(Starting Out #3)
Published by: Harper Impulse
Publication date: October 23rd 2014
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Guilt can eat away at you, but love can cut like a knife…
Wanting after his best friend’s girlfriend is a cliché Billy knows well – it’s the tightrope he’s walked for years.
But now Jason and Lindy have broken up and Billy can’t help but be there for the girl he’s loved from afar for so long. She’s hurting.
Fighting to find a road to the future, Lindy’s heart hurts. She’s trying to escape the truth, but Billy keeps making her face it – and it’s ugly. How can she keep living when everything is made of glass and it keeps shattering?
Her one constant is Billy. Only, rebound isn’t his style and when Lindy starts to see him in a different light, he just can’t trust her. He’s no one’s second best.
A figure, a woman, sat slumped forward a little on the steps. “Shit! Jason! There’s someone over there!” I looked left and right, checking the street was clear, then crossed.
“Shit.” Jason ran past me. “It’s Lindy!” His ex-fiancée, my ex one-night-stand, and the reason we’d not spoken for months.
Her head came up and her body swayed. She looked sick.
Pity, need and anger kicked my gut. I loved and hated her.
The bracelet on my wrist felt like it tightened, like a rope pulling me in her direction, with an urgency that pissed me off. I’d done enough chasing, but my stupid fucked-up heart refused to let her go.
Jason squatted down next to her, his hand on her shoulder. “Lind, are you okay?”
She wasn’t. She was wasted. She’d had more to drink than either of us. Her head rolled on her shoulders.
She turned away from Jason, gripped the step with her hands, and threw up.
She and I had fallen out partly ‘cause of her drinking. She’d stopped being herself.
She retched. Jason rubbed her back.
I stood there with my hands in my pockets, watching, like I’d always done. The leopard I’d had inked on my chest sank its claws of jealousy into my skin.
I still craved her. I hadn’t spoken to her in months, but I still craved her. My best friend’s girl had been my secret addiction for years.
“Lind, is someone coming to meet you? Have you got a ride home?”
When she stopped retching, she took a breath, wiped her mouth on her sleeve then glared at Jason. “Just fucking leave me alone! Don’t touch me!” That was the other reason she and I had parted ways, as friends. We’d never really been anything else, but finally I’d given up on even that option––because when Jason had finished with her, he’d opened up her vicious streak. It could hit at anyone, anytime.
Jason lifted his hands, stood up and stepped back. “Okay. I’m not touching you. But you need to get home, and you’re in no state to get there.”
I stepped forward, my hands slipping out of my pockets. “Lindy, it’s Billy…” I touched her shoulder, but her arm swiped out to knock me away. “Get off me, you’re no better. Just leave me alone!” That wasn’t an option.
I squatted down.
“I’ll call her dad,” Jason pulled his cell out of his pocket.
Great, her dad; a cop was not gonna be thrilled. This didn’t look good.
“We’re gonna help you. Jason’s calling your dad.”
Her gaze turned to me but she was too drunk to focus. “Don’t call him.”
I saw the cogs of thought shifting in her eyes as she realized I was with Jason. “We haven’t got a choice, we’ve been drinking, we can’t take you home.”
Her face screwed up. “Why?” She pointed at Jason, who talked into his cell a few feet away.
Guilt punched my chest. Maybe I’d been disloyal. My fingers brushed back Lindy’s hair.
She was too difficult, too angry, too judgmental, too everything. That was why I’d given up on her. But she’d been dating Jason for years, and in all those years we’d been friends too. We’d gone to college together.
Jason talked on his cell, walking a few feet away. I guess he’d told Rachel we’d found Lindy.
Tonight had been about a new start, drawing a line on the past, so Jason and I could move on, but we couldn’t when Lindy was like this.
A siren screamed in the distance. It got closer. Shit. I stood up. Jason looked at me and said something to end his call, then slipped his cell back in his pocket.
The cop car sped up Main Street. Its wheels screeched when it pulled up on the parking lot.
Great. Her dad was angry.
The driver’s door opened and Mr. Martin stepped out.
“What’s been going on, boys?”
Jason answered, “We were walking home, Dwayne, and Billy spotted her on the steps––”
“You don’t know what she drank?” Mr. Martin walked over.
I moved out of the way.
Lindy’s parents had used to be really social; we lived in a small town, everyone knew everyone, but I hadn’t seen them for months,
Jason looked down, his gaze scanning the parking lot near Lindy. “There’s nothing around to say she’s drunk anything.”
