The Bad Things

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Chapter 3. Silence

The silence drove me mad. Hayden went out of his way to sit down at the park and talk to me the day before. However, he hadn’t said a word to me since I walked through the door. I went out of my way to talk to him, but he would shrug, nod, or shake his head.

By the time our shift ended, he still hadn’t said a word to me. I finished sweeping and went behind the counter. Hayden had his back turned as I approached him, and he turned around unexpectedly just as I raised my hand to tap him on the shoulder.

Hayden’s entire body went rigid, and his nostrils flared. He cleared his throat and took a step back. The closeness bothered him, but I didn’t understand why.

“Um,” I grimaced. “Can I have your number?” As soon as the question escaped, I regretted it.

His eyes filled with confusion. “What?”

“I mean, if for any reason that I’m running late. It’s happened to me before, and I’ve gotten fired for it. I’m never late intentionally, but you know. . .” I trailed off. “Car troubles, babysitter troubles, or my daughter. I’ll give you mine too if you want.” It came out so fast and awkward that I grimaced and wished I hadn’t said anything.

The confusion in his eyes dissipated, and he nodded in understanding. “It’s not really a problem if you run late for one of those reasons. You don’t need to call me, or if it’s last minute, you could just call the coffee shop if you know that I’m already here.”

“I just really need this job, and I wouldn’t want you to be unprepared if something like that happened. So, please,” I said as politely as I could.

Hayden sighed and spun around. He grabbed a pen and a sticky note off the counter. He scribbled his name and number and handed it to me.

Wow, for a boy, he has some elegant writing. I tried to keep my expression light as I looked at the number. “This is a landline, isn’t it? Don’t you have a cell?”

“No, I only have a house phone,” he muttered darkly.

“Um, oh. That’s okay. Do you want mine?” I asked and gazed up at him.

He knitted his eyebrows together and shook his head. “I’ve never been late or missed work.”

“Oh.”

Hayden turned away from me and started to clean off a counter.

“C-can I ask you something?” Pressing my luck didn’t seem like a good idea, but I had to ask, or it would drive me mad.

He sighed and turned to face me. He seemed so unwilling that it reminded me of when Stormy didn’t want to go to bed.

I gave him a small smile.

“Why are you smiling?” he murmured. His gaze fell to my lips.

“I’m sorry. Your mood is just confusing me. You were fine yesterday, and today it is like you don’t want to speak to me at all. Did I say something wrong?”

He took a deep breath and looked away. “No. I just don’t have anything to say.”

“You’re very quiet.”

Hayden’s eyes locked with mine again. My breath caught in my throat. He shrugged, turned around, and went around the counter to the back room.

“Well then. . .” I spun around and started gathering things that needed to be put away for the night.

I didn’t see Hayden again until we closed up the coffee shop for the night.

Hayden turned and started for his car.

“Hayden?” I called.

Hayden stopped and turned around unwillingly once again. “What?” The irritation came out thick in his voice.

“Am I upsetting you?”

He shifted his weight uncomfortably. He moved toward me, but his steps were measured and somehow graceful. It was clear just by his walk that he had strong balance. Hayden stood in a halo of light that came from a streetlamp.

I imagined the action would make most people uneasy if they knew about Hayden’s past, but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel that way. I closed the distance between us and stared up at him curiously.

His expression became torn and confused, which surprised me. “You’re brave,” he spoke slowly and deliberately. “Most people wouldn’t go out of their way to talk to me like you do.” He raised his chin a fraction and studied my face carefully as if to assess my reaction. “I just don’t know what you want me to say.”

I inched closer to him until there wasn’t much space between us.

Hayden spoke again before I could respond. “I’m not used to people getting so close to me like you do either.” What he said caught me off guard.

“Does it bother you?”

“As I said,” he paused. “I’m not used to it. I’m not irritated with you. I’m more irritated at myself, and I’m tired. I haven’t slept in two days.”

My lips parted in surprise. “Why?” Why do I care?

He snorted and shook his head. “Why do you care?”

“I’m just a naturally curious person, I guess,” I lied. I did care, but there was no way I could tell him that.

Hayden leaned away from me and looked back at his car like he wanted to make a run for it.

“I think it’s kind of sad,” I murmured.

Hayden’s gaze snapped back to mine. He knitted his eyebrows together, and his lips parted. “What is?”

“You act as if nobody cares.” I bit down on my lip. Part of me wondered if I shouldn’t have voiced the thought.

Hayden scoffed. “Get real, Abigail. Nobody gives a fuck about me. If I fall in a hole and die, they’ll never find me because nobody is going to look. Nobody cares enough about me to look.”

Before I could respond, Hayden spun around and stormed away from me. He got into his car. I stayed frozen in the parking lot as his car sped past me—the loud motor deafening to my ears.

