Worth fighting for, p.11
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       Worth Fighting For, p.11
 

         Part #2 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley

  “Ellie, please? You won’t even know I’m there, I just want to pay my respects,” I pressed.

  Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times, her face undecided, but before she could answer, a car pulled up at the end of the alley, my black BMW i8. Ellie and I both looked up at it at the same time. I held up one finger to Carl, who rolled down the window and nodded to me in understanding before rolling it back up again.

  “Who’s that?” Ellie asked.

  “My driver. I’ve asked him to take you and Stacey home, I just wanted to talk to you first.” I sighed and walked over to the metal door, banging my fist on it a couple of times. Moments later, the door swung outward, and I nodded to Ed, who was on the other side. He turned and motioned with his hand, and then a blur of blonde head shoved past me, deliberately bumping me with her shoulder as she stormed past, her face like thunder.

  “Ellie!” she cried, going straight to her side and wrapping an arm around her shoulders before turning back to me. “You’re an absolute asshole; I have half a mind to call the cops and tell them you held me there against my will.”

  Ellie frowned, looking between the two of us. “What?”

  I raised one shoulder in a half shrug. “Carl will take you two home.”

  Stacey made some sort of snort and looked away from me distastefully.

  I reached for the two girls’ coats, which Ed was holding, and turned, passing them to Ellie, who smiled gratefully, slipping on hers and passing the other to Stacey.

  “Thanks,” Ellie muttered, turning toward the car, pulling Stacey along with her.

  “Hey, Ellie?” I called to her retreating back. She turned, her red-rimmed eyes curious. “You didn’t say if it was okay for me to attend the funeral or not.”

  Stacey’s scowl deepened, but Ellie sighed and nodded. “You can come to the service, but I don’t want you back at the house. It’s three p.m. Friday at Everglade Drive.”

  I smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”

  I watched them get safely into the car and drive off before I turned back to Ed, who was still standing in the doorway. “The Salazars still here?”

  “Yep. Dodger is with them. Mateo wanted to wait until you got back, apparently,” he replied, holding out a paper towel to me. “Your hand is bleeding.”

  I nodded, taking it, and dabbed at the small cut that had opened up on my knuckle as I followed him back into the club. The music drummed around me as people danced and laughed, completely over the incident that had happened a few minutes before. I walked past a guy with his arm around a girl, a big grin on his face, and a wave of envy hit me. All around me people were with friends and lovers, and I was alone, as always. A week ago—hell, just four days ago—I wouldn’t have even noticed this couple, but now here I was jealous of the guy because he had his girl and I didn’t.

  As we wove through the crowd, I spotted Dodger standing off to the side, talking to one of our crew. When he saw me he came over, his face a mask of concern. “Hey. All right, buddy?”

  I nodded and looked past him to the Salazars, who were still sipping whiskey, though the bottle was now almost half gone. Sitting with them was the guy I’d knocked unconscious; he seemed a little dazed as he held a rag to his nose to stanch the blood flow.

  “Come with me,” I instructed. Dodger and Ed followed me to the table, and both the Salazar brothers looked up in unison. A slow grin spread across Mateo’s face, his eyes locked onto mine, his posture slumped cockily in the chair.

  “Why are you still hanging around? Was there something I forgot to say?” I snapped, looking at each of them in turn. The guy with the bloodied rag flinched in his chair, shying away from me. I turned back to Alberto. “This meeting is over. Take your prick of a friend who thinks it’s okay to degrade women and get the hell out of my club. I don’t want to see any of your scumbag dealers in my establishments again, you hear me?” My voice was thunderous, livid. I wanted this night over; I wanted the guy who dared put his hands on Ellie out of here before I finished what I’d started.

  Alberto sighed and stood, and the other two followed suit immediately. He didn’t speak as he turned and walked off, signaling for his crew to leave, too. I stood still, raising my chin and watching them carefully.

  Mateo stopped in front of me, a huge smirk on his face. “Looks like Kid Cole does have a weakness after all.”

