Chapter 5. Games
I paced back and forth in Hayden’s living room. The door bursted open. I spun around. Hayden and Sean came through the door.
My heart thudded unsteadily. I had to ask, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted the answer. “Anything?”
“No. You?” Sean asked. Concern distorted his features.
Tears built in my eyes, and I shook my head. “No.” My hands were cold and clammy.
Hayden wrapped his arms around me. “It’s been three hours past the time she was supposed to give her back to you. I think you should just call the cops, Abby. We searched for an hour,” Hayden said.
I had gone home to wait for Stormy, and when two hours passed, I came back to tell Hayden and Sean she was gone. I clutched onto Hayden’s shirt, and my tears stained it. “I’m going to kill that stupid bitch,” I spat. I couldn’t lose my cool yet, but I felt it slipping. My daughter needed me. I grabbed my phone off the coffee table. As the phone rang, I placed a hand on my forehead and rubbed it fiercely.
Hayden stood behind me.
The dispatch woman answered. I explained in a rush that my sister-in-law took my daughter and hadn’t come back yet. The woman said she would send a cop over.
“I need to go home. The cop will be there soon,” I told Hayden after I hung up the phone.
“Come on. I’ll get you there,” he said.
“I’m coming,” Sean said.
The three of us ran down the steps and into the parking lot. We jumped into Hayden’s Challenger. Hayden peeled out of the parking lot and raced back to my house.
We pulled up to the dark house. Mom hadn’t got home from work yet.
“The cop isn’t here,” I muttered impatiently.
“He’ll be here,” Hayden said. “Let’s go inside.”
“Sean, call Mom and tell her what is going on,” I said. There was no way I could tell my mother that Stormy had gotten kidnapped without falling apart. We climbed out of the car and started for the house.
“Do you think it’s a good idea to bother her with this while she is working?” Sean asked.
“Are you kidding? She would probably be more upset if you didn’t,” Hayden said.
“I agree. She would tear us apart if we didn’t tell her,” I said. I took my keys out and unlocked the front door.
I turned on some of the lights while Sean called Mom. Hayden followed me through the house. I stopped in the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. While the coffee brewed, I started to clean the counters. A hand caught mine. My eyes locked with Hayden’s.
“You need to relax. We’ll get her back. I’m sure she hasn’t gotten very far. I’ll help you find her. I promise,” Hayden murmured.
My throat tightened, and I looked down at my hand as I spoke. “You don’t understand. She’s my whole life. I don’t know how to live without my daughter. Every good choice I have ever made is because of her. I’m still alive because of her.”
Hayden grabbed my chin and forced me to look at him. “You’re right. I don’t have kids. I don’t understand what that is like, but I see the pain in your eyes. It’s killing me that I can’t fix it. I do know you need to keep it together, though, for Stormy.”
My chin trembled. “What if I can’t?” I choked. Tears fell from my eyes.
“You will,” he murmured. He ran a hand through my hair.
I wrapped my arms around his waist and buried my face in his chest. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders and supported most of my weight.
“Mom’s on her way,” Sean said as he stepped into the kitchen.
Hayden and I pulled apart. I gripped onto the edge of the counter. Hayden kept ahold of one of my arms.
A few raps on the front door pulled me out of my daze. I jumped slightly but immediately took off to answer it. The boys followed behind me.
The cop greeted me, and I held the door open for him. I explained in a rush the type of car Tracey drove and what she wore. I went over the same story that I gave to the dispatch. By the time I finished, I felt like I had a knife sticking out of my stomach. I wanted the nightmare to be over.
“I’ll keep in touch,” he said. The cop walked out the front door.
We went into the kitchen. I poured three cups of coffee. We sat down at the small kitchen table.
“It’s going to be a long night,” I murmured.
“Maybe you should go lay down, Abby,” Sean said. “I’ll wake you up if—”
“Sean, seriously?” I scoffed. “My daughter is missing. I’m not going to sleep until she is back in my arms.”
“This is my fault—” I started.
“Abigail, stop. It’s not,” Hayden argued.
Mom stormed into the kitchen. “You are damn right it is!” Mom spat. “What the hell were you thinking, Abigail Lindsay? Tracey’s past alone is a damn good reason not to let her take Stormy.”
“Mom,” Sean sneered. “Stop it.”
Hayden ran a hand through his hair.
