I woke up sticky, naked, and sprawled out on the floor. Not for any of the fun reasons, but because it was another stupid-hot night on the second floor of a house with no air conditioning. I peeled one of my socks off my face, then climbed to my feet and dug around something clean to wear.
Someone should clean this mess up.
After getting dressed in the smallest tank and jean-shorts that Nanna wouldn’t murder me over, I stepped out and walked down the hall to my idiot brother’s room. I checked the hair I’d wedged between in his door. Lo and behold, it was right where I left it.
Dammit, Domenic, Nanna’s going to kill you. If I don’t do it first.
Shit. I went back to my room, then looked out the window. His truck wasn’t out there, either. Okay, it’s not the end of the world. Not yet. I went for my computer next. I closed my eyes and prayed to a God I was certain either didn’t exist, or was an evil bastard. It didn’t take long to find the news on vidme.
Gang violence in Raleigh rising. Great, as if this city wasn’t shit enough.
With a click, I got to see a video of over a dozen cop cars surrounding a parking garage. I knew the spot, even been there a couple times when the guys managed to sneak a party in without anyone noticing. Guy not too far from there had some of the best ex that wasn’t from Heritage. No one smart ever bought their shit; couldn’t be sure they didn’t mix in some freaky poison that gave black people cancer or something. I leaned forward, hoping they didn’t kill my family in a more direct way last night.
“This was the scene downtown last night, where a shootout occurred between two as yet unidentified gangs.” The cheerful white bitch sounded like she was announcing the winner of a beauty contest. She never had to wonder if anyone she gave a fuck about might not come home. “Witnesses claim the shooting started only a few minutes after ten, and ended not long before police arrived ten minutes later.”
While she talked, the camera changed to where ambulances were lined up. Six of them, as well as four SWAT vans, the extra-heavy ones they brought out for the scary kinds of Imbued. Rumor had it, they were remote controlled by drivers a hundred miles away, and had bombs inside that they’d set off if they had to.
“Well, the cops show up.” Now they’d picked out a witness, an old guy who either had a habit or a tapeworm. “Wouldn’t let me git close, so I watched from there.” He pointed offscreen. “An’ they go in ‘n bring out people. Saw Arclight, with some guy dressed like a fruity angel.”
All I give a shit about. I turned off the computer and rushed for my shower. He’s alive, ’till I get hold of his black ass, anyway. Washing black-girl hair with one hand is a struggle worthy of its own novel, but I’d had plenty of practice. Later than I’d like, I tromped down the stairs; I only bothered to sneak when I didn’t want to get caught.
“Domenic?” Nanna couldn’t see the stairs from her chair, but she could hear my steps.
“No, Nanna,” he’s off doing stupid hero tricks. “He’s out for a minute, something to do with the job.” I stopped at the base of the stairs to check out the TV, which had some early morning talkshow host interviewing some b-list actor about some crappy remake of some 80s movie I’d never seen. The actor was pretty hot, though, so maybe I’d get Ty or somebody to take me this weekend.
“That boy needs ta remember he has family who worries.” Tell me about it. “Well, ah cain’t fault him fer workin’ hard.” And here it comes. “When are you going ta git a job?”
“I told you, already, nobody hires gimps.” Not that I tried very hard to find anyone who would. I wasn’t stupid, I planned to milk my broken hand bullshit for all it was worth. I went for the door before Nanna could come up with something else to complain about. “I’mma go do some stuff before it gets too hot.”
I walked for my car as fast as I could, then stopped at the last moment, backed up, and checked the garage door. It was locked, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t inside. If he crashed in the garage, that means that bitch is with him. What’d Nanna call her? A tramp? Right. Nanna had her number from day one.
I should have trusted her, but like a dumbass I jumped in and saved Chloe’s skinny ass, and then for her to turn around and use Dom like that. Fucking bitch.
I know it was rich coming from me, but at least I had some principles. For one, I gave something more than a smile back to the guys who helped me out, and for another I didn’t use the good ones like Domenic. Plenty of guys out there whose hearts you didn’t have to step all over to get things from, and some who deserved it when you did. My brother was different, better, and he shouldn’t be played that way.
“Hey, girl, long time no see.” I jumped and spun toward the sound of the voice. She was black, in her twenties, and a little taller than I was. Body and smile to die for, too. “Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
“Oh, hey, yeah, I was just thinkin’ about something.” Who the hell are you and how do I know you? “What’s up?”
