Wait for it, p.1
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       Wait for It, p.1

           Mariana Zapata
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Wait for It


  Wait For It

  Mariana Zapata

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Also by Mariana Zapata

  Wait For It © 2016 Mariana Zapata

  All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the author is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2016 Mariana Zapata

  Book Cover Design by Letitia Hasser, Romantic Book Affairs

  Editing by Hot Tree Editing

  Formatting by Jeff Senter, Indie Formatting Services

  To my true love—the one person I’d trust to protect me in jail: my sister, Ale. I wrote this book imagining what it would be like to not have you around… and it sucked. A lot. (Obviously.) Luckily for me, evil never dies so you’re stuck with me forever, biatch. (And I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

  Chapter One

  I woke up screaming.

  Or pretty close to screaming, considering I was still getting over a cold I’d caught from Josh two weeks ago that had left me sounding like a chain-smoker going through puberty.

  My eyes snapped open at the middle of my “Ahh!” to find a mini demon inches away from my face. I jumped. I flinched. I swear my soul left my body for one millionth of a second as the two eyes staring at me blinked.

  “Shit!” I shouted as my back hit the headboard, and I sucked in what might have been the last gasp I’d ever take before having my throat slit.

  Except…

  In the middle of reaching over to grab the pillow next to me to—I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with it, pillow fight Willy Wonka’s evil Oompa Loompa or something—I realized it wasn’t a travel-sized disciple of Satan about to sacrifice me to the Dark Lord. Camouflaged in the nearly pitch-black room, the little face a few inches away from mine wasn’t really the devil’s minion; it was a five-year-old. He was a five-year-old. My five-year-old.

  It was Louie.

  “Oh my God, Lou,” I wheezed at the realization of who was trying to kill me before I turned thirty. I blinked and clutched the skin over my heart like it was about to dive-bomb out of my chest.

  I shouldn’t have been surprised to find him on my bed. How many times had he scared the living shit out of me in the exact same way over the last couple of years? One hundred? I should have been used to him sneaking in to my room by now. He was the cutest little boy I’d ever seen—in the daylight—but somehow he didn’t understand that staring at someone while they were sleeping was pretty damn creepy. Really creepy.

  “Jesus Ch—” I started to say before going with “cheese and crackers.” I could still hear my mom’s voice a year ago ripping me a new one for teaching the boys to use the Lord’s name in vain. “You scared the hell—” I groaned, realizing I messed up again. I really had been trying to get better about using bad words in front of Louie at least, since Josh was a lost cause, but old habits died hard. “Heck out of me,” I went with instead, even though he’d heard words much worse than ‘hell’ and ‘Jesus’.

  “I’m sorry, Tia Diana,” Louie whispered in that sugar-sweet voice that immediately had me forgiving him for everything he’d ever done and everything he would ever do.

  “Lou.” My heart was still beating fast. God. I was too young to have a stroke, wasn’t I? I let the covers drop to my lap, still rubbing my chest. “You okay?” I whispered in return, trying to will my heartbeat back to a respectable pace.

  He nodded seriously.

  He didn’t have nightmares often, but when he did, he always found his way to me… regardless of whether I was awake or not. Based on how groggy I felt, there was no chance I’d been asleep longer than a couple of hours. Sleeping in a new house wasn’t helping my situation any. This was only our third night here. My body wasn’t used to the bed facing a different direction. Everything smelled and sounded different, too. I’d had a hard enough time relaxing even back at our old apartment, so I wasn’t surprised when I found myself in bed the last two nights messing around on my phone until I started dropping it on my face from how tired I was.

  A small-fingered hand landed on my leg over the sheets. “I can’t sleep,” the little boy admitted, still whispering like he was trying not to wake me up even more than he already had by scaring the Holy Spirit and a couple drops of pee out of me. The darkness in the room hid Louie’s blond hair and those blue eyes that still made my heart ache every so often. “There’s alotta noise outside. Can I sleep with you?”

  The yawn that came out of me lasted about fifteen seconds, ugly and choppy, my eyes watering in the process. “What kind of noise?”

  “I think somebody’s fighting by my window.” He hunched his shoulders as he patted my leg.

  That had me sitting up straight. Lou had an active imagination, but not that active. He’d spared us from having imaginary friends, but he hadn’t saved me from pretending the toilet was a birdbath and he was a parrot when he was three.

  A fight? Here?

  I’d seen at least fifty houses before coming to this one. Fifty different sale listings that didn’t work for one reason or another. They had either been too far from good schools, the neighborhood had looked sketchy, the yard hadn’t been big enough, the house needed too much work, or it had been out of my price range.

