There were times in life when you think that the world was laughing at you as it basked in all the pain, stress, and frustration you're experiencing.
"Do you know this man?" Ron asked for the fifth time as he stood in front of Nova in the empty alley, where he had pulled her into, and a place he deemed appropriate for their conversation. A conversation Nova started to feel was more of a confrontation or an interrogation.
She couldn't glance at him, not really. Her eyes were glued to the picture she was holding in her trembling hands while doing the best she could to stay calm and portray an air of mild curiosity. Realizing she had been holding onto the picture without a proper response, she passed it back to him.
"No, I don't think I know him, sorry." How many lies did she need to say?
Ron didn’t collect the picture. Didn’t even look down at it. He was looking at her with a slight tilt of his head. "Are you sure? Look again." There was something about his persistence that had the hairs rising at the back of her neck.
Thinking through her options at lightning speed, she replied, "I'm sure," she denied again. "Who is he? Someone we went to school with?" There was a chance Vicious would have snorted if he had heard her lame attempt at not recognizing him, but he wouldn't think it lame if he knew the Feds had his picture and were onto him. Possibly her as well.
Why was Ron showing her a picture of Vicious? What could possibly make him pick her out of the thousands of people living in the city?
He smiled, taking the picture back into his hand. "How about now?" He took out another photo and turned it for Nova to see.
Her breath came a little faster now as they edged closer to the heart as she looked down at the second picture. If there was a door to hell, she had accidentally stepped into it because this was what she would imagine hell would look like. This, she believed, would be her torment eternally, finding out that she worked for a gang. And even though there could not be a valid proof, this picture certainly would raise red flags.
Ron was watching her closely with a coolly, unreadable expression on his face. The picture was good quality, so there was no reason to deny that wasn't her talking to Vicious. The two of them were inches apart, and anyone who saw this picture would know the two knew each other. There was no way around this. No way to deny what she was seeing.
That day wasn't a blur on her mind. It was the day Vicious had cornered Nova outside the grocery store. He had been waiting for her. They ended up having another argument in the parking lot about the importance of stalking.
"Yeah." She nodded her head vigorously. "I remember that day. He told me his name was Connor. I paid for his groceries because he forgot his wallet. Why do you have a picture of us?" Confusion masked on her face as she glanced up at Ron, who seemed to be the only one visibly relaxed.
"Are you sure you don't know him?"
"Ron, if I knew him, I would tell you."
He didn’t seem to be convinced. “You're not in any trouble, are you? Whatever it is, I can get you out of it. You have to trust me." He took her left arm in a hold and soothingly rubbed his thumb. "Tell me if you know anything. Please."
"Now, Nova, did you speak to anyone about me?" His voice, as it always did, entranced her for a moment, even in this dark moment. It wrapped itself around her in a vice and demanded a response. A response that she wouldn’t give willingly. Telling Vicious about Ron would be admittance to what he was accusing her of, and she had no idea what he would do to Ron. She had no idea how he would react to any of it, to be honest.
"No one!" Her voice came out firmer than she expected because inside, her heart was pounding. For the first time, she was genuinely scared of him and what he might do. His arm holding the bow was hanging at his side in a firm grip.
Vicious analyzed her carefully, assessing each of her words and her movements. What could he see from where he sat? The lie? The panic? Had he been standing close, he might have heard the rapid beating of her heart that called her a liar. The rhythm in her heart that told a different story from what she was saying.
Then, he raised a slender eyebrow slightly. "Don't lie to me."
He gazed into her eyes with enough intensity to scare her, but Nova bit down on her lower lip and forced the harsh, fierce words out of her mouth, “I'm not lying!" A little scream emitted out of her mouth when another arrow flew past, dangerously close to her face, and had she moved to the right a little, it would have hit her. "Stop it! I didn't tell anyone anything. Let me go!"
I’m not telling you anything.
He grinned, a terrible sight to see when the reason for his smile was so cruel and restring. “I don't believe you."
She felt her muscles froze up slowly, and her body stiffen. He suspected something. But there was no way he would know about Ron. Even if he did, she was already rummaging through her mind for a believable story. She doubted he would believe anything she came up with, too proud to be wrong, and maybe too invested in making her the bad guy.
"It's not my problem that you're a paranoid asshole." She glared at him through clenched teeth, nose flaring. Nova knew she had found his trigger when his face darkened. Of course, being a gang leader meant being paranoid in every step of the way, especially one in a tight spot as Vicious was in, wanted by the feds and haunted by a rival gang.
