Big badd wolf, p.13
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       Big Badd Wolf, p.13

         Part #7 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  "I'm not running! I haven't been running, Lucian, I've been surviving!" She said this through a veil of tears she couldn't hold back.

  I want to hold her, comfort her, but I don't let myself. "Yes, you are! And I get it, Joss, I really do. Your parents died, and you did what you had to do to survive. And then that shit in Toronto happened. I get it, okay? Trust is hard. I don't really trust my own brothers, and they're--they're great. They're amazing. Which is part of the problem, if I'm being honest, but that's not what we're talking about, is it? We're talking about you. All this shit happened to you, and it was horrible and you're scared and you don't trust anyone. Totally understandable. But how long can that continue? Are you going to live your whole fucking life like that? It doesn't have to be me. That's fine. But someday, you have to trust someone."

  "Oh, like you're one to talk? You just said you don't even trust your own brothers! Which is...that's batshit crazy to me. I mean, what have you been through to make you so scared of trusting anyone? Unless there's something you haven't told me, something I'm not getting."

  "You're an only child, you won't understand."

  "I'm an only everything, Lucian! I'm alone! I'm fucking alone in this world. So no, maybe I don't get it."

  "You've met all my brothers. You've spent time around them. You see what they're like! Well, try being a quiet, introverted kid with brothers like that. Bast, Zane, Brock, and Bax were fucking legends in this town while I was growing up. They were the big dogs wherever they went, whatever they did. They were big, loud, brash, and cool. They had all the friends, they played football and basketball and soccer. They came home with black eyes and bloody noses at least once a week, bragging about the epic fights they'd gotten in. Zane knew he was going to be a Navy SEAL by the time he was a sophomore, Brock had his pilot's license by the time he graduated, Bast was basically running the bar by himself by the time he graduated, and Bax was setting state football records left and right."

  I paced away, hair flying around my face, seething, now, venting all the shit I'd kept inside for so long.

  "The twins were in a garage band by middle school, had paying gigs by high school, got signed by a label and put on a world fucking tour by the time they were nineteen. And don't even get me started on Xavier. That kid is going to be the next Steve Jobs or Nikola Tesla. He was talking at nine months, reading at two, doing algebra by five...and on top of all that he's a fucking rock star on the soccer field, although that's just, like, an extra little thing he likes to do, it's not even anything he finds important." I paced, paced, paced, ranting.

  "And then there's me," I said, bitterly. "I'm not an athlete. I'm not a musician. I'm not a pilot or--or a genius. I don't even like working at the bar, but it's all I fucking have so I do it. My brothers are all larger than life, and I'm just...I'm not like any of them. I've never been like any of them. I don't fit in. I'm quiet and introverted. I'd rather read than hang out with them. I left home because I couldn't handle living in their shadows any longer. Everywhere I went, I was Bast's little brother, or Zane's, or Brock's, or Bax's. I was the kid brother of the rock stars, or that really smart kid's older brother. That's how everyone defined me--by the way I couldn't even begin to fill the shoes left by my goddamn brothers! And yeah, I know they're great guys. Solid, kind, dependable, generous, all that. But that only makes it worse. It'd honestly be easier if they were douchebags, because then I could just dismiss them as good-looking and talented assholes. But they're not! They're good men. They'd do anything for me. I was a dick to Corin earlier and he still set my nose for me. That's just how my brothers are."

  I choked on my own emotion, my own flood of words. Breathed through it, got it under control.

  "And I'm not anything like a single fucking one of them. I don't fit. I never have." I shook my head and sank down onto the edge of the bed. "Once you're gone, I'll probably just leave too. I'm not good at fucking anything but that, so I might as well just..." I fluttered my hand vaguely. "Just go...somewhere. I don't know."

  She sighed, and sat down beside me. "Lucian...Jesus. I had no idea you felt like that."

  "No shit. No one does. I don't talk about me to anyone, ever." I laugh. "I didn't even really know I felt like that myself until you showed up and fucked my world all to hell."

  "I didn't mean to."

