Sustain, p.4
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       Sustain, p.4

           Tijan
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  He didn’t comment, but started laughing again a moment later. “Every girl I’m going to screw this week will be a one-time deal. They won’t be the same. No, Bri.” He drew in a breath and let it back out slowly. “You’re going from a three year deal to that. Skeet’s been crawling into your bed since you were nine, whether or not you two were screwing. He’s always been just there.”

  “Are we done? Are we officially broken up now?”

  I felt the shift then. Looking up, I saw the rage barely blanketed in his eyes; this was the same guy who was going to jump out of his second-story window and run from the police. It was like someone had snapped a whip. A shiver ran up my back as I remembered how dangerous Elijah was known to be. He had never been with me. I knew he wouldn’t, but this was that guy now.

  He spat out, “You think this is a joke? That I’m here out of the goodness of my heart? You left me in there, Bria—Bri—Bria. You left me in there all day, and I get out to hear this shit. It was only a few hours.” His voice rose.

  “Stop, Eli.”

  He tossed his unfinished cigarette and rounded on me, raising his voice as he continued, “I feel fucking used. This whole time, why weren’t you with him? It’s obvious you love the guy…”

  I couldn’t listen to another word; I’d had enough. I started for the door, but he grabbed my arm and yanked me back. “Stop,” I snapped before shoving him away. He backed off, holding both of his hands in the air with a snarl on his face. “Shut up, Elijah. You can’t say a word.”

  “About what?” His anger went down a notch, but it was there. It was right under the surface. He crowded me, looming over me as my back hit the wall. “You’re going to preach to me now?”

  “Better than you mocking me.”

  The corner of his mouth lifted into a half-grin. “You think you’re so badass, Bria. You’re not. You’re a little girl that was broken a long time ago.”

  My head went down, and my voice lowered. “Stop it.”

  He didn’t. “Your dad left you guys. You blame yourself, for some stupid reason. It wasn’t you that pushed him away. No kid sends a parent off…” He frowned as he trailed off.

  “Except your dad took off and your mom’s a mess.”

  “Shut up.”

  The tables had turned. I moved from the wall, facing him now. My jaw hardened. “Your mom’s a joke. Your best friend is an asshole, your roommate is a shut-in, and your girlfriend...” I gave him a sickening grin. “Scratch that. Your ex-girlfriend has officially left you.”

  “Stop, Bri.”

  I snorted as my voice rose. “How many nights a week do you scrape your mom off some bar floor? How many afternoons do you find her in her own puke on the kitchen floor? However you want to spin it—that I’m a broken little girl, whatever. Fuck you. You’re just as broken. It’s why we were together.”

  “No, it’s not.”

  I stilled, hearing the softness in his voice.

  He murmured, “I did care about you.” The green in his eyes grew warm. “I do care about you.”

  I sighed and rolled my eyes. “You want me to feel sorry for you? Why? Because I dumped your ass? You sell drugs for a living. Everyone told me, but I didn’t believe them. I turned my back on my family and friends for you.” Liar, a voice inside my head called me. “It’s because of you my cousin went to rehab last summer, wasn’t it? You’re the one who sold him the drugs. He never said who it was, but it was you.”

  “It wasn’t.”

  “It was.” I knew it. It made sense now. At the thought of it, my anger started to rise again. “What kind of friend are you? Giving drugs to your best friend? To your girlfriend’s cousin?”

  “I didn’t sell him drugs!” He pushed me back before I realized I had crowded him.

  I blinked at his hands that had forced me away from him. Then a laugh gurgled up from the bottom of my throat, and I bent over and clutched my stomach, unable to stop laughing. This was what we did. We fought, and then we screwed. We never had a real relationship. Who was I fooling? I had no reason to feel guilty for breaking up with him. It was time to move on. It was time I became better.

  “Stop it.” He had grown quiet again. His head hung as he shoved his hands into his pockets, and his shoulders hunched forward. “I didn’t come here to fight with you, whether you believe me or not.”

  “You and me.” I shook my head, everything growing hard inside me again. “We are not good together.”

  He let out a deep breath.

  “You know it, and I know it.”

  “Yeah.” His eyes were haunted once more. He looked away, straightening from the wall. “I have to go. Take care…Bri.”

  He moved around me, but I grabbed his arm and wheeled him back around. “What’s going on? What are you doing?”

  A different Elijah looked down at me. The passion wasn’t there. The cold anger wasn’t either. Instead, he looked at me with politeness. I let go of him as if his arm had burned me. I backed away, but asked, “What’s going on?”

  “‘What’s going on?’” He flashed me a smile, though his eyes were dead. “This is when we break up. There are no ties anymore. You don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to screw the guy you love now. We’re done.”

  “Eli, don’t do anything stupid.”