Her dad squatted down and touched her shoulder. “Lindy?” I’d thought the way he’d pulled up, he’d be shouting at her, but his voice was more concern than frustration.
Jason and I had encountered his temper as kids, the day we’d stolen that spray can. It wasn’t fun.
“Lindy?” he said more strongly when she didn’t answer, or move. He straightened, then bent over her, turning her head. There was absolutely no sign she even knew he was there. He lifted one of her closed eyelids.
All there was beneath it was the white of her eye.
Shit. She was in a hell of a mess.
Mr. Martin sighed like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders as he straightened up and his hand reached to the breast pocket of his shirt. He pulled out a cell, turned his back on us and walked a few feet away.
I looked at Jason. He looked at me. I was sure he felt like I did. Neither of us could move on with Lindy like this.
“Miriam, I’ve got Lindy down here at the Macinlays’ store… Yeah. Don’t worry I’ll sort it. You don’t need to fret, it’s not good for you, but just tell me what time she left home?”
I probably hadn’t seen her mom for more than a year, let alone months.
“Okay. Go check her room would you, she’s been drinking, or taken something, I wanna know which and what…”
There were a few minutes of silence.
“How many were in there, do you know?”
“Okay, I’ll get her some help and call you. Don’t worry, honey. It won’t do you any good to worry, you know that, you have enough going on. She’ll be okay.” He sighed when he ended the call. He didn’t look at Jason or me, just stared into the distance for a moment, then took a deep breath, like he was drawing on some reservoir of strength and patience.
He probably needed it for Lindy, if she’d been this messed-up for six months. No wonder her parents had gone into hiding.
Jason and I looked at each other, waiting on the verdict.
With his back to us, he lifted another cell from a clip on his pants pocket.
“Hi, I’m at the Macinlay store, in Main Street, I need an ambulance, quick time. It’s an emergency. An overdose.” He sighed again. “It’s my girl…” There was so much pain in his voice it hit me hard, and I could see it hit Jason too.
We’d been celebrating a new life in the world… and Lindy… was so unhappy she’d tried to check out. Shit.
My thumb hovered over the send icon for the twentieth time today. Jason had texted yesterday to say he’d heard from Mr. Martin. Lindy was okay, just sleeping the drugs off in the hospital. He’d said she’d be out of action for a while.
I wanted to text her. But cowardice had a grip on my hand.
I switched the cell off, put it back in my pocket then got in the SUV to go to my next client.
I didn’t think of her while I worked. I had to watch my client, to make sure he did the exercises right and didn’t strain anything, and to count his repetitions.
But as soon as I left the guy my mind was back on Lindy.
Was she still in hospital?
Would she want me to text?
Did she know we’d been there?
Why the hell had she taken an overdose? Was it just a cry for help or had she really meant to end it?
How did she feel now?
The only way I was gonna get any answers was to text her. I took my cell out of the pocket of my sweat pants as I threw my backpack on the back seat of the SUV.
I got in with it gripped in my hand and sat there for a minute, looking at her picture. I’d taken it last year, after Jason had left for New York, when she and I had been hanging out a lot more, alone for the first time.
‘Hey, Lindy, sorry I haven’t been in touch. I should’ve been. How are you?’ My thumb hovered over ‘send’, my heart pounding out a bass beat. I had to do this. She was never gonna break the ice between us and I couldn’t stand feeling guilty anymore.
I didn’t expect an immediate reply. But relief hit me just because I’d done the deed.
I threw my cell on the passenger seat, slipped the gear shift into drive and pulled my seatbelt on, then pressed my foot on the gas.
My cell rang ten minutes later. I was on the road into town. Flicking the indicator on, I pulled into the side and parked on the dirt on the edge.
I picked my cell up. She’d called.
My hand shaking like a douche, I called her back. The leather bracelet I had on my wrist declared its presence as it slid a little up my arm.
“Hey, Lindy, you called me. How are you?”
“Are you driving?” Her voice was quiet and weak––it still cut through me like a blade.
“I’ve pulled over. You can talk if you want to talk. Why did you do it, Lind?”
“Because I feel like shit.”
“You don’t need to tell me it was foolish, I know. And selfish, and pathetic, and… terrible… I… I’m sorry you saw me. Thank you for helping me. I think I’m gonna have a lot of apologizing to do.” She took a breath. “Say sorry to Jason too.” She hung up.
