“What the hell are you doing?”
Mikey caught my eyes when he glanced over his shoulder. They widened a fraction and he grabbed the strange bag, shoving in his pockets. The guy he talked to ran off before I got the chance to question him. Was there any point? His bloodshot eyes answered everything. Folding my arms, I sent a hard glare.
“That better not be what I’m thinking...”
“Fuck off!” he tried to move ahead, but I blocked his path. Clutching his collar, I tugged him forward, our noses almost touching as I gritted my teeth, irritated.
“You’ve got the chance to turn your life around and I ain’t gonna let you fuck it up,” invasively, I dug into his pockets, dragging out the bag of heroin and tossed it to the road. Luckily, it was raining and a car running it over made it definite that he wouldn’t run after it.
Mikey gripped my wrist, rage fuelling his blood as he pushed me away. Unfazed by the force, I regarded him intently as he raised his hands to his head. His hair was closely cropped to his scalp. Many years passed before he decided to grow it out into dreads. Anguish crossed his dark features and if it wasn’t the dull, grey clouds darkening my vision, I thought I saw a glassy sheen of tears in his eyes.
“You bastard!” he roared. “Twenty fucking bucks lost!”
“You promised you’d stop. Wolf’s got a rehab centre on speed dial if you were caught. I’m sorry,” I wasn’t. The best way for one to learn was through tough love. Mikey was a brother, one I never had, and I couldn’t watch him destroy himself. “Don’t follow her path, pave a new one,”
“She was the only family I ever had,” he scoffed, solemnly. “A shitty mama but she was there,”
“You need help, man. Let us help you,”
He shook his head quickly. “No, I can do this. Please, give me another chance,”
“You used them all,” Stalking towards him, he backed away quickly with his hands held up, his eyes pleading. “It’s either you get help or you’d find yourself in a ditch one day, dead because you OD’ed. Don’t follow your ma’s path,”
At those words, he willingly gave in, allowing me to guide him to my truck without any struggle. Rock bottom. It was a shitty place to be but was needed to drag you back to reality. Fatigue battered his body as he sagged against the seat, leaving me to do everything for him as if he was a child. Buckling his seatbelt, I patted his shoulder in assurance before closing the door, jogging to my side of the car.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, his tone slurred. “For everything,”
Switching on the ignition, I glanced at the rear-view mirror and said. “Thank me when you’re clean. I ain’t giving up on yah,”
I drove to Benny’s garage in complete silence. Well, not completely. Mikey’s light snores filled the truck. I was late for work - he’d be pissed. I spent all my afternoon chasing after Mikey, trying to catch him in the act. It was strange, how our upbringing could influence the path we stumble on.
He didn’t have a younger sibling to think about, especially one as young as the age of three. I was six when my mama left, leaving us alone with a man who didn’t know how to raise two kids. I didn’t turn to drugs for an escape but I don’t hold it against those who do. I had to stay strong, not only for me, for Salice’s future.
Parallel parking in front of Benny’s place, I switched off the engine, looking at Mikey for a few seconds before hopping out the truck. Benny lifted his head at the sound of the door slamming. He shook it in disapproval.
“You’re late,” he grumbled, not looking up from his paperwork.
“There was a... situation,” at my vagueness, his bushy brows furrowed over his brown eyes. They shifted over my shoulder and he spotted Mikey in my truck. The corner of his lips tightened.
“Get that boy help, Bruce,”
“Which is why I can’t work today,” prepared to give him an essay worth of excuse, he held up a hand.
“Go, I hired a kid this afternoon, she’s amazing,”
“She?” I asked, perplexed.
“Yes, Kenny. Two customers were impressed by her. She’s out back,” He nodded backwards. “Introduce yourself, she doesn’t talk a lot. I think she’s the shy type,”
“Alright, then,” drumming my fingers on the wooden desk, I set off to find this shy ‘newbie’ and didn’t have to venture off too far. I halted mid-stride, taking a moment to examine her appearance. She wasn’t what I expected. Hell, if I saw her walking down the street, I wouldn’t think she worked in the mechanics.
