The peer and the puppet, p.20
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.20

           B. B. Reid
 

  Today was pizza day, which I couldn’t turn down, so Tyra and I grabbed a couple of slices and looked around for a seat. It seemed that everyone felt the same about pizza day because every table except one was full.

  “You two going to stand here all day?” Vaughn stood behind us, holding a tray piled high.

  “There aren’t any seats left.”

  Vaughn looked around with a frown before sighing when his eyes landed on his usual table. He then balanced his tray on one palm and placed the other on Tyra’s spine. “Come on.” Gently, he pushed her forward when she didn’t budge and glanced at me over his shoulder. “That also means you.”

  What is it with these guys and being bossy?

  When my stomach growled rather loudly, I knew skipping lunch wasn’t an option and followed them to the table. Vaughn had seated Tyra next to him, leaving the only available seat next to Barbie.

  I sank into the chair with a guilty conscience. All I could do was remember what Ever and I did in Coach Bradley’s kitchen and how he belonged to someone else. To Barbie.

  The boy in question sat on her other side, deep in conversation with none other than Daniel Kim—the kid whose head I cracked open. The chatter around the table slowly died as I sat. I pretended to be engrossed in my pizza.

  After a couple of minutes passed, I figured I’d spend lunch being gawked at until Vaughn barked, “What the fuck is everyone staring at? Eat.”

  I never thought I’d be grateful to him for anything. When I met his gaze, he winked and returned to his conversation with Tyra. The only one who still seemed to have an eye problem was Daniel Kim. Ever’s attention was now focused on Barbie, so his glaring went unnoticed by everyone except me. The animosity in his eyes had me ready to risk the rest of the day on an empty stomach.

  “We should do something after school,” Tyra suggested and then firmly added, “Alone,” when Vaughn started to speak.

  He didn’t bother hiding his displeasure, which Tyra ignored. I still had my doubts regarding his intentions, but I had to admit his clinginess was kind of adorable. Something told me these feelings he had for Tyra were a first for him. Tyra pretended to hate it, but she wasn’t fooling anyone but herself.

  “Sure.” That earned me a glare from Vaughn.

  “I’ll text you the details so we can remain undisturbed.” She cut her eyes to Vaughn and made a face.

  He sucked his teeth and made a point to ignore Tyra by starting a conversation with the guy next to him.

  I shook my head at Tyra though I didn’t feel too sorry for Vaughn. He wasn’t even close to being a victim. He was just used to being the one behind the mind games.

  Jamie sauntered up to the table with his arm thrown around the neck of a girl I was pretty sure was in my English class. “Why didn’t anyone save me a seat?”

  “You can have this seat,” a pretty brunette offered.

  “Don’t mind if I do,” Jamie flirted.

  The brunette started to lift her tray when Jamie smoothly detached himself from the blonde. He helped the brunette from her seat and took her place, but then we were all in for a shock when he seated the brunette firmly in his lap, leaving the blonde he came with standing there looking well…dumb.

  “Um…excuse me?” the blonde hissed.

  Jamie glanced over his shoulder with a bored expression. “You’re excused.” He turned his attention back to the table, and the blonde stomped off. I watched as he noticed Barbie and Ever sitting together. Bitterness washed over him until his gaze landed on me, and the twinkle I’d come to dread entered his eye. “What’s up, cousin-in-law?” He then winked at me, making it clear his greeting was for me instead of Barbie.

  I bristled when everyone, once again, abandoned their private conversations to stare. Snickers moved like a wave around the table but then died abruptly when Ever spoke in a flat tone.

  “Your juvenile attempts for attention are beginning to bore me. Maybe you should try another table.”

  Everyone suddenly looked nervous as they waited to see who he’d kick from the coveted table next. I wanted to see Ever’s face, but that required leaning over, making it obvious that I cared.

  “Nope,” Jamie sassed as he sat back defiantly. “Like you, I like to have my cake and eat it, too.” He then buried his face in the brunette’s neck, causing her to giggle. If I weren’t sitting next to Barbie, I wouldn’t have heard her inhale. I could feel her anger as she watched Jamie seduce the girl occupying his lap.

