The old garage door on the side of the room, the one Bear had covered with a huge Beach Bastards flag screamed to life, shrieking and scraping, dragging metal against rusted metal as it struggled to open for the first time in years, sending the furniture and a glass cabinet, which had been leaning up against it, tumbling over. Glass crashed. Wood snapped.
It was just the distraction I needed.
Just enough time for me to grab the gun off the floor and dart toward Bear. I pulled and pulled but he was stuck under the concrete. A bullet grazed my shoulder, leaving a burnt trail of flesh across my skin. I dove through the hole in the wall, managing to get off a few shots of my own in the process. Sending at least two more of Eli’s men to hell in the process. Bullets chipped away at the concrete all around me. I slid down the side of the garage and made my way into the thick brush that lined the yard. I hid between a patch of cypress knee roots.
“Find him or you all die!” Eli screamed, still inside the garage, his hands on the wall over the hole. Heavy footsteps jogged passed me in both directions. Some going the way of the road, others the way of the path.
I wasn’t going either of those ways. As soon as the foot steps passed, I ran through the brush, expertly avoiding collision as I expertly navigated the woods I’d been familiar with most of my life. Even when Preppy and I hadn’t lived in the stilt home, we’d camped in the woods surrounding it.
I ducked under the mangroves and eased my way into the water. I held my breath, sinking down as deep as I could before pushing off the bank and swimming across the small lake to the other side. I emerged, only up to my nose, before lifting myself onto the shore.
I looked across the lake, watching the men run back and forth to Eli. Most likely delivering the news that they couldn’t find me. He shook his fists in the air and let out a frustrated roar. Two of the men ran back into the garage and emerged a few minutes later. One was walking backward while the other was hobbling forward behind him. They were struggling to carry something as they made their way to the fire pit in the center of the yard.
Eli followed behind him, seeming calmer than just moments before. He pulled out a cigar and lit it with match. The smoke shrouded his face in white. He tossed the match into the fire pit and after stoking the embers with a long stick, it came roaring to life and I was able to see what they’d been carrying.
He was laid out on the ledge of the brick pit, his one hand dangling just above the red embers.
Eli looked out across the lake, and even though I knew he couldn’t see me, he somehow knew I was watching him because he tipped his hat and smiled.
It was a challenge.
I was the rabbit he wanted to scare out of the hole.
Bear was the smoke bomb he was going to use to do it.
His plan just might just work too, because their was no fucking way I wasn’t going to go back to save Bear.
At the very least, I was going to die trying.
I felt like I was walking around wearing Kevlar to protect myself from the parents who genuinely didn’t give a shit about me, and from the questions that sat on my brain unanswered like a fucking aneurism about to burst, and from Tanner. Who, when looking back, I felt shitty about how we left things. I truly felt like he could be a good friend. But instead of being sympathetic to what he was feeling, I threw it in his face and yelled at him.
I was alone.
Utterly fucking alone and for some reason that made me spitting fucking mad. I was either a raging bitch or so numb to everything I was practically a mute.
And I’d pushed Tanner away.
Which in turn meant I’d pushed Sammy away.
And that was the opposite of what I wanted.
I’d been just about to go see Tanner, but going to him and forcing him to talk to me before he was ready might be like kicking him while he’s down. So I decided to wait for him to come talk to me when he was ready.
If he was ever ready.
At least with the arrival of the specialist I had a temporary distraction to occupy some of my time.
The specialist had showed up and grilled me for an hour. Dr. Royster, a man old enough to be my grandfather’s grandfather, didn’t ask me anything about how I was feeling. He’d cut right to the chase and asked me what I remembered. I told him about Nikki. “No two brain injuries are alike.” Dr. Royster had said. “Especially those that affect memory.” In the end, he told me that I should seek help from someone who knew me. Someone I’d spent the most time with who could walk me through my life and hopefully evoke some sort of mental exorcism.
After the specialist left I found Nadine in the kitchen. “How did it go?” she asked, spraying cleaner onto the countertops and wiping it off with a rag.
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