I didn’t come down until the sky had been black outside of Jason’s window and bass had been vibrating the floor for three hours. The lights were off downstairs, but several colored lights and strobes that people had brought were lighting up a majority of the space. People were crowding in the middle of the living room where they’d set up a makeshift dance floor and had kicked the beanbags to the wall. Several empty cups had already been discarded to the side, and the room smelled like skunk. My nose wrinkled, recognizing the pot smell.
I stood at the top of the stairs, wearing another of Jason’s outfits. A royal blue dress was slung over my left shoulder and wrapped snuggly around my middle before falling loosely to just above my knees. Black suede wedges that laced up my foot were giving my about three inches — Jason had probably taken my size from my boots — and a leather bracelet brushed against the base of my thumb. My hair fell down my back in waves, something I was thankful for having naturally. Somehow I’d found makeup in my duffel, leftover from some trip I’d taken a long time ago, so my eyes were dark and my lips were a muted red.
I only waited a few seconds before making my way down the stairs. My eyes were searching for Jason, but I couldn’t find him in the living room. He was probably at the table playing beer pong, knowing him.
The people around me were dancing clumsily, but in the middle were just a notch short of screwing each other. I almost laughed. This was the stereotypical high school party, something I didn’t expect from Jason. I honestly thought that there would’ve been an air like the parties I went to with Tyler, a little less teen dancing and a little more business. But looking around at the people bumping into me, I noticed that all of them looking old enough to be graduating or have already graduated. Maybe they were just the type of people Jason drew.
I was about to step into the kitchen when I felt a hand on my waist.
I spun around, ready to hit whoever it was, when I realized that I still had to play this dumb little game of Jason’s. My temper had to calm, and I had to act like I enjoyed being here. One of the parts of that was playing along at parties.
“Hey,” the guy said, pulling my toward him. He was about a head taller than me and had well-groomed chocolate hair that matched his eyes. From his looks he seemed about twenty and looked like an accomplished track athlete. “I haven’t seen you around here before. All these faces, and the only one I haven’t seen is yours.”
I gave him a quick smile. “Not from around here.”
“I figured,” he replied, leaning close to my ear. I side-smile glanced across his features. “I would’ve remembered you.”
I cleared my throat loudly. It wasn’t that I couldn’t hold my own around other guys, it was just that Tyler had always taken care of them for me. When Tyler was around, no one ever approached me, and there wasn’t usually a time when I didn’t have him beside me. I felt uncomfortable, and did a poor job of hiding it.
“I need a drink,” I said, hoping to sound dismissive, but the guy squeezed my waist as his expression brightened.
“Wait right here,” he told me. He leaned in fast and whispered into my ear, “I’ll get us something.”
Before I could protest he brushed past me, brushing his hand over my bare shoulder as he walked away. I bit my lip and stood dumbly for a second, then mentally shook myself. As casually as I could, I took the longest path I could around to the kitchen table, hoping to avoid the guy. Glancing back where I had stood, I saw him looking around for me and made a mental note to steer clear of him.
I turned back to where I was headed. A ring of people two rows thick was around the kitchen table. My feet took me over to it, stepping over empty cans and bottles on the way. When I reached the group I looked over the shoulder of a girl in front of me who wore a dress so short I thought it was a shirt and seemed to radiate the smell of alcohol. Sure enough, Jason was sat at the head of the table with a pair of cards in his hand.
My eyes trailed to the middle of the table where a pool of cash and small possessions sat in a heap. A ring of car keys caught my glance and I snorted. Some idiot hadn’t brought enough cash to play, a bad move on his part. You lost more than you gained in poker. Judging by the empty cans in front of each player, they weren’t even aware they were about to lose.
I looked back at Jason. He didn’t look up from his cards as he tossed in several chips. I couldn’t hear the clink of the pieces over the bass throbbing in my ears. My fingers fumbled with the tool-like material of my dress as I watched Jason. A crease was forming between his eyebrows and concentration riddled his face. I bit the inside of my cheek and dropped my hands to my sides.
Internally, I was fighting a battle. I needed to make a move on Jason, but Grant had told me that Jason meant business during parties. Did that mean his act fell off when he was gambling? It had seemed so when I’d tried to bargain my way out, but that’d been only a few days into my stay here. He wouldn’t have started playing his mind game so soon. If I showed up here with my act, he’d have to bring his.
I was about to make my way toward him when a girl who looked nineteen stepped up to Jason. She wore heels nearly twice as tall as mine with a skin-tight white dress that only left her tan lines to the imagination. Her hair was pulled into a high bun and I could hardly see her eyes because of her dark makeup. She bent over, sticking her butt out more than needed, to whisper something in Jason’s ear with a smirk. I saw the corner of his mouth twitch and I felt my blood boil.
