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Freestyle: Chapter 18

Three years ago

“Titch! You made it. I was about to come get you. How did you get away?” York asks as he pulls me into a hug and wraps his arms around me in the dim light of the hallway leading down into the basement.

“Mum eventually passed out on the sofa at nine and Lena is staying over at a friend’s house,” I explain, wrapping my arms around his waist and allowing myself a moment to relax into his hold.

“I’m so fucking glad you’re here. New Year’s Eve wouldn’t be the same without you, Titch.” York presses a soft kiss against the top of my head, then cups my face in his hands, looking at me intently. “Three months to go,” he whispers.

“Don’t remind me.”

My heart hurts.

There’s no other way to describe the way I feel. It’s like a constant ache in my chest that not even sleep can heal. I don’t want to decide. I don’t want to choose. I can’t.

Just like Xeno suggested, I’ve spent time with all of the Breakers individually and it’s only made the decision harder. I’ve even spent time alone with Xeno even though he already made it clear that he was taking himself out of the running. Not that this is a race or a competition. Not one I want to be a part of anyway.

Thing is, when we’re together I catch Xeno looking at me when he thinks I don’t notice. Since the night I confessed how I felt about them all, he hasn’t brought anyone back to the basement. Then again, that doesn’t mean shit. Since I’ve known him, he’s never been without a girl. Perhaps he just spends time with them elsewhere.

“You know whoever, whatever you choose, you’re still my Titch, okay?” York says, trying to ease the hurt that’s so obviously etched on my face.

I nod my head, unable to answer him. For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to figure out what to do, falling more in love with them all. We’re all so close, and at times I can even imagine us being happy together as a family in some big house somewhere far away from here. I know it’s a pipe-dream, but I can’t help but hold onto the hope that someday we’ll all be together, number fifteen Jackson Street and all the trouble it harbours just above our heads, a distant memory.

“It’s hard…” I mumble, not able to express myself in the way I want. I did that before, and look where we’ve ended up. Lately, I’ve kept my thoughts and feelings to myself. It’s better that way. Although, that’s not so easy around York. He can read me like an open book.

“I know.” York nods, pulling me tighter against his chest. Pressing my nose against the dip in his neck, I breathe him in, drawing in his expensive scent. It makes me feel lightheaded. I’m not sure how he affords to buy CK One. I don’t ask. It’s not my business, but I love it. That scent will forever remind me of him.

“It’s quiet in the house. Where is everyone?” I ask, pulling back and trying to regain control of my emotions and my need to run my nose against his skin.

“Out. According to Zayn, Jeb’s taken over Tiger, a club in the city. The whole gang is there. We’re currently on guard duty,” he explains, chewing on the inside of his cheek.

I frown. “Since when have you guys ever been on guard duty? Isn’t that for actual members of the gang?”

“Jeb’s called in a favour.”

“A favour?” I groan internally, worry leaking into my bloodstream. “Isn’t that where it always starts?”

“We’ve gotten to use this basement for years hassle-free and he’s left us alone. It’s just one night. Don’t worry yourself about it.” York brushes my fear away, but I know him. He’s worried, I can tell.


“It’s okay, Titch. Seriously.”

For a long time, the Skins plotting world domination above our heads never affected us. In the basement below them we could dance and muck around, we could sit and talk and be friends without any outside influences affecting us. Even my mum’s constant verbal and physical abuse seems like a distant memory when I’m with my Breakers. I can even cope with a world where David exists so long as I have them by my side. They hate him as much as I do. Despite the fact that he’s officially one of the Skins, he spends very little time at Jackson Street because he’s been given the responsibility of overseeing Jeb’s drugs ring in the south side of the river. He’s set up with a flat, a car and money to pay for women who let him unleash his violence on them daily. I’ve heard rumours about some of the things he’s done that make me sick, and whilst I feel for those women, I’m only glad that I’m no longer in his line of sight.

