Authors: Skye Warren
“He wasn’t a kid.” Blue’s voice rings out in the dark, and it takes me half a second to realize what he’s talking about.
That you killed a kid at your last school.
My hands clench into fists at my sides, but if he couldn’t scare me before, he won’t scare me now. And I realize that may be what he meant to do. To push me away before the truth came out. But I’m still here.
“Who was it?” I ask, my voice trembling. I have enough courage to stick around but not enough to hide how scared this makes me. I’ve been around violence all my life, the kind that bruises, the kind that stings, but not the kind that kills.
He’s quiet a long moment. “Same old story,” he finally says. “Dad liked to spend his night at the bottom of a bottle. And when he got home, he’d take it out on Mom.”
They’d been kicking me around, and it was documented by the caseworker.
It wasn’t some other kid he’d been talking about then. My heart skips a beat, sympathy almost a tangible force inside my chest. It’s a story I’ve heard before, but it’s not any less painful for being common around here. “I’m sorry.”
He just nods as if accepting my sympathy—or maybe accepting the inevitability of what happened. “One day he went off the deep end. Started hitting her and wouldn’t stop. By then I was big enough to put up a fight, but she…” His voice breaks off. “She didn’t want me to. By the time I did, it was too late.”
“God, I’m so sorry.”
“He came after me next,” he continues softly, lost to the past now. “I don’t think he even knew what he was doing then. He was pissed drunk, and I saw my mother on the floor and lost it. I killed him that night.”
All the words catch in my throat.
It wasn’t your fault. He deserved it.
I’m trapped by the cold look in Blue’s eyes. Even when he threatened to tie me up, he didn’t seem as ruthless as he does now.
He faces me, and the core of ice in his eyes freezes me. “They called it self-defense,” he says, “but it wasn’t. I could have defended myself without killing him. I could have run away and he couldn’t have caught me. I wanted him to die.”
“Of course you did,” I say softly.
“I’m not sorry.” He sounds almost defiant—and younger than I’ve ever seen him. Not the confident bad boy, but the scared child forced to kill his father.
“It doesn’t matter now,” I say, but I know it’s a lie. It matters more than anything.
He laughs, a cold sound. And just like that, the veneer is back in place, smooth and strong. “If any of the kids in that house get into a fight, they don’t give a shit. It’s like pit bulls fighting in a cage. It’s almost the point.”
I shift, uncomfortable with the analogy. It strikes me as a little too accurate.
“But me?” he continues. “They don’t trust me. Not with the number of stab wounds I left on my father’s body. They had to let me go, because they couldn’t risk the scandal if it came out. That the decorated war hero was kicking around his family every night.”
“If I get into a fight, they’ll wonder if I’m going to kill someone. More fucking scandal. The crazy thing is sometimes I want to kill someone. Like when Matthew was touching you.”
I swallow hard. I can’t blame him for wanting Matthew hurt. But not dead. Maybe I should want him dead. Maybe that makes me weak, that I don’t. “You seem so…controlled.”
He laughs. “I have to be. One fucking strike and I’m out. They aren’t going to let the self-defense thing happen again. The court-appointed lawyer made that clear. He thought he was doing me a favor, letting me know.”
I swallow. “Even if you need to defend yourself?”
ne strike and
Blue’s words stick with me, a horrible merry-go-round of dread that follows me into my dreams. I have nightmares about a body bleeding from a hundred holes, still standing and going after a younger version of Blue. The attacker’s face is blurry, and when I try to focus, he turns into Matthew—and he’s not coming after Blue anymore. He’s coming after me.
I sit up in bed, drenched in sweat. Moonlight streams through the twisted, cracked plastic blinds. The bed across the room is empty.
Sharing a room is probably the only reason Matthew has left me alone this long. Not that Lucy could really fight him off—or that she would do that for me. Matthew doesn’t know that. There’s strength in numbers. And now she’s gone.
There’s a squeak that sounds like an echo. Is that what woke me up?
