Alex, Approximately: Chapter 16

“Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature.”

—Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein (1974)

We load Baby in the back of Porter’s van. Except for the seat lock being popped, she seems to be in one piece. We found my helmet and all my stuff scattered behind the seat of Davy’s truck. We also found my scooter lock hanging off his tailgate; he’d removed it with industrial bolt cutters.

Turns out that one of the two people sitting with Davy when we first walked into the garage was a friend of Davy’s. Seeing how he was planning on helping Davy sell my scooter, I didn’t say anything to the guy, but Porter told him to drive Davy to the hospital. When they left, Davy could walk—barely—but he was going to need X-rays. And probably some pain medication, which was just lovely, considering what I now know about Davy’s history with drugs.

But after all that, Davy didn’t say one word to me. He wouldn’t even look me in the eye or acknowledge I was in the same room. Truth was, I couldn’t really face him, either. It was humiliating for both of us, I guess. And I’m pretty much in such a state of shock over the whole fight that I can barely speak.

When we’re ready to leave, Porter thanks Fast Mike, who advises me on a better-quality scooter lock. Turns out that his motorcycle garage isn’t a chop shop at all; he was seconds away from kicking Davy out before he got the phone call about Porter looking for my Vespa. So once again, my assumptions and I are completely off the mark. He says to Porter, “Tell your mama next time she wants to sell a bike like that, to come to me first. I’ll give her a good deal.”

“You got it,” Porter says, “We owe you big-time. You know anyone that needs a board, come by the shop.”

Fast Mike gives us a wave. We race through the rain and hop inside the van, and then we drive away. The windows are all fogging up, and I’m trying to help, looking for the switch to turn on the defrost, but my hands are shaking. I’m still freaked out. I can’t calm down. “The black button,” Porter says, and I finally find it. I turn the fan all the way up and try to concentrate on making the windshield clear instead of the fact that he’s still bleeding. It works until we come to the end of the dirt road.

“I think we should go see a doctor.”

“It’s fine.”

“You’re being ridiculous. Pull over at the first store you see and I’ll get something to clean your wound.”

He cranes his neck and appraises the damage in the rearview mirror. Yep. Listen to the smart person in the vehicle. Instead of turning right on the paved road to head back home, he turns left. Should he even be driving? Davy did punch him in the head a few times. Or maybe he knows something I don’t. Now the road is going uphill. We’re winding up some coastal cliffs, and the rain’s coming down. And I see a sign that says SCENIC OVERLOOK. He slows the van and turns into one of those pull-over areas for tourists to park. It’s got a couple of Monterey cypress trees and a redwood sign with a carving of the central coast of California and all the points of interest marked. It’s also got a jaw-dropping view of the Pacific, which we might enjoy if it weren’t overcast and drizzling, and he weren’t bleeding all over the seat.

“This doesn’t look like a store to me,” I say anxiously when he opens up his door.

“We don’t need no stinking store,” he says in a way that almost reminds me of a line from a Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles. I never liked that one as much as Brooks’s other comedy classic Young Frankenstein, which I’ve watched online with Alex a couple of times. But it makes me a little guilty to think about that when I’m here with Porter.

Porter the animal. I’m still rattled over the insane amount of raw violence I just witnessed. And I’m not sure how I feel about it.

He jumps out, groaning, and heads around the van to a sliding side door, where he retrieves a small box. Then he comes back and slips back into the front seat and opens the treasure he’s collected: a plastic first-aid kit covered in stickers.

“Surfers always carry supplies,” he explains, rooting around the box with one finger. “We get banged up all the time.”

After several seconds of watching him struggle, I realize his other hand is too busted up to use, and pity overrides whatever lingering shock I’m still experiencing. I snatch the kit away from him. “Let me see that. You can’t nurse yourself, dummy.”

“Oh, good. I did all this as an excuse for you to put your hands on me.”

“Not funny.”

“A little funny.”

I find some alcohol swabs and a bunch of butterfly bandages, along with a couple of condoms, which I try not to think about too hard. “You scared the bejesus out of me. Look, here’s a packet of Tylenol. It’s been expired for a few months, but better than nothing. You have something to drink it with?”

“You need to work on your bedside manner, Nurse Bailey,” he says, groaning as he leans to pick up a half-empty bottle of water wedged in the seat. He pretends to be irritated with me when I pretend to be mad at him as I hand him the pills. He swallows them and grunts.

I kneel on the seat and tear open a swab. The sharp scent of alcohol fills the van. We both make faces. He swings his door open, and the fresh air feels good. The sound of waves crashing against the rocks below is calming. Sort of.