***

The week that followed, I barely spoke to Hayden. Time passed in a blur. He hardly acknowledged me either. I couldn’t think of anything conventional to say to Hayden after our last conversation. I wanted to talk to him, but I wasn’t sure how. Hayden didn’t exactly make it easy to talk to him.

Saturday evening rolled around. Chelsea talked me into going out with her. My mother agreed to watch Stormy. A couple of my brother’s friends and Chelsea’s friends were going out too.

We met up at the same club that Chelsea and I went to a couple of weeks before. When I walked into the club, I had to shove my way through the crowd to get to the bar. I ordered my drink and waited for the bartender to bring it to me.

“Hey,” Chelsea said. She sat down on a barstool beside me.

“Hey, is everyone here?”

“Yes, and you’re never going to believe who showed up.”

“I’ll bite. Who?”

“Hayden,” Chelsea said. She shifted her weight uncomfortably. “Your brother invited him. I don’t know how you guys can stand to be so close to him.”

I rolled my eyes. “He hasn’t done anything wrong, Chelsea.”

Chelsea snorted and gave me a look of disbelief. “What planet do you live on? Do you need me to pull out the old news articles for you?”

“I meant as of lately. Look, the doctors said he was sick when it happened. If he were still like that, they never would have let him out,” I said defensively. Why am I so defensive?

Chelsea repeated my thought process. “Why are you defending him? Do you like him?”

“No, I—” I stopped and scoffed. “I just don’t think people need to be so freaked out by him. He’s so calm.”

The bartender handed me my drink, and I followed Chelsea to the table where the others were. The only seat available was between Hayden and Sean, which seemed to be just my luck. I listened to everyone chat, but I felt too uneasy to add to the conversation. I focused hard on not looking at Hayden.

Sean leaned around me to get Hayden’s attention and started talking to him.

I wished I could pick up a casual conversation with Hayden. Every time I tried, it seemed like he all but ripped off my head.

A voice pulled me from my thoughts, “Hey, Abigail.”

I looked across the table at one of my old friends from high school. Brandy and Chelsea were still good friends, but apart from Chelsea, I had a falling out with most of them.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“How are things now that you’re back in Jacksonville?” Brandy asked.

Everyone at the table fell silent and waited for me to answer. It felt like someone had put a giant spotlight on me.

“Oh, um, it’s good. Stormy likes it too.”

“Your daughter, right?” Brandy asked. “Is Jason still in Pierson?”

I sighed. “Permanently.”

Everyone at the table, apart from Sean and Chelsea, stared at me, confused and curious.

Brandy laughed. “W-what do you mean?”

“I mean that. . .” I trailed off. Subconsciously, my eyes flickered to Hayden.

Hayden had his head tilted in my direction, staring at me like everyone else. His gaze made me feel self-conscious.

My eyes fell to my drink. My hand gripped the glass cup tighter than necessary as I spoke, “Jason died.” I looked up, and everyone stared at me with unspoken pity. The looks on their faces made my stomach churn. It took me back to the day we buried him—people staring, telling me how sorry they were, and crying. I barely held it together that day, and this wasn’t a good place to fall apart.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Abigail—” Brandy started.

“Don’t worry about it,” I muttered. “I’m going to go get some air.” Without looking at them, I jumped out of my seat and took off. Their eyes burned a hole in the back of my head as I retreated.

The streets were filled with pedestrians. A strong wind blew and made me shiver. I stopped and considered getting into my car. What I really want is a hole to open in the ground and swallow me.

I turned in the opposite direction of my car and started walking. People lined the block, trying to get into the club. Other people went into other bars and stores. The streets were busy, and I wanted to get away from them. The voices in my head were as loud as the people that gathered on the sidewalks, and it was too much noise to bear.

My pace quickened. The voices faded the further away I got from the bars and stores. However, the repeated memory of people apologizing to me for the loss of my husband was still very much amplified. I turned onto a dark empty street and stopped when I noticed a few men standing around in a circle. Well, I’m not going that way. I turned and started back the way I came. I kept walking and knew that if I didn’t turn around soon, I would come to the main highway. I sighed and considered going back.

During my internal debate, headlights came around the corner. The engine slowed, and the car stopped beside me. I knew the car and stared at it, stunned.

Hayden rolled down the driver’s side window and stared at me for a moment. “Do you want to go for a drive?”

I bit down on my lip and gazed up the street. I knew that I wasn’t ready to go back to the club. Instead of answering, I walked around the car and climbed into the passenger side. I shivered slightly and looked up at Hayden. He had his leather jacket halfway off.

I stared at him bewildered. Of all people to come rescue me. For a guy who wasn’t the most social, he was being so sweet and thoughtful.

