Anni Lee © 2022
All Rights Reserved
“So what’s up, Jay Jay? Did you suddenly get a new idea for my next album?” Brad Garza sat across from me at Roast of the Magi, a trendy new coffee shop off Sunset and Vine. He wore sunglasses over his dark eyes and a ball cap over his short, dark brown hair, hoping he might disguise himself just enough to dissuade the usual onslaught of fans. Though that exquisite voice and Latin charm could hardly be contained by a few well-placed accessories.
“Not quite.” I handed him the manila envelope full of photos. He pulled out the pages one by one, examining each image as though he was auditioning for a lead role as a forensic scientist. Once he reached the last page, he slid the photos back into their envelope and sat back in his chair.
“Where did you get this?” His voice had lost its usual playful luster.
“Someone left it on my doorstep and rang the doorbell. They were gone before I managed to answer.”
“Couldn’t get dressed fast enough, I’d wager.” Brad rolled his eyes. “I can still smell him on you, you know. You couldn’t have at least showered first before coming to see me?”
“This felt too urgent.” I heaved a sigh. Poor judgement on my part. Where was my head? “Whether you approve of my relationship or not is hardly the point right now.”
A smile returned to Brad’s lips, and he relaxed into his chair. “Of course, of course. I guess I can’t be too mad if your first thought was to come see me.” His arrogance never faltered. Though he wasn’t wrong. I’d known Brad for the better part of ten years. The better part of my life after the crash. And just through the better parts of my life. He was a constant who I could always rely on, his support never even wavering in the harshest parts of our breakup. Our relationship might have been over, but our friendship never would be.
Roland was who I wanted, now and in the future, but I didn’t want to include him in my past if I didn’t have to. I would tell him everything once the coast was clear. I knew that was selfish, and he would see it as unfair, but…I would rather be selfish than put him in danger. Though perhaps getting involved with me has already put him in danger.
I shook my head to dismiss the thought and returned my attention to Brad. “‘All debts must one day be paid.’” I recited the final note from memory. “I barely even know what counts as debt anymore. I think we’ve both racked up enough to file for bankruptcy.”
“Bankruptcy…or maybe a really nice pair of coffins.” He chuckled, an inappropriate amount of amusement in his eyes. “You know, our contract is still valid even into the afterlife. Don’t think you’ll get to slack off if this turns sour.”
“I’m not sure which one of us should have gotten a better lawyer.” I laughed. “So what do you think it means?”
Brad stroked his lightly stubbled chin. “I was wondering that. I’m not sure if I’m more unnerved by the pictures of a mob boss with Jonathan, the ones with your dad, or the pictures that include the kid. I kind of expected to see myself in there, but the rest… I guess you weren’t exactly good at staying out of trouble even after you got put in witness protection.”
“I never did find out what kinds of debts my father had wracked up to justify running him off the road all those years ago. The detectives weren’t terribly forthright.”
“Clearly,” Brad said while peeking into the envelope again. “I don’t know what he owed them, but I know what we do.”
“Right.” I frowned.
“Honestly, I haven’t thought about those times in quite a while. Well, not the bad parts anyway.”
“Do you still think about the good parts?” I knew what he was implying, but I admittedly blocked just about all of it out of my mind. The good parts seemed far and in between in hindsight.
“Of course.” Brad shook his head. “You can never forget where you came from.”
You can never forget where you came from? Maybe that’s true, but I could still try.