I RUSH OUT OF THE rusty trailer after Jesse. He’s already climbing into his truck, and I kick up a cloud of dust trying to reach him. It’s barely spring, but everything feels hotter when you’re stuck in rural Kentucky. Aside from the Peacock family’s cluster of trailers in this stretch of country, there is nothing within five miles but hills of dirt.
He slams the door shut just as I reach him. Panic cracks across my chest. My knees threaten to buckle. I look him in the eyes, rapping my fist against the side window until he finally rolls it down.
“I can’t have you making this any worse than it needs to be, Leigh. Not today,” Jesse says. “We all need to do our part, and that don’t mean you can get out of it just because you’re my gal.” I can barely see his dark eyes under his heavy brows.
“Can’t I just come with you, and then we’ll both
make the drop-off together?”
He looks down at me, his expression as flat as his other features. Only his eyes show any sign of hurt or worry that nobody else can catch but me.
“Look sweetheart, you know I wouldn’t have you doing this on your own if there’s any way around it. I promise, nothing’s gonna go wrong. The Gorch brothers are no different than Mackie, Slim Jim, or any other boys you’ve delivered to before.”
“But these guys are all the way out in Owsley,” I say. “That’s at least a four-hour drive from here. I’ve never even heard of the Gorches before. Do you even know anyone that can vouch for them?”
“They’re decent enough folk from what I hear. A little squirrely, but nothing dangerous. What’s more important is they’re willing to take everything we got ASAP,” he says.
“But Mackie’s seen you make deliveries with me before. He knows what would happen to him if he tried to lay a finger on me. And hell, even I could take down Slim Jim. We don’t know anything about these guys. Doesn’t that make you nervous?” My words make about as much impact on Jesse as the dust settling on my feet.
“We don’t got any choice,” he says, his voice rising in frustration. He promised not to take that tone with me anymore, though it wouldn’t do me any good to call him on it. Especially now, when his day has already been so rough. The way Jesse stares at me makes me feel like he’s probing inside my head, figuring out what to say to get what he wants. He finds it, just like he always does. “I need you to do this for the family. Everyone’s depending on you. Me and Uncle Mel, we’ve been good to you, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” He aims for guilt, a surefire way to the heart. And what’s worse, he’s not wrong. Well, at least not totally. As shit of a situation I’m in right now, I can’t imagine how much worse off I’d be if it hadn’t been for Jesse and his uncle. Of course, that was before they manipulated me into becoming a delivery person for their trailer park meth lab.
“When you didn’t have nowhere else to go, we took you in and treated you like one of our own, right? Got you fixed up and put a roof over your head?”
He smiles as he watches the fight go out of my eyes.
“The family needs you to step up today just like the rest of us are. We all got shit we don’t want to do, but it’s got to be done, and it’s got to be done now.” He’s not lying. Today’s been an absolute shitshow for the Peacock family, and without some damage control, it could mean serious jail time for Jesse and Mel. Maybe even for me too, depending on how this turns out.
“Can I at least borrow a gun, just in case?” I ask.
Jesse sighs. His already thin patience is worn to its
last strands. “In case of what?”
“In case they try to rob me, or rape and murder me.”
He laughs in my face. “Rape and murder you? You’ve seen too many movies. Nobody around here gets ideas like that. Most of them already got permanent limp-dick from being on that shit too long anyways.”
“That’s easy to say when you’re six-foot-three and built like a redwood. It’s a little different as a girl showing up at a stranger’s house, all alone, with thirty thousand dollars’ worth of meth hidden in the back of a van. I’m serious, Jesse. You already made it clear I can’t bring a phone with me because of government tracking or whatever.”
“Not this again.”
“I’m not trying to fight you. I’m just saying if I can’t have a phone to call for help, I need to have at least something for security. Christ, you don’t even let me carry pepper spray.”
Jesse gives me an impatient look and then checks his wristwatch. “Fine, you can take one of the nine millimeters in my bedside drawer.” I turn toward the trailer, but his massive hand grips my forearm like a vice and tugs me to face him. “Don’t lose it. I already got enough shit to deal with today.”