I couldn’t believe it bothered me so much. It was probably the fact that her interfering could throw off the whole night I’d planned on messing with his head. I took a deep breath and stepped back, trying to think of some way to get her away from him. My eyes searched the room, crowded to the point where I didn’t think it could comfortably hold more people. I could say someone was looking for her, but that would be hard to convince her without someone looking. Smoothing my dress, I turned back to look at Jason.
The girl was now sitting on top of Jason, his arms around her waist to hold his cards. His chin was resting on her shoulder and she wore a satisfied smile. I had to bite my tongue to stop from screaming in frustration. My eyes widened, incredibly surprised with myself. Why was this girl bothering me so much?
I had to step again. A few seconds later I realized I hadn’t talked to Leo since I’d gone upstairs. I needed to find him — he could cool me down. Jason would have him doing something dumb, something no one else wanted to do. The door; he was probably running the door.
My feet carried me through the kitchen and down the stairs. A few people brushed past me but I ignored them and soon my heels tapped onto the tile floor.
My eyes immediately found the small screen next to the heavy door leading outside. It usually said ‘ARMED’ but I realized that it now said ‘DISARMED’. It made sense, since Jason was having a party, but my heart quickened. I could get out.
Leo appeared in the doorframe in a jacket and dark jeans, despite the heat the summer still had. I could see the outline of a hand gun inside his jacket and the corners of my mouth twitched upward.
“You should tuck it into your jeans in the back,” I told him. He rose his eyebrows, studying me. “It’s too obvious in that pocket; tells them right where to go for it if they want to jump you. It’s easier to grab, too.”
He looked down and felt for the weapon, then quickly switched it to the place between his back and his jeans. After he pulled his jacket down over it, he stepped toward me and let the door closed behind him. Leo watched me carefully, more skeptical than usual. I was confused until I realized he was half-guarding the door.
“I’m not going to try to escape,” I rolled my eyes, though I felt my stomach drop with disappointment. “Not tonight.”
Leo relaxed a tiny bit. “What are you down here for then?” He shrugged. “Not much down here but the basement and the door.”
I sat down on the fourth stair and leaned against the wall. “I had to cool down. People make me angry.”
He nodded. “I know what you mean.”
I laughed a little. “I didn’t even get to the kitchen before I had a guy hitting on me.” I shook my head. “People are gross.”
Leo laughed. “Jason attracts a weird crowd. Gets us a lot of cash, though.”
I gave him a harsh look, reminded of the reason I’m even in Jason’s house. I couldn’t imagine the day I wouldn’t be bitter.
He seemed to catch what I was thinking and was quiet for a second, leaning against the door. The sudden surge of anger toward Jason jogged my memory as to why I came down here in the first place. I had to get that girl off of him, because chances were she wasn’t going to be gone after only a few minutes away. I stood.
“I’m going to head back up,” I told him. Leo nodded, and I made my way back into the kitchen.
I didn’t make it two steps before the guy from earlier was back.
“If I didn’t know any better,” he said slyly. “I’d say you just tried to avoid me for the past ten minutes.”
My insides dropped to my toes. I had to get this guy off of me, but I didn’t know how. I glanced over at the table and saw a flash of white dress still on Jason’s lap. An idea hit me, and I turned back to the guy.
“I didn’t catch your name,” I said, putting on a small smile.
He returned my grin with and even wider one. “Michael Davis. You are?”
I thought for a second about giving him a fake name, but couldn’t think of one in time. “Phoebe Lastings.”
Michael’s eyes widened. “No shit. Your brother and that Lebber guy tried to raid this place a couple weeks ago!”
I blinked. “Hold that thought.”
Without waiting for him to reply, I turned and walked over to behind Jason’s chair. Looking quickly, I noticed that Michael was still watching. Perfect. I bent down, just as the girl had, and moved my mouth close to her ear.
“Don’t look now,” I said softly. “But red shirt at ten o’clock is looking for you. He’s got a drink with your name on it.”
Her head turned and I could tell she was surprised, but the alcohol on her breath told me she would go with anything.
“Which one?” she whisper-shouted back to me. I watched Jason carefully, but he didn’t seem to notice I was talking with his wide-eyed lap dog.
Making sure Michael was still watching, I smiled. “The one that can’t keep his eyes off of you.”
Her head spun around, looking for him. It took her a couple seconds, but she found him and squealed. “He’s cute!”
“All the more reason to go for it,” I told her. “His name is Michael, by the way.”
She beamed at me. “Thanks, girly. Looking forward to that tonight!”
