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A Dose of Pretty Poison: Chapter 31

Hayes

A stabbing pain shoots through my head, feeling like someone just put an icepick straight through my brain. My eyes are still closed as I wince and press the heel of my hand to my temple.

“Oh, fuck,” I groan.

The sound of Devin chuckling comes from somewhere in the room. “Yeah, I figured you’d be miserable this morning.”

I force my eyes open a crack to find her leaning against my doorway, but when I go to flip her off, I realize the mistake of letting go of my head.

“I feel like a garbage fire.”

“I bet,” she teases. “You smell like one, too.”

My mom comes down the hallway and peeks head around to look in my room. “What’s wrong with him?”

Devin smirks. “Oh, you know. Just drinking away his feelings.”

“Hayes Beckett!” Mom yells, and I swear, a spiky ball ricochets around my brain.

“Don’t yell,” I whimper.

My sister laughs while my mom sighs and walks away. A couple minutes later, she comes back with two Advil and a bottle of water.

“Here, dipshit,” she says, handing them to me. “Take them.”

“There’s no need for name calling,” I whine as I take them from her.

She isn’t amused. “Mm-hm.”

I force myself to sit up and swallow the pills as she leaves. It takes me a minute to get over the nausea, but once I do, it sets in that I would normally be waking up at Cam’s right now.

“How did I get home last night?”

“Laiken brought you,” she says, shocking the shit out of me.

But as I sit there thinking about it, I slowly start to piece together the events of last night. And when I remember asking her to leave her sweatshirt, my gaze immediately goes to the chair.

It’s still there.

I sigh in relief as Devin holds up my keys and tosses them to me. “I figure you’re sober enough to have those now.”

“Thanks.”

She pushes off the doorway and walks away, and I groan as I crash back into my bed.

I don’t think there’s a single part of my body that doesn’t hurt.


I SIT IN MY truck, waiting in the parking lot for Laiken’s shift to end. I skipped hockey practice on the grounds of being too hungover to be trusted on skates. Taking a shower was difficult enough, let alone trying to focus on a small rubber puck.

Showing up here is a risk. If Coach sees me after I skipped practice, I’ll be benched for sure. But I need to talk to Laiken. So, as I start to see kids coming out with their parents, I get out of my truck and head inside, hoping that Coach has already left for the day.

As I walk through the doors, I’m expecting to find Laiken on the ice. Since practice is before her shift on Saturdays, she usually stays a little past her shift. But instead, I find her standing by the stairs to the office, talking to the owner.

I’m surprised to see him here. Usually, he’s only around for big events or when we make the championships. At first, I wonder if he’s on her case again about how she’s aging out of being able to go pro. But when she smiles and nods at something he says, I know that can’t be it.

Her eyes meet mine, and she double-takes before putting her attention back on Mr. Zimmerman. They exchange a few more words, and she smiles again before he heads up the stairs—nodding when he sees me standing here.

“Next Sunday,” he yells to her before he goes in his office. “Don’t forget.”

“I won’t,” she responds.

Laiken runs her fingers through her hair as she comes closer—no hostility anywhere to be found. I probably shouldn’t, but I find comfort in that.

“Everything okay?” I ask.

She glances back at the stairs quickly and nods. “Yeah. We were just talking about me taking over the lessons department. Calvin is getting too old to keep track of a bunch of rambunctious kids, not that it hasn’t been all me for the last year anyway.”

“That’s great!” I tell her, going in for a hug without thinking. But she allows it and wraps her arms around me. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks.” We let go of each other a little soon for my liking and she steps back. “We’re meeting for dinner next week to discuss some of the ideas I have for revamping the program.”

My grin only widens. “I’m sure they’re all amazing.”

“We’ll see,” she shrugs. “Was there something you needed?”

“Yeah,” I tell her, rubbing the back of my neck. “I just wanted to thank you for bringing me home last night. I shouldn’t have tried to drive. That was really stupid of me.”

“It was,” she says in that no-bullshit tone of hers.

I nod slowly, looking down. “I know. But you didn’t let me. So, thank you.”

Her chest rises and falls as she sighs, letting go of any leftover anger. “It’s no big deal.”

“Maybe not to you, but I really appreciate it.”

She chuckles and shakes her head. “It’s not like I hate you or anything.”

