32: Tyler

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32: Tyler

"Look what the cat dragged in."

I close the door behind me and everyone's eyes turn, staring me down. Carl sits at the far corner, surrounded by other men as bad as him. But then again, no one else in the room really is as bad as Carl. The others will hit and punch and screw over whoever they need to. But Carl doesn't care about getting an end product—he does it for fun.

Brad watches from the other side of the bar, filling up a pint glass. I catch his dark eyes and he gives me a look of concern. I turn away and walk towards Carl. The silence is tense—even the music is off—and once again everyone's eyes are trained solely on me.

"Finally come crawling back?" Carl asks with a quirk to the corner of his mouth. "Did seeing that guy get shot in the leg change your mind? Or was it when you saw your boyfriend nearly stabbed to death?"

I clench my jaw. Ethan.

"I come back and you don't hurt them," I say. "That's the deal, right?"

Carl nods once. "That's the deal. I'm a man of my word."

I have no problem believing that Carl really does keep his word on everything, and that is equally as good as it is bad for me. I breathe in deeply through my nose and nod. Carl gives me a toothy smile and stands up, clapping a hand on my shoulder.

"I knew you'd come around with a little bit of . . . persuasion." He grins, then suddenly punches me in the gut. I cough and double over, but his arm keeps me up, and he brings my face back up to face him. "Welcome home, Ty."

***

Sporting a fresh bruise on my body, I wrap the bandages around my hands, getting ready for my fight. Ethan usually sits here with me, sometimes helping me get the gauze on my hands or just talking a load of crap. Now, there is silence.

The door opens to the little prep room I'm in and I look up, frowning when I see Brad walk in. He walks over and I stand up.

"What are you doing down here?"

"What the hell are you doing, kid?" he asks. "Do you want to get killed?"

"It's not like that," I say. "I know what I'm doing."

"The plan was to get out of here," he whispers. "Not give in and come running back."

"Do you trust me?" I whisper.

He frowns. "Why?"

"Just answer the damn question," I hiss.

"Yes, I trust you."

"Good. Because I know what I'm doing. I'm here for a reason and I swear that by the end of this, I'm dragging Carl down to hell. Even if I have to go with him."

The door opens again and one of the other fighters stands in the doorway. "You're up."

I glance back at Brad. "Trust me."

I walk past him and catch the eye of the other fighter. He puts his hand on my shoulder to stop me from leaving and I tense up. He leans down and I notice the scar on his eyebrow.

"Give 'em hell," he says and moves his hand away.

I smile a little and walk out of the room. The only people in the room are other fighters, no extra viewers. And once again I feel everyone's eyes on me. I ignore them and enter the circle.

Two other men, Trigger and Blade, stand there, both with their bulky arms crossed over their chests, beady eyes watching me. Two against one. Carl really is a bastard. I walk into the circle and look at my opponents—both stare back.

"Winner gets six hundred," Carl says, and my eyes widen. "Fight."

The two men go at me immediately.

And then everything slows down.

They're both breathing heavy and they're both tired. They have fresh hits on their bodies, so they must have done a fight right before this one. They're not at the top of their game. Two of them is equal to one freshly-prepared guy.

I clench my fists and dodge a blow to the head while sending one to Trigger's stomach. He doubles over and I take a hit from Blade before placing one on his jaw. His head snaps to the side and I turn, bringing my knee up to hit Trigger in the face.

We go at it for ages. My muscles hurt and my body aches but I keep going. Carl watches from somewhere in the room. I can feel his eyes on me. Judging.

But then ever so slowly, a chant rises. Over and over the word is spoken, quiet then loud. I look over and see Carl. He doesn't look surprised, but he also doesn't look happy. I keep his gaze with one unconscious fighter lying beside me and the other conscious one charging at me from the other side.

I move just as the fighter is about to hit me. He goes crashing into the other guys and I pull him off, down onto the floor and shower him in punches until his body sags and he coughs out blood. I stand up on shaky legs and look back at Carl as 'Bullet' is chanted throughout the room.

He lifts his drink up to me.

I might have to work under Carl, but I will never work for him. My job now is to get him locked up and I won't stop until he's either away for life or being dragged down to hell.

***

"Nice bruise."

My hand clenches around the fork in my hand and I look up, glaring at my dad over the table.

"Walk into a wall again?" he asks. "Or did you trip down the stairs this time?"

I wipe my mouth on a napkin and push my chair back. "I'm not that hungry. I have homework to do."

"Stop, Tyler," my mom says. "We know."

My entire body tenses. My skin hurts from how tight it suddenly feels. My muscles ache and my throat is dry. "You know?" I choke out.

My mom nods. "I don't know why you kept it from us. We're not angry or anything, why would we be?"

"You're not angry?" I ask in disbelief.

"Of course not," my dad says. "To be honest we were hoping this would happen to you. It'll be good for you."

"I'm sorry?" I frown.

"This way you have a direct career path if you wish to pursue it. You might even be able to have a scout pick you up. Go to college with a football scholarship," my dad comments.

"Football," I say slowly and nod my head. "Right, football."

"Though I wish that you would try to dodge some of the hits. The bruises this year are much worse than the last time you were on the team," my mom says and her face crumbles into concern.

"Football . . . " I blink. "Who told you again, that I was back on the team?"

Because I sure as hell didn't know about it.

"I got worried about the bruise you came home with the other day so I called up the coach, I still have his number from before," Mom says. "I thought maybe you were being bullied, and that maybe he'd seen something. But then he said you might be re-joining the team!"

"Did he?" I mutter. "Of course he did."

"This is exciting Ty," Dad says. "Be happy. This could lead you to a good, stable career. You could make it big."

I look at him a moment longer as he talks to my mom about how amazing my life will be. How far I will go. How big I will make it. I'll come home with trophies, bucket loads of money and a stable life.

A good, stable career. It sounds nice. Really nice. And I can have it.

If Carl doesn't kill me first.

- Ellie x

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