“Mom,” I said. My eyes pleaded with hers. “What was I supposed to say? She showed up here. Stormy was so excited to see her. Tracey didn’t appear drunk or anything like that. She finished AA classes.”
“We are talking about the same woman that passed out on the couch drunk while your eighteen-month-old daughter nearly drowned in the bathtub, right?” Mom challenged. “Again, what were you thinking?”
“God, you had to fucking bring that up,” I muttered. I buried my face in my hands. Guilt and regret flooded my stomach.
“I shouldn’t have called you,” Sean spat. “I told them it wasn’t a good idea, but they insisted.” Sean threw his chair across the kitchen, and it made Mom and I jump. “Leave it to you to make the situation worse.” Sean jabbed a finger in Mom’s direction.
“Just stop, please,” I begged. “I fucked up, okay? I’m not denying that.” I got to my feet and headed for the front door. I needed fresh air. It felt like I would pass out from the heat in the kitchen.
Hayden followed me out the door. We sat down on the front steps. Hayden grabbed my hand in both of his. His hands were so much bigger than mine that my hand disappeared in his. “I think that I should go soon. I’ll go out and look around for a while again or something.”
“I’ll go with you,” I said.
I gazed up at him, confused. “What?”
Hayden sighed. “You need to stay here with your mom and brother. Wait here until they find her or something. I’m sure they will find her soon.”
“They left hours ago,” I mumbled. “They could be halfway across the country.”
“I doubt that,” Hayden argued.
“Don’t leave,” I whispered. “You make it more bearable. Mom and Sean aren’t helping the situation at all. They just make me feel worse. Please.” I leaned into him and rested my head against his shoulder.
Headlights flashed around the corner.
Hayden and I jumped up simultaneously. The car slowed and stopped in front of my house. Tracey climbed out of the car. Tracey let Stormy out of the car. Stormy dashed across the yard toward me.
“Stormy,” I breathed. I broke into a sprint. Tears flooded my eyes, and my vision blurred. Hayden followed me across the yard.
Stormy jumped into my arms. I held her tightly and kissed her head over and over.
“Oh, baby,” I sobbed. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Stormy mumbled. “We went for a really long ride.”
I spun around and handed Stormy to Hayden. I turned back and started across the yard. The anger that flooded me could no long be contained. No rational thoughts existed in my head. My feet moved across the yard with every intent to kill Tracey.
“Stop, Abby,” Hayden called to me.
“I’m going to fucking kill you!” I shrieked. I barely recognized my own voice. Never in my life had rage consumed me completely.
Tracey’s eyes widened, and she stumbled back.
I heard voices behind me, but I couldn’t make sense of it. All of my concentration went to the person in front of me.
Tracey turned to run.
I tackled Tracey to the ground and turned her around. My hands wrapped around her throat. “You psychotic fucking bitch!” I shouted. I slammed her head against the ground, and she groaned in pain as she choked.
Hands pulled me off of Tracey.
I kicked and screamed.
“Stop it, Abigail,” Hayden said calmly.
“Let go of me!” I fought against Hayden, but I couldn’t get out of his embrace.
“Stormy is watching,” Hayden hissed in my ear.
His words calmed me. I looked back at a frightened Stormy and looked up at Hayden. My gaze fell to Tracey.
Tracey laid on the ground coughing and gasping for air. She clutched the back of her head. After a moment, Tracey got to her feet. Tears pooled up in her eyes. “I’m sorry, okay?” Tracey shouted. “I just wanted. . .” Tracey gestured to Stormy. “She’s all I have left of Jason.”
“How far did you make it?” I asked angrily.
“I was going to take her, but she started crying for you. I realized I couldn’t keep her from you. But I wanted to keep her,” Tracey said and bowed her head in shame.
“And now you’ll never see her again. Do you hear me? Get in your car and get the hell out of here before I call the cops or beat you to death. I gave you more than one chance to be a part of your niece’s life, and you fucked up both chances,” I said.
“Abigail—” Tracey pleaded.
“Leave!” I screamed.
“I think you should just go,” Hayden said in a low voice. His voice came out a warning and far more intimidating than mine. “She’s giving you a chance not to sit behind bars.”
Tracey nodded and sniffled. She turned around, got into her car, and sped away.
