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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lifers: Installment Two

My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. So hot. Who turned up the heat? And--wait. I sat up and a throbbing pain pulsed through my head. I needed water. Now.

"Finally awake?"

I knew that voice.

A blurry outline headed toward me. I blinked several hundred times before Nick's face became clear.

Nick. Memories rushed back. The alley. Nick's hand over my mouth.

"You kidnapped me!" My jell-o arms pushed against his chest. Cool water spilled onto my shirtsleeve.

"Well if you don't want any."

"I do." I grabbed the water and took a long drink. Water spilled out of my mouth and over my clothes and I didn't care.

Did he seriously just chuckle?

I wiped my mouth dry. "What?"

"You hungry too?"

"Yes actually."

"I'll get a bib then."

My first impulse was a good slug to the shoulder, but I stopped. Nick was holding me--against my will. Nick was in the same gang as Trista's brother. Nick was dangerous. I shrank away from him sinking deep into the pillows of the armchair.

"You okay, Cass?"

"You know my name?"

He rolled his eyes. "You are a regular."

"Do you seriously expect me to believe you work at the coffee shop?"

"Do you think I'd wear that sissy shirt in public if I didn't?"

What was his game? Honestly, the room didn't exactly scream dark and scary. It was a regular living room. Black leather sofa--the cushy kind, like the chair I was huddled in--a glass-topped coffee table, and even a TV decked out with all the gaming accessories. A kitchen off to the left, a dining area to the right, and a hallway which I suddenly hoped contained a bathroom.

As nice as it was, I'd been drugged and dragged here. "Where am I? And why am I here?"

Nick rubbed his hand over his neck. "This is my place."

Butterflies, a whole flock or herd or whatever, filled my tummy.

"Relax, Cass, you're not a prisoner or anything."

I wasn't? "Give me my phone."

He pulled it from his pocket and tossed it to me. "Battery's dead."

Of course it was.

"Don't worry. I texted your mom. She thinks you're with Trista."

"On a school night?"

"Yeah, well I had to do a little begging, and remind her it was the anniversary of Jason's funeral."

If hearts can stall then rev back to life, mine did. How did he know the day Jason was buried. I didn't even know the day ... "You knew her brother?"

"Yeah. Pizza rolls?"

My stomach couldn't have waited to growl? "Please. As long as they aren't laced with anything."

Nick smiled. It wasn't devious or impish. A real, genuine smile. "This is going to be a hard one to explain, but I did this to protect you."

I snorted.

"Let me get you some food and I'll tell you ... everything I can."

That sounded vague.

The oven beeped and Nick headed toward the kitchen.

Without him blocking my view, a clear view of the door lay ahead of me. I still had my shoes on. Pocketing my dead phone, I slid off the chair. The carpet squished under my shoes, still plush and new. Hopefully no squeaks in the floor then. I filled my lungs and raced to the door.

The cold golden knob wouldn't turn. I fumbled with the lock. Come on! Warmth surrounded me. I wasn't alone. The lock rattled in my shaking fingers.

Nick's fingers overlapped mine and the lock turned. "Lefty loosie."

A whimper squeaked past my throat.

Strong hands gripped my shoulders, surprisingly gentle. "Cass, I won't hurt you."

Click! The handle turned. I threw the door back, and Nick stepped away.

The hallway was lined with blue, patterned carpet that dizzied me as I ran. My heart slammed against my chest, pushing me forward. I passed a couple kissing by their front door and headed for the elevators. No. They'd take too long. Ah, stairs! I swung the door open and headed down them.

My whole body shook. My legs wouldn't move fast enough. I tripped. My hands gripped the cold rail to keep me from spiraling down the steps.

A door further down opened and clicked shut. I froze.

"The girl saw me, that's why he grabbed her."

My heartbeat thundered in my ears? Were they talking about me? Or was I paranoid?

"And you tailed him here?"

"No. I live here now. I tailed him downtown and lost him in the city square."

"What does the girl look like?"

"Leggy, dark hair, hot pink t-shirt with--I dunno a penguin on the front?"

Not paranoia.

"Tell the others. We have to find her and silence her."

"But she's with Nick--"

"I don't care who she's with. She saw you. It's your mess to clean up."

Holy crap. I clasped one hand over my mouth to hold in a scream. The other gripped the panda on the front of my hot pink shirt.

I just needed to get out of the stairwell. My legs trembled under my weight.

Shuffling steps came closer.

Up. I'd go a floor up and ride the elevator down. I'd find Nick, change my clothes and ... panic pulled my lungs tight. Calm down. Just find Nick.

And ask him what the heck was going on.

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