Tag Archive | Trent Milton

Britland – Chapter 18 – I Do

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Felix followed Crystal with his eyes. Her laughter filled the air around them. She seemed intent on sneaking up on a butterfly. She got within a hand’s distance before it flew away.

“Damn it” she stamped her feet trudging towards him.

“Next time use a net” he suggested.

She glared at him a moment before her infectious smile spread across her face. “That’s your problem Felix. You always want the easy way.”

“What’s wrong with that” he asked.

She gave him a look that clearly said he had to be kidding. “Getting things the easy way has never brought you happiness.” She walked towards him “it was all about instant gratification. Then you were off to the next best thing. It left you feeling hollow. Empty.”

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He stared into her eyes a moment. He wanted to deny her summation of his previous life. He brought a hand up to caress her cheek “you weren’t easy. I had to fight myself to get to you.”

“Oh” she ran her fingers up his shirt stopping when she reached his heart. “How did that make you feel?”

The heat from her fingers penetrated through the thin material of his shirt. “I’ve never been happier in my life than when I’m with you.”

“So” she grinned standing on her tip toes “good things come to those who wait.” She pressed her lips gently to his. She could feel his lips moving in sync with hers. Their tongues connecting in a complicated dance. She pushed him away as his hands tightened around her waist threatening to drive them to the next level.

“What” he breathed hard running a hand through his thick colorful hair. He took several more breaths seeking calm “what did I do wrong?”

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“Nothing” she shook her head, her hair swirling around her shoulders. “I just can’t” nodding towards a frowning figure. “Not when my Dad’s watching and glaring at us.”

A part of Felix wanted to sweep her up into his arms and carry her off to his lair to make sweet passionate love to her. “We’re getting married tomorrow. He’s going to have to get used to me kissing his little girl.”

“I know. It’s just” she bit her lip “I am his little girl. Give him time.” She made sure she had all of his attention before continuing “imagine how you’d feel if it was your little girl getting married.”

“That’s easy” he grinned “she wouldn’t be getting married.”

“Oh” her eyebrows rose “why’s that?”

“Simple. I’ll have her locked up inside a tower where no one could find her” his tone serious.

“That didn’t work for Rapunzel” she giggled at his pained expression twisting out of his arms.

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He watched her run up to her father throwing her arms around him. Kissing his cheek. He wondered if that could be him in twenty odd years. His eyes went to Charity and Ryan. They had their hands full chasing after two little ones. Twin boys just learning to walk. Felix smiled seeing the way the little boys clung to their parents hands, their knees wobbling as they took small hesitant steps.

“What’s on your mind” Britland asked gently rocking an infant in his arms.

“Do you think I can do this” he asked beseeching his best friend.

Britland nodded seeing the panic in his friend’s eyes. “Do you love her” he asked “don’t think about. Just listen to the little voice inside you. What’s your heart telling you?”

“I love her” he glanced across the manufactured meadow where Crystal was laughing with her parents. He envied her relationship with them. “What if I hurt her” he mumbled “you know I have no idea what a family should be.”

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“Nonsense” Britland held his son out for Felix to take. “You’ve been a part of my family for years. You’re my son’s godfather. His Uncle. If anything were to happen to me or Carson I know you’ll be there looking out for our son.”

Gazing into the eyes of the tiny bundle in his arms Felix relaxed. “You trust me that much? You’re not worried I’ll botch the job?”

“No more than I’m worried that Carson or I will botch the job” Britland smiled. “It comes with the territory. You’ll always worry because you care. Once you stop caring, you stop worrying. That’s when you’ve failed.”

Handing the baby back Felix sighed. “Thanks for believing in me. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Lucky for you, you don’t have to” Britland grinned cheekily. “No matter where you go Felix I’m just a phone call away.”

***

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Nodding Felix walked away thankful for the well-meaning words from his friend. It did however bring up unpleasant feelings for him. After the wedding he and Crystal would be moving. Britland wouldn’t be right down the hall from him. What if he couldn’t do this without him?

“Having second thoughts” a deep voice asked beside him.

“What” he looked up to find Crystal’s Dad peering at him in a none to friendly manner.

“Err” he swallowed over the lump forming in his throat making it difficult to breathe. He wanted to run. To hide. To do anything but stand there enduring the man’s disapproval.

“Easy son” Trent’s voice was less imposing then it had been just a moment before. “Is something wrong?”

Felix stared at him a like a deer in headlights. “What if I fail? What if I get scared and run?” He thought for sure the man beside him would knock his head off for even having doubts. This was the father of the girl he was going to marry. He was marrying this man’s little girl and he just admitted he was having serious doubts.

