The peer and the puppet, p.35
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.35

           B. B. Reid
 

  “If that’s true, then you’ve already lost her.” Vaughn’s warning didn’t seem to penetrate. It only made Jamie more determined to have his way.

  “Ever, if you do this, you’re dead to me.”

  “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

  This time, when he charged me and swung, I ducked, barely missing the blow before delivering one of my own. He managed to counter with a powerful jab before we were pulled apart.

  “What the hell is going on,” Franklin bellowed as he kept Jamie restrained.

  “Just working through some issues, pops.”

  Franklin grunted with a shake of his head.

  Jamie bucked to free himself, so Franklin tightened his hold. “Cool it, kid. I don’t know what’s got you so fired up, but I won’t have you knuckleheads destroying my home. Show some respect.”

  “Let me go. I’m good,” Jamie gruffly asserted.

  Franklin gave us both a warning look before releasing him. Vaughn loosened his hold on me when Jamie started for the door, but a chuckling Franklin stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

  “Come with me to my office, son. You look like you could use a drink.” He quickly pulled Jamie from the room.

  I started to nip that shit in the bud, not trusting Franklin alone with my hotheaded cousin, but Vaughn blocked me from going after them. “Move.”

  “The last person Jamie will listen to right now is you. Just let him go. He’ll be alright.”

  “He better be.” I may be fucking Jamie over, but he was still my cousin, and Franklin was a slimy bastard. Vaughn simply nodded before leaving to get an ice pack. I sank down onto the floor, closed my eyes, and in a moment of weakness, I pictured Four.

  My father, all dressed for work, showed up at Vaughn’s early the next morning. He ordered me inside his car and threatened to put me out on my ass if I disobeyed. Once inside his car, he interrogated me about Jamie’s whereabouts. Apparently, he didn’t go home last night.

  “Would you like to tell me what’s going on between you, Jamie, and that girl?”

  “Not really.”

  “It wasn’t a request.”

  “I asked Barbette to marry me, and Jamie got pissed about it.”

  “Why would he care about you proposing to your girlfriend?”

  I shrugged while staring out the window.

  “If you want this to end, don’t stonewall me, son.”

  “He’s in love with her.”

  I waited for the lecture, but he was silent as he drove up the driveway. “Is she pregnant, son?”

  My head whipped toward him. “What? No!”

  “I had to ask. I certainly don’t agree with your choice to marry so young. I think you’re making a huge mistake, and while I can’t actually stop you, I’ll do everything in my power to persuade you. Just don’t set any dates before you graduate. Give it some time. Please.” When I didn’t respond, he sighed and drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. “If you truly love her, Jamie will just have to accept that she chose you, but I don’t want you to forget that he’s family. Talk to him, and in time, he will forgive you.” He cut the engine and chuckled. “To be honest, I’m surprised by all of this for a different reason.”

  “What reason?”

  “I was afraid that it was Four one of you boys were sweet on.”

  It was all I could do not to show my father how close to the mark he’d come.

  “What made you think that?”

  “I had my suspicions when she came home marked up after being out all night with the two of you.” His eyes sharpened as he stared me down. “Know anything about that?”

  I shook my head when I couldn’t find my voice.

  “Good. I’m not sure I would approve of a scandal like that happening under my roof.”

  “Did you tell her mom?” Four may not ever speak to me again, but I’d warn her anyway.

  “I considered it, but she’s eighteen and having a hard enough time adjusting. I’m just glad you’re getting along after what happened last year.”

  “She turned out to be pretty cool.” And my everything.

  “I knew you two would just need to get to know each other.” He ruffled my hair like he often did when I was a kid. When I mean mugged him, he chuckled, and I reluctantly gave into a grin. We haven’t had a lot of moment like these. “Now get upstairs and get your uniform on. You’ve missed enough days.”

  My eyes bucked. I didn’t think he knew about that, but I’d obviously underestimated how tight his leash was.