I scramble back on the bed, pulling the sheet up to my chest. It doesn’t cover much. There’s no other blanket, no fitted sheet on the mattress. Just a threadbare piece of fabric covering me. “Lucy?”
The door opens a crack, drawing a thick black line down the wall. I can’t see who’s beyond it. I don’t really want to see. I want this to be a dream—another nightmare that will end when the sun comes up.
“Blue?” I whisper.
A shadow enters the room—large enough, wide enough that I know it’s not Blue. My heart sinks.
No no no.
“Lucy left a few minutes ago,” comes a whispered voice.
“Some party or something.”
“What are you doing here?” My bravado has left me, leaving me raw and shaking.
“And your new boyfriend? He went with her.”
My heart stops.
Somehow that’s worse than whatever might happen in this room. I can endure whatever happens to my body. I can’t survive what Blue does to my heart.
If he went to a party with Lucy, it will break me.
He didn’t make you any promises.
There’s no time to worry about him, because Matthew is advancing on me.
My hand scratches at the side table and finds something small and solid and steel. Unfortunately it’s not sharp, so it won’t make much of a weapon. My fingers close around it anyway, clutching it like a lifeline. That’s always my instinct when I’m afraid—to steal, to take. To find comfort in someone else’s things, because Lord knows I don’t have anything of my own.
Matthew’s lighter won’t save me now, though.
He crosses the small room in a matter of seconds and then flips me over.
“Don’t worry about that asshole,” Matthew says. “I’m here now.”
I fight against his hold on my neck, flailing uselessly. It’s like some cruel parody of what Blue once wanted to do.
Like bending you over and taking you from behind.
What makes you think you could stop me?
Except there was more to it than that.
Only when you want it.
I didn’t know what he meant, why I’d ever want that. But I knew there was something there, something different. With Blue it would have been different. Not like this.
my mind whispers, and I know what I have to do.
The words are whispered into my ear, hot and faintly wet. I close my eyes. Tears squeeze down onto my cheeks. I’m bent over the bed, inhaling the dank scent of the bare mattress. There are stains I don’t want to contemplate.
Some of them probably came from me.
I can’t help but whimper. I clamp my mouth tight and taste blood.
“Do you like that?” comes the breathless voice from behind me. “Does your boyfriend do it like that?”
I shudder at the pain, holding myself still and closed. I only have to get through this. I only have to survive.
“Hannah?” The voice comes from outside the room—familiar and beloved. No.
He can’t come in here. He can’t see my like this. I try to call out, to tell him not to come inside, but only a croak comes out. I’m too broken to even speak, too lost.
The door opens, and I only have seconds to glimpse the surprise in his eyes. And the rage.
Then he’s flying across the room. There’s no more invasion in my body, no more hands holding me down. Only the smack of flesh on flesh, the grunt of animals locked in battle.
I know this is a fight to the death.
The crazy thing is sometimes I want to kill someone. Like when Matthew was touching you.
He won’t let Matthew walk away from this. And then they’ll lock Blue up. There won’t be any self-defense for him this time. Not when Matthew is the son of these people. He has advocates. He has people who give a shit. No one will stand up for Blue.
“Blue,” I scream, finding my voice. “Stop!”
And no one will believe me. I know that with the bone-deep certainty that comes of being a girl in a system that has never listened to a word I’ve said. It isn’t going to start now.
The sound of fists against flesh, of bones crunching, makes my stomach turn over. “Please stop,” I cry, repeating the words over and over. Blue is too far gone to hear me—or to care.
I don’t care about Matthew, but I can’t let Blue kill him.
I have to stop this, somehow.
The moonlight through the broken blinds glints off the silver lighter in my hand. Matthew’s lighter. It wouldn’t make much of a weapon, but maybe it can save us somehow.
No, that’s crazy.
Oh God, Matthew isn’t moving anymore. I don’t know if he’s dead or just unconscious—but Blue isn’t stopping. He’s still beating Matthew’s body like he’s a punching bag.
The only way out is total insanity. I flick the lighter and a bright orange blame lights the room.
I hold the fire to my thin sheet and let it burn.
