Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 34

Elena


Paul is lingering. He used the bathroom; now, he’s slowly drinking his water. I’m not quite sure why he is still here. Was it a mistake to trust him?

As I’m sitting on the couch with my feet beneath me, I watch him while he looks around the entertainment center at all the pictures of my childhood. Glass in hand, he taps it with a black ring from his middle finger. Other than the uneasy beating of my heart in my ears and the ticking clock above the door, the soft clinking is the only other sound in the room.

I take in his leather jacket and note how similar it is to Mike’s. It’s black and very much a biker’s jacket. It has a large patch on the back that says, ‘Devil’s Henchmen’ in white block letters above the symbol which matches the tattoo on Mike’s chest. Underneath the symbol, it says: ‘Georgia’ also in white block letters.

Mike and Paul must be in the same club. Mike has been so secretive about this ‘Brotherhood’ of his. I hope they don’t do anything illegal. Perhaps I should start googling bike clubs...

How much longer is Paul going to stay?

“Thank you for bringing me home-I hope it didn’t keep you from anything.” Hopefully, he’ll take the hint and leave.

He turns to look at me with that warm smile. The dim lighting in the room softens his features. “You are welcome and nope – I’m not being kept from anything.” He swivels his head back to a certain picture. I frown. My tactic didn’t work.

Paul stretches out his hand to reach for a frame with a picture of Rachel and me in it. A beat goes by as I watch him study it. It was from when my dad took us to Mackinaw Island; the picture is of us on our bikes. There are no cars on Mackinaw Island - only horses and bicycles, it was very hot that day, but we didn’t care. It was our last week of freedom before our junior year started. Hard to believe that was just over a year ago...

“Who is this?” he asks, glancing back at me with the photo turned so I can see it better.

Fidgeting with the sleeves of my sweater, I say, “That’s Rachel, my best friend.” He nods and looks at the photo again.

“She’s cute,” he remarks as he places it back where he found it. Paul gives it just a little extra care to make sure it sits evenly on the doily that my mom crocheted.

A little smile forms on my lips - perhaps I should introduce them when she comes next week. I know Rachel would just have a field day with Paul.

Mike doesn’t know Paul is here. If Mike comes home and sees Paul’s truck in my driveway, what will he think? He may be completely chill about it, or he’ll think that we are up to something that I don’t even want to think about and become furious. Either way, I need to get Paul out of here.

Bang, Bang.

Two loud poundings on the front door make me nearly jump out of my skin. I don’t even remember flying to my feet.

Paul motions for me to be quiet as he gently places his near-empty glass on the table by my dad’s chair. He walks over to the door with one hand on the handle, and the other goes to the back of his denim pants. I see the handle of a gun, and my eyes bulge out even more as he asks, “Who is it?”

I’ve been around guns all my life because of my dad’s profession, but for some reason, watching this scene play out has me a bit edgy.

“It’s Mike, open up.” My eyes widen even more. My mouth drops open. He sounds very upset.

The second Paul opens the door - Mike pushes himself through. His heavy boots stomp on the wood floor until he’s standing before me. The leather jacket over the white t-shirt gives him a threatening look as he heaves in fury. Suddenly, this family room feels very tiny.

I can practically see crimson in his eyes. Though his irises are a deep dark green - they are burning - he is fuming. Other than him getting the wrong idea about Paul being here - I am not sure what else he’d be so upset about. The fact that Mike is completely ignoring Paul throws the jealousy theory out the window.

“What are you doing here?” I try to yell out the words, but it comes out shaky and hesitant. He is very scary and intimidating. I’m not sure what I did to deserve this kind of menacing behavior from him or why he’s even here...

Then it dawns on me.

My now angry gaze points at the man who is still and silent by the door. Paul quickly breaks eye contact with me as I put the pieces together.

“You called him?” I found my voice, and by golly, I’ll let them have it. “Why did you call him, Paul? I specifically asked you not to!”

Mike stops Paul from answering me with a single hand shooting up in the air - I flinch back. Mike’s pissed off demeanor switches slightly to something else...hurt? I stay silent, though.

Mike lowers his hand at his side; he takes a breath and says, “Thank you, Paul, you can leave now.” My throat clenches as Mike’s jaw tightens.

He told Paul to stay.

What does he think? That I’m always a damsel in distress? I am a grown woman; I don’t need looking after - especially when the transaction takes place behind my back. I need to put an end to this real quick. I do not need to be babysat.

Paul’s low voice interjects my thoughts of climbing up on Mike to throttle him, “Go easy on her, Mike. She had a hell of a day.” Mike’s heaving begins to falter at Paul’s words as he slips out the door.

