Chapter 57: Give Up
Unravel Him Playlist on Spotify.
Song; (Gabriel Parker- Intervention) & (Christian Reindl- In the Roses [Acoustic])
“The videos are constantly being uploaded on the web,” Jared is talking through the phone, his smooth voice turned raspy.
He sounds tired.
“Vi is trying his best but at the rate, Charlie is going, no one will be able to catch up.”
Translation; As long as Charlie is uploading new batches of videos, we won’t be able to corrupt every single file.
It’s easier uploading than it is hacking.
“I get it,” Throwing the remote on the table in front of me, I lean back on the couch and glance up the ceiling. “We’ll have to figure something else out.”
Its been almost a week and a half since the incident.
A thunderstorm broke out in New York City in that meantime-well, it was a thunderstorm-until nature decided to send a category 3 hurricane overnight.
Downtown had been evacuated because of the flash floods and several residents have taken shelter in the surrounding neighborhood.
Dave and Stella estimated that it’ll go on for a couple of days or so and urge citizens to remain indoors.
“We’ll counter quantity over quality,” Jared suggests, clearly in the throes of making things work, no matter how impossible.
I don’t see how that will work, given there’s still no way to rectify the viral CCTV footage from the night the apartment burnt down.
It’s showing up on national news, international news, every social web out there.
“What do you mean, Jared?”
“I mean, if Marlen can get more people to come in, we may be able to take control of the situation.”
“That would risk exposing us even more. We don’t know if Aitenev has gotten to them, either.”
“I hate when you’re right,” He lets out a ragged sigh, frustrated.
Safe to say, we’re having the worst week ever.
I couldn’t even see my therapist when Hailey suggested I should. Her office is closed due to the hurricane, so there isn’t much I can do.
So now I’m stuck, in the apartment, going borderline crazy and constantly switching between punching the wall or wailing in the corner.
This whole matter makes me want to wring my ears. How am I suppose to understand the connection and where the dots should line up? I’m blind in the already dark room.
It’s pissing me off.
“There’s seven of us here if we divide the work among the group...” Ah, Jared Velmos, all about the strategies and the mathematical side of things.
Unfortunately, that is also his downfall.
“The others don’t know anything about cyber hacking, Zanthus is the only one who does.” Was that not obvious, enough?
“We’ll have him teach us.”
“He’ll be spending more time teaching all of you than solving the damn problem.” Clasping my hands together, I fold it beneath my chin and sigh.
My men have been so caught up in this, ever since Zanthus failed at taking down the video. They probably hadn’t the time to rest or sleep. It worried me since I couldn’t do anything but sit here and wait for the storm to past.
“But if we can make sure-”
“Jared,” I raised an eyebrow in the direction of Hailey’s phone, my voice loud enough that he has to stop himself. “Don’t forget that you’re all still human.”
“I’m speaking for all of us Vanessa, we need to settle this before-”
“Its already gotten worse,” Sitting up, I rub my temple and bowed my head. I feel a headache coming on. “What’s the difference if you guys decide to rest up, now?”
I can almost picture Jared pausing in astonishment, his mouth hanging open.
“You want us to leave this be?”
“When’s the last time Zanthus slept?” I counter-attack. “When’s the last time you slept?”
Jared groans, clearly hesitant in answering but did so anyway. “I’ve slept for a couple of hours. Zanthus hasn’t slept in two days.”
Snatching the phone from its position by the couch arm, I hold it up to my mouth and switched it off the speaker. “Take his laptop away right now.”
“Charlie is still out there-”
“He will still, be out there but we can’t catch him if you’re all half dead.”
“You’re asking us to leave you and Marlen exposed.”
His concern is warranted. I was basically telling him to ceasefire in an all-out war. If Charlie got ahead of us and someone out there encrypts the footage we’re still trying, to corrupt, I’m basically toasted.
However the Red Devil inside me that’s stepped up to take the role of leader refuses to let my men suffer any more.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
“The video doesn’t show either me or Marlen’s faces. There’s no sound either. We’re safe, for the time being.”
“But for how long?” He exasperatedly says. “If this continues you’ll be prosecuted or worse end up in jail.”
Or the chair.
Whatever works best.
“Well... there are worse ways to go. I think I would look great in a jumpsuit. Maybe I’ll swing the same way Zanthus does.”
“We’ll have bailed you out, there’s no chance.” He snorts.
I laugh, shaking my head at the temporary bliss of joy that flooded my chest. It’s a refreshing feeling, one I hadn’t felt in a while.
Ultimately, I knew this was only temporary. Jared is on the other side of the phone, silently mulling things over in that broody way he and Victor loved to do.
