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By:Amanda Lance

“I thought that was just your retarded sense of humor.”

“Oh no.” Wallace laughed. “I wouldn’t kid about something that stupid.”

“Wanna talk ’bout stupid?” I strained, my arms at my sides, focusing on the muscles that tensed up there and my teeth grinding back and forth against one another. I bounced up, ready for the fight if there was gonna be one. If that worthless muscle-head wanted to start throwing out names, I was more than willin’ to start throwing punches. “Let’s talk ’bout stupid. You doing that driver where everybody and their mother could see was pretty goddamn stupid!”

Reid swore under his breath and kicked the side of the house. “What are you asshats trying to do to me?”

“He was just a meth head!” Wallace shouted. “The cops would have thought he was a deal gone bad! But you can’t nab a girl—”

“What in the hell would you have done?”

“I told you to take care of it!”

“Who do you think you are, tryin’ to tell me anything?”

“Shut up, both of you!”

We both looked back at Reid, who was busy trying to dial something into his phone and rub his temple. I had to admit, I had a headache, too, though whether it was from the lack of sleep or getting my nose busted, I wasn’t too sure.

Suddenly, before I could even have another thought, Reid opened his mouth and I felt like my insides were getting chewed up with barbed wire. “We gotta kill her.”

I said no, but Wallace’s yeah at the same time jammed mine up.

All of the sudden, she started screaming again, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. If Wallace needed any convincing, that was it. Before I could get up, he stomped inside, screaming at all of us as loud as he could:

“What did I tell you? What did I say?”

Time moved really slowly between here and there, so I could see everything we tore up on the way to the kitchen. Reid musta called for Yuri ’cause he was right behind us, too; whether he went to stop me or Wallace didn’t much matter. In my head, if they weren’t gonna help me keep her safe, then they were against me, and I couldn’t have that. Best friends or no best friends, I suddenly knew I wasn’t gonna let them get between me and her—no matter what that meant.

She was pulling hard against the ropes, and I was regretting that I had tied her so good. Anybody with half a brain—Polo included—could see she was scared, shaking and all that, when Wallace came and rushed her. When I saw his arm fly out towards her I probably never moved so fast in my whole life, grabbing his elbow and taking out the back of his knee with a good kick. I was a little aware of the guys backing away as he tried to swing around and hit me in the ribs but mostly there was just the anger—The Red—takin’ over all the thoughts in my head and sealing up all the questions I might have had about what I needed or wanted to do.

But then something amazing happened. Above The Red, I heard her whimpering, and as I slammed him against what was left of the stove, I could see how bad her whole body was shaking. Something about it, about her, made me not want to hurt him anymore.

She made me not so angry.

“I said no.”

I steadied myself in front of her, though I don’t think she noticed on account of she had her eyes shut tight. At least, though, Wallace seemed to have the right idea. I stared at him even as the guys tried to talk both of us down. As much as I wanted to finish bashing him up, I wanted even more not to scare her, didn’t want to risk her getting hurt—especially on account of me.

“Charlie’s right, Wallace,” I heard Yuri say. “Let’s just wait to hear what Ben says.”

Polo joined us then, shovin’ his way up to the front, and it was the first time in a few cold seconds that I took my eyes off Wallace. “Did I miss something good?”

Reid and Yuri laughed, but I was quick to see Wallace stand back up and give her this evil look like she was something gross or ugly. I always knew Wallace was real stupid, but I never had a good example of it until I saw him look at her like that.

“Yeah,” he said. “All right, then, boys—whatever you say.”

I kept my mouth shut while he gave me this smartass smile, practically threatenin’ that I was gonna be sorry for having everybody ganging up on him later. I didn’t give a damn, though. As long as she was still in one piece, I could deal with him later. The fellas didn’t hesitate clearing the way for him, and though none of ’em said it right away, I got the feeling they were real annoyed, too.

As soon as he was outta sight, Yuri sighed and lit up one of those black cherry smokes he likes to roll himself. I think those things are ’bout as nasty as anything else, but in a pinch I think I’d smoke almost anything.