Authors: Ellery Rhodes
Copyright © 2014 Ellery Rhodes
E-book License Edition Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to the e-retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
here's just something about going home.
It was like the first bite of pizza at Vinnie's after months of subpar crap in the dorms. It was like the warmth of sliding underneath the covers in my bed (and having a room all to myself).
The first year of college was supposed to be this liberating thing. No parents to chain me down. No rules that I didn't impose on myself. Friends and experiences I’d remember forever. They left out the loneliness in the admissions brochures; how isolated I'd feel, even though on paper I had plenty in common with everyone else. I had straight A's from kindergarten up until the moment I took the stage as valedictorian of my graduating class. My SAT scores and carefully chosen extracurricular and volunteer activities made me a shoo in for Harvard early admissions.
But in reality, I wasn't one of those glittering, smiling faces on smooth laminate. Everything about me may have screamed Ivy League bound, from my father, a doctor, to my mother, a lawyer, but it was all a show. I'd ticked off the days leading up to this from the moment I moved into the dorm.
I missed home.
Clint had the best of both worlds—the charm of a small town, but a short commute to the city if that was your thing. Everyone knew everyone else's business and took care of each other. There was no endless competing, or girls that smiled in my face and plotted my demise behind my back so they could take home the highest average in the course. Everything was simple in Clint, and after a freshman year where I barely made it out alive, I was craving simple.
I pulled into the private road that led to my house, tucked away on rolling acres of green. I inhaled deeply, excitement leaping in my stomach. Even the air smelled better here.
I furrowed my brow, a rustic, smoky aroma weaving through the smell of the trees. A smile split my face when I realized what that aroma was.
Daddy was grilling!
I pulled into the circular drive behind Dad's sedan and hopped out. I didn't even bother with my luggage. If I didn't get in the house as soon as possible, I was sure my heart would explode with happiness.
I pulled out my key and unlocked the door. The lights were off, and I was sure the bright glow would pierce the darkness at any moment and my dad and friends would be standing there, screaming ‘Surprise!’. Two minutes passed with nothing, so I closed the door.
Muted voices were coming from the living room, so I moved toward the sound. As I got closer, the words became discernible. 'Important' and 'work' and 'try'. Ten feet away, and my mother's voice drained all the blood from my body.
"Isn't it enough that I'm here, even though I have cases coming out of my ears? What more do you want from me, Brian? What do you want?!"
I paused, afraid if I went any further I'd step on a land mine and everything around me would go up in flame and smoke. I was terrified to admit that the tension-filled silence that followed her question was confirmation that things weren't right in the Johnston household.
"Now you ask that question?" Dad's voice was dark and ugly. Uglier than I'd ever heard it. "How convenient that you care now, when I can barely stand to—"
"I'm home!" I said loudly, flipping the light switch in the hall. I banished the darkness before the truth could be seen or said.
Dad poked his head out, his face still holding the remnants of anger. When his eyes locked on mine, it faded away to the happy-go-lucky joy that I associated with him.
"Vick!" He made his way to me in the blink of an eye, wrapping his arms around me and holding tight. He smelled like barbecue and sweat, but I didn't care. I held on for dear life. I wished there was a way to bottle his hugs. There was a time or two that I could've used them when I was at my lowest.
"Let me look at you." He held me at arm's length. I looked into his familiar brown eyes. He had the same near black hair that I saw in the mirror every morning, except he kept his in short, cropped waves that framed his kind face. A smile curved his lips, a lopsided thing that could make the most sullen person ever crack a grin.
I had my mother's mouth, heart-shaped contours, and her full, plump lips. My dad always said my mother had a great smile, but you'd never know it because she had the sense of humor of a bag of hammers. If she happened to grace the world with one, it was the tiniest one she could manage. A Mona Lisa smile.
I cut my eyes in her direction. We had the same blue eyes. Mine were the color of the sky and hers were the color of ice. Cold and unforgiving. She must have had court today because her slender frame was still wrapped in a suit, her blonde hair pulled into a bun on top of her head. Her stormy gray eyes were weary as she flashed me a smile that I would have missed if I blinked.
"Hello, Victoria," she said softly. Only my mother and strangers called me Victoria. I was Vick to my dad, Vix to my friends.
"Hi, Mom." I offered her a weak smile that strengthened when I turned my attention back to Dad. "Something smells delicious!"
"Your father insisted on grilling. You'd think the whole neighborhood was coming over the way everything is piled up," she said, shaking her head like it was a crime.
Dad's eyes simmered like coals before he snuffed it out, clucking his tongue as he continued his evaluation of me. "You're skin and bones."
"Well, I guess it's a good thing I came home hungry," I winked.
I shared an awkward hug with my mother then followed my father. We headed out the back door where the delicious, rustic smell of meat intensified.
"Need anything?" I asked, partly hovering, partly wanting to keep the delicious meat in my view. Hot dogs, hamburgers, steak...I couldn't wait!
He smiled at me as he expertly flipped the burger. When my mother joined us on the patio, the smile wavered.
