Sustain, p.15
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       Sustain, p.15

           Tijan
 
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  “What?” Elijah snapped. “You mean like my old man? My brother? Nah, no way, Brielle. They both got shanked in prison. No, no worries. I won’t get myself killed, not like them anyway.”

  “Elijah—” I started.

  Emerson quieted me. “Shut up, Bri. I’m seeing fucking rainbows, and even I can tell you’re fighting a losing battle. If the moron wants to throw down, let him throw down. It’s what he does. He’s stayed alive this long. He must know how to do something right.”

  I growled back, “Go back to fucking a rainbow, Em. All of this happened because of you.”

  “Whatever. Worse shit has happened because of you.”

  The car got deathly silent.

  Let it go, Bri. Let it go. My blood was starting to boil. Think cold showers.

  I waited, but nothing. My blood was still boiling. It kept going higher and higher, until I couldn’t contain it anymore. It exploded out of me. I looked back and locked eyes with Luke. He saw what was going to happen and started to throw up a hand, but dropped it right back down. A slow smile started to spread across my face. It was probably an ugly looking one, but I didn’t give a crap. I wanted Emerson’s balls. He was going to keep riding my ass if I didn’t do something about it, and today was that day.

  I lunged for Emerson.

  Throwing my body toward the backseat, I ended up sprawled between the seats. Without pausing, I rained punch after punch on him, using my fists. I didn’t use my hands—not dainty-like little slaps. I wasn’t going for his hair. I wasn’t going to scratch his face. I used as much of my body behind my blows as possible. Like I said before, I wasn’t a stranger to a fight.

  Then everything turned into chaos.

  Elijah and Luke did nothing. They didn’t hold me back or anything. Emerson was dazed after the first punch, so I continued, and Kelly screamed. The car veered toward the middle of the road, but she righted it before slamming on the brakes. At the abrupt stop, I fell backwards. Luke grabbed my arm, holding me still so I didn’t go through the windshield, but he wasn’t going to stop me. I wasn’t done with Emerson.

  Then Kelly threw open her door, and so did Elijah and Luke. Emerson was still in the middle, covering himself with his arms now. He hurried out the side, and I tried to climb after him, dropping all the way into the backseat and following behind him, and he tried to shut the door in my face. Curses were spewing from him now. Seeing the door coming for my face, I blocked it. Flipping around in the seat, I kicked it open and was on my feet instantly.

  I charged for him once again, but Luke wrapped an arm around my waist. He hoisted me up in the air, holding me like I was a doll. He said over my head to Elijah, who was somewhat blocking Emerson, “Are we going to let this happen?”

  “Fuck you, Brielle! You whore!”

  Elijah shrugged, ignoring Emerson. “I’m game. He deserves an ass kicking anyway. Bri can hold her own.”

  I struggled against Luke’s hold, but his arm wasn’t going anywhere. He only lifted me higher, and his arm dug across my hipbones. I yelled back, wiping the back of my hand over my mouth, “Fuck you back, Emerson! You piece of shit. I’m tired of your mouth. I’ve never done a goddamn thing to you.”

  Kelly whimpered from behind us, “You guys are nuts.”

  Luke glanced at her, turning me around with him, and we saw she was sitting on the ground. Her face was ashen, and she was rocking back and forth, shaking her head at the same time.

  Luke dropped me back to the ground, but kept his hands at my sides. “You okay?”

  No. “Yes.” I pried myself from him to put some space between us. “I’m good. I just lost my momentum.”

  “You sure?”

  I turned my back to him. I didn’t want to see the concern and care in his eyes. I didn’t deserve to see that. Elijah’s gaze was hooded, and when he glanced at Luke, the speculation was deep in those greens of his, then he shook his head.

  “What a cu—”

  I saw that word forming on my cousin’s mouth, and I was in his face before he could finish it. No one would call me that name. My fist hit the side of his face just as he almost said it. All the anger that had left me rushed back in full force. Fuck it. I was taking him down, family or not.

