Broken and screwed 2, p.23
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       Broken and Screwed 2, p.23
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         Part #2 of Broken and Screwed series by Tijan

  Jamie added, “Or to any girl like that. I wouldn’t want my sister to get treated like that.”

  “I still don’t want you around.”

  “Oh, come on! Why not?” The polite charade was gone. A sulking five year old came over the big jock. “I apologized to her. Twice.”

  “Words are cheap. Find a new place to stay over the season.”

  Outraged, Jamie’s mouth hung open. “Are you fucking with me?”

  “No,” Jesse snapped back. “I’ve been getting tired of your shit anyway. Last night was the last straw.”

  “So this isn’t even about your girl?”

  I fidgeted in my seat as new pairs of eyes turned my way. The argument had taken center stage in the small cafeteria. No one else even pretended to be having a conversation. They all shut up and were waiting with open ears.

  “Some of it. Some not.”

  “This sucks. Come on. What do I have to do?”

  “Not be such an asshole. How about that?”

  “Why are you riding me? You trying to grow big balls for the team now?” But as soon as those words left him, Jamie knew he’d stepped wrong. His mouth clamped shut and a tense silence filled the room. A pin could’ve been heard dropping. I knew I quieted my quick gasp as Jesse had clenched his jaw. His body grew rigid like stone and I didn’t dare look in his eyes. I knew the deadly threat that would’ve been in them.

  Jamie tried to backtrack immediately. “Hey, I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean—”

  Jesse cut him off. His tone was soft, but even more lethal because of it. “It’s comments like that. It’s because of that attitude that I don’t want you in my home. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t even have you on the team. You were in Camden’s corner all last year. You think I don’t know about the shit you said about me? That I was weak, a Hollywood pansy, mooching off my daddy’s strings?” He rose from the table, his arms so clenched that his veins stuck out. “If you even fucking knew one real thing about me, you’d know that I’m anything but those things.”

  As Jesse was lashing at Jamie, I recognized the tortured look in his eyes. I knew what he was feeling. Jamie wasn’t Ethan. No one was. Cord wasn’t. Derek wasn’t. Jesse was surrounded by a bunch of people that thought they knew him, but none did. It was only me and I’d just gotten there. A mirrored emotion came up in me.

  “Jesse,” I touched his hand. “Let’s go somewhere private.”

  He wrenched his arm away, but glared, keeping himself in check. Barely. Then he sighed, “Fine.”

  I led him down a hallway until I spotted a room that resembled a conference room. Plush leather chairs surrounded the table with an expensive-looking projector in the middle. It slid up from the floor. Two speakers were in the corners. No matter how many hours I might’ve trained at a sport, I knew I’d never be good enough to be in that room again. But this was Jesse’s world. Private cafeterias. People trying to get to him for what they imagined they could get from him, and he had ripped into one that might’ve been a friend. I wasn’t sure about Jamie so I held my tongue. At times, he seemed genuine. Other times he was just an ass. But it wasn’t Jamie that Jesse wasn’t mad with, and it was starting to hit me that I was the only one who really knew him. It was my job to help him now.

  “Hey.” I took a deep breath.

  Jesse slumped into one of the chairs, gaze lidded, and shoulders hunched forward. Everything about him was screaming for me to shut up.

  I couldn’t. “I’m mad at him too.”

  “You’d be crazy not to be,” he snorted, rotating the chair to level me with a dark look. “He was bordering on abusive last night.”

  “Not Jamie.”

  Ethan’s presence was there now. I felt him so strongly. A chair moved an inch. It could’ve been from the wind, if there was any, but I imagined him there. I wanted him to be there. In fact, I wanted it so badly that I was struggling to keep my emotions in check.

  “Oh.”

  All the fight left him.

  I sat beside him and leaned back. I was going on instinct here, but touching would take us into a different dimension. This was about Jesse. This was about my brother. Biting the inside of my cheek, I started, “He was supposed to be here.”

  A ragged breath left in a whoosh. “You’re damn right he was supposed to be.” He shoved his chair back again. It went crashing into the wall and he was pacing around the table, twisting his hands together. “He was supposed to be on the fucking team with me. He was supposed to be my roommate. Him and me. That was it. He was supposed to have my back, not go off and get killed going to— He was supposed to be here. Instead, I got Cord. And Derek. They’re both good guys, but they’re not—”

  He stopped and gripped the chair in front of him. His jaw went rigid and he was swallowing his words. He was fighting the emotions that had rushed out.

  I sat rooted in my seat. Holding my breath, I thought that would’ve taken longer, but I didn’t dare mess it up.

  I began praying for him to keep going.

  One. Two. Three. I counted to six before he started again, saddened, “He was my best friend and my brother. And he’s not here.”

