"Put that shit down," I shook my head at Tyler, drumming my fingernails on the wooden table between us.
He rolled his eyes at me, taking another drag from the cigarette in his hand. Tyler knew I hated it when he smoked, but was too hooked to stop. Second-hand smoking was what had gotten him into it; his parents' fault, and probably Markus's as well. They split a half-pack per day between the two of them, stinking up the whole house. It gave me a headache, and I smelled like smoke wherever I went.
"Ty, really," I said, resting my chin in my hand. "You're going to give me a migraine, and you're going to be the one to deal with my attitude."
He puffed out a cloud of smoke and I wrinkled my nose. "I always have to deal with your attitude, babe."
I jutted out my lower lip and crossed my arms over my chest. Slowly, I rose from my seat and walked over to Tyler, my feet padding on the wood flooring. His eyes followed me as I pushed his chair out from the table and straddled his lap. I took the cigarette from his hand and reached behind me to put it out in the ash tray on the table, then wrapped my arms around his neck.
"You love my attitude, though," I teased, my mouth drawing up in the corners.
"I do," Tyler replied, leaning his forehead against mine. "Almost as much as I love you."
I closed my eyes, breathing in the scent of cologne that made it past all of the smoke. I didn't say I loved him back, but I didn't have to. Tyler's arms wrapped around my waist and hugged me closer. I felt his face move closer, ducking to kiss me, but I pulled back.
"Ah-ah," I mumbled, staring into his vibrant blue eyes. "What have I always told you?"
"Screw your rules," Tyler breathed, forcing his lips onto mine and pulling me even tighter to his chest. I kissed him for a second, but didn't let him deepen it. Pulling back, I made a face.
"Ty, I can't stand cigarette smoke, let alone cigarette mouth." I made a show of wiping my lips, then brushed my hand into his dark hair. "Brush your teeth or chew some really strong gum."
"I don't have time for things like that," he argued, tickling my sides. I batted his hands away quickly, giggling a bit. "I only have time for my girl."
I smiled, leaning in to give him a small kiss. Smiling, I pulled back. "Maybe we can bend the rules a bit."
A door banged open in the kitchen, the one that lead to the garage. I peered over Tyler's shoulder and the counter behind him to see Peter walking in, a bag slung on his shoulder. He wore a cap on his head, his sandy hair pushed back into it.
"Hey Runt," I said with a smile, turing in Tyler's lap so both of my legs were on his right side. "You're out a little late."
Peter gave me a wry smile, the one he always dealt when someone called him the nickname he'd earned when we took him in. "Nice to see you too, Little L."
He made his way into the kitchen and dropped the bag on the counter. My eye caught a formula bottle in the pouch on the side, and I smiled. "Is BB here?"
"Yes she is!" a high voice came from behind Peter.
My grin deepened. "Chloe!" I climbed off of Tyler's lap and hurried into the kitchen, giving Peter's girlfriend a tight hug before bending down to greet Bella in her carrier. "And how are you, Miss BB?" The baby giggled, green eyes shining. She looked just like Chloe, and her blond curls grew just as fast.
"Could you take her for a minute?" Chloe asked.
I could tell she was flustered, and nodded before reaching down for the carrier. I turned and lifted it onto the counter, making faces at Bella as I unbuckled her harness. Pulling her out, I placed her against my hip and walked into the dining room, where Tyler was still sat. I saw him reach for another cigarette, but swooped in to bat his hand.
"Tyler Zachary Mendall!" I admonished, scowling at him. "There is a child in the room who doesn't need to be swimming through smoke." Tyler sighed, giving me a look. I stared him down right back, narrowing my eyes before turning back to Bella. "How is my BB?"
I'd always called her Baby Bella, but once it caught on with the boys, we shortened it to just BB. She was Peter and Chloe's daughter, the most beautiful little girl I'd ever seen. Peter had gotten kicked out of his house for getting his girlfriend pregnant at sixteen, but judging by the way the couple acted, neither of them cared what had happened anymore, as long as they were together. Bella had turned a year old three months ago, and was as spoiled as two seventeen-year-olds could make her.
Bella kicked her feet, smiling and tugging on my hair. I kissed her forehead, my grin almost wider than my face. I could've sworn I loved Bella as much as Chloe and Peter did. She was literally a bundle of joy.
"BB almost makes me want a little girl," I said, my words pointed jokingly at Tyler. Chloe snorted from the kitchen. I turned back to Tyler, his jaw slack and staring at me incredulously. "Kidding, babe."