  I nod, not looking at her. "I know. But you did. You showed up, threw my whole life into question, made me more attracted to you than I have been to anyone else in my entire fucking life, made me want you so bad it hurts, but you never let me get anywhere with you. Or if you do, you just rile me up and then run away. Again and again you've done that with me." I wave at the room. "Even now, you get me to say all this, but I know exactly what's going to happen--you're gonna fucking bolt. I feel it. I know it. And you're not gonna answer for shit before you do."

  "That's not fair."

  "Yeah, well...life ain't fair, is it?"

  There was a long, long silence. I stole a glance at Joss. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, perched there as if ready to flee at any moment. Her eyes were on her feet, picking at the cuticles of one hand with the fingers of the other. She was frowning, biting her lower lip. Her dreads hung around her face in thick black ropes.

  "I..." she began, and then trailed off.

  I waited.

  "I was a good kid, growing up. Obeyed my parents, didn't stay out late, didn't party. I never smoked weed, never got drunk with friends. I dated Nick Wellesley in the tenth grade, but then I found out he was messing around with three other girls and I just...I refused to date any of the guys at my school after that because they all seemed the same." She rubbed her palms together, knees bouncing restlessly. "And then we went on vacation in Nova Scotia my senior year, and my parents died, and...and the one guy I tried to get to know, the one guy I was starting to trust...almost fucking raped me, and would have if I hadn't fought him off. How am I supposed to trust anyone after that? After Nick, after Rob?"

  "Joss--"

  "You wanted to hear this, so shut up and listen." She hesitated a few moments, and then continued. "I'm a homeless orphan without a high school diploma or GED. All I know is survival, emotionally and physically. I walked across all of fucking Canada, because yeah, I was scared to stop. So yeah, I've avoided guys, avoided people, avoided letting anyone get to know me."

  "Joss...what are you saying?"

  "I'm saying there's a pretty damn good reason I've been...wishy-washy with you. I like you. I'm attracted to you. I like how you make me feel. Trust issues aside, you make me crazy. Physically, you make me lose all sense of reason or self-control. You kiss me, and I just...I lose myself, and that scares the ever-loving shit out of me! I don't know how to handle that. I don't know what to do with it." She gestured at the door. "Just now, in my room, with you--that was as far as I've ever gone, and if I hadn't gotten triggered, I would've gone farther, because I like you more than I know how to deal with. But I don't know how to stop, Lucian. I don't know how to stop moving, I don't know how to stop wanting you, and I don't know how to stop being scared of you."

  "Joss--"

  "I'm scared to fucking death of having sex with you because I'm a fucking virgin! Does that answer your question? I'm not a tease, I'm a virgin! I'm scared of how you make me feel, and I don't know how to fucking do this with you because I've never done it before!"

  She bolted, then, finally. Yanked my door open so hard it slammed against the wall, denting the drywall. I heard the front door squeak open and then slam closed, and then there was silence.

  She was a virgin?

  That explained...well...everything.

  And made me feel like even more of a grade-A asshole.

  Fuck. What a mess.

  Everything was a mess, and I had no idea how to fix any of it.

  10

  Joss

  * * *

  I ran back to my room at a dead sprint, heart hammering so hard it hurt, so hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
>
  I'd told Lucian the truth. All the truth, everything I'd been hiding from him and from myself.

  I couldn't face him. Not after that. How could he want me, after that? Twenty years old, uneducated, homeless, and a virgin. How could there be anything between us, now?

  There couldn't be.

  I changed into my wandering garb: a pair of thick leggings and baggy jeans, thick socks, combat boots, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a sweater, and a thick hoodie, and then shoved the remaining few items of clothing I had laying around my room into my backpack, and headed out the door. Three months here, and packing to leave took thirty seconds. I'd always been planning on leaving, though. The Badds weren't my family.

  I made it to the door at the top of the stairs before anyone stopped me.

  "Going somewhere?" Dru asked, sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop open in front of her.

  I kept my eyes on the door and my hand on the knob. "Yeah. I'm leaving."