He draped the coat around my shoulders but didn’t speak. He turned the heater on and pulled away from the shoulder of the road.

I slid my arms through the sleeves of the jacket and sank against the leather seat. I stared at him with a puzzled expression. His cologne clung to the jacket, and I clung to the smell of it.

His eyes didn’t leave the road as he spoke. “Why are you staring at me like that?”

“Why did you give me your jacket?” I studied his expression as my question seemed to confuse him further.

He looked down at me and stared at me as if I spoke a language he wasn’t familiar with. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you cold?” His eyes swept over my body. “You’re not very covered, and it’s not very warm out.”

The black dress I wore came up mid-thigh and had no sleeves. I nodded in agreement. “It’s cold.”

Hayden looked back out the windshield.

I wanted to keep him talking. I wanted to know what possessed him to chase after me. Nobody else did, so why did he? “Why did you come after me?”

“It’s dark, cold, and there are a bunch of drunks running around. Why wouldn’t I?” Hayden gripped the steering wheel tighter. The question made him uneasy, as if he didn’t want to tell me. He left something out, but he wasn’t going to tell me.

“Your mood swings are a bit perplexed. Don’t you think?”

Hayden rolled his eyes and shrugged. “You’re not the first person to tell me that.”

“Where are we going?”

“Wherever you want to go. I could take you back to the club. . .” he trailed off. “Or you could hang out with me for a little while, I suppose.”

For some reason that I couldn’t comprehend, I would rather be with him than be at the club with the others. “With you.”

Hayden knitted his eyebrows together, and a look of disbelief flashed across his face. He quickly straightened out his features and leaned back. He raised his head a fraction and brought it back down as if a simple nod. Hayden sped up and hit the highway.

I tried not to stare at him too much, but I couldn’t stop myself from glancing up at him as he drove.

Moments later, we pulled up to the same apartment complex that my brother lived in.

“Do you live here too?” I asked, confused.

“Um, yeah.”

“So does Sean.”

“I know.”

We climbed out of the car and went into the building. We went up the grey carpeted stairs to the second level. He lived right across the hall from Sean.

Hayden opened the door and gestured for me to go inside. I walked past him into the apartment and looked around curiously.

Hayden stepped closer to me. His chest brushed against my back. He lowered his lips to my ear. “You’re the nosiest girl that I’ve ever met,” he murmured.

An involuntary shiver rolled down my spine. I turned my head and locked eyes with him.

“You look nervous,” he said.

“No,” I said stubbornly. The more I got around him, the more comfortable I became. Maybe that made me crazy, but I didn’t care.

“I think there is something wrong with you,” he said and smirked. He walked past me to the kitchen. His apartment was very open and seemed bigger than Sean’s apartment. “Do you want a soda or something?”

“Sure,” I said. I looked around his living room, and my eyes stopped on a surfboard and something else, a stick of some kind. “Do you surf?”

“Sometimes.”

“Are you any good at it?” I wondered as I approached the surfboard. I didn’t have the balance it took to surf. I never tried, but I knew I couldn’t do it. However, the surfboard had beautiful designs on it, and it left me awestruck. It explained why he had such a graceful walk.

He came up behind me and handed me a Pepsi. “I guess. It’s just a hobby.”

“What’s this?” I pointed at the long stick beside it and looked back at him.

He took a deep breath and stared at me for a moment. “It’s for bo staff.”

“What is bo-staff?”

“A form of mixed martial arts.”

“Do you know mixed martial arts?”

“Yes,” he said simply. Hayden turned around and went to sit down on the couch.

I sat beside him on the black leather couch and faced him. “Everything in here is black,” I said.

“So?” he challenged. His gaze flickered to mine.

The amusement in his eyes made me smile. “The couch is nice, but still, why?”

Hayden chuckled.

“Oh my god, he laughs,” I teased.

He rolled his eyes at my remark. “I just like it this way, I guess.”

“I have a question.”

“Of course, you do,” he muttered.

“Do my questions bother you?”

“That isn’t seriously what you were going to ask me, is it?”

“No,” I said and smiled. The short distance between us felt further than it really was.

“I’m not used to anyone asking me so many questions,” he said. “Most people aren’t brave enough to talk to me unless they wear a white jacket, but I’m sure you know that already.”

“You don’t have to answer it. I was just curious.” He had a way of making me feel nosier than I actually am, and yet when it came to him, I was nosey.

“Just ask,” he muttered.

“I saw you at the club before. You were in the VIP area. How?”

“Mateo owns that club,” he said. “I work for him too.”

“With Sean,” I added.

“Yes.”

“So, you surf, you do mixed martial arts, you’re a mechanic, and you work in a coffee shop. Anything else? That’s an awful lot,” I said. “Do you suck at anything?”

