Sustain, p.21
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       Sustain, p.21

           Tijan
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  Gunn picked up everyone. The Feast was located farther back in the park than other years. As we wound our way through the woods and down the hill to the small clearing where a stage was set up, I could hear Bri’s band already playing. It was the same thing as the house party. The singer was off a beat.

  When we stepped out into the clearing, someone called out my name, “Skeeter! Over here.”

  Dustin Glass waved a flashlight in the air, making air traffic signals with it, as if we were a plane coming in for a landing. “Right here, guys.” He lit up four empty lawn chairs set up with the rest of his group. As we got closer, I recognized Paul and some of the guys from Shifter, who held up a hand in greeting, and some chick…Ava?...came over to sit in Braden’s lap.

  I asked as I sat down, “You still get invited to this stuff, Glass?”

  “Yeah,” Braden added. “You quit being our roadie after six months.”

  “You know me, guys. I’ve got my fingers in a little bit of everything.” He spread his arms out. “Behold the gloriousness of yours truly. And, Braden, I had to. My folks gave me my trust fund back, and my dad worked his magic. He got me back into Harvard. Living the life and touring with you superstar a-holes was fun, but real life came knocking.” He winked at me as he skimmed his hand over a girl’s ass in front of him. “But if you ever need another worker for a summer tour, Mr. Glass is signed up and ready for duty. Getting these benefits,” he squeezed her butt cheeks, “on a daily basis is like the first circle of heaven. Or, at least, I hope it will be, if you know what I mean.” As he finished, he swatted the girl with a resounding slap.

  She laughed and swung her gaze to me. She licked her lips and tugged the front of her shirt down, just far enough so I could tell she wasn’t wearing a bra. My gaze lingered. Being around Brielle and not being able to touch her had sent me to the first circle of hell. This girl was willing, and she had curves to hold onto, but even as I considered it, she wasn’t the one I wanted.

  I mouthed back to her, “No thanks.”

  She opened her legs even wider.

  I knew this type. She didn’t care. She’d be there whenever, wherever, and however I wanted. It was the same feeling afterward. Those girls left me with nothing, just emptiness. After too many times of feeling that cheap emptiness, the draw for a quick fuck didn’t hold any appeal. It never had, but there’d been a few months in the beginning when that was all I wanted as I tried to chase Brielle out of my system.

  Fucking Brielle.

  I shifted and tried to readjust myself. Now he was a springboard. Just the thought of her sent him into full action mode.

  “That’s the end of Callen, folks,” Wes said into the microphone.

  Emerson swore, “We’re not his paying fans. He needs to stop talking to us like we are.”

  “The next band up is Easter Midnight.”

  No one clapped as they left the stage. A few people called out to Brielle, telling her she did a good job, but that was the only response. The other two members scattered, going to different groups, and Brielle headed toward us. Wes saw where she was going and held back at the stage.

  “He’s not welcomed,” Emerson growled. “Braden, if that singer douche comes over here, I’m going to punch him.”

  Wes hadn’t heard. He decided to come over anyway.

  Braden laughed. “Better get ready, cousin.”

  When he was closer, Emerson hollered at him, “Just warning you, if you try to sit with us, I’m going to punch you. No dumbshits allowed.”

  He wavered in his walking, and his foot went sideways, making him trip for a second. “What’d you say?”

  Brielle caught my gaze.

  Everything else melted away. With the weight of her gaze on me, the world centered again. For one moment, just one god forsaken moment, I wished all our problems away. I wanted to be with her. I wanted her in my arms.

  I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any of that.

  “Luke.”

  I glanced to the girl sitting on Dustin’s right. It was Candy Lake. She gave me a warm smile and patted the seat in front of her, spreading her legs for me.

  I could feel Bri’s gaze on me, but I headed over to Candy and sat down in front of her. Her hands went to my shoulders, and she leaned forward. Her lips brushed my neck as she murmured, “Could you look any better? Rock stardom suits you, Skeet.” She leaned down and gripped my arms, giving me a slight hug before she started massaging there, moving back up to my shoulders. As her hands settled into my deltoids, her legs pressed against me, hugging me from both sides. She was warm and comforting. She was what I needed at that moment.

  Bri was glaring. Her hand crushed her beer can, and she jerked her gaze away.

  Satisfaction flared through me. Good.

  “Hunt!” Braden said, waving.

  Jesse Hunt came over to our group. When he caught sight of me, he shook his head.

  I held a hand out. “Hey, man.”

  He slapped it and gazed around. “I didn’t know we had to bring our own chairs.”

  “You don’t.” Braden hopped off his and settled in front of Brielle, poking her at the same time. “You can have mine. Is your woman with you?”

