We stand in silence, both unsure what's next.
There's no way out, not without Mum and Marcus seeing. I can hear the murmurs of their voices, the opening and closing of cupboards, cutlery rattling in draws as someone slams them shut, the hiss of a can of lager being opened. A sign they're not going anywhere soon.
Mum taps on my door making Cullen jump. He takes a step backwards into the shadows behind my door.
"You in there, Bella?"
I flap my arms unsure what to do, but Cullen inclines his head and mouths, "Say something".
"Yeah?" I manage a panicked croak but Mum reads nothing more into it than the obvious.
"Do you want anything to eat?" she asks, though I know there's nothing to offer.
"No I'm good. Already eaten." I press my hand to my stomach as it clenches in hunger at the lie.
"Alright, sleep tight."
"Night." I eye the glowing numbers on my clock. It's 9:24pm. I look at Cullen as Mum's footsteps head back to the living room.
"I guess I'm stuck here for the night?" A sliver of a grin on his face.
"They'll pass out eventually."
"Better get comfy then." He slides down to the floor, kicking one leg out in front of him, keeping the other bent, his arm resting on it.
I hover, unsure what to do with Cullen in my room, Marcus outside. I opt for sitting on the floor opposite him. There's little room for me in here nevermind a 6 ft boy, and we need to keep quiet. The other option involves my bed and I'm not ready to be inviting Cullen there, sitting or otherwise, no matter what my increasingly careless side thinks.
"You recognised his name … Marcus?"
A quick shake of his head, a hand reaching out to tug on the frayed hem of my jeans. "Not his name."
A nod. His eyebrows pull tight while he twists the thread around his finger. I think he's deciding how much to say, but then he doesn't speak at all. Winding, unwinding over and over. He sighs and tips his head back, resting it against my wardrobe. Mum is watching one of her soaps. I can almost guess what's happening by the screeching of the characters voices. It's something to focus on to stop myself from pushing Cullen too far.
In the end I tap the outside of his leg with my shoe to draw his attention back. He sighs again and scrubs his hand down his face. "It's a long story. And not one with a happy ending."
"I'm not sure if you've noticed but I didn't grow up in a fairytale," I wave at the clock, "and we've got a lot of time."
He starts to talk. Facing the worn carpet rather than me, his hand rests on the back of his neck. "I went back home to see my brother this week. It was his birthday."
"I didn't know you had a brother." The fizz I feel at him finally telling me something I didn't know, disappears when he looks at me. His face is set like stone, hard enough to hold up the devastation in his eyes.
"I don't." He says and pulls both his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. I instinctively do the same, afraid of what he's going to say, afraid my heart might tip onto the floor. "Not anymore."
"I'm sorry." I say, as we all do in these moments when faced with someone's peeled back exterior, raw wounds glistening.
"We lost him way before we lost him," he says checking to see if I get his point. I nod for him to carry on. "Em always ran with the wrong people. Drinking, crashing stolen cars for laughs, nicking sweets and pop from the corner shop for me." A faint smile at the memory, another piece aligning with the Cullen I know. The 7-Up king. Sugar addict. "Then he fucked up and ended up owing money to the Bloods."
A flash of recognition stands the hairs on my arms on end.
"I don't know what or why but he ended up dealing for them. Only small time stuff. Then he started to take a liking to the goods. And that's a slippery fucking slope into hell. He lost his job, his car..." Nothing he's saying is a shock to me. So far it could be the life story of any number of people I've crossed paths with living in Shelton. "He wound up being kicked out of his bedsit and instead of coming home he chose to sleep rough."
I fight the urge to move closer, horrified as he lays out the gory details, but afraid he might stop before we get to the crux of the danger that now lives so close to me.
"We tried everything but at the end of the day he wouldn't get help." He shrugs and faces away from me, the tired, less-than-white artex on the wall easier to look at. "He was in too deep with them and then well … you know about the fire don't you?"
"The fire at the warehouse? The one you did time for?" A shiver passes across my body, a ghost digging it's heels in as I remember what he said.
"Yeah. That one."
It takes a minute for the thoughts to collide. "Your brother was sleeping in that building … when it-"
"Yes." His lips are pressed tight, teeth biting the inside of his cheek until they twist into a grimace. "But the fire didn't kill him."
I pause, ready to question, but his demeanour shivers, starts to crumble, so I crawl over to him, taking his hand and pulling it into my lap, easing his clenched fist open. "Who did?"
Marcus' voice slashes through our bubble in answer to my question. "Fucking hell." The front door slams then another I guess is Mum's bedroom. I cringe at the loud noise. I'm surprised it took them this long to have an argument, disappointed it means there's an opportunity for Cullen to leave.
Cullen's grim face is enough to confirm my thoughts about his brother. The Bloods. They killed him. Maybe not Marcus himself, but if they still run through his veins the way they used to, I've no problems placing blame at his feet.
We sit in silence again, ears straining for noise, but other than the TV, there's nothing.
Cullen starts to get up, I scramble to my feet too, letting go of his hand. "I should go," he says. "Incase he comes back."
I shake my head. "He won't."
He doesn't trust that and it makes his decision for him. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"For leaving, for not telling you. It's just … it's not something I ever talk about." He reaches past me for his jacket. "I don't know the full story myself even though I was blamed for setting the fire, but I know they did it, and now they're here. I just…" he trails off and shakes his head like he's got a bad taste in his mouth. "I should go."
He's got hold of the door handle when he stops and turns back. In two strides his lips are on mine, his fingers sliding into my hair, crushing me with his intensity. I'm almost too shocked to respond but his kiss demands my attention. It's desperate, heart-racing and raw. I reach out to grab his shirt, twisting the warm cotton to bring him closer, tasting the smoke on his skin. But before it can go further he pulls back leaving me gasping, before I'm ready to let go. "I'll meet you at the club tomorrow night."
He checks the hallway, pausing for a second before deciding it's clear and disappearing from view. I'm still trying to catch my breath as I follow him, only seeing a glimpse of him disappearing into the dark night.
I lean my whole body against the front door, letting the latch click in quietly as I shut the cold air out. My heart hammering against the wood I try slow everything down, his admission and the connections to my life, are racing laps around my mind. I try to find ways to believe it's a nasty coincidence.
Everything crashes to a halt when I hear a short, sharp laugh, when I realise our error. Spinning around, I'm face to face with Marcus whose leaning against the door frame, arms folded, eyes narrow and intrusive, a lager can in his hand. "Well, well, well. Does your mother know about him? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree - whores beget whores - so they say."
I don't give him chance to say one more word. Without Mum here and after what Cullen's told me, I can't bring myself to breath the same air as him. This risk of shoving a kitchen knife into his back is too high. I rip the door open and race out into the dark, his laughter dragging it's claws down my back, my scream of rage choking me entirely.
AN: Thank you for reading. As always you guys keep me going.
Thanks Choc for reading this over for me. It's unbetad so all mistake are mine.