Home > Everything for Us (The Bad Boys #3)(12)

Everything for Us (The Bad Boys #3)(12)
Author: M. Leighton

My head aches from the scowl I know is plastered across my face. It’s been a constant companion for about seven years now. I know the feeling well.

Because there are two of us, they put us in a small room to await Dad. It reminds me of an interrogation room from one of those cheesy law shows on TV. All that’s missing is a bright light swinging over the table.

I sit in one of the cold, plastic chairs and lean back to cross my arms over my chest. I feel impatient. And on edge. I’m mulling over all the negativity that’s swirling around inside me when the door opens again and a guard escorts my cuffed and shackled father into the room.

My headache and every bad thing I’ve been thinking of melt away the instant his eyes meet mine. Like waves crashing against the shore, a thousand feelings collide, sending a spray of emotion through me. At once, I experience a dozen states and stages of my life in the blink of an eye. I’m the scared kid I was when I left seven years ago. I’m the confident, determined teenager I was before my mother was killed. I’m the angry boy growing up and butting heads with his father. I’m the child basking in the comfort of his parent. And I’m the man who’s been in exile, away from what’s left of his family, returned.

I see the tears well in his eyes and, before the guard can reach me, I’m on my feet and across the room, wrapping my arms around my father. I feel his bound hands rise to touch my shoulder on one side. He can’t embrace me, but he would if he could.

The few seconds I got to reunite with my father are worth the few minutes of restraint I get when two other guards burst through the door and physically remove me from the vicinity of my father and plant me back in the chair I just left. Not for one second do Dad and I break eye contact.

Once the guards are reasonably comfortable with my willingness to cooperate, they leave Inept Guard Number One in charge of the room again. I should feel guilty for making the guy look bad, but I don’t. He can kiss my ass. This is the dad I haven’t seen in seven years.

When the room is quiet, Dad speaks. “For seven years I’ve prayed that I’d see both my boys again, alive and healthy.” His voice breaks on the last and my chest gets tight with emotion. He takes a minute to collect himself before he continues. “How have you been, son?”

There are an ass-ton of complaints I could give, but not one of them seems relevant at the moment. “I’m fine. Alive. Back. Ready to get all this over with.”

He nods, his eyes flickering back and forth over my face like he’s memorizing my features. Granted, Cash and I are twins, but he and Mom could always tell us apart. And now, what with my “look,” which is nearly the polar opposite of the one he last saw, I’m sure he’s noticing even more differences.

“It’s like you and your brother switched places,” he says casually.

I feel the sting of resentment, like salt in a raw wound that never gets a chance to heal. “For the most part, I guess we have. He’s everything you wanted me to be. And I’m everything you were afraid he’d become.”

His smile is sad. “No, I could never be more proud of either of you. You’ve shown a strength I only wish I had. You’re both just like your mother.”

My heart twists painfully inside my chest. “I guess there’s no greater compliment.”

A barrage of imagery flits through my mind, every one involving my mother—her sitting on the edge of my bed; her dark blue eyes smiling down at me as she pushes my hair back; her laughing at me and Cash as we flex our childish muscles for her; her shaking her head at the mess I made in the kitchen; her crying over a plaque I made her in shop class; her cheering me on from the stands of the stadium; her telling me she’s proud of me for staying sober so I could drive my friends home.

She was the glue that held our family together. When she died, we fell apart. Went our separate ways. Became people she wouldn’t approve of, doing things she’d be ashamed of.

Animosity and anger swell inside me like an old friend. The desire to lash out, to hurt the people who hurt me rises up to choke me. Like it has for seven long years. But thoughts of what she would say, how she would chastise me for sinking to their level, war with those feelings, making me feel torn and lost, stealing the purpose that has brought me this far.

With an internal shake of my head, I push those thoughts away. There will be time to torture myself over them later. Right now, I have time with my father. And there are questions. Hundreds of questions.

But he preempts me.

“I’ll never forgive myself for what I’ve done to you boys, to our family. That’s a regret I’ll take to the grave. That and a dozen others. I was young. And stupid. Something neither of you boys is. You won’t make a mess of things like I did. I know that. I trust you both to do the right thing. Always.”

He pauses before he continues. His face wrinkles into a cringe. I’m sure he’s beating himself up over his choices. Probably like he’s done hundreds of times over the last many, many years.

“I hope you can forgive me one day. In the end, I thought I was doing what was best. For you. For our family. Cash,” he says, turning his attention toward my brother, who has been sitting beside me, quietly observing. “I know it seems unfair that I didn’t tell you about your brother, but you were such a hothead. I knew what you’d do. Pretending to be him, learning some self-control and having a healthy focus for all your anger seemed like a good way to help you turn your life in a different direction. I never meant to hurt you. I hope you can see that.”

Cash says nothing. His face is a blank, unreadable mask. Even to me, his twin.

And then Dad turns to me. “And Nash, I knew you’d make it. I’ve never met a person more determined to succeed. You were born driven. And you were always a good kid. I knew you’d do what I asked you to do, without question.” He looks down at the table, like he can’t bear to look me in the eye. I see his throat work as he swallows hard before glancing up at me again. “I didn’t realize you had so much of your brother in you. But I should’ve. I should’ve known you’d be angry, that you wouldn’t be able to let it go. By sending you away, I turned you into something you hate. But don’t you ever think for one second that I’m not proud of you. You survived. You made a way for yourself without . . . anything or anyone. So few people could do that as adults and you were just a kid. I relied on you more than any parent has a right to. I only hope that one day you’ll see what that means. What it meant to me and your brother, what it would’ve meant to your mother. What it should mean to you as a man. And I also hope you can see your way clear of these years. Forgive yourself. Find a way to get back the life you gave up. Losing it would be the biggest tragedy of all. If your mother were alive, it would kill her to see you give up.”

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