ENGAGING JAYDEN

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JAYDEN


6 months year later

My car wouldn’t start.

“You have got to be kidding me.” I rolled my eyes before I looked at my visor in disbelief. As if that alone would solve the problem. How many car troubles can one person have in such a short amount of time? Apparently, not enough. In the last month, my car has been in the shop more calendar days than not. The phrase ‘when it rains it pours’ was indeed true. And at the very moment, it was definitely pouring down by the pail full.

I try to be an optimistic human being. Normally I am. But, this last month has thrown the worst probabilities at me. From a broken water hose to my breaks going kaputt—you name it. Most days I can brush it off.

Today wasn’t one of them.

And after my fight with Brock last night, this was by far the last thing I needed to deal with. As if I didn’t have enough on my plate already.

“Come on, please start.” I closed my eyes and turned the key one last time.

Nothing.

Nothing but the jingle of the keychain cut through the silence of first light.

“Damn it!” A deep sigh escaped me before I dropped my forehead on the tip of the steering wheel. It may not sound like it, but I love this car. I do. Every inch of it. Even the speckled rusty spots. And if it wasn’t for its sentimental value, I would have had it hauled to the junk yard long ago. The sudden vibration of my cell tucked in the console made me jump. I took a deep breath and tried to slow my heart rate. It didn’t take much to send my nerves over the edge these days. I couldn’t help but feel disgruntled with myself. My nerves were on edge.

Always.

Would the day ever come where I wasn’t walking around on pins and needles?

Again, I’ve tried to have an optimistic perspective but I must admit that the light at the other end of the tunnel was looking dimmer by the day. It has been six months since my attack. Well...Five months, three weeks and four days to be exact. I don’t feel like I’ve made any headway in my life since then. Was I expecting too much of myself? The therapist I was seeing believed I was. And maybe she was right. She said it would take time…but how long was she talking about? Months? Years? The palms of my hands became sweaty which was my first sign of my panic attack coming on. I took a deep breath through my nose and slowly let the air trickle from my parted lips. Next, my back broke out in a sweat as if I had jogged several miles. I repeated my breathing and it wasn’t working. I reached in my purse and popped a Xanax beneath my tongue. My site began to dim. I had to get my mind off my anxiety. I grabbed my phone and checked the number. It was Spencer Black. He, like my brother, was an EIC fighter. Standing in at five-ten and two hundred-five pounds he looked like a tank. And no matter rain or shine, he always wore the same damn thing. Khaki cargo shorts, flip flops and a Chiefs hockey cap. A heather colored tee overlaid his long white cotton sleeve shirt.

“Hi Spence—”

“Where the hell are you?”

“Good morning to you too.”

“Jayden…” Spencer gave a long pause, no doubt pinching the bridge of his nose to calm himself before he continued, “I’ve been worried sick about you. I called your house this morning—Scarecrow answered. He said that you left last night and hadn’t come home yet. He also said that he hadn’t heard from you either and being the jackass that he is, wasn’t worried about it.”

“He has a name.” I replied. Immediately I closed my eyes, inwardly cringing. Why did I have to add fuel to the kindling? It was worse enough between the two of them as it was. The pissing contest was never ending.

“I know the fucker’s name Jayden. What I want to know is what happened last night? And whatever it was, you should have called me. Where are you by the way?”

“I needed time to be alone. And since my brother is in Vegas preparing for his fight tomorrow, I thought ‘why not just go to his place’?”

“Yeah, and I’m sure Knox would agree with you.” His voice was laced with heavy sarcasm. “So what is it?”

“What is what?”

“What’s bothering you right now?”

“How do you know that the ‘something’ that’s bugging me right now isn’t you?”

“Humor me.” He said flatly, ignoring my tease.

I let out a deep sigh. “My car won’t start.” It wasn’t hard to sense his frown considering that Spencer had been hanging around our house playing ‘King of the Mountain’ with Knox before I was even born.

“What does it sound like?”

“Nothing.” I laugh. My stress was clearly evident. “There is no sound. No dash lights, radio, nada. The gauges don’t even flicker on.”

“Where are you right now?”

“I already told you, I’m at Kno…”

“I mean in the car? House? Where?”

“I’m in the car—doors locked, windows up. You know...like any old paranoid schizophrenic.” Like if he were there in the car with me, I lifted my purse to emphasize my statement, “Got my crazy pills at hand if need be.” I neglected to tell him that I had just taken one. Luckily, I felt my pill go to work and I was no longer sweating to death.

