Home > No Tomorrow(7)

No Tomorrow(7)
Author: Carian Cole

Biting my lip, I peer down the grassy slope leading to the old vacant road beneath the bridge. I take a deep breath and carefully walk the weed-ridden path.

I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but I can’t stop myself. I’m pulled by some type of magnetism I can’t explain or resist.

As I round the stone wall of the bridge, I see him sitting on the ground. His legs are stretched out, his eyes are closed, and he’s holding a rock the size of a baseball against his forehead. Acorn lies beside him with his head resting on Evan’s leg—a perfect picture of man’s best friend and guardian.

I waver a few feet away unsure whether to approach him or walk away and pretend I never saw him. He could be drunk or high. Why else would he be sitting so incredibly still, holding a rock?

I take a few hesitant steps closer, too overcome with worry and curiosity to leave without making sure he’s okay.

“Evan,” I say softly.

He lowers the rock, and his forehead creases when his bloodshot eyes focus on me.

“Piper?” Squinting, he shakes his head and peers around me to stare down the path I just came from, then levels his gaze on my face. “What are you doing down here?”

“I-I was worried about you.” I’m a stalker now, seeking out homeless men under bridges. “Are you okay? You don’t look so great.”

He closes his eyes and leans the back of his head against the bridge. “I’ve had a migraine since last night,” he mumbles. “I can’t even stand up.”

I take a few steps closer and kneel next to him, cursing myself for wearing a skirt and hoping I’m not flashing him. Thankfully, I’m wearing black silk panties and not silly kittens.

“Can I get you anything?”

“No, I just have to ride it out. The cold of the rock helps.”

I swallow over the lump of sadness in my throat. He should have an ice pack and be sleeping in a clean bed in a quiet, dark room. I unzip my lunch bag, pull out my unopened water bottle, and set it on the ground next to him.

“You can have my water. It’s cold,” I say. “I could run over to the pharmacy down the street… get you an ice pack and some ibuprofen. Maybe something to eat?”

“Nah… I’ll be okay if I rest.” He grabs the water and untwists the cap. “You’re sweet.” After he gulps almost half the water, he presses the damp bottle against his forehead. “Been a long time since someone cared about me.”

I touch Acorn’s head and scratch between his ears, and his tail thumps happily. “He cares about you,” I reply with a smile.

Evan flashes me a weak grin. “True… but having someone like you giving a shit about me is like winning the fucking lottery.”

Every insecure molecule of me dances with sheer giddiness. Me? A lottery?

“I think your migraine has given you brain damage.”

“My brain is fine.”

Our eyes meet. The usual light in his blue eyes has been snuffed out, leaving them eerily vacant, as if he’s no longer behind them. I miss the carefree man with the charming smile, puppy dog eyes, and beautiful music.

Cautiously, I reach out and touch his forehead, gently caressing his warm brow, and whisper to him, “My mom used to rub my head when I was little and didn’t feel good.”

When he closes his eyes, his long, dark lashes touch his cheeks. “Mine never did.”

Taking a breath, I lean closer to him. The pavement digs into my knees, but I ignore it, focusing on balancing so I can use both hands to reach him. I rub his forehead and temples, surprised by the softness of his hair under my fingertips.

His pained expression gradually softens under my touch. He inches his hand across the pavement until he bumps against my bare knee. I don’t move away and he stays there.

“You have magic fingers, Ladybug.”

God, that voice… gritty and low with pain but so damn sinfully sexy. I massage his forehead for a few more minutes, then push his hair back away from his face before I lean back on my heels.

“I hope that helped you feel a little better.”

With a nod, he lies down, using Acorn’s furry body as a pillow, and I can tell by the way the dog curls around him that they sleep this way often.

Worry plagues me as I walk back to my office, and Evan’s sad eyes haunt me for the rest of the day. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to feel sick and not have a bed to sleep in, a bathroom to use, or medication and something to drink and eat.

Or someone to take care of you other than your dog.

