Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 94

Elena


“I found out some disturbing news yesterday while I was at the store,” I mention nonchalantly into the phone while I pat some seasoning on a couple of chicken breasts.

This is the first time we’ve talked since last night’s texts of wishing each other a good night with sweet dreams. What happened last night is not something to discuss in a text message.

“What news is that? I know you had a not-so-friendly run-in with someone.” That deep southern drawl reaches my ears from the speaker resting on the counter.

“Yeah, it was a coincidence that Tick showed up right when I needed him. That was you, wasn’t it?” I ask a little derisive.

“Damn right, that was me. Elena, I can’t have you go out to places by yourself – it’s not safe.”

I roll my eyes, knowing that I’ll lose this fight. “When will it be safe, Mike? Huh?” I flip the chicken over to add more seasoning.

Silence.

“Mike?”

“I don’t know,” he snaps.

“Well, I think I’m safe now because the jerk is apparently missing.” I’m torn between being overjoyed and feeling dissolute. Although Isaac is a terrible human being, he is Declan’s brother, after all. Maybe Declan doesn’t know what kind of person his brother really is.

“What do you mean?” Mike asks with a drop in his voice.

After washing a couple of sweet potatoes, I begin to cut them up into cubes. “Do you remember, a few weeks ago when Declan said that his brother went missing? Apparently, his brother is Isaac,” I puff, still not believing it’s true. I let out a breath and rest the knife on the counter next to the cutting board filled with potatoes. “I never told you, but the guy who assaulted me...his name was Isaac.” That felt so good to get off my chest.

“Isaac was his name, huh?” he asks after a beat.

I grip the edge of the counter. “Yes! When Zack cornered me at Publix, he was in my face about where his friend was. His friend went missing, and I told him what Declan told me about how his brother disappeared. As soon as I mentioned Declan’s name, Zack said, that’s who it is. Isaac,” I inform Mike while I toss the cubed sweet potatoes around in olive oil, salt, and pepper on a cookie sheet.

“...Well, if that’s the case, I’m glad the fucker is gone,” Mike says blatantly.

“Mike,” I chastise. “That’s not nice. Yes, Isaac was terrible, but he still has a family.”

“Had,” Mike says under his breath.

“What?”

“Nothing. I’m on my way over. I picked up the green beans that you wanted,” he rushes out.

“You said had. Do you know something, Michael?” With him being the president of a motorcycle club, it has occurred to me a time or two - since the knowledge of Isaac’s disappearance - that they might have had something to do with it. Although, I am praying that’s not the case.

My boyfriend sighs into the phone. “Full name again?” I know he has a smirk forming on his pink lips. I press mine in a firm line, then close my eyes, and wait for his answer. He exhales into the speaker, “It’s nothing. It’s just... usually when someone goes missing, they end up...dead. I gotta go, be there soon.”

“Wait!” I stop him while wiping off my hands. “Could you maybe stall for a bit?”

“Why?”

“Well, I asked Declan to come by for –”

“No. fuck that! Don’t let him in, Elena,” he nips into the phone. I can picture that vein popping out of his neck like it does when he gets upset.

“Declan has some explaining to do, and I would like to hear him out.” I try to reason.

“No.”

The headlights peer into the driveway, making me bite my bottom lip. “Too late. I’ll be fine; it’ll be okay.”

“Don’t you dare hang up on me, El-” I hang up. I’m sure he’ll rip me on that stunt, but first, I need to hear what Declan has to say.

I hold off on putting the chicken in the oven and open the door for Declan. As I turn the knob, I find myself hoping that Mike won’t just storm in here in the middle of our conversation. Maybe I should lock the door this time...

“Declan, please come in.” I open the door wider for him to come inside. My friend wipes his hands on the thighs of his pants; he seems nervous to be here.

“Hi, Elena.” He shyly waves as he walks in. “I’m sorry it took so long to get back to your call. Things have been kind of crazy at my house.”

I close the door behind him and lock it. It feels weird locking him inside with me, so I unlock it. Don’t make me regret this, Mike. “It’s okay. I understand.” I motion for us to sit on the couch.

“Do you want anything to drink?” I offer in hopes to rest his nerves at ease.

“No, that’s okay...”

I cross my knees and fold my hands together to place them on top, then take a deep breath. “I’m just going to jump in and ask. Did you know this whole time that your brother assaulted me at the party?”

Those dark brown eyes land on mine. “Yes.”

