Caged in Winter

By: Brighton Walsh



I clean up my station before slipping my knives into their carrying case and tucking it all away in my bag. Shouldering it, I wave to a few people, then head out the door and into the cool night.

It’s late—just after ten—so it surprises me when a voice cuts through the dark. “Cade.”

My head snaps to the right, and I spot Jason sitting on the steps just outside the building. He stands as I descend the stairs two at a time until I’m in front of him.

I jerk my chin toward him. “Hey. What’re you doing here?”

“I talked to Tess earlier. She told me where you were.” He leans against the cement pillar at the base of the stairs and reaches into his pocket, pulling something out. “I have a message for you from an admirer.”

Raising both eyebrows, I rock back on my heels. “Admirer?”

He laughs outright. “Okay, not really. She’s definitely not a fan of yours.” He holds up some cash and slaps it in my hand. “The girl from The Brewery. She found me this afternoon after class. Did you know she goes to school here?”

I shake my head at him, my eyebrows drawn together.

“Yeah, well, she told me to tell you to fuck off.”

My mouth drops open and my eyes widen as I stare at him. The asshole’s smirking. “Seriously?”

He laughs, hitting me on the shoulder. “Basically. I think her exact words were she doesn’t need your goddamn money. But damn, it’s a good thing she found me and not you. I think she would’ve killed you with just the fire coming out of her eyes. Either that or had an introduction of her foot to your junk.” He shakes his head, smiling. “She does not like you.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that.” I stare at the cash in my hand, my brow furrowing. After the tirade she went on about the money she lost thanks to me, I’m genuinely perplexed as to why she would go out of her way to give this back. When she was calculating how much those assholes left her, I could’ve sworn I heard her mumble something about buying groceries. She obviously needed the cash. Why didn’t she take it?

But if anyone can understand exactly why she didn’t, it’s me. I know why she didn’t. It’s the same reason I’ve worked so hard, scrimping and saving since Mom died so we’d never be in that position. I don’t want to take anyone’s help. I can do this on my own.

It seems the two of us have something in common.

He starts walking, and I follow, heading to the parking lot. I clear my throat. “She say if she’s working tonight?”

A choked laugh comes from him, and he stares at me, his eyes wide. “Are you serious?” He shakes his head, focusing on the sidewalk in front of us. “Dude, just drop it. She doesn’t want the fucking money. Let it go.”

I know he’s right. I should let it go. I should forget about her and her dead eyes sparked to life and the passion I saw boiling under her skin. Should forget about her touching me, forget about the fact that it was done in pure, undiluted anger.

But I can’t get her out of my head, and whether she knows it or not, she’s just given me the perfect excuse to see her again.





FOUR



winter

Classes are killing me this week. I lost out on a solid four hours of study time since I had to pick up that shift, and I’m suffering for it. My entire schedule is out of whack now, and I’ve had to shuffle everything around so I still have time to get in what I need. Working full-time and going to school full-time is more demanding than I ever thought it would be. But I’m in the home stretch now. Fantasies of moving away from here, going to New York or Miami or Chicago, flood my mind. Seventy-four more days, and I’ll be free.

I grab the handle and pull open the door of The Brewery, the smell of grease and beer nearly choking me. I walk in¸ keeping my head down until I’m out front again, stripped of my armor and ready for my shift.

Once I’ve gotten my tables settled and am at the bar, getting drink orders, Annette says, “Someone was in here looking for you earlier.”

“Who?”

She shrugs her shoulders as she mixes a drink for me. “Guy, about your age. Really tall. Big and kinda tough looking—tattoos on his arms and a barbell through his eyebrow, I think.”

I furrow my brow. I don’t know anyone who remotely matches that description. “Did he leave a name?”

“Nope, said he’d stop back.”

I try not to think about it as I work, pasting on my smile and flirting, putting more into the act than I normally do. Fridays are always busy, and I’m more grateful for that than ever, desperately needing the money to make up for what I lost earlier in the week. I let myself be distracted by the monotony of my job, the customers who come and go, the drink orders and the innocent flirtatious smiles and the not-so-innocent passes.

Ten tables and two hours later, Annette waves me over to the bar. “Your guy came back.” She nods toward the back corner, and I turn to see where she’s gesturing to. It’s dark in the pub, so it takes me a minute of looking before I recognize the hulking shadow of a guy leaning over the pool table as Prince Charming from the other night.

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