It was about two o’clock in the morning before a nurse came in to check on Jason. She didn’t say anything about us being there past hours, instead giving us sympathetic looks. After tapping a few things on the monitor next to his bed, she cast Jason a tired glance and swept out of the room.
Leah still sat opposite from me, her eyes studying Jason without reprieve. I held in a snide comment, not wanting to get into another long-winded discussion about who knew Jason better and who was the right fit. I was sure Leah felt the same since she’d made no move to insult or degrade me further. Leo sat across the room from us, slumped in a sparsely cushioned chair with his head lolled, sleeping. I was tired too, the stress of the night beginning to wear on me. I needed a coffee, but didn’t have the energy to go and find one.
My hand was still on Jason’s forearm ten minutes later when it started to twitch. I automatically straightened, suddenly wide awake at his movement. Leah noticed my abruptly stiffened posture and seemed to sit up too. Too excited to be furious with her, a dumbly relieved smile crept onto my face as Jason’s eyelids flickered and opened slowly as he sucked in a heavy breath.
A throaty groan escaped him as I felt his muscles tense, an attempt to stretch out his body. My fingers laced in his and squeezed in an effort to get him to look at me. Jason had been out for several hours, and I was incredibly happy to see him conscious after drinking whatever shit had been put in that bottle.
“Goddamn,” he struggled to say. His voice sounded like he hadn’t had water in days. Jason’s head rolled to face me and my heart swelled. “Phoebe… My head hurts like hell. Did I puke? I’m so hungry.”
I bit my lip, a small smile still present. Deciding to opt out of telling him he’d almost died, I lifted his hand to place a kiss to his knuckles. He gave me a confused look, then cast a long sweep of the room.
“Why the hell am I in a hospital?” he asked, the roughness in his throat putting an edge in his tone.
It was another two seconds before Jason’s eyes landed on Leah, sitting expectantly on the other side of the bed. I almost scoffed at her, but jealousy inflated inside my chest at the look Jason was giving her. It wasn’t much more than recognition in his expression, but for some reason any thought of him looking at her with an emotion beside hatred made my blood boil. Moreover, thinking of what Leah had meant to him, even long before me, gave me a feeling similar to a well-placed punch in the gut. I felt like I was being torn by the two emotions.
My feelings were smothered a little by the sudden pleasure I felt as Jason’s face twisted in anger. Leah was obviously shocked, having been giving him a smile that begged him to take her home. There was no mistaking the repulsion in Jason’s expression.
“Get the fuck out,” he said through clenched teeth.
Her mouth dropped open. “Do you even know where you are? Jason, you almost died. I think you should be recovering before you jump to any conclusions about me.”
“I don’t need to jump to conclusions,” he nearly growled. “I know what you’re about, and I know why you’re here. Get out and don’t ever think about coming back again.”
“I’m not like that anymore,” she pleaded, a whine in her voice. “Jason, I’ve changed.”
“Come back when you’re done lying,” Jason spat. “On second thought, don’t.”
I’d never seen Jason so angry with a girl before. There’d been a couple interactions when Grant had brought girls home, but other than that, hatred had never even come to my mind when I thought of how he felt toward women. I wasn’t necessarily upset with his attitude with Leah, but it didn’t sit right with me that she had this kind of emotional effect on him. But what had she changed from — being a narcissistic bitch? Because that hadn’t changed in the slightest.
“I’m not lying,” Leah pushed. “I promise.”
“Your promises mean nothing to me,” Jason fired back with all the ice he had in his voice. I found myself recoiling a bit, not having seen the depth of this side of him, even the first time I’d met him. What had Leah done to screw with him this much? I bit my lip, a sick feeling settling in my stomach.
“You’re not even going to give me time to explain?” Leah’s frown deepened and she looked genuinely hurt.
“Not a chance.” He grimaced, his hand going up to rub his temple. “Dammit. Do you have any Advil?”
I shook my head, not trusting myself to open my mouth. If I did, I would’ve asked too many questions in a short amount of time. Over the past few weeks I’d learned to ask in moderation, since wanting to know more than a few things about him at once would make Jason shut down—especially about his past, and especially about Leah. It was frustrating sometimes, but I understood. People like Jason weren’t used to sharing, and I counted myself as extraordinarily lucky to have heard about his mom in that restaurant a week ago.
