The Arrangement Vol. 14

By: H.M. Ward

CHAPTER 1




My head feels like a balloon, swollen and light. I’m lying on my back, inside the box, as my mind screams hysterically for freedom. I blink over and over again, trying to focus, but there’s only darkness. I can still move, but it’s like my limbs are dead weight. Whatever they injected is making me woozy, but it hasn’t taken full effect yet. I can feel it trying to pull me under as each moment passes.

The box tips forward a little and I know we’re in the stairwell.

I’m still coherent enough to think and I’m so far past irate that I’m ready to claw someone’s face off. Screw that. I am not dying in a box. And Sean. What the holy fuck did he do?

My brain tries to race through scenarios at a sluggish pace and I know I can’t wait anymore. We’re on a landing. I react, and slam my body into the side of the box. The sudden movement makes the container tip and slip from their grasp. I hit the floor hard, but they didn’t think to seal me in. The box falls open on its side and I scurry out. Gabe is cursing and stuck in the corner on the other side of the container. The other thug fell down the next flight of stairs.

Move, I scold myself, and start crawling up the stairs.

Gabe warns, “Don’t do it.” But I don’t listen. He doesn’t chase after me. Instead, he goes to help the other man.

I manage to stumble back to my room. Asia sees my zombie-like steps and laughs. “You’re a little too toasted to be walking around. You want help?” I try to tell her no, but she thinks I’m high and insists on taking me back to my room.

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.” She’s laughing lightly and takes my arm, helping me down the hall. Everything is spinning and tipping. I’m so going to puke. Asia’s been talking and her questions finally register. “And she hasn’t been in class either. Do you know where Mel is? I’m worried.”

“She’s been around,” I lie. “I saw her last night.”

“Ah, so this means Mel has some goodies again. No wonder why she didn’t come back. She didn’t want to share.” Asia makes no sense, and when she’s by my door, she reaches for the knob. I have no idea what Black and Sean are doing, but I’m worried they’re going to shoot her.

Ripping my arm away from hers, I snap, “You’re such a bitch, Asia. Mel didn’t come home because she can’t stand you. Damn, take a fucking hint.”

Asia straightens and holds her shoulders back. Her jaw drops as I speak and then snaps shut. She twirls on her heel and marches back down the hall to her room and slams the door. I feel bad for saying it, but I don’t want her involved. I may regret it when I can think straight, but I can barely string together thoughts, much less come up with creative lies.

I know I have seconds before Gabe and his buddy drag me away, so I shoulder my way through the door. Sean is standing in front of Black with fury in his eyes. Black glances over her shoulder at me. Her slender arms are folded over her chest and she looks pissed.

I have trouble controlling my speed and hurl my body right at her, knocking her down. Miss Black hits the floor with an oof. I manage to stay on my feet, and stagger over to confront Sean. For half a second I just stare at him, and then I make a fist. Before I know it, my knuckles have connected with his jaw. Sean’s face whips to the side on impact and a little trail of red drips from his lip. His blue gaze is on fire and I’m afraid.

I go to punch him again but he catches my hand. I try to pull it away, but he won’t let go. “I told you to go with them.” He growls the words like a feral animal.

Ignoring him, I yell in his face. “You’re engaged to someone else! What the fuck! You lied to me, this whole time you’ve been lying to me! I want to know why.” Black gets to her feet behind me and makes a horrible sound as she grinds her teeth. I’m pretty sure they’re going take me to the woods and bury me in that box.

Sean’s gaze is locked on mine. “Avery, you have to leave. Now.”

“No!” I shove his chest. Black tries to touch my shoulder to spin me around, but I hiss at her, “Don’t you touch me!” Miss Black gnashes her teeth, but she backs up after glancing at Sean. I turn to Sean once more and say the words that are burning a hole in my tongue, “Here, you fucker. Take your goddamn ring back and never talk to me again. Ever.” I rip my ring off my finger and throw it at his face.

By the time I turn around, Gabe is behind me. His accomplice is pissed and bloody. I’m still fighting the drugs that are trying to pull me under, but I won’t let them win. I stagger when the rush of energy slips away and Gabe grabs my arm. “Why don’t you listen?” he asks softly.

Sean hasn’t moved, offered an explanation or anything. He remains rigid and lifeless. The man is made of stone and I gave him my heart. I let out a pathetic sobbing sound and slump in Gabe’s grip before Black says, “Take her out of here. Now.”





CHAPTER 2




I’m hauled away and shoved into a car. They abandoned the box. I have no idea where it went. It wasn’t in the stairwell when they carried me out. Whatever they shot into my arm makes my eyelids feel like they weight a million pounds. They keep trying to close, but I force them open again.

Time is screwy. I don’t know how much has passed or what’s going on, but I recognize the building in the city. It’s early in the morning by the time we get there. We head up to Miss Black’s office, where I’m told to wait until she comes back.

When the other man leaves, Gabe points to a chaise in the corner. “Go lay down.”

“No.” My arms are folded over my chest. I’m sitting in a chair, staring straight ahead.

“If you were my kid, I’d slap you.”

“Oh, please. If I was your kid, I wouldn’t be here. You would have killed every single one of them for looking at me funny. Let’s not play games anymore, old man. Why am I here?” I can see him shake his head out of the corner of my eye, but he doesn’t speak. “I’m dead, right?” I ask because I have to. My heart slaps into my ribs once and then goes back to its slow, drugged beating.

“Avery, listen to me. You’ve got no friends, no backup, no nothing. The only person batting for you on this team is me, and you don’t pay attention.” Sighing, he grips his forehead like he has a massive headache. When he glances up at me, his voice is softer. “Listen for once in your goddamn life, and listen closely. Black is full of shit. Watch what she says. Don’t take her word over Ferro’s. They’re both liars, but one of them is two steps ahead of the other.”

I’m still too out of it to grasp what he’s saying. “What are they doing? And which one is two steps ahead?” I turn and look at him.

“I don’t know, but the playing board is much bigger than you think.” Gabe disappears without further explanation.

I never felt so stupid in my entire life. I can barely think with this stuff in my veins and I wish that I’d never met Black. My life has totally fallen apart. I’m chasing a mental man that I can never have. No matter what I do, Sean will always be haunted by the memories that hide behind those beautiful eyes. Black is equally ruthless and scares the shit out of me. I have no doubt that she chopped up other girls who gave her trouble and planted them like daisies at the arboretum.

I need to get out of here, but I have nowhere to go—no one to hide me. Gabe is right. I’m alone. I bury my face in my hands and let out a rush of air. I’m fucked. How do I get out of this?

At that moment, Black walks in the room. She slams the door shut and tosses her purse on the desk, nearly hitting me in the head, before sitting down in her chair. “Do you have an idea what you’ve put me through?”

“You’re not my mother, so don’t pretend to care.” I glance up at her slowly. My words are sharp, but steady. My speech doesn’t slur the way I expect it to. The buzz seems to be wearing off.

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