Badd to the bone, p.14
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       Badd to the Bone, p.14

         Part #3 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  "It's lay down, actually, not lie. And I don't wanna lay down. Leave me alone." I shook his hand off me, glared blearily around to find the apartment above the twins' recording studio where Brock was currently living, and thus, so was I.

  "Claire, just let me walk you home."

  "Seattle is a long walk, buddy."

  He was silent for a few steps. "Not what I meant."

  "I know what you meant." I felt the anger coming back, and while deep down I knew it was irrational and unfair, I was too drunk to care, too drunk to filter. "And I meant what I said."

  "You're drunk and upset. We don't have to talk about this now."

  "Talk about what, Brock? You think I could ever make this podunk little piece of shit town home? Get real." I tried to walk faster to get away from him, but only managed to weave an even more unsteady line.

  "Damn it, Claire. Just stop," he said, trying to catch me in his hands again.

  "Stop what?" I shook him off again. "Quit grabbing me. I'll stop pretending, how about that? Here's me not pretending anymore. This shit between us is done. It's over. It was never going to work, and you were a dumbass if you thought it could. We had some good sex, but that's all it was ever going to be."

  "That's not true. You're just spooked."

  "Spooked? What am I? A skittish horse? Fuck you. I'm not spooked, I'm done acting like I can do a relationship. I'm too fucked-up for relationships. Too fucked-up for you. Too fucked-up for...for everything." I felt his hands on my shoulders, turning me, guiding me, and I couldn't remember where I'd been going, and couldn't see which of the spinning doors I was supposed to go through, or how to make them stop spinning so I could grab the handle, so I let him guide me. "Fuck you. Fuck this. Fuck us. Fuck me. Fuck everything."

  "That's a lot of fucking."

  "Yeah, and that's all we were, Brock--a lot of fucking."

  A door opened, somehow, and I heard my footsteps on a carpeted floor, saw the shapes of drums and guitars and a piano and microphones all jumbled together, and then there were stairs under my feet, and Brock was partially carrying me up them. I closed my eyes for a minute, and felt myself tripping, because my legs were getting mixed up. And then I was floating, floating in a pair of strong arms. God, his arms were nice. Yummy, and strong, and sexy, and I really did like them. I patted his bicep.

  "You have nice arms," I said.

  "Thanks."

  I tried to open my eyes, and only managed one. His jaw was set, and his brow was furrowed. "Uh-oh. Bwock is aaaang-gwee," I said in singsong baby talk. "I maded him mad."

  He laughed, and the furrows smoothed out. "You're just fucked-up."

  "I know, and that's why this won't work."

  "Yes, it will."

  "No, it won't."

  "Do you remember what you told me? That night in Michigan, before your dad's funeral?"

  I shook my head. "No. But I'm sure it was a bunch of bullshit."

  "You told me that a shit-storm was coming, and that you were going to try to break up with me, and that I shouldn't let you." He set me down on his bed, and then I heard his door close.

  "That was drunk-me."

  "And you're drunk now."

  "Right. So I'm saying, drunk-me is an idiot and you should never listen to her." I put one foot on the floor to stop the spinning, keeping my eyes closed and focusing on keeping the contents of my stomach inside me.

  "Exactly. Which is why you can say whatever you want right now, because you're drunk. It still hurts to hear you say it, even if I know you're drunk and don't mean it, but I'm not letting you sabotage us."

  "I'm sorry it's hurting you, but I'm not saying this just because I'm drunk. I'm saying it because it's true. I don't want to keep doing this."

  "Doing what, Claire?" His voice was soft, wary.

  "Us. Caring about you. Letting you in. Dealing with your endless fucking questions." I made my voice as deep as I could in an attempt to mimic him. "'Hey, Claire, let me haul you away from work and trap you on my airplane so I can try to make you talk about your feelings, because I'm Brock and I'm sensitive.'"

  I heard him make a sound that seemed conflicted. "Claire...fuck." He sighed, and stood up. "Go to sleep. I have to go back to work. We'll talk when you're sober."

  "No, we won't."

  "Why not?"

  I pointed at the ceiling. "Because I'm leaving in the morning. Going back to Seattle."

  "Why?"

