Around us, the party had paused, people watching. Shit. And John still held my hand, just had it tucked behind his back.
“Who’s the girl?” asked Dillon, craning his neck to try and see me.
“A blonde, huh?”
“I repeat, she is no one you need to know. Now what do you want?”
His brother laughed. “You always were a randy little bastard. Anyway, we need to talk, so . . . get rid of her. Let’s get away from here.”
“This is all the talking we’re doing, right here, right now.”
Dillon heaved out a sigh. Hard, sunken eyes glared at the nearby onlookers, and some people in the small crowd backed up.
“Come on, don’t be like that. We’re family, you and me. We need to be looking out for each other, not fighting like this. What do you think our folks would say?”
John hung his head, shaking it. “Christ. I’m quickly losing interest, so what do you want?”
“I need your help.”
“Say the word and I’ll get you into rehab. I’ve got the money; we can sort this shit out. I already told you that.” John’s grip on my fingers tightened, his feet shifting. “Uncle Levi heard of this great place—”
“I don’t want fucking rehab!” Dillon bared his teeth, visibly fighting for control. “But I need the money.”
“Johnny . . .”
I fished my front door key out of my pocket, ready to start stabbing at the meth-head’s eyes if he took so much as a step toward his brother. Christ, this was so much worse than John had described. Or at least, worse than I’d imagined. His brother was all wired and strung out. The same as Chris had been at the Drop Stop. Just the memory made me want to puke or hit something. I gripped the key hard.
“Sell your fucking vehicle, do something, I don’t care. But I am not giving you money for drugs, Dillon,” said John. “I know you’ve still got your car—I saw it parked down the street from Uncle Levi’s the other day.”
“I just wanted to talk. That prick, he’s coming between us. Can’t you see?”
“No.” John shook his head. “All that shit you take, that’s what came between us. Uncle Levi had nothing to do with it.”
A tall shadow appeared beside me, moving into place beside John.
Dillon smiled, or tried to. The mix of his barely suppressed anger and his thin, haunted face. “Anders. How you doing, man?”
“Shouldn’t be here, D.”
“You too? Jesus.”
Anders said no more.
“Little brother,” said Dillon. “It-it shouldn’t be like this. We should be helping each other, you know?”
“You don’t want help,” said John, stepping to the side and taking me with him. “Come near me again, it’s not going to end well.”
“You threatening me, you little shit?” Dillon scoffed. His hands were by his sides, but they were curled into fists.
John didn’t back down, not even remotely. All of the lean muscle in his arms seemed pumped, ready. “I won’t stop next time and I’ll break more than your nose. Stay away.”
Anders stepped forward, hands stretched out. “All this fucking tension. How about a beer, D? Why don’t we just chill out and get a beer, yeah?”
For a moment, Dillon glared past him to John. Then his eyes flickered up to Anders, and around to the crowd watching the pro skater strut her stuff. “Sure,” he said, uncurling his fists and pasting the sick smile back onto his face, as if the whole standoff was no big deal. “Okay. Let’s do that.”
Meanwhile, John moved, taking me with him. Walking fast, we headed back out toward the main parking lot. The lumps and bumps in the dirt path at night kind of sucked.
“John?” I asked.
He didn’t slow down. “Let’s just get to the car.”
Being blessed with grace, I almost tripped on a tree root and landed on my face. Strong hands grabbed me, halting my fall. “Shit.”
“You okay?” he asked.
I nodded. “Can we just calm down a little? Please?”
“Yeah. Sorry. Still okay to come to my place?” he asked, fiddling with his car keys. He opened my door, ushering me in. “You don’t have to.”
“No. I want to.”
“Okay.” A muscle in his jaw shifted, barely visible in the moonlight. Carefully, he shut the door, jogging around to the driver’s side and jumping in. “I’m sorry, Edie. I didn’t want him anywhere near you.”
“It’s not your fault.”
He slammed a hand against the wheel, swearing low and furious. Then he started the engine. Not good.
“Are you okay to drive?” I asked.
For a second, his head slumped back against the seat and he glared at the ceiling. Then his shoulders dropped and he exhaled. “I’m sorry. I’ll calm down.”
“He’s in bad shape, your brother.”
John rolled his head to the side to meet my eyes. “He’s a fucking mess. What am I going to do?”
“You’ve done all you can,” I said. “He won’t accept the help he needs. That’s not on you.”
“I know,” he said. “I just . . . shit.”
“Did he throw the first punch that night you fought?”
“Yeah. He started it.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “None of this should have touched you.”
“Yet.” His fingers caressed the side of my face, his gaze tortured. “Maybe I should just take you home.”
“Maybe we should go to your place like we planned to. Mom and Matt are having a sappy candlelit dinner,” I said. “I doubt she’s even thinking about what we might be up to just yet.”
He gave me a grim smile. “Okay. Let’s go.”
A couple of cars were coming in the opposite direction on the narrow road. I almost resented them for slowing us down. The sooner we got away from his brother, the better. But also, I wanted to be alone with John, no distractions. I wanted to make him smile properly. Perhaps this was what addiction felt like, the constant need to get close to him, to feel that high. He put my hand on his knee and I fidgeted with a small hole in his jeans the whole way back to his place.