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A Dose of Pretty Poison: Chapter 30

Laiken

I pace back and forth across Mali’s room, my voice gradually getting louder until she shushes me, and the cycle starts all over again.

“I just can’t fucking believe the nerve he has! What he said after the concert was one thing, but to actually go as far as to threaten Hayes? What the fuck is wrong with him?”

Mali sighs. “I totally get where you’re coming from, and I’m on your side. He had no right to involve himself in…whatever it was you had with Hayes.”

I narrow my eyes at her. “I’m sensing a but coming.”

“But,” she says slowly, “just to play devil’s advocate here, do you think that maybe it really did come from a good place?”

Ha! “How could threatening someone to leave me come from a good place?”

She shrugs, looking like she’s on the fence about it. “He might have actually thought it would be just the kick in the ass Hayes needed to tell Cam about you two.”

Looking at her, I keep the straightest face I can manage. “Mali, an elephant could kick that guy in the ass and he still wouldn’t tell my brother about us.”

The mental image makes her giggle. “You know this, and I know this, but Monty doesn’t. He doesn’t really know Hayes, or how he is.”

“Which is all the more reason he shouldn’t have gotten involved.”

I throw myself onto her bed, feeling exhausted from the lack of sleep and high range of emotions today. I didn’t know someone could go from feeling sad, to happy, to upset, to absolutely enraged in all of an hour, but you learn something new every day, I guess.

“So what does this mean?” Mali asks, treading lightly. “Are you going to get back with Hayes?”

That question has been on my mind since the second Monty admitted to threatening him. Yeah, I knew Hayes wasn’t lying when he told me about it. But I needed to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. And yet, the answer to the question still comes back the same.

“No,” I tell her. “We want different things, and I can’t continue to be his yo-yo.”

“Oh my God!” she gasps. “I love yo-yos. I miss those things!”

I stare back at her, emotionless and blinking, and she smiles like a kid in trouble.

“Right. Not the time. Sorry.”

Chuckling, I roll my eyes and turn over, getting some much-needed sleep in the only place I seem to be able to lately.


I NEVER THOUGHT THAT there would be a time where I don’t want to throw a bonfire…until now. It’s not that I don’t love them. They’re so calming and peaceful, and it’s always a good time. But I know Hayes isn’t going to miss this one. Not after missing the last. And definitely not when he’ll take any excuse he can get to see me.

He thinks I don’t notice when he comes to the rink early enough to catch the end of my shift, but I do. I see him as he stands upstairs in the office, looking out the window. I just pretend that I don’t. He hasn’t tried to say anything to me, so I haven’t had a reason to care.

Knowing that he’s going to be here tonight is a strange feeling. Neither one of us have said a word to each other since I turned him down in the same place I gave him my virginity. But just because I didn’t jump back into his arms doesn’t mean that I don’t still want to.

Sometimes it’s all I can fucking think about.

But I meant it when I said I can’t risk that kind of heartbreak again.

And I refuse to be with him while he hides us away like he’s got something to be ashamed of.

For a moment, I consider staying in my room tonight. I’m not exactly in the mood to be around people, Hayes especially. But with that idea comes the possibility of him coming to find me—and that would be even worse. At least in a group of people, I’m not tempted to fall right back into him.

So, instead of tucking myself away in my room, I start getting ready for the bonfire, and mentally preparing myself to see him again.


THEY SAY ONE OF the worst kinds of pain is wanting something you can’t have. But what about the things you can have but know you shouldn’t? When your head is battling against your heart, and the mere sight of them has you feeling like you’re holding yourself together with tape?

Just because I let the ship sink doesn’t mean I’m not drowning, too.

I curl into myself, watching the fire turn the wood into ash. Warmth surrounds me, but I still feel cold. Mali insists it’s because I haven’t been eating enough. She’s probably right, but I still think a part of it has to do with Hayes. He had this way of warming me from the inside out, and now I’m colder than ever.

Every now and then, I can feel his gaze. Like he’s watching me, trying to carve each one of my features into his memory. And I know the feeling, because I’ve done the same over the years.