  I saw red again. Fuck, I saw all colors. Anger so extreme I could almost taste it flowed through me, and I reached out and grabbed him with both hands, yanking him closer to me. My face was so close to his I could see his pupils dilate and feel his whiskey breath on my face. “If you even look too long in her direction, I swear to God, I will beat you into the fucking ground,” I growled, tightening my grip. “Don’t fucking try me. I’ll kill you, but first I’ll kill your brother and make you watch,” I promised.

  Alberto had come up behind Mateo, pulling on his shoulder, his expression concerned as he tugged his brother away from me and toward the exit. Dodger was holding me in place, obviously feeling the volatility of the situation, too. The whole time, I keep my eyes locked on Mateo’s, letting him know I was serious. If he went anywhere near Ellie, I would ruin him; I would rip his fucking heart out.

  CHAPTER 12

  ELLIE

  ELLIE, DARLING, ARE you awake?” Nana called from downstairs.

  I groaned and squinted at the clock on my nightstand. Just after seven. “Yeah,” I replied, propping myself up on one elbow, hoping she’d hear me even though my voice was barely above a croaky whisper. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

  I hadn’t managed to get much sleep last night; my nerves had been fried, my emotions jangled. All I’d been able to think about was Jamie and how it felt to see him again. It was painful. It brought back a lot of memories that I had buried so deep inside I didn’t think they’d ever resurface, but somehow they managed it as soon as my eyes locked on his. My mind had been whirling ever since, replaying things he said, things he didn’t say, the way he looked at me, the way his lips felt against mine. I’d lain awake for hours on end, thinking about what a good thing we’d had and how much it had hurt when I found out he’d cheated on me and we’d broken up. I’d never felt pain like that before. I hadn’t realized one person could crush you and your spirit with just a few simple words.

  Everything was still bubbling inside me, my feelings swirling around to make one big jumbled mess. I hadn’t wanted to talk about it last night when Stacey had tried to get me to open up in the back of the car, but now I was wondering if that had been a mistake. Maybe talking about it instead of bottling it up would have helped.

  But how would I have put my feelings into words? I didn’t even know what I was feeling or why.

  Before last night I’d thought I was over him. I’d thought I’d finally come out the other side of that dark, long tunnel, but maybe I wasn’t mended completely. I guess I couldn’t be, because there was still a part of me that was unwilling to open up entirely—even with Toby I always guarded myself a little, afraid of what might happen if I gave all of myself to someone else. I’d been there before, I’d loved Jamie unconditionally and with no exceptions. He’d scarred my heart irrevocably, so I didn’t know how to fully trust another man. He’d taken so much from me, made me guarded, so frightened of being hurt again, it even managed to taint my relationship with Toby.

  Another wave of anger washed over me at the thought. I couldn’t remember the last time one person had made me so furious. It was almost as if everything I felt, Jamie managed to magnify somehow. This level of powerful emotion—either good or bad—seemed to be limited to him.

  I blew out a big breath and squeezed my eyes shut, deciding to just forget the meeting ever took place. I had enough to deal with; I didn’t need to be thinking about an ex-boyfriend who pretended to care about me but didn’t. I pushed myself up to sitting, unclenching fists I hadn’t even realized I had made, and looked down at crescent-shaped marks my nails had left on my palms. Jamie had taken eno
ugh from me; I wouldn’t allow him another moment of my time, I decided.

  Swinging my legs out of bed, I grabbed a robe and headed out, following the pleasant scent of bacon and coffee downstairs. I stopped short when I saw Kelsey seated at the kitchen table; she was already dressed and her schoolbag was propped on the chair next to hers. She hadn’t been to school this week—she hadn’t wanted to, so I’d called the school and explained on Monday that I wasn’t sure when she would be in.

  I cleared my throat, smiling softly when she looked in my direction, her fork halfway to her mouth. “Morning,” I said, hoping for more than a grunt and her walking out of the room, which was what I’d been subjected to the last five days.