It’s so lighthearted, the way she says it, but it still manages to hit a soft spot. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

Her shoulders sag as we stand there, looking at each other, and for the first time since everything was shot to hell, I feel like maybe I didn’t completely screw everything up. We may not ever be more than friends again, and it might take some time, but as long as I eventually still have her in my life, I’ll be okay.

“Mr. Wilder.”

And just like that, the moment is ruined. I wince, hearing the way he says my name like I’m in trouble, and Laiken chuckles.

“Well.” She claps her hands together. “I’m going to go, but you have fun with that.”

I glare at her playfully. “You’re pure evil. You know that?”

Raising her eyebrows, she looks at Coach. “Whatever excuse he tells you, don’t believe him. He got blackout drunk last night and was too hungover for practice.” My jaw drops as she smiles at me. “Now, that was evil.”

As she turns around and walks out, giggling to herself, I can’t help but watch her. Once she’s gone, however, I’m forced to turn around and face the music.

“Step into my office,” Coach tells me. “Let’s discuss tonight’s game and the importance of showing up for practice when you’re one of my captains.”


SOCIAL MEDIA IS THE best and worst thing to ever happen to the world. I tend to avoid it for the most part, but when I feel particularly self-destructive from missing Laiken, it helps. I scroll through her Instagram, looking at pictures and smiling at how gorgeous she looks. Devin catches me.

“Jesus,” she says, appearing behind me. “When did you turn into a teenage girl?”

It manages to pull a laugh out of me. “I’m not sure, but if you find my man card, please give it back.”

“Man?” she cringes. “Oof. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, big boy.”

Narrowing my eyes to slits, I stare back at her. “Have I told you that I wanted a brother?”

“Yes, but I’m more fun.” She comes around the couch and sits down. “I don’t get it. If you’re so hung up on this, why not fight for her?”

“I tried, remember?”

Her eyes roll. “No, you tried to get her back. I mean fight for her. Face your fears and tell Cam that you’re banging his sister, and then claim your girl.”

“Oh, so you want me to get myself killed is what you’re saying,” I say, only half joking.

She purses her lips. “Well, no. But that would be a great plot twist, wouldn’t it?”

I grab the empty water bottle in my lap and throw it at her. She lets out a small laugh as she shields herself from it.

“All I’m saying is you’re at a point where it’s all or nothing with her. You either need to go all in and tell Cam or leave her alone and let her get over you. But you can’t have it halfway anymore.”

As her phone rings and she answers it, getting up and walking toward her room, I know she has a point. But the thing is, I don’t even think that’s an option. She had the ability to expose us when I called her that night, and she chose not to.

“Hey, Dev?” She stops just before the hallway and tells her friend to hold on as she looks at me. “What if that’s not what she wants? What if she really is just done with me?”

I watch as my sister smiles sadly and shrugs. “That’s life, brother. But that doesn’t mean this is easy for her. It’s going to take both of you time to heal.”

As she goes back to her call, I’m left alone to think. I look down at my phone and admire the way she smiles. You can practically feel her happiness. It’s contagious. Even now, missing her the way I do, I can’t help but feel her warmth.

She deserves to be happy. She deserves to be this same girl, smiling brightly and laughing like the whole world is butterflies and rainbows. And as much as it may kill me, Devin is right.

I need to let her go.


STAYING AWAY IS THE hardest part. I don’t know if it was better when she was the one avoiding me, but when you lack self-control, it comes down to literally taking it one day at a time. That’s all I can do.

And for an entire week, I manage to make it work. I go straight into the locker room when I get to the rink and hang out with Cam at places other than his house. I do my best to keep my distance, until I have no choice but to see her again.

Before last week’s game, I was benched for skipping practice. Normally, that would mean having to watch the game but not getting to play. But I managed to convince Coach that I was better used in his office, coming up with new plays that use each players’ strengths to our advantage.

It kept me tucked away in the locker room, where I didn’t have to see anyone except the guys. And I waited until Laiken was gone to leave the locker room. I couldn’t risk seeing her. It would only make me want to talk to her. And if she had come to talk to me, I would’ve been starting all over again.

But as I sit by my locker, lacing up my skates, I know that there’s nothing I can do. Tonight, I have to play in the game—and playing in the game means I’ll have to see her.

“You good, man?” Cam asks me.

I pull the laces toward me, making them tight. “Yeah. You?”

He nods. “Just ready to kick some ass.”

“Fuck yeah!” Aiden agrees. “They’re going to eat my snow.”

