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26.12.2018

I wonder if a neighbor heard Dee screaming and called the cops. I roll off of her. She gets up, making snorting but revolted sounds as she wipes at her face vigorously. Then she threatens, “You’re ass is grass, Fisher, and I’m the lawn mower. Do not close your eyes tonight.”

I just laugh.

Dee opens the door without looking out the peephole. And standing there, head down, guitar case in hand, is Billy Warren. He looks up at Dee and asks, “Can I stay here tonight?”

Dee opens the door wider to let Billy walk in.

“Yeah—sure. What . . . are you okay?”

He drops his guitar in the corner. His eyes are moist, like he’s fighting to hold back tears, but losing. “Kate and I . . . we . . . I broke up with Kate.”

Chapter 15

After giving Delores the barest of details, Billy insists she go check on Kate—sounds like she’s pretty much a train wreck. Dee grabs her coat and makes eye contact with me from the door. Then she tilts her head in her cousin’s direction, silently telling me to hang out with him while she’s gone.

I nod firmly. She gives me a thankful smile then walks out.

Leaving Billy-boy and me on our own.

I feel like I should play host, but this is his cousin’s apartment—he’s obviously comfortable in it—’cause he knows where the hard liquor is. As soon as the door is closed, he walks to the kitchen and comes back with a bottle of vodka, two shot glasses, and two beers.

He sits on the couch, sets the on-my-way-to-shit-faced paraphernalia on the table, and pours two shots. He slides one in my direction and immediately downs his own. By the time I swallow my shot, Billy’s already finished with number two.

He blows out a deep breath and stares at the table. Without looking up he informs me, “You’re good for my cousin. You make her . . . happy. Dee’s got crap taste in guys—always has. Assholes are her usual type—but you, you seem decent.”

I crack open my beer. “I like to think I am. She makes me happy too.”

He nods. Then he looks up at me. “She’s worth it—the hell she’ll most likely put you through. Delores can be a major pain in the ass, but it’s only because she’s been hurt—trusted the wrong people . . . and now’s she’s scared of being wrong again. But . . . she loves . . . deep. She gives everything she’s got. If she lets you in—she’ll never let you down.”

“I know she’s worth it.” I chuckle. “And I’m working on getting her to let me in.”

Billy takes a drag on his beer. “Good.”

He offers me another shot—I shake my head and he drinks it himself.

Then he says, “I know you don’t know me, man, but I’m hoping you’ll be straight with me. Is something going on between Kate and that Evans guy?”

The words hang for a moment, and I ask cautiously, “Did Kate tell you something was going on between them?”

He drinks his beer and shakes his head. “Nah—just a feeling. She’s always mentioning him—either because he’s pissed her off or he’s helping her out or he’s done something f**king brilliant.”

In situations like these, I don’t like to lie. I was raised on the idea that how you treat others is how the world will turn around and treat you. At the same time, Drew is my best friend. So while Billy seems like a good guy, if I need to have someone’s back here, it’s not going to be his.

“Kate really doesn’t seem like the type to cheat, Billy.”

“She’s not. At least, she never was before.”

I nod. “And Drew . . . well, he doesn’t screw around with girls from the office. It’s kind of a rule he lives by. He’s never broken it before. Not once.”

He leans back on the couch, mollified—relieved—by my statement.

Then, roughly, he says, “This sucks.”

I agree. “Breakups always do.”

He snorts. “This is my first one. Kate and me . . . we’ve been together forever—since we were fifteen. She’s been my first everything. I thought she’d be my last everything too. My only.”

I just nod and let him talk.

“But the last few years . . . it feels like we’ve just been holding each other back, you know? I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving her . . . but it’s not the same. It’s not enough. We don’t . . . fit . . . anymore.”

Sympathetically, I tell him, “That happens—a lot. People change.”

He nods too. “Yeah.” He takes another swig of beer. “Still f**king blows chunks though.”

“It gets better.”

We sit silently for a few minutes—our heart-to-heart time over.

So I pick up the remote and pull up the on-demand movies. “You want to watch Predator?”

Billy pours himself another shot. “Sure. Never seen it.”

I grin. “It’ll change your life.”

A few hours before sunrise, Delores comes walking back into her apartment. I’m half asleep on the well-used recliner while Billy’s passed out cold on the couch.

The vodka bottle sits empty on the coffee table—its purpose fulfilled.

Dee kicks off her shoes with a sigh. Then she sees me. And she’s surprised. “You’re still here?”

“Am I not supposed to be?”

“No, no, it’s fine.”

She covers her cousin with the throw blanket, brushing his hair back tenderly, like a mother with a feverish toddler. Then, she walks past me into her bedroom. I get up and follow her.

“How’s Kate?”

Delores takes off the outfit she’s still wearing from the party—letting the clothes fall off her to the floor. Leaving them there. Revealing tiny leopard print panties and a matching strapless bra.

“Kate’s a mess. She’s hurt . . . Billy said some messed-up stuff during their argument. Harsh shit. And she feels guilty. Billy worked his ass off to support Katie while she was in school. She hates herself, now that she won’t be able to return the favor.”

Dee keeps her back to me when she removes her bra, only turning around after she slips a red Phillies T-shirt over her head.

“Thank you for staying with him, Matthew.”

“Of course.”

She sighs, but her shoulders are stiff. “I’m really tired.”

I start to unbutton my shirt, to join Dee in bed. I’m not looking to get laid—although with the amount her cousin drank tonight, I don’t think even a full-fledged f**k fest would wake him up. But I’m not expecting what Dee says next.