“I’m sorry I dragged you in to this. But I’m really glad you came with me.”
“I’ll always be by your side. Especially when you’re in trouble. That’s when you need me.”
Ilyssa smiles sadly. She lifts her hand, holding out her pinky finger. I do the same linking our pinkies together, a promise we’ve made to each other hundreds of times starting when we were six years old.
She lays down on the hotel bed, clearly exhausted. I don’t think she’s had a good night sleep since her mom died two months ago. As she closes her eyes I notice again the discoloration along her cheek and my blood heats. I’ve known, I’ve always known, that things were bad for Ilyssa at home. Her step father is a drunk and the fact he beat her mom is a poorly kept secret.
But two nights ago was the first time she’s shown up on my doorstep with her own bruises visible.
Bruises and plans to run away to New Orleans.
Which is where we are now.
It wasn’t a very well thought out plan. And I obviously wasn’t going to let my best friend do this alone in her state. I mean, in any state, but especially not in the state she was in forty-eight hours ago. I wasn’t able to convince her this New Orleans plan was crazy so I did the next best thing. I ran away with her.
Knowing full well my family would come after us.
Often over the years having three older brothers has annoyed the hell out of me. They had no problem getting over their own rivalries to gang up on me. I’ve never had a slumber party without some obnoxious prank being played. And forget about dating. The only people they delighted in torturing more than me was any boys that may be in my vicinity.
So yeah, I’ve screamed at all my brothers over the years. This is one of the rare times I appreciate their over-involvement in my life. The fact Ilyssa is at the center of this will only add to their urgency. We’ve been virtually inseparable the last fifteen years, and my house was always available for her to escape her own home life. My family adopted her into the fold years ago.
And I’m pretty sure one of my brothers is in love with her.
We don’t talk about that though. No way I’m getting in the middle of that.
I’ve made no attempt to ‘cover our trail’. Ilyssa’s initial plan was to find one of her old professors and mentors who moved here last year and see if she could help get her a job and a place to stay. I used my credit card to buy our plane tickets and I convinced her we should get a hotel room before springing ourselves on her old professor.
A hotel owned by my uncle.
Frankly, Ilyssa is still too shaken up and wild eyed to question any of my decisions. She’s just relieved to have someone taking the reigns. All she cares about right now is putting distance between her and her step father. As long as that seems to be happening, she doesn’t care about the details.
Ultimately, if she decides to stay in New Orleans I’ll support her. But I’m banking on the assumption that once she calms down, she’ll realize she doesn’t have to blow up her entire life to be safe from Ron. Ilyssa and I have big plans and only one semester left of college before we can start to put them in action. I’m pretty confident my parents will be more than happy to help her find a safe place to stay until graduation.
I can tell from the sound of her breathing, she’s finally fallen asleep. I write her a quick note so she doesn’t panic if I’m not back when she wakes up and take the elevator down to the hotel lobby.
I leave a couple messages and some instructions with the concierge and then I grab a seat at the bar adjacent to the lobby.
And I wait.
I’ve just started my second Brandy Milk Punch when my oldest brother Zane barrels through the door followed closely by our cousin and his best friend Alex. I pop up from my seat and intercept them before they get to the front desk.
He turns abruptly at the sound of my voice and crosses over to me, grabbing me in a quick hug. Alex does the same, scooping me up as soon as Zane releases me.
“Not really. She’s asleep upstairs.”
A grim expression settled across my brother’s face. “Is she okay?” he asks again, eyes boring in to mine.
“She will be.”
He nods, clearly wanting more information but settling for that for the time being.
Alex grins at me, attempting to break the tension. “At least when you bolt you do it in fashion, cuz. I love NOLA.”
I grin back at him and lead them back to my table. After the guys order their own drinks Zane turns his attention back to me.
“What’s really going on squirt? Are you just trying to help Ilyssa or are you serious about quitting school?”
“And if I’m serious about quitting?”
He shrugs taking a sip of his beer. “The family dinner table might be a little tense for a while, but hell, I don’t live there anymore. We’d get through it.”
Leaning over I give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “That’s why you’re my favorite brother.”
Eyes wide, I ask, “You think I’d lie?”
“I think your definition of favorite changes with your mood.”
I laugh. “I suppose. I love you all. But don’t tell the other two.”
“Of course not. Although I’m not really looking forward to telling them you’re dropping out with one semester left and moving to New Orleans. The love thing might soften the blow.”
I laugh again. “You won’t have to tell them anything. I have no intention of dropping out. It would interfere with my plans, you know that.”
“So what was this little impromptu road trip across state lines about?”
I bite my lip. “Alyssa was hysterical, terrified. After Ron attacked her…. For some reason she latched on to the idea that this was the only safe place she could go. I couldn’t let her go alone, not in that condition. Besides, it’s her last semester too. She just needs some time to calm down and I think she’ll want to come home.”
“And then what?”
“You know as well as I do Mom and Dad will let her stay with us until classes start again. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they help her pay for her own housing for the last semester. They won’t let her go back to that asshole. We’re her real family anyway.”
Zane looked at me silently until I felt myself start to fidget under his steady gaze. “What?”
He shrugged. “You’re pretty cool.”
I slug him in the shoulder.
“I got you guys a room on the same floor.” I slide them the key card. “Ilyssa is going to be mortified that you’re here so no asking questions and no pushing on going home until she’s ready. Clear?” I eye them both until they nod their agreement. Then I grin. “Ready for Bourbon Street?”
Alex rubs his hands together in glee. “NOLA, baby! I know just where to start. Hurricanes!”
Now just to convince Ilyssa she’s safe.
See where Ilyssa is years later.
Curious about Zane? Six years later, here’s his story.