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A small stiff smile graced Trent’s lips. “Son if you didn’t have doubts I’d be worried. This is a big moment for you and Crystal. It’s only natural to wonder if this is the right thing for you.” He rubbed his chin giving the young man before him an appraising look. “I have a feeling that’s only part of the problem.”

Felix stiffened “what makes you think that?”

“Crystal told me about your father’s job offer.” Trent could tell by the look on the young man’s face that he had struck a nerve. Felix’s whole stance became tense, unyielding almost angry. “Tell me about it” he offered “maybe I can help.”

Something snapped inside Felix as he stared into the older man’s eyes. The gaze he’d always thought was cold, harsh, almost judgmental. Now he could discern a warmth, a kindness, an understanding he never realized was there. All the things Crystal had said were there. The things he’d never received from his own father. Not even when his father offered him the position of taking over one of his many acquisitions. “I didn’t take it” he mumbled half turning away afraid to see disappointment in the older man’s eyes.

Trent watched the myriad of emotions that flashed across Felix’s face. Foremost was the pain he could perceive in the young man’s eyes. “It came with too many strings attached, didn’t it?”

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Felix nodded staring at his feet. “I….” gulping his fingers curled into fists “he wanted me to choose between the position and Crystal.” He lifted his eyes towards Trent “he thought I’d choose the prestige, the money over her. He thought the money would mean more to me. I love her. Not his money.” Tears trickled down his cheeks unheeded “I can’t help but wonder how I’m going to manage without his money though. I’ve never had to worry about making a living before. I don’t know how to set a budget, led alone how to live within one.” To his shock he was engulfed by a pair of strong arms hugging him tight.

“Why didn’t you come to me” Trent demanded patting him on the back. “I would have helped you.”

“I…I” he groped for words “I wanted to figure it out on my own.”

“Son you’ve been doing that for far too long,” Trent said “it’s time you learn to ask for help.”

“I thought….” Felix shook his head overwhelmed “what do I do?”

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“First let me ask you something. Why are you moving to Brooklyn Heights?” He waited for his future son-in-law to answer.

“Crystal suggested it” he sighed his eyes searching for her. “She said she could still take classes and commute to Bridgeport when she needed to.”

“The job study program” Trent nodded in understanding “she mentioned that to us.” He gave Felix a penetrating look “what about your classes?”

He laughed harshly “what classes? Without my Dad’s help I can’t afford school. My grades weren’t the best in high school so I don’t qualify for scholarships.”

“You’re not stupid” Trent pointed out.

“Well it certainly wasn’t smart to think Daddy’s money would never run out” he mumbled. He chuckled a little “who would have thought that my Dad would cut me off over a girl. A girl, who this time deserves so much more than me.”

“I’d say he’s testing you” Trent suggested “give him time. Hopefully he’ll come around.”

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“I don’t care” Felix said forcefully. “All my life I’ve done everything I could think of to get his attention and for what? A few emails. A text message. Money enough to ruin myself with.” He shook his head “I finally get my life together and he cuts me off. He didn’t even give her a chance. He doesn’t even know her.”

“Then walk away” Trent advised him. “Crystal loves you. Gayle and I will do everything we can to help you. All you have to do is ask.”

“You’d do that for me” he asked, after a moment of silence like he didn’t quite believe what he had heard.

“I’d do that for family” Trent said stepping forward gripping Felix’s shoulder. “You’re family now.”

“I don’t” he blinked “know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything” Trent assured him. “Just know that you’re always welcome to come to me for advice.”

“Thank you” he shook his head unable to maintain his composure. Once again he felt the comforting warmth of being hugged. It felt like coming home.

***

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Britland glanced over at Carson a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. The vows that Felix was saying filtered through his mind “to love, to honor, to cherish, till death do us part.”

“I know what you’re thinking” Carson’s lips were close to his ear sending puffs of warm air across his skin. The sensation was oddly sensual. “What am I thinking” he asked smiling up at him.

“You’re wishing that was us up there” Carson jerked his chin towards the bride and groom.

“Since when have you been able to read minds” Britland teased turning to face Carson in time to miss the happy couples first kiss as man and wife.

“I don’t have to be a mind reader to know what you’re thinking” Carson teased “I do want to marry you.”

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“I never thought otherwise” Britland assured him. “It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen.”

“You don’t think I’m making up excuses to put it off” Carson inquired.

“No of course not” Britland reached out to caress Carson’s cheek. “We just have really bad timing. Seriously bad timing.”

Looking down at the tiny sleeping bundle in Britland’s arms Carson smiled. “I guess we have had other things to deal with.” He lifted his eyes to meet his fiance’s “I do want to marry you more than anything.”

