Tag Archive | Teasha Ferris

Glitter – Chapter 9 – Seek Beauty

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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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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?”

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“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.”

***

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.”

***

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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.”

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“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.”

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“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?”

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“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.

***

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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?”

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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.”

Chapter 8 – Style of Wisdom / Chapter 10 – Beauty Finds Me

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Glitter – Chapter 8 – Style of Wisdom

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“Maybe Kaia’s dad is right” Temperance suggested watching her friend leaning against a tree catching her breath.

“It’s just a little nosebleed” Unity objected.

“Yeah maybe the first two not the four or five that came afterwards.” She crossed her arms “I don’t think that’s normal.” She nibbled on her bottom lip not wanting to mention how pale Unity had become. For someone who had spent all her life on the island she should have been a lot tanner.

“Don’t look at me like that” she dried “I’m pale because I’m inside a lot more lately.”

“I guess” Temperance said unconvinced.

“If I was really sick don’t you think I’d know it” Unity insisted “I’m fine.”

“Promise me if you get anymore nosebleeds you’ll tell your mom” Temperance insisted.

“There’s nothing wrong with me” Unity pushed her away “don’t worry.”

Walking backwards Temperance said “if you die I’m going to kill you.”

“I’m not going to die” she giggled.

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“Hey watch it” a boy called out right before he plowed into Temperance.

Unity ran to where Temperance lay sprawled on the ground “Temp are you alright?”

“Get this goon off me” she cried struggling beneath the bulk of a young teenage boy.

“I have a name you know” he grumbled getting to his feet.

“Why should I care what your name is” Temperance demanded inspecting herself for damage. A couple of bruised and scraped knees. Nothing much. She looked up sharply when Unity gasped in shock. “What’s wrong?”

“I know you” Unity pointed at the boy “you’re my cousin.”

The boy gave her a hostile glare. “Our mothers were adopted by step siblings. I don’t see how that makes us anything.”

“Excuse me for trying to include you in the family” Unity wrinkled her nose at him.

“Um guys” Temperance winced as she attempted to put weight on her right ankle. “My foot really hurts.”

“What do you want me to do about it” Will growled.

“You could carry her or something” Unity demanded “it’s your fault she’s hurt.”

“Is not” he protested “she’s the one walking backwards not paying attention.”

“Why don’t you just go” Temperance interrupted the boy her best friend had been arguing with. “I’ll just call my dad to come get me. You should stay though. I’m sure my dad will want to meet the boy who hurt his little girl then refused to see her home safely.”

“Why would he want to do that” he asked without thinking it through.

“You really are dumb” Unity slapped the back of his head. “Her dad will beat you up.”

“I’d like to see him try” the boy challenged confident he could take on an old man. Listening to Temperance as she spoke to her dad he decided to leave changing his mind. “I’m out of here” he scooped up his skateboard and took off downhill.

“Coward” Unity called after him.

Temperance giggled as she sat down to rub her ankle. “I don’t know…he was kind of cute.”

“Really Temp” Unity shook her head at the girl “only you would think that he was cute.”

***

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“Were you embarrassed when the girls were ogling your dad” Aubrey asked her best friend.

“Well” Kaia shrugged “maybe a little. I mean they’re my age and he’s my dad. It was just kind of gross.” They walked for a while silence “what about you? Didn’t you think he was cute?”

“Not really” her blond curls blew around her face. She gave her friend a penetrating look “if I tell you something you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

“I promise” Kaia vowed glad the girls had accepted her into their group.

“I’m not really into guys” she whispered. She stepped backwards blinking in surprise as Kaia erupted into giggles.

“Is that all” she cried “I was expecting some deep dark secret. Maybe an admission of who you like.”

“You act like you already know” Aubrey pouted.

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“It’s not like it’s a secret. I see the looks you give London when you think no one is looking.” Kaia giggled making a face at her friend “I promise I won’t tell.”

“Pinky swear” Aubrey held her pinky up.

“Pinky swear” Kaia agreed linking fingers together. “Are you going to tell her?”

Glancing away she slowly shook her head. “I don’t know. I mean I tried once but she kept interrupting me and changing the subject.”

“Sounds like she’s not ready or not interested” Kaia surmised. “Who else is there?”

“What do you mean” Aubrey asked.

“You know what I mean. Keli. I’ve seen the way she looks at you.” She gave Aubrey a knowing grin. “You should ask her out.”

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“I’ll think about it” Aubrey said kicking dirt around with the tip of her shoes. “Do you really think she likes me?”

Kaia stared into her friends hopeful blue eyes. “There’s only way to know for sure. You have to ask her.”

Biting her lip she gave it some thought. “I don’t know. I mean I haven’t even told my parents yet. Me showing up with a girl on my arm isn’t the way I want to let them know I’m gay.”

What are you waiting for” Kaia asked. “I’m sure they’ll support you. I mean they have gay friends. What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid” she protested in a loud squeaky voice. “I’m their only child. What if they want grandchildren someday?”

“You’re not making sense” Kaia shook her head. “Lesbian couples have babies all the time not to mention adoption.” She gave her friend a serious look “what’s with all the excuses?”

“I’m not making excuses” she protested “I’m weighing all my options.”

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“Life isn’t perfect” Kaia said “sometimes it’s messy. Uncontrollable. Things happen when you least expect it.”

“Not for me” Aubrey shook her head “I know exactly how things should go.”

“What if I tell you Keli’s walking towards us right this second” Kaia asked giggling at the horrified expression on her friend’s face.

Grabbing Kaia’s hand Aubrey took off running along a side road that would take them twice as long to get home. Running alongside Kaia demanded “what’s wrong with you? You could have just asked her. Now you’ll have to explain why you ran away. If she lets you explain.”

“I wasn’t ready” Aubrey gulped for air “it wasn’t perfect.”

“It doesn’t have to be perfect” Kaia felt like shaking the frustrating girl. “Your drive for perfection just might cost you more than your prepared to pay.”

“I know” she crossed her arms “I can’t help it.”

***

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“Hey Micah” she waved at the boy riding towards her.

Stopping Micah sauntered over to her “did you enjoy the party last weekend?”

“Yeah….sure” she gave him a weak smile “my hurt for days afterwards though.”

“You’ll get used to it” he assured her “so we’re planning another one on Friday.”

“I don’t know” she looked away “we may be out-of-town…”

“Everyone’s counting on you” he protested “I told them you’d be there.”

“I can’t” she shook her head trying to take off on her bike when Micah reached out and grabbed the handle bars.

“What’s your hurry” he demanded “surely your dad can get along without you for a few hours.”

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“Let go” she pleaded.

“Not until you tell me you’ll be there” he insisted giving her a level gaze.

“I can’t” she cried “my mom will get suspicious if I take too many too often. The bottle is pretty low.”

“I’m sure your mom has already ordered a refill” Micah said using his most persuasive tone.

“My dad needs these pills” she objected her stomach twisting in panic.

“Hey you’re the one who wanted a way to escape reality” he pointed out “you liked how it made you feel didn’t you?”

Nodding her cheeks burning with guilt over what she had done. Sneaking her dad’s pain medication. Letting her mom believe he was taking more than he should. The constant arguments. “I can’t do it” tears rolled down her cheeks.

“You want to feel good again don’t you” he asked gently wiping her tears away. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to escape reality. The release from all the pressure your parents put you under.”

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“Please” she begged “don’t make me do this.”

“I’m not making you do anything” he let his hand fall away from the handlebars of her bike. “I know you don’t want your friends to suffer anymore than you want to suffer. Believe me we’ll suffer if you don’t come.”

“Leave me alone” she begged taking off as fast as she could on the dusty island road. She could feel Micah staring after her. He was so sure she’d do as he requested. Could she afford to lose the only thing that helped her cope?

She felt lethargic and heavy all day after the party. She could live with that if it meant she could feel that wonderful weightless feeling again. It made her feel like she could do anything. No worries. No responsibilities. The opposite of what her life was really like. With a heavy heart she opened the door to find her parents waiting for her.

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“You were supposed to be home an hour ago” her mother cried as soon as she opened the door.

“I went to the beach with the girls” she stammered.

“The least you could have done was text us to let us know you were alright” her mom said.

“I know I’m sorry” she cried “it won’t happen again I promise.”

“I’ve heard that before” Teasha crossed her arms “what’s up with you?”

“Why does something have to be wrong with me” London shouted “don’t I deserve a break? None of my friends have to come home and take care of their dad.” She ran up the stairs ignoring the stunned looks being exchanged between her parents.

***


379“Are you ready to go” Mindy asked as she came into her office.

Jumping a little Coral placed a hand to her chest. “Oh” she gasped.

“I didn’t mean to scare you” Mindy said watching her.

“No it’s not that” she shut her Kindle down. “I was so absorbed in the book I was reading. You just startle me.”

“Sorry” she apologized “are you ready to go?”

“Soon” Coral gathered her things “did you finish that design you were working on?”

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“Almost” Mindy mumbled “I couldn’t concentrate…”

“I shouldn’t have bothered you” Coral cried believing she was the distraction.

“It’s not your fault” she assured the jumpy girl. “I’ve been having trouble with this design from the start. Something just isn’t right.” Shrugging Mindy sighed “I just can’t figure it out.”