  When I met Tyra’s wide gaze across the table, she mouthed, “Drama,” to me.

  I snorted and counted the seconds until lunch was over.

  “It must be so hard for you.”

  I hadn’t realized Barbie’s words were meant for me until Tyra’s gaze shifted from me to her and back again. I met Barbie’s blue gaze. “I’m sorry?”

  “To want what can’t and never will be yours.”

  “I…I wouldn’t know,” I lied.

  Barbie noticed my hesitation with pursed gloss-coated lips.

  “Do you love Four?”

  “Why the fuck would I?”

  I could still see his perfect lips curling and his cold eyes mocking.

  “I guess we have that in common then. I’ve never wanted what I can’t have, either. I guess I have Ever to thank for that.” Barbie flashed a fake smile and bumped her shoulder against mine as if we were the best of friends. I’d had enough.

  “I’m not going to dignify what you’re implying with a response because that would be stooping.” I stood up with my lunch tray, drawing Ever’s hawk-like focus. “I don’t stoop, Barbie. I transcend.” I talked myself out of slapping her upside the head with the tray and walked away with more class than anyone at this godforsaken school thought me capable of.

  Fuck this school.

  Fuck Barbie.

  And fuck Ever, too.

  When school ended, I once again opted to ride with Jamie. The lesser of two evils. He talked my ear off the entire way home though he didn’t get much response from me. I was slumped in the passenger seat until Jamie’s whistle drew my attention. He parked behind an all too familiar 1975 Honda CB400F Cafe Racer. Gruff had a red one just like it. It wasn’t the fastest on the market, but I was in love with the vintage rugged appeal. The fresh yellow and black paint gleamed in the sunlight, and my fingers ached to stroke it.

  “Whose bike is that?” Jamie questioned.

  I shrugged without taking my eyes from the Racer.

  He whistled again. “It’s pretty sweet.” I could only nod. “Come on.” I felt his fingers wrap around my elbow. “Let’s see who the owner is.”

  I wanted to stay with the bike, but I let him pull me inside since I was just as curious as he was.

  Inside, we found the kitchen and living room empty as well as the large patio where Thomas and Rosalyn often entertained. “Maybe they’re in Unc’s office.”

  I hesitated, so he pulled me the rest of the way. I’d never been in Thomas’s office, though I heard him in it a time or two screaming orders over the phone or berating Jamie for something stupid he did.

  Jamie knocked on the door. “Unc?”

  “Aye, nephew. Don’t just stand there. Come in.”

  He pushed open the door and dragged me inside. I was surprised to find Rosalyn sitting on the leather love seat looking frazzled. No one else waited inside.

  “Just who I needed to see,” Thomas greeted with his gaze trained on me.

  “Whose bike is that outside?” Jamie questioned.

  “Apparently, it belongs to Four.”

  “What? That’s not mine.” I denied it as if I’d just been caught with a joint.

  “A Robert Russell had this delivered for you this morning.”

  “Gruff sent this?”

  Thomas didn’t respond, but I didn’t need him to. Gruff was so the man! I was already itching to get on the open road. And maybe never come back.

  “That was nice of him. I should call and thank him.” I made sure to
keep my tone level and excitement at bay. But the minute I got away from Thomas and Rosalyn’s eyes and ears…all bets were off.

  “That won’t be necessary, Four.” Rosalyn had remained silent until now, and her demeanor told me I wasn’t going to like the rest. “We’re sending it back.”

  “Like hell you are.”

  “You’ll choose your words better when you speak to your mother.” Thomas’s reprimand only added fuel to a burning fire. For a second there, he actually sounded how my father would if I had one.

  The words fuck you were on the tip of my tongue when the door opened and Ever sauntered inside.

  Thomas sighed from behind his desk. “Son, whatever it is will have to wait. I need to speak with Four alone. Jamie, you can leave, too.”

  Instead of obeying, Jamie leaned against the wall with a grin and his arms crossed while Ever came to stand beside me with his hands in his pocket. “Why are you sending her bike back?”