Shit, I smacked the wheel with the heel of my palm. Why did she have to be so frickin’ hard? Why did she have to hurt me so much? Why the fuck did I have to care about her? I wished my asshole of a heart would fall for someone else.
My finger kept hovering over Billy’s name in the contacts list on my cell. I’d seen the psychiatrist and she’d told me I had to start seeing her regularly, to talk out all the stuff going on in my life––and in my head. Then I’d come home and all the stuff going on in my life had hit me in the face. There was an atmosphere in the house. Fear. Loneliness. Pain. Because Mom was sick––she couldn’t help being sick––but I had to watch her wither away. It was too hard––I didn’t want to let her go.
My head, belly and heart ached. Life had been hard and cruel for too long. That’s why I’d tried to end it––I’d just been selfish for a moment. I’d tried to escape everything; Mom and Jason. His baby had been the thing that slid me over the Niagara Falls of despair, though.
But I wouldn’t do it again. I’d learned my lesson. Guilt was heavy. Mom had looked hurt and disappointed and Dad hadn’t been able to hide how bad he’d have felt if I’d succeeded.
If I was meant to die I’d have died. I was meant to face up to all this bullshit and keep going.
Now I could see all the stuff I’d been blind to.
I felt lousy, not because I’d swallowed a massive dose of happy pills, but because I’d hurt my parents.
Mom had every reason to bow out, and she didn’t––I’d tried.
I needed someone to hold me. I felt sore inside.
I touched the screen. Billy’s picture and details came up. He smiled at me out of the cell, with those warm dark-blue eyes of his. My thumb hovered over his number.
We hadn’t spoken since just after New Year, until I’d called him the other day. But I had no one else. He’d been the closest person to me other than Jason for years.
I wished what had happened, hadn’t…
I shut my eyes––I wish, I wish, I wish. If I had shiny red shoes on and clicked my heels, I wondered if I could go back in time, to when everything was right, then I could make sure everything stayed right.
That’s what my life had become––wishes that things had not happened, wishes that they wouldn’t, wishes that people would stay in my life.
I’d lost my friends. I’d given them up in favor of Jason, and look how that had ended. He’d moved on and left me behind. The only friend I’d had left was his best friend, until I’d messed that up too.
I was super-good at messing things up.
I sighed. Courage. I wasn’t going to fix things with the only possible friend I had left unless I made the move. He’d taken the first step the other day when he’d texted me––now it was my turn. I just had to do it.
I tapped the icon.
“Hi.” He answered, right off. My heart pounded.
“Yeah. I’m at home now. Dad picked me up at seven last night and brought me back. I appreciate you helping me out. I’m sorry you had to see me like that. I’m––”
“It’s okay, Lind. I’m glad you’re home. How did you get on with the shrink?”
When Jason had gone to New York, Billy had become my best friend, as well as Jason’s. But then he’d ended up in the middle of everything when Jason had deserted me.
“Okay, I have to see someone regularly.”
“Well that’s probably a good thing isn’t it?”
“How are you today?”
“Down.” I sighed. The psychiatrist had told me to be honest rather than keep things trapped inside. “Jason having the baby makes me feel like crap still. Is that a bad thing to admit? Only the woman at the hospital told me I should admit how I feel.”
“Lind, if it’s how you feel, it’s how you feel, it just is. I know all this stuff is hard on you. I’m not judging you. Like I said the other day, I feel like I’ve let you down… Do you want me come around so we can talk?”
“Yeah.” God the thought of having someone to talk to outside of my house, and everything weighing down the atmosphere in here, was wonderful. Like an oasis in a desert.
“I’ll come over now then…”
Billy’s SUV was parked on the other side of the road. Nothing was coming up the street. I crossed over and went around to the passenger door, my heart racing as if someone was beating a crazy drum solo on it. “Hi.” I climbed up into the passenger seat.
“Lindy…” He’d freed his seatbelt already, and now he twisted sideways. He had long, loose shorts on.
We hadn’t spoken properly for so long––I didn’t really know what to say.
I pulled the door shut, anxious and nervous, and stared ahead, avoiding looking at him.
“You okay? Do you want me to drive somewhere?”
“Do you want to talk?”
Yeah. So much. Tears gathered in the back of my throat, hurting.
I didn’t look at him. I’d cry.
My hands were in my lap. He leaned over and gripped one of them. “Lindy, I’m here.”
