Sustain, p.20
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       Sustain, p.20

           Tijan
 
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  Emerson was family, but he was going to hurt us. “We’ll figure something out with him.”

  Braden didn’t respond, and Gunn’s tone turned soft. “I love the guy. This hurts me, too.”

  It was hurting all of us.

  Braden spoke up, “Bri’s got a gig tonight—some house party. I say we go. Talk to her there.”

  “Wait a minute. I haven’t agreed, and we haven’t thought how to handle this with Priss and Peter. You know they’re going to fight it. Priss won’t want a girl in the band.”

  “Who the fuck cares?” Braden shot back. He jumped to his feet and started pacing. “You’ll handle her. You’re the only one she listens to anyway. I say we just go for it. Bring Bri in, kick Emerson out, and tell the Twins this is how it is.”

  “That easy, huh?” He had no clue.

  “Yeah, why not?”

  “Why are you fighting this, Luke?” Gunn asked. “You called the meeting.”

  “I know.” I wasn’t fighting it. “I just want to go over it, so we know there’s nothing more we could’ve done for him. No regrets.”

  “He won’t go to rehab. The Twins got him in four times over the last year, and he always left within a day. He won’t stick it out. They covered for him. We covered for him. I’ve been covering for him all my life, so has Bri, and he treats her like shit,” Braden swore. “It’s done. We’ve given him enough chances.”

  “Okay.” It was done then. “How do we act until it’s done?”

  Braden quieted and glanced away.

  Gunn said it for us, “We act normal. That’s all we can do.”

  “So, we go to the house party then.”

  Fucking hell. Bri was coming back. Had I agreed to this? Emerson had to go. That was set in stone, but Bri…I wasn’t ready for her.

  “They’re going to go crazy.” A speculative gleam formed in Braden’s gaze, and his smirk grew. “That Wes guy will hate it.”

  “Wes?”

  Braden rolled his eyes. “The singer in Bri’s new band. I met him last night. He seems like a douche.”

  Gunn grunted. “I suppose I’ll have to be security for you two. Too pretty.”

  “Bring your woman. I still want to meet her.”

  Gunn leveled Braden with a shrewd look. “Right.”

  Braden laughed, and hopped back onto the counter. He was more relaxed now, and he teased back, “I think you’re hiding something, Gunn. Is this girl even real? Come on…”

  They continued to tease each other, but it was a mask. I didn’t participate in the conversation. They might sound happy and light-hearted, but they weren’t. None of us were. We decided to cut our friend, our brother, from the band. I hadn’t officially agreed to Bri coming back, but I couldn’t think about her yet. We had Emerson to deal with first. I did the dirty work for us, so that meant I would be the one to tell him.

  She was hitting the bass with a strong and sturdy hand. Her head was bent down, and her back was folded over. She was feeling the music. I could see her heel moving with the backbeat, but her left hand was hitting the snares.

  Fuck.

  The sight of her took my breath away. Her head came up, and her eyes were closed. She was biting her lip, and the rest of her body began to move in a frenzy. She was building up the second beat. It was coming. She was raising the room to a crescendo, but it was so silent. Everyone in the room felt it coming, and they reacted. People fell still. They forgot their dancing. They forgot the person next to them. They knew something big was fixing to happen.

  It was all Brielle. She was making them listen to her. She was controlling everything.

  I let out a ragged breath. No one else could do what she did. She should’ve been doing this all along. She shouldn’t be stuck playing in a crappy house party like this or some dingy bar. She belonged in a stadium. She deserved to pour this magic out over thousands, having millions love her. That’s where she belonged. Not here…and I had been the reason for where she was.

  My jaw clenched.

  The lead singer, Wes, stood at the front of the stage, clueless to what she was doing. He wasn’t in tune with her at all.

  The feeling to yank him down and take his place clawed at me. Braden was restless beside me, and I knew he was feeling the same. His fingers were playing out the chords along with the other guitarist. He was itching for his old spot as well.

  I pushed forward. We were dressed in black hooded sweatshirts. We had gone the Elijah route, but we added a baseball cap to pull low over our faces. A few girls stopped and watched us with suspicion when we parked and darted to the back door. Even then, I knew there was something familiar about us to them. It was only a matter of time before people spotted us and realized we were there.

  As she stopped hitting the drums, everyone froze in awe, waiting for her to continue. It took all my strength not to jump up there and take the microphone. My blood was pumping. I wanted to play with her, sing to her beat. This was the first time hearing her in a year, and I didn’t think I could stop myself.

  Her hand raised.

