Focus (Le Corbeau, #1) ✓

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12. Reminisces

A knock on the door distracted me from my thoughts. Looking up, I found John standing on the threshold with his arms crossed.

“Hi,”

“Hey,” He pursed his lips. “Are you okay? Gladys said you were upset the other day,”

I rolled my eyes so harshly, it was a surprise they weren't stuck behind my head. Why the hell was she talking about me? I definitely didn’t pay any mind to her.

“I don’t like her,” I said bluntly.

“She can be a little… difficult but-”

“I don’t like her,” I repeated. “In fact, I don’t want to speak about her. Stop trying to make us act sisterly because it’s never gonna happen,”

Scratching his five o’clock shadow thoughtfully, he stepped into my room. His heavy footsteps caused the ground to creak and he sat on the edge of my bed. I pull my knees up to my chest protectively.

“Yeah, I guess, I’m the one to blame,”

It never made sense how John was Gladys’ father. Personality wise, he was a good man. I could never hate him as he was good to Alexis. He saved her more ways than I ever could and I was grateful but baffled when he tolerated Gladys’ actions. I sent her to the hospital once. John didn’t look at me for a whole month. I couldn’t look in the mirror. When he did manage to take a glimpse, I saw what everybody else thought about me – a fucking lunatic.

Over the years, he slowly understood and never said anything. I didn’t think of him as my father, in any sense. His ‘turning a blind eye’ infuriated the hell out of me. Instead of sugar-coating his words, I told him the cold, hard truth.

“Tell her to back off and we wouldn’t have a problem. She doesn’t seem to listen to me but maybe she will to you,” I jumped off the bed and slipped into my shoes. “Where’s my ma?”

“Getting dressed, we’re going out for dinner,”

Uninterested, I draped my leather jacket over the shoulders. My phone blared loudly, rattling violently on the wooden table. The screen revealed a text from Bruce and I read the first words before swiping left to unlock the screen.

‘Come to the gym at 9 pm. Having a fight tonight and want to see you there’

Writing a quick reply, I tucked my phone in my back pocket and met John’s gaze. I smiled yet it always felt awkward to be all ‘smiles’ around him.

“I’m going out tonight. Tell my ma she doesn’t have to wait up for me,”

“Wait,” He held up his hand and I paused, confused. With a smile, he gestured for me to sit. “I didn’t come here to talk about Gladys. I want to talk about you, actually,”

He closed the door. Agitated, I refused to sit down and watched him curiously. I was keen to meet Bruce. My conflicting emotions caused my stomach to churn. Just for a minute, I’ll stay.

“Have you taken my thought into consideration?”

“What thought?”

“Therapy,”

I puff out a low breath. “Not now, I’m still thinking whether I should leave or not,”

He raised his eyebrows, surprised. “You’ll stay,”

“I’m indecisive,”

He shoved his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “So you are considering therapy,”

“Yeah, I think. I’ve been putting it off because-”

Because I wasn’t comfortable talking to a stranger. I wasn’t comfortable talking to anyone, in general. He waved his hands frantically, his eyes widening.

“You don’t have to explain anything. You have your reasons, but in the end, just know that I want what’s best for you,”

“Don’t tell ma about this, I don’t want to get her hopes up,”

Rushing out of the room, I dashed down the stairs with inexplicable enthusiasm and excitement. After countless times trying to open the door, something clicked and I drop my head back before exhaling a loud, frustrated grunt.

“Fuck, the keys!




The parking lot was full and I don’t mean by cars, there were a lot of people. Luckily enough, I found one parking space and took a moment to stare around. At the last fight, there weren’t that many people. Now, it seemed like the whole town was here but they weren’t people I recognised. Shutting the door behind me, I walked tentatively to the front entrance but observed the those around me. Booze and cigarettes polluted the air and men conversed with each other, some leaning on their cars with scantily dressed women hanging on their arms. This setting was all too familiar to me.

There were various cars like Lambos and Mercedes Benz, cars I remembered stealing. I didn’t miss the way some eyes skated over to me but ignoring them, I continued forward. Briefly, I admired the cars but not long enough to encourage anyone to start a conversation. Suddenly, someone snatched my arm, causing me to stagger backwards and I turned to stare at the culprit. His beady eyes rubbed me off the wrong way and I leaned into him, my nose creasing with a snarl.

