Her Toy

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The Night Before the Night Before

It took me an hour to tear myself away from Sarah and Jade’s prying questions. Being at home never felt as nice as it did when I walked through the front door.

I tossed my keys in the little dish resting by the door and went straight to the bedroom. The overhead light flickered on and I faced the mountain of clothes littering my bed.

I groaned at the thought of sorting through every item of clothing and decided I would need a snack to encourage progress.

The fridge was almost bare with only a banana flavored yogurt where the lettuce should have been. I needed something sweet.

I considered making the two-minute walk to the convenience store but decided against it because of how late it was getting.

As if on cue I yawned and knew I needed to focus on packing before I crashed.

After ten minutes and a half, a bag packed, my phone started to vibrate on the nightstand. I looked at the time as I picked it up. It was past one in the morning.

The unknown number seemed suspicious and I almost didn’t answer but I reluctantly swiped and held the phone to my ear.

“Hello?”

A familiar southern accent came through the speaker, “Tara! Oh, thank God you picked up.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“My car hit a patch of ice an-”

I didn’t wait for her to finish, “Oh my God, are you okay?”

“Just a little sore. My car took the beating for me.” There was shuffling on her side of the phone. I could vaguely hear dishes clanking in the background.

“Where are you?”

“A diner about half an hour away. Apparently, they’re about to close soon.” I pictured her stranded out in the cold, “Twenty-four hours my ass.”

I snickered, “Is anyone on their way to get you?”

“I can’t get through to anyone else. Everyone at home must already be asleep.” I surveyed the piles of clothes laying beside my suitcase before shoving them in and zipping it up.

“Alright, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“No, Tara, you don’t have to do that. I know you have to head up to your family tomorrow.”

I grabbed my coat and shoes and started to pull everything on, “I’ll just drop you off and head up tonight. I’m sure Tristan would love the surprise.”

“Are you sure?” She asked, “That’s a long way to be driving in one night.”

“I’m sure. You’re on the way anyway.” I dragged my suitcase off the bed and grabbed a few extra things on the way out.

I scanned my apartment one last time before walking out the door. When I slid the key into the door I knew that I forgot something important.

I went in one last time and pulled my very handy friend out from underneath the mattress.

“Okay, I’m on my way now. I’ll be there soon.” I said.

It didn’t dawn on me from the moment I picked up the phone to the moment we hung up that I might run into Jason.

That thought wouldn’t leave me for the entire ride to rescue Kitty.

When I pulled up the sign to the diner was turned off and Kitty was waiting on the front steps with her luggage piled around her for warmth.

I rolled down the window, “Hey, miss, I’m looking for a good time.”

Kitty didn’t miss a beat and grinned, “What? Do I look like a hooker to you?”

She really didn’t. There was no more of a shock than seeing her head to toe in her Sunday best. Along with a carpet patterned sweater, her pink hair was pinned up in a tight bun.

I watched her shuffle around in a nun approved skirt before jumping out of the car to help.

I dragged her bags to the trunk and we lifted them in together. I nearly slipped on the ice and busted my ass but Kitty caught me.

“Careful, we don’t need both of us to be sore.”

I laughed, “You say that like I’m not already aching from that guy who insisted on trying every setting on the Driller.”

Kitty and I hustled back into the car and shut the doors before she responded, “I still can’t believe Jason made that thing.”

“He probably can’t believe his sister rides it.” I pulled out into traffic and tried not to end up in a ditch.

“It was pretty weird at first but we’re not really related so that helped ease the awkwardness.”

I turned to look at her with one eye still glued to the road, “What do you mean?”

“He’s my step-brother.” Kitty must have read the expression on my face and continued, “His dad married my mom when I was ten and he was twelve.”

I blinked at the new knowledge and tried to get more, “So how did you end up at PinkCherry?”

“That’s a long story.”

I gave her a look, “We have plenty of time.”

She sighed, “Alright, I’ll tell you but you can’t say anything to Jade and Sarah.”

“Cross my heart.”

“Well,” She began, “It really all started when my mom dropped me off at college.”

“Oh, college rebel?”

“I guess you can say that. I didn’t go looking for that though. My roommate was pretty...” She trailed off.

“Naughty?”

She laughed, “Yeah, she was really naughty and a terrible influence.”

“Worse than Jade?”

“Way worse.”

I listened to Kitty tell stories from college. She spoke as if it was another lifetime.

The rain didn’t start until after we were on the highway and it showed no sign of stopping.

