Pink Walls

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The Carmosinos [Part II]

Maybe you shouldn’t have brought me along.”

The air conditioning in the car was on, the vents on full blast despite the fact that snow was falling persistently from the dark clouds that bordered the early morning horizon. A crescent moon hung low in the skies, listless and pale like a dull bulb. Its shine did not brighten the spots where the street lights didn’t reach, and it didn’t help melt the ice that would need to be shovelled out of the way come sunrise.

It was just there as a pretty sight, and was one I was tired of seeing. It only reminded me of how early it was right now.

There was barely anyone else on the road other than us and despite Ron and Alex both having personal drivers, I was the one they asked to drive them to the meeting.

Some days I enjoyed having the power to go wherever I wanted without having to walk or pay for a ticket. Some days I didn’t.

Today was one of those days.

With every second that passed, lethargy seeped deeper into my bones. My mind was as sharp as ever but my body just couldn’t seem to keep up. Each motion I made seemed unnecessarily slow, like my limbs were being dragged down by the weight of the world.

How poetic. I thought and tried to shake off the feeling, but it only smothered me harder until all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers of a bed—any bed—and fall asleep forever.

I sucked in a mouthful of the extra cool air and made a right turn down another street whose name I had forgotten.

The city was like a maze when the morning was so dark and dreary; all the houses looked alike when every rooftop was blanketed in snow. If I hadn’t plied this route so many times, I would have needed to stop and look up directions.

That was just how lost I was right now. I was driving on autopilot.

When another wave of fatigue hit me, I brightened the headlights to counterbalance my dimming vision and tightened my grip on the steering wheel.

C’mon Kay. I bit hard on my lip but the pain did nothing to wake me up. Maybe I should have had a second cup of coffee while I had the chance. Maybe I shouldn’t have that one hour of good sleep after all.

1, 2, 3. . . The atmosphere in the car did little to liven my thoughts. Silent tension emanated from the backseat in waves. My passengers were just a wrong word away from starting an argument, I could feel it.

Because of them, I didn’t dare reach out for the radio to play music. I didn’t know what would ignite whatever it was that was going on between them, but I didn’t want it to be me.

I didn’t have the strength to handle that kind of workplace drama.

Through the rear view mirror, I watched Alex place a cigar in his mouth and hold it there without getting out a lighter.

I had never seen him smoke before.

Ron sat beside him, nearly melding herself with the door to put as much distance as she could between her body and his. The contrast between her pained expression and Alex’s blank one almost made me laugh but I was able to hold it back.

I cleared my throat instead and flicked on the wipers when I could no longer see through the blanket of snow that had piled up on the windscreen. As usual, it was up to me to destroy the silence. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t say a word to each other till we got to our destination.

I flexed my fingers on the steering wheel and watched my breath puff out in front of me. “Why do you two have to be in the same car again?”

With the side mirror, I took a look at the hatchback following us closely from behind. At the moment, we were the lead car in a line of six vehicles. Normally, Saffron would have been in an armoured Jeep smack in the center of the convoy, and Alex wouldn’t be here at all since he never went out unless he had a job.

It was surprising that Ron had asked us both to follow her. She didn’t like me being seen by unnecessary people and she didn’t like being in enclosed spaces with Alex.

Turning the car left into the expressway leading to the northern part of the city, I looked at the backseat again, half-expecting Ron to have made an attempt at ending Alex’s life.

When I found the two of them still in the same positions they had been thirty seconds ago, I felt a twinge of pain flare beneath my temple.

“What did you two talk about while I slept?” I asked as I eased off on gas. There was no way we were making it to the meeting on time anyway, it was already thirty minutes past midnight.

“Are you two going to talk at all? We still have about an hour till we get to the Carmosino Residence.” I pressed the knuckles of my right hand against my aching eyes. With the winter and the snow and looking for a job, I hadn’t been able to sleep well. Frank and I weren’t done making the necessary renovations to our ‘home’ yet so it still wasn’t waterproof. The one hour of sleep I had yesterday was the sort of quality rest my body desperately needed and now it was starting to crave for more.

Good sleep was a luxury I could scarcely afford but I had gotten almost seven hours in on Saturday. I still found that hard to believe.

Olly’s bed had been so soft that the moment I had got under the covers, I was knocked out. I had never felt so warm before, and maybe that had less to do with his pink blankets and more to do with how kind he had been to me.

When Alex’s black overcoat landed on my lap, I was jolted back to the present. Confused, I turned to look at him. “What?”

“Goosebumps,” he muttered around his cigar and said nothing more.

With a small laugh, I stared down my bare arms. A T-shirt wasn’t exactly the warmest thing to wear in the winter but I had given Frank my jacket and Olly my scarf, and I didn’t want them back anytime soon.

Frank was getting old. His joints ached in cold weather and without money to buy medication for his arthritis, staying warm was his only other option. I didn’t know where he went when the snowstorms hit, he didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask, but giving him an extra layer of protection was the least I could do.

In Olly’s case… I had just wanted to give it to him, and now I had a real reason to knock on his door—a reason that didn’t make me seem more pathetic than I already was.