I blinked as she shot from Jason’s lap in a flash. Rolling my eyes, I looked down at an indifferent Jason. My eyebrow rose, trying to figure out what I should do with the current situation. If I didn’t replace where the girl had been, I knew some other whore at this party would. Once again, the thought made me angry. My mind was made up, and I knew what I had to do to play the game.
I let the skirt of my dress brush over Jason’s lap and smiled slyly as I sat, leaning back against his chest. My hair fell off my shoulders, exposing my bare one as I crossed my legs. As if by reflex, Jason’s arms slid around my waist and grasped his cards. I didn’t think Jason knew it was me yet, since he was so focused on the game in front of him. I glanced at his cards, noticing his good hand, then lowered my voice.
“The last time we gambled, I signed up for a month in your room,” I said. The words spiked an annoyance in me, but had the effect I wanted when I felt him tense.
He recovered quickly, but said softly, “Didn’t think we’d ever end up it this position, Phoebe.”
I nearly shivered, but held my composure. “Never say die, Jason. I’m quite comfy.”
He chuckled, low and chilling. “The words that have come out of your mouth in the past few days — you’d think you actually liked being here.”
I turned my head so I was nose-to-nose with him. Our mouths were inches apart, too close for comfort, but I didn’t pull away. “Who said I couldn’t change my mind?”
Jason stopped moving for a long moment, watching my eyes carefully. He was looking for a waver, a sign that I was lying. I wasn’t going to give him any, because I was a good actor. When he’d finally decided something he wasn’t telling me, he continued to toss poker chips into the pile.
I sat watching the game for nearly an hour and a half when a new player joined. My arm was slung around Jason’s shoulder and I was fiddling with the collar of his shirt. I knew I shouldn’t have been content with where I was, but I couldn’t help but noticing how well I seemed to fit with Jason. The thought was quickly shaken from my mind.
“Buy-in is ten grand,” Jason told the newbie. His voice vibrated against my body and I breathed deeply, thankful for the clean air bubble around the kitchen table; Jason didn’t allow smoking while they played.
“I’ll take it.”
I looked up, surprised. The new player was Michael, with the girl in white no where to be found. I glanced around the party and couldn’t find her, but figured she was in the middle of the grind fest in the living room. My eyes found Michael and I noticed right away the intense stare he was giving me. I felt uncomfortable under his gaze and, as if by reflex, drew closer to Jason.
Michael tossed a roll of cash out onto the table and was handed a pair of cards, and they played on.
About half-way through the game, a guy looking about twenty-three approached Jason and said something in his ear. The music was still loud enough that I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I waited to say something until the guy left.
“What was that about?” I asked.
Jason glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “A deal.”
I watched his expression for a second, then turned back to look at the table. Like Grant had said, I wasn’t getting much of a reaction out of Jason. He seemed more serious than I’d ever seen him — tense, almost. This was how Markus got when a big shipment was about to come in, and we didn’t have anywhere separate from the house to put it.
Again, Michael caught my eye. He was still looking at me, like he had been since he sat down. It was getting annoying, and I wanted him to leave.
As if on cue, his turn came and he laid his hand on the table. “I’m out. See you all at the next block party.”
He stood, his eyes on me, and walked around the table in Jason’s and my direction. It wasn’t until I felt him next to my ear that I tensed.
“I can tell you’re not fond of me, Lastings,” he said so only we could hear. “Sending another girl after me wasn’t nice. You’re a sweet girl, so I’ll give you another chance. Leave with me, and you’ll have the best night of your life.”
I got a weird chill from his words. Something about them didn’t seem right, and I scrambled for something to say. I let the first thing that came to mind leave my mouth.
“See, that wouldn’t be fair to Jason,” I said, loud enough for all three of us to hear. “I’m filling out a promise I made, and leaving tonight would just make it seem empty. Wouldn’t want that, right?”
I felt Jason’s arm tighten around my waist and got a weird fluttery feeling in my stomach. He leaned forward to see around me and laid eyes on Michael a second later.
“She’s with me,” he said. “If that weren’t obvious enough.”
I cursed at myself for enjoying the possessive tone in Jason’s voice. Adding to the effect, I leaned back into Jason’s chest. Michael’s face went from surprised to annoyed.
“I would’ve thought that you’d willingly leave the house of the guy who shot your best fighter,” he snapped. “Of course, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Your group took something from him, and he did the same. To McCann, you’re just an object; but not to me.”
“Fuck off,” Jason barked. “Feel free to continue on your path to the door.”