Too chicken to start on his face, I tentatively pull back the collar of his shirt and swipe the cool swab over the dried blood on his neck. He shudders. “Cold.”

“Sorry,” I murmur. I make quick work of the trail of blood, but it’s harder when I get to all his scruff. I unfold the swab, rearrange the first-aid kit in my lap, and get serious about cleaning him up. If I focus on this, then my mind will stop jumping back to frightening images of him ripping Davy apart like a wild beast. He leans his head back against the seat and closes his eyes.



“Remember that time you saw Davy talking to me outside the vintage clothing store on the boardwalk?”


“He didn’t know I was listening, but I saw him come in the store and ask the girl at the counter, Julie, to help him out because he was going down to Monterey and needed something.”

Porter’s eyes fly open. “What? That’s not what he told me.”

“He was lying. And when he was talking to her inside the store, she said, ‘I thought you were chipping.’ And he told her that he was, but he just needed something for today, and that he promised it was only once, and she said she’d try to help him.”

“I knew it.” Porter hits the steering wheel.

I put a hand on his arm. He’s going to reopen the gash on his cheek if he’s not careful, and I haven’t even gotten to clean it yet. “What’s chipping?”

“He’s such an embarrassment.”

“Yeah, get that. Just tell me. Girl with the alcohol, remember? If you don’t tell me, I will make you burn.”

A sigh gusts out of his chest as he sinks into the seat, lazily propping one knee against the dash between us, making my knees press against his leg. I absently wonder if he did that on purpose—he’s always closer than I’m comfortable being—but he’s baring his cheek for me now, so I get back to work while he talks.

“Davy jacked up his leg surfing somewhere he shouldn’t have been surfing three years ago. He wasn’t watching the weather, and he took a risk. He had two surgeries. When the oxycodone prescriptions ran out, he started buying it from a kid at school. And when that ran out, he started looking for anything else—vodka, coke . . . but nothing kills the pain quite like opiates. And what’s a better opiate than heroin?”

My hand stills. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

“It’s surfing’s dirty little secret.”

“Like, shooting up?”

“As far as I know, he smokes it, but I’m not really around when he’s doing it. I’m just going by what I’ve heard, and I’ve never seen any needle marks. That really, really stings, Bailey.”

“I’m sorry. You probably need stitches. It’s bleeding a little again.” I push his hair back and see a nasty bump on his temple. He’s lucky that chair didn’t smash any bones in his face. I’m not entirely convinced it didn’t, actually.

He winces. “Keep cleaning it, just be kind. Anyway, ‘chipping’ is something people do when they think they can outsmart heroin. They do just enough to get high for a weekend, or whatever, but don’t allow themselves to have any more until the next weekend—cold turkey all week, so they don’t go through withdrawals. If they aren’t addicted, they’re in charge, right?”

“That doesn’t sound like it would work so well,” I say.

“It doesn’t. Because there’s always that one holiday weekend that turns into three days, or they’re having a bad week and need to blow off steam on a Wednesday. And before they know it, they’re backsliding, and their conservative plan is busted. They’re lying to themselves, thinking that they’ve got it under control. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman. People say that’s what killed him.”

I’m stunned. I know Wanda said Davy was into serious narcotics, but heroin? That sounds like something out of a movie. It doesn’t happen in real life. Not to people my age, anyway. “Does this hurt?” I ask, lightly dabbing antibiotic ointment on his wound. It looks like a crevice in a dry desert, red and angry, cracked open.

“Nothing hurts when you’re touching me,” he says in a faraway voice.

I have to stop myself from smiling because I’m afraid he might open his eyes and catch me. And I don’t want his eyes open, because I can look at him up close now. The sharp lift of his cheekbones. The way his wild curls, damp with misty rain, are honey where the sun has burnished them, darker beneath. The gentle upturn of the outer corners of his eyes, and the prominent jut of his nose.

“Is he going to be okay?” I ask.

“Davy? I really don’t know,” Porter says, sucking in a hard breath as I fix a butterfly bandage to his cut. Three should do it, and that’s all we have, so I guess it will have to. “I’m less worried about him right now, and more worried that you’re sorry you ever gave me your number and will never go out on a date with me, because now you’re thinking all my friends are trash and we really have nothing in common.”

“Is that so?” I peel off the paper backing for the second butterfly bandage. “And why do you even like me if we have nothing in common?”

“Well, you’re a knockout, obviously.”