  "I told you. Because I'm done."

  "Claire--"

  I waved sloppily. "Go away. Go work. Buh-bye."

  "Fuck." Another frustrated groan. "I have to work. I can't do this with you right now."

  "Good. Don't. There's nothing to do, anyway. So it shall be written, so it shall be done."

  "You're not leaving until we talk."

  "Can't tell me what to do."

  "I'm not, I'm just--"

  I opened both eyes, which sucked and was a mistake, but made it work as a kind of cross-eyed glare. "GO--AWAY!"

  "Goddammit, Claire."

  "Yes, I'm fully aware that I'm being stupid and irrational and a bitch. Don't care. Go away." I felt my stomach lurch, and stumbled off the bed.

  Brock slung open the door, guided me through it and to the bathroom, and then I fell to my knees on the toilet, heaving my stomach out. I felt Brock behind me.

  "Fucking hell, Claire. How can I leave you like this?"

  "Simple," I grumbled. "Use your stupid feet and walk away. I'm fine. Don't need you. Don't need anyone."

  And hork, hork, hork. Burning, painful, nasty whisky vomit.

  "I'm not leaving you here."

  "Send one of the girls. I won't die before they get here. Probably."

  "Not funny."

  I peered at him. "Just go, Brock. I can puke without you hovering over me. I'm not gonna choke."

  He left eventually, slowly, hesitantly. I ignored him, but the pangs in my heart told me I was making a mistake.

  I pressed my cheek to the cold porcelain, which was gross but I was too wasted to care. After some amount of time I couldn't measure, I heard a door open and feet shuffling, and then sensed someone nearby. I peered dizzily from one eye, and saw Dru.

  "Mara was too pissed to come, huh?"

  Dru shook her head. "No, I volunteered. I thought maybe someone you don't know as well might be better, all things considered."

  "I'm fine."

  "Yeah, sure, sweetheart. Whatever you say." She winked at me, and then sank down to sit beside me.

  "I am."

  "I'm not arguing."

  "Then why are you here?" I asked, fighting off a wave of nausea.

  "Nobody likes to puke alone."

  "I do."

  "You're a sucky liar."

  "Funny, I just said the same thing to Xavier."

  "He is a terrible liar," she said, laughing. "And you're not much better."

  "I'm not lying, though." I couldn't fight it anymore, and gave in to more puking. When I was finished, I eyed her as steadily as I could. "I really would rather be alone."

  "No you wouldn't. You're just telling yourself that."

  I groaned in frustration. "Nobody is listening to me."

  "Because you're talking bullshit, honey, that's why. We all love you, and we don't want to see you like this."

  "Everybody gets wasted sometimes. Have you even met the Badd brothers?"

  "This is different and you know it."

  "Fucking hell." I sighed. "I don't need this shit. I'm too drunk, and I just don't even care." I glared at her again. "Dru, babe, if you want to sit around and make sure I don't choke on my own vomit, then fine, that's your call. But I don't need a fucking lecture about how to live my life."

  Dru lifted her hands in surrender. "Fine. I'll just sit here and keep my mouth shut."

  "Perfect," I snapped.

  I was being such a bitch, and I knew it, but I couldn't find the wherewithal to care. I felt another wave coming, and this time I didn't fight it. Another few minu
tes passed in silence, and I didn't puke again, and figured I was done. I tried to stand up, but my limbs were all confused and tangled, and up wasn't up, and I only managed to fall backward against the wall.

  "Fuck. I need help getting to bed."

  Dru helped me to my feet, guided me to Brock's bedroom, made sure I got into the bed, and then came back with a trash can. "In case you need to puke again." She left and came back with two Tylenol and a bottle of red Gatorade. "Take these and drink as much as you can."

  I sat up and clumsily twisted off the top of the bottle, then managed to get the pills into my mouth and the bottle to my lips without spilling. I swallowed the pills and sipped the Gatorade until I was full. Dru took the bottle and recapped it and set it beside me.

  "Scoot over," she said.

  I rolled toward the wall, which was the side I normally slept on anyway. The world wasn't spinning as badly anymore, now that the whisky was mostly out of my system; I was exhausted, suddenly.

  "Thank you, Dru," I mumbled.