  Her head nodded in acknowledgment, and then she turned her attention back to her breakfast and iPhone. Nana turned, smiling warmly as she picked up the coffeepot, pouring me a cup. “Morning. Hungry?” she asked.

  I gave a half shrug and sat down on one of the empty chairs. “A little.” I turned to Kelsey. “Are you going to school today?”

  Her eyes flicked up to mine. “Better than sitting around here doing nothing,” she replied, her voice clipped and tight.

  I nodded, smiling at my nana when she put a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of me. “I think it’s a good idea. It might help you get a little normalcy back,” I said thoughtfully.

  “Normalcy? What part of this is normal to you?” Kelsey snapped, scowling.

  “I didn’t mean normal,” I backtracked, scrambling to explain my meaning. “I meant that it might help you to be around your friends, get some routine back. Being busy will help you too, that’s all I meant.”

  “Whatever,” she huffed, setting down her fork and pushing her half-eaten food away from her.

  I sighed. “Kels, how long are you going to be like this with me?”

  She shoved her chair back, making a loud screeching noise. Her face contorted, her nose scrunched in anger. “Until you leave and abandon me again!” She grabbed her bag and stormed out of the room, not giving me a chance to reply. I didn’t even have a reply. I was stunned into silence. My brain was replaying the word abandon over and over. Is that what she thought? That I had abandoned her? I knew she hadn’t wanted me to leave home, but I’d never thought she would hold animosity toward me for it.

  I looked up at my nana for some wise words, but she just shrugged, her smile sad and sympathetic. “Keep at it, she’ll come around.” She placed a pancake and a couple of slices of bacon on a plate before setting it in front of me. “Eat up, you need to keep your strength up, darling.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Still okay to take me home this morning so I can grab a few things?” she asked.

  “Of course.”

  “Thank you, Ellie. I’ve washed this dress three times already this week. I’ve tried borrowing some of your mother’s clothes, but they don’t really fit me. Sadly she’s much more ample in the bosom department than I am,” she said, pointing down at her basically flat chest. “Ruth has what I think you kids call a ‘great rack.’ ”

  I laughed, almost choking on my coffee. Hearing my eighty-year-old grandmother saying the words great rack was not something I’d ever imagined happening in my life.

  * * *

  The drive to Mount Pocono, where my grandmother lived, was pleasant, as always. When we pulled up outside the familiar wooden-slatted house, I couldn’t help but smile. I had many great memories of this place. My grandparents had lived here for as long as I could remember, retiring out here to a quieter life. Sadly, about six years ago, my grandfather had passed, leaving Nana alone. We’d come out to see her as much as possible, my parents making the trip every Saturday to spend the day here with her before coming home. Kelsey and I were frequent weekend visitors too, and Nana Betty had her friends and clubs to keep her busy. She wasn’t one to rest on her laurels and was president of some wine appreciation club as well as being president of the bowling club.

  “Oh, it’s so nice to be out of the hustle and bustle of the city.” Nana sighed as she pushed the passenger door open and stepped out of the car. She took in an exaggerated deep breath. “Oh my, the smell, I’ve missed it.”

  I smiled and followed her out, leaning against the car as one of her elderly neighbor friends, Nora, came out of her house, waving at her before heading over to chat. I closed my eyes, letting the sun beat down on me, and realized that the air was different here, fresher, cleaner. I guess you got used to living in a city—London was the same, full of smog and fumes as you walked the streets. I’d forgotten what clean mountain air smelled like.

  My parents had always had a dream that one day they’d move out here, too. My dad dreamed of a place on the edge of the lake that they could turn into a B and B. My mom would take care of the guests and cook breakfast, and he’d teach kayaking lessons from off a jetty at the back. It would have been perfect. Would have being the operative phrase. It couldn’t happen now.