  “This isn’t your concern, Ever. Leave,” his father bit out.

  “She’s eighteen now. It’s not your right to refuse a gift meant for her.”

  “She’s under my roof—”

  “Another fact you failed to realize. She no longer has to be, and she won’t be for long if you continue to push her away.” He’d directed the last, which sounded like a threat I wasn’t bold enough to voice, at Rosalyn.

  I felt the ball in my stomach tighten when Rosalyn shot me a look full of accusation.

  “She could be in jail right now for street racing—on a stolen motorcycle, I might add. You expect me to give her my blessing to jeopardize her future? I won’t put her poor mother through that again.”

  “Then keep the keys,” Ever smoothly suggested. “When her future is no longer your concern, hand them over to her.”

  Only the sound of Rosalyn’s soft sobs filled the room when Thomas sat back in his chair to consider Ever’s suggestion. It hadn’t dawned on me until now how good Ever was at manipulating people. An image of Ever convincing Thomas and Rosalyn to send me to Europe a year ago popped into my head. Had he beguiled them in this very room just as he was now?

  I hadn’t realized I was glaring at Ever until he hoisted an eyebrow.

  “Focus, Four.”

  In my peripheral, I noticed Rosalyn’s startled reaction. Ever ordering me around was not something I cared for her to witness. With one last scathing glance at Ever, I gave his father my full attention once more.

  “I’m sorry. What were you saying?”

  He shook his head with a humorless smile. “You’re lucky to have found a friend in my son. He can be quite the manipulative prick.”

  Jamie choked back a laugh while Ever gave no reaction.

  “He’s proving to be useful.” As a small smile tilted my lips, more choking sounded behind me as Jamie’s mind no doubt waded in the gutter. “Does this mean I get to keep my bike?”

  Thomas sighed and rubbed his smooth chin. I frowned as I struggled to recall if Ever’s mom had a cleft chin. “It will be parked in the garage where it will stay until you graduate.”

  Jamie let out a celebratory whoop and hugged me while Ever stood perfectly still and silent. Rosalyn, visibly upset, rose from her seat and floated from the room. With a nod from Ever, Jamie departed as well with his cousin on his heels.

  “Don’t worry,” Thomas said when we were alone. “She’ll come around.”

  No…she wouldn’t. I knew her better than he ever could. “Can I park the bike?”

  He hesitated before lifting the key ring from his humungous desk.

  “I expect these back.”

  “Sure.” I took the keys and didn’t waste time skipping down the stairs and out the front door. Ever and Jamie were nowhere to be found. I shrugged it off and hopped on my very own bike. I couldn’t wait to call Gruff and thank him. Suspended in disbelief, I held my breath as I slowly slid the key in the ignition and turned. The vibration of the engine roaring to life chased away my worries and fears.

  Mine.

  It was all mine.

  “You staying out of trouble, girl?”

  “No.” I snorted and laughed. “Not really.”

  Gruff grunted, accepting my words as the truth. After spending some time admiring my new bike, I parked it in the garage and returned the keys to Thomas as promised. Now I was lying on my stomach, kicking my feet back and forth as I talked to Gruff.

  “I still can’t believe you gave me your bike.”

  “My knee has been giving me trouble. Figured you’d put it to better use than I can. It’s got some new parts, which I’m sure you noticed.”

  I did notice. In fact, I lost my shit. “I wish I could have been there to help.”

  “Me too, kid.”

  “Maybe I’ll see you this summer?” I couldn’t disguise the hope in my voice.

  “I’ll be here,” he answered noncommittally. It was hard to take offense. Gruff was just who he was. “So have you been applying to colleges?”

  “A few. Brynwood doesn’t really play around,” I grumbled, which earned a rare chuckle from Gruff. I had put in a few applications under duress but had no intention of going. The only future I could accept was me professionally racing. College couldn’t do squat for me.

  I heard a few voices in the background and waited while Gruff responded to them. When he returned to the line, it was to say goodbye. As I reluctantly hung up, I realized I never even got around to telling him that Thomas had confiscated my birthday present. I decided it could wait and started on my homework.

