In the pitch-black of night, I run as fast as rage will carry me. Gravel from the suburban road digs into my bare feet, February’s cold biting my flesh. I had no time to slip on shoes, a shirt or even grab a coat.
“Motherfuckers,” Ryke growls through gritted teeth, using his full power, endurance—everything that made him a collegiate track star—to chase after dark-clothed figures that bolt down the street. I never thought I’d be able to match my brother’s speed. No longer weighed down by self-pity and hatred, I can go farther than I dreamed.
And I do.
My legs pump forward in sync with his, our muscles sharpening in the same way. Our veins bursting and heating with blood-red fury. Because we thought these stupid f**king guys shot one of the girls through the window.
A minute ago, Ryke and I were upstairs and heard a few loud bangs, followed by Lily and Daisy’s panicked screams. As we rushed to the main floor, Daisy was ghostly pale. Lily was holding her little sister’s hand, and my gaze dropped to Lil’s stomach, a noticeable bump at eighteen weeks pregnant.
I f**king ran on instinct. Only this time, I’m not the one being chased.
Ryke was right by my side, no hesitation, no questions asked. He took one look at Daisy’s horror-stricken face, and he just lost it. Our fame and notoriety shouldn’t put either of the girls in harm’s way. It’s complete bullshit.
All six of us—Ryke, Daisy, Connor, Rose, Lily and me—now live in a rich, gated Philadelphia neighborhood. Only these so-called “gates” surround the neighborhood, not our eight-bedroom house. Sometimes, the real shits are the ones right down the street, and for the past two weeks, they’ve egged our door, toilet-papered the yard and forked the grass.
This is the first time we’ve heard them scamper away, and so this is the first time we’ve ever tried to catch them.
We gain on them, and their muffled cursing becomes louder, their panic clearer in their hurried steps, and half of the guys scatter towards a brick mansion with floodlights illuminating a massive door. About three guys continue to sprint ahead.
Then they spin around and point their paintball guns at us. A series of pops split the air before a couple shots connect with my shoulder and ribs, like a two-second punch.
Jesus. I want to shout until my throat bleeds and shake them until they get it. Until they realize that we’re not board games they can play with—when they’re sitting in their rooms with nothing to do.
We are people. Real. Living breathing things that have breaking points. I want to scream it all, but I can’t utter one single goddamn word. Everything is caged in my lungs.
The guys stop shooting at us when they realize we’re much closer. “Go, go, go!” they scream at each other. One guy in a hoodie glances over his shoulder, and then he trips over his own feet. Right as he stumbles, about to eat the asphalt, I grip the back of his black sweatshirt. My pulse sky-rockets with my adrenaline.
Ryke slows to a stop with me.
“Let me f**king go!” the guy shouts, thrashing in my grasp. I feel my heart bang against my chest, my brows furrowing at his scrawny build. He’s young.
In a matter of seconds, his friends leave him, racing further into the darkness. He notices his buddies sprinting away, and he redirects his anger. “HEY! YOU PUSSIES! YOU’RE GOING TO LEAVE ME HERE?!”
I rip the paintball gun out of his hand and toss it to Ryke, and then the guy whips around on me, swinging his fist haphazardly at my face. I easily dodge it, but he’s squirming so much that it’s hard to hold him upright without him slipping in my hands.
“Get a grip,” Ryke growls at him.
He tries to elbow my ribs, and I grasp his arm, adding with a sneer, “You’re the one who’s been f**king with us.”
“And you’re the cuntbag who’s called the cops like a little bitch,” the guy snarls back. That’s when the hood falls off his head, and I stare directly into his venomous gaze. Tousled brown hair and a young, soft face. He can’t be any older than seventeen.
My blood chills. And I crane my neck at Ryke. “Do you see any cops?” I ask him with a mocking tone.
“No,” Ryke says, his voice rough.
I turn back to the guy in my clutch. “See, it’s just you and us—”
“That’s great,” he cuts me off with a short laugh, “let’s have a f**king tea party and celebrate the new year. And then when I leave, you both can go f**k the same girl and knock her up again.”
I shake, my heart slamming into my ribs. A million different insults burn my brain, the malicious ones trying to take hold.
Then Ryke charges forward, fists clenched. “You motherfucking—”
“Stop,” I tell Ryke, making sure to wedge my body between him and the teen. He can’t hit him. Not even if this guy spouts off a thousand rumors that’ve been circulating the tabloids. Not if he knows more about us than we’ll ever know about him. He’s a bored teenager, fighting his own battles that we’ll never see.
I get it.
I used to do this shit all the time. I was thrown in jail for vandalism more often than for underage drinking.
“What?” the guy feigns confusion, provoking Ryke. “Are you butthurt that you didn’t get extra time with the slut—”
“You want to play this goddamn game with me,” I interject, my voice so sharp that it physically pains me. “I can make you cry so hard, you bleed out of your eye sockets, so let’s rewind—you f**ked with us first, and all we’re asking is for you to stop. We’re not your prep school friends.” I’m trying not to be condescending. I could have easily said “we’re not your little prep school friends, kid.” But if someone said that to me at sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, I’d spit in their face and tell them to eat shit.
He breathes heavily with a curled lip, hatred spreading across his features, like he can’t stand to be here for more than a second longer. I stare right at him, not giving him an easy out. And he finally says, “We’re just joking around.”
Ryke steps forward and raises the paintball gun at the guy’s face. “This is not a f**king joke!”
The guy huffs and says to me, “Is your brother a moron? It’s only a paintball gun.”
Ryke throws the gun across the road, and the casing shatters.
“Hey!” the guy shouts.
“My girlfriend has PTSD, you f**king idiot,” Ryke growls. “You point something that resembles a gun at a window, and there are people who’ll feel like it’s one.”
My ribs tighten. Daisy has been through more than Lily and I ever imagined, and it’s these facts—the ones that I desperately needed—that make it easier to see his happiness with her. I never thought I’d pray to every f**king god to ensure that their relationship lasts. It’s not even a selfish want.
I study the guy’s face, and any remorse is drowned by anger, his voice shaking with it. “Which girlfriend is that?” he sneers at Ryke. “The one you raped when she was fifteen or your brother’s fiancée?”
“Are you f**king kidding me?!” Ryke yells, his nose flaring. It f**king sucks. People will always know details about our lives before we even know their names. But I can’t blame him for it. It’s just the way it is.
I watch this teen glower at the ground like let me go, let me f**king go.