I didn’t react as Michael scowled, gave me one last look, then walked away. All that he’d said was true, and I felt numb. What was I even doing here? I could’ve forced my way out the way I almost had that first day here. Leo was easy to overpower, even for me. I didn’t have to play this dumb game with Jason. I could’ve tried to leave with Michael, I could’ve acted how angry I really was and not worked so hard to convince Jason I was happy. Yet why did I still play? Why was I still here?
I stole a look at Jason, expecting to have to hide anger. But as I watched his hazel eyes find mine, the strongest feeling I had was confusion. The confusion wasn’t even caused by him — my own thoughts were.
We watched each other for a long moment, both unblinking. I had never looked at his face in such detail before, but now that I was I noticed all off the creases in his expression. I knew they were from stress and hardship, because Sam bore the same marks. Almost without realizing it, I came to the conclusion that Jason was more like my brother than either of them wanted to admit. Granted, I didn’t know if Jason had been raised by his uncle and handed off to a gang at 12, but I knew how hard growing up in that situation was and all of the energy you can spend trying to control things.
I felt sympathetic, I felt frustration, and I felt loneliness. Up until this point, I hadn’t realized that every emotion I’d experienced had been caused — driven, even — by loneliness. Everyone had been so angry to see me go, but so far I couldn’t tell if they’d even lifted a finger to get me out. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
As I opened my mouth to say something, I realized I didn’t have anything to say. Jason watched me closer, hoping to pull my thoughts from my head. And as I felt his grip on my waist become tighter, I realized that all of this — all of the things I thought he’d done to screw with me — probably hadn’t been meant for that. Granted, I couldn’t read Jason’s mind; I couldn’t tell what he was actually thinking. But the way he was looking at me now, my stomach was fluttering almost out of control.
And I remembered how it felt when he’d kissed me, how I’d been stuck with sensation of it for longer than I maybe would’ve liked. It was something that stayed with me as I fell asleep, like I’d been missing for so long…
It happened before I could stop myself.
My arms wrapped around his neck and I pushed my mouth against his, feeling his surprise turn quickly to seriousness. Immediately I was hit with the tingling, but it was just my mouth this time. I felt it all over with his arms around me, and my judgement fogged over.
I deepened the kiss, pulling myself tighter to him. He reacted the same way by wrapping both of his arms around me. Suddenly the blaring music wasn’t so loud and everyone around us wasn’t really there. When I moved to straddle Jason, he propped his arms under my legs and stood up.
“Shut it down,” he mumbled against my lips to someone I couldn’t see, then began walking from the table.
Before I knew it, I felt Jason climbing the stairs and I knew where we were headed — his room. But for some reason, I didn’t care. I held our kiss, pulling apart every so often for air. After a few seconds, Jason shoved his door open with his foot and walked to the bed, still unmade from when I got up this morning.
My back pressed against the mattress and my hands found Jason’s hair, tugging lightly as he found my hips. I felt him push me further onto the bed and lift himself on top of me, sinking between my legs. Our breathing was heavy and fast as I swept my arms under the hem of his shirt, feeling the muscles of his abdomen flex under my fingers. His own hands found their way under my dress and pressed against the small of my back.
I’d never had sex before. The topic had come up several times, but truthfully I’d avoided it. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel comfortable, but more so that I didn’t feel right. Granted, I’d come close several times, but Tyler always had more respect for me than to just keep going.
I felt my stomach drop. I hadn’t thought of him once tonight, and the realization hung heavy in my body. What I was doing was cheating, and it wasn’t fair to him. It shouldn’t have mattered whether I was still stuck in here or not. Maybe something more complicated than this came up. Though I highly doubted it, I knew Tyler well enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
In my dwelling on Tyler, I hadn’t noticed Jason had slipped his shirt off and was working at my dress. I tensed, disgusted with myself, and pushed on Jason’s chest. Our lips parted and we both let out a long breath. As Jason tipped his head down for another kiss, I turned my face away from him.
“No,” I said quietly. “Not now.”
He paused for a long moment, then relaxed his body. Jason placed a small kiss just below my jaw, then pulled himself from the bed. I felt the warmth of his body leave me and watched as he snagged his shirt from the floor and strode toward the door.
I was tingling all over, the result of what I’d just done with Jason. It was just like when he kissed me the first time, but instead of leaving behind confusion it left ache and want. My body was nearly shouting at me for stopping, but my mind was telling me I’d done the right thing — maybe.
I sat up and pulled my dress down, trying to think of it as if the positions were switched. If I found out Tyler had cheated on me while I was here, the only thing I knew for sure was that I’d feel betrayed. Almost as if he just needed me gone, and he have a shot at getting some action with some random slut on the streets. Just thinking about it made my heart hurt and my blood boil. He wouldn’t do it to me, and I wanted to think I wouldn’t do it to him.
But for some reason, I already regretted stopping Jason.