Hours later I’m at home eating balsamic honey chicken over wild rice, feeling incredibly grateful for everything I have. I have a family who, annoying as they can be, loves and cares about me. A kitchen full of food. A queen-sized bed with a warm down comforter to snuggle under every night. A steady paycheck.

After dinner, I say good night to my parents and retreat to my space downstairs, debating between watching a movie, calling Ditra, or reading in the bathtub until I shrivel up like a prune.

Bathtub wins!

Until I open the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet to grab a hair clip and an opaque orange bottle of painkillers catches my eye—prescribed to me a few months ago when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. I never finished them because they made me throw up.

Fingering the bottle, my mind spins a web of good intentions.

I take the bottle into the kitchenette, grab a plastic bag from my junk drawer, and toss the pill bottle into the bag. Seconds later, I’ve added a can of cold ginger ale, an unopened bag of pretzel sticks, and an apple. Before I know it, I’m in my car, driving toward the park with my care package of pills and goodies on the passenger seat next to me.

He’s sick. He has no one. I’m a caring person. I often put food and water out for stray cats and toss peanut butter cookies to our neighborhood squirrels. This is the same thing. I’m not trying to shift into any kind of caretaker mode with him. I only want to be a nice person and stay on the good side of karma.

Finding a spot for my car is much easier at night since most of the stores are closed. The park is vacant and eerily quiet. Clutching the tiny canister of mace that’s attached to my key ring in one hand and the plastic bag in the other, I make my way down the dark walkway that leads to the decaying bridge. Thankfully, there are scattered pole lights in the park, illuminating the main walking path, but they are fewer and farther between as I near the old bridge.

As I carefully descend the small hill, my heart races with trepidation. In my rush to leave the house, I didn’t even think to change out of my skirt and heels into jeans and sneakers.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

My breath catches when I find Evan in the same exact place, sitting on the ground with Acorn, a small solar lantern glowing next to them.

I look around nervously as I approach, afraid there might be other homeless men nearby. I almost expect a bunch of them to be down here, drinking and standing around in front of a garbage can bonfire like they do on television. But there aren’t any other people here. There’s just Evan and Acorn.

And me.

The clicking of my heels announces my arrival, and his head snaps in my direction. After giving Acorn a quick pet on the head, he stands and takes a few unsure steps toward me.

“Piper… what are you doing here?” He glances behind me. “It’s not safe at night—”

Holding the bag up, I interrupt him by talking in warp speed. “I brought you a few things. A soda and pretzels and an apple and Vicodin.”

Before accepting the bag from me, he takes a deep breath, his cheeks puffing out as he exhales. “You really didn’t have to do that.”

“I know. I was worried about you. You looked so sick earlier.”

“I appreciate it. But I can’t take these.” He pulls the bottle of pills out of the bag and hands them to me.

I close my fingers around the bottle. “I thought they would help your headache.”

“They would.” He lets out a clipped laugh. “They really fuckin’ would.”

I narrow my eyes, and he nervously pushes his hair behind his ear.

“I’m an addict, Piper.”

My stomach sinks. I was right—he’s a junkie. I knew it.

He licks his lips, the metal piercing catching a sliver of moonlight reflection. “I’ve been clean for two years, but I can’t take any chances and go down that road again. I’d rather suffer through the pain and everything else.”

His eyes shift to the bottle in my hand as if it’s a treasure. The line of his jaw clenches, his lust for the drugs invading the space between us. I’ve never been remotely addicted to anything but chocolate and ice cream, but I can guess how hard it is to stay away from something he craves badly.

I’m obviously failing at it myself.

“I’m so sorry, Evan. I totally understand.” Flustered, I shove the bottle into my purse and quickly zip it shut. “I had no idea. I apologize.” Leave it to me to wave drugs in front of a recovering addict.

“Don’t worry about it. I feel better now, just tired.”

“I’m glad.” Pinned by his intense stare, my pulse quickens, unsure if he now sees me as a source of pills or something else.

I smile nervously. “You must think I’m nuts, coming down here twice. I’m not a stalker. I promise.”

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