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       Sustain, p.16

           Tijan
 
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  A large group planted themselves in front of the bar. I went around them and looked back over my shoulder. Emerson was disappearing out the door. Maybe he was right, and that couple was twins.

  “Bri!” Kelly was waving again.

  Either way, I couldn’t go and find out. I shoved through the last of the group and slipped behind the bar. I tried to keep an eye out for him, but the crowd was too large. We were busy all the way until closing and even an hour afterward. When I entered Luke’s house, I saw him sitting on the couch in the living room, hunched over his guitar. A half-empty bottle of bourbon was on the floor next to his feet, and he had sheet music spread all over the coffee table. Shirtless, his guitar in his lap, and his hair sticking up like he’d been running his hand through it the entire night, I almost forgot why I was there. A vision of myself straddling him flashed in my mind.

  I pulled at my shirt. The room got hot all of a sudden.

  His words stopped everything. “Did you come down here to tell me what Emerson was talking about?”

  Ice went through my veins. “I want to.”

  “That’s not an answer.”

  “Who was that woman you left the bar with earlier?”

  A corner of his mouth lifted. “That’s not an answer either.”

  “How about…” I took the guitar from him and placed it onto the floor. He leaned back in his chair, his hands coming to rest on my hips. I felt them grasp my sides and closed my eyes, feeling his fingers graze my skin. Bending forward to rest my forehead to his, I murmured, “We enjoy tonight.”

  One night. Then the truth. I needed him.

  “Tonight.” His hand skimmed down my leg. His pulled me onto his lap, and my legs parted, already knowing I would feel him soon. My arms around him felt heavy, like I had melted, and I shivered, feeling my body come alive as he traced a finger up my spine. His hands snaked inside my jeans after he undid the button, pulling me closer.

  I gasped, but pressed down. No more thoughts. Just the feel of us.

  He was right there. I rocked against him, feeling him harden and grow under me. Shit. I couldn’t get enough of him. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to my chest. My heart skipped a beat. I was nervous and giddy at the same time, my stomach fluttering. I was addicted. His touch enthralled me. I kissed the side of his face, moving in a slow line closer and closer to his lips. I felt his heart race as I lingered at the corner of his mouth. I was enjoying the power I had over him. I licked his bottom lip—just a dab. He tugged me tighter to him, and a low growl formed in the base of his throat.

  Luke stood, carrying me with him as his lips fused with mine. I sighed at the feel of them. Home. I didn’t register that we were in the bedroom until I felt the covers beneath me. I gasped as his tongue slipped inside. He tasted me while his demanding fingers ran the length of my back and lifted my shirt in the next instant. I was heated, needing more of his touch. As soon as my shirt was gone, my breasts were crushed against his chest. His jeans were a rough barrier between my legs, and I shoved at them. I wanted him inside me.

  When my fingers went to my zipper, he caught my hands. My gaze followed the small grin teasing his lips. While holding himself arched above me, he pinned my hands above my head, and then pulled my jeans off with his other hand. I kicked out, helping him. When they were gone, he came back and began grinding against me, building the tempo. I growled, wanting more, but he held me captive.

  He kept moving so damn slow while I shivered. Using my legs, I pulled him onto me.

  I felt him throbbing for me, too.

  Fuck it. I didn’t care who had better control.

  I was drunk from his touch. His hands released mine, and one combed through my hair before it cupped the side of my face. His lips touched mine, a small graze before they opened over mine, fusing together once more. My tongue brushed against his, and I was feverish from the feel of him. It was intoxicating, and then, he was right there at my opening. I began to beg. A small whimper came from me as he stayed there, teasing me.

  I didn’t know the next time I would have him. I wanted him forever.

  Then he slid inside me.

  He was home. I was home.

  While he slid in and out of me, I began writhing underneath him, wanting him to go faster and deeper. I needed more.

  “Luke,” I gasped.

  He nuzzled my neck before looking up. “What?”

  We were both out of breath, our gazes lidded. I shook my head. The words couldn’t form. I couldn’t talk. I’d tell him later. Later…

  He kept thrusting in me, claiming me. I was right there.

  The edge was close when he placed a hand on my hip and moved even faster and deeper. With his head in the crook of my neck, his breath coated my skin. He plunged inside one last time, and we both went over the edge. He trembled on top of me as I did the same beneath. Smoothing a hand down my arm, he kissed my neck softly, and we both waited for the sensations to slow.

  I loved him.

  I was going to tell him. I had to, but I knew he would leave me.

  “Bri?” He slid out of me, and I almost grabbed onto him, not wanting him to leave. He rested on his elbow, gazing down at me. “What is it?”

  I couldn’t. I could still feel him inside me. That was how it was supposed to be. He and I. But he was going to leave. I already knew it.

