[ CW: Strong language ]
The air was thick and hot, hanging between May, Em, and Grant like an accusation.
“Murder, huh?” Grant addressed Em.
“That video was taken out of context,” May blurted, chancing a glance at Em who looked like she was going to pass out. “They attacked us first!”
Grant waved a hand and shushed May into silence. “Don’t care,” he barked. “Fuck knows I’m the last person who’s gonna judge anyone over a bit of street justice.”
Em groaned and dropped into a chair, cradling her forehead in her palms.
“Are you going to turn us in?” she asked without looking up.
“Of course not,” Grant replied. “Any friends of the kid are welcome here. But if you’re going to be hiding out with us, I’d better not get any shit from either of you.” He turned his hard stare to May. “We’re working here. Stay out of trouble and if we tell you to hide, you do it. Understand? There’ll be plenty of unsavory types on the lookout for you after that little show you put on.”
May felt like she was being scolded by a parent; Grant wasn’t mad, he was just very disappointed in them.
“I said, do you understand?” Grant repeated, looking between the two of them.
Em looked up, her features fallen and washed with fatigue. “We understand. Thank you, Grant.”
She received an unintelligible grunt in response. Grant stalked passed them both, heading for the door. He paused before exiting. “I’m going to give the crew their marching orders. You’ll be safe with us as long as you don’t press your luck.” He jabbed a finger at Jun’s workstation. “And if you want a single moment’s peace while you’re here, stay away from Jun’s shit.”
May raised her hands as if to show she meant no harm. The move seemed to satisfy Grant. He nodded and left the girls alone with their silence.
Em went back to hanging her head. She looked defeated and small. For the first time since she woke up, May felt a twinge of guilt over having been so relentlessly harsh with her.
Quietly, May dragged a chair in front of Em and sat down facing her.
“What do you think?” she asked in a gentle voice. “Can we trust him?”
Em spat a hollow laugh into her palms. “Ironically, yes.”
May’s eyebrows quirked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
With a slow exhale, Em sat back. She looked May straight with an intensity that made her squirm. “Grant’s what you might call a crime boss. He’s very good at it too. This garage is just a front.”
“He told you that?” May hissed, eyes wide with disbelief.
“No, Jeremy did.”
“How would he-” May considered what she knew so far. “Is he “the kid” Grant keeps talking about?”
Em nodded. She folded her arms and stared off across the room. Her eyes grew unfocused and her lips pressed into a tight line.
“What is it?” May asked, shifting with unease. Being under the protection of an accomplished criminal was as alarming as it was comforting.
“I’m trying to figure out what to tell you,” Em murmured, her eyes still staring through something that wasn’t there.
“How about everything?” May challenged. “I deserve to know what we’re caught up in.”
A small smile tugged at the corner of Em’s lips. She shook her head and glanced back at May, her eyes softer now. “Not this time. This is one of those stories that aren’t mine to tell.” Rubbing her hands together, Em considered her words carefully. “Jeremy met Grant when he was nine. Grant and his team kidnapped him on his way home from school and held him for ransom.”
May’s stomach plummeted and her mouth gaped. Had she been asked to guess where this strange familiarity between Jeremy and a crime boss began, she never would have come up with this.
“Jeremy was still with the crew when Connor and Audrey met him,” Em continued. “Only by that point he was a full fledged member of the team.”
“Wait, what?” May was flabbergasted. “How old was he by then?”
“Thirteen,” Em answered after doing some math on her fingertips.
“How did he go from being a kidnap victim to a member of a gang of criminals?”
Em cringed. “That’s the part I don’t feel comfortable sharing. That story… it’s Jeremy’s.” When her eyes met May’s they were full of worry. “I’m sorry, babe. I know how important it is that we share things with each other, but this-”
“It’s alright,” May cut her off. And it was. After all, she had stories of her own. All she had to do was imagine Em telling Jeremy about what had happened to her back on the island of Hoku – the things Kane had done and the way the people of her village turned on her – to know why this was one secret Em had to keep. “I understand.”
They lapsed back into silence. From down on the garage floor, Grant’s voice drifted up as he addressed his crew. May couldn’t make out his words but she let her mind wander, filling in the blanks of his deep cadence.
“I’m sorry,” Em whispered, breaking May’s daze.
Blinking, May turned to her and forced a smile.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said. A mechanical response. May stood and reached down, offering Em a hand up from the chair she seemed to have melted miserably into. “Come on, let’s explore our new home.”
They stepped lightly from the control room. Grant had finished filling in the others on their temporary guests, but the group – ten in total – still milled around speaking in low voices. A few of them cast their eyes upwards when they noticed the girls emerge, but none lingered.
“A crime den.” May gazed down at the assorted characters that made up Grant’s crew. “Amazingly, not the weirdest place we’ve wound up.”
Em laughed, her mind casting back over the many strange and wonderful experiences they’d had since running away together. “Not even close.” Her expression turned grim. “Kind of fitting we’d end up hiding out with a bunch of criminals though.”
She made a good point – the pair of them were past the point of innocence now. May considered the crew. Some looked exactly like you’d expect – rough and shifty, scarred and guarded – while others were more unassuming, even surprising. But one thing was certain: they all had their reasons for being there. Each and every one of them likely had their own colorful stories full of questionable decisions made along the way.
A somber smile slid across May’s lips.
“We’ll probably fit right in.”
[ Next ]
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