Sustain, p.3
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       Sustain, p.3

           Tijan
 
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  hold of the steering wheel like I was going to be ripped out of the car. “I know. I’m not going back to him, but it’s hitting me for the first time here. For real. I just…” need a minute. I needed a minute.

  “Okay.” He started to get out, but paused at the door.

  I lifted my top lip, hoping for a reassuring smile, but when he frowned even more, I knew I had failed. Raking my hand through my long hair, I shook my head and tried to stir my thoughts. Now that we were here, I was tempted to head inside Rowdy’s and start drinking. There was a burning sensation in the middle of my chest, and the more reality was sinking in, the more painful it was becoming.

  One of Braden’s eyebrows arched from confusion. Then he gestured behind him, toward the bar. “Come inside.”

  “What?” I started to shake my head. Luke would be in there. Emerson, too. “No, no.”

  “Yeah. I know I got all excited before, but you should come in. You shouldn’t be alone right now.”

  My head moved back. I harrumphed. “I won’t be alone. I have friends…” I didn’t. I’d had a couple of female friends in high school, but most of them had only used me to get to Luke or Braden. The others, who might’ve been genuine friends, had stopped hanging out with me. Well…I stopped hanging out with them. It’d all been about Elijah and his slightly creepy friends.

  He snorted. “You have mom.”

  I gritted my teeth. “Braden.”

  “Stop it, Bri. I know you’re hurting. I can see it in your eyes. I’m sorry for being an insensitive jerk brother. Let me be your brother now.” His tone gentled. “Come inside. We’re not twenty-one, but I’ll make sure you get all the booze you want.”

  I rolled my eyes, laughing a little. After Luke’s dad took off three years ago, the owner had given him a job doing whatever needed to be done around the bar. In the last few years, Luke had stopped working there, but the basement had been renovated for their practices. It was soundproofed and the manager, who took over most of the operations, didn’t mind having them down there. They could practice all they wanted since it never interfered with the bar itself.

  “Come on.” Braden shut his door and rounded to mine. Opening it, he leaned inside and plucked the keys out of the ignition before I realized what he was doing.

  “I don’t think I can handle Emerson tonight.”

  “Nah.” He pulled me out, shut the door, and threw an arm around my shoulder. “It’s Emerson that won’t be able to handle you tonight. I mean it. You can do whatever you want, even play drums.”

  He meant it as teasing, but at those words, my chest tightened again. I’d been a part of the band when they formed; half of my name was in the title, Braille. Damn, I hadn’t touched the drums in so long. Feeling the beat, pounding it out, making everyone else feel it, too, opened a whole new yearning I had tried to bury with so many other things inside me.

  Three. Damn. Long. Years.

  “I can’t.”

  Braden studied me as he walked inside. “Yeah, well, we’ll see.” He held the door open for me. The basement stairs were in front of us, and I started down, but paused and glanced toward the bar area. Luke was heading toward us. He paused, too. Once he saw me, our gazes collided, and I tore my gaze away, hurrying downstairs.

  Braden stayed back, saying his hellos to Luke, and then their voices grew quiet. I kept going, knowing they were talking about me now. Before I hit the bottom step, I heard Luke say, “Yeah, that’s fine with me.” I stopped listening and moved into the main basement area.

  Emerson was already there, tuning his guitar. He glanced up, his eyes sparkling, but when he saw me, he gave the same reaction as earlier that morning. He straightened, lifting the guitar strap and placing it onto the floor. “No. Get out.”

  “Fuck off, Em.” I shot him an annoyed look and went for the bar. It was more of a bookshelf cut in half and positioned so it was sticking out of the wall. A run-down refrigerator was behind it, sitting in a corner of the room with a freezer next to it. The other side of the room was where they set up the equipment on a make-shift stage made from crates and recycled doors. The rest of the basement had three couches and two dark green lounge chairs spread all over. Each couch had a cushion that was ripped at the bottom and flayed armrests.

