It had been a day since London had announced she needed a break from all the responsibility she was under. Teasha couldn’t help but wonder if she had really put that much stress on her daughter. That had never been her intention. A tear rolled down her cheeks “what have I done” she cried.
Tugging on her hand Phoenix gave her a worried look. “Don’t blame yourself. I should have let you hire the live in help you suggested. Maybe if you had this could have been avoided.”
“It’s not your fault” she protested giving his hand a squeeze.
“Than whose is it” he asked “London is reacting like any normal teenager would. She’s tired of taking care of me.”
“No” she gently lowered herself onto his lap. “Don’t do this. London loves you. Sure she gets upset because she doesn’t have the average life other kids her age have. That doesn’t mean she loves you any less. In time she’ll learn that her friends have problems she doesn’t have. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
“I know” he sighed running his hands up her arms. “I just can’t help but wonder if we expect too much from her. She shouldn’t have to take care of me on top of getting good grades and keeping a jog.”
“If it makes you feel better” Teasha nodded with determination “I’ll call the agency and arrange to have someone come over during the day.”
“Oh” he murmured glancing away.
“Hey” she gently moved his face towards her “don’t shut me out. I thought that’s what you wanted. Tell me it’s not and I won’t call.”
“It’s not that” he leaned forward resting his forehead against her. “It’s just suddenly real. I won’t be even remotely independent.”
“They’re not going to keep you from doing what you want” she protested “they’re just going to help you when you need it.”
“It feels different when it’s not your family” he lifted sad eyes to meet hers. “It doesn’t make sense I know. It’s just how I feel.”
“It’ll take time to adjust” she lifted his chin up “if it doesn’t work out we’ll try something else.”
“Alright” he agreed letting her kiss his lips. On his worst days he often wondered if he should have told Teasha to forget all about him. Maybe things would have been better for all of them if he had.
“Don’t” she cautioned.
“Don’t what” he grumbled wishing he had legs that worked so he could easily go some place on his own to think.
“Shut me out” Teasha stroked his face “I love you. London loves you. You know she does.”
He chuckled a little “I know I just worry I’m the reason she’s like this.”
Teasha gave him a smile “I’ll talk to her. I promise.” Snuggling into him she rested her cheek on his shoulder. She didn’t want him to see the worry in her eyes. She was afraid this was more than their daughter rebelling against the rigors of taking care of her dad or the rigid rules of that were in place to insure Phoenix received the best care they could provide him. There was something more.
Phoenix stroked her long dark hair that was just beginning to show strands of gray. He hadn’t missed the hooded looked in her eyes. He knew she was trying to hide her concern from him. He hated being trapped in this chair. At times he felt more of an invalid when his wife and daughter tried to shield him from the problem. He wished she would allow him to help. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
“I know” she whispered softly “sometimes I forget. I’m sorry.”
“Something’s bothering you about London” he said watching her closely.
“Yes” she sighed leaning into him “I think there’s more to it then her wanting a break.”
“The pain meds” he asked.
“Yeah if you didn’t take them…” she let her half formed thought fade.
“Then she did” he finished for her.
Nodding she sniffed a little “it’s a dangerous slope she’s on and I’m scared.”
“So am I” she squeezed her tight “what do we do about it?”
“I don’t know” she admitted” but we have to do something.”
“You’re late” Dante stated the moment he heard his brother come home.
“Look who learned to tell time” Micah clapped his hands scowling at his older brother. “Where’s Dad?”
“Upstairs” Dante rolled his eyes “where else would they be?”
“Then why all all the attitude over me being a little late” he demanded flopping into a chair.
“I’ve had to listen to them” Dante whined “they’re not exactly quiet.”
“You’ve got a point” Micah conceded “but you could have gone outside or something.”
“It’s my house too” Dante protested “why can’t they be considerate of us?”
Shrugging Micah shook his head. There was no answer to that. It was a complaint he’d heard before. Deciding not to add fuel to his brother’s complaints he asked “what’s the emergency?”