  When my eyes began to sting with building tears, I forced my mind away from what could have been and turned to my nana. She was just wrapping up her hushed conversation with her neighbor; I could tell they were talking about my parents’ accident, so I hung back and walked deliberately slowly up to the house. They followed me and hugged at the doorway, Nora telling Nana to call if there was anything she could do.

  When Nora turned to leave, her sympathetic eyes met mine. She was a lovely lady; we’d roasted s’mores over her cast-iron fire pit in her backyard every summer. “Oh, Ellie. You’ve grown into a beautiful, strong woman.” She walked forward and hugged me tightly, her musty perfume filling my nose. “You take care of your grandmother for me, all right?”

  “I will,” I replied, awkwardly pulling out of the hug and stepping back a step.

  She ambled off back to her own house next door, and I stood watching a little squirrel foraging for food in the front yard while Nana unlocked the front door.

  Before she stepped over the threshold, I decided to broach the subject that I’d been thinking about for the last couple of days.

  “You know, Nana, you don’t have to come stay at our house if you don’t want to. I mean, I’m back now, so I can take care of Kels. If you wanted to stay here, you could,” I offered. We hadn’t spoken about it, but I knew she hated the city, and she had to have missed her own house and bed. In the beginning, she’d come to stay with us because it was closer to the hospital and it was Kelsey’s home, but now that I was here, there was no reason for her to come back with me.

  “Are you trying to get rid of me?” she joked, nudging my arm with hers.

  “Of course not, I love having you around, and I’d miss your cooking tremendously,” I replied, grinning sheepishly. “But... you know, Kelsey and I will be okay on our own if you did want to stay home.”

  Her eyes met mine, her expression serious. “Ellie, you know there’s a good chance your mother won’t wake up. You need to prepare yourself for that, just in case.”

  I recoiled, shocked at the abrupt turn in the conversation. “I know that.”

  She nodded, reaching out and setting her wrinkly hand on my cheek. “If that happens, then there’ll need to be some permanent procedures put in place for Kels. She’s still a minor and will require a guardian. I’m coming home with you now because after, when this is over and we know what’s going to happen, I’ll be there for Kelsey. It’s not right for such a burden to fall on you when you have a life across the pond.”

  A lump formed in my throat. I reached up and placed my hand over hers on my face, smiling gratefully. “You really are the best grandmother a girl could wish for,” I said. “But if the worst happens and Mom doesn’t wake up, then I’ll be staying here to take care of Kels. You don’t need to worry about either of us, I got it, I promise.” It was the easiest decision I’d ever made; it didn’t warrant thinking about. I would never have expected my elderly grandmother to take on a teenager.

  Birds tweeting were the only sounds around us as we stood in silence f
or a few heartbeats, and then her eyes brimmed with tears and I reached out and engulfed her in a hug.

  “I can’t believe this happened. Your parents were such good people. Why do bad things happen to good people?” she asked softly, her voice muffled by my shoulder.

  “I don’t know, Nana,” I answered truthfully.

  She pulled back and sniffed, pulling a hankie from her pocket and wiping her nose with it. “Have you spoken to your fiancé about what happens if the worst happens?”

  I looked down at the floor and frowned. “I’ll talk to him later.” I was picking Toby up at the airport in a few hours. It was a conversation we’d avoided so far in our daily phone calls, but we couldn’t put it off forever. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go because he had responsibilities in England and I had responsibilities here. I feared there wouldn’t be much middle ground to compromise on.

  “Let’s just keep praying that it doesn’t happen, that your mother wakes up and everything is fine. She’s a fighter, that one, we may be worrying about something that will never happen,” she said, reaching out and squeezing my hand.

  I nodded but her words didn’t help, because deep down inside me I was already thinking that I wanted to stay here, whatever happened. I’d left my family once, wasted time I could have spent with them, and I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to leave them again. The dilemma was real and the feeling intense. I wasn’t sure what the future would hold for my mother, but I was pretty sure I already knew what it held for me.

  * * *

  I stood at the arrivals gate later that day, watching for Toby to walk through the glass doors, with a strong black coffee in my
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