  The girls next to us held their breath, and then Brielle slammed it down. The bass guitarist struck his chord, the lead guitarist joined in, and the guy at the keyboard joined in with the melody. The room went nuts, except for the singer. The fucking singer. He was standing there like I did. He held the microphone. His head was bent. Even his heel was counting the beats, but he was wrong. He should’ve been counting the beats when the beats weren’t playing. He was reacting to Brielle, not being with Brielle. I could see the frustration on her face. The singer wasn’t her match, and she knew it. I watched her bite her lip—the little thing she did—but she bit down harder than normal, and I knew it was because of him.

  It was then when her head flew up that she skimmed the audience as she reached for the snare. She never skimmed the audience, but she did now. Her eyes caught and held mine, and they widened. I saw the shock filter in. It made her pause a fraction of a second, and then she grimaced. I could see the curse leave her lips before she shifted back into playing mode.

  Her band never knew. She was the ultimate professional.

  “Holy fuck,” Braden exclaimed beside me. “She’s gotten better. She smokes me. She was good the other day at Rowdy’s, but tonight.” He whistled under his breath. “Man.”

  Memories of when she came to me and asked for my guitar flooded me. She had needed to play music to earn money. I had gone with her, and it was one of the best memories I had. She never had a set memorized. She went with the flow and made up new songs. She was talented. People stopped to listen to her. I sat next to her, and sometimes I sang with her if I knew where she was going with the chords. Her voice was hypnotic. She pulled on them, and she was doing it now with her drums.

  “It’s Sustain!”

  Another person added, “It is! Holy—Sustain!”

  “Luke Skeet?”

  “Whoa, it is them.”

  More and more people started to spot us. The ones closest to the stage turned around and began to move toward us. People began pressing into each other. We were going to get overrun, but Gunn came up behind us. He reached around both of us and began walking forward, herding us out of there.

  Gunn grunted into our ears. “People are swarming from outside. There was a big rush from the kitchen to the living room.”

  “Sustain is in my house?” A guy was dumbfounded beside us, scratching his head with one hand and holding a beer in the other. “How cool is that?! I’m awesome!”

  Braden looked around us. Worry lines appeared on his forehead, and his shoulders lifted, straining. “We have to get out of here. We’re going to get crushed.”

  “Luke! Oh, my gosh. It’s you. I want to meet you.”

  People grabbed for me. Someone reached for my hand as others went for my shirt. When I felt it rip, someone shrieked, and then there were hands touching my skin. Someone reached for my jeans. I felt one of the back pockets starting to rip off.

  Enough of this
shit. I pushed forward, growling, “Let’s get out of here.”

  Suddenly, four large guys moved around us. Two went in front and began shoving people out of the way. Gunn brought up the back, and the other two were at our sides. They held people back as well, and slowly we were able to able to move out of the room in that formation.

  One of the guys in the front called over his shoulder, “The front door’s blocked. Too many people. We can go out another way.”

  They moved into the dining room and down a back hallway. As we walked into a bedroom, I caught sight of a couple making out on the bed, and they jerked upright at our appearance. “Hey!” The girl’s protest died as she saw us. Her mouth fell open in the next second.

  “Whoa! You’re Luke Skeet.” She pointed at me.

  My head lowered.

  There was a door attached to the bedroom that led outside. One of the guys opened it and gestured. “Follow me. This is my buddy’s house. We can sneak you out and around the crowd.”

  Braden said, “We’re parked out front.”

  “Braden!”

  We looked over. Brielle was running for us. An idea came to me, and I held my hand out to Braden. “Your keys.”

  He handed them over, and I tossed them to Brielle as she got to us. “Drive his car down the road.”

  She nodded and caught the keys. Without breaking stride, she ran right past us and around to the front of the house.

  One of the guys frowned at her. “Wasn’t that the drummer from inside?”

  A girl jogged around the side of the house, stopped, and pointed at us. She yelled to the crowd, “They’re over here!”

  He added, “You guys are too big to be here.”

  His buddy agreed. “No, shit. Let’s go.”

  They led the way into a wooded area behind the house. As we got farther away from the house, we could see more and more headlights heading toward it. One of our guides commented, “Word’s out. I just got eight tweets that you’re at Fuller’s party.”

  The first one cursed again, “The cops are going to get called. You better text the other guys so they scram. We can’t get in trouble with Coach.”

  Braden’s phone buzzed, and he asked at the same time he glanced at his screen, “Coach? You guys on a team or something?”

  Their leader nodded, grabbing a branch and moving it up so we could pass by. “Yeah, we’re on the football team for the university here.”

