A Deal with the Mafia Lord

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Chapter 3: Josh

“Serena,” Alec breathed in disbelief as he stepped past her into the dingy apartment. “What the hell is this? You…you live here?”

Serena watched as Alec took in all of the grimy details of the apartment that she often tried to ignore when she was here. The peeling wallpaper that was tinged with yellow. The wooden floor rotting in the corners. The mismatched furniture that she had slowly been accumulating from dumpsters or yard sales.

The only good thing that she had was the mattress her parents had left her, which sat on the floor in the middle of the room, piled with all the blankets that she owned since it got so cold at night.

Alec stopped in the middle of the small space and turned back around to face Serena, his expression flooded with concern. “What’s going on, Serena? I don’t…I don’t remember this.” As soon as the words left his mouth, a flicker of pain crossed his face and he reached up to grab the back of his head. “Ouch.”

The nurse’s words from the hospital immediately flooded Serena’s mind. Any more shocks to his system could cause permanent damage to his memory.

With that thought in mind, she let out a laugh that she hoped was convincing enough and went over to her ugly plaid armchair. “My family is overseas right now,” she lied easily as she sat down on it. “I’m living alone. Don’t you like what I’ve done with the place?”

The line between Alec’s eyebrows deepened. “Overseas? When did they leave? And there’s no way you live here alone. I wouldn’t let you. Neither would Josh.” He said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Serena took a deep breath to try and ignore the sudden rapid beating of her heart, a nd forced a teasing edge into her tone. “You know, it’s rude to insult someone in their own home.”

His eyes widened just a fraction. “Oh, shit. I didn’t mean-” He was cut off by the sound of a muffled meow and scratching on glass. “What is that?”

Serena’s face split into a genuine grin as she got up and went over to the kitchen window. As she pushed it open, a scruffy orange tabby cat hopped onto the counter and immediately began meowing. “I suppose I lied,” Serena told Alec. “I do have a roommate. This is Garfield.”

Alec raised his eyebrows. “A cat. That’s also new. Hi, Garfield.”

Serena scratched behind Garfield’s ears before going into a cupboard and grabbing a small bag of cat food. As she fed him, Alec took in the noticeable amount of space in the cupboard. He went over to the fridge and opened it up to discover that it looked relatively the same: empty.

“The cat eats before I do sometimes,” Serena stated, only half-joking as she watched Alec from across the kitchen.

Alec’s expression grew alarmed. “Serena, that’s not funny. I’m worried about you.”

Something dark fell across Serena’s face that Alec did not recognize nor understand. Before he could question her, she pushed past him to put the cat food away before heading over to her bed. “The doctor said you need to rest,” she told him, her voice monotone.

Alec walked across the small space towards Serena, his piercing green eyes filled with pain. He reached out a hand as he came closer to her. “Ren, come here-”

She flinched as if he had hit her and quickly moved over by the chair, putting as much space between them as she could. “I’m tired, Alec,” she said, her voice suddenly weak and on the verge of tears. “Just get some rest.”

“Why are you so angry with me?” Alec asked instead, his voice pleading.

A strangled sound ripped through Serena’s throat. “I’m not…just don’t. Please, don’t.” Before Alec could even blink, she was back over by the door. “Goodnight, Alec,” she said roughly as she quickly undid the lock and stepped out into the night. The door slammed shut behind her.

Alec was asleep within minutes of climbing into Serena’s bed. She watched through the cracked window as he curled up with her mound of blankets. She waited until he was asleep before she sat down on her balcony and pulled out her cell phone.

She dialed the phone number that she had called daily over the past five years. It rang three times before the automated voice sounded in her ear. “You are receiving a call from Josh Cooke, a prisoner at Lincoln Correctional Facility.”

Seconds later, her brother’s gruff voice filled the speaker. “This is Josh.”

Some of the tension from the past couple of hours immediately evaporated from Serena’s body. “Hey,” she breathed down the phone to her brother. “Sorry for calling so late.”

“There you are,” Josh replied, just as relieved as his sister. “I was getting worried. Everything okay with you?”

No, Josh. The man who put you in prison is sleeping in my bed right now and I don’t know what to do.

“Y-yeah, all good. Just another boring shift at the club. How are you?”

“Good. I had a meeting today about my retrial.”

Serena gasped and leaned forward in anticipation. “What? Why didn’t you tell me? What did they say?”

