“Damn him,” I ground out under my breath, glaring at all the cars around the old church.
St. Killian’s sat ahead, surrounded by darkness, late as it was, but the newly refurbished windows glowed brightly from the lights on inside. I could just make out the thin puffs of chimney smoke spilling into the sky above.
What was he thinking? Michael would kill him.
Stepping on the gas, I jerked the wheel and pulled over to the side of the recently-paved driveway, knowing Michael and Rika hadn’t laid sod or planted flowers yet that I could possibly ruin. Not until the renovations for their Thunder Bay home were completed anyway.
I climbed out of the car and walked for the rear entrance, the front still surrounded by scaffolding as the workers repaired the outside.
As teenagers we came here often. The old cathedral had been abandoned since the 1930s, and with the catacombs below, it became a nice, big place to get lost with a hundred or so other people. The cops never came out this far, and the nearest neighbor was a mile away.
I treaded through the dirt, turned up with all the construction going on the past year, and looked up, seeing light spilling from the back door.
Banks stood at the bottom of the small flight of stairs, leaning on the railing with her hands in her pockets.
She stood up straight as I approached.
“Can I leave now?” she asked.
I stared at her eyes, green and gold and piercing under dark eyebrows. A warm color she was very skilled at making look cold.
I kind of wanted to laugh at her attitude.
I also kind of wanted to wrap my hands around her fucking neck, too.
Maybe she was temperamental all the time or maybe it was just with me. She definitely didn’t skip to do anything I asked her to do, that was for sure.
I’d been unable to get a hold of Will for two days now, and when I couldn’t track him down in the city, I’d told her to see if he was in Thunder Bay since she had to run an errand back here earlier tonight anyway. Small town and all, it didn’t take long for me to get the text.
And if he was at St. Killian’s, Michael and Rika’s nearly-renovated home that they hadn’t even moved into yet, then it was best I came alone to get him out of the way before they showed up. I asked—or told—Banks to stay and wait in case he took off before I got here.
“Go,” I told her.
She pushed off the railing and walked around me, the hair on the back of my neck standing up as she passed.
Raising my eyes, I looked at the light spilling out of the back door, finally noticing all the laughter and chatter coming from inside. Shaking my head, I charged up the stairs.
I entered the back of the old church and stepped inside to what-was-now the kitchen, taking in the people standing around. A few girls, a couple of guys, all looking young enough to still celebrate spring break.
Food littered the large cutting board island—pizza, liquor, two-liter bottles, and drinks spilled over the sides onto Rika’s new black slate tiles she’d picked out last month.
I dragged in a hard breath, smelling the stench of smoke filtering into my nostrils.
I bolted through the kitchen and walked into the great room, seeing at least twenty more people, none of whom I knew, loitering on the new furniture or lounging on the carpets. I scanned the small crowd, looking for Will, but then the echo of a basketball bouncing through the cathedral hit me, and I followed the sound with my eyes. Looking up, I spotted the carved stone railing of the second floor.
I headed for the stairs.
What the hell was his problem? Inviting himself in to have a party in a house that wasn’t his and being an asshole about it to boot? This place was a fucking mess, and Rika was going to be heartbroken. The house was about ready for them to move in, the kitchen and bathrooms were nearly done, and other than some painting to be finished, some lighting to be installed, and the appliances to be delivered, it was nearly complete. They’d already started having furniture delivered, their hunt for the perfect pieces having begun months ago.
It was going to be a perfect house. And while I hated that it had lost some of its mystery now and the catacombs under the church weren’t accessible to just anybody anymore, the place would’ve been sold off or torn down eventually. At least now it was staying in the “family” so to speak, and it was preserved.
I swung around the bannister, heading into the open area upstairs where I knew Michael would eventually have a pool table, couches, TVs, and all the fixings for a man cave. He’d already installed the basketball hoop.
Will strolled around the floor, dribbling, his legs looking heavy and his expression a glower. I slowed, watching him shoot a basket as I headed for him.
