Keeping the Beat: An Adrenaline Novel

BOOK: Keeping the Beat: An Adrenaline Novel
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Keeping the Beat

 

Morgan O’Hara

(An Adrenaline Novel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the loves that are constant

and the family who is always there.

 

Preface

Jace

“Don’t be a dick,” my cousin Wyatt growled with a sharp jab of his elbow to my gut. I grunted and debated whether to retaliate or not. Knowing my Aunt Lorraine would skin us alive if we started rough housing inside was the deciding factor. The last time I’d given in to Wyatt’s goading we had broken a few lamps and managed to flatten a coffee table. When my aunt saw the mess she had handed us a broom and dustpan, standing over our shoulders as we fixed the mess we had made. From that point on she decreed all disagreements needed to be settled outside.

              The shit eating grin Wyatt shot me from over his shoulder made me reconsider my aunt’s rules. Ever since I was a little kid I’d had trouble with my temper. It didn't take much to get me riled up. Like father, like son was what my mom used to say.

              It was hard to believe it had been five years since I had lost my parents. After saying my goodbyes, my mom’s sister took me back to the States to live with her family. They hadn't wasted any time getting me accustomed to life on a farm. The morning after I had arrived my Uncle Leonard had woken me up at the crack of dawn, dragged me down to the barn, and handed me a shovel. When I had given him a bleary eyed glare he’d lightly smacked the back of my head and told me to get to work cleaning out the stalls with Wyatt. The first few months of early rising and manual labor had been a hard adjustment period for me. Now I found comfort in the hard work that came with it.

              When my alarm had gone off five minutes ago, Wyatt had poked his head into my room to tell me our band’s frontman Declan Kane and his ten year old sister Kenzie had shown up on our porch last night. I had known Declan for months now, but I still hadn't met his sister. Declan and Kenzie had been living with their Uncle Skip for the better part of the year. The occasional bruises Declan sported suggested his worthless uncle and my dad probably would have gotten along.

              It wasn't long after Declan joined the band that my cousins and I realized that our friend was basically raising his sister. We often had to tailor our band’s practice schedule so Declan could pick Kenzie up from the library or get back to her before their uncle got home. Whenever one of the twins or I suggested Declan talk to my aunt and uncle he made us promise we wouldn't say anything. I think he was afraid that if anyone found out they would try to take Kenzie from him. That wasn't a risk that he was willing to take.

              The smell of crisp bacon made my stomach growl as I followed Wyatt into the kitchen. My Aunt Lorraine was standing at the kitchen table placing a large stack of pancakes in front of Declan. “You eat however much you want. I can always make more and if you don’t like it I can whip you up something else.”

              “Everything looks delicious, Mrs. Cooper,” Declan said. He cleared his throat as he looked from her to the pancakes, “Thank you again for letting us stay the night.”

              The shiner on Declan’s right eye was hard not to notice in the bright kitchen light. The visible bruising made me wince as I examined my friend’s swollen face. It must have hurt like a bitch.

              “Of course,” Aunt Lorraine smiled giving Declan’s shoulder a reassuring pat. When she caught sight of Wyatt and I she turned that smile towards us. “Good morning, boys.”

Her sugary sweet voice immediately put me on edge. I nodded at Declan in greeting as I slid into the breakfast nook beside him. I had barely sat down when Wyatt shoved me across the bench, forcing me to make room for him. My other cousins Lucas and Garrett sat across from me with smug grins on their faces. Uncle Leonard leaned against the counter with a mug of coffee in his hand, his expression sympathetic.

              I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and watched warily as my aunt placed her hands on her hips, walking around the table until she was standing directly in front of me. “Jason Alexander Craw,” she said slowly. “You owe me the revisions on your math test. You actually owed them to me last night but I let it slide because of nepotism.”

              I grimaced and looked down at my mug berating myself for being so careless. Between band practice and chores I had completely neglected to revise my failed math test. My aunt had looked disappointed enough when she had handed it back to me in class last week. I didn't want to have that look weighing on my conscious again.