Before Dante could respond their father came into the room. “Nice of you to join us” Quentin groused adjusting his clothes. Cassidy followed close behind her new husband sitting beside Dante on the couch.
Micah glared at his father. “It’s not like you were waiting for me” he gave Cassidy a sideways glance his lips thinning at the irritating sound of her repressed giggles.
“That’s beside the point” Quentin glared “you were supposed to be home an hour ago. Where were you?”
“I’ve got things to do and places to go” Micah shrugged nonchalantly.
“Cut the crap” Quentin snapped crossing his arms.
“Why don’t you act your age” Micah demanded jumping to his feet.
“Sit down” his father ordered.
“I’m not a dog” he growled intent on leaving the room.
“Get back here” Quentin called “we’re not done.”
Ignoring him Micah walked from the house. The pictures on the living room wall vibrated from the force of the slamming door.
“Do you know what’s up with your brother” Quentin demanded.
Shrugging Dante shook his head. If Micah wanted him to know then he’d have told them. Until then he wasn’t going to be the one to squeal on him.
“You must know something” Cassidy tried to persuade him.
Flinching from her touch Dante jumped to his feet. “Maybe it’s you” he shouted running from the room and up the stairs to his room.
Sitting beside his wife Quentin sighed taking her hand “I don’t know what’s gotten into them.”
“I think it’s obvious” Cassidy spoke softly her hair falling into her eyes. “They don’t want a new mother.”
“They’ll adjust. Just give it time” he brushed her hair back “I promise things will get better.”
“I’m not so sure about that” she tried to smile up at him despite the tears floating in her eyes.
“Maybe this wasn’t a good idea” she murmured.
“This isn’t your fault” he insisted “the boys will grow to like you. They just need time to get to know you.”
The expression in her eyes showed she wasn’t convinced. “I think we were to wrapped up in how we felt that we didn’t stop to consider how it would affect them.”
Raven came to a skidding halt a few feet from where Will sat glumly staring into space. “Hey what’s up” he asked letting his bike fall to the ground without attempting to use the kickstand.
“I hate this place” he complained holding his head in his hand.
“We can go someplace else” he offered.
“I didn’t mean this place I meant here in general” Will grumbled “I want to go home.”
“This is your home now” Raven said sitting on the ground beside his friend.
“You don’t understand” he snapped “your parents are still together. Your mom didn’t drag you halfway across the world from everyone and everything you know.”
“True” Raven acknowledged “I don’t know what that feels like. I imagine it’s terrible. But I thought you said your Dad was a jerk and that’s why you moved.”
“He is” he mumbled “that doesn’t mean I want to be here or see mom dating someone else.”
“Ah that’s it then” Raven said as if a light had just went off inside his head. “Afraid your mom will fall in love again….”
“I already have a dad” he growled “I don’t need another.”
“Still that no excuse for the way you’ve been acting” Raven pointed out.
“I haven’t been that bad” he protested getting to his feet.
“Wanna bet” Raven challenged.
“Alright” Will stuck his chin out stubbornly refusing to accept what Raven was hinting at. “Tell me one time where I’ve been a jerk to someone. I mean without a reason.”
Considering the challenge Raven knew how to wipe the insufferable smirk from Wills face. “How about the time you knocked Temperance Bennett down and refused to help her home?” He knew he had him when Will looked away kicking at the loose gravel. “I may not like the girl but even I know that was a jerk move.”
“You don’t like any girl” Will said as if that was reason enough to dismiss his friends words.
“That’s beside the point” he said in a stern almost angry tone. “A jerk move is a jerk move no matter the gender involved. I also recall how a few weeks ago how you told me how much you liked the girl.” He could see he was getting to his friend by the way the color in Will’s cheeks deepened. “You even went so far as to say you thought she was beautiful. A goddess among girls.”
“I did not” Will protested “I never said she was a goddess.” He looked away the wind blowing his already messy hair. Releasing an aggravated sigh he asked “was I really that bad?”
“What do you think” Raven asked.
Kicking at some loose pebbles Will’s shoulders rose and fell “I guess I ought to apologize.”
“That would be a step in the right direction” he agreed.
