Pucked Off (The Pucked Series)(9)

By: Helena Hunting

He hesitated for a second. Trouble in our house didn’t mean losing privileges and not having time to play video games. It meant my mum losing it. Sometimes when she was mad, she hit me. It’d been happening more often.

“I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Quinn said.

Decision made, we slipped through the broken fence and down an alleyway. It was dank and dark and smelled like urine. We were halfway through when four guys appeared out of the shadows. They were older—I couldn’t tell how old—maybe in high school still, maybe beyond that.

My heart kicked up a notch, and Quinn sucked in a breath as I moved him behind me. There were too many of them for me to protect him.

They circled us. Taunting. We had money. We wore it in expensive rucksacks and nice clothes. They wanted what we had. Quinn got mouthy, which he only ever did in my presence, and when they tried to take his rucksack his books fell out, scattering over the ground, so I pushed one of them.

And that’s when everything changed. The sharp sting of something hard hit me in the back. And then again and again. I knew what it was: rocks in socks. Fill an old sock with rocks and it becomes a violent, effective weapon.

I covered my head and spun, searching for Quinn, who was screaming.

The sound cut short when one of the teenagers’ makeshift weapons slammed into his temple.

Quinn’s mouth was open, and his eyes were suddenly blank as his body swayed and crumpled to the ground.

Sirens wailed like crying babies in the distance. The teenagers shouted and swore and disappeared like vapor.

I shook my brother, blood dripping from his temple. I screamed his name, but his eyes were vacant.

He was gone. And it was my fault.

“Lance? Buddy?”

I rub my eyes to black out the memories and hiss at the pain in my right one. I look up to find Randy standing at the door of the room in pajama pants and a wrinkled T-shirt.

His eyes go wide as he takes in my face. “What the fuck happened to you?”

I push up out of the chair and bite back my groan. I’m already sore, and it’s only been a few hours. “I’ll explain in the car.”

We don’t talk in the elevator.

“Wiener’s in the truck,” Randy says as we cross the parking lot.

It takes me a few seconds to process that. “Miller and Sunny’s dog?”

“Yeah, we’re watching him for a few days ’cause he’s making it difficult for Sunny to sleep. If I didn’t take him, he would’ve whined at the door until I got back and kept Lily up. She’s gotta skate first thing in the morning.”

“Shit. Did I wake her?”

“Nah, she had a busy day. She was KO’d when I left.” The truck beeps as he unlocks it.

I open the passenger door and Wiener barks at me, then runs to the other side like he’s never seen me before. Wiener is a wiener dog, hence the name. Miller and Sunny have been fostering him for awhile, and Randy and Lily have taken him for sleepovers or whatever. It’s like training wheels for kids, I guess. The thing is freaking skittish.

Climbing into the truck hurts. And it’s only going to get worse, which isn’t great since we have skate practice tomorrow afternoon in preparation for next week’s final exhibition game before the season. I buckle up as Randy turns over the ignition and talks to his dog as if it’s a person.

“So, you wanna tell me what happened that I’m picking you up at the hospital in the middle of the night all beat to shit?” Randy asks.

“Tash happened.”

He pauses with his hand on the gearshift. “Tash did this to you?”

“No. Tash didn’t do this.” I motion to my face. “She’s what happened tonight that resulted in this bullshit.”

“You’re gonna explain that so it makes sense, right?”

“Tash is in town. She wanted to see me.”

“Again? Wasn’t she just here a few weeks ago?”

“She came back. As she does.”

Randy knows I’m not good at saying no to her. “Ah, man. You should’ve called. You could’ve come over. Or I would’ve gone for beers with you or something.”

“You had a night planned with Lily.”

“We were just watching a movie. It wasn’t a big thing.”