Over the past few years, it’s been all too easy to forget the dangers that surround us but lately the walls have been closing in and Jeb has been asking for more and more favours from the guys. Tonight isn’t the first time he’s cashed in. It’s been small things, nothing the average Joe would consider dangerous, but every time they agree to help it makes me feel like Jeb’s just getting them warmed up for more sinister stuff. I’ve noticed all four of them withdrawing from me. There’s been a few occasions where they’ve stopped talking when I’ve entered the basement. It doesn’t take a genius to know that they’re hiding something from me.

“Come on, Titch, it’s New Year’s Eve. Let’s celebrate, yeah? Everything else can wait,” York cajoles, sensing my reluctance to enter the basement. It’s not just because of Jeb’s request. I’m not really in the mood for socialising with their extensive group of friends. I want to be selfish and have them all to myself.

“Okay,” I respond, plastering on a fake smile that York instantly dissolves with a soft kiss.

“Don’t put a show on for me, Titch. I see you,” he says gently, before clasping my hand and pulling me into the basement.

The moment I step into the room, my mouth drops open in shock. The room is lit up with fairy lights that hang from every corner and tealights dotted around the room, making the space magical, but that isn’t the most incredible thing. Graffitied across the back wall is a beautiful mural of four boys who look suspiciously like my guys holding up the word Breakers. Sitting with her legs crossed on top of the word is me, or at least a version of me. She’s flicking a bronze coin in the air, a penny to be exact.

“Oh my God, who did this?”

“Surprise,” Zayn grins, pulling me in for a hug, his excitement rubbing off on me. “Do you like it?”

“Like it, I love it!” I respond, grinning stupidly. He plants a swift kiss on my lips then moves out of the way so that Dax can step in and draw me into his arms.

“Happy Christmas, Pen,” he mumbles against my hair, shyly.

“Christmas was a week ago, and I’ve been here in between then and now,” I laugh, looking up at him.

“Yeah, but we couldn’t get Asia over until today to do it,” Dax explains, a sheepish look on his face.

“Shut up! You know Asia?”

“Dax knows her friend Eastern, but Asia was more than happy to do this for a few quid,” York explains.

“Wow. I don’t know what to say…” I shake my head in wonder, walking over to the wall and running my hand along the mural. No one has ever done anything like this for me before. It’s amazing. So, so special. A lump forms in my throat and I push it down.

“Why am I sitting up there and not standing with you guys?” I ask, turning around to face them all. The three of them are all looking at me intently and my insides melt. It feels like this is more than just a mural, more than a thoughtful Christmas present.

This feels like a promise.

“Because you are our girl, Pen. There isn’t anyone else who deserves that position,” York explains.

“Does this mean that you’ve managed to persuade Xeno to change his mind? I don’t have to choose?” I ask, hopeful.

Dax casts a look at York, then presses his lips into a hard line. My heart sinks, my shoulders slumping. Of course not.

“We’re working on it, Pen, but he’s a stubborn dickhead,” Zayn admits.

Part of me wonders why they don’t just tell him to go screw himself, but I realise it’s the same reason why I don’t do the same thing.




We’re a family. We care about each other and going against Xeno would almost certainly mean that we’d lose him. None of us can afford that. He’s the person who holds all of us together. He might be possessive, bordering on bullish, but that’s because he’s a protective leader who has had to make hard decisions for the rest of us. We don’t do anything unless he approves it. We didn’t enter any dance battles until he said we could. For a long time I thought it was because he didn’t think we were good enough. I realise now it’s because he didn’t want us in Rocks before we could handle what went on there. The drugs, the gangs, the fights both on and off the dance floor. We were kids. We’re still kids, and yet when I look at my Breakers, I know that they’re on the cusp of manhood.