I glanced back and forth between them. Everyone's parents fought. That was normal. This felt different.
"Why don't you take a load off?" he suggested, nodding in the direction of the lounge chairs that circled the kidney shaped pool. I pushed aside my questions and took his advice. I kicked off my shoes and walked to the edge of the pool. I rolled up the legs of my jeans until they stopped at the knee and sunk my feet into the water. Just as I relaxed, everything about home just like I remembered it, that same agitated tone crept from the direction of the grill. Their voices were lowered, but whatever my dad said made my mother go back indoors, slamming the door behind her.
I turned away, looking down at the turquoise water. I guess one thing was different.
My parents hated each other.
I wasn't a little kid. I knew that divorces happened. Hell, all my friend’s parents were divorced. Still, it seemed like something that happened to other families. My best friend, Rachel, used to call my mom and dad Brad and Angelina. Proof that real love exists. I always joked that Brad was married when he found 'real love'. It wasn't so funny now as I watched Dad stab at the hot dogs with vicious strokes.
I fished my cell out of my pocket and texted Rachel.
Any parties tonight?
I hoped after she picked her jaw off the floor, surprised I would be interested in such a thing, her answer would be yes.
I'd need a lot of alcohol to make up for what I was sure would be the most awkward dinner ever.
parked my car two blocks away from where I was headed. Even with the cover of night, I had a feeling the guy I was meeting knew what was coming and probably checked his blinds every five seconds. With the fucking district attorney railing on about cleaning up the streets, the cops would fly out to Mercy Heights at lightning speed. This was a nice neighborhood after all, complete with manicured lawns, two-story houses, and white picket fences. The only thing that brought the cops to my neighborhood were shootings, and they conveniently only showed up after the bodies had left bloody smears on the pavement.
I killed the engine and stepped out of the car. I knew that other guys who made these visits liked to dress all in black and ski masks, carrying around bats for intimidation. I wasn't down with theatrics. I almost looked like I belonged here, dressed in a button down shirt with the sleeves folded up, tattoos barely peeking through. My hair was short on the sides, longish in the front, the waves whispering across my forehead. But my eyes would give me away. My grandmother said they were the eyes of something evil. Considering she was the most evil person I knew, I figured she must have known what she was talking about.
I moved soundlessly down the sidewalk, dipping my head to acknowledge the young woman jogging past with her dog. Another thing that set my neighborhood apart. No girl in her right mind would run around at 10 at night unless she was itching for trouble. The things I'd heard about, things that the guys my age who worked for Macone did for kicks...that was true evil.
My throat tightened, disgust knifing me in the chest. I wish I could pay those assholes a visit tonight instead, but that wasn't on the agenda. They didn't owe Macone 20k.
I crossed the quiet street and moved up the driveway, using the lack of light to my advantage. I pulled the key out and stuck it into the slot. Macone had all the realtors in town in his deep pockets. In the old days, they busted windows and kicked down doors. This was a new era. More civilized. He had a copy of the house key of everyone in his ledger. The moment they went in the red, he had a standing invitation to come by and say hello. Macone didn't make house visits though.
That's where guys like me came in.
There was always a chance the locks were changed, but that would just make things worse. The key turned, unlocking quietly, and I sighed inwardly with relief. Good. I wouldn't have to break his fingers.
I paused in the entryway, the lights dim, the smell of chocolate chip cookies making my stomach rumble. In a neighborhood like this, they were probably made from scratch. A fleeting memory rushed through my mind. A Christmas filled with sugar and milk, back when I believed in Santa Claus and happy endings.
I flipped on a light and my eyes shot to an ottoman where a man sat, pale and terrified. Mark Benton owned a restaurant supply store just up the road. The bank had no interest in giving a new business owner with shit credit a loan, so he turned to Macone. He probably would have been better off moving to a smaller place and saving up. You were never square with Macone. He owned you until the day you drew your last breath.
Mark looked nothing like his bench ads. Blond hair, blue eyes, athletic. He was the spitting image of the assholes that used to beat the shit out of me in high school. The kind of jerks that were the reason I was sent to a place where I had to fend off knifings instead of jocks.
The man in front of me was nearly swallowed by his armchair. Graying hair, round, weary eyes, sweating bullets. The confidence that beamed from that ad was non-existent. The only thing he was confident of was that I wasn't there for milk and cookies.
His hands trembled as he gripped the arms of his chair. His knuckles were bleached white. "I-It's the economy. As soon as things turn around, I'll get current."
I flexed my fists. Cracked my neck.
"Plus interest!" he stammered.
It always surprised me how they begged. The only way they'd get out of it was if they had the money stacked on the table, and even then, I'd have to beat them up for inconveniencing the boss.
I advanced and he leapt from the chair, backing away, stumbling toward the door.
"Please," he begged. "You don't have to do this."
His words pierced my armor, but I didn't let him see that. No weakness. Not ever. Even if I didn't want to do this, I had no choice. I was a member of the Macone Family, born into it the night my uncle came home with blood on his knuckles and excitement flushed in his cheeks. I'd grown up with the man, but he never spared many words for me until that night.