Home > No Longer Lost

No Longer Lost
Author: Angel Payne

Chapter One

 

 

Taylor

 

 

The geraniums I’d planted two springs ago were leggy and fighting weeds for space in the overgrown flower bed outside Mom’s dingy trailer. The door slammed shut behind me, the spring of the rusty hinge squeaking with neglect—a lone voice of protest speaking up for the rest of the property.

Preach on, sister hardware. Preach on.

The afternoon I’d spent planting the flowers around this shoddy place had been a hopeful one. I’d been so sure Mom was on the right path toward sobriety. She’d landed a job at a nearby warehouse a short walk away, and she’d be able to make her shifts without problem. Of course, within a month she’d been fired and was back to spending her time at the corner bar instead.

I straightened and stretched my back, looking over to where I’d hastily parked my Nissan in the gravel parking space beside my mom’s double-wide. I let my thoughts travel even further into the past. The day she’d moved into the place, she’d been so proud. Her boyfriend at the time had promised her the moon and was one of the few who had started to deliver. That was before his wife had caught wind of the affair he was having and put a screeching—literally and figuratively—stop to the whole thing. Later, my mom found out the woman had threatened a messy and public divorce, making the trailer an elaborate consolation prize. Okay, more like a parting gift. Oh, screw it—sometimes a spade was just a spade. The thing was a payoff, plain and simple.

One of the few things about Janet Mathews that was simple.

But as her life had gone, time and time again, being that man’s curse had transformed into her blessing. Because of the “cheater with the screecher,” as she’d wryly started calling the bastard, she had a roof over her head. I paid the rent and utilities on the lot at the mobile home park and hoped my mother wouldn’t squander every cent of her welfare check on drugs and booze. That way maybe I’d at least get a small contribution toward her bills. But I knew better. Relying on her for that—or anything else—was buying a one-way ticket to disappointment.

After tossing the weeds, I got back into my car and shut the door with a tired whump. I blew out another resigned sigh while resting back against the headrest—and gritted my teeth against the approach of angry tears.

Stupid. So stupid. This isn’t worth your tears. None of it has ever been.

This really wasn’t ever going to end. I would never get out from under the burden of caring for my mother.

And just because I needed the day to get worse, my memory blazed to life with the text of Mac Stone’s Dear John letter. Or in this case, the Dear Taylor letter. Not that it mattered. The gist was the same; the results couldn’t be altered. I could never be the woman he wanted me to be—or even the one I pretended to be. What I gave the world on the outside was a woman who took life by the horns, wrestled it to the ground, and did things her way.

The reality was horrifically different.

I would forever be the victim of my mother’s shitty life choices and bad habits. And no, there was no other choice. That would mean turning my back on the only bit of family I had, and I just wasn’t cut from a moral cloth that could allow that to happen.

But why did it have to be that way?

I knew that answer already. I just hated facing it.

And was furious with him for making me.

Why had he made it such an ordeal? Why did being happy with him have to mean not looking after my mom? People took care of their parents and had meaningful relationships. All the damn time. Even with sex that made my eyes cross and toes curl. The kind a man like Mac Stone was able to give. And give. And give…

But deep down, I knew this was different. That “taking care of” someone didn’t mean enabling them to continue abusing themselves and using others. I just didn’t want to face the reality of it. The reality was I was enabling my own mom.

And would have to give up a man like Mac.

God, I really liked him. All right, maybe more than “liked.” Surrendering him hurt more than I wanted to admit. He made me laugh and feel good about myself. He was smart and witty. And did I mention the part about the man being sex on wheels? The kind of experiences I’d never encountered before in my life.

No. I wasn’t ready to let any of it go.

But he wasn’t giving me a choice.

“Shit,” I muttered, lowering my forehead to the steering wheel. But there was the truth, plain and simple. I had two options. Crappy and crappier. And all I wanted was to be happy. I didn’t think that was too much to ask of the universe. It wasn’t being selfish or greedy.

Mac’s smug words blared into my mind, pissing me off all over again.

If you decide you deserve me.

“Shit!” A spew of venom this time. What the fuck did that mean? Where the hell did he get off? Was the bastard chugging hallucinogens during his three-second breaks at the hospital?

I wanted to start the car, drive straight to Oceanside, and crash through the pretty glass of his pristine beachfront place, and then get out and kick him in the balls—all for that comment alone. He was so effortlessly arrogant. So ridiculously self-righteous. He was so…so…

A stupid grin spread across my lips.

He was so perfectly Maclain Stone.

So much of everything I was fucking addicted to. That confidence. That self-awareness. That outright, undeniable sexiness. I’d be lying if I tried to deny it.

Bastard.

Alluring, smooth, carved, cocky bastard—all true. But bastard nonetheless.

A bastard I could really lean on right now.

But even having the thought made me hate myself more. How did I get to this place? Lean on him? I mean, could I hear myself? I’d never leaned on anyone. Never needed anyone. That kind of behavior only led to one kind of situation.

The one I was in at this exact moment. Abandoned. Alone. Vulnerable. Weak.

A place I swore I’d never be.

A tightness I swore I’d never feel.

Tears I swore I’d never be battling.

“This is utter bullshit.”

I stuffed the key in the ignition, turned it, and prayed—a little ritual that had become a new habit. “Please start, Missy. Please start. Come on, girl.” I’d only recently started calling her Missy. If she was known to be a drift missile, then Missy was the perfect alter ego for her. I just wished I’d come up with the name sooner. We seemed to have a new bond these days, and thank God it was still working. The engine turned over. I gave the dash a little pat of gratitude and began to back out.

For today, my work here was done. Mom was tucked into bed, with ibuprofen and water at her bedside for the middle-of-the-night cotton mouth and headache. She’d know what to do. She was damn near a professional at this point—though if they really paid people to get strung out, I didn’t want her knowing about it. Besides, Janet usually went with the hair of the dog approach, and I refused to be a part of that.

While heading back into the more populated part of San Diego, I turned up the radio in an attempt to leave the shitty evening behind me. But even humming along to the angsty alt-rock station wasn’t helping. More words from Mac’s letter kept taunting me, a great reminder that I had to set the damn thing on fire when I got home.

Willing to be in a healthy relationship…

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