  His voice dipped low. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

  My eyes opened. A mask had slid over his face, and he stood from the bed. His jeans were refastened, and he stood there, shirtless and barefooted, staring down at me. His hair was messed up from me; my fingers had raked through it as he thrust inside me. The memory of what we’d just done sent renewed pain and regret through me. They sliced into me like a thousand little knives. I swallowed painfully and gathered what was left of my pride.

  He moved farther away from me and leaned against the bedroom wall. His eyebrows furrowed together, and his jaw clenched as he waited. “You’re going to tell me what’s wrong. Now.”

  “We’ve talked about that day, when your dad did what he did.” That was my opening statement?

  Luke fell silent. He didn’t move.

  I looked down at my lap. The words didn’t want to come, but it was time. Elijah was right. I had to tell him and hope he’d come back to me. So I started, “What your dad did was my fault.”

  He said one word.

  “Explain.”

  That was it.

  I took a breath and started, “I was coming home from school. I remember being so jealous. Candy and her friends had been talking to you. She was flirting with you, and I thought you were flirting back. In hindsight, you were just talking to her, but it still hurt, so I left without waiting for you or Braden that day. But anyway, he was there when I walked past the street before our block, waiting in his car.” My fingers curled inward, latching onto the others. “I should’ve run or screamed or something, but he told me to get into the car, and I did.” My eyes squeezed shut as I remembered the sound of his deep baritone voice and how commanding he spoke. I obeyed him without question. I felt the chill of the leather seats, and the cold air blowing across my face again. “It was my dad, Luke.”

  He stiffened, becoming a statue.

  “I need you to do something for me,” had been the first words he’d said to me.

  “Earlier in the day, he had driven to your house to see your dad, but he hadn’t been there,” I said.

  “Fucking Garrett owes me money. He’s not here. He’s playing cards at Oiley’s right now, so this is what you’re going to do for me.” He pointed at the house. “You’re going to go in there. And don’t tell me you don’t know how to sneak in. I know you do. You and that kid are always sneaking into each other’s rooms, been doing it since you were tiny. So, you’re going to break in and go to Garrett’s office.” He stopped talking and leaned closer. His eyes grew even more determined, and an ugly gleam appeared—one that drenched me in a cold sweat. He said, “In the office closet is a back wa
ll. You can slide it to the side, but you gotta press it in. When you feel it move, slide it to the left. That’s where he keeps all his money.”

  “H...h...how much?”

  “Huh?” he snapped out.

  “How much do you want me to take?”

  “All of it. Duh.” He gestured to the house again. “Get going, before your little boyfriend comes home looking for you.”

  I couldn’t move. It felt like a hand had been plunged into my chest and took hold of my heart in an ironclad grip.

  “Bri!”

  I jumped in my seat.

  “Go. Get this done.”

  My hands were shaking, but I moved on autopilot. Climbing out of the car, I shut the door and then leaned against it for a moment. I closed my eyes. My hands were behind me, gripping the door handle. I wanted to go back in, but I couldn’t.

  “Bri.” He pounded on the door, yelling from inside the car. “Get!”

  I jerked away as memories of those fists hurting my mother played in the forefront of my mind. I bolted toward the house as if he had hit me right then and there. The closer I got, the more I felt myself leave my body.

  “It was easy, actually. I snuck in through your window, and everything was how he said.” My mouth was so dry. “I was the one who robbed your dad. I took the money—”

  “He blamed me.” Luke’s voice was painful. It was hoarse and so quiet. “He beat me when I kept denying it. I was in the hospital for a week, Brielle.”

  I never went to the hospital. I couldn’t see him that way. “It was my fault.”

  “That’s why you went to Elijah?”

  My head moved up and down, but it didn’t feel attached to my body. “I’m sorry, Luke. I’m so sorry.”

  The room was so tense, and I was afraid to look at him. I was afraid to do anything. He was going to leave. I knew it. I’d be kicked out of the band, and I’d never be with him again. I was going to lose Luke, but it had been right to tell him. Finally.

  He stood up; I still didn’t dare look at him, but I heard him pacing. When he spoke, there was an anguished tone to his voice. “I wanted to talk to you tonight because the two people you saw me with are from a record label. Peter and Priscilla Montley. They’re twins, too. They came to hear us play. They’d like to manage us, and if we sign with them, they’ve promised us a record deal. We’ve all discussed it, and the guys are in. You’ve been so busy I haven’t had the chance to tell you about it until now.”

  My hands were shaking.

  He added, “You lied to me, Bri. Three years. I can’t—he had beaten me before, but this—you lied to me. I can’t…we’re going to Los Angeles tomorrow.” He paused a split second, and then rasped out, “But not you. I don’t want you to have any part of this. I—”

  He left.

  I waited for him to slam the door shut, but it didn’t come. The door was left hanging open as he walked away.

