Empty Bargains [Jason McCann]

"I have nothing else to offer you," Markus barked through gritted teeth, his fists clenched hard at his sides. Jason shook his head, chuckling. "I only want one thing, and it's in this room," he sneered. My brother took a step closer to me, trying to push me toward the door. Jason's eyes flashed over and caught mine, a glint in his eye while a shiver went down my spine. "What do you want?" Markus asked, impatient. Jason's head nodded in my direction. I froze and the room fell deafeningly silent. "I want her."

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10. ~9.14~

    I woke with a start the next morning, almost like a nightmare I couldn’t remember scared me out of sleep.  My eyes were staring blearily toward the door to Jason’s room, half obstructed by sheets.  I was curled tightly on Jason’s bed and almost drowning in the comforter, the pain in my back only half as bad as it had been the past few days.  Aside from the jolt back to consciousness, I’d slept better than I had since I got to Jason’s.

 

    I sucked in a deep breath and stretched my arms over my head.  Looking over my shoulder suddenly, I realized Jason wasn’t in the bed.  A smile stretched across my face, knowing he wouldn’t have the satisfaction of seeing me give in.  He was probably still out, though, because it felt early in the morning.  Sitting up, I tried to rub a little of the sleep out of my eyes.  But when I opened them, the heap of sleeping bag and air mattress woke me up more than I would’ve liked.

 

    Jason was lying at the foot of the bed, sprawled out in a sleeping bag and breathing deeply.  His head was turned toward me, jaw slack and expression relaxed.  Like this, it was much easier to see why most of the girls I knew around here worshiped the ground he walked on — he really was attractive, when he wasn’t trying to control everything and acting like a dick.

 

    I mentally shook myself.  Jason was never not a dick, and I had to remember that.  I pressed my palms to my temples and closed my eyes, trying to figure out why he hadn’t slept in the bed.  There must’ve been a reason, probably to piss me off by playing himself off as a nice person, or to mess with my head.  I couldn’t let it get to me, I wouldn’t.

 

    My feet swung over the side of the bed and landed on cold floor.  I padded over toward the bathroom, but stopped almost as soon as I’d started.  Right in my path were four brand-less shopping bags filled to the brim with clothes.  My eyebrows rose and I crept up to them, noticing right away that they for sure weren’t guys’ clothes.  I dug my hand in one of them and pulled out a navy long sleeved shirt, a nice one that looked moderately expensive.  My fingers closed around the collar and flipped up the tag, revealing the shirt was, in fact, my size.

 

    My jaw clenched and I stuffed the shirt back into the bag.  Jason had nerve!  The only reason I even took food from him was to not starve; why would he think I’d take anything like this?  Another way to screw with me, that’s what this was.  He was trying to show how much bigger of a person he was by childish means.  My temper brewed and I grabbed two of the bags by the handles.  Spinning on him, I threw the bags at Jason as hard as I could, then grabbed the other two and threw them.

 

    “What the hell!?” came his groggy voice from the sleeping bag.  I could see him struggling to sit up and he pushed the bags from on top of him.  “What—?”

 

    “I’m not taking that,” I snapped, crossing my arms.  “Whatever you’re playing at, I’m not biting.  So you can cut this ‘I’m better than you’ bullshit and keep to yourself.  I didn’t ask you for that, nor will I ever.  Don’t think for one second that you’ll ever be a better person than anyone.”

 

    Jason had sat up, his hair disheveled and eyes trying hard to focus.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

 

    I scoffed.  “The clothes, you asshole!  And why the hell are you sleeping on the floor?”

 

    He started at me, dumbfounded.  “I got clothes for you so you wouldn’t be wearing the same thing over and over.  I’m not dumb, I know girls hate it.  And I’m sleeping on the floor because I thought I could avoid being woken up and yelled at, just like this!  Get your head out of your ass, Phoebe.  If I wanted to make you to hate me, I wouldn’t have to go out of my way to do it.”

 

    “Keeping me here wasn’t enough for you,” I spoke sharply, ignoring what he’d just said.  “Now you’ve got to try to mess with my head, make me think you’re not the lowlife you really are?  Good luck with that, because you lost your chance when you shot Emmett, when you threatened to kill my brother and my boyfriend if I didn’t come with you, and when you drugged me and threw me in the basement!”