  "I've never had any real girlfriends," she said, "so this is kind of fun. I might make you return the favor at some point."

  "If I'm around."

  "Why wouldn't you be?"

  "Nothing. Never mind."

  "Claire, what are you thinking?"

  "I'm tired. I'm going to sleep."

  Dru patted my hip. "You run, he'll just chase you, you know. Those boys don't know the meaning of giving up."

  "I don't wanna talk about it."

  She laughed. "I get it. It's scary."

  "You have no idea what I'm feeling."

  "Obviously not. But I'm not any better about this stuff than you are. I just know it's worth it, once you let it happen."

  "Not going there with you, Dru. Sorry." I tried to shut her words out; I didn't want advice, I didn't want help, I didn't want any of it.

  I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to not be drunk anymore. The fun had worn off and it was just painful and tiring and difficult and unpleasant. The real pain was in my heart, though. And the constant caring of all these people was exhausting. The only person who had ever given a shit about me was Mara, and we'd had a policy of not discussing heavy history. We'd helped each other through whatever bullshit we were going through at the moment, but for both of us, the past was best left in the past, and if we didn't want to talk about something, neither of us ever pushed it. I was there for her; she was there for me. And if we were being stupid about something, we called each other on it.

  This was different, though. This was...everything. My past, my present, my future. It was all tangled up and everything hurt and nothing made sense.

  Fuck, I couldn't handle it.

  I tried to shut the thoughts out and just let myself drift on the waves of intoxicated exhaustion, until sleep finally rose up and sucked me down.

  Sweet sleep, sweet peace of nothingness.

  Chapter 9

  Brock

  Thank fuck: Claire was passed out in my bed when I finally finished work at 3:30 a.m. I shed my smelly work clothes and climbed in beside her, wrapped myself up around behind her, spooning her. Tugged her closer, my hand on her belly. She made a soft noise in her throat and wiggled her butt against me, tangled her fingers with mine.

  I felt a bolt of relief, knowing that unconscious, at least, she still cared about me. The scene earlier had scared the shit out of me. She'd really sounded like she meant to leave, and I wasn't sure how I'd handle that. I really cared about Claire. More, I...I was in love with her. The thought of loving her, of being in love scared me stupid, made my heart hammer like a tribal drum. What was I supposed to do with that? I couldn't tell her that, not now. Not with everything she was going through. Not when she couldn't even see her way to talking to me about fucking anything. But the thought was out there, now. Echoing in my head, resounding in my heart. It was true, wasn't it?

  Goddammit.

  I opened my eyes and stared her face, in partial profile. Those cheekbones, her eyes closed, her expression at peace, her mouth slack. So beautiful. Passed out drunk, stinking the sour smell of old alcohol and sickness, she was still so beautiful to me. I saw how messed-up she was, how fucked-up she felt. The revelation her mother had laid on Claire had done a number to her, and she didn't know how to handle it.

  Plus, I was relatively certain she was coming to the same realizations about her feelings for me as I was about her right now, and that was only terrifying her all the more.

  Not to mention, I still felt like there was some element of our sex lives that was bothering her--something that she wasn't able or willing to put into words.

  Fuck, so many layers, so much complication, and I didn't know how to sort through any of it. What do I say to her? How do I get her to open up to me?

  What if she left?

  What if she didn't return my feelings? What if really was just good sex for her? Admitting to myself that I was falling in love with her was scary enough, but to tell her, to give her that power over me? I wasn't sure I could do it unless I was sure she felt the same.

  I felt sleep claiming me, and I let it, clinging to her as tightly as I dared.

  I dreamed. I dreamed of Claire, I dreamed she was naked, clinging to me, breathing in my ear, sounding tearful. I dreamed I was inside her, and she was facing me on her side, her thigh thrown over mine, and she was writhing against me, taking me bare inside her, gasping as she came, gasping as I came.

  I dreamed she pulled away, and lay against my chest, breathing hard.

  I dreamed the ragged gasping of exertion turning to tears, and that she buried her face in my neck and sobbed like I'd never heard her sob before.

  I'm sorry, Brock. You deserve better than me.

  No, Claire. I deserve you.

  Go back to sleep, Brock.

