38. Tyler

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38. Tyler

The heat from the fire raises a wall between me and the bar as I scramble out the back door. A few people tumble out after me and I hear the door clang shut within the roaring fires. Sweat runs down the side of my face like thin tears and all I smell is dirt and smoke.

I stumble away from the blazing building. I cover my mouth with the sleeve of my jacket and run past the crumbling bar and towards my truck. The red doors reflect the burning light of the fire and I watch every flicker and swish of the flames in it.

My body collides with my truck and I slam my hand against the heated metal. Everything is silent apart from the thundering noise of fire. I never realized how loud fire is before but now it's the only sound I'll be hearing for days, its lion's roar tunnelling through my ears and making my eyes water.

I fumble around in the back pockets of my jeans to find my keys but the metal is slippery and uncooperative against my sweaty hands. I sink my teeth into my lip, feeling the panic envelop me as the heat of the fire creeps up the back of my neck.

"Tyler!"

I hear my name being yelled and my head whips around until I see two figures on the other side of the parking lot. One is holding the other back and I take a step forward, trying to see past the shimmering heat until I realize it's Franny, with Ethan trying to keep her at bay. Relief hits me in the chest and my face softens, my legs starting to move and my mouth slipping open to speak. But as the relief hits, a wave of panic and a painful clench of my chest makes it fade away as a figure walks up behind Ethan and slams a fist into the back of his head. His body crumples to the ground and a bag is thrown over Franny's head.

I shout, but it's too late and a bag is thrown over my head from behind as I feel a sharp pain in my head.

***

"Take the fucking bag off," a voice growls. "And put her somewhere else, but make sure he can see her."

Footsteps sound around the room. I'm surrounded by darkness until someone pulls off the bag and my eyes are stung with harsh, artificial light. I clench them shut and blink repeatedly as they water up profusely. When my eyes slowly begin to focus, they land on a set of knees directly in front of me.

I look up slowly and meet Carl's eyes looking down at me. I look away from his smile and try to dull the pain in my head by letting my eyes fall out of focus.

"No, no," I hear Carl say before a hand is gripping my hair and tugging my head up. "Eyes up, nice and focused. There's a lot I want you to see."

His hand leaves my hair and I press a hand to the ground, looking around. I've been left on my knees in the middle of a boxing ring. Carl is the only person in the ring with me, but the room is nearly full. Face after face looks back at me, all familiar and all known, as they stand around the ring—waiting.

And then my eyes land on someone standing in one of the corners of the room. Franny, her face bloody and a man gripping her arm from behind. Her eyes meet mine and she gives a subtle nod that no one else would have probably noticed. I breathe a short sigh of relief, knowing that she's okay, and turn back to Carl.

"You hit her," I say.

"I have no qualms about hitting women," Carl says.

"She's a kid compared to you," I say.

"So are you," Carl says. "And I have no problems about hitting your face until your little girlfriend can't recognize you."

"Why's she here?" I ask.

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