I just wish that somehow we could figure out how to be together without any of the heartache that we’re hurtling towards at breakneck speed. It feels like one of those horror movies Xeno loves to watch. We all know there is going to be death and destruction, but no one ever thinks to jump off the train, or in the case of those movies, not go in the basement. I glance around me and stifle a nervous laugh. Ironic, really, given where I’m standing.

Choosing the dance crew would mean that I’d keep their friendship but never be able to be intimate with any of them. I’d have to watch them move on and find other girls to love. But if I choose just one, then I lose the rest of them and my place in the dance crew forever, not to mention forfeit the competition and take away their chance of winning five grand.

How can I possibly decide like that? I’ve gone over and over it again and again in my head. I’ve written lists. I’ve talked myself into a corner, and backed myself out again. The truth is, each of them are special in their own way.

Zayn is open, willing to explain things that the others find embarrassing or difficult. He’s always there when I need him and has become my rock. When we’re not together, he’s always a text message away. Since I’ve admitted how I feel he’s not so much looked at another girl. He’s steady, reliable and the personification of home, a place I never really had until now.

York is sensitive to my needs, always watching out for me, always one step ahead. He’s kind, sympathetic and comforting in a way I’ve never experienced before. He’s the first to know when I’m sad or down and the first one to make me smile with his quirky wit and charm.

Dax understands me in a way the others don’t because, like me, he’s a kid beaten down by his parents. We have a deep understanding of each other that’s bound in bruises and barbs. His protective nature and the way he looks out for me, makes me feel safe.

Then there’s Xeno…

Xeno makes my heart beat erratically, and my body reacts instinctively. He pushes my buttons and fires me up in a way that’s infuriating, but at the same time invigorating. I’m still a little uncertain around him, not because I’m afraid of him, but because there’s a chemistry between us that makes me yearn for his touch and ache for his kiss.

But being the true leader that he is, Xeno’s kept his promise and hasn’t tried to kiss me or be anything other than a friend. I’m beginning to understand that he’s a man of his word. Once he makes a decision he sticks to it, and expects nothing less from the others too. The thing is, I’m no closer to knowing what to do. Xeno left me with an impossible decision. One I’ve been agonising over. To make matters a thousand times worse, the night I have to choose falls on my seventeenth birthday, which is the same night we’re battling for the crew title and five thousand pounds. There’s so much at stake.

“What the fuck is that?”

I snap my eyes to Xeno who’s walking into the basement with a scowl that seems to permanently scar his face these days. He’s holding two plastic carrier bags filled with alcohol. I can hear the bottles clinking against one another.

“Pen’s Christmas present,” Zayn responds. There’s a note of warning in his voice and I don’t know how to feel about the fact he wasn’t in on the surprise.

Xeno must hear the caution in Zayn’s voice because he simply nods, looking at me. “It’s good.”

“I’ll take those,” York steps in, removing the bags from Xeno’s hands and busying himself with setting them on the side table. “Nice selection, man. Did you raid your mum’s liqueur cabinet?”

“Something like that. Reckon you could mix up some cocktails?” he shoots back.

“I thought you’d never ask.” York grins, stacking five plastic cups on the table ready to fill with whatever concoction he comes up with.

“Is that wise?” Zayn asks, jerking his thumb over his shoulder as we sit down. He pulls out a bag of weed and proceeds to roll a joint.

“Probably not,” Dax chuckles.

Xeno’s gaze flicks to the mural on the wall behind us. “Asia’s work?”

“She came earlier today. The girl’s insanely talented,” Zayn explains, a little in awe.

“How’s Eastern doing?”

Dax locks eyes with Xeno. “As good as any of us are. Asia’s a good influence, but sometimes even that’s not enough.”

I don’t miss the look they share, and a deep sense of foreboding fills my stomach. Xeno grits his jaw but doesn’t respond, and the atmosphere becomes tense. It’s been like that a lot lately and I can’t help but feel they’re keeping secrets from me. I don’t like it one bit.

