Blood and Gin

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Chapter 15

Elle leaned against the old silver car, staring up at the intimidating Gladstone Preparatory Academy. It was a big building, just looking at it made her feel insignificant. She looked down at her jeans and ripped tee and denim jacket. She sighed, tapping her booted foot into the ground. She couldn’t let herself get intimidated. She had a mission. None of the others knew she was here.

Pushing off the car, she made her way to the front office. If it was anywhere else, she’d just sneak in. But she bet that this school had its own police force or something. So she had to go in the front door. It made her skin crawl a little.

She pulled the glass door open, and blinked into the florescent lighting. The front office was beautiful, almost like the lobby of a five-star hotel. She walked to the front desk, pulling out a crumpled paper. It was the college tour flyer. She’d stolen it from Jack almost a month ago. She’d saved it, dreaming of another life. And now it was her ticket in.

The woman looked up, her smile sweet. “Can I help you, Miss?” She asked, and Elle didn’t know why, but the way that the woman referred to her in a respectful way nearly made her cry.

She cleared her throat, putting the flyer on the desk, smoothing it out. “I was hoping I could talk to Mr. Phillips about the college tour?”

The woman took the flyer, looking at it. She frowned a little, looking at the clock. “Shouldn’t you be in school, honey?”

Elle shook her head. “Rapids has half days today. And this is the only time I could come.” She shifted her sleeve up, showing the fierce bruise on her arm from training yesterday. She hated playing this card, but it was effective as hell. The woman’s face tightened, her eyes going sad.

“Oh, baby. Of course. Sign in. His office is on the third floor.” She passed the flyer and a clipboard to Elle, who quickly signed in.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling at the woman.

“Sweetheart, do you want me to call anyone?” The woman asked tentatively.

Elle shook her head, shoving her hands into her pockets, the Visitor’s badge clipped to her shirt. “No, I’m handling it. Thank you, though. Your offer means a lot.”

She turned, going through the double doors that led to the school. It was an enclosed building, which was weird to Elle. She was so used to the openness of her own school, that the walls of Gladstone felt suffocating. It didn’t help that it was lunch, so the halls were teeming with teenage, privileged boys. Most of them didn’t spare her a glance, but the ones who did looked at her like she was a bug they’d never seen before. She gritted her teeth, walking like she didn’t care. She shouldn’t. She was used to being judged by rich men. Hell, when she was in the Ring, she wore even less clothes than she did now. But some reason, walking the halls of this glamourous school, she had never felt more on display.

It didn’t take long for her to get lost. The building was huge, and Mr. Phillips wasn’t what she was here for. She could have kicked herself for not getting Dev’s number from Stephan. She paused in a hallway that was more or less devoid of boys. Dev was a senior. And Class President. So stood to reason that maybe if she asked after him, people would know him, right?

She started backtracking when she heard the low rumble of laughter and voices. It was from up ahead. She turned, rounding the corner, hoping for students. She was in luck. Three boys, maybe her age or a bit younger, were sitting in a group together, their backpacks and blazers spread out on the pristine school floor.

Two had their back to her, and one was leaning against a wall. He was a pretty thing, with olive skin and dark straight hair. His high cheekbones suggested some sort of Asian heritage. He opened his eyes, as if he felt the weight of her stare. His eyes were black, and they held an expression she was all too familiar with. She’d seen this particular expression on the benches Ringside: resignation. She cocked her head at him, and he just looked back. Then, when it became very clear that his friends still hadn’t noticed her, he reached out, tapping the knee of the boy next to him.

His friend looked at the boy, then over where he jerked his chin. Elle was shocked by how beautiful he was. Blue eyes, blond hair, a face that was so delicate and fragile that a single punch would crumple it. He tipped his head. “Can we help you?” He asked hesitantly. Even his voice was beautiful.

Elle shoved her hands into her pockets as the third boy looked over his shoulder. All three of these boys were so handsome. It took Elle a minute to find her voice. “Sorry. I’m looking for someone. I was hoping you maybe knew who he is and where I can find him?”

The third boy turned a bit more, propping his arm on his knee. He looked her up and down, taking in her raggedy clothes. “Who is it?” He said finally, his gaze meeting hers.

“I don’t know his last name. I just know his name is Dev and he is the Class President or something.”

All three of their jaws dropped. The beautiful one was first to recover. “Damn. Who knew Dev knew a beauty like you.”

Elle fought the flush rising in her cheeks, but was unsuccessful. “You’re sweet. Where can I find him?” She managed.

“He hangs out in the Art Room most of the time. Take your first left on the end of this hall and go down until you come to some double doors. Go through them, and it should be on your left again.” The boy who hadn’t spoken yet said, his voice soft, tired.

Elle nodded. “Thanks. See you.”

She started walking past them, but then paused, looking down at the boy. He looked up at her. She shifted her sleeve up, showing that massive bruise again. His eyes widened a little, and he looked up at her, a question in his eyes. Elle shrugged. She tugged her glove off, showing her hand that was mutilated with scars and cuts. One of Jasper’s favorite ways to train speed was to have them practice on mannequins made of broken glass.

The boy’s gaze roamed over her hand, then back up at her. She pulled her glove back on. “Be safe.” She said softly.

