Collateral by Ellen Hopkins

Book: Collateral by Ellen Hopkins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ellen Hopkins
why is she scared—really
    scared? That makes me scared, too.

    Halfway to Hawaii, eyes closed
    and headphones fighting the noise
    of crying babies with country music
    when I remember something Dar
    said the last time we played What If?
    What if Cole got drunk and hit you?
    I let it go. Why didn’t I pursue
    it? Was she talking about Spencer?
    Is that what she’s so afraid of?
    That he’ll plunge right off the deep
    end? But she’d tell me that, right?
    Yeah, sure. Of course I would.
    Especially with Spence coming
    home. She wouldn’t face him
    alone if that was really a concern.
    Would she? God, I want to talk
    to Cole about this. Ask his opinion.
    I want you to promise me
    you won’t say anything to Cole.
    I promised I wouldn’t mention
    it to Cole. But I never said I’d keep
    quiet about it period. When I get back,
    I’ll call someone on base. A counselor.
    Or chaplain. Someone who can help.

    Cole had been back from Iraq
    for several weeks. He had fifteen
    days of leave, and his request
    to take it when we could spend
    uninterrupted time together
    had been granted. He went
    home to Wyoming his first week,
    saved the second for me. The day
    I picked him up at the airport
    was crazy. First, I couldn’t decide
    what to wear. I swear, I tried on
    eight different outfits, hated
    everything the mirror showed
    me—too slutty, too old lady,
    too college student in need
    of new clothes. I finally settled
    on a turquoise sundress that
    showed off my legs and just
    enough cleavage to be tempting
    without shouting, “Hey, check
    out these babies!” Then I had
    to shave my legs. It had been
    weeks. Not like I cared most
    of the time, and mostly I wore
    jeans. Then I needed makeup—
    not too little, not too much, and
    how did that smoky-eyes thing
    go again? Everything took way
    too long, and when I finally felt
    ready and glanced at the clock,
    I was already running late. Traffic
    was heavy, and when it opened
    up, I drove like a maniac. It didn’t
    go unnoticed by a particular California
    Highway Patrolman. Shit. Shit. Shit.
    By the time he reached my window,
    I was crying mascara and plum
    eye shadow down my pretty blushed
    cheeks. Apparently, he’d never
    brought a driver to tears before.
    Excuse me, miss. But may I see
    your license and registration? Please?
    And could you please stop sniffling?
    Uh, is something wrong? Besides me?
    Why not use it? It was the truth,
    after all. “My boyfriend is just
    back from Iraq and I’m supposed
    to pick him up at the airport, and
    I’m late and traffic, and now this . . .”
    He let me off with a stern warning,
    and I might have felt really good
    about that, except now what the mirror
    revealed was a total hag. I cried
    most of the way to baggage claim.

    By the time I spotted Cole, I had
    cried off most of the makeup. That
    turned out to be a good thing, because
    seeing him only made me cry more.
    I ran into his arms, which were even
    stronger than I remembered. He lifted
    me off the ground, spun me around.
    Brought my face right up into his
    and I swear, despite my streaked
    puffy eyes, the first thing he said
    was, Goddamn, you’re beautiful. And
    then we were kissing, and we kissed
    without stopping until we really
    couldn’t find air, and I was glad
    he was wearing his uniform because
    at least then everyone waiting for
    suitcases didn’t think we were just
    plain horny or something. In fact,
    they clapped and one old guy
    whistled. “Careful,” I whispered.
    â€œI think he just saw my panties.”
    Cole tugged down my skirt in back
    and we laughed and kissed until
    his duffle came rolling around.
    We walked to the car, velcroed
    together. He reached for the keys.
    Let me drive? I slid into the passenger
    seat, studied him as he exited
    the parking lot, made his way
    to the freeway, merged into traffic.
    His hair was

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