Everyone goes quiet until Owen comes up and pats him on the shoulder. “That was only cool when we were like fifteen, dude.”

“Mentally, he still is fifteen,” Isaac adds.

Anytime that guy talks, I want to knock his teeth out. Owen may think he’s cool, but I’m not about to sit here and listen as he talks shit about Aiden.

I finish lacing my skates and stand up, nodding toward Isaac. “And yet, his average is still better than yours.”

The rest of the guys laugh while his face turns beet red, but I can’t find it in me to care. He shouldn’t be talking shit about his own teammate. Aiden may not be our best player, but I’d pick him to be on my team over Isaac any day of the week.

I head out of the locker room and walk over to the rink, stepping on the ice. All week, I’ve been putting in extra practice as a way to work off some energy. It’s helped keep me distracted, and more importantly, it’s made it so I’m able to sleep at night. Not well, exactly, but at least more than I was.

The only thing I have to do is get through this game without letting myself get wrapped up in all things Laiken. But as I skate around the goal and finally lift my head, I realize that’s going to be a lot harder than I originally thought.

Because there she is, sitting in the stands with Mali by her side, and she’s wearing my jersey.


EYES ON THE PUCK. Stick on the ice. Nothing else matters except this. Right here. Right now. This game. The timer is winding down to the end of the third period, and by the grace of God, I’ve managed to keep my head in the game. But we’re still tied 2-2.

If we don’t score in the next two minutes, we’re going into overtime.

I get in position and wait for the puck to drop. The guy across from me looks like he wants to taunt me, but I took a page out of Cam’s book, and the earplugs do a great job at keeping me from getting distracted by shit talkers. You know the type. The ones who can’t play as well, so they try to get under your skin instead. Those shitheads.

The moment the puck hits the ice, I don’t miss a beat. I pass it over to Cam and get around my opponent. Between him, Owen, and me, we form a V and make our way down the ice, passing the puck between us.

Owen takes the first shot, but it hits the post. The clang you dread hearing in hockey is so loud that I can hear it through the earplugs. But Cam manages to recover it, and he passes it to me just in time for my stick to slap it straight into the goal.

We win.

The buzzer sounds and my teammates surround me, hitting my helmet. The energy in the room is amazing. Everyone in the crowd is on their feet, screams echoing throughout the rink. And Mr. Zimmerman looks on from the big window in his office, smiling proudly.

As the game ends, we all pour into the locker room, high off our win. Every single one of us played our asses off out there and we deserve this. That team was not easy to defeat by any means. But we worked as a team and made it happen.

There isn’t a guy in this room that I’m not proud of.

Well, except maybe Isaac.

Douchebag.

“So, where are we going to celebrate?” Cam asks as he opens his locker.

“My place is empty,” Owen suggests.

Cam purses his lips and nods. “Can’t turn down an empty house full of booze. H, you coming?”

I should. I should go celebrate the win with my team. But I can guarantee Laiken is going to be there, and nothing good can come of her and I being in a place with bedroom doors that lock. It would be too easy to fall back into old habits. And it’s bad enough she kissed me just to shut me up the one night. I don’t want to risk us getting drunk and doing something she ends up regretting.

“I would, but I’ve got work early tomorrow,” I tell them.

It’s not a lie. I do have work. And ten in the morning is early to me.

“Lame,” Cam tells me.

But it’s for the best. I know it is.


I WALK DOWN MAIN Street, heading back to my truck after shopping for a birthday gift for Devin. I ended up buying her a gift card to the salon and a T-shirt that says My Mom should have stopped at one. It’s meant for the oldest child, but that’s what makes it great.

And it’s typical of us to mess with each other, so I know she’ll love it.

I’m only half a block away when I stop. The universe must really love seeing me suffer, because only twenty feet away, Laiken steps out of the restaurant. She looks good all dressed up, and if she were mine, I’d take her into my arms and tell her so.

There’s no way I can avoid her, unless I turn around and head in the opposite direction, but that doesn’t feel like an option either. If she saw me do it, it’ll hurt her, and I’ve caused enough damage.

“Hey,” I say softly.

She turns her head and smiles when she sees me. “Oh, hey. What are you doing here?”

I hold up the bag in my hand. “Birthday present for Dev.”

“Shit,” she winces. “Thanks for reminding me.”

Nodding, I kick my feet against the ground. “How’ve you been?”