Leaning on my palms, I situated my body weight and let out a heavy sigh. “Spit it out Jared, I know you want to say something.”
“I just want to know what happened,”
Where do I begin?
Even if I lied, I couldn’t hide it for long.
Out of all of my men, Jared is the sharpest. It was only a matter of time.
“If you can’t tell all of us, then at least tell me.”
“Mason and Zanthus refuse to say anything, but I’m not an idiot, I saw it in their eyes.” His voice is soft, barely a whisper and I know it’s only meant for us. “Why were they scared?”
I don’t know how to tell him without making the others fearful.
The ones that weren’t there that night, only knew the important details, that being; our names getting exposed.
They didn’t know what came after.
That we were set up.
That we had run, with our tails between our legs.
How could I tell them any of that?
It’s a tormenting memory.
One that frightens me.
We were scared.
We never got scared.
Christ, I hadn’t even told my men that Thomas had returned, choosing to push it back to the further corner of my mind.
One after another, all these problems keep on coming.
“Nothing happened,” I take a deep breath, then exhaled. “I just want this to be over with... I’ve been looking forward to a weekend getaway at Las Vegas.”
“Evan and Matthew would like that,” He responds lightly, breaking out into a yawn.
He’s caught on that I’ve changed the subject but decides to leave it be, for now. I knew the next time I saw him, he wouldn’t let me off so easily.
I don’t blame him, if the roles were switched I’d be asking the same thing.
“Wait, hold on, I take it back, those two don’t deserve it, don’t bring them.”
“I can throw hands, Jared-” Matthew.
“Not to him, you won’t.” Victor.
They had been quiet, so the moment I mention something that didn’t specify; work, they reacted?
What the hell am I going to do with them?
They were my men, but they were also idiots.
Shaking my head, I glance up at the early afternoon weather, watching for the first time in days, the sun peeking between the clouds.
It’s finally clearing up.
“Get some rest, Velmos.” Came my order, sharp and clear. “If I see even an ounce of exhaustion on your faces, I’ll have you by the balls.”
“My God, woman!” That must be Evan. His voice is high pitch in the background. “Don’t you know not to threaten a man with their balls?”
“Yet, I still do it.” Stretching out my arms above my head, I stood up and bent my knees, squatting down to my thighs. Everything ached.
“I’ll get them to rest,” Jared declares languidly. “Come on, off to bed, Zanthus shut down your laptop.”
There’s a muffled sound of protest before shifting can be heard in the background. Then there was a tumble, followed by a thud, and a heavy dragging sound.
Are they dragging Zanthus across the floor?
“Carry him at least,” I chuckle, gathering the empty cans of coffee I inhaled earlier.
“Victor’s dragging him.” He answers.
I hold the phone in between my shoulder and ear, before heading towards the kitchen, carrying the cans towards the trash bin.
“Where are you guys staying anyway? Mason’s?”
Dead stillness fell on the phone.
Even Victor had let go of Zanthus as there was a heavy thump.
“Guys?” I dumped the cans and shifted the phone to my other ear. “Hello?”
Just to be sure, I glance at the phone and saw I’m still on call, the other line was just quiet.
“They’re with me, Nessa.”
Smooth and cool.
That was Mason’s voice.
Our argument flooded back to mind like a tsunami. I find myself looking down to the floor, dejected.
Perhaps he hadn’t decided to speak up earlier because he feels bad about what happened between us. Did the others think I would get mad if I found out they were staying with him?
If Mason suspected me, I cannot blame him. After all, I was the one that went off the deep end, there were no morals to what I could and couldn’t do.
That didn’t mean it hurt any less.
“Hey,” He exhales tentatively. “I’ll get the others to rest, so don’t worry about them, alright?”
“You’re asking the impossible.” I scoff, my sentence, short and curt as I pick up the dishes from the dishwater and place them on the rack.
“Okay, I yield.” He’s detected the slight irritation in my tone and understands I’m still a bit mad at him, and as such, promptly tries to dissipate it. “Do you want me to buy you a car or a house?”
“How nice of you, Mason, do you think money is a way to a girl’s heart?”
“Do you want to come over?” I quickly cut him off.
I start to smile before I stop myself. Dammit.
“I’m glad I’m still useful.” He means it playfully but I hear the relief in his voice.
He is worried that what’s done has permanently damaged our relationship. I bite the inside of my cheek, suddenly feeling awfully low and full of nostalgia.
The old me would have remained stubborn and pissed off but I’ve learned to grow these past few months. I can overlook certain things because there wasn’t a point to hold them anymore.