My heart drops to my stomach as I cut my sights to the kitchen rather than on his face. I thought Declan was a friend. I uncross my legs and grip the edge of the couch cushions. Friends don’t let things like that happen to each other, especially when the person who does that sort of thing is the sibling of said friend. “What the hell, Declan?” The words taste sour as my voice breaks.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry! Please, as I said before, he is crazy. His friends are crazy. They would have done worse to you if I tried to stop them.” Declan rubs his hands together in his lap.

“But you could have told me who it was. That night when you came over to explain, you could have told me then.”

The boy nods his head. “I could have. I said his name, I was going to tell you everything before Mike had me in a chokehold against your wall,” he blurts as he points to the section of space between the hall and the china cabinet.

“You had all this time, Declan. You could have told me he was your brother. I feel like you’ve kept it a secret. What? Do you guys get together and brag about your conquests or something?” I shout, feeling nauseous.

Declan grimaces. “What my brother did was wrong! I’d never do something like that. Do you think I would?”

My shoulders slump as I realize my answer. “No,” I speak softly. “I don’t know why it’s bothering me so much. I guess I just can’t believe you two are related. You are both so different.”

A light touch of a hand reaches my shoulder. “We may be blood, but I am nothing like him, Elena. Please believe me. I would never hurt you,” he tells me with a certain gentleness to his tone.

I pull my hands into my lap to pick at my nails. “Is he... have you, uhm...” How do I ask if his brother is dead or alive? Would he even know?

Redirecting my sights to him, I see him shaking his head from side to side. “We haven’t found his body yet. Dad told me that we had an anonymous tip that he’s buried somewhere in our backyard. There is still some ground to cover, but we haven’t found him yet,” he pauses and retracts his hand from my shoulder. “What kind of person goes and buries a body in the backyard of the one they killed? That’s twisted.”

Almost genius, actually. I shake the thought. How dare something like that even cross my mind! “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry he’s gone. I mean, I didn’t think all that highly of him, but I still feel for you.”

He ignores my condolences. “Can I ask you something?”

I pick off my pinky nail and nod my head, not looking at him.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” he asks.

The lungs in my chest stretch as I breathe deep and turn my sights to his curious face. Those deep brown eyes are now glued with mine. My vision blurs from the betrayal of tears, brimming the surface of the lids that hold them captive. “I was scared,” I whisper in the space between us.

“Scared of what?” He scoots closer; the cushion of the couch dipping as he reaches to put a comforting arm around me.

There’s a lump in my throat the size of Texas. I hate crying; it makes me feel weak. Isaac is most likely dead. I have no more reasons to be fearful. With this being the case, why can’t I stop the tears from rolling down my face?

“I was scared that he’d find me and finish what he started,” I confess to the brother of the man that nearly changed my life forever.

Declan doesn’t need to know that men have followed me. He doesn’t need to know that I’ve had nightmares of his brother’s ice-cold blue eyes for weeks afterward.

Maybe that’s why I’m crying. I’m not crying for Declan’s pain, but I’m crying because it’s finally over. I don’t have to be afraid anymore. Isaac is gone.

Now I feel terrible for feeling so relieved when my friend is in pain, which causes a few more tears to trickle down my cheeks.

Declan scoops me into his arms as I let it all out. The nasty tears of feeling tangled in a web of conflicting emotions. My body is so focused on pouring out the tears to shed for the loss of Declan’s loved one. Tears for the fact that the nightmare is over, and for the fact that at any moment, Mike will come bursting through that door and get angry for the sight on this couch. The smell of Declan's musky cologne fills my senses - I’m too close to him.

That snaps me out of my emotions real fast. I wipe away the tears to compose myself; thankfully Declan’s arm falls from holding me close to his chest, but his other hand stays on my back.

“This is ridiculous,” I mutter.

Declan’s hand reaches for my face to swipe a straggling tear. “What’s ridiculous?” he asks.

The notion of his fingers wiping away my tears, though sweet, was rather uncomfortable. My gaze reaches his; it’s soft with the depth of something I’m having trouble reading. “I’m the one crying when it’s you who has lost a brother,” I say as I push myself off the couch, feeling prickly from being in his arms. I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. My heart goes out to him, but not like that.

I nervously look out the front window while padding my way into the kitchen. Where is Mike?

“It’s okay. You must feel mixed emotions. I get it. Isaac was an asshole. I loved him because he was my brother. Love is a given for a blood relative, but I didn’t like him. I’m sure he got what he deserved. Even though I’m upset about it all, I can understand how conflicted you must feel,” Declan speaks as he inches his way to the oven where I stand.