Spencer didn’t find my mockery the least bit funny, his silence revealed as much. “Look, stay right where you are. I can be there in ten. I’ll give Mahr a call and have him tow you in.”

In the background, I heard him rummaging through his key bin located in his top dresser drawer.

“You live fifteen minutes away at least.”

“Like I said, I can be there in ten. Just sit tight and call me if anything else comes up, alright?”

Spencer was overly protective of me, always had been. Some of the townspeople saw it less than brotherly but then again they knew very little about Spencer Black. He has a short fuse and many of the townspeople are too ignorant to look beyond that. Spencer wasn’t fortunate enough to come from a family with deep old fashion roots but came from a family that used their fists instead of words. And because of that, he kept himself distant from others, that is, until he met Knox. The fact was, as I saw it, Spencer was yet another overly protective brother who wanted nothing more than the best for me.

“’Kay. Drive safe.” Hearing his disapproving chuckle, I rolled her eyes and hung up.

“Nine minutes and fifty-six seconds.” I frowned at Spencer’s announcement as he shut the car door. “Damn I’m good.”

“I don’t even want to know how fast you were going on the straightaways.”

Spencer shook his head. “No,” he then flashed a wicked grin, “you don’t.” The Gumpert Apollo was his prize possession; he rarely drove it. He gave car enthusiasts an all new meaning. If he wasn’t fixing them, he was detailing them in and out, in any way possible. I wondered what had possessed him to take his four hundred-thousand plus-dollar car down a dirt driveway that wasn’t exactly level.

“You need to drive more carefully, Spencer.”

“I’m fine.” Spencer braced his forearm on my shoulder as he stood beside me. It was something he often did since we were kids. And up to six months ago, I didn’t mind—Now I do. I don’t like to be touched. Not by anyone. Spencer must have felt me stiffen for he was quick to remove his arm.

I know that he tried to hide the anger that now filled his eyes but I read it easily. It wasn’t directed at me, and I knew that. His anger was directed towards the man who attacked me, who to this day, remained in question. The man who was the cause for my whole world to be flipped upside down. ‘I’m sorry’ sat on my lips but I didn’t say it. In the beginning, I was always apologizing for small things such as that and in turn Spencer and Knox always told me to stop apologizing.

Spencer removed his hat and rubbed his hand over his head before settling his cap back into place. It was a habit of his whenever he got riled. “Do you have the keys?”

“Yes, they’re right here.” Freeing them from my pocket of my North Face jacket, I handed them over and pointed to the hood of the car. “Do you have any idea as to what it could be?”

“Since we have nearly replaced everything on this piece of shit…it’s most likely your battery. But, since we are flying out for Vegas tonight to watch the big fight tomorrow, I’ll have to check it when we get back.”

“’Kay.”

He studied the car for a moment before he said, “I really wish you’d— ”

“I’m not ready to get rid of it just yet.” And I wasn’t. I wasn’t sure why he didn’t press the subject but I was glad that he didn’t.

Spencer opened my car door, and leaving it unlocked he tossed her keys on the driver seat. “Is there something you need to get before I take you home?”

“No.” I replied and climbed in Spencer’s death trap.

Fastening the four-point seat belt I said, “I always feel like I should be putting on a helmet when I buckle in this thing.”

“I can get you one if you want.” Spenser gave a teasing smile. “You wouldn’t look weird at all.”

“Oh, not all.” I laughed. No matter what, Spenser was always able to get me to smile. “Maybe you could add a headpiece while you’re at it.”

“And here I thought I wouldn’t know what to get you for your birthday.”

Their laughter died short and I saw that blank stare that he gave when he was fishing for answers. I knew it was coming. Dreaded that it was coming.

“You want to know what happened.” I said matter of fact.

He didn’t need to reply and started the car. Throwing the car in gear, Spencer grabbed his shades from the dashboard and slid them in place.

We got off to a slow start going down the dirt driveway but when we hit the highway it was a different story. I turned to the window and cleared my throat. “It’s been six months and I’m not any better. I don’t feel like I’ve made any progress.” The words that were coming next weren’t all that easy for me to say so I remained silent and chewed my inner bottom lip. I took a deep breath and figured, what the hell, they were going to have to come out eventually. “Brock proposed last night.”

‘What’d you say?’ clearly sat on Spencer’s tongue but he didn’t ask.