              “I just wanted to double check it one more time, Aunt Lorraine. Can I give it to you after the chores are done?”

              “Do you promise?” She already looked skeptical, her green eyes peering hard into my own. “You need to hand it in by then or I’ll have to fail you Jace.”

              I had a good foot and a half on my aunt not to mention a hundred or so pounds but that didn't stop my palms from sweating as I attempted to hold her eye. “Yes, ma’am,” I answered dutifully, wondering how I was going to manage redoing those worthless problems while mucking out the stalls. The guys chuckled under their breaths, no doubt amused at the corner I had just backed myself into. We all knew I hadn't even looked at that test since my aunt had told me to revise it.

              “Kenzie, can I get you something to drink?” Aunt Lorraine asked, her voice gentler than the one she had taken with me. I turned my head to look at Declan wondering when his sister had come into the room only to realize I was practically sitting on top of her. Her curly blonde hair was in a disarray around her face as she clung to her brother’s side. I tried to see the resemblance between the siblings but Kenzie kept her face hidden as she shook her head. Declan bent down to whisper something in her ear. No doubt he was trying to coax Kenzie out from under his arm.

              After shoveling our breakfasts down our throats, we cleared the table and washed our dishes. When I went to follow my cousins outside Aunt Lorraine stopped me with a hand to my chest. “Aren't you forgetting something, Jason?” She tapped my neglected test and notebook that was laid on the counter.

              “I was going to grab it,” I tried to explain before she cut me off with a look.

              “Why don’t you take the little one down to the stables with you Jason?” Though it was phrased as a question, my uncle's meaning was clear. Leonard Cooper was a kind man, but not the kind you argued with. “Your aunt and I have some school stuff to discuss with Declan. I think Kenzie would enjoy seeing the horses, wouldn't you Little One?” My uncle smiled down at Kenzie who had yet to look up from the floor.

              “Yeah,” Declan spoke with forced enthusiasm that contradicted the strain on his face. “Kenzie, you know a ton about horses. You wrote me that report on them remember? They would be cool to see in person.”

              She must have said something because Declan inclined his head towards her before looking over at me. “Jace is my friend, Kenzie. He’s not going to let anything bad happen to you otherwise I will kick his ass.”  Declan pressed a kiss to the top of his sister’s head giving me a pointed look before nudging her in my direction.

              Unsure of what to do I started towards the barn slowing my pace so Kenzie and I were walking side by side. I glanced down at the test in my hands and frowned at all of the red marks covering the pages. “There’s no fucking way I’ll get this damn thing done in time.” I barely resisted crumpling the papers in my hand. I wouldn't be able to get myself out of failing the test.

“Son of a bitch!” I let out a frustrated breath and remembered there was a nervous little girl walking beside me. “Shit. I’m sorry, Kenzie. I forgot you were there.” It wasn't surprising since the girl had yet to make a sound.

              “It’s alright. I’ve heard those words before.” Her voice came out surprisingly strong compared to the volume it had been in the kitchen. As we walked towards the barn she kept her eyes focused on the ground. Figuring she was shy I let it go and remained silent. After opening the doors I set my test and notebook aside, moving to greet the horses. With a resigned sigh I picked up a shovel and got to work.

              After a few minutes I glanced over my shoulder and saw Kenzie standing with the test in one hand and a pen in the other. She seemed lost in her thoughts as I set the shovel aside and approached her. To avoid scaring her I cleared my throat and tried to sound friendly. “That stuff is too hard for me. You shouldn't let the confusing symbols intimidate you though. What’s your favorite subject in school?” It made me feel like an idiot talking to the kid’s back, but I felt obligated to put a little effort in.

              Kenzie didn't answer me, instead she sat on the barn stool and started writing on a piece of notebook paper with her back towards me. Shrugging my shoulders I went on with my chores letting Kenzie be for now. I couldn't force her to talk to me and I had always liked having some alone time in the morning anyway.

