Broken and screwed 2, p.15
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       Broken and Screwed 2, p.15
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         Part #2 of Broken and Screwed series by Tijan

  As they continued to tease Jesse and the guy beside me, I was even more jolted to recognize the lead singer of Braille. I hadn’t put two and two together. My gaze had skipped over him and I assumed Luke Skeet was elsewhere.

  As I studied him, he sent a withering look across the fire to Bri, whose gaze cooled at his first growl and she lifted her beer. An eyebrow went up, defiantly, and she took a long slow swallow from her can. His head moved down a notch as he glared at her, but he seemed riveted by what he was seeing.

  She caught me staring and winked.

  Maybe I should’ve been flustered. Maybe I should’ve been embarrassed. I wasn’t. I grinned back and then caught a beer that was tossed in my lap.

  “Jeezus, Hunt. Your date’s probably parched by now. Good manners.”

  His fingers dug into my skin, but a low chuckle was his only response.

  I risked a peek over my shoulder, but found myself in my own riveted state. His gaze had darkened and smoldered down at me. My throat went dry. My legs began to throb in answer.

  I didn’t know who moved first. It might’ve been me or it might’ve been the shift in his fingers, but we moved as one unit. I was transferred from the ground and into his lap. As I laid my head against his chest and his arm wrapped around me, one of the guys asked, “Hunt, you ever going to introduce us? This is the second time you’ve brought her around.”

  His arms tightened. He growled, “You’ve got a girl in your own lap, Emerson. Pay attention to that one.”

  “Yeah, pay attention to me.”

  “Fine, Hunt. Rude, but fine.”

  I grinned as I settled in Jesse’s lap. Bri sent me another wink from across the fire. She lifted her beer can in salute. Reciprocating the motion, we both broke out in grins. Jesse’s chest lifted up and down underneath me in a big yawn. As the night wore on, we didn’t talk much. I remained on his lap and the guys continued to talk for the rest of the evening. Bands changed for background music and every now and then, one of the guys would disappear from the group. They’d come back with a tray full of food. I realized each campfire made their own food and people were encouraged to share with each other. It wasn’t until the end of the night, after I’d had too many beers, that the guys began to grow restless. A break in bands started and they stood, one by one.

  It was their turn.

  Jesse pressed a kiss to my forehead and soothed some strands from my forehead.

  And then Braille took to the stage.

  It wasn’t fast and energizing like most of their usual music. When Luke gripped the microphone and started singing, this was new music. His voice was a smooth and gravelly. It was caressing and seductive in the same manner.

  His eyes were trained on our camp, on Bri, who was looking down at her lap the entire time. Her eyes were closed tight and she was biting her lip. She glanced up once, saw me staring again, and brushed away a tear before she turned to the side in her chair.

  In that look, I understood. It resonated deep in me for reasons I didn’t want to acknowledge. This girl was in love and it was haunting her.

  I drew in a shuddering breath and Marissa’s voice came back to me. “I’m sorry about your parents. I knew what they were doing to you.”

  Pain sliced me and then I heard Luke’s voice in the background.

  With tears streaming down, I look up with my head tilted to the sky. Looking, searching, eyes on a quest, but I’m unseeing, the clouds everywhere. Where are you? I wondered.

  Closing my eyes, I tried to stop my own memories. Marissa’s voice came back, though. “She’s going to contact you, just for her conscience probably.”

  “She’s hardcore, like your brother.”

  My heart started pounding. It wanted to push its way out of my chest and I drew in a gaping breath. I pressed a hand there to keep it in, as if I could do that. I tried to stop from hearing more.

  “He was going to turn you against him.”

  I failed. They kept coming at me.

  “I was a shitty friend to you, no matter what you think. I wasn’t loyal and I didn’t stand up for you.”

  I was curled in a ball on Jesse’s lap as the memories assaulted me. She’d only said those things to me, but they stemmed from the years before. The history was my undoing. I couldn’t hold up against the past. It was weighing me down.

  “Hey?” Jesse nudged me with his shoulder.

  I didn’t look up. I couldn’t.

  “What’s wrong? You okay?”

  With tears streaming down, I looked up.

  My heart was reaching out in pain, in anguish, in agony. Wondering why, wondering the reason. Where are you? I wonder.

  Luke’s voice picked up again. I felt those words and looking over again, I saw a mirrored torment in the girl across from us.

  I shook my head and sat up. “I have to go. We have to go.”