“Can I see” Coral asked. She could see the reticence in Mindy’s eyes. “Never mind it’s alright. It’s like trying to read a book while the author is still writing it. I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok” Mindy smiled “you don’t have to apologize. I’m a solitary worker. I don’t often show my designs with anyone until they’re complete. I hope that’s not going to be a problem.”

“It’s ok I understand” Coral assured her walking from the room. “It doesn’t keep me from being curious though.”

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“It’s a good thing my work room is locked” Mindy said locking the office door and turning the lights off as she went. “I wouldn’t want you succumbing to curiosity.”

“Don’t worry I won’t let it kill me” Coral giggled “sorry it’s the saying curiosity killed the cat. I’m not a cat so …. Um yeah.”

“You need to relax” Mindy said ushering her out of the boutique. “I know what you were trying to say

“Sorry” she mumbled “I ramble when I get nervous.”

“What’s to be nervous about” Mindy asked leading the way to the car.

“What time is it” Coral asked staring up at the darkening sky.

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“Almost ten” she shrugged “I got carried away.”

“I had no idea it was no later” Coral said “I must have really been absorbed in my book to notice the passage of time.”

“Are you hungry” Mindy asked “I might be able to scrounge something up at home but I haven’t been shopping in weeks.”

“I’m good” she patted her bag “I have granola bars. Want one?”

“Yes please” Mindy held her hand out “I’m starving.”

“If your hungry why don’t we go through a drive thru or something” Coral demanded.

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“Aren’t you tired” Mindy asked “I know you want to get to be sometime tonight.”

“I’m fine” she rolled her eyes “it’ll take a few extra minutes and if I’m that tired I could sleep in the car.”

“Well if you don’t mind” Mindy made a u-turn and back tracked to the center of town. “Would you like anything” she asked as they waited their turn in the drive thru.

“Um” her stomach growled reminding her that it had been a long time since lunch. “A big mac.”

“With fries” Mindy asked with a grin.

“Make it a meal. Change the coke to a strawberry shake” Coral instructed.

Chapter 7 – Seek to Know Truth / Chapter 9 – Seek Beauty

Glitter – Chapter 5 – Everything Nice

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“Daddy” London glanced up from her desk where she was working on her homework. “Did you need something?” She had seen him straining to reach something that was just out of his reach on the floor.

“My pillow” he said sitting back with an irritated scowl. “It fell out of my chair” he attempted to reach for it again stretching as far as he could. His fingers scraped the edges of it but no dice.

Moving quickly London retrieved the pillow. “Is that better” she asked placing the pillow behind his back. She watched him for a moment looking for signs of discomfort.

“Do I pass inspection” he asked catching her watching him.

Instead of answering London threw her arms around him. “I love you Daddy” she cried squeezing him tight.

“I love you too sweetheart” he reciprocated attempting to mask the pain her unexpected hug ignited.

“Daddy” she sounded worried “are you ok?”

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“Sure I’m fine” he lied giving her a huge grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You don’t have to lie to me to protect my feelings” she reprimanded him. “I can tell you’re in pain.”

He gave her a quizzical look “you can?”

“Yeah it’s in your eyes” she touched his skin around his eyes “you’re all tense right through here.”

“Sorry” he apologized “I am in pain. The air is too cold and humid around here.”

“Do you your pain meds” she inquired “I can get them for you. Mom showed me how just in case.”

“No not yet I can manage” shaking his head rueful “at least until Mom gets home.”

“Are you sure” she asked her voice taking on a tone he knew she picked up from her mom. “The best way to manage pain is to nip it in the beginning before it gets too bad.”

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Looking at his daughter he nodded in agreement. It was amazing this grown up little person was only ten years old. She spoke about pain management like it was a normal everyday topic of conversation. He supposed it was for her. “If you know where Mom keeps it then I’ll take some.” He regretted the necessity of needing a gatekeeper on his own meds; especially his ten year old daughter. Unfortunately it was necessary after he had inadvertently taken too many when one of his other meds affected his memory and he couldn’t remember when or how many he had taken. It was a scary time for all of them.

Without hesitation London went to retrieve the meds for her dad. Returning she held out a glass of water along with a couple of pills to him. “Take these Daddy” she instructed.

“Thank you sweetheart” he murmured accepting her offerings. It was depressing to think how fast his little girl was having to grow up because of him and his condition. He wanted her to have a normal life not one that included taking care of him.

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“Don’t be sad Daddy” she gave him a grin “I like helping. I’m going to be a doctor one day. I’m going to make sure no one else has to be in a wheelchair.”

“Don’t you want to be something more exciting” he asked feeling guilty for robbing her of her carefree childhood. It reminded him too much of how he had joined the military thinking that was how he could honor his father who died for his country. He didn’t want London feeling obligated to follow a course she thought he wanted her to do.

“What could be more exciting then helping people” she asked “I love you Daddy. I like helping you. I hope one day I can help other families not have to go through what we do.”

The conviction in her soft spoken voice was enough to ease his conscience. He knew her goals could change as she got older but so far it hadn’t wavered since she was old enough to know what a doctor was and why her daddy was permanently attached to a chair with wheels.

***

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Late that evening Teasha joined Phoenix in their room. “How did she take the news” he asked.

“As well as could be expected” she gave him a tired smile.

“I suppose she hates me now” he mumbled looking away.

Silently Teasha crossed the room. Gently she knelt beside his chair holding his face. “Our daughter loves you. She understands this will help you.”

“But” he blinked back frustrated tears as they rolled down his cheeks. “She shouldn’t have to sacrifice her happiness for my health.”

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“She’ll see her friends every summer” Teasha assured him “she’ll be ok.”

“She’ll have to go to a different school” he said “she likes it here. I just don’t think we should uproot her from everything she knows.”

“I agree it’s going to be difficult and it’ll take time to adjust but we have to do this. Believe me when I tell you she’d rather have you than any of the things she’ll be giving up in the move.” Stroking is face remembering the way it once was so full of life. “You’ll see this will be good for all of us.”

“I hope so” he leaned his forehead against hers. “I just don’t want her hating me because of this.” Closing his eyes he knew all too well how difficult it had been on his family to move every few years. Being an army brat meant moving wherever his dad was stationed at. His younger brother resented each and every move. Phoenix didn’t want that for his daughter. He never wanted to see his daughter looking at him the way his brother looked at their dad.

“She won’t” Teasha assured him. “She loves you. She wants you to be healthy. She’ll understand why we need to move. You’ll see it won’t be as traumatic as you think.”

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A soft knock on their bedroom door interrupted them. “Come in” Teasha called squeezing his hands hoping to reassure him.

“Mom. Dad” London murmured as she entered their room. Her eyes were red rimmed “are you sure we have to move?”

“I’m afraid so” Teasha said “I know it’s going to be difficult to leave your friends behind but it’s the best thing for Daddy.”

London lifted her eyes up before stepping forward. “Why can’t we move to Isla Paradiso? It’s an island too. Why does it have to Sunlit Tides?”

“That’s a good question” Phoenix said looking towards his wife. “We asked the doctor for suggestions and he suggested Sunlit Tides maybe Isla Paradiso could be a possibility. What do you think?”

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“I think it’s worth looking into” Teasha agreed “we already have a houseboat on the island so moving there wouldn’t be too bad. Plus London knows a few people there already so it wouldn’t be like starting over.”

“Thanks Mom” London sighed with relief “I’d go anywhere if it meant helping Daddy but if it could be somewhere we already know than all the better right?”

“We’ll check into it” Teasha assured her. She moved to her daughter drawing her into a hug “I love you sweetie.”

“I love you too Mommy” she squeezed  her arms around her mother’s neck. Next she approached her dad “Daddy I love you too” she leaned in close kissing his cheek “I hope you know that.”

“I do” he nodded thankful that she had come to them with the suggestion they hadn’t considered. He hoped the doctor would think it was a good alternative.

***

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A few months later they were sitting on the deck of their houseboat enjoying the evening breeze coming in off the ocean. “Are you ready for school to start” Teasha asked her daughter sitting across from them.

“Yeah I guess” she shrugged “I wish I knew someone in my close. Justice at least is in the same school along with Unity.”

“Justice will be in middle school sweetie” Phoenix pointed out.

“Oh” she sighed “you’re right. I thought we’d be in the same school. I guess it’ll just be me and Unity then.”

“Unity is in fourth grade isn’t she” Trinity asked leaning against the railing.

“Yeah a year behind me” London turned towards her dad who was busy lighting a fire to roast marshmallows. “Unity says I need to decide who I want to be my boyfriend before school starts. How do I do that if I don’t know who my options are?”

“She said what” Phoenix choked on the words “you’re way too young for boyfriends.”

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“I’m ten Daddy not a baby” she rolled her eyes “what do you think Mom?”

“Well” Teasha glanced at her husband who was still glaring into the fire. “I agree with your father. You are too young for boyfriends.”

Standing she dramatically stomped her feet. Rolling her eyes she announced “I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

“Understand what” Teasha demanded “and before you answer cut the attitude or you can go to your room.”

“Fine” she sighed “a boyfriend gives you status. Someone to do your homework with. Someone always to be your partner for in group activities in class or projects. It’s not like we’ll be doing any gross mushy stuff.”

“Oh a friend” Teasha said relieved.

“Does it have to be a boy” Phoenix asked still stuck on boyfriend.

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“Argh” she cried stomping towards the door “Why do I even bother. Why do you insist on asking questions when you know you won’t like the answers. All I want to do is fit in. I’m the new kid. The one on one wants to be friends with.”