Hayden and I stared into the darkness, where her car vanished from sight. Hayden turned me to face him after a moment. “I know you might not think so right now, but she isn’t worth going to prison for. You have Stormy back. That’s all that matters. You don’t think she would ever come back, do you?”
I scoffed. “She’s not that brave. I would kill her, and she knows it.”
Hayden nodded. “For good reason.” He turned and looked back at Stormy. “Now that she is home, I’m leaving. You need some time with her. Don’t come to work tomorrow either. Take a few days if you need. I’ll cover the shift.”
“I’m not going to leave you by yourself,” I argued.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve worked night shifts alone before,” he said. “Just call and talk to Todd tomorrow. I’ll talk to him too and vouch for you.”
I sighed and nodded. “Thank you.”
Hayden pecked me on the lips. “See you.” He turned and strolled across the yard to his car.
We were fine for a few weeks. We went out to dinner a few times. Stormy and I went to his apartment to watch movies. We hung out in different places, and suddenly nothing. My fist pounded on the door so hard that it hurt my knuckles. I stopped and waited for footsteps. I sighed and knocked harder than before.
The door swung open.
Hayden stared at me tiredly.
I shoved past him into his apartment.
He sighed and closed the door. “What the hell are you doing here, Abby?”
I spun around to face him. I placed my hands on my hips and narrowed my eyes. “Why the hell have you been avoiding me for almost two weeks? Todd said you took vacation time that you had built up.”
“I needed a break,” he said and shrugged.
“From work or me?” I asked bluntly.
“Um, both,” he said and swallowed hard. He knitted his eyebrows together and looked back at me.
“Oh,” I said and shrugged. “So, you were just going to leave me wondering?”
“It’s only been a couple of weeks,” he muttered.
“Wow,” I scoffed. “Well, I can see how much you like me. It may only be a couple of weeks to you, but it felt like an eternity to me. I didn’t know if I did something wrong or what. I still don’t get it, and knowing you, I doubt you’re going to elaborate.”
“I needed time to think,” he said. His gaze fell to the floor.
“Great. Are you about done? I have a three-year-old at home who has been asking me when we’re going to see Hayden again. God, why would you let her get attached to you like that if you were just going to play games with me? Forget about what it does to me. Think about what it does to her. She adores you,” I said. I shook my head and gritted my teeth. I didn’t want to make him stay with me out of guilt. I walked past him to the door.
“Abby, stop. It’s not like that,” Hayden said. He grabbed my arm and forced me to face him.
I ripped my arm from him. “No, I’ll tell you what it’s not like,” I sneered. “It’s not like I’m the only one getting hurt. It’s too bad you didn’t do your thinking a lot sooner.” I threw the door open and slammed it shut behind me. No part of me wanted to listen to his excuses.
I pulled into the driveway and stared at the garage door for several minutes. I needed to be sure that I wasn’t going to fall apart in front of Stormy. Get it together—I chanted to myself. I thought things between us were great, but I thought wrong. We spent so much time together, and it seemed to be for nothing. I couldn’t keep up with his mood swings anymore.
Stormy sat on the couch by my mom. Stormy looked up at me warily. “Are you okay, Mommy?”
“I’m good, baby,” I said and forced a smile. “Mom, will you put her to bed? I’m really tired.”
“Yes,” Mom murmured. Stormy might have bought the fake smile on my face, but my mom knew better.
I went upstairs and crawled into my bed. I finally let it all hit me. Mom always told me to be tough and not let boys know you’re hurting, but did she know what this felt like? It felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest and torn to pieces—a piece of garbage that he needed to dispose of. Mom warned me months ago that messing around with Hayden Crowley was like messing with fire. She swore that he would burn me. How could I avoid that fire when it burned inside of me every time that he got near me? Jason froze my heart. Hayden thawed it and cut it into pieces. There wasn’t any way to repair it this time. There wasn’t anything left to be fixed.
The man stood across from me and smiled. He didn’t understand how broken I was. Maybe because I hid it well, or maybe he was just oblivious. Maybe if he knew, he wouldn’t flirt with me the way he did. I handed him the change. “Have a nice night,” I said.
“Have a good night, sweetheart.” He took the coffee and walked out the door. There wasn’t anything wrong with the charming man. It was me. There were many things wrong with me, and one of the things wrong with me came up behind me.
“It’s time to close,” he said.
