Sustain, p.7
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       Sustain, p.7

           Tijan
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  We were a team.

  Braden added to the drama, his guitar hitting the higher notes, and Emerson helped build up the tension. We were waiting, all three of us now. We needed one more to join—voice.

  Luke was at the front of the stage. His back was turned. His head was bent, and he held the microphone. He was feeling everything, letting the song continue and build. When we were at the right spot, the perfect moment, his head bobbed, and he started to sing.

  His voice was clear and smooth. He started with that first note, and the crowd’s energy spiked. I still couldn’t hear them. I closed my eyes and gave over to the music.

  I bled into the beat.

  We never stopped because I wouldn’t let them. There was a moment’s pause—a brief moment—and at the signal, the next song was launched. We ran the entire set. One perfect unit. I rolled the beat through, matching the adrenaline in my body. It was going to be like this every night now. Knowing that, I relished the feeling, anticipating this ride from now on.

  As Luke belted out the words and Emerson switched the bass, Braden hit that haunting note.

  This was when the crowd felt us. If they hadn’t by then, it was this moment when a renewed fever spread through them. My blood was buzzing, knowing we held them by the balls. We decided how they felt. We had control like gods. My arms crashed down with more force, and I gritted my teeth, going with the roller coaster inside me.

  More than once, Luke found me and took me on a different ride. He felt it, too. All the bullshit was gone. We were a band. Emerson might’ve hated me, but he didn’t when we played together. A connection ran through all of us when we performed. No one went against us, or we’d all fail.

  I had missed this. Playing with Braden. Luke. Setting the rhythm.

  I never got off the roller coaster, not even at the end of our set. I craved being up there, setting the beat, yielding that power. After an intense set, I retreated to a back corner and recuperated there. The waves crashed over me, and I gulped for air, feeling that buzz in my blood. I wanted to keep it going, so I started for the bar, wanting a drink. Then a hand touched my hip. Luke, I thought. My body instantly molded toward his, and my pulse spiked. Then reality crashed back into place. It was Elijah.

  I shoved his hand off. “What are you doing?”

  He rolled his eyes, but grabbed my hand and started forward. Eli moved lithely through the crowd. Most knew who he was and moved away so he could pass, but the rest moved on instinct anyway. As we moved inside the guest house Candy said we could use for the night, I started to move around him, but bumped into him and felt something hard inside his jacket. His gaze locked with mine. I caught the warning in his eyes and narrowed mine. “What are you doing here?”

  “You weren’t supposed to feel that.”

  “What?”

  He jerked his head forward. “You should go.”

  “We just got done playing our set.” What was in his jacket?

  “You should go.”

  A message flashed in his eyes. Then it clicked. Something was going to happen. My lips parted again, and feeling a sense of urgency, I grabbed his arm this time. “What is happening? What’s in your jacket?”

  “Bri.” Another warning flared over his face. “I mean it, go. I grabbed you and brought you over here for a reason.” His eyes trailed past my shoulder, and I turned.

  I didn’t have to look far.

  Luke was sitting in a lawn chair.

  Eli pushed me forward, a soft touch on the small of my back. He said into my ear, “Go to him and go home. Get Emerson out of here, too.”

  My ex and cousin should’ve taken priority in my mind, but to be honest, I was having a hard time remembering what Eli said to do as I watched Luke. A group had congregated around him. Some were sitting in their own chairs. Others were standing and drinking, but most of them were watching him, just like I was. Candy Lake was hovering over him. Her very skimpy, very see-through shirt stuck to her skin, displaying a perfect view of her waistline.

  She was bending over and whispering into his ear. Her hand grazed over his chest, testing him, and when he didn’t brush it away, her hand grew bolder. It trailed down to the waistband of his jeans and rested on his stomach. Her lips formed a seductive smile. I could imagine her soothing sounds, crooning to him, and then she shifted on her feet. Her hand was still touching his shoulder.

  My hands were clenched to the sides of my pants, as if to hold myself back from walking over there and slapping her. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch.

  She straddled him.

  My eyes were going to pop out. A burning sensation tunneled inside my chest.

  He didn’t touch her, but he didn’t ask her to move either. She leaned forward and pressed her chest against his. Her head tilted, and she nuzzled him under his chin and then trailed her lips to his ear. I couldn’t handle it. He’s mine. I started forward—she leaned back, arching so her breasts were right in front of his face. The bitch wasn’t wearing a bra. I was going to lose it. Luke was staring right at me when my foot came down hard.

  Our eyes caught and held, and a smirk appeared on his face. I flushed. He’d known the whole time I was watching. Fucker.

  I started for them—BANG! BANG! I froze, staring at Luke, who froze, too.

  Eli.

  Then everything connected in my head. It was a gun inside his jacket. That’s why he wanted me to go.

