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       Sustain, p.2

           Tijan
slower 1  faster
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  there. If I did, who knows what could happen. They could change their minds and take me in for more questioning. I knew they probably wouldn’t, but I didn’t want to chance it. Visions of my bed were taunting me, jumping all around in my head and laughing at me as I sat on the curb and waited for Braden.

  Twenty minutes later, my brother’s truck slid to a stop in front of me. Grabbing my purse, I didn’t see who was behind the wheel and said, “I know you guys played tonight and figured you’d still be partying, but I was nervous you would’ve passed out or with some girl…” Then I saw who was staring back at me and forgot what I was about to say. “Fuck me.”

  Luke Skeet. His dark brown hair fell over his forehead, but he ignored it. A hint of dark humor entered those grey eyes of his, and he shook his head. “No, Bri. All those nights I crawled into your bed, fucking was the one thing we never got around to doing.” His eye twitched, and his hand tightened its grip on the steering wheel. He skimmed me up and down. “Pity about that.”

  I tried to stop my body from reacting. I did, but I failed. He was still gorgeous. My body grew heated, and I swallowed, already feeling my pulse quickening. Until three years ago, Luke Skeet had been my neighbor and best friend. I had made avoiding him into an art since Luke was still my neighbor and still friends with my brother. Oh yeah, he was in my brother’s band, too—the band I helped form when we were in middle school.

  All of that ended when I found his bloody body lying unconscious on his kitchen floor. It was the same night I started dating Elijah.

  I didn’t move to climb inside the truck. I couldn’t. My throat was dry, and my arms wouldn’t reach out to grab the handle. I couldn’t look away from him. “What are you doing here?”

  Wearing his signature tattered jeans and a simple white T-shirt, he looked delicious as he stared back at me. For a moment, just one moment, it was like when we’d been best friends. He was gazing into me, reading my thoughts, just knowing me. It was only the two of us. The world had melted away. I had missed this feeling. I licked my lips, and his gaze darted down to them, lingering there. Then he rolled his eyes, leaned back in his seat, and raked a hand through his brown locks. “What’s the problem, Bri? You called Rowdy’s for a ride. I’m your ride.” The corner of his mouth curved up, and he chuckled. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

  I flushed. Swinging the door open, I climbed into the passenger side with a sigh. “Why didn’t Braden come?”

  Luke shifted the gear into drive and pulled away from the police station before he answered. “Because he was busy, if you know what I mean.”

  Meaning my brother was with a girl. My twin brother had a pretty boy face. He looked young with soft skin, round cheeks, and dark brown eyes like mine. Girls loved him.

  “You guys were still partying?” I looked down at my lap. I didn’t know why I had asked that. I knew the answer.

  Luke drove the truck out into traffic and glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “We had a gig last night.” He turned the wheel, heading through an intersection. “And can I ask what you were arrested for?”

  “I wasn’t. I was taken in. Elijah was arrested. They let me go.”

  His lips pressed together in a flat line.

  I could feel his disapproval and flushed again. It’d been so long since I’d been alone with Luke. I’d forgotten how powerful his presence was. Every sensation I had was on overdrive. I felt assaulted on all ends, from head to toe. My body remained heated, and my throat felt parched, like I was in a damn desert. His voice was soft, deep, disapproving, and seductive all at once. I shifted in my seat, trying to get more comfortable, but the smell of pine, sweat, and cigarette smoke filled the cab. I hated cigarettes. I hated smoking, and I knew Luke didn’t smoke. He was just around it, but damn, when it was mixed with his own smell, it was intoxicating.

  What was I doing? Even though I hadn’t said the words to Elijah, I had already broken up with him in my heart, and the first guy to pick me up was turning me on? Literally?

  Stop it, Bri. I cursed at myself.

  Before I realized it, I found myself saying, “It’s over with him.”

  Luke didn’t say anything; he only glanced at me again.