Barely an hour passed when she directed me to her neighborhood. Christmas lights hung off the rooves of every house and a large nativity scene sat in front of the entrance.

“Just a little bit further,” Kitty said and shifted in her seat, “There.”

She pointed two a blue two-story house with blinding Christmas decorations and a large tree in the front yard.

The rain turned into hail as we pulled her stuff from the trunk and dragged it inside. We were both soaking wet when we reached the porch.

The floorboards creaked under my feet while I waited for Kitty to hurry up and find the key. The longer I stayed the more of a chance I would see Jason.

When she finally dug it out of her purse and unlocked the door I followed her inside.

“Hey, I should really get going,” I whispered behind her.

She put her stuff by the stairs, “Of course, but are you sure you can make it tonight? The weather is getting really bad.”

I would rather brace myself for the icy hell outside than the icy hell inside. “I’m sure.”

She nodded and I reached over to give me a hug. I wasn’t even out the door before the lights flickered on.

“Who’s down there?” An older woman’s voice said from the top of the stairs.

“It’s just me, momma.”

I wondered if it was still too late to make a run for it.

“And who’s the stranger in my doorway?”

“My friend, Tara. She gave me a ride up here.” It was too late. I decided to take it like a man and face my reality.

Kitty’s mom was wearing a thick nightgown and long blonde hair fell over her shoulders. She started down the stairs and the light shined directly on her.

“Well don’t let all the heat out, shut the door.”

I followed orders as fast as I could while Kitty and her mom discussed what happened.

“How do you drive into a ditch?”

“The ice was bad and I di-”

“What have I told you about being careful?”

Kitty sighed, “I was being careful.”

Her mom scoffed, “Apparently not enough.” She tucked a piece of stray hair back into Kitty’s bun and then turned to me. “Are you staying the night?”

“Oh, no, no, I’m on the way to my brother’s.”

“Where does he live?”

“South Carolina.”

“Good gravy, child. You’re driving there in this weather?” Kitty’s mom looked back at Kitty. “See this is what I mean about making wise decisions.”

I plastered on a fake smile, “I didn’t plan to originally but Kitty needed my help.”

“Yes, Katherine does need help often.” She sighed, “Well, I just can’t let you go out there tonight in good conscience.”

I tried to reassure her but she cut me off, “Nonsense. You’ll stay with Katherine for the night and I won’t hear anything else about it.” I glanced at Kitty and she shrugged. Some help.

“I guess one night would be okay.” I caved as my stomach tied itself into knots.

As soon as the words left my mouth I heard footsteps upstairs. I clenched the car keys in my hand when Jason stepped into view.

His dark hair was a bit lighter than before and messed up on just one side. I couldn’t look away and neither could he.

“Jason this is Katherine’s friend from-” Kitty’s mom turned to me, “How do you know each other again dear?”

I glanced at Kitty and said the first thing that came to my mind, “We use to work together.”

“You worked for a children’s store too?” Her mom asked.

I nodded and tried not to stare Kitty down.

Jason never moved from his position on the stairs as their mom asked me questions about my family history, education, and my career path.

“So you said you use to work with Katherine. What do you do now?”

I tried not to look at Jason, “I work in accounting and financial advising.”

“Oh, Jason’s friend from college does something like that. Right, honey?” He nodded and it was obvious we struck a sore topic.

Finally, Kitty’s mom decided to give it a rest.

“Jason go get her bag from the car will you?” She looked at me, “She needs to get out of these wet clothes or she’ll catch pneumonia.”

He didn’t say a word as he came down the stairs and slipped on a pair of tennis shoes by the door.

His soft green eyes met mine first the first time in a year before holding out his hand, “I need the keys.”

Their mom sighed after he was gone, “I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

Jason didn’t waste time outside and carried my stuff to the room. Kitty and her mother led the way upstairs.

After her mother said goodnight and started down the hall I followed Kitty to her room. Jason was already gone but my bag sat at the foot of the bed.

I shut the door behind me, “Children’s toy store?”

Kitty yanked off her boots and started to undress, “I told her it was a toy store I just didn’t say what kind.”

I laughed, “So she has no idea?”

“No way. Do you think I’d still be alive if she did?”

“Probably not.”

The hail was coming down harder than before as I got ready for bed and climbed in. Kitty was already waiting for me.

“I’m sorry you were roped into staying.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’ll make sure you can go first thing in the morning.”

I turned to her and smiled before we both decided the day should end there. Kitty switched off the lamp and I laid in the dark next to my friend.

Jason was right across the hall and I’d never felt farther from him.

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