Mason has been my rock through this year, he was there when I wake up from nightmares, he held my hand and reassured me.
I felt hurt when he accused me, betrayed even, but anyone else would have done the same thing.
Don’t we all do stupid things when we’re scared?
“I’m still mad at you.”
“I’m sorry,” He’s apologetic. “I’m very sorry for hurting you, Vanessa.”
Sometimes I wondered if Mason would be this different if I hadn’t been the second chosen for the Annually.
Would he still be an asshole? Would the group continue to stay separated?
My fingers move under the neck of my shirt where I grasp at the chain linking around my collar and the dainty ring hung of it.
“Are the boys still there?” I rest my back against the counter and view at the chandelier on the ceiling.
“They’re listening in.”
“Tell them, I’m sorry too.” A frown made its way to my face, turning my neutral mood, solemn. “I made a mistake and it put all of you at risk. It won’t happen again.”
They had to know it was never my intention to endanger them.
“No one here blames you.” Victor.
His voice is the cool wind lapping at seashores. The male never speaks unless absolutely necessary, which makes this moment all the more important.
“I will fix this, I won’t let either of you down.”
“You don’t have to try too hard,” He reassures. “We’re all in this together.”
“Did you watch my High School Musical rerun-pack?” Came Evan’s dubious question.
I burst out laughing. My god, these men. I wouldn’t exchange them for the world.
“Since when did you ever missed a chance to ride your bike?”
When would I ever pass up a chance to ride my bike? I love that metal to pieces.
So why were we choosing to walk to Skuro?
I don’t know.
Perhaps its because I finally got to feel the first rays of morning sunlight after almost two weeks of staying indoors.
I’m appreciating nature right now.
Judging from Hailey’s expression, with her head tilted up and her eyes closed with a smile downing those lips, I knew she was too.
“Watch your step,” I alert her, holding my hand up and stopping her in her tracks as the light turned red and cars blare past.
A crowd has form behind us, many of them eagerly waiting for the light so they could go about their day.
“How much further?” She leans forward, raising an eyebrow at the street signs.
“We just have to turn the corner and we’re there,” I’ve memorized the routes by heart since I spend most of my time in Skuro anyway.
“Here we go,” She grins, indicating to the light that’s turned green.
“I don’t think we’re late,” I look down at my watch as we cross the road with the crowd, carefully weaving our way through so we wouldn’t be trampled. “They should be arriving soon.”
“Well, I hope they haven’t been working their butts off,” She solemnly says beneath her breath. “I know you give them orders and stuff but when the situation revolves around you, they don’t care about resting at all.”
“Which is why I’m going to throttle them if they didn’t listen.” My smile is sweet and speaks of deadly intent.
She gives me a look but doesn’t question it.
When it came down to my men, I was the only one that could wrangle them after all.
Well... one of the two.
“Have you told them?”
My boots stop just before a store outlet, making the person behind us mutter an apology when they bumped into my back.
I waited until the crowd had thinned out before turning to Hailey’s expectant face, filled with accusation and sarcasm.
“You didn’t, did you?”
“There’s nothing to say,” I try to play dumb but it’s useless.
“Vanessa Vail-” Hailey raises her hand and flicks my forehead.
I jerk back, yelping. “Ow!”
“You had almost two weeks to tell them and you didn’t?”
“There was never a right time!” It was pointless trying to defend myself because there wasn’t a way I could win.
Hailey would just call out on my bullshit as she’s done many times before.
“Ness, if the others find out you’ve been keeping Thomas reappearance from them, they’ll lose their minds,”
“I know, I know-” Sighing, I folded my arms and hugged myself. How could I forget the others’ reactions to Thomas’s absence? That particular event is stuck in my mind.
For a week, they were shells of themselves.
Elios, moping around my apartment, speechless.
Evan and Zanthus, quiet, no longer laughing, no longer smiling.
Matthew, succumb to habits, never bothering to shower or gel up his silver hair.
Jared and Victor, losing to Hailey in a game of Monopoly.
Mason, never leaving my side, sticking to me like glue, holding my hand as I fell asleep at dawn after a nightmare.
We were still standing outside the outlet store. I can see Skuro’s emblem just a few meters off, the neon sign unlit.
“I will tell them,” I hold up my hands in defense when Hailey’s glare turns incredulous. “I swear alright? Just not right now, we have other things to worry about.”
“I can’t believe this, I expected you to tell them!”
“I told you, didn’t I?”
“You told me you met Thomas and gave no explanation whatsoever, after!” She hisses.
“Why am I at fault, you were the one that didn’t tell me he was back!”