After twenty minutes of resisting him like I never thought I could, I finally give in and let myself look over at him. But the sad smile we exchange makes me wish I hadn’t. We’re both dying inside—victims of our own crimes. When he doesn’t look away, risking Cam seeing us in a way he never did before, I force myself to break the eye contact for him.

And that’s when he cracks open the first beer.


IT’S NOT LIKE HIM to drink excessively. Sure, we’ve had parties where he’s gotten completely obliterated and spent the rest of the night expelling the alcohol from his stomach like a demon in an exorcism, but this isn’t one of those. Bonfires are normally spent hanging out, joking around, and casually drinking.

Emphasis on casually.

But tonight, his emphasis is on drinking.

I know it’s not my problem, and I shouldn’t concern myself with it, but I can’t help it. Hayes Wilder is my own personal bad habit, and it’s going to take a lot more than a couple weeks to break it. Which is why I start keeping a tally of how many beers he’s had in my phone.

Not being with him because I refuse to accept less than I deserve is not the same as not feeling something for him. I don’t know that there will ever be a day that I don’t. But even if there’s a time when romantic feelings fade, I am always going to care.

And you won’t hear me apologize for it.

“I have an idea,” Owen says. “Let’s play Truth or Dare.”

Cam snorts. “Well, damn, I didn’t know we were back in middle school.”

“What’s wrong? Afraid I’ll finally get you to call chicken?” he taunts.

Chuckling, Cam shakes his head. “I’ve never done it before. I’m not going to do it now.”

Owen shrugs. “Well, put up or shut up, Blanchard.”

The game starts small, with petty shit like Owen daring Cam to shotgun a whole beer, or Aiden getting dared to prank call his own mother. Though, the way she screams into her phone that he woke her up for this bullshit makes me wonder what he’ll be going home to later.

But the longer we play, the more dangerous it’s becoming.

See, Hayes’s drinking hasn’t stopped. It hasn’t even slowed down. Based on my tally, he’s currently on beer number seven. And everyone knows that alcohol has a way of impairing your judgment.

Leaning over, I whisper into Mali’s ear. “We have to figure out a way to get him to stop drinking so much. What he’s had already is enough to make this game a bad idea.”

She nods and winks at me before getting up. “Anyone need anything from inside?”

Everyone shakes their heads, and she starts to head toward the house, but as she walks by Hayes, she makes sure to kick over his beer—spilling the contents into the grass. And he’s too drunk to notice.

“All right,” Cam says. “Owen. It’s payback time, fucker. Truth or dare?”

“Truth.”

All the guys chuckle as Cam calls him a pussy. “Is it true that you’re secretly dating your stepsister?”

My jaw drops as Owen throws his head back, laughing loudly.

“No, I’m not dating her,” he answers. “I am fucking her, though.”

“What the fuck!” Aiden yells, his arms flailing in the air.

But Owen has no shame. “What? It’s not like we grew up together. We’ve never even lived in the same house.”

Mali comes back out at the perfect time, squatting down next to Hayes’s seat. “What’d I miss?”

Hayes must not have heard her coming because he jumps. “Jesus fucking Christ! Where the hell did you come from?”

“My mother?”

No one else is paying attention, but I watch as she switches out his spilled beer with what looks like another one. Judging by the fact that it’s already open, however, I know she filled it with seltzer.

A trick she used on me when I got a little out of control one night.

“But seriously,” she says as she stands up and comes to sit beside me again. “What did I miss? I heard yelling.”

“Owen’s got an incest kink,” Aiden jokes.

Mali cringes as Owen defends himself. “Fuck off. We’re barely even related. They’ve been married for all of like six months.”

“Damn, O,” Mali teases. “Didn’t think you’d be the type.”

“Screw all of you,” he grumbles, and then he turns to Hayes in a way that has the hair on my arms standing up. “Speaking of people we’re fucking… H, truth or dare?”

There’s no easy answer to this. Either they’re going to ask who it is, and I don’t trust his ability to come up with a believable lie right now, or he’ll figure out a way to get it out of him with a dare. Even Mali’s breath hitches.

“Dare,” he says confidently.

Owen leans back in his seat. “Call the girl you’ve been so hung up on lately.”