  As he turned into Rowdy’s parking lot and parked, he turned the engine off and pulled the keys from the ignition, but he didn’t move to get out. I looked back at him. So much had changed. Too much had changed. That thought kept repeating, over and over again in my head.

  I bit my lip, and his eyes turned away. He rested a hand on the wheel and asked, his voice rough, “What do you want me to say?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “To Bray.”

  “I thought you said he was with a girl.”

  “He is.” He turned back, and just like that, as soon as our eyes met again, I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach with the look he’d given me. The kind of punch—the kind that’s so shocking—that robs you of all your breath, and for a moment, you can’t think or move. That was how I felt as he kept going, “I’m sure they’re done by now, but he’s going to ask why you’re here and why I brought you. Do you want me to keep quiet?”

  “Elijah and I are done. I didn’t do anything wrong.” Except not listen to everyone. “It’s going to come out eventually.” A different thought came to mind. “Is Emerson in there?”

  Luke chuckled, and the smooth sound of it washed over me, acting like a caress. “You mean our bass guitarist? The guy who’s always down for partying? Your cousin?”

  I rolled my eyes. “Yes, the cousin that hates me.”

  “Yeah, he’s in there, too.”

  Well, this was going to be fun. “Okay, let’s just get this over with.” I opened my door and got out. Luke did the same on his side, and we headed across the parking lot together. As we entered the bar, I heard my cousin yell out over the microphone, “All hail our lead singer, Luke Skeeet!”

  A couple of girls giggled.

  Then I heard. “What the hell?”

  Coming from outside, I was blinded for a moment by the rising sun into the dark bar. Expecting them to have moved all the equipment down into the basement, I was surprised to see everything was still on the stage. Then I saw my cousin. He’d been sitting behind the drum set, but he was standing now, glaring at me.

  “What are you doing with her?”

  I flicked him off. Different day. Same routine.

  “Fuck you, Bri.”

  The other middle finger went up, and I forced a fake smile. Since I started dating his best friend, Elijah, Emerson turned from loving me like family to hating me like we were blood enemies. It was a switch that happened over night, and after three years of his attitude, I stopped wondering what I’d done and just went with it. We were hostile, at best, but sometimes it got worse. I waited, wondering if this was going to be another night that would be another ‘worse’ situation. I was prepared and ready to fight.

  Luke ignored him and glanced around. “Where’s Braden?”

  Emerson was a few inches shorter than Luke. Whereas Luke was six feet, broad shoulders, and lean with a trim waist, Emerson had a stout build. He was solid and muscular. The other difference was that Luke had a mop of brown hair, usually brushed aside and ruffled to look messy, but it worked for him. He was gorgeous with chiseled cheekbones and a face that belonged in magazines. My cousin had stopped trying to grow his hair out. Instead, he cut it all off and maintained a buzz cut, almost bald. His cheekbones were set too close to his eyes, his mouth was small and usually in a scowl, at least around me, and tattoos adorned his neck and body.

  Grudgingly, Emerson answered, his glare moving away from me, “He headed home. Why?” After tossing the sticks onto the floor, which had me wincing, he jumped off the stage. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he came over closer, his beady eyes fixed firmly on me. “What are you doing here, Bri?”

  I didn’t look at him, but I felt Luke glancing sideways at me.

  Here we go. “SWAT came in this morning.”


  Emerson narrowed his eyes.

  I added, “Elijah was arrested. I was taken in, too.” My lips were suddenly dry. “A girl overdosed at the rave last night. They’re trying to pin it on him.”

  A deep growl came from the back of his throat. “Tell me you called someone to bail him out.”

  I didn’t, but I didn’t tell him that.

  Emerson took my silence the right way, and another growl burst from him. “Are you kidding me, Bri? What kind of girlfriend are you? At least call his—”

  “His what?” I cut him off. “His mom’s probably passed out in her own vomit, and you know he’s got no one else that he trusts. His roommate won’t leave his basement, and I refuse to call any of his drug people. I don’t even know who they are.”

