Saint’s heart tripped in his chest. Something didn’t feel right. His eyes opened, and he reached for Sienna. His hand went to the bed. Still warm. He listened. Experienced with the worst, his past with his sister and her drug abuse, Saint’s hearing narrowed for any disturbance. Sienna was in the living room. His feet automatically hit the floor. Too quickly he found his boxers and tripped over his shoes. It was too soon after Sienna’s mother’s appearance for him not to worry.
He found her and what he saw was abject fear.
“I don’t have that kind of money,” she said. Her alarm coalesced and took shape into uncontrollable tremors. He watched it happen and was at her back, his arms wrapped around her in an instant. The screen image on her phone, after seeing it, he understood why she couldn’t stop shaking. Her mother was in deep shit.
“Please, Sienn…” she’d been cut off. There’d been a knife at her throat. The phone went black.
Saint blinked. “Holy shit! This is a mess.” Saint turned her around, and she burrowed her face into the hollow of his neck. All he could do was hug her close as she cried.
“What am I going to do?” she whispered. “I have to go. I have to get to her.”
“You’re not going anywhere.” The two stared at each other, and then Saint said, “not alone, anyway.”
Danny hunched on the floor in the corner of the closet. The small four wall box a familiar prison. She’d locked him in; he couldn’t remember how long now. The cut on his lip and cheek ached like a son of a bitch. He didn’t dare move too much. The last kick he’d taken to his ribs had caused him to pass out. Luckily she hadn’t been wearing boots. She’d been wearing her red-soled high heels.
His mother’s outfit was pristine, no flaws in appearance. The perfect mom to anyone that knew her outside of the house. On the inside of her watchful sphere, though, his mom was the devil’s sister, her heart as hard and dead as a piece of coal.
Danny had just gotten back from school, his bag hitting the kitchen floor, and the next thing he knew he face-planted on the wood planks next to the marble island, his cheek bleeding…somewhere. “You broke my nail!” She’d screamed, he’d rolled into a protective ball holding his gaping skin so she couldn’t have another go at him. But she always found a way when she was like that.
Danny wiped the wetness from his cheek. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” He yelled into the bleakness.
She’d played with him until he whimpered in the closet like a stupid girl. She dragged him up the stairs and into the dark room, walked out and locked the door. And by play, Danny meant beat the shit out of him. Again. His father had just stood there.
“Bastard!” he screamed at the locked door. He grabbed his ribs as he tried to catch his breath.
His father was a weak asshole.
To distract himself, Danny made a list in his head about everything he loved about motorcycles. The most important thing on the list, Saint. “Saint is nothing like my father,” he whispered over and over. But then he got angry. Then he asked himself, why was he with Sienna? He shook his head and then regretted it. He hurt everywhere.
“I need to get out of the fucking closet.” He crawled with the energy of a sloth and leaned into the corner, propping himself up, so he could breathe better. The wood paneling was hard and cold, and the cedar smell made his nose itch. One day she would go too far? The fists, the nasty screaming rages, they were getting worse and harder to hide from people at school. Maybe he was better off if it did. Maybe she would finally kill him. Blinking his heavy eyelids, they finally drifted shut. The last thought he had before he fell asleep made him smile. Freedom on the back of a motorcycle with Saint. He imagined a long road winding away from here.
When next he opened his eyes light spilled into his prison. Water spilled in rivulets down his face as he blinked.
“Get up Danny. It’s time for you to go to school.”
“School?” He wanted to kill his father. “Are you serious?”
“You have to,” his father slurred.
“Quiet.” He looked over his shoulder. Probably seeing if dear old mom was coming to beat the shit out of him too. Danny would have laughed if it didn’t hurt so much. Waving his hand Danny’s way, his Father said, “Tell them you got into another fight.”
Danny went to his hands and knees. He groaned through the pain and caught his breath. Grabbing for the wall, he lost his balance and struggled to get up. “I can’t keep giving the same excuse. Look at me,” his voice rumbled as he winced every time he moved to get out of the closet. Unlike his mother’s closet, it didn’t hold designer clothes and shoes that cost more than everything in his closet. He always had to beg for things he needed. Always.
