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Collared(4)
Nicole Williams

After I wiggle into my skirt, Torrin snags my old Cons from his floor and crouches beside my feet to tie them on while I wrestle into my shirt. “Details.” When he’s done tying the second one, he kisses the outside of my thigh and grabs my hand. “We’ve got to hustle.”

I know we do. I can practically feel my spidey senses going off. If Dad isn’t already rounding our front gate, he’s a minute away from it. I follow Torrin into the hall and jog down the stairs with him.

Unlike his bedroom, which is relatively tidy for a seventeen-year-old guy’s, the rest of the house is kind of messy. Cluttered. Six months past being in need of a deep cleaning. I know he’s embarrassed to have me over—that’s why we usually spend most of our time at my place or somewhere else—but after the heated making-out-against-the-wall fiasco last week, Torrin’s been banned from my place. Indefinitely.

I’m not embarrassed to be here though. Not ever. His house wasn’t always like this. Things started to change after his dad died five years ago and his mom had to take on two jobs. Torrin’s dad was kind of the anchor of the family, and once he was gone, it seemed like everyone and everything just kind of floated off in different directions.

We’re almost down the stairs, and I want to stop and tell him how much I love him and how I could never be embarrassed by anything when it comes to him and how I can’t imagine a better place than his bed for our first time, but we’re both startled by the sound of something shattering from somewhere in the kitchen.

I’m pretty sure I know what it is and who’s responsible for the glass—a.k.a. beer bottle—shattering, but Torrin has to check. His little brother is upstairs asleep, and even though he’s the middle brother, Torrin has stepped into the role of man of the house as best as he can. They’re big shoes to fill. Impossible shoes to fill if you ask Torrin.

Half of the ceiling lights are burnt out in the kitchen, but it’s impossible not to see what’s going on. I’ve witnessed this scene so many times I’ve committed it to memory. It’s one of the reasons my parents don’t like me hanging out at the Costigans’.

Everyone took it hard when Mr. Costigan was killed, but Torrin’s older brother took it the hardest. Probably because he was the reason why Mr. Costigan was out late that night. He never would have been in the middle of that crosswalk when Sherry Gates—whose blood alcohol level was point three—went blasting through it if Caden had been home when he said he’d be home.

Guilt’s a strange thing—how it strangles the life out of people. Mr. Costigan was the one who died that night, but Caden has been dying a slow death of his own ever since.

Not that that earns him much sympathy in my book, because Caden’s a prick. The leader of them. He was before his dad died and has become an even bigger one since.

“If it isn’t my little brother who seriously saved my ass today,” Caden announces to the kitchen filled with a half dozen of his loser friends. You know the ones who showed up to first period either drunk or hungover most days? The ones who couldn’t fill a thimble with honor between all of them?

Caden was supposed to graduate last year, but he failed so many of his classes that he has to redo his senior year, which really sucks since that puts all three of us in a bunch of the same classes.

“Thanks for taking the fall for me, Torrin. I owe you.” Caden holds his hand above his head, waiting for Torrin to smack it.

Torrin’s hand tightens around mine instead, and his other stays stuffed into his back pocket. “You can pay me back by not drinking on school property again and leaving a trail of beer cans that lead up to my tailgate.”

I stiffen. I’d heard that Torrin had told Principal Thierry that the beer cans were his, but I hadn’t heard that Caden had pretty much left a trail of Natty Light crumbs to Torrin’s truck. Coward.

“You got it, bro.” Caden waves a lazy salute, but by the glassy look of his eyes, it’s pretty damn clear he’s already downed another half case. “And sorry about you getting suspended from the team for five games. Thierry’s a serious hardass.”

I spin on Torrin, but my hand stays tied in his. “You got kicked off the soccer team?”

Behind me, Caden pops off a “Busted!” to his friends, which is followed by a few chuckles, but I don’t care. All I care about is Torrin. Soccer is his life—or at least a big part of it. He’s good at it too. He’s started every game since his sophomore year, and word is he’s in a good spot to land a solid scholarship if he keeps averaging two goals a game . . . which can’t happen if he has to sit on the bench for the next five.

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