“I’ve been okay.” Her voice is soft, like she’s talking to one of her favorite people. “What about you? I haven’t really seen you around much.”

“I’m all right. Just trying to keep busy. I think I practiced twice as much last week.”

I consider telling her that I’m staying away for her. To make things easier and not risk putting her in more pain than I already have. But I don’t think it would do any good.

“Well, it shows,” she says. “You played really well.”

“Thank you,” I tell her honestly.

She looks down and away for a second. “I’m sorry if you didn’t want me wearing your jersey. I’ll give it back. I didn’t even realize I still had it, but then I saw it hanging in my closet and I—”

“Laiken,” I cut her off with a small laugh. “It’s fine. You can keep it. It looks better on you anyway.”

I watch as she blinks, her mouth falling open just slightly. At the risk of testing my luck, and really torturing the shit out of myself, I step closer and press a soft kiss to the top of her head. Her hand rests on my arm, leaving a burning feeling that lingers long after she removes it.

“I’ll see you around,” I tell her, and she stays silent as she nods.

But as I get a few steps away, curiosity gets the better of me, and I spin back around.

“Can I just ask you one thing?”

The corners of her lips raise. “Anything.”

“Why didn’t you answer the phone that night?” I blurt out the question that’s been on my mind for the last week. “You could’ve answered the phone, and Cam would have known about us the second your voice came through the speaker. It would’ve been that simple. But you didn’t, and I’m just wondering why?”

Her brows furrow, and it looks like she’s about to answer, until an expensive car pulls up next to her. Mr. Zimmerman puts down the passenger side window and leans over the center console.

“Sorry it took me so long,” he tells her. “I didn’t realize I parked that far away.” He turns his attention to me and nods. “Hey, Wilder. Great game last night, son.”

“Thank you, sir,” I reply. “Nice car.”

He grins, knowing that half the money for the thing probably came from our hockey team. Laiken opens the passenger side door and slips into the car, her eyes never leaving mine. And as he drives away, the sad smile she gives me brings me back at least three steps.


MUSIC BLASTS THROUGH THE speakers as I drive toward my house. My fingers grip the steering wheel as my mind runs wild. She looked so pretty tonight, and while it may have been a work dinner tonight, I know it won’t always be. One day, she’s going to start dating again, and I’ll be forced to watch her fall in love with someone else.

The only thing I wish is that Mr. Z pulled up a couple minutes later. That I could have heard her answer to my question. But if I’m not meant to know, then I guess that’s just something I’ll have to deal with, no matter how much it sucks.

As if she can tell I was thinking about it, my phone vibrates in my lap and Laiken’s name appears on the screen. The way my heart jumps at the sight of it still hasn’t faded. Not even a little. I pick up my phone and read the words that have the power to change everything.

Because you were drinking, and I might not know exactly how important I was to you, but you and what we had together mean more to me than a drunken mistake you’d regret in the morning.

My foot slams on the brake, my tires screeching as it comes to a halt. I read her words over for a second time. And then a third. Checking that I’m seeing this right, and it’s not wishful thinking making me imagine things that aren’t there.

It’s the same reason I didn’t go to the party last night at Owen’s. She thinks I would have regretted it. Regretted her. But I could never, and it’s time that she knows that.

Turning the wheel, I press the gas pedal to the floor, doing a burnout as I spin around. The car in the opposite lane lays on their horn as they’re forced to stop short, but I simply don’t care.

Some things are more important.


FLYING DOWN THE ROAD, I come to a stop in front of Cam and Laiken’s house and jump out of my truck. It doesn’t even occur to me that I left it running. There’s nothing else I can think about except the determination running through my veins.

Laiken is in the driveway, standing outside of Mr. Zimmerman’s car as they talk, but when she sees me, her eyes widen.

“What are you doing?”

But I don’t answer. My gaze is laser focused on the light that shines from inside the detached garage. Cam must be in there working. My feet carry me toward it like I’m running on autopilot as Laiken rushes to follow me.

“Hayes,” she shouts, swearing under her breath. “Hayes, stop! What are you doing?”

I ignore her, pulling the switchblade from my pocket as I walk through the door. Cam looks up at me as I spin the blade around, so the handle is toward him.

“You’re going to need this,” I tell him just as Laiken reaches the doorway.

His brows furrow as he takes it from me. “What? Why?”

“Because I’m falling in love with your sister.”

To be continued…

A Drop of Pretty Poison


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