She could practically feel his excitement through the phone. “They believe me, Serena. They know that I’m innocent. They said as long as I get a good lawyer, I have a big chance of getting out of here early. Have you had any luck with that?”

Serena’s stomach twisted painfully at the question. “Yeah,” she replied, her voice weak. “I’ve got a couple of names. Just a couple more paychecks and I should be able to give one of them a call.” A lot more paychecks, actually.

“I wish that I could help,” Josh said, the joy in his tone now replaced with guilt. “You’re taking care of yourself, right? Saving some money on the side for food and all that? Buying yourself something nice every once in a while?”

Serena took a second to reply. “I’m going to get you out of there, Joshie. I promise.”

There was a beat of silence on the other end of the line. “Don’t worry about me, Serena. I’m doing fine here, okay? I can wait as long as it takes. All that matters is that you’re okay.”

Tears began to fill Serena’s eyes. She tipped her head back in an attempt to keep them from falling. These phone calls with her brother were the best and worst parts of her day. It took every ounce of strength that she had not to tell him the truth. The truth was that some days, she chewed gum for lunch. Other days, she cried so hard that she couldn’t breathe. She recalled the moment five years ago when everything that she thought she knew was turned upside down forever.

Serena awoke to the flashing blue and red lights outside her window. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. Someone began pounding loudly on the front door. She got up and ran down the hall towards it. “Josh?” she cried out throughout the house. “Josh?”

When Serena reached the front door, she froze. Two police officers were pushing her brother up against the wall and handcuffing him behind his back. “Joshua Cooke, you are under arrest,” one of them said. Her ears began to ring.

As they hauled him out of the house and started down the driveway towards the police car, Serena chased after them. “Josh!” she screamed to her brother. “Stop! Don’t take him! He’s all I have! Please! Wait!”

Josh looked over his shoulder at her. Tears were spilling down the sides of his face. “It was Alec! It’s all Alec’s fault! Stay away from him, Serena! He’s not a good man! Don’t-” His voice was cut off as he was thrown into the police car.

Seconds later, they drove away, leaving Serena broken and alone on the sidewalk. She felt like she was going to be sick. As she fell to her knees and began to scream, one name swirled through her head over and over again. Alec.

Josh’s voice brought Serena back to reality. “Serena? Hello? Are you there?”

Serena shook her head to rid herself of the horrible memory. “Yeah, I’m here. Sorry, just spaced out for a minute.”

“About what?” her brother asked, humor in his voice. “Daydreaming about a special someone? Come on, who are they?”

Serena knew that he was trying to make her laugh, but she didn’t have enough heart to do it. Instead, she took in a deep breath and asked the question that had been lingering in the back of her mind for the past five years. “Josh, what happened with Alec?”

She heard his sharp intake of breath through the phone. “Who the fuck is asking?” he growled. The venom was practically dripping from his voice.

Serena recoiled from the rage in her brother’s tone but continued. “I am. It’s been five years now, Josh. I deserve to know what happened between you two.”

“Stop it, Serena. Right now.”

“I-I want to help, Josh.”

Josh’s voice was deathly calm over the phone. “You can help by forgetting Alec Trivett and getting me out of here. I meant what I said that night, Serena. He’s not a good man. The sooner I am out of prison, the sooner we can forget he ever existed and move on with our lives.”

The siblings sat on the phone in silence for about another minute, both of them trying to get their emotions in check. The force that had kept them apart for five years now hung heavy between them.

Finally, Josh spoke, the tone of his voice unreadable. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay? I love you.”

“Okay,” Serena whispered, her voice barely audible over the receiver. “I love you, Josh.” Her eyes screwed shut as the line went dead, the tears spilling down her face.

By the time she finally found the strength to get out of the chair and go back inside, the sun was beginning to rise. Numb, she went over to the chair and curled up as tightly as she could against the cold air. Her head lolled against the armrest, and she watched Alec sleeping in her bed for a while before the exhaustion finally took over.

Alec awoke only minutes later, the throbbing against the back of his head making him groan. As he sat up and took in the crumbling apartment he was in, his eyes fell on Serena in the chair. He pushed the pain in his skull to the back of his mind and went over to her.

She had been crying, he could tell. As he gently reached over and brushed a lock of hair away from her face, she mumbled something incoherent and shivered. She did not move again as he picked her up and carried her over to the bed.

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