Sustain, p.14
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       Sustain, p.14

           Tijan
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  Her eyebrows shot up. “Hello. Eli and Luke together. That’s not normal. How could I not follow them?”

  She had a point. “Where are they?”

  She grew wary and pointed ahead. There was a long line of cars parked on the street before her, but all of them led to a run-down house that was brightly lit. Loud music poured from it, and there was a large group of people standing on its front lawn, all of them holding beverages. Some were drinking from big cups and beer cans, while others were drinking from bottles still encased in brown paper bags. I glanced around the neighborhood, taking note of the rest of the houses with doors and windows broken. Some windows even had iron bars on them. This wasn’t a good neighborhood, which made the knots in my stomach tighten even more.

  “I don’t know what they’re doing here. I haven’t worked up the courage to go in there,” Kelly said.

  I heard the fear in her tone, and I understood.

  “And it’s Eli and Luke. I thought I was seeing things, so I followed them, but it was them. They were running inside when I drove past. By the time I circled back to park here, I…” She faltered. “You can understand.”

  I did. I wiped my hands over my jeans. “I’m going in.”

  “What?” She grabbed my hand through the window. “Don’t. Think, Bri. Be smart.”

  I was thinking. I wasn’t sure about being smart. I loosened her hold on my arm and patted her hand twice. “I dated a drug dealer for three years. I didn’t know he was a drug dealer, but still. We went to parties like this. I might even know people in there besides them. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

  Oh, hell no, it wasn’t going to be fine. As I started forward, my entire body tensed. This was foreign territory. I lied to Kelly. Yes, Eli took me to parties, but they were never this bad. The closer I got, the more I wished I had a steel bat with me instead of my phone and keys.

  Nice weapons, Bri. They’ll do a lot of damage.

  “Oh, you fucker!” one guy laughed, stumbling backwards until he was right in front of me. “Well, hey there, gorgeous.”

  I moved around him. “Excuse me.”

  “Come on.” He shifted and wrapped an arm around my waist.

  The alcohol on his breath was overwhelming. I was close to gagging, but I didn’t panic. Not yet. “Do you know Elijah Turner?”

  The guy released me and stepped back. His entire demeanor changed. Instead of the drunken flirt, he was cold. Raising his head, he asked, “You’re a customer?”

  “Maybe.”

  Disgust flared in his eyes. “You don’t need Turner. This is Brute’s house. He can get you whatever you need that Turner can, but better quality. Turner sells shit for quality.”

  It was his competitor’s place. That realization settled in at the same time we heard shouts from the backyard, “Get ’em!”

  I turned and took off at a full sprint, but I wasn’t running away. I was going for the backyard with the leech, along with his buddies from the front yard, hot on my trail. As we circled the house, the sight stopped me dead in my tracks. Elijah and Luke were pinned against the back fence. Both were sweating and bloodied. Elijah’s normal sweatshirt was off, and his undershirt had been ripped. Luke’s shirt was barely on as well. He had blood streaks spread down his chest, and both were sucking in mouthfuls of air.

  If I hadn’t been so panicked at the crowd forming around them, I would’ve appreciated the sight. They looked gorgeous, sweaty, and deadly in that moment, but I didn’t stop to salivate. I pulled out my phone and called Kelly. She sounded terrified when I told her the plan, but she had to do it. I glanced back up; they were running out of time. The crowd had tripled, and a lone guy stepped forward. He was enormous. Big shoulders. Big hands. Big everything. He was bald, like Emerson, with a snake tattoo that slithered up the back of his neck and headed to the top of his head, resting above his forehead. He was gripping a bat in one hand, and he pointed to the sidelines with his other. He yelled out, “You come here, Turner? To start shit with me?”

  I glanced to the sidelines. Emerson stood there, gripping a beer can. Moving through the crowd, I got closer and could tell my cousin was on something. He kept blinking like something was in his eye and shaking his head back and forth. He was teetering back and forth on his feet, too.

  Then I got it—why Elijah had come for Luke at the hospital. He needed back up from someone else who cared about Emerson.

  “You show up at my house, at my party, and you try to take one of my clients from me?” Brute pointed to Emerson with his bat and swung back around, tapping it against his palm in an intimidating gesture.

  Elijah snorted, rolling his eyes. “He’s not your client.”

  “He is, actually. You don’t sell to him, so where do you think he’s going to go?”

  “Yeah.” Eli moved forward a step, his hands in fists. He glared at his competition. “I said what I said. He’s my best friend. He’s not a client anymore.”

  Brute gestured around him. He laughed. The sound was cocky and eerie. “Look around. These are my friends. They’re here to back me up, not you. Not your pretty boy. Do your ‘best friend’ a favor and let him stay. He’s here to party. Let him have a good time.”

  Elijah was still staring at Brute, but Luke was looking through the crowd, and I knew the instant he saw me. He didn’t move. He gave no indication, but a murderous look started as he continued to look at me.

  He wanted me to leave.

  I wasn’t going anywhere. I raised my chin. Whatever they were down for, I was joining them. I didn’t give a shit if I was a girl. I could fight just like they could. We had all grown up in our neighborhood. It wasn’t that great of one, so we’d all been in our fair share of brawls. I wasn’t a stranger to this scene.