 

    I turned on my heel and stalked toward the hall.  By now I was steaming, angrier than I’d been in a long time.  I threw open the door and didn’t stop stomping until I threw myself into one of the big beanbags.

 

    “What did he do this time?” came a voice from the kitchen table, making me jump.

 

    I turned my head, finding Leo with a bowl of cereal in front of him, looking amused.  I huffed and rolled my eyes, sparing him from some of my anger.  After all, he was the one I least hated in the house.

 

    “Screw off, Leo,” I said.  He held up his hands, then went back to his cereal.

 

    I turned my head back to look at the ceiling, fully intent on brooding, but now I didn’t feel like I had enough anymore.  Closing my eyes, I admitted to myself I was annoyed with the fact that Leo could calm me down just by being him, much like Peter could.

 

    I sat quietly, remembering a time not long ago where I’d been especially mad at Tyler.  He’d stood me up to hang out with an ex-girlfriend of his, one he had assured me he’d lost contact with months before.  We had been together for almost two years at that point, so the chance that he had been cheating on me hit me harder than I would’ve liked.   Tyler and I had a very obnoxious shouting match, throwing insults neither of us really meant, just to see who would cave first.  It was a terrible way to sort things out, but neither of us cared to sit down and have a conversation.

 

    Tyler finally stopped the madness by walking out, but had left me angry to the point of tears.  Markus and Tyler had been on a run and God knows where Emmett was, so Pete was the sole witness to the fight.  I’d collapsed into one of the chairs at the table, head in my hands as he crept into the kitchen from the living room.

 

    “Holy hell, Little L,” he’d said quietly.

 

    I’d leapt up, ready to scream at him like I had at Tyler, but the amused and innocent look on his face seemed to take all the spite out of me.  My body fell back into the chair, half laughing and half crying.

 

    “Damn it all, Pete,” I’d said quietly.  “Why can’t I get angry with you?”

 

    “I’ve just got one of those faces,” he’d replied in just the right tone to cripple me with laughter.  It hadn’t really been funny, but the stress and tears pouring from my body made me just a touch hysterical.

 

    I was far from hysterical now, though, I thought.  I hadn’t been offended by Jason’s acts of apparent kindness; I’d been annoyed and teased by them.  It was different when I didn’t love whoever I was shouting at.

 

    “If everyone wasn’t awake before, they are now,” Leo said casually.  “You’ve got a set of lungs on you.”

 

    I didn’t reply, only stared harder at the ceiling fan.  He cleared his throat and I heard the clink of silverware against a bowl, and I did my best to ignore the fact that he and Jason and everyone in this house existed.  It gave me a sense of peace for only a few seconds before a door opened to my right.

 

    “What in the hell were you shouting about now?” Blondie’s annoyed voice hit my ears.  “You’ve got to be running out of things to piss and moan about.”

 

    I said nothing, but glanced over at him.  His hair was hanging messily in his face, and he only wore a pair of oversized basketball shorts and two worn socks.  My gaze drifted back to the fan as I grunted quietly.

 

    “Apparently Jason was being an ass,” Leo imitated my voice very poorly.

 

    “Since when has that been new,” Blondie remarked, more of a tired mumble than words.  “Or a reason to wake the whole damn house?”

 

    I held my silence, arms crossed and tapping my feet on the floor.  Blondie shuffled past me and into the kitchen, where he proceeded to bang around the cabinets until he found what I assumed was a pan and placed in on the stove.  A few minutes later I heard sizzling, and not long after I smelled burning bacon.

 

    “It’s burning,” I stated openly, knowing he probably could’ve guessed that.  I’d found it entertaining to set him off.

 

    “I’m aware,” he said, annoyance creeping back into his voice.

 

    The sizzling mostly stopped, but the burning smell did not.  I wrinkled my nose and sat up.  My stomach growled as I took in the bacon smell, no matter that it was burnt.  I stood and walked into the kitchen, where Blondie was staring at his poor excuse for a plate of breakfast.  He reminded me increasingly of Emmett, aside from the bleached-hair-epic-douche vibe.  Emmett couldn’t cook for shit, which is why I’d started taking over meals for them in the first place.  I glanced at the pan Blondie had used, still sitting on the stove.  Grease bubbled on it, making me grimace.