“What are you still doing here?” Jason whipped his head at Leah. “I thought I told you to get the fuck out.”
“Jason,” she said, visibly stricken. She probably wasn’t used to being told no. “I–“
“Take your sorry excuse of a life and leave.” Jason’s fists were clenched in the sheets covering his body, and I was glad I’d pulled my hand away from his. “You filthy, lying bitch. Don’t let me see your face again, or I won’t give you another warning before sending a bullet through your skull.”
Leah’s eyes filled with tears as my jaw went slack. I wasn’t fond of her by any means, but hearing Jason speak to her that way seemed so wrong. What could harbor that level of hatred for this long? As far as I knew, they hadn’t seen each other in months. His threat to her life sent an unmistakeable chill through me, and suddenly I didn’t want to be in the room. I’d never actually felt anger radiating from someone, but I was sure this was the experience.
She stood abruptly, teetering on her high heel. I could tell Leah didn’t want either of us to see her cry by the way she was scrunching her face. We were spared the sight of her tears as she spun and strode toward the door. I saw Leo push to his feet in the corner of my eye, looking around confused stupor. After throwing the door open, Leah stopped mid-step. Her head turned to the side, pointing her next words toward Jason.
“Threatening me will cost you,” she spoke evenly, though her hands were shaking. “You can count yourself a target, Jason. I’ve changed, but I see you haven’t.” She turned around fully, looking me dead in the eye. “Have fun watching your world fall apart, Phoebe. Being tied to that bastard is a liability. Leave while you still can.”
With that, she slid out of the room and the door closed with a deafening thud.
I stared at the spot Leah had occupied. She’d just given me more questions than she’d answered. My head was reeling; what connections did she have that could actually pose a threat to Jason? As far as I knew, Uriah was the strongest man in the area, and Jason had said they were good friends. Other than that, I couldn’t imagine anyone having the guts to go after him; but what had Leah meant about my world falling apart? I wasn’t scared in the least of others, not only because I lived with Jason, but because I’d been raised that way. Until proven, no one posed a threat to me — especially not Jason, who she’d said was a liability. Leah had to have been lying, but the information didn’t sit right with me. Combined with the way Jason reacted toward her, so openly stating he’d kill her, I felt sick.
“Phoebe,” Jason’s voice came from my right, snapping me out of my thoughts. I felt his hand on my forearm and I reflexively pulled it away. The look he gave me immediately made me feel bad for jumping, but my uneasiness overpowered anything else I was thinking of.
“I’m going to find a drink,” I told him flatly, standing fast enough to make my chair groan against the floor. My hands clasped in front of me and I turned. “I’ll see if I can get water for you.”
I didn’t look back before pushing into the hall. The door closed behind me and I took in a long breath. I hadn’t wanted to sit in that room feeling so uncomfortable. Had being a shut-in with Jason for almost two months made me forget about how he presented himself to the outside? It wasn’t even just a presentation — I knew, probably better than anyone, that Jason followed through with his threats word for word.
Images of our yard while living back in Poway, completely destroyed, and the finishings on our house totally ripped apart. I remembered the shouting match my brother and Markus had in the kitchen about Jason, screaming at one another to either be more careful or to attack full-on. Sam reminded Markus less than kindly about the very specific threats Jason had thrown at them, and pointed out that everything was exactly as he’d said. Jason had also taken half of our weed that month, and in doing so pissed off my brother and Markus to no end.
It made me uneasy how upsetting this side of Jason caused me to feel. I’d always been able to understand the front Tyler or my brother, and especially Markus, had to put up when dealing with outsiders; the sucky attitude put off a certain air, one that intimidated people. With the kind of life we had, it was necessary in keeping everyone in their place; but with Jason, threats meant more than just words. My stomach always turned upside down when I thought of killing someone, but there was no remorse in Jason’s voice as he’d spoken to Leah. I’d been scared for her — sure, I didn’t like her, but that didn’t mean I wanted her dead.