“Get your hands off me before I’d tear your fucking eyes out,” I warned in a deadly, calm tone and instantly, I was set free. Giving him a sickly sweet smile, I walked straight up to the entrance.

I didn’t get a chance to enter as a dark figure whooshed from my peripheral vision. Startled, I swirled around, placing my hand on my beating heart when I realised it was Tony and not some evil entity. I threw daggers at him with my eyes and the bastard had the nerve to grin cheekily. Can I go anywhere without running into him? I was beginning to think he did this on purpose.

“Feeling nostalgic?”

Licking my bottom lip, I bit the inside of my cheek nervously. “I see familiar cars, so what?”

With his outstretched arm, he waved his hand around, taunting me. “What if I told you these were the cars you stole?”

I gaped at him, sweeping my eyes over the parking lot one last time, feeling overwhelmed. How...? He watched me expectantly and with a laugh of disbelief, I came up with a conclusion that seemed surreal.

“You invited them,” Every single one of them. How did he get in contact with the buyers?

“Maybe I did,” Taking my arm, we walked down the alley of cars and the bright, shiny exterior screamed money but judging from the people around us, they were most likely stolen. “Don’t you find it thrilling? The fear of getting caught could do wonders to the body,”

I remembered that feeling all too well, the adrenaline powering my body and the dramatic thump of my heart as I raced away from the cops. It was addicting and if I didn’t leave sooner than later, I’d be stuck. My purpose of leaving Le Corbeau was to move around, not to be held down by one thing for too long.

“I still got two days left,” I shrugged him off hastily. “And unless you want Bruce to beat you to a pulp, you better leave. I’m saying this out of kindness, it’s not a threat,”

Any amusement plastered on his face vanished as he glowered down at me. “You’re getting attached. I see it and I don’t like it.”

“I’m not getting attached,” I lied through my teeth. “I plan to leave but not with you,”

He pursed his lips in annoyance. “Name your price?”

“Excuse me?”

“Fifty thousand dollars?” He shot back with his own question. “With your lifestyle, you’re well off for the next five years,”

Pivoting on my heels, I strolled back to the front doors, tossing a look over my shoulder. “I have two more days, we’ll talk later,”

The double doors were open, welcoming any guests to pass through the threshold. Nobody was behind the desk at reception. I don’t think Bruce allowed anybody to loiter around. The centre of the gym was lit up and looking in from the outside, I saw movements of the crowd. Drowning in the deafening screams of praise, I squeezed through them, searching around for Bruce but it was near impossible. Prying my phone from my back pocket, I sent him a text and straightaway, I got a reply back.

‘In my office.’

The stairs were on the other end of the room and despite the daunting number of people, I swam through them. In seconds, I opened his office door but I didn’t get too far. Falling into his arms, Bruce picked me up, allowing my legs to snake around his waist as he strolled over to his desk. We were alone.

“Where’s Wolf?” I asked curiously.

“He’s sorting things out. People heard of the fight and travelled from places further than New Orleans,” Sinking my body on the desk, he nestled his hips between my legs, kissing my forehead repeatedly and grazing my lips.

“What so special about tonight, though?” I asked and he raised an offended brow. I slapped his chest mockingly with an awkward smile. “You know what I mean,”

His silvery eyes sparkled with amusement and he moved back slightly, pushing the gauze in my hand. “Help wrap my hand, will you,”

I obliged and with care, wrapped his hands whilst his eyes were pinned to my face. I breathed him in, sighing in content and fought off the burns on my cheeks at his scrutinising stare. Finishing with a light squeeze, he kissed me in appreciation and rolled his neck and a crack the following.

“Why do you do it? Fighting, I mean...”

“It’s a way to relieve stress,” He shrugged.

“So it’s therapeutic?”

Physical harm was a sensitive subject, especially when I grew up with an abusive father. I only fought when it was necessary but I made an effort to avoid it whenever I could. With me, fighting and blinding anger merged as one and my biggest fear was I wouldn’t stop once I started. I didn’t know how to distinguish the two.

