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Breaking Even

By:C.M. Owens

o start making our burgers.

“Where's your girl?” I ask, putting the spread out on the kitchen island.

Maverick hops up to grab a plate while Tag answers.

“She's hanging out with Rain and Raya tonight. Raya and Kade have been on the rocks since his grandfather’s death. So Ash and Rain took her out to cheer her up.”

That’s why Tag came. His girl wasn’t at home.

“Ketchup?” I ask Maverick as he turns around.

“Nah, it’s not my thing. I don’t eat anything red,” he says suggestively, forcing my stomach to roil.

I roll my eyes as I put my bun on the plate and reach for the ketchup, shaking it before continuing my conversation with Tag. “So that's why you came over—”

A loud bang halts my retort as something wet and cold slaps me in the face, and I jump back while trying to see anything but red. Fucking ketchup is every-damn-where.

For a brief moment there is stunned silence, then suddenly there is nothing but riotous laughter as the scene around me registers to everyone.

“I guess red is your thing,” Maverick jokes.

Dickhead.

Tag and Wren are laughing hard enough to be in stitches right now. Assholes. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what the hell just happened as I wipe away the red goop from my eyes.

Ah, fuck. The shit even got on my ceiling.

Then anger bubbles up as realization sets in. She couldn't have. How would she have gotten into my house? No. I'm giving her way too much credit.

“What's wrong?” Dane asks, trying his damnedest not to laugh as my fury seeps through every feature on my face.

“I'm going to kill her,” is my simple response.

***

BRIN

I'm not surprised to see him stalking across the yard, muscles flexing as his jaw ticks. But I am surprised to see him still covered in ketchup.

All the streetlights illuminate him, but I swear he’s angry enough to glow on his own. His dirty-blonde hair is smeared with red, and he looks as though he just walked out of a massacre.

My laughter breaks out before I can do anything about it, and he stops and looks through the window where I'm gripping the ledge for much needed support.

“That's what I fucking thought,” he growls. “Okay. Remember this shit.”

He turns around and walks away, and I drop to the ground to pray for air. But I'm just laughing too hard. It was a shitty day at work, but having this to look forward to made it bearable.

“I take it the ketchup volcano worked?” Maggie asks, amused as she struts out in her formfitting dress.

More like a ketchup bomb.

I nod when words can't form, and my laughter infects her, making it impossible for her not to join in. She rolls her eyes as she grabs her purse.

“I have to go meet Carmen. Try not to get the house burned down while I'm gone.”

It physically hurts to breathe right now. I love it when my plans come together.

Maggie waves while shaking her head, a small bit of laughter still lingering in her wake. I'm glad she's found someone to date, even though she's constantly gone now. I'm actually looking forward to my date tomorrow. I almost wish it was tonight. It sucks to be here alone with nothing to do, but at least I got my nemesis back.

He's going to come back with something terrible, so I have to be prepared. I shouldn't be enjoying this as much as I am, but it's the most fun I've had in years.

Just as I grab my remote, the TV cuts out, and the power dies to the house. Did he really just do that?

My humor fades quickly, because this is crossing a line. I storm out of the house, ready to go bark at the idiot and form some boundaries for the war, when he bursts out of his door, stalking in my direction, barely recognizable under the sliver of moonlight when he gets closer.

It's then I realize the entire street is blacked out, and he looks around to notice the same thing.

“Was it her?” a guy asks from inside his house, laughter lacing his words.

“No,” Mr. Sexy growls. “Whole damn neighborhood is blacked out. Let's take this to someone else's house.”

He starts to say something to me, since I'm standing here at the edge of his yard and staring for no particular reason. He's still wearing ketchup. I can say that's why I'm staring, even though it’s really too dark to see it.

“Can't. Just got a text to pick up some diapers. I need to go,” a male's voice says—and it sounds familiar, oddly enough.

“I should go, too,” another says, and they all speak over each other as bodies filter out. All I can make out are their silhouettes before I turn around.

I head back to my house, feeling a little weird just staring in the dark. It's been a while since this neighborhood has had a blackout. It's usually the bigger cities in the summer that blackout because of the heat and everyone using their air conditioning.

It’s not anywhere nearly that hot, so I don’t know what’s going on.

Just as I settle down on my sofa and pull out my phone to call Maggie, there's a knock at the door. I start to answer, but I know who it is.

“Not in the dark,” I murmur, shivering a little. He'll torture me if he finds out I'm creeped out at night when I’m here alone.

“I'm not here to get revenge just yet,” he says through the door. “You have a gas hot water heater. I've fixed it for Maggie before. Mine is electric, and you've hosed me down with ketchup. It's only right you let me in to use the shower.”

He's good at sounding harmless. Too bad I'm too smart for his tricks.

“Sorry. But no. You have plenty of friends' houses you can go to.”

“They all just left. Most of them have shit to do tonight. Some of them aren't really friends. And besides, I'm not getting into my car with this shit all over me.”

I purse my lips for several long minutes, and finally, with a reluctant sigh, I do something he's bound to make me regret.

“As long as you call a temporary truce,” I say through the door, my hand hovering over the doorknob.

“Truce until I'm out of your house. Then the war resumes,” he says quickl

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