Chapter 9: Envy
As he rounded the bend from the unfinished basement, Brandon hit something. “Shit. I forgot you were here. You’re loads quieter than the idiot.” The man, still dripping from his shower, caught a closed-eyed Harley by her blanket draped upper arms.
“Ow.” The greaser dressed in a Victorian nightie dropped her ornate pillow and winced. “Ugh, if you don’t want to meet the wrong end of my boot,”—she rubbed her purpling forehead—“you’re going to start being nicer to my sister. I see how you treat he- Eek!” Harley squawked, her overprotective speech dying on her lips when she opened her eyes to Brandon’s masterfully carved upper body.
“Like what you see?” The bare-chested studmuffin puffed up, a small smirk playing at his lips while his limp tresses did their best imitation of a mophead. With the Guardian’s cocky voice breaking her from her daze, Harley came back to herself just in time to feel her sides being squeezed. “Well, do you?” Masculine hands continued to graze full-figured hips as feminine thighs rubbed together. Brandon flexed his fingers when Harley chewed her bottom lip much in the way of her sister.
“Do you?” The dame flipped the question as she got on her tiptoes and craned her neck, looked Brandon in the eyes challengingly. After a few seconds of silence, she continued, “Most of my life I’ve been surrounded by males, and I’ve got to say, you’re one of the interesting few who’ve shown me such restraint.”
“Maybe I’m just not interested in you,” he boasted.
“And maybe,” the attractive, blown pupils woman emphasized the word as she stepped closer and said with conviction, “that’s a crock of shit.”
“Hmph.” Brandon smothered a snort.
“Tell me, what if I do?”
The woman pressed her spry and supple body against lean muscles and hard planes. Her hands wandered over Brandon’s cloth shrouded hips and tickled his Adonis belt as she neared his distinctive happy trail. “If I do like what I see, what’re you going to do about it?” she whispered beside his ear before licking it.
As he suppressed a shiver, Brandon saw Harley reach to card his disorderly hair and ducked out of range. “Acts,” he finally answered her and tightened his grip.
“Well? I’m waiting.” The temptation cocked her head to the side.
“You might want to hurry; I’m not going to stand here forever.” Harley raked a row of titillating scratches down Brandon’s chest. “Sharing is caring.” She peaked at him through her lashes. “Acts?”
The man’s Adam’s apple bobbed at his husky admission, “Acts that would surely break you.”
Harley smirked as she put on her best seductive voice and massaged the man’s inner thighs, “Try me. I assure you, I’m not a blushing virgin.”
Upended, the Guardian visibly shivered until girly guffaws splintered the bewitching atmosphere and the beguiling creature was pushed away.
“Pfft. My lord! You really bought that?! You should see your face.” As she wiped away tears, Harley swore she heard Brandon growl.
Upon hearing the tell-tale click of the man’s door, Tina came out of hiding, and dear God did she now wish she’d stayed in her room. Having watched a majority of the sexy exchange, the girl no longer wondered what had distracted her sister from retrieving an adapter from the basement.
Shuffling across the floor as noiselessly as she could, the younger Franklin whispered and pulled her keeled over sibling to the home’s lower, concrete level.
“Wha-what?” A still doubled over Harley could’ve passed as a witch with how she cackled her little heart out.
“I asked how you got the dickhead in line.” Tina huffed.
“I-I-I- Wait.” Harley tried to contain her wheezing.
“Don’t die,” Tina said, worried that she might see her kin hack up a lung.
Still on cloud nine, Harley finally caught her breath. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’ve never seen anyone put Brandon in his place.”
“There’s a first time for everything, but I’m sure he’s had blue balls before.” Harley swiped away more tears to see her sister watching her like a hawk. “Listen”—she cleared her throat—“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen Brandon do nothing but act funny toward you, and I’m not down”—Harley paused—“Men like him, who think they’re all big and bad, usually reset when called out on their shit.”
“I prefer step-by-step solutions,” Tina grumbled.
Leaning on the chrome washing machine in the corner, Harley chuckled, scrunched up her face, and stretched one tired arm until her bones made an ugly popping sound. “Yvette, there’s no magic formula.” Gazing at her sibling, Harley partially acquiesced. She snuggled her long cloth and tutted. “Maybe it’s my disposition… Remember, it’s to blame for why I never became Mrs. Reese Blair,” she spat venomously. “The fucker always reminded me toward the end of our relationship that my assertiveness was a turnoff.”
