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Dray (Custom Culture #3)
Tess Oliver

Chapter 1

Dray

Growing up my dad had a saying that sometimes bad luck could trickle into your life like an annoying leaky faucet and sometimes it could pour in like a river of shit. Dad dealt with life’s blows by taking it out on me, with his fist and his belt. And, because of him, my life had basically been one long flood of shit. But, deep down, I’d always hoped that the steady stream of crap that always turned my life upside down would eventually dry up. It had been that way for awhile when I’d finally allowed myself to love Cassie, but then, as usual, I’d managed to bust a hole in the dam. And, once again, the shit flowed, and, once again, I waited for something to stop it.

A loud knock rattled the door. I squinted into the semi-darkness. The unfamiliar furniture and pictures came slowly into focus. Sunlight slipped between the slats of the bamboo shades covering the windows. The girl next to me stirred but then dozed back off. It was the same confusing scenario I’d woken up to far too often in the past few months, an unfamiliar room, a strange bed and a girl whose name I couldn’t quite remember.

“Sandy!” a deep voice bellowed from the front stoop. The yell was followed by a pounding knock that nearly pushed the front door off its hinges. It was as loud as thunder, but the girl next to me had hardly flinched.

“Are you Sandy?” I asked.

She lifted her head as if it weighed a hundred pounds and peered up at me through a tangle of long brown hair. “I’m Hailey.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

She dropped her head back on the pillow. “That’s all right. I don’t know your name either except that it rhymes with gray or something.”

“Dray.”

“Right,” she mumbled against the pillow.

“Sandy!” This time the wall moved with the door as the angry man outside rammed his fist against it.

“He sounds really big.”

With a sigh, she rolled onto her back and pulled the sheet up over her naked body. “That’s Cliff. His nickname is Bigfoot.”

I slid out of bed and searched in the dim light for my jeans. “Who’s Sandy?” I asked as I buttoned up my pants and grabbed my shoes and shirt.

Her thin arm came up and she pointed toward the bedroom. “I think she’s in there with your friend.”

The night was coming back to me in a blur. Shoes and shirt in hand, I pushed open the bedroom door. A girl’s head poked out from the bottom of the sheet. Barrett was on his stomach stretched out across the mattress with his big feet hanging off the side. Another girl lay across his bare back.

“Rett, we’ve got to get out of here. Some guy is out there looking for Sandy, and I don’t think he came with donuts and coffee.” Barrett winced as if he was in pain as he opened his bloodshot eyes. The girl who’d been stretched out across his back moaned softly and rolled off.

Barrett glanced back at her. “I thought your name was Teresa.”

“It is.”

I pointed to the head of auburn hair sticking out from the end of the bed. “I think this is Sandy.”

The giant fist pounded the door again and Barrett sat up.

“Shit, Cliff, you’re such a jerk,” a small voice came from the other side of the bed. A head with red hair popped up from the sheets.

Even Barrett seemed surprised to see her.

I shook my head at him. “Shit, Rett, you’re not just the man, you’re a fucking legend.”

Barrett glanced around at the girl strewn mattress. “There were three of you? I remember you,” he pointed to the girl next to him and smiled. He lifted his face and looked down toward the end of the bed. “And I remember you, but . . .” then his smile widened. “Oh yeah, I just remembered.”

The pounding on the door increased in intensity. “Dude, relive the memories later. The guy outside goes by the nickname Bigfoot.” I went to the window and slid it open. “Pull on your pants. After last night, I’m not in the mood to pound in some guy’s face.”

Barrett lowered his feet to the floor and grabbed his pants. The girl at the end of the bed jumped up behind him and threw her arms around his neck. “Don’t leave, Sweetie.”

“I’ve overstayed my welcome.” Barrett stood and pulled on his pants and then leaned down to kiss her.

I shoved the screen out of the window and climbed through. Barrett followed. We raced around the back and ran along the beach toward our house. It was early enough that the sand was still cold and seagulls were the only signs of life.

Scotlyn and Taylor were cradling coffee cups in their hands as they sat at the wobbly picnic table in the postage stamp sized yard. Scotlyn’s blue eyes sparkled with humor as we stepped over the stones leading to the yard. Taylor looked back over her shoulder to see what had caught Scotlyn’s attention.

She laughed. “Ah yes, it’s the all-too-familiar shoes and shirt in hand walk of shame.”

“I don’t know, Taylor, there doesn’t seem to be any shame in their expressions. Did you run before the girls woke up or were you being chased by an angry boyfriend?”

I walked over and reached for a donut. “Something like that. Is Nix still sleeping?”

Taylor grabbed the chocolate donut out from under my fingers and winked at me. “Nix and Clutch are out in the water. You two hussies are missing some good waves this morning. You should suit up.”

Barrett waved off the suggestion. “I’m going back to bed. Didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

“I’ll bet.” I sat on the bench and pointed at the glazed donut for permission. Taylor nodded and I grabbed it off the plate. Scotlyn watched me with an unusual amount of interest.

It didn’t stop me from downing the donut in two bites. “Worked up an appetite last night.” I had to work to keep donut bits in my mouth.

A cool breeze floated up from the shore, and Scotlyn pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head. “Please, spare us the details.” She stared down at her coffee, but it was obvious she had something to say. She’d been without her voice for many years following the death of her entire family in a car accident, and sometimes it seemed that words stuck in her throat.

“What’s up, Scottie? You’re twisting those perfect lips in a tangle to keep from saying something.”

“I’m not twisting anything, Dray.” She ran her finger around the brim of her cup. “You know she’s been back in town for a month. I just think you should talk—”

I managed to snag another donut as I stood from the bench. “See, I knew you had something floating around in that pretty head of yours. She left me, Scottie. End of story.”

“Only because you were being an asshole.” Taylor always added fun to any conversation with her bluntness.

The sun’s harsh glare reflected off the water where Clutch and Nix sat perched on their boards. I looked back down at Taylor. “Are you saying that Clutch has never been an asshole to you?”

“Of course he has.”

“But you never left him.”

Scotlyn looked up at me. “She didn’t leave you. She went off to follow her dream. Her pictures have been in a lot of newspapers and magazines.”

“Right. She went off to follow her dream, and obviously I wasn’t part of that dream.”

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