  There was silence for one second before chaos ensued. Some people screamed in terror. Some sprinted to their cars or the house, trying to get somewhere safe. When a guy knocked into me, Luke shoved Candy off him and started for me. I couldn’t move as I watched him push through the crowd, his eyes fierce and his jaw set. When he got to me, I said, “That’s Eli. He brought a gun here.”

  He grabbed my hand. It was like someone had hit my Pause button. His contact hit the Play button, and I was ready to go. We turned and ran together. When a group of girls ran the other way between us, Luke let go of me. I swerved to one side, and he went the other. More people streamed past us, but we kept going. Everyone was running away from the gunshots. We were running toward them. Luke kept glancing at me, making sure I was still with him. I did the same. We were moving as one unit again. The feeling of being in tune with him sent a new wave of adrenaline through me. It pushed me faster, and when the crowd began to thin, I started looking around.

  Braden. Emerson. Elijah. I needed to find any or all of them. But Braden was my priority.

  “Bri!” Luke shouted and pointed to the side. I caught a glimpse of Emerson disappearing around a corner and veered that way. Luke said, “Stay here. I’ll get him.”

  “I’ll look for Braden,” I said, but he was already gone.

  As I moved in the opposite direction, I saw a clump of trees. Braden might’ve gone back there. Maybe with a girl? I rounded the opening by the trees. No Braden. He wasn’t anywhere. No one else was around. They’d all disappeared. I could hear car doors in the distance and saw the flash of headlights as people drove away.

  My heart was pounding in my chest from the frenzy. I needed to listen for Braden, if I could hear his voice somewhere, but I couldn’t make out anything, so I started forward through the trees. They led away from the beach. The light from Candy’s guesthouse was in the west, and I headed that way. As I continued through the woods, I saw the van parked in a clearing and walked toward it. I was about to step into the clearing when a hand wrapped around my elbow and pulled me back. I was pressed against a chest and reared back to scream.

  A hand clamped over me, and Elijah said into my ear, “Shut up.”

  My knees sagged in relief, but I tried to hit his chest. “You scared the crap out of me.”

  He rolled his eyes. “You were about to get shot.”

  My eyes widened.

  “And before you even start, that gunshot wasn’t me.”

  “Then who was it?”

  His hood was pulled over his baseball cap. He’d been standing in the shadows, hidden by his black c
lothing and a tree. At my question, he pulled me further into the shadows with him and shook his head.

  “Elijah.”

  His mouth went into a flat line.

  “Elijah!”

  He hissed, “I can’t tell you shit, okay? You can’t know about this stuff.” He cursed, regret flashing in his eyes for a moment. “You shouldn’t even be here with me. What are you doing? You and pretty boy should be long gone by now. I told you to go.”

  “We’re looking for Braden and Emerson.”

  Elijah narrowed his eyes. “They’re gone.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “They took off. I saw them running for the cars a minute ago.”

  “They’re safe?”

  “Yeah. Emerson texted; he said he’d wait at Rowdy’s with the band.”

  Sudden tears threatened to spill. They came hard and fast. My brother was safe. Emerson was safe. I closed my eyes. Luke. Where had Luke gone?

  Elijah watched me. “What’s wrong?”

  “Luke went looking for them.”

  His eyes darkened in anger. “Why aren’t you people normal? Run for safety next time instead of running toward the danger.”

  “Are you in trouble?”

  “Not the time to hash this out.” He tried to shield me with his body, moving me closer to him so I was against the tree. As we both heard twigs breaking behind us, he put his finger to his mouth. I nodded, and we waited. My heart started racing. More branches broke. Someone was coming toward us. A tree branch was shoved out of the way. They were near, just on the other side of the tree. Then they stepped right beside us. Elijah’s hand tightened on my arm as his other hand moved to the inside of his sweatshirt. I knew what he was grabbing, and I held my breath.

  Please no. Please no. Please go away, repeated in my head. I didn’t dare look at who was right next to us, but from the corner of my eye, I saw the shape of a very large man. He was so close. If he turned even an inch, he would see us. Elijah’s hand tightened on the gun, and he began to turn it in his sweatshirt so it was pointed at whoever was there.

  The man scoffed to himself and spoke into his phone, “Yeah. No sign of Turner. Let’s go to his house. He must’ve gotten out earlier than we thought—”

  Someone moved into the trees next to him. They yelled, “He’s right next to you! Watch out—”

  Elijah shot at him and then shoved me away from him and lunged for the guy next to him. The second guy, the one Elijah had tried to shoot, cursed but hadn’t been hit. He grabbed for Elijah, but Luke came out of nowhere. He wrapped a hand around the guy’s neck, kicked at his knee so he fell down, and then grabbed onto his arm. He squeezed until the guy went unconscious, and then Luke let him go, stepping back.

