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Bring Me Back: Chapter 4

JAMES

“Wait, she made Dad handcuff you?”

I glare at Leo as he doubles over with laughter, clutching his stomach.

Dad’s belly shakes as he laughs, and even though I’m furious with my brother, I can’t help the relief seeping into my stomach. Seeing Dad happy makes the anger subside.

“God, I would’ve loved to see that.” Leo stuffs a piece of bread into his mouth. “The almighty James Russo with his hands behind his back.”

“I did what I had to do. Poor thing was scared shitless.” Dad glances at me over the rim of his glass. “She looks to be around your age.”

Leo shoves another piece of bread into his mouth. “She’s hot.”

I shoot my brother another look.

“What? She is. Don’t act like you didn’t notice her in those spandex pants tonight.” He wiggles his eyebrows. “Girl’s got curves in all the right places.”

Oh, I noticed.

Long brown hair, plump lips, and those big doe eyes. And yes, she has a fit little body. She’s gorgeous. But my new neighbor also has a snarky remark for everything, telling me what to do with my own brother as if she knows better.

Hell, maybe she does.

I shouldn’t have snapped at her tonight. Maybe that’s the reason why I made her a container of food and left it on her porch. Blame it on the guilt, instead of the fact that I wanted to provide her with a decent meal that hadn’t come out of a freezer.

“Leave the girl alone, Leo.” Dad sets down his glass. “Why don’t you tell me about what happened to your face?”

Leo chokes on his bread and slaps his chest as he coughs.

I shake my head. Idiot.

“This bread is dry as fuck.” He chugs his water. “Tell the chef he needs to do better.”

I kick his shin under the table. “You’re lucky the chef is letting you eat any of his food at all.”

“Dinner tastes great, as always.” Dad nudges my arm. “Don’t listen to him.”

Leo smirks. “Does your ass ever get sore from Dad’s head being up there?”

I squeeze the steak knife in my right hand. “I can ram this knife up your ass and show you what it feels like if you’re jealous.”

“Enough.” Dad’s voice makes us both jump. “It’s the first time we’re sitting down together in a long while. Can’t we get through one meal without arguing?”

Leo and I exchange glances.

Dad sighs and glances at Leo. “You’re fighting again, aren’t you?”

Leo nods, and it’s not so much of a lie as it is a stretch of the truth. He’d fight whether it was with me or someone else. “I like fighting. I’m good at it.”

“Doesn’t mean you should do it. Those underground rings aren’t safe.”

“I’ll be safe.”

“It’s not you I’m talking about.” Dad balls his napkin in his fist. “People fight dirty. I’ve gotten calls about those fights down at the station. It’s only a matter of time before someone dies.”

“I need to fight, okay? Just let me have this.”

“Why?”

“I’m clean.”

My fork drops onto my plate, and Dad stops chewing.

“Have been for over a month now.” Leo rubs the back of his neck, looking between the both of us. “I know you think I won’t be able to stay clean, but I can. I want to.”

Dad watches him as if he doesn’t believe him. “That’s why you disappeared?”

He nods. “I didn’t want you to see me detoxing. It was… ugly.”

“Why?” I can’t help the disbelief in my tone. “Why now?”

Leo stares down at his plate, the muscles in his jaw clenching and releasing. “My friend overdosed. The one I’ve been staying with. I found him in his basement.”

I shake my head. “So, you came back home because you couldn’t stay at your friend’s house for free and get high anymore.”

“No, that’s not it.” He lifts a shoulder and lets it fall. “I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want one of you to find me like that, cold, in a pile of vomit.”

“That’s good to hear, Leo. Because I don’t want to find you like that either.” Dad swipes a tear with the back of his hand. “I’m sorry about your friend. But sometimes it takes a loss like that to kick you in the ass and send you in the right direction.”

“What does you getting clean have to do with underground fighting?” I’m not trying to be a dick, but I need to understand.

Leo wipes his palms on his jeans, something he’s done since he was a kid whenever he’s nervous. “Some people drink when they want to numb their pain.” His eyes flick to Dad before dropping back down to his lap. “If I’m not getting high anymore, then I need to replace that feeling. I need to feel… something.”

“And getting punched in the face does it for you?”

“It’s the rush of adrenaline when I’m in the fight.”

I blink at him. “Shit, I can kick your ass every night if you want me to. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

Leo flips me off, but he’s smiling. Dad laughs too, and that’s all I need to see.

“I just want my boys happy and healthy.” Dad reaches across the table and covers Leo’s hand with his. “I’m glad you came home, son. And I’m proud of you for wanting to get clean.”

Dad and his hopeful heart. We both know Leo declaring he wants to stay clean is much different than Leo actually staying clean. But I don’t have the nerve to say it. Dad needs something good to hold on to right now. It feels like the three of us have been drifting through the underworld for years. Lost souls, barely alive. Or maybe Mom took them with her when she left us.

