Chapter 22

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“So, that girl, what was her name? Olive? Chico I tell you, she was caliente!” Marco snickered reminiscing about earlier that day. “Is she your lady?”

Nole trekked alongside Tyrone silently as they grew closer to the complex. Although Asteria ordered them to make sure Nole had a safe trip back, Marco’s constant snickering was making sure their stroll was anything but inconspicuous. Even with the incessant blathering, Nole could only focus on the folder he carried. His inquisitive side wanted to pry the file open at that very instant, but he refrained from doing so.

Instead, he focused on the mutual friend Asteria had mentioned. Who could it be? The only people she may consider being my friends is everyone at the complex. Is it one of them? Does that mean this person is in the gang as well? His head buzzed with the possibilities as the sky turned a lavender color, signaling the impending sunrise.

“Sorry about earlier,” Tyrone said out of the blue. “Back at the diner, you got banged up right?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Nole shrugged, triggering a tinge of pain shooting down his spinal column.

“I got a little carried away. The boss said you were an unpredictable guy, and we were desperate to follow orders successfully. I thought you’d kill me on the spot too, so I panicked and went a little overboard, ya know?”

“Whatever,” Nole mumbled bitterly.

“Come on, Ty,” Marco chimed in, “you think he likes hearing you rub it in?” Before Nole could think of a smart reply, Marco continued. “Seriously though man, that girl, she yours?”

“We’re here,” Tyrone pointed out yards within the complex’s property.

“We’ll be in touch,” Marco informed Nole as he and Tyrone watched him approach the front entrance.

Guess I don’t have a say in that, Nole thought. He turned his head back at them as he pushed the door halfway open, but they were gone.

There was no one at the front desk. The clock on the wall read half-passed five, so he guessed they were all still in bed. Trudging up the stairway, he ambled to his room and turned the handle carefully.

Tossing the file on the bedside table between his and Suri’s beds, and noticed his sister sleeping peacefully in a loose fetal position. The remorse about how he’d spoken to her the previous morning hit him in that instant. I take their feelings for granted. He pulled the blanket over her and tucked the edges in before collapsing into his own bed.

***

It was silent when he woke up. The daylight cut through the thin sliver between the drawn curtains and he knew it was daytime. It felt so different to wake up without any stress. Although his situation was still complicated, Nole didn’t feel like his world was crumbling like he had during the past few days. It might have been the restful night’s sleep, but he was actually relaxed.

He sat up in bed and saw that Suri was no longer asleep. The wall clock informed him that it was a little passed ten, so he assumed she was eating breakfast downstairs. With a shallow grunt, he stretched his arms, reintroducing the soreness from yesterday’s events. The back pain was still there, but less noticeable than it had been the previous day.

His arm reached for the folder and rested it on his lap. What was her name? Aster? No, Asteria. Last night was still a little foggy in his mind, but it was coming back to him slowly. The Northeast Water Plant. Marco and Tyrone. Asteria. Gang leader. The concrete facts of the places and people he encountered were easy to remember, however the point of the entire meeting still escaped him.

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