An Early Excerpt from K. Bromberg’s Down Shift
There’s so much blood. Coating my hands. Soaking into my Scooby-Doo pajama pants. The ones with the hole in the knee from that nice lady with the funny glasses at the Salvation Army.
It’s easier to think about her. Focus on her. Instead of the blood.
It’s everywhere. And it keeps coming out. Keeps spreading.
It won’t stop.
I can’t make it stop.
Dust dances in the air. Little pieces float in the light showing through the crack of the blackout blinds of the
hotel room. My eyesight is fuzzy. My mind exhausted.
Because this alcohol-induced haze is much better than the dreams that won’t stop. The ones that aren’t really dreams anymore. The ones that started the minute I opened that box three weeks ago and pulled out the piece
of paper that rocked my world.
I lift the bottle of Jameson to my lips. Take a swig. Except the burn’s not there. The warmth is fleeting. But
it’s enough to numb my mind. To let the dreams fade.
To let the truth seem false.
The Band-Aids. They’re everywhere. The box is almost empty. The white pieces I peel off stick to my arms—but they don’t matter. The blood keeps coming. It doesn’t stop.
I can’t make it stop.
Another sip. And then another.
I’m so tired. But I’m so sick of feeling this way. So sick of wondering if my adoptive parents knew. Of course they knew—so why’d they lie to me? Didn’t I have a right to know what was on that paper? To accept? To deal with it?
Fuck no. Fuck yes. I just don’t know.
Another sip. Then a gulp.
The scissors. The shine of silver lying next to her. The dark red coming through my closed fingers as I try to fix her. Help her. Save her. Stop. The. Blood.
The taste of fear. My scared pleas. The helpless feeling.
I can remember all that, so why can’t I remember if I did or if I didn’t . . . ? I must have. That’s what the report said. Why would it lie?
Wait. There’s sunlight. I can see the dust dancing. When did that happen?
A lift of the bottle. There’s nothing left. An deep breath. Slumping back in the chair. Now I can’t forget anymore. Fuck.
The pounding on the door startles me. I know I should have expected it. Know I’m fucking up again. But does it
really matter in the grand scheme of things?
I know who it is before he even speaks. Somehow I knew he’d find me. Just like I know he’s going to be pissed
before I hear his voice.
Ask me if I care.
“Zander.” Boom. Boom. Boom. His fist on the hotel room door sounds like thunder in my head. “Open up.”
Boom. Boom. Boom. “Open the goddamn door!”
And when I open it, there’s the lightning: The bright light of the hall blinds me after so much darkness. I block
the glare with my forearm. It’s futile until he shifts his stance and blocks its blaze.
My mentor. My boss. The person who knows me best.
My dad. Well, adopted dad, but does it really matter?
We stare at each other. His green eyes fill with concerned disgust as he gives me a once-over to take in my
rumpled clothes—the same ones from last night—and makes a show of sniffing the air to let me know he can smell the stench of alcohol that’s probably seeping out my pores.
Yes. It does matter.
Lies always matter. Especially when they’re from people you thought loved you.
“You forget something?” There’s a bite of anger to his question, and I’m buzzed enough that I don’t think twice
about my smart-ass response.
“Not that I can think of.” My hand’s on the door, swinging it shut in his face before I finish the sentence.
If I thought the sound of his fist knocking on the wood was loud, the sound when he slams it back against the
interior wall is deafening. I deserve nothing less than his wrath, but it’s proving really hard beneath this alcoholic haze to find any fucks to give.
He shoves past me, flicking the light switch on and bumping me in the chest with his shoulder as he passes
by. It’s all I have not to take everything out on him right now. Use my fists to relieve the anger and disbelief and
hurt and every damn thing bottled up inside me.
Like all the shit that’s definitely my fault but that I’d rather blame on him. On my adoptive mom, Rylee. On
the whole fucking world.
The thoughts stagger me. I shake my head, try to figure out how I could want to raise my fists at the man who
has helped to give me everything, and yet the images fill my head again: the blood, the Band-Aids, the scissors.
The truth my mind has been hiding from me.
The one he has obviously been keeping from me too.
With my fists clenched and entire body vibrating, I force myself to remain where I stand and hold back the
anger that’s been running like a river through my veins the past few weeks.