No one’s ever called me this. I feel my chest getting fluttery and warm.

“And you laugh at my jokes.”

A laugh bursts out—I can’t help it. That’s . . . so very Porter. It’s self-absorbed and kind of endearing at the same time.

“Don’t get me wrong, you’re pretty witty yourself,” he adds, cracking one eye open.

“Oh, am I? That’s awfully generous of you.”

He gives me a sheepish smile, chuckling, and shoves at my hands, because I’m playfully slapping him on the shoulder. “You’re welcome. And, and—listen, now! Oww! I’m injured. Stop laughing, damn you, and listen to me. You have to admit, if you think about it, we get along really, really well when we’re not fighting.”

Is he right? Do we?

I think we just might.

Porter makes a growling noise. “See, but that’s the other thing. I talk too much when I’m around you. You make me feel way too comfortable, and that drives me bananas.”

I laugh one final time and blow my hair out of my eyes. “You drive me bananas too.”

There it is, that stupid, sexy smile of his. He reaches for my hand and stops halfway, groaning. “That is not a good way to move my arm.”

Now I’m concerned again. I ball up the bandage papers and close the first-aid kit. “Davy didn’t injure any anything serious, did he? Ribs?”

“If you want me to take my shirt off, all you have to do is ask, Rydell.”

“I’m serious.”

He sighs. “I don’t think so, but I’m not gonna lie—starting to feel a little achy-breaky in the riblet region. Think I’d better take a peek, so you might want to look away if you’re sensitive to dynamite male bodies. I don’t want you swooning at the sight of raw surfer.”

“Lord knows I’ve been forced to stare at Davy’s naked chest a hundred times, so I’m pretty sure I can handle yours. Come on, let’s see the damage.”

But as he unbuttons his Cave guard shirt, it’s the least sexy thing in the world, because all I’m preoccupied with is how I’m going to drive this van if he’s got a broken rib. And it only gets worse when his shirttails flap open.

If I thought Davy was built, I was wrong. Davy is a twig. Porter is a cliff. He’s what happens when people use all their muscles at once to balance on a tiny plank of wet wood on massive, monster waves every day for years. All at once, I’m amazed at the beauty of the human body, ashamed at myself for using mine to do nothing but walk around the block and watch movies on Dad’s couch, and, most of all, I’m completely and wholeheartedly shocked by what Davy has done to him.

When people say black and blue, they mean later, after the bruises have had time to settle. But right now, his torso is mottled with big red welts, some of them slightly bloodied, some of them radiating jagged, crystalline lines of dark pink. It’s a hideous map of bruises to come. The welt across his ribs looks like South America, it’s so big.

His chin is tucked to his sternum as he holds his shirt open and inspects the damage, and I can tell by his groan that even he’s startled. It hits me all at once. I’m freaked out that he’s so hurt and didn’t say anything, and I’m frustrated that he had to resort to testosterone-fueled rage to solve all this. I’m disturbed by all the violence I witnessed. I’m mad that he has a friend like Davy, and I’m still enraged beyond understanding that Davy stole my scooter.

But despite all that . . . look what he did. Look what he did. For me? And he’s sitting here, in pain, falling apart, and all he’s worried about is that I’m sorry I gave him my number and don’t want to go out on a date with him?

It’s just too much. I fall to pieces.

“Hey, hey,” he says, alarmed, sitting up quickly, and then groaning a little. And that only makes me sob harder. He buttons his shirt halfway, covering up some of the evidence. “It’s okay. I’ve had broken bones before. I’m not broken today, promise. I’m just sore.”

“It’s just awful,” I say, choking back tears. “I’m so sorry you had to do that.”

“He had it coming. You don’t know everything he’s done to me. This is just the last straw. Hey, whoa, shush.” His hands stroke over my upper arms.

I calm down. Turn my head and wipe my nose on my shoulder. Brush away tears.

“There.” He swipes a thumb over my cheek, going back over what I’ve missed. Traces the arch of my eyebrows. Chases a flyaway tendril of hair at my temple. “And you know what?” he says in a low, intense voice. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat, because you didn’t deserve what he did to you. I will be your revenge.”

My breath catches, and I am overcome. Before I even know what I’m doing, I lean forward and kiss him.

Not a polite kiss.

Not a gracious kiss.

And he definitely doesn’t kiss me. O-oh, no. I’m the kisser, which is the first time in my life that’s happened—not the kissing, I mean, the initiating. I mean, hello. Evader! Initiating is not my style. But here I am, mouth firmly pressed against his. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m desperate about it and more than a little insistent, and if he doesn’t kiss me back soon . . .

