Storm Page 10

He sighed and glanced away. ’’Look, I didn\ mean to frighten you last night. You ran out of here so quick ’’

’’You mean after you grabbed me?’’

’’You mean after you punched me with a fistful of keys?’’

’’Yeah, well, you were ’’ She broke off and flushed. He\d just been standing there, acting scary. Now that she thought about it, he\d never made a move toward her.

Then she remembered how she\d fought to evade him in the yard. ’’What about when I was trying to get to my car? I should have you arrested for assault.’’

He slid the phone across the table. ’’Go ahead.’’

Now she wanted to punch him with the keys and it had nothing to do with self-defense. ’’You\ e kind of a jerk, you know that?’’

’’Yeah, I\m such an ass**le. Trying to keep an upset kid from flying out of here in the middle of a rainstorm.’’ He rolled his eyes. ’’They\d better lock me up for sure.’’

Now she had to look away. She kind of felt like an idiot, but she hadn\ imagined his aggression, his threatening tone.

Michael let the silence stretch out for a moment, until she wanted to squirm, and she had to focus to remember why she\d even come here.

She refused to look at him. ’’Is Chris home?’’

’’Yeah. Top of the stairs. Make a left.’’

He expected her to just go up to his room?

She remembered going to Drew\s house once, last May. Drew\s mom had made sure they stayed in plain sight in the den. The woman had seemed to know every time Drew\s hands found Becca\s knee or the curve of her waist. At the time, Becca had wanted the woman to go the hell away and mind her own business.

Now, in retrospect, she owed Mrs. McKay a hug.

’’You want an escort or something?’’ said Michael. He was already looking at his laptop, his fingers striking the keys.

She shoved herself out of her chair and headed for the steps.

Five doors were on the second level, but she never got to make a left. A bathroom was just to her right, the door wide open. One of the twins stood in front of the mirror, brushing his teeth.

Shirtless.

Breath left her lungs in a rush and she almost stumbled on the last step. Loose button-fly jeans hung low at his hips, exposing just the edge of a pair of boxers. She could clearly see the clean muscled line of his back, the smooth tapering of his rib cage into a tight waist.

He caught her eye in the mirror and grinned around the toothbrush before ducking to spit. He turned off the faucet and wiped his mouth on a towel before turning to face her.

’’You\ e back,’’ he said.

She looked at him a huge mistake, because it put her eyes right on his chest. The guy was no stranger to a bench press. ’’Ah ... yeah. Are you Nick or Gabriel?’’

He stepped close, until she could smell the spearmint in his toothpaste. ’’Does it matter?’’

Her cheeks were burning. It was a lot harder to maintain independence and indifference when a hot guy was standing half-naked in front of her. She gulped and grasped at the banister. ’’I was looking for Chris\s room but, ah you know, I\ll just see him tomorrow ’’

’’No way.’’ He grabbed her hand. ’’Come here.’’

He dragged her around the corner. His fingers were warm on hers. She stared at the beige walls, at the neutral carpeting, anything but the guy attached to her arm.

He knocked on a door. ’’Hey, Chris. There\s a girl here for you.’’

Something heavy hit the door. ’’Shut up, Gabriel. I\m busy.’’

She stared at the doorknob, unsure whether to be dismayed or relieved. But at least she knew who had hold of her arm.

Gabriel knocked again. ’’Hurry. I\m not sure how much longer I can hold her.’’

Angry footsteps, then the door flew open. Chris glanced from her to his brother and back. ’’Oh.’’

She stared back at him, knowing her face was still flushed, her eyes desperate for a fully clothed target. Luckily, Chris fit the bill with sweatpants and a tee shirt. She could see into the room behind him: nice, really. A double bed that hadn\ been made that morning, with a navy comforter haphazardly thrown across the bottom. The floor was mostly clean, though his laundry sat in a pile in the corner, under a rather impressive fish tank. It had a fluorescent light and everything, and reminded her of something a little boy would have. Finding it in his room was somehow ... charming. A desk sat by the open window, almost an afterthought. The tiny halogen light was on, books and notebooks strewn across the surface.

’’See?’’ said Gabriel. ’’A real one. Breathing and everything.’’

Chris didn\ look entirely happy about her presence. ’’What are you doing here?’’

She dug her free hand into her pocket and pulled out the sixty dollars. ’’Here.’’

His face went stony. He made no move to take the money. ’’You came all the way over here for this?’’

Becca wanted to throw the cash at him. She jerked her hand out of his brother\s. ’’No. I came all the way over here to tell you Tyler and Seth showed up at the pet store where I work.’’

Gabriel got in front of her and crossed his arms. The smile was gone. ’’What are you talking about?’’

She stared up and over his right shoulder and gritted her teeth. ’’Could you please put a shirt on?’’

’’Did they hurt you?’’ said Chris.

’’No. Yes. It\s fine. Tyler just ’’ Her throat suddenly got tight.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

They were both staring at her. Of course.

Chris shoved his brother in the shoulder. ’’Go. Put on a shirt.’’ Then he took a step back. ’’Come in. Sit down a minute.’’

She deliberated in the doorway for a moment, then followed him in. She glanced dubiously at the bed. No way was she sitting next to him on it. So she edged around him and sat in the desk chair. She dropped the crumpled twenties next to his Physics textbook.

