Take a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, and a herd of rabid hyenas, and Raider imagined they’d make about as much of a ruckus as Chellie was.
Raider stumbled, his legs still unsteady when he stood.
Clyde was beside him in an instant. “Here, let me help.” He slipped an arm, oh so gently, around Raider’s waist, keeping Raider’s injured ribs close to but not touching Clyde’s side.
The protective gesture both pleased and perplexed Raider, not that he had time to dwell on it.
“Who are you? Why are you groping Raider?” Chellie demanded before she had the door all the way open. “Raider! Oh my god!”
The shock on her face and the way she went pale scared Raider. He started to touch his bottom lip. He had to look like shit warmed over—
“He’s hurt,” Clyde said, twisting until Raider was out of Chellie’s reach. “His ribs and face, yeah. So don’t, like, tackle him or anything.”
Chellie sized Clyde up with a cold inspection, not a spark of friendliness in her eyes. “And who the fuck are you?”
“Clyde.” Clyde offered his free hand to Chellie. “You must be Chellie, Raider’s girlfriend?”
Raider frowned. Did Clyde just ask a question? No, no he—wait! “No!” both Raider and Chellie burst out with.
“Gross,” Chellie added. “I don’t do dick.”
From the open doorway came a lot of sputtering and snickering. Raider wasn’t surprised to see Clyde’s parents and a herd of what had to be siblings of Clyde’s all hovering just outside the room.
“Clyde does a lot of it,” Murphy said. “In his dreams!”
Gladys reached back and punched his nose. “Why is it you act like you’re 13 instead of 31?”
“Cuz he’s Benjamin Butthole and he becomes more juvenile every day,” someone in the hallway group said.
“I don’t think that’s how the movie worked,” another person said.
“Who is this hussy?” yet a third person asked, this one a young lady perhaps no more than nineteen or twenty. “Barging in here, yelling and screaming.”
“Hussy?” Chellie snorted. “If that’s supposed to offend me, fail. And FYI, I will tear hell itself apart to help Raider. He’s my best buddy, and he and his family are my family.”
“Chellie, no one here is trying to hurt me.” Raider eased away from Clyde and almost fell over. “Oh.”
“Right,” Clyde muttered, carefully supporting Raider. “We were working at the event at LeHorne’s and saw them going after Raider. We helped him.”
“Except for Murphy. He’s the reason Raider got beat up.”
Whoever said that must have had it in for Murphy, Raider decided. Chellie’s expression went flat and she turned to Clyde’s family. Each step Chellie took send a shiver down Raider’s spine.
“Chellie, it’s not like that,” Raider began. “Don’t do anything violent.”
Gladys moved inside the room and folded her arms over her chest. “By all means, Chellie, don’t resort to violence. I’d have to wallop your ass then.”
“Ohhhhhh, fight fight fight!”
Raider blinked in surprise upon hearing the chant. “Your brothers and sisters are… are… “
“Bloodthirsty turds,” Clyde finished for him.
“You think you can take me?” Chellie asked, stopping a few inches from Gladys. “What are you? Fifty? Sixty?”
Gladys’ smile held not even a hint of warmth. “Old enough to know how to teach you some manners.”
Raider felt his own mouth drop open. Chellie and restraint weren’t two things that went together. Not when Chellie was angry, scared, or felt challenged.
“I understand that this young man is your friend,” Gladys said with unmistakable kindness. “He seems to be a good person who simply got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were trying to free a fri—er—“
“Our family pet,” Clyde filled in.
Raider thought it seemed suspicious, that pause on Gladys’ part and Clyde providing the rest of the sentence. Though, Raider couldn’t pinpoint why he thought it was suspicious.
He must have been hit in the face hard enough to crack a few of his marbles. Raider was reading things into words and shit he shouldn’t be.
His fear that Clyde and Clyde’s family were out to hurt him was obviously unfounded.
He was just a damned mess.
“Why did that chick say Murphy, whoever that is, was responsible for Raider’s injuries?” Chellie asked.
Gladys’ sighed. “Because Murphy broke our lion and another animal out of their cages, then pointed at Raider when security guards swarmed in. My oldest child doesn’t always think before acting.”
“I thought about not getting attacked by the guards,” Murphy said indignantly.
“Not helping your case, Murph,” Kurt muttered.
“So,” Chellie drawled. “That moron there sicced the guards on my best friend in the entire world, and got him beat up?”
“It sounds so bad when you put it like that,” Murphy protested. “I didn’t know they’d beat him up!”
“You obviously suspected something bad would happen or you wouldn’t have pawned the blame off on an innocent man,” Chellie half-yelled. “Ugh! Loser!”
Gladys arched one eyebrow. “Yes, he did something very stupid and selfish. Murphy panicked and didn’t think about the repercussions of what he was doing. Even so, he will make reparations for the pain and suffering he has caused Raider.”
“It’s fine,” Raider told her. “He doesn’t have to do anything.”
“I was thinking he could clean your apartment or house twice a week for a couple of months,” Gladys offered. “But if you don’t— “
“Deal,” Chellie interrupted. “Shake on it.”
“What? No way!” Murphy began.
Kurt grabbed him by the arm and dragged Murphy away.
Gladys lowered her hand after she shook with Chellie. “Oh, he’ll do it, and he’ll do it right. Murphy might be immature for his age, but he’s a clean-fanatic. Once he starts in on your place, he won’t be able to stop until it’s sparkling clean.”
Chellie glanced back at Raider. “If you had two black eyes, we could probably get six months of cleaning.”
Best friends. Nothing else like them in the whole world.