Giving me the Runner meant Bax was working on building his own new car. He had commandeered the Hemi ’Cuda Gus had left him and was working overtime on building it into a black-on-black, chrome-dipped monster of engine and steel. It was twice as loud as the Runner, looked twice as mean, and I knew the motor in it was nowhere near street legal. It was a car that screamed “Bax,” but it was also a project that he was using to honor his mentor’s memory and legacy.
We had talked briefly about Gus passing away, but as with everything that happened in the Point, Bax just took a deep breath, let it out, and moved on. I knew he missed the old mechanic, knew he was hurt by the loss, but on the streets, living this life, there was no time for grief, so I cried for both of us and let him hold me until it passed.
I was walking back into the house when my cell rang. We still used disposable phones, still paid for everything in cash, so even though we had a house in the burbs, safe at the end of the Hill, we were still living like we had our backs to the wall and things could go bad any second. I didn’t know if it was always going to be that way. I liked to think after some time things would settle down, some of Bax’s edge would dull, but I loved the man for who he was, so if pins and needles were what it took to be with him forever, then I was signed on to suffer.
I looked at the number because I didn’t recognize it or the older woman’s voice on the other end. “Yes?”
“My name is Maggie Dawes and I’m the managing partner of the Kids’ Crossing housing project where you work. I’m one of the liaisons for Social Services.”
My stomach dropped. I was thinking she knew about my ties to Bax, about what my brother was up to, and was going to fire me. I sucked in a deep breath and let it out between my teeth.
“Sure, what can I do for you?”
“Well, we just had a full-time position open up. We need someone to be an advocate between the kids and the workers coming in from the city. The group home where you work so far has had one of the highest success rates of placing troubled kids with appropriate families. According to your directors, all of the kids’ success can be directly related back to you. The kids trust you, they are honest with you, and as a result, we feel you would be a perfect fit for this new position.”
I pulled the phone away from my ear and just blinked at it. “Uhh . . . I’m still in school. I don’t have a degree in social work or anything yet.”
“You’ll be working under a certified counselor. It’s a great opportunity, you can use the job as part of your clinical hours once you start working toward your actual degree.”
I gave my head a shake. It was what I always wanted, to help others, to save them from the circumstances that I had almost been lost to. “How would my schedule change?”
“Nine to five. No more overnights at the home. You would be involved more on the administrative end, but still have plenty of face time with all the kids . . . too many kids, frankly. Take a few days to think on it, and get back to me.”
I just gaped like an idiot, glad it was a phone call and she couldn’t see me looking like a fool.
“Oh, and Ms. Pryce . . . I should mention it comes with a fairly substantial pay raise. Have a nice night.”
I just stood there inside the door, numb and shocked. I thought I had gotten everything when Bax finally came home, thought all the sacrifice, all the bad things, had led to him and me being together, and that they were the price we had to pay to find just a smidge of happiness in a world that could be so ugly and cruel. This opportunity to give back, to make a difference, was so much more than that.
I wanted to jump up and down, wanted to scream and dance around the house as pure, unfiltered joy started to flow through me. Really I wanted to celebrate, and the only person I wanted to do that with was all the way across town. I bit my bottom lip and thought about him telling me he had the garage to himself tonight, and that Race was out doing something that would probably end him up in jail or dead. I let my gaze drift over to where Bax stashed all of his hoodies. An idea started to percolate, words from another night, words breathed across my skin, and I grabbed one off the hook.
I wasn’t bold enough or blatant enough to put the hoodie on with nothing underneath. That pushed my good-girl boundaries too far, but I did ditch my jeans for a cute pair of boy-cut panties and nothing but a stretchy tank top to keep some modesty. I figured my Chucks would just have to do and it wasn’t like I was going to have to work that hard to seduce Bax anyway. That was one of my favorite things about him. He took me any way I came, and always seemed to treat me like I was his favorite present of all time. It would be fun to surprise him, to make his dark eyes glow in appreciation. It wasn’t often I felt like I had the upper hand with him. This was a good way to remind him I could give as good as I got.
I made it to the garage in no time. The Runner really was the best gift he could have given me. I knew the code to the garage bay and poked it in on the keypad. Bax and Race had turned Gus’s old, run-down chop shop into an ultramodern, fully operational, high-tech automobile palace. There were new lifts, all new machines, and every kind of car you could imagine sprawled from one end of the space to the other. Mixed in between the muscle cars Bax was restoring and the expensive luxury cars that were there for purposes unknown, there was a bunch of cars parked along one back wall that looked like they just belonged to everyday Joes.
Bax was bent over the open hood of the ’Cuda, his whole upper half bent in the engine compartment. I don’t think he heard me because he didn’t lift his head. The back of his T-shirt was lifted up, flashing the flurry of black birds that danced up along the center of his back and ended up swirled and intertwined with his name that arched across his shoulders. He wanted me to get the scar on my chest looked at by a plastic surgeon, he told me it hurt him every time he had to think about watching Novak put it there. I told him I had earned it, I had earned him. I wanted it there to remind him of what we had to lose, of what could happen if we let things get away from us, if we took the fight we needed to keep us together for granted. I had survived, so had he, and we made it out together. The birds that covered his back served the same purpose, only I had to admit his markings were a far prettier sight.
I tiptoed up behind him and softly trailed my fingers along the exposed skin above the top of his jeans. He jerked around in surprise and I laughed at the scowl on his face. The wrench he had in his hand rattled to the cement ground.