"Are you a rat?" His teeth were bared like a mad man, and his eyes were practically glowing in a fury. When she failed to answer him, Vicious shot another arrow that missed her face by an inch. She flinched as she shuts her eyes. "Eventually, one of these arrows is going to hit you, and eventually, you will die. So, tell me what I want to know, Nova. It doesn't have to get ugly. All you have to do is tell me who you spoke to."
"You know what I think? You're full of shit. You can't kill me."
The corners of his lips tugged upwards in a wild, untamed smile that she wasn't prepared for. "Oh, yeah?" His eyes locked on something at the corner before he launched his arrow, straight and on target.
"What the fuck?" Mario yelled, and Nova turned in time to see him falling to the ground, holding his right leg. Her eyes bulged out of their sockets at the arrow that was stuck in Mario's leg. The man lifted his head, breathing hard and fast as he glared at his cousin. Her eyes went back to look at Vicious, whose lips were parted in a smirk.
"You had it coming," was his stupid excuse. Mario pulled the arrow out of his leg and lifted himself on his feet. Nova thought he was going to advance towards Vicious and punch him or return the favor. But all he did was snarled and spun around, limping to another exit.
She was in a state of shock.
"See what I did there? I shot my cousin because he fucked up last week. What makes you think a bitch like you is special? Do you think you hold a special place in my heart? If I can do that to Mario, imagine what I would do to a fucking nobody."
She just glared at him wordlessly, her lips pressed into a thin line. "Fuck you."
He sat there silently, his jaw clenched, and his green eyes attentive to every move she made, which was barely considering she was trapped in between two men. His right hand was twitching mildly, and Nova thought that perhaps killing her was the first thing he wanted to do this very moment. She wasn’t going to beg. She wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.
"Go ahead, then. Kill me if you want, but I didn't tell anyone about you. Not because I'm scared of you—"
"I'd think again if I were you. The feds feed bullshit to rats about protecting them, but there will always be that one person who either latches onto money or someone who loves their family. And when there's that one person, no building, no city or country that I can't get my hands on. You get what I'm saying?" he asked simply in a tone that held such a sinister edge that she shivered. "But if you don't, I'm telling you that no place on earth is safe for you, Nova."
Her jaw clenched at his condescending tone as if she were some dumb woman who knew no better. But she tried to soothe the frantic throbbing of her heart when he suddenly rose to his feet. Still holding the bow in hand, Vicious strolled to where she stood in short strides, his back ramrod straight and his face held high, emanating an aspect of power and danger.
The hands that were gripping her arms let go of her instantly as they were quick to retreat when their boss stopped inches away from her. Nova imitated his expression and gazed at him blankly, trying to clear her face of any emotion that would expose the wild fear in her heart.
She watched as he closed the distance, dipping his head down to trail his nose along her collar bone and up to her neck. She was frozen in obvious shock as Vicious slowly made his way behind her, his fingers dancing along her arm and back as he walked, gasped when he gently trailed his index finger up the length of her spine.
He yanked her back, and she fell into him, her back against his chest. Nova could feel the tiny vibration she was getting from his heartbeats. Vicious wrapped one arm around her neck as he buried his nose in her hair, his lips caressing her ear.
"I believe you," he whispered. Nova sucked in a breath when his lips grazed her ear, his breath fanning over her like a fog. "I believe every word you said, Nova. And guess what?" His other hand traced along her hip as he whispered in her ear then, far too low for anyone other than her to hear. "You have passed the test." He chuckled, the vibrations traveling from his chest to her back.
She was quick to whirl around to face him, eyes ablaze. "What the fuck did you just say?" It was a test? A test? He got her kidnapped, manhandled and almost took her out with an arrow, and then called it a test?
She slapped him, and everything just went silent. The crack sound rang loud. She had underestimated the strength of her anger when Vicious rolled his eyes back to stare at her, and Nova spotted the tiny bit of red at the corner of his mouth. She wasn't ashamed. She wasn't regretful.
A soft sound emitted out of him as his tongue stuck out and swiped away the blood. Her heart sped up as his lips curved into a smirk. She went to back up again when he leaned down, but his arms came up to encircle her waist, preventing her from going anywhere.
"No one has done that in years. I have forgotten what that felt like. How do you know that I like it rough and bloody?"