  “Really?” Braden was impressed. His phone buzzed again, and he looked at me. “Bri said she’s on a road up ahead.”

  The fourth member, who hadn’t said a word yet, asked now, “How do you guys know the drummer?”

  Braden was texting her back as he muttered, “Uh, she’s my sister, why?”

  “She single?”

  The first two guys laughed at their buddy. The third was watching me, but I kept my mouth shut. I had no claim.

  Braden glanced at me, but answered with caution, “Uh…I don’t know. She doesn’t talk to me about that stuff.”

  “She’s hot.”

  “Good rack,” the first one added, winking at his friend.

  Gunn stepped onto a heavy stick and broke it in one snap. The power of his leg caught their attention, and they quieted for a moment. He said in that silence, “You’re not her type.”

  “Are you her type?”

  The fourth football player wasn’t as tall as Gunn or as solidly built, but he flexed his hands as if ready for battle. An amused glint appeared in Gunn’s gaze. He replied, “Like I said, you’re not her type.”

  The third player spoke up now, “Carson didn’t mean anything by it. He’s a man-whore. We keep hoping he’ll get help, but nothing seems to fix stupid.”

  “Hey.”

  He threw back, “Chill out, man. These guys are Sustain. They can send one tweet out, and someone would vandalize your parents’ house. People are nuts.”

  Braden laughed. “Not that we condone that behavior.”

  I’d been tense from watching Bri on stage, and it hadn’t lessened as we ran through the woods. If there was another remark about her, I was ready to swing. I didn’t care how big they were.

  Gunn had been watching me. He moved close and said under his breath, “If it happens, I’ll do it.”

  “Why?”

  “Because we need your pretty face for the fans.”

  I looked up to see if he was serious. He was, but he relinquished, “Kidding. If you have a busted face, I think Priss would piss her pants from excitement.”

  Braden had overheard him and laughed. “No, shit. That’d be leaked to the gossip shows in two seconds flat. I swear, she has all the numbers for the gossip channels on speed dial.”

  The football players had gone ahead, but stopped and waited for us. The third one asked, “What’s going on?”

  “Nothing.” I shoved past him. I spotted the road through the trees and saw the headlights for Braden’s car at the same time. When we cleared the trees and headed up the ditch, all of us spread out and walked in one line for the car.

  When we got there, Bri opened her door and leaned against the car. Her hair was whipping behind her face and one hand was resting on her hip. She tugged her shirt and then adjusted it back, but it didn’t stick. It fell down, showing her black bra. Bri was clueless, scowling at us. She was the picture of fierce and alluring at the same time.

  We were greeted with, “What were you guys doing there?”

  She took in the whole line of guys before letting her eyes find mine, making me feel seared from the inside out. My insides felt yanked out, but I still wanted to touch her.

  I looked away instead.

  “We came to see you.” Braden motioned to the guys.

  “Are you insane? How was tonight supposed to go down any other way? You guys are celebrities. You can’t be coming to house parties anymore.” There was a clipped bark to her voice, but it faded on the last word, and I glanced over at her. She sneaked a look at me.

  “Yeah, we didn’t think ahead.” Braden threw a hand to the football guys. “Got some extra room?”

  She shook her head. “There is no way this little car can fit all of you hulks.”

  The guys laughed and one mentioned, “We can wait here. A bunch of our buddies are coming. They can pick us up.”

  I should’ve thanked them for saving us from the chaos, and I heard Gunn and Braden doing exactly that, but I looked back at her. Her hand was still on her hip, but her shoulders were slumped forward. She was kicking at some gravel on the road.

  The football guys headed farther down the road as Gunn and Braden got into the car. We were alone now, but we still had an audience.

  She wouldn’t look at me anymore. I wanted to turn those dark eyes to me. I wanted to say something, but I had no idea what. I ended up with, “You’re still really good.”

  Her head lifted, and I saw it. There was so much there. Fear, caution, excitement, warmth, and another expression I couldn’t place. No, I did. She was still haunted.

  “Thanks.”

  She was mine.

  No. She wasn’t.

  She had gone to him that night.

  Ah, fucking hell.

  “We should probably talk.”

  Her eyes opened at my tone, which was rough, and panic flared across her face for a moment. “Oh. Okay.”

  ‘The Talk’ never happened.

  Over the last week, my new place had become the hangout for everyone. Bri came a few times, but neither of us made the first move. Tonight was The Feast, and I figured it was time. There’d be a party afterward. Lots of booze. Lots of music. Lots of loose tongues going around. I had a feeling this conversation with Brielle was going to be like taking a shot of acid while doing acid.

 
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