  “But he was supposed to be.”

  “He was supposed to be.”

  “I came for him.”

  Jesse had turned towards the wall, but he looked over again. A slight shimmer was over his eyes. He never moved to brush it away or pretend it wasn’t there. He let the moisture build as he nodded. “I know you did.”

  Nodding, I didn’t know what else to say or even what else there was to say.

  Then he added, “I came for him too.”

  “You did?”

  “Yeah.” He let out a deep breath. His voice was calmer now, stronger. “I was offered at six other places. I came here because of...”

  Because of Ethan. We were in the same boat.

  “Your family was like my only family. Hell, my dad might’ve had tons of kids, but I didn’t grow up with them. I don’t know any of them and this girl, I can’t reach out to her. The lawyer went nuts when I said I was thinking about talking to her. And you know the messed up part?” A strangled laugh rose from his chest. “I don’t even know if my mom’s my real mom.”

  “Jesse?” I rose from my chair and went to him. Sliding into his lap, I waited as he leaned back in the chair. His hands rested lightly on my legs.

  “I saw a file. It’d been left open.”

  It hurt to hold his gaze. There was so much pain.

  “It said she was barren, she couldn’t have kids. I don’t know if she was like that after me or...”

  “You think another woman had you and your dad passed you off as hers?”

  He nodded, swallowing thickly. “I loved her, but what if she wasn’t even who I was supposed to be loving?”

  “Oh, Jesse.” How could I answer that? I couldn’t. Resting my head against his chest, he tightened his arms around me and rested his cheek on top of me. I felt him take another deep breath.

  I used to do that, to lessen the pain. It never worked. The pain always won out. It always suffocated me.

  “I’m so sorry, Jesse,” I whispered.

  “Yeah,” he bit out. “What do you expect, though? I should’ve thought of that growing up with him. You have no idea how grateful I am to your family for taking me in and letting me live with you guys. Your parents have been so good to me.”

  But not to me. My own agony stirred now. My parents had abandoned me, but I knew they would never do that to him. Jesse was the son they wanted to replace Ethan. He just didn’t know that. Biting my tongue, a familiar heaviness came over me. I couldn’t tell him about my parents. I knew Jesse would be upset, but he’d be hurt. He’d be disappointed and there went his ideal image of what parents should be.

  I couldn’t do that to him.

  There were a few changes in the house after that first night. Jamie wasn’t allowed back, but Tiffany started living in his room. After an apology for her stupidity, Hannah moved int
o my room. Everything was approved through Housing so it looked like I had a roommate on paper. The girls stopped knocking on my door the day she moved in. Refusing to bring more of my stuff, more than what was necessary to Jesse’s house, I had to stop by every other day for clothes or random things. The other girls on the floor tried to become friendly with me. When I ignored them, which I would’ve done anyway, they started getting nasty. Insults were heard from opened doors when I’d pass by. These were followed with more of them lingering in the hallways. It was a mean girl situation. They’d whisper about me, not quiet anymore, and shoot me death glares as I was forced to walk around them to my room.

  After Hannah witnessed a few of these moments, she made me promise to text her whenever I would come over. When I did, Hannah was in the hallway, in a lawn chair with a table beside her. Most times, she had a book in her lap and a drink on the table. The location of the lawn chair moved. The first time was outside her (my) door. By the third week, she sat outside the doors of the mean girl leaders. No one won against Hannah when the insults flew.

  The other change was at the house.

  After our first fight that had almost turned violent, and after she saw how Jesse defended me, Tiffany began to ignore me. It was the most passive aggressive tactic, but it didn’t bother me. I could ignore her as well, made my life easier. After one night, when I went into the kitchen and Tiffany left the table to go upstairs, I took her vacant seat. Kara rolled her eyes and asked, “How are you handling that?”

  I shrugged and popped one of Tiffany’s grapes in my mouth. “I don’t really care. I think she thinks this is getting to me, but it’s easier. I don’t want to be her friend so I don’t know what she’s getting out of this.”

  Kara grinned. “Tiffany thinks everyone wants to be her friend.”

  “Not me.”

  “I know. She doesn’t know that.”

  Eyeing her, I asked, “Why are you saying this stuff to me? You’re not being loyal to her.”

  “I’m loyal to Derek and he likes you. And I still consider you one of my residents. I’ve told Tiffany she’s being dumb. It’s obvious how much Jesse cares about you. You’re not going anywhere. She needs to accept that and move on. Even though she doesn’t see it that way, I’m trying to help her in the long run.”

  “Oh.” That made sense to me.

  “In her defense, she’s never met a girl in Jesse’s life before. Those two were close last year, as close as I think he’d get to another female as a friend.”