Hayden looked down at his hands which were intertwined. “Yeah,” he murmured. “I do.”

“What’s that?”

Hayden looked up at me. His blue eyes were filled with pain that looked as if it could harm him physically. “I’m not good at talking with people, which is why I don’t understand why you won’t leave me alone. You’re beautiful, smart, kind, and you have a beautiful daughter. Hanging around a guy like me is a waste of your time.” The words weren’t believable the way he delivered them because he didn’t want to believe them.

“You’re right. You do suck at talking to people.” My eyes didn’t leave his. “I mean, I don’t understand why you push me away. I didn’t do anything. You just don’t seem. . .” I trailed off.

“What? Like a serial killer?” His expression turned cold and hard, but it didn’t frighten me—it made me want to literally move closer to him for pushing me away.

I stretched past him and sat my drink on the end table beside him. I leaned over him and stared at him. “You don’t,” I mumbled. My eyes pierced his.

He gritted his teeth and looked away. “You’re wrong, and so were they.” He looked back at me with an icy stare. “They never should have let me out of that fucking place.”

“Why did they let you out?”

He scoffed. “Because I’m rehabilitated,” he said sarcastically. “They have me on ten different medicines to keep my temper under control, but it doesn’t work a hundred percent. If I get angry enough, I black out, and I can’t remember things.”

I fell silent. I wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to set him off.

“What? No more questions?” The teasing in his voice came out darker than usual.

My eyes flickered to his. “I don’t want to upset you. I like it when you’re happy. I like your smile.”

The words I spoke bothered him, but he didn’t voice the fact. “Is it my turn yet?” he asked.

“For what?”

“To ask you a hundred questions.”

I smiled. “Ask.”

“Is Jason your daughter’s dad?”

“Yes,” I said and leaned back against the couch.

“Jason Vasquez?”

“Mhm,” I hummed.

Hayden nodded.

“You remember him?”

“Yes,” Hayden muttered darkly.

I rolled my eyes. “You’re not the only one around here who doesn’t like him.”

Hayden looked back at me. “I barely knew him, but I hated how he treated you.”

My eyes widened. “W-what?”

“I saw you two together before. Most of the time I saw the two of you together, you were arguing. He called you bad things, things that he shouldn’t have called you. Why the hell would you want that?”

I sighed. “It’s not that simple.”

Hayden snorted and stood up. “Please, you’re talking to the guy who killed his entire family, remember? If anyone understands what’s not simple, it’s me.”

He walked over to his kitchen and ran the faucet. I sat across from him at the kitchen island. He started cleaning his counter, which was already clean.

“We had our good and bad moments,” I said. “A couple of months ago, I realized that I wasn’t in love with him anymore, so I left. He was on drugs, and he overdosed on purpose when I left. I guess you aren’t the only one responsible for the death of someone.” Part of me questioned if I ever loved Jason or if I had been in love with the idea of love.

Hayden turned to face me. “Don’t even compare it, Abby. It’s not the same. He made his choices. That isn’t your fault. At least one good thing came out of it. I hope things get easier for Stormy and you.”

“Thanks,” I said.

We were silent for a long moment.

“You’re wrong, you know,” I said.

“About?”

“I don’t believe you’re a waste of time.”

Hayden mashed his lips in a straight line. “Why do you care, Abby? You never even noticed me in all the years we were in school together. I was younger than you. Why the sudden interest?”

“It’s not sudden,” I argued. I realized at that moment that what I said held a lot of truth. “I tried to talk to you. Nobody could get you to talk. You didn’t like anyone.”

“I don’t,” he said stubbornly. “Getting attached to people only hurts you in the long run.”

“You don’t believe that.”

“Yes, I do,” he snapped.

“No, you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t come out of your apartment. You wouldn’t have come to the club tonight, and you most certainly wouldn’t have come after me.”

The air escaped his lungs, and he stared at me for an immeasurable moment. He shook his head and looked away. He had no argument, and he knew it. Hayden just didn’t want to admit that he wanted acceptance from someone. Everyone wants acceptance, even if it’s from only one person. I stood up and walked around the counter to him.

He didn’t notice the closeness until I stood right in front of him. He stumbled back and gripped the edge of the counter.

“Why can’t we be friends?” I pressed.

“Are you not wrapping your head around who I am?” Irritation colored his tone and expression. “Do you know what people will think when they see you around me? You would be either stupid or crazy to want to be friends with me.”

“I don’t care what people think. I never have,” I said and smiled.

He snickered and looked away briefly. His gaze locked with mine again. “You’re not going to let it go until you get what you want, right?”

“Right.” I set my chin stubbornly.

“Fine, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you,” he said.

“Deal.”

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