“Ugh, I still remember how he said you repeatedly emasculated him.” Tina cringed at the flashback.
“Yeah, because I’m in engineering.” Harley wrapped herself even tighter. “Which Christmas was that again?”
“The freezing one, where he mixed green and orange coolants without asking you first.”
“Yes! I was so pissed!”
The two laughed twin laughs before Tina calmed and got lost in her thoughts once again. “I just don’t get why Brandon took a sudden liking to you.”
Embodying her sister’s confused mannerism, Harley quirked an eyebrow and grinned. “You want to screw him.”
Tina blushed hard as her sibling’s entertained laughter rose a few octaves. “Ick! Ew! Hell no! God, I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Oh, stop it and come on. I mean, I have my eyes on Nev, but I’m not blind. In all seriousness, as arrogant as he is, Brandon’s a nice tall glass of milk.” Hugging her pillow to her chest, Harley licked her lips dirtily and winked. “Y’know, Vitamin D is essential.”
“Disgusting,” Tina said queasily. “I practically saw you two undressing each other with your eyes,” she gagged.
“Well, there wasn’t much left to undress.”
Surveying her immature sibling, Harley finally got the courage to ask her what she’d meant to since she’d arrived. “Yvette, I’ve been wondering… How’re you holding up here?”
“Uh.” Tina recalled her last few days for a moment. “The property’s alright, real roomy. School’s good too.”
“No, I’m not talking about the rental prop or school; I meant how’re you doing up here, in the Catskills?”
“Oh.” Tina’s features took on a downturned position.
“It’s alright, y’know if you’re struggling a bit.” Harley approached her sister and put a hand on her shoulder. “After all you went through-”
Tina hissed and pulled away as if she’d been burned. “Can you not? It’s been four years, let sleeping dogs lie…”
“Yvette, you called me after an enviable disappearing act.” Harley huffed with squinted eyes. “I still can’t believe that shithole was as poorly managed as it was.”
“Stop? For a week, two teenyboppers were able to trick a bunch of adults into thinking your ass was with a different one whenever someone brought you up.”
“Brit and Mel can’t be blamed. They were just doing what I asked them to.”
“First, stop? Now, can’t be blamed? Are you serious?” Harley paused. “Why won’t my baby sis let me be concerned about her?” Another pause. “I jus’… I jus’ never understood your juvenile intention of staying with that half-grown… Ugh! Do you understand how aggravating-”
“Don’t say it. Don’t you dare say what I know you’re going to.” A bitter Harley’s hand transformed into a gingerly swaying fist at her side, ready to launch at any moment. “Although I went away for a bit, I know things weren’t great back then, and yes, the house was a mess, but I still can’t believe-”
“Harls,”—Tina sniffled, fought silent sobs that tried to wrack her frame—“please…” With a swallow and lick of her lips, the teen gulped down foreboding feelings. “It was a mistake,” her voice warbled, heavy with emotion. “I called you because you’ve always been my safety net, the older sister who wouldn’t snitch on or chastise me… Please,”—stressed brown eyes hardened as they looked to their near match—“don’t make me a liar.”
Harley stomped her foot like an angry child before rattling the machine behind her. “Fine. I’ll drop it.” The teen voiced her thanks as she flinched with each of the rough strikes. Repeated pounding of the metal allowed the flimsy firecracker to calm. Taking deep breaths, she watched Tina robotically maneuver her cramped corner and mutter something inaudible.
Harley’s bookmarking of the youngster’s defenses was near natural now.
With her temper tempered, the older Franklin looked to her cracked phone. It was getting late, and she needed to get on the road in a few hours if she wanted to make her upcoming early shift. With a sigh, the older girl examined her scuffed-up hands and the cleaning appliance’s new dimples. “Hey,” she started her request, “hit up Ash and Ross. I want to try seeing them at least once before I head out.”
“Sure,” came Tina’s brief and stiff answer.
Sunday morning – way too early
Shortly after Tina’s pained yodel, gentle footsteps pattered her way.
“Damn instincts,” the Guardian cussed when he reached the kitchen. “What’s got you waking me”—he yawned and turned to the darkened glass door—“before the sun is even out?” Looking to the cold ground, where his Protected knelt, Brandon scented fresh blood, and his irises flashed red. “The fuck did you do?” He cleared his head with a shake.
