156,756
07.03.2019

I cocked an eyebrow, “Says the guy who beat the shit out of the competition, who was winning on the show, and got kicked off for it.”

The demons won the battle of dark and light in his eyes. He leaned into me, “You don’t know shit.” He got up and left. I bit my lip, panicking and unsure of what to say or do. I’d pushed him too far. The slamming of the front door made my eyes widen.

“Shit.” I grabbed my phone and dialed Gerry.

“Hey, girlie.”

I shouted into the phone, “I pissed him off—bad. He just left.”

He sighed, “God dammit. Erin, we’re two weeks from the fucking Late Night and After Hours shows. Two weeks.”

I got up from the bed and slipped on my flip-flops and grabbed my wallet, “I’m not his fucking babysitter. I’m his… I’m a…”

“Just stop fucking with him. Jesus Christ. You’re his girlfriend or you’re gone. That’s it. It’s you making him bat-shit crazy. He used to be normal.”

I screamed into the phone, “FUCK YOU, GERRY! IT’S MORE COMPLEX THAN THAT!” I hung up the phone and ran from the apartment. His car was gone. I ran as fast as I could, until I saw a cab. I flagged him and climbed in when he stopped. I heaved, “Dirty, trucker-stop restaurants.” I gulped air.

He gave me a confused look. I pointed, “The greasy-spoon truck stops in the industrial parks. Now, please.”

He gave me a crazy look. We dove for an hour, hitting them all. He was nowhere to be found and the trip cost me two hundred dollars. I didn’t know where else to look for him. I drummed my fingers against the window as he left me back at my place.

“Thanks, Jim,” I said and climbed out.

He waved, “Good luck, Erin. I hope you find him.” I closed the door and stepped up to the door of the house.

Jim shouted through the open window, “Did you consider checking the buzz website? They track celebrity sightings. I seen there was something about that girl from Star Wars, like a week ago. She was having coffee and they were taking pictures.”

I tilted my head, “Duhhh, of course.” I ripped my phone out and Googled. I clicked on a site and instantly my stomach dropped as I saw the photos. There were hundreds of sightings. Lochlan kissing girls, signing body parts, getting group shots, and being goofy with hoards of girls. I lowered my phone, “Nope. Thanks anyway.” I didn’t want to find him. I dialed the number I hadn’t dialed in ages.

“T&N, Tom here.”

I put the key into the door and walked inside, “Hey, Tom. It’s Erin Benson. I’m wondering if anything ever came up.”

“Hey, Erin. Yeah, but Lochlan called and canceled the hunt. He even gave me five grand to not answer your emails, even if you begged for an apartment.” How did he have so much money? Why didn’t he buy nicer clothes, instead of bribing landlords?

“Yeah, well he’s insane.” I nodded as I climbed the stairs, “I need one. Just a one bedroom, furnished, I don’t care where. I’d like closer to the school, but I’d take anything.”

“I promised him, I wouldn’t. I’m sorry, Erin.”

“Yup.” My strong yup was back. I hung up and walked into the apartment. I went directly to my room. I didn’t care about any of it. I turned the lock and lay down with my books. I needed to study. I needed to succeed in my career, the same way he did.

I looked at my watch and grunted, “Shit.” I had a class. I ran with my books, just barely making it. We had a guest speaker. A lady with shiny hair and a hard face. Dean watched me from the side of the room as she spoke, “Good afternoon. My name is Donna King, I work for the district attorney’s office. I have been a prosecutor for fifteen years.” She took a sip of her water, “Much like many of you, I always wanted this. I find lawyers are like doctors; they wanted it from an early age and never looked back. The time management, dedication, overtime, and workaholic tendencies are much the same in both groups.” She walked over to a board, “Statistically speaking, we work longer and harder hours than surgeons. We dedicate ourselves to the job, to the point most of us never marry or have kids.” Her eyes flicked to Dean. He smiled brightly. The class laughed but there was a tension in us all. She was bringing up the flaw in the job that would become the flaw in us.

“I won’t ever have kids, but I look at the kids I’ve saved from the streets or domestic violence, and I see that as an important role. Could I have kids and do this job? Absolutely, but it takes a special kind of partner. You need to be supported by a person with regular hours and an understanding heart.”

She lost me there. Everything I was feeling and thinking got worse. The thick black line on the floor was still there in my mind. On one side, it would be about me and on the other, it would be about him.

I sat and spaced out until she finished. I clapped along with everyone else but I was sick. I fled the classroom before Dean could corner me. Gerry had, no doubt, told him of the bad thing I’d done.

I walked home slowly to do my homework.