“Her dad’s going to kill me” Will mumbled.
“If her brothers don’t beat him to it” Raven said clapping him firmly on his back “at least you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing her face again before you die.”
“Ha ha very funny” Will snapped without amusement. A goofy grin replaced the sour expression he had been wearing when he said “but at least I’ll die happy. I mean who wouldn’t want to see her pretty face right before they died?”
“Ugh” Raven moaned “spare me the details.”
Smiling at his friend Will asked “have you told Mr Wonderful yet?”
It was Raven’s turn to look away “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Uh huh” he nodded enjoying himself “you’re about to get your chance.”
Turning Raven groaned closing his eyes as if he were in pain “that’s not who I think it is, is it?”
“Depends on who you think it is” Will laughed out loud at his friend as he looked around desperately for someplace to hide.
“Hey” Will waved at the approaching boys. “What’s up” he asked as they waved back.
“Not much” Aaron shrugged.
“Says you” Riley grumbled at his older brother.
“I’m not the one working myself up into a coronary” Aaron rolled his eyes. “Casanova here has been rehearsing what to say when he asks a girl out.”
“There’s a first time for everything” Raven mumbled staring at the ground.
“Tell me how it’s done” Riley begged eager to have someone else’s input other than his brothers.
“You’re asking the wrong person” Will snorted.
“Shut it” Raven warned glaring at him.
“I’ll take any advice” Riley said desperate for help.
“He can’t help you” Will insisted.
“Can’t or won’t” Riley eyed Raven suspiciously.
“Can’t” Will said “he’s never asked a girl out either.”
“Oh” air escaped him in a defeated sigh. “I guess I’m doomed then.”
“Just tell her you like her” Aaron urged “what’s so hard about that?”
“It sounds easy enough” Riley agreed uncertainly “it’s not like you know. You’ve never asked a girl out either.”
“Doesn’t matter” Aaron shrugged glaring at his brother “it’ll work regardless of gender.”
“Why don’t you demonstrate how it’s done” Will suggested pushing Raven forward “ask Raven out.”
“Um” Raven gave Will a desperate look that somehow conveyed his need for help and the wish to kill at the same time. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Shrugging Aaron stepped forward “I don’t see why not. It’s not like I’m actually asking you out or anything.”
“Yeah right” Raven agreed. Hesitantly he stepped forward struggling to breath. He looked up at the boy who occupied a place in his most erotic dreams.
Smiling nonchalantly Aaron winked at him. A small smirk spread across his face as if he knew exactly the effect he was having on the other boy. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something for a long time now.”
Raven squeaked when Will nudged him forward reminding him he was supposed to say something. “Um yeah what’s that” he gave Aaron an almost pleading look.
“I like you a lot and would like to know if you’d like to go out with me sometime” Aaron stepped forward staring into the other boys eyes.
Panic flashed in Raven’s eyes a moment before he too stepped forward. The next thing he knew he was smashing his lips into Aaron’s. A dream come true except Aaron wasn’t reciprocating. He was standing there frozen. Thinking it was from disgust Raven broke free and fled the area as fast as his feet could carry him.
“Is that a yes” Aaron yelled after him laughing hard at the retreating boy.
“Don’t be mean” Riley cautioned “he’s embarrassed enough.”
“He has nothing to be embarrassed about” Aaron smiled “that kiss was nice” turning to Will “does he like me?”
“That’s fairly obvious don’t you think” he shook his head “you’re not going to beat him up are you?”
Riley knew that despite the bland look Aaron wore his eyes were bright with excitement. “You like him too don’t you?”
Shrugging Aaron said “I didn’t say that. All I did was give you a demonstration of how to ask someone out. Hope you learned something from it.” Turning he walked away in the opposite direction that Raven had disappeared into.
“What do you think just happened here” Riley asked Will confusion making his voice squeaky.
“I think if I wasn’t already a dead man walking Raven would kill me” Will said with a devil may care grin.
“You set them up” Riley laughed enjoying the moment someone was able to get something over on his older brother.
“Maybe” he shrugged “I’ll never tell.”