“Zanthus came by and stole you away before I could!”
Passersby have created a wide arc between Hailey and I. Most of them are hurrying away from the situation, not wanting to get involved, although some eyes still lingered.
We’re causing a scene.
I cross my arms over my chest and look down at the pavement. “Hales...” How am I suppose to explain it to her without sounding selfish?
“Two weeks,” She bites her lip, her voice soft. “I gave you more than enough space.”
“I...“ Running a hand through my hair, I billow out the short strands and sigh.
She just wanted the truth.
It made my heart, ache.
I was unintentionally causing her harm by not saying anything.
“You asked me before if I would end things with him,” I gesture nervously with my hands.
Hailey waits patiently as I try to find the right words, her green eyes unusually large. I’m starting to feel a bead of sweat drip down my spine from the pressure.
“So you did it? You’ve broken up?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean?” She leans forward anxious now. “Did you or did you not-”
“I walked away, Hales.” I am well aware of how ridiculous it sounds but I have no way else to explain it. Elaborating will only pour salt into the wound.
Regrettably, my nights in bed have turned longer than they should as I constantly re winded back the conversation.
Remorse is a horrible feeling.
Guilt is worse.
I’m feeling both of these things because I had to break up with him.
Even though I didn’t want too.
“So let me get this straight...” She places a hand on my shoulder, breaking me from my trance. Her gaze is sharp and filled with inquisition. “You asked to break up, then you walked away before he could give you an answer?”
Was that how bad it sounded like?
She lets go of my shoulder and tilts her head up, falling silent.
My best friend is breathing irregularly with her eyes squeezed shut and her hand on her forehead. I don’t know what’s on her mind and I do not want to be here when she tells me.
Teetering nervously on my feet, I quietly backed away, cringing when my foot made shuffling noises against the pavement. “Um, I’m just gonna go-”
“For someone who leads a group men, you no absolutely nothing.” Her eyes are still closed.
“That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?” I scratch the back of my neck and smile in an attempt to cool the rising dragon in front of me. “We can-”
“I’m going to strangle you.”
“Get over here.”
Before I could say anything she’s lunged, hands outstretch, an absolute monstrous expression on her features.
I turn on my heel and start running, dodging passersby and random onlookers.
“Out of my way!” I screech, barely catching a glimpse of Hailey as her blond hair whip in the wind and her scarf fell from its knot. She’s determined to chase me all so she could shake the hell out of me.
Skuro is just within grasp when I feel a body fall on top of me, slamming me against the wall just by the black doors.
“Okay, I get it, I was wrong, I admit!”
“Two weeks of moping around, barely eating, I thought you broke up and you mean to tell me you didn’t?!” She’s yelling to my face, her teeth barred and her green eyes flaring with fury.
I’ve been acting like we’ve broken up.
It’s made her worried, concerned, unsure as to what she should do to make me feel better.
In reality, there was no need as my actions that night didn’t specify Thomas and me, officially, breaking up.
So in this case, I was fucked.
“I understand how this looks,” Blinking rapidly, I take a deep breath and wrestle for her wrists. She’s pinned my shoulders to the wall behind me.
“Thomas isn’t stupid,” I attempted to continue. “He’ll understand why I had to do it. He’ll know it is the only way for his Dad to get off his back.”
“You’re using that as an excuse?” She snorts in disbelief and I wanted to agree, I wanted to not give a damn and do whatever the hell I wanted.
As long as he stayed by my side, it didn’t matter who got hurt and who suffered.
But that was back then.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Hailey this isn’t easy for me either,” I’m trying to hold back my strength but she’s getting increasingly demanding. “His dad will only-”
“Since when did you ever cared about what others thought?”
“Since, I found out Thomas was abused!” The force of my voice shocks her into releasing me, allowing my body to slump against the wall.
I’m out of breath.
Gravity is heavy on my legs.
My throat feels tight.
“You know, what that does, to a person Hailey.”
It’s difficult to speak what’s on my mind, but I press on regardless.
“I may have left my abuser, but he’s still living with them, so don’t tell me, to think about myself!” Has she forgotten the scars I still have caused by my own flesh and blood?
Abuse can leave emotional trauma that influences one’s personality and the way they thought. When I think back to my past, its clear what my mistakes were.
I was selfish to the point where it would be toxic.
I’m still trying to learn from my wrongs.
As messed up as it sounds, when I found out Thomas shared a similar childhood to mine, it brought me relief.
It meant I wasn’t alone.
Perhaps that was how it all started.
Our past had similarities, the tragedies that made us who we are all lined up perfectly. Fate is a strong word.