  A couple of hours later, Rosalyn came to my room dressed in a killer blue dress and silver strappy heels. Her hair had been French rolled, and diamond teardrop earrings completed her look.

  “Thomas and I are meeting friends of his for dinner. Don’t wait up.”

  I had an odd sense of déjà vu as she walked away. I watched her go and stood there long after she’d gone before finally closing my door.

  Tyra had texted about seeing a movie, and I had about thirty minutes before she’d be here, so I changed into jeans and my Days of Thunder T-shirt before throwing on my utility jacket and heading downstairs to see what I could find for dinner. I wasn’t crazy about paying movie theater prices for popcorn and candy.

  I heard them whispering, and when I entered the kitchen, Ever and Jamie stopped and stared.

  “You know it’s a felony to make a girl this uncomfortable.”

  Jamie’s eyes bucked. “You’re still expecting us to be gentlemanly?”

  “I never expected any such thing.” I decided to grab an apple and hoped it would be enough. “What were you two talking about?” I questioned with a mouth full.

  “Business que es nachos,” Jamie answered with a cringe while Ever chose to stare.

  “Let me guess.” I giggled. “You got a D in Spanish?”

  His eyes hooded at my teasing. “It was pass-fail.”

  “And your teacher was pretty?”

  “Not really,” he said with a smirk. “But I am.”

  Shaking my head, I stole a peek at Ever and felt my tummy clench when I realized he was still watching me. “Why are you staring at me?”

  “Because there’s nothing else in the room that interests me.”

  My chewing slowed for a moment as my skin heated, and my panties became damp. “Am I supposed to be flattered?” A knowing light entered his eyes when I shifted, but he said nothing. “I’m going out,” I said quickly as I backed away. “Could you tell Charlie?”

  “You mean the cook?” Ever mocked.

  Mr. Hunt had recently insisted I call him by his first name when he complimented me for not being so uptight. All I’d done was thank him for a great meal. It seemed a shame that gratitude among the elite was a rare occurrence.

  “He has a name.”

  “And now I know it.”

  I contemplated tossing my half-eaten apple at him when he stood and closed the distance between us.

  “If you throw your food at me, you won
’t be going anywhere but over my knee.”

  I didn’t expect his kiss. It was soft, brief, and almost sweet. A noticeable contrast to the threat that made my heart, and something else just as forbidden to him, to contract.

  “Meet me in the garage in five.”

  “Is that an order?”

  “Does it need to be?” he tossed over his shoulder as he exited the kitchen.

  I watched him go and hated the sigh that left my lips. I’d forgotten Jamie was still in the room until he spoke. “You should stop pretending you don’t want him. He’s made it clear he won’t reject you.”

  “He kissed me.”

  “And made you want more.”

  “Screw you.” I tossed my apple at him, which he caught and took a huge chunk out of.

  “I’m not the one offering,” he retorted with a shrug.

  Agitated, I folded my arms and stuck out my hip. “Even if he cheated with me, she still wouldn’t take you back. Not after everything you’ve done to hurt her.”

  It had suddenly become clear that Jamie was practically shoving me into Ever’s arms for one selfish reason. Barbie.

  “Take me back?” he questioned with a tilt of his head. I didn’t know what to say, so I stayed quiet. He scoffed and the side of his lips tilted with a mocking half smile. “I suppose he would tell you his side to get into your pants.”

  “We haven’t—”

  “Not yet,” he interrupted with unchecked arrogance.

  “Why are you so sure I’ll fuck him?”

  “Because he always gets what he wants, and make no mistake, Four, he wants you.”

  “I—” My denial fled. The truth felt too powerful. “I have to go.”

  I turned away only for a thought to hit me. “You didn’t deny hurting her.”

  He took a deep breath, and for the first time, he looked ashamed. “Because I have. I need to. Nothing else will do.”

  “Then you deserve to lose her.”

  I hurried from the kitchen and made my way to the garage. I was in such a hurry that I let the door shut me in. The garage was dark and drafty. I couldn’t see a thing, but I felt his presence. Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the dark, and I was able to make out the tall figure.

 
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