Elias had slept like garbage and was exhausted beyond belief, but he was more or less used to that. Vito wasn’t the first person to trigger something like that in him, but he was definitely someone he wished like hell hadn’t seen it.
Elias flinched as his phone rang. He turned to look at his alarm clock. Four in the morning. Clearing his throat, he grabbed his phone and accepted the call. “Yeah?” When he didn’t get a response, he pulled his phone back to make sure he hadn’t muted the call on accident. “Hello?”
His phone beeped twice, a simple alert that the person had hung up. Elias’s brow furrowed as he opened his recent call log. The most recent call had come from a blocked number.
Blowing out a breath, he opened up his text message thread with JJ. There was about a sixty-forty chance she was awake, and if her night happened to have ended on the forty-percent side, she’d get back to him a few hours.
Elias: If a blocked number called me, does that mean they did that bullshit *67 thing?
JJ’s response came in before Elias could even set his phone down.
JJ: Usually. Someone fucking with you?
Elias: I don’t know. Who would prank call me?
JJ: I’m coming over.
Elias: You don’t have to. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.
JJ: I’m coming over. If I got prank called, you’d come over to sit with me. I’ll be there in 30
Elias: Thank you
JJ: That’s what family’s for. See you in a few, Lias
Elias waited for JJ in the kitchen with a coffee mug held to his chest. He felt horrible about her coming all the way to his place so early in the morning, but once he had told her about the blocked call, there was no stopping her. He should have waited until later in the morning. Not knowing for certain about the blocked call for a few more hours wouldn’t have killed him.
But it was a little too late to be worrying about all that now.
JJ pulled up outside and shut off her car. Elias set his mug down on the counter before making his way to the front door. After unlocking it, he pulled it open for her.
“Oh, Elias, you look like hell.”
Elias offered a smile. “Been a rough night. And morning.”
“Certainly looks like it.” JJ stepped inside and closed the door behind her. “What’s going on? Talk to me.”
“Do you want coffee first?”
JJ nodded. “Sure, Lias. Lead the way.”
After getting a cup of coffee for JJ and refilling his own, Elias headed to the living room, his only friend trailing behind him.
Once they sat down on the couch, JJ set her coffee cup on the end table. “So, you wanna tell me what’s been going on?”
“I slept with Minetti,” Elias whispered.
JJ only raised a non-judgmental brow. “Which one?”
“W-well, if I tell you that, you can’t go around telling people he’s into guys.”
“You know I’d never do something like that, mobster or not. I’m not gonna out him.”
“Thank you.” Elias set his coffee cup aside to scrub both hands over his face instead. “Vito.”
“He’s a murderer, JJ.”
“I’ll acknowledge that and continue to congratulate you on shagging one of the Minettis.”
“Ugh. You’re disgusting.”
JJ snorted. “You knew what you were getting into when you continued to be my friend after high school.” She laid a hand on his back. “What else?”
“My story’s damned to hell. I-I was afraid I’d lose contact with him if I didn’t sleep with him. He’s not exactly a repeat one-night-stander, you know? So I said yes and hoped like hell he was a cuddler and a talker. Spoiler alert, he’s not either.”
“That… checks out. He doesn’t look like much of a cuddler.”
“Right?” Elias shook his head. “I let way too much slip around him. I feel connections to the wrong people, and that connection and sympathy led me to saying way too much.”
“What’d you tell him?”
“That my parents make me pretend I’m bi so I can continue entertaining female donors or the daughters of donors. Told him I don’t really sleep around with people I don’t trust, which was stupid. I told him about my scoliosis and why that diagnosis and the surgery could never be leaked. Told… told him he was the first person to accidentally lock me in a room.”
“Oh, Elias,” JJ whispered.
She rubbed a soothing circle on his back with the heel of her palm. “It’s not your fault, Lias. You feel very deeply for people, even the ones you don’t want to feel anything for. I’m sure seeing that his brother was shot didn’t help you any. That only increases your urge to share with the guy.”