The only conclusion I could draw from my thoughts was that I was overreacting. I was tired from being up so long, stressed from Jason’s near-death experience, and on-edge with Leah’s appearance. In all reality I should be happy with Jason for shoving Leah away; but no matter how hard I tired as I walked down the quiet hallway, I couldn’t get their words out of my head.
I won’t give you another warning before sending a bullet through your skull.
Leave while you still can.
Leah’s direction had no real weight to it, but I didn’t know if I wanted it to. Jason hadn’t given me a reason to leave yet, and I doubted he ever would—unless he killed someone. That was the one thing I could never handle, could never imagine ending someone’s life without my own being thrown into the mix. If I were to find out Jason had killed anyone since moving here with him, going back home wouldn’t be a second thought. I couldn’t live with a killer.
My head shook vigorously, trying to clear my thoughts. He wasn’t a killer, even being who he was. Jason had shown me in these two months that he actually had a humane soul inside of him. That was one of the things I liked best about him; the fact that he could be so rude to his guys and turn around and laugh with me was comforting. I had to focus on the good things, rather than what a lying bitch had tried to trick me into thinking.
I found a vending machine at the end of the hallway. Cursing under my breath, I realized I didn’t have any cash. I looked around the lobby and glanced at the nurse tending the desk. About to ask for two dollars, I thought better of it and decided to try downstairs. There had to be a fountain somewhere, or cups with a dispenser. My hand found the button for the elevator and I stepped inside a few seconds later. I came out on the main level after about a minute.
The lady who’d let me in sat typing at the front desk, and I decided to make my way to her. I stepped in front of the counter and rested my hands on the cold surface, chewing the inside of my cheek as I waited for her to pause.
“What can I do for you?” she asked in a bored voice, looking up briefly from the keyboard.
“Can you tell me where I can get water?” I asked. “Free, preferably.”
She gave me a calculating look before pointing down the hall to the right. “There’s a fountain over there. I think there are cups, but I’m not sure. It’s after hours, you know,” she added.
I nodded. “The nurse said she’d let us stay. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.”
With that, I walked where the woman had pointed me to. Sure enough, an old drinking fountain rested against the wall, and a stack of cups was conveniently placed to the side. I pulled two from the top and filled one for myself, chugging it down before I could think twice. After filling it again I did the same thing, hardly pausing for a breath. When I finished the second I stopped, leaning my weight against the wall.
I felt so warn down, like I needed a permanent break. The recent events with Leah and Jason should have blown over, since he was okay and she’d been more or less kicked out by him; but everything else seemed even more than I was used to. With the new move came territorial dangers, and also Leah; with Leah came death threats from Jason, and with his threats came my aversion. I knew I’d just run through everything in my head, but the weight stressed me out more than it should’ve. I had to remind myself that I was being irrational.
It hardly felt like I was.
I filled the two cups with water and made my way back to the elevators, hitting the up bottom with my elbow. As I stepped onto Jason’s level, Leo came out of his room down the hall in a gust of annoyance and haste. My eyebrow rose at him and he immediately let out a long, relieved breath when he saw me. I was further confused when his hurried atmosphere dissipated just like that.
“What was that about?” I asked, handing him the cup I hadn’t used. He took it and downed it in much the same way I had, not answering me until he was finished.
“Nothing,” Leo brushed me off, halfway turning. “Come on.”
“No,” I stated simply.
I was beginning to grow tired of his avoidance of me. In the past two weeks his openness had completely declined with every subject. More specifically, he hadn’t been answering any direction questions I had about my brother or Emmett. Now that I was already on edge, I couldn’t have found a better time to confront him.
“Tell me why you were all stressed out,” I said, “and why you stopped when you saw me.”
The corners of his mouth tipped down. “I just wanted to see if you needed any help.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t bullshit me, Leo.”
“I’m not,” he answered simply. His shoulders turned so he wasn’t facing me. “Jason wants to see you, and he probably wants that water too.”
Suddenly, something in my brain seemed to click.
“Jason sent you out, didn’t he?” I questioned, holding my position in front of the elevator. “He thought I’d made a run for it.”
Leo’s silence was all the conformation I needed.
Scoffing, I shifted my weight to my right hip. “He still doesn’t trust me.”