"Dammit!" I heard Chloe yell as something clattered to the floor. It sounded like plastic, probably BB's formula bottle. Although Bella was old enough to go without, Chloe insisted she still needed it.
"Shh!" I said quickly, covering Bella's ear with my free hand. "There are little ears in the room."
Chloe just huffed and grabbed a roll of paper towels that Peter handed to her. He rubbed her back as she bent down to wipe something up. My attention drifted back to Tyler, my body spinning to ask when my brother would get back. I found him with another cigarette in his mouth, lighter poised to start it. The guilty look on his face told me that he knew I'd get frustrated.
"Outside," I told him, pointing toward the door leading to the garage. "Now." He sighed and stood, stealing a kiss from me on the way. I then pointed my question at Peter. "Do you think Markus and my brother will be back soon?"
"Probably," Peter nodded at me, leaning back against the counter. "It's already nine, and they said the run wouldn't take too long."
I nodded, readjusting BB on my hip. It seemed like those two were always out on runs, now. Honestly, I was surprised that Markus was giving us so much free reign on the house. After the last time Emmett had a friend over, we all thought the house was set to go under martial law. My brother had been furious that the house had been turned upside down, but Markus was more forgiving.
“Speaking of being out late,” Peter’s head lifted, scanning the room. “Where’s Emmett? He owes me gas money.”
I rolled my eyes. “Who knows? Probably out drinking and going at it with another girl.”
Peter shrugged. “Sounds reasonable.”
“Can I have the little monster back?” Chloe poked her head up over the counter, tossing her used paper towels at Peter. “Time for her to eat.”
I walked around to the kitchen and passed Bella to her mom, blowing a kiss at the little girl before strolling back into the dining room. “Are you two staying tonight?”
“Yes ma’am,” Chloe answered, handing Bella her formula. She held it in her hands and grimaced at it before putting it in her mouth. “Got in a little argument with the ‘rents earlier. Mom told me I had an hour to get out of the house, and Pete swooped in for the rescue.”
She smiled deeply, kissing Peter’s cheek. I watched the adorable exchange between the two, always happy to be around each other. Bella made a noise of protest as she was sandwiched in between her parents, pushing against their chests as they pulled in for a group hug. They were the perfect family—or at least as perfect as that young of a family could be.
The garage door opened suddenly, Tyler making his way in. Sam and Markus followed in, looking bored. I scowled as Tyler walked over to give my cheek a kiss, a pointed effort to annoy me with his cigarette breath. Pushing on his chest, I turned to my brother.
“What’s the matter, Sam?” I joked. “Another run not exciting enough for you?”
He rolled his eyes, ruffling my hair as he passed. “Maybe we’ll have to bring you on the next one to spice things up a bit.”
“I’ll have to hold you to that,” I called after him as he turned up the stairs, his heavy footsteps fading to the upper level.
“This place had nothing,” Markus said from the kitchen, bending down to look in the fridge as his foot propped the door open. He stood, a jug of orange juice in his hand. “You’d think the East Side would have more marijuana than three ounces.”
I laughed. “That’s it? For that, you could pay for almost half the gas it takes to drive out there.”
Markus tipped his head back, drinking straight from the jug. He let out a deep breath as he finished, twisting the cap back on and sliding it into the fridge. “There wasn’t any merch either. All we saw was a busted up couch and an old radio.”
Our group was what all of California would call a gang. The label sounded too elementary, to little kid for the kind of people we were, but that’s what we were nonetheless. How we lived was dealing pot and looting storage warehouses, selling what we found. It wasn’t the most preferred way of living, but it worked for us. I just made sure no one started smoking the kind of shit we were dealing.
“The East Side is full of rich assholes,” Peter shook his head. “They’ve got to have more than that.”
I leaned against the doorway, my hand finding Tyler’s. “He’s right. Sounds like someone beat you to the spot.”
Markus shook his head, his elbows finding the counter to rest on. “I don’t think anyone else knows about that warehouse. And the idiot we get weed from is a total nobody, purposely flying under the radar. He’s too stupid to start dealing it out to anyone else.”
I shrugged. “How many storage units are on the East Side? All the houses over there are probably big enough to fit everything in that unit two times over; maybe we aren’t the only ones who thought to steal from the rich kids.”
Markus sighed, running a hand through his blond hair. “It’s possible, but I only know one other guy smart enough to find it. It’s pretty buried within the city, easy to miss. But that still doesn’t explain why Elliot was empty. He’s usually loaded, and someone would have to do some serious digging to find him.”
