"Parker. Hey. Parker."
"Huh?" I look up from my bowl of cereal.
"Everything alright?" Grams sits down across me.
"Do you work today?"
"Yeah. I Gotta be going soon. I'll be gone late though. Big party at the club."
"Oh yeah. The big 4th of July party. They've had it every year since I was a little kid."
"A few times. Mostly when I was younger." I look down at my cereal. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Hey!" Taylor runs up to me once I get off my bike. "So I can't talk long, but when you're done helping set up the bar, come to the kitchen and help me with the desserts."
"Then we can talk."
"Talk about what?"
"Just some OBX drama."
"Sorry. Gotta get back before I get yelled at." She runs off.
"Hey, Parker. Can you go and grab some more champagne flutes in the back?"
"Sure." I head out of the bar.
As I walk down the back hall and towards the storage room, I see Rafe. He's standing at the other end of the hall, wearing shorts and a tank top. He looks sweaty, his hair slightly messy.
He just smiles. I take a deep breath, smile back, then continue into the back room.
"You're not gonna say hello?" I turn around and see Rafe walk into the room.
He closes the door. He looks at me and gives me that smirk that really hits me in the gut. That's when I notice his hand.
"What happened?" It's black and blue, very similar looking to my hand.
"Oh, just a stupid thing."
"I didn't think you were the stupid kind."
"Ha. Funny." He steps up to me. "Now, are we gonna keep talking and do something else?"
"Well... I'm kinda working right now."
"And...? You should've come last night" He moves forward and begins kissing me.
I quickly get into it and run my hands down Rafe's body. We slam our bodies together. I can feel his bulge rubbing against mine. It feels so good. I can resist him.
The more he pushes up against me the more I want him. His sweaty smell only makes me want him more. Rafe doesn't waste any time as he slides one of his hands down my pants.
The second his hand touches my penis I feel my entire body shoot with electricity. He starts moving his hand up and down. I tilt my head back and he starts to kiss my neck.
"Shit!" The backroom door opens and my boss is so surprised by what he sees he jumps back and closes the door.
"Oh shit!" I yank Rafe's hand out of my pants. "Shit! Shit! Shit!"
"What?" Rafe doesn't seem scared at all.
"What? What?" I"m starting to panic.
"It's not like he'll say anything. He's scared of my father."
"Rafe!" My god he's stupid.
"Why? Let's just finish." He licks his lips and steps back towards me.
"No!" I push him back. "Are you kidding me? If I don't get fired it'd be a miracle!"
"Eh. You can just find another job. There's plenty."
"That's not the point! My god are you always this entitled?"
"Me? Entitled? At least I'm not some psycho punching random people up!"
"Psycho? Me?" I can feel my blood boiling. "From everything I've heard about you, your dad, and the things you've done it's an actual miracle your not in jail!"
"Fuck you! At least I've got a dad around. God knows where yours is. Probably a back alley shooting up!"
It all goes away. That last bit of rope holding me back vanishes. Everything that keeps this specific part of me away goes away in that instant. I find myself charging at Rafe.
One hand on his throat. I grip it tight. I push him back and against the wall. He starts wheezing for air. My mind is telling me to stop. It's telling me to stop and take a deep breath.
But my body is on autopilot.
"Stop. Please." Rafe manages to whisper.
Something in Rafe's voice. Something in it. The sadness. The fear. It hits me like a freight train. I immediately let go of him and he falls to the floor. All of me starts coming back.
I start feeling so bad for what I did. All I want to do is apologize over and over, but my body is shaking and I'm scared as hell. I open the door and step out.
My boss is standing right there, looking angry.
"I know. I'm fired." I say before quickly walking off.
I begin walking quicker and quicker. My feet are on fire. I can't stop. I make my way out the back and to my bike. Just as I'm getting on my bike, Taylor runs out.
"Everything okay Parker?" She looks concerned and a bit scared.
"Um..." I don't know if I can speak right now.
"Did you hear about JJ?" My mind goes to the darkest place it can go once I hear that. A too familiar feeling starts to rush through me. "He's in the hospital.
