Until You

By: Penelope Douglas


I hadn’t turned away from Jax to see who I was speaking to. It could’ve been a doctor or a social worker. Or the police. It didn’t matter. They all looked at me the same way. Like I deserved a spanking or something.

“I’ve been calling you for hours,” Jax whispered, and I sucked in a breath when I noticed that his lip was puffy, too. His eyes were pleading. “I thought you’d be here before the doctors called them.”

And then I knew it was a social worker, and I felt like a dick. He’d needed me today, and I’d screwed it up again.

I stood between him and the woman, or maybe he was hiding from her view. I didn’t know.

But I did know that Jax didn’t want to go with her. My throat tightened, and the lump inside swelled so damn much that I wanted to hurt someone.

Tate.

She was always my victim of choice, but she was also in every good memory I had.

My brain flashed with the one place that was untouched by hatred and despair.

Our tree. Tate’s and mine.

I briefly wondered if Jax had anywhere he felt safe, warm, an innocent.

I doubted it. Had he ever experienced a place like that? Would he ever?

I didn’t have the first goddamn clue what life had been like for my brother. Sure, I’d gotten a taste of it during my summer with our father when I was fourteen, but Jax had had a whole lifetime of that shit. Not to mention the foster homes over the years. He was looking up to me like I was the fucking world, and I didn’t have the answers. I had no power. No way to protect him.

“Did Mr. Donovan do this to you?” the social worker asked Jax about his foster dad, Vince.

He looked at me before he answered, knowing that I would know when he was lying. “No,” he told her.

And every muscle in my arms and legs burned.

He was lying.

Jax wasn’t lying to protect Vince. He knew that I could tell when he wasn’t being honest. It was the way he’d hesitate and eyeball me before the lie. I always knew.

No, he wasn’t deceiving me. He was deceiving her.

Jax and I settled our own scores.

“Okay,” clipboard lady—who I’d finally turned around to make eye contact with—snipped, “let me make this easy for you. We’re going to assume that he did this to you and move you to a group home tonight until we find another placement.”

No. I closed my eyes.

“You fucking people,” I choked out, my stomach hollowing while I tried to keep my emotions in check for Jax.

All of his life, my brother had been sleeping in strange beds and living with people that didn’t really want him. Our father had carted him around from shithole to shithole, and left him at sketchy places all of the time growing up.

Enough was enough. Jax and I belonged together. We were stronger together. It was only a matter of time before what little innocence he had left decayed and his heart grew too hard for anything good to grow.

He was going to become like me, and I wanted to fucking scream at these people that I could love him more than anyone else. Kids didn’t just need food and a place to sleep. They needed to feel safe and wanted. They needed to feel trust.

Vince hadn’t taken that away from my brother tonight, because Jax had never counted on him in the first place. But Vince had made sure Jax would go back into a group home, and again, he’d put me in the position to remind my brother that I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t protect him.

And goddamn, I hated that feeling.

Grabbing a wad of cash out of my pocket, I yanked my brother in for a hug and stuffed the money into his hand. Without even looking at him, I spun around and walked out of the room as fast as I could.

I didn’t deserve to look him in the face.

But I did know one thing. I knew how to push back.

“Are we going where I think we’re going?” Madoc strolled up beside me, and I wasn’t surprised that he was still here.

He was a good friend, and I didn’t treat him as well as he deserved.

“You don’t have to come,” I warned.

“Would you for me?” he asked, and I looked at him like he was stupid. “Yeah.” He nodded. “I thought so, too.”





Madoc cruised up to the Donovan house a half hour later, and I hopped out of the car before he’d even stopped. It was late, the house was dark, and the neighborhood seemed lifeless, the deep rumble of Madoc’s GTO being the only sound.

I turned around to face him and spoke over the roof. “You need to go.”

He blinked, probably not sure if he’d heard me right.

The past month had resulted in more hell than I should’ve put him through. Sure, fighting was fun. Losing ourselves in girl after girl was moderately entertaining, too, but Madoc wouldn’t go over the cliff without me leading him there.

Would he walk to the edge?

Sure.

Peek over the side?

Definitely.

But he wouldn’t take the step. It was always me who pushed him or let him fall. One of these times, though, he wasn’t going to get up, and it would be my fault.

“No,” he said resolutely. “I’m not going anywhere.”

I gave a half smile, knowing it was next to impossible to get him to leave. “You’re a good friend, but I’m not dragging you down with me.”

I dug my cell out of my jeans pocket and dialed 911.

“Hello.” My eyes were on Madoc as I spoke to the police. “I’m at 1248 Moonstone Lane in Weston. Someone’s broken into our house, and we need the police. And an ambulance.”