  So when my real estate agent mentioned having one more to show me, I hadn’t been too optimistic. But she brought me to it anyway; it was a foreclosure that had only been on the market for a few days in a working-class neighborhood. I hadn’t let myself get my hopes up. The fact it had three bedrooms, a huge front and backyard, and only needed a minimum amount of cosmetic work had been enough for me. I’d jumped on it and bought it.

  Diana Casillas, homeowner. It was about time. I had been more than ready to get out of the two-bedroom apartment the boys and I had been holed up in for the last two years.

  After all the dumps I’d been to, this place had been the light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t perfect, but the potential was there. Despite not being in some fancy new subdivision in the suburbs, the surrounding schools were great. The greatest surprise of all was that it was close to where my job was being relocated, so I wouldn’t waste hours of my life driving back and forth.

  The thing was, I’d met a few of the new neighbors over the course of the month and a half it took to close on the house, but not all of them. The people who lived closest to Louie’s bedroom were an elderly couple, not exactly the kind of people who you would imagine fighting in the middle of the night. The rest were nice families with little kids
and everything. A neighborhood with a history of crime was the kind of shit I had been trying to avoid.

  Nobody was supposed to be fighting, much less in the middle of the night.

  “You can stay with me. Just don’t kick me in the stomach again, okay? You almost cracked my rib last time,” I reminded him in case he’d forgotten the giant bruise he’d given me that had me gasping for breath every time I bent over. I reached over to turn on the side lamp, nearly knocking it off the nightstand. Swinging my legs off the side of the bed, I tugged on the back of Louie’s pajama pants to give him a partial wedgie as I got to my feet.

  “It was an accident!” he giggled like he hadn’t caused me weeks of pain by using my midsection as a ball, making it apparent he could have a career in soccer if he ever wanted to. We already had two soccer players in our extended family; we didn’t need another one. With the light on, that tiny mischievous smile that owned my heart had the same effect on me it always had: it made everything in the world more bearable.

  “Sure it was.” I winked at him before yawning again and stretching my arms over my head to get some blood pumping throughout my body. “I’ll be back in a minute, but try to go to sleep, okay? Grandma is picking you up early.”

  “Where are you going?”

  There was always a hint of worry in his tone any and every time I went somewhere without him, like he expected me not to come back. I hated it. “To check on the noise. I’ll be right back,” I explained calmly, trying to tell him without words that it would take a weapon of mass destruction to keep me from him. But I didn’t make the promise out loud. He needed to believe that on his own without me reminding him every time.

  Louie nodded, already climbing under the covers, easing my conscience just a little. He was all gangly legs and arms, and that glowing peach skin that was his inheritance from his mom’s Danish ancestry and our Mexican side. There wasn’t a tanning bed or self-tanner in the world that could replicate his shade of gold.

  “Go to sleep.”

  Turning off the lamp again, I slipped out of the bedroom, leaving the door cracked behind me. Thankfully, I’d put on shorts before I went to sleep. My hand went out to the walls to try and navigate my way around; I wasn’t familiar with the layout of the house yet. The boys weren’t scared of the dark, so we didn’t bother with nightlights. As long as I could remember, my brother and I had convinced both of them that the bogeyman should be afraid of them, not them of it. I hadn’t gotten around to hanging up anything yet, so there was no chance of me knocking pictures off their hangers as I steered down the hallway that separated my room from Louie and Josh’s.

  When the boys had first come to live with me, I would find myself waking up at least once a night to check on them, to make sure they hadn’t magically disappeared like some Unsolved Mystery. Now, I only did it on nights like this one when Louie woke me up.

  The first thing I spotted on Josh’s bed was the long furry body that seemed to take up most of it, our family’s 160 pound, worst bodyguard in the world. Mac was passed out, completely oblivious to me coming into the room, and to top it off, he hadn’t even reacted to me screaming when I’d found Louie hovering. Higher up on the bed was the top of Josh’s brown head of hair, so much like mine and Rodrigo’s, peeking out from below the plain blue comforter he’d chosen two weeks ago. It was a miracle I hadn’t started blubbering like a baby in the middle of the store. It had killed me a little when I had asked him if he wanted a Ninja Turtles set, and he’d opted for a basic blue one. He wasn’t even turning eleven for a few more weeks, and he already thought he was too big for cartoon characters. I could still remember him in onesies like it was yesterday, damn it.

  I left Josh’s door mostly closed and headed toward Louie’s room, the smallest one of the three and the one closest to the front of the house. I’d barely made it to his door when I heard shouting. There was no way that was coming from the elderly neighbors next door. The people living on the other side in a bungalow were a couple around my age with a baby.

  The neighborhood had seemed like a safe one. Most of the driveways nearby had new-ish cars, but there were some filled with models that had been redesigned years ago. I hadn’t been able to help but notice the lawns were all well taken care of, the houses nice and neat, even if they were all built before I’d been born. All signs pointed toward this house being a great place to raise two kids. It reminded me of where I had grown up.

