“Well, let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that for anyone. I’d like to have faith that Titus is a good cop and that he can figure something out. That seems like the best option for everyone.”
Gus snorted and let his feet thump to the concrete floor.
“Sure, until your old man decides you’re too much of a liability to his cushy life up on the Hill and goes slumming for another scumbag to take you out. It’s an endless cycle of people trying to clean up messes they should’ve never made in the first place.”
I didn’t know how to reply to that, so I just tucked my hair behind my ear and turned to reach for the door handle. “I hope the cycle ends. It’s exhausting.”
“You’re telling me, little lady. Keep your head up. Lots of dangerous people out there.”
I knew it . . . only the most dangerous one that was out there I wanted to find me. I nodded and whispered a good-bye over my shoulder.
The bus ride was torturous and took forever. I had gotten spoiled being ferried around town in muscle cars that moved at the speed of light. I was going to have to get used to going back to the way things were, where I only had myself to rely on. I was happy to have Race back in my life and I appreciated the sacrifice he had made on my behalf, but I couldn’t get past how readily he had offered up Bax as the sacrificial lamb. It was like everyone in his life knew he was bound to ultimately self-destruct, so whatever he had to endure before then was just his penance to pay. I didn’t like it one bit. For all his faults, and Lord knew there were too many to count, he was also a loyal friend, a devoted son, and a man capable of compassion and kindness, even if it didn’t come naturally to him. He deserved better than the dark role of destructive hooligan everyone seemed to want to automatically cast him in. I knew there was more to him than that, even if no one else did.
When I got to the house, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. The kids were happy to see me, and so was Reeve. I don’t know if it was because I showed up on my own power and not with Bax that had her demeanor more cheery toward me, but whatever it was, I was grateful. Dinner went off without a hitch and only the teen girls asked where the hottie with the badass car was this week. I blew them off and we all settled in for game night after dessert. They were such good kids and they deserved to have a life where they didn’t have to worry about where their next meal was going to come from or if their parents were going to put them out on the streets.
Blake and Lindsey both complained of a tummy ache not long after we started the game of Monopoly. Reeve agreed they could be excused as long as they went right to bed and didn’t mess around on the computer or with their phones. They disappeared and I let myself enjoy the simple pleasure of having the one thing in my life that hadn’t drastically changed since the invasion of Shane Baxter.
Reeve and I put the little kids to bed and alternated showers, and before I knew it, the night was almost over. Since I was still wide-awake with too many things chasing each other around in my head, I told Reeve I would take the first round of bed checks. She readily agreed since she had spent the day at her other job as a hairdresser and looked worn out. I was going to use the ancient desktop computer that was set up in the family room to work on the last of my homework when my phone dinged with a text message. Figuring it was probably Race just checking in with me, I glanced down at the screen and went still when I saw the name of the sender.
You got two loose chicks running from the hen house, Copper-Top.
I blinked dumbly at the screen and didn’t bother to write him back. I hit the call button and went out onto the front porch.
“What are you talking about?”
I didn’t even give him a chance to say hello. I was both elated and taken apart by the sound of his voice.
“Two girls just hopped out of the upstairs window and are standing on the corner a block over from the house. Just thought you would want to know.”
“Where are you? The windows have alarms on them.”
He laughed and it sounded bitter. “Come on, Dovie. These kids don’t want to be locked up in that house twenty-four/seven, even if it’s the best place for them. They get creative and learn ways around the rules. I’m gonna scoop them up and drop them off.”
“See you in a second, Copper-Top.”
My heart was thundering in my chest, and a mixture of joy and rage was making my blood almost too hot to be comfortable under my skin. Five minutes later, the bumblebee-painted car came to a screeching halt in front of the house and Blake and Lindsey came shuffling out of the back. I crossed my arms over my chest and gave them both the evil eye. Instead of looking chagrined or ashamed, they both looked defiant and annoyed. Bax followed them up to the steps and lifted an eyebrow at me. I ignored him and focused on the girls.
“How did you get past the alarm?”
They both just glared at me and I sighed.
“Do you really want me to write this up? Do either of you want this in your case file? This house is based on good faith and the honest desire to learn skills that will make you seamlessly fit into a family. If you don’t want to be here, there are plenty of other kids in the Point who would appreciate the opportunity to get off the streets and have a roof over their heads.”
They shared a look and then looked between me and Bax. “We just wanted to go to a party. Some kids up on the Hill are having a huge kegger because their parents are out of town. Being stuck in this house every day, being reminded that no one wants us, is boring and it gets old, Dovie.” Blake’s voice cracked and Lindsey reached out to wrap an arm around her shoulders.
I opened my mouth to tell them I understood, that we would talk about it later, but Bax beat me to it.
His voice was cold and there was no apology in it when he told them, “Do you have any idea what happens to girls like you when you try and mess around with kids from the Hill? You’re nothing but trash to them; they would use you, humiliate you, and then throw you away the second they were done. The only reason kids from the Hill invite kids from the Point to a party is so they have someone there they can hurt and use with zero repercussions.”
I saw both the girls shiver, but Lindsey narrowed her eyes at him and snapped, “Like kids from the Point are any better? All anyone out here cares about is looking out for themselves.”
Bax nodded. “Damn straight, that’s the only way you’re going to make it out alive.”
“All right, enough. You two go in and wake Reeve up. Tell her you’re sleeping in our room since you disabled the alarm in yours. Tell her I’ll be in shortly.”