“I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to get a boyfriend” Phoenix persisted watching her slam the door shut but did little to keep her from eyesight.

Looking at the fire Teasha laughed “I guess we get to eat all the smores.”

“I guess so” Phoenix agreed “thanks for backing me up. I know you didn’t think it was a terrible idea like me.”

“No not terrible. Just too soon” she sighed “I was hoping not to have to deal with boyfriends and hormones for at least another year or two.”

“A year” he gasped “I want her to be my little girl longer than that.”

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“We have no choice” she sighed sitting on his lap “she’s growing up and boyfriends are going to be a part of the package.”

Wrapping his arms around her Phoenix sighed “I’m not ready for this.”

“Do you think I am” she teased giving his cheek a quick peck “we’re getting old.”

“Speak for yourself” he said giving her a tender kiss on the lips “I’m planning on being young forever.”

“Keep telling yourself that when you see all the kids tomorrow at the resort.” She leaned her head on her shoulder “the teenagers out number the kids now.”

“For tonight let me pretend we’re still as young as we were back in college” Phoenix grinned at  her.

“Alright” she conceded taking his hand and watching the moon rise over the ocean.

***

316317Smoothing the wrinkles on her dress London mumbled “I’m a mess.”

“You shouldn’t have let Justice talk you into racing him” Unity giggled.

Temperance nodded linking arms with Unity “I think someone has a crush.”

Unity’s eyes grew large “do you like my brother?”

“No” London’s cheeks grew hot as both younger girls giggled at her.

“Good” Aubrey said joining them “you can dance with me instead. I promised Daddy I wouldn’t dance with any boys.”

“Oh” London bit her bottom lip “I was hoping to dance at least once with Benjamin and Justice.”

“Good luck with that” Temperance giggled “Jason has already been bugging Benjamin to dance with him.”

“Does Jason like Benjamin” Aubrey asked.

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Shrugging Temperance nodded “he acts like it. It’s kind of cute in an annoying sort of way.”

“Don’t go to thinking you need to be annoying to get Justice to notice you” Unity advised turning to London “I guarantee that won’t work. Justice doesn’t like clingy people. At least that what he says.”

“Did the older boys bring dates” Aubrey asked. They all knew she was referring to the three teen boys Christopher, Noble and Loyal.

“They’re too busy mooning over Dakota and Montana” Temperance giggled “they’re gorgeous and older.”

“Which means” London asked.

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Giggling Unity said “which means the boys are out luck. I mean my brothers are cute but they’re doofasses.”

Pointing towards an older man pushing his way through the crowd of people Aubrey asked “who is that guy?”

“He’s not supposed to be here” Temperance said turning to Unity with concern.

Unity shook her head “he promised he’d be good or I wouldn’t have told him.”

“Who is he” London asked repeating Aubrey’s question.

“That’s Zane” Temperance frowned “Unity’s other grandpa.”

“Oh” the two girls nodded wide-eyed. They had all heard about Graham’s first husband but neither of them had seen him before.

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“Hey Gramps” Noble said cutting him off from going any further.

“Out of my way” Zane said straining to see Graham through the milling guests.

“He doesn’t want to see you” Loyal said joining his twin. “Why don’t you leave before you make a scene.”

“He’s my husband” he snapped attempting to go around the boys.

“Ex husband” Noble corrected “has been for almost fifteen years.”

“He didn’t know what he was doing” Zane protested “this is ridiculous to keep me from the resort we built together. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Says you” Loyal snickered.

“We’ve see you talking to old man Hollis” Noble added “if you really cared about Grandpa like you claim you’d have cut all ties with that creep.”

“Mr Hollis has done a lot for me” Zane protested.

“Sure he has” Loyal agreed “like having you beat up.”

“Ruining your marriage” Noble added.

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“All so he could get his grubby little hands on our resort” Charity said joining her sons. “Boys I’ll take care of this.”

Nodding Loyal said to Noble “you stay. I’ll go get Dad.”

Zane eyed the boys with distaste “they act like I’m the enemy or something” he complained.

“You are” Noble growled.

“That’s enough” Charity chided him even she was proud of him for standing up for Graham. Turning her attention to Zane she said “Dad you promised you wouldn’t come. Not today.”

Zane craned his neck trying to catch a glimpse of Graham in the crowd before someone warned him he was there. He wanted to see his face without the perpetual frown that his presence always brought on. “I love him. I had to be here. To make him understand….”

“It’s too late for that” Charity shook her head “leave him alone. He’s happy shouldn’t that be enough to convince you he’s moved on with his life.”

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“I need to talk to him” he entreated her like she hadn’t said anything “to explain why I did all of this. I did it for him.”

Putting a hand up Charity signaled for him to stop. “No dad. You did it for you. Daddy would have been happy running the dog shelter you had before you sold it and borrowed money to buy the resort. Daddy never wanted to it. That was all you. It was you who went to the one person you knew Daddy hated, Donnie Hollis. You took his dirty even though you knew how much it would hurt Daddy.”

“Do you really think I would do something like that to intentionally hurt him” Zane asked. “I wouldn’t do that. If I had known I’d have done things differently.”

“Somehow I don’t believe you” Charity shook her head sadly hugging her arms tight around herself. “You knew he’d be devastated once he found out or you wouldn’t have felt the need to lie about where you got the money.”

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“That’s not….” he stopped as a hand came down heavy on his shoulder. Turning he looked into the serious disapproving eyes of his son-in-law.

“Mr Koehler it’s time for you to leave” Ryan said firmly “we don’t want to hear anymore of your lies.”

“I” he swallowed looking into his daughter’s eyes “I’m sorry” he mumbled turning and allowing Ryan to escort him from the property.

Chapter 4 – Sugar and Spice / Chapter 6 – Summer Jobs

Hannah – Chapter 39 – Second Chance

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Teasha retreated to the back porch. She just needed a moment to herself. Her timid, over emotional twin brother was engaged. He was a few short months from becoming parents of twin daughters of his own and getting married. She should be happy for him. She wiped at an annoying tear that rolled down her cheek.

“Sweetie” Bruce’s voice called to her from the open door leading into the kitchen. “What are you doing here by yourself?”

“I needed some fresh air” she sniffed hurriedly drying the wetness from her cheeks.

“It’s difficult isn’t it?” he said quietly coming up beside her “watching your brother be so in love and happy.”

Her face crumpled, bottom lip quivering “it’s not fair” she cried as she felt him pull her close “all my friends are engaged. I can’t get away from it. I want to be happy for them but I can’t.”

“It’s going to be alright” he rubbed her back in slow rhythmic circles “your day will come.”

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“When?” she demanded her voice muffled from her face being buried in his chest.

“When the time is right” Bruce sighed “I wish I could tell you when sweetheart. I simply don’t know. It could be tomorrow. Next year. Ten years from now.”

“That’s not helping” she laughed a little despite herself “would it be alright if I leave tomorrow for school?”

Pulling her close he placed a soft kiss on her forehead “if that’s what you think you need to do than yes. I wish you’d stay but I’m just your old man. What do I know?”

“Daddy I love you” she leaned in close placing a kiss on his stubbly cheek.

“I love you to sweetheart” he squeezed her tight “I know how it feels to have your world crumble beneath your feet. If you need someone to talk to I’m your guy.”

 

She gave him a curious look “didn’t you and Dad just fall hopelessly and madly in love from the moment you met?”

“I wish that were true” his eyes took on a far away look “when I met your dad I was the rebound guy. I was madly in love with him trying desperately not to show it.”

“Were you afraid he’d break our heart or something?” she asked as she toyed with her shirt.

“I guess in a way I was. He had been hurt by someone who hadn’t realized how much Ramsey cared about him. I was convenient. It didn’t work out.” He tweaked her nose playfully “sometimes magic happens the second time around.”

“Thank you daddy” she hugged him tight before leaving to go inside.

Bruce followed her inside, watching as she congratulated her brother and Waylon then moved to her dad. Ramsey gave him a startled look when she released him from the fierce grip she had around his neck.

 

“What have you been telling our daughter?” Ramsey asked a moment later coming along his side.

“Nothing much” he shrugged “just that sometimes happy endings sometimes required second chances.”

Ramsey snorted “she told me I better appreciate the second chance I had been given.” He pulled his husband close whispering softly in his ear “and I do.” He peered deeply into Bruce’s light blue eyes. The same blue eyes the majority of their five children had “I love you more and more with each passing day.”

Bruce gave him an impish grin “I love you more.” His eyes twinkled daring him to reply in kind.

Instead Ramsey pulled him closer, pressing his lips hard over his. Bruce’s lips yielded to his, their desire building as their bodies pressed hard against each others and their kiss deepened. “Let’s take this upstairs” Ramsey panted breaking the kiss. Without a word Bruce slipped his hand into his husbands following him the stairs.

***

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Teasha stared up at the dorm. It wasn’t going to be the same this year. All of her friends had coupled up. Her brother wouldn’t be here at all. She gave herself a little mental shake as a wave loneliness swamped her. She refused to believe she was petty enough to be jealous of someone else’s happiness. She couldn’t help but feel left out and left behind by everyone else.

She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. Shivering despite the warm breeze. She took a hesitant step forward when someone called her name. Stopping she looked around for the source. Frowning when she found who it was calling her name.

