Play Rough by Eva Ashwood
Even with all thefancy shit inside this house, all the nice appliances and the big TV, the gym downstairs is still the best thing about it. In the couple of days since I watched Sloan shoot and kill my dad, I’ve been spending a lot of time down here, trying to push my body into enough exhaustion to calm down my mind.
It’s not really working.
I punch the heavy bag hard, my fists flying, the rhythm of it working through me with ease. Everything else is a mess, but I’ve always had this.
Solid, heavy punches land on the bag, and my eyes are narrowed with focus. I can feel the burn in my muscles as I push myself harder than I usually do, letting the thud of my fists into the bag and the sound of my labored breathing fill my ears.
Sweat pours down my face, and I don’t break to wipe it away, shaking my head a little to keep it from running into my eyes. I came down here almost as soon as I got back from school today, and I don’t plan on leaving until my muscles are so worn out I can barely move.
Memories of my dad flash through my mind, and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. I think about him before all of this shit started, raising me on his own and making the best of our rough circumstances.
I think of him happy and teasing me while he made pancakes in our small, dingy kitchen. He always knew the right place to kick the side of our ancient stove to get it to work, grinning and saying that he’d bought us another couple of months at least before we had to buy another one.
When I was little, he always drove me to school when he had time, and he was there to pick me up at the end of the day, listening to me go on about whatever I was excited about that day with the same enthusiasm he showed for sports and fighting.
He was strong and brave, and even after losing the love of his life, he never stopped. He worked and scraped by so I could have a good life, and he was my last remaining family member and my best friend.
We were always there for each other.
And now, knowing he’s gone and wouldn’t be coming back…
It’s like there’s a hole in my heart that’s never going to heal. I keep going back and forth between being sad and furious, a whirlwind of emotions that keeps me from sleeping at night and makes it hard to function during the day. It’s still so fresh, I know that, but I can’t think forward to a time when it won’t hurt like this.
All those happy memories that we’re never going to have again are overlaid with the worst day of my life in my mind—and that last memory of my father taints all the other ones to the point where I feel sick just thinking about how things used to be.
As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget how I stood across the street from that empty lot, hidden behind the corner of a building, and watched Sloan raise his gun and end my dad’s life.
I remember it in flashes that rise up in such vivid detail they make my heart race.
I can still hear Dad saying he couldn’t do whatever they wanted him to, asking for more time.
I can still see Sloan’s stony face as he listened.
And worst of all, I can’t stop picturing my dad’s expression as the gun was aimed right at him.
The gunshots, I remember in silence. I can’t recall the sounds, just the impact of them as they hit my dad, and then the red color of his blood as it stained his shirt. The way it seemed to take him forever to fall, and then the way Sloan threw Dad’s body into the trunk of his car like he was a sack of garbage or something.
Every time I think about it, I feel bile rise up in my throat, making me feel like I need to throw up and get it all out of me.
And then I get really, really fucking angry.
That anger boils inside of me now, just as hot and fierce as always, and it comes out in my punches. I hit the bag harder and harder, grunting with the effort of it as my muscles burn. My knuckles ache, even with the wraps secured around them, but I push through it, ignoring anything but the follow-through of my arms, pulling my fists in and then lashing out, slamming them into the bag.
I picture Sloan’s face and imagine punching him right in the fucking jaw, making him feel even a little of the pain that I’m in right now.
A noise at the door startles me, and I stop, panting for breath and turning to look as I wipe sweat off my brow.
Rory walks in, dressed in gym shorts and a tank top, ready to work out himself, clearly. Usually I’m struck by how hot he is, all muscled arms with the tattoos that climb up from his wrists to his shoulders. It’s still there somewhere in the back of my mind, the appreciation for his body, but it’s way more muted than it normally is. Like I’m seeing him through a tunnel or something and not able to get a good focus.
He grins that easy grin of his, folding his arms as he takes me in with one up and down look.
“Damn, Hurricane. You were really going at it,” he says. “I’d hate to catch you on a bad day and get pummeled like that.”
