He drops his arms and his shoulders sag. This is what snagged me initially to Matt: his ability to appear vulnerable when he’s physically anything but. “He came home all beat to hell and he said you were there and I know that can’t be true. You’d never cross me like that.”
The little liar actually told the truth for once. Where was the fib when I needed it? “Conner told you I did it?”
“He started to tell me what happened. Said you were there. Then he realized the guys were in the other room.”
“The guys” being the other fighters from Black Fire. He’d never admit to them what transpired between us. Matt continues, “When Conner wouldn’t talk, we drew the natural conclusion—Jax and/or Kaden jumped Conner. Out of respect for you, I kept everyone from going after your family that night.”
“Respect for me?” I echo.
A muscle under his eye jumps. “You covered for me once. Consider the debt paid.”
Tremors run down my spine. He’s never mentioned that night before. Just hearing him acknowledge it…
“Tell me who did it,” Matt says. “And we’ll take care of this in the cage.”
I wrap my hair into my fist. I don’t want Jax and Kaden paying for my sins, but they constantly go against guys from Black Fire at matches. Better the cage with a ref than on the street, with weapons, which has been my greatest fear. “What event?”
“No event or referee. Conner’s wrist is sprained. There’s no mercy rule on this.”
No mercy rule meaning no tournament. No public event with rules or referees. No ability to tap out if the fight becomes sick or demented or too much. A fight like this—it’s a street brawl and it could mean severe damage… It could mean death and it’s what I’ve been working desperately for months to avoid.
“No. Not happening.” I bite my tongue to keep from informing Matt that if Conner hadn’t tried to use my hair to drag me to the ground I wouldn’t have had to try to snap his wrist. What’s unreal is that if Matt looked at me, like really looked at me, he could see the bruises behind the makeup, he’d see my red knuckles, he’d see the truth, but Matt, like always…like most people, only sees what he wants.
“Then we go after both of them,” he threatens. “Hit them whenever and wherever we want.”
He moves to walk past me and I grab his arm. “Did you ever think that Conner was the one doing the jumping?”
“Why would he do that? We fight Kaden and Jax in the ring. We don’t need to street brawl to prove a point.”
“Because Conner has a drug problem.”
“Shit, Haley.” Matt rips his arm out of my grasp. “We’re back to this. Your lies killed us last time. Do you think it’s wise to go there now?”
“Listen to me!” I’m desperate enough to permit the truth to flow. “I did it. I hurt Conner. I had medication for my dad and Conner jumped me.”
“There’s no way you could have done that damage.” A vein bulges in his neck. “You’re covering for someone. Tell me who it was and tell me now.”
I close my eyes the moment I hear the voice that should be nowhere near me. I hear West. “It was me. I did it.”
I assess the guy in front of me: my height, my build, my problem. Actually, it’s the kid skulking behind them that’s my issue, but overhearing the argument between Haley and this bastard, it appears all related.
“Who the hell are you?” the guy towering over Haley asks.
“West. Same question back.” Since, in theory, I shouldn’t have a clue who he is.
“Matt Spencer,” Haley answers for him, then gestures to the guy that knocked the hell out of me on Friday night. “That’s Conner, his younger brother. West is new here, Matt, and I’m guessing he’s highly medicated or high and therefore has no idea what he’s saying.”
I chuckle. Highly medicated. Good one.
Haley mouths, “Leave.”
I subtly shake my head. Conner and I have unfinished business and I’m not impressed with the direction of the conversation between her and big brother. “Granted, on most weekends that may be true, but I remember this past Friday night clearly enough.”
The skulker joins the party. “I remember my fist blacking you out.”
“I have a hard time believing you remember your name.” All the signs of a hard-core user are there: paled-out face, shadows under his blank eyes and jittery as hell. I’ve seen it before at my old school. Drugs are one of those things that cross party and money lines.
Conner flashes forward and in simultaneous movements Haley slides in front of me and Matt tackles his younger brother, demanding that he “Back off” and reminding him that he “Can’t afford another suspension.”
“Are you suicidal?” Haley stretches on her toes and tries to match my height. She fails. “Is that the issue? There are 1-800 numbers that can help.”
The walking, talking inferno is back and I like it. “You looked like you needed backup. You helped me on Friday, so I’m helping you now.”
She collapses onto her heels. “I don’t need your help. I need you to listen and stay the hell away from me. Are you deaf? Maybe have a little hearing loss you’re ashamed to admit to? Because I know I specifically told you to stay away.”
“Did you do it?” Matt demands. Skulker boy stands next to big brother with his hands shoved in his pockets, but his grimace suggests he’s just as eager as me for round two. “Did you jump Conner?”
Other guys slip into the picture. They hang back, taking seats at the table or leaning against the windows. Why are my odds always bad?
Haley turns her head so they can’t see her whisper to me, “Say no and let me handle it.”
My eyes widen when I look at Conner. I mean, really look at him. The yellowish fading bruise on his jaw—I did that. But the black eye…the wrist. It can’t be possible. I was the only one there and when I woke up there was Haley. “Nice brace.”
“Fuck you,” Conner snaps.
“Go, West,” Haley murmurs. “You’re making this worse.”
“Who’s the new kid?” A guy with a Mohawk walks up.
Haley throws her head back. “Really?” She mows down the Mohawk boy with a brutal glare. “I mean, really, Jax?”
Jax winks at her as another guy sidles up alongside of him. “It’s a little hard to eavesdrop while being on the opposite side of the room and I have a feeling we’re all interested in the same conversation. I’ll give a cookie to whoever tells me who hurt Haley and then we’ll make the decision, like the proper gentlemen we are, of what match we’ll be pounding this out in.”