your age will only lead to trouble.”

  I knew what she meant this morning, and I know it now too. She’s worried I’ll end up getting some girl pregnant. Then I’ll be fucked, well and good. But I’m always careful, take the necessary precautions. Besides, it isn’t my womanizing ways that’s becoming a problem. If only. No, unfortunately, it’s my ever-growing dependency on drugs—something my grandmother would never suspect—that has me worried these days.

  These days… Yeah, right. More like these blurry, fucked-up segments of time.

  Sighing, I roll the window up just enough to lean my head against the cool glass. What am I going to do? I silently ask myself.

  What I really need to do is get the hell out of this tiny Ohio farm town I landed back in two years ago. I’m spinning my wheels here in Harmony Creek, hanging with a bad crowd. Problem is I have no plan, no money either. Drugs are my escape and have been for quite a while. My priorities are all fucked up. My life, it’s upside down. Every day it seems like getting high—and staying that way—is my only goal. I want to stop—believe me I do—but I don’t think I know how to anymore.

  A lump forms in my throat at this thought, but I swallow it down. “Hey,” I say to Tate, who is driving. “Let’s get out of this town.”

  Tate Cody, my friend…and my partner in crime in everything wild and crazy these days—women, drugs, drinking, fighting—you name it, we do it. And if we’re not doing it nowadays, chances are we’ve done it at least once over the past couple of years. We’ve yet to slow down; we live on the edge.

  I sometimes wonder when we’ll fall.

  “What do you think we’re doing, Chase, my man?”

  I take in and process Tate’s reply, while he lifts a bottle of cheap gin to his lips and hits the gas. And for this one long, tortuous drawn-out second, I can’t make a distinction between what I asked Tate and what I was only thinking. I panic, assuming my partner in crime’s response is to let me know it’s finally happening, we’re really falling.

  But then Tate adds, “I’m getting us out of here as fast as I can,” and I breathe a little easier. He just means we’re leaving Harmony Creek. Not falling, after all. Shit, I need to ease up on the drugs.

  I glance out the window, and though it’s dark I can see we’re heading east, nearing the state line. Soon we’ll be out of Ohio completely, and in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania. That’s where we’re supposed to hook up with two girls tonight. They’re from New Castle, and we’re meeting at a lake across the state line.

  I don’t really care about all that, though. What I’d really rather do is keep on going. Hop on Interstate 80 and clock the miles to Jersey. Better yet, Tate and I could go farther. We could drive our asses straight into New York-fucking-City. Now that would be sweet.

  So while Tate barrels down a back road the police rarely patrol—until you get into Pennsylvania, that is—I pretend we’re leaving Harmony Creek for good. No looking back, no regrets, just flying the fuck out of this lame-ass small town.

  And speaking of flying, I’m flying a bit now too, feeling fine, baby, fine. I close my eyes so I can savor the s-l-o-w creep of numbness that cocoons me like a warm and fuzzy blanket.

  I feel nothing, yet I feel everything.

  My skin tingles a little, but when I touch my hand to my face it feels detached, like these parts of my body belong to two different people, neither of them me. That thought makes me happy, escape is exactly what I crave.

  Needless to say, I’ve smoked—a lot—and not just weed. But it’s the pills I swallowed a while ago that are starting to wrap me up and spin me the fuck out.

  A bottle hits the back of my hand and my eyes fly open. Shit, I forgot I am not alone in this car.

  “Drink, fucker,” Tate urges.

  I take the gin, despite the fact I can barely see straight. No isn’t part of my vocabulary when I’m like this. And, sadly, more often than not, this is exactly how I am. This is who I am becoming: Chase Gartner, burgeoning drug addict.

  As per most nights, Tate and I stopped at Kyle’s before embarking on this night’s little adventure. Kyle Tanner supplies us with more drugs than we could ever hope for. And the quality is always top notch. Kyle takes a certain kind of pride in dealing only primo product. Bu
t you’d never guess such a thing if you saw the rundown shithole he lives in.

  Our dealer resides on the other side of town, over by the closed-down glass factory, in a clapboard house he shares with his meth-addicted dad. Lately, going there has been a contradiction of emotions for me. I love and hate concurrently when Tate and I cross over the railroad tracks that mark the end of the safe neighborhoods of Harmony Creek. Then, I vacillate between love and hate as I watch the Sparkle Mart grocery store appear…then disappear. I lean a little more towards hate when we reach the run-down apartment building where the junkies hang out, where their emaciated bodies lean lazily against the dirty brick exterior.

