The room was now silent, and my beating heart slowed to an ethereal cadence.
* * *
“Keiran, I need a favor.”
These impromptu meetings with Mario would have to end. The school’s parking lot in the middle of the day was hardly the place to plan mass murders or acts of conspiracy.
“And by favor you mean something I’m likely going to regret agreeing to?” Mario was constantly involved in numerous dealings that required more than a few favors. Many times, he hinted at recruiting me into his business, but the idea of organized crime bored me.
“Call it an act of good faith,” he grinned jovially.
“Spit it out.” The answer was already no, but whatever it was, I needed to hear. I didn’t trust Mario. He wore too many faces.
“It’s my daughter.”
“You have a kid?”
I didn’t bother to conceal my surprise. As long as I’ve known Mario, he’s never once mentioned a daughter. What else was he hiding? It occurred to me that I hadn’t been doing my homework thoroughly. If all this were going to work in my favor, I would need to ensure all the cards were on the table.
“Yes. She’s a little older than you are, but not by much. With Arthur out for blood, I can’t keep as good of an eye on her.”
“Where is her mother?”
“She’s never met her. Her mother was a crack whore and not a very good one because she’s dead.”
“What does this have to do with me?”
“I need you to keep an eye on her until the heat dies down.”
“I’m not running a babysitting service. I have my own shit to deal with.”
“And how much do you expect to accomplish if I’m weighed down? Remember, you need me just as much as I need you. This can and will work out for all of us,” he stated harshly.
Did he just threaten me?
I stared at him long and hard, weighing my options. There wasn’t a chance in hell that Mario scared me, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t pretend.
“Where is she?”
Could I really be entertaining the thought of babysitting his daughter? She may have been older, but her life was essentially in my hands. Mario wouldn’t take that lightly.
“She’s on standby. Somewhere safe for now where my men are watching her.”
“Like the men who watched Trevor and Anya?”
“Look, I still have guys on that to find out what happened. I’m just as shocked as you are. No one is talking, but I promise you on the life of my daughter that I did not order the hit. It was a freak accident at best.”
“Someone poured gasoline on two of my classmates and set them on fire and you’re calling it a freak accident?” He still had yet to explain how Trevor and Anya were killed under his watch. Not only were they killed, but they also managed to make it fifty miles away from where they were being held and burned alive just outside of town.
“I know how it sounds, but what would you like me to say? The men on guard were taken care of.”
It was always the same response, and eventually, I would start to do my own digging. If I found out he was responsible, it would tip things in another direction. I didn’t care at all about what had happened to them, but my freedom was on the line.
“How long do I need to be your daughter’s bodyguard?”
“Until we can find her a safer hideaway or until this is all over.”
“Fine. Let me talk to my uncle. Is she ready?”
“My men have her on standby. She should arrive in a couple of weeks.”
I turned on my heel and left him standing alone in the parking lot. Lunch had just ended when I entered the building, and I knew Monroe would be looking for me soon. She never admitted it out loud, but she was always on the lookout for me. I wondered if it was only fear that still drove her to search me out. Whatever it was, something told me she wasn’t running anymore.
* * *
I missed Monroe after lunch. Two classes later, I trudged into last period after class had already begun. Mr. Lawson looked down his too long nose at me as I entered the classroom.
“Mr. Masters, it’s great to have you back, but please try to be on time. Tardiness will not be tolerated.”
A smile spread my lips when I repeated Monroe’s favorite expression. She was already rubbing off on me in ways I never would have imagined. I nodded in his direction and took my usual seat.
Monroe was back to sitting in the front again with Willow and Sheldon flanking her. Her back stiffened at the sound of my name, but she didn’t turn around. She wouldn’t dare.
I wanted nothing more than to grab her up and keep her close, but I wasn’t allowed to approach her. I wasn’t keen on obeying some piece of paper they called an order of protection, but I wasn’t stupid either. I also had to admit it pleased me she had someone to look out for her. Five months ago, and even long before that, I would have tried to do anything in my power to take away her security and protection. I wanted to keep her isolated because then I could better control her. Now I was more than grateful that she was never alone. As much as I hated it, I couldn’t always be around. There was no way in hell I would ever let her know everything I did now was to protect her. She already wanted more and had no problem demanding it. I smiled again even though my blood boiled when I thought about her little so-called threat. Jealously apparently was a trait none of us could escape. I really did mean it when I said I would kill her before I let anyone else have her. It was the very reason why I was no good for her. The days of my bullying her were long gone, but I was still the same person who pushed her off those monkey bars, and even more tragically, I was still the same person they trained me to be. It wasn’t until her I realized how fucked I really was and how my life before was so much worse than I could have imagined. People like her had it good. They never suffered or did a bad thing.