In a cramped conference room of the country club, Rachel paces in a golden gown that matches the color of her hair. She's a replica of one of those f**ked up fairytales she was addicted to when we were kids. Only Cinderella wasn't a seventeen year old junior in high school with severe anxiety issues.
My younger sister by nine months wrings her hands as she completes the loop for the millionth time since I took on my babysitting shift ten minutes ago. If she's the princess in this tale, then I must be the knight. God knows Rachel's made enough stupid decisions over the last two months that she needs saving.
I lean against the closed door in my tux. I'd rather be wearing a pair of baggy jeans, but Mom's ego tripping on the dress code. On the bright side, the girls go for this get-up. Prime example: the red head with the D cup I just rounded a few bases with in a dead end hallway. She went wide eyed and touchy when she saw me in this outfit.
Rachel glances in my direction and halts her serial pacing. When people hear Mom has a set of twins, they assume it's me and Rachel instead of Rachel and Ethan. Rachel and I share Mom's golden blond hair and blue eyes. Right now those eyes are assessing my head. "Mom is going to kill you if she catches you in that baseball hat."
Right. The hat. The girl was also a fan of hats. I pull it off my head and toss it onto the table. "So you're talking to me again?"
We haven't talked in a month. Not since I found out that she's been dating some asshole, tattooed loser from the wrong side of town and she got pissed off because I stopped covering for her with Mom and Dad so she could break curfew. Also, she was less than thrilled when I borrowed money from her to pay off a gambling debt for our oldest brother Gavin.
"You stole from me." Right on cue. It's like she knows when I'm thinking about it. Arrows shoot from her eyes straight at my head. "You expect me to speak to you after that?"
"Borrowed. I'll pay you back." Having the richest man in town as our father has benefits, like a credit card, but Dad would be all over any of us if we took out cash against the card. My father's a damned control freak about money, his business, and my mother. He could give a shit about the anything else, children included. "I told you, Gavin needed it."
In an extremely bold and uncharacteristic movement, my sister picks up her skirt so she won't trip and leans into me. "Isaiah and I needed it. If anything happens to him..." She pauses and places a hand on her stomach as if she's in pain.
I push off the wall and place a hand on her arm. My sister has panic attacks and tonight she's supposed to give a speech. Ethan and I are taking turns watching over her. We promised her weeks ago that we'd keep her from bolting, care for her if she pukes, and help her deliver the speech. Tonight means the world to our mother and, well, Mom means the world to us.
If I'm going to pretend I have a warm fuzzy emotional side, I'll admit to relieving Ethan early because I'm tired of Rachel being mad at me. I miss her. In a world where I do a lot of wrong, Rachel is my one right.
She jerks her arm out of my hand and tears fill her eyes. "If anything happens...it's your fault."
The world tunnels as her words soak in. I assumed the fifteen hundred dollars I took from her room was for a new part for her Mustang. She's a car freak. Talks about them night and day. She saves up and buys shit for under the hood. But the anger in her eyes, the way her lower lip quivers...
"What trouble are you in?" I ask.
She begins to tremble and her cheeks flush red. I've seen this a hundred times since we were children: Rachel's on the verge of a panic attack. "Breathe, Rach."
I take her arm again, ignoring when she tries to yank it away, and guide her to a chair. I sink into a crouch, grab a trashcan and toss her long hair over her shoulder, just in case she does puke. "Head between your knees and breathe in and out. Come on, you can do this."
"Screw you," she mumbles with her torso and head bent forward.
I chuckle. As much as I hate Isaiah, the loser she's with, at least he's given her a small backbone and a new, refreshing vocabulary.
She lifts her head and chin, a bit indignant. "What?"
"Are you going to be graduating to f**k you soon? If so, I want to attend the ceremony. Do you mind saying it in front of Dad first? I'd love to see his face go red."
"Stop pushing Dad."
"I'll stop if he stops." Not liking the direction of the conversation or how her face has completely paled out, I switch directions. "If we're moving on to screw you, do want to smoke up with me later? I bet you'd forget about the panic attacks then."
As if I would ever allow her to smoke pot, but I like how she rolls her eyes and, even though she fights it, the smile tugging at her lips.
Rachel relowers her head and she sucks in a breath. "You should stop it, West. You should stop all of it. Someday you're going to take a risk too big and go too far."
"I can take care of myself." Falling into the same mode as when we were younger, I rub her back. Sometimes it helps calm her down. Ethan thinks he's the only one connected to Rachel and I let him think it. While she and I have drifted further apart over the years, she's my rock in a crumbling foundation. "Don't do the speech if it's going to tear you up like this."