  I sure as fuck don’t want to end up there, God, no. But maybe I’m powerless to stop my downward spiral. Lord knows, by the time we start down the long dirt road that leads to Kyle’s place, I crave and I want. And love trumps hate by that point. Even the junkies seem less scary. So we go…and we go…and we keep going back.

  Tate tells me the road to Kyle’s house is the road to salvation. Salvation, my ass. I’d be more inclined to say Tate and I are traveling a path to hell. We’re in the express lane to damnation, and one step closer to burning every time we travel down that fucking dirt road. I know it, he knows it, but do we ever do anything to stop? Do we try to crawl out of the hole we’re wallowing in? No, never.

  In fact, Tate wants us to delve in deeper—start selling. He says we’ll make, at the minimum, enough money to help pay for the copious amounts of shit we ingest…snort…smoke. Yeah, we do it all, everything short of needles. I somehow know if I ever cross that line, there will be no going back.

  But I’m considering the selling thing, albeit for a different reason than my friend. Tate hopes to eventually make enough cash to buy his own wheels. He hates borrowing the piece of shit we’re currently in—his mom’s old, rusted Ford Focus. I just want to make enough money to buy a ticket out of this place. The little bit I earn painting people’s houses, picking up construction work here and there—it’s not adding up fast enough for my liking.

  Hell, I still live at my grandmother’s farmhouse out on Cold Springs Lane. Granted, I recently fixed up the little apartment above the detached garage, moved from a bedroom in the main house to an area not too much larger. But that little apartment provides privacy, and that’s what I need. I am no longer a teenager, like when I first moved back two years ago. That’s why I want, more than anything, to just get the fuck out of here. I’m thinking the money I make selling will make escape a reality, not just some pipe dream. No pun intended.

  I raise the bottle of gin to my lips and tip it back. Alcohol heats my throat. “I think I’m going to take Kyle up on his offer,” I say after I swallow the burn, the resulting grimace distorting my voice. “I need the money and it’s going to take forever to earn it legit.”

  “You’re making the right decision, my friend,” Tate replies as he reaches over to take back the bottle.

  Whoa… My vision turns wonky. There are three overlapping filmy images of my friend, and then just two.

  “It’s all about the numbers, man,” two filmy Tates tell me.

  I tell myself I need to slow down, and then I say to Tate, “That it is.” I squeeze my eyes shut to keep from swaying in my seat. “That it is,” I repeat.

  The irony is that I once had money. Well, my family did, enough that my parents had a trust fund set up for me. Not a big one, mind you, but enough that it would’ve allowed for me to go to a decent college, get set up in a new city, shit like that.

  I have no idea what my future holds nowadays, but I know it’s been tainted by my past.

  Back when I was around eight my parents moved from this town out to Las Vegas. My dad, who’d been successfully building houses here for a while, started a similar construction business out in Nevada. The timing was right, the stars aligned. We caught magic in the early days of the housing boom. Everything was golden and money poured in. It was happy times. For a while.

  During those good times, Mom got pregnant. She gave me a little brother named Will that I still love like crazy and miss every fucking day. We used to talk on the phone all the time, but now I’m lucky if I get a two-word text from my little bro. I suppose when you’re eleven years old—and haven’t seen your big brother in two years—memories become a little hazy.

  That’s another thing the extra money from selling drugs will help with: I’ll have enough funds to fly out to Vegas to see Will. Or I can just buy him a ticket to come here. As it is my mom, Abby, barely makes enough to get by out there.

  But, like I said before, it wasn’t always that way. In the early years, my father’s construction company grew and thrived, so much so that I once entertained dreams of taking over the business. I used to imagine following in my father’s footsteps, as sons are apt to do.

  One afternoon, when I was about thirteen, I told my dad I wanted to build homes, same as he did. I showed him some sketches, just some basic designs and floor plans I’d thrown together. My dad was impressed. And not the false kind of fawning parents often try to sell to their kids. No, my drawings truly floored Jack Gartner. I could tell he couldn’t believe his eldest son possessed that kind of crazy talent. He told me I should aim high, the sky was the limit. My sketches were incredible, he said, especially for my age. I could be an architect if I wanted, design skyscrapers even.

  I had no reason not to believe him.