* * *
Red and blue
lights bounce off the clouded windows. I shiver despite the thick blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I long for the leather jacket, but it’s in the house, maybe even burned. Blue is wearing a gray T-shirt that is stained—probably with blood. He leans against one of the patrol cars while a cop takes his statement.
There are no cuffs on him. No cuffs on anyone. But I know that can change in an instant.
The fire has everyone distracted. They know that Blue and Matthew were fighting—they still had to pull Blue off Matthew’s limp body just to drag us all out of the burning building. Only that could have stopped Blue, more effectively than my cries ever could.
The cop talking to Blue nods and moves toward the house to speak to another officer.
Blue stands still for a moment, where he was no doubt told to stay, before heading straight for me. “Are you okay?” he asks.
“Yeah.” I know there will be bruises from where Matthew touched me, but at least he didn’t get to finish what he started. I’m more worried for what will happen to Blue once all the statements have been taken. As soon as they piece together what happened, as soon as Matthew points the finger at Blue and at me, we could be thrown in jail. And I’m afraid Blue wouldn’t go peacefully.
He nods, his eyes dark and unfathomable. “They’re thinking Matthew set the fire.”
“Yeah.” My throat gets tight. “He was always messing around with the lighter.”
“Is that why you did it?” he asks, his voice low, barely audible over the bustle across the street. “To frame him?”
“I don’t know,” I whisper. I’ve been in dangerous situations before. The foster homes in this town aren’t exactly milk and cookies. More like knives and fists. I’ve learned to trust my instincts, because they’ve kept me alive and relatively safe so far.
“You do know,” Blue says, looking at me intently. “Tell me.”
My hands curl into fists. “I thought he was dead. He wasn’t moving. I figured…they’d think he set the fire. And you’d look like a hero for stopping him. You
a hero for stopping him.”
Matthew wasn’t setting a fire. He was doing something much worse.
Something more personal.
“He touched you.” Blue’s expression is severe—and terrifying. “He should be dead for that. I wish I had killed him.”
I glance at the ambulance. “They’re sure he’ll live?”
That should be a relief, but it’s not. I understand what Blue meant before, how he could wish someone dead. I wish Matthew were dead instead of lying battered in that ambulance. Whatever story he spins won’t be the truth, but it will definitely point the finger at Blue.
One strike and I’m out.
Things would have been so much simpler if Matthew were dead.
“Will you get in trouble?”
Blue shrugs. “I doubt it. Not at first. As soon as I have another go at him, I’ll finish the job. Then they’ll really get their panties in a twist.”
My stomach drops. “What?”
“You didn’t think I’d let this go, did you?”
“How can you not?” I whisper. “It’s over.”
“It’s over when he’s in the fucking ground for putting his hands on you.”
“You have to leave him alone. Please. Let it go, for me.” I don’t know if I’d be worth that much to him. Men and their pride. I don’t know if I’m worth anything to Blue except a way to pass the time.
His expression is incredulous. “How can you ask me that? I made a promise.”
If you touch her again, I’ll kill you.
“How can that be more important than this?” I’m not above begging. Not when his safety, his life is on the line. “Who cares what you told him?”
His eyes widen. “Is that what you think is about? I don’t give a fuck what he thinks. I made a promise
to keep you safe.
That’s why you wanted me in the first place. That’s what this has been about since day one.”
My lips press shut. That may have been how it started, but it’s not how it ended. He means so much more to me than that. I’d rather get hurt than see him hurt. I care about him more than myself. That’s what this is about now.
“Please,” I whisper.
His hands cup my face, and he presses his forehead to mine. “I made a promise to myself.” His voice is rough. “My mother died because I couldn’t protect her. I won’t make the same mistake twice.”
That’s the problem with finding the biggest, baddest boy around to protect me. He doesn’t back down, not for anything. Not even for me.
And I realize that the fire didn’t burn everything down. The embers are still there in his eyes, waiting to scorch the earth. This won’t end until Matthew is dead. Blue will end up in prison for life—or maybe worse. Maybe dead.