Maybe this is all our lives are meant to be without her.


Nighttime is the worst.

After dinner, I cleared off the table, washed the dishes, packed Dad’s lunch for tomorrow, watched a movie, and folded my laundry. Now I don’t know what to do with myself.

I roll onto my back and stare into the darkness of my room. Sleep never comes easy. Not since Mom died. It’s the reason I take as many night shifts as I can. I try to recall the happy memories—her bright smile, her warm hugs, the sound of her voice. Until the last vision I have of her flashes through my mind and destroys everything that came before it.

A soft light streaks through my window, drawing my attention. I sit up and lean over to see where it’s coming from. My room is on the side of the house, overlooking the alley I caught Leo smoking pot in earlier. But as I stare out my window, I realize Phoenix’s bedroom is on the side of her house as well.

Directly across from mine.

My eyes dart away on instinct, but curiosity gets the better of me and my gaze wanders back. Her long dark hair is wet, and she’s wearing a white robe as she lowers herself onto her bed. I should look away. I’m invading her privacy. But I can’t bring myself to turn my head. Something about the way she sits there staring down at her hands in her lap calls to me.

Something’s wrong.

I squint, moving closer to the window until it fogs up from my breath. She lifts her hand and swats at her cheek. Once, twice. She blows out a stream of air through her lips and looks up at her ceiling, as if she’s sending up a silent prayer. Then she covers her face with both of her hands, and her shoulders shake as she bends forward.

My gut twists. Why is she crying? What happened? My first instinct is to go over there and find out, but how would I explain myself? Hi, Phoenix. I saw you crying while I was watching you through the window like a Peeping Tom.

I shake my head. I don’t know anything about this girl. She’s crying—so what? We’ve all cried. We’re all going through shit. Why should I care? For all I know, she’s upset over something ridiculous, or insignificant.

But her voice floats through my head like a sad song.

I know what it feels like to have no one.

You’re lucky to have a family who worries about you.

She’s alone. So, I watch her until she lies down and cries herself to sleep. I’m with her in this moment, even if she doesn’t know it.

Since sleep isn’t happening anytime soon for me, I trot downstairs for a late-night snack.

Dad and Leo are already sitting at the table.

“We’re a sorry bunch.” Dad chuckles as he pulls out the chair beside him. “Can’t sleep?”

I shake my head and dump the box of Lucky Charms into a bowl. “Not tired.”

Leo smirks. “Just go next door and bang the pretty neighbor. We both know that’s what’s keeping you up.”

Dad smacks Leo in the back of his head before I can get to him. “What’s wrong with you? Who taught you to talk about women like that? You’re twenty-three years old. You should know better.”

I lower myself onto the chair. “What do we know about her? Did you run the background search?”

“So you are thinking about her.” Leo pumps his fist into the air. “Fuckin’ knew it. I swear, I just know shit.”

Dad shakes his head and talks around the spoonful of cereal. “I didn’t think we needed to. She’s not causing trouble, and it’s an invasion of her privacy if we poke around like that without a cause.”

Not half as bad as watching her through her bedroom window. I rub my temples in small circles. “You’re right.”

“I think she’s been through some shit.” Leo stares down at his bowl. “And she doesn’t have anyone to turn to.”

I lean my elbows onto the table. “And how do you know that?”

“We were talking earlier.”

Dad nods like he agrees. “There’s a reason she’s living in her family’s shore house without her family.”

Leo wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I’m going to look out for her.”

I cross my arms over my chest, irritation spiking in my veins. “You need to look out for yourself.”

“I have you for that, don’t I?”

“Boys,” Dad warns. “I don’t have the energy for your shit right now. It’s after one in the morning.”

Leo holds up his hands on either side of his head.

“The last thing we need is you two fighting over a pretty girl.”

“No one’s fighting over a girl.” Leo smirks. “Besides, she shot me down.”

An odd sense of relief blankets me. “You already made a pass at her? You’ve known her for five minutes.”

“Like I said, she’s hot.” He shrugs. “And she gets me.”

“Shit.” Dad laughs. “Then we better get her a Nobel Peace Prize for figuring you out.”

Leo balls up his napkin and tosses it at Dad. “You guys understand me too. You just don’t want to admit it, because then that means you could end up like me.”

Dad and I fall silent. He’s right. I don’t blame Leo for turning to drugs. I’d love to escape reality every once in a while. But I don’t have the luxury of forgetting all my problems. I’m the one who has to hold everything together. I’m the one who has to keep Dad going. Which is why I can’t let myself believe Leo will stay clean, because if he lets me down again, I don’t know if I’ll be able to take it.

Sometimes, it feels like one more heartbreak will ruin me for good.


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