When he was little, he’d dreamed he was adopted, which would have been a blessing. Danny had run a few times; his birth parents were out there somewhere, he’d thought. The last time he’d left, he’d screamed in her face. “I’m leaving to find my real parents.” His mother had laughed until tears had formed in her eyes. “You think you’re adopted,” she’d said.” He thought she wouldn’t give him any more explanation, but the light in her eyes gleamed with hatred that felt like a creature boring under his skin. To his surprise, she said, “Your Grandfather said I wouldn’t inherit what is rightfully mine unless I gave him a grandson. Your Daddy sure couldn’t get it up.” His father had been standing in the room with a far off look in his eyes that Danny hadn’t understood until she spoke again. “I fucked my way through my Father’s men and finally pushed out a kid.” His father had flinched and looked away. Then all Danny could feel was the pain. She punched him in the face. It was the first time she’d locked him in the closet. Danny was seven. “You’ll stay in there until you understand who has the power here.” After he’d screamed himself silent, his mind had blanked, and the darkness consumed him.
Danny pushed past the memory and the man that wasn’t his father sucking air through his teeth with every needling breath. When his so-called father tried to reach out and give some support, Danny weaved the other way and almost fell. “Don’t’ touch me,” he squeaked. He wrapped his arm around his ribs and walked toward his bathroom.
Most people thought he was a trouble maker so steered clear of him, but no one knew the extent of the control his mother had over him, when he could come and go, how he did it, what he wore, ate…everything. He wasn’t to have friends over, he wasn’t allowed to be seen going in and out of the house, so nobody knew the hell he lived. His mother hid the carnage she’d made of his life well. If he did go out, he couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to him, and his mother had too much power in their small town. Danny knew that much. But he’d told Saint.
If his mother or grandfather ever found out what he’d told Saint, Saint would be in danger. Danny knew it. He just knew it.
Danny had been able to sneak out of the house a lot more lately. His mother had to go on more business trips. It was the only time he was nearly happy until Saint put him on a motorcycle. When Danny wrapped his fingers around the grips of the bike and finally revved the engine for the first time, feeling the power underneath him, it was the first time in forever he was truly happy.
He sniffled and wiped his face. “Shit!”
Danny would chance running away again, but he thought someone watched him now. So he gave up. He’d given up on a lot of things. Until Saint.
He would find a way to race, though. Sitting on the motorcycle had been a revelation. Saint said being smaller was a good thing. He hated being smaller than other kids. But in racing, it gave him an advantage. He would do whatever Saint said if he could race. He’d find a way to get out of the house, do what he needed to, have a life. He would die trying if he had too.
Danny’s body jerked to attention. The banging on his bathroom door turned into a great thud. His father probably hit the wall. “Hurry up, Danny. Don’t keep your mother waiting.”
He moved as fast as his body would let him. Danny didn’t want to give her any reason to hurt him again. He winced as he finished washing the dried blood off his cheek and the fat lip. He grabbed the hat that hung from the door. Covered his head, didn’t bother to change clothes. He didn’t care if he was dirty or not. It kept everyone away. He couldn’t afford to have anyone ask questions.
Through the door, his father gripped his shoulder hard trying to hold himself up. He leaned in too far. The smell of booze was making him sick to his stomach. “She’s going on a trip, Danny. Run Danny. Don’t come back.” Danny’s mouth gaped open.
“Run! Are you crazy!” No answer. His father slid to the floor and passed out.
Danny jumped when he looked up and saw his mother. He sucked in a breath, hit the wall and bit his lip so he wouldn’t cry out in pain. A cold sweat broke out across his skin as an acidic wash swirled in his stomach.
His mother jerked her head. Danny skirted around his father’s crumpled body and hurried toward his door, out of his mother’s reach. But she grabbed onto his neck digging her pointed nails into his skin. A hiss escaped his lips. She laughed.
“You’ll be back here after school. One of my father’s men will pick you up.” His shoulders slumped under her grip. “Did you hear me?” Her fingers gripped his hair, and she forced him to nod.
Danny’s day was shit. He’d run into possibly every person that had been at the Speedway the day of his only lesson. When he hit the parking lot at school, the only girl from class, Tina, showed up.
“What do you want?” he snapped.
Tina’s eye’s narrowed, and she crossed her arms. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Whatever.” He started to move away but then she grabbed his arm before he turned away. His body jerked and he jumped away like a scared cat. “Shit!”
“Are you afraid of me?” He looked up at her face to see the look of disgust in her eyes, but they were full and bright.
“No!” Danny couldn’t look her in the eyes when he said it. He peeked up long seconds later.
Her eyebrows angled down, and she bit her bottom lip. She stepped back with a complete look of confusion, “Are you really okay?”