“Cle-clean up,” Tina shrilled. She held her lacerated left hand to her chest, an attempt to curb the blood trickling down her digits. She winced as she tried to collect her bearings. “Well, attempting to.”
Looking at his Protected’s injured manus, the Guardian took a seat, rested himself chin-first on a closed fist. “Why’re you up so early?” he asked.
“Really?” Tina squawked as she painted the nearby sink crimson. When she was met with restless, narrowed eyes, she huffed, “Couldn’t sleep.” She put her hand under the tap and nearly howled. “Could you maybe, I don’t know, help”—the girl sucked her teeth—“Bring me the first aid kit?”
“Hmph.” Brandon barely shifted.
“Please?” Tina turned in on herself. “I’d rather not bleed out.” Worrying her lower lip, the teen could still taste the leftover quesadilla she’d found in the fridge.
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, you hypochondriac,” Brandon said, amused by his human’s vicious snarl. As he assessed the injury with tenderness, Brandon noticed Tina’s strong flinch. He grumbled, “As long as you’re not spurting like a fire hydrant, you’ll survive.” After a quick analysis, the Guardian surmised that Tina’s palm wouldn’t need stitches. “Favorable, but this needs to be tended to quickly. You don’t want it getting infected. Apply pressure to stop the bleeding. How’d this happen again?” he rattled off.
“Dropped some glass.” The Protected scoffed. “There’s a reason all the dishware was plastic before you moved in with your expensive fine china.”
After retrieving the first aid kit, Brandon let something like playfulness flavor his words. “I’m quickly realizing how accident-prone you are.”
“Tch, whose fault is that?”
While her Guardian dug through the kit, Tina remembered the last time he’d cared for her, a few days ago, when she’d awoken in his arms after blacking out.
“Are you blushing?”
Fingers stickied with lifeblood twitched. “Shut up. No.”
Intrigued gold pursued crafty brown. “You were.”
Was I really blushing?
The girl’s treacherous psyche made itself known for the umpteenth time this week before she found a short, stinging distraction in cotton doused in cleaning solution. By the time Brandon turned for fresh cotton, most of Tina’s aches had subsided, so she decided to vet the damage herself.
It doesn’t look as bad as it feels, but still, it’s nothing compared to stitches.As her Guardian worked, Tina’s eyes roved his dark branding.
Protected and Guardian stared at each other for a few tense seconds, each unblinking as Tina’s wrist was held captive. “Can I help you?” Brandon asked coldly.
Tina reeled in her limb, slightly self-conscious about what she’d done before she remembered why she’d done it. “Sorry,” she apologized in a tiny voice, tried to ignore the pitiless eyes staring her down.
“For grabbing your arm?”
“No, I mean why’d you grab me, idiot.” Brandon slicked back his mussy hair.
“Oh.” The girl turned coy. “I-I’ve always liked tattoos, but nobody in my family has any, well Harley does, but they’re a secret.” Tina licked her lips as she continued to steal glances. “I’ve heard the forearm doesn’t hurt as bad as other parts of the body, but surely something that large wasn’t comfortable?”
“I don’t like pain, so I’ve always been on the fence about getting something myself.”
“You were fine with the pain in your side,” Brandon retorted.
A scoff. “I said I don’t like pain, not that I can’t handle it.”
“It’s way too early to play semantics,” the exhausted Guardian interjected.
As the man resumed his squatted position, Tina couldn’t help but compare him to the being she’d first met, the one who’d gotten chewed out by the Guardian/Protected researchers for his unsocial behavior.
He was like a mute who only knew how to communicate by death stare, she thought before yelping, the second pass of alcohol a lot for her raw skin to handle. Ass!
“Tell me,”—Tina coaxed her voice to be sickeningly sweet—“do you think tattoos should have meaning?” In response, Brandon let loose a quiet chuckle. “Should I take that as a no?” She looked to the exposed ink again.
“Take it however you want,” the Guardian said through a sinister, plastic smile. He turned the sterilized hand in his about, double-checking it.
As curiosity overtook sanity, Tina cautiously asked the clock’s meaning.
Collecting some gauze, Brandon’s chest rumbled. “None of your business. Stop asking dumb questions.”
