Read Next to Me Online

Authors: Emily Walker

Next to Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zane loves Whitney, but she’s a mess in her wild ways, drowning in drugs and one-night stands. But when a chance at overdue love hits, Zane may not be strong enough to walk away from the sweet abyss that is Whitney.

Lila is everything Zane never knew he wanted. Whitney never dreamed he wouldn’t be there when she was ready. But as Whitney falls further into herself and becomes more self-destructive, she may very well take the only person who’s ever been there for her down as well...

 

 

NEXT TO ME

All rights reserved.

Copyright 2016 © EMILY WALKER

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.

 

Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

 

 

 

 

 

The lightning flashed so close she could almost see it hit the ground. The thunder clapped loud over her head, and she put her hands over her ears, trying not to scream. Ten-year-old Whitney Boon knew where she was going, but with the rain beating down on her so hard her best friend’s house seemed far away.

Her shoes sank in the mud, and she was really glad she’d managed to get a second pair and a change of clothes into her backpack before she’d jumped out of her window. The rain hurt as it pelted her face, and she hoped her book bag would protect the book report she’d spent two hours writing earlier.

It felt like she’d walked several miles instead of just between their yards when she knocked on Zane’s window. Her dad had spotted her. She heard her mother yelling at him to get the hell back in the house as he went over to Zane’s house and knocked on the door. He thought she’d gone in the front, and Zane popped up and moved over to the window, opening it and pulling her in.

“Whitney, you’re soaking wet.” He closed the window and locked it, running into the hallway. He brought back three towels, wrapping her in two and her book bag in one.

“Dana, just get rid of him and tell him Whitney can stay over. We’ll take her to school in the morning.” Zane’s dad was yelling from the bedroom. Her father continued to bang loudly on the door. It was probably around midnight. He’d been drinking at the bar and came home to beat on her mother.

She’d came out into the hallway because she had to pee and he’d come after her. Her mother tried to hold him back and got knocked into the wall, so Whitney ran into her bedroom and got as much together as she could to go to Zane’s, then she went out her window. He was still knocking on her bedroom when she jumped out, but somehow he figured out she went to Zane’s when he started his crazy yelling.

Dana Grier yelled back at her father through the door. “Paul, stop beating my damn door down. It’s after twelve. Your daughter will be fine here until morning and we’ll take her to school. Stop waking up the whole neighborhood.”

Whitney knew Zane’s mom wouldn’t open the door for her dad. She still sat on the floor shivering, and Zane wrapped his arms around her, trying to help.

“Dana, you can’t keep my kid in there when I want her. She’s my kid. I’ll call the police.” This got Dustin, Zane’s father, up out of the bed, and he walked up to the door to stand by his wife. Whitney could hear his slippers as they shuffled by.

“Paul, go ahead and call the police and tell them you’re drunk and disorderly knocking your neighbor’s door down after midnight. Tell them your little girl ran over here for safety.”

Whitney listened, but her dad didn’t say anything else. After a while she heard Zane’s mom coming.

“Come on, sweetie, let’s get you a warm bath so we can go to bed.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Grier.” Whitney was so thankful for them. They were the best parents, and she knew hers lacked a bit of the compassion they needed to care about her well-being. While she splashed in the bath and got warmed up, Zane sat at the door and read her his book report. She knew he was doing it to take her mind off things, but it was actually a pretty good book report.

Mrs. Grier came in to wrap her in a big warm towel and help her out of the bathtub. “You know, Whitney, I always wanted a little girl after we had Zane, but I couldn’t have any more children. God blessed me with one and I’m thankful for that.” She started to comb out Whitney long blond hair as she sat on the toilet wrapped in the towel. It smelled like laundry detergent and what she imagined the sun would smell like. Her towels at home smelled like mildew and cigarettes. It was a nice change.

“I’ll be your little girl, Mrs. Grier,” Whitney said. “Can I live here all the time?”

The older woman put her forehead to Whitney’s. “I’m afraid you have to live with your mother, but you can visit us anytime you need to, okay?”

Whitney nodded and let her eyes fall closed as she had her hair brushed. The large towel made her feel safe, if only for a little while.

 

 

 

 

 

Whitney Boon tiptoed across the gravel as it bit into her foot. “I lost one of my damn shoes somehow,” she yelled. Immediately she cringed, lowering her voice. All she needed was to wake up the guy she was trying to sneak away from.

Zane Grier waited across the road in his faithful beat-up blue Ford and laughed as she hobbled over to him.

Whitney knew exactly what he was thinking. It wasn’t the first time he’d picked her up after a one-nighter she’d rather not spend the morning with.