When she spoke, her voice was hoarse, as if she had been screaming. "You're a fucking bastard." She wrenched herself away from his hold and shoved him back. Nova was starting to shake from all the emotions that were running through her, and she couldn't still stand there looking at his face.
How long has it been since she heard the sound of the doorbell ringing? It slipped her mind of its existence since no seemed to pay heed to it.
For fuck's sake, she cursed him in her mind.
Screw stood on her doorstep, watching her with a careful smile. Nova felt a shudder run down her back, though it had nothing to do with the cold weather brushing against her skin.
"What are you doing here?"
He smiled charmingly, giving her a flash of his perfect white teeth. He took short steps towards her, scrutinizing her thoroughly. She had showered, but she was still wearing pajamas. Somedays, she loved wearing them for no reason.
"Thought you'd like the change of face, but the sour look on your face is breaking my heart."
"Well, excuse me if I don't feel like seeing you lot right now." She gave him a well-deserved glare. He took part in what Vicious did to her, thus why he was among the people she didn't like at that precise moment.
He smiled and briefly glanced down at his shoes before looking up again, carefully choosing the right way to approach the subject that Nova knew he had prepared for, choosing the exact words to say, until finally, he responded in a smooth voice, “That’s why I'm here."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" she questioned rather haughtily.
He composed a soft smile and a nod. "You're mad; I get it. I couldn't interfere with Vicious; you know that." His chin tilted up as he glanced at his sides, looking uncomfortable for a few seconds before running a finger over his eyebrow. "Can I come in before you make your neighbors think there's something's wrong, and they come over, and then I'd have to shoot them?"
Nova wasn't alarmed because he didn't sound like he was serious about shooting anyone, but she still wouldn't budge from where she stood.
Screw shrugged and continued, “I don't like people."
"You hang around a lot of people."
He chuckled. "Let me rephrase that: I don't like people who aren't my people. Can I please come in?" he asked again, going back and forth on his feet in a motion that told her he was feeling uncomfortable being out in the open. Did he expect someone to jump him?
"Only because I don't want my neighbors to ask questions," her voice faded away as she left the door open and walked back into the living room. She heard him behind her, then turned to find him looking around her house. It dawned on her that this was his first time at her home.
They stood there in silence, each sifting through their thoughts. "I'm surprised to see you," she began, intending to sound bored and uncaring, though she just wanted to ask him why Vicious wasn't the one in her house, but couldn't seem to let the words out.
"Expecting Vicious?” He laughed. “He thought you'd kill him if he shows his face to you. Too soon and all that."
"He was right to stay away."
"You can't be mad about what happened last night."
And just like that, she turned into a white ball of anger. "Excuse me? I can't be mad?"
"It's what happens," he implored with much disdain in his tone. "You had it easy; I thought I was going to be thrown over a fucking roof. I was thrown over, and the only thing that stood in the way of my death were two motherfuckers holding my legs. It's Vicious way of saying welcome to the family."
"I'm not part of your family," she reminded him. "He's sick. Hasn't he heard of a gift card?"
"He doesn't do normal," he replied simply, his glance never breaking from hers. It was hard to know what was going through his mind, but it was easier to think Screw thought his boss a crazy man.
"You don't care."
She slipped a smirk in. "Yeah, and he deserves all the pain he's getting. Just sucks that I'm not the one who is behind it." Something passed through her mind. "Are we going somewhere?"
Screw nodded. “Meeting a guy to go over some things with him. Thought you’d want to come.”
She sighed, wondering when there would be a day where she wouldn't have to see their faces. She went back to her bedroom and got properly dressed before grabbing her purse. Nova came out a few minutes later, and Screw just nodded towards the door before leaving the living room, so she followed him. She climbed in the car, and he started the engine as soon as her door was closed.
The drive lasted for twenty minutes, during which Nova surprisingly kept quiet. She didn't say another word during the five more minutes of the journey to an underground parking garage. He stopped the engine and told her they had to wait for the man in the car.
"Who is that?" Nova tried to take a peek at the picture he was looking at, but Screw was quick to lock the phone and put it away.
With a snort, she told him, “You might as well tell me because I won't stop asking." With a resigned sigh, he showed her the picture of a girl taken from the distance, unaware of her memory that was captured in a gang's phone. "Your girlfriend?"
He snorted and pulled away his phone to put in his pocket. "I wish."