“I told him, no. He wasn’t happy with my refusal and our talking turned into a fight.” I broke off and wiped away the single tear that skimmed down my cheek in hopes that Spenser didn’t notice. It wasn’t of sadness or fear—just pure frustration. Maybe that is the core problem. I’m not upset about what happened between Brock and I. And I should be if I really loved him...right? “He told me I need to pull myself together and forget about what happened. After Brock said that, I broke it off with him and I left.”

I glanced at Spenser, his hand gripped the leather steering wheel and I was surprised to see that it hadn’t snapped in two. He had remained quiet; while being a hothead like he was, it was a major part on his behalf. It was stupid to be telling him all this and I knew it. But Spenser was persistent, one way or another he would have gotten it out of me. At this point, I figured on saving myself the headache and lay it out.

Spenser pulled up to my bungalow and killed the engine. “What the fuck is Scarecrow still doing here?”

I stopped scrounging around in my purse looking for my house key and glanced up. Brock’s new white lifted F-450 was sitting in my driveway.

“I figured that he would have packed his things and would have left by now.”

I dropped my head back against the headrest and looked at Spenser. “Please, be good.”

“I didn’t—”

“You didn’t have to do anything...I know you.”

Spenser gave a heavy sigh. “I hate it when you say it like that.”

“Thank you.” Unbuckling my four-point harness, I leaned forward, my eyes pinned on Brock as he stepped out onto my porch with two duffel bags in hand and continued down the steps as if he hadn’t seen Spenser pull up.

Opening the car door, I stepped out and crossed the lawn just as Brock tossed them in the bed of his truck. He looked like hell. He wore the very same jeans he’d worn the night before, only now they were blotched with a salsa stain and…

Was that lipstick?

His shirt was wrinkled and his hair was...disarray would be putting it lightly.

Brock turned around. His eyes going wide, he said, “Jayden. I didn’t hear you pull up?”

If it wasn’t for the surprised look on his face I would have pegged him for lying. Spenser’s car could be heard from blocks away. “I just got here.” I pointed over my shoulder. “Spenser drove me.”

Brock cursed under breath. “Of course you brought him with you.”

I realized that even if Hell did freeze over, Brock and Spencer would never see eye-to-eye. But even still, knowing him my whole life and dating him for eighteen months, Brock never gave me a low blow. I may have called off our relationship—and I didn’t expect him to be all cheery the following day, but it hadn’t been all my fault. After the attack he continued on as if it had never happened. As if I hadn’t spent time in the hospital in recovery for having my jugular sliced open. It was a miracle that I was still alive. The fact that he had even considered that I should forget about what happened to me was beyond absurd. Beyond my comprehension. One couldn’t just shut something like that off. Most would be furious. But I wasn’t. Maybe I should have been...but I wasn’t. It was as if I had been swallowed by a black whole. I felt alone. I felt betrayed. Betrayed by the one man that I thought would have stayed by my side no matter what came our way.

“Brock...” the woman’s voice came from inside, “you forgot your other bag.”

I raised a brow. I knew that voice. That ear piercing shrill that gave nails to a chalkboard justice belonged to none other than Kiera Scott. And there was no questioning as to why she was here.

“Jayden, no, wait!”

Brock reached out and I diverted from his grasp as I rushed inside. And there she was, Kierra Scott, lounging on my espresso leather Pottery Barn couch that nestled below the lengthy rectangular window.

Hearing the slam of the screen door behind me, I glanced over my shoulder to find Brock, Spenser was hot on his trail. I held my hands up in unpretentious wonder. “Really?” Was all I could muster. We were no longer a couple and I figured that he would have moved on sooner or later but it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours—proving that I had made the right decision.

“I get that we aren’t together but where on earth did you think that it’d be okay with you bringing her—or anyone for that matter, to my house?”

“Well...” Brock only looked at me. He shoved his hands in his front pockets and shrugged.

“Seriously? That’s all you have to say?” I choked out a laugh.

“Cat got your tongue Brock?” Kierra clued-in and sauntered over. The way she intertwined her arm with Brock’s with such familiarity made me realize what a fool I’ve been.

“I’m pregnant. Well, we’re pregnant.”

I felt as though I was punched in the gut. A lump formed in my throat, which left me completely and utterly speechless.

What just happened?

I felt like she was suddenly thrown into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

“Jayden, “Brock whispered and reached out to touch me.

I shook my head and stepped back. The back of my nose began to burn and I knew that it was just a matter of time before my eyes would be collecting tears. And I’d be damned before letting Kierra see that. As it was, Kierra knew that I had no knowledge that she was sleeping with my (at the time) boyfriend which made me look more like a fool than anything. I let out a sigh and looked to the crown molding bordering my ceiling and blinked them back. My tears weren’t from jealousy or hurt. They gathered because I felt like a fool. Another red flag.