Sometimes I felt guilty about the way he looked at me like I was the answer to all his problems, like I could save him from everything he was scared of. I wanted to be that, I really did, but it would make me a liar. The last thing I wanted to do was lie to someone that trusted me so much.

“Are you listening, Kay?” Saffron gave the driver’s seat a hard kick and I was hurtled back into reality almost painfully.

It took everything in me not to slam my foot on the breaks.

I blinked the sleep from my eyes, my knuckles whitening from the tight grip I had on the steering wheel and my heart racing fast beneath my shirt. I had been driving unconsciously. I hadn’t even realized that I had closed my eyes.

I could have gotten us into an accident.

“Pull over, Kayden,” Alex said in a hard tone, and Saffron said nothing to interject. That meant that he wasn’t just making a random statement, it was an order I had to follow.

So I did as I was told, comments about how this would delay the meeting and make the Carmosinos hate us even more stuck in my throat. All I could think about was how long I had spaced out for.

I glanced at the clock on the dashboard.

Five minutes, I stared at the digital numbers in disbelief. A whole three hundred seconds of inattentiveness that could have gotten us killed.

If I hadn’t been driving at the front of the convoy, I would have started a chain of collisions and had our men skidding off the road and into the woods. And even worse, Ron and Alex could have been. . .

Pulling onto the hard shoulder, I turned off the engine then pulled up the handbrake. I didn’t wait for Ron or Alex to say anything before stepping out of the car and shutting the door behind me.

The cold wind stung my skin like needles and the snow made me shiver when it melted in my hair, but that only helped me wake up.

Get a grip, Kayden. I crossed my arms and took deep breaths in an attempt to look less affected than I was.

I just couldn’t stop visualizing the accident that could have happened. I was supposed to be their bodyguard but it seemed as though I was the greatest danger to them right now.

When I was about to lose my nerve and reach for the door handle again, Alex and Ron stepped out of the car. I took a step back and watched the falling snow crash against Saffron’s fur-lined jacket.

“Boss, I—”

“You are shaking, Kay,” she pointed out as Alex walked to her side and opened an umbrella over her head. “If you’re not feeling well, just say it. Don’t pretend to be fine, it will get you killed. And the last thing either of us needs is another dead runner on our hands, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry, boss.” I lowered my gaze not wanting to see the disappointment in her eyes. This wasn’t chatty Saffron. This was the boss. My no-nonsense boss that was now standing out in the cold just to give me a lecture. “Maybe you shouldn’t have brought me along.”

“My fault.” She sighed and put her hands on her hips. She wasn’t wearing her bracelets anymore. Her skin looked even darker when paired with her white jacket. “When you came in, I didn’t realize just how tired you were. I’ll drive.”

I didn’t realize how tired I was either, I wanted to protest, but before I could, she walked forward and pulled the car door open. I fumbled to catch Alex’s coat when she threw it at me and could only stand back and watch as she slid into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut.

The engine roared to life immediately.

I held the coat out and looked at Alex.

He shook his head and undid the buttons of his suit jacket. “Wear it.”

“You don’t let people touch your things.”

“You are the exception.” He loosened his tie next then pulled a lighter out of his trouser pocket. I watched silently as he held the flame to his cigar and took one long drag before throwing it down to the snow by his feet.

I was still staring at him in confusion when he exhaled a cloud of smoke and marched towards me. He took the coat himself and wore it for me, and when he was done with the buttons, he tugged me hard against his chest and put one arm around my shoulders.

It wasn’t until he pulled away a second later and forced his umbrella into my hand that I realized that he had just hugged me. What?

“You aren’t driving again,” he said, his dark eyes not leaving mine. “Ever.”

Saffron rolled down the window and poked her head out to grin at us. “You really scared us there Kay,” she said. “You can sleep for the rest of the trip. I need you at your sharpest when we meet Antonia.”

“But, you have Alex. I’m not going to—”

“Alex is a sniper. He’s more useful at a distance.” She slammed her fist down on the horn. “Now, get in. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can all treat ourselves to some hot chocolate and call it a day.”

Without saying a word, Alex walked out from under the umbrella and pulled the door open for me. I looked at him in surprise. I was the one that was supposed to be opening doors and driving them around today. How did our roles suddenly get reversed? What in God’s name was happening?

“The boss told me that it would be in my best interest to convince you to stay with us,” Alex said to answer my questioning gaze. He reached out and—in a move that was very uncharacteristic for him—brushed off the snow that had fallen on my hair just as it was about to melt.

“Stop staring.” He took the umbrella from me and shoved me, headfirst, into the car.

What exactly did Ron talk to him about?

“Are you guys ready?” She revved the car’s engine and adjusted the rear view mirror when Alex got in and shut the door. “I don’t mind you two snuggling back there. But keep your paws off him, Alexiares. He needs to sleep.”

Alex seemed not to hear her, because he was still raking his fingers through my hair in an attempt to get ice out of it. He forced my head down until it rested on his shoulder and kept it there until I stopped trying to get myself free.

That was when I understood that there was no room for argument. I needed to start sleeping now before one of them decided that drugging me would be a much easier compromise.

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