  Braden and Luke walked down the stairs, and it wasn’t long before my brother said, “Yes. She’s here. Deal with it.”

  “No!”

  “Suck it up, Em,” Luke spoke.

  Reaching for the bourbon, I froze. That was a new development. I might’ve been the poster child for avoiding Luke, but for him to speak up for me? And against Emerson? That was a new development. I shot Braden a look and saw he was surprised, too.

  Luke added, “She’s practicing with us. We’ve been talking about bringing in a fourth person, anyway.”

  Emerson snorted. “I thought we were talking about your friend, Gunn, not her.”

  “That’s enough,” Braden piped in. “It’s decided. I decided. Bri’s joining the band. We were better with her, anyway.”

  “No! Come on, guys.”

  “Well, let’s not get too hasty.” Luke was trying to keep the peace, but what he said earlier was still ringing in my ears. They were considering a fourth person? After I quit, Braden took over my spot on the drums, and Luke played guitar as well as sang. They never replaced me, and knowing now that they were considering it? It hurt.

  Screw it. I was playing. Needing a little liquid courage to steady my shaky hands, I grabbed the bottle of bourbon and poured myself a shot. After tossing it back, I turned and held out my hands. Braden was beaming as he held out the drumsticks. I took them as I passed him by and sat in my old seat.

  Once situated, Emerson rolled his eyes at me and held his hands in the air. “I’m not playing with her. Sorry. No way.” He headed for the door.

  “Emerson,” Luke called after him.

  “I’m out. I need to go see if they let my best friend out yet.” He hurried up the stairs, his feet pounding on them until he shoved out the door, slamming it shut behind him.

  “Let him go.” Braden went to the bar and poured himself a shot, too. After he emptied his glass, he picked up the guitar Emerson had left behind. “Call Gunn. He can fill in.”

  I could feel Luke’s gaze on me. Instead of staring back at him, I examined the drums more thoroughly, adjusted the stool an unnecessary amount of times, rested my chin on my chest, and fiddled with the drumsticks. The longer he remained silent, the more I fidgeted with the drumsticks.

  Was he rethinking this? Is that why he’s so quiet?

  “Fine. Gunn’s practiced with us enough. We shouldn’t have too much of a problem, but don’t get too excited. We both know Emerson will come back tonight. He storms off, but he always comes back.”

  “Fine. Whatever.” Braden was firm. “We should use Bri, anyway. She’ll remember most of the material, and she’ll pick up the new stuff tonight. She’s good. She’s the best.”

  “Yeah.” Luke didn’t sound too happy about it. “We’ll see.”

  When he left to call Gunn, I let out the small breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding. Looks like I was going to be Drummer Extraordinaire for the night. I had to admit, I was looking forward to it—anything to keep my mind off Elijah, and Luke, too. Sneaking a look under my eyelids when Luke took his place at the microphone later, I realized I hadn’t taken into account how it felt to play music with him again.

  Gunn arrived within thirty minutes. He was a large man, and when I said man, I meant man. We were all twenty and twenty-one, but Gunn looked to be in his thirties. Like Emerson, he was sporting a bald head, but unlike Emerson, he was taller than Luke. He was big, just big all around. Height. Weight. Muscles. When he came down the stairs, I wasn’t sure if he would be able to fit through the doorframe, but he did. He ran a hand over his head, giving Braden and me a wave before ducking his head back down. That was the most interaction I had with him.

  Luke called out the songs and di
d the countdowns. There weren’t a lot of hiccups during practice. I was rusty, but I could get through a set. By the end of practice, I was breathless. My pulse was racing, and I was drunk without touching another sip of alcohol. I’d forgotten how a good set on the drums felt like great sex. I was buzzing, and I didn’t want to stop.