  “Like what?” With a mischievous glint in his eyes, he added, “Like sell drugs for money?” He started walking backwards, moving away from me, and he touched two of his fingers to his head in a salute. His lips twitched, mocking me. “Not your problem anymore, Bri. See you around.”

  A scream built inside me, twisting its way up from the bottom of my feet and gaining speed with so many damned emotions attached to it. It wanted to rip from me, to let loose all the frustration, all the sadness, pain, bitterness, everything with it. I didn’t let it out, though. I swallowed it and shoved it right back down, and then, smoothing a hand over my pants, I went back inside.

  I’d deal later.

  Braden was waiting for me, leaning against the wall just inside the back door with his arms folded over his chest. When I came back into the bar, he straightened, and his arms dropped back to his sides. “You okay?”

  “Uh.” Not really. It felt as if an invisible hand had punched a hole in my chest and then wrapped around my heart. “I’ll deal.” Luke was on stage, warming up with Emerson. The two grinned at each other, and, man, that hand squeezed around my heart almost painfully. Then my cousin saw me and sobered instantly. He glared at me.

  Luke followed Emerson’s look to me. Our eyes caught and held.

  “Bri?”

  “What?” Braden had been waving at me. “Sorry. What?”

  The corners of his mouth dipped down, and he saw Luke, too. “I don’t know, Bri. I don’t know. You just broke up with Elijah.”

  That hand just kept squeezing. “Don’t worry. It’s not going there.”

  “Right.”

  He didn’t believe me, but I didn’t care.

  “Subject change, please.” I nodded at Emerson. “Am I right to assume I won’t be playing tonight then?”

  He sighed. “I guess. Will you stick around? I meant what I said. I want you back in the band. Stay. Hang out with us. Luke wants you in. I can tell. He just needs some hint from you, you know.”

  “Yeah.” I didn’t even know what I wanted, though. There was a reason I’d been avoiding him for the last three years. Braden patted the empty stool at the end of the bar, and I slid on it and rested my hands on the counter. “Barkeep. That’s her name, right?”

  He patted my shoulder. “I wouldn’t use that term.”

  Kelly came over, shaking her head. With a half-grin, she poured a beer for me and slid it over the bar. “Here you go, and just so we’re all clear, your sister can call me that, but you, buddy, you better only be using that term as a safe word.”

  I liked her.

  Braden cocked his head to the side. “Safe word? I didn’t know that was a possibility.”

  She chuckle
d, wiping her hands on a towel before resting a hand on the counter. She gestured to the stage. “I’m not saying it is. Aren’t you needed up there?”

  He winked at me, but beamed at her. “It’s more fun here.”

  “Get up there, Rock Star. You need to work all these single females into a thirsty frenzy. Sales go up the second you and that heartthrob singer of yours start crooning those notes.”

  I really liked her. Catching the adoration and a hint of something more in the depths of my brother’s eyes, I shoved him away. “Hurry. Get up there and keep bringing in the cash, Brother.”

  Tap, tap.

  Luke leaned closer into the mic. “We need our drummer.” He was watching us. “Any day, Braden.”

  A crowd had already congregated in front of the stage, and they all turned. A few waved their hands in the air. “Come on, Braden!”

  “Yeah, Braden!”

  “Come on, Hot Stuff.”

  “#hotdrummerneeded.”

  Someone laughed and added, “#hotdrummerneededinmypants.”

  That sent another round of laughter around the bar. My brother saluted my beer in the air, then hit the bottom back of the counter and chugged the entire thing.

  The crowd responded with whoops, wolf whistles, and cheers.

  He pumped a fist in the air and hollered, “Let’s do this!” Then he pressed the empty glass to me and headed through the crowd, jumping onto the stage in one leap.

  “Hey.”

  I turned.

  Kelly had leaned closer. She glanced toward the back door. “I saw you head out there with Elijah Turner, right?”

  I nodded. “That was my boyfriend.”

  “Good guy.”

  My eyebrow went up at that. “He’s a drug dealer.”

  She winked at me, handing a glass to a customer. “Good guy, just misguided at times.”

  I snorted. “I’d like to think that.” But I did. Elijah had good in him. He just . . .wasn’t for me anymore. I shook my head. “Okay. I need a drink now. Braden took my beer.”

  “Not a problem.” She gestured around the side of the bar. “We’re going to get slammed. Your brother’s band brings in the crowd, and we’re down a girl. If you help out later on, if we’re in a pinch, you can drink for free.”

  “I don’t know how much help I’d be if I did drink for free.”

  She laughed before moving farther down the bar. “You’d be surprised how sober you get when twenty people are shouting orders at you. Think about it, but help yourself until then.”

  Shit. Free beer? Maybe I had come to the right place to deal with my break up. Laughing at my lameness, I slid off the stool to grab my first one. Braden hit the first beat on the drums, and Luke began singing. I went back to my seat, but as Luke kept singing and I kept hearing the band playing, that void reopened.