Clicking the temperature gauge to three-fifty, I glance at the door. “Still, I’m sorry for losing it,” I apologize.

His hand covers mine as it rests on the counter. “It’s okay to feel conflicted, Elena.” My chest rises and falls as I intake a shaky breath. Where is he going with this? Where is Mike?

In haste, I remove my hand from under him and smile warmly, but with remorse. “I am sorry about your brother, I really am. But Mike will be here soon; I don’t think he’ll be very happy to see you here.”

“Ahh, Mike. Right, your boyfriend,” he says it like he forgot that I’m in a relationship with him. His hands find his front pockets and his shoulders shrug. “I’m sorry, Elena. I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable. I just really like you, you know?”

I look down at my feet. “I like you too...just not like that. I’m sorry.” I feel terrible. Not only is he going through a family crisis, but now he must mend a broken heart too.

“It’s fine,” he waves a dismissive hand in the air. “Don’t worry about it. I’d rather have you as a friend than not at all.”

The heart in my chest warms in knowing he’s okay with this. I still have his friendship.

“He never hurts you, right? He treats you well?” Declan asks.

I can’t help the smile growing on my face. “Mike would never hurt me. He’s very good to me.”

A loud thud causes my bones to jump out of my skin and my eyes to blink. Declan jumps too, but he quickly throws an arm in front of my body in an effort to shield me from whoever just burst in.

Maybe I should have locked the door...

There in the doorway is a fuming, lethal-looking man—a man with the purpose of dishing out serious attitude towards the other man in the room. Mike’s raging dark green eyes are locked on Declan, his jaw is clenching so hard that the muscles pop out. The veins in his arms are poking through his skin as his hands flex into fists at his sides. One of his hands holds a poor bag of suffocating green beans.

“Get out,” Mike growls at Declan.

Declan holds out his hands to show he’s no threat. “Take it easy. I was just saying good-bye,” he defends himself.

Mike glides to us with the floor creaking beneath his boots. In two steps, he’s in Declan’s face, who is still in front of me. “You’ve had about ninety minutes to say good-bye. Leave. Now,” Mike threatens, and Declan’s body stiffens in place, not willing to back down.

“Guys,” I interject, wondering if this is what it’s always going to be like with these two. “Just relax. Mike, can you please get out of his way?”

Without taking his eyes off Declan, Mike moves to the side. Declan now has a fighting chance to get to the door.

But he doesn’t. Instead, he turns around to face me. “Can I have a hug?”

I flick my eyes to Mike - who is giving me a disapproval heated glare. I give a timid nod anyway, not wanting to be rude.

Declan embraces me, and Mike’s narrow gaze doesn’t leave mine. His expression is too calm for how rigid his body is. He looks frightening as Declan takes his time with me, not helping the matter at all.

When Declan releases me, I walk him out the door, close it behind him and lock myself in with my boyfriend.

“Thank you for not trying to beat him up this time,” I say as I click the lock into place. Looking out the window, I notice Declan leave then notice a familiar black Pontiac drive off in the street shortly after Declan departs.

When did Tick get here? Mike had him watching me again while he was at the store.

There’s a ruffling sound of a plastic bag, then a smack of a cooking sheet vibrating from its connection to the counter. My body jumps at the sudden noise, so I turn my attention from the window to the breakfast bar. Mike's temperamental hands are tossing the unwashed green beans all over the cooking sheet.

I make my way towards him. “Sweetie, they need to be washed first.” I smile at him.

His hands suddenly slam on the counter, stopping me in my tracks. Mike’s head lifts, so I’m able to see the rage in his eyes. “Never hang up on me again,” he growls.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, knowing I was in the wrong for doing so. “Thank you for stalling, though.”

Mike grunts and reaches for a runaway green bean on the counter then throws it on the cooking sheet. “Only because you asked me to. Don’t ask me to do that again,” he scolds.

I drop my eyes to his fists on the counter; he’s really making more out of this than necessary.

“He’s not good for you, Elena. I don’t like you hanging out with him when I’m not here,” he tells me.

“Mike, nothing happened. He’s a friend, I’m hoping that at some point you both can put your differences aside and get along,” I say hopefully as I reach for his balled fist on the counter.

He drops his head then removes his hand from mine as he scoops up all the green beans and puts them in the sink. The oven dings to let me know it’s at the temperature for the chicken and potatoes.

Mike turns on the faucet to begin washing the vegetables. I walk to where he stands to wrap my thin arms around his waist. “What is it?” I ask.

He sighs, “You’re asking for the impossible. Dick-for-brains and I were born to be enemies.”

