Anti stepbrother, p.28
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.28
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           Tijan

  His jaw clenched and his gaze skirted away. “Look, this has nothing to do with you, but I’m in the mood to drink tonight. Heavily.”

  “I see.”

  “I’m fucked-up right now. I want to be with you tonight, but I shouldn’t be around you right now. I don’t want to snap at you. You don’t deserve that.”

  “So it’s not me, then?” I clutched the ends of my shirt in a tight fist. “I didn’t do anything wrong?”

  A savage curse slipped from him. “No. No way. You’ve been the one good thing about tonight, last night, this morning—all of it. I’m just in the mood to fight, and I need to change my tune real quick. I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing to you. That’s all.”

  “Okay.”

  “Okay?”

  “Okay.” I nodded. “I’ll see you down there.”

  His shoulders relaxed, and he crossed the room to kiss me on the forehead. “Thank you.” His hand grazed mine as he left. “Find me in an hour. I’ll be in a better mood by then.”

  “Sure. Yeah. Be right there,” I said to myself as the door closed.

  I stared at our emptied bed. The sheets were still messed up.

  CADEN

  Summer thought I was going to drink. Good. She didn’t need to know where I was really going.

  As I got to the main floor, I moved through the crowd. These were my guys. I didn’t run the house. I wasn’t their president. That job was reserved for a senior. But I was their unofficial leader, and everyone knew it.

  It wasn’t something I wanted. I hadn’t chosen this. Colton had, and just thinking about that made my fire burn hotter.

  I saw Marcus, and I zeroed in.

  He was talking to Avery and two other girls. I didn’t recognize them, and I didn’t care to. I was closing in. Fifteen feet. Twelve. Ten. Marcus looked up, a beer in his hand and a wary look in his eyes. He saw my baseball cap, and his eyes widened. He knew what the hat meant. It was my way of hiding. I wore it when I wanted to fight, when I wanted to be the bad guy lurking inside of me, and he started looking around me.

  He wanted Summer to be here.

  Too bad.

  He knew she calmed me. She quieted me. She made the anger go away, most of the time. But not this time. And I closed the distance. Eight. Six. Four.

  “Hey.” He held his hands up, along with his beer. “Truce, okay? I’m sorry about what I said up there.”

  I shook my head. “Not a chance.”

  I took the beer and thrust it at Avery. She took it, and I clamped onto my brother’s shoulder and shoved him in front of me.

  “Where are we going? What are you doing?”

  I didn’t say a word. He fucking knew what we were doing.

  “Caden?” Avery called. “Marcus!”

  I stopped. “Tell her to stay.”

  The blood drained from his face. “Why? What are we doing?”

  “Marcus!” Avery yelled again.

  “Tell her.”

  “Where’s Summer?”

  “She’s in the room. I asked her to give me an hour.”

  He studied me. “Why?”

  “Why do you think?”

  “This is about Colton?”

  “Hey!” Avery’s last shout was a lot closer. Those two girls were right with her.

  “Tell her to back off unless you want her to hear all about how much of a weak-ass brother you’ve been,” I warned him. My hand tightened on his shoulder. “Does she even know you’re a twin?”

  He shoved my arm off. His eyes flashed. “Shut the fuck up.”

  “Hey, you guys!” Avery was too close, for her good and his. “Caden, where’s Summer?”

  Marcus continued to stare, studying me. I meant business. I was prepared to haul him outside, not giving a shit who followed us. I had nothing to hide, not like he did.

  “I gotta talk to Caden,” he finally growled. “Give us a minute.”

  “You sure?” She came up next to us. Those two girls stuck with her like glue, both wide-eyed. “Where’s Summer, Caden?”

  I held my brother’s gaze as I answered, “She’s coming down. She was in the bedroom.”

  Marcus coughed, nodding to me. “We’ll be back in a bit. Don’t, uh, don’t follow us.” He started forward, and I rotated on my heels, moving to the back door and then outside. There were people in the yard, so I led the way, going until I found a private area by a clump of trees.

  I waited.

  This time, I knew my brother was coming.