Danny took a stuttering breath. “I’ll be fine.” He needed to get away from her. Tina seemed nice. She was really pretty too, and her boobs were bigger than most of the girls in his classes, but he couldn’t trust anyone. No way. Not a girl. Especially Tina, because every time he was around her, his stomach got all weird. It wasn’t right. He wasn’t right.
“Will I see you at Paulson’s?” she said at the same time he heard his name called from the parking lot. He turned too fast and clenched his teeth so he wouldn’t scream like a girl.
“Shut up!” he snapped at her. He looked over his shoulder and saw one of his mother’s minions marching across to him. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
“Danny?” Tina asked just as a hand grabbed his shoulder.
“I gotta go.”
“Who’s your friend, Danny?” He looked up and saw Gunner’s eyes on Tina. His mother’s guard was not to be messed with, but he couldn’t let him know who this girl was.
“No one.” He watched Tina frown.
“Huh,” he grunted. “Let’s go.” Another wince, along with Gunner’s fingers on his shoulder, and he was turned toward the car waiting off a nearby alley school. No one would be the wiser to how rich he was. How rich his mother was.
“Bye, Danny. I hope I see you at the Speedway for riding lessons,” she yelled. Great! He thought.
“What Speedway, Danny?”
Gunner opened the door to the Lincoln MKZ when they reached the hidden garage. He helped Danny into his seat gentler than he ever expected. Danny looked up at the big man and saw that he was taking in every nick and scratch that marked him. Gunner backed up and slammed the door. Danny looked straight ahead. The bigger guy had never reacted to his injuries this way. Why was it happening now?
“Did your mother take her fists to you again?”
Duh! Danny didn’t answer. The guy would tell his mother what he said anyway.
Danny watched him straighten his arms on the steering wheel like he would push it through the dashboard. “Tell me,” he roared. Danny pulled back and hit the passenger door. He watched Gunner ease a couple of breaths in and out.
“Danny, I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Coulda fooled me,” he snapped back. Gunner’s head snapped around his eyes narrowing. He braced for him to strike. The air was thick in the car and the minutes seemed to slow right into the heaviness that was his life. And then the guy smiled. Danny took the time to figure this guy out. Danny had trusted Saint. He’d said the same thing. Should he answer? But there was no way he could trust one of his mother’s men. Was there? The way Gunner’s anger had spiked when he’d seen him. Maybe he could trust the guy. He nodded.
Gunner’s chin tipped down, and he inhaled real slow and blew it out even slower.
“What’s at the Speedway?”
“Come on Danny, tell me. I told you not to be afraid of me.”
Danny laughed and regretted it. His ribs hurt like hell. “Afraid?” He laughed some more and then for the life of him he just broke. His shoulders slumped and shook as he cried. He looked away and wiped his face.
“It’s freedom on two wheels,” Danny finally whispered.
“All right then.”
Gunner put the car in gear, and they quickly left the dark garage. When he headed in the opposite direction of home Danny started to freak out. “What are you doing? Where are we going?”
Gunner looked over and smiled again. The man kept driving.
When they pulled up at Paulson’s, Danny sat stiff and unsure. “What are we doing here?”
“We’re going to talk to whoever’s in charge.” Gunner sighed. “I’m not who you think I am, Danny.”
What did that mean?
“Now get out.”
“But,” Danny started, and was soon talking to air. He got out as fast as he could and followed Gunner. When Danny saw Saint come out of Paulson’s main office, he didn’t know what he should do, but evidently Gunner had no problem figuring out what was what.
“You the man in charge?” Gunner asked.
“Yeah. Who’s asking?” Saint crossed his arms and stopped moving.
“Gunner Phillips. You’ll continue to give him lessons.”
Danny watched as Saint’s eyes narrowed on Gunner, and then turned to him. Danny could see his jaw get tight and his eye start to tick in the corner. Saint looked back to Gunner, and they stared each other down. What, were they havin’ a secret ‘convo’ or somethin’. Jesus! What was going on?
“Did his mother do that to him?”
Danny sucked in a breath. Gunner admitted his mother beat the shit out him. He bunched over and grabbed his ribs his breaths turning into coughs. Soon there were more hands on him then he could deal with, and he started to struggle to feel trapped.
“Leave me alone,” he gasped. He backed away from both of them. Saint stood and watched his face easing. Gunner put his hands up and took a step back.
“You okay?” Saint asked. It was Danny’s turn to nod. “Who is this guy, Danny?”
“I don’t know,” he said looking right at the man that worked for his mother. Maybe he had more friends than he knew.