The rest of the night moved slowly and dragged on. At least it did for me. Everyone else looked like they were enjoying themselves. For me, after my brief interlude with Ryker, I set myself back to watching over Giovanni. He had a brief hiccup when he dodged out of my sight, and the anxiety hadn’t completely set in before I got a text on my phone alerting me that he was in the bathroom. I had to give it to him. Even though we bickered all the time, he knew that I was only here to make sure that nothing happened to him. With the type of people his father worked alongside of, Giovanni knew he would forever have a constant target on his back. I was employed to alleviate that darkness, and up until now, I have done my job textbook to a ‘T’.
When he returned, to my displeasure, he had set his sights on a very intoxicated Sarah. I knew he was the type to take advantage of women, but even in her inebriated state, she was definitely the type to take advantage of him. She was a girl that screamed materialism, and Giovanni had more than enough means to satisfy her.
Just fucking great.
Elsie yawned beside me, and I couldn’t help but follow suit. “I’m ready to go. I don’t think I’ve been this tired in a long time.”
“Let’s round up Gio, and head out. I’m a little tired too.”
She hooked her arm in mine and we trudged a path between all the late-nighters; closing call was fast approaching. Ryker was standing with Nick, chatting casually. But Giovanni was putting on his best smile, trying to sway Sarah. Her constant giggles were the only indication that he was making any sort of progress.
“Gio, we’re heading out. It’s late, and I need to get Elsie back to her dorms too.” I looked between Ryker and Gio, when Gio didn’t respond.
“I wouldn’t mind taking you home.” Nick spoke up.
I instantly turned to glare at him.
“Sorry. It was just an offer.” He smiled at her. It wasn’t menacing or cocky, but he was still a stranger to her. I wasn’t about to feed her to the wolves.
Knowing that I wasn’t going to budge on the decision, Ryker leaned back and nudged Gio’s arm. “Hey man, looks like your ride is leaving.”
Giovanni looked every part of the toddler about to throw a fit.
“We can stop and get food.” I beckoned like a mother trying to coax her child into behaving.
He huffed but agreed as long as we stopped for tacos. To my displeasure, he invited Sarah along for the ride, and of course she was more than willing. I grabbed up my jacket and set my wards for the night to the car.
“So, I’ll see you at home, roomie?” Ryker asked.
“Sure, if I’m still awake.”
It was a rather short ride from the bar back to the dorms, even with the detour for food. Elsie opted to sit in the front seat, and I couldn’t blame her. We both had to stifle our giggles the entire way home, while Sarah and Gio sat in the backseat glued to each other and whispering sweet words to one another. I could have hurled. I was more of a take no shit type of drunk. The loving or angry type didn’t come to me naturally.
I dropped Elsie off outside and she gave me a hug before she got out and disappeared inside her building. The two lovebirds were all but fucking in my backseat and I had to force myself not to gag.
Within a few minutes, I parked in our lot and cleared my throat loudly.
“Oh.” Sarah giggled again.
Gio seemed less concerned about protocol and more about getting laid, so I cleared the area and practically dragged them out of the car. The both huffed at my interruption, but all I cared about was sleep. It had been a long day. Longer than I was used to, and I wanted to have a decent encounter with my bed tonight.
I dropped them off at Giovanni’s room and waited for the lock to click before I headed to my own. As soon as I entered my apartment, I started to strip off my clothes and sighed when I finally made it to my room. I grabbed an old t-shirt out of the closet and threw it on quickly, headed straight for the bottle of whiskey I hid under my bed.
Five shots, back to back.
I felt the burn in my stomach spread out, and my mind numbed just enough that my eyes began to droop. In the blurriness, I looked up at the smiling face of my brother and tried to think of nothing but happier times. Something, anything, to will my own darkness away.
I woke up coughing, which didn’t make sense because I was laying comfortably in my own bed. I sat up and covered my mouth with my hand, just like mom said to do. It’s not polite to not cover your coughs. I looked down at the smoke billowing from the crack underneath my door and my eyes widened.
Something was wrong.
I gathered up my nightgown and hopped out of bed, my bare feet hitting the floor with a thud. That’s weird. Usually the floor was cold. It was really hot now. I reached for my doorknob and pulled my door open. A wall of smoke greeted me and almost knocked me down.
I didn’t know what to do.
Mom and dad would know.
I walked down the hall, searching for where the distant roar was coming from. The hallway was nothing but smoke. It was hard to breathe. Their door was hard to see, but the roar was coming from inside their room. And then I could hear it, just above the loud thunder.
Mom and dad were screaming.
The smoke didn’t cause the tears as I pounded my fists against their door.
“Mommy!” I cried. “Daddy?”
“Get out, Jaylyn! Run! Get your brother!”
Their terrified screams kept me in place, and I reached for their door handle and screeched when the searing hot metal burnt my hand.
“Come with me!” I yelled. “Open the door!”
Fingers dipped underneath their door, and I knelt down. I touched them, and I could hear my mother sobbing in pain.
I sat there, crying even as theirs died out. I was yanked back, and Niklaus looked down at me with a smoke-stained face.
“We need to go, Jaylyn. Now.”
“But mom, and dad?” I sniffed.
He said nothing and hauled me to my feet. I didn’t walk, I was dragged, until I realized that the hallway was coated in flames.