But he does. Je-sus, he does. It’s as if a switch flipped in his brain—by Jove, I think he’s got it! And I nearly start crying again, I’m so relieved, so happy. But then his mouth opens over mine, and a switch flips on in my brain (ding!), and then his tongue rolls against mine, and a switch flips on in my body (ding! ding!), and holymotherofgod that feels good. We’re kissing, and it’s amazing, and his hand is stroking down my back, and chills are racing everywhere, and DEAR GOD HE’S GOOD AT THIS.

A massive shudder goes through me and I freak out a little. My head’s suddenly filled with all the things he’s said about being eighteen and sexual freedom, and there is no doubt in my mind that he’s exercised his rights with other girls—which is fine, whatever. No judgment. It’s just that I have . . . not, and all this super-filthy kissing makes me more than aware of the experience gap between us. Which worries me. And thrills me. And worries me.

(And thrills me.)

Dear God: Save me from myself.

He breaks the kiss—probably because he can sense all the internal freaking out I’m doing. And yeah, sure enough, he says, “Bailey?”

“Yeah?” I say, but now I’m done with the freak-out. Now that I see his face, I can’t stop smiling. Because his eyes are like slits and he looks all dazed and confused, and that’s how I feel: as if my body is a toy top, spinning so fast that I can’t see anything outside the van. All I can see is beautiful banged-up Porter, and all I can feel is this delicious whirling, twirling, buzzing, and I don’t want it to ever stop.

Now Porter’s grinning too, and I’m sure we both look like raving lunatics. Thank goodness we’re sitting in the rain in the middle of nowhere. “Hey,” he says, all raspy and deep. “Am I crazy, or was that the best kiss you’ve ever had?” His smile is acres wide and miles deep.

He knows it is.

“Surprising thing is, it’s the best you’ve ever had too,” I shoot back.

Both brows raise, and then he laughs, eyes closed. “You win. Want to do it again? Maybe it was just a fluke. We should test it out.”

We do. It was no fluke. I’m going to melt right through the car seat. It’s ridiculous. This is how teen pregnancies happen, I’m fairly certain. I finally push him away, and we’re both breathing heavy. “See, told you,” I say. “Best you’ve ever had.”

“Wanna know a secret? I knew if we ever would shut up and stop arguing, it would be. Come here. Don’t get all shy now. I just want to hold you.”

“You’re injured.”

“And you’re soft. No more kissing, I promise. Please, Bailey. Let me hold you, no manhandling. Just for a little while. Until it stops raining. I like the rain.”

He beckons me into the shelter of his arm, and since I’m on the side that didn’t get too beat up, I gently curl against him. He’s warm and solid, and I try to be as weightless and small as possible, try not to cause more pain, but he pulls me against him more firmly, and I give in. He sighs deeply, and we sit like that together, watching the rain fall over the ocean. Not talking. Just us. Just quiet.

But in that quiet, images of his bloody fight with Davy race back. This body that’s holding me right now so protectively . . . it was violently tearing another human being apart. How can he be both things—tender and brutal? Is this what boys are? Or is this what Porter is? He’s so complicated. I swear, the more I learn about him, the less I understand who he really is.

His ferocity unnerved me today, so why did I kiss him?

And why do I trust someone who can shake me up like that?

I think of our heated arguments. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m not exactly an innocent bystander. He provokes me, but do I allow myself to be provoked? Do I want it? And what about my ruthless takedown of that kid who stole the Maltese falcon? Grace keeps teasing me that I’ve got secret strength, and it’s starting to make me think more and more about my stupid therapist back in New Jersey and all his talk about me paying the price for my avoidance techniques. Shake up a bottle of soda long enough, when you take off the top, it’s going to explode.

Am I more afraid of Porter . . . or the person he’s unleashing inside me?


@mink: Hey, sorry we haven’t talked much recently.

@alex: MINK. I’m so glad you messaged me. I’ve been meaning to talk to you. You haven’t made a firm decision about flying out here yet, have you?

@mink: No, why would you ask that?

@alex: God, it took you so long to reply, for a second I thought I’d lost you there. Anyway, that’s actually a good thing. Things are crazy at work for me right now. So before you get your dad to buy a plane ticket, just check with me beforehand, okay? Since it’s so busy here.

@mink: Yeah, okay. I’ve been busy too, actually.

@alex: Then you understand. So just let me know? In case my situation changes?

@mink: Okay. Sure. You know I never rush into anything.


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