  “Don’t look so surprised. I may run a multi-billion dollar company, but you’re my son. My only son. I know you sneak out at night, and I know you skip school. The only reason I haven’t tagged your ass is that I was once your age…but don’t push it.” He nodded his head toward the house—a silent order to get moving, so I did.

  Upstairs, I heard Four moving around in her room and Jay D making a ruckus. I wanted to go to her, but what would I say? The way she looked at me last night…there was no coming back from that. I showered and dressed in record time, and when I grabbed my notebook from my nightstand, my gaze fell on the phone. Not giving pride time to catch up, I grabbed the phone and headed to Four’s room. Figuring she’d shut the door in my face when she answered, I barged inside only to be disappointed when I found the room empty.

  I somberly trudged across the room and placed the phone on the nightstand.

  “What are you doing here?”

  Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Four standing in her doorway holding Jay D’s leash. She must have been taking the mutt for a walk. When I turned to face her, however, I felt kicked in the gut. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, and the color in her cheeks had utterly drained. Knowing that I did that to her made me hate myself even more.

  “You didn’t have to give this back. It’s yours.”

  “Thanks,” she dryly offered, “but I don’t need it.”

  “Then let me take you to school.” I didn’t give a shit that I was borderline begging.

  “Why would I do that?”

  “Because we need to talk. I owe you an apology.”

  “You don’t owe me anything, Ever. You made that very clear.” She shouldered her backpack and turned to go. I should have let her.

  “Please.”

  Her head turned ever so slightly, and I thought I might have broken through until she spoke. “Good,” she tartly uttered. “I like you begging. Now you can watch me walk away like you did.”

  I’ve single-handedly turned my life into shit. The news about the engagement spread through school and the town like wildfire. A week later, I was still putting out fires when it got back to me that Four had also been taking some of the heat. I kept close so she’d have my protection until Tyra took it upon herself to enlighten me.

  “Stalking her is only making things worse,” she hissed. We had Calculus together, and usually, Tyra sat on the far side of the room, but today, she chose to occupy the seat next to me.

  “What do you expect me to do? Someone spray painted an A on her locker this morning.”

  “You made your bed, now lie in it.”

  She quickly collected her bag to switch seats, but I grabbed her arm to stop her. “Tyra…help me.”

  “Why the fuck should I?”

  “She doesn’t eat or talk, and she barely sleeps.”

  She looked me up and down. “You look like you could use a nap yourself.”

  “I sit outside her door and listen to her cry the entire night, so no, I haven’t been sleeping.”

  “What do you expect from her? To be your side piece while you live in marital bliss with Barbie?”

  “There’s not going to be a wedding. There never was.”

  “Then why did you propose?”

  “To buy Barbie some time.”

  “For what?”

  I shook my head in frustration. “I can’t tell you, and I’ve already told Four what I could.”

  “Obviously, it wasn’t en
ough. You’re helping Barbie because you care about her, but does she care about you? She’s willing to let you lose the girl you love. A friend wouldn’t let you pay that steep a price. It’s not easy to bare your demons to someone you don’t know, but Barbie wouldn’t be doing it for Four, she’d be doing it for you.”

  “Are you saying Four would be willing to be with me even if it’s in secret?”

  “That depends…how scary are the skeletons in Barbie’s closet?”

  For the rest of the day, I considered Tyra’s advice before finally deciding that I could never ask that of Barbie. The only reason I even knew what her father planned was that I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. That night, I sat in front of Four’s door for the fifth night in a row and let her soft sobs keep me awake.

  It was Halloween, and the last thing I wanted was to party, but when Vaughn texted that it was an “Anything But Clothes” party hosted by some college douchebags and that Tyra was bringing Four, I picked myself up from the floor. It no longer mattered as much that today was the anniversary of the day my mother walked out on her family.

  I was pretty trashed already after drinking what seemed like an entire distillery, so I had Vaughn drive me since Jamie had kept true to his word. I was as good as grass to him.