Her heart rose into her throat threatening to choke her. Indecision kept her rooted to the sidewalk while her thoughts raced through her head. Could she pretend not to have heard and hurry inside? With a sigh she turned with leaden feet to greet the individual calling her name. She hoped they weren’t in the same dorm. If they were all hopes of being able to avoid them would be gone. Swallowing she cleared her throat “hi Phoenix.” In vain she tried to keep her voice carefully neutral, devoid of all emotion.

Dispassionately she watched him maneuver his wheelchair along the sidewalk coming towards her.

He stopped a few feet from her. “I uh” he licked his dry lips as if he were nervous “I wanted to apologize for the way I acted when you came to see me at the hospital.”
She looked down at him anger flashing in her eyes. “Ok” she said expectantly.

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“Ok what?” he asked confused.

“Ok you can apologize” she crossed her arms waiting.

“Didn’t I just do that?” his brows knitted together.

“No” she shook her head “you said you wanted to apologize.” She tapped her foot on the sidewalk “so apologize.”

“You’re not going to make this easy are you?” he mumbled watching her intently.

“Should I?” she demanded “you told me to leave. That you didn’t want to see me. You made me feel like I was nothing.” A stray tear betrayed her forced facade of impassiveness.

“I’m sorry” he cried reaching his hands out to her “from the bottom of my heart I’m sorry.” He looked relieved and a little stunned when she took his hands instead of letting them dangle in mid-air.

“All I could think about was seeing you again” she blinked trying to hold back the tears she felt building behind her eyes. “I waited for weeks for any news of how you were. I wanted to be by your side the moment they found you.”

“Only to have me reject you” his voice full of regret “I am sorry.” He squeezed her hands tugging on them pulling her closer. “When I saw you. I thought I was dreaming. I realized then what an idiot i was for breaking up with you.”

“Why did you?” she asked “I would have waited for you. I would have supported you. Gone anywhere with you. Why did you not give me the chance to show you I would? Why did you let you mom and brother convince you otherwise?”

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“I was afraid” he looked shocked at his admission “I didn’t want you to turn into my mother, old and bitter before your time.”

“I’m not your mother” she told him kneeling in front of his chair “I know what it means to be the one waiting at home safe and sound while someone you love is in life and death situations. I’ve watched my parents do it each time Dad was called out on an emergency. The weeks he would be gone fighting wild fires. I watched daddy pace the floor worrying about him. Not once did I ever hear him complain about the time they were apart. Daddy always made sure when Dad was home he knew he was loved and missed.” Taking her hands she caressed his face “I could have been that for you. I wanted to be that for you.”

It was his turn to blink back tears. “I’m sorry I didn’t give you the chance. I thought I everyone would be like what I remembered my mom being like when I was growing up. I didn’t want that for you.” He glanced down at hands in his lap “you deserve so much more than I could ever offer you.”

“Who said I wanted more than you could offer?” she asked softly brushing his tears away.

He shrugged “I did. I should have talked things out with you.” His face crumpled in sadness “now it’s too late.”

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“You’re doing it again” she stood up her voice angry.

“Doing what?” he asked watching her.

“Assuming things” she crossed her arms glaring down at him.

“Look at me” he cried waving a self-deprecating hand at his legs “I’m in a wheelchair. I can’t walk. I can’t ask anyone to take on that burden.”

“You know what? You are an idiot” she whirled around and walked into the dorm without a second look back.

***

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Over the next few weeks she observed how others treated Phoenix in the course of the day. A few were cruel enough to purposefully do things to make it impossible for him to do things on his own without asking for help like moving things just far enough out of reach. Others would pretend he wasn’t there. Ignoring him every chance they had.

The worst, in her opinion, were the one who did things for him out of pity. It infuriated her to see them congratulating themselves on doing a good deed for someone less fortunate than them. He didn’t need pity. He needed friends. Someone who cared for him. Who would do things because they wanted to not because it made them look good.

There was a one girl who was a little to friendly, maybe even a flirtatious. It made Teasha’s skin crawl whenever she saw the girl slinking around the dorm. One evening Vincent looked up from the table where they were studying. He nodded towards the girl he whispered to Teasha “he should be careful.”

“What?” she asked blinking looking around “why?”

“That’s one of the girls who stole my wallet last semester after they got me drunk” Vincent explained.

“Are you sure?” she asked watching the girl “I thought you said they were blonde.”

“She was blonde” he shrugged “nothing says she couldn’t have changed her hair color.”

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Nodding Teasha stood up no longer listening. Walking over to Phoenix she asked “are you still looking for a tutor?”

Dragging his eyes from the pretty brunette Phoenix nodded smiling up at Teasha. “Yes I still need one.”

“Good” she smiled over at the girl “I’m available anytime you are.”

His mouth dropped open “you” he stammered “you want to be my tutor?”

“Sure why not?” she shrugged “I don’t have anything else to do.”

“Nixie” the girl whined ” why didn’t you tell me you needed a tutor? I would have been glad to help you.” She moved to sit seductively in his lap. Her hands slipping behind him.

Leaning over so that she was sure the girl would be able to hear her. “Take his wallet and I’ll break your arm” Teasha held the girls gaze until she wriggled off of Phoenix’s lap.

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“I never” she cried in a huff and stomped off her heels beating a hasty retreat.

“Feeling for his wallet Phoenix looked up at Teasha “how did you know?”

“She got a good friend of mine drunk last semester and stole his wallet” she shrugged as if to say it wasn’t anything. “It was just a guess she hadn’t changed her ways.”

“Thank you” he murmured preparing to leave.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I thought…” he glanced up at her with a sheepish grin “nowhere I guess.”

“Good because I was serious about accepting the tutoring position.” She sat down in a nearby chair. “So what do you need the most help in?”

***

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Over the next few weeks Teasha grew to look forward to the times she could spend with Phoenix. At first it was focused on studying eventually as they both relaxed they learned to enjoy their time together. Closing her book she looked over at him. “Would you like to go for a walk?”

“Yeah I’d like that” he gave her one of his rare sweet smiles.

“I’ll even let you carry my books” she laughed handing him her book bag.

Balancing it on his lap he mumbled “I can’t hold all of this and operate my chair.”

“Tonight I’m driving” she giggled getting behind him and pushing.

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“I demand you take a breathalyzer test” he grumbled “you’re driving like a drunk.”

“Am not” she protested laughing as she zigzagged across the sidewalk “I’m just not good at direction.”

“Where are we going?” he asked deciding to just let her do her thing.

“The park” she grunted trying to push his chair over a curb “this isn’t as easy as it looks.”

“How do you think I got these impressive guns?” he flexed his arms showing off his muscles.

“When we go back to the car” she panted “you can give me a ride. We’ll see how impressive those guns are then.”

“Prepare yourself to be amazed” he laughed.

“She came to a stop inside the small park. She looked around for a free bench before resigning herself to sitting on the ground.

“Not there” he grabbed her hand “there’s plenty of room right here.”

Putting the book bags on the back of the wheelchair she glanced into his eyes. “Are you sure?” she asked.

 

“Yeah I’m sure” he grabbed her wrist pulling her to him.

Giggling she halfheartedly struggled to get away. His face was mere inches from hers. His warm breath blew across her skin sending shivers down her spine. She stared into his eyes as he brought his mouth to hers. His lips brushed across hers in a light feathery kiss.

Pulling back his eyes showing shock as he mumbled “sorry.”

“Do it again” she requested putting her arms around his neck.

He gave her a small sweet smile before tentatively meeting her lips in a kiss that grew more passionate making their hearts hammer against their chests. Pulling away “I wish…I…”

 

“I love you” she smiled at him “I’ve loved you for months. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t. The more I pretended I didn’t have feelings for you the more mixed up I felt. I don’t want to pretend anymore. I love you.”

He gazed into her eyes “what about my handicap?”

Tapping his forehead she gave him a gentle smile. “The only handicap is the one inside your own mind. The wheelchair isn’t who you are. It certainly isn’t the reason I love you. I love you for you. Always have. Always will. With or without the wheels.”

Resting his forehead on hers he breathed deeply “you’re amazing. A gift I don’t deserve.” He gazed into her crystal blue eyes “how did I get so lucky?”

“Don’t question it. That’s how we got in trouble the first time” she kissed his nose ” just accept the second chance we have and we might get our happy ending.”

Chapter 38 – The Truth Comes Out / Chapter 1 – Honeymoon’s End

Hannah – Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities

Leaving Zach’s room Teasha went to the back porch. She stared into the darkening sky. It scared her to think of a world without her brother in it. She realized now he should have been in therapy a long time ago. When all of this started probably. He had been so fragile then. No one wanted to push the issue. Now if they wanted him to survive they had to push him. A tear rolled down her cheek. The last couple of months had been almost impossible to get through.

Worry for her brother. Concern for Phoenix. Coupled with the nagging suspicion Zach had done something really terrible. Dexter had gone missing the night he confronted Zach. What had happened between them? Had Dexter forced himself on Zach? Had Zach hurt him while he was fighting back? The police had questioned all of them before they left university. They came here to question Zach. So far they had made no arrests but the nagging thoughts persisted. She groaned audibly squeezing he eyes shut. She hated herself for even thinking Zach could be capable of hurting anyone.

The door opened behind her. She turned to face whoever it was who had come outside to join her. “Sweetie” Ramsey said his voice unusually gentle “you talked to Zach.” It was a probing inquiry. A hopeful request she could enlighten him as to what was going on inside his son’s head.