  “Fuck, yeah!” Braden held a fist up as he went around the stage. Luke gave him a shaky grin as he stretched his hand out in the air. Braden pounded it with his, then went to Gunn. He pounded his fist with Gunn’s head lightly and circled to me. As he held his hand over the drums, I hit it softly with one of my sticks, and he shook his head. “This is what it should always be like, Luke.” He winked at me before turning back, lifting the guitar strap over his head. “I love the grumpy bastard, but Emerson’s full of drama ninety-seven percent of the time. Today’s no different.”

  When I stood, my legs were even a little wobbly.

  Braden saw my reaction and pointed at me. “See. I never get like that from drumming. That says something.”

  Luke stiffened. “Braden, come on.”

  My brother shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not saying we kick him out; I’m just advocating bringing her in.” His hands went up in surrender. “That’s all. I love my cousin. I’ve kicked ass for my cousin, but,” a dark cloud came over his face, and his eyebrows bunched together before he continued, “whatever. I’m just looking out for my sister, and on that note, I want to drink. I’m heading upstairs.”

  “We go on in a couple hours,” Luke called after him.

  Braden was already halfway up the stairs. “I know.”

  After he left, the room was suddenly very quiet, very awkward, and very tense. Gunn had put Luke’s guitar to the side and seemed to be waiting, standing there. So was Luke. Both were watching me.

  I raised a hand to the ceiling. “Uh, I’m sure Emerson will be back. So, no worries. That’s all I’m saying.” My tongue swelled, doubled its size, and I couldn’t talk around it. “Yeah, so.” I pointed upstairs again. “Braden’s a little heated right now. I’m going to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble, or worse, get naked.”

  I was halfway to the door before Luke said, “Braden’s not wrong, but he’s pushing this because of Elijah. You know that, right?”

  Elijah. There went another punch to my gut. I turned around.

  Luke stood there, a hand resting on the microphone stand, and my god, he looked lethal. A serious expression filled those eyes, an intensity clung to the set of his shoulders, and his lips were set in a firm line.

  I tugged at the collar of my shirt. “I know. Braden wants me in the band. He thinks I’ll get bored and go back to Elijah.”

  “Will you?”

  Luke’s words were so soft, I almost missed them. My senses were already in overdrive, but he sped them all up again. That was the power he had over me. Shit. I’d forgotten why I had avoided him all these years. It had become habit to stay away from him, but man, I turned around. I needed to not look at him. “I don’t think I can anymore.”

  Too many memories were threatening to spill in my mind, all about Luke, so I hurried upstairs and joined Braden at the bar, sliding onto the empty stool beside him. He slid a beer over to me and held his hand up. “Another, barkeep.”

  His second beer was placed before him, and the girl leaned forward. “I don’t give a shit what pretty boy band you’re in, I’ll boot your ass out if you call me barkeep again.” She was thin, tall, and had long straight blonde hair that fell past the middle of her back. She had a heart-shaped face and dark eyes. Straightening, she skimmed a hard eye over me and nodded. “I’m Kelly.”

  “Bri.” I pointed a thumb next to me. “The idiot’s my brother.”

  “The idiot can be all nice to me in the morning hours, but when it comes to—” She stopped. “You know, I’m not even going there. Be nice or I’ll tell everyone you have a tiny dick.”

  “I don’t.” He sat back, as if offended, but the wicked gleam in his eyes told me otherwise. He liked this one.

  “They don’t know that.”

  He groaned, picking up his beer to take a sip. When she left to help another customer, Braden watched her go, his eyes trained right on her ass. “See that, Bri. Don’t walk like that. Ever.” He turned to me, lifting his beer in a salute. “A public service announcement courtesy of your former womb-mate.”

  I took his beer away from him. “You should stop drinking. That’s my public service announcement.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you’re worked up. If you drink any more, you’re going to get drunk, and Luke will get mad at you.”

  He took his beer back. “I play better when I’m drunk. I think he’d thank you.”

  Then I looked over his shoulder, and a new ball of tension formed in my stomach. This wasn’t going to go well. “Yeah, well, you shouldn’t drink for another reason.”

