It wasn’t a nightmare. It was real.
I can tell, because my head continuously throbs with pain. It hurts just to open my eyes.
“I bet it’s that Hudson boy. He set this up.”
“No, it’s not... He doesn’t have workers.”
I search for Judah’s groaning voice. Tears flood my eyes, because the gunshot keeps replaying in my mind. He’s alive, and that fact is overwhelming me somehow.
“So what if he decided to work for Brag?”
I see Humphrey rolling some bandages around Judah’s bleeding back. I gasp, panicking anew. Scissors snip its end.
“This is insane. Why aren’t we retaliating?” Humphrey argues with a low voice and frustration written on his face.
Judah rests onto the bed, sighing heavily.
“I’m not dead. There’s no need to retaliate,” he smirks and closes his eyes.
Humphrey drops the bloodstained scissors on the night stand and walks to the widow. I try to push myself up.
“What happened?” I clear my throat.
The two men look my way, seeming surprised that I’m awake.
I try to rush over to Judah. Humphrey shakes his head and leaves the room. My hand shakes, wiping the sweat off Judah’s brow. Before my mouth can open, Judah speaks first.
“Listen,” he starts. He swallows before opening his mouth again, “I called Humphrey to take you home.”
His expression is serious with me. I shake my head and withdraw from him.
“I’m not leaving without you,” I shut him up.
I watch his jaw contract, practicing patience with me. He opens his eyes and stares hard.
“It’s not an option,” he says.
I protest, “Why?”
Judah tries to get up, despite his wound. I shiver, when I glance at the short bullet sitting atop the night stand, surrounded by bloody tissue. He files on his black t-shirt over his body. I watch his dark swirling tattoos disappear underneath it.
“J-Judah...” I breathe.
“I have to go-,” he sighs, closing his eyes.
“Where?” I interject quickly.
Judah closes his eyes and sighs, “Doesn’t matter.”
My hands nearly tear my hair out. What is so important that he can’t see a doctor? He might bleed to death, but he’s acting as if he just stumped his toe and nothing is a big deal. This gets me beyond discouraged to even try to convince him out of his plans. It must be my turn to practice patience with this guy.
My pained eyes watch him limp through the hallway.
“What? What for?”
His finger presses the elevator button and his grey eyes look up. The strands of hair that got wet with his sweat stick onto his temples. His skin is pale despite the room’s darkness.
Judah mutters, “Rose, if I explain everything to you...”
I frown. The elevator doors open. Fear gets heavier inside me. My gut twists.
“You were shot! You can’t be okay!” I shout, worried.
He then pushes me in the elevator. Yet, he never steps in. I’m surprised he stills has so much strength.
“Go to Humphrey.”
The doors close and separate us.
“I promise I’m fine,” I repeat through the phone.
I must sit and listen to my mom yell at me on the phone. I picture her holding her rosary in her hand.
“Yes, mom. Yes,” I say, scratching my head.
After what felt like an hour, she finally lets me go. I turn to watch Mara touching a pile of books on Judah’s desk. I had ended up here, in his apartment. I had called my best friend as soon as Humphrey dropped me off, because being alone couldn’t be a possibility. I had to tell her everything.
“Don’t touch anything,” I hiss.
Mara awes, “This house is so nice.”
I plop my weight in the black sofa and burry my face in my hands. I blow air out of my lungs through serious exasperation and brush my hair back. I’m definitely not okay.
“So what’s going to happen now?” she joins me.
“I don’t know. I’m just really worried he’ll do something stupid... not like that would be new.”
“Do you really want my advice?” she asks.
“Yes,” I sigh.
“First, pop quiz,” she says, turning to face me. “Does the good outweigh the bad?”
My eyes cast downward, staring at the glass coffee table.
“I-I don’t know,” I answer, fussing. I lift my head to explain. “It’s like-it’s like he’s the good, but everything around him is the bad.”
Mara lightly smacks the back of my head, “Stop making things complicated! He’s a freaking gangster! Even though he’s good-looking and whatever, he’s no good for you, Ro. Like, being with him is illegal! You’ve had a wild ride, and thank God you’re alive after all that. I think it’s time you get your feet on the ground and think about your own happiness!”
My face droops and I say, “I’m happy when I’m with him...”
“With him getting shot at?!”
“Ugh! It’s driving me crazy, okay? He could be dying right now, but I’m stuck here!”
My chest squeezes just thinking about it. What if his enemies got a hold of him and finished him off? How am I supposed to live like this... without knowing how he is? Is he alive? Is he dead? I can’t even hold him-and it’s killing me.
I don’t know what overcame me, but I get choked up and cry.
Mara hugs me, rubbing my back, trying to comfort me.
“Judah better be just as worried about you, girl.”
“Learning more about a shooting that left two people dead and about a second shooting that police say may have been retaliation,” Anchor Tom says and straightens the papers on his desk. “Eyewitness News reporter Lara Roberts has the story.”
We get a view of a long washed out road decorated with yellow tape and police vehicles.
Lara’s voice informs us, “Two fatal gang related shootings claimed the lives of three people. The shootings just days and three blocks apart.”