He settled on the corner of the bed and rested his forearms on his knees. ’’You want to tell me what happened?’’

She fought for any emotion to replace the tears. Anger usually did the trick, and this time was no exception.

’’Why\d you give me sixty dollars?’’ she demanded.

’’You said I owed you.’’ A dark smile, though there wasn\ much humor to it. ’’Personally, I thought sixty bucks was pretty cheap.’’

’’Whatever. You know I was kidding. Didn\ you think what it would look like? You don\ have to treat me like a ’’

’’Wait a minute.’’ He came halfway off the bed. ’’I didn\ treat you like anything. I asked you out, you said no.’’

’’Asked me out. You asked me to a soccer game.’’

’’So what?’’ He looked incredulous. ’’God, you are the most baffling girl ’’

’’Oh, okay. Your brothers didn\ put you up to this? Maybe your friend Drew?’’

He was standing now, his fists clenched, a little flare of color on his cheeks. ’’What do my brothers have to do with anything?’’

’’Hey, little brother.’’ Gabriel came back through the door and flopped on the bed, drawing his legs up to sit against the wall. ’’Girls are more likely to stay if you don\ fight with them.’’

Chris was still staring at her, his breathing a little quick.

She looked away from him. Gabriel had put a shirt on a dark green one with a screen print of a truck. It said, My other ride is your mom.

Her eyebrows went up. ’’Hilarious.’’

He grinned. ’’I aim to please.’’ He reached up over his head and knocked on the wall. ’’Nicky!’’

She straightened. ’’Wait look, I just came to ’’

’’Trust me. He won\ want to miss this.’’

A door in the hallway opened;then his twin appeared in the doorway, wearing jeans and a Henley and an irritated expression. ’’If you want me to fix your homework, you need to leave me alone.’’ Then he spotted her. ’’You\ e back.’’

’’Yeah.’’ She glanced between him and Gabriel. ’’You do his homework?’’

’’Just the math. It\s a miracle he can count to ten.’’

’’I can count to one.’’ Gabriel gave him the finger.

Chris sighed. He\d settled onto the end of the bed again, his expression flat and dark and full of unidentifiable emotion. ’’Just tell us what happened with Seth and Tyler, Becca.’’ His voice was low, intimate, almost too soft for company. He met her eyes and held them, making her pulse step up. ’’Then you can get out of here.’’

Becca couldn\ sort out the sudden emotion she felt as if her heart had started scattering butterflies through her abdomen, then he\d kicked her in the stomach and pissed them all off.

She swallowed. ’’They came by the pet store where I work. They were stealing dog food.’’

’’Does Michael know that\s why you\ e here?’’ said Nick.

She shook her head. ’’Does it matter?’’

Gabriel snorted. ’’Doubt it.’’

A slow peal of thunder rolled in the distance. ’’They threatened you?’’ said Chris.

Her arm still throbbed. She had to make a conscious effort to keep from touching it. ’’Someone else came in, and they ran off. It\s fine.’’

Chris was watching her a bit too intently. ’’They did hurt you.’’

’’I\m fine.’’

A bolt of lightning split the sky, somewhere beyond the trees. This time, thunder cracked.

Becca shoved out of the chair and tucked her hair behind her ears. She should never have come here. ’’Forget it.’’

She felt Chris behind her when she made it to the stairs. ’’Wait a minute,’’ he said.

She didn\ . ’’Whatever your mess is with that guy Tyler, get me out of it, okay?’’

’’Stop. Wait. Just tell me ’’

’’You stop.’’ She whirled on him at the door. ’’You, Chris. You stop. I get hassled enough. I need my job. I don\ need to be in the middle of some version of West Side Story meets High School Musical.’’

’’I\m not trying to hassle you.’’ His voice was intense and quiet, the way you\d talk to a cornered animal.

’’Yeah, well, then you\ e the only one.’’ She seized the knob and gave it a firm yank. The humidity swirled through the doorway to grab her, latching onto her skin and refusing to let go. She stormed off his porch.

Chris kept up. ’’Wait.’’

She ignored him, shoving through the night air to get to her car.

’’Wait. Please. Just tell me what happened.’’

Her key slid into the lock, but the door refused to give. She made a frustrated noise and slapped it with the heel of her hand.

Then it started to rain.

She swore. ’’Great.’’

Chris was still right behind her. She heard his breathing, could feel his presence like a weight at her back. Rain touched her cheek and rolled down her neck, finding a path under the neckline of her shirt to trail along her shoulder. The water felt warm, like a finger tracing the side of her face.

The thought made her shiver, and she swiped it away.

Chris reached out and took hold of the door handle. It lifted and opened without protest.

Figures. She turned to look at him. Her breathing felt a little quick. ’’Thanks.’’

His eyes were dark. He didn\ seem to mind the rain on his face. ’’You\ e welcome.’’

Becca slid behind the wheel and pushed her key into the ignition. But she couldn\ make herself start the car, and he was standing there with a hand on the door, holding it open.

She sighed. ’’Tyler said if you pulled this again, that they\d take care of it themselves. That the deal was done.’’

Chris didn\ say anything for the longest moment. ’’That\s it?’’

’’Yeah.’’ She looked up at him, unable to figure out his expression. ’’What does that mean?’’


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