“You can’t honestly believe that.”

Mike turns in my embrace, so we’re face to face, his thick arms wrap around me. The expression that he wears is serious. “I do believe that.”

“What is it about him? Since day one, you’ve hated his guts. There has to be more to it than just having a bad vibe from him.”

“He’s from a bad fam-” he cuts himself off. “I just think he has ulterior motives for you,” he says without blinking. “Please stay away from him, Elena? He’s not...” he pauses to think of his words carefully, then exhales. “Like I’ve said. I can read people very well, and Declan is telling me that he can’t be trusted, especially with you.”

“Okay,” I admit defeat on this as I nuzzle his chest. “I’ll try to keep my distance from him.”

Mike’s arms tighten around me as he hugs me close. I can feel his chest deepen as he breathes in the smell of my hair. The hug is intense with the way he’s holding me, almost as though there’s a weight that’s been lifted off his shoulders.

Just like that, we finish preparing the meal as soon as Dad walks inside. I hug him as he shakes Mike’s hand. I’m glad to see that after everything we’ve been through, at least these two can be civil to one another.

During dinner, we share how our days went. Mike nor Dad had much to say, but I shared with them about my shift at work and how there was a rude customer. The customer blamed me for making her a hamburger with tomatoes instead of without like she wanted. I didn’t take the order, nor did I make her food. I was careful to take the hamburger with the special foil that said, ‘No Tomato.’ It wasn’t my fault, but she certainly thought it was. Lisa, Vicky, and Irene did what they could to calm her down and offer her something free for the inconvenience. I did what I had to do to make sure Shady – my guard for the day – didn’t literally throw the lady out of the establishment. Eventually, she left kind of happy with a free meal.

“Have you sent in your college applications yet?” Dad asks as he scoops up the last of his sweet potatoes.

Mike looks at me as I say, “I was actually planning on going to the University of Georgia and be a Dawg, like Mom.” Athens is only about three hours or so from here. I’d still be able to come home and see Mike on the weekends.

“You don’t want to go back to Michigan and try to get into the University of Michigan with Rachel?” Dad asks, surprised.

“There’s been a lot of thought behind it, and I’d like to follow my mom’s footsteps and go where she went. Where she met you,” I tell him. Plus, I really want to be near Mike.

“What degree are you looking at?” Mike asks, taking part in the conversation.

“Well, originally, I thought about accounting, but they don’t have an accounting program. I really do enjoy math and the challenges with it, so I thought about maybe pursuing the thought of being a math teacher.” Mom was a teacher, and she loved it. Maybe I will too.

“I can see that,” Mike says thoughtfully as he takes a sip of his water.

After dinner, we all sit in the family room. My dad’s in his favorite and only recliner flipping through some channels for something to watch. The house still smells like the chicken meal I baked. Mike is cuddling me on the couch, twirling my hair as I trace the North Star inside his elbow. This all feels natural, easy; though we’ve had quite a few nights like this, I hope there are more to come. Sharing a room with my two favorite men on this earth is more than any girl could ask for. My heart feels warm and full.

Though the evening took a better turn, I still can’t help the fact that my mind is chasing the nagging thought of who may have killed Isaac...

Surely, Dad must know that a kid is missing in this town; maybe he knows something about it?

“Dad?” I ask to get his attention.

“Yeah.”

“Are you, or anyone you know, looking for someone who disappeared by the name of Isaac Young?” Mike stops twirling my hair. I sneak a peek at him, wondering if he and his club had anything to do with it, but he’s emotionless. His eyes glance at my dad’s, so I follow suit.

Dad clears his throat and taps the remote on his thigh. “I’ve heard about a kid named Isaac Young who has gone missing,” he scruffs out.

“Yeah, we’ve all heard about it,” Mike jumps in. “Why?”

“He’s Declan’s brother, just wondering if anyone has any leads as to why he’s missing or even possibly dead,” I say more-so to my dad.

“He’s dead,” Dad says without missing a beat, his eyes locking on Mike’s.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“Uh...” Dad starts.

“An anonymous tip,” Mike finishes.

Dad scratches his throat and snaps his focus back to the TV. “Yeah.”

I turn my full attention to the man who’s holding me; his body engulfs mine with his heat. “Did your club have anything to do with it?” I whisper to Mike.

He looks a little hurt. “No, Elena. My club didn’t kill him if that’s what you’re asking.”

At least I can put that uneasy thought to rest. Mike wouldn’t lie to me; he has no reason to lie. I trust him. I trust him with my life because he’s been able to protect it in more ways than one.

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