She wasn’t facing my direction but I could tell she was pretty. Her stark blonde hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, the tips kissing her light brown skin, almost appearing golden. I cleared my throat and instantly, she whipped around, her hair flying in all directions as her dark eyes pinned mine in place. I stumbled back at the force they exuded, the pain circling the edge of her irises. Her long lashes fluttered a couple of times before the shield came up, hiding her emotions.
I pointed at her. “Kenny?”
“McKenna,” she corrected, her voice light but not too light that’ll she’d sound so... feminine. There was a slight rasp to her tone, it was strange to hear but comforting, nevertheless. Silence rolled in the next few seconds that went by. “Do you need anything?”
“My tires need fixing,”
Her dark brows knitted together and her eyes scanned my form. I smirked as she folded her arms, jutting a hip out in a pose. “New tires?”
“Uh,” I scratched the nape of my neck. “They need fixing,”
This time, she arched a brow and gave another once over. “You don’t look like a guy who can’t change a tire,”
My cell buzzed and I saw Wolf’s name. He’d be around in ten minutes. I promised Mikey I’d give him one last shot but I’ve heard it all before. For me, the rule was one strike and you’re out but Wolf thought otherwise. Focusing my attention back on the blonde beauty, I shook my head.
“No, I’ve got a lot of things to do,”
“Oh,” McKenna swung her arms back, the hem of her pink tank top riding upwards, revealing her navel. My eyes wandered to her midriff, blatantly, and she quickly covered her stomach. “Where’s your car?”
“At the front, hold on a sec,”
Jogging to my truck, I climbed in just when Mikey peeled his heavy lids open. Patting his back, I started the engine and parked right next to McKenna, careful not to run her over or anything. She eyed Mikey as he stumbled out the car and the fucker didn’t bother to introduce himself. Once again, she raised a quizzical brow at me.
“Ignore him,” slamming the door shut, I walked next to her, nodding to the tires. “Need any help?”
She scoffed, insulted and held out her hand. “Cash, upfront,”
Grinning, I reached into my back pocket, pulling out a few twenties. Slapping it into her palm, she drew back as she counted the money, her brows drawn together in concentration. Satisfied, her full lips stretched into a smile. They were so tempting I tried not to kiss her right then and there. Fuck, where did that come from?
Stepping out of the bubble surrounding us, I walked further into the shop, heading to one of the cars I was fixing for another customer. I stole a few glances here and there whenever she walked by, whenever she was in sight, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
“Keep your hands to yourself, Atlas, you ain’t touching her,”
“Why not?” dragging my gaze away, I looked at Benny expectantly. “She’s a girl, I’m a guy, and it’s natural,”
“Not if you want your ass in prison. She’s fifteen,” he lowered his voice, his eyes softened with sympathy. “She’s a good kid. Too bad her daddy is a jackass,”
Curious, I folded my arms, leaning in to hear his words better from where the conversation was heading. “What?”
“He’s an alcoholic, an angry one at that. Beats her mama in all directions but the poor woman is too frightened to call the cops,” he shook his head. “Thought to give her work to get her minds off things, you know, keep her off the streets. Who knows what vultures are out there preying on the young,”
My blood ran cold at the news. I could relate in so many ways, more than I could count. Gritting my jaw as anger surged through my bloodstream, I turned my body to him fully, unable to contain the venom dripping from my voice.
“Does he hurt her?”
Benny’s eyes darkened. “No, I tried to help her mama but she refused,”
“I can help, I’ll introduce her to Salice,” I offered, shrugging. “She may need a friend to get through this,”
As if she could sense our eyes, she glanced at us. She blushed and quickly looked away as she continued working on my tires. I wish I could help her more. Something stirred deep inside and it didn’t take long to realise it was protectiveness surging through my body. She was too young to face all this bullshit. Only fifteen and she didn’t want to be in the confines of her own home.
Salice and I had each other. I protected her whenever dad came home drunk at night. She didn’t need to see that at her young age but she was smart. She knew something wasn’t right at home. Devin Atlas was a sad drunk but there were times when he searched for a human punching bag.
McKenna’s scent dragged me from my reverie. I didn’t know how long I spaced out but I focused my attention on her, raising an expectant brow. She lowered her gaze to the ground. I noticed she looked at me for a few seconds then avoided my gaze. I grinned. I knew the effect I had on the female population.
“Your new tires are in,” she said timidly. I lifted her chin with my index finger, forcing our eyes to connect.