  “Why?”

  I nodded behind him. Emerson was coming through the door. He paused at the bouncer, said something, and threw his head back to laugh. He was in a good mood. That meant I probably wouldn’t be by the end of the night. Then he looked behind him at the door that was held open by someone, but I couldn’t see who it was.

  An arm appeared first. As they walked inside, a tattoo on the inside of his arm was visible, and I knew who it was. That ball of tension doubled in size. I wanted to smack myself in the forehead. I should’ve known. There was only one person who made Emerson forget to be an asshole…most of the time.

  I said, “Because Emerson’s back.” And so was Elijah, but he wasn’t my brother’s problem. He was mine. Just as I thought that, Elijah’s green eyes scanned the bar and landed right on me, like he knew the exact location I’d be.

  It was done. For real. Judging by the guarded look in his eyes, he knew it, too.

  “Oh hell,” Braden muttered. “Are you going to be okay?”

  I felt my head moving up and down. “I think so.”

  Then Elijah was right in front of me, and without a word, I slid off the stool. I led the way, knowing he would be right behind me. Luke and Gunn were coming up the stairs. I opened the door that connected the basement stairs to the bar. Luke paused at the top of the stairs, drawing to his fullest height as he saw who was behind me. I felt Elijah’s hand touch the small of my back, and all the nerves in my body jumped.

  Luke’s gaze fell to his hand, and just like that, his grey eyes turned dark. I shivered at the anger shining in his eyes. I looked away and walked outside of the bar. Elijah followed behind me.

  Once outside, he leaned against the building and put a cigarette into his mouth. Exhaling, he said, “You with him now?”

  I folded my arms across my chest. “No.”

  He paused, narrowed his eyes at me, and then shook his head. “I should’ve remembered who I was talking to. Always such a coward.”

  “Fuck you.”

  That got a laugh from him as he put the cigarette into his mouth again. Then he murmured as the smoke left him, “I don’t get you. It took one night, and you were my girl, but Luke—shit. How long have the two of you been dancing around this? You screwed him already?”

  Rolling my eyes, I turned away. He was hurt, and he was lashing out. This wasn’t the normal Eli, but I understood it. So be it. I guess we were just jumping right into it.

  He let out another cocky laugh. “You did. I can tell.” He pointed the cigarette at me. “Did you ever cheat on me with him?” I shot him a look, but he shrugged. “Yeah, yeah. You knew Emerson was going to tell me. He told me you called Luke and showed up with him. Thanks for that. I really enjoy being dumped by my girlfriend through my best friend.”

  My jaw tightened. “I don’t date drug dealers.”

  “I’ll ask again. Have you been fucking him the whole time?”

  I scowled. “No. Why don’t we talk about you and the lie you’ve been telling me? How long have you been dealing drugs? How long have you been lying to me about that?”

  “Like y
ou didn’t know,” he taunted me. “You knew. You just didn’t want to deal with it. Like me, I guess. I’m asking again. Were you with him while you were with me?”

  “No,” I folded my arms tighter over my chest. “I’m not a damn cheater.”

  “That’s up for debate.”

  His gaze bore into mine. I wanted to look away, but I didn’t. He was gauging my response, and then his shoulders slumped down. As he took out another cigarette, he said, “I don’t get the two of you. I saw that look just now. I remember how tight you used to be. You want him. He wants you, always has. Are you really that scared of losing him?”

  I flinched again, but lied. “What do you mean?” I knew what he meant.

  “Stop jerking me around. This is me. We’re now exes, Bria—”

  “I’m not Bria anymore.”

  He sighed, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, whatever. Bri. Bria. Brielle. Whatever.” Cupping his hand over the cigarette, he lit it and took in a deep drag. “Are you together together?”

  “It’s none of your business.”

  He laughed at that, but the sound bordered on being bitter. “It’s not, but I’m curious. I’m roadkill on the Luke and Bri Road.”

  “Stop, Eli.”

 
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