“It did. Knowing he rescued a bunch of dogs from a dog fight ring did the same. Knowing the reporter that interviewed him was mean to him also… did the same.” Elias dropped his head to his hands. “How am I supposed to write an expose piece on the guy if I can’t even handle a reporter hurting his feelings?”
“Your piece is going to be well-researched. Your piece is going to hold proof that he does these horrible things. It won’t just be baseless accusations based on years of rumors. That’s what hers were. Your article will be completely different.”
“You think so?”
“Oh, I know so. Elias Payne isn’t a half-asser.”
Elias snorted. “Doubt my parents would feel that way.”
“Is… that what this is about? How they’ll feel if it gets out that you slept with Minetti?”
“It’ll ruin them, JJ.”
“We both know that’s a lot easier said than done for me.”
Elias lifted his head. “Oh, God.”
“What if the phone call was from Minetti? I-I left my phone in his car, and he brought it back to me. He would’ve had more than enough time to get my number from it.”
“You still don’t have a lock on your phone, do you?”
“I’m never around enough people for it to matter.”
JJ nodded. “Okay, so, uh… that’s going to be step one. Step two, let’s think for a moment. Why would Vito Minetti start calling you from a blocked number?”
“I gave him a lot of shit he could blackmail me with, JJ. And I know he’s bisexual, and he doesn’t want anyone to know that. Maybe… maybe he blackmails all of the men he sleeps with t-to make sure they, umm, stay in line.”
“It’s possible. Was it a blocked number or an unknown?”
“Can I see?”
Elias leaned up enough to pull his phone from his back pocket. He handed it over to JJ and grabbed his coffee mug again.
After a moment, JJ nodded. “Definitely a blocked number. I know a gal who can unblock it, but it won’t be immediate.”
“Do you need my phone for it?”
“She can get it done a little faster that way, but she can also do it with just your phone number.”
“Phone number, if it’s not too much trouble. I don’t need anyone else seeing text messages from my parents. I-I can’t put that risk out into the world.”
“Sure, El,” JJ said softly. She leaned forward and set his phone on the coffee table. “You said you told Minetti he was the first person to accidentally lock you in a room. I know… what that does to you. Are you okay?”
“I had a fucking breakdown in front of him. I’ve never been more embarrassed, a-and that’s saying something.”
“God, El, I’m so sorry. You should’ve called me when you got home. I would’ve come right over.”
“I wasn’t going to put you out like that. You have far better things to do with your time, JJ.”
“Hey,” JJ whispered. “You are my family, Elias. You’re like a brother to me. The cool kind that’s also your best friend. Family will always come first to me. Family comes before a full eight hours of sleep. Family comes before sleeping with some guy I met at the bar. You come before that.”
Elias leaned to the side, dropping his head to her shoulder. JJ wrapped an arm around him, her free hand moving to the side of his head. “I don’t think that idea will ever be natural to me. I-I don’t think… that idea will ever even pop into my head without a reminder or three.”
“I know, El. Life hasn’t been fair to you.”
“Well… I-I was raised in a very wealthy household. Life was plenty fair.”
“Your parents having money doesn’t always mean life was fair to you. Those kids at private school gave you hell, you lost your mom and got stuck with a bitchy stepmom. You lost your dad and got stuck with stepmom and her new husband, neither of whom were ever kind to you. Do I need to go on, or do you get the big picture? Because I have a lot more unfair things I can list off if you need to hear them.”
After a moment, Elias shook his head. “I think I’m okay. In that sense, anyway.” He offered a smile. “Thanks for coming over, JJ. It… it means a lot to me.”
“I know it does. And no problem. Remember, family.” She elbowed him in the side. “What do you say we take the kitchen and make some junk food, huh? Sweet or greasy is up to you, but I think junk food is a great idea.” Elias couldn’t help but smile. “Definitely sweet. Let’s go see what I have the ingredients for.”
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