It’s quiet for a moment as Addison slowly sits down next to me, holding onto herself like she’ll fall to pieces if she doesn’t.
She doesn’t speak for a long time; neither of us does. But neither of us gets up either. “I don’t understand how Daniel got into this. This isn’t what they were like before. I swear to you. They were good and… and… I don’t know how this happened.” She looks lost like she had no idea. I’ve seen women before who are in denial, who turn a blind eye. But she’s truly shocked. Maybe she didn’t realize how real this life can be. How close to death it is.
My response grabs her attention and she waits for more, but I don’t know how much she really wants to know, or what she needs to know.
“For the longest time, there wasn’t anyone south of Fallbrook. That’s where I’m from and basically the territory my father keeps. My father talked about taking it a lot.” I remember back when I was little, how I’d sit in his office coloring and he’d have hushed conversations about the developments in Back Ridge. “There wasn’t anyone living there, no businesses, but then,” I clear my throat and tell her, “then developments grew and there were more people. More opportunities, as my father called it.”
“He and Romano had two territories side by side, and both wanted it. But the areas are like a cross, sort of.” Four quarters, I draw it out on the blanket on my lap, the way Nikolai explained it to me. “Carter’s area is the bottom left, but his portion is bigger now. The bottom right is Crescent Hills and it’s not claimed, just a shit town with no one policing it, no one protecting it. Carter and his crew keep moving closer and closer, but they only take it little by little. My father has the upper left and Romano the upper right. They both wanted the territory where Carter is now, but while they waged a cold war against each other because of my mother…” I swallow a dry lump not knowing if she knows but not in a state to explain. “Carter took over. One by one, killing the men who worked for my father who tried to stop him, or, sometimes, Carter took on my father’s soldiers, proving he would be ruthless and that the area was his, but he had mercy for those who stayed with him.”
“So, it was Carter?” she asks, and I can see in her eyes she doesn’t want to believe Daniel was involved.
“I’ve heard Jase and Carter’s names a lot.” I almost say more, but I hold it back, swallowing my words. “But Carter is the one name that everyone knows. It’s either Carter or the Cross brothers.”
Addison’s brow is pinched but her expression is riddled with anguish as she says, “I don’t know why Carter would do that. I don’t know why he’d want to live this way.”
Again, I almost say, “I do,” but I don’t. It’s because my father knew what Carter was capable of. He knew they would take over. My father tried to kill them before they could become the powerful family they are now, but he failed. His failed attempt is what made Carter who he is.
The truth, and facing the truth, causes a coldness to flow across my skin and I pull the blanket more tightly around me.
“I understand if you could never be friends with someone like me. Someone whose family makes a living through death and sin. Someone who…” I trail off, pausing for a moment before what I’m about to say next. I have to close my eyes to say, “Someone who broke you and Daniel up.”
“Stop it,” Addison breathes the command with a seriousness I wasn’t expecting. “You didn’t break us up and you’re still my friend.” She grips my hand in both of hers as I stare back at her, hoping she still feels this way in the morning. Because I have no one right now and, in a week, I may have even less than no one.
“It’s going to be okay and we’re going to look out for each other. You have to look out for the ones you care about. You know?” Her gaze begs me to agree with her, to stay strong. But I’m not like Addison.
Tears beg to run down my face, but I bite them back, refusing to cry any more tonight. Instead, I nod my head and force out my reply, although the words are strangled. “I’m trying to. But what can I do when the ones I care about want each other dead?”
The silence comes again, but she’s quick to end it this time.
“Let’s have a drink.” She’s off the sofa before I can even tell her how badly I need one.