Home > Hands Down(2)

Hands Down(2)
Author: Mariana Zapata

I needed to get out of here.

And one day—one day soon—I would.

First, I just needed Deepa to find another job so that I wouldn’t feel bad leaving her to fend for herself with this asshole. I’d been bringing it up at least once a day, but she still hadn’t committed to quitting no matter how much she hated putting up with Gunner too. Hopefully sooner than later, she really would go through with it because I wasn’t positive how much longer I was going to last here even now that I was only working part-time.

I needed to talk to her about it again ASAP. Maybe tomorrow morning when she was supposed to come over to my apartment to help me. We could look through job listings during our break. Yeah, that was a good plan.

Now, what was I thinking about before I’d gotten distracted?

A recipe. I’d been trying to work out a new recipe in my head. That was what I’d been thinking about when TSN—The Sports Network—had flashed that familiar man across the screen and I’d instantly gone for the remote to change the channel. It took me a second to get back to where I’d last been on the recipe train. Bananas and chocolate were about as far as I’d gotten before I’d been weak and got sucked into what the commentators were saying, even though I knew better. It wasn’t like they ever said anything nice.

But anyway.

All the time I spent standing around thinking had been my favorite thing about this job before. It was time I could use working out recipe ideas in my head, weighing their pros and cons while I got paid. I liked getting out of the house and had made friends here. It had been a win-win.

And then Gunner happened.

My phone vibrated against my butt cheek, and I looked around to make sure Asshole 1 hadn’t come back in and wasn’t hiding around the corner, waiting.

He wasn’t. At least I was pretty sure he wasn’t.

Pulling it out, I took a peek at the screen, half-expecting a message from my sister since I hadn’t heard from her all day.

I wasn’t disappointed.

CONNIE LOVES PECKER: Do I need to help you find a date to Lola’s quince?

Wasn’t that… months away? And did you even need a date to a fifteen-year-old’s birthday party? Sure, that part of the family was spending something like twenty thousand dollars on my second cousin’s party; my sister had called to tell me how dumb they were for throwing money around like that when we all knew they couldn’t really afford it. For Connie’s fifteenth birthday, our parents had bought her an ancient car that didn’t run; she still griped about it. For my fifteenth birthday, Mamá Lupe, my abuelita, my grandma, had given me money to go to a theme park in San Antonio, and my cousin Boogie had taken me for the day. I’d wanted to go to Disney, but there hadn’t been money back then. My parents had said they would take me someday, but I was twenty-seven now and still waiting on them to hold up that promise.

But I was finally going to Disney World this year, and I was excited. It was my gift to myself for surviving Kenny and his bullshit. I was going to celebrate my future with mouse ears on.

I glanced up to make sure Gunner’s creepy ass still hadn’t magically appeared and sent my sister a response real quick.

Me: I need a date?

I had just barely slipped my phone back into my pocket when it vibrated with another incoming text. A second one came through before I even managed to pull it back out. But they weren’t from my sister.

They were both from Boogie.

BOOGIE IS MY FAVORITE: Call me as soon as you get a chance

BOOGIE IS MY FAVORITE: Please B

I could count on zero fingers the number of times my cousin—my favorite cousin who was basically my brother and definitely one of my best friends, tied with my sister—had ever asked me to call him. He was allergic to phone calls. And he rarely ever texted me on the weekend either, especially now that he had a girlfriend again.

Gunner could suck it if he caught me; my cousin needed me.

I hit the phone icon on the message and put it to my ear. Boogie answered on the second ring, freaking me out even more. I could also count on one hand the number of times he’d answered any call from anyone on the first ring. I would know. I’d been with him a thousand times when he’d looked to see who was calling and then spent twenty seconds debating whether or not to answer.

“Bianca,” Boogie whispered before I even got a chance to say hi or ask what was wrong. “Paw-Paw Travis is in the hospital.”

“Oh” was what came out of my mouth first, mostly because my brain was still hung up on needing a date, the recipe I had been trying to figure out, how I needed to get out of here, and how much of a shithead Gunner was. But I caught on fast. I went straight for the name he’d said. Paw-Paw Travis? What were the chances…? “Oh shit. Is he okay?”

I looked around again. The coast was still clear, thankfully. Beside me, the new girl working the juice bar glanced at me before looking away again just as quickly. Nobody wanted to get busted. I couldn’t blame her.

“I don’t know,” my older cousin rattled off quickly, bringing me back to the call as he sounded freaking distracted and like he was muffling his voice. “The ambulance took him a couple hours ago, and they’re telling us he’s in the back having tests done.”

“I’m so sorry, Boogie. What can I do?” I asked, thinking that, if Paw-Paw had been kind of like a grandfather figure for me, he had been almost like a dad to my cousin—a second dad, but a dad nonetheless. As far as I knew, Boogie still went over to his house once a week to check on him, and that had been the case since he’d moved back to the Austin area a while back.

“I need you to do me a solid,” he replied.

I watched the front door as a couple of regular members came in and headed straight for the front desk. I smiled at both of them, holding the phone up to my ear with my shoulder, and scanned their passes. “Whatever you need.” There wasn’t a single thing I wouldn’t do for him, or for any of my loved ones, and I had a lot of them.

Paw-Paw included.

I’d never forget the kindnesses he’d paid me when I was younger. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but the last time I had, he’d given me a big hug and asked me a thousand questions about how I’d been doing since the last time we’d seen each other—a year before that. When I was little, he’d pull quarters out from behind my ears. For one of my birthdays, he’d given me a pendant of a flamingo that had belonged to his late wife. I still had it in my jewelry box.

Guilt nibbled at my stomach as I sent a silent prayer up that he was fine. If he was, I’d do better. I could visit a little more, maybe each time I went to see Boogie. I could call to at least check up on him. I could send him some gifts. Boogie had complained to me not that long ago about how Paw-Paw was still trying to do too much for his age.

“—tell him.”

“Have a good workout,” I whispered to the members as I pulled the phone away from my mouth. “I’m sorry, Boog. What did you say? I’m still at work for another twenty.”

My cousin repeated himself. “Zac’s not answering his phone. I’ve tried calling him and so has his mom, but he isn’t picking up. Can you go by his place and tell him?”

The hell did he just say?

He wanted me to go tell Zac his grandfather was in the hospital?

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