  Jesse cursed as he took the seat. “Yes, and do not let her know you referred to her that way. We’re still in the ‘coming together’ stage.”

  Candy kept massaging my shoulders. Jesse’s gaze lingered on her, confused. To his unspoken question, I shrugged. She wasn’t Brielle. Jesse knew the status of my feelings. I met him one night in a bar, drunk off my ass, and the two of us decided to fight the entire bar together. I had invited him earlier, but I wasn’t concerned he would invite anyone else. Jesse Hunt had his own celebrity status. His father was a world-renowned director, and he could go pro in basketball whenever he wanted. He played for Grant West University’s basketball team, but it was only a matter of time when Jesse would decide if he wanted to finish his degree or go straight to the professional league. So far, he seemed content with his university team.

  It wasn’t long until his woman joined the group. She stood, gazing around the group with a star-struck expression, but Jesse caught her hand and pulled her to sit on his lap. Hunt was a good friend. We weren’t close, but I knew he’d be there if I ever needed him and vice versa. Emerson teased him, trying to flirt with his woman. Hunt handled him fine. Studying them, seeing the easy camaraderie between Hunt and his woman, had me glancing at Brielle. They reminded me of us. They were best friends, no matter what was going on between them. He loved her. It was obvious. The sight of them sickened me. I should’ve been happy for them, but in that moment, I wasn’t the good friend.

  I wanted what they had; I shot Bri another glare.

  I protected the band. I did the dirty work, maintaining everyone kept on task. I brought us to where we were, and I had done it by being the better man, but I wasn’t in that moment. I was the jealous man. I was the petty man. I wanted a love like theirs, and I wanted it from Brielle.

  She mistook my glare and lifted her chin in defiance. Taking a drink, she let me watch how she swallowed it before gracing me with a smug smirk.

  The desire to grab her and haul her off into the woods was more than I could handle. I was still fighting it when it was our turn for the stage, and as we took it, I signaled for our new material. She was still with me. She was in my mind. The feel of her, the taste of her, and the need for her were suffocating me.

  I sang to her. I didn’t give a shit who knew.

  This song was for her. It was about her. I wanted her to know.

  You promised the world with my hand in yours

  We grew up beside each other

  Together, never apart, and now I can’t let go

  Here I am, on all fours

  Baby please, baby that’s mine

  Baby please

  Bring me home

  Bring me in to you

  No matter where you go, how far you are, you’re home

  Home, home
, home

  Don’t let me go

  The emotion was in my voice. Everyone could hear it, and I even heard Braden swear softly behind me. He knew as well. I was laying it out. When I opened my eyes and found her, she was still there. She was riveted, and she made no movement to wipe the tears from her eyes as they flowed down her face. One fell into her beer. She still didn’t turn away.

  I held her in my spell, the same one she wove when she played. She couldn’t look away the entire time. Even as we finished our set and headed down, she couldn’t move.

  “Luke,” Candy called my name. She patted the space in front of her again.

  Brielle closed her eyes. I watched her as she held her breath. Something broke in me then. She did care. A flood of love and hate washed through me.

  “Luke?”

  Candy was looking at me, her eyebrows scrunched together. I glanced around. Everyone else was watching me, too. I had stopped in front of Brielle’s chair. She was the only one not watching me. Her arms were wrapped around herself, and her head was pushed down into her chest. She was closing herself off from the world.

  She had done that when we were kids, when she was scared and hurting. I hated seeing it then, and I hated seeing it now.

  “Bri.”

  She stiffened, but I ignored it. I stopped thinking about the past. I turned it off. Seeing her like this made all of that go away. I wanted her to stop hurting. Without thinking, I bent down and slid my hands around her. Lifting her, I moved so I was underneath her. I pulled her onto my lap and wrapped my arms around her.

  Her body was like cement, as if she was scared to relax. I ran a hand down her hair, smoothing it out. Her entire body shuddered as she let a sob out. She swallowed it immediately and stared straight ahead. I could feel her body trembling, yet she was still so rigid.

  I had made it worse.

  Cursing in my head, knowing I couldn’t do anything else, I held her while neither of us said a word.

  I wanted to loathe this girl, walk away, and live my life unscathed by her. I couldn’t. She was my other half, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself otherwise.

  A few more bands played, and our group sat in our small circle as some people wandered over to talk. When the first ones came over, Braden glanced at me, but I shook my head. I wasn’t the leader tonight, and he nodded, stepping into that role for the evening. Braden did the talking for us. Candy tried to get my attention during the rest of the night, so did that other girl, but I ignored them and tightened my arms around Brielle.

