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Make Me Bad
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I was issued a warning: stay away from Ben Rosenberg.
As Clifton Cove’s resident “king”, he thinks he’s entitled to anyone and anything.
The trouble is, I’ve spent my whole life following the rules and playing it safe. I know what it feels like to be the good girl. I’m the police chief’s daughter and a librarian—for adorable children, no less. My wardrobe consists of colorful sundresses and baggy jeans. I might as well have a Post-it stuck to my forehead that reads: Yup, she’s a virgin.
An all-nighter with a fictional hunk is about as exciting as my life gets, until one day, fate decides to take pity on me and shove me straight into the path of Mr. Off-Limits himself.
Just as I suspected, every inch of him promises to be my demise. Up close, he’s tall, menacing, dangerously handsome—the type of man who’s never spent a single moment worrying about the opinions of others. A well-behaved girl would do as she’s told and avoid him at all costs, but I’m overdue for a little rebellion.
No more Friday nights sprawled out on the couch in my comfiest pajamas. No more wishing I had the courage to misbehave.
Everyone thinks Ben is going to ruin me.
Well, Ben…go ahead.
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It’s been quite a while since I threw a punch. The last time was in high school.
A part of me worries I’ve forgotten how to do it, but it seems intuitive: put some heat behind it, aim well, and be prepared for the consequences. Simple enough.
Normally, I don’t find myself in situations like this: at a seedy bar on the wrong side of town, seconds away from losing my temper. I glance down at where my hand grips my drink. My knuckles are white. The glass is about to shatter into a million pieces. My palm will be a bloody mess.
My friend Andy notices. His hand lands on my shoulder in a gesture of solidarity. “C’mon, dude, ignore them. They’re idiots.”
Idiots is exactly right. At the table behind me, there are three guys I’ve known since we were kids. Usually, the only emotion I feel toward them is pity. If I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, they grew up with dirt stuffed in theirs. Since the days of little league and Pop Warner football, our paths have rarely crossed, but tonight, Andy wanted to get a drink at Murphy’s. “It’ll be fun,” he said. “We’ve never been there. Maybe it has a cool atmosphere.” So, here I am on a rickety barstool, drinking cheap beer and listening to these Three Stooges run their mouths.
It starts with low-hanging fruit.
“…pretty boy came to our side of town…”
“…thinks his shit don’t stink…”
“…too good for us…”
I ignore them, drink, and watch the Rockets game on TV, but they’re growing restless, getting impatient. They want a reaction, and the longer I sit here with my back to them, the more they dig for it.
“Hey Ben!” one of them shouts, trying to force me to pay attention.
I ignore them.
A low whistle follows and then another one speaks up. “Ben, we’re talking to you.”
I tell myself to keep my focus on the TV. The Rockets are up. I had a good day at the firm. My clients are happy. My beer is only half empty. Life is good.
“It’s okay if he doesn’t want to talk, guys.” It’s their ringleader piping in now—Mac. He’s a big, burly guy with a thick scraggly beard. We played on the same little league team and he wasn’t so bad then, but I remember his dad usually yelled at him a lot during the games. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “He’s probably sad about his mom.”
His taunting words are a poison dart.
My vision tunnels and Andy turns on his barstool, jumping in before I can. “Hey, what’s this about? Can’t we all just watch the game? Let me buy you guys a round.”
That’s my best friend: level-headed, cool to a fault. He once sweet-talked his grade up from a 75 to a 93 on a law school paper. He still brags about it to this day.
The guys behind us laugh at his offer, and I finally turn to assess them over my shoulder. Mac meets my eye, and it’s just as I suspected—he needs to lay off the fast food and find a dentist. He spits tobacco juice into a Styrofoam cup and sends a yellow-stained sneer my way.
I get it.
These guys are pissed at the world—high school dropouts, the outcasts of society—and we offered them a gift by stepping in here tonight. I’m everything they despise. To them, I’m the rich prick with my foot on their backs, holding them down. I’m the reason their lives suck. Maybe I would have let them take jabs at me all night just to ease their suffering a little bit, but the second they decided to bring my family into it, there was no going back. My dad and I have been through hell these last few years, and now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind taking out my anger on these guys. In fact, it sounds kind of nice.
I slide off my stool and shrug out of my suit jacket. It’s new and I happen to like it enough to keep it clean. I toss it back onto my seat and then smile at the group while I roll up my sleeves.
“My friend offered you a drink,” I say, my voice calm and even despite how hard my heart thunders in my chest.
The guy closest to me is wiry with oil-stained coveralls. I forget his name, but it’s not important. He’s leaning back and only two of his chair legs touch the ground. It’s a cocky pose. He’s daring gravity to get him.
He spits on the floor at my feet. “We don’t want your fuckin’ charity.”
Andy frowns. “Now that’s just not nice.” He points down. “You got spit on his shoes. No one wants spit on their shoes, man.”
Wiry guy makes a real show of hacking up more phlegm in this throat and then he takes careful aim at my feet again. To anyone else, it’d be enough to elicit a reaction, but I don’t give a shit about this guy and his overproduction of saliva.