  It was over.

  They left the next morning. Braden had been the only one to say goodbye. My mom asked later if I had said my goodbyes earlier because I wasn’t outside when they picked up Braden. I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t want to see the judgment in her eyes.

  Four months later, I was trying to shove my way through a crowd of girls to grab a drink from the kitchen. When I got there, I heard a girl squeal, “Hubba hubba! Luke Skeet is going to help me birth my babies.”

  I whipped around. The crowd of girls were surrounding something. Moving to get a better look, I saw an iPad with a YouTube clip playing. I couldn’t see what was on the clip, but hearing the excited squeals, the bottom of my stomach fell out. They were watching my band.

  Her friends laughed, and another said, “Shut up. He’s my future husband.”

  “I heard they’re from Grant West.”

  “No way?! Are you serious? Isn’t that clip in Nebraska?”

  The first girl spoke, nodding like she was close to the band, “It is. My cousin used to watch them play at some bar there.”

  “Grant West, as in two towns over?”

  I couldn’t move. I knew they’d been writing music, and Braden mentioned an impromptu tour last week, but this time I was hearing strangers talking about them. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the group of girls huddled in the corner, clutching their phones, staring at their screens with rapt attention. I was riveted by their reactions. These girls spoke as if Luke and the band were gods.

  “Can you move?”

  That last question was directed at me. I glanced back, saw a line had formed behind me, and moved to the side.

  “Bri?” Wes said my name. He was tall and angelic-looking with blond hair, blue eyes, and overall dreamy. I could almost see the halo attached to his head. He was one of those guys that was too-nice-of-a-guy. He was the lead singer of my new band. Or, correction, I had joined his band, Callen. He smiled at me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “You okay?”

  “Yeah.” I gave him a small smile, but rolled my shoulder a bit so he’d release me. As he did, an apology flashed in his eyes, and he moved back a step. I saw his lips move and knew he was going to say another ‘nice guy’ comment—one that would make me feel like a bitch— so before he could speak, I said, “This is a good gig.”

  “What?” He leaned closer and then nodded after I repeated myself. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, it is. The guy who lives here said there’d be a big crowd. There’s a bunch of other bands here, too. I don’t know if they’re all playing, but he booked two others.” He signaled to a group of people standing, clustered in a small circle. One guy was bobbing his head in rhythm to the music, and another guy was beating out a fast pace with his fingers in the air. Wes said, “That’s Jersey over there.” I caught a small twinge of jealousy in his gaze when he mentioned the band. “They have Avi. You heard about her, right?”

  I nodded. I knew Avi. Her voice was raved about by others, but that wasn’t how I knew her. I wondered if she still kept in touch with my brother, and thinking about him, I glanced back at the girls who were still gushing over their phones, watching videos of the band that I should be with.

  Wes followed my gaze and made a sound. “I see.”

  I looked at him. “What?”

  “Sustain.” His eyebrows shot up, and he ducked his head, looking dejected. “I get it.”

  “Sustain?”

  “Your old band.”

  I continued to frown at him. “What are you talking about?”

  “Sustain.” He stared at me. “They used to be your band.”

  “My band’s name is Braille.”

  He sighed, his mouth moving in a grimace. “I thought Callen was…never mind.” Then he moved closer again and leaned toward my ear. Resting a hand on my shoulder as he pointed to the squealing girls, he spoke clearly, “They’re talking about your old band. They changed their name since you’re not with them. They aren’t Braille anymore. It’s Sustain now.”

  I moved his hand off me. “Is this a joke?” Why hadn’t Braden told me this? But I knew, even as I thought that, I knew why he didn’t. It was because it would be more final. They were a different band. They were moving on without me. New name. New member. New direction. I was out. Four months later, it still hurt.

  “No joke. They’re getting big, Bri. You must be proud. I mean, that’s your brother, your cousin, your b…your friend.”

  “How big? What do you mean by that?”

  “It’s like they exploded this week. I mean, they were big already, but now they’re signed, and they’re traveling. It was kind of genius. I heard their label wanted them to do a mini-tour, test out some of their new material before doing a big launch. They’ve got fans all over now. They were picked up to headline for another band, too. That’s huge, but,” he was studying me intently, “you must know all about this.”

  My lips pressed in a flat line. “Yeah, Braden calls home all the time. I must’ve forgotten about a lot of this.”

  A renewed squeal came from the girls’ corner again, and they began waving the
ir phones around. I could hear their voices over the noise in the room, but the music paused in that slight second, and I heard Luke’s voice fill the air. It was slight, but they had programmed all their phones to play at the same instant, so Luke’s voice rose in volume.

  “Hello, Phoenix!” Luke called out.

  Phoenix. They said Nebraska before.

  I needed a beer. “When do we play again?”

 
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