Focus (Le Corbeau, #1) ✓

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11. Fresh Wounds

Alexis called the minute I left the bar. It was a simple check-up of my safety. With Le Corbeau being a small town, the news of Mikey’s attack spread like wildfire.

“I’m fine,”

“What’s wrong?” She asked worriedly. “Are you okay?”

“Ma,” I said in exasperation.

“Why do you sound so down?”

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I groaned. I was a mess, unable to shake off the lingering effects of my hysterical mood. My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach as worthlessness crept through my thoughts. My fucking thoughts; I was sick of them. I was tired of them going against me. Massaging my temples, awkwardly, I balanced my phone on my shoulders, rounding a corner.

“Nothing… just people saying things about dad and-”

“Ignore them,” Hostility oozed from the other end of the line. “They know nothing,”

I nodded even though she couldn’t see me. “I know,”

“Come home, John is making some lasagne,” She chanted. I loved lasagne and John’s were the best. My stomach growled viciously.

“Alright, I’ll be there in thirty,” We said our goodbyes and I ended the call.

Suddenly, in my mind, a light bulb flashed and I pivoted on my heels, walking elsewhere other than my home. I wanted to see Bruce and mostly, I hoped he was okay. He saw Mikey as family, his own blood. The gym was fifteen minutes away and I checked my phone for any miscalls from him. There were none. Packing my hair into a ponytail, it swayed side to side and I flattened back my frizzy tendrils. I came across the parking lot where there weren’t a lot of cars. It left more space to see over the concrete ground. My eyes didn’t fail me when they landed on him and someone else… Gladys.

My nail sunk into the cool leather strap of my bag as I observed them closely. Never in a million years did I carry a possessive streak. I wanted to claw her eyes out when her fingers trailed along his biceps, effectively pulling him closer than I could bear. My vision narrowed on them so much, they were at the end of the fucking tunnel. If he thought I was his girl, the same concept applied to him. He was mine, no one else.

My heavy feet stomped in their direction and Bruce locked eyes with me. He pulled back from her, running to me with apprehension. I didn’t understand this until he ducked low, his arms closing around my waist as mine stretched out, reaching for Gladys. I screamed, hearing the crows flutter away in fright. He carried me over his shoulder, getting further and further away from the serpent I wanted to kill. My temper accompanied my possessiveness and I scratched his back in frustration.

Bruce growled but continued forward or backwards on my part.

“Calm down,” Both of his hands cupped my jaw. “Baby, look at me,”

Gladys feigned a troubled looked and I thrashed in his arms but he wouldn’t let me go. With no success, I sagged against him, my breathing laboured and my eyes filled with pure hatred.

I hated her so fucking much.

“Is everything okay?” Her sultry voice was sickening and I resisted the urge to vomit.

“Fuck off, Gladys!” He threw the words over his shoulder and I raised my head so we'd lock gazes again. Her footsteps faded into the background. “Breathe,”

A gush of air crashed into my lungs and the darkness surrounding my eyes brightened. He yanked off my hair tie and his magical fingers kneaded my scalp as I mewled into his touch. My senses came back to earth as he chased away the demons lurking in the shadows of my mind. He snorted.

“I thought you were going to kill her,”

"I wanted to,"

“That’s crazy…”

“I’m not crazy!” He flinched at my harsh tone. “Don’t ever call me that,”

His brows lowered thoughtfully. “I didn’t mean it that way,”

“Why’re you talking to her? Why did she touch you?” I whispered lowly.

He rubbed my arms in a placating manner and I ignore the pleasurable chills jumping from one nerve cell to the next. With my mind overpowering those physical sensations, I push his hands away. With his frown still in place, he touched my chin, tilting my head back to search my face.

“What’s wrong?”

“You said I was your girl,” I took in a shuddering breath. “Are you mine?”

Acutely aware of his presence, I saw the littlest movements of his body: his chest heaving, the straining pulse of his veins circling his skin and the way silver irises darkened to grey under the sunset. His silence felt like an eternity and self-doubt began to pour inside me. He tensed and my eyes fluttered open in response.

“Haven’t I made that clear enough?”

Stupidly, I shook my head, confused. “I… I don’t know. I…”

Swiftly, he swooped down to captured my lips in a vice kiss. I lost any cognitive thought whenever he consumed me wholly. With my weakened knees, he held me upright but showed no mercy, sucking any life I had left. I was his prisoner. Simple. He didn’t plan to let me leave… and maybe I didn’t want to.

“Is that clear enough?”

I nodded.

“But you haven’t spoken to me in days,”

“I had a lot on my mind, with Mikey and the gym...”

“How is Mikey?” I asked, my eyes darting over his face. “Salice said he woke after three days in a coma,”

His shoulders lowered with a sigh. “He’s on his way to recovery. After everything, the fucker still jokes about it. He scared the living shit out of all of us,”

“Does the Sherriff know who did it?”

Solemnly, Bruce shook his head. He looked over his shoulder then looking over mine. I followed his actions but saw nobody. I frowned at him quizzically.

“I’m gonna drive you home,” He said and grabbed my hand, heading towards the gym. I didn’t protest and squeezed his fingers tightly as he did the same. “Gotta grab my keys,”

“Okay,” I said, slightly dazed. I didn’t want to leave his company just yet so I asked him on a whim. “Do you want to join us for dinner tonight?”

