The Last One

By: Tawdra Kandle

To Haley, daughter number two, middle child extraordinaire ... this book would not be here without you. We’ll always remember the summer of 2014 as our time of limbo, but your humor, your constancy and your resolve made it not only survivable, but actually fun. I love our book events and beach walks ... and I love you, sweet girl! Remember ... the one you’re waiting for is the last one you’ll expect.

THE WHITE BRICK BUILDING looked a little dingy in the waning sunlight, but after the three-hour drive I’d just made, I was ready to kiss the cracked sidewalk that led to the door. I pulled my trusty blue Honda into the small parking lot and turned off the ignition. For a minute, I sat in the silent car, resting my forehead on the steering wheel.

A loud bang on the roof made me jump, and I looked out the window at a familiar grinning face.

Owen. Lovely.

I opened the car door and swung my legs to the ground as Owen stepped aside, still resting his hand on the top of my car so that he stood over me. I tamped down my annoyance as his eyes swept down my body in an all too-intimate way.

“Hey, beautiful. Is this good timing, or what? I was just coming by to see if you were back yet.”

“And here I am.” I stood up, forcing him to step back. “And yeah, it’s perfect timing because you can carry my bag.” I closed the door and looped my purse strap over my head. “It’s in the backseat.”

Owen reached for the handle of the backseat door and pulled out my bright pink rolling suitcase. “Just the one? Weren’t you there for a week?”

“Five days.” I clicked the lock on my key fob. “And I travel light.”

“Yeah.” He extended the handle and started for the front of the building. “Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

I shrugged. “Not really.”

In front of me, Owen’s back stiffened just enough for me to notice. He swiped back the long black hair that always seemed to hang in his eyes, and I caught the look on his face. I swallowed a sigh. He was annoying as hell, but he was still a friend, and he didn’t deserve to take the brunt of my mood.

“Sorry. I’m tired. It was a long drive up from Florida.” I forced a smile as Owen held the door for me. “Tell me why you’re here.”

Luckily Owen was the kind of guy who bounced back fast from a slight. “I came over to take you to the biggest party of the year. Oswald, Lloyd and Ziggy are throwing a kegger at their new place. Everyone’s going. You have an hour to get ready.”

The wheels on my bag squeaked as he trailed it behind him across the small lobby. Out of habit, we ignored the slow-as-molasses-elevator in favor of the staircase. I gripped the banister and pulled myself up the steps.

“I don’t know, Owen. I told you, I’m tired.”

“Aw, c’mon, Megs. You’ll feel better once we get there.”

I didn’t answer, and we climbed the rest of the way in silence broken only by our footsteps echoing against the cavernous walls. I opened the door at the top of the steps, holding it for Owen this time. My apartment was the second one to the left down the hall.

The doorknob turned in my hand, and I shook my head. No matter how many times I warned her, Laura always forgot to lock the door. She was sitting on our hand-me-down couch, a sketch pad on her lap. Her blonde hair was piled high in a messy knot, and she bit her lip in concentration as her pencil moved across the paper.

“Knock, knock, I’m an intruder. Thanks for leaving your door unlocked for me, lady.” I made my voice deep and tried to sound threatening.

“Meghan!” She tossed her drawing aside and jumped to hug me. “You’re home. How was the drive?”

“Long and monotonous, like it always is.” I lifted my purse over my head and hung it on the back of a kitchen chair. “How are things here?”

“The same.” She glanced over my shoulder, and her left eyebrow rose. “Hey, Owen. Are you pulling bellhop duty tonight?”

He propped my suitcase against the back of the sofa and dropped down into the fuzzy blue recliner. “Right place, right time. I’m trying to talk Megs into going to Oswald’s party tonight.”

“Ah.” Laura met my eyes. “I heard about that. Dani and Ash are going.” That didn’t surprise me. They were neighbors and classmates of ours, but they’d never met a party they didn’t like.

I sank down onto the sofa and let my head fall against the cushion. “No offense, Owen, but I don’t want to go to some party where everyone’s going to be screaming and drunk. And there’re going to be so many people, no one’ll be able to move.”

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