I don’t believe in fate.
I just wanted to pretend he was Thomas Moore, the man that had no correlation to that stupid company.
It's a pipe dream.
He will always be Graymoore’s heir and there is nothing I can do to change that.
“You don’t know what he’s thinking,” Hailey raises a hand to comfort me but she hesitates, sensing how rigid I’ve gotten.
She pulls back and folds her arms to herself, voice soft. “You’re jumping to conclusions when you should just wait.”
“I did wait, for a year,” The spot above my heart is starting to hurt. “-and you know what, meeting him was a coincidence. It wasn’t planned. He never planned on meeting me, Hales.”
If he hadn’t hosted that bachelor party at Skuro, I would’ve gone on to believe he never came back and if Thomas didn’t come back, then...
My eyes start filling with tears.
“For fucks sake-” Turning around, I bring the sleeve of my jacket under my eyes and try to wipe them away, determined not to let them fall.
Just when I think, it can’t get any worse than this.
I hate this.
I hate everything.
“You have to keep quiet about this,” I refuse to turn around just yet, opting to stare at the brick wall as I try to control my sniffles. “You can’t tell the others.”
I reach for her hand, clasping it with mine, bringing her to focus on my pleads. “I’m begging you.”
She freezes at my touch, green eyes filling with defeat. “Nessa...”
Hailey chews at her bottom lip and slowly moves her hand over my palm. She’s quiet, processing my request with the preservation of an open mind.
After what seems like forever she finally nods. “Okay,”
Instant relief flowed through me, lifting the heavyweight off my shoulders.
I swear I’ll never ask her for anything else.
“Okay,” Gathering my breath, I wipe under my eyes and slap at my cheeks, making sure all traces of my earlier outburst is wiped.
Now isn’t the time to show weakness.
I have a job to do and a group to lead.
That comes first.
I glance around the street, noticing several expensive cars parked in front of Skuro.
The vehicles are familiar.
My men have arrived.
Taking a deep breath, I stride towards the black doors and knock twice.
Just to be sure, I peer at my reflection against the doors to see if anything is out of place. I grimace as I’m not satisfied with what I see.
It will have to do.
“Boss,” The door unlocks from the inside, revealing Benji, dressed in casuals.
“Benji.” I walk in with Hailey in tow, allowing him to close the door behind us. The air in the club is slightly stuffy and blocked. I made a mental note to inform Maya to open up a couple of windows, later.
“I’ll take that,” Benji holds out his hand for Hailey’s scarf, startling her.
He winks, making her go red under the dim lighting. I suppress a smirk.
When’s the last time she had any action anyway?
“Wow,” I front on my tiptoes to try and peek over the many stacked tables and chairs.
Benji nods in agreement. “Different huh?”
He got that right.
Compare to when night falls, the atmosphere I’m sensing now is the complete opposite. Its quiet and still, something not a lot of people have nowadays.
If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine the raving lights, the loud music, and the frantic chatters.
“Where are the others?” I inquire after a beat.
“Upfront,” Benji gestures to several figures sitting before the stage. “Been fighting since they got here.”
“Fighting?” Only the tips of their heads can be seen from where I stand but when I listen closely, I find that their voices are practically echoing back.
“Over what?” I frown, in disbelief.
“Dunno,” My bartender shrugs. “I think they’re close to throwing hands, though, should I get the broom ready?”
As if on cue, there was the sound of shattering glass. The voices grow louder.
Just when I think we could have a civil conversation.
“Can you get eight cups of coffee, ready?” The straps beneath my leather jacket felt uncomfortable so I pull at the clip, feeling it cinch against my shirt. “I have a feeling they’ll need it.”
“I’ll see what’s in the kitchen.” Benji walks away, not before shooting Hailey another wink.
She shuffles to my side and hides behind my back as though to avoid his blatant flirting.
I gaze at her with a smirk as she peeks by my shoulder at Benji’s retreating back. She’s staring at his ass.
“So... you gonna hit that sexy dark chocolate or...?”
“Ness!” She slaps at my back, eliciting a laugh to spill from my lips.
By all means, I was more than willing to throw her at him. Benji is a good looking man, I bet he does great in bed too.
Oh, the endless possibilities.
“Don’t you have other things to worry about?” She shoves at my side with her elbow, tilting her head in the direction of my men.
Right, I’ve forgotten about them.
“For the record, this isn’t over.” I wag my finger at her face, making her huff.
“Just go already!”
“Okay, okay!” I’m laughing all the way even as she pushes at my shoulders with both hands, determined to cease my teasing.