It was hardly a question, but even facing away from me I could see Leo’s head nod. Just the acknowledgement of Jason’s lack of faith seemed to hit me in the stomach, ache spreading throughout my body. Why couldn’t he give me any credit, especially after these two months? Had what we’d been doing — not even sex, but the way we communicated and interacted with each other — mean nothing to him in terms of my character? Every night I had the choice of sneaking out the back door or the balcony, yet I hadn’t. I hadn’t tried getting my phone or my gun since I’d pulled up the board that day and realized my brother didn’t care enough about me. I’d remained more loyal to Jason than I had to Tyler, and I’d only really known Jason two months. Didn’t that mean anything to him?
“Just come on, Phoebe,” Leo pleaded. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does,” I replied, my voice sounding more hurt than I meant it to. Leo seemed to notice and turned around, trying to read my expression. I clenched my jaw and looked away. Why was I so hurt by this? I’d turned to Jason out of spite when Tyler hadn’t texted me or tried to get me out. I had convinced myself that Tyler had pushed me to Jason. They all had, according to my reason. But now, with the feeling of hurt passing over me, it didn’t seem like that was the reason. After all, I had to be drawn to Jason to keep sleeping in his room at night.
“Don’t,” I held up hand. I needed space to cool down. Everything tonight was getting to me, and it seemed every second something was being added to the pile. What I wanted, needed, was to go sit somewhere by myself and breathe.
The elevator doors behind me began to close and my head snapped up. I made the split-second decision to slip inside, pressing the button to close the doors as fast as I could. Leo ran up to the opening but it closed just as he appeared in front of me. Knowing his first action would be to take the stairs down to the first level, I hit the three and leaned back against the wall. When the doors opened again I traded places with a nurse who smiled politely. I didn’t have the energy to return the grin before pushing past her and finding a sitting area down the hall.
I collapsed into a chair and set the cup of water to the side. As I rubbed my temples I took in deep breaths. I needed sleep, and I needed explanations. Leo had to stop blowing off my questions about my brother and Emmett, and Jason had to tell me why he didn’t trust me. Granted, he’d been a part of this life way too long to put faith in someone so easily, but this long had to be enough time to at least know I wouldn’t leave him in a hospital after him having almost died.
My lip was taken between my teeth as I realized I was letting this get to me too much. Everything between Jason and I had started falsely, if it’d even turned into anything. I would’ve liked to think it hadn’t, not only to save myself the guilt of separating myself from Tyler without his knowledge, but to avoid the physical and emotional dangers that came with Jason; but the heaving feeling in my chest told me I couldn’t have stopped it if I’d wanted to. Constantly, I realized, I was being reminded of just how much I cared about Jason.
I didn’t feel about Jason the way I did about Tyler. It was different, almost refreshingly so, but unsettling. Jason was exhilarating — every time we touched, it felt like I was high. I was relaxed, but charged with energy at the same time. At any given time before tonight, I hadn’t stopped smiling in his presence since we’d moved to Oakland. Jason was like a drug, one I couldn’t quite get enough of; until of course, I realized the depth of my addiction. With Tyler, it felt familiar and comforting, but a sick feeling twisted in my gut when I couldn’t find the same affectionate flutter I always got when thinking of him. Ever since I’d seen my empty phone, I hadn’t been able to remember exactly what loving Tyler felt like. The realization was terrifying.
For as long as I’d known Tyler, we’d been inseparable. We’d met when I was almost nine, and began our relationship when I was fourteen; he’d been sixteen at the time. It felt right — Sam had even approved. For the last three years, I’d believed I loved Tyler, and couldn’t imagine a day where we’d break up. He was always there, always ready to help, and always ready to love me. I told him I felt the same; but was it really love if I could not only cheat on him, but lose the luster of his name in my mind in just two months? The answer was no, but I couldn’t bring myself to put my admission of guilt into a full thought.
There was no overarching excitement like with Jason. What I had here in Oakland, able to spend time away from home and with Jason, was more intense; but if what I’d felt for Tyler wasn’t love, then what was this with the person I was supposed to hate most in the world? It was insane and it was dangerous — I’d never admit it was love, even if I thought it was. I shouldn’t trust Jason either way, given what he’s involved with, and in return I shouldn’t expect him to trust me.