  “What?” Jesse cast a cursory look to the stage. “I wanted to stay and chill.”

  Scrambling off his lap, I shrugged. I tried for casual, but it was freeing to be away from his touch. He opened the can of past haunts. His touch was all it took for my ghosts to be released. I drew in a calming breath. I couldn’t have that so I ignored my pounding heart. “You can stay. Whatever. I can call someone to pick me up.”

  He scowled at me and shoved up from the seat. “Don’t be dramatic, Alex. I brought you here. I’ll take you home.”

  I ignored the avid audience we had around the campfire. In the distance, the band had paused and a new song started. It had the same haunting melody. The words were different, the notes were altered, but its meaning was the same. Pain. Whoever had written that song and the last was in under a mountain of the same agony I held inside.

  I couldn’t be there to hear any more of it. “Are we going? I’m leaving.”

  Jesse was grumbling behind me, but I left and didn’t wait. As I walked up the hill, I realized that I didn’t know where he had parked the car so I went to the playground instead. Taking a seat on one of the swings, I felt him coming. I heard the soft thud on the grass, but my heart was thumping so loudly in my chest—it wouldn’t stop.

  He waited in front of me. His voice was chilling to hear, so soft against the harshness inside of me. “Are you going to tell me what that was about?”

  I jerked a shoulder up. My head remained in a fixed position, looking down. There was no way he was going to see the tears threatening to spill.

  “Fine. Whatever. I’ll go and get the car.”

  Good.

  I meant to say that out loud, but my throat failed me.

  I was primed and ready for the fight. When Jesse was like this, when I was like this, we always fought. Okay. That wasn’t true. We never fought because I had been too weak and too sad to stand up for myself. During that first year, I let him treat me how he did. I never said a word against him. The only thing or the only person I ever stood my ground for was Ethan.

  That person was gone. I didn’t mean my brother.

  I had changed so I waited the entire car ride back to my dorm. I waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. His jaw was clenched tight and he gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles were white, but he never said a word.

  As he pulled to the front door of my dorm, I reached for the handle.

  “Wait.”

  My shoulders tensed. Here it was.

  “I’m sorry for whatever I did to make you uncomfortable.”

  I could only blink at him. What did he say?

  He fidgeted under my stare. “Was I acting too couple-y? I know we’re not like that and I know we don’t talk about things, but can you tell me what I did?”

  My hand let go of the handle. I sat back in the seat. He was self-conscious. I had never seen Jesse self-conscious. It was a different look, one that pulled at my heartstrings and I couldn’t have this conversation because of that. One word, one touch, all of it would come crashing down on me.

  I looked at the door. I should go.

  It was like
he sensed it because he said, “Please, Alex. Can you tell me?”

  I shook my head. “You didn’t do anything.”

  “Did I say something?”

  “You didn’t say anything either.”

  “Then what? I wanted to spend time with you. You and those guys, you’re the only ones who don’t care who my dad is or what I do on the court. That’s sad, isn’t it?” His hands were curled into balls and he was pressing them into his lap now. “I really needed some time with you. If that makes me a loser or pathetic, whatever. Fine. I’m pathetic. I want to spend time with you. I want to be with you. Please don’t go.”

  Oh my god. He was almost begging me. A vulnerable look was in his eyes. I felt him stripped and raw in front of me.

  I was struggling.

  I wanted to go. Badly. I didn’t. I couldn’t get myself to leave. Then I sighed, “You didn’t do anything, Jesse.”

  “Then what? What happened? You were fine and then you weren’t. I could feel it from you. You wanted to bolt, but I don’t know what I did.”

  “You didn’t. Honest.”

  He blew out a breath in annoyance. “Then Sarah or Marissa. What’d they say to you?”

  “Nothing.”

  I tried to lie, but my voice broke on that word. That wasn’t true.

  His eyes flashed. He knew. “Which one?”

  I heard the savagery in him. This wasn’t good. “Your ex is a bitch.”

  “I know. That’s why I broke up with her. All that saint stuff was an act. I couldn’t stomach it anymore.” He frowned. “Was it Sarah?”

  “No.” My head went down. My gut bottomed out as I whispered that word.

  “So Marissa then?”

  I couldn’t confirm it. He knew. We both knew, but when he reached for his phone, I grabbed it from him. Shaking my head, I was horrified to find some tears on my cheeks. I hadn’t cried in so long. I wasn’t going to start now. “Stop.”