  Rodrigo would have approved.

  Moving Lou’s blinds as stealthily as possible to look out the window, it didn’t take me long to find where the noise was coming from. Across the street, two houses to the right were a pair of cars parked in a way that blocked traffic from being able to pass, if there had been anyone driving around in the middle of the night on a weekday. But it was the four men highlighted beneath the street lamp on the sidewalk that had me zoning in on them.

  They were fighting, just like Louie had hinted at. It only took me a second to realize that three of them were circling one. I’d seen enough fights on television to know that when three guys circled one, it didn’t mean anything good was about to go down.

  Was this really happening? I couldn’t have gotten like a six-month grace period before things like this went down at a neighbor’s house? A stranger was about to get jumped, and I could only assume someone I was now living across the street from was a part of it. Was the man on his own my neighbor? Or was my neighbor one of the guys trying to jump the single one?

  It was right then, in the middle of trying to guess what the hell was happening, that the man in the middle of the circle had a punch connect with his jaw. He dropped to a knee, swinging back wildly, missing all of his attackers. The other three took advantage and lunged at the guy on his own.

  Oh my God. They were going to kick his ass, and I was standing there watching. Watching.

  I couldn’t go out there.

  Could I?

  I had Louie and Josh now. Jesus Christ. I didn’t need to look around the room to know it was still full of boxes of toys and clothes. How a little boy had so much stuff was beyond me. I’d just bought him an Iron Man comforter for his twin-sized bed.

  It wasn’t just me I was responsible for, I thought as I witnessed the guy get kicked in the ribs. What if the men had guns? What if—

  Through the window, I kept watching Guy On His Own get punched repeatedly by the same person. Over and over again. It was an ass beating if I had ever seen an ass beating. If that wasn’t bad enough, another man stepped in and took over. My heart grew about four sizes. Jesus. Jesus. He was getting his ass whooped. Guy On His Own fell to his side, kicked over and over again the minute one of his attackers had an opening. They were like hyenas on a wounded gazelle. They were going to kill him.

  And I was standing there. Still.

  I thought about my brother, feeling that familiar ache pierce my heart and flood it with grief and regret and anger all at once. Hesitating could be the difference between life and death, didn’t I know that?

  I couldn’t live with myself if something happened that I could have prevented. I didn’t think about the possibility of them having guns or someone coming after me in retaliation, and I sure as hell didn’t take into consideration how my parents, much less the boys, would handle me doing something so reckless. But what kind of person would I be if I just stood inside my house and did nothing to help someone who obviously needed it?

  Before I could talk myself out of it, I ran out of the bedroom and toward the front, my feet bare. I didn’t want to waste time running back to my room for my phone or shoes, but I clearly remembered Josh leaving his baseball bag by the front door so he wouldn’t forget it when he left with his grandparents’ tomorrow. If I made it through tonight, I really needed to start calling around to find him a new baseball team, I reminded myself before shoving the plan away for a better time.

  I needed to go help because it was the right thing to do and because I needed to be a role model for the boys. And running
from obstacles wasn’t something they needed to learn from anyone.

  The fact was, it was down to the Larsens, my parents, and me to mold them into who they’d become later in life. That was one of the first things I’d had to come to terms with when I became their guardian. It was up to me. If I messed up with them… I couldn’t let that happen. I wanted them to grow up to be good, honorable people even if it seemed like I had forever until they were something more than the little boys who could barely aim their pee into the toilet and not miss. I didn’t want Rodrigo’s kids to turn out differently just because he wasn’t around to raise them, because I knew exactly whose fault it would be if they grew into little shits: mine.

  I didn’t need that on my conscience.

  Right where he had left it, I grabbed the bat sticking out of Josh’s bag, testing the weight of the composite. It wasn’t until I eased the front door closed behind me that the urge to run back into the house really hit me. The part of my brain that realized how stupid of an idea doing this was wanted to be back in my room under the covers. It didn’t want to have to make this decision—risk my life or not risk my life? But just thinking Rodrigo’s name kept me going.

  As I ran down the three steps leading from the deck to the walkway, I sent a silent prayer, hoping this wasn’t going to backfire on me. My feet had just hit the cement when I noticed the man all by himself was still surrounded, still getting his ass beat. Panic climbed all over my shoulders. How did no one else hear this? I wondered before figuring it didn’t matter. I had to do what I had to do, and that was help this guy out and get back in my house in one piece.

  “The cops are on their way!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, raising the bat up high. “Leave him alone!”

  In the greatest surprise of my life, the three men stopped instantly; one of their legs was suspended in the air midkick, and they looked at each other in obvious hesitation, giving me a blurry view of their bland, unremarkable faces. There was nothing special about them; they were tall-ish and had thin builds.

 

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