Page 50 of Coercion

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“If I fall asleep, it’s not my fault.”

“I won’t say anything if you do.”

Daphne laughs, and then it’s just me and my brothers.

Sinclair goes to the kitchen and opens the fridge.“Good.You have beer.Let’s go to the den.”

We do.You can see Emerson’s lights from the den, and something about that seems almost ridiculously right.Not that Ineedto live next door to either of my brothers.This is just about safety.

Emerson sprawls on one of the couches, Sinclair takes an armchair, and I end up on a love seat across from them.

“Heard anything about Mom?”Emerson asks, directing the question to Sin like he doesn’t want me to overhear.

“Not yet.Haven’t given up, though.”Sin opens his beer and gives me a look.“Now that the house stuff has been decided…what are you going to do about Hughes?”

We can talk about it, if he wants, but there’s something else I want to know first.

“What did you say to her?”Whatever it was, I owe him for it.I almost fucked myself out of a good thing for no reason tonight.

Emerson sits up and looks at me.“I told her why you lost your shit about the hug.”

Maybe Idon’towe him.“I didn’t—” Well, fine.I lost it a little.“You made up a reason?”

“No, I told her the truth.”

“The truth is that I don’t like hugs.”

He shakes his head, and a jittery, anxious feeling takes over most of my torso.

“This is bullshit.”I point my beer bottle at him.“You can’t keep secrets about other peoplefrom those people.If you know something, then you have to tell me, asshole.”

Sin’s watching this with an interest that strikes me as journalistic.I hate him, sort of.

Em rolls his beer bottle in his palms.“Do you remember what Dad would do when he let you out of the closet?”

“No.”The memories are short.All worn out.Howbrightit seemed.The way my heart would pound in my throat.A fist in my face.

Emerson sighs.I see it happen.He’s looking at me, but for a heartbeat, there’s nobody behind them.He’s elsewhere.Then she shakes it off and stands up, crossing to my side of the room.

He’s too tall looming over me, so I stand up, too.So does Sin.Emerson hands off his beer to Sinclair.

“Don’t punch me.”He holds both hands up so I can see they’re empty.Of course they are.“I’m not going to hurt you.Also, I apologize in advance.”

“What the fuck, Em?”

He reaches out with his right hand and curls his fingers into the shoulder of my shirt.

He’s right.It doesn’t hurt.He’s not even pulling that hard.

But itdoeshurt.My abs get tense, bracing for a hit, and there’s no air anymore.There’s a strange pressure at my face, like thousands of old punches are resurfacing.I’m going to throw up.I’m going to kill someone.My dad, maybe.It hurts.It really hurts.

My right hand connects with something, and then my left just…stops.All the muscles in my arm are working at something.I don’t know what.

From far away, over the loud-as-hell sound of my heart and a thin whistle of air in my lungs, there’s a voice.It’s my voice, and it sounds fine.It sounds calm.It sounds safe?

Because it’s not me, it’s Emerson.

“—not here.Will.He’s not here.It’s just us.”

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