Fighting to Forgive (Fighting #2)


by J.B. Salsbury

Prologue

It’s almost midnight, but I can’t sleep. The pounding of adrenaline still floods my veins. Riding high on the rush from earlier today, I stare at my ceiling while Iron Maiden’s “Wicker Man” blares through my headphones. My fingers drum against my Discman in perfect time with Nicko McBrian’s snare hits.

I force my mind to the mundane world of freshman year of high school, finals, and which cheerleader I’m asking to the homecoming game, but even that doesn’t calm me. My thoughts keep going back to this afternoon. I breathe through the rush of excitement.

It was stupid. Sneaking around made it more exciting, but if I get caught… No, next time I’ll take better precautions. I can’t risk—Boom!

My bedroom door flies open and slams against the wall. Oh shit! I rip off my headphones and jump to my feet. Light pours in from the hallway. Shadows of men, hunched low to the ground, filter into the room. My heart slams against my ribs, and icy fear rockets through me. I try to run, but strong hands seize me at every limb.

“No.” I buck hard against the hold. This can’t be happening.

“Fighting will make it worse.” A man, his face masked by the dark, tightens his grip.

It’s a dream; it has to be. My head spins, and I search for consciousness. Wake up. Pain from the violent hold on my body confirms my fear. This is real. My legs shudder with each panicked breath.

“Help!” I lean toward the open door, praying my parents can hear me.

A shove to my legs drops me to my knees. I try to punch, but a man pulls my arms tight behind my back. The cool metal of handcuffs surrounds my wrists.

“Dad.” My voice cracks. “Mom, Braeden.” I thrash. My shoulders burn. “Let me go.”

I don’t understand. Where is everyone? Did these guys get to my family first?

Dread and fear chip away at my strength. I swallow against the ache in my throat. I’m outnumbered, outmuscled, and overpowered, but I refuse to sag into their hold.

“What did you do to my family?” I can barely hear my own words over my heaving breath.

“Hang in there, kid,” says the man at my back, too casual to be comforting.

This is bad. “Take whatever you want. I won’t call the cops, just let us go.”

The dense silhouette of a man fills the doorway. I squint into the darkness, fearing the worst. Is this the one who’ll finish me off? He steps farther into the room, and I drop my head back to see his face.

Oh, thank God.

“Dad.” I try to break free, to get to him, but I’m held in place. “Help me, they’re holding me.” The words tumble from my lips before what’s going on around me sinks in.

I stop struggling.

My dad’s not helping me. And the men who busted into my bedroom don’t seem surprised to see him. My blood turns ice cold, and a chill runs through my body.

He’s sending me away.

“Dad?” I search his face for compassion but find nothing close. “Don’t do this.”

He warned me this would happen. Threatened to send me off if I didn’t stop.

A flash of what my future holds lies in the compassionless faces that study me now. Trained monkeys who live by orders, brainwashed to give up their free will. That’s what he wants from me. Fuck no. I jerk hard, and my joints burn in resistance.

“Stop fighting, son.” My dad steps closer and squats to eye level.

The spice of his cologne rolls my stomach as my vision adjusts to his nearness. His military-approved haircut only makes his square jaw seem more angular. His mouth is a rigid line held so tight that the muscles in his cheek jump. The usual dark green of his eyes looks almost black, and I struggle to hold his stare. He studies me for a few seconds then grimaces. Even though it’s a look he gives often, it’s still upsetting.

“You crying, Blake?”

“No, sir.” I sniff back the tears that burn behind my nose and try to hide the fear that pollutes my veins.

“The hell you aren’t, son.” He shakes his head. “And herein lies the problem.” His words are mumbled. He pushes to standing then paces back and forth. “I won’t tolerate my teenage pu**y-ass excuse for a son crying like a girl.”

The room fills with the snorted laughter of the soldiers holding me. Even as my cheeks flame, I ball my hands into fists, and my muscles go rigid. My tears dry, and the roar of my pulse thunders in my ears.

“As if that shit you do in your free time isn’t g*y enough, now I got you crying?” He’s not asking a question.

“I quit, sir. I told you that.” I stare at the floor and hope he doesn’t see my lie. The truth is, I can’t quit. His threats to send me away and to beat the urges out of me haven’t cured me. I’m helpless against the draw. But how did he find out? I was so careful.

He steps in front of me, and I can feel his eyes on my head. “A liar and a pu**y.” He’s on the verge of losing his temper, and experience has proven, that’s never a good thing. “You’re just like your mother.”

My mom. She’s the only one who knows. My head struggles for clarity. Why would she rat me out?

Then, I notice her small figure just outside the doorway. She watches helplessly, her hands wrapped around her stomach and her shoulders shaking in silent sobs. Present, but completely powerless.

I try to lock eyes with her, but I can’t see her features well enough in the dark room. “Mom, why…?” My questions freeze on my lips. She won’t have anything to say. She never does when it comes to him.

I’ve always been the strong one, taking every blow in my dad’s verbal assaults with my chin held high, proving that I can handle it. It’s the best way I can protect her.

I suck in a deep breath and throw my shoulders back. If she thinks I’m okay, then she’ll stop crying. Convincing her that I want what he has planned for me will make this easier on her.

