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All In - Chapter 1
Chapter One

“Where did you get that?” Cara asked. Her eyes widened at the wad of cash Mick had clenched between his fingers. He straightened out the bills, fanning them in her face like a deck of cards.

“It’s my old man’s, or it was,” Mick said. A cunning grin formed on his full lips.

It was more money than Cara had ever seen, aside from standing in line while at the bank.

“I found it stuffed behind the fucking insulation down in the basement,” Mick told her. “Fucking asshole ... says he never has any money. Well, now I’ve got a little over three G’s.”

They huddled in the dark alley, shuddering from a bone- chilling wind that tunneled around them.

Mick’s eyes flashed as he pushed the black wool cap back over his brows, displaying features that could easily swing between expressions, and at the drop of a hat. Cara had seen both sides, how Mick could look wonderfully handsome, as well as extremely intimidating.

He kept his dark hair buzzed close to his scalp. Mick had intense hazel eyes that seemed to change with his expressions, often looking as dark as cocoa with a leafy green incorporated in. Those unique eyes were paired with a strong, square jaw. His cheeks were always shaded with a hint of growth.

Checking both ends of the alley, Mick rolled the bills up, returning them to the safe confines of his pocket.

“What are you going to do with that money?” Cara pulled her hood over her head. 

 “It’s what we’re going to do with it,” Mick told her, his features sobering. He scoured the length of the alley once more, his voice lowering. “We’re getting the fuck outta here.”

“What the hell are you saying?” Cara felt her entire body go tight. The look on Mick’s face had her mind racing.

“Just look at our folks.” He sniffed, shaking his head. “There’s no future here. We live in The Hollow, remember?” Mick’s hand reached for her. His fingers dug into her arm. His grip seared through her heavy coat. Mick shook her, jarring her with the brutal truth of his words. “If we don’t get out of here now, we’ll never leave,” Mick whispered, his tone now dripping with an empathy Cara wasn’t familiar with. “There’s better, and I don’t need to become a goddamn basketball player to get it,” he said sharply.

Cara knew the resentment Mick had for his brother ran deep. All Mick’s parents cared about was Theo’s athletic success and what it could buy them later. Theo had won a scholarship for college and was now being considered for the NBA draft.

Mick had always fought to tame his jealousy, only ever getting the leftovers. He’d never been praised for his good grades. His father always told him there was never any money for him to even consider taking a night class at the local community college.

Mick was a short-order cook at the local diner, and a good one, but Cara knew his aspirations were always trying to reach higher.

They’d both been living day-to-day in The Hollow. Mick had been vowing since graduating high school that he was going to split. Cara had underestimated him. She thought this day would never come, assuming Mick shared her own fears about leaving, fears that were connected to failure, only having to return and admit defeat. Silence hung around them as dead leaves swirled in the wind before skidding across the asphalt.

They were already twenty-two years old. Mick was right. Very little had changed. Had Cara become so numbed by the same daily routine that she hadn’t noticed?

She’d been sloughing in a dead-end job, assembling pegboards at Rothmans’ Millworks. As Mick presented this blinding reality, Cara’s thoughts reverted back to her mother. Though Cara had always had shelter and food, her mother was foolish, shacking up with a new man every week. 

 A gust of biting wind stung her eyes. Mick’s voice clawed its way through the shadows.

“We only get one fucking life, and this isn’t how it’s gonna be,” he said, jamming the toe of his sneaker into the concrete.

“Why do you want to take me?” Cara asked, her heart tripping at her own question. She and Mick had been what Cara always thought of as “survivor mates.” This was a radical move. Before she agreed to anything, she needed to know.

“No way am I leaving you here,” he told her through an irritated breath, his jaw tight. “It’s now or never. It’s this one second of indecision that can easily turn into many minutes. Minutes that turn into the hours of days, days that you can never get back. Faltering can do years of damage.” Mick swallowed hard, his eyes narrowing.

“Why does this feel like a top-secret mission?” Cara asked. “I can’t leave without telling my friends.”

“If we say the slightest thing all people will do is laugh,” Mick said, his tone scathing. “They’ll say our plan will never work, and we’ll be back. I will not listen to their fears of failure. People are also going to question where I got the funds to leave. I’d probably be arrested for stealing, knowing how gossip travels around this place.” Mick shook his head. “Tomorrow night is the night. Are you in, Cara?”

The only world she knew flashed before her eyes. The idea of going on here, in The Hollow, without Mick had her insides cramping with a different kind of fear. They’d known each other forever, born and raised in the darkest, murkiest part of Pittsburgh. He’d taught her how to tie her shoes, for God’s sakes!

That hesitation Mick had just lectured her about was knocking at the door of her soul, trying to get in and ingrain itself, filling her with a trepidation Cara wasn’t sure she could believe. Wasn’t fear why people stayed where they were?

“Cara!” Mick’s voice rattled through her.

“What time are we leaving?” she gasped, having held her breath.

Their eyes locked. Warm breaths slipped from Mick’s mouth in strings of white smoke.

“The last bus out leaves at dusk. Meet me at the Blackwell Street Station ... and, please, travel light.” He spun on his heel, disappearing into the darkness.

 Cara sagged into the cold bricks, listening to the echo of his footsteps as they receded into the night.

Copyright 2008 2013 - Justine C Szot
Email Justine at justine@jc-hotreads.com
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