What a day. I almost expected it to be a complete disaster with the mood I was in, but the further it progressed, the better I got at pushing the unnerving thoughts about what happened last night at work back into the far corners of my mind. Instead, I focused on Kaitlyn and her contagious laugh, which touched me in places that had been unaffected for a long time. Seeing her so happy about our trip to the Statue of Liberty lifted my spirits in the best kind of way. And even though it seemed like she could see right through me, she had this calming effect on me, which was a little spooky too. And I knew it must have been her because as soon as I left her house, my mind began racing.
And now I lie in my bed, wide awake with growing unease. My body trembles slightly while my stomach is in knots from the anger that boils inside me. Adrenaline rushes through my veins and makes my heart race.
Not being able to lie still anymore, I jump out of bed and pace up and down. I run my hand over my face and let out a long, slow breath, but nothing can ease the edgy feeling. I grab my phone from the nightstand. It’s 1am, but I need to talk to someone, so I send my brother a text:
Something happened. Can we meet ASAP? Are you free for breakfast?
I just about manage to toss my phone on the bed instead of hurling it against the wall. I growl in frustration and curse under my breath, continuing to pace up and down. I stop in my tracks when my phone beeps with an incoming message. It’s an answer from Ben.
Shit, Aaron. What have you done this time?
Surprised but relieved he’s awake, I answer:
Nothing. Why are you up?!
Bella is teething and refuses to sleep. So what’s up?
Fuck. You wanna come over and talk? I don’t think I’ll get to sleep anytime soon.
I hesitate because showing up at my brother’s place in the middle of the night might not be the best idea. But as my ideas haven’t been the best lately anyways, I respond:
I’ll be there in twenty.
When I pull up in front of Ben and Amy’s house, I get out of my car and lean against the hood. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. The dark and quiet neighborhood stands in stark contrast to what’s going on in my head. Well, the quiet part at least because my racing mind is a dark place right now.
I sigh deeply, push myself off the car, and walk to the front door. With a soft knock, I make my arrival known, and a moment later, Ben answers the door with a sleeping Bella in his arms. My brother greets me with a small nod and indicates with a tilt of his head to follow him inside.
“Sit down,” Ben whispers as we enter the living room. “She’s finally fallen asleep; I’m gonna put her to bed.”
With a nod, I drop down on the couch and stare ahead of me until my brother returns a few minutes later. “You want a drink?” he asks.
I shake my head. “No, thanks,” I mumble. “Sorry for bothering you in the middle of the night.”
He shrugs. “Well, what are brothers for if not to keep you up all night?”
I roll my eyes. “Gee, thanks, man.”
Ben chuckles. “So, what’s up?”
“Jackson wants to buy the Kingston Bar.”
He lets out a low whistle. “Wow. And here I thought he was finally out of our lives for good.” He glares at me. “You’re not dragging my family into anything again, are you?”
I hold up my hands. “That wasn’t my fault, Ben. You know that moron. But I will do everything in my might to finally stop him for good. Because that’s not all.”
Ben sits up and shifts left and right. He’s nervous, and with good reason. A few years ago, when Ben and Amy had just started dating, Jackson threatened to have a nice chat with Amy if I didn’t comply with his demand. I owed him, and I didn’t deliver fast enough, so one night, he ambushed Amy. But luckily, everything turned out well, and Jackson hasn’t come near any of them again.
“What else happened?” my brother asks in a strained voice.
I turn to him with a frown. “Jackson came to the bar to talk. He let me know what he expected of me—that I as head of security was to make sure his meetings went well. Of course, I refused, but then he dropped a bomb on me.” I take a deep breath before I continue, “He’s responsible for Eric’s death.”
Ben fixes me with a blank stare. He shakes his head, leaps to his feet, and walks over to the window, staring into the black night. His whole body is tense as he draws in a long, slow breath. He turns around, crosses his arms in front of his chest, and narrows his eyes. “So it wasn’t an overdose?”
I shake my head. “Eric wanted to sabotage some deal and work for another guy. When Jackson found out, he wasn’t happy.”
“To be honest, this doesn’t surprise me. We both know what Jackson is capable of. I knew I was lucky when he let me go that easily.” He takes a deep breath and runs his hands through his hair. “So what happens now?”
“No idea. All I know is that I want to beat the shit out of him next time we cross paths. That’s probably the reason Howard told me to stay home for a few days—to cool down.”
“Which is for the best. I know you, Aaron. You might seem calm and cautious on the outside, but you can be impulsive to a point where your actions might do more harm than good.”
I lean forward, rest my elbows on my knees, and rub my forehead. “Fuck,” I growl. “This is eating me alive.”
“You think Howard will sell?”