I turned around. Hayden stood closer to me than I expected—considering he kept his distance the entire week he had been back to work. My chest rose and fell heavily. “Then why don’t you go flip the sign.” The words came out breathless and barely audible.
Hayden’s eyes swept over me, which made the muscles in my body go rigid.
If he keeps looking at me like that, I’m going to have to find a new job.
He spun around and went over to the door. I breathed a sigh of relief. He locked the door and turned the sign. I grabbed a rag and started cleaning the counter. Hayden rested his head against the glass door and shook it back and forth.
I stared at him, confused. “Are you okay?” A mixture of confusion and irritation colored my tone. Why should I care? I’m not the one playing games.
Hayden didn’t answer me, and he didn’t move.
To hell with him. I rolled my eyes and turned away from him to wipe down the other counter.
Hayden’s hands grabbed my hips. He spun me around, took the rag from my hand, and threw it behind him.
My eyes widened in shock. “Hayden, what the fuck are you doing?”
He gripped my hips, lifted me, and sat me down on the counter. He fisted my hair with one hand and captured my lips with his.
Pushing him away wasn’t an option. Pushing him away would be the smart thing to do, but I never claimed to be intelligent. Most girls ran from guys like Hayden, yet I ran toward him every chance I had. Apparently, I liked bad boys. For weeks he ignored me, and he admitted to doing so. Yet, here I am, letting him devour my lips, giving him whatever he wants as if it never happened. I must be crazy—Truthfully, it was the only rational explanation for what I allowed him to do to me. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my body against his. Our hearts hammered in the same unsteady rhythm.
Our breathing grew erratic. Hayden’s tongue slipped into my mouth. He groaned in pleasure and shivered. A faint taste of nicotine and peppermint lingered on his tongue. The cologne he wore enveloped me. Hayden could have stripped me where I sat, and I wouldn’t have argued even though he hurt my daughter and me. He drove a wedge between us, but every time he changed his mind like this, I gave into him like it never happened at all.
I moaned into his mouth. One of my hands fell to his chest and slid down to the hem of his shirt. I slipped my hand beneath his shirt.
Hayden broke the kiss suddenly and stumbled back.
My face turned into a pout, but I quickly fixed my expression. My gaze fell to the floor.
“Damn it,” Hayden hissed. The look in his eyes reminded me of someone trying to quit a heavy drug and failing. He spun away from me and stormed into the back room.
I stared after him, confused. What the hell just happened? I was still on cloud nine, an indescribable high.
Hayden didn’t come out of the backroom for a long time. When he did, he avoided me. We cleaned up everything in silence.
We slipped out the back door after everything was finished.
I turned for my car.
“Abby,” Hayden said.
I stopped and took a deep breath before I turned to face him. Facing him wasn’t an easy task after everything that happened. We weren’t the same as we had been months earlier. His eyes were torn and sad. I almost felt bad for him until I remembered that I wasn’t the one playing games.
“What?” I said through clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to lose it. . .I just—” Hayden stopped and grimaced. “It’s hard to explain.”
“Everything is hard for you to explain. What else is new?” I said and shrugged. “Just leave me the hell alone.” I turned halfway, but his voice stopped me again.
“Wait,” he pleaded. “Can we talk?”
I scoffed. “Oh. Now you’re ready to talk? What in the hell makes you think that I want you to talk to me anymore? You’ve done enough.” I spun around and stalked off to my car. When he was kissing me, I lost track of myself, but when he wasn’t kissing me, I was angrier than hell at him.
Before I could climb into my car, his hands grabbed me. He forced me to spin around. His body pinned me against my car door. “Please,” he murmured. Desperation clouded his eyes.
“No,” I uttered.
“If you want nothing to do with me, why did you kiss me?”
“Oh, oh, now you wait just a damn minute. You kissed me,” I said. I poked him in the chest with my finger.
“You kissed me back,” he retorted and rolled his eyes.
I gritted my teeth. Anger pulsed through me. My fist clenched up. “Fine. I kissed you back, but after everything you put me through the last three weeks, I don’t want to hear what you have to say. What about all the stuff I had to say? You didn’t care. So, tell me why I should care what you have to say?” I shoved him away from me and got into my car.
I sped away from him, but I looked up in my rearview mirror for a second. Hayden stared at the ground with his hands in his pockets. He looked how I felt—broken. I almost turned around.