There’s a beat of silence, and I realize a second too late that this is where I usually throw in a sassy or sarcastic comment. I’m off my game, and I scramble for something to say.
“I didn’t know you were watching.”
My breath is still coming hard and fast, and the words feel lame even as I speak them. I can only hope I don’t sound as hollow and chewed up as I feel.
Rory’s grin doesn’t falter, which is kind of a relief.
“Aw, come on. You know I’m always watching,” he teases. “How could I resist checking out so much badassery? You’ve got great form.” He winks. “And your stance is good too.”
He’s flirting with me, the way he always does. Teasing and eyeing me like he wants to step in and get his hands on my form here and now.
Usually, I’m down to banter back with him, but not today. There’s no spark of amusement or even annoyance as I stand here and look at him.
Instead, all I can think about is whether or not Rory knows Sloan killed my dad. If he knows that my father is dead, and he’s standing there making jokes and flirting with me anyway.
I have no idea what he and Levi know, and no way to ask. Sloan has no idea I saw what happened, and I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I’m still alive right now. It’s too dangerous to even get close to that topic with any of them until I have more information, and I can’t let anyone know that I know.
They have to think that I’m still just here for collateral, or that I think that’s why I’m still here, anyway. I can’t lose my in with them, or there goes my chance to tear down the fucking Black Roses from the inside.
Right now, the hope that I can make them hurt as much as I’m hurting is all that’s keeping me here, all that’s keeping me going. The only thing that’s stopping me from collapsing in on myself like a dying star, letting my grief and rage consume me until there’s nothing fucking left.
“Thanks,” I say stiffly, realizing I have to say something.
The groove I was in a moment ago with the heavy bag is gone. Instead of just standing here and watching Rory do his workout, I slip past him and head upstairs. He doesn’t stop me, and I’m grateful for that because I just want to be alone.
It’s so goddamned hard to pretend. Every time I close my eyes I see my dad falling, see those blood stains on the ground, and it makes it almost impossible to act normal around them.
But I have to keep it together if I want this to work.
I grit my teeth and head into the bathroom, turning on the water in the shower while I strip out of my sweaty clothes. I have to keep the mask up and my emotions under wraps. The guys can’t know anything is different, or everything will be ruined. If they find out, who knows what the fuck they’ll do to me. I don’t want to end up dead like my dad.
The hot water of the shower helps a little, beating down on my skin and tired muscles, washing away the sweat. I stand beneath the spray, letting it cascade down my body, head tipped back and eyes closed. If a few tears fall, then at least they’re washed away with the water as it swirls down the drain, and I take the time to clear my head as best I can while I wash up.
After what feels like a long time, I step out of the shower into the steamy bathroom, drying off and wrapping a towel around myself before I walk into the bedroom in search of clothes.
Then I freeze mid-step.
Rory is standing just inside the bedroom door, leaning against the doorframe. He grins as our gazes meet, giving me that same look from downstairs in the gym—only there’s more heat in his green eyes now from catching me in just a towel. He’s shameless, and it’s a sign of just how off my game I am that I don’t even feel mad to see him standing in my room uninvited, staring at me like he wants to devour me.
“I told you to be prepared for the tat,” he says, waggling his eyebrows.
I almost smile at the joke, my lips turning up just a bit at the corners, but it falls flat. I can’t even muster an eye roll like I usually do. Everything in me is screaming at me to act normal and push through the raw emotions churning in my chest before he figures out something is up, but I’m still having a hard time.
And Rory clearly notices. His smile fades, and he looks at me seriously, making a move like he’s going to step closer but then stopping himself.
“What’s going on, Hurricane? I know something’s wrong.” He cocks his head a little, his brows pulling together. “I could tell downstairs. You never let me get away with that much shit.”
I open my mouth to make some rebuttal, but nothing comes out. Shit. That’s not exactly helping. I just shake my head instead, hoping he’ll think I’m just tired or something.
“Mercy,” he presses, finally taking that step forward. “Come on. I’m not stupid. Just tell me what’s up.”
I swallow as I look at him, and he just stares right back, folding his arms in a way that makes it clear he’s not going to budge until I tell him something.