Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(7)

by Abigail Roux

“Got it.”

“Thanks, bro.”

Ty nodded, grinning. “Now, if you ever call me again while I’m getting head, I’ll kill you.”

“Understood,” Deuce said with a laugh, and the phone clicked off in Ty’s ear.

Ty smirked, looking down at the phone for a moment before clambering to his feet. “Garrett!”

“What?” Zane called back.

Ty found Zane in the bathroom, shirt off, wiping himself down with a hand towel. “I’m not done with you. We have to celebrate.”

Zane smiled indulgently. “Celebrate Deuce’s engagement by engaging in copious amounts of hot sex?”

Ty spread his arms and cocked his head with a grin. “Sounds like a plan, right?”

Zane left the towel in the sink and moved until they stood chest to chest. He placed his hands on Ty’s hips, his thumbs stroking the skin bared by Ty’s unfastened jeans. “You know what that wedding means, don’t you? A whole week. The two of us. On vaca—”

Ty tapped Zane’s lips with two fingers, shushing him. “Don’t finish that thought.”

Zane blinked at him, smirking. “What else did he need?”

“Later,” Ty grunted, determined to get back to business. “There was an inappropriate celebration we were getting to, remember?”

Zane chuckled, a low rumble in his chest. “You can’t distract me that easily.”

“Watch me,” Ty growled.

It took Nick a long time to talk himself into climbing the front steps of the triple-decker he’d grown up in. He glanced at the upstairs window as he stood on the sidewalk. His father was laid up in bed there, dying from all the poison he’d put into his body in the last sixty or so years. He wanted to see all his children before he passed, wanted to make peace with them.

At least, that was what Nick’s mother had told them. Nick knew there was something more going on, though. It had taken his mother two weeks to contact him after he’d returned home, and the first words from her mouth hadn’t been to say she was glad he was home safe. Just that his father needed to see him.

He climbed the front steps and knocked before he could decide against it. His mother answered the door, her smile strained and her hug stiff when she greeted him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said, voice quiet. “You look good, Nicholas. Your father’s been asking for you.”

Nick merely nodded, resisting the urge to glance up or in the direction of his father’s study. He was closer to forty than four, but he still felt that flash of anxiety and outright fear when he thought of walking down that hallway.

They stood in awkward silence, not really looking at each other, not really wanting to. This was the first time Nick had been in his childhood home since he’d told his parents he was bi. He hadn’t been welcome after that.

Nick cleared his throat.

“Katherine and Erin are here,” his mother said finally. “They’ve been waiting for you to get here before they go up to see him.”

Nick nodded again, shrugging out of his snow-covered coat. He and Kat and Erin shared memories the younger siblings hadn’t been subjected to.

“They’re down—”

“I know where they are,” Nick murmured, and headed for the creaky old door to the cellar.

The light at the top of the staircase didn’t turn anything on, but then, it hadn’t since Nick had gotten old enough to figure out how to cut the wires inside the switch. He descended in darkness, hoping his memory of the stairwell would keep him from breaking his damn neck. His footfalls were silent on the concrete steps. When he reached the bottom, a pool of weak light emitted from the corner, where old room dividers and screens and large concrete pillars partitioned off a piece of the cellar.

His two sisters were together on an old sofa in the corner. A battered coffee table with a duct-taped leg, braced with a broken hockey stick, sat before them. A lamp on a milk crate gave off the only light. They were flipping through a photo book, both alternately sniffling and laughing.

Nick shoved his hands into his pockets as he approached them, trying for a smile. He stood on the other side of the coffee table. “I thought I’d find you two down here.”

Kat smiled weakly and cleared her throat. “Do you remember when he’d come home drunk and you’d gather all of us together and bring us down here?”

Nick fought to swallow past the tightening in his throat. “I remember.”

“You’d tell us stories and we’d play board games or listen to the Sox play until we heard him go to sleep.” Kat wiped at her eyes.

Nick stepped around the table, and they both moved over so he could sit between them. He spread his arms on the back of the couch, and both women leaned into him.

Kat’s voice quivered when she spoke again. “I was never afraid when we were down here. Not when you were with us.”

“Neither was I,” Erin whispered. She hugged Nick close. “We knew you would protect us. You always did.”

Nick closed his eyes, his arms tightening around them.

The three of them had met for dinner the day after he’d returned to Boston, catching up after he had been gone for so long. But this was something they never talked about.

Kat began to cry softly. She shoved the picture book away and pressed her face against Nick’s chest. “These pictures . . . we never realized how young you were. My God, Nick, you were just a baby. You were younger than Patrick is now.” Her oldest son. He’d just turned ten last week. “Who stood in front of you?”

“It’s okay,” Nick whispered.

They sat in silence, listening to the house creak, to their mother moving around upstairs, to the occasional voice of one of their two youngest sisters asking where the hell they were. The young ones didn’t remember the basement, didn’t remember Nick and Kat carrying them down here in bundles of blankets and setting them in stacks of pillows or beanbag chairs and singing them to sleep so they’d be safe. They didn’t remember to look for their older siblings down here when the thought of facing their father was too much for them.

“Nicholas!” their mother called from the top of the steps. “Your father’s awake. He’s asking to see you.”

Nick took a deep breath. The three of them shared a glance. Both his sisters looked like they wanted to hang on to him for dear life, just like they’d done when they were little.