Episode Eight

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One hour later we pulled down a long, deserted dirt road in dire need of a makeover. The bumps and ruts alone were scary as hell and would be extremely difficult for me to maneuver, but Eli had no problem. He'd apparently driven this road many times before.

The argument between Eli and Nico was at a standstill for the moment. Nico had invited several people to join us, but I had no idea if anyone would show. I desperately hoped no one would have the energy to drive all the way out here.

As we got to the end of the road, the headlights spotlighted a run-down cabin with a front porch. I could tell at one time in its ancient lifespan, someone had painted the wood, but the color that had once been robust was now a fading memory.

For the first fifteen minutes of the drive, Miss Gina had given me a history lesson about the property before she'd fallen asleep on my shoulder. The cabin belonged to her late husband, George, who she apparently talked to on a daily basis.

The last part threw me for a loop, but hey, who was I to judge? I would give anything to talk to my dead mother.

The cabin sat on over twenty acres of land and was mainly used for hunting and camping purposes. Thankfully, it had a working plumbing system including well-water and a septic tank. Eli proudly added that he'd assisted his grandpa when they installed solar panels, and renewable energy was a big plus.

There was no denying it, the place looked rough from the outside, making me question its accommodations, but beggars can't be choosers. I'd make do. I always did.

Honestly, it was comforting to know we were staying far away from the big cities for the time being.

"So who's coming?" I glanced outside, but it was too dark to see much more than the overgrown grass and forest. Definitely plenty of space and wilderness.

"Not sure yet." Nico didn't glance up as he continued to text.

I glanced in the mirror. Eli's eyes were narrowed in anger as he parked the car.

"You left all of our guns here, right?" Nico asked Eli without lifting his focus from the phone.

Eli clenched his jaw. "Why?"

Nico glanced at Eli. "For protection. Why else?"

"We have our guns here. They're not for your dumbass friends. If you think I'm sharing my supplies with Adam and his friends, you're a fucking moron, but if you want to take your shit and shack up with them, then go ahead. There's not enough room for all of them here. I have Gramma and Lilly to take care of, Nico." Eli clenched his jaw harder, throwing a quick side-glance at me. His eyes were burning with anger, but I knew he wasn't upset with me.

Nico scoffed. "I'm not going with them, Dude. You're like my brother. They'll be fun for a few hours, but I'll want to kick Jeremy's ass in the morning. I always do."

"So if they piss you off, tell them not to come. We can't let them stay even if they show." Eli's knuckles whitened around the steering wheel.

Nico cocked his head to the side. "You're saying they can't stay here for a while? Where the hell are they going to go?"

Eli threw up his hands. "That's not my problem. You should've cleared this with me earlier. Adam and his friends aren't my concern."

"What about in the barn?" Nico gestured to a dark shadow off in the distance.

Eli shut his eyes, exhaling through his nose. "Why the hell are you doing this to me? You know I hate Adam and Jeremy."

"Yeah, but they have girls with them." Nico smacked Eli in the chest.

Thank goodness Miss Gina was a heavy sleeper. Why were they discussing this right now?

Eli raked a hand through his hair, opening his door. "Of course, they do. Those douche canoes always have girls with them, and their girls never leave us alone."

Nico rubbed a hand over his face. "Come on, man. I need some entertainment. They have alcohol, and they'll stop and grab stuff if we need something."

"Need something? They better bring a lot, Bro, and they better not show up empty-handed. I'm not running a free shelter, Nico. You know we don't have much as it is. I can't believe you're acting so stupid." Eli opened Miss Gina's door, leaned in, unbuckled her seatbelt, and hoisted her up in his arms with ease.

Damn. Eli's muscles were drool-worthy.

Miss Gina opened her heavy eyelids, and smiled, patting his cheek. "Thank you, my strong boy."

I couldn't help but smile at the way Eli grinned at her. They were adorable.

Realizing Eli would need help, I got out and ran up the front steps. "Where's the key?"

"Under that black rock," Eli jutted his chin toward a dark corner.

Using the flashlight on my phone, I found the key and opened the door for Eli.

The musty aroma of moist, rotting wood rushed past me.

Eli was on my heels as Miss Gina flipped a light switch from his arms. "Put me down, dear."

"I'll get your bags, Gramma." Eli set her down carefully and jogged back out.

Miss Gina made her way toward a stone fireplace. "Elijah's such a good boy."