Hayes manages to force out a snicker as he drops his head. “We, uh…We’re not really talking anymore.”

“Well, that explains why you’ve been such a dick this week,” Cam jokes, but Owen isn’t about to let it go.

“Not really what I asked, bro,” he presses. “Unless you want to call chicken.”

Hayes’s eyes narrow at Owen before he pulls his phone out of his pocket. Thankfully, everyone is so focused on him that they don’t notice the way I quickly slip my phone under my hoodie.

The second the ring starts to come through the speaker of his phone, I feel it vibrate against my stomach. And Mali, being the godsend she is, starts talking to cover the sound of it.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” she says, as if she’s talking only to me. “The other day at work, this guy came in with a woman who was clearly not his wife. His wife comes in all the time, so I obviously know who she is. Well, he had this bitch pick out some lingerie.”

As Mali continues her story, I can’t help but stare at Hayes. With each time my phone vibrates, the pain in my chest becomes stronger. And by the third ring, he looks up at me, making his actions clear.

I could answer the phone.

I could pick it up right now, and my voice would come through the speaker—revealing to everyone that it’s me. That I’m the girl he’s spent the last couple months all wrapped up in.

He’s putting the power completely in my hands.

But what we had means more to me than what could very well become a drunken mistake in the morning.

The call goes to voicemail, and the little bit of sense that remains in him hangs up just as the first three numbers of my phone number are said. But the area code tells them nothing. It could be anyone.

I sigh, trying to ignore the way my heart feels like it’s breaking all over again, and Mali leans against me to let her know she’s there. Meanwhile, Aiden is looking at Mali in shock.

“Wait,” he says. “You really sent the receipt to his wife’s email?”

My eyes widen. Clearly, I wasn’t paying enough attention to her story. But Mali smirks, shrugging carelessly.

“Yep,” she tells him. “Well, technically the system did. I just rang it up under her account. It’s not my fault he’s a pig.”

She has a point. I just hope her savage tendencies don’t get her ass killed one day.

It’s Hayes’s turn next, and he looks anything but into it. But when he looks directly at me, there’s something different in his eyes.

“Laiken,” my name flows from his lips for the first time all night. “Truth or dare?”

There’s no way I trust him enough right now to pick dare, so that only leaves me with one option. “Truth.”

The corners of his lips raise. “What’s been your favorite day of the summer so far?”

Aiden scoffs. “That’s a shitty question. What a waste.”

But he doesn’t know that we’ve spent almost the entire summer together, and that most of my memories from the last couple months feature him. I know what he’s doing. He’s looking for something, anything, to hold onto. To tell him that I didn’t wipe everything from my mind.

And I can’t help but give it to him.

“I saw Thomas Rhett in concert. That was pretty epic.” I pause and run my fingers through my hair. “But I think my favorite would have to be when I went out on Monty’s boat. The sunset was perfect that day.”

The way we don’t look away from each other is intense, but the way he mouths “mine, too” hits me straight in the chest, forcing its way in and taking up residence right next to my heart.

And I feel it long after everyone moves on like nothing happened.


THE GAME GOES ON for what feels like hours, but thankfully it’s all mostly dumb shit you come up with when you’re running out of ideas. But Owen is determined to finally defeat Cam.

See, the way we play is when you call chicken, you’re out. And the game continues until you’re the only one left—making you the winner of truth or dare. Usually, it ends with everyone calling chicken until there are two people left and Cam tells them to do something so outrageous that he wins by default.

This time, however, is different. We all start calling chicken over things we really don’t care about, just for the sake of not wanting to play anymore. Mine is for not wanting to get Cam another beer. Mali calls it when she gets asked when the last time she had sex was, and then literally answers immediately after. And Hayes doesn’t even pick truth or dare. He just says it as soon as his name is said.

Being as Aiden was already out from refusing to jump over the fire, that just leaves Owen and Cam. And it’s Owen’s turn.

Everyone knows this is his only shot. The look on Cam’s face tells me he already has something insane that will get Owen to bow out, so if Owen can’t get Cam to call chicken for the first time ever, Cam will remain undefeated.

