Another wasted trip. Another lead that was nothing. Another tip that went nowhere. Another disappointment.
Another stab of hopelessness.
What am I doing?
The lights of downtown Chicago quickly approach through the windshield and I exit onto Division driving into the west side neighborhoods. I drive with muscle memory, knowing exactly where I’m headed and not paying much attention. It’s after 10pm on a Tuesday so even in Chicago traffic is minimal.
I’m late enough the shop’s lights are off, all locked up for the night. I half expected that to be the case so I make a right at the corner knowing the route she’ll take home. I catch up to her a few blocks later, spotting her white blond hair easily even in the dark.
I pull up to the curb and honk, startling the blond walking down the sidewalk. For a heartbeat she tenses, then relaxes, recognizing my car even before I lower the passenger window to call out to her.
Smiling now, she walks over and climbs into the front seat next to me.
She pulls the door shut and responds automatically. “Don’t call me babe.” Then leans over to give me a slow kiss hello.
“Nothing?” she asks softly, searching my eyes. I shake my head but she already knows the answer. I would have called if I’d had any luck, discovered anything helpful. Settling back into the passenger seat, her hand grips mine and squeezes.
“Have you eaten?”
She shakes her head, “I was going to grab a slice of pizza on the corner.” Logan lives two houses down from a great pizza place. It’s incredibly convenient.
“Sounds good.” I put the car back in gear and head to her place.
A few minutes later I’m turning on to her street and find a parking spot. With the car stopped, she digs through her bag searching for something.
“Here. Before I forget.”
She hands me an envelope thick with cash.
“I’m taking a new job. I should be making more money soon.”
I smile briefly. “That’s great, Lolo.” I glance at the bills she’s handed me. “You sure you want to keep doing this?”
I feel her surprise. I get it. I’ve been single minded about this quest for four years now. I’m not sure why this last trip has made everything seem so futile.
I shift enough to stuff the envelope in my pocket but make no move to get out of the car. Instead I stare blindly at the dashboard, eventually focusing on my key chain still in the ignition. I flick my finger, setting the keys swinging. The street lights glint off the copper of the elongated penny that acts as my key chain as it sways back and forth. Light dark light dark light dark.
I’ve had this stupid memento even longer than my fruitless quest. Since we were kids and used to skip school to go places like the Navy Pier. Places we wouldn’t be caught dead now.
“Are you coming?”
I continue watching the penny. Back forth back forth back forth.
Inhaling deeply I finally tear my attention away and look at her. Fierce, stubborn, exquisite Logan. I probably shouldn’t, but I know I will. Selfishly, I’ll take her comfort.
She’s the only one who gets it.
“No. Not really.”
We sit in silence a few minutes and she shifts, resting her head on my shoulder. Then she voices what has me feeling so destroyed.
“Her birthday is tomorrow.”
I nod a sudden, invisible fist squeezing my lungs.
Another car drives down her street, the headlights momentarily blindingly bright. Logan pulls away and gets out of the car. I hesitate only a moment before grabbing my keys and doing the same.
We walk to the corner to grab some slices to go. I try to shake myself loose from this mood and change the subject.
“So, what’s the new gig?”
She brightens and I’m glad I made this small effort. We grab our food and she responds as we walk out the door, heading to her place.
“Have you heard of Lucas Abbott?”
I struggle with some glimmer of recognition. “Yeah, he just won that tattoo show, right?”
She nods, not quite meeting my eyes. Interesting. “He’s starting his own shop. Asked me to join his team.”
“That’s great, Lolo,” I repeat. “He’s a good guy then?”
Unlocking her door she steps inside and flips the light switch, illuminating the stairwell to her second floor apartment. I follow her inside, locking the door behind me.
Shrugging her coat off, she answers, “Seems like it. But I can take care of myself if he tries any shit.”
She can, I know that. She’s tough. She’s making a name for herself in an incredibly male dominated field and I know that isn’t always easy for her. But she’s got a thick skin and can be a cutting bitch when required. Watching her take down jerks with her sharp tongue is one of my favorite pastimes.
I’m glad she hasn’t had to survive some of the things I’ve seen the last few years though. It takes more than tough to endure the crap that exists in the world.
Shit I worry Wren is neck deep in. Drowning in. My darkest moments I fear she’s already fully submerged.
But I don’t say any of that. Instead we eat our pizza and talk about Logan’s new job and watch a movie before going to bed and pretending we’re doing more than just comforting each other.
Hours later I lie awake staring at the ceiling. I glance at Logan asleep next to me, eyes tracing the pale skin and colorful designs of her naked back. Silently I slip out of bed and back to the kitchen. I grab a shot glass from the cupboard and a bottle of fireball from my bag. I hate the stuff, but it’s a tradition Wren started when we weren’t legally allowed to drink and didn’t know what good alcohol was. So on this day every year, I buy a bottle. I fill my glass and cross to the window. It’s the middle of the night, well into the beginnings of the next day.
“Happy Birthday,” I toast the moon and down the spicy cinnamon flavored liquid.
I will find out what happened to you, little sister. I promise.