  One day, when Barbie was safe from her father, I’d do everything in my power to get my cousin back. Even if it meant getting my ass kicked again.

  The party was being held in a cul-de-sac the next town over at a two-story home with a small porch, blue shutters, and not much yard. With all the houses on the block, it wouldn’t be long before the police showed up. I was hopping out the car before Vaughn came to a full stop, but he’d caught up with me by the time I made it the front door.

  Some of the costumes were pretty inventive while others had kept it simple. I saw a few cereal boxes and iPod shuffles. One guy had made a jumpsuit using a monopoly board, and the cash. Some of the girls were covered up in trash bags, saran wrap, or duct tape. A few guys, like Vaughn and me, made togas out of bedsheets, but one dickhead only wore a pizza box. I dreaded seeing what Four might or might not be wearing. While I could appreciate the view, I wasn’t eager to share it.

  I spotted Jamie across the room wearing the flag of Scotland around his waist and standing next to him was Four and Tyra. They had gone with the popular choice of caution tape. Tyra had fashioned a two-piece ensemble while Four had thankfully chosen to show less skin and made a dress. Her hair was pulled up into her usual ponytail although higher than normal, showing off her slender shoulders. Even in the dim lighting, her skin glistened, making her tan skin look even more kissable. I already knew she’d smell mouthwatering even though her scent wasn’t nearly as titillating as when she first came to Blackwood Keep. When she returned from her stint in Europe, I learned that she’d made the switch to Dove. The change had nearly driven me insane enough to demand she’d switch back, but I knew she was more likely to castrate me than please me. As much as I loved her scent, I loved my nine inches more.

  Tyra was the first to spot us and sneakily warned Four with a nudge before seductively dancing over to Vaughn. He didn’t waste time pulling her into him, and they began a lewd bump and grind on the dance floor. Jamie noticed me approaching and leaned down to whisper something in Four’s ear before moving away with a scowl. I watched him go until he disappeared into the kitchen where the drinks were most likely set up.

  When I faced Four again, her blank stare punched a hole in my heart. “Hey.”

  “Move along, McNamara. I’ve got enough problems.”

  I should have been discouraged, but I’d rather have her hatred than nothing at all. “Can I talk to you?”

  “I think I’ve had enough of what comes out of your mouth.” She moved around me, and I trailed behind her until Jamie came out of nowhere and stopped me with a hand on my chest.

  “Why don’t you leave her alone? You’ve done enough.”

  “Is it her you’re really concerned about, or are you just itching for another fight?”

  “Shit. Both.” He shoved me back, and I stumbled a little, thanks to the booze I had indulged in before coming here. “You’re drunk, aren’t you?” The disgust in his voice was a bit hypocritical since he was hardly ever sober.

  “Ever, just go home,” Four pleaded.

  “Come with me, and I will.”

  “I’m not going to do that.”

  “Then I’m sticking around. Where you go, I go.”

  “Stalker,” Jamie coughed.

  I ignored him and begged Four with my eyes to talk to me.

  I saw her surrender long before she realized it herself.

  “Okay.” She headed for the stairs, and I started to follow, but then Jamie stopped me from leaving with a harsh grip on my shoulder.

  “You do her a favor when you screw up so the next time that happens, do us all one and stay away.”

  I nodded and followed her up the stairs. I had no idea how to make it right, but I’d figure it out. We found an empty room, and the moment the door was shut, I exhaled into the dark.

  I watched her move across the room putting as much distance between us as possible. It made me wish for a time machine so that I could go back and stop myself from walking out that door. I had been pissed as fuck knowing I’d never get another shot at bringing my mom home. But when I tried to close the door to my heart, I realized Four still had the key. I also realized she didn’t make me save her that night. I chose her because I always would. And my mom wouldn’t have had it any other way.

  “You insist on making this harder than it has to be.”

  “If I could tell you why I asked Bee to marry me, I would.”

