Home > The Fighter (Barrett Boys #2)

The Fighter (Barrett Boys #2)
Author: Jordan Ford

 


1

 

 

What’s a Normal, Happy Life?

 

 

I park my crapped-out olive green Mustang beside the curb and check the rearview mirror like I always do. Studying traffic on the street, I scan the road for a couple of minutes to make sure no one followed me here.

Yeah, it may seem a little paranoid, but I can’t afford to get caught in El Cajon. I don’t live here, but I come here a lot. And if Cruz knew why, he’d freaking kill me.

Leader of the Diablos, Carlos Cruz is not a man to be messed with. He basically runs the part of Chula Vista I live in. I’ve been working for him for just over two years and I’ve seen every side of the guy. None of them are pretty, and even though I’m one of his prize fighters, he would have no hesitation beating me to a pulp if he found out about my betrayal.

Locking the car behind me, I walk two blocks east, the mid-May sun soaking me, until I reach a run-down apartment block. I’m sure it looked like a piece of paradise when it was first constructed in the seventies, but the white plaster now has a yellow tinge to it, and the pink trim is a sickly, pale brown. No one would walk past this place and think, “Oooo, I’d like to live here.”

Which is why it’s perfect for Jade and Arley.

Swinging the gate open, I amble past the pool, smiling at the dad splashing around with his kids. I’m pretty sure he’s a firefighter, which gives him days off in the middle of the week to hang with his kids.

“Now, Daddy! Now!” The little boy with water wings flaps his arms and jumps off the edge of the pool, splashing into the water and his father’s arms.

The big guy laughs and tosses his kid high before dunking him under the water.

A little girl squeals and claps her hands. “My turn, Daddy! My turn!”

A pain I can’t describe whistles through me, and I turn away from the happy scene, not wanting to remember.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I rap on the faded brown door and smile at the scampering of feet.

“Arley, wait!” Jade’s voice is always so urgent and tense when she doesn’t know who’s there. I wish it didn’t have to be like that for her, but I honestly don’t know if it’ll ever change.

Resting my shades on top of my head, I smile into the peephole, and a moment later, the bolts start turning. The door swings open to reveal a pudgy pair of arms and the cutest face this world has ever seen.

“Dee Dee!” Arley dances on her short legs and giggles.

“Hey, little one,” I scoop her into my arms and raspberry her soft cheek, which gets the giggles going even more.

She wiggles and squirms, squealing and laughing until I relent.

Leaning away from me, she takes me in with her brown doe eyes. For a two-year-old, they hold a lot of depth, and I’m captured like I always am, unable to look away, smile, anything.

She tips her head, the water spout curls on top of her head jiggling as she assesses my beat-up face.

She’s used to it.

I often swing by the day after a fight, and there’s nothing I can do about the bruises mottling my skin. At least my eye isn’t swollen shut like last time, and my nose has fully recovered from the break a few months ago.

Arley’s little fingers gently investigate the bruises. She’s learned not to poke too hard.

“Win?” she asks.

“Yeah, I won.”

Her smile lights the room, showing off her dimples.

My heart swells, and I can’t help but adore this kid.

“Arwee happy.” She claps her hands, then wriggles out of my grasp before pointing at the door. “Sim?”

“Not today, little one. I didn’t bring my swimsuit.”

“Mommy dets me go in uneewear.”

“Yeah, I don’t want to get my boxers wet.” I run my fingers through the short ponytail on top of her head. “Maybe next time.”

She pouts and crosses her arms.

Jade walks into the room, laughing and shaking her head. “It’s only ’cause she can hear the other kids splashing around down there. I’ve already said no for now, that’s why she’s trying it out on you.” She gives her daughter a pointed look.

Arley grins and plonks down on her bottom, returning to the doctor’s set she was obviously playing with when I arrived.

“How you feelin’?” Jade steps up to me, lightly kissing my cheek, then wincing. Brushing her hand across the bruise on my jaw, she narrows her eyes at me. “How bad was it?”

I shrug. “I won.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

With a sigh, I lift my shirt to reveal the patchwork of bruises. She won’t let me get away with not showing her.

She hisses. “Deeks, you need to stop this. Two fights a week is too much. One fight a week is too much. Cruz is using you like some racehorse!”

“I’m a good bet.”

She touches my cheek, forcing me to look at her. “You’re not a commodity. You’re a human being, and you shouldn’t have to be treated like a punching bag just so he can make money off you.”

I fling my arms out wide, my laughter hard and tuneless. “Jade! I won! I’m not some punching bag. I didn’t even break any ribs this time.”

She tsks and shakes her head. “I don’t care if you’re the best fighter in the world. You need to get out. You’re twenty-one! You should be working a respectable job, not punching someone’s lights out while drunken idiots cheer you on! You’re smart enough to go to college even!”

I laugh, and again it’s discordant. Humorless.

Does she hear how crazy that sounds?

College?

As if!

She slaps me lightly on the arm to shut me up. “You should be living a normal, healthy life. With a normal, healthy job that doesn’t get you beat up all the time. That’s what you deserve!”

“That’s what we all deserve!” I argue. “But life doesn’t work that way! Not for people like you and me. We have to take what we can get.” I glance down at Arley, who is watching us carefully, those big brown eyes and little ears soaking it all in.

Not wanting to bicker in front of her, I run a hand through my hair, knocking my shades off and quickly catching them behind my back. My voice drops to a low murmur as I lean closer to Jade. “You know I can’t get out. Cruz won’t just let me go. Plus, I need the money.”

Jade’s cheeks flare red, and she pulls the dishtowel off her shoulder and starts running the hem through her fingers. “I’m looking for more work—”

“You better not be.” I frown at her. “You already have two jobs.”

“Deeks, I don’t want to get into this again. I can’t keep sponging off you.” She turns to head back to the kitchen, and I’m about to follow her when I’m stopped by a knock at the door.

Jade whips around, the blood draining from her face.

I gently pat her shoulder. “If it was Cruz, he wouldn’t knock.”

She lets out a breath and nods.

I walk to the door, checking the peephole for Jade’s sake and then opening the door.

“Hey, Enzel.” I smile down at the little boy with the round cheeks and big brown eyes.

He gapes at me for a second, then rushes inside to take a seat next to Arley.

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