Oh Lord, the tears tumbled, rolling down my cheeks, and I was sobbing as his grip on my hand pulled me over, and he moved forward. Then his arms came around me, holding me tight.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t realize how bad you felt. I wish… God, I wish I’d handled things better. I let you down.”
I shook my head and looked at him. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault. It’s nothing to do with you.” I had a lot of people to apologize to. Surviving had made me see two things; I had to change and I was meant to accept things and just get on with it––like Mom did. But doing that wasn’t easy.
“I don’t know what to say.” His dark-blue eyes were warm and deep with feeling.
I sighed. I didn’t know what to say either. All I knew was that I hurt too much, and I didn’t know how to escape it.
“Do you want to get away?”
“I could drive you out to the coast somewhere, once I’ve had time to book something, and you’ve had time to pack…”
I wanted to hug him back like he’d just hugged me––hard and tight––with gratitude and relief.
“We could run away together for a couple of weeks and not tell anyone where we’re going. No Jason. No baby. And no expectations from me, I swear. We’ll just be friends. I want you to be happy.”
I took a breath. I didn’t know what to say. What about Mom? And then there was my psychiatrist. And… “I don’t know.”
His hand gripped mine hard; the emotion in his eyes shining bright. “Lindy, let me make this up to you. I’ve been a shit friend for the last six months, and you need a friend––”
Billy leaned over and his arms came around me. I rested my head on his shoulder, my arms about his neck. I needed someone to hug.
Billy’s arms and shoulders were really muscular. His body mass was double the size of Jason’s. He’d played football at school and college, and he’d studied sports and become a personal trainer. All that strength and solidity was reassuring.
But that’s what had got me into all the bullshit I’d fallen into back in the fall.
But I didn’t want to think of that. I just let him hold me while I reveled in the comfort and security.
Billy gave good hugs.
This was worth so much more than any conversation on a psychiatrist’s couch, or medication. Relief bloomed inside me, aching.
I’d needed to be held by someone outside my family.
His fingers combed through my hair. “Did you mean to end it, or were you crying out for help?”
I didn’t lift my head and didn’t answer. The ache of comfort was gone and instead the forest fire of guilt flared. I wouldn’t admit the truth; the truth was too awful. I didn’t have a good reason to give in.
The psychiatrist had told me, “Everyone has burdens to carry, and you shouldn’t feel guilty.” She’d said, “It’s stopped being about choice, the chemicals in your body are all muddled up so you can’t think straight.” I was on happy pills, and counseling now, and she’d promised me I’d feel better and I’d get out the other side.
I didn’t want to.
“Why did you go to Jason’s store…?” Billy’s fingers ran through my hair. I felt like a kid being comforted. It took me back years; to the years I’d been happy.
Why? I didn’t answer. He probably thought it was for revenge. It wasn’t. My life had been there, I’d worked there for years, been Jason’s second half for years.
Who was I now? What was there to do?
“I’m sorry, Lindy. If you let me help, I’ll make everything up to you.”
He had nothing to make up, not really, everything that had gone wrong between him and me was my fault.
“Do you want to get away for a while? Just for a couple of weeks even? I swear to God, there’ll be nothing in it. No expectation on my part at all.”
I needed help. I needed to escape. Just until I could get back on track. “Yeah.”
His hands gripped my shoulders and moved me back. He looked like he didn’t believe what I’d said. “Yeah?” His voice questioned.
“Yeah.” I nodded, my vision clouding with tears. I needed to go somewhere and pretend my life wasn’t what it was––for a short vacation. “I’ll have to speak to the psychiatrist, though. When do you want to go?”
He smiled. Billy was so nice, his heart shone right out of his eyes along with his smile. He hurt for me. We’d been close, before everything went wrong. This was him trying to put it right again. But nothing could ever be right.
Tears rolled onto my cheeks as the flames of guilt flickered.
“I can’t believe you still wear that thing.” She leaned over and flicked the leather bracelet as my hand gripped the wheel.
How the hell did she not know?
I glanced at her, giving her a twisted, guilty smile, as something hard grabbed my heart. “Yeah.”
“I made you that years ago.”
“I’m just lazy, I can’t be bothered to cut it off.” I let a fake sound of amusement slip from my throat, acting as if it was nothing––like I had every other time she’d mentioned it.