  "For good?"

  I nodded. "Yeah."

  "Can I ask why?"

  I sighed, a tremulous sound. "It's--it's time. It's past time."

  "This is about Lucian." She grabbed something from the table next to her and walked over to me. "Isn't it?"

  "It's about a lot of things." I forced my eyes to hers. "You'll never know how grateful I am to you and Bast for letting me stay here."

  "I don't know what happened, and it's none of my business, but..." she hesitated, a lock of red hair falling into her eyes. "I don't think you're making the right choice."

  "This is what I do. It's all I know."

  "So learn something else."

  "I can't." I whispered it, barely keeping my voice from breaking. "I can't. Don't you see that?"

  She searched my face without a word for several long beats, and then nodded. "I guess I do." She lifted her hand, extending something to me. "Take this. It's connected to our family plan. Unlimited calling and data. All of our numbers are programmed into it."

  It was a cell phone, a brand new, latest generation iPhone, a glossy black screen with a thick red rubber case to protect it from falls.

  "I can't take this, Dru."

  She lifted an eyebrow. "You can and you will."

  "Why?"

  "Because you're going to get out there, and you're going to realize how wrong you are. You're going to realize that home is where you choose to be, and that family is who you choose to surround yourself with. You're going to realize that we are your family and this is home." She tapped the phone. "And when you do, you're going to call me. Day or night, no matter where you are. You're going to call me, and we're going to come get you and bring you home." She reached past me and opened the door for me. "You can leave if you want--"

  I resorted to sarcasm as a defense against how she was making me feel. "Oh, I can, can I?"

  She ignored me. "You can leave if you want, Joss, but you'll be back."

  I took the phone, shoved it into the pocket of my hoodie, and pushed past her. "Whatever."

  I ignored Bast's questions as I swept across the bar and outside. I headed for the nearest mode of transportation out of here: the ferry to the airport. I had to get away, had to get as far from here as I could, as fast as possible. I had the cash, so I may as well use it.

  I sat alone at the front of the ferry, clamping down hard on the rampage of thoughts and emotions boiling inside me. The ride was short, and soon I was facing a clerk across a counter, trying to figure out where to go next.

  "Where does the next flight out of here go, and how much is it?" I asked.

  The clerk tapped at her keyboard, consulted her monitor, and then glanced up at me with a flat attempt at a smile. "Seattle...five-fifty." She glanced at her watch. "It's twelve forty-eight now, and the flight leaves at one thirty-six, and it's almost sold out, so if you want this flight, you'd better decide quickly."

  I blinked at her. "Five hundred and fifty dollars?"

  "Round trip, yes."

  I swallowed hard. "One way--how much?"

  "Two seventy-five for a one way."

  I twisted my backpack around, dug around for the box with my cash in it, withdrew enough to cover the fare, and handed it to her. "I'll take it."

  "Luggage?"

  I shook my head as I slung the backpack onto my back. "Nope. Just this."

  She processed the purchase and printed out a boarding pass, giving me directions to the gate. And then came the look I'd been waiting for. "One-way trip, no luggage. Running away, are we?"

  I gave her a die-bitch glare until she blanched and hurriedly handed me the boarding pass. "Have a nice flight. Next!"

  It was less than two hours to Seattle. I deboarded the plane, splurged again, recklessly, on a cab to downtown Seattle. I was barely avoiding a breakdown at this point, forcing myself to breathe slowly and keep my thoughts off of Lucian, off of Ketchikan, off the bar, the brothers, the girls, the bakery...and how I'd been closer than ever to The Garden. If I'd stayed in Ketchikan, could I have saved enough to find a place?

  God, stop, Joss, just stop. It's not happening. It could never happen.

  Eventually, the cab let me off downtown, and I was back on familiar ground--on foot, alone, with no destination. Only this time, niggling in the back of my head was a tiny, quiet, but subversive thought: I may not have anywhere to get to, but I do have somewhere to go back to.

  It was not a comforting thought.

  I wandered Seattle for hours.