“You know what I can’t figure out?” he asks nonchalantly as he picks up the empty bottle of Jameson before
tossing it on the perfectly made bed with a chuckle. And then a sigh. “Why?”
Such a loaded question. One I’m not quite positive I feel like pulling the trigger on answering. And yet my finger’s itching to. I’m just not sure I can handle the blowback right now.
So I don’t answer. The question hangs in the stale air of the hotel room, his silence weighing on me as he surveys the space. After a few seconds his eyes find mine and ask the question again. But I choose to be the asshole. It’s just so much easier than having to admit out loud what I still don’t want to believe myself.
“Why what?” I finally answer. Sarcasm tinges my tone. Along with a healthy dose of It’s none of your fucking
“This isn’t a joke, son.” A lift of his eyebrows. Another shake of his head. His face a mask of disgust.
Just more shit I don’t want to deal with. Questions bubble up inside me. Fester like infected wounds. Eat at me
until I can’t bite back the anger.
“Nope. It seems I’m the joke these days.” The autopsy report flashes in my mind’s eye. Fuels my fire.
He narrows his eyes. Tries to figure out where my hostility is coming from. “Damn straight, you are,” he says,
and for the first time I notice his lucky shirt and workout pants. His superstitious pre–fire suit getup.
Then it hits me that I’ve just royally fucked up. The thoughts flash through my mind. It’s daylight. I’m supposed
to be somewhere, do something other than get lost in this bottle.
“Ahhh . . . Did you forget about your scheduled track time this morning? Team testing for final adjustments?
Or maybe you forgot about the race tomorrow altogether? After last night, I’d want to forget all about being here in Alabama too.”
His last comment jogs a memory. Images flash: loud music; huge VIP bar tab; race bunnies sliding up, wanting
a piece of me. Everyone wanting a piece of me.
Push. Push. Push. Everyone pushing.
Smitty restraining me—biceps locked under my arms in a vise grip, pulling my shoulders back. But why? How? What the hell happened? All I remember is him dropping me off back here. The hotel. My home for the week.
“Just having a good time,” I say with a sneer. Covering up for the blank spots in my memory. “What the fuck do
He’s on me in a flash. Forearm pressed into my chest, my shoulders backed up against the wall. He’s quick.
Guess I’ve never tested this side of him before.
Our eyes hold—father to son, mentor to protégé, boss to employee, man to man—and for one split second I see
the hurt in his eyes that I want to ignore.
“Why do I care? WHY do I care?” he growls, voice escalating on each word and forearm pressing harder against
my chest. “Let me count the ways. Showing up late to training at home is one thing, Zander. Thumbing your nose to your sponsors by standing them up at the dinner they throw in your honor as you sat in the bar next door and laughed so loud they know it’s you? Inexcusable. The endless stream of questionable women. Sweet Jesus, Zander . . . I was all for getting laid when I was your age, but even I had some standards.”
I roll my eyes. Snort in disbelief. Does he think I’m buying his holier-than-thou bullshit right now when I’ve heardthe old stories? Like he didn’t play the field in his day.
“You think this is funny?” he shouts with another hard shove to my chest. “My idea of funny isn’t missing testing the day before a race when you’re in the goddamn driver’s seat to take another championship. Just blowing it off without a word. Letting your team down. Your crew. The hundred or so fans you had sitting in a VIP tent two hours ago waiting to meet their idol, and guess what? He didn’t show because he was too goddamn busy getting shitfaced on cheap whiskey like a drunk. So you tell me, Golden Boy . . . how is that funny?”
“Get. Off. Me.” I grit the words out even as I welcome the biting pressure of his forearm on my chest.
He steps back, but his hands take a little longer to let go from where they’re fisted in my shirt. But I still don’t
move. His glare pins me motionless. There’s disappointment there. Concern. And a shitload of anger.
I cling to the anger he’s giving off, can relate to it, but for completely different reasons from the ones he has.
The irony. He’s pissed because he expects more from his son, and I’m furious because I expect more from my dad.
“You’ve been late, showed up to the track hungover, and have chewed out your crew and treated them like shit
for no reason. You’ve blown off Rylee, been an asshole to me, and pulled away from your brothers. You’ve fucked up royally and you’re asking me why I care? I think you need to ask yourself that question, son.”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Bet your ass it’s my business. Everything about you is my business and you’re out of control.” He talks right
over me. The resentment I can hear in his tone causes my chest to constrict. “You’ve stepped way over the line.”