Some may call it impressive, but I call it lacking shame.

“Hmm,” Owen says, stroking his chin as he stares at Cam. When he finally decides on something, he sits up and leans forward. His arms rest on his knees and he smirks. “I dare you to kiss Mali.”

My brows furrow, wondering why the fuck he would waste the opportunity on something like that, but the confident look vanishes from Cam’s face. He looks over at Mali and then down at his beer. The only thing you can hear is the sound of the fire crackling, until Cam exhales.

“Chicken.”

His voice comes out so low I almost think I’m imagining it, but the way Owen celebrates tells me I didn’t. I never thought I would see the day where Cam loses at truth or dare. I’ve literally seen him open the door of a restaurant bathroom with his pants at his ankles and yell for toilet paper while covering his dick with his hands. He just never gives a shit. Ever.

There are only three possibilities running through my mind. Either he just gave it to Owen for the fuck of it, he has a girlfriend I don’t know about and doesn’t want to cheat, or he has some kind of feelings for Mali.

But if it were the last one, wouldn’t he jump at the opportunity to kiss her instead of throwing the game?

Aiden stands up. “Fuck it, I’ll do it.”

He goes to take a step toward Mali, but Cam acts fast and lifts his foot just in time, tripping him and sending him face first onto the ground.

“Leave the poor girl alone,” Cam tells Aiden. “No one wants your herpes.”

We all laugh, and Mali looks grateful for the save. But there’s also something else about her I can’t seem to put my finger on.


THE FIRE BURNS OUT as everyone starts to leave, and once he sprays the pit with the hose, Cam heads inside. I run up to my room to grab some things while Mali waits for me outside. It’s just safer if I sleep at her house instead of risking the chance of Hayes tapping on my skylight when he’s stuck awake.

But as I walk out the door, I see him heading for his truck.

There’s a level of panic that shoots through me, and I nearly drop my things as I run toward him. Just as he goes to get into the driver’s seat, I push myself between him and the truck.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I growl, ripping the keys out of his hand as he stays completely frozen. “Are you trying to kill yourself? Or someone else for that matter?”

He looks down, having at least a little sense to be ashamed of himself. “I was just trying to give you your space.”

I sigh heavily. “I appreciate that, but I’m sleeping at Mali’s so it’s fine. Just go sleep in Cam’s room.”

But he doesn’t move. “I can’t do that.”

What? “Hayes, I’m serious,” I press. “You can’t drive home. You’re too drunk. So go inside and go to sleep.”

“I. Can’t.” His voice comes out a little louder this time, and I am way too exhausted for this argument.

“Why not? You’ve done it a million times.” I spin him around and push him in the direction of the house. “You can drive home first thing in the morning. Just go get some sleep.”

“I told you, I can’t!” he shouts. “Don’t you get it? Everything in that house reminds me of you! I can’t torture myself like that!”

“Shh!” I say, throwing my hand over his mouth and looking around to see if anyone could have heard him. “Have you lost your mind? Cam is going to hear you.”

His fingers wrap around my wrist as he pulls my hand away. “Let him! I don’t give a shit anymore!”

With each word that leaves his mouth, he gets louder. And if I thought he knew what he was saying, I’d probably just stand back and watch the chaos unfold. But he doesn’t. And I can’t.

“None of it fucking matters when I—”

Bracing myself, I roll my eyes and grab the back of his neck, pulling him down and cutting off his rant by kissing him. As his lips move against mine, he sighs and immediately relaxes into it. Like an addict finally getting his fix.

When he kissed me the other day, I pushed him away, knowing it was going to be the last time I was ever going to feel his mouth on mine. And it hurt like a bitch, but I did it.

This time is worse, as I feel the pain of reopening a fresh wound.

“Get in the passenger seat,” I tell him as I pull away. “I’ll be right back.”

He nods, but that must be a bad idea because his eyes widen, and he holds up one finger. I watch as he walks over to the bushes, getting there just in time to vomit all the beer and seltzer he drank all night onto the ground.

Can’t say I didn’t know that was coming.

After he’s done, he comes back and mumbles an apology before getting into his truck. I take a deep breath and go over to where Mali is waiting for me next to her car.