  Emerson fell back. I had used my entire body’s weight behind my hit, so there was some force there, but it was only enough to stun him. He was muscular, and I wasn’t an idiot. I couldn’t fight him that way, so I launched myself at him, wrapped my legs around his waist and flipped myself backwards. He came with me, and I was able to throw his body to the ground. Before he could get back up, I brought my knee down to his groin. A primal scream ripped from his throat, but he flung his hands up and shoved me off. I hit the ground, banging my elbows, and I knew my skin had been ripped on my arm somewhere. I felt the burn, but I didn’t care.

  Emerson struggled to his feet and bent over, cupping himself. He looked up with pained eyes, so I waited. His features started to tighten. I saw the snarl returning and braced myself, waiting for his next insult.

  “You fucking whor—”

  One more time. I launched at him, wrapped my legs around his torso, and did the same thing. I hit the ground with my shoulder, jarring it, but I kicked at him once again. Another guttural scream came from him, and this time, when I stood up, he stayed in the fetal position, whimpering.

  I wiped some blood off my face—not sure how that had happened—and flicked it to the ground. “Stop calling me names. Stop fucking with me. Just stop, Emerson! Stop!”

  He looked up, and I stopped talking. There was so much hate in his eyes. I felt punched in the gut. Pressing my hands to my stomach, I moved back and shook my head. His hatred was never going to end. I considered him family, but he considered me an enemy.

  I choked out. “What did I ever do to you?”

  “To me?” He laughed, a bitter, ugly sound. He was still bent over, struggling to stand up. His face was pinched in pain. “It’s not me, you bitch. It’s what you did to these guys. He’s my best friend.” He pointed at Elijah, and then swung his hand to Luke. “And he’s like a brother, and you, you fucked them both over.”

  My eyes got big. “That’s why you hate me? Because of my love life?”

  He shook his head, spitting out some blood. “I was there, Bri. You were upset, and I was coming to check on you, but I saw you. I know who you were with and what he had you do.” He kept shaking his head, regret forming as he looked at Luke. “You’ve never told him what happened. His dad almost killed him, and you’ve never once told him why. You just left and went straight to Elijah. You left him bleeding there and went to my best friend. You fucked them both in that one move, and you’ve not once had the balls to tell Luke the truth.”

  “Emerson,” Elijah murmured.

  “Stop.” Emerson rounded on him. “You know it’s true. Now it’s happening all over again. She’s fucking both of you again, except this time she’s just going back to him. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of seeing two people I care about in pain all because of this bitch.”

  “That’s enough,” Luke ground out, but I saw the question in his eyes.

  I had to tell him. The time had come. If this was why my cousin hated me so much, it was way past due.

  “No! You don’t even know, Luke. I’m sticking up for you. For you, man.” He jerked a hand to Elijah. “And my best friend, too.” He looked to me. “Bri, it’s gone on long enough. Tell him and drop out of the fucking band, too.” He spat at my feet. “You don’t deserve to play with us.”

  “Emerson.”

  The rebuke didn’t come from Elijah or Luke. Both had fallen silent. This time it came from Kelly. She was back on her feet, darting to the middle of us. Crossing her arms, she stood at my side and glared at my cousin. “That’s enough,” she hissed. “I don’t care what Bri has done that you’ve decided to appoint yourself her judge and jury. You have no right to speak to her the way you do, and if you keep doing it, you’re banned from the bar. For life. Every time you st
ep foot in there, I’ll have you tossed in jail.”

  “What? We practice there.”

  “Trust me.” She raised her chin, challenging him. “Rowdy will back me on this one.”

  “Whatever, you’re a bit—”

  “Shut up!” Luke and Elijah yelled at the same time, and Luke added, “You need to play there, asshole. Shut your hole, for once.”

  Elijah added, “Besides, you’re all pissed at her, but I knew.”