  CADEN

  “What are we doing, Caden?”

  “You were at the hospital.”

  My brother paused, a harsh chuckle leaving him. “She told, huh? I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean she was in your be—”

  “Finish that sentence, and that’s the last thing you’ll remember from tonight.” My hand flexed, and his gaze fell to it.

  “Yeah. So what?” He bit out. “I was there.”

  “You were there, Marcus! There. Right there. You could’ve gone to see him. He would’ve wanted you there. I’m tired of you coming, but not being there. There’s a big fucking difference.”

  He flared up now. His eyes were wild. “Are you kidding me? Do you know what it’s like to look at him like that?”

  “YES! Because I was there.”

  “Back off this, Caden. I get it. You’re the older brother, but this is between me and Colton. It’s different.”

  “How?” I wanted to shove him. It was wrong to do that. It was wrong to hit too, but I’d already hit one person tonight. “How’s it different? Because it’s you?”

  “Stop.”

  “Because it could’ve been you in that bed instead? In that hospital gown?”

  “I said stop it.” A vein popped out from the side of his neck. “Stop, Caden.”

  I stepped closer. “Those were your friends that day, Marcus.”

  “Caden!” His voice rose an octave.

  “Your friends.” My voice lowered. “Your face. The helmet was for you. They wanted to hit you, not Colton.”

  “Shut up.”

  “You got in a fight with them the day before. I heard all about it.”

  “SHUT UP!” He shoved me.

  I didn’t move. I was right there, right in his face. “Is that why you don’t go see him? Because they did that to hurt you?”

  “They were his friends too.”

  “No.” I shook my head. “They hung out with him, but they were your friends. Your pals. You raced with them every weekend. Your fight. It should’ve been you. That’s what you think, isn’t it? They hurt him to hurt you.”

  He couldn’t talk. His chest heaved up and down. His shoulders were tight. He was close to breaking. I wanted to break him.

  “Why were you at the hospital? Why didn’t you go to the room? Why, Marcus?”

  “Because it should’ve been me!” he spat out.

  I broke him.

  “You’re right. Is that what you want to hear?! Yes! It should’ve been me. They wanted to hurt me, so they picked on him because—”

  “Because?” I grabbed his shirt, forming two fists. “Because why? Say it.”

  “Because he was weak.” He pushed me back, a hard, fast hit to my chest. “They chose him because he would do what they wanted. He put on that damn helmet. They knew it was defective. I was the one who told them that. Me! I told them about the helmet in the first place.”

  His eyes shimmered with unshed tears. They pooled on his bottom lashes, but they didn’t fall. Not yet.

  “It was my fault, Caden,” he choked out. “The whole thing was my fault. You got the truth. Is that what you wanted?”

  “I wanted to know why you refuse to be there for your brother, when it’s obvious you want to be.”

  “Well, there you go. Now you know. What are you going to do now?”

  “Nothing.”

  “What?” He laughed, weakly. “You’re not going to do a goddamn thing? After all of that?”

  “There’s nothing to
do except tell you you’re a moron.”

  The tears fell then.

  “What?” he asked.

  “You didn’t give him the helmet. You didn’t tell Colton to put it on. You didn’t pick up the bat. You didn’t do any of those things.” I moved close, lowering my voice. “You didn’t swing. It wasn’t you.”

  “Stop it, Caden.”

  He started to turn away. I caught him and hauled him back. I wouldn’t let him, not when he needed to hear this. “It’s not your fault. It’s those assholes. It’s their fault. They chose to do it. They chose to hurt him. You didn’t choose that. Fucking hell, Marcus. I had no idea you thought all that.”

  “Why wouldn’t I?!”

  “Your face. That’s what I thought was the problem. That every time you look at him, you see yourself. You think it could’ve been you.” I paused. “That’s what I see. I see me. I see another life I could’ve had. I’m the one who fights. You race. I party and fight. Colton was the one who shone. He was the star, not you or me.”

  “I know.” His mouth pressed closed. “I know.”