Of course, I ended up looking up more sightings. Just putting his name into the Internet yielded a million responses. Him shopping with Danny at the mall. Him drinking a soda with a dark-haired girl, giving her a smile I would sell my soul for. There wasn’t a single picture where he was doing anything wrong. Everything he was doing was normal, celebrity shit. It was me. He wasn’t the problem. He was just chasing his dream, and I was willing to crush it to make him mine. I hated the person I was becoming with him.

There was something wrong with me. I was becoming something like my ex-stalker with Lochlan. I understood Mitch’s need to control me and have me be with him. It was an addiction. I had used Lochlan’s love and guilt as a weapon. I’d manipulated him. I didn’t recognize myself. I packed my bags, I needed to get away before he got home, hating himself for whatever he’d done when he was angry.

I packed everything and slipped out the door to the living room. Danny was gone too. I dragged my bags out the door and down the hall. I didn’t ever know where I was going. The closest hotel was the Sheraton. It was going to have to be my new house for a couple days, until I could find something else.

I flagged a cab and jumped in as he loaded my bags. He drove fast, maybe sensing the crazy inside of me. I paid him and dragged my bags to the door.

The bellhop grabbed my stuff and carried it inside. I got my room and followed my bags to the elevator. It was like every step I took, little pieces of me dropped off onto the shiny floor. By the time I got into the elevator, I was completely numb and totally hollow.

I was making a mistake. I knew that. I was taking the wrong turn at the fork in the road. I was choosing the unspectacular and protecting my heart. I would regret it for the rest of my life. I knew that. The problem with picking the safe road, was that your mind instantly wanted you to see, all the things you’d missed on the other road.

His smiled flashed in my mind as I held myself and fell asleep, telling myself I was doing it for him, when really I was picking me. Unspectacular me.

Chapter Eleven

Good Night North Dakota

I had everything mapped out for the project. I nodded when I saw how I had reasoned it all. I was back on top. My Torts were done. My project was completed. I had my debate on swamplands polished and memorized.

Granted, I had to turn off my phone, forbid any calls to come through to my room, ignore my own brother, and not watch any sort of media to do it. I sat back and smiled, crossing my arms over the robe and sighed. It was a blissful sort of peace, being away from him.

The pounding on the door, took all of that away.

“Erin, it’s Gerry. Hurry up.” I looked at my project and then at the door. The panic in his voice claimed me. I ran for the door, opening it.

He looked rough, “You’re okay?”

I nodded, confused and scared, “Is he?”

He nodded, “Yeah. God bless your brother. He took him home to North Dakota. We canceled the shows for the week.”

My jaw dropped, “He did what?”

He nodded, “He is a saint, I fucking swear it.” He came in and closed the door.

I swallowed, “Oh my God. He took him home?”

Gerry scowled, “Be grateful. He was a wreck. He was so mad at you, I thought he was going to destroy the house. He came to my place, I think he expected you to come there. Anyway, Danny came and was wonderful. He’s an amazing guy. Half our success is Danny. He keeps Lochlan cool and makes it about the music, ya know?”

I shook my head, “What are you talking about?”

He ate some of the chocolate from the wrapper on the counter, “I’m talking about your brother? Have you been doing drugs or drinking?”

I covered my eyes with my hands, “My Lochlan is in my hometown?” I shook my head, “Lochlan, he’s at my house?”

He laughed, “I have a flight booked for you to go see him, don’t worry. I know I’m not bloody well missing it.”

I crouched to the floor, hugging myself, “Oh my God. He’s in Grand Forks, with Danny. Do you know what this means?”

He shook his head. I swallowed my stomach acids, “He’s meeting my parents and winning them over, and when I break up with him, I’m going to be the monster. No one can be mad at Loch. No one.” I slapped my forehead, “Oh fuck, Danny. You asshole.”

I pulled off my robe and pulled on my clothes. Gerry blushed and turned around. I sneered, “Oh please, we’re on the same team.”

He snorted and started shoving my clothes into my bags.

“I have to turn in this project before we go.”

His cheeks blushed a deeper red, “I can get Dean to pick it up from my place; he has a key. He might even still be there.”

I laughed bitterly, “Of course he does. God, tell me he is as sexy under the clothes?”

He gave me a sly smile, “Girl, whew.” He fanned himself. I nodded, “I knew it. I could tell.”

He gushed, “He’s so sweet and he wears those professor sweaters with the elbow patches. Oh my God. He lifts weights and runs and plays tennis. He is so fit. His friends are amazing and fun. They’re foodies and they love wine and music. They think he’s the lucky one. He does too. He thinks he’s lucky to be with me.” He sounded so mystified, I loved it.

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