Strangely, he was alone. That was hardly ever the case.
“Why aren’t you answering your phone?” I called out to him.
He kept his head down, refusing to look at me. “Why are you such a dick?”
“What the hell does that mean?” I snapped. “What did I do?”
I’d barely interacted with him in days, and the last time I saw him—at the Pope—he certainly wasn’t mad at me.
“Just…” He tightened his lips, pounding the ball harder and looking like he wanted to say something more. But he finally just mumbled, “Just fuck off.”
I pinched my eyebrows together, shaking my head. You know what? Fine. I was fucking tired and worn out, and I didn’t need this tonight. He was alive, he was safe, and he could go self-soothe with whatever fucking vice made him happiest.
I turned to leave.
“What were you and Michael meeting about today?” he asked behind me.
I turned around, seeing him sway just slightly, the ball tucked under one arm, and the neck of a Budweiser in the other hand.
“At the Cove?” he said, pointing out, “It’s a small town, Kai.”
Yeah, okay. So what? Michael and I had a meeting. “Since when do you need to be present for every conversation I have with Michael?”
Guilt pricked at me. I knew why Michael wanted to meet with me alone, but I also knew Will had a right to feel slighted.
“You know, I’m not stupid,” he said, his eyes looking heavy as he dropped the ball to the floor.
“I never said you were.”
“You don’t have to.” His eyes narrowed, angry. “I’m the tag-along. The extra muscle. Good for a laugh, right? Just don’t use big words around me or involve me in the business or let me participate in the adult discussions, because I won’t understand.”
“That’s not true.” But I dropped my eyes, seething nonetheless. “You know what?” I raised my gaze and approached him. “It is. It is true. Get yourself together. I’m tired of you being so numb with booze and whatever else you’re snorting, swallowing, or smoking that you’re barely around anymore.”
I walked away, starting to pace. We’d spent nearly three years paying for our mistakes. Three years! We were humiliated and bastardized in front of this whole damn town. We lost our friends, the respect of our families, and we lived in a seven-by-seven-foot shithole, while everyone else our age was finishing college. At least I completed my degree inside—I had to do something to get through every goddamn day—but we’d committed felonies. And they were on our records forever. I just wanted to redeem myself, while Will thought he could come home and everything would be the same as it was before we left.
“You think you’re the only one hurting?” I lowered my voice, but the bite was still there. “You think you’re the only one trying to forget? You think I don’t need you, too? Michael doesn’t know what we went through. He wasn’t there, so maybe I might need you a little bit, too. But no, I’m too busy babysitting,” I growled. “You think I need this shit every after everything that’s happened? Get a grip. Start acting like an adult, and maybe you’ll be treated like one.”
He stared down, and I could see his tight lips, trying to hold back anger or tears—I wasn’t sure which. My stomach twisted.
I wasn’t Will. We all handled our demons in different ways, I got that, but his choices since he’d gotten out weren’t making his life better. It was a constant cycle of the numb wearing off and chasing it down again. Eventually, though, the girls and booze and drugs wouldn’t be enough.
I clenched my fists, staring him down. “Michael wants to buy the Cove,” I told him. That’s why we’d met today out at the abandoned theme park on Old Pointe Road that Will must’ve heard about. “He wants to get some investors, tear it down, and build a resort.”
Will shot his head up, his eyes suddenly worried or maybe….frightened.
“You better get your head straight,” I warned him, “because if you don’t, I’m going to let him do it.”
The Cove had been sitting deserted for years. It was prime real estate, right on the coast, and unlike the rest of the area, there was a deep harbor and a solid sea floor. Perfect for a marina. Michael wanted us to buy it, with help, of course, and put in a golf course, a hotel, restaurants, hiking trails, private bungalows, and anything else customary for a five-star resort. And having a marina would be a huge perk for yachters to frequent the place, bringing in lots of wealthy business.
And bringing it away from Gabriel’s Meridian City Hotels, as luck would have it.