“Is something…” I start, but York cuts me off with a plastic cup of whatever he’s mixed up.

“Here, Titch, give this a taste,” he says, grinning broadly.

Taking the proffered drink, I sniff the liquid. It’s a weird orange colour. “Is this going to put me in the hospital?” I ask, only half-joking. York has a habit of overshooting the shot measurements.

“Nah, but it will make you merry, and tonight we’re all about that, right?” he glares at Xeno, who looks away, a muscle ticking in his jaw.

The bad feeling I sense between my Breakers disappears the more we drink. By the time midnight rolls around, I’m feeling the effects of the alcohol and am more than a little unsteady on my feet. When I get up to go to the toilet, my head swims and the ground undulates like an ocean would under the hull of a ship.

“Oh, shit. That drink is goooood. I want another Amaretto Sour, Yorky baby,” I sing-song, stumbling past York and shoving my plastic cup in his hand.

Out of nowhere, Dax reaches for me, hauling me upright. “I think you’ve had enough, Kid.”

“Nah, I’m just getting started,” I respond, wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing a sloppy kiss against his chest. He chuckles, resting his hands on my shoulders. When I look up at him, he has two heads.

“There’s two of you, Dax.”

“York, man, how many shots did you put in her drink? She’s out of it,” Zayn says, stepping up close. He’s frowning, and I reach for his face, pressing my finger into the groove between his eyebrows. Then burst out laughing as I actually poke him in the eye, my aim totally off.

“Ow, fuck, Pen.” He reaches up and cups the offended eye. “You need some water.”

“Shush, Zayn, I’m fine,” I wave him off and my knees buckle, only causing me to laugh harder.

Dax holds me against him tighter and I kind of make a groaning sound, not because my head is spinning, but because I like the way he smells, all masculine and clean. It kind of does something to me, and the heat that sits low in my belly all the time these days, ignites.

“Hmm, I wanna lick you,” I mutter, standing on my tiptoes and pressing my lips against his collarbone. My tongue snakes out of my mouth and along his skin, his taste exploding on my tongue. “You’re delicious.”

“Kid, don’t do that,” Dax grumbles, though he doesn’t let me go. I take that as a good sign and lick him some more, scraping my teeth against his skin for good measure.

“I could eat you,” I continue, alcohol loosening my inhibitions as I kiss my way across his collarbone, tugging at the material of his low V-neck t-shirt so that I can get better access.

“Oh, fuck,” he groans, the sound reverberating through his chest into mine. “Stop, Kid. You don’t know what you’re doing…”

His voice trails off when I bite him. Hard. Something just as hard, presses against my stomach.

“That’s enough!”

Xeno steps into my peripheral vision and suddenly I’m no longer being held up by Dax, but by him. The anger in his tone is enough to make me sober up a little. When a cup of water is thrust into my hand by a concerned looking Zayn, I take it.

“Drink,” he orders, a flash of worry and… heat, in his gaze. I drink the water offered and this time York hands me another plastic cup, taking the empty one from me.

“Sorry, Titch. I should’ve gone easy on the Amaretto,” he says, pulling a face.

“I need to pee,” I mumble, suddenly aware of how all four of my Breakers are staring at me like I’m something they need to unravel… literally.

Oh shit.

“You need me to help?” Xeno, of all people, asks.

“Err, no. I can piss on my own, thank you very much,” I respond, wincing at how that sounds.

Xeno lets me go and I flush with embarrassment, shuffling off to the toilet. When I close the door, locking it behind me, I lean my head back against the wood. Was I just licking Dax?

Oh. My. Fuck.

I stumble towards the toilet and relieve myself, then wash my hands and face with water. It helps to sober me up a little. Truth be known, I haven’t had that much to drink, I’m just not used to it. Feeling a little more in control of my body, I unlock the door to the bathroom and head back into the basement stopping short when I see we have guests.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t my slutty little sister. Hello, Penelope, having fun?”


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