“I don’t know,” I answer with my head buried in my hands. “He hasn’t declined the offer right away like he should have. I know he needs the money for his wife’s treatment, but this can’t be his only option.” With a heavy sigh, I scrub my hands over my face and look at Ben. “I should have punched Jackson when I had the chance. Every time I close my eyes, I see his ugly face, and his words replay in my head; how he told me he made Eric’s death look like an unfortunate accident.”
Ben sits down next to me and squeezes my shoulder. “I’m sorry about Eric, really. He was my friend, too, and I can imagine what you must be going through. But rash decisions won’t bring him back.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose and squeeze my eyes shut. “You know what? I don’t want to think about it because if I do, all my actions are gonna be rash. Ignorance truly is bliss.”
Ben stares at me intently. “Promise me you won’t do anything dumb. Stay away from the bar, and please, stay away from Jackson. Distract your thoughts. Go out, have fun and some meaningless sex with some chick like you usually do.”
I snort. “Thanks, bro, for telling me again what you think of me.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Ben says with a heavy sigh. “Aaron, seriously, don’t be stupid.”
“Okay,” I whisper.
“Do you want to stay? You can sleep on the couch. I don’t want you out in the city doing stupid things.”
I roll my eyes. “Stop saying stupid. I wouldn’t.”
“Yeah, sure. Because you’re always so rational when Jackson is involved.”
I let out a humorless laugh. “Luckily, I have you to punch some sense into me.”
“Yes. So stay because I don’t feel up to punching you right now.” He yawns and stretches. “I need to sleep.” He gets up from the couch, leaves the living room, and returns a moment later with a pillow and a blanket. “Here. Try to sleep as well.”
“Okay,” I say as I accept the bedding from him.
“Night, and thanks.”
With a curt nod and a subtle smile, Ben goes upstairs into his bed, which he shares with his loving wife, while I lie down on the couch, trying to drain my mind from all thought, and eventually, I fall into a restless sleep.
When I wake up and check my phone, it’s 7am. At least I got a couple of hours of sleep. I get up from the couch and stretch to get rid of the heaviness in my limbs. I run my fingers through my disheveled hair as I walk into the kitchen to start the coffee machine.
“Aaron! What are you doing here?”
I turn to the surprised voice, and when I look at Amy standing in the doorway, my heart skips a couple of beats. She’s wearing nothing but one of Ben’s shirts that covers her legs up to her mid-thigh, and I can only hope she’s wearing panties.
Damn, why do I even think about something like that? She’s my sister-in-law, for fuck’s sake. I squeeze my eyes shut and turn back to the coffee machine. “I came over last night because I needed to talk to Ben, and he told me to sleep on the couch. Sorry to intrude.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m just a little surprised. When did you get here? Because when I went to sleep past midnight, there was no sign of you.”
I shrug, still avoiding to look at her. “Maybe around 1.30.”
She takes in a deep breath. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes,” I say through clenched teeth. “All good. Don’t worry.”
“You know you can–” A loud wail interrupts her, and she groans. “I guess Bella is up. Excuse me.”
I let out the breath I was holding when Amy disappears, and I can finally concentrate on the coffee machine. Damn, this has to stop. I can’t let myself be affected by her like this any longer. Or it was the fact that there was too much naked skin involved; maybe any woman dressed like that would have stirred something inside me. Fuck, I need to get laid.
“Good morning,” Ben’s hoarse voice greets me a moment later and tears me out of my thoughts. “Did you get some sleep?”
I turn around, lean against the counter, and give him a forced smile. “A little.”
“You should get some more; you look like shit.”
I roll my eyes as Ben gets some mugs out of the cupboard and places them on the countertop next to me. “Great advice,” I grumble. “Oh, and next time, tell Amy to put some more clothes on when she comes downstairs.”
He glares at me. “Are we still not done with that?”
“You lusting after my wife.”
“Dammit, Ben,” I groan. “Really? Picking a fight before I had my first coffee?” I push myself off the counter and head towards the door. “I guess I better leave. Thanks again for letting me stay.”
“Where are you going?” Ben asks.
I stop and turn back to my brother. “Relax. I have a date.”
I snort. “What is this? Some kind of cross-examination? But to put your mind at ease: I’m meeting Kaitlyn.”
“Jannie’s niece?” He raises his eyebrows. “Amy mentioned they’re gonna meet up tomorrow or something.” He narrows his eyes at me. “What do you mean, you have a date?”
I sigh heavily. “I’m just showing her around the city because she has no friends here.” I don’t even try to keep the annoyance out of my voice. With that being said, I continue on my way.
“Hey, I told you to have some fun and distract your thoughts, but don’t mess with that girl,” he yells after me.
“You sound just like Dad,” I mumble as I wave him off and finally leave.