And Then There Were . . .

Despite what Mason had said, I didn’t believe him. As he and Alex chit-chatted, I kept my eyes glued on the house, searching for any indication that Eric was inside and maybe even in distress. I said a silent prayer as I continued my watch, blocking out everything and everybody.

I glanced briefly at Mason and wondered how far I’d get to his house before he tackled me. Just then, a loud roar came from the front door, followed by Eric flying out into the yard as if something were after him. I didn’t know whether to panic or breathe a sigh of relief.

My earlier concern was quickly replaced by anger at Mason for lying and fear because I had no idea what had Eric so worked up. Instinctively, I looked in the direction he seemed to be heading. A silver truck with dark windows had pulled onto our street.

“Get behind me,” Alex yelled, pulling out a gun, and then letting it hang by his side as he relaxed. “Thank God, it’s only Yanni.”

I exhaled and tried to stop the nervous clatter that had become my heart. Alex strolled purposely to the truck, and I looked on as Yanni rolled down the window. Just as quickly as he’d walked up to the truck, he returned to Mason’s yard.

He said something to me, but I wasn’t listening. My sights were set on Eric and the realization that he was okay. He nodded at me, his eyes questioning.

“I’ll be right back,” I mumbled to Alex.

I’d made it halfway to Eric when his demeanor changed drastically. “Oh, shit!!! Everybody get in the house!” he yelled.

It was then I noticed the two cars that had pulled up. A group of men descended from one with guns pulled. I stood there, willing myself to move, but I couldn’t.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eric rushing toward me. He grabbed hold of my arm and literally drug me into the house. Once inside, he threw his body in front of mine and wrapped his arms tightly around me. “I won’t let anything happen to you,” he said, his breathing rapid.

“Oh, my God, what is going on? Who are those men—and where is Alex?” I asked.

“I’m over here,” Alex called. “You just stay put. You couldn’t be in a safer place.”

I peered around Eric, not content to just hear Alex’s voice. As much as I was relieved that Eric was all right, part of me wanted to be with Alex. Protecting him. Damn, I’m confused, I thought. But given the circumstances, who wouldn’t be? Here I was surrounded by my promising future and my immediate past, hoping like hell I didn’t lose both.

I scanned the floor near the window where Alex, Yanni, Red and Rain were stretched out. Both Alex and Red had guns drawn. I wrestled against Eric, but he was unrelenting. Finally, exhausted from my efforts, I sat still, my back pressed against the wall.

Words were being tossed all around, but I couldn’t decipher any of it. I pinched myself, thinking this had to be a bad dream. One that, soon enough, I’d awaken from. For once I wished we’d stayed at Yanni’s house.

Try as I might, I couldn’t will my brain to sort out the confusing events taking place. I looked up through blurry eyes to find Mason and Yanni arguing—as usual.

“Mason, don’t leave this room!” Yanni barked.

“Fuck you, Yanni! You sit there like you’re so sure we’ll be all right, but ain’t tellin’ us shit. I’ve had enough of all your double-o-bullshit. I’m lookin’ out for Mason from now on!”

“Where you gonna go?” Eric asked as he tightened his grip on me.

“Don’t worry about that, chief. You just take care of your girl, and keep your eye on that bitch,” Mason said, pointing at Yanni. “Make sure you lock the door behind you when you leave.”

As he began to walk away, Red got up to go with him, but Yanni grabbed at his leg and pulled him back. “No, Red. Let him go. It might work out better for us this way.”

Mason rolled his eyes at her and left the room.

“What the fuck does that mean?” Eric asked.

“It means that when you heard me say ‘Hell, NO,’ on the phone earlier, it was in response to who Barnes wanted instead of Sabrina. He wanted Mason.”

She held her gaze on Eric and me for a moment, before turning back to the window. I couldn’t believe my ears. Had Yanni basically admitted to caring about somebody’s life? She was willing to sacrifice Sabrina, but not Mason? It was all becoming too much for me.

“Yanni, they’ve been too quiet to say they aren’t getting together some kind of formation. We gotta move quickly or we’re sitting ducks,” Alex said. “This is my kind of fight—let me handle it.”

“Alex, don’t go out there! You’ll get hurt,” I yelled, as I tried to pry myself from Eric’s grip.

“Starlet, I’ll be okay. I promised Yanni I’d protect you with my life and I will.” He looked at Eric a moment, before speaking. “You betta make sure nothing happens to her.”

“I’m going with you,” Rain said, pulling what looked like another gun from Yanni’s waistband.

Yanni and I looked at each other, both reflecting back at the other the intense fear gripping us. “Wait,” I called to Alex, “you can’t go—not yet. You can’t.”

“If I don’t go, they’ll come to get us—I can’t let that happen.” With that, he and Rain charged toward the door and rushed outside. I opened my mouth to call him back, but was silenced by the sound of a gun going off.

“OH, GOD, Alex, noooooooooo!!!” I screamed.