  He clipped his head from side to side. “You’re unbelievable.” He looked at Luke. “I gotta bail him out. We have another gig tonight?”

  Luke nodded, watching me the entire time. “Yeah.”

  “Do we need to practice beforehand?”

  “Yeah, I want to practice that new song.”

  “Fine. I’ll be here at eight.”

  As they talked, Emerson pulled out his phone and wallet. He thumbed through his cash, taking inventory, and when his frown deepened, I assumed he didn’t have enough. I shook my head. “You’re wasting your time. His bail hasn’t even been set.”

  “Whatever.” He seared me with another dirty look, pressing some numbers on his phone and lifting the receiver to his ear. “I can still start calling for a bond.” As he moved around me, we heard him say, “Yeah, hi. I need the number for a bail bonds—” He shoved through the door, and it slammed shut behind him.

  Luke didn’t say anything. He was only watching me. Always watching me. I needed a moment to center my thoughts. Rather than looking at Luke, I looked around the bar. Rowdy’s was a dingy, hole-in-the-wall, dive bar. There was nothing flashy about the outside. A simple sign was the only thing that hung outside to attract customers, and it was more to show where the entry door was. The inside had a stage in one corner with a small dance area. Tables and bar stools filled up the middle, and the back had pool tables with booths lining the walls.

  The clientele had always been vast. They ranged from blue-collar workers to those down-on-their-luck to local college students. One dollar tap beer helped bring in those students, while Friday nights’ DJ brought in the dancing crowd. Saturday nights showcased local bands with Luke and my brother’s band playing the majority of them.

  The floor was swept clean. The bar stools were sitting on top of the counters, and the chairs were turned upside down over the tables. Rowdy’s office was closed, and I couldn’t see a light from underneath the door. Only a handful of girls remained in the bar. A few were leaning against the stage, looking tired. I had a hunch they were waiting for Luke.

  “You need a ride somewhere?”

  “Don’t you want to stay and socialize?”

  Luke shrugged. “Those girls were staying for Em. I was heading out when the phone rang.”

  So, Rowdy hadn’t answered. Knowing that Luke had been going home anyway but still came to get me, made me pause. I didn’t want to think about how that made me feel. Fuck, Bri. You were with Elijah only a few hours ago.

  “Yeah, can I get a ride home?”

  A doom-and-gloom feeling settled on the bottom of my stomach, but as I followed him out of the bar and to his truck, I couldn’t deny the spike in my pulse either.

  When Luke dropped me off at my apartment, I went inside and leaned against my door. My insides were swirling. So much had happened, but I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t. ‘Keep forward. Deal later.’ That’d been a quote I loved and I needed it that day. So, I literally moved forward, showering and collapsing in my bed, but after waking a few hours later with nightmares of cops breaking down my own door, I figured the ‘deal later’ would need to be much, much later. It was close to dinner time, so to keep pushing everything out of my mind, I headed for my mom’s house. Braden would hear about my escapade soon enough, but I wanted him to hear it from me.

  My stomach grumbled as I went in through the back door. I needed to get some food, but instead of the expected aromas of dinner being made, there was nothing. The kitchen lights were off; only the hallway light was on. My mom rushed out, dressed in scrubs with her identification tag that said Sharon Masterson hanging around her neck. She’d recently showered and her hair, normally light blonde, looked dark as it was twisted up in a bun. She was slender, my size and height. Braden always complained he hadn’t gotten the tall gene from our dad. Both of us got our darker looks from him, though. Dark hair. Tan complexion, but I was thankful that was it. There were so many other attributes we could’ve gotten from him, like being an abusive asshole. Being 5’11” was going to be Braden’s curse instead.

  “Oh, honey.” She grabbed her keys from the kitchen table and came over to kiss me on the cheek. Patting my shoulder, she grabbed a water from the refrigerator. “How was your night?”