As I walk towards my men, ready to fall into the usual routine, the smile on my face slowly melted away when I notice all of them preoccupied among themselves.
What is this escalating situation?
They talk rapidly, spitting retorts and exchanging words, none I could catch and deduce.
The tension in the air is heavy.
“This will get us nowhere,” Elios kicks back on the velvet sofa, chewing the corner of his thumb. His brow is furrowed and his eyes are glazed.
“Shut up, bro-” Evan is glaring at his brother, not looking at Matthew who is playing the knife game on the younger Vinyl’s fingers.
“You are breathing down my neck, Jared.” Zanthus growls at Jared who is peering over the other’s shoulder.
The Asian American shakes his head disapprovingly. “She’s going to kill you when she realizes you didn’t listen.”
“Victor I swear to god-” Mason is glaring at Victor who’s put a finger to his chest and is jabbing hard.
The scent of alcohol is prominent with the table filled to the brim with glasses. Some empty, some full, some on the floor, cracked in pieces.
Hailey ducks her head and whispers into my ear. “You think they slept?”
Despite their clean-cut attire and gelled up features, I don’t think any of them have. The eye bags are a huge giveaway.
“Stop, poking me Victor.” Mason.
“Matthew is going to cut your finger off if you don’t stop him.” Elios.
Evan raises his free hand and picks up a new glass from the table. He brings it to his lips, smiling sarcastically. “I’d rather get my finger cut off than deal with this situation-”
“Its a bit early for day drinking isn’t it?” I say.
Seven sets of eyes swivel in my direction.
Nobody says a word.
And then, it happens.
“Oh, shit-” Evan spits out the alcohol and jerks his fingers from Matthew who in return, hides the knife behind his back.
Zanthus practically throws his laptop behind the couch, but he lost his balance and ended up falling over, taking the whole couch down and Elios who merely contribute with his stumbling.
Jared chose to stare at the wall, pretending to raise a finger at it as though calculating something important.
Only Mason and Victor remain where they are, looking like statues as the others scramble around in their seats, hoping it would look like they were simply resting and not arguing.
Unfortunately, you can only do so much when you’ve just been caught in the act.
“Vanessa,” Mason is the first to approach as he runs his hand down his unruly light brown hair, nervously chuckling. “When did you get here?”
“A couple of minutes ago,” I say with a tilted head.
“Oh...” He exchange looks with the others, looking grimmer and as the seconds pass. “You see, we weren’t fighting per se-”
“Is this alcohol?” I ignore his comment and picked up a glass from the table. One sniff from the clear liquid and that was enough. “Its 11 AM in the morning...”
“You know they say its night somewhere in the world,” Evan adds in, hoping to sound helpful even as his arm is placed at an awkward angle against the armchair from having to move earlier.
Elios is discreetly trying to lift the upturned couch with Zanthus, but it doesn’t go unnoticed, especially when their hushed tones echo loud and clear.
Jared is the one who walks backward, not once breaking eye contact with the wall and kicks at their shins, stopping them in their tracks.
I place a hand to my temple and try hard to reel my temper in. It’s an impossible task. I was about ready to reign terror.
As if saved by God himself, Benji arrives.
My bartender doesn’t hesitate. In one move, he professionally sweeps the alcoholic glasses from the table into a basin and smoothly lines fresh cups of coffee on the table.
He sweeps up the broken glass and arranges the couch back in its position, quickly wiping off any remnants of anything out of place.
This happens in under a minute.
My men are still frozen in their tracks, their eyes darting over the hot liquid and anywhere else but me.
Benji, grasp hold of the basin with one arm. “I’ll hold the tab, Boss.”
“Thank you, Benji.” I nod appreciatively. See he never lets me down.
Unlike these men in front of me, that’s a whole different story.
The silence that follows after Benji leaves is deafening. I am the first to move, casually picking up the cup of coffee with grace.
“Nessa-” Mason stands by my back and tries to speak but before he can, I’ve shoved the cup into his hands, cutting him off effectively.
“Drink,” I instruct, side glaring at the others as I do this. “When you’re done, then we can talk.”
They look like I’ve kicked their puppy.
“Now.” Came, my command.
Begrudgingly each of them stood up to take a cup from the table without argument.
Evan tried to say something but with a sharp shake of my head, he once again falls silent.
One by one, after getting their share of coffee, they settle into their seats without objection.
I nudge Hailey to sit by the empty armchair as I take the spot by the edge of the stage so I can view the others head-on.
The surroundings have gone silent, with only the sounds of slurping that can be heard. Slowly but surely, the tension in the air eventually melted, giving way to a more comfortable atmosphere.
