Authors: Grace Hugh
Jans shrugs but says nothing, his eyes locked on me.
“Sure, Vinnie,” Axel says.
"Jans, are you gonna be ready for this weekend?" Vinnie asks.
"What's this weekend?" I ask.
I'm proud of the fact that my voice doesn't tremble when I speak. It doesn't mean I'm not afraid. Actually I think I'm too afraid to be afraid if that makes any sense. I know it doesn't but I don't know how to process what I'm feeling. I've seen violence before. My mom has brought home dangerous men before but nothing compares to this. The casualness of it is the most disturbing thing. It's accepted, nothing out of the ordinary, this is just life in Vinnie's house.
"Of course I'm ready," Jans says.
"Good, that's my boy," Vinnie says.
"What's going on?" I ask again.
I'm staring into Jans' eyes and I have no clue what he's thinking. His face is an unreadable mask. I beg him with my eyes trying to ask him, trying to make him open up to me but to no avail.
"His first big fight," Vinnie's answers.
"A fight?" I ask surprised.
"Oh, yeah. My boy, Jans, he's a fighter, following in his dad’s footsteps," Vinnie says with a big grin on his face. “Unlike my other son, too much of his mother in him.”
Axel snorts then stands up and walks out of the room without a word. I watch him go while Vinnie ignores him. Vinnie pushes himself off of the desk and crosses the room to stand in front of Jans. He places his big, meaty hands on Jans’ shoulders and I see him grip them roughly and shake. Jans doesn't react. He stares at me over his father.
"Nobody stands against my boy," Vinnie says laughing.
"What kind of fight is it? Isn’t Jans too young for a professional sport?" I ask.
I know Jans is older than me but he’s not that much older.
"Ain't no rules where we’re fighting," Vinnie says.
"It sounds dangerous," I say.
"Danger is how you make money," Vinnie says, his voice dropping to barely above a whisper. "You like your fancy house don't you?"
"Yes, thank you, of course I do," I answer my stomach clenching in fear.
The first rule, don't piss Vinnie off.
"Good," Vinnie says. "You two should go to bed now. I've got work to do."
I turn and leave the office quickly. I don't want to see Jans right now. I'm not sure what I would say or do. I don't understand what's going on here or how he's a part of it. I’m reeling in confusion.
"LeAnne, wait," Jans calls out as I reach the top of the stairs.
"What do you want, Jans," I ask over my shoulder, not turning around.
"I just want to talk," Jans says.
"You don't understand."
"What’s to understand? I know what your father is and apparently that's what you are, too."
"It's not like that," Jans says.
"What is it like then?"
"I don't like this any more than you do," he says and there’s a note of pleading in his voice.
"Then why do you do it?"
"I don't have a choice."
I turn towards him and he’s right there, close, so close the musky scent of him fills my nostrils awakening feelings deep inside. I lift my head up towards him then his lips are pressed against mine. I stiffen in shock then melt into him as his arms wrap around me and stars explode in my head. My knees shake and I feel like I’m either going to fly or collapse. Just as quickly, he’s gone.
As my eyes clear, he’s walking away from me. I watch him go, uncertain of what had just happened. My head is spinning.
That was my first kiss and it was magical. I didn’t want it to stop.
But I can’t wipe the memory of what happened in the office away. Am I being too harsh? Do I have any right to judge? My stomach ties itself into knots and I'm sure I can’t sleep, but I have school in the morning and have to try. I walk to my bedroom and lie down.
Sleep finally finds me but it's not a restful sleep. I dream I’m being chased by a man whose face is beaten to a pulp. He keeps yelling ‘I'm sorry’ and he’s about to catch me when I run into Jans. Jans wraps his arms around me and I’m safe, nothing in the world can harm me. Just as we’re about to kiss I wake up again.
I can’t sleep. I shouldn’t have done that, shouldn’t have kissed her. I toss in bed again then give up and put my arms behind my head and stare at the ceiling. I replay the scene in my memory over and over. What could I have done differently?
LeAnne fills my mind. I’ve memorized every line of her, every curve, the sweetness of her smile, her perfect face. My dick stiffens as she fills my thoughts. She deserves better than this. She deserves better than me. I shouldn’t have kissed her.
Fuck Vinnie. Fuck this family, fuck this business, fuck all of it. My hands ball into fists and my nails dig into my palms as anger floods through. I force myself to relax by concentrating on my heart rate and willing it to slow down until it returns to normal.
Everything changed the day I first saw her. That ignorant prick Danny harassing her in the hall at school. The stupid fuck thinks he's somebody. He has no idea what a small fish he is in a tiny pond. High school is not life.
When I saw him hassling her, I almost walked by. It wasn't any of my business but then I heard her stand up to him and actually looked at her. The moment I saw her I knew I had to make her mine. I intervened and had no idea my dad was going after her mom. That makes this situation more fucked up. It's not like Vinnie will actually marry her mom. She's just his current arm candy, but it doesn't change the fact that it makes things between LeAnne and me awkward.