              Not ten minutes had passed when I felt something jab me in the back. When I spun around I half expected to see Wyatt sneaking up on me. Instead I saw Kenzie jolt and jump back putting distance between us.

              “Sorry Kenzie,” I spoke softly noticing how pale her face had gotten. “You’re so quiet I forgot you were here again. I didn't mean to scare you.”

              For the first time she met my gaze directly, her clear grey eyes startling in their intensity. “You don't scare me,” she said and handed me a piece of notebook.

              Just above her eye a nasty bruise was forming much like the one I had seen on Declan’s face. Anger churned in my gut when I thought about how she might have gotten that bump. Closing my eyes briefly I forced my fists to unclench. Me getting angry was bound to traumatize the girl more.

              I took the paper out of her hand and saw all of my missed math problems written out and solved in tiny neat handwriting that looked nothing like my own. “Holy shit!” I laughed looking at the girl standing before me. “Are these right?”

              “Number four was a little tricky but yes.” Kenzie nodded confidently making her loose curls bounce. “Declan bought me a few textbooks for Christmas last year. I wrote the work and answers on a separate sheet of paper so you could copy it onto your test. You should probably get at least two wrong though. So your aunt doesn't think you cheated.” Her eyes narrowed on my face for a second as her head tilted to the side. “Maybe three just to be safe.”

              “Why’d you do this for me?” I wondered, stunned at the ease in which she had revised my test. What would have taken me hours to do, this little girl had done in less than ten minutes.

              Kenzie shrugged her small shoulders and pushed her hair back from her face. “I read an article that said it’s good to do mental exercises in the morning. Math is an excellent way to get the brain muscles working.”

              “Well,” I shook my head in amazement. “That’s… nice, Kenzie.” It was clear to me that this little girl was smarter than I could ever hope to be. And I was eight years older. “What can I do to thank you?”

              “Math rates are three dollars a problem.”

              I smiled a little at her matter of fact tone. She reached into her coat pocket and unfolded a small sheet of paper offering the scrap to me. When I took it from her she gave me a nod waiting until I looked at it. Written in neat letters was a list of school assignments with a corresponding dollar amount ranging from a three dollar math problem to a twenty-five dollar essay.

              “You’re kidding right?” I looked at her in disbelief. The stoned face girl before me didn't look anything like the shy little thing from breakfast.              

              “No. You’re guaranteed an A or your money back.”

              I ran a hand through my shaggy hair and gave her a crooked smile. “Do you do this often?”

              Her lips firmed as she frowned at me and shook her head “Not often enough. The kids in my grade don't have money and it’s hard to deal with the older kids who do. They don't take me seriously. Sometimes they don’t believe me and sometimes they don't hold up their end of the deal.”

              “Do you mean you do their work and they don't pay you?” I asked feeling my eyebrows bunch. Kenzie nodded looking frustrated as she swiped her hair away from her face again. “Why wouldn't you tell Declan? He’d go shake them down for you.”

              “I didn't want him to know. I wanted it to be a surprise.” Kenzie inhaled sharply and I caught a suspicious gleam in her eye. “I was trying to save up for us to get our own place but I’m not making enough money.” The harsh morning light spilled over her face making her grey eyes look sunken into her head. They blinked up at me with what looked like desperation. “Maybe if we give it to Mr. Cooper he’ll let us stay here for a few nights.”

              “You know they’re not talking about Declan’s school work in there right?” She looked confused as she waited for me to elaborate. “My point is I don't think they're going to take your money. My aunt and uncle are good people. They're not going to kick you guys out on the street.”

              “We can’t stay here forever though.” Kenzie bit the inside of her cheek and took the price list from my hand, carefully tucking it back into her pocket. The amount of worry on her face wasn't fit for a ten year old. When I was a kid I had seen that same expression every time I looked in the mirror. That look had remained until I’d moved in with the Cooper’s.

BOOK: Keeping the Beat: An Adrenaline Novel
8.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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