“Just wanted to see if Dom was in,” she said. “I was meeting with him and Chloe for lunch.”
Oh, now I know who you are. The other chick who’s going to fuck over my brother’s life. Now that I was paying attention, I noticed she had dirt and leaves on her pants, which I swear were painted on.
“I don’t know if he’s home yet.” Bet money he is, though, and you know it. I put on my best smile, the one I knew turned men into blubbering idiots, and leaned against the door. “I was thinkin’ about your offer, by the way. Let’s say you an’ I go for a ride around town, just for fun?”
She looked at me for a moment, as her smile changed just a bit. Her eyes darted to the garage, then back to my face. “Know what? That sounds like fun. I, uh, kinda left my cash at home, though.”
“Call it my treat.” I threw a bit of extra sway to my step. I was not about to follow through, but I could play the game. If I’d known the shit Chloe was gonna pull… well, this time I’d have the upper hand. Maybe I could find some way to save my brother from himself, and I’d start with making nice and milking the new bitch for dirt.
“Cool.” Her voice followed behind me. “I’m kinda new around here, don’t know where to find shit.”
“Well, if you’re a party girl, you’ve come to the right tour guide.” Maybe a hit of something will get her talking, and I know just where to go. A blast of scorching heat hit me when I opened the door to my car. Even though I parked in the shade, the seats were hot enough to burn a little. “So how’d you meet Domenic, anyway?”
“Work.” She climbed into the car like the heat meant nothing to her. “Like I said, I’m new, and I just sorta got wrapped up with Dom and Chloe. I’m kinda the third wheel, y’know?” She smiled at me almost as if she hoped for some sort of sympathy. “Bit of a pity case, you could say.”
Says the bitch who made out with the other bitch on camera. “That’s my brother for you, always there to help the less fortunate.”
“I can see that.” She adjusted her seat while I pulled out of the car. “He got a history of collecting strays, huh?”
“Well, you met Chloe,” I said. Chloe was the only other example I could think of. “Dude’s a bit of a doormat for a pretty face.” I shocked myself by how angry I sounded. Shit, Bea, dial it back before she catches your game. “Well, I mean, he never even tries to get with his projects, y’know?”
“That, I don’t see.” She fidgeted some with her seatbelt. “Well, the doormat part at least. Dom’s got more self control than anyone I’ve ever met. And believe me, he gets plenty of action from his projects.”
What. I almost swerved off the road, and from the honks behind me, others noticed. “You mean you and he-” eww.
“Me? Nah. I’d be all for it, but he ain’t made a play.” That sounded like the brother I knew, though the idea a solid ten like her would look his way didn’t jive. Though that armor he wore as Ballast was made to seduce women and make men feel inadequate. “But he and Chloe go at it twice a day, three if they get the chance.”
What! I pulled into a gas station, if only so I didn’t crash. “You gotta be shittin’ me.”
“No shit.” She shifted some more, then looked out the window. “Sometimes, they forget I’m in the room with them. Talk about super awkward. They ain’t made a crowbar that could pry them apart when they’re really goin’ at it.”
“Sorry, gotta top up the tank.” Awkward was hearing how my brother had now apparently hooked up with the dyke. I got out to get gas, and to buy time to think about what this girl’s info meant.
On one hand, at least Domenic was getting something out of this bullshit. On the other, it would be that much harder to keep him from ruining his life. Dom was the smartest guy I knew, but he was just as dumb as any other guy when it came to sex.
I swiped Chloe’s card through the machine; she never took the card away from me, and spending her money was a fun form of revenge.
Denied? The fuck? I gave it a couple more swipes, then switched to my own debit rather than look stupid. Is that why she’s putting out? Because Daddy cut her off? I am going to destroy that bitch.
I took the time to force myself to smile again before I got back in the car. “Well, turns out I’m broke now, so our date is gonna have to be on the cheap.” I licked my lips that special way that never seemed to fail on men, in hopes it’d work here. I had no idea if it’d work on girls, but it was the best I knew how to do. “But I know some friends that are cool and owe me a freebie, if you read.”
She mirrored my gesture by licking her own lips. “Sounds like a good time.” The little smirk and way her eyes narrowed took it to a whole new level. Damn, I could learn a trick or two from her.
I took her the few blocks to my usual guys while making only small talk about how boring the city was, and how much I was looking forward to winter. I left out school, because one of hooking up with older guys, is that you didn’t mention school. If they were the type of perv who wanted to hear about high school, they’d bring it up. Seemed like a good rule here, and she didn’t bring it up.