  I’d need a second drink. Soon.

  They took a short break ten songs in, and when they hopped back up, Luke’s voice came over the microphone. I heard the crescendo starting from Braden’s hands, and then Emerson joined in, building the bottom note.

  I was going to be gutted by the end of their set. I wanted that. I wanted to be up there, creating the tension and setting the rhythm as Luke’s voice cast its spell.

  “Hey, Bri.” Kelly came over to my end of the bar. She signaled around to the growing crowd. “You mind hopping in? You can do the beer. It’s not hard.”

  “Yeah.” I stood and heard Luke’s words behind me. “Leaving my body, leaving my heart, leaving my soul, bloody and broken—” My knees were unsteady, and I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. Taking position behind the beer taps, I faltered.

  He was singing about that night.

  I had no idea he had written a song about it. They never asked to practice this song while they were in the basement.

  “Two tall tap specials!” a waitress yelled from the side.

  I jerked my head in a nod and reached for the tall glasses. Luke’s haunting voice sounded over the crowd’s growing buzz. “She healed me up, cared for my wounds. Then left and ripped them open once more. Broken. I was left broken.”

  “Hey!”

  I came back to reality at the waitress’s voice and saw the beer was overflowing. Cursing, I switched the glasses and glanced at Kelly. “I’ll cover the loss.”

  She waved it off. “No worries. We all do it. I don’t normally advise this, but have a couple of shots. You won’t be drunk, but it’ll help tune out whatever you need tuned out.”

  “Yeah.” I poured two shots of whiskey and downed them, and it wasn’t long before Luke’s voice couldn’t infiltrate my wall anymore. After that, I got lost in filling orders.

  Two hours later, Kelly nudged my arm. “We’re doing last call now. I think we should be good.”

  The place hadn’t emptied. It had just gotten more packed. “You sure?”

  “Yep, I’ll take over here. Crystal came in. She’s the shot girl. That helped us.”

  “Oh, okay.”

  “Hey.”

  I had started to walk back around, but paused and looked back at her.

  She gestured to the garbage cans, which were overflowing, forming piles around the bins. “I know it’s a shit job, but do you mind taking those out? You’ll get a portion of the tips, too.”

  “I thought my payment was free beer?”

  She laughed. Braden hopped onto a stool at that moment, and her eyes darkened. She said to me, while eyeing him, “That payment’s not good enough for how much you helped tonight. Doing the garbage seals the deal. Anytime you want a job here, you got one.” Then she focused on Braden. “You guys sounded good up there tonight.”

  He winked at her, leaning forward with his elbows on the bar. “Something extra was up Luke’s ass tonight. He sang his heart out.”

  They both glanced at the crowd still standing in front of the stage. Luke was talking to a guy as a group of girls swarmed in behind him. Drunken, glazed eyes stared at him in hunger. Most of the girls had their hair matted with sweat, but they tried to look sexy, standing in their best seductive pose, waiting for Luke’s attention.

  “No kidding,” I murmured to myself and went to the garbage bins. While pulling them out, I was rougher than was needed. When I hefted one bag out of a bin and set it down to reach for the second bin, Emerson shot past me.

  “Hey!”

  He glanced over his shoulder, an apology on his lips, but seeing me, they formed into a scowl. He turned back around and shoved out the door.

  “Ass.” I rolled my eyes and finished pulling the bag out of the second bin. “Anything else before I take these out?” I asked Kelly who was laughing with one hip resting against the bar. My brother’s gaze was firmly on her breasts.

  She was still laughing as she shook her head. “Nope, that’s it. Thanks again. Your tip will be waiting for you. We tally them all up and split evenly.”

  I nodded, tightened my hold around both bags, and started pulling them down the short hallway and through the back door. Dragging both toward the dumpsters, I heard someone yell out from behind me.

  Turning around, I saw three guys in a scuffle at the corner of the parking lot. I started for them, abandoning the garbage bags. As I got closer, I saw that it was two guys holding a third guy against the wall. They were tucked in the back corner of the parking lot where, of course, the garbage dumpsters were located.

  “Best damn luck in the world,” I muttered to myself. Now what? I had no intention of going anywhere near that fight.

  “Where’s the money?” One guy reared back and delivered a punch to the guy’s stomach, causing him to double over and clutch himself.

  I’d need to get security to clear that up. As I left the bags where they were and started back inside, I heard a snarl back, “I told you. I’ll have it after tonight.” Oh hell. I stopped and turned around. That was Emerson, the great and unconditionally loving cousin of mine. Still. Security. That wasn’t technically me helping him, just doing my duty as a Good Sama
ritan. They could clear the fight, but then I heard the scrape of a bat being dragged over the ground.

 
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