  He clipped his head to the side, a slight inch. He wanted me to leave.

  I ignored him and scanned my surroundings. I needed a weapon, something to give us enough time before we could get through the back. There was a frontage road behind the backyard, and I knew Kelly was pulling her car up. It was just on the other side of the fence. We needed a distraction, and then everyone could climb the fence and get into the car. She could take off, she was our getaway car, but judging by Eli’s heated glare, I knew he wasn’t ready to go. He wanted to fight.

  Eli lurked forward another step, closer to Emerson this time. “He’s coming home with me, and you’re going to stop selling to him.”

  “You’re an idiot, Turner.” Brute pointed to the crowd with his bat. “It’s thirty to two—”

  Eli cut him off, growling, “I have people, too. You don’t think I could’ve come here with them? I didn’t. I did this as a friend. I doubt you’d want me selling to your sister.”

  Brute stiffened. He dropped his bat to his side, but gripped it harder around the handle. His voice sounded low and menacing, “You better leave Rose alone or—”

  “Or what?” Elijah threw his head back; his eyes looked abnormally dilated, making him look crazy.

  I had witnessed Elijah fight many times. I hadn’t known the real reason behind half of those fights, and maybe they were like this—over drugs and drug territory— but it didn’t matter. Elijah was a fighter. He was easygoing, full of crude jokes, but when that flip was switched, he was dangerous. Tall and lanky, a lot of people underestimated him, but Elijah’s reputation was solid. He wasn’t one to be messed with. If he fought, he usually won. In the back of his mind, I knew he was willing to go down swinging, even against thirty people. He would take as many of them out as possible, and all while Emerson was high as a fucking kite on the sidelines. I glanced back to my cousin. He wasn’t even watching the fight. He had wandered to a tree and was trying to catch the leaves off the branches.

  I snorted. What a piece of shit.

  Then I realized my mistake.

  People turned around and started to notice me. As more and more saw me, they began to back away so a small circle had formed around me.

  Well. I took a breath. Oops.

&n
bsp; Then Brute walked to me and nodded behind me. He asked the leech, “Yours?”

  “No way.” The leech was spineless now. He held up his hands and stepped back, away from me in an exaggerated motion. “She came here looking for Turner, said she was a customer.”

  Brute swung back to Elijah. “Yours?”

  Repressed frustration flared in Eli’s eyes, but he glanced to Luke who moved forward. Luke said in a quiet growl, “She’s mine.”

  A girl piped up from the crowd, “She’s Turner’s ex.”

  There was complete silence for a full minute as everyone digested that information. When it had, Brute skirted between Luke to Elijah. Then he smiled. “Well, if this isn’t awkward…for you guys.”

  Luke started for me, but I shook my head. He stopped as Elijah shifted, holding a hand out to stop him.

  Then I saw the headlights behind the fence. Kelly was there. She was supposed to open the door and keep the car running. I waited another minute, but then Emerson moved to the back of the fence. The light from her car had attracted his attention. This couldn’t get any better.

  I looked at Luke and motioned to the fence. He turned, seeing Emerson. He frowned slightly, but lifted a shoulder. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I hoped he would follow my lead. Then I looked up at Brute, standing right in front of me. He reached out to grab my arm.

  My first instinct was to evade, but I didn’t. I squashed that sensation and gritted my teeth as his meaty hand wrapped around my arm. He dragged me forward and shoved me ahead of him.

  “Who does this bitch belong to?”

  Well, that pissed me off.

  Elijah started laughing, but he pointed to Luke. “Not sure how she’s going to handle being called that, but she belongs to Pretty Boy here.”

  Luke threw him a dark look, moving forward so he was standing slightly in front of Elijah. “She belongs to me.”

  Brute dragged me to face him again. He breathed on me, his face too close now. “Is that true? You’re a pretty thing.” His free hand touched my cheek.

  I held still, ignoring the growing need to kick this guy in the nuts. It was clawing inside me, crawling to the surface, and I started to concentrate on keeping my calm. I could feel Luke’s anger mounting at the same time. Glancing at him through the corner of my eyes, he was like a statue. His hands were loose at his sides, but his head was lowered like he was getting ready to charge. Luke didn’t have the explosive burst of energy like Elijah did, but he was just as dangerous. Luke thought out his moves. Each punch he threw was precise and delivered to weaken his opponent. If he had a knife, I would’ve started to worry. He would’ve gone for Brute’s jugular, and that would be a whole other set of problems. As it was, I finally spied a knife. There was a girl right behind Brute who held one. It was dangling from her fingers, right next to her leg, and judging from the alarm in her eyes, I didn’t think she knew how to use it.

  Luke said from behind me, “Let her go.” His voice was calm and low, but a shiver went down my spine. He was close to making his move. I looked back at him. Elijah had moved to stand next to him and watched him carefully, too. When Brute heard the new threat, his head went back up.

  He narrowed his eyes, and his hand dropped from my face. “Or what, Pretty Boy? I don’t know you, but you’d look more comfortable being in some fancy magazine than here with the big boys.”