  “What?” Emerson dropped his mouth. “You knew?”

  “The whole time.” Elijah winked at him. “She told me, dipshit, and you can stop with the name-calling at least.” He took a drag and gestured to Luke with his cigarette. “Besides, you don’t want to screw up your future. That guy, that band, it’s where you need to go to get away from Brute.” As he said that last name, the easygoing Elijah was gone again. Back was Drug Dealer Elijah with danger simmering beneath the surface as he added, “And you and I are going to have a chat about that one. I’m tired of getting calls that my own best friend is baked out of his head.”

  “You sell drugs. Who are you to judge?”

  A harsh laugh ripped from me, hearing that coming from my cousin. “Who are you to judge?”

  He whipped back to me, his hands forming fists, but Luke stood in the middle of us and held out his hands. “Stop. Just stop, you guys. She kicked your ass, literally. You’re still half-baked, and you’re going to start another round with her?”

  “I can get a few good hits in.” There were other dark promises lurking in the depths of my cousin’s eyes as he continued to glare at me.

  I flung my hands out. “I’ll kick your ass again.”

  And I started forward, right into Luke’s hand, he pushed me back and turned to glare at Emerson. I heard the quiet venom there as he said, “If you don’t turn off your attitude to her, I will kick your ass myself. I’m fed up with it.”

  “But Luke—”

  “I don’t give a shit!” he roared back at him. His shoulders and arms were rigid, and his jaw was clenched tight.

  He was gorgeous.

  “Change your attitude, or you’re out of the band. I mean it. Gunn can fill in for you any day of the week,” he clipped out, and then snapped his fingers and pointed to the car. “Get inside and keep your fucking mouth shut.”

  Emerson let out a disgruntled sound, but Elijah grabbed him and started pushing him to the backseat. “Come on. Don’t rock the boat, Em. Trust me on that.” As he continued to herd him into the car, I heard Emerson grumble, “Where the hell did she learn those moves? From you? Did you teach her that?”

  Elijah laughed, getting in behind him. “I wish. That would’ve been a whole other level of fun.”

  Then Luke grinned at me. “You remembered.” Pride shone from him as he ran a hand over his jaw. “I about shit a brick when I saw you throw him down.”

  “Yeah, I remembered.”

  Kelly grunted beside me. “I stand by what I said. You guys are just nuts.” She let out another deep breath. “But fun at the same time.”

  Luke laughed, following me to the car with his hand at the small of my back. “We usually have Braden with us, too.”

  She let out a deep laugh. “I can’t imagine the stories you guys have, especially with him.”

  Then we parted. Luke’s hand dropped, and he went to the other side of Emerson. I went to the passenger side, and Kelly got behind the wheel again. No one spoke on the way to the hospital.

  When we got there, I went to check on my mom and Braden. Elijah took off. No one asked him where he was going. Luke went with Emerson to the emergency room to see if he needed stitches; the place under his chin where I had kicked him hadn’t stopped bleeding.

  It was a surreal ending to the entire night, but in some way, it was fitting. We all went our own ways.

  “You never told me you broke up with Eli.”

  “Huh?” I was curled up next to my mom in her bed. She wanted to watch a movie, but I hadn’t been paying attention. Thoughts of Brute, Luke, and the things Emerson had said were plaguing me. It had been a week since that night and there’d been no retaliation from Brute. I didn’t know what Elijah had done to deal with him, but I guessed that he had somehow. I focused on my mom again and saw she was waiting for me to answer her question. “Oh. Uh. That was a while ago.”

  “I know.” She folded her hands underneath her head. Her blue eyes were trained solely on me. The movie, whatever she had picked, was completely forgotten. “I asked your brother why Luke was with you and not Elijah. He told me about the break up. Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”

  She stiffened, biting down on her lip. “Oh, Brielle.” Her tiny shoulders lifted up and down as she sucked in some air. “That baby…I didn’t know about it, and before you start, the guy was a one-time deal. I was lonely. I was stupid, and I won’t be making that mistake again.”