  He looked at me, an unspoken question in his gaze. I shook my head, letting him know I was all right. Then he turned toward Elijah, but he didn’t need help. The guy who had spoken on the phone was unconscious, too. Both Luke and Elijah were too calm. It sent an eerie shiver down my back.

  Luke broke the silence. “His buddies are on their way.”

  “I know.” Elijah jerked a hand to me. “Get her out of here.”

  I said, “Emerson and Braden are heading home. Elijah saw them leave.”

  Luke nodded. “I know. I came looking for you.” His tone was accusing. “I told you to stay put.”

  “Over here!” someone shouted, followed by sounds of people running through the woods.

  Elijah started to say, “Take he—” but Luke had already grabbed me. His arm wrapped around my waist, and he held me in the air, carrying me toward the van. Luke threw me inside and jumped in after me. A guy I didn’t know was behind the wheel, and as soon as the doors shut, he took off. I turned, expecting Elijah to be with us, but he wasn’t.

  “Where’d he go?”

  Luke whipped his head to mine, narrowing his eyes. “He took off.”

  “What? Why? He’d be safer with us.”

  “No.”

  I stopped, hearing the authority in his tone and couldn’t look away from him. His eyes flashed in anger. He had made a decision. “Elijah is dangerous. The farther we are from him, the better. He’ll be fine. He can take care of himself.”

  That was true. I sat back and leaned my head against the seat while the adrenaline pumped in my veins. Feeling Luke watching me, I asked, “What?”

  “No argument?” He was ready for one. I could see it in his eyes.

  I shook my head. “No. No argument. I know he’s dangerous.”

  I sensed the surprise from him, but he didn’t say anything. He leaned back in his seat, and we were silent the entire way home. I didn’t want to think about what Eli had gotten himself into. He wasn’t my problem anymore.

  “I need your guitar.” I shoved open Luke’s bedroom door. I had sprinted from my house and into his. His dad wasn’t there. His dad was never there, but I knew Luke was. His music was blaring. I heard it from my house earlier. It got louder the second the door opened, but I saw a girl on his bed. She was bent over. Her shirt was raised, and her legs were positioned out, ready for him.

  The girl gasped, glanced over, but didn’t move. She had black hair that hung down, covering her face, and she tucked some of it behind her ear. She narrowed her eyes at me. “Who are you?”

  I wasn’t even shocked. I glanced around. No Luke. “Where is he?”

  She shrugged. “He told me to get ready. I’m ready.”

  I turned around, but a hand came to my side and gripped me. I jumped, not from fear, but at how close he stood behind me. “Hey!”

  His grey eyes held mine for a second before the corner of his mouth curved up into a cocky smirk. With high cheekbones, dark hair that he had recently gotten cut so it gave him an edgier look, and a ripped body, Luke had grown up with his fair share of women willing to bend over, ass naked, and waiting for him. His fingers curved into my side, and he asked, “What’d you say before?”

  “I need your guitar.” I removed his hand from my side and pushed past him, back to the hallway.

  “Why?”

  “Because.”

  “Because? I’m not letting you touch it until you tell me why.”

  “Luke,” the girl called from inside. The sound of her seductive whine grated on my nerves. I gritted my teeth and gave him a pointed look, jerking a thumb to his bedroom.

  He rolled his eyes, but reached inside and shut his door. It closed with a thud. We heard a ‘Hey!’ from inside. His eyes narrowed again. “What’s going on?”

  I groaned, but stifled the sound. There was no way I wanted to explain my mother’s last conversation in the kitchen. “I just need it, okay?”

  “Why?”

  “Luke.”

  “Bri.”

  “Come on,” I snapped out. Frustration was building in me.

  “Spill and then I’ll let you.”

  A litany of curses spilled from me instead, but I surrendered. “I’m going to play in front of some rich prick’s store. We need money.”

  “My dad loaned Carla money last week.”

  “Which she used already.” For food. For Braden and him when they both ate dinner at the house. “Besides, your dad asked for half of it back.” I bit my lip to keep from spilling the rest.

  The air changed. He didn’t react, but I sensed Luke’s anger. Every part of me went on alert. “Come on, Luke. I’ll use your guitar for the afternoon, get some money, and I’ll put it back. You won’t even miss it.”

  “Luke!”

  I gestured to his bedroom. “Looks like you’re going to be busy, anyway.”

  He rolled his eyes, but I knew he was still pissed. Raking a hand over his head, he growled. “I should go with you if you’re going to be standing on some street corner.”

  “It’s not like that. It’s a good area.”

  “The good areas have the biggest dicks.”

  “Whatever. Come with if you want, but Carla’s got a payment due tomorrow. We need to raise a few hundred by tonight.”
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