Home > Nothing But Trouble (Malibu University #1)(9)

Nothing But Trouble (Malibu University #1)(9)
Author: P. Dangelico

In a momentary bout of madness I picture Reagan Reynolds in a Speedo. “I’ll think about it.”

I knock on the sliding glass door to my aunt’s royal blue trailer with white trim and get no response. The minute I let myself in her scarlet macaw squawks. That bird hates me. I’m no bird expert but I’m almost positive he’s hurling parrot profanity.

A voice coming from the back room breaks into the squawking. “Oh, don’t…no, don’t do that. Goodness’ sake…”

“Aunt Peg?”

“Alice? Is that you?”


“Back here, sweetie, I’m watching the Outlander.”

In the den I find her seated in her favorite armchair. My aunt Peg is a big, beautiful woman and her home and clothing definitely reflect her style––a mash-up of seventies Hawaiian prints and eighties fluorescent colors. Somehow she makes it work.

Unlike me, she’s a real girly girl. She works from home as a virtual assistant and yet she’s got on a full face of meticulously applied makeup, her red chin-length bob is perfectly blown out, and she’s wearing what can only be described as a very fancy caftan in a jungle print.

Smiling brightly, she stands to her full five-eleven height and sashays over to me with open arms. Then her head whips around, something on the television screen catching her attention. “What a little brat that daughter is.”

I’m fairly certain she’s speaking to the television. Aunt Peg does that a lot. Her smile dies as her gaze falls to my crutches. Hugging me, my face buried between her breasts, my senses drowning in roses and vanilla, she rocks us side to side. “That bad, huh?”

“I can’t put any weight on it.”

She pulls out a kitchen chair and pats it. “Have a seat. We’ll have Wheels take a look.” She makes her way to the refrigerator. “Want something to drink?”

“Water is fine.”

“No soda?”

“No…I try to eat healthy.”

Grabbing a pitcher filled with water out of the refrigerator, she sets it on the table before opening the cabinets to retrieve a couple of glasses. No sooner has she set those down that she opens the window right behind her chair at the kitchen table. “Wheels!” she shouts. “Alice is here and she banged up her ankle. Come take a look.”

“Aunt Peg, I don’t think––”

She purses her bow-shaped lips and waves her polished red nails at me. “Don’t be shy. He worked for the Dallas Cowboys as the team doctor, knows a thing or two. He can tell you what’s wrong with it.” Joining me at the table, she regards me with an indecipherable look on her face. “How’s your father?”

The way my father tells it the nine-year age gap between my aunt and dad was a big enough difference that they grew up virtual strangers. Then, at seventeen, Aunt Peg ran off to California to join a hippie commune and that was the last they heard of her for a good long time. That was, until she was arrested for dealing pot and sent to the “big house”(my father’s words) for five years.

“Good,” I answer. “He and Mom may come out for Thanksgiving.”

“It’s nice that you think of Nancy as your mom.” Peg’s gaze grows distant. As if she’s dredging up all the regrets she’s tried to forget. “You know I’ve always felt terrible that I couldn’t help when Jennifer died.”

Aunt Peg was a guest of the California Department of Corrections when my mother died so my father had to fend for himself. Working full-time and raising a five-year-old was nearly impossible, as he tells the story. Two years later he met Nancy.

“I know,” I say to soothe her guilt.

Her gaze slides over my features. “You look so much like her…” Her smile is weak and sad. “Anyway…” Clearing her throat, she pokes her head out the window again. “Wheels!”

“I’m comin’, goddamnit. Got myself stuck in the mud!” drifts in through the open back door. Wheels enters, gives me a curt nod. “Alice.”

“Hi, Wheels. You don’t have to––”

“Nonsense.” He pushes the wheelchair to the kitchen sink––now that I take notice I see it’s lower than a regular kitchen sink––and washes his hands. A moment later he’s by my chair and pats his lap. “Let’s see whatcha got.”

I place my injured leg on his jeans-covered lap and watch as he removes the ACE bandage and prods the swollen ankle. In the process I get a bunch of “Hmms” and a few nods.

“Well?” Aunt Peg prompts.

“Not broken. Looks to be severely sprained, however. Grade two…” His gray eyebrows hike up. “Could be six weeks recovery––four, at the very least.”

I’m stunned. And lightheaded. “You’re sure?”

“Yep,” Wheels confirms before he wraps my ankle back up.