He lifted his chin at her. “You too,” he said softly.

Elle sighed, and turned, following their directions. It didn’t take long for her to find the Art Room. It was bright, noisy, and happy. Everything that Dev was not. She peered into the room, and saw him sitting in the back by himself. He had his eyes closed, his head leaning back against a wall.

She went over to him, ignoring the noisy other boys. She dropped into the seat next to him, knocking on the table. He opened his eyes, and Elle realized this was the first time she’d gotten a chance to observe him so closely. He looked so much younger than she had first thought.

To his credit, his gaze only flickered with surprise for a second before he schooled his expression into neutrality. “Elle. A pleasure. What are you doing here?” She hesitated, unsure of how to begin. In her silence, his face shifted into the most concrete expression she’d ever seen him make. Panic. He half started out of his seat. “Are they okay? Jack?” He asked, his voice sharp.

Elle reached out, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Yes, they’re fine. Sorry. It’s just, I don’t know where to start.”

He relaxed a little, leaning forward. She let her hand drop. He looked around, then stood. “Follow me. Let’s go somewhere quieter.”

She followed him out of the Art Room, and down the hallway. After a moment, he went into an empty classroom, gesturing for her to go in. He closed it, and leaned against the door. “What’s up?” He asked softly.

Elle fidgeted. “The others don’t know I’m here,” she admitted. He raised a brow but stayed silent. She took a deep breath. “I’m here to apologize, for Jack. He was way out of line. He is just scared.”

Dev’s lips tightened a little. “He is fully entitled to his feelings on the matter. I was overbearing. I’m a stranger. You have no obligation to trust me. I understand that.”

His voice was soft, almost pained. Elle studied him. “You aren’t trying to manipulate us, are you?” He stayed silent so she continued. “You said before, that saving Jack was the first time you felt like you mattered. And you told Stephan that you envied us. I believe you.”

He averted his gaze, as if embarrassed. “Where does that leave us, then?” He asked softly. He looked up at her. “I will admit. I like feeling useful. That I might matter to other people. But I shouldn’t try to force my expectations or whims on you all. That was insensitive of me.”

Elle exhaled slowly. “Do it.” She said, straightening her shoulders.

He raised a brow. “What?”

“Get us out. Do it. Do it however you want. The others want it too. Jack wants it, he’s just too scared for us. But we need to get out. I-” her voice broke a little. “I watched my brother snap a boy’s neck because otherwise the boy was going to be tortured and made an example of. I watch Stephan be carried around like a pet and cut up by a monster. I watch Ross fight until he passes out, covered in blood, so exhausted he can’t even eat.” She looked down at her hands. “I punch glass mannequins and run on broken mirrors so that I’m fast enough, good enough.” She took a deep breath. She fished her necklace out, showing him the pendent. “Do you know what this is?”

He came closer, looking at it. “What?”

“It’s a razor in a USB stick. I’m getting out, Dev. One way or another. I can’t live like this anymore, trapped with no way out. This,” she looked at the lump of plastic, “this is my way of getting out.” She looked up at him, into his dark gaze. It wasn’t judging or disgusted. It wasn’t even pitying. It was soft, and warm. She’d never seen this warmth in his gaze before, and she had to swallow back the tears that choked her throat. “I want to try your way, first.” She said.

He reached out, wrapping his long fingers around her hand. He pushed the plastic, and they watched as the razor appeared, gleaming in the light that filtered through the windows. He looked at the razor for a long time. Then he looked up at her. “I can promise you, Elle,” he said gently, so quietly that if they were standing close, she wouldn’t have heard him. “I will take care of you and your family. I will do everything in my power to get you out and get you safe. You have my word.”

And just like that, Elle was only a sixteen-year old girl who had too much on her plate. The tears she’d been fighting spilled over. In an instant, she was pulled into a hug, her face burying in Dev’s shirt. His arms went around her, hugging her close. She buried her face into the starched fabric, her fist against her mouth as she silenced her sobs. She had never let Jack see her cry. She couldn’t do that to him.

The minutes stretched out, until finally, she took a shuddering breath, and pulled away. She almost couldn’t look Dev in the eye. “Sorry,” she muttered, rubbing the back of her neck.

“Don’t be. You needed that. You can trust me, Elle. I’ll take care of you. All of you.”

Elle looked up, and saw the fierce determination in his gaze. She laughed a little. “Is this what it’s like to be rich?” She asked, half-jokingly.

Something flickered in his gaze, but he still returned her smile. It was barely there, but it was there. “Something like that. I’ll tell you someday what it’s like. Until then, just trust me. Stay safe, and wait for me.”

Elle nodded, and stepped away. She went around him, going to the door. As she opened it, she looked back at him. He had turned to watch her go, his hands in his pockets. He nodded to her, and Elle smiled. She left, closing the door behind her. There was glass in the door, a small window. She glanced through it, and saw the warmth slowly leak out of Dev as he leaned against the teacher’s desk. He closed his eyes, tipping his head back. The quiet confidence was gone, replaced with utter exhaustion.

As she navigated her way back to her car, she wondered why, when she had come here to make a deal with a devil for her family’s safety, it felt more like she had offered Dev a lifeline from drowning.

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