A bit rattled, Tina turned flippant. “Jeez, don’t bite my head off, Mr. Hyde.”
“Want to try again?” Brandon gripped the teen’s hand tighter than necessary and earned a loud whimper.
“Fine, if you promise not to do that again, I’ll let you be the doctor.”
“Don’t frustrate me,” the man blustered.
“What do you have against the classics?” Tina put on her own smirk.
“I don’t like these nicknames I’m getting. First the sheep, now you. My name is Brandon.”
“I can’t speak to the name Hailey bestowed, but I think mine do you great justice, embody you, in fact. One second you’re hot, and the other you’re cold. You have more intense mood swings than a girl approaching her period.” When Brandon screwed the cap on the near-forgotten bottle of alcohol tight enough that it cracked, Tina knew she had him. She quirked a brow. “Do you prefer Master of Whiplash?”
Another commonplace growl.
“You like it?”
“Of course not!” Brandon bayed.
“Not the names, dumb-dumb.” Tina changed tactics.
“Don’t push your luck.”
The girl rolled her eyes as she filled out her question.
After an explanation, Brandon responded with how he’s making out in his new surroundings, answered that he’s faring. “Aren’t you pleased?” he asked after a moment.
The man’s added conversation shocked the teenager, so much so she’d instantly replied, unable to contain her truth for something euphonious. “No.” Tina looked away, missed Brandon’s interest pique.
While cutting through thick gauze, the Guardian heard his Protected break the few minutes of silence with another question. “One more time?”
“I said, care to tell me why you hate me?” Tina repeated, this time without stumbling over her words.
The wolf protector gave a momentary pause. “No.”
“I don’t have to.”
“Don’t be a baby.” Tina sighed, refusing to give up. “Come on, how about we take turns? I’ll ask you something, and then you ask me something.”
Brandon balked for a moment before retorting, “What is this, an inquest?” Tina perked up, knowing she was working the man’s last good nerve.
The partners rapidly exchanged words, their heated argument growing to a boiling point, Tina’s prying admittedly nearing aggressive.
“Time out,” Brandon bellowed, his biological need for air far outweighing his mind’s need to be heard.
Swimmer lungs for the win! Tina thought before readying herself for another round, that is before Brandon put a stop to the insanity.
“Enough! Why’re you so concerned with my thoughts?”
“I think I deserve to know what you think about me. I’m your Protected. The two of us need to find a common ground, a place where we can communicate freely, and reach understandings.” As she shared her thoughts, Tina had an idea. “Name your all-time favorite food. Go!”
At the bizarre abuse of power, abrupt shock mixed with a bit of ire. “That creamy white stuff on top of ice cream.” Brandon ground out his answer.
“Um, what?” Tina chuckled softly. “Creamy white stuff? On top of ice cream?” The teenager wracked her brain. “You mean whipped cream?” She looked for confirmation and guessed she saw a nod. “You know, Denzel would have your head for not knowing what that stuff is.”
With Brandon’s chest still heaving from the verbal onslaught, it hurt to chuckle. “It’d be entertaining to see him try.”
“Why whipped cream?” Tina looked her Guardian up and down before chuckling to herself. “My, my, does the big, bad wolf have a sweet tooth?”
“Careful.” Brandon squinted.
At the man’s ineloquent articulation, Tina’s smile turned to a frown. “I figured… It’s just… I… Maybe-”
“You’re babbling. Spit it out.”
Tina flinched. “I just figured if we got to know each other better, maybe some of our issues could be resolved…” At her Guardian’s calculating stare, the Protected jumped. “You know what, point taken. You don’t have to answ-”
“On special occasions… my mom used to give me some.”
For a split second, Tina was taken aback. “So, the taste holds sentimental value?” she questioned.
The man shrugged dismissively. “I like the feeling of it melting on my tongue.”
After another awkward beat, the teenager decided to turn up the heat. As her hand was wrapped, Tina grilled Brandon on his favorite television shows and music.
Although the guy maintained an air of indifference, and his voice kept its control, his grip on the stretchy fabric slackened. “Why are you suddenly speaking to me as if we’re friends?”
“Wow, way to kill the mood.” Tina snickered and looked to the corner with eyes that took pride in conveying little. Brandon continued wrapping her limb as he listened to her blabber on, whisper, “Harley truly was able to tame you before me.”