“Like you are right now by getting in my business? Get the fuck out.” I spit the words out, not caring that my anger is misplaced or that I can’t take them back.
He takes a step toward me, head angled, jaw clenched, hands fisted. The proverbial gloves are off. “You hurting,
son? Want to lash out at someone for something you don’t want to talk about? Trying to throw all your hard work away with your bullshit stunts? It’s best you remember who you’re talking to,” he says between gritted teeth, referring to the abusive childhood he survived before being saved and adopted. The implication being that he understands what’s going on in my head. “I know rage like you feel, Zander. I know hate that burns in your gut and turns your heart black. But it fixes nothing. Nothing. I’ve tried to be patient. Tried to be here for you. Asked you to talk to me, let me be there for you in whatever you’re going through, and you’ve refused. Now I’m watching you sabotage everything good you’ve got going for you, and you want me to stand by and let it happen? Are you out of your mind?” He takes a moment to catch his breath while I seethe over his words. Over my inability to get past this and just ask him the questions I need to ask.
Because hurt not only clouds your judgment, but can also blind you from the real reason you’re mad.
“I’ve kept the press away. Held back Rylee from interfering. Given you enough rope to hang yourself and now . . . now I can’t help you. Congrats, there’s no more rope left. You’ve lost your sponsorship.”
What? The silence in the room screams around me. It’s so loud I let it drown out what he just said. Don’t want
to believe it.
It’s his fault. That’s all I can focus on. All I can rationalize. He didn’t prevent it. He didn’t fix this. He probably
did it on purpose because he wants to control me. Control everything about me.
Including my past.
God, I need a drink. A whole goddamn bottle to make this just go away. To make sense of all the bullshit I’m
selling myself when it sounds ridiculous just thinking it.
“You’re lying!” My voice is completely opposite to his. Loud. Screaming. Enraged. And my head’s so fucked‑up
that it hurts and craves the pain all at the same time.
“I’d never lie to you, Zander.” Calm. Even. Dead serious.
And those words—the ones I know to be a lie—are like a match to the embers that have been smoldering
over the past few weeks.
“That’s bullshit and you know it!” I shout. Become unhinged, fists itching to punch something, and I’m sure
ruining the drywall of this fancy hotel wouldn’t win me any favors. My body shakes with the anger. The rage inside me takes over. “You lied—”
“And you don’t think you’re out of control?” Colton says, taking an aggressive step into me. Taunting me in
my irrational state. “Since when is it okay to even think about taking a swing at your old man?”
You’re not my old man. The words flicker and fade through my rage. Shock me. Plant thoughts in my head that
I’ve never considered before. And even though they’re bullshit, they still linger. Still taint my anger and jade my
“I’m perfectly in control,” I grate out through gritted teeth. Anger. Spite. Frustration. All three spin on the
merry‑go‑round in my head. Muck up the truths and feed off the confusion.
“Perfectly in control?” he asks with a disbelieving shake of his head as he reaches into his pocket and grabs his cell phone. Confusion and dread run through me simultaneously. It’s like deep down I know this can’t be good and yet can’t for the life of me figure out what he’s going to show me on the screen once he’s finished flicking through images. “Let’s just say you owe Smitty big-time, because I’m done paying for your fuckups, Zee. This was the only picture taken last night. Lucky for you, the VIP room was empty by the time this happened. Smitty was worried enough about you to stick around to make sure you didn’t get into trouble. The lone paparazzo who snuck through and snapped this had to forfeit his camera to the bouncer, because it was against house rules.”
The look on Colton’s face and his eyes trained on the image on his phone unnerve me. The anxiety breaks
through the hold the anger has on me. Worries me. Makes me shift my feet in anticipation of something I know has to be bad to earn me this speech.
Thoughts ghost through my mind. A hot blonde. A dick-hardening kiss. A pissed-off boyfriend. Testosterone-laced tempers. My words, “I’m Zander fucking Donavan.”
This can’t be good.
“Cut the dramatics and just show me.”
“Dramatics?” Colton thunders farther into the room as he holds the phone out so I can see it. I reject the image
immediately. A moment of clarity amid the confused haze. Know it didn’t happen the way the picture shows.
Just the same way your dream about your mom was different than reality too.
