Falling into You Read online

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She laughs, a tinkling giggle that makes me smile into her hair. “So. Are you gonna show me your shop?”

  “It’s four in the morning. We’re in Tribeca and my shop is in Queens. The far side of Queens. Plus, I don’t have a car here. I walked here from the bar. ”

  “You walked here? You’re crazy! That’s like twenty blocks. ”

  I shrug. “I like to walk. ”

  “So we’ll take a cab. ”

  “You really want to see my shop that bad?”

  “Yeah. And I really don’t want to be here. ” She shudders again, remembering.

  “Well then, you’ll need pants. ”

  She does the giggle again, which I decide call the Tinkerbell giggle. “Nah. Pants are for sissies. ” She pulls away and disappears into her room. “No peeking this time, Pervy McGee. ”

  “Then close your door, dumbass. ”

  The door slams in response, and I laugh. I’m glad she can laugh. It means she really is coping. I know she’s internalizing a lot, though. Putting on a show for me. She’ll have new scars on her wrists soon.

  She comes out in a pair of jeans and purple V-neck T-shirt. I have to keep my gaze moving so I don’t stare. She doesn’t need my desire, right now. Maybe not ever. She grabs her purse from the counter where I’d set it after cleaning up.

  I extend my hand to her. “Come on, Tinkerbell. ”

  She takes my hand, then pauses at the nickname. “Tinkerbell?”

  “Your laugh. That little giggle you do. It reminds me of Tinkerbell. ” I shrug.

  She does the giggle by accident, then claps a hand over her mouth. “Damn it. Now you have me self-conscious. You can call me Tinkerbell, though. ”

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  “Don’t be self-conscious. I think it’s cute. ”

  She wrinkles her nose at me as she locks her door behind us. “Cute? Is that a good thing?”

  I lift an eyebrow at her. “There’s a lot of words I could think of for you. Let’s just go with cute for now. ”

  “What’s that mean?” She’s holding my hand platonic-style, palm in palm.

  I flag a passing cab with a lit sign and we slide in. I give him my address and watch him put it into a Tom Tom. When we’re moving and the wavery tones of the driver’s Arabic music floats over us, I turn to Nell.

  “Sure you want to ask that?”

  She lifts her chin. “Yes. ”

  “You’re a lot of things, Nell Hawthorne. You’re complex. You’re cute. You’re lovely. You’re funny. You’re strong. You’re beautiful. ” She seems to be struggling with words and emotions. I keep going. “You’re tortured. You’re hurting. You’re amazing. You’re talented. You’re sexy as f**k. ”

  “Sexy as f**k?” She tilts her head, a small grin tipping her lips.

  “Yep. ”

  “Is that more or less than sexy as hell?”

  “More. A lot more. ”

  She just nods. “You’re sweet. But we must not see the same person when we look at me. ”

  “That’s probably true. ” I look down at our joined hands, then back to her. I shift my fingers, twine mine in hers. “What do you see when you look at yourself?”

  “Weak. Scared. Drunk. Angry. Ugly. Running. ” She turns away from me as she says this, staring out the window. “I see nothing. No one. ”

  I know there aren’t words to change how she feels, so I don’t offer any. I just hold her hand and let the silence extend through the blocks.

  She turns to me, eventually. “Why don’t you argue with me when I say shit like that? Why don’t you try to convince me of my own worth and all that bullshit?”

  “Would it work?” I ask. She narrows her eyes, then shakes her head. I shrug. “Well, there you go. That’s why. I can tell you what I see. I can tell you what I know about you. I can tell how I feel. I can show you what you really are. But arguing with you won’t accomplish anything. I think we’ve both had our share of people trying to fix us. It doesn’t work. We can only fix ourselves. Let ourselves heal. ”

  “But I’m not any of what you said. I’m just not. And I can’t heal myself. I can’t…I can’t be fixed. ”

  “You’re committed to being broken forever?”

  “Goddamn it, Colton. Why are you doing this? You don’t know me. ”

  “I want to. ” It’s the answer to both of her statements.

  Chapter 8: Fermented Grief

  We arrive at my shop, an old garage with the door facing an alley, a little apartment above. I pull my keys from my pocket, open the side door to the shop, and snap on the lights.

  Cracked, stained concrete floor, hanging, flickering fluorescent lights in warped cages, stack after stack of red and silver tool chests along the walls, counters with more tools hanging from hooks, chains from the ceiling suspending engines, the metal frame of a ’66 Mustang Shelby GT, a couple huge gray plastic garbage cans and overflowing ashtrays and abandoned beer bottles and pizza boxes…

  “It’s not much, but it’s mine. ” I laugh. “It’s really, really not much. I can’t believe I brought you here. It’s so dirty and ugly. ”

  I’m seeing it for the first time, in a way. I’ve never brought a girl here before. I’ve girls to my place before, but they never want to see the shop; they’re only interested in the bed. I look around, seeing what she must see.

  Then she surprises me. “I love it. It…feels like home. It’s a place that you obviously love. ”

  I stare at her. “It is home. I may sleep upstairs, but this garage is home. More than you know. ”

  I think of all the times I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor where the Mustang is now, before the apartment upstairs was renovated to be livable. I bought this place for pittance, because it was dump. Rejected, abandoned, unwanted. Like me. I fixed it up. Made it mine.

  She lets go of my hand and wanders around the shop, pulling open drawers and examining tools, which look bulky and awkward and dirty in her clean, delicate hands. She always puts the tools back exactly where they were. I wonder if she realizes how anal I am about, or if she’s just polite. Probably just polite. We really don’t know each other at all. She couldn’t know about my OCD about the tools.

  “Show me what you do,” She says.

  I shrug. I point at the engine. “That engine there. ” I walk over and run my finger around the opening of a piston. “I bought it at a junkyard a few weeks ago. It was rusted and dirty and ruined, basically. It was in an old car that had been in a wreck, rear-ended and totaled. A ’77 Barracuda. I took the engine, fixed the parts I could fix, replaced the ones I couldn’t. I took it apart completely, down to components. ”

  I pull the tarp off a long, wide table in a corner, showing a dissected motor, each part laid out in a very specific pattern. “Like this. Then I put it all back together, one piece at a time, until you see it there. It’s almost done. Just gotta install a few more parts and it’s done, ready to be put into a car. ”

  She looks from the table to the reassembled motor. “So you turned that—” she points at the pieces on the table, “into that?”

  I shrug. “Yeah. Those are completely different engines, but yeah. ”

  “That’s amazing. How do you know where all the different parts go? How to fix them?”

  I laugh. “Lots of experience. I know from having done it a million times. All engines are basically the same, just with little differences that make each kind of engine unique. I took my first motor apart when I was…thirteen? Of course, once I got it apart, I couldn’t get it back together again, but that was part of the learning process. I tinkered with that f**ked-up engine for months, figuring out how the thing worked, which parts went where and what they did and how to get them back in. Eventually I did get it back together and running, but it took me like, I don’t know, more than a year of dicking around with it every day. I took it apart again, and put it back together after that. Over and over again, until I c