She’d made it at high school. It had been the thing all the girls were doing at the time, braiding these silly leather bracelets and threading beads into them. It was before she’d been seeing Jason. We’d been fifteen.
Yeah, I had been wearing it that long. Pining over a girl that wasn’t mine.
But shit I can still remember the feel of her gentle fingers touching me as she’d tied it off, and it had done stuff to my cock. I’d liked her before, but that was the day she’d got me. It was like her fingers had touched my heart too. I’d had this burning need for her ever since.
I should cut the thing off.
I glanced over at her. Her hands were in her lap and she stared ahead. I didn’t know what to say to her. I was too anxious to hold a meaningless conversation and I didn’t want to quiz her, ‘cause I was taking her away to forget all the stuff that made her feel bad.
I said a few things and she answered, but then I couldn’t think of anything to add. She said some things and I nodded, not knowing what to say back.
In the end we were quiet most of the drive.
I was relieved when I finally pulled up in the apartments’ parking lot on the coast.
“Wow, this is nice.”
The ocean rolled up onto the miles of beach before the parking lot. This place just calmed me. I’d come here the summer we’d left high school and it had been the best therapy. This beach and the ocean was my psychiatrist. I’d come back every summer since.
I hoped it was gonna work for her too.
I freed the door and as it opened the sound of the ocean swept into the SUV.
I looked at Lindy.
She was wide-eyed, watching the beach.
“Let’s go get our keys. I’ll get our stuff later.”
She looked at me, uncertainty creeping into her eyes, but she nodded.
I wanted to grip her hand as we walked across the parking lot. There was a whole minefield of protective energy bubbling around inside me. But it had blown up in my face before. I was steering clear of too much touching.
The thing with Lindy was she was so tiny it made me want to just put my arms around her and wrap her up. She was like a precious, breakable doll, five-two, to my six-one.
I glanced over at her. The ocean breeze flicked her wavy blonde hair against the curve of her cheek.
Her fingers tucked her hair behind her ear.
I’d wanted to do that for her. There was a hard need to touch her in my belly. But I’d spent years ignoring that instinct. That was nothing new.
She didn’t look at me. She looked ahead at the apartment block.
She’d won beauty pageants as a kid. Her Mom had been into all that shit, driving her to loads of contests and Lindy did have the look for that sort of thing, perfect symmetry.
At high school she’d been full of confidence. At college that had died for some reason.
She glanced at me, her blue eyes seeming bluer under the clear sky.
“I’ve ordered adjacent places, is that okay? I can ask them to change them if you want?”
“No, that’s okay.” She nodded.
The apartments were stacked and set out in rows spread along the edge of the beach. The guy at the desk said ours were on the top floor. The place was something between a hotel, a motel and cabins, and the rooms ‘slash’ apartments were accessed via a long hallway, with stairs at either end of the block.
When we got up there, I slid the card key through the lock, then stepped back and shoved the door open for her to go in. “You can have this one.”
It had a small kitchen and a sofa that turned into a bed. But most importantly, at the end of the room was a big window that looked out on the ocean. It had a balcony too.
“I’ll go get your stuff.” I left her in her room. But before I went back down to the SUV, I went into mine.
Shit. I combed a hand through my hair, then realized I’d fucked it up, and rubbed it so it spiked again.
It was going to be a hell of a couple of weeks.
Jane is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult romance and author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Novel,'The Illicit Love of a Courtesan, as well as a Kindle overall Top 25, bestselling author.
She began her first historical novel at sixteen, but a life full of adversity derailed her as she lives with the restrictions of Ankylosing Spondylitis.
When she finally completed a novel it was because she was determined not to reach forty still saying, I want to write.
Now Jane is writing a Regency series as well as contemporary, new adult, stories and she is thrilled to be giving her characters life in others' imaginations at last.
You might think that Jane was inspired to write by Jane Austen, especially as she lives near Bath in the United Kingdom, but you would be wrong. Jane's favourite author is Anya Seton, and the book which drew her into the bliss of falling into historical imagination was 'Katherine' a story crafted from reality.
Jane has drawn on this inspiration to discover other real-life love stories, reading memoirs and letters to capture elements of the past, and she uses these to create more realistic plots.
'Basically I love history and I am sucker for a love story. I love the feeling of falling in love; it's wonderful being able to do it time and time again in fiction.'
Jane is also a Chartered Member of the Institute of Personnel and Development in the United Kingdom, and uses this specialist understanding of people to bring her characters to life.