“You know, fine, step back like you always do. Tell me something Jayden. Are you really all that surprised that I’ve been going out on you for the last few months? When’s the last time we’ve even had sex huh? I’d like you to try and answer that one.” He raked his hand through his chestnut hair. “Just in case you’re wondering, the last time we had sex was two days before you were attacked.”

“Stop being an asshole, Scarecrow.” Spenser chimed in.

I hadn’t heard him come in but I wasn’t surprised he had. Positioning himself beside me he crossed his arms in front of his chest. This could go two ways. Bad or really bad. And honestly, I’m hoping that it won’t be the latter.

Brock glanced at Spenser. “What are you her guard dog?”

I placed her hand on Spenser’s arm when he stepped forward. “I want you both to leave.”

“With pleasure.” Kierra placed an overly dramatic kiss on Brock’s cheek. “Let’s go, honey.”

With Kiera slipping outside, Brock murmured, “Jayden, listen—”

“Now Brock! I want you both to leave now!” I snapped. “I’ll have the rest of your things dropped off at your parent’s house later.”

“Whatever.” Brock started to turn away, but changed his mind. “You know you asked me once if I thought you were at fault for what happened to you, and you know...yeah, I do think it was your fa—”

Brock didn’t see it coming.

But as far as myself, I’d be lying If I said that I hadn’t.

There was no question as to the amount of pain that shot through Brock’s face once I heard the crunch of his nose folding under Spencer’s knuckles. Blood was pouring freely from his nostrils and there was no doubt that Brock’s vision was now blurred. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brock’s skull felt as though it was split in two. Spencer had a powerful right hook and with Brock standing at five-nine and one-seventy...Brock didn’t stand a chance. Being a ranch hand at his father’s farm he wasn’t weak by any means. But if you compared him to my brother and Spencer, he didn’t stack up strength wise.

Brock stumbled back. Trying to catch his balance he reached out, knocking my pictures to the floor as his hand slid across the wall. As he crumbled to the floor, I saw the fear cross his face as Spencer quickly approached. And when Spencer gripped Brock by the neckline of his shirt, Brock groaned as he was pulled to his feet, both hands cradling his nose. Spencer more or less drug Brock and when they reached the door, Spencer tossed Brock through my screen door, ripping it off its hinges in the process.

“Get out!” I heard him yell at Kiera.

I dropped onto the couch and braced my elbows on my knees and buried my face in my hands. And when the front door slammed...I couldn’t help but jump a mile. The tears that I had fought so hard to keep back no longer listened to my plea. It wasn’t so much as finding Kiera in my house—well, maybe perhaps a little—but the fact that my allegedly, caring, supportive, loving boyfriend thought that the attack was my fault...Everything that I had led myself to believe was a lie. A down-right lie. My chest hurt to the point of heartbreak. It wasn’t all directed towards Brock, but towards myself as well for allowing his cold words to cut me deeper than I care to admit. Even to myself.

“That son-of-a-bitch!” I felt the couch cushion lower beside me.

I heard Brock’s truck spark to life before it tore out of the driveway. A few minutes passed in silence, most likely so that Spencer could try to calm himself, before he nudged my arm. “It wasn’t your fault. None of it was.” Those moments of silence hadn’t helped his anger any because his words came out just as intense as when he uttered his profanity. Still, that didn’t stop my silent tears from turning into sobs. I heard Spencer swear under his breath.

“You know that it’s not your fault, right?”

My nods came short and quick before I let my mind drift to the place that I had refused to visit, until now.

I remembered waking up to Brock and my brother in the hospital room after the attack. Knox called for the nurse and told me what had happened. I recalled the doctor asking me questions—assuring me that it hadn’t been my fault, and that sometimes the victim will believe otherwise. Knox was more than vocal in voicing, assuring me that it hadn’t been my fault. And then I remembered Brock, standing at the window staring out. He hadn’t said a word. I thought nothing of it then. I figured that he was too angry, too scared for my safety and that’s why he had remained silent. And though I believed I was not responsible, I needed to hear it from him. But, he never did answer me. Not until today.

And now, I had to face it. I had to face the truth and move on.

I wiped away the tears from my face and looked at Spencer, only to hear him say, “Good. And I’ll buy you another screen door.” I hadn’t thought that after what had just occurred, that I was capable of laughing in such a short amount of time.

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