Tyler scoffed from behind me. “The kind of digging Jason would do? This sounds a lot like him.”
Markus glanced at Tyler, then down at the floor. “He hasn’t screwed with us since March, and the East Side isn’t part of his territory. Jason probably considers himself untouchable compared to that neighborhood.”
“It isn’t beneath him to trespass,” Peter spoke up, draping his arm around Chloe’s shoulders. “And if it gets him a little more money and us a little less, you know he’d do it.”
I rolled my eyes. “He’s like a five year old. One bad run isn’t going to make us go hungry.”
“A five year old with more than a few guns,” Markus sighed.
Markus had made early enemies with Jason McCann. Being leaders of two very different groups, seeing eye-to-eye was the least of either of their worries. Jason always believed in a more forceful way of living—guns were his way of getting things he wanted. Markus, along with the rest of us, preferred laying low and making ties last. Jason always lashed out first; back in March, he’d gotten flustered when Markus and Sam lead a run closer to the ‘border’ than Jason would’ve liked. He’d jabbed a gun in both of their faces, threatening to pull the trigger the next time he saw us anywhere near there. We’d ignored him, but I still wasn’t fully comfortable with anyone going out by Jason. Gun beats fist any day.
“Guns are only useful when you have time to aim on a visible target,” Tyler said, rubbing my back with his free hand. “I don’t want him to start thinking he can screw with us again. If we went in our way, he’d never see us coming—wouldn’t even have time to blink, let alone fire a gun.”
Chloe tensed next to Peter. She’d never liked conflicts, especially ones that were serious enough to involve weapons. She held Bella closer, leaning her head on Peter’s shoulder. I could tell she was worried for him, but I knew Markus wouldn’t let him go on a run even remotely dangerous enough to risk Bella growing up without a father. He liked Bella way too much for that.
Markus focused on a spot on the floor, blinking occasionally as he weighed Tyler’s words. “That could work,” he mumbled, tapping his fingers against the counter. “I already know where Jason is.” Markus glanced up, scanning the kitchen and meeting our eyes. “But if we did go in our way, what happens when the whole house figures out we’re there? I can guarantee our way wouldn’t work on the way out.”
I blinked. Markus was right. Sam, Markus, Tyler, and Emmett collectively owned about five guns. Jason probably possessed about twenty times that, and then some. There’s no way we would make it out.
“Who said we had to go for the house?” I spoke up. “What do you want to bet Jason has a warehouse—or at least a shed—nearby? It’ll be locked up tight, but it’d be easy to snag a bolt cutter or a key off of whoever’s watching the place.”
Markus snapped his fingers. “That’ll work.”
He pushed off the counter and left the kitchen, striding through the dining room and up the stairs. I shrugged, knowing Markus. Once he figured out a plan, he left. No one came in or out of his room, and no one talked to him. Usually he pulled everything together in about an hour, then called us all to the dining room for a talk—which is exactly what he did.
About an hour and a half later, we were all—minus Emmett—gathered around the dining table. I leaned into Tyler’s shoulder, listening to Markus while glancing back and forth between him and my brother. Chloe had put Bella down, and was trying to get some rest herself. Peter looked stoic, trying to decide whether or not Markus was going to let him tag along.
“We’re going to hang back by 36th for a while,” Markus spoke, arms crossed over his chest. “It’s two blocks from Jason’s place, and from there we can get a good idea of the kind of surveillance is going on. I’ll send Tyler and Sam ahead to scope out the back, see if there’s any kind of storage around the property. Then we’ll go from there and work with what we have. As soon as we step out of the car, everything is silent. Not a word from anyone.”
I watched as Sam nodded slightly, running a hand through his hair. I slung my hair, damp from a recent shower, over my shoulder and placed my cheek against Tyler’s bare arm. He squeezed my waist, holding me closer.
“We’ll leave around ten tomorrow night,” Markus continued. “I want you all sharp and ready to go. Hopefully Emmett’s drunk ass will find his way home, and we’ll beat some sense into him.” He checked his cell, stuffing it in his pocket after he’d shot a quick message. “Hopefully sleeping all day tomorrow will give him enough awareness to join us.”
The garage door banged open, making me jump. “What about me?” I heard Emmett’s deep voice call into the house. “I’m not drunk this time; no need to start swinging.”
“Where the hell have you been?” Tyler said as Emmett found his way into the dining room. “You’ve been gone since last night.”