“I think he might be pregnant” she confided in him.

“Waylon’s or that….” Ramsey grimaced unable to say the other boy’s name “I’ll kill him.”

“I don’t know” she said deciding to be honest “it might be Zach’s way of making the situation more tolerable if he believes the baby is Waylon’s.”

“In other words he had sex with Waylon after whatever happened with….” he fell silent, hands balling into fists imagining what he’d do if Dexter were suddenly in front of him. “We can always do a paternity test” he conceded through clenched teeth.

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“Zach won’t like that” she pointed out “Waylon will no doubt back him up.”

“So what is this Waylon guy like?” Ramsey asked.

“He’s a good guy” Teasha smiled as she recalled how he would walk Zach to and from class. “He seems to understand Zach” she leaned her head to the side “it’s almost like he knows what it’s like to be hurt.”

Ramsey nodded looking out across the night sky “if he’s such a good guy why did they break up?”

“I wish I knew” she said quietly. She stepped forward hugging her dad “I’ll try to get Zach to open up more. You know how he is. He holds everything inside until he explodes.”

He snorted in response “we’ll all continue to try.” He brushed her hair from her face. He gave her a reassuring smile “we won’t let anything happen to him. I promise we’ll get through this.”

She nodded giving him a kiss on the cheek “I know dad.” She smiled before moving to go back inside the house. Leaving him to stare out into the growing darkness.

***

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She closed the door behind her. She expected to find the triplets watching some boring show on TV or playing video games. Instead Bruce was standing waiting expectantly for her. His light blue eyes reflected his worry. “If you’re looking for dad he’s outside” she offered feeling uncomfortable under his steady gaze.

“Thank you” he acknowledged making no move to join Ramsey outside.

“Is something wrong?” she asked becoming more certain something was up the longer they stood staring at each other.

He took a step forward engulfing her in his strong arms. “Sweetie I’m so so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” she demanded her voice rising “what’s going on?”

Taking her hands he led her to the couch. When they were seated he said “I received a call from my Aunt…..”

“The one with contacts in the military” Teasha asked feeling her pulse quicken. “Did they find him? Is he alight? Please daddy I need to know.”

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“His plane was found” Bruce confirmed “a couple of weeks ago.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?” she started to shake.

“They found him….alive” he watched her as she soaked in his words.

“Alive? He’s alive” she sniffed as fresh tears and shock swept through her. “Where is he?” she grabbed his arm clinging to him like he was her life-preserver.

“He’s in pretty bad shape” Bruce explained “he was injured from the crash, lost at sea with little to no food and water, no medical attention….” he sighed watching as the hope drained in her eyes “it’s a miracle he’s lived this long.”

“But he is….alive” she squeezed his arm.

“Yes he’s alive” he affirmed.

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“I have to go to him” she jumped to her feet heading towards her room.

“Teasha wait” Bruce called after her to no avail. He followed her into her room. Stood watching as she pulled out her suitcase and began filling it. “Honey slow down a minute. You can’t just leave.”

“Why not?” she demanded “you would leave if it were one of us or dad.”

“I would” he nodded “Phoenix can’t have visitors yet and even if he could you’re not married.”

“I love him daddy” she asserted undeterred by his comments.

“I know you do” he walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “My point is they won’t let you see him. You’re not family. You’re not even his girlfriend.”

“What am I supposed to do” she cried dropping the shirt she was holding to the floor.

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“Until he’s better and they allow visitors outside of family there isn’t much you can do.” He stroked her hair wishing there was something he could do to ease her pain.

“Except hope and pray” she mumbled against his shoulder.

“There’s plenty you can do around here” he suggested “we need all the help we can get with Zach.”

“Alright” she sniffed wiping her nose on the back of her hand.

“Use a kleenex” Bruce told her with a touch of humor.

“Sorry” she mumbled grabbing a Kleenex from the box on her nightstand.

***

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The next day she threw a box towards her brother where he lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “What’s this?” he asked inspecting it.

“What do you think it is?” she rolled her eyes starting to lose her patience with him. “I told you I was going to get you one. Now go take it.”

He stared at her a flicker of annoyance in his eyes. “I’ll do it later” he said laying it aside on his nightstand returning his gaze to the ceiling.

“No” she put her hands on her hips “you’ll do it now. You can’t pretend nothing is wrong.”

She hadn’t slept well and combined with her worry over Phoenix her patience was at an all time low. “Take the damn test Zach.”

He jumped at the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry” he mumbled automatically. Apologizing seemed to be what he did most now. It seemed he was always doing or saying something that required it. It was an automatic reflex to raised voices and perceived slights.

“Zach I’m not mad at you” she sighed trying to get a firm grip on her emotions.

“You are” he stood taking the test. He stumbled to the bathroom eyes focused on the floor.

“Alright I am” she affirmed “I’m sorry.”

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He nodded accepting her anger but not the apology. What else could he do? He closed the door behind him blotting out her face and words. Wondered what she’d do if he just said he took the test and didn’t? Several minutes later he took the damn test even though he already knew what the results would be. He’d been sick and nauseous for weeks now.

Minutes passed while sat slumped against the bathroom wall staring at the positive results. His ears were ringing as he wondered what his next move should be. He was going to be a father. Waylon was going to be a dad. He had to tell him. Would he be happy? Would he be like everyone else and assume the baby was Dexter’s?

He covered his face with his hands as an image from that night came to mind. Dexter knocking him to the dew drenched ground. The long grass concealing them from the casual viewer. Zach struggling beneath him getting in a few good hits. Dexter had been better at evading his fists than he had been. The punch that had Zach seeing stars, the weight of Dexter pinning him to the ground, the sloppy insistent kiss Dexter forced on him as his hands groped at his clothes. The sense of humiliation of what was about to happen. The helpless feeling he had at not being able to prevent it as Dexter’s hands slipped past the waist line of his jeans. The desperation that drove Zach to drive his elbow into Dexter’s nose. The blow that finally dislodged him allowing Zach to roll out from beneath him. He could still remember the way it felt as his fist connected with Dexter’s face, over and over again. Then the frightening moment when he thought he was going to die staring at the object Dexter had pulled from his jacket…..

“Zach are you alright in there?” Teasha’s voice broke through his daze ending the moment before he could remember what happened next.

***

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Vincent perched on the edge of his bed. His room was in the process of being painted. A half assembled baby crib stood where his stereo used to be. This time next year he’d be sleeping on the couch when he came home for the summer. What were his parents thinking? People their age shouldn’t be having babies.

When he said as much the hurt in his mother’s eyes reproached him. The disappointed tone his father used when they spoke had him regretting his ill chosen words.

Laying back on his bed closing his eyes he refused to believe he was jealous of a baby that wasn’t even born yet. He had wanted a little brother or sister for years. He didn’t want one now that he’d be almost twenty when it was born. He was old enough to be its father and his parents the grandparents. What were they thinking?

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He sat up wondering what his friends were doing. Teasha and Zach were out. He didn’t feel up to walking through an emotional minefield with them. Same with Divia. She spent most of her time at the hospital with her dad. He wondered about her sudden interest in her dad and the guilt she must be feeling. He had lived next door to the girl all of his life so he could only imagine what she must be going through right now.

He could call Ryan. He sat up pulling his phone out. Did he want to spend time with a guy who would do nothing but talk about his girlfriend? He was happy for the guy but he didn’t feel up to having his nose rubbed in it. Hannah? Not her either. She was just as bad as her cousin if not worse. She and Ryan were probably gloating together over their satisfactory love lives.

Feeling restless he ran up the stairs determined to find something to do other than feel sorry for himself. At times like this his thoughts always turned towards Trinity. He found himself wondering what she had wanted to tell him in the waiting room. When he had finally gotten to see the doctor she had been gone when he came out. He knew he had missed something important. After that he had gotten busy with writing term papers and studying for exams. She left soon after to see her mom in Monte Vista.

***

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“Where are you going son?” his father’s voice came from behind him.

“Out” he muttered. It sounded harsher than he meant it to. He was so tired of his parents hovering over him.

“When will you be back?” he asked.

Shrugging Vincent rolled his head from side to side. “When I get back” he replied evasively. “I’m not a baby. I can come and go as a I please.”

“For an adult you sure act like a child” Milo said.

Vincent squeezed his eyes tight. He could hear the gentle rebuke in his father’s voice. The disappointment as well as disapproval. Sighing he turned from the door. “I just have a lot of things to think about.”

Gesturing toward the table Milo asked “want to tell me about it?”

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Vincent hesitated before nodding “I don’t know what good it will do.”

“You’ll never know until you try” Milo said taking a chair and indicating for Vincent to sit down. Reluctantly his son moved to the proffered chair while Milo went to the fridge for drinks. Setting one in front of Vince he sat down opposite him. “What’s on your mind? I know you’re not happy about the baby. I have a feeling though that’s not the only thing wrong.”

Vincent stared at the soda in front of him. He reached for it. Popped it open. Took a several gulps hoping to stall long enough until his father lost interest. Setting it down he sighed “why aren’t I enough?”

Milo blinked sitting back tapping his finger tips on the table. “What gave you that idea? Your mother and I never meant for you to feel that way. We love you.”