Bruce shrugged absentmindedly. “Yeah, if you’d like to put it that way,”

He flexed his fingers and practised his punches with cool precision. I gawked at him like a fool, admiring the muscles beneath his flesh tightening and flexing with each movement. He caught me staring, shooting a sharp wink which turned my world upside down. My stomach fluttered with butterflies, no, pterodactyls soared inside. You couldn’t imagine what would change after seven long years yet still, my attraction for him never died out. Yes, it may have diminished after years of not seeing him but they were embers burning within the depths of darkness, giving enough light to know something was alive.

I felt alive.

Perhaps it might continue to burn until the fire is re-ignited. So much so, an inferno would’ve swept through me. It was fucking insane.

“Have you ever lost a fight?”

“I’m not superman but I don’t make a habit of losing,” He smirked arrogantly.

I looked out the window, staring at the massive crowd below. There were four men nearer the stage, wearing black t-shirts with their arms folded, any warm expression chased away by their tense ‘resting bitch face’s. They were the referees and I was glad, knowing how wild a crowd could get. Wolf was on the stage talking to another man but with the noise, they had to move their heads closer together for any words to travelled between them. I registered everything and what was going to go down tonight. Bruce coerced my head to his direction, bending slightly so we were at eye level.

“You still with me, Ken?”

“Yeah… everything is so overwhelming,”

“You’re coming with me. When I’m in the ring, you stay with Wolf,”

“I can take care of myself,” I pointed. “But this wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t invite sleaze balls here,”

His eyes hardened with tension, the muscle in his jaw ticking possessively. “Did anybody touch you?”

The door swung open, drawing our attention as Wolf popped in. He looked at Bruce then at me and jerked his chin in acknowledgement.

“The fights are about to begin in ten minutes. People are placing their bets so it may take a while,”

Bruce thanked him and Wolf left us to ourselves again. I hopped off the desk and dodged his large frame for the door. With two long strides, he caught up to me and opened the door before I got the chance to do so myself. We dived into a sea of noise and I winced at the unwelcomed invasion in my skull. His hand skimmed the nape of my neck, slowly kneading my tense muscles as we descended the stairs. Grasping my hand, we sidestepped to the stage, dodging their flailing arms and their bodies bumping into each other. The stage was illuminated by lights on each end of the ceiling; everything was so prepared, I would’ve expected a UFC championship fight.

We managed to get near the front of the ring where Wolf was behind the refs. Bruce leaned into him, whispering something I couldn’t hear, and Wolf regarded me closely which confirmed who they were talking about. Bruce kissed my temple once again and climbed up the stage. Wolf led the way towards an area where there weren’t many people but it gave a better view of the ring. The place was higher than the ground floor but lower than the floor of the office. He motioned for me to sit first and he sat next to me. Bruce had his eyes in our direction - on me - and I beamed at him.

“You’ll try not to run out on us this time?” Wolf chuckled, nudging my arm with his elbow. I blushed, casting my eyes away as my hair acted as a veil.

“Yeah… I’ll try not to,” I said in a dead tone. “I’m not huge on fighting,”

Wolf cocked a brow questioningly. “You’re a pacifist?”

“No, I only fight if it’s necessary. But it looks like he wants to kill someone,”

He scratched his jaw, the blonde specks dusting his cheeks. A strangled noise escaped his lips. “Yeah, it looks insane but he knows when to stop,”

It didn’t seem that way the last time I saw him. I recognised something in the boiling depths of his molten greys. Bruce’s demeanour altered whenever he embraced the dark side. It was as if he wasn’t fighting his opponent but like he tried to battle something else. I guess he saw something in me. It’d explain how he easily accepted the baggage that followed wherever I went. It might be a reason why he wanted me to stay, to face whatever bothered me, to control it, to fight again him, Yusuf. How could I do so when I didn’t trust myself?

I didn’t trust myself with anyone. I hardly had any friends except for Salice and considering the amount of time I been around Bruce and the bar, Wolf, Mikey, Alice, Jace and Billy could be seen as friends but those were out of convenient circumstances. I found comfort in my seven years of solitude. It made it a lot easier when people saw me as ‘the weird’ one. All except Kane when he gave me the opportunity to make a few dollars in exchange for stolen cars.

My mind went to Tony, then Mikey’s attack.

“When can I visit Mikey?”