What I first needed to focus on was getting answers from Leo. Unable to admit it was a distraction, I took a few long gulps of air before standing. He’d probably be frantically looking for me, but I didn’t care. I’d needed a break, and though it hadn’t been much of one, my irrational thoughts had been pushed to the side to make room for what was a more pressing matter. Emmett’s whereabouts, for one — even though we’d left Poway, Leo must’ve been keeping his ear out until the second we hit the road. Emmett had to be back by now, especially with a screwed up leg. It amazed me how much tolerance he had for pain, but even he couldn’t recover from something that fast. He’d been shot in his lower leg, shin bone probably shattered from the bullet. If that were the case, there was no way he could be running off anywhere he pleased.
I left the cup of water beside the chair and made my way to the elevator. Eventually Leo would give up searching and come back upstairs. He’d figure it out that I couldn’t have made it out of sight by the time he reached the ground level, and would probably realize I wouldn’t run away. I’d stop him and make him tell me what he knows, even if I had to drag it out of him.
My finger found the elevator’s button and I waited for a few seconds. The dial above the doors dinged repeatedly, signaling it’d been down on the first floor before I called for it. I shifted my weight as the doors began to slide open, then jumped in surprise. Leo was standing in the elevator, arms crossed and fuming.
“There you are,” he growled, looking about as surprised as I was. “Get in. Now.”
“Screw off,” I mumbled back, stepping in beside him. The doors slid closed and he reached to hit the six, but I caught his arm. “Don’t.”
His eyebrow rose and I leaned against the railing along the wall. He gave me a long, calculating look. “What?”
“You’re going to tell me, one way or another, what happened to Emmett,” I said flatly. Leo opened his mouth, but I cut him off. “Don’t you dare say you don’t know, because I can tell you do. I don’t know why you’re keeping it from me, but you need to know that every time you don’t tell me, I’m more and more tempted to go home and find out just what you’re hiding.”
He watched me carefully, trying to judge whether or not I was bluffing about leaving. Truthfully, going home to people who didn’t seem to care about me wasn’t appealing, but the fact of the matter was that I cared about them. I would go back if it meant knowing everyone was okay.
“I don’t know where Gravings is,” Leo replied, his nostrils flaring. “There’s a reason I haven’t told you anything.”
“I’d love to hear it.”
“You just did,” he snapped defensively. “It pisses me off that you think I’m lying. Disappointing you is the last thing I want to do, especially the way we left him, but I’m telling you the truth. I don’t know where he is.”
There wasn’t an uncertainty in Leo’s tone or expression like there had been the last time I’d asked him. I doubted he’d had any time to prepare this response, since every time I asked it seemed to blindside him. It shouldn’t have, given the state I’d first approached him in, but somehow he seemed to recoil whenever the subject arose. Something else seemed to spike my memory, and the question was out of my mouth before I could stop it.
“They didn’t try to come after you, did they?” I asked, remembering our first conversation. “Sam, Tyler, Markus, or Pete? You said the second they did, you were out.”
He shook his head. “No, they didn’t. I don’t think I even got close enough to let them know I was curious, but I looked thoroughly and can tell you only that I don’t know where Gravings is.”
The repeated use of Emmett’s last name spiked an annoyance that wasn’t entirely justified. It just seemed so impersonal, but I needed to understand that Leo saw the people I care about as rivals, enemies even. I was about to say something else when a phone rang out in his pocket. He dug it out and held it to his ear.
“I found her,” he said immediately. A sick feeling churned in me as I realized it was Jason, and was reminded of his lack of trust. “No, she went to find water.” Leo glanced long and hard at me, seeming to make a decision. “No, there wasn’t a fountain anywhere and none of us have cash for the vending machines. She was just making sure there really were none before coming back up. Okay. We’ll be back up soon.”
He slid the phone back into his pocket. My arms crossed and I studied his face as he hit the button that sent the elevator up.
“Why did you do that?” I asked. “Why lie for me?”
He shrugged. “Jason’s had enough shit happen tonight without hearing you bolted at the first mention of him not having confidence in your reliability. He doesn’t need that digging at him, and neither do you.”