Shaking his head Vincent could feel the same old frustration rising inside him. “No that’s not it. Yeah I was shocked, even jealous of the baby. It’s like I don’t belong here anymore.” He slapped his hand down on the old table they’ve had since before he was born. Milo got up for a cloth to wipe up the spilled soda from his overturned bottle.

“Your room” he said quietly.

“My room. That’s a laugh” Vincent crossed his arms pouting “it’s the baby’s nursery now. This time next year it’ll be full of baby things and I’ll be sleeping on the couch.”

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“Vincent” Milo’s voice was firm causing Vince to look up “you’re an adult. This time next year you could have a girlfriend. You could be planning to get married. You won’t be living here forever.”

Vincent stared vacantly at the smooth surface of the table. “I know it’s just….the only girl I want won’t give me the time of day.”

“Oh” Milo chuckled “now we’re getting somewhere.” He shook his head at the scowl his son was giving him. “Son if it were only the baby and the loss of your room I’d be worried we didn’t raise you right.”

Vincent slumped back in his chair with an air of defeat. “I’m sorry” he mumbled “I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat. I know you and mom don’t have a lot of money because of me…”

“Our financial problems aren’t your fault. The medical expenses were worth it. We chose to incur the expense because we wanted the best for you. We don’t regret it. We had to be frugal with what we had. We had to do without but not once have we regretted it.” He moved around the table “we would do it all again if we had to.”

“Thanks dad” Vincent looked up at his dad tears blurring his vision.

Over the next couple of hours he confided in his parents everything that had transpired while he was away at school.

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“Does she know how you feel about her?” His mom asked having joined them and moved them to the living room. She was curled up beside her husband on the couch.

Vincent shrugged from where he sat on the floor. “She told me from the start she wasn’t into relationships.”

“I think you’re missing something” Jillian persisted “she went out of her way to take care of you when you needed help.” She gave him a severe glare that said his drunken night out was going to come up again “she wanted to tell you something. I think it might be important and what you want to hear.”

“It’s too late” he whined “she’s in Monte Vista and I’m here. I’ll never know what it was.”

“Not with that attitude” she snapped “stop wallowing in self-pity and do something. If you want the girl figure something out.”

Figure something out. Easier said than done. He couldn’t just buy a plane ticket. He didn’t have the money and by the time he saved up enough school will have started. He could call but he couldn’t afford the long distance bill. Once again he could feel defeat pressing in around him.

Chapter 30 – Therapy / Chapter 32 – Missing You

Hannah – Chapter 30 – Therapy

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Divia sat alone absorbing the early morning sun. She had been home for over a month now. It had been touch and go with her dad for the first week. When he opened his eyes and stared without recognition at her and her mom it almost broke her heart. Divia thought she’d lose it. Where the strength came from to hold her mom as she wept on her shoulder she had no clue. Inside all she wanted to do was run away and never come back.

That was three weeks ago. His memory had improved since then. It was still fuzzy. Certain events he still didn’t remember like the accident itself. Divia thought that was a blessing. Who would want to remember something that traumatic?

She leaned back her eyes closed. Her face tilted towards the sun. A slight smile upon her face. Today was the first day of his physical therapy. She hoped her dad wouldn’t be difficult and argue with the therapist. She knew how temperamental he could be especially when he was in pain or embarrassed. When he was both who knew what he was capable of? Liono hated to appear weak in front of anyone. It was worse when it was his family and friends. For weeks his visitors had been tip toeing around his room afraid of saying or doing something wrong. Not an easy task Divia knew from experience. Depending on his mood anything might spark an argument.

“Excuse me” a soft exotic voice said above her head “is someone sitting here?”

“Oh” Divia murmured opening her eyes “sorry.” She scooted over making room for the someone else to sit.

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“Thank you” the voice said sounding grateful “sorry for disturbing you. I just really needed to get off my feet.”

“No problem” Divia was quick to say. She took a glance over at the person she was sharing a bench with. Her acquaintance was the exact opposite of what she imagined she’d look like based off her voice. The young woman had dark wavy hair tumbling past her shoulders. There were streaks of an unspecified color that may have been the result of a failed highlight job. It was the woman’s eyes that were remarkable. They were hidden behind thick dark frames but their soft mahogany glow shone through. Divia found herself staring longer than seemed polite.

The woman laughed breaking the spell Divia was under. “Do I have a booger coming out my nose or something?” the woman asked. Her smile was genuine as she self-consciously wiped a hand over and around her nose.

“No no I’m sorry” Divia mumbled as her cheeks grew hot.

“I’d prefer it if someone told me if there were” she flashed her a toothy grin “I’d hate to find out later I was walking around with a big old booger hanging from my nose. People may think its impolite to say something but it’s so much worse to let someone walk around like that.”

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Divia found herself relaxing around her and laughing along with her. Glancing at the time she sighed “I should be going. My dad’s about to start physical therapy and I have to be there.”

Frowning the woman stood up as well. “From my experience patients usually don’t want their family around.”

“I know” Divia shrugged glancing away. Her eyes moving around the serene garden like park wishing she could bottle the peace she felt there. “My dad isn’t very….cooperative. He may need me there to keep him somewhat civil.” Turning back to her companion she said “he wouldn’t want to appear weak in front of me.”

“Ok” the woman nodded seeming to have filed what she said away “I guess I’ll be seeing you later than.”

“You might” Divia agreed thinking the woman was there visiting another patient.

***

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Twenty minutes later Divia sat unobtrusively to the side while her dad went through the paces. He grunted in pain. Never once complaining. Maybe it was her presence or maybe the fact his therapist was young and pretty. Divia knew her eyes almost popped from their eye sockets when her acquaintance from outside came into the room in a lab coat introducing herself as Renee Hauske, physical therapist.

As the interns helped her dad into his wheelchair. Renee smiled brightly at her “I knew we’d meet again” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Divia swallowed as her hands suddenly felt clammy. She could feel the woman’s eyes watching her in a way that made her pulse race. Her mouth felt dry as she croaked out her own name in response.

“It’s nice to meet you Divia” the calm self-assured woman smiled again before turning her full attention to her father.

Divia’s ears perked up when she heard her dad’s deep voice ask “are you married?” Inwardly she groaned. Why did older people feel the need to ask personal information about someone’s relationship status upon meeting them?

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“I was engaged” Renee’s soft exotic voice replied “it didn’t work out obviously.” she laughed waving her empty finger around.

“His loss” Liono chuckled with her.

“We wanted different things” Renee sighed “she lives in Sunset Valley with her new girlfriend now.”

Divia held her breath leaning forward listening for her dad’s response. Would he be repulsed by having a lesbian therapist? She knew he had gay friends but for whatever reason he never struck her as being very accepting of them.

“Give it time” he advised her “you’ll find the girl eventually.”

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“It’s been almost three years” she objected “all I seem to attract are jerks.”

“Maybe you like jerks” Liono said with a grin and a sparkle in his eyes.

Laughing Renee shook her head “you might be right.” She helped him back into his chair.

“That’s all for today Mr Marx. You did excellent today.”

Liono smirked as he caught sight of his daughter watching them. “My daughter’s single. Maybe you could ask her out,” he suggested.

“Dad” Divia protested walking towards them cheeks blazing with heat.

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“What” he demanded innocently eyes shifting “did you think I didn’t know?”

“I” her eyes darted towards Renee “I never told you. How did you….”

“I’m not blind or an idiot” he grumbled but his eyes never lost their twinkle “did you think I wouldn’t approve?” Her silence spoke for her as he nodded in acceptance. “I want you to be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Stepping back Renee suggested “maybe you’d like to take your dad to the garden where you can talk.”

Nodding Divia took her place behind her dad’s wheelchair. She didn’t knew what to say or even what she should be feeling. She felt somehow lighter like a heavy burden had been removed from her shoulders. Her dad loved her. He wasn’t mad like she expected him to be. To her astonishment he had tried to set her up with his therapist. Tears stung her eyes blurring her vision.

“Are you crying?” Liono asked his voice betraying his irritation he felt around anyone crying.

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“Sorry” she mumbled slowly pushing him towards the bench she had shared with Renee earlier that day.

“Divia I’m not upset I wish…” he sighed “I wish you’d own your feelings. If you feel angry be angry. If you feel like crying than cry. Don’t let me or anyone else dictate how you feel.” He fell silent while Divia sat down on the bench facing him. He reached over took her hand “I know I’ve been hard on you. I’m sorry. I thought if I pushed you enough you’d stand up for yourself.” He squeezed her hand “I guess that’s not what you needed and I’m sorry.”

Something broke inside her. Like a chunk of ice had fallen away from her heart. “Daddy” she cried throwing her arms around “I love you so so much and I’m sorry I doubted you.”

Hesitantly at first he raised his arms to hold her. “Does this mean I have a green light to set things up with Renee?”

“Oh daddy you’re impossible” she cried into his shoulder feeling she’d let him do whatever he wanted as long as she knew he loved her.

***

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Zach stared out the window. The busy sidewalk showed people going about their everyday lives. Some wore dresses, some were in business suits, others in t-shirts and jeans. Mothers with babies in strollers. Others were carrying multiple bags from their shopping excursions. All normal. Zach couldn’t help but wonder what was behind the smiles. What monsters lurked within? Who went home and hurt the ones they loved?

Shivering he turned away from the window. He found his therapist watching him. Her eyes following his every movement making feel conspicuous. He crossed his arms in front of himself wishing he were a turtle so he could hide within his shell. He watched her lips twitch as she jotted down something inside her notebook.

