A Father's Fight (Fighting #4.5)

by J.B. Salsbury


Eighteen years ago . . .

I can’t believe I’m going to do this. This isn’t my first high school party, but damn, it might as well be.

I suck back a lungful of crisp evening air that swirls with the stench of cigarettes and pot then try to shake feeling back into my hands. It’s cold, or maybe it’s my nerves, but either way, I can’t feel my fingers.

“Come on,” I whisper-yell to myself. “Don’t be such a wuss!”

Giggles filter to me from a group of passing girls. With a hip to my ’78 Trans-Am, I stare boldly at the cluster of hot pink and skin as they scoff and point at my ride. It may not be the first choice of most sixteen-year-olds, but it’s been my dream car since seventh grade. Those chicks can have their Mustangs and their Jettas. My car has a personality and an attitude.

“White trash,” the head fluff-bunny says through a cough.

These girls couldn’t be more opposite of me. They’re the bright to my plain, the color to my black, the Spice Girls to my Metallica. Dressed in the same color pattern as a candy shop, with big billowing curls, bright lips, and about half the amount of clothes on that I do, they don’t seem the least bit cold.

I glare at their retreating asses, hardly covered by their school-girl-stripper skirts. I guess now’s as good a time as any. No more stalling.

I head to the open gate that leads into the backyard of a middle-class home in the Seattle ’burbs. Pushing through a crowd of teenagers that huddle around the entrance, I search for a familiar face and find nothing but drones. Carbon copies of whatever’s hot on MTV. Zero individuality, every single one of them, except one. The only person I came here to see. My stomach flips on itself, and I run my sweaty—yet cold—palms along my skinny jeans.

I’m finally going to approach my crush, the guy I’ve been loving from afar since the first day of freshman year.

Trip Miller.

While casually stalking him last week, I overheard him mention this party to his friends. I contemplated coming for all of zero seconds. This is what I’ve been waiting for, the chance I’ve needed. If he shows up, I’ll be here waiting, and for the first time, I refuse to let my nerves get the better of me.

I’m going to talk to him.

A flutter of excitement tumbles in my chest. My fingers go numb again, and I straighten my cut-up Whitesnake tee that I’d shredded in the back to show off my blue bra. It’s not the thigh-high socks and mini-skirts that all the other girls are wearing, but I refuse to conform.

My toe taps inside my monkey boot as I wait in line to get in, and my fingers sift through and twirl the ends of my hair. The weather this time of year isn’t as humid, and I’ve managed to flat iron my hair so it hangs in sleek panels down past my boobs.

“Five bucks, midget,” a big guy manning the door wearing a letterman jacket barks down at me, taking me in with a scowl.

How original. I dip my chin to roll my eyes without him seeing and pull a wadded up five-dollar bill from my back pocket. He’s a senior and a football player, according to his jacket. He’s big, with a shaved head, and looks like all the other popular guys, a member of the crew that earns friends by intimidation and bullying those who are weaker.

He stamps my hand and shoves a red Solo cup at me.

“Thanks.” I move into the backyard and toward the sound of Snoop Dogg’s “Murder was the Case.” I bet the rapper would lock himself in the Dog Pound if he knew how many jocks were dressing like him and adding “izzles” to almost every word they spoke.

I head on back to a couple staggered lines that lead to kegs and take my place in one of them. I’ll grab a beer, mingle a bit. There are enough kids here from other schools that it shouldn’t be too hard to fall into a conversation with someone. Then I can sit back and watch, waiting for the one guy who’s ever gotten my heart to thunder in my chest.

As if the thought of him alone triggered my inner stalker, I scan the crowd, searching. A bright smile catches my eye, not so much because it’s attractive but because it’s so blatantly obvious. I know that guy; he’s in one my classes. Why is he smiling at me? Maybe it’s someone else he’s scoping. I turn to glance over my shoulder. Nope, it’s me.

I toss him what I’m sure is an awkward smile-wave combo. He tilts his head, and his expression goes soft. Dammit, maybe that was a mistake. I should wait in my car. I could spy from the street until—Oh God, he’s coming this way.

Kids scurry to clear a path as he struts toward me. He’s as big as the others and hot shit on campus. His striking blond hair is spiked, and his clean-shaven face and cologne scream of a man who spent more time getting ready for tonight than I did.