 

    “Problem?” Blondie asked defensively, taking a bite of his burnt bacon.  I could tell he fought the urge to put it down.

 

    I snickered, brushing past him to find a bowl.  I returned with a small paper bowl I’d found, then set it on the counter next to the stove.

 

    “You just need a little help, Blondie,” I said snottily, lifting the pan of grease and pouring it carefully into the bowl.  After it had drained, I set the pan down and pushed the bowl to the side to cool.

 

    “Don’t call me ‘Blondie’,” he huffed.  I heard the trash can open and smiled, satisfied as his breakfast hit the bottom.

 

    “I’ll call you what I want,” I replied casually, then moved to the fridge.

 

    When he didn’t reply, I looked around to see if they’d restocked it.  They hadn’t, and all that was left was a few eggs, fruits and vegetables, and a small amount of bacon.  The rest was all left over carry out, and looked very unappealing.  I pulled out the carton of eggs, a tomato, and the rest of what Blondie hadn’t burned.

 

    He gave me a weird look as I stood up, pulled out a knife, and began slicing the tomato on the counter.  I rolled my eyes and continued.  Ten minutes, seven eggs, and five strips of bacon later, I slid the pan off the burner and pulled out a large plate.  I poured what I’d made — bacon and tomatoes in eggs was something I’d loved for years — on the plate and set it on the island.

 

    “There,” I said.  I put the pan back, leaned my back against the counter, and waited.  “I was getting tired of seeing you all struggle for a decent meal.”

 

    “What the hell is that?” Blondie wrinkled his nose.

 

    “Eggs with bacon tomato bits in it,” I stated, crossing my arms.  “If you’re too picky, you can dig your burnt meal out of the trash.”

 

    He shot me an eye roll before taking out a paper plate and a fork and scooping a little onto it.  I watched as he took a bite, then smiled slyly when he didn’t say anything.

 

    “Nothing to say?” I asked.  Blondie shot me a look and walked out of the kitchen, his plate with him.  His door closed a few seconds later.  I laughed smugly, then grabbed a plate of my own.

 

    “I get some, right?” Leo asked.  I glanced at him.  He was smiling, an empty bowl of cereal in front of him.  He had eaten what I’d made last night and had liked it enough.

 

    I rose an eyebrow.  “Didn’t you just have your breakfast?”

 

    “Always have room for more,” he answered, standing and bringing his bowl to the sink.  He came back with a paper plate, looking expectant.

 

    “Whatever,” I said, taking a bite of what I’d made.  The dish always reminded me of my uncle before he went bat shit crazy, when he cooked for Sam and I during the weekends.  It felt odd to share it with someone other than the people I was closest to.

 

    He dug in and sat down, eating loudly.  I tried not to notice.

 

    “Why,” a voice came from the lower level, directed toward whoever was above, “does it smell like a cooking show every other day now?”  Their footsteps were heavy against the stairs, and a few seconds later Grant appeared in the kitchen.  He looked tired, probably coming back from standing guard at the warehouse.

 

    “Phoebe cooks,” Leo said before I could answer.  “It’s good.”

 

    “Good,” Grant said.  “I’m starving.”  I backed out of the way and sat across the table from Leo as Grant filled a plate, then walked slowly toward the stairs.  “Damn,” he mumbled through a mouthful of food.  “We’ve never had someone who can cook in the house before.”

 

    I smiled slightly, satisfied.  It bothered me a little, but even with just two weeks in Jason’s house I could start to see similarities between the guys — even though Jason’s group were dicks.  And since Grant was a friend of Emmett’s, it was easier to talk to him.  Leo was still my favorite, partly because he wasn’t too proud to admit he liked my food, and partly because he was just like-able.

 

    “Don’t count on it for too long,” I said truthfully, a hint of truth in my voice.

 

    The only reason I hadn’t tried to get out more was my bet with Jason.  I cursed myself again and again for staying true to my wagers, but Sam and my uncle had raised me well.  But if Sam or Tyler got to me, stopping them was out of my control.

 

    Grant glanced at me, his fork half way to his mouth.  He knew what I meant, but his expression was disbelieving.  But if he had a remark, he kept it to himself and continued eating.  By now the only thing left of what I’d made was only a chunk the size of a golfball, so I tossed it in the trash.  Without sparing Leo or Grant a look, I returned to my spot on the bean bag.