“Anytime within the visiting hours.Who knows if he’ll be awake though,” Wolf lifted a shoulder in an ‘I don’t know’ gesture. “Look, the fight is gonna start,”

Fixing my gaze on the ring, I observed the opponent with enough curiosity to differentiate him from Bruce. He wasn’t going to win. There wasn’t any doubt in my prediction. He didn’t appear to have years of skill that Bruce displayed through his warm up. A beginner, probably, but shouldn’t he be spending weeks training rather than diving towards the deep end? Wolf read my thoughts as he cursed under his breath, leaning against the railing whilst squinting.

“Who’s he?”

“Tucker,” He growled. “He has a death wish,” Jogging to the stage to Bruce’s corner, they exchanged a few words and Bruce nodded.

‘Go easy’, I got that from reading Wolf’s lips.

The bell rang, signifying for the fight to begin and both men circled each other, testing to see who would take the first strike. Bruce skidded to the left when Tucker aimed for what looked like his neck and stumbled into the air. Shaking his head, Bruce held up his arms in front of his chest as they circled each other again. Tucker directed his fist to his face but Bruce blocked the attack with his forearm and gave him a swift uppercut. Instinctively, I winced and resisted the urge to cover my eyes. It was too painful to watch yet I couldn’t look away.

Wolf closed his eyes and dragged his hand down his face despondently.

The fight could’ve ended there and but for the sake of entertainment, Bruce took a few blows. However, it didn’t have a detrimental effect on him. Slowly, he turned to his opponent with a grin so sinister it sent chills down my spine. One strike to the face, Tucker was knocked out cold and Bruce towered over him, declared as the winner. The whole crowd erupted with endless screams, clogging my ears painfully and I winced. He seemed out of it. He didn’t pay attention to the crowd chanting his name or the guards that held the mass of people fighting their way to the stage. His hair was unruly and the light exposed a sheen of precipitation on his skin.

Not waiting for the green light, I sprinted to him, paying no attention to Wolf’s calls. I approached the back of the ring where there were fewer guards and Bruce’s eyes followed me. Jaded, his fists were clenched firmly and it trembled slightly. It wasn’t adequate; his desire to fight was insatiable and going easy on an amateur didn’t help at all.

Resting my hand on the flat surface of the ring, we stared at each other, neither one of us making an effort to close the agonising distance between us. I wanted to but I was wary of him.

Finally, he approached me slowly and I made some room for him to leave the ring. He sat on the edge, not breathing harshly regardless of the fatigue shown in his outer appearance. His bottom lip was split and already, a purple bruise formed on his sun-kissed complexion. I wanted to kiss his pain away but I held myself back.

“You shouldn’t be down here, the crowd can get dangerous,”

“I don’t care,” My hands cover his fists, coaxing them to relax under my touch. “Are you okay,”

“I’m fine,” He answered brusquely and I drew back as the coldness sliced through my skin. He reached forward but I dodged his hands. He grunted in dissatisfaction. “Come here,”

“How much money did you win?” I questioned, trying to distract him.

“Wolf will have the answer to that,” As if on cue, he appeared next to us with a whole load of cash. His fingers flicked through them and thumped it into Bruce’s hands.

“Ten thousand dollars,”

“It’ll all go to Jonah’s college fund,” Bruce wrapped the cash up in an elastic band, sliding off the ring. He walked ahead of us but paused, looking at me over his shoulder. His brown hair was darker with a layer of sweat and I couldn't ignore the tingles in my chest at the sight of him. I caught up to him, expecting Wolf to do the same but with one hard look from Bruce, we were walking to his office alone.

“Did I do something wrong?” I asked, perplexed by his cold attitude. He didn’t say anything when he grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and chugged it down like his life depended on it. He knocked the door shut aggressive and pinned me in place with those bright silver irises. They were illuminated with contained fury; it was almost like they could glow in the dark. I didn’t feel welcomed. The thought of home seemed more comforting than ever before. “Am I wasting my time?”

His scowl deepened. “I called you here for a reason, didn’t I?”

“Unbelievable,” I retreated and spun on my heels. “You’re a dick,”

I didn’t get a chance to leave. The moment my fingers clasped the handle, a force from behind pushed me against the door and I yelped in fright. Heat radiated from his body onto mine as tension flew between us.

