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

by Abigail Roux

“Let’s go to tell him to kiss our asses,” Erin said as she stood.

Nick stared at the rectangle of light near the bottom of the steps. He had so many memories of sitting on this couch, his arms around Kat and Erin, their baby sisters asleep on their laps, listening to the sound of their mother crying upstairs. And waiting. He remembered the terror of watching the silhouette of his father appear in that frame of light, hoping the man would try to storm down the steps Nick had booby-trapped with his sports equipment, praying he’d just trip and break his neck on the concrete floor when he landed.

He’d never grabbed one of those sticks or bats on his way up the steps after being summoned, though. He’d always left them where they were, knowing the veritable minefield would keep his sisters safe.

That didn’t mean he’d never dreamed about taking that hockey stick and watching it crack his father’s skull. He’d grabbed a baseball bat one time, the day before leaving for Basic. It had been the last time his father raised a hand to any of them.

A shadow appeared on the floor, different than the one that haunted him. “Nick?”

“Coming,” Nick called. Kat and Erin trailed behind him as he made his way up the two flights to his father’s bedroom.

He stood in the doorway, Kat and Erin still behind him. His two youngest sisters, Alana and Nessa, sat in chairs beside the bed, where Brian O’Flaherty lay propped amongst several pillows, jaundiced and weak. All three of them looked at the doorway when they realized Nick was standing there.

“Son,” his father said. He pushed himself up, trying to sit straighter. He didn’t quite make it.

Nick moved toward the bed. Nessa stood and gave him a stiff hug. Nick held onto her, flooded by memories of running down the hall and gathering her out of her bassinet, wrapping her up in her blankets and hugging her to his chest as he and Kat scrambled to get down to the cellar before their father hit the front door.

He let her go, and she and Alana moved to let him sit beside the bed. His father’s eyes stayed on him, and Nick didn’t look away. Eye contact had always been something he’d fought for. When he’d been little, it had pissed his dad off. He’d seen it as a challenge, like a f**king junkyard dog.

It had been worth a backhand to meet the man’s eyes.

“You’re home safe,” his dad finally said. “That’s good.”

Nick nodded.

“You didn’t even tell us you were leaving. We’d have come to see you off.”

Nick snorted. “You hadn’t spoken to me in over a year. You said I was going to hell.”

Brian’s eyes hardened. “I’m too sick to fight, Nicholas.”

“That’s a first,” Nick said through gritted teeth.

“Nick, he can’t handle stress right now, why don’t you try to be civil,” Alana spat. She was standing by the door, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed.

“Why don’t you shut your mouth,” Kat snapped.

Nick glanced over his shoulder at them, then back to his father. “I’m not here so you can say a tender good-bye. What do you want?”

“I want to make my peace with you, son. We had a rough road. But now I’m dying. And I’m scared.”

Nick narrowed his eyes. He knew what sort of changes the thought of impending death could bring on a person. He’d suffered through them himself. But he knew his dad, too. The man wasn’t seeking retribution or forgiveness. He wanted something, something only Nick could give him. And it wasn’t peace.

“Cut to it. What do you want from me?”

Brian took a deep, rattling breath. “Without a new liver, I’ll be dead in three to six months.”

One of Nick’s sisters sniffed. Nick didn’t look away from his father.

“You’re close enough to my size you could be a match, son. You’re the only one who might be. You got that O blood type.”

Nick sat back and closed his eyes.

“You’ve got to be shitting me!” Erin shouted.

“Erin!” their mother cried. “Your language!”

“Stuff it, Mom!” Kat waved a hand at Nick. “How the hell can either of you ask him to do this?”

“Dad is dying,” Nessa said, her voice small and scared. “Even you can’t be so selfish you wouldn’t help him if you could. Even Nick’s not that selfish.”

Nick glanced over in time to recognize the warning signs of Kat and Erin about to blow a collective gasket.

“Everybody get out,” he said softly.

“Nick!” Kat started.

“Kat, stay calm, okay? Give us a few minutes.”

Kat held her breath but nodded. She ushered everyone out of the room and closed the door behind them, leaving Nick and his father alone.

“Temperamental women,” Brian mumbled. “They run in the family. Got to keep the reins tight.”

“The only person in this family who should be tied down is you,” Nick snapped.

They stared at each other for several long moments, neither willing to look away. Brian swallowed hard and licked his lips. Nick hated that he enjoyed seeing his father scared. He hated the fact that he wanted revenge for all the terror and pain of his childhood. But he did. He’d have to live with the kind of person that made him.

“I know you hate me, Nick, and you got the right. But do you think I’m such a horrible man I deserve a death sentence?”

Nick narrowed his eyes. “You probably don’t want me to answer that.”

“Will you consider it before you say no? For your sisters? And your mother?”

Nick began to smile. “Tell me something, Dad. How f**king terrified were you when they told you I was the only one who could save you?”

What little color there was drained from Brian’s face. “Nicholas,” he tried.

“I’ve got somewhere to be,” Nick said, and stood.

“Son, please. I’ll die without your help.”

“Probably should have thought about that thirty-seven years and fifteen broken bones ago,” Nick said as he headed for the door.

His father called after him, his voice a pale echo of the shouts that used to ring through this house.

Nick ignored him. He stalked down the hallway to the stairs, beginning to fume as he thumped down the steps. The man had no right to ask that of him. He had no right to put that decision in Nick’s hands. How many times had Nick prayed for his father’s demise over the years? And now it seemed the only way it would happen was if Nick pulled the trigger on him. It wasn’t f**king fair.