“I won’t. What’s the combination to your ammo safe?”
He gives me a pitying look, making me feel small and stupid for asking. “Ain’t no way I’m telling you that, sugar. You can take the gun for your peace of mind, but the last thing I need is you getting hysterical and putting bullets into some good folk because you’re feeling twitchy.” He checks his watch for the second time in the past minute. “I gotta get moving, Leigh. I wrote down directions from MapQuest on a sticky note. Just relax about the whole thing, and you’ll get through it just fine.”
I plant my feet and try to yank my arm out of Jesse’s hand, putting all hundred and nothing pounds of my weight into it. I might as well be trying to pull a brick out of a wall. Eventually, he lets go, and the sudden release makes me stumble back a few steps. A glimmer of petty amusement flashes across his eyes, but it’s gone just as quickly as it appears.
“Fine,” I say, biting my tongue. Pushing this conversation any further would only end in us being even more upset. I turn and start heading back to the trailer.
“Hey, hold up a second. I love you.” He only says that to me when he’s in trouble or needs me to do something rotten for him. Right now, it’s both. I pretend not to hear him as I climb back into the crappy trailer I’ve been calling home for the past year.
I’m starting to get the itch. It’s a feeling I get when I’ve been in a situation long enough to know that things are falling apart. It’s a crawling, prickling sensation just under the skin, constantly drawing my attention. It’s an itch that’s next to impossible to satisfy. The longer I spend scratching at it, the more damage I end up doing to myself. I know this pattern well, yet I keep standing there silently screaming to myself as I dig deeper and deeper until it becomes this infection in my heart that has to be cut out entirely before I rip myself apart.
I grab my black duffel bag from under the bed and toss in all my clothes from the closet. I pack up my makeup supplies from the tiny cupboard above the sink and drop them in, too. Most of my worldly possessions don’t add up to much more than basic clothes and makeup, nothing special. The only exceptions lie wrapped in tissue paper at the bottom of the bag—a series of souvenir snow globes from places like Miami, Yellowstone, Chicago, and Alberta. Sixteen in total. Some of the places I don’t even remember, others just a few bits and pieces. They’re the only mementos I have of my parents. The only proof that at some point in the last twenty-four years, I had people who actually cared about me. Most of the snow globes are dried out now, their white plastic flakes permanently glued to the models inside, slowly fading like the memories of the people who gave them to me.
There’s some catharsis in just going through the motions—loading up everything I own into one bag and pretending like that’s all it takes to leave. Most times, it’s enough to soothe the itch for a while, like a cortisone cream for the soul.
This is the third time I’ve packed up since living with Jesse. My record was with Tyler, the “entrepreneur.” I packed up five times with him, and we weren’t even together a full year. With Jesse, I’d always ended up putting everything back in its place before he came home, but this time, I think I’ll take the bag to keep me company. Jesse is so preoccupied trying to hide his little meth empire from the cops that I’m guessing he won’t even notice my things are gone. If he does, I’ll just tell him when I get back that it serves him right for guilting me into risking my life for his stupid family business.
In Jesse’s bedside drawer, I find several small black pistols. I grab one and inspect it. The damn thing doesn’t even come with an unloaded clip—just an empty promise that practically advertises that it’s incomplete without something inside of it. I slip the piece into the duffel bag anyway.
Outside of the trailer there’s a VW bus, a rusted green monstrosity from the seventies that belongs to Uncle Mel. Jesse’s managed to keep it limping along with what mechanics skills he has. I toss my bag in the van and lift the rug off the false floor in the back corner. Inside the secret compartment are brick-shaped packets covered in cling wrap. Even though I’ve made over half a dozen deliveries by now, I’m always shocked to see the stuff in person. It never quite feels real, more like something out of a movie. Still, part of me must recognize it for what it is, as my arms prickle with gooseflesh.
According to the sticky note on the dashboard, the Gorches are even further than I thought—almost a six-hour drive to where the exchange is supposed to happen. I check the clock on the dashboard; it’s just past nine in the morning. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it back alive. If I’m really lucky, I’ll make it back before dark.