When the Devil Wants In(5)

By: Cate Ashwood

Chloe draped her arm around John’s shoulder. “It is when you’re running from them every day anyway.”

“Fair point.” She was right. He was already—always—running away from home.

“Are you just planning to wait until they die? Or… what? Just move away and never talk to them about your real life? Some guy you meet and fall in love with and are happy with but they never get to know?”

They had this conversation on a monthly basis, really. Pretty much anytime Chloe had a few beers in her—or God forbid, tequila—she’d push and prod and make him think, and dammit all. He loved her, but he hated the way she made him think. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “It’s just easier this way, ya know? I don’t like rockin’ the boat, never have.”

“Yeah, hooking up with strangers online and jerking off in chat rooms in your little house right next door to your parents is so much easier than having a real life of your own.”

Ouch. “Hey, I have a real life, with a job and my family, you, my friends—”

Chloe swatted at a mosquito and flicked its bloody corpse from her knee. “Most of your friends are assholes.”

He couldn’t argue with that. They weren’t real friends, for that matter. Chloe was the only real anything he had. His parents were great, as long as you loved Jesus, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t like cock, and could at least keep your shameful business (see also: premarital sex) a secret from the town and the preacher. And, of course, from them.

His sister was an amazing person. Or at least she had the potential to be, but she was on the verge of letting life grind her down to dust. His niece, Birdy, was a little firecracker and held most of John’s heart, but he wasn’t sure if he could still be in her life if his family knew, so, yeah.

Chloe was it, the one real thing in his life, the one person who loved him and all his flaws.

“You’re one to talk, ya know. Not like I see you going out and having a life either.”

“At least I tried,” she said, resting her chin on her hand, her face near his. “He cheated on me, and it really sucked. He wasn’t even that great.”

John turned his head to look at her, wrapped his arm around her. “One douche and you give up?”

“Well, two douches.”

Right. He always forgot about the one guy she dated before the asshole who cheated on her.

Chloe’s breath smelled like cheap beer and apple butter as she said, “I think I need to, I don’t know, figure out what I want for myself before I try to figure out what I want with someone else.”

“Makes sense, I guess.” John cracked a beer open and passed it to Chloe before getting the last one for himself. He knew he wouldn’t finish it, but it was the principle of the thing. “Did you think, when we were younger, that we’d just be… further along in life by now? I mean, I feel like mine hasn’t even started.”

“Well, yeah.” Her laughter spooked a bird and sent it flying into the dimming sky. “Hell, I thought I’d be married with a kid and a career by now.”

The katydids had started their songs. John knew the swamp would be alive with frogs and other such things soon, but he didn’t want to leave just yet. There was still some light, and being there with Chloe felt too good. “Career doing what?”

She shrugged. They were both pretty clueless about what they wanted to be when they grew up. “I don’t know,” she said, taking a long pull from her beer. “Maybe a vet? Or a nurse? Something helping people. Something better than answering phones and filing papers at the courthouse, anyway.”

Yeah, John could see that. Chloe taking care of sick kids or burn victims or something. She’d be great at it. “Or a doctor,” he added.

“What about you?”

“Hell, I don’t know.” Just as he was about to go on, he heard a small splash and his pole started to shimmy. He hopped up and grabbed his pliers from his tackle box. It didn’t take long to reel the fish in, but it was a good size. John always hated this part, the part where his catch would flop around, fight against him, gasp as he slid his fingers under the side fins and pulled the hook from its mouth. “At least I can still catch a fish,” he said with a half smile. Rather than reach for his knife—the one his favorite great-aunt had sold to him for a penny when he was nine years old—he tossed the fish into the cooler. The ice water in there would chill it, put it to sleep before it died. John always hoped that was the kinder way to do it.