“Need help, Bruce?” Jonah asked, his blue eyes brightening with anticipation. The nostalgic memory faded from my senses, leaving me in a morbid mood. I couldn’t wallow in my own self-pity, though, I needed to lighten up for my nephew. It was getting easier with each day passing by. Grunting, I shifted into a sitting position, resting my elbows on my knees.
“Your mama won’t like this,” I warned, cleaning the grime off my hands from the old car. “It’s a school night and she wants you home by seven,”
He frowned, crouching next to me with his lips lined with determination. “I’m eight and I can sleep over at your place and leave early tomorrow morning,”
“No you won’t,” together, we both turned to Salice.
She scowled at Jonah, her identical blues cooling to ice at his suggestion. She was a proud mama bear, a fierce one at that. With her black hair tied back, her face was clear of any makeup due to the Louisianan heat beading down on us.
She turned to me, placing her hands on her hips. “Don’t encourage him!”
“I wasn’t,” I said with a shrug. “But I have nothing against him staying over,”
She huffed, folding her arms and her eyes narrowed. “That’s the thing, staying over assumes staying awake all night playing with your PlayStation. If it was a Friday, I’d understand,”
“Please, mama!” Jonah jumped to his feet, almost standing to his mother’s height. He was growing faster than we’d ever imagined. It felt like yesterday when I held his tiny body in my arms. “We’re gonna work on this car,”
“Oh,” she raised a displeased brow. “And what exactly is Bruce doing with this car?”
I beamed at her. “Send Maya all my goodnight kisses,”
“She wanted to meet her favourite Uncle but she’s still ill,”
I stared at her flatly. “I’m her only Uncle,”
“No, she’s quite fond of Mikey too,” she giggled at my sour face. “Alright, baby, you can stay but I’ll be calling at nine to know if you’ve gone to bed,”
“Yes!” Jonah’s fist pumped the air, jumping excitedly to the garage’s door. “I’ll brush my teeth now so I’ll go to bed early!”
I shook my head, grinning to myself. That boy was something else.
“Why don’t you go out? Have fun,” she asked when he disappeared through the threshold. “Alana’s been asking about you,”
Alana... I released a groan of frustration. Another reason to avoid the social world. She was new to Le Corbeau and didn’t understand the meaning of ‘I’m not interested’.
“No,” I repeated.
“You know why I can’t,” I said harshly, glaring at her. “I. Can’t,”
She sighed, the corner of her eyes softening.
“Have you ever thought of moving on?” She whispered, cajolingly. “I don’t think she’s coming back,”
Standing to my feet, I leaned against the car, folding my arms and stared at the ground. If only she knew how much I tried. Trying to move on, touching some else, was like acid on my skin. I think this had been the longest I’d gone without sex.
“I can’t move on... she ruined me,” I straightened my posture, facing the door. “You haven’t heard from her?”
“It’s been three years and... nothing,” she scoffed, shaking her head. “Maybe she doesn’t want to come back. She hated this town,”
I sighed, running my fingers through my hair. She hated this town. I believe she would’ve stayed but I fucked everything. I didn’t think; I acted like an impulsive juvenile.
“I hope she’s alright, though,” she whispered. “I talked to Mrs Joseph but she hasn’t talked to her in months,”
“Months?” I asked, curious.
“Yeah, if it wasn’t for her ma, I guess she would’ve severed all ties,”
Pivoting on my heels, I saw her pain. I didn’t know what to do to make things better. The first time McKenna left, Salice forgave her easily. Would she do the same the second time around? Pulling her into a tight embrace, I kissed the top of her head, rubbing her back in soothingly.
“You’re an angel, I swear,” I mumbled into her scalp. “I gotta thank you for everything,”
She laughed, pulling away so we could meet eye to eye. “What did I do?”
“You were my motivator, the reason why I was able to build a life for us,”
“I’ve got nothin’ to do with that,” she slapped my shoulder, winking at me. “C’mon, I’ll make some dinner before I head back to Wolf,”
Salice entered the house and I followed her but an incoming text stopped me in my tracks. Taking my cell from my back pocket, I read the message, feeling my chest dip at the words that re-opened wounds that healed years ago. I couldn’t tell who it was from. It was a blocked number.
I know where she is.