Zane had been her best friend since grade school. He’d never approved of her lifestyle, but he was always there for her. She concentrated her bright green eyes on the driveway to try to avoid stepping on sharp rocks, but still she managed to step on a couple, which slowed her down considerably.

“Get your ass in here, Whit, hurry up.” Zane moved his fingers against the camouflage cover on his steering wheel. She knew it covered up the spots the years of use had worn away. If only he could get himself a nice new truck. She glared at him as she hobbled faster on one heel. She finally gave up, and taking it off, she ran toward him.

Zane leveled his gorgeous blue eyes on her, and she felt his judgment.

“Don’t give me that look, Zane. I know you’ve had one-night stands before.” Whitney stuck her tongue out as she climbed into the truck. Her best friend was such a handsome guy. He had dark hair he kept a little long in the front so he could fluff it up James Dean style, and facial hair that was just the right amount of scruffy and neat.

“Whit, I can count the number of women I’ve slept with on one hand. You’d probably have to take your shoes off, and then start on hair strands.” He tugged a long blond lock, earning himself a pinch on the arm from her. He was being cruel.

“What about Vanessa Huggins? That moves to your other hand.” She shivered a bit in the cold morning air, wishing she wore more than a slip dress and a short-sleeved cardigan.

“She doesn’t count at all.” Zane took the pair of pliers he had to use to turn on the heat.

“You just need to get a new knob,” Whitney teased.

“This works just as well,” he said, turning it to the lowest setting.

“How the hell doesn’t she count?” Whitney turned to him, the pink fabric riding up her tan legs, and exposing the chill bumps all over her thighs.

“If anything she counts as half of my pinkie.” Zane reached behind the seat and brought out a well-worn brown sweatshirt. Whitney smiled and put it on over her dress.

“No one can count as half. What the hell does that even mean?”

Zane grinned as he pulled out of the poor guy’s driveway. “Only half of it went in.”

“Don’t tell me anymore,” Whitney squealed and slapped his arm playfully. “It counts. Now take me home.” She pulled the dress over her knees and sat huddled in the seat, rocking back and forth.

“Sure thing, buttercup.”

Whitney listened to his truck as it protested a bit as he sped up going down the road and shifted gears. One day it was going to just die on the side of the road.

Whitney laid her head back against the seat. It was three a.m. What was wrong with her? Staying through a whole night wouldn’t kill her. It was just sleeping and an awkward goodbye. That wasn’t too bad, but she just couldn’t do it.

She hadn’t landed on one man in three years, not since that asshole Doug. Closing her eyes, she let her hand go over to Zane’s neck, rubbing it lightly. His muscles felt tight under her hand, and she realized he worked too hard and worried too much.

“Thanks for getting me, Z. I owe you, again.” He shivered under her touch, and she knew exactly what she did to him. She couldn’t go there with Zane, not seriously. If they went there, they’d never be friends again.

“Yeah, you do, and I’m sleeping over. I don’t think driving back to my house at three a.m. is safe for me.” He turned his neck sideways one way then the other, letting her loosen the muscles.

“Of course.” She moved down to his shoulders, massaging them slowly, trying to relieve some of the tension and get him to relax. “These knots mean you’re too uptight, my friend.”

“I’m fine. Just waking up from a dead sleep and driving doesn’t do anything for my poor aching muscles.”

It was nothing for them to sleep at each other’s houses. They always had, and it hadn’t changed from when they lived with their parents. Now out on their own and after college they didn’t change tradition. Whitney had failed out of the University of Florida after she thought she could handle going to class and being that close to the beach. She soon found the beach was too tempting and had moved back home. Zane had gone to community college to learn a trade and immediately got a job on a construction site close to his home.

“You know me, Whitney Boon. Taxi all day and night.” She punched him and gave him a flirty smile as they pulled into her driveway and jumped out before he stopped completely. “I hate it when you do that.”

He put the truck in park and shook his head at her as she danced in front of his headlights. Whitney’s apartment was one level, and she was lucky enough to be the only stand-alone. The other ugly gray buildings around hers had three to four apartments each. Zane constantly told her how he wished she could live somewhere safer, but Whitney knew with her habits and waiting tables this was as good as it got. Zane still lived with his dad at twenty-five, so she figured he had to know the struggle. Whitney popped the door open after struggling with the lock and held it open for him.