  “Your secrets didn’t break me, Ever. You did. You’re warm one day and cold the next. Just when I believe I’m your everything, you treat me like I’m nothing.”

  “I thought I could let you be.”

  “And because you’re having second thoughts, I’m supposed to just run into your arms?”

  “It’s what you want, isn’t it?”

  “What I want no longer matters. For the first time ever, I’m doing what’s best for me.”

  “If you want me to let you go, you’re going to have to prove it’s what you really want because I won’t ever stop trying.”

  She suddenly had trouble meeting my gaze. “You’ll get bored, Ever. You always do.”

  My eyes narrowed as I pushed away from the door. “You think I got bored?” Four was the single most fascinating person I’d met in a long time. She was an amalgamation of right and wrong and exactly the girl my mother warned would steal my heart and then dare me to take it back.

  “I think you seek me out when you need a thrill and then toss me aside when you’re done playing.”

  “If you truly believed that, you wouldn’t be worried about me winning you back.”

  “I’m not worried because you never had me.” I listened to the lie slip through her perfect lips and smiled.

  “Oh, baby, you’re terrified.”

  THE POLICE SHOWED UP BEFORE I could deny his claim, so Ever and I got out of dodge before the police could ask us for ID. Tyra and I had ridden to the party with Jamie who had been happy to have a DD. “As a rule, I don’t let chicks drive my wheels, but Four, you’re a one of a kind chick.”

  Since he had managed to shed his sobriety within an hour of arriving, I jumped into the driver’s seat. Starting the car, I caught sight of Vaughn carrying a giggling Tyra bridal style to his car. The front passenger door was yanked open, and assuming it was Jamie, I flashed a smile only for it to fall when Ever slid his long frame inside the Wrangler.

  “Didn’t you ride with Vaughn?” I was hoping he’d take the hint and get lost.

  Instead, he flashed a wicked grin and got comfortable. The back door opened a moment later, and Jamie dived inside.

  “I didn’t say you were welcome in my ride,” Jamie slurred.

  “You gonna make me leave, motherfucker?”
r />   Tired of watching them lock horns, I drove off before either one of them could make good on the challenge.

  Jamie reached from the back seat and tossed his phone with the GPS activated into my lap. “There’s another party not far from here.”

  “She’s not going to another party,” Ever dictated.

  I had been ready to call it a night until Ever’s highhandedness forced me into another rebellion. When would he learn?

  I followed the GPS while Jamie clumsily changed clothes in the back seat. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at a corn maze in the middle of nowhere. There were maybe ten or fifteen cars parked every which way. I sent a text to Tyra.

  Where are you?

  She immediately responded:

  TYRA: The party pooper is taking me home. Talk tomorrow. <3

  We jumped out, and Jamie immediately announced that he was going to find the beers before taking off. Music was already blaring, drinks were being passed around, the conversation was flowing, and every once in a while, I’d hear a scream or two followed by raucous laughter. It wasn’t until a breeze touched my skin that I realized why this wasn’t such a smart idea.

  I casually looked around and caught Ever eyeing me.

  “You’re cold, aren’t you?”

  “No.” Another breeze came making me shiver violently. Why didn’t I bring a change of clothes? Better yet, why couldn’t I have given my stupid pride a rest?

  Shaking his head, he stomped around me and yanked open the back of the Wrangler. After digging around, I nearly cried tears of joy when he found a sweatshirt. Bliss was short-lived, however, when he shoved the sweatshirt over my head.

  “I can take care of myself,” I huffed when my head was free, and the sweatshirt fell halfway down my thighs. It covered more than the tape did and instantly provided me with warmth.

  “If you were any good at it, you wouldn’t be here.”

  “No. If you weren’t such a dick, I wouldn’t be here.”

  “You thought you’d teach me a lesson by torturing yourself? Smart.” His sarcasm—and maybe because he was right—had me turning away and rushing toward the entrance of the maze. I thought for sure he’d follow me, but when I glanced over my shoulder, I realized I was alone.

 

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