The camera zooms in on every disastrous image it could find.
“The first set of deadly bullets rang out on Saturday night around 8:15pm, on Avenue and Avalon. In all, four people were shot. A man in his twenties and a sixteen-year-old girl were killed.”
A man with sunglasses comes on the screen, with a subtitle naming him police chief, recounts, “It was a gang related shooting, where a vehicle pulled up, a passenger got out of that vehicle, armed with an assault rifle, shot multiple times at the crowd, striking for people, getting back into that vehicle and fleeing.”
Lara’s voice says, “Authorities say the suspect fled in an SUV heading north on Avalon. Less than 48 hours later, a second shooting leaves a young man dead. It happened 9 o’clock this morning.”
“A male suspect shot multiple times, and was then struck. He sought shelter at a nearby apartment, where he died,” Chief returns.
“Detectives say the area is plagued with gang activities, specifically from two long time rivalry gangs feuding regularly. But lately, deadly shootings have been on the rise. Authorities are saying that most recent killings are likely retaliation for Saturday night.”
Chief nods, “It appears to be complicated, but until we get to the bottom of it-we won’t know for certain... and we want to be open minded, it could be some other event that occurred.”
I wonder what makes the police have any doubts. It’s obvious. Perhaps they are trying to divert people’s attention. The more I think about it and the more I look closely, the more it seems like he’s delivering lines.
“And police say they need the public’s help to find the shooters. If you have any information, you can call in an anonymous tip and 1-800 crime stoppers. Lara Roberts, Eyewitness news.”
I mute the TV.
“That’s not even a phone number,” I say to Mara.
“Maybe they put it to make people feel like there is something being done.”
I mumble, “How can anyone feel safe?”
Mara takes the remote from my hand and points it.
“Tonight is Game of Thrones marathon,” she changes the channel.
I grin and roll my eyes at my best friend.
Walking into the kitchen to steal some snacks, I realize that people shrug at gang violence and ignore how it’s corrupting everything, just like Mara right now. I sort of don’t blame her.
I open the pantry and take out some chips.
My phone rings. I quickly answer it, after reading Judah’s name.
“Judah?” I say, sounding desperate to hear his voice after three days of nothing.
“Miss me, sweet cheeks?”
The line is fuzzy and scratches my ear with static, which tells me he’s far away still. My head heats up with what feels like a fever. I groan at myself for even missing his nickname for me.
“I was worried about you.”
“I’m worried about you, too,” I say steadily, “So, you’re okay.”
“When will I see you?”
“Listen, I got to go sweet cheeks.”
Then the line cuts off and leaves me lonely.
“Okay, see you tomorrow,” Mara waves.
I watch her go down the steps and plunge her feet in the melted snow. I wave back, but she pauses for a minute.
“You know what? I don’t think Judah is so terrible.”
My hand plays with the door handle.
“Because, when you were away, I would be super worried. And even though I don’t know Judah well...” she rambles, “I’d always tell myself ‘oh she’s alright, she’s with Judah’. I don’t know why. You know? Maybe it’s a thing. I don’t know.”
I shrug my shoulders, “I don’t know either.”
She shrugs too, “Okay, bye Ro!”
I go over to the kitchen to make a plain peanut butter sandwich. I’m not even that hungry.
My nose gets a whiff of burnt rubber. Suddenly, a pair of strong arms embrace me. I know it’s Judah-only he can make me feel this way. My lips can’t control my smile. I didn’t even hear the door open, or his footsteps. Was I so engulfed in my thoughts that I really didn’t notice him coming inside?
“Did you miss me?”
“Yes,” I answer, “But I also hate you.”
He squeezes me tighter, “Mmm.”
When he lets me go, he turns me around. I meet his unique grey eyes. My heart skips several beats. A perfect man stands in front of me. His black bomber jacket hangs open, so I snake my arms inside it and around his built torso.
“How about we go out?” he offers.
I give him an annoyed look.
“But last time we were out, you almost died.”
His head lowers, and he glances at the floor beneath my feet, deciding to close the gap between us.
“Doesn’t mean I stop living,” he shrugs.
“But,” I hesitate and our eyes connect. “It could be dangerous.”
Judah busts a smirk on me.
“Sweet cheeks. I’m dangerous.”
I drop my shoulders and look up at him.
“Not tonight, you’re not,” I tell him in a pout.
Maybe I’m too ambitious. But I don’t want him to be Judah the gang leader. I want him to just be Judah my boyfriend.
He leans in and pecks my lips. I keep my eyes closed and breathe him in. My lips feel his kiss again.
He breaks away, “Sweet cheeks.”
I’m in a daze.
Judah stays quiet for a moment. I open my eyes only to see him staring at me with furrowed brows. His hands cup my face, warmly stroking my cool skin.
“Being away from you hurts more than a bloody bullet.”
My whole body chills over, but my cheeks burn. My eyelids blink quickly and my lungs inhale, to cope. Judah pulls our lips together and locks them for good.
No time is wasted when Judah is with me.