This is an excerpt from the Diggs & Solomon prequel I’ll be publishing at the end of this summer, currently a work-in-progress. I’m excited about this particular project because it takes us back to the roots of my two favorite characters, retracing their relationship and the summer when things took a turn for both of them. It’s also a kickin’ noir piece told from Diggs’ perspective, which is always fun.
“You didn’t have to defend my honor,” Solomon says to me. I’ve got a bag of frozen peas on my left eye, a wad of bloodied toilet paper at my side, and the room is spinning – though it’s not clear whether that’s from the fight or the fifth of Jack Daniels I drank before it.
I’m sitting on my couch – a ratty pullout I got for five bucks at the Salvation Army – and Solomon is seated on my coffee table, eying me with obvious concern.
“I wasn’t defending your honor,” I say.
She smiles at the way I sound with my possibly-broken nose, but quickly squelches it at my glare.
“What the hell were you thinking going to Mickey’s dressed like that, anyway?” I ask.
“Like… that.” I wave in her general direction, but stop when the room spins and that last shot of JD threatens to make a reappearance. “Where’d you get jeans like that? And that shirt…”
A flash of hurt touches her pretty green eyes and then disappears so fast I’m sure I must have imagined it.
“Nobody else seemed to mind. I could have handled that asshole without you,” she says defiantly, and I’m reminded instantly that despite the new clothes and the new attitude, this is still Solomon we’re talking about. Nineteen years old and a hell of a lot different from the fifteen-year-old kid I met in Littlehope, Maine, but she’s still fundamentally the same girl who manned more than one midnight boating expedition with me and called me on all the shit every other woman I’ve ever met just melts at.
“Yeah, you were doing a hell of a job when I got there,” I say.
The hurt’s gone now, replaced with the fire I’ve come to know well from Solomon. “Screw you. I don’t need you to bail me out all the time, Diggs.”
“So one year in Boston and you’re suddenly a badass?”
“You’re one to talk. What are you doing with these guys? You’re gonna get yourself killed.”
Solomon’s been bunking with me here in Bridgeport for the past month while she waits for summer break to end so she can get back to being a coed in Beantown. I’ve been undercover doing an investigative piece on a biker gang and a bunch of cops they’ve got in their pocket; the shitty apartment and the barfights, the whiskey and the occasional snort of white lightning all fit into that world. I can’t figure out where Solomon fits in any of it, though.
She gets quieter. My heads about to bust in two, and I suddenly remember the look on her face when I went after the Neanderthal who’d decided he was taking her home tonight – whether she wanted to go or not.
“You don’t have to worry about me, Sol.”
She looks like she’s about to cry, which definitely isn’t the norm for Solomon, but she pulls it together and settles for scooting a little bit closer to me. She reaches up and brushes the hair from my eyes. Her hand is warm and there’s a faint sheen of sweat on her face. The apartment’s been hotter than hell all summer long, and tonight is no exception. Solomon takes the frozen peas off my eye and touches my brow gently, her forehead furrowed.
“I don’t know what the hell you were thinking, Diggs,” she says softly.
I don’t know what to say. Or what to do, for that matter. I close my eyes when she continues running her fingers lightly over my face – along my swollen nose and across my aching forehead, lingering at my bruised eye before she settles her hand in my hair.
“I should go to bed,” I hear myself say.
I open my eyes, and she nods and drops her hand to her lap. She’s wearing a black t-shirt that hugs curves I didn’t even know she had. She’s been growing her hair out, and the effect is… Unexpected. Her right cheek is still red from the biker who’d decided he had the right to touch her when she told him to get lost. Like I’m watching someone else, I see my hand reach up and very gently – as though she might break, or maybe just vanish – touch the spot that I’m sure will bruise by morning.
“I’m okay, Diggs,” she says.
I don’t remove my hand, though. She swallows hard, her green eyes swimming with something I can’t name, and I’ve been not touching her for so many years now that it seems strange how simple it is to just let that go. Her skin is soft and warm and I watch my hand drift to her hairline and the shell of her ear and then down along her jawline, her neck… Her eyes drift shut, her chest rising and falling more quickly now.
I know I need to stop. Take my frozen peas and what’s left of my dignity and lock myself in my room until whatever this thing that’s been building between Solomon and me for the past month just goes away. Or I’m at least sober enough to ignore it.
But I don’t stop. Instead, I move to the edge of the couch. Our knees bump together, and the points where they touch are warm and solid and oddly electrified. She opens her eyes and I can tell that she’s torn and terrified and waiting for me to come to my senses. I drop my hand lower, drawing a line from her shoulder down to her collarbone, leaving goosebumps in my wake.
She takes my hand and squeezes it, watching my every move now. She looks for all the world like she’s jumping off a cliff when she bridges the distance between us. Her lips land on my cheek, and she tangles her hand in the hair at the back of my head.
“Get some sleep,” she whispers to me.
I nod, but when she starts to withdraw, the idea of another night in the bedroom just a door away from Solomon collides with the memory of the leather-clad fucker who hit her and the sight of her on the floor and a dozen other flashes of my past and hers that suddenly seem like way too much to handle tonight. My hands find hers and hold on tight, and I tip my forehead against hers. My head is pounding and my heart is racing and Solomon smells like cigarette smoke and beer and somewhere beneath it all the faint promise of something more, something sweeter than the world I’m lost in right now.
All the reasons I shouldn’t be doing this are playing on a loop in my head when I pull her close, but when my lips finally find hers I’m hard pressed to remember a single one of them. She leans into me and I lean into her, and neither one of us has the good sense to pull away. She bumps my nose and it hurts like hell, but all I can think to do is twist my fingers in her hair and hold her still so we can keep doing this for as long as possible. There will be repercussions in the morning – huge ones. I’m not stupid enough to believe things will just go back to normal afterward, and I’m not delusional enough to think I’ll ever be able to offer her anything more.
But tonight, none of that seems to matter – or at least it doesn’t matter enough for me to stop.
Tonight, I just don’t care.