Romeo and Tyrone were there, laughing at some joke or another. Ty saw my car first, and didn’t look too happy to see me. Fucker’s probably got a girl on the side around here. The only girl there was Monique, who looked even less happy to see me. Yup, they’re a thing, now. Assholes.
I took a breath, then called on my inner blackness before I popped the door. “Hay!” I acted like I didn’t know anything was wrong, and with the swivel of my hips reminded Ty of everything he was missing out running with her flabby ass instead of me. “Sorry I ain’t been ’round, life ‘n shit, y’know?”
Ro gave me a long stare, but that was what he always did. I didn’t even know the guy’s real name, he’d just been Romeo for as long as I’d known him, and he earned it by moving on every chick he saw. Almost every last one of them shot him down, but he played the numbers game so hard that he managed to get someone at least twice a week. He had to have, like, a hundred diseases by now. I thought about flirting a bit, just to make Ty jealous, but he was staring past me.
Oh, right, I brought a friend. “Hey, guys, this is…” shit, I didn’t get her name. “One of my brother’s friends.”
“Dayum!” Romeo was already heading toward her like I wasn’t even there. “What’s your name, beautiful? And where did Oreo find a babe like you? Does he do your boyfriend’s homework or some shit?”
“Oh, I’m Tia, and I ain’t got a boyfriend.” She didn’t show any sign of being put off by Romeo’s advances. I reached for my cell. Filming her jumping on Ro’s dick wasn’t quite how I planned to get rid of her, but I’d take it. “I’d totally hook up with Dom, though. How do you know him?”
“Let’s not talk about him, baby. I’d much rather talk about us.” Ro stepped just a little closer. “I can be your dom.”
Behind me, Tyrone snickered. Sometimes, I wondered why Ro was even allowed in the crew, when he made an ass of himself like that. Oh well, I’d just have to find a different way to make Tia look bad. I was sure Tia wasn’t her real name, anyway.
“Funny.” Tia stepped forward, more or less rubbing up against Romeo. “I love a good joke. I’ve got one for you. What does a woman have when she’s juggling two balls in one hand?”
As she spoke, her hand slid down Ro’s chest. I fumbled for my phone before it was too late to catch her. ‘Tia’ didn’t seem like the sort who’d go for Ro’s shit, but nobody seemed like they’d go for Ro, yet it still worked somehow.
“I don’t know, maybe you can sh-” Romeo gasped and went rigid and a high pitched squeal cut off his words.
Tia had her hand between his legs, and by the looks of it she had him in a death grip. She growled next to his ear. “A man’s undivided attention. Touch me again, and I’ll use my teeth. Now do you promise to be a good boy for mommy?”
Another one?! Son of a bitch! I didn’t look at Ty or Monique, but she had to be smilin’. At this rate, I wouldn’t be able to show my face around here ever again, which freed her up to be alpha bitch in the crew. I was not looking forward to the crap I’d have to go through to fix this mess.
“Yes!” Ro’s voice was high pitch and whiny, just seconds from crying.
“Yes, what?” Tia had pushed Romeo up against a wall, and if not for the look on his face, you’d think they were having a wonderful time.
“I promise to be a good boy!” Romeo screamed loud enough that people a block away looked over at us. Tia pushed up harder against him. “Mommy!”
Tia whispered something in Ro’s ear, then let go and walk toward us. Behind her, Romeo just slumped down against the wall, his face blank. Tia didn’t even look back, instead she rubbed up against Tyrone. “So, Bea said something in the car about how you were cool and owed her a freebie?”
Despite being a foot taller and at least twice her weight, Ty kept his hands well away from Tia. “Yeah, got a couple in my pocket.” He fumbled a bit, but pulled out a couple tiny pills for the woman.
“Thanks.” Tia popped them in her mouth, but instead of swallowing she started chewing them. “Mmm, that’s the stuff.” She leaned against the wall of the store.
“Y’know, whenever I pull shit like this on Dom, he hits me.” Tyrone and Monique both stepped away from the girl, while none of us quite knew what to make of what she just said about Domenic. The idea that he’d hit anyone, let alone a woman, didn’t fit with anything any of us thought we knew about my brother. “Gets me so fuckin’ wet.”
Christ, Domenic. What have you gotten yourself into?