I let out a long sigh, thankful I’d made friends with Leo within the first few days of being at Jason’s house. He’d told me once that the only reason he’d gotten involved with Jason’s group was his conscience, not wanting a debt hanging over his head after Jason saved his life. Even though it sounded as if he didn’t give a rat’s ass about Jason, the fact that he’d stayed with the group for this long showed loyalty and a certain amount of care. With Leo on good terms with both Jason and I, he was a good friend and a useful one.
“Thanks,” I said quietly as the doors opened to the sixth floor. “How did Jason even get his phone? He’s been out since we left the house.”
“I brought it for him,” Leo said, waiting for me to begin walking toward Jason’s room before following behind. “I gave it to Jason before I went to find you.”
I didn’t reply as I pulled open the door to Jason’s room. He was lying down, holding his phone above his face and scrolling through something with a crease in his forehead. As his eyes found me, an expression with a hint of relief climbed into his stare. I gave a wry smile before taking up my empty chair, not scooting it closer to his bed. Jason seemed to notice but didn’t say anything, and I didn’t make any move to make up for it. I still had an uncomfortable feeling from his death threat and realizing my feelings for him weren’t as limited as I’d thought.
“I couldn’t find water,” I said. “We can probably call a nurse, though.”
Jason shook his head as Leo took his previous seat. “It’s okay.” He yawned. “I’m exhausted, even for being out as long as Leo said I was. I’ll ask for some the next time I wake up.”
I nodded, leaning back in my seat. Jason gave me a long look with an expression I couldn’t read before settling back under the sheets over his torso and closing his eyes. Ten minutes later, he’d already begun to snore a little. I watched him with the inside of my cheek between my teeth, a heavy feeling inside my chest.
Two months ago, Jason’s rash actions didn’t surprise me. Two months ago, Tyler’s behavior wouldn’t have had this severe of an effect on me. Two months ago, I didn’t feel this way about Jason; didn’t even feel this way about Tyler. Two months ago, I knew I had my head on straight.
I drew in a deep breath, not meaning to let it shake as it left my lungs. My hands wrung together in my lap and I closed my eyes.
“Leah was right,” Leo’s tired voice came from behind me. “You care about him a hell of a lot more than you should.”
I stiffened, my first instinct to be angry with both him and Leah for saying something like that. About to turn and send him a glare, I stopped. My frustration wasn’t pointed toward their false accusation, because they weren’t wrong. I was mad at myself, for letting it get this far; for even letting it start in the first place. It could’ve been the lack of sleep, or everything on top of that, but I felt so weak.
What would it say about me if I didn’t have the strength to protect myself from Jason if it came to that? It terrified me, but I didn’t know how to avoid it. Just the thought of having to separate myself from him let in a sick feeling I couldn’t shake. My main worry, though, was not me caring about Jason like this — my worry was that he didn’t feel the same way.
If this was love, I didn’t know if I wanted any part of it; or if I could even stop it.
Thoughts? I liked writing this chapter, but all of Phoebe's thinking was kind of getting annoying. Oops.
To those who care, my final exams went swimmingly, but I'm still surprised Christmas crept up on me this fast. It's been a good year overall, right? In just a few days will be the one-year anniversary of this story(I've been writing on other sites before this one). That's pretty crazy. Didn't even notice that, I thought I'd only been writing since like July. Oh well.
I posted this story over on Wattpad and Quotev too, so if you're on there you can go read it and vote or heart if you're feeling generous.
Also, I didn't really specify this before, so I don't know if anyone caught on, but the chapter titles are dates (ex. ~9.03~ means everything started September 3rd, and the most current chapter, ~10.26~, is October 26th). So yeah, if you didn't know that yet, there you go.
I'll try to get an update out by the 29th, but I have nooo idea what'll happen between now and then. I'm taking Drivers Ed this break [shoutout to fellow procrastinators, I figured I would take it before I actually turned 16 (my birthday is in March)] so that's been taking up most of my days, and the rest of the day I've been sleeping lately because I get tired all the time.
Wow, this is a long author's note. So I'll bring it to a close, saying Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, and any other winter holiday you celebrate. Thank you all for reading! How about your present to me is a comment saying A) how long you've been reading, B) what your favorite part of the story is so far, and C) what you thought of this chapter?
Love you all. Xx