He watched the pen she wrote with. For a moment he wondered how she could write with her arm curled up like that. It seemed very awkward but a lot of left-handed writers appeared to write like that. It was something that he’d always noticed, had tried to copy but couldn’t.

When she was done she twirled the pin around, appearing to be in deep thought. “What were you thinking about when you gazed out the window?” she asked after several minutes of silence.

The sound of her voice caught Zach off guard. The intake of his breath was loud in the silent room. He shook his head slowly his hair flying around his face “nnothing” he stammered. He could feel her gaze on him making him squirm.

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“Zach if you want my help you need to talk to me” the woman’s voice was gentle to Zach’s ears.

“Are you really as nice as you appear?” he asked his voice low, cautious.

She raised her chin to acknowledge she heard his question. “What makes you think I might not be?” she countered his question with one of her own.

He pressed his spine into the hard backed chair he sat in. He glanced furtively around the room stopping on the exit door. His dad was sitting just on the other side of that door. All he had to do was get up and walk through it and this would all be over.

“Zach” her voice was low barely loud enough to catch his attention. “Do you think about what people are hiding behind their smiles?”

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Shocked he nodded “there’s a lot of evil hidden behind pleasant smiles.”

“It’s exhausting trying to figure out what someone’s hiding isn’t it?” she asked.

He nodded wondering how she knew. “You can’t tell” he mumbled. His eyes were vacant as he retreated further into himself.

He watched as she checked the time. She gave him a thin-lipped smile before placing her hands flat on top of her desk. “That’s it for today. We’ll see you on Friday” she said like a question giving him the option to say no.

He never did. He simply nodded as he moved towards the door wondering what if anything she learned about him and whether it was helping him or not.

***

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Later that night Teasha slipped into his room. “How did it go?” she asked sitting on the edge of his bed her light blue eyes watching him.

Sitting up he shrugged “I don’t like her.”

“Tell daddy and he’ll find someone else” she suggested.

“It’s not that easy” he drew his knees up wrapping his arms around them. “She makes me say things I don’t want to think about.”

She gave him a quizzical look “that’s kind of what she’s supposed to do. It’s the only way she can help you.”

“I guess” he mumbled “are you home for good now?”

Teasha nodded “at least for the summer. I wish you’d change your mind and come back to school with me in the fall.” She saw the terrified look in his eyes “it’s not the same without you.”

“Waylon won’t be there” he sighed resting his chin on his hands a shudder shaking his shoulders.

“Have you heard from him lately?” she asked ruffling his soft blonde hair with her fingers.

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“No” he almost wailed.

“He hasn’t called?” her voice sounded shocked.

“He has” Zach mumbled “I haven’t answered.”

“Why the hell not?” she demanded indignant on Waylon’s behalf.

Shrugging his shoulders he talked into his hands making his words hard to understand. “What’s the point? I’m here. He’s there. It’s over….”

She had to admit he did have a point. “You can still be friends” she said quietly.

“I don’t want to be friends” he closed his eyes images of their last night together replaying in his mind. A low moan escaped his lips as his body remembered the way Waylon’s hands ignited a fire within him.

“Zach you and he … you didn’t….” she gave him a piercing gaze “you did.” She was shocked. She wouldn’t have thought her brother would ever. Not after….”You didn’t just do it with Waylon because of Dex…”

He lifted his head up. Eyes blazing with hate “Dexter never touched me. He tried but I…” His throat constricted cutting off his voice.

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“Alright” she replied calmly wondering what actually did happen between him and Dexter. No one had seen Dexter after that night. No she mentally chided herself. Her brother would never hurt anyone. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. “At least tell me you and Waylon were safe.”

“Safe?” he looked at her eyes wide his tone confused.

“Yeah safe as in careful” she rolled her eyes at him “you know protection. Geez Zach do I have to spell it out for you.”

“Of course we…” his voice faltered he didn’t exactly remember. Had they used anything? “I don’t know” he admitted aloud “it’s not like we planned for it to happen. It just did.”

“Zach” she cried in exasperation “you’re an idiot.”

The magnitude of what he said started to sink in he asked “what am I going to do now?” His anxiety causing his voice to come out squeaky.

“The first thing you’re going to do is take a pregnancy test” she told him.

“Why?” he asked recoiling at the idea.

“Zach use your head” she bit her lip to keep from saying more. He was already in shock at the idea of being pregnant she had to be gentle if she wanted him to cooperate with her. “You know as well as I do you could be pregnant.”

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“I know” he cried as the enormity of it pressed in around him choking off his air “All I wanted was to feel better. To feel loved. I didn’t think…”

“It’s going to be alright” she soothed pulling him close rocking him in her arms like she did when they were kids and he’d had a bad dream “we’ll figure this out together. I promise it’s going to be ok.”

“I’m sorry that you always have to take care of me” he muttered into her shoulder “everyone would be better off if I had jumped off the bridge that night.”

“What? What did you say?” she demanded pushing him from her shoulder. Holding his face between her hands “don’t you dare think that’s an option. I’d be lost without you. Our dads would be devastated. How do you think Waylon would feel? He loves you.”

Tears streamed down his face “I’m sorry. I try not to think about how awful everything is. How people hide who they are behind smiles. I wonder what evil lurks behind those smiles. I just want peace. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to die either. It’s just sometimes the dark thoughts surround me and I wonder if it’d be better to not have to think at all ever again.”

Shaking him she demanded “when these feelings come up call me. Call dad or daddy. Waylon or anyone else. We’ll drop everything and come to you. You’re not alone. You have people who care about you. Who want to help you.”

“I…” he turned away from her intense gaze “I don’t want to be a burden. You have lives to live. You don’t need me hanging around like a dead weight around your necks.”

“Then talk to that therapist. Tell her everything you just told me.” She pulled him close “you don’t have to suffer through this alone.”

“I’ll try” he said “I promise I’ll try.”

Chapter 29 – Don’t Need You / Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities

Hannah – Chapter 27 – Homeward Bound

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Wiping tears from her cheeks, Divia took a deep breath. He had to be alright she thought as she took off across campus. She made a list of the things she needed to do before she left. The professors she needed to contact regarding the papers that were due. It hardly mattered since she changed her major. Most of her classes she took this past year wouldn’t help her towards her goal.

Her feet seemed to have a mind of their own as she hurried towards her dorm. The peace she had found earlier was gone. A growing dread threatened to engulf her. What if her dad died? What if she was never able to tell him how much she love him?

She regretted all the years she had spent being in awe of him. Too afraid to displease him. She should have been more outgoing, more of the daughter he wanted instead of the one he didn’t understand. She had the uncomfortable feeling that she hadn’t been fair to him. She had been too ready to point the blame at him. To tell everyone how he didn’t understand her. She hadn’t tried to understand either. She may never get a chance to show him how much she cared about him.

She burst into her room. The door banging loudly into the wall behind her. Teasha jumped up eyes puffy and red. Identical to how Divia was sure she looked like. “What happened?” they cried together.

“You first” Divia said closing the door. Concern for her friend overriding her fears about her father.

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Teasha took a deep breath before opening her mouth to respond. Only sobs came out. Divia moved across the room wrapping her arms around the girl. “It’ll be ok. Whatever it is it’ll be ok.”

Shaking her head Teasha gulped “no no it won’t.” She clung to Divia. Her fingers digging into her back “he’s dead….”

“No he’s in surgery” Divia protested “mom would have told me if he had died.”

“I heard it” Teasha gulped “on the radio.”

Stuffing the panic rising inside her Divia frowned. “Why would my dad’s accident be on the radio?”

“What accident?” Teasha sniffed hearing Divia for the first time since she came home.

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“My dad” Divia repeated “was in a bike accident. He’s in surgery. He might not make it. I have to go home.”

“I’m so sorry” Teasha stammered “I didn’t know.”

“Who were you talking about?” Divia asked as dread filled her as Teasha pulled away from her. She could see the distress written all over her friends face. Holding her hand around the girls face “it’s not Zach is it? He wasn’t in an accident was he?” Panic filled her voice as a hundred different scenarios played out in her head.

“No not Zach” Teasha shook her head . “Phoenix his….” she gulped or air “his plane went down over the ocean.”

“Oh honey” Divia pulled her close letting Teasha cry on her shoulder “I’m so sorry.”

***

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An hour later Teasha raised herself from her bed. Sniffling she wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I’m coming with you.”

“What about class?” Divia asked from her side of the room “don’t you have a test next week?”

“I wont be able to concentrate” the girl complained.

“Honey don’t throw your education away” Divia said coming to sit beside the upset girl. Handing her a Kleenex she continued “going home won’t make you feel any better.”

“I know” she blew her nose “I wish there was something I could do.”

“The best thing you can do is to stay in school,” Divia said “I have to home. Mom needs me.”

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“You’re right but what if he’s…” she stopped shuddering. “I never got to tell him how much I loved him.”

“I know honey” Divia rubbed her friends back. “You have to accept this is why he broke up with you before he left. He didn’t want to put you through this pain.”

“It didn’t work” she sniffed. “I’m still hurting. Still waiting to know if he’s alright. I can’t just turn my feelings off.”

“Then prove to him that you can be a good military wife.” She spoke with a firmness she seldom showed. “Pull yourself together. Do what needs to be done.”

Teasha looked up through her tears “you’ve changed.”