"You crush?" She looked at him thoughtfully. Nova knew firsthand how ruthless crushes were. Having feelings for someone who had no idea about it sucked so much. “Why haven't you asked her out? It's not like you're ugly, and even if you are, your personality can make up for that, I guess."
"Nah, she's too good for me."
"She's not....like me," he mused slowly. "She's kind, an artist who sees the world in different shades of colors. Do you know that she goes to church every Sunday? And she volunteers at the homeless shelter?" He shook his head, a sad smile playing on his lips. “What would a girl like that do with me? All I can offer her is darkness and bloodshed."
"You don't know that."
"Look at you, mama." He cocked his head to one side and stared at her intently. "You went from being a simple suburban woman to delivering coke and guns for a gang."
Nova pondered his words for a moment and finally averted her gaze. "You worry she will turn out like me?" Turning to face him, she doesn't fail to see the answer spelled out for her in his eyes. "You forget that this was a choice made for me." What she had done so far wasn’t something she was proud of, but it was necessary. If she wanted to get out of this deal with Vicious, she needed to do things to make him realize that her debt had been paid.
"Not that." His lips twirled upwards, flashing a row of his perfect teeth. His eyes bored into her. "You and Vicious..something's going on with you two. I see it, and so does Mario. And the more you stay close to him, the more you won't escape this life."
"What?" she alarmed, feeling growingly embarrassed. There was a silence during which they both daringly faced each other. "Nothing is going on between us," Nova denied; however, she rubbed her hands that rested on her lap, her breath heavy and her heart beating fast. It didn't go unnoticed by Screw, who laughed with a shake of his head.
It never occurred to her that anyone in Vicious' crew would know about the two of them. He certainly didn't seem the type to talk about this with anyone, but hey, did she know him it at all? Just last night, she had been his target. But the thought of him talking about the things he did with her made her stomach turn.
"Ah, cut that shit. I ain't judging you, ma. Just don't keep your head buried deep. This life ain't cut out for you, or her for that matter...." he drifted off, his palm running across his face. "People like us, Nova, we only know how to hurt. Happiness doesn't last. Death, prison; that's what awaits most of us."
He pulled his phone out of his pocket, adding, "It's safer to get laid with no attachments. But you and Vicious need to fuck the attraction out of each other so we can all move on. He is here," he said, his face suddenly serious, before he extracted himself from the car.
She followed him out and crossed over to where he stood. The parking garage was empty except for the two of them. Screw was typing away on his phone when Nova started to hear something that sounded oddly familiar. It was faint to make out. Her brows knitted together.
“Oh, fuck! Fuck!”
Screw’s exclaims jerked her toward him as he looked widely at her, and she opened her mouth to ask him what the problem was when she heard that sound again. Sirens. She could hear police sirens. What the hell? How....why?
“We’re blocked in all the exits!” Screw punched his fist on the car and started to type on his phone again. A wave of panicked despair hit her as she realized what was happening. The police were here for them. Was it a setup? Screw was cursing on the phone, then yelled into the speaker before she watched him end the call to remove his SIM card, which he broke into two with his teeth before dropping his phone on the ground. He stepped on it repeatedly, and the phone screen cracked from the abuse.
He turned to her. “Give me your phone,” he ordered in a rush. “They’re gonna be here in less than a minute. I need your phone!”
She jerked forward and passed it to him, watching him do the same thing he did to his phone. There was no way out of this, she realized. When the police get here, they will arrest them both. Things weren't supposed to happen like this, and she suddenly found herself unable to breathe. The thought of going to jail frightened her. The idea of never seeing freedom again almost made her hurl.
Nova suddenly felt like she was drowning as she realized she wouldn't get the chance to do anything she hadn’t done before. This would forever go on her record, and she would lose everything. Her whole body was shaking, and she was having a hard time breathing when the sirens started getting closer. She was panicking. She couldn’t end up in prison. No way, she didn’t deserve it.
For months, she had only feared of this moment, that her fate had been sealed the moment she started working for a gang. But all she could think about was herself. Her life.
She won’t go down for this. She won’t go down for Grant’s mistake. She won’t go down for Vicious either.
Screw started to turn around. “Hey, don’t be—” The rest of his words were cut off when she hit him over the head with an iron rod. It happened so quickly that he hadn’t seen it coming. His eyes widened as he staggered back, his back hitting the car before he slipped to the ground.