 

    A few minutes later I heard Jason’s footsteps coming down the stairs, and looked over with a glare.  He didn’t so much as acknowledge my presence as he brushed by and into the kitchen.  I let out a short breath through my nose.

 

    “I’m heading out,” he said.  “Carter and I are heading a few towns over to work on a deal.  I need one of you to talk to Lucas about Friday night — we all have to be here.  It’s important.  If he gives you any shit, tell him I gave an order.”

 

    And with that, he treaded down the stairs and the garage door opened an closed.  My curiosity peaked as Grant walked into the living room.

 

    “Friday?” I asked.  “What’s going on Friday?”  Grant shook me off, heading toward Blondie’s room.  I rose an eyebrow.  “I’m going to be here anyway, may as well just tell me.”

 

    “Jason’s throwing a party,” Leo said from the table.  He got up, walked over, and plopped into a bean bag next to mine.  “Strengthening ties, or whatever.  If you ask me, it’s gonna blow up for sure.  All those dealers in one place — major competition vibes, you know?”

 

    “Thankfully, no one asked you,” Grant rolled his eyes and knocked on Blondie’s door.  “If Jason isn’t worried, we shouldn’t be.”

 

    I didn’t say anything while Grant told Blondie what Jason had said.  Blondie hit the door with his fist but gave in after Grant mentioned it being an order.  I sunk further into my bean bag after he closed the door and Grant sat down at the table.

 

    A party; that was interesting.  Markus had never organized one because he was afraid it’d get out of hand, and didn’t like the idea of how many of our suppliers would be carrying guns.  It didn’t seem needed, in our situation or in Jason’s, since Jason was one of the most well known distributers and had several suppliers and allies.  It must have been to make more money, or get another person caught in the trade.  The whole system was a mess.

 

    “What’s the party for?” I asked.  “You’ve got all you need; enough to last you a couple years if you’re smart about it.  You don’t need knew ties — and last I knew, you were mooching off of our suppliers.”

 

    Leo shrugged.  “Jason has parties every so often.  Just flashing his money, I guess.  We just follow orders.”

 

    I considered this for a moment.  “How did you even get caught up in this place?”  I turned my head toward Leo and watched his face.  “Why here; why Jason?”

 

    He looked like he wasn’t going to tell me, but gave in after a few seconds.  “I got into trouble a while ago with a couple dicks from a gang that doesn’t exist anymore.  They cornered me — and were going to kill me — until Jason showed up and…”  He hesitated.  “Shot them.  I owe him my life, and here I am.”

 

    I looked away after giving him a noise of acknowledgment.  Jason had saved Leo’s life.  I definitely hadn’t seen that coming, seeing as Leo wasn’t necessarily the smartest.  Maybe the guys had had something Jason wanted, but there still wasn’t a reason for Jason to keep Leo alive.  Mercy; that’s what his act had been.  And he’d gotten someone to push around out of it.

 

    “What’s your story, Conn?” I said pointedly at Grant.

 

    “How about you share your life story,” Grant said defensively, sounding irritated.  I rolled my eyes.

 

    “That’s a story for another day,” I replied absentmindedly.  The truth was that I didn’t want to admit I’d been more or less abandoned by my parents, forced into the care of my uncle until Markus found Sam and I when I was twelve, and learned when I was fifteen that my uncle had died of a heart attack two years before.

 

    No one said anything for a long time, and I wasn’t going to be the first to break the silence.

 

    Several hours later, it was midnight and I had gone upstairs to shower and change.  I pulled on my black sweatpants and yellow t-shirt.  They were my own clothes, as I refused to wear those given to me by Jason.  After walking out into the room, I spotted the air mattress at the foot of Jason’s bed.  I headed straight for it, unwilling to face his false kindness in letting me use his bed like I knew he would.

 

    I pulled the sleeping bag off of the mattress and grabbed a blanket from Jason’s bed, the only thing I’d use from there.  I was tired, even after lounging all day, and it didn’t take long for me to fall sleep.

 

    But it wasn’t restful; I had a stirring dream of someone carrying me…  It was Jason…  But I couldn’t force myself to wake up.

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