“I didn’t say you could leave,”

“I didn’t know I needed your permission,” I gritted, spinning around in his cage-like arms. To anyone else, he was formidable, dangerous even but I didn’t see any of that when I laid my eyes on him. Growing up the way I did desensitise any innate alarm bells to ring off. In fact, I was drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, but I didn’t like his harshness to me.

“I want you here but I can’t ignore you’re hiding something,” He backed away, stretching the distance between us. “Why is Tony interested in you?”

Groaning in exasperation, I tugged my blonde hair. I thought we were past this? Mentally, I cursed Tony to hell and his stupid presence in my life. He was like an unwanted splinter digging into my skin. Bruce folded his arms expectantly, watching me with hooded eyes.

“Why’s it so important to you?”

“I told you to stay away from him, that he’s dangerous, and he’s talking about leaving with you. What the fuck is that about?”

How would he react when I told him I stole cars in exchange for money?

“We have mutual friends,” I said vaguely.

“Should I be worried?”

“No-”

“Then cut the bullshit!” He barked, smashing his fists on the wall and I flinched, shocked. “What does he want with you?”

The tension between us was palpable and it wasn’t the sexual type crackling loudly in the air. His gaze was unnerving, willing me to confess the truth. There was no way out of this, no Wolf to come and save me or anybody else. We would stay in his office all night until I told him something to ease his worries. Bruce always had this excessive need to know everything which was both pleasing and irksome. Why couldn’t he leave it alone? It was a part of my life. No one needed to know the world I left behind. I wasn’t proud of it but desperate times forced my hands to do things that nearly got me in trouble with the law. Knowing I wouldn’t get anywhere with silence, I avoided his eyes before breathing my confession.

“A while back, in New York, I used to boost cars in exchange for money. Tony was there during those times and wants me to do some work for him when I leave,”

There, short and simple. No point drawing things out to make everything complicated. He stilled, mute as he absorbed every single word. I was going crazy with his lack of response and dragged my eyes up to meet his steely ones. His brows were creased into a frown.

“But you’re not going to leave?” He asked coolly but I couldn’t decipher his emotions. “Right?”

“I don’t think I want to,”

Trudging forward, he closed the space between us. His index finger grazed my chin, raising my head and I met his blazing gaze, questioning, hoping. This man wanted me to stay in a town I couldn’t find the strength to reconcile with. But if I stayed, would it be for the better or for worse? Seeing Yusuf was what motivated me to get in and get out as soon as I could, knowing Alexis would be okay in the end of course. Unintentionally, I took a little detour straight to Bruce’s arms.

“If you leave with him, remember he almost killed Mikey,” His Adam’s apple bobbed with restrained anguish. I didn’t see a single tear when we went to the hospital but the pain reflecting his dark greys spoke volumes.

“I don’t plan to leave with him,”

He sagged, relief flooding his body. Both his hands cupped my jaw gently and he leaned his forehead on mine. His eyes closed, robbing my pleasure of gazing at them. He was so worked up about it all and the guilt coursing through me couldn’t be neglected.

“Good,” He exhaled, tightening his grip on my head. “He’s dangerous. We’re hoping he’ll leave soon. I’ve been keeping an eye on him as well as the Sherriff,”

“He said he didn’t shoot Mikey. He was the one who brought him to the hospital,” He couldn’t be the type of dangerous Bruce thought off. I didn’t get any major alarm bells ringing but he was sly and manipulative.“You told Sherriff Melbourne?”

“I didn’t need to, he was their first suspect and tomorrow, they’re going to take him in for interrogations,”

“And you’re confident Tony is the one who shot him?”

“Why’re you defending him?” He snapped and his nostrils flared with annoyance.

“Le Corbeau may be a small place but it doesn’t mean only one guy out of the whole town could’ve done it,”

He was getting worked up again and he recoiled from me, pacing back and forth. His hair was dishevelled with his hands constantly running through them. We weren’t going to meet eye to eye on this and I was exhausted. I wanted to go home.

“My ma called, I’ve gotta go,” I lied and he snorted gravely, his eyes void of any mirth.

“You’re twenty-five and your mama still chases after you?”

Swivelling on my heels, I headed for the door but this time, he didn’t stop me.

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