  And I came to an uncomfortable and unsettling realization: I had no desire to be there. There was nothing here for me. Just...buildings and people, structures that meant nothing and faces I didn't know, and would never care about.

  So, I started walking. Out of Seattle, heading south for the first time, instead of west.

  Darkness fell on me somewhere between Seattle and Tacoma. I wasn't as comfortable in the darkness as I used to be. The highway became ever more deserted as night expanded and darkened around me. I walked on the side of the I-5, passing through evenly spaced pools of light, the occasional car or semi whooshing past me.

  My feet began to hurt after only a handful of miles.

  I'd never felt more alone in my life.

  I kept going until there was a tinge of gray on the horizon. My feet throbbed, and I had several blisters. I was cold. I was hungry. I was exhausted.

  I just want to go home.

  The thought struck me, unbidden, like a lightning bolt, and I began to cry. Just a tear or two trickling down now and then, but eventually I was bawling like a baby, sobbing, and I couldn't stop. I couldn't see for the tears. I staggered off the shoulder of the highway and into the tall grass. Bright white lights buzzed above me--a billboard; I stumbled through the grass and caught up against a low chain link fence, on the other side of which was an RV dealership, the white rectangular bulks of the RVs lit up along the fence line by three tall light poles. I sagged against the fence, gulping down sobs, my fingers grasping blindly at the chain link, my eyes blurred by tears.

  I don't want to wander anymore.

  I want to go home.

  I sank to my butt in the cold, dew-damp grass, slung my backpack around to my lap, and rested my back against the fence. I unzipped the outermost pocket of the backpack, and, with trembling fingers, withdrew the cell phone Dru had given me.

  11

  Lucian

  * * *

  She was gone. I hesitated for about ten minutes, doubting and debating whether to go after her, and then I realized I was being a dumbass, so I jogged to the other apartment.

  I was too late.

  Dru was sitting at the kitchen table with her laptop, working. She looked up when I entered. "You're too late, Luce. She's gone."

  "Gone? Where?"

  Dru shrugged. "Didn't say. I don't think she knew."

  I sagged against the closed door, my head thunking backward. "Fuck."

  "What the hell happened between the two of you?"

  I banged my head against the door. "I
fucked up."

  "Clearly. How?"

  I shook my head, scrubbed my face. "It's complicated."

  "Life is complicated, Luce. Sometimes you gotta talk about it."

  I scraped my hair back into a ponytail and let out a breath. "And sometimes you don't."

  I turned and jogged back down the stairs before Dru could question me any further, and found Xavier coming up out of the basement of the bar where the weightlifting equipment was kept. He was sweaty, hair damp and dark with sweat, with earbuds trailing up from his phone to his ears. He saw me, tugged one earbud out, and waved at me.

  "Hi, Luce."

  I jutted my chin at him. "Hey."

  He stared at me hard, for a long moment. "You are in a worse mood than usual, I think."

  "Worse mood than usual? What's that mean?"

  He shrugged. "You have a tendency to be...somewhat moody."

  "I'm not moody, I'm introverted."

  "I disagree, brother. I think you are simply a victim of your own self-isolation." He blinked at me for a moment. "I am going for a run. Care to join me?"

  "Victim of my what?"

  He waved a hand in dismissal. "Forget it." He headed for the door. "Run with me, Lucian."

  I growled. "Fuck. Fine. A run might do me good." I joined him at the door. "Gotta stop by my room so I can change, though."

  Xavier only nodded and accompanied me back to my room, waited in the living room watching Corin play PS4 while I changed into running shorts and shoes, and then we exited through the studio.

  We stretched out on the sidewalk together, and then trotted off down the docks at a swift jog. The pace Xavier set was punishing, a six-minute mile at maximum, if not faster. I wasn't a regular runner, but my usual workout routine kept me fit enough that I could keep up with him, although I felt the burn in my lungs after a couple of miles. We ran together in silence for a while, maybe through three or four miles, and then Xavier slowed to a stop on the outskirts of town, at the bottom of a short, steep hill.

 
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