“I know” Britland returned his smile. “We don’t have to wait. We could go down to the courthouse. Make it official.”

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Looking around at the lavish decorations Carson opened his arms wide “don’t you want all of this?”

“No” he shook his head “I don’t need anything fancy.” Taking Carson’s hand he squeezed it tight “all I need is you.”

Carson snorted softly “if I live to be a hundred I’ll never know why you chose me.”

“Here I thought it was you who chose me” Britland shook his head. “We make a good pair. All we really need to know is that we love each other. What more do we need than that?”

“You’re right” Carson agreed “so on Monday, shall we go to the courthouse and get married?”

“Sounds like a plan” Britland beamed happily “just let me tell my parents so they can be there.”

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“I wouldn’t dream of getting married without them” Carson admitted. “Go tell them maybe they’ll even volunteer to babysit for a day or two so we can have a little alone time.”

“Don’t go taking advantage of my parents like that” Britland teased.

“I’m not” Carson blinked innocently “they offered to babysit any time we needed them.”

“So they did” Britland agreed “I’ll go ask them now.”

“There’s no hurry” Carson called after him.

“I know but they’re standing in the receiving line” Britland explained “this way they can’t disappear on me before I get over there.”

***

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Tucking a stray strand of hair behind Crystal’s ear Felix asked “how do you feel Mrs Stokes?” His fingers gently caressing her soft smooth skin.

“Like I’m on top of the world” she gazed up at him, her eyes shining with love for him.

“I’m counting the minutes until we can be alone” his eyes traveled down her dress before coming back up to meet hers again.

“We don’t have to wait” she giggled “there’s all kinds of store rooms around….”

“As good as that sounds I’m going to have to say no” he kissed the tip of her nose. “You have no idea how difficult it is for me not to take you up on that. I want tonight to be special.” He groaned as Crystal pressed her body into his as if trying to get him to change his mind. “Are you trying to get me to lose all control? I want you so much it hurts.”

Giggling she ran her tongue across his cheek to his ear “your loss.”

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“I hate to interrupt this moment” Carson cleared his throat getting their attention. He smiled thinking of a time when he had despised the scrawny little man who now stood with his arms wrapped protectively around his wife. Things had certainly changed in the past couple of years. “I wanted to offer my congratulations to you two. I hope you’ll be happy together. If there’s ever anything I or Britland can do all you need to do is ask.”

“Well there is something” Felix started to say only to grunt rubbing his side. Turning to Crystal he demanded “what was that for.”

“To remind you to be nice” she chided him.

“I’m always nice” he protested.

“That’s debatable” she shook her head at him “you were saying?”

“Um yes” Felix grinned “take good care of my best friend. You hurt him and you’ll have to answer to me.”

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Carson looked down at him, arms crossed unimpressed. “I promise that I’ll die for him if it meant protecting him.”

Holding his hand out Felix continued as Carson shook it. “That’s why I’m not worried about him. He’s in good hands.”

“Thanks” Carson said sounding relieved “that means a lot to me. I know we haven’t actually…”

“Don’t worry about it” Felix assured him. “I was as much at fault as you. I didn’t like the idea you were going to replace me as Britland’s best friend. That was more my issue than yours.”

“I could have trusted Britland in his choice of friends more than I did” Carson added. “I thought you were an annoying little man.”

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“What do you think now” Felix asked puffing himself up.

“Well” he rubbed his chin “you’re still an annoying little man.” He grinned at the crestfallen younger man “but you’re growing on me. You’re Britland’s best friend. I hope one day to call you friend too.”

“I’d like that” Felix admitted throwing his arms around him. “If we make a habit of hugging each other, do you think we can make Britland jealous?”

“Hey cool it you two” Crystal slapped playfully at Felix’s shoulder. “I’m your wife. I’ll not stand by while you talk about making another man jealous.”

Turning from Carson he pulled her close “you my dear wife have nothing to worry about.”

Chapter 17 – Too Soon / Chapter 19 – Night Visitor

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Britland – Chapter 16 – Be There For You

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“Is he alright” Felix asked as Carson emerged from his room with a haggard look on his handsome face.

“To be honest I don’t know” Britland turned his gaze from the firmly shut bathroom door where Carson had barricaded himself behind. To change the subject he asked “how was you’re visit with Crystal’s family?”

“Her father is way intimidating” he leaned back trying to appear relaxed but the tension in his eyes was unmistakable.

Sensing a story Britland leaned forward staring intently at his friend. “This should be interesting. Do tell.”

“Well” he leaned forward a touch of pink on