Page 80 of Coercion

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He looks up at me, and for the millionth time in my life, all I can see is how similar we look.I used to think it was a cruel joke that we could be so different, but maybe I was wrong about that, too.

“You’re holding out on me.”

“I am not.What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play coy, Em.I tried to punch you at your house—”

“I thought you said you were done with punching people,” Bristol says.“Why would you try to punch your own brother?”

“—and you caught my fist in both hands before I could hit you.You’re jumping all over this place like you live here, except I know you don’t.And you just broke Mountain Man’s arm—”

Emerson crosses his arms over his chest.“I sprained it.”

“—in a manner that indicated some actual technical skill with breaking people’s arms.You either found a place to go or had somebody come out to your house, but you didn’t learn that shit by communing with the sea while you were surfing.It wasn’t me or Sin.So who taught you?”

“Oh.All that.”Em turns, heading for the warehouse doors to meet the cops and warn them that they’re about to be arresting a guy who looks seven feet tall, is in a foul mood, and has a severely sprained wrist at best.“It was a guy named Eddie.He has a lot of experience with hand-to-hand combat.Maybe you’ve heard of him.”



Our third Fridaynight dinner is a big one.I never thought my brothers and I would eventually be the kind of adults who got together for dinner with our families, much less live next door to one another.Those things seem run-of-the-mill compared with going to pick up my very-much-alive mom for said dinner.

The address she gives me turns out to be a motel in Brooklyn.First thing my headlights land on is two guys having a fistfight in the parking lot.It’s one thing to kidnap someone’s girlfriend and orchestrate a confrontation for revenge, but fighting in the parking lot of a motel?Please.

I take out my phone and dial her number.We’ve texted a few times since she came to my office.Calling still feels weird and slightly dangerous.I brace myself for the line to have been disconnected.

“Hi, Will.Are you outside?”

“What’s your room number?”

“Seven.First floor.”

“Okay.Yes, I’m outside.Throw your stuff in your bags and bring it out with you.”

There’s a long silence.

“Did we get disconnected?”

“No, I’m still here.Why would I need my bags at dinner?”

“Mom.”That feels weird, too, but I’ll say it as long as I have the chance.“There’s two assholes beating each other up in the parking lot.You can’t stay here.”

“It’s the only place in my budget, Will.”

“A guest room at my house is free.Emerson has guest rooms, too.”

“Well…would his house be more convenient, or yours?Is it safe to leave my bags in the car?”

It hurts to think she’s been living in places like this, with pricks in the parking lot who’ll break into cars.“Both our houses are in a good neighborhood, and they’re very safe.We actually—” I laugh at the sheer fairy-tale ridiculousness of it.“The same security firm protects us both.I thought I told you before.Our houses are next door to each other.Do you want me to help you pack your things?”

“No, no.I’ve got it.Stay right there.”

The door to room number seven opens less than five minutes later.My mom has a small duffel bag and a canvas tote over one shoulder, her purse and a plastic grocery bag over the other.That’s it.That’s all she has.

I get out and open the passenger door for her, then take her bags and put them in the back.As soon as I’m behind the wheel again, she sags in her seat.

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