“So, are you sleeping at his house? What was that about?”

I glance back at Hayes and shake my head. “Just follow me, okay? I have to drive him home.”

“You sure that’s a good idea?” she asks, knowing I’m willingly putting myself alone with him.

“No,” I answer honestly. “But I’m going to do it anyway.”

“Okay. I’ll be right behind you.”

Mali unlocks her car and climbs in while I go back to Hayes truck. It takes a minute for me to adjust the seat, but I manage to make it work. The truck comes on as I turn the key, and I pull out of my driveway.

The drive to his house is quiet for the most part but I can feel him watching me the entire time. His eyes don’t leave me once, even as I refuse to look at him. And it isn’t until halfway to his house that he breaks the silence.

“I miss you,” he tells me.

His voice is so raw. So broken. And I know he’s telling the truth. This time there isn’t a doubt in my mind that ripping my own heart out of my chest would be less painful.

“God,” he breathes. “I miss you so damn much.”

“Stop,” I beg as my eyes start to water. “Please. I can’t do this.”

He goes completely still, and I glance over at him in time to see him sigh as he nods, finally taking his eyes off me as he turns toward the window instead. My heart sinks, and I feel bad, but he did this. If it were up to me, things would be so different.

We get to his house, and I park the truck before helping him out. Mali waits in her car while I bring him inside. He stumbles a couple times, having trouble getting up onto the porch, but we make it work.

I use his key to unlock the front door and hold onto him as I push it open. Devin is sitting on the couch. She looks back at us, and her brows furrow as she sees me.

“What’s going on?” she asks as she stands up and walks over to us. “Are you two back together?”

But before I can respond, she stops, and her eyes widen as she backs away, clearly getting a whiff of Hayes.

“Jesus Christ. Did he bathe in a distillery?”

“He may as well have,” I tell her.

Hayes lets me lead him to his room and then crashes onto his bed, drunkenly mumbling something about how it still smells like me. I slide his shoes off his feet and put them on the floor, covering him with the blanket that’s scrunched up at the bottom of the bed. Giving myself another second to watch him, I hate the way I still have the urge to curl up next to him. To fall asleep wrapped in his arms, listening to the sound of his heartbeat.

But those days are gone.

As I turn to leave, I notice a sweatshirt hanging over the back of his chair. My first thought is that he had some other girl here, followed by he might not be the only one to puke tonight. But when I pick it up, I realize that it’s mine.

“Can you leave it?” he murmurs.

My head whips over to him, and I’m surprised to see his eyes open, blinking back at me. I thought he was passed out already.

“I know you don’t owe me anything,” he continues. “But could you just…”

His voice fades out, but I know what he’s asking. And while this hoodie may be one of my favorites, I fold it back in half and drape it over the chair before forcing myself to leave the room.

Devin is still waiting for me when I come out, and I hand her his keys.

“Hide these somewhere until the morning,” I tell her.

She nods, but I can tell she’s worried. “What the hell got into him tonight? He never gets this drunk.”

I exhale heavily. “It’s my fault. He tried to apologize and wanted to get back together, but I can’t do it.”

The look on her face is sympathetic, not at all judging, but her words hit home. “Can’t, or won’t?”

“Both,” I answer honestly. “I’m crazy about him, Dev. You know that. But all I would ever be is a secret to him. And sneaking around may have been fun and exciting at first, but it became something darker.

“Every time he would look away too quickly so Cam wouldn’t suspect anything or jump away from me because someone was coming into the surf shop, it was a painful reminder that none of it was ever real. Not for him anyway. Not in the way that it mattered.”

She frowns. “But what if it wasn’t a secret anymore? What if he told Cam about you two?”

I shake my head. “I’m not playing the what if game. It’s too dangerous. He already made his choice there.”

Devin nods in understanding, and I give her a quick hug before I leave. Putting one foot in front of the other, I focus on just getting myself to Mali’s car so that I don’t listen to the way my heart screams at me to turn around. Once I get in, she turns to look at me.

“Are you okay?” she asks carefully.

A stray tear slips out, and I wipe it away as I stare out the window. “Just drive.”


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