  “You were lonely?”

  “Bri.” She patted my arm. “I’m almost forty-five, single, and I work too much. Being lonely is a side effect of not knowing how to pick the right guy. You, I don’t know, sometimes I think you have the same problem as me, but Luke was with you. Are you two…”

  “Oh! Um.” I picked at the blanket. “I…I don’t know. No. We became friends again because of the band.”

  “With joining the band again?”

  I nodded. “Yeah.” I flattened my hands over the blanket, forcing myself to stop picking at it. “You know that night dad left us? When he tore the whole house up and you locked us in the bathroom.”

  “I do.” Her voice softened. “I didn’t know you remembered it.”

  My throat swelled up. “How could I not?” A rueful laugh slipped from me, but it ended on a soft sigh. “I was so scared that night.”

  “Oh, Bri.” Her hand rested over mine and she squeezed it. “I had no idea. I’m so sorry. You and your brother.” She chuckled to herself. “I had babies when I was a baby myself. You and your brother raised each other. I’ve always felt so bad about that. I wasn’t there for you two like I should’ve been.”

  “Mom, no.” I covered her hand with my free one. “You were working. And dad—”

  Her free hand covered mine now. Her eyes roamed over my face. “You’re so beautiful. Your father was a mistake, but I got you and your brother from him so I can’t complain too much. He wasn’t well.”

  No, no he wasn’t, but there was more. I couldn’t tell her what he made me do. I wanted to, but she would’ve blamed herself about that, too. “He wasn’t a good man, was he?”

  “No. No, he wasn’t.” She pulled her hand free to tuck a strand of my hair behind my ear. Lingering there, she patted my cheek. “You and Braden both got his stubbornness and his love of music. He used to manage a band, did you know that?”

  I shook my head. “I didn’t.”

  “He did. With Luke’s dad. They were best friends.”

  The next question should’ve been what happened next. A normal child would’ve had more questions about the father who abandoned her, but not me. I knew what happened next. I was a part of it, and Emerson was right. I had to tell Luke. He had to know. It was time. With the decision made, I headed for Rowdy’s later that evening. I felt like puking the whole night, but it needed to be done.

  After our gig, Braden cornered me when I was coming out of the bathroom and informed me that Luke wanted to talk after we played.

  I couldn’t stall anymore, but when I went back to find him, Luke was talking to a woman. She was tall, over six feet with blonde hair styled to cascade down her back. Her hair must’ve cost a couple hundred to get that sultry and sophisticated look perfect. With a small pout on her lips, she tilted her head to the side and gestured outside. Her hand rested on Luke’s arm, and I expected him to brush her off.

  He didn’t.

  Instead, a man came through the crowd and joined them. He looked like the Ken to her Barbie. Seconds later, all three of t
hem went outside together.

  “Look at that,” Emerson murmured into my ear, coming from behind me.

  I gritted my teeth, letting my war-mask slip into place. “What do you want, Emerson?”

  He was looking at where they had gone. “Don’t take it personal. He was bound to move on from you. It was only a matter of time, and that woman,” he wolf whistled, “is an upgrade. I’d do her, too.”

  “She had a date.”

  “Bri. Come on.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Can we say swinger?”

  “Get out of here. Luke’s not a swinger.”

  He laughed, but there was a bite to it. “I’m kidding. I bet that guy was her brother. Didn’t you see how they looked alike? Don’t you have Twin Radar?”

  “Now, you’re pissing me off.” I started to edge around him. Kelly was waving for help behind the bar. “I don’t have Twin Radar, but I do have Bullshit Radar. Whatever you’re doing, just stop. It makes you look like the bad guy.”

  He followed right behind me. A soft, taunting laugh teased in my ear. “Now, you really need to wake up. I am the bad guy. I’m always the bad guy.”

 
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