When the Devil Wants In(3)

By: Cate Ashwood

With a laugh, John said, “She’s not a holy roller.” As Chloe shimmied into her shorts, he added, “She probably would be less keen on us getting married if you dressed like that around her, though.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

She was joking, he was fairly sure. Though, he never could tell with Chloe. They’d been best friends since she was barely sixteen years old, nearly a decade now, but she still found ways to surprise him. Or terrify him, depending on her mood. The three years she’d left the state for college were the hardest of his life. In a town so small everyone knew his name, he’d felt impossibly alone without her. When she told him she’d met someone and was dating for the first time in her life—well, dating a straight boy for the first time in her life—he’d thought it might kill him.

He still felt guilty for how relieved he was when she came back home. Her brother had just been killed in Afghanistan, her family devastated. Chloe herself seemed like a carved-out shell, like there was nothing left of her but tears, grief. But even still, some small part of John had been grateful. Not that Billy had died, but that Chloe had come back to him. He’d never felt more like a selfish son of a bitch in his life, and he probably never would again.

But he was still grateful.

Spanish moss hung from the trees on either side of them as he pulled off the road into the Mud Creek Filling Station. It was the last stop for gas before the swamplands took over.

Chloe asked him, “What’re we doing?”

“Gettin’ gas. What’s it look like?”

“A beer run, you liar.”

Yeah, she knew him too well. “I can get gas and beer, ya know.” He hopped out and put twenty dollars’ worth in his truck. When he was finished, he went around to Chloe’s window. “You want anything in here?”

“I’ll come in with ya, but you have to carry me in the parking lot.”

John rolled his eyes, but he opened her door for her and turned around. “Is there a reason you can’t just put your damn shoes on?”

“It’s too hot for shoes, but I don’t wanna get motor oil on my feet.”

He turned around and leaned back for her so she could wrap her arms around his shoulders and hoist herself onto his back. Considering all she’d done for him, all the thousands of ways she was there for him over the years, a few piggybacks wasn’t too much to ask for. “And you say I spoil my niece.”

Chloe kissed the back of John’s head and then kicked her heels as if he were a horse.

On their way toward the store, Jenny, a girl John had known since grammar school, stepped out and held the door for him. “How y’all doin’ today?” she asked, her smile bright, the sun shining warmly on her blonde hair.

“Doin’ just fine, Jenn. How about you?” He always felt a small pang of regret when he ran into her. Fifteen years ago, she’d been on her way to a young artists’ program at Julliard. Until an accident at the river had destroyed her chances. John hadn’t been there, but he’d damn sure heard about it after. The whole town had.

“Same as always,” she said with a laugh. “What’re you two doin’ this evening?”

“Gonna go get us a few catfish for supper.”

Chloe snorted a laugh. “John’s gonna get the fish. I’m gonna watch.”

Jenny smiled and said, “I’ll buy mine.”

“You sure?” John teased, smiling as he walked a few more steps inside. “Could come along. We’ll teach ya how….”

“Pass,” Jenny said, but she smiled at them one more time before letting the door fall shut.

Inside the store, the clerk raised an eyebrow as John walked Chloe around the aisles, but the guy didn’t say anything. “Grab some Slim Jims too,” Chloe instructed on their way back to the refrigerator section.

“If you have me grab too much, I’m gonna have to put you down.”

“I’ll grab it. You just don’t do anything too crazy and drop me.”

“I promise I won’t drop the beer, but that’s as far as I’m going.”

She bit his ear for that.

By the time they were done with their trip through the junk food row, they’d probably made quite a spectacle of themselves, but, again, the clerk didn’t say anything. On second thought, the guy had probably seen much stranger things. Hell, he’d probably seen John and Chloe do stranger things.

John piled everything on the counter and tried to reach for his wallet. “How’s it goin’ today, Cletus?” he asked as he twisted his arm back so far he felt like he’d pull a muscle. Chloe let go with one hand and presented her debit card for him. He could only assume it had been stashed in her back pocket.