  It was awkward, but damn, I’d do it again. And again. And again. I didn’t want to let her go.

  “Luke, my man,” Dustin called out when The Feast was over. Everyone was picking up their chairs and coolers, but paused and waited. He pointed at me, a wide grin on his face. “I know you have alcohol at your place, and I can get some kegs. What do you say? Should we end this night with a party to end all parties at your new place? You’re a rock god. Let’s party like rock gods!”

  “Hey, yeah.” Candy perked up. “I’m game.”

  Others joined in with the same sentiments.

  I glanced at Braden, who shrugged. “Fine with me. We’re on vacation, right?”

  I grunted. “Says you. It won’t be at your place.”

  “Come on, Luke,” Candy taunted. “You can afford to hire cleaners. I don’t think you’re hurting for money.”

  I didn’t want a party. I didn’t want strangers at my place. I wanted Brielle, and I wanted privacy. But…I took in all the looks. They wanted a party, and damn, I knew I was going to give in, even before I said the words, “Okay—”

  Dustin let out a war whoop and smacked his girl’s ass. He pointed at me. “You won’t regret it. It’ll be awesome. A rock god party. Let’s do this!” His fist thrust in the air in triumph. “Who’s going with me to get the kegs?”

  Others called out to him, and he motioned up the hill. “The cars! Let’s get this bitch going.” He took off, and his girl giggled, running after him up the hill.

  Brielle had crawled off my lap, and I stood, waiting as she collected her chair and blanket. There was no going back. We would talk, even if I had to throw her over my shoulder and lock her away from everyone else.

  “Bri?”

  I stiffened. Callen’s lead singer was there. His hands were stuffed into his pockets, and his gaze lingered on me as he said further, “Can I get a ride home?”

  What the—?

  His shoulders tensed, reacting to my anger, but he added, “The others just left—”

  “Hey, man.” Emerson clapped a hand on Wes’ shoulder. He jumped back, but Emerson tightened his hold on him. He added, “We’ll give you a ride home. I was just joking around before. I wouldn’t punch you.”

  Bri frowned. “Emerson? What are you doing?”

  He gestured to me. “I’m being a good buddy.” His hand tightened again on Wes’ shoulder. “I’m taking one for the team here. We’ll give your rocker a ride home. No sweat.”

  “Uh.” Wes had gone pale. “I think I see a friend. She can give me a ride home. Never mind.”

  He took off, and Emerson started laughing. “I think he just shit his pants.”

  “Why are you always such an ass?”

  He stopped laughing and glared at Bri. “For the record, I was going to give him a ride home.”

  “You were?” Gunn had joined the conversation.

  Emerson amended, “I was going to have Gunn give him a ride home, so you two lovebirds didn’t have to part.” He fixed me with a glare. “You’re welcome.”

  Bri rolled her eyes. “You weren’t going to give him a ride home, and you know it. You just wanted to scare him, like you did before, so he wouldn’t sit with us.”

  “Again,” Emerson bit out. His scowl deepened. “I did that shit for Luke. That prick just wants in your pants, and he’s using you for his band. You make that band. His band sucks. He sings off-pitch half the time and tries to cover it up, and the other two are hardly on beat. The only thing they have going for them is their hot drummer.”

  “If you’re hoping to piss me off by insulting Callen, it’s not going to work. I’m not attached to them, so I don’t care what you say about them.”

  “You’re right. We all know what band you’re attached to—”

  “This isn’t happening.” I stepped between them and said to Emerson, “Walk.”

  “I was trying to help you.”

  “I know, but you’re not anymore. Walk away.”

  “Luke—”

  I lowered my voice. “Walk, Emerson.”

  Gunn was waiting to the side, and I nodded my head at him. He took hold of Emerson’s arm and began to drag him away. I thought Emerson would protest, but he didn’t. He walked with him, his head hanging down. A defeated air settled over him.

  I waited until they had disappeared over the hill and then turned to Brielle. She was still behind me, gripping her chair tightly in one hand. Her blanket had been thrown over her shoulder.

  “Will he always hate me?” She sounded defeated, too.

  I didn’t know, but I took the chair from her. “Can I get a ride to The Shack?”

  She closed her eyes and drew in a breath. Pain flashed over her face, but she nodded. “Yeah.”

  It was right. Being with her and sitting next to her felt right. Having her sit on my lap and holding her felt right, too.

  “I was the one who robbed your dad. I took the money—it was my fault.”

  “That’s why you went to Elijah?”

  Her head moved up and down. She whispered, with tears streaming down her face, “I’m sorry, Luke. I’m so sorry.”

  Three years.

  That sat on the bottom of my stomach for a year, four months,
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