  When you’re thirteen you think you can have it all. Life hasn’t roughed you up so very much…yet. At least it hadn’t for me. So I told my father I’d do both—I would design the skyscrapers, and then I’d build them. My buildings would sell like hotcakes, and I’d be as rich as Donald Trump. No, richer even.

  “The sky’s the limit,” I said, echoing my father’s words back to him.

  Dad smiled and patted me on the back.

  Jack Gartner wasn’t patronizing me, he truly believed in my possibility. “You have talent, Chase,” he said. “Just don’t ever lose yourself. If you can stay true to your dream…to who you are…then you’ll do more than fly. Someday you’ll soar.”

  Yeah, right. I sure am soaring at the moment, but I have a feeling this isn’t what Dad had in mind.

  Tate tries to pass the bottle back to me, but my mood has dampened. The pills, along with the memories, are doing a fucking number on my emotions. I’m sad one minute, reflective the next, mad at everything, contemplative over nothing. I guess I am officially fucked up.

  I push the bottle away, harder than necessary, and clear liquid sloshes over the side. “Asshole,” Tate mutters.

  “Sorry,” I say.

  Do I really mean it? No, it’s just a word, an empty string of letters. Empty, like me.

  I tune Tate out. I am high as fuck and lost in my mind. We idle at a swinging red light hanging over an empty, dark stretch of road, and I sit waiting on an imaginary red light in my head, one on memory-fucking-lane.

  When I blink, both lights turn green…

  My dad started taking me to work the summer I showed him the drawings. I learned how to wire a home, how to put in plumbing, how to lay insulation. And that was just the beginning. I used to watch how my dad talked to the guys. He treated them with respect, and in turn they went the extra mile for him. It was all “Yes sir, Mr. Gartner,” “Consider it done, Jack.”

  When I turned fourteen, my dad bought me a drafting table, a bunch of fancy software too. The kind real architects use, or so he said. I practiced all the time, got pretty damn good. I was building my wings, you see, preparing to fly.

  Will was only five, but damn if that kid didn’t love to sit around and watch me sketch. For him, I’d draw all kinds of ridiculous structures.

  “Dwaw me a house, Chasey,” he asked this one day.

  I laughed while I tousled his blond hair. I remember the fine strands looked so light in the sunlit room. Hell, they were almost white. “All right, buddy, what kind do you want?”

  “A house like a tweeeee,” Will sing-s
ong replied, green eyes innocent and wide as he focused on the sketch pad I’d picked up from my desk.

  I readied a colored pencil and asked for clarification, “Okay, a tree house, right?”

  “No-o-o.” Will shook his little head vociferously. “A house that is a twee, Chasey.”

  “Aha, got it,” I said.

  And I did. I drew Will a tree house shaped exactly like a tree, big, sturdy, loaded down with bushy branches. The leaves I shaded in the color of my brother’s eyes. I sketched a door at the base of the trunk, then drew a Will-sized truck and parked it under a low-lying branch. After I finished with some final shading, I held the drawing up for my brother to see.

  Will’s house looked like one of those tree houses in the commercials with the elves and the cookies, only this one I’d drawn was far better. There was a lot more detail, and I’d drawn the tree in 2-D. In among the branches and the leaves all the rooms were in cross-section, done up in varying shades of blue, Will’s favorite color. I also made certain every last blue-shaded 2D-room overflowed with toys.

  Will threw his arms around my neck and told me he loved his twee house. Then, he leaned back and told me he loved me even more.

  He gave me a kiss on my cheek. That shit always touched my heart, choked me up a little. “I love you too, buddy,” was about all I could say as I held on to a little boy who meant the world to me.

  Things are never bad when love is abundant. I thought it would stay that way forever, I did. A home filled with love, a happy family, just a good and easy life.

  Man, was I ever wrong.

  Shortly after I turned seventeen my world began to crumble. The bottom fell out of the housing market. The wave everyone was riding touched the surf and crashed. My dad’s business was one of the first to fail. He had overextended himself; all our assets were mortgaged. He made ridiculous deals, attempting to keep us afloat, but his efforts proved futile. We sunk faster than a stone.

  I sold the fancy architect software on eBay, the drafting table too. I gave the money to my parents, but it was merely a drop in the bucket compared to what we owed. I watched my once-vibrant dad turn into a shadow of the man he once was. My mom, always so young-looking and pretty, developed dark circles under her eyes—from crying, worrying, not being able to sleep. She even tried her hand at the casinos, we were that fucking desperate. But everyone knows gambling is a loser’s game. The house always wins in the end.

 
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