  I watched her grab a gait belt and asked as she looped it around her waist, “Is that a trick question?”

  “Huh?” Her forehead wrinkled. Searching her pockets, she bit down on her lip and started looking around the kitchen. “I need a pen. I always forget my pens.”

  It was on the tip of my tongue to tell her. Elijah. The raid. Luke. I didn’t. I wasn’t sure what she’d say to me. Our mom had never been a big disciplinarian. She let us make our own mistakes. She had to, though. She was too busy working to know half the times when we did get in trouble.

  “There’s food in the fridge, if you need to eat something.” She hurried to the door, but turned and used her back to open it. “Oh. Can you wake your brother up? He’s napping, and since you’re here, can you give him a ride to Rowdy’s? He asked for a ride earlier.”

  I nodded. Yep. Sounds good. I’ll tell you about the SWAT raid later…maybe… By the time she rushed out the door, I knew I wasn’t ever going to tell her. I’d tell her about Elijah. That’d be good enough. She liked him, but was wary after Braden shared his suspicions of him. Thinking of my brother, I went to wake him up.

  An hour later, on our way to Rowdy’s for his practice, I told my brother the news. He exclaimed, “This is awesome!”

  Had I heard my brother right? “It’s awesome I was taken to jail today?”

  “No.” Braden faltered. “You said you were done with Elijah, right?” Braden scratched the back of his head. When his hand left his head, the hair behind his ear remained standing up. It worked for him. He was dressed in a simple black shirt and jeans like mine, except his were baggy and hung low on his hips. With a few leather bracelets on his wrist and his new tattoo, he had taken on the rocker bad boy look.

  I didn’t know what to say. Hearing Braden say those words, that I was done, sounded alien to me.

  The longer I stayed quiet, the more his grin slipped until it turned into a look of alarm. He turned squarely in his seat until he was facing me and raked a hand through his black hair. “Brielle, tell me you’re not going back to him.” He shook his head. “You told me you believed me earlier. You came in my room, kicked my bed, woke me up, and apologized for being a dumbass over the years. You said you believed me. You can’t take it back.”

  I tried to shake my head, but my neck muscles had stiffened. We were done… We were done… I needed to keep telling myself that.

  “Bri!”

  I jerked out of my thoughts, realizing I had a death-grip on the steering wheel. “What?”

  “You are done with him, right? I’m not going to shut up until you actually say the words.”

  “Yes.” It came out hoarse, like I’d swallowed a boulder that was stuck in my throat. I coughed and said again, my voice much clearer, “Yes, I’m done. I’m sure Emerson told him already, anyway.”

  “For real, real?”

  “Yes!”

  “Good.” He jerked back in his seat, a sound of relief coming from him.
“Elijah’s not a bad dude, like in personality and stuff, but the guy’s messed up in other ways. For one, he sells drugs.” He gave me a grin. “I can’t believe he was able to hide it from you this whole time.”

  “Yeah.” A lump formed at the base of my throat, blocking my oxygen for a moment. As my brother kept talking, so carefree now, pain sliced through me. With each word he spoke, the pain in my heart grew. Shit. Elijah and I really were done. Three years and now—that’s why it didn’t feel real to me. It felt like I was mad and just avoiding him for a weekend.

  Braden continued chatting, excited to have his sister back. I could go to their practices, I could help with the band, I would have free time to hang out with him, blah, blah, blah. He kept going as I sat here, feeling as if someone was slapping me over and over again.

  “Shut up.”

  Braden stopped. “Huh?”

  “Just...” Was there a nicer way to say this? “Shut up, okay?”

  “Why?”

  “Braden.” I closed my eyes for a second, wanting to just disappear and take a breather. I opened them again, but couldn’t look at him. “I loved Elijah. We’re over. Do me a favor and stop rubbing it in. I literally just told you.”

  He was silent for a moment. “He deals drugs, Bri.”

  “I know.” My voice rose in volume, and I flinched, grabbing
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