  I am asleep. I'm dreaming.

  That's right, honey. You're dreaming.

  I felt the bed shift, in my dream.

  I'm sorry--I'm so sorry. Claire sounded like she was in utter agony, and I just wanted to shelter her, comfort her, protect her.

  She sounded far away.

  Let me love you, Claire.

  I can't--I can't. I don't know how.

  Just try.

  I have been. I'm sorry, but I can't do this anymore.

  Yes, you can. You can't give up.

  I am giving up. I'm walking away. It's what I do. It's all I know.

  Learn something new, then.

  It's too late.

  It's never too late.

  Goodbye, Brock. I'm sorry.

  Goodbye? What do you mean, goodbye?

  Silence. Dream-silence. Total and complete.

  The dream shifted, became darkness, became the hoot of an owl, the chirp of a cricket. An unsettling sense of something wrong.

  Eventually, the unsettled sense of something wrong became so strong that the dream seemed more like a nightmare, a sense of something wrong, something in the darkness that wasn't right. An absence.

  A void.

  Wrongness.

  I felt the grip of sleep relax, felt it slip away. A bird chirped, and I felt the sun on my face from my bedroom window. I stretched, yawned, and my eyes fluttered open. I rolled over to glance at the clock: 9:45 a.m. Why was I awake? What had woken me? Why did I feel like something was wrong?

  And then I turned back to the wall.

  The bed was empty, except for me.

  "Claire?" Maybe she was in the bathroom.

  I got out of bed, and realized I was naked; I'd gone to bed in my underwear, I distinctly remembered taking off my jeans and T-shirt and socks, and collapsing into bed behind Claire in my boxer-briefs. She'd been fully clothed, wearing a purple V-neck and tight jeans.

  I slipped on some shorts and checked the bathroom--empty; I checked the kitchen--also empty; the other guys' doors were closed, and she wouldn't be in there anyway.

  She wasn't here.

  I went back into my room, and realized her overnight bag was gone. Her pile of
dirty clothes was gone from the corner where she tended to toss them. Her toiletries bag wasn't in the bathroom. Her pile of shoes was gone, including her Brooks running shoes, which she never went anywhere without. Her phone charger was gone from where it was always plugged in the outlet below mine.

  Fuck.

  FUCK!

  She was gone.

  She'd left.

  It hadn't been a dream.

  "You fucking coward, Claire," I muttered.

  No note. Just a goodbye fuck while I was half-asleep and thought it was a dream. Seriously? That's how she left me? Anger rippled through me.

  I snatched my phone off the nightstand and rippled the charger out of it, and dialed her number. It went straight to voicemail.

  "Hey, this is Claire. Leave a message. Except you, Brock. Please don't make this any harder than it has to be."

  I composed a text: Why are you doing this?

  But then I deleted it.

  Please come back.

  Delete.

  Eventually, the only thing I could see my way to sending was a single word: Why?

  I didn't receive an answer, and knew I wouldn't.

  I checked flight times: there was a 10 a.m. commercial flight to Seattle out of Ketchikan, which meant I wouldn't make it to the airport in time to catch her. I had to meet her in Seattle, then.

  I took a shower, and tried not to panic.

  I ate some breakfast, and tried not to hate her.

  I texted the boys to say that I would be gone until I figured out this shit with Claire, and then headed out to the docks. I readied my Piper for flight and took off, heading for Seattle at top speed.

  A little over two hours later, I received clearance to land at Kenmore Air Harbor. I took a taxi to her apartment, only to receive no answer when I buzzed, so I figured she wasn't back from the airport yet. There was a cafe across the street whose windows faced her apartment building's front door, so I claimed a table by the window and sat with a cup of coffee and watched her door.

  Two hours later, still no Claire.

  I called Zane, and he answered on the fourth ring. " 'Lo? What's up, Brock?"

  "I'm here in Seattle but it doesn't look like she's coming back to her apartment. I was hoping to talk to Mara real quick."

  "Shit. Okay, here she is."

  "Hi, Brock."

  "Did you know she was going to leave?" I asked.

  "No, of course not. She was super drunk last night and when she's like that, she usually spouts a bunch of bullshit she doesn't mean."

  "Last night was different, though."

 
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