"It's not the speech." She lets out a long stream of air and her voice cracks. "I'm in trouble. Horrible trouble."
My hand on her back freezes. It's the desperation in her tone that creates a rage within me. Ah, sweet Jesus please let me be wrong. "You're pregnant?"
Her eyes almost fall out of her head. "No!"
I can breathe again. "Then what did that asshole do?"
"Don't call him that." Her intake of air comes fast, too fast. "It's not him. It's me. He's helping me."
She's talking at a rapid pace which means she's spiraling. I place my hand under her chin and force her to look me straight in the eye. "Tell me what it is and I'll fix it. You don't need Isaiah. It's my job to take care of you, not his."
Rachel shakes her head. "You don't understand. You're the one that failed me."
It's like a spear has been thrust into my lungs and my mouth slacks open as I struggle for air. I failed her? Naw, she has it wrong.
The door opens and my mother walks in. A smile from ear to ear and in a gown that fits her like a glove. I need her to leave. I need to know what the hell is going on with my sister.
"West, I need to talk to Rachel."
This night is for Mom and her charity. All of this cloak and dagger with Rachel is to keep Mom in the happy dark where she prefers to live. Rachel straightens and slightly nods to let me know she's got enough control to fake with Mom for a moment.
I stare down at Rachel and search for something to say that will get Mom to leave.
"West," Mom says. "Did you hear me?"
"Go," Rachel whispers to me.
I rip out of the room, throwing the door open and slamming it shut behind me. I start down the hallway, stop, then circle back, pacing just like Rachel did a few minutes before. I've got to get Rachel alone. I need to find out what the hell all of her words meant because it's not possible. There's no way I failed Rachel.
An insanity leaks into my brain that makes deciphering between reality and fantasy impossible. She left with him...another failure on my part. Rachel left the charity ball with Isaiah and Dad followed. All Ethan and I got was a text from our older brother, Jack: Rach and Dad are in the hospital. Car accident. Bad.
Ethan and I run through the sliding doors of the hospital and I survey the room, expecting to see Dad and Rachel in the waiting room: Dad with his cell to his ear, Rachel sitting bored next to him in her ball gown, complaining that someone had hit her Mustang.
There's people. Tons of people. Someone hacks and a small kid vomits. A television plays a cartoon where a character hits another with a mallet over the head.
No Rachel. No Dad.
A nurse pushes a code onto a keypad on the wall and the door to the ER opens. A gut wrenching roar tears into the waiting room. Isaiah. I'd know that son of bitch's voice anywhere.
Ethan hits my arm. "This way."
I'm already on it. Ignoring the shouts from the waiting room staff, we slip through the closing doors and head toward the pierced, tattooed asshole being held back by two other guys.
Ethan's ahead of me: a man on a mission. I'm on a mission too, but not the same as him. As Ethan veers left toward a room, I veer right. A guy with hair hanging over his eyes releases Isaiah to try to stop me, but he's too late, my momentum too strong.
"Logan, get Isaiah!" he yells.
But my fingers wrap around Isaiah's shirt before any of them can respond, and I slam him into the wall. "What the f**k did you do to my sister?"
His gray eyes are crazy. Possibly just as crazy as mine.
"You want to do this, man?" The low life flashes the look of a rapid dog. "Because I'll do this. I'll f**king kill you for what you've done."
Arms appear from behind and pull me away. Isaiah lunges for me, but his two friends are on him again. It's an insane view—they aren't holding him back as much as they are holding him up. Isaiah sags against them and they support his weight. Did he just f**king sob?
The other guy, he balances on one foot, crutches on the ground near his feet. "You need a doctor. You're burned and bleeding. Noah, tell him."
"Rachel doesn't need this." The Noah guy half hugs; half shakes him. "And you're hurt. Let's get you doctored up."
"I'm fine." Isaiah pushes against him. "I need to be with her."
"They won't let you in," Noah says. "And you don't want to see her like this. You don't want to see what they're doing."
Isaiah grabs onto Noah's arm, knuckles completely white. "She can't die, man." A part of me cracks when he chokes on another sob. "She can't die."
The hold on me loosens and I turn my head to see Ethan. His face contorted as if watching a horror show. "Rachel isn't dying," I say though I have no idea if the statement is true.
Rachel's best friend, Abby, approaches us, slowly, like a wounded animal attempting to seek shelter. Her eyes too wide, her skin too pale.
"Where is she?" I ask. "Where's Rachel?"