I roll over onto my side and sleep finally claims me.
I avoid LeAnne in the morning. It's going to be awkward between us after last night and I'm not sure what to do yet. Once I'm sure she's left for school I go down and get my breakfast. Fruit, ground oats, and a boiled chicken breast.
"I need you to do something for me today," Vinnie says walking into the kitchen.
"What?" I ask.
"I want you to go with Lou."
"Because I fucking said so," Vinnie replies.
"I have to train," I say.
"This is training," Vinnie says.
I stare at him and he meets my glare. I refuse to look away until at last he blinks, I consider it a win.
"When?" I ask.
"Go now," Vinnie says. "That way you can get back and still get your regular training in, too."
"All right," I reply.
I finish my breakfast and go find Lou. He’s sitting at a table cleaning his gun, not a good sign.
"Vinnie said I’m to help you," I tell Lou.
"Okay," Lou says.
He puts his gun together in under a minute. I watch the big man move, his fingers deft. This is something he's done many times. Once he's finished, he holsters the weapon and leads the way out. We get in the car and ride in silence. Lou doesn't talk much and I have nothing to say. We head for the docks district, an area that Vinnie controls. We pull up in front of a warehouse and Lou parks the car. He gets out and I follow his lead.
Workers are moving boxes and driving forklifts throughout the building. Lou ignores them, walking like he knows where he’s going. There's a small office tucked into a corner of the building and Lou walks in. There are two men inside who look up from papers when we come in.
"Who the hell are you?" the one closest to us asks.
He's a medium build man with shocking red hair who doesn't look like a stranger to violence. I can see it in the way he holds himself. There's a stance a man who's used to fighting carries himself in that another fighter recognizes. The man behind the desk is wearing a suit jacket and slacks and is older with gray at his temples. There’s a world-weary look about his eyes.
"Mark, go make sure the boys got the truck loaded, okay?" the older man asks the other.
"You sure, boss?" the redhead asks.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Mr. world-weary replies.
Mark leaves the room but he keeps his eyes locked on Lou and me. We wait until he’s gone then Lou steps up in front of the desk. I move over to lean against the wall. It's not the first time I've been on a collection run for Vinnie and I know how to appear menacing.
"You're late," Lou says.
"Look, I need a couple more weeks. Business has been bad."
"Not our problem," Lou says. "Pay us."
"I don't have it."
This isn't going to go good, I've seen it too many times. This man's about to get the beating of his life and if he's lucky Lou will let him live. Lou steps forward until he's right up against the desk. He leans in looming and his massive size casts a shadow over the man.
"Pay us," Lou says.
"I can't," the man says shaking. He reaches down and grabs up a stack of papers and holds them up in front of Lou. "See all this? These are all people I owe. I can't pay them either."
I don't think the man sees it coming. Lou’s fist smashes into the side of his head and he flies across the room and lands in a pile against the wall next to me. There's a cut beside his eye which is already swelling. He looks up at me with tears in his eyes and I expect him to start begging. They usually do about now but he grimaces and pushes himself back to his feet.
"You better figure it out," I say.
The man shakes his head side to side touching the swelling point of his forehead. He turns his head and spits blood.
"Twenty-four hours," Lou says. "Be a damn shame something happens to this nice warehouse."
Lou walks out and I follow. The man doesn't say a word. He knows who he borrowed money from and he knew the price of failing to repay. Guy’s an idiot.
Lou takes me home and I start training. The minutes drag by. I can't get my heart into it. All I can think about is LeAnne. The taste of her lips. The curve of her side, the swell of her hip, the way her breasts fill out her shirt, it's distracting and my trainer notices.
"What the hell is wrong with you today, Jans?" Nate, my coach, asks.
Nate was one of the best. He was a reigning champion in the underground circuit until he made a mistake. A big guy known as BonBon came out of nowhere and challenged Nate. Nate was at the top of his game and accepted the challenge. Bonbon was an animal. He broke Nate's arm in three places, broke his shoulder, and dislocated his other arm. It ended Nate's career as a fighter so he became a trainer. Vinnie hired him to make me the best. I have natural skills which Nate has honed to a razor’s edge.
"Nothing," I say.
"Who is she?" he asks.
I swing at him and he catches my fist just before it smashes into his face. He grins and pushes it away.
"You're going have to be faster than that," he says.
"Let's just keep working."
"Your choice," he says.
I pick up the jump rope and begin. The steady clack of the rope against the floor is soothing. I can let my mind drift while doing this. Gives me time to ask myself what am I doing? What kind of life is this for me to bring LeAnne into? She's too good for this.
"Time," Nate calls. "That's it for today. How are you feeling?"