Unfortunately, Michael knew Will would never agree to it. The Cove was special to Will for reasons I didn’t completely know.
And Rika would take Will’s side, just because she wouldn’t agree to do anything that would unnecessarily hurt one of us. Michael wanted to run the plan by me today to have at least one person on his side before bringing it to them.
But I was still undecided. It was a big venture, and I wasn’t sure we were ready.
Will’s chest heaved, taking in shallow breaths as he turned around and drifted toward the couch against the rock wall. Dropping his ass down in this seat, his head immediately fell into his hands. I could hear his heavy breaths from here as he fisted his fingers in his light brown hair.
I made my way over to him, accidentally kicking an empty bottle of Jack. I spun across the floor, clanging against a chair leg.
I stopped in front of him.
“I’m really sorry, you know?” He shook his head, still buried in his hands. “I don’t mean to be like this, but I…I don’t want to think about everything. I don’t want to remember anything. I’ll do better tomorrow.” He looked up, his green eyes pooling and making my stomach churn. “It’ll be better tomorrow.”
God, he looked lost. The pain etched across his face, the misery in his eyes…
“I just feel…” he said, searching for words, “so alone.”
I leaned down and grabbed him, pulling him up to his feet and quickly swinging one of his arms around my neck. He let me lead him toward one of the bedrooms down the hall. Most were still empty, but I knew there was a bed and mattress in the master suite already, because…
Well, because Michael and his Rika, that’s why.
Walking him into the room, I took in the new paint, the chandelier, and the king sized bed, which luckily had sheets and blankets already. The master bathroom sat off to the right.
“Even in high school, I was never your equal,” he mumbled. “You were smarter, never did stupid shit, you had respect…just like Michael.”
I unloaded him on the chair and turned around to peel back the covers.
“But I didn’t feel inferior, even though I knew I was,” he went on. “Damon was around. It was balanced. Two positives, two negatives, you know?”
“The four of us, we were so fucking perfect.” I could hear the smile in his voice as he remembered. “Michael’s leadership, your control, Damon’s lack of control, and my… search of the ultimate good time. We gave each other something we all needed. It’s not the same anymore. It’s not balanced anymore.”
I nodded, finally seeing what the problem was. Just like I had told Michael. Will was lost without Damon. He was right. We were perfect. The perfect storm. An ideal fusion of four deviant hearts who weren’t dangerous alone, but put us together and it was fucking fire.
How in the hell did we find each other?
“I don’t fit in with you guys anymore,” Will said quietly.
I frowned. How could he think he wasn’t important?
But before I could turn around, he grabbed me and wrapped his arms around my waist, hugging me. “Hold me,” he whimpered like a girl.
And then started laughing.
“Come on, man,” I whined, tearing out of his hold. I turned around to see him hunched over, still laughing.
Idiot. Reaching over, I yanked him up and threw his ass on the bed, making sure he swung his legs up before I covered him up. He was only in his jeans anyway, so he could sleep like that.
I left the room and trekked back downstairs, kicking everyone out and then grabbing a couple of waters out of one of the coolers before heading back upstairs. I doubted there would be any aspirin in the bathroom yet, so tough luck for him.
I set the waters down on the pillow next to him. “There’s water here,” I told him, seeing his eyes closed. He groaned once, telling me he heard me.
I leaned down, my voice stern. “If you wake up and have to piss, get to the bathroom. Michael’s already going to kill you for partying here, and you don’t want Rika on your ass because you leaked on her new floors. You hear me?”
He gave me another sleepy groan, and I stood up straight, turning off the lamp.
I wasn’t sure if he’d get himself straight on his own. One thing you could guarantee about any of us was that we didn’t want to look weak, especially in front of each other. The shit he was doing to himself were symptoms of another problem, but I had yet to determine how big or small that problem was. Or what it was, exactly.
I turned and headed out of the room, hearing his voice behind me.
I stopped and turned my head, seeing him still lying on the bed.
“I shouldn’t have burned down that gazebo,” he said. “Why didn’t you stop me, man?”