The cabin was rustic, to say the least. There was a small, yet clean kitchen that opened to a tidy living room, and a dark hallway that led to the other rooms. Someone had spread outdated, mismatched furniture throughout the space. It wasn't bad. I mean, the cabin wasn't exactly decked out, but it was cozy and still much better than what I had growing up.

"Lilly Flower, would you mind grabbing some firewood? It's just outside." Miss Gina grabbed a newspaper from a larger stack of papers near the fireplace and crumpled a piece into a ball.

"Sure. No problem."

She pointed to the side table. "Take a flashlight from the drawer there, dear."

"Okay." I opened the drawer and gasped. There were flashlights, bulbs, batteries, matches, and candles galore inside.

Miss Gina gave me her award-winning smile. "My George liked to stock up."

"I can't say I'm sorry to hear that." I pulled a large black flashlight from the drawer and pushed the button to bring it to life. I clicked it off. No reason to waste battery life until I needed to use it.

"You're so sweet, Lilly flower. I glad my Elijah finally pulled his head out of his ass."

I coughed out a laugh at her choice of words. "Excuse me?"

"Elijah is a difficult boy to figure out sometimes, don't I know it, but when he loves, he gives it his all. Just like you." The crumpling paper in her hands bombarded the silence.

I smiled at her. "I'm going to get some firewood."

"Thank you, child." Miss Gina's gaze stayed on me as I left, but it wasn't uncomfortable. It was nice. Even though we'd just met, I could tell she cared for me.

The sound of more arguing stopped me in my tracks.

"Fuck no!" Eli yelled.

They were out of eyesight, but I was still interested to know what the verdict was with their friends.

Nico laughed sarcastically. "You're such a pussy. You couldn't stop talking about her freshmen year, and last week I found out she's wanted you since freshmen year too. Now's your chance, Dude, she's on her way."

All my muscles stiffened. Who?

"Like I told you before, I'm not interested." Eli's tone was hard. "Why are we even talking about this? None of this is important."

"Because they'll be here in an hour." Nico's tone was easy going.

What the hell? It was two in the morning, and I still couldn't figure out how in the world Nico had swept tonight's craziness under the rug, especially after what happened at the gas station.

"Just because I know why you're upset and looking for a distraction, I'll give in, but no one comes in the house. Gramma and Lilly deserve their space away from all this bullshit. I'm fucking pissed at you. I can't believe you did this behind my back." Eli was seething. "They can stay for a day or two, but everyone better have another place to stay because they're not staying here forever."

"They're bringing food, booze, and plenty of camping stuff," Nico said the words easily as if Eli wasn't beyond pissed. "Then you'll be able to put the mack on Cassie."

"Whatever," Eli barked. "Just remember what I said. I'd hate to pull a gun on someone to get them to leave."

Cassie? Did I know a Cassie? I didn't know Adam or Jeremy, or at least I couldn't put any faces with the names, but I would most likely know some of these people.

What did it matter anyhow? I'd keep my distance from their friends. Eli and I weren't together, and I'd called it off for a good reason. We were too different.

Eli and Nico were a set deal. You couldn't have one without the other, and that was a big on-taking. With all that was going on, you'd think Nico would have half a brain not to throw a party, but as usual, he had minimal common sense, and Eli had to go along for the ride.

Who knew what would happen in the next twenty-four hours? The attacks hadn't hit the news yet, but it was only a matter of time. We were in for a bad week.

I finally clicked on my flashlight and walked toward the side of the cabin.

"Lil?" Eli noticed me as soon as I turned the corner. "You heard all that, didn't you?"

"Yeah." I sighed as they both stared at me.

Nico sent me a soft smile. "Don't worry, Lilly, we can hang out while Eli chills with Cassie."

I rolled my eyes. "Where's the firewood?"

Eli glared daggers at Nico.

A grin played at the corner of Nico's lips as he ignored Eli's glare. Nico was good at that.

"Firewood? Can someone point me in the right direction?" I repeated.

Without taking his eyes off Nico, Eli pointed. "We stack the wood on the other side of the cabin."

"Thank you." I spun and walked away from them. Whatever battle was going on between them was suffocating.

When I was out of sight, I stopped to listen. What? Can you blame me? I was about to live with these two for the next week or longer, so I needed some effing intel. Don't judge me for eavesdropping.

They were silent for a long moment, then the trunk slammed. I was about to give up and leave when I heard the whispers.

I strained to listen.

"Off limits. Get it through your fucking head."

A soft chuckle. "She's not yours, yet."

"I know what you're doing. It's not going to fucking work."

The chuckle returned. "Game on, Dude. Game on."

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