"Isaiah saved her," says Abby. There's blood on her face. On her clothes. And as hard as I search, I see no cuts on her body. My head whips to Isaiah and bile races up my throat. F**k it all, his goddamned sleeve is burned away and so is part of his flesh.
"He went into the car," Abby continues, "Isaiah saved her."
A faint voice in the back of my head reminds me...that was my job. I'm the one who saves Rachel. Unable to look, unable to bear any of this, I head toward my mother. She stands in the middle of the hallway, her body shaking, but no tears and that scares the hell out of me. Mom has always been about tears. "Mom?"
"It's Rachel," she whispers. Inside a room, people in scrubs and hospital coats surround a bed. There's no yelling, hardly a sound beyond machines screaming and beeping. It's the calm that I hate. The fact that everyone is so busy that no one has time to talk.
I sort of hope Mom's wrong and it's Dad. I know that the thought is distorted, evil, but he and I, we haven't seen eye to eye in months, maybe years. The thought of him dying kills me, but not in the way it would if I lost Rachel. A nurse moves and instead of the dark hair of my father, I spot blond hair and someone tosses a golden dress into the garbage.
My entire world goes one way, then another. A dizziness. A disorientation.
"She stopped breathing on the way in," says my mother.
I drop to my knees and almost crash completely to the ground. I failed my baby sister.
"Plank!" John yells and turns off the music.
In one swift motion, every fighter drops to their elbows, stretches out their body, and holds their legs up with their toes. Sweat pours off of me and creates a puddle inches from my nose. I shake. My muscles nothing more than jelly, each whimpering in protest.
"She can't hold it." Jax easily keeps plank with his chin up grinning at me from about a foot away. A thin shiny layer of sweat covers his arms and face.
"Yes, I can." No, I can't. Just like I couldn't complete a whole round against the bag. Just like I had to bail on running.
I whip my head to the right to see Kaden right beside me. Dammit, not what I need. I grit my teeth and hang my head, begging my body to stay up.
"Three minute plank, Haley," needles Jax. "Bet you'd love to kiss that floor right now."
"Screw..." Gasp. "Both of you."
They laugh and I grimace as my calves begin to burn.
"Two minutes, thirty seconds," calls my grandfather. I moan and my breath comes out in a rush. The sweat slicks the rubber padding beneath me and my toes slip. I quickly reposition myself to prevent collapsing to the floor.
Kaden eyes me then nods his chin at Jax. "We got problems."
"I know," Jax responds. "And don't think I haven't been contemplating it for the past two hours."
Praying that conversation will keep my mind off the agony, I join in. "What?"
I hate the look they share—the one that says that they are in the know and I'm not. That they are inclusive and I'm on the outside.
"Two minutes," says John as we walks past the three of us. I gain a tad bit of satisfaction when Jax readjusts.
"Are we at the YMCA, girls?" John's bare feet hesitate near Jax's head.
"No, sir," Jax bites out.
"Then keep the chatter out of my gym."
I smirk and Jax relaxes his fist long enough to flip me off.
A few seconds later, my grandfather moves to the other side of the gym.
Kaden glances around then whispers, "We've got dates."
If I was standing, I'd shrug. They've had dates since I was fourteen. I move my elbows closer together hoping it will help. My entire body trembles now and I curse internally. I do not want to fall to the floor, not with the two of them watching. They already think I'm weak and I'd hate to hand them proof.
"One minute, thirty seconds."
"John's letting us borrow his car," says Jax. "We're supposed to meet the girls at a party in twenty minutes."
"So," I spit out. Literally. Small drops of spit fly from my mouth as I struggle to hold position.
"Hay..." Kaden starts then stops. The muscles in his bicep begin to quiver.
"Last bus left twenty minutes ago," finishes Jax and swears as he readjusts again. Good. At least I'm not the only one in pain.
"And I care because?" My arms give for a second, but I immediately straighten my biceps. I'm not going to be able to do it. I'm not going to be able to stay up.
"If you want a ride home you're going to have go with us," answers Jax.
"Bull." They're just trying to freak me out—trying to get me to drop. We may not be close, but there is no way they've missed out on the rumors at school. Everyone knows Matt will be at the party and they know I'd rather hold plank for another ten minutes before I see Matt. But muwahahah, I'm faster on the mental draw—I remember my younger cousins. "Aiden and Mark need a ride home."
They annoyingly eye each other again then Kaden speaks, "They're staying the night with John so that means you're stuck with us."
My head snaps up, my toes slip, my elbows slide to the side and my body slams into the floor.