Ava recognized the sound of Liam’s car engine pulling up out front of the house. She pulled the curtain to the side and peered into the darkness, making out his silhouette as he approached the house.
Shit, shit, shit.
She was equal parts excited and scared to see him. After calling in sick for the second night at work, she thought she’d bought herself enough time to get her head straight. But here he was, knocking on her door at nearly 11 p.m.
Ava paced around her tiny bedroom as she listened to Dave answer the door.
Liam’s muffled voice traveled down the hall and through the open window. “Hey man, I’m looking for Ava.”
She pulled on her ponytail. With long steps, she covered the distance of the room in only a few strides, turned, and walked back. What do I do? Should I?
Ava cracked open the bedroom door so she could hear. The TV in the living room went quiet and she knew her sister was listening as well.
“Yeah, I don’t think she wants to see you,” Dave replied harshly.
“Doesn’t want…” Liam stammered. “Listen man, I just wanted to check up on her. Dee said she was sick so…”
“We’re her family, we’re taking care of her, man.”
“Hey now, if I’ve done something…”
Ava couldn’t listen anymore. She grabbed a sweater from the chair beside the door and stormed into the hallway. Both men turned to look at her. Dave had his hand on the door, physically blocking Liam’s entrance. He glared at her like a father and she half expected him to send her back to bed.
Liam though… his face lit up when their eyes met. His broad, crooked smile with the dimple on the side. When he looked at her, she felt like she was the only person in the whole world.
“Ava, I was just telling him you’re fine but that you…”
“Thanks Dave,” she said as she ducked under his arm. “Want to get out of here?”
“I really don’t think that’s…” Dave started.
Ava rounded on him as she slipped her arms into the sweater. “I don’t think it’s any of your business,” she snapped. She grabbed Liam’s hand and led the way back to his idling car. It was only after she’d slipped into the passenger seat and watched Liam cross the headlights did she question whether or not she should be with him.
The car rocked as he got in. “Hey,” he said as he leaned in to kiss her. Ava turned her cheek at the last second with a nervous laugh.
“Don’t want to get you sick.”
“Right.” He looked at her sideways for a moment. “There’s a race on if you want to go watch from the water tower.”
“No!” Liam frowned at her odd outburst, so she quickly covered. “Why don’t you take me to your shop? Show me that car you’ve been working on.”
“That’s a great idea!” Whatever suspicions he had were wiped clear at the suggestion.
Ava was quiet and stiff most of the ride. When they passed the bar on the highway, she couldn’t believe how busy it was. “Damnit, I feel horrible leaving Dee like that.”
“It’s all right,” he said as he patted her thigh. “Sarah jumped behind the bar and Len was even working, if you can believe it.”
Liam shrugged with one shoulder as he hung his arm out of the window. “When it comes to money, there isn’t much Len wouldn’t do.”
They drove through into the small, sleepy town. As one of the only cars on the road, Liam rolled through a couple stop signs and pulled up to a locked gated fence. He jumped out and unlocked the gate, pulled the car through, and shut it behind them. A handful of tow trucks were parked in the dark lot.
Lacing his fingers with hers, he led her into the garage. He flipped on the overhead lights, the fluorescents humming as they warmed up.
“So this is where I work,” he said as she looked around. “For now, at least.”
“You don’t like it here?” Ava stayed a few steps ahead of him, wandering around the shop.
“It’s just not part of the plan,” he replied cryptically.
“Not many things are,” Ava replied. She gracefully stepped around a waist-high tool box and ran her hand along the hydraulic lift control panel.
“And sometimes that’s a good thing.” Their eyes met as he spoke, broken when Ava looked away. “Will you hold up a second? I feel like I’m chasing you.” He lunged forward to catch her hand. She didn’t mean to, but with her nerves on high alert, she jumped at the sudden movement. He frowned and pulled her hand to his chest. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good,” she squeaked. On the ride over, she’d resolved not to come right out and confront him about the rumors. She didn’t want to ignore Dave’s warning but at the same time, she was afraid to trust her own instincts. It was an infuriating position to be in. Every time she thought she was getting a handle on living in this world, something would come along and knock her confidence. All her resolve couldn’t prepare her for his touch.
He dipped his head, a long piece of hair falling from behind his ear. “Are you sure? If it’s about the other day, you can…” he said as he stepped closer.
“No! No, I’m… what did you want to show me?” she said as she practically jumped away. She could tell he suspected something was wrong, but she did her best to play her behavior off like nerves.
“She isn’t much to look at right now,” he said as he led Ava to the far end of the shop flicking lights on along as they walked. “I kind of like her like that, though. Makes her unsuspecting.” They stood on either side of a covered car. He started to pull the sheet off and paused. “You promise not to laugh?”
“Of course,” Ava replied. Her interest was piqued.
