I was going to kill my brother.
Yep. Kill, as in maim brutally until he succumbed to death’s cold, dark embrace. Because a slow death wouldn’t do. No, he deserved to suffer. I didn’t know much about Chinese water torture, but I could learn. And the leaky faucet in the bathroom, the one he’d promised to fix months ago, would do the trick. A couple of hours of that would surely drive him insane. His brain might even start to liquefy. Maybe dribble out of his ears a bit.
I wondered if that would be painful enough. Or painful at all, considering he’d killed most of his brain cells already, taking hit after hit of whatever his crackhead friends put in front of him.
I hoped wherever he was at that moment, whatever he was smoking was laced with some bad shit. I didn’t even feel bad thinking it. This always happened. He’d disappear, lifting cash from Mom’s purse and leaving her sick with worry instead of anger. One day turned into two, three, eight at the most. He’d stumble in eventually, visibly worse for the wear, but with a sheepish I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m sorry, Darcy. I promise I’ll be better from now on smile plastered on his face. And then he’d do it all over again a couple of months later.
Getting clean was part of Quinn’s regimen. Staying clean was a different story.
Eventually, he’d fall back off the wagon. He’d get picked up in the alleyway behind a bar or hanging out at one of the other trailer parks in town, the ones far worse than our own. He’d spend time in the county jail but would never be dumb enough to call us from it asking for bail. He knew we wouldn’t have it. Mostly because he’d pocketed what we did have to score whatever shit landed him there in the first place, but also because … well, the residents of Whispering Oaks Mobile Home Community weren’t exactly rolling in dough in the first place. And even though Mom had started doing clients’ hair in our poorly lit kitchen on the side, we were barely getting by.
Really, he was no worse off than half of our meth-addicted town, but it was bad enough to make Mom cry at night when she thought I couldn’t hear her. Our trailer walls were paper thin though, and I hadn’t slept soundly since I was thirteen and woke up to find one of my brother’s acquaintances rifling through my dresser drawers at three AM. Junkies were the goddamned worst.
Beating the snot out of him always crossed my mind. I’d tighten my fists at my sides when he inevitably made his reappearance, or when I’d find him sitting at the kitchen table in the mornings before I left for school, smiling nervously as he pushed a plate of apology pancakes—dusted with powdered sugar the way I liked—in my direction.
Every time, I’d bite my tongue and forgive him. Every time, I’d wonder if one day those apologies would actually mean something. I hoped they would.
Whatever apology he offered this time, though, it was going to have to be good. And it damned well needed to mean something.
The guitar case slipped in my sweat-slicked hands and I nearly lost my hold on it as I pushed through the heavy glass door, the bell jingling to signal my entrance to Addams Gold & Pawn. My fingers tightened around the handle of the battered and beaten-to-hell case. The leather was cracked, torn, and covered in stickers from dozens of different bands—some long-forgotten, others legendary. And it held my favorite thing in the world. When I was little, my father let me have the honor of opening this case for him each time he played the guitar inside it. Later, he taught me how to play it myself. Letting it go, even temporarily, was going to hurt like a bitch.
I straightened my shoulders and walked to the front counter.
This time… Well, this time I really was going to kill my brother.
“I know what this guitar is worth.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d found myself at this counter. Even though it was embarrassing and I’d die if anyone from school ever saw me, I’d patronized Addams Gold & Pawn—much more pawn than gold in the shop, by the way—for years. Our entire DVD collection came from the place, as well as the piece-of-shit, way-outdated iPod that resided almost permanently in my back pocket and the headphones around my neck. I’d sold and bought back the flat-screen television Mom had splurged on at least four times.
“I know what it’s worth too, Miss Andrews.”
I found that highly unlikely considering there was a wall full of Wal-Mart’s First Act brand guitars behind him. He wouldn’t know a quality guitar if it bit him on the ass.
“I don’t think you understand,” I started, barely able to hold it together and hating every trace of vulnerability in my voice. “What you’re offering me—”
“Is a better deal, with better terms than you’re going to get from anyone else in town.” He cut me off with a satisfied smirk.
I wanted to slap it off his smug, I-own-this-joint face. “This is the only pawn shop in town.”
I flinched. There were at least three pawn shops I knew of two towns over. I didn’t know if they’d offer me a better deal than the man in front of me, but I would’ve given anything to throw their names in his face. Then I glanced out the front window to where my bike leaned against the side of the ice machine on the sidewalk. It was old, rusted in places, and not even worth chaining up. No one in their right mind would want it—and no one in their right mind would use it to make the twenty-mile trip to Franklin in one-hundred-degree heat. My shirt was still damp from the ride over.
One look at Mr. Addams’s face told me he knew these things just as well as I did.
I took a deep breath and stood up straighter. “$650.”
He let out a terrible, condescending little laugh before he turned his attention to something behind the counter. He didn’t care that I was practically pawning my soul. He didn’t even have the decency to look me in eye as he countered with his original offer. “With the interest rate you want? $600.”
It was barely enough to cover rent and the past-due portion of our current power bill, but we could scrape by until the end of the month on it. I thought of the wad of cash Quinn had stolen from Mom’s purse—at least $900 from a wedding party she’d worked on the week before. He’d probably already blown it all before passing out on someone’s ratty, molding sofa.
“$625,” I spit out, gritting my teeth so hard my jaw ached. The extra $25 wouldn’t make much of a difference, but it would mean an extra tank of gas for Mom’s car. “Surely you can give me the same rate with only a measly $25 extra.”
“I can give you a lower rate with a bigger loan, Miss Andrews. You know that.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “And owe even more money in the long run? No, thank you.”
“Fine.” He shook his head and pushed a clipboard across the counter. He shoved a pen into my hand and nodded to the paperwork. “You know the drill.”
Yeah, I did.