I know them too well.
They just needed a bit of sugar and caffeine.
Its expected, after all, we’ve been working together for almost a year, growing closer than ever, forming a bond that couldn’t be broken...
There wasn’t a day that went by since Thomas’s disappearance that I never saw one of them.
The hurricane had separated us and I realized I never wanted that to happen again. I would defy nature all so they remained in reach.
“Better?” My tone is smug.
Murmurs of agreement floated around. I could see it in their faces when the edge had finally lifted.
Lifting my leg, I rest my chin on my knee and peer at them curiously. “How many hours have you guys slept?”
“Not enough.” Piped, Zanthus. He’s slurping the coffee like an energy drink.
“And why is that?”
“Blame that stupid jerk-ow!” Evan is kicked in the leg by Elios before he could finish his sentence.
I fold my arms across my chest and frown. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“It’s not important.” Jared shakes his head and places his coffee cup back on the tray. He is the first to finish. “What matters now is that we didn’t succeed in taking down the video.”
“Didn’t I tell you to leave things be?” I’m exasperated.
Jared shot me a look.
Is what he’s saying.
Letting my head fall back, I squeeze my eyes shut and puff out an exhale. Even if I nagged and complain now, there was no point.
What’s done is done.
I can’t turn back time and ask them to get some rest.
There was no more time to waste.
“Marlen,” I pinch the bridge of my nose and peek one eye open. “Is he on the way?”
“He’s running a bit late-” Mason glances at his watch but is interrupted by the main doors swinging open.
In comes, my Sponsor, downing an all-black outfit paired with a black cap. If he was going for inconspicuous, he was clearly failing.
“Speak of the devil,” I mutter beneath my breath. “You’re late old man.”
He ignores me entirely and heads straight for the bar.
I watch as he sat on the stool and ordered Benji to get him a bottle of whiskey.
His shoulders are stiff and his spine is rigid. His whole aura screamed agitation.
I am instantly frowning, understanding that his current mood is not normal. It almost feels... dangerous.
Nobody else has noticed but me.
“We should keep the meeting short,” Hailey spoke up as she eyes the men with concern. “You all look like you’re about to fall through the floor.”
“Tell me about it,” Elios cracks his neck and yawns into his palm. “Did you just get off work?”
“I’ve been off for a few weeks now,” She smiles, politely, shrugging when the others all gave her questioning looks.
Hailey works in Graymoore.
Of course, they would be curious.
I hitch in a breath and silently prayed they didn’t ask anymore.
It would be a whole other shit show to deal with.
Normally, Hailey wouldn’t have to come when I meet with the men but we both agreed we’ve been cooped up too long in the apartment, which is why she’s now here.
“Alright,” I clap my hands, informing the others it was time to get on with it. Clearly, my sponsor won’t be coming over anytime soon. So we’ll just have to start without him. “What’s the rundown with the Ring?”
“We pulled out all the bets as you said,” Matthew thumbs the corner of his coffee cup and does a sweep with his other hand. “Its been quiet.. its never been this quiet.”
There’s an underlying note to his tone. His concern is warranted.
By pulling out the bets, the money some Sponsors have put their investment in has gone up in flames.
There should be retaliation at the very least but there was nothing here. It was too silent.
Either way, we couldn’t disappear for too long. The main objective is to get out there as soon as possible.
“You know we can’t do anything until we figure out how Aitenev found out about our names.” Elios inserts in his opinion, his voice catching the attention of everyone.
“I’m more worried about what they’ll do with the information.” Zanthus sighs, scratching the corner of his brow. It draws my attention to the cut he received from that night.
It’s barely there now.
“So which to do first hm?” Evan folds his arms over his chest and splays out his legs. “Figuring out the How or the Why? Both sound like terrible options by the way.”
“If you’re not going to be helpful...” Matthew lowers his tone, the gleam in his icy blue eyes, considerably darker.
“Chill out, Matt.” The younger Vinyl scoffs. “You’re not the only one that’s pissed, alright?”
“Both of you quit it.” Elios snaps a warning, sitting up straight so he could rest his elbows on his knees.
“The point of the matter remains clear. If we attempt to take them down again, who’s to say they won’t now, use our names against us?”
“What do you mean? Are you saying that they knew our names even before we went after Marvin?”
“I am considering the possibility,” He rectifies, acknowledging Zanthus’s words.
“That’s impossible,” Zanthus scoffs out loud, shaking his head mockingly. “Come on, how on earth could they have known?”