He yanked the sheet off with one swift pull to reveal a dented, rusted body. He wasn’t kidding. The car was really rough around the edges but he looked at it like it was the most beautiful thing in the world. “It was an ‘85 Camero IROC.”
“Was?” she asked. She ran her fingers along the rough edges of the car.
He stepped back and admired his work. “I’ve done so much work on this beauty I don’t think it’s right to call her a Camero anymore.”
“When will you be finished?”
“Don’t know really. The closer I get, the more work Len throws on me.”
Ava stopped dead in her tracks. “Len? As in…”
“Yeah, he owns the place. I thought you knew that.”
Ava shook her head. “There are a lot of things I don’t know, apparently.” A few beats of silence pulsed between them before she added. “So, you want to get back into racing?” she asked watching his reaction from the corner of her eye.
“It’s one of the only things I’ve ever loved.” The way he said it sounded so forlorn.
She almost didn’t continue, but couldn’t help it. “Even after everything that happened?”
“Ah.” Liam crossed his arms and Ava stopped moving. It was like all the air in the room had been sucked out with that one tiny word. He looked at her for a heartbeat before having to look away. He sucked on his teeth, chewed the inside of his cheek, and nodded like it all made sense. “Dave, right? Shit,” he said shaking his head.
“Is it true?” Ava whispered.
“I suppose it depends on which rumor he told you. Which one was it?” Liam’s eyes were dark and focused.
“It’s… nevermind, I’m sorry,” Ava tried to brush past it.
“No, really. I want to know which one is going around now.” He barked a harsh laugh and cocked his head to the side. “In such a little town, it’s amazing how long an old rumor can bounce around and change. What did he tell you?”
Ava shook her head. She didn’t think she needed to be afraid of him, but the intensity in his gaze was starting to scare her. She wished she’d never brought it up. “He just said to be careful around you is all.”
“I’m sure he did. But what else did he tell you?”
He slammed his hand down on the hood of the car. His voice was calm in comparison to the outburst. “What did he say?”
Ava thought she should be scared but the moment he snapped, her temper broke as well. “That you killed your friend. That he was sleeping with Sarah behind your back and you fucked with his car.”
Liam didn’t even flinch. That rumor was a familiar weapon and not the sharpest he’d been cut with. “And you believed him?”
“Well, is it true?”
“Do you think it’s true?”
Ava chewed on her words. Her instincts told her he wasn’t capable of doing anything like what Dave had accused. On the other hand, she realized she wasn’t exactly the most worldly person. It’s probably pretty damn easy to pull the wool over my eyes. “I don’t know what to believe. If it weren’t for that night at Sarah’s, probably not. But the fact you won’t tell me anything about what you were looking for, the fact you hid this from me in the first place.”
Liam laughed darkly. “Me hiding stuff? You’re kidding, right? I don’t know the first thing about you!” He laughed again, this time tinted with a touch of sadness. “I thought that was a sign we might have a chance together. You were new to town and hadn’t heard anything. I figured I had half a chance before you shut me down completely.”
She went on the defensive out of instinct. “I’ve never lied to you.”
“I haven’t lied to you, either.”
“Just hid the truth,” she shot back.
“Ha! That’s fucking hilarious.” He rounded the corner of the car and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Where did you and your sister grow up?”
Ava shook her head. “This isn’t about me.”
“When I say you aren’t like other girls, I mean it in more ways than one. It’s like you were dropped here from another planet. The things you don’t know, the things you do…”
Ava stepped backwards, wrapping her arms around her waist. “I told you…”
“What? You haven’t told me anything but half-truths from the moment we met!”
“I didn’t kill anyone!” she screamed.
“Neither have I!”
They stared at each other. The veil was slightly pulled to the side but neither of them had the strength to pull it down completely.
Liam dropped his gaze and shook his head. “You know the thing that disappoints me the most? I thought that even if our past didn’t match, our future might.”
Ava didn’t trust herself around him. The hurt in his voice was enough to break her heart, a heart she desperately needed to protect. “I want to go home.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“Take me home.”
They didn’t share one look, one word, but for four Liam said so quietly she wasn’t meant to hear them. “I didn’t kill him.”
Ava jumped from the car before he came to a complete stop. She flew into the house, locked the door, and listened for his engine to fade in the distance. Before going to bed, she went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Dave had left a piece of paper on the table, a single news story printed from the closest newspaper. She only read the headline and first couple sentences before tears blurred the words.
Local Teen Dies in Fiery Crash
Highway 45 in Jefferson township was closed late Friday night due to a fatal collision that stretched both lanes. Paul Fairchild, 19, was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses say Fairchild was involved in illegal racing…
Ava flung the paper away and stomped down the hall to her room, no longer caring if Dave and Audrey were awake. She climbed into bed with her clothes on, buried her head under the pillow, and cried herself to sleep.