Mario recognized the black sports car waiting conveniently two blocks from the Center. Close enough to not miss anyone walking by, but far enough to not be recognized by any of the kids inside the Center.
He knew Drake wasn't waiting for Sophie. She'd been at the Center for nearly an hour already. She went straight after school while Mario helped with math tutoring after school.
Which Drake would also know since Mario had tutored Drake's younger brother last semester.
Drake got out of the car as Mario approached. He appeared to be alone. Mario still considered going back the other way, not because he was scared of Drake but because he was afraid of what he'd be temped to do to Drake with no witnesses around.
Mario slowed his steps and took a long drag on his cigarette. He'd put fighting behind him a year ago when he'd been brought to the Center by Miss Bradford's brother, unconscious and bleeding. He didn't want to start up again.
But he would.
"I want to talk to you," Drake said when Mario reached his front bumper.
"Not interested," Mario told him shortly, prepared to amble by as if not concerned by a thing in the world.
"My grandfather wants a DNA test," Drake said as Mario got just past the back bumper.
Mario stopped. Shit. So Sophie had already told Drake that Mario was the baby's father. He was pleased she hadn't hesitated to use the story, but he should have known that it was too easy. The fact that Sophie was in love with him was too amazing. He couldn't possibly have the good fortune to have everything else fall right into place too.
He turned, took a final draw on the cigarette and then flicked the butt along the curb. "So?"
He really wanted another cigarette. He wasn't going to smoke around Sophie and the baby at all, but that meant making the most of the times she wasn't with him, which wouldn't be often if he had his way. It would really be much easier to just quit.
"So, I think we both know what the test will show."
Mario gave up the daydream of a calming smoke and concentrated on the reality in front of him.
"But there are ways around the test," Drake went on, propping a foot up on the front fender of the car and leaning an elbow casually onto his knee.
"I would think you'd want the test to turn out in my favor," Mario said.
"I do," Drake agreed. "I really do. But there is a problem with that."
Mario just waited.
"See, if you're the father then that means Sophie cheated on me with you. And I can't live with that. No chick picks anyone over me, especially a guy like you."
Mario really wanted to pop him right in the nose. Just once. Nice and hard. And not even for Sophie's sake so much for the sake of all the people Drake had shit on over the years.
"You tellin' me this for a reason?" Mario asked. "You denied the whole thing for so long, not that many people even believe that you were with Sophie."
"I've got to make an example of you man," Drake said.
Mario clenched his jaw hard.
"See, I've got to be sure that no guy tries to mess with my stuff in the future. If you get away with this, who knows what might happen next?"
Sophie was part of his 'stuff'? Mario made a tight fist, but tamped down the urge to use it. Sophie wasn't Drake's anything anymore.
"How?" Mario asked, knowing that it somehow involved him.
"You and me," Drake said, pushing away from the car and standing straight. "Fight night. And I kick your ass."
Mario almost laughed. They both knew there was no way Drake could kick Mario's ass. "The only way that's happening is if I take a fall."
Drake wanted Mario to let him win.
"What if you can't make it look good?" Mario asked.
Drake shrugged. "Then the test comes back for real and Sophie is with me. I can think of worse things. The sex was never the problem."
Mario came at him almost too quickly to pull back. Drake scrambled backward, his eyes wide. Mario's left knee caught the corner of the fender as he lunged for Drake. Pain raced to his brain, cutting through his enraged focus on Drake and halting his momentum. He pulled in a few deep breaths, his blood still pumping with angry adrenaline.
"I'll fight you," he finally said, when he trusted his voice to not emerge as a furious roar.
"And you'll lose?" Drake clarified, still several safe steps back.
Oh, he'd lose. Eventually. But he wouldn't go down easy and he certainly wouldn't go down without getting in a few "convincing" blows of his own.
"I'd do anything for Sophie and that baby," Mario said.
Drake watched him, obviously trying to read his sincerity. Finally he nodded once and moved toward the driver's car door. Mario didn't move and Drake had a hard time making a wide berth around Mario and the irate tension coming off of him while still reaching the car door. But he did it, and squealed away from the curb.
Mario watched him go. Then he dug in his pocket for a cigarette.
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