“There’s no looking to your mommy to save you. Not this time. How long has she been lying for you, Blake?” When I don’t answer, he shoves his steel-toed boot into my shoulder.

I rock back but refuse to fall. My usual plan is to diffuse his anger by apologizing and stroking his ego. But here, in the middle of the night, being held by a team of my dad’s men, with the knowledge that where I’m going I’ll be free of his daily taunts… I’m done eating his shit.

His intimidations may have worked on me before, but I’m not his puppet, jumping with every pulled string. Heat coils behind my sternum and stokes the smoldering embers kept hidden for years into a flame. I drop my gaze to the green shag carpet and breathe deeply, allowing my anger to fester.

“It was only a matter of time before you got caught. This sneaking around behind my back won’t be tolerated.” He crushes tracks in the rug with his combat boots just like he stomps through life, breaking spirits and leaving victims in his wake. First my mom, now me, and my brother will no doubt be next.

“My men here are gonna take you to a place where soldiers are made. Won’t have a choice but to man up around this crew. You hear me, boy?”

Rage pulses from my chest, through my veins, and coils my muscles.

“I asked you a question, faggot. Answer me.” His demand for my cooperation echoes off the walls.

I cringe at the sound of my mom’s whimpering. He won’t be ignored. One chance to cooperate is all I get. It’s all any of us have ever gotten. I’m pushing him too far.

For the first time, I don’t care. My breath hits hard, and my nose flares to keep up with my intake of oxygen.

“Answer me, you sorry son of a bitch!” He puts the sole of his boot to my chest and shoves. “Weak, just like your mother.”

My body lists, but I’m numb to his abuse. I tilt my chin up and lock eyes with him, glaring so hard my eyes burn. “She’s strong enough to put up with your shit.”

He smiles and laughs, but nothing about his expression says he thinks it’s funny. “Little momma’s boy. Still holding on to that woman’s apron strings. Pathetic.”

Those words, like lighter fluid to my resentment, kindle the flames into a raging inferno. My teeth grind, and fury shreds through me.

My dad waves me off with a flick of his wrist. “Get him out of my face.”

“Yes, sir,” his minions say in unison, taking orders from the colonel like the good little disciples that they are.

They’d probably slit their own throats if the order was given.

That will never be me.

I’m pulled to my feet by my biceps and walked to the door. My mom hurries out of the way to let us pass. She’s clutching her robe to her neck, her usual pretty face splotchy and wet with tears. Her light brown hair looks as if she’s been running her hands through it for hours. My chest clenches at the pain I see in her eyes.

I lean back. “Hold on.”

They ignore me and continue to move me through the house.

“I just want to say goodbye.” I dig my bare feet into the carpet.

“Duke?” Her soft-spoken calling of my dad’s name brings us to a stop.

The ass**le rolls his eyes, but he waves off his men. “Stand down.”

She takes a few steps toward me but stops just shy of arm’s length. “Blake…” Her chin quivers, and tears shine in her blue eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Shame twists in my gut. “It’s okay, Mom.” I should have never involved her in my sneaking around. “Don’t cry. I’ll be all right.”

She moves close enough to cup my cheek. She no longer hugs me because my dad said it makes us weak. “Be strong, Blake.”

No I love you, but instead, be strong.

It’s harsh, but this is what we’ve come to. In order to thrive in this family, we need to conform. And strength trumps emotion.

I work my mouth into a smile. “Always.”

My dad must have given the nod, since a hand clinches my elbow. I say goodbye to my mom then allow myself to be guided through the house. I don’t see my brother anywhere, but chances are he’s been ordered to stay behind a closed door. He’s much better at obeying than I am.

I’m push-walked out the front door. It’s a cool night. The wet ocean air whips and curls around my face, and I take my final breaths of it, knowing that I’ll be in the desert soon. My dad leads us to the open double doors of a black van. Once there, a hand from behind puts pressure on my head, trying to get me to duck and climb in.

I force my spine straight so they can’t fold me into the van. “Sir, one thing before I go?”

My dad looks down at me through narrowed eyes. “What is it? You’ve got a long drive ahead of you.”

I step close, grateful that my last growth spurt put me just a few inches shorter than him. “I just want to say…” With a quick step back for momentum, I slam my forehead into his nose. Stars dance behind my eyes.

He doubles over with a howl, putting his hands to his face. Blood pours through his fingers.

A smile curls my lips. Damn, that felt good. The quick high dissolves as I’m pulled back and shoved face first to the concrete driveway. The rough soles of combat boots press into my back and hold me down, crushing my ribs.

My dad groans and stumbles on his feet. “Hold him up, boys.” His pained grunt makes whatever’s about to happen totally worth it.

I’m hauled up by my T-shirt and shoved forward.

His face is red, colored by fury and blood, and inches from mine. “’Bout time I taught you a lesson.” Standing back, he raises his fist.

Knowing the unavoidable is on its way, I decide to leave him with a parting thought. “Fuck you, Dad.”

Pain explodes in my jaw. The world spins and goes black.

One

Thirteen years later…

Blake

“I’d like to make a toast.” I’m drunk as hell, feeling zero pain. The club’s crowded and humming with energy, just like every other club in town tonight.