I want to cry. What am I going to do about my job? I’ve called out sick for the last three shifts. I can’t stall much longer. “What do I do in the meantime?”

“Stay off of it. Soak it three times a day in Epsom salts. Take arnica––that’ll help. But mostly it’s a matter of time.”

Chapter 7


“Mr. Howard, it’s only a sprained ankle.”

The thump, thump, thump my crutches make as I follow Mr. Howard, the manager of the Slow Drip, the coffee shop where I work, is the drumroll reminding me that if I don’t get back to work soon I’ll probably go broke and be forced to drop out of my dream school.

“I’ll be off the crutches in a few days,” I add. Granted it’s a lie, a bald-faced lie––diagnosis courtesy of one Artie “Wheels” Webster, former MD––but I’ll say anything to keep this job.

Howard stops short and his hipster haircut, a blond shellacked wave of hair, sways. He takes a good hard look at my injured leg then slips behind the counter and starts cleaning out the multiple coffee machines lined up against the wall.

“I need someone that can actually do physical labor,” he tells me in a flat tone, not bothering to give me his undivided attention as he dumps used coffee grounds into the trash.

A marked heavy pause happens. Instigated by me. Because what’s there to argue? He’s right. How am I supposed to maneuver on crutches behind the bar with three other baristas? Impossible. Not to mention this place is always wall-to-wall packed with customers.

“Let me get your check.” Without waiting for a response, he walks away, toward the back office.

Standing behind the counter at the cash register, Josie, the girl I usually work with, gives me a sympathetic smile as she hands the surfer dude picking up his four megabeverages his change.

“How are you, Alice?”

My entire life is on the precipice of destruction. That’s the ugly truth about poverty. Even when you have a job, you’re only a paycheck away from total annihilation. The anxiety never goes away.

I’m legit about to start hyperventilating when Peg’s words come back to me. “Take life with a grain of sugar, Alice.” It’s a marvel how she always manages to see the glass as half full, despite her personal experiences.

“Wonderful. You?”

“I’m working a double.” Looking put out, she shrugs. Josie’s the type to stand around picking away at her lilac gel nail polish rather than do a minute’s worth of work. I don’t mind Josie. She’s not a bad person. I just won’t miss working with her.

Gaze aimed at someone beyond my shoulder, her eyes stop blinking. She sweeps away a stray corkscrew curl and performs a quick inspection of her nails. That and the fire-engine red flush makes me think it’s a boy she likes.

“Rea, get me an extra large with a triple shot,” an unfamiliar male voice yells over the others. I may not know the voice but I do recognize the name.

With as much nonchalance as I can marshal, which isn’t very much at all, I glance over my shoulder and find Reagan Reynolds parting the crowd in the coffee shop. And he’s headed straight this way.

Necks start snapping in his direction. “Reaaa, great match last weekend,” unfamiliar voices call out.

“Thanks, dude,” I hear a couple of times. He drags most of the attention in the place with him.

I turn my back, curl my shoulders inward, pray he doesn’t see me.

Howard returns, holding up an envelope. “Look me up after the ankle’s healed,” he offers. “If I haven’t filled the position, I’ll take you back.”

Hard to believe when there’s zero sympathy anywhere to be found in his expression. Besides, with campus only a mile away it’s unlikely this job will be here in the next thirty minutes let alone in six weeks. Plenty of able bodies around to fill my shoes.

“I had to dock your last check for the three days you called out sick.” He hands it over.

I take it from him with a heavy heart. I’ve finally hit bottom. There’s my sugar. My day can’t get any worse. I’ve officially lost my only source of income and I can’t even call my parents because they will stress, and in turn, I’ll stress even more.

A whiff of chlorine and laundry detergent tickles my nose. As I’m rubbing it, the sudden, obvious presence of a tall person standing much too close for comfort draws my attention to the left and up, up, up. Where I’m met by a set of blazing green eyes staring back at me. My attention falls to lips molded into a sulky frown.

My day just got worse.

“What?” is the only thing I can think to say under scrutiny so intense it could strip paint off a car.

“Hi, Reagan,” Josie says a bit too loudly, compelling both of us to glance her way.

“Hi, Josie,” he returns with a crooked smile.

My gaze skips between the two of them. Then takes a full lap around the joint to find a stifling amount of attention––mostly female––attached to the guy standing next to me.

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