  Then I heard something click at the back of the fence. I turned my head, narrowly missing clocking Brute square in the face. There was a door to the yard and Kelly stuck a hand through it, waving at me. That was her signal. I hadn’t asked for her to find a door, but I had hoped there would be one. She just saved us a lot of time. And Emerson was right there.

  It was time.

  Brute was breathing down on me, still gripping my arm firmly. He lifted me, making me stretch to stand on my tiptoes. I looked right at Luke, then Elijah. Both saw the change in me and narrowed their eyes. They shared a questioning look, but I didn’t care. I hoped they would follow my lead. I closed my eyes, remembering the times I fought with Braden.

  “You have such a hard head!” he had shouted one time after I head-butted him. He’d been right. I did. Not much could hurt my skull. I had laughed then, sticking my tongue out at him.

  “And I’ll do it every time you wrestle me. Get ready for headaches, Braden!”

  He had yelled back, but ran off, yelling for our mom.

  “Here’s one for my brother.” I reared back and brought my forehead back as hard as possible into Brute’s face.

  Crying out, he dropped me instantly as he bent forward and cupped his head with both of his hands. No one moved for a second. They were all shocked, but I wasn’t. I darted forward, plucked the knife from the girl’s fingers and immediately started backing up. I was in front of Luke before anyone thought to run after us, but I kept backing into him.

  I yelled to Elijah, “Grab Emerson. There’s a car for us back there!”

  Then everything happened at once. Everyone realized what had happened. Luke’s hands gripped my sides, but he switched our positions immediately. He took the knife from me and blocked me instead, moving backwards. Then we both darted for the fence.

  Elijah had grabbed Emerson. He had a firm hold on his arm, and he dragged him to the fence, but Emerson was still dazed. He didn’t know what was going on, so Luke went to him and grabbed the other side. Both of them hoisted Emerson in the air. They half-dragged and half-carried him the entire way. I held open the fence door. As soon as they were through, I slammed it shut, but I couldn’t lock it.

  “Fuck!” I screamed.

  “We don’t have time!” Luke yelled at me as he and Eli threw Emerson into the back of the car. They both climbed inside, and Kelly yelled from her window, pounding the steering wheel, “Come on, Bri!”

  Spying a chair, I wedged it underneath the handle. As soon as I did, they were there. I heard shouts from the other side and then someone ordered, “Go around the back. Block their car in!”

  “Let’s go!”

  I sprinted and dove for the seat.

  Kelly pressed her foot down on the accelerator, flooring it before I even shut my door.

  We got out of the alley just as they were running for their cars.

  Kelly was a badass driver. She ducked down side streets, through alleys, and took us on a drive down streets I didn’t know existed in Grant West, but no one had followed us. When we finally relaxed, Emerson farted.

  “Seriously.” I groaned, covering my nose.

  Kelly was hunched forward, her knuckles almost white as she held the steering wheel with a death grip. A laugh fell out of her, and she whispered, almost to herself, “You guys are nuts.”

  “Yes, nuts.” Elijah was waving his hand in the air. “That’s apparently what Em ate last. Shit, man. Seriously.”

  Emerson laughed, still sounding high as a kite. “Sorry, guys. There were peanuts everywhere. They were talking to me.”

  “I’m sure,” Luke griped. “Move over, come on. Kelly, you need a bigger car. Three guys in the backseat is not comfortable.”

  She glanced up in the rearview mirror. “No offense, but I don’t usually buy my vehicles based on how many guys I can fit in the backseat, although, maybe I should.” Then she shrugged, turning onto the main highway that ran through Grant West. “This night’s been lovely, so enjoyable, but, uh, where am I supposed to be driving to? I’m running low on gas.”

  Luke met my gaze in the mirror, too, but he asked Elijah, “Do we need to worry about retaliation?”

  “No.”

  Elijah’s answer was too short.

  I turned around in my seat. “Hey. Retaliation. Give us the truth this time.”

  He looked up, searing me with the anger still suppressed there and said, “I said no. I meant no. You won’t be touched. I promise.”

  My eyes narrowed. “I don’t like how you’re saying that.” My fingers curled into the seat, and I swallowed over a knot forming in my throat. “Are you go
ing back to finish things?”

  “You can’t do that.”

  Elijah whipped his head to Luke’s, silencing whatever else he was going to add. Then Eli murmured, way too softly, “This is my business. I know how to handle things.”

  “You didn’t back there,” I argued.

  He snorted. “A mistake I won’t be making again.”

  I remembered his words. That he could’ve taken his crew there in the first place. “You really thought you could go in and get Emerson, and there wouldn’t be a fight?”

  “I had hoped.” He turned to look out the window, raising his hand to idly tap against it. “I know better now. Trust me, Bri, I won’t be involving you or Pretty Boy in any more situations. I guarantee that.”

  Luke spoke up for him, telling me, “Emerson was personal, not business. That’s why he got me.”

  “I know.” But I was still worried about Elijah. I looked back at my ex. “Just don’t get yourself killed.”

 
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