It was 7:30 when Iziah headed to the bar. The day passed at an agonizing pace, and he couldn’t stand being in his apartment any longer. The quiet grated into him. He’d turned on the radio and cranked it to full volume. His stomach rumbled, but nothing in his cupboards seemed appetizing. Several times, he went outside to force back the feeling of suffocation.
The bus stop was several blocks from the bar, but it felt strange not having to walk the entire distance. However, the thought of walking down the roads where he had been attacked....didn’t appeal. Not to mention, his legs were still weak. The bus ran until 10:30, so he planned to head back to his apartment before then. Iziah limped toward the door, holding his rib-cage. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, and he was panting. His hand, half-covered by the sleeve of his hoodie, rested on the doorknob a moment. Voices and laughter came through the door. He didn’t think it was safe to be out here, but he had to get back into the swing of things.
Iziah took a deep breath, putting on a smirk, and walked inside. The bar was busier than usual. Teens and young adults bustled about, laughing and talking and drinking. There was alcohol spilled on the floor, and they had tracked in a fair amount of mud. The football game on the television was turned up loud.
Ducking his head, Iziah made his way through the tumult. After a moment, he spotted Matthias at a table in the corner, alone. He looked a little drunk, sweaty in the face and eyes at half-mast. As Iziah approached, Matthias looked up.
Matthias frowned at him as Iziah sat across from him. “What the hell happened to you?”
Iziah shrugged. Though he looked better than he had, Iziah was still white as a sheet with stitches and bruises marring his face. “Got into a fight.”
“You must have got your ass kicked, huh? About time.”
Iziah snorted, taking a drink from Matthias’s bottle. It felt like he’d taken a punch to the stomach. “What did I miss?”
“Not much,” Matthias said. “Kanra’s been getting some trouble from the Crimson Serpents.”
Iziah’s eyes wandered toward Kanra’s room. He didn’t want that man to spot him. If Kanra knew he accidentally killed a Crimson Serpent, he would kick him out, and Iziah didn’t want to be manhandled right now.
“Harley and I had a lot of fun last night.” A mocking grin crossed his face. “Stayed out past three.”
“Yeah? You get her drunk first?”
“No, you asshole!” He took a drink from his bottle, scowling. “Gawd, I hate you.”
Iziah chuckled. “Likewise.” He glanced around and asked, “Where is Harley, anyway?”
“Dunno. Probably getting ready to go out with me again. Guess I win this one.”
“I didn’t know it was a competition.”
Matthias snorted. “Yeah, right. Everything’s a competition with you. I’m gonna take her into the back room tonight. See if she wants to get dirty.”
Scenes flashed before Iziah’s eyes – his attackers clamping him down, slamming his head into the concrete, the man with yellow eyes forcing himself into him. Iziah shook himself and tried to smirk, but he felt sick. Rage boiled in his stomach. “Just drop it, okay?”
“Why? You jealous?” Matthias grinned, leaning back. It was obvious he enjoyed having the upper hand. “I would be too. That girl’s got some curves to her.”
Matthias raised an eyebrow. Iziah’s fists were clenched, and his face felt burning hot. Why couldn’t Matthias leave it alone? Iziah shifted back in his chair, trying to compose himself. He hadn’t meant to shout.
“Just shut up.”
Matthias snorted. “If it bothers you, go somewhere else. I can see why you got beat up, you asshole.”
Iziah let out a short bark of a laugh. “Whatever.” He stood and limped toward the bar. Most of the seats were full, but he pulled up a stool and pretended to watch the football game. His insides twisted. Normally, he was comfortable here, but now he felt small and stupid. He didn’t quite fit in anymore. Maybe it was because he knew this wasn’t a game. Before, being a member of the Faceless was just a means of distraction. Sure, they did things that weren’t right, but what did it matter? They were just playing a stupid little game! But now he’d stumbled into something real, and he couldn’t go back to playing his game. The rules had been broken.
Iziah sighed, his eyes fixed on the television, but he wasn’t watching. It was good to be out here instead of alone in the apartment, but it had been stupid to think that things could go back to normal.
He wanted to ask Kanra for a job, but he wasn’t sure how much the man knew, and he didn’t want any trouble.
“Hey.” A familiar voice.
Iziah twisted around and spotted Harley. She had ordered a drink, watching him with a frown on her face.
“Hey,” he replied.
“Are you all right? You look awful.”
“I’m fine. But you shouldn’t talk to me. Matthias will lose his shit.”
She let out a light laugh. “So what if he does?”
“You’ve been gone a while.”
“Yeah. I was busy.”
“Huh,” she said. “Kanra asked about you.”
Iziah frowned. “Why?”
“Dunno. But I would stay away if I were you. I don’t think he’s on your side.”
“Yeah, no kidding.”
Iziah squinted at the table as a thought drifted into his mind. How had the Crimson Serpents known where to find him? Had they been watching, following his movements? The ambush had obviously been planned. Maybe someone told them. Iziah glanced toward the back rooms as hot anger coiled into the pit of his stomach. Maybe that was why Kanra had been watching him that night. He’d made a deal with the Crimson Serpents and told them when Iziah left the bar. His fists tightened.
“Why aren’t you sitting with Matthias?” Harley interrupted his thoughts.
Iziah glanced at her and forced a grin. “He’s not being any fun.”
“Heh... What else is new?”
Iziah smirked, staring at the table. If Kanra was the one that got him caught then it wasn’t safe here. Then again, what did it matter? Iziah would knock out his teeth if he came near him. If they weren’t going to play his games, he wasn’t going to play theirs either.
“See you, Iziah.” She picked up her drink and moved away.
“See ya,” he mumbled.
Iziah watched football for a while but soon became bored. After not eating all day, he felt sick. And the bar didn’t seem quite so safe anymore. Once the clock hit 9:45, Iziah stood and walked out, heading for the bus stop.