“Jaylyn, stop, we have to go!”
“We can’t leave them behind, Nik!” I screamed trying to wiggle out of his arms.
He continued to pull me out of the front door, and didn’t stop until we were in the grass.
“They’re gone, Jay. They’re gone.” He hushed me as sirens sounded in the distance and all I could do was cry.
I woke up coughing, which didn’t make sense because I was laying comfortably in my own bed. I sat up and covered my mouth with my hand, just like mom said to do. It’s not polite to not cover your coughs.
“Jaylyn, wake up!”
The way my body was shaking finally broke my mind out of the never-ending horror flick that haunted my dreams. I was covered in sweat, and I knew what I must look like. Ryker’s horrified expression greeted me, and the horrors of my sleep started to wear off. His hands were still gripping my shoulders, but he just kept looking at me, and held me still. I was now shivering, an annoying side effect to my nightmares.
“Are you all right?” His terrified expression had softened into genuine concern.
“I’m fine. Could you let go of me now?” I hardened.
He let his arms fall to his sides.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Still shivering, without the chill, I brought my blanket up to my chest, unwilling to look him straight in the eyes. If I did, I might actually decide to tell him the truth.
“Is this a regular thing?”
“It’s a none of your business thing.”
Ryker sighed and ran one hand through his hair. “I was just concerned, Jay. No need to be an ass. You were screaming so loudly; I think you woke up the whole floor.”
“The whole floor should invest in ear plugs.”
“So, this is a regular thing?”
“Could you just mind your own business, Ryker? We’re roommates. That doesn’t make us friends, and that certainly doesn’t make me your girlfriend. So just get out.” My voice rose an octave.
He shook his head and retreated instead of continuing the argument. “Whatever, Jay. I hope you sleep well.” He left and slammed the door behind him.
I sat up, knowing full and well that I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I checked my phone and growled when I saw the time. Three-thirty was just too early, even for me. I guess I didn’t have enough to drink last night to put myself to bed. Usually, that was the only way I could sleep. The black hole of alcohol made it perfect to sleep and not remember all the gory details of my parent’s deaths every single night.
I had been extremely innocent in the early days of my youth. My parents had kept me extremely sheltered, while my brother lived semi-normally. If I would have grown up normal, I’m sure I would have turned into a wild child as soon as my leash was taken off. I didn’t have very many friends, just Niklaus. So, grieving for their loss had been that much harder since the day he had permanently been adopted.
I had been left on my own completely at the mercy of my abusive foster family. For years, I let them treat me as they pleased and only fought them in the protection of one of my foster siblings. They could beat on me, I had nothing left, but I would have been damned to let them touch one of the others. The others were fragile and looked up to me, especially with the bullies we dealt with on a constant basis.
It was one of the reasons I taught myself how to fight. I was extremely tired of being at the bottom, and allowing people to treat me any way they pleased. The kids at our school were ruthless and there wasn’t a day that didn’t go by that I hadn’t participated in some sort of school yard brawl. At first, I was pathetic. Everyone could see it, and I got laughed at plenty.
But it was when I got a little older that things had started to turn around. I hit puberty and grew like a weed, even being short, I was taller than most kids my age, until I stopped growing upwards. They were all playing catch up, but in my lead, I took that time to start training in martial arts. I stood outside in an alleyway three nights a week, just outside an open doorway that led to a studio inside. I could hear the instructor’s commands, and I would train by myself.
When I was around fourteen, the instructor had noticed my attendance. At first, I thought he would have made me leave. Something about how pathetic I looked, or maybe my determination, but he had decided to let me stay and actually join his class. I didn’t have any money, so in turn, I was expected to clean the mats and the equipment. I didn’t mind. It meant less time I would have to spend at home, and I wanted to learn more than anything on how to protect myself.
By sixteen, I was fighting underground. I had a huge fight with my foster father and he struck me, as usual. And something in the sound of the hard slap across my face ignited a flame that finally burst into an all-out explosion. I had hurt him. Bad. When I was questioned by the police, I was instructed to lie by my foster mother. She couldn’t afford to live without the money the government was sending her to house us.
I did lie. I regretted it for a long time, because after the whole ordeal, she began to distance herself from the rest of us and refused to keep food in the house for the children. I became a mother that I had to be and started fighting for a paycheck, literally. I used the money to feed the other kids and keep clothes on them.
No one at school bothered to care if I showed up with a broken nose or bruises littering my body. I was the freak who could fight. They didn’t whisper about me; they didn’t approach me. It was complete solitude outside of the ring. I preferred it that way.
Two years in, Black found me.
I swallowed hard.
I didn’t need another trip down memory lane, it was too painful. I could handle it, but my sanity might not be able to. I got out of bed and wrapped myself in my blanket, making my way over to the closet and pulling out the Black’s duffle bag.
I opened my door and leaned against the wall, hoping to hear nothing at all. But Ryker’s soft snore reverberated through the thin drywall- good enough. I laid the duffle bag on the kitchen table and looked around in the dimly lit apartment. I could get this done before he woke up. I just had to be quiet. If I set up the cameras now, I would only have to worry about setting up Gio’s apartment and the hallway, and then hook a laptop up to them. Presto.
This would work out easier than I had expected.