  “She made you cry.”

  I blew out a calming breath. “Stop, Jesse. Marissa didn’t mean any harm. She said a few things and old wounds opened. That’s it. I’ll be fine. I promise.”

  He wavered.

  I clenched his phone tighter. I knew he could grab it lightning fast.

  “Fine.”

  My shoulders sagged in relief.

  “Just to be clear, I didn’t do anything?”

  A grin broke free as I shook my head.

  “And I didn’t say anything?”

  “You did call me dramatic.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  I blinked at the automatic apology. That wasn’t a normal Jesse comment. Had he changed as well, like everyone else? I held my tongue, not wanting to get into that conversation and I asked instead, “So what’s going on that you needed to get away from your friends?”

  This was the second time in two weeks. He liked to hide with those friends and bring me along. Well, this time was different. We’d been doing other things before he took me along to hide with them.

  He grew still. “I don’t want to talk about that.”

  The old roles clicked into place again. We were back to that. Neither of us talked about anything real in our lives. The only topic was allowed Ethan or sex. It had always been like that.

  “Oh.”

  His head tipped back and a deep groan escaped from him. “I’m sorry. You should know what’s been going on and why I haven’t called you that much.”

  Oh.

  Were the rules changing?

  “This has nothing to do with my friends, but there’s a girl suing my dad. She claims that she’s his daughter, he knew about her, and he ignored her when she grew up. She’s claiming emotional damage.” He’d become a statue now. The words fell from him, his tone so cold, “She’s probably his kid. You know how he was, how he still is with a different girl every other month. Fuck. Two months after Mom died and he had some eighteen year old in the house.”

  Reaching over, I slipped my hand with his. Our fingers wrapped around each other. “I’m guessing that the lawyers said you couldn’t talk about the case?” Was that why he was avoiding his friends?

  Jesse sighed, “Yes and no. They told me I should warn my friends against this girl, in case she reaches out to them. The other side is trying to bring me as a character witness against my dad. I don’t even know if they can do that, but they’re claiming he’s damaged my life. I don’t want that shit out there. It’s only a matter of time before the press gets wind of this.”

  The question if Malcolm Hunt had damaged his son wasn’t a question. He had. It was the reason why Jesse moved in with my family from eighth grade until his junior year. He moved out after Ethan died and lived in their huge mansion. Malcolm was rarely around by then so it was him and his housekeeper. Zala was like a second mother in some ways to him. And I knew he considered my parents as his own.

  Pain swelled in my chest.

  They considered Jesse like one of their own. Blinking back more tears, I remembered when my mother tried to kill herself. Jesse had been with me so he went to the hospital as well. My father hadn’t said a word to me as he embraced Jesse like a long lost son.

  I wondered if they took the love they had for Ethan and myself and channeled into the son they could be proud of—Jesse?

  Flicking a tear away with a thumb, I refused to think about them anymore. Except that Jesse was lucky in some ways. He still had two parents who loved him, even though they weren’t his by blood. They were still his.

  Hoarsely, I asked, “Have you said anything to your friends about her?”

  A bitter laugh wrung from deep in his throat. “Are you kidding? Of course not.” The laugh faded and his lips pressed into a flat line. “They think Malcolm Hunt is awesome. Cord’s the only one who remembers a little bit, but he doesn’t remember much and you and Ethan never spread it around school. I was always grateful for that.”

  My hand squeezed his.

  “Anyway, can we not talk about this anymore?” He tried to give me a reassuring smile. It didn’t reach his eyes. “I think the party moved somewhere else. We could go back there and just hang out? I’ll show you my place. You haven’t seen it yet.”

  My emotional wheel of misfortune was on a constant spin. As the arrow started to fall on ‘STAY AWAY’, it went past and landed on ‘RUN AWAY RUN AWAY’, but I found myself smiling back. “Sure. That’d be nice.”

  As we left my dorm, my heart sunk. I should’ve gotten out of the car and went upstairs, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew this was the beginning of the end.

  Jesse and I had a shaky truce going, if that’s what could it be called. I didn’t know, but I did know that I couldn’t tear myself away from him. Not anymore. And I wasn’t ready to take the plunge into an actual relationship so we did what we did. We spent the night together, not every night, and we hung out in secret. The only two people who might’ve guessed at our situation were Cord and Beth. She caught me on the curb again when Jesse drove to pick me up. Cord had been in the basement one time when we slipped through.
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