Sometimes Cindy wanted to kill her brother. If he wasn’t almost twice her size, she’d at least tie him down so he couldn’t get himself into these messes. Instead of going to Molly’s and calling Mike without her family overhearing her she was in this dumpy neighboring town to get the world’s biggest idiot out of trouble—again.
She parked her beat up Escort in front of a dirty gray, shotgun house. With the engine off, the beats from Run DMC exploded from the house and punched their way through her closed windows. The bass sent vibrations into the review mirror, ripples on liquid metal, and her dark eyes quivered in the reflection.
Scanning the street between her car and the house, she shivered. Moonlight fell on the unkempt yard and rickety porch, creating the perfect scene for a horror movie. She half expected Freddy Krueger to scratch his blades on the side of her car.
“Elijah, if I get robbed, I’ll kill you twice.” Cindy took a deep breath, grabbed the keys, and stepped out into the chilly air, mashing down the lock with her thumb before she slammed the door.
She couldn’t hide the goosebumps crawling over her skin but strode toward the house with her chin held high. Showing fear only invited trouble.
As she reached the front sidewalk, the pungent scent of weed hit her, and she grimaced.
Before she reached the porch, the door opened. Jamal stepped out, and Cindy curled her lip.
His eyebrows lifted over his watery black eyes. Not much taller than her, he still had at least fifty pounds on her, all muscle. Red parachute pants, black t-shirt, and hair cut in a perfect fade, he looked like a break dancer, but his body moved to the beat of the music pounding behind the front door with the rhythm of a toddler. He grinned, the gold tooth on his upper gum glinting.
“Hey, baby. Here for the party? Maybe I’ll stay.” He raked his eyes over her jeans and sweatshirt. “Whatcha got under dem clothes?”
She hopped up the steps. “Shut up, Jamal. I’m here to get my brother.”
He grinned and reached for the door handle to push it open. “C’mon in.”
“You think I’m stupid?” she asked. “Go get him. I’ll wait here.”
He laughed and crossed his arms. “Why? Afraid to have fun?”
“Getting high isn’t my idea of fun.”
Jamal chuckled. “Someday you’ll cave.” He groped her with his bloodshot eyes and shook his head as he closed the door.
Cindy bounced on her toes, her gaze roving over the deserted yard and quiet street. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms to smooth out the goose bumps. Her mind wandered to Mike, of course. What if he’d heard Jamal talking to her like that?
“Hmph. He’d kick his ass, that’s what.” Better not to tell him anything.
Although, after watching Jenny with Mike, maybe she should tell him, let him get jealous for once. Knowing his temper though, he’d come here to find Jamal. With his blond hair and sea blue eyes, he would only become another victim in this neighborhood.
The door flew open and Cindy jumped. A large shouldered boy emerged, glaring at her with bloodshot brown eyes the same color as his skin. Hands clenched in fists and muscles bulging in his thick arms, he took a step toward Cindy and curled his lip.
She pushed his chest with both hands. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Damn, Cindy.” He darted a glance toward the house, then snarled in a rough whisper,
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to bring you home. You know you shouldn’t be here, Elijah.” She poked his chest with her finger. “Mama and Daddy told you to stay away from these punks.”
“Whatever.” He mimicked her stance and smirked. “You run back home. I can take care of myself.”
Cindy leaned closer. “You come home with me now or I’ll tell Mama and Daddy.”
She couldn’t do that and risk upsetting her dad, but their parents moved them away from the city to give them a better life. Even if her brother didn’t appreciate it, she did, and she wouldn’t let him jeopardize it.
Elijah’s face darkened. “You crazy? They’ll send me to that stupid boot camp.”
“You need to find new friends. These guys are nothing but trouble.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the steps. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Dammit.” He yanked his arm from her grasp, glancing again toward the door. “Leave me alone. I ain’t goin’.”
“What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see these guys are bad news? They aren’t your friends. They’re using you.”
“Nah, they get me. They…”
“They know they can get you to do what they want and make you think they care. But they don’t.”
He leaned into her face. “You don’t even know ‘em.”
She waved away the smell of beer from his breath. “I don’t want to know them, and you shouldn’t either. They’ll get you in trouble again, just like last year.”
“That ain’t my fault.” Glaring, he ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. “I didn’t know they’d be hitting that store.”
“Ugh, isn’t not ain’t. And it doesn’t matter. You still got busted.” Angry tears prickled her eyes.
“What, you want me to make some nice boring friends like you did? Keep me out of trouble?” He shook his head. “I’ve seen the way they look at me, like I’m about to attack them or somethin’. I don’t… I don’t fit in with anyone at our school.”
“You haven’t even tried to.” Her stomach dropped at his confession, but she wouldn’t give up. “What about Hayden? You like him.”
“He’s alright. But…”
Elijah stared out over the darkened neighborhood. “You don’t get it.”
“Get what? That you keep doing the same stupid shit? Daddy worked hard and sacrificed to get us here.” She ignored the pain in her chest and its echo on Elijah’s face. “You gonna throw it away ‘cuz you can’t say no?”
He kicked the porch rail. “It’s just a party.”
“Daddy needs us.” Her voice cracked. “Him stressing about you will only make things worse.”
Elijah stared at her, his forehead wrinkled. Then he bit his lip and nodded. “Fine. Be back in a minute. Get in your car.” He looked around the darkened neighborhood. “And lock the doors.”
Cindy smirked. “Just hurry. I wanna get out of here.” Her brother disappeared into the house.
Back in the car, she bounced her knee against the steering wheel until he emerged and sauntered toward her. She leaned across the seat and unlocked the door. He folded his huge frame into the passenger seat and Cindy sped away from the house.
“What’d you tell them?” She glanced at Elijah from the corner of her eye.
He shrugged. “That you had to fight a bitch that messed with your best friend. Needed me for backup.”
She snorted. The trouble her best friend Molly’d had with Andrea, a girl on their cross-country team seemed easy compared to Cindy’s current predicament with Mike. “I definitely didn’t need back up to deal with her. But thanks for making me look tough so your friends won’t mess with me.”
He grinned. “Got your back, sis.”
They drove in silence for a while. Then she asked, “Why do you hang out with guys like them?”
His grin faded and a belligerent smirk took its place. “I guess it’s just what I do.”
“Well, do something else.”
“Maybe I like my life the way it is.”
“You know the things they do. The things they want you to do for them.” Cindy laid a hand on Elijah’s arm. “Don’t you want to decide your own future?”
She sure did.
Elijah patted her hand, but simply stared out the window into the night.
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