Hearing the threatening snap of dangerous jaws, Tina didn’t dare look up, and before she knew it, she was back to one piece and her Guardian was cleaning up.
“...It was worth a shot,” she said to Brandon through their telepathic connection, jarring him before she left for the sanctity of her room, the only place she could sulk in peace.
“Is this going to be a regular thing with you and Brandon staying together?” Ashley asked, eyeing her babe’s new bandaging.
Suddenly, Tina was second-guessing inviting the couple to catch up on their latest comedy obsession.
“Tina Y. Franklin, do I want to know why there are dents in your new washer?” Roscoe sauntered over with the needed cable extension.
“Damn you two are nosy,” the teenager groaned.
After Dr. Jade’s Monday class…
Tina stayed back as her group went to grab lunch.
“Dr. Jade, what’d you mean last class when you said some, I forgot the word you used, complications or something like that, came from the artificial creation of Enemies?”
After a particularly long session, which included having to dismantle more ridiculous arguments a heated Mr. Union made to his peers, the doctor wore a particularly exhausted expression. She adjusted her tuxedo dress, and the periwinkle ascot at its lapels before clearing her throat. “I nearly forgot that I had stated such a thing.”
Tina waited patiently as the woman turned her back to her.
“You’re staying?” Colored heels sounded on the linoleum as Helena reorganized her many tomes.
“Well, yeah. I’m waiting for my answers.”
Seeing her student’s stubbornness, the doctor looked for her next lesson’s citations. “I believe the words you have forgotten were more similar to ‘Although all G/P types are naturally occurring, Guardians can now be created via genetic modification. This means that rare pairings like Lovers and Enemies are increasing, but not without arising consequences.’ Correct?”
“Yes, yes, that’s it! You said something like that!” Tina more or less squeed with joy.
“Not ‘something like that’. Those were my exact words, Ms. Franklin, word for word.”
Tina swallowed a gloomy cry. “Dr. Jade, I don’t hate that you’re a stickler for some things, but please, could you throw me a bone by being a little more helpful, less secretive?”
For a moment the doc looked tentative. She questioned with an uncharacteristically lighthearted air, “I suppose you would like me to treat you with kitten gloves because you are a freshman?” When the older woman received no answer, she continued, “Tell me, what is it that you thought I meant when I supplied your class with my message?”
“That Lovers and Enemies pairs are on the rise because science has perfected how to make their Guardians.”
“Anything else?” Helena, sitting upon her opulent throne like a monarch, narrowly bulldozed Tina with her intimidating stare.
“And that”—Tina thought for a moment, searched her mind for the right words—“that”—she sighed—“All I got was that there’s something wrong with manufactured Guardians. You didn’t elaborate any further, which is why I’m here. You also said it’s believed Enemies are failed Abuse pairings.”
“Indeed, I did state that.” Dr. Jade smiled before looking at her chiming watch. “It brings me immense joy to know that you have been attentive, Ms. Franklin, but unfortunately, I cannot delve into this matter any further. I have another class.”
“Could you just-”
“I want you to keep thinking. I can tell that you are on the right track, and I believe that you will be able to sort out many of your questions on your own.”
Tina was cut off by the hall’s sudden activity, students from the next class entering.
“Dr. Jade,”—a gangly, square-jawed man with a hoarse voice, beautifully melanated skin, and a shiny, bald head descended the steps alongside some others—“is what I’m hearing about you giving us a history test on G/Ps today true? We just got back.”
“Mr. Bridges, you should know me by now. You are a senior, after all.” The woman stood to prepare the board for her lesson.
“Jonah, when have you ever known the lavish doc to let her plans of torture slip early?” a woman with sharp cheekbones, and a thick Arabic accent Tina couldn’t quite place asked the man a few paces in front of her.
“Ms. Vulture, must I remind you of my name at the beginning of each year?” Dr. Jade cracked a piece of chalk in half.
Jonah grumbled, “Akilah, co-”
“Oooo, who’s the little cutie?” Akilah clapped her hands in a tizzy when she finally registered Tina’s presence. “Is she a freshman? Wait, no duh, she has to be. It’s still too early for the exchange to happen.”
“I just finished with Tina’s class,” Dr. Jade said. “She was just leaving.”
Knowing how to take a hint, a famished Tina silently grabbed her bag and headed to her next class.