Mike backs up to the door and locks it. “Why didn’t you want him to call me, Elena?” He doesn’t even look at me; his gaze is fixated on the door. With his voice low and hoarse, it sounds as though he is very troubled about it.

He is bringing more drama into this than is necessary.

Well, you were almost taken a voice, reminds me. I shove it away - it was probably nothing. Right? Stuff like being kidnapped doesn’t happen to people like me...

How many other people who were taken thought that same thing before it happened? I didn’t think I would ever be the girl who was nearly raped at a party, but it happened...

“I’m sure it was nothing, and I didn’t want you to worry.” It’s the truth that I’m forcing myself to believe; otherwise, I know I’ll lose my sanity.

Mike turns to me, and his look is almost sinister. “I wouldn’t call grown-ass men following you, nothing. Especially since they freaked you out like how Paul told me they did.” I made a mental note that Paul likes to report to Mike. “Did you recognize them?”

“I don’t know,” my voice went small again.

He strides closer to me, and his own voice softens, “Are you alright?”

I think about that for a moment: My mind is stunned. I’m still upset that he made Paul stay with me when I would have been perfectly safe by myself in my own house. Other than that?

“Yeah, I’m okay, but you still didn’t need to make Paul stay here with me.” Hopefully, he can sense that I’m peeved about being babysat like a helpless little girl.

“Were you alone?” he asks.

“Yeah, I was.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose then raises his voice, “Elena, you cannot just go off by yourself!” Letting his hand fall, he continues, “Also, if men were following you, they could have followed Paul’s truck and force their way in after he left. If they really wanted you, nothing would stop them.”

Looking up at him, it looks like he’s been through the wringer. His hair is all disheveled - more than normal, dark circles are under his eyes, he looks... exhausted.

He’s clearly had a crazy day himself. In a near whisper, I say, “I’m sorry. I know you are right, if there were men really after me then, I do appreciate Paul being here.” My voice tenses a smudge, “But I don’t appreciate it all going down behind my back.” I pause. “Besides, I’m sure it was nothing. It was probably just my mind playing tricks on me.” How I wish that is true – maybe it is.

He closes the gap between us to embrace me in his strong arms. Mike lifts me by my waist, forcing my weight to rest on him and my tiptoes. I can feel him breathing in my hair as he nuzzles my neck.

I inhale his wonderful scent, which is now laced with leather, and I love it. There’s just something about being held by him - takes all the worry away. He’s like a shield, blocking the bad aura from entering my little bubble.

A couple of minutes pass; he pulls himself away to meet my gaze. “Can you tell me what happened? What you saw?” I had no idea that he would be this worried about me...

Nodding my head, he leads me to the couch, where we seem to have practically all our heartfelt conversations. He takes a seat and guides me onto his lap, then wraps his arms around me. My comforter cradles me against him. I lean into the nook of his neck then begin sharing the events of my evening.

“I’m glad you’re alright. It sounds like they were after you. You were right to go to the shop -anyone there would have helped you. It’s safe there,” he says, hugging me close. “What model was the black van?”

I didn’t know my models very well, but if we didn’t have one when I was younger, I wouldn’t have known what kind of van it was. I really liked that van, probably because of all the road trips we took as a family around Michigan with it.

“It was an Astro van.” I didn’t even realize that I was playing with the corners of a patch on his jacket; it says ‘President.’ Tracing the words, I make a mental note to google this too. I’m sure it has some important significance in a club.

“Did you, by any chance, see a license plate?” he asks almost as though he’s a cop writing a report. I stifle a giggle at the thought of him being a man of the law.

“No, I didn’t. But if I saw the van again, I’d know if it was the same one.” In this small town, how many all-black Astro vans with tinted windows can there be? He cradles me tighter then plants a tender kiss on my forehead.

“I’m so glad you are okay.” There’s a pause. “We should tell your dad.”

“No,” I beg. “My dad does not need to worry about this. He has enough on his plate at work. Nothing happened, and I’m okay. Please don’t tell him.”

The man holding me thinks about it for a minute. I turn my head up to look at him; I can’t tell what he’s thinking. I hope he’ll just keep the events of what happened today between me, him, and Paul.

“I’ll think about it,” he finally says. The look on his face tells me that the conversation is done.

Resting my head back to his shoulder, I ask him, “How was your day?” He seems like he could talk about his day with someone too.

I watch and feel his chest rise deeply, then exhales. “Let’s just say my past is sneaking up on me,” he states matter of fact.

Mike reaches a hand to my chin to ease my gaze to his. “I don’t want to get into it right now.” The hold he has on me results in completely forgetting what I was going to ask him next.

If he didn’t want to talk about anything, we certainly didn’t have to. My breath gets caught in my throat as he slides his hand from my chin to cup the side of my face. He leans in, and I know exactly what’s about to happen.

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