Shrugging Divia glanced away, “not really. I’ve been to unsure of myself and what I wanted to be myself. It’s time I took control of my life. I can’t wait for someone else to hang the moon for me.”

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“You can’t give up on love either” Teasha protested letting concern for her friend rise above her own misery.

“Oh I won’t” looked at her hands “it’s just not a priority anymore. I have to find happiness within myself first before looking for it in someone else.”

“I’m sorry” Teasha mumbled getting up to help Divia pack. “I’ve been a terrible friend. So wrapped up in my own problems. I didn’t even ask you about Marzia.”

“There’s not much to tell” Divia said softly. “She left and I don’t know why.”

“I’m sorry” Teasha squeezed her tight. “I should have been a better friend.”

“Don’t worry about it” Divia sniffed “it’s not the end of the world.”

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“If you need to talk” Teasha offered “I’m here.” Looking at the boxes “how are you going to get home?”

“Rent a car I guess” Divia shrugged “I haven’t given it much thought.”

“I’ll drive you” Teasha said “no objections. Tomorrow is Friday. I don’t have class until Monday. I’ll go for the weekend. Visit my parents. Hopefully stay busy so I don’t think too much.”

“I accept” Divia said relieved that detail was taken care of. “You should tell Zach you’re leaving.”

“Maybe he’ll want to come with us” Teasha smiled “I doubt it though.”

“At least offer” Divia sighed wishing she had siblings to share in this crisis.

***

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Teasha knocked on her brother’s door. “Zach you in there?” she put an ear to the door listening for movement. Frowning she lifted her hand to knock again. It sounded like someone was crying or moaning. “Zach” she shouted pummeling the door “let me in.”

She fell forward when the door was jerked open. Waylon stood in front of her, hair topsy turvey, shirt untucked and ripped. “Is that blood?” Teasha demanded staring wide-eyed at his appearances.

“It’s not mine” he mumbled.

“Zach” she cried pushing past him “where’s Zach?”

Waylon slapped the door following her. “He doesn’t want a lot of fuss.”

“He’s hurt” she pointed at the blood stains on Waylon’s shirt “where is he?”

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“I’m taking care of him” Waylon glared at her.

“He’s my brother” she shouted whirling around confronting the man. “I want to know what happened.” She stared at the young man standing in front of her. The grazed bruised knuckles on his hands. The blood stains on his shirt. His insistence that Zach was ok made her wonder. What if this seemingly nice guy had hurt him. “I’m not leaving until I see him.”

“I didn’t…you think…” Waylon seemed to wilt in front of her. “I would never hurt him.”

“Why won’t you let me see him?” she demanded “he’s been hurt before by someone he thought loved him.”

“He’s in the closet,” Waylon waved towards the door “he won’t come out. He crawled in there as soon as I got him home.”

“What happened?” she demanded walking towards the door. She choked back a sob upon what she saw. The last time Zach had crawled into a closet and refused to come out was right after he came home from the hospital. She had found him in his bedroom closet crying. The closet had become his safe place. The place he retreated to when the world became too much to handle.

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“Dexter Gage happened” Waylon shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m gonna kill him.” He strode towards the door slamming it shut behind him sending a few pictures crashing to the floor.

Teasha stared at the door stunned by the raw anger that washed over her. Turning back to the closet she knelt beside her brother who was curled up into tight ball on the floor. “Zachie” her voice squeaked as she pulled him to her.

“I want to go home” he mumbled “please take me home.”

“If that’s what you want,” she rubbed her hands along his back feeling the sobs rocking his body. “I’ll help you pack.” There was no point in arguing or demanding he talk to her. He would tell her what happened eventually in his way in his own time.

“Thank you” he mumbled following her out of the closet.

She gasped upon seeing his battered face in the light. Blood dried cake on one side of his face. His bottom lip was swollen. When he talked she could tell he hand some broken or loose teeth. “Did he do that to you?” her hands shook. She wanted to follow Waylon and make sure he gave Dexter exactly what he had coming to him.

Tracing a hand across his face Zach winced. “I’m ok,” his voice flat emotionless.

“No you’re not” she walked towards him “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“No” he jerked away from her. His words slurred from the swollen lip “home. I want to go home.”

“We’ll go home after you see a doctor” she took his arm “I promise we’ll go home tomorrow.” She steered him towards the door.

Shaking his head he started to back away “no. No I won’t go. It’s not safe.”

“Zach please” she pleaded as he retreated towards the closet. At least let me clean you up a bit.”

***

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Twenty minutes later she had gotten most of the dirt and blood removed from his face. In the back of her mind she hoped that Waylon had found Dexter and given him a beating within and inch of his life.

“I’m sorry” Zach said speaking for the first since she began.

“It’s not your fault” she assured him

He shuddered “if I had done was I was told.” He stopped glancing away.

Teasha wanted to shout at him to tell him to talk to her. She knew that would have the opposite effect on him. She willed herself to be patient. She had to let him tell her in his own way in his own time.

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“He he dragged me with the bushes” Zach began again shivering “he he….kkkkissed me.” He lifted his eyes. “I told him to stop.” Tears rolled down his cheeks “I begged him to stop.”

“I’m going to kill him” Teasha cried repeating the same words Waylon had as he ran from the room earlier. How could someone like that exist? How could he claim to love someone then terrorize them? It didn’t make sense. Her brother wouldn’t hurt a fly. He didn’t deserve this. No one did.

“I…I hit him” his voice broke through her dark thoughts “I wanted him to stop.” He stared at his hands. “I just kept hitting him and hitting him.” He took a gulp of air “I hurt him. I couldn’t stop hitting him.”

“Zach honey” Teasha took a mirror from her bag. “Look” she demanded holding the mirror out to him “it was self-defense. Dexter hurt you too. He would have done worse if you hadn’t stood up for yourself.” She watched him as he explored the bruises on his face. “It’s not your fault,” she repeated.

“I just” he swallowed “I didn’t think…”

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She could see the tears building behind his eyes again “it’s alright. It’s a terrible thing what he did to you. I’m so proud of you.”

His light blue eyes moved towards her “proud of me?”

Nodding she squeezed him tight “you fought back. You refused to be a helpless victim. You are so much more than you believe.”

He gave her a lopsided grin. He had never seen himself like that before. “Waylon…where is he?”

“I don’t know” she said.

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“He’s looking for Dexter isn’t he?” He staggered to his feet “we have to find him. He’s going to do something stupid.”

“Alright I’ll look for him” she assured him. She followed him towards the door.

“I’m with you” he asserted when she tried to stop him.

“Absolutely not,” she protested pushing him lightly towards the bed. “I’ll find you. You stay and pack.”

***

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Zach sat on the bed staring at the closed door. Mustering all his strength he staggered from the room. He had to find Waylon before it was too late. He couldn’t let him do something he’d regret for the rest of his life. Teasha meant well but she didn’t know Waylon the way he did. Didn’t know that Waylon would do anything to protect him.

Heart pounding Zach stopped on the edge of the dormitory grounds. He stared across the road towards the bridge. He took several deep breaths before venturing towards the dark unlit field across the street. He was following his instinct that Waylon would be out there looking for traces of Dexter. He wouldn’t find any. He was sure of that.

The long grass rubbed against his pants legs leaving them damp with dew. Closing his eyes he listened for sounds that he wasn’t alone. A rustling to his left had him jumping backwards until he realized it was a small rodent moving in the long grass. Taking several deep breaths he continued towards the river’s edge. The last place he had seen Dexter.

A loud splash almost had him running for cover. A familiar voice demanded “what the hell are you doing here?”

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“Looking for you” Zach squeaked as he felt Waylon’s arms wrap around him. Soon he felt Waylon’s lips softly caressing the nape of his neck. His breath caught in his throat as he choked out “I love you.”

Waylon gently turned so he could bring his lips to the blond’s mouth. Careful not to move too fast or to hurt him. A soft moan escaped from Zach when Waylon pulled back to gaze into his eyes. “I was afraid I had lost you,” he ran his fingers through Zach’s hair.

“I’m here” Zach whispered resting his cheek against Waylon’s chest.

“Don’t ever leave me,” Waylon pleaded.

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“I wish I didn’t have to” Zach closed his eyes regretting his poor choice of words. Waylon’s arms dropped from around him. Zach walked towards the river’s edge sighing. How cold was the water he wondered? It was still early spring. Would it be cold enough to give someone hypothermia before they drowned? “I’m going home. I can’t stay here….”

“I’m going home too” Waylon put his arms around the blond again. He moved slowly knowing how easily Zach was startled. “My Uncle needs my help on the ranch.”

“This doesn’t have to be the end” Zach said turning in Waylon’s embrace. “We still have tonight and I could come to visit.”

Waylon chuckled a little the sound a little sad in the cool crisp air. “You’d never survive on a ranch.”

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“I could try” Zach murmured “I’d try anything for you.”

“No” Waylon shook his head firmly. “It wouldn’t do for either of us making drastic changes for the other.” As much as they both didn’t want to say it. It felt like goodbye.

“I know” Zach sighed tentatively putting his arms around Waylon’s waist. I placed soft kisses along Waylon’s neck and jaw line. “I want you to love me.”

With a low moan of assent Waylon gently guided them to the dew drenched ground. He hovered over the blond seeing the desire and acceptance in his light blue eyes before he lowered his mouth to Zach’s lips.

Chapter 26 – Goodbye / Chapter 28 – Almost