  “Stop skirting around him, okay? Go see your brother. At home, at the hospital, wherever.”

  He held my gaze again. “Okay. I will.”

  “I just need help with it. That’s why I snapped tonight. I knew you were at the hospital. Summer never said a word.”

  “How’d you know?”

  “You left your coffee.”

  “Shit.” He straightened. “I didn’t even think of that.”

  I clasped him on the shoulder, this time in solidarity, not intimidation. I shook him gently. “I just need help. That’s all.”

  He nodded. He clasped a hand on my shoulder. “I will.”

  We watched each other steadily. It was just us. Our mom was in denial, waiting for the day her son would “get over it,” and our father had been on business trips almost the entire time. He’d rather be away than see his son the way he was now.

  Broken.

  SUMMER

  After getting a drink, I waded through the house, but I couldn’t find my crew. No Avery, no Clarissa, and no Paige—I guessed I’d include her too. I told myself I wasn’t looking for Caden, but I knew I was. I couldn’t find him either. He wasn’t in any corner of the house, basement, living room, garage even. I had no clue, so I circled back to the backyard and finally heard my name called.

  “Yo, Sum Sum! Over here.”

  Clarissa waved me over to a picnic table set up in a far corner. An entire group had gathered there. Clarissa blinked a few times, flashing her dimples, before throwing her arms around my neck.

  “Where’veyoubeen?” Her voice was muffled, tickling my neck.

  I patted her on the back. “I was upstairs. Where have you been?”

  “We’ve been here.” She beamed, stepping back, but still holding my hands. “I’m so happy you came this weekend. I’ve missed you. I miss May too. Oh! She called. She got sick, and something else happened, but I wasn’t understanding it. Anyway, she’s not coming, and I miss her. I missed you too.”

  “I’ve missed you too.” I did, but my happiness was warring with worry about Caden at the moment. I glanced around the table again. Avery sat with her friends at one end. Paige stood at the other, a guy next to her.

  She waved. “We were looking for you.”

  “Yes!” Clarissa grasped the tops of my arms, surging onto her tiptoes. “We saw Caden. Is it Caden? Is he the guy?” She leaned close, giving me a good whiff of beer breath. “Please tell me he’s the guy, because holy moly, he’s gorgeous. And he is one unhappy camper with your friend’s boyfriend right now.”

  “Who?”

  “Your friend.” She pointed at Avery.

  “Her boyfriend?” My mind was moving slowly, but caught up. Caden was mad at Marcus, but… “Are they drinking somewhere together?”

  “They didn’t look like they were going to drink together.” Clarissa giggled again, sticking her hands up, balled in fists. “They more looked like they were going to throw a couple of these.” She jabbed at the air with one hand, tucked it against her chest, and jabbed with the other. “If you know what I mean.”

  “Okay.” I pushed her arms down. “Never do that again, but yes, I know what you mean.”

  He told me he wanted to drink.

  He lied to me.

  I needed to find them. No matter how angry Caden was, I knew he didn’t want to hurt his brother.

  “Where’d they go?”

  The girls all shook their heads, shrugging.

  I zeroed in on a few of the guys. “Where?”

  “It’s a guy thing.”

  I stomped my foot and instantly regretted it. That hurt, but I did it again. “Where?!”

  “Just tell her. She’s Caden’s girl.”

  I wasn’t sure who said that, but I scanned the table again. “Thank you.” And he was right. I was Caden’s girl.

  Right? It had to be true now, after two times together. Shut up, Summer. I lectured myself. Now’s not the time to start obsessing and worrying about it.

  The guy on the end pointed behind a second house. “They headed over there. They haven’t come back yet.”

  I was off.

  “You wad us to come wid oou?” Clarissa yelled, slurring her words.

  “No!” I waved her away, but then Avery got up and hurried after me. “Ave—”

  “I’m coming. It’s my boyfriend too.”

  I stopped and shot her a grin. “Boyfriend, huh?”

  She grinned back, elbowing me. “Caden’s girl, huh?”

  “I would laugh and say something ridiculous at this moment if I wasn’t worried about them.”

 
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