I stare at the image, my body tense, my jaw clenched, and try to fill in the missing holes between what’s in my
mind and what the picture shows. The worst part is I can’t know for sure that I didn’t do that.
“Is that dramatics, Zander? Looks pretty crystal fucking clear to me.”
It’s me all right. Fist clenched, arm cocked, a rage on my face like I’ve never seen before—but it’s nothing like
the look on the woman’s face in front of me. Scared. Stunned. Fearful.
“That’s not what . . .” I shake my head. Try to rationalize that her asshole of a boyfriend must have been next to
her, out of camera range. The one my cocked fist was aiming toward. For a split second I see my dad in my face. My biological dad. The monster. The abuser. Everything I promised myself I’d never be.
I reject the thought immediately.
“It is you, Zander. Take a closer look. You think losing a sponsor is bad? Let this image get out—just how you
think a lady should be treated—and you’ll lose a shit ton more than that. You raised your fist to a woman.” He
shakes his head and chuckles in shocked disbelief. “And you don’t think you’re out of control?”
“You need help.”
“To talk to someone.”
“This isn’t the son I raised—”
“I’m not your goddamn son, so quit acting like you’re my father!” I shout at the top of my lungs with every
ounce of rage and hurt and confusion that I’ve been fighting back down the past few weeks. Something, anything, to make this stop. To make the pain stop. The confusion end. Keep the past from tainting my future.
The lies from being true.
He stumbles back a few feet, eyes wide, mouth lax. For just a moment he stands there staring at me. Reining in
his temper. Trying to comprehend what I just said.
The look on his face alone should knock the fight out of me—shock, hurt, disbelief—but the truths he just threw
in my face, the ones I have to acknowledge but don’t want to hear, are like kerosene to my anger. They create a back draft loaded with resentment that explodes instantly, wiping out all reason.
“Excuse me?” He straightens his spine. His voice comes out with a controlled calmness. And I should heed the
warning. The loud, angry wrath of my dad is one thing, but the cool, even quiet manner is much scarier when you’re on the receiving end of it.
But I don’t.
“You heard me.” Our gazes lock. Our mutual anger feels heavy in the room as I lash out the only way I know
how to right now.
“Loud. And. Clear.” The tone remains even, though his eyes reflect a wounded fury I refuse to acknowledge. He
tucks the phone into his back pocket, nodding his head the whole time as I stand there wanting everything he means to me gone: salvation, hope, family, friendship, unconditional love. All I can feel is the crushing disappointment from everything I’ve done to purposely try to fuck this all up.
“You’ve left me no choice.” When he looks back up, his expression is blank, shoulders squared, eyes hard.
“Come again?” He wouldn’t dare. I’m leading the points. I’m the reigning champion. There’s a reason they call me Indy’s Golden Boy.
But as the silence stretches out and nothing about his posture changes, the lump in my throat gets bigger and it
becomes harder to swallow.
“You heard me.”
My laugh is loud enough to sound condescending. Part of me is in disbelief, but he wants to be a prick and go this route? Fine. I’ll show him I don’t need him or his lies. I don’t need anything from him.
It’s not like I’ve never been on my own before.
Blood. Scissors. Band-Aids.
But first, self-preservation. The hurt radiates through me. The stain on my soul darker than ever before.
“Fine. Got it.” I shake my head, our eyes locked, with his saying, Let me help you and mine telling him, I don’t
need your lies. Confusion turns to anger. “I don’t need you anyway.”
“Good luck with that, son—Zander,” he corrects himself quickly. The sting at the sound of my name on his lips
is more than obvious. “And don’t bother trying to approach any other teams. One, it’s midseason and two,
they won’t hire you anyway.”
“You can’t do that.” Anger turns to rage. He wouldn’t threaten other teams to not hire me.
“Watch me.” That cocky-bastard flash of a grin that unnerves his competitors is directed my way. He takes a step closer. “I’ve been around a lot longer than you have. No one would cross that line even for a sure thing like
you. Oh, wait. . . . You’re not exactly a sure thing anymore when you’re losing sponsors, blowing off testing,
and there’s concern whether you’ll even show for race day. It’s not like you’ve been exactly discreet with your
bullshit.” He takes another step, a mocking laugh falling from his mouth. “Take it from a team owner. You’ve become a risk. A liability. And no one wants a loose cannon on their team regardless of how good of a driver you are.”