He grinned, revealing pearly white teeth which didn’t reach the corners of his eyes. I faltered slightly but kept up with his pace. “Sure,”

Salice and I made plans to meet up at the park. It was further away from my house than hers which made it very convenient in Jonah’s case. The park was at the centre of a neighbourhood. It was circular, a formed round-about for vehicles to drive by but had a path to cross for the safety of kids. Stepping down the bus, I pulled my NIKE snapback lower to hide from the sun's glare and walked next to the fence surrounding the park before meeting the gate. Scanning the area, my eyes locked on Salice and Jonah walking to the swings. I called out her name and she stopped in her tracks, her eyes following my voice to me.

When I reached her, she untangled her fingers from Jonah’s and sent him a warning look.

“Don’t go too far,” He rushed to the swings. She kept an eye on him. “Let sit on that bench,”

I agreed and we walked to one that was closer to the swings. She dug out some snacks, offering me a packet of crisps. I took it in gratitude and didn’t hesitate to dive in. Silence rolled by as I took in my surroundings. Dusk whisked across the horizon with sinister chills of the night. There weren’t many people except for those having their late night runs. Primarily, it was the three of us and the impending sense of doom shadowed my consciousness. Salice wasn’t her usual gleeful self. I admired her strength to smile through the darkest times, finding the positive aspects of life. It was difficult for when all I knew was pain, doubt and self-loathing. But even the happiest person would have their cloudy days.

She was the first to speak, her voice sounding louder amongst the dead silence of the atmosphere.

“Are you happy, McKenna?”

Her question threw me off-guard and my muddled thoughts formed a coherent sentence. “I don’t know…”

“You smile a lot more around Bruce, especially when we were kids,” She snorted, a tiny speck of light brightening her gloom. “Remember when we went ice-skating?”

“Oh god,” I groaned, reliving that particular memory and shuddering as my face heated with newfound mortification. “Don’t, please!”

I remembered that day too well. It was the coldest winter ever in Le Corbeau and we decided to visit a new ice-skating rink. I felt like Bambi learning how to walk for the first time in the ring and tripped unattractively on my ass which and released ear-piercing scream. Bruce was there as well the whole goddamned school of Stanfield High. I didn’t know he stood right next to me, watching me in complete shock. The ice beneath me didn’t cool the fire searing through my backside and I couldn’t get up to my feet. He helped me. If my big fat crush wasn’t so obvious back then, I’d question whether anyone needed the optician.

“You couldn’t sit down for the whole day,” She giggled, covering her contagious smile.

“Eight years ago,” I muttered nostalgically, remembering for some reason, Bruce was there through my agony back at his place. We went home early and he decided to come along as well with friends.

“You’re in love with him,” I tensed, casting my eyes to the ground. It was hard to bear the intensity of her cerulean gaze. “I envy you, at times,”

I straightened my spine, reading between the lines as I shuffled closer. She envied me, why? Another gush of wind rushed by, matching the morbid atmosphere hovering over us. She breathed in a shaky breath.

“What are you trying to say?” I didn’t give her a chance to answer. “Are you not okay?”

“I am, I have to be,” I narrowed my eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I followed her gaze to Jonah as he rose high on the swings, joy etched on his boyish features. He was pure, untainted of malignant things scouring the earth and I watched him in awe. I was ruined the moment I took my first breath on this earth.

“He may be mine but he has family other than Bruce and I. I’m afraid they’ll find out about him and take him away from me and-”

I embraced her with a hush, allowing her to cry on my shoulder. I should’ve been there with her. If I’d known, I would’ve been there in a heartbeat. Seeing her after seven long years, I saw a glimpse of pain in her eyes. She tried to cover it up with her smiles, her joy and focused all of her attention on her son. Salice Atlas was a strong woman, stronger than me in every sense.

The patter of tiny feet tore us from our embrace and Jonah stared at his mother with a small frown. He tapped her knee. “Mama?”

Immediately, she sniffed loudly, quickly wiping the tears away. His frown deepened at her watery smile. He knew something was up. He was a smart kid.

“Hi…um… do you need anything? Are you hungry?” Rummaging through her bag, she handed him half a sandwich but he was slow to take it. Frantically, Salice peeled the wrapper away and jerked it towards him. “You haven’t eaten in a while. Eat,”

“Salice,” I lowered her arm. “Everything is fine. Give me five minutes and I’ll join you at the slides,”

He went back to the slides, not without looking over his shoulder. He ran with the roundabout and hung loosely as he sliced through the wind.

“Are you going to tell him one day?”

Raising her shoulders, she sighed. “When he’s old enough to understand,”

I stood up, looking down at her with a smile. “Please, don’t dwell on those thoughts. Sooner or later, you’ll become a prisoner to them, trust me,”

I patted her shoulder in reassurance, skipping to Jonah, showing my glee when I lifted him in the air. He squealed when I spun around viciously and feigned a tired sigh.

“God, you’re heavy,”

“Let’s go to the slides!”

Laughing, I followed him, mirroring his excitement and at the same time, showing Salice her whole world was right in front of her.

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