“You were there, Vi,” The heir of BourneFell interrupts, rolling his eyes heaven-forth at the male’s forgetfulness. “The landlord sold me the fake blueprints and the whole building was rigged to explode. If that doesn’t scream ‘I knew you were coming’ I don’t know what does.”
“Then go back to the beginning,” Hailey spoke up after its clear the men will launch into another argument. She’s sat straighter, her hands poise on her lap.
“You said you hired two people that night right? What were their names?”
“Omega and Charlie,” Mason holds out two fingers and drops them. “Worse decision of my life,”
“Look at it this way,” I stop him, holding out a hand so he could pause with the pacing. “If Charlie hadn’t exposed himself, we might not have made the connection about being played.”
“Don’t forget there were innocents in the building,” Jared’s baritone voice seeps into the air. He stares at Mason, all blank and solemn. “You still saved them.”
Aiden the little boy I helped came to mind. I still remembered how the soot had covered his face and the terror in his eyes.
If we hadn’t been there... I dreaded to think.
Aitenev was immoral enough to get rid of the loose ends by eliminating innocents as well. It was a disgusting thing.
“As heroic as that has been...” Elios lifts a hand to wave at all of us. The male’s usually well-kept hair is un-styled and messy. “The infinite circle we’re in is only getting bigger by the second. Is there even a conclusion?”
If I hadn’t been close to Elios, I wouldn’t have been able to detect the defeat in his tone. I would have been oblivious to it.
However, that wasn’t the case. I noticed everything about my men and I cannot ignore what my senses are telling me.
My expression must have shown something because I feel Hailey’s glancing at me from the corner of my eye.
I don’t look at her direction, afraid that if I did, I might reveal my true thoughts in front of the others.
This can’t be.
It’s unlike Elios to give in so easily, yet the face he’s showing... even without saying it out loud, I knew.
He wants to give up or at least, he’s thinking about it.
And I can’t... blame them.
Their lives are at risk, their reputations, their each respective families... one wrong move and it’ll all be for nothing.
So if they walk away... I can’t, and will not, stop them.
No matter if it’ll hurt.
Will everyone leave me in the end?
“You can’t deny that everything is out of bounds right now,” The older Vinyl slumps his shoulders and tilts his head back.
He hasn’t noticed my relapse. No one does.
“We need leverage, that’s the only way we can proceed.”
“How do we get the leverage then? Our only leads are dead. One killed himself, the other Marlen shot.” Mason raises his voice on purpose, eyeing Marlen in the distance who has his back to us.
He is still indifferent to our conversation.
It’s like he doesn’t care.
It irritates me.
Watching his un-moving back and cold ignorance, I feel my temper boil from a mix of everything that’s happened.
He can’t be unwilling now, does he not care that he’s inside the viral footage? Does he not care for his life? Why was everyone being so difficult?
“Better keep them close, or you’ll lose them Venetia.”
Did what Blondie said, affected him?
Was he thinking about it this whole time?
Perhaps it wasn’t just the men that felt concerned over the exposure of their names, maybe he did too.
But it didn’t make sense.
I’ve never known Marlen to be fearful. My Sponsor had always been tough, a no-shits-given type of person, hell he sold the Ring out to the police, so what was this?
Why did his expression from that night and today, had me feeling otherwise?
I couldn’t put a finger on it.
The uneasiness only spreads.
“What about that gun you brought back Mase? Maybe we can check who it’s licensed to.” Zanthus.
“That was the first thing I did, but the gun's come out untraceable. They probably have their own weapons dealer or something.”
“So no leads then?” Elios taps the side of his thigh aggravatingly. “How do we go about doing this?”
“There is another way...” Shaking my head, I cast my eyes down to the floor and rub my temple as my voice reaches above all the others.
Why should I be concerned over my Sponsor, I have worse things to worry about.
Marlen can handle himself.
“What is it?” Mason inquires, eager to remove himself from the argument in the background.
“Well...” I trail off, watching his green-blue eyes sparkle expectantly.
There’s a hint of exhaustion in there too but perhaps most noticeable is the underlying affection hidden beneath that beautiful color.
I’ve seen it before, I’ve seen it countless times. Sometimes I wonder if that affection is meant for me... or someone else.
Either way, Mason is not going to like what I have to say.
I’ve been keeping quiet about it for a few days now, weighing the pros and cons. Its a shit idea but the only thing we can do.
The backlash from the others will be terrible, maybe they’ll tie me up before I can make a move-correction, they would.
However, unless something new came up, this was it. This was the only way.
Steeling my features, I readied myself for the fight that will surely come and held in a breath.
“We can get back on track but-” All eyes are on me.
Here goes nothing.
“...I’ll have to go back to Jonas.”