Rage turns into a ball of disbelieving fury; I want to lash out at him with everything I have, regardless of the
damage it causes. Self-preservation at its finest.
“Fuck you, Colton.” His name is a sneer loaded with disrespect. I come out swinging with words I can’t take
back. Needing to save face when everything about me is being questioned. “It’s always about the team with you,
isn’t it? The next victory. The next paycheck. Fuck the racers, right? Screw them and any shit they have going
on—lie to them if need be—so long as they perform for you. Isn’t that right, boss?”
“Sticks and stones,” he says with a lift of his eyebrows. The taunt of a smile. The ice in his voice. “You think
that’s going to get your job back? Think again.”
“Fuck. You.” I’m overheated, but my body breaks out in goose bumps, because the chilling look in his eyes tells
me this isn’t a joke at all. Not some psychobabble bullshit he’s using to try to get me to talk like he has in the past.
He chuckles long and low again and the sound grates on my nerves as I try to wrap my head around everything that’s happening: the dreams, the picture, Colton’s no‑bullshit punches.
“It’s not just me you’re hurting, but everyone else that depends on you. I’m leaving your car without a driver.
Won’t fill your spot. If I worried only about money, that wouldn’t be the case, now, would it? What I’m worried
about is you. You’re out of control and pushing the limits, and I can’t stand by to watch you crash and burn without stepping in. I’m sorry it has to come to this, but I don’t mind being the asshole if it’s going to save you. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again in a second.”
We stand in silence, hearts torn apart, and so much of our connection shredded on the floor between us. For the first time since he’s walked in here, I notice how tired he looks. Concern etches the lines of his face. And the need to say any more, damage us more, dies on my lips despite the discord still echoing within me.
With a nod of his head, he turns and walks toward the door. My eyes follow him despite the desperation for him
to be gone so I don’t have to see the defeat in his posture. He grabs the handle and hangs his head. “Take the time, Zee. Fix what you need to fix. Deal with whatever shit you need to deal with. Let someone in instead of shutting everyone out. It doesn’t have to be me. Or Rylee. Or anyone we know, but let them in; you’ll be a better man because of it. Sometimes it takes a new ear, a fresh voice, to put things in perspective for you. Shit, take a drive, a trip—I don’t care—but use the time to make you right. Don’t come back until you are. I don’t know what’s going on and I wish like hell you’d talk to me about it, but I understand better than most that sometimes you can’t. My only advice is not to let the dark eat you whole. You deserve better than that.” He clears his throat from the emotion clogging it, and I hate everything about this conversation more because of that disconcerting sound. “Regardless of what you think, you are my son and it doesn’t matter how bad you fuck up—I’ll always love you.”
The door opens. Closes. The dust dances again. The silence suffocates me.
I fight the urge to go after him. I resist unleashing more of my anger and the need to yell and shout and trash the room to get it all out. None of it will fix a goddamn thing.
Grabbing the bottle of Jameson, I lift it to my lips until I remember it’s empty. The crash of the glass shattering
as it hits the wall across from me is deafening.
Shaking my head, I fall back on the bed. Try to make sense of what just happened. What I’ve let happen. What
I didn’t stop.
To my mom back then and to my family now.
The loudest thing I hear is the rejection from the man I’ve looked up to, idolized, who helped me heal. The man who just walked out of this room and hurt me more than he’ll ever know.
Can you blame him, Zander?
I close my eyes and rub my hands over my face. My buzz is gone. The haze removed. Everything important
taken away from me with the slam of the door: my family, my ride, my anchors. And the sting is real.
But so is the anger. The inability to rationalize. To accept. To ask the things I need to ask.
Fuck that. I’m not apologizing. I’m not the one who lied.And I would never threaten to hit a woman, let alone actually follow through with it. The image on Colton’s phone flashes through my mind. Another lie to throw in the pot.
The rage is instantly back. Misdirected but back. My body feels restless, but my mind is whipped to the point
where I can’t think about this any more. Don’t want to. I just need another bottle to get lost in. Then I’ll figure
where to go from here, since it looks like I have some time off coming to me.
And yet I don’t get up from the bed to walk down to th:
e bar. I can’t, because somewhere deep down that voice
of doubt grabs hold of my heart and squeezes tight. Twists it. Letting me know there are two truths I have to accept before I can move forward.
I am Colton’s son.
And I’m the one who killed my mom.
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