Three messages so close together indicated the issue was serious. Was Will in trouble again? Of course he was. How many times had he promised he would not be so impulsive?
They were almost back to campus when Jordan said, "Has it always been like that? You know . . . the screaming and the anger?"
"Pretty much," she answered. She quickly changed the subject, letting Jordan know she didn’t want to discuss her dysfunctional relatives. "What are you going to do about dinner? Your brother knows you can’t cook, doesn’t he?"
"I’ve gotten better," Jordan protested.
"So . . . carryout?"
Jordan nodded. "I’m thinking Chinese."
Allison paced around the living room. She didn’t want to go out tonight, not after the conversation she’d had with her aunt. It seemed that her aunt and uncle had gone over the numbers and were convinced there was a missing payment from Giovanni. The amount was substantial, and they believed Allison had either spent the money or misplaced it. She’d heard that she was ungrateful a good five times during the call, and after her aunt finally wound down and her uncle stopped shouting into the phone, Allison calmly explained that Giovanni hadn’t issued the check yet. The payment would come at the end of the month, just like all the others.
There wasn’t an apology. Just a brisk "All right, then," before the call ended. Allison felt drained. She wanted to scream just to get rid of her anger and her frustration. Honest to God, she understood why Will acted out. They didn’t yell at him, but being the focus of their constant attention was worse than being ignored. When Allison put her headphones on and immersed herself in her cyber world, she could escape the fighting. Will couldn’t.
It was after her uncle lost his job that the fighting had become intense. Financially, they had been in good shape. They owned their house. There were some savings, and her uncle also received a pension. Then Will began to drain all their funds. Getting into trouble with the law was expensive.
Her feelings for her cousin were convoluted. She was angry with him most of the time, but she also had great empathy for him. Her feelings for her aunt and uncle were even more confusing. She knew she was supposed to appreciate what they had done for her, yet she couldn’t stand to be around them and made every effort to stay away as much as possible. Since she had moved out, she had been back very few times, and each time she did return, she took something that belonged to her. Piece by piece she stripped her bedroom until everything she owned or cared about was now in the house she shared with her two friends. It had become a calm refuge for her, but soon she would be leaving it. Graduation was coming up, and she had plans. She was going to move to California. Just thinking about her future after graduation lifted her spirits.
Usually, as soon as she finished a stressful phone call from her aunt, she would find an hour or two to go to the gym and work out. Running on the treadmill helped her clear her mind. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time tonight. It was already half past six, and Liam Scott was going to be at her door at seven. He’d probably be prompt, too.
She wasn’t going to get dressed up for him. She changed into her favorite comfortable jeans, a long navy blue wool sweater, and flats. She glanced in the mirror. Her hair needed a trim, she decided. It was well past her shoulders. She swept it away from her face with a hair clip. Since she had a few extra minutes and because she looked pale and stressed out, she put on a little blush.
Her mind wandered back to the cyber center. Why hadn’t Liam told her what he wanted then? Why drag it out? Was it his intention to rattle her? If so, it worked. The fact that Phillips had offered her a job meant that she was in the clear, right? But what else was in her file? Liam Scott had looked at her as though he knew all her secrets. What if he was just waiting to charge her? Waiting until he could gather more evidence? Maybe he was using this evening with Jordan as a ploy to catch her when her guard was down? God, she was nervous. Let this be a lesson, she thought. She never wanted to forget this sick feeling in her stomach. She had, in fact, broken the law too many times to count, and even though her transgressions were, in her opinion, perfectly innocent, her motives wouldn’t matter in court. She vowed she would never do anything illegal again for the rest of her life.
Her anxiety was getting out of control. By the time Liam pulled up to the curb, she was picturing herself in orange prison garb. She knew she was overreacting . . . yet what if she wasn’t? She wanted to lash out at him for putting her through this agony but decided she would be a perfectly composed lady instead. Cold as ice, but still a lady.