Someone beat him up badly last night."
I say nothing. I just get on my bike and ride off. I ride off with all the energy I have in me. Emotions start hitting me in waves. One second I'm pissed. Then I'm sad. Then I'm scared.
My anxiety is going through the roof. It starts to get hard to breathe. Things start to get blurry. I quickly pull off to the side of the road. I jump off my bike and go straight to my knees.
Everything is falling apart. My brain is going to fifty different places at once. My body is shutting down. Is this what my life is? Is this what I'm always going to be?
"You okay?" A voice scares the bejesus out of me and I fall onto my butt. "Oh. Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you." It's a girl. Dirty blonde hair.
"I...I..." Each time I try to speak it hurts my throat and my chest.
"I think you're having a panic attack. Wait right here." She runs off and comes right back with a bottle of water. "Have small sips."
I take a few, finding my body to calm down just a little.
"Just focus on your heart. Feel it beating." Her voice is soothing to me. "Feel the air flow into your mouth. Feel your heart beating. Feel the air come out of your mouth."
I start to feel my body relaxing. My muscles some to calm. My chest is just aching lightly now.
"No problem." She smiles and takes a seat on the ground next to me. "I'm Sarah." She sticks her hand out.
"Parker." I shake her hand and she smiles.
"As in the Parker who knocked out Kelce?" I just smile. "Well first, good on you. I've never like Kelce. He just does whatever my brother says without a second thought."
Brother? Rafe's her brother? That Sarah? Oh shit!
"Second, it's nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot from Kiara and John B."
"Oh. Definitely. We were actually just talking about inviting you to a boat day we're gonna have once JJ's out of the hospital."
"Oh. How is he? I was just on my way there."
"He's beaten up badly, but he'll survive. He's a tough guy. It would take a lot more to take him down."
"Yeah." That makes me smile.
"So... you want a ride there?" She helps me up to my feet.
"No. It's fine. I can bike..." I look over to my bike and I guess while I was freaking out I let it go down a hill and run into a tree. "Oh..."
"Let me give you a ride."
"Thanks." We get in the car.
"So..." She looks at me and I can see she's thinking about something.
"I know. That was nuts. I'm sorry we had to meet that way. It's just that..."
"You don't need to explain it to me. It was not nuts. It was human. Sometimes we have bad days. Trust me, I understand."
"And actually, I was gonna ask you if your little attack was about JJ?"
"What? Why would it be about JJ?"
"Well, it was pretty obvious with the way you were worried about him, then your face when you heard he was alright. It's pretty obvious he means something to you."
"I barely know him. He's just a friend."
"It's fine. I won't say anything." We just smile. "You know... John B and I barely knew each other and I knew I had fallen for him."
"But... what if..." I stop myself and she just looks over to me.
"It's never as complicated as it seems. Just listen to what your heart is saying. The heart knows before the brain."
"Has anyone ever told you you sound like a Hallmark card?"
"Once or twice." We laugh.
"Thanks for the ride."
"No problem. I'll text you the detail for the boat day. It'll probably on Saturday."
"Sounds great. It was nice to finally meet you."
"And you too."
"And... thanks for the help?"
"About the panic attack or JJ?"
"Thanks." I step out and she drives off.
I step up to the hospital, the first time I've been to one since...
It feels weird. It's not the same hospital, but it feels like it is. I look as people come in and out. Some looking happy. Some looking sad. Even a few looking mad.
It all just strikes me in a weird way. I hadn't even thought about a hospital since that night. It still feels like it was the other day. Like my life had just been turned upside down yesterday.
But then I think of JJ. I want JJ to know that I came. That I care. And if I don't go in, he'll never know. He'll think I didn't care.
So I step forward. The doors slide open. Then, just as I'm about to step in, an ambulance drives up. The siren hits me like a brick to the head. The EMT's pull out a man on a gurney.
It feels just like before. My chest is aching. My brain is going in fifty different directions. But this time, one voice in my head is louder than the others. It's telling me one thing.
It's shouting it over and over. It's screaming into my bones. It's smacking me upside the head. It's stabbing me in the gut...
And I listen...