The second my feet hit the ground level of the airport in Vegas, I was smashed between two bodies, one long and lengthy, the other petite and feisty. My nostrils were assaulted with the scent of mint gum and cherries as the two wiggly bodies bounced me up and down simultaneously screaming. The sound was an exact replica of the hyenas screeching in their cage at the zoo Alec and I had visited in Portland.
“God, I missed your face,” Gin said before laying a wet one right on my lips. Ah, there’s the mint gum. Then she was pushed out of the way, and my baby sister, Maddy, pulled me into her long arms. Cherries. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s always smelled like cherries. I didn’t want to know why. Like everything else, I accepted that it just was. That’s all that mattered. Maddy held me close, her much taller frame making my five foot eight size seem small. Even though I was the big sister, she still held the record for height in our small family at five foot eleven. At nineteen, she was a definite beauty, but hadn’t quite filled in like I had at her age. She seemed to have an unbeatable metabolism that kept her rail thin. Lucky girl.
Maddy’s eyes filled with tears. I cupped both her cheeks. “Prettiest girl in all the world,” I said watching the tears fall. “But only when you smile…”
“You always say that.” Her lips tipped up, and I was graced with the smile I adored more than any other person’s.
“Because it’s true. And you are. Right Gin?”
Gin smacked her gum then locked her elbow with mine. “Yep. Now let’s blow this popsicle joint.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s popsicle stand, Gin.”
Ginelle stopped in the middle of the airport arrivals. “Whatever, ho, you know what I meant. Who died and made you Mr. Webster?”
I laughed hard, and it felt good. Great rather. Tension seeped out of my pores as if it could manifest physically, drop to the floor, and pool out onto the linoleum. God, it was good to be home.
The girls led me to Gin’s car. “Where’s Dad’s car, Mads?” I shoved my bag in the trunk then sat shotgun.
Maddy got into the backseat of Ginelle’s Honda and twirled a lock of hair. “Um…” She looked out the window, her eyes moving from point to point like she was trying to think of something to say.
My shoulders slumped. “What’s wrong with Dad’s car?”
“Nothing really.” She let out a long breath, kept twirling locks of her blonde hair, and curved her spine into the seat back. Whatever it was, she didn’t want to tell me.
“Tell her, Mads,” Gin pressed.
Maddy huffed and then sat up straight. She closed her eyes and opened them. Determination oozed in powerful bursts of color in those green depths. “The guys that messed up Dad, messed up his car, too.”
Fire swirled in my gut. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything?” Anger ripped down my spine and landed in my hands where I held them in two tight fists. If anyone came near me now they’d be toast.
“You just what? How are you getting to school?”
“The bus, mostly, and sometimes Ginelle.” Her gaze drifted over to my best friend. Gin smiled briefly. “And also Matt, the guy I was telling you about. He’s given me a ride a few times. Says he’ll help me out any way he can.” Her voice went tight.
“I’ll just bet he would. Mads, that’s not safe. You’re not close to the school, and you’re dead on your feet after all those classes. And what about when you stay late in the library?” I sucked in a giant breath and let it out angrily turning back in my chair. My fucking sister at risk. Doesn’t have the use of Dad’s car because Blaine and his fucking goons wrecked it. What else? What else could possibly happen?
Maddy’s hand landed on my shoulder warmly. “It’s fine, Mia. I’m okay. We make do with what we have, right?”
“Fuck no. We’re getting you a car tomorrow. I can’t believe all this time you haven’t had wheels.” With a pointed finger I poked Gin in the arm. “And you. You should have told me what was going on.” With a deep sigh, I flicked the layers of hair off my face.
“You can’t afford that, Mia…”
“Don’t you dare tell me what I can and can’t afford. You have been my responsibility for the last fifteen years. Just because you’re nineteen doesn’t mean I’m going to magically stop taking care of you.” I ground my teeth trying to rein in my control. “Jesus. Just thinking about you walking from the bus stop to home in our neighborhood gives me hives, Mads! Don’t do it again. Please, for me.” I gentled my tone. “I’ll get you a car tomorrow. I’ve made some extra cash on the last two clients.”
“Is that right?” Gin gave me a sidelong glance knowing what it took to get the extra payoff. “And how did you do that, sweetness? On your back?” She snickered.
That time I punched her arm…hard.
“Ouch! Bitch! That was totally uncalled for.”
“You calling me a whore, whore? Totally called for.” I narrowed my eyes and stared her down. Even though she was driving I knew she could feel the heat of my gaze.
“Fine. It was called for, but I’m going to make you look at the ugly bruise every chance I get.”
“Whatever. Can you take Mads and me to get her a car tomorrow?”
She nodded. “I took off the days you’re here.”
“Oh, that was sweet of you.”
“I can be sweet.” Her eyebrows furrowed.
“Didn’t say you couldn’t.”
“But you implied that I wasn’t usually sweet. I’ll have you know that I was with this guy last night, and he went on and on how about sweet my vag—“ I leaned over and clamped a hand around her mouth.
“Think you can share another time, hooker?” I gestured to Maddy in the back seat with my eyes.
“Oh whatever,” Maddy butted in. “Like I don’t know what she was talking about. You think I’m so innocent.”
I let go of Gin and turned around in a flash. “You mean you’re not innocent?” I’d have bet fifty whole dollars that my usually tanned skin went stark white in that moment.
Maddy crossed her arms over her chest then rolled her eyes. “I’m still a virgin. You kno