“Technically,” he held up a finger. “I’ve only been gone since this morning. I left just after midnight.”
I rolled my eyes. “That doesn’t answer my question,” Tyler said.
Emmett heaved a sigh, blowing his dark hair. “I’ve been out—with Liz again.”
We all snickered. Liz and Emmett had been off and on for months, the longest he’d ever stayed hooked on a girl. She did something weird to him, and he hated it. But he didn’t hate her. Liz shook the drunken man-whore out of Emmett, which just so happened to be one of the best things she’d done for him. We all gave him crap for staying with one girl since he had a huge issue with fixation, but the truth was that we liked having Liz around for him.
“You just missed a whole discussion,” Markus huffed. “I’m not going through everything again.” He rubbed his forehead. “Long story short; we’re going after Jason. Just go with it. We’re going in our style.”
Emmett flashed a thumbs up as he passed, letting out a yawn when his foot landed on the first step of the stairs. “How long do I have?”
Sam rolled his eyes and checked his phone. “A whopping 24 hours. Do with that what you will, but just remember that it’s Jason we’re up against and we need you one hundred percent.”
“I’m on it,” Emmett called down as he walked up the staircase.
As soon as his steps faded, Markus released a breath. “Alright. You’ve got a whole day before we go. Be smart. I don’t need anyone getting arrested or hung over.” He waved as he turned. “I’m heading.”
We all said quick goodnights, then Tyler and I headed up to our room. It was technically Tyler’s, but I never used my room anymore. Everyone else knew it, too, so my bedroom had become more of a storage room.
I threw on a pair of Tyler’s boxers and a baggy t-shirt while he showered. Twisting my hair, I pinned it on top of my head in a bun and curled up on the bed. The sheets smelled like him, as did the pillows under my head. My eyes had closed for about ten seconds before I heard a knock at the door. I sighed and got up, walking on the pads of my feet to see who was there. When I opened the door, my brother was standing in front of my with his arms crossed.
“Yes?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“What do you think I’m going to tell you?” he said, more of a statement than a question.
I knew exactly what he meant. Crossing my arms over my chest, I scowled at him. “Sam, I’m going on the run. I’ll be fine.”
“You haven’t been on a run in two weeks, let alone out to Jason’s,” he stated simply. “It’s not like any others you’ve been on. He’s not weak; he’s unstable and unpredictable, and has the firepower to kill a lot of people. I want you to stay back.”
I scoffed. “You’re a bigger idiot than I thought if you think I’m going to sit here while you go do exactly what you’re telling me not to.” The water in the bathroom stopped running, and I leaned against the doorframe.
Sam’s jaw clenched. “I’m not stupid, Phoebe.” I blinked. He only used my name when he wanted to prove a point. “I wouldn’t have said anything if it were anyone other than Jason.”
I closed my eyes, trying to humor my older brother. “I understand your concern. But there is no way I’m going to sit this one out. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”
Sam wrung his hands together, staring me down. I returned his expression, unmoving. A few second passed and his face relaxed. I was every bit as stubborn as he was. He knew I’d find a way to go whether he wanted me to or not.
“Alright, Little L,” he mumbled, flipping my hair in my face. I grimaced at him. “Just… Don’t get hurt.”
I got up on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek, blinking at him like I always did just to suck up to him. “I promise I won’t, Big L. Goodnight.”
He waved, turning as I shut the door. I made my way over to the bed, sliding down onto it as Tyler came out of the bathroom. Basketball shorts were slung low on his hips and an old t-shirt covered his chest. He smiled at me as he tossed his towel in the corner, walking over to the bed and kissing me.
“Sam is right, you know,” he mumbled against my cheek. “Jason isn’t one you want to get involved with.”
“I know,” I pushed him away. “I get it. He’s crazy, he’s dangerous. How is that any different from how we’re living now?”
He hesitated. “It just is, Phoebes. I want you safe as much as your brother does.”
I bit my lip and kissed him again. “If I promise to not get myself killed, will you let me go?”
He laughed, but it was dry. Jason was a touchy subject for all of us. We’d had our record of trouble with him and his group, and had lost several people because of his sense of entitlement and temper.
“I know I’m not getting you to change your mind,” he told me, collapsing onto the bed. I rested my head in the crook of his shoulder and he wrapped his arm around me. “So I guess I’ll have to hold you to that promise.”
I smiled deeply and sat up to kiss the tip of his nose. “Don’t worry, babe. With you there, that asshole won’t lay a finger on me.”