When they were young her parents would be fighting because of her dad’s drinking, and she would run right across the yard to his house and stay in his room. He had set up a tent in his bedroom. When Zane was small he wanted to be an adventurer, and the tent let him pretend he was in the wilderness. This is where she stayed. The green cloth tent, which needed to be patched up with a checked fabric, felt like home to her. Her mother didn’t even wonder where she was when she disappeared. As long as they had been alive they had lived next door to one another. Zane’s mom had passed away when he was four, and after that happened it had been his turn to run to her house.

They had always been there for each other, but since Whitney had moved away from her mom, she had let loose a lot more than he had. She watched as Zane walked into the house and plopped down on the couch beside her pile of clothes. Clean or dirty, she wasn’t sure.

“Hey, zombie cat,” he said, scratching Duchess behind the ears. He swore her cat was the living dead because she hardly moved.

She made her way through the house and yelled from the bathroom, “There’s pizza in the fridge.”

“I’m going to wash your dishes,” he yelled back. Whitney pictured the stacked up cups and dirty plates in her kitchen. He would be going crazy, neat freak that he was.

“No, I’ll get them.”

Whitney changed into sweatpants before heading back into the kitchen to face him and her dirty dishes.

Whitney came out of the back. Her hair stood up on her head, and she was wearing bright red sweatpants with the weird camisole thing she had on. She looked gorgeous as usual. His chest tightened like it always did when he saw her. He knew she was high. It was amazing to him that she thought he didn’t know when she was.

“It’s three a.m., Whit, only you eat at this time.” She stuck her tongue out as she walked into the kitchen and rummaged around for a glass. The wooden doors of her cabinets barely shut they were so old, and she slammed one after the other until she found what she wanted. He knew what she was looking for before the bottle of vodka appeared on the counter with a couple shot glasses. They lived in a dry county, so she stocked up whenever she could. He would bet there were at least two larger bottles up there.

She wasn’t actually going to eat. It was another huge sign that she was high. He wondered when the last time she’d actually eaten was.

“You want a drink, Z?” Whitney poured two, not waiting for him to answer, and he wrinkled his nose as she downed both of them and then poured some into a tumbler, as if she forgot she offered.

“What was wrong with this guy, Whit?” Zane had bags under his eyes from the lack of sleep and petted her poor, barely functional cat. The vet said she was fine, just a lazy cat. She looked like a big black puff, and it was a miracle if you got to see her yellow eyes open, but she did purr, and she was purring loudly while Zane scratched her ears. He wondered if Whitney took care of her like she should and had considered taking her home many times. His dad being allergic to cats was the only thing that stopped him.

Whitney shrugged as she sat down in the chair across from him. She had found it on the side of the road behind the place she worked and begged Zane to drag it home for her. He refused to sit on it and wished she would get rid of it, but it was comfortable, and it was free. It was old enough to have a plaid pattern and felt like it was made out of carpet, but if you yanked the handle really hard, it would recline.

“There was nothing wrong with him, Zane. You know I’m always the problem.” Taking a big sip of the vodka, she attempted to change the subject. “What are you wearing exactly?” She gestured to the bright green shorts, black ripped T-shirt, and flip-flops he was wearing.

He let his eyes go into angry slits and gained a rare look from Duchess when the petting stopped. He leaned forward. “I was in a dead sleep when you called. You’re lucky I didn’t show up in snow boots and a robe.” Whitney giggled and downed the rest of her vodka.

He shook his head, picking the cat up, stretching out on top of Whitney’s clothes and attempting to get comfortable. The cat settled on his chest, never opening her eyes. “I’m going to grab a few hours, Whit. Don’t let me disturb your little party.” He closed his eyes and faded away.

Zane was snoring within a minute, and Whitney realized how grateful she should have been that he had gotten up for her. He worked hard in the construction business and taking care of his dad.

Mr. Grier had been lucky enough to survive a pretty bad stroke, but he needed help with day-to-day things. He had made an amazing recovery over the year, some would even call him a walking miracle, but he didn’t have the mobility he had before, and sometimes he would forget things. She loved his father, who looked like an older version of Zane right down to the little curls at the end of his dark hair. It gave her a look at what Zane would look like when he was older. He didn’t love her anymore, though. She doubted Dustin Grier would spit on her if she was on fire.

Whitney watched her best friend sleep, his chest raising a very comfortable Duchess into the air with every breath. She had never given herself permission to love Zane, knowing he deserved a woman with her shit together, but he was the most important person in her life. Somehow, she hoped he just knew that, but had never told him. Sighing as the coke still flowed freely through her veins, she knew she wasn’t going to sleep and went to pour another shot or two of vodka. When she was doped up she couldn’t get drunk, but she continued to do it. It gave her something to hold on to, something to do.

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