  I nodded. Jesse had explained it to me one night, but he made sure to reinforce that he never saw Tiffany as more than a friend. I wasn’t too sure about that. He had slept with her. Twice. But she wasn’t his family. I was.

  “What about Chandra? I thought she was friends with you two.”

  Kara looked down at the table now. “Cord doesn’t want her here so she’s not allowed to come over.”

  “Yeah, but you guys are friends with her.”

  She looked up. I caught the sadness there before she masked it. She shrugged, forcing a smile to cover. “It doesn’t matter. We can still be friends with her outside of this house, but she has to respect Cord’s wishes.”

  Remembering that first day, I thought there’d been something extra between the two. I said as much to her, but she shrugged again. “If you haven’t noticed, Cord doesn’t like getting close to any girl.”

  “Yeah.” I had noticed. I had witnessed it a few times. Marissa had emailed me one time, asking if Cord was mad at her. He had never responded to her emails, phone calls, or text messages. My old friend was getting the snub. She knew it; she just needed to accept it.

  “You know, you can have your friends to the house. That’d be okay.”

  “My friends?”

  “Beth and Hannah.”

  “Oh.” I frowned. “Isn’t that weird? I thought Hannah was fighting with Tiffany again?”

  “They’re always going to be fighting. They’re sisters, but Jesse said you live here too so you can have your friends over.”

  “Yeah, I guess.” But it felt weird. There was an unspoken rule to keep the house from people. I knew Beth and Hannah would be fine, but I didn’t want to get comfortable. When I did, something bad would happen. So I kept being there, but not living there. It would be safer for me in the long run, when that bad thing did finally happen. I loved Jesse, but I was still trying to save myself from other attachments. It’d be hard enough to lose him. And I knew it would happen. Nothing good happened to me, nothing that lasted.

  Thanksgiving came and went.

  I still lived with Jesse, but our time had dwindled because of basketball practices. It’d been a month into the new season until they had their first home game. Even though Kara mentioned having Hannah and Beth over to the house, I never did. Instead, the three of us began hanging out at a diner off-campus. We were leaving the place when I invited them over. It was my first time ever. Jesse and the guys were gone. They’d be at their game. And Tiffany and Kara had already left to watch the game. At the thought of being alone for the rest of the night, I heard myself inviting them over before I knew I was going to do it.

  Hannah shrugged. “Sure. Can I get drunk?”

  Beth hit her on the arm before she frowned at me. “Aren’t you going to the game?”

  “And sit by myself?”

  “Oh, come on. There must be lots of fakeys that will warm up to you. You could have fake friends all you want. Think of the possibilities.” Hannah spread her arms out, laughing at her own joke. “Fake people everywhere!”

  “Yeah, I get it.” Beth frowned at her cousin.

  “I’m down. Let’s throw a rager.” Hannah caught my look. “Kidding, Alex. Chill.”

  “Oh.” Relaxing, but only a little, I didn’t know what I was so tense about as we drove in our separate cars to the house. I led the way, Hannah and Beth behind me. When I pulled into the driveway, a visitor was waiting for me.

  She’d been waiting on the stoop.

  Angie Russo. She and Marissa had been my best friends. Marissa had been smart. She checked out earlier, but Angie had tried to hang in there. Even in my darkest days, but it hurt. When she left for college, her truck and her boyfriend’s were both parked on my street. Justin stayed inside his truck when he never would’ve considered that before. She could barely stand being in the front entrance before she said her goodbyes and rushed off. I hadn’t heard from her since.

  As I got out of my car, she stood, smoothing her hands down her pants. Her blonde hair had been styled. She was beautiful, but she had always been beautiful. With a willowy tall figure and smoky blue eyes, I wondered if she had finally stepped in front of the camera. Angie had never boasted about her looks, but I knew there’d been a few scouts when we were younger. Her parents wanted her to remain in school and to go on to college.

  I saw the silver Prius in the driveway. “You retired the truck?”

  Angie relaxed, a little. She grinned, a little, and eyed Beth and Hannah warily. “No. My little sister’s driving it now. I bought this last weekend.”

  “That was a nice Thanksgiving present to yourself.”

  She shrugged and hugged herself. “Yeah, well, I’m modeling now. I can afford it.”

  “So can Alex.” Hannah stepped closer with her hands on her hips. She drew her chin down, leveling Angie with suspicion. “She won’t say a word, but I can tell. I can smell money on people and Alex has it. You’re not here for that, are you?”

  “Hannah,” Beth groaned. “Let’s go inside.”

  “Can’t. The Missus here has the keys.”

  Rolling my eyes, I dangled my keys in the air.

  Hannah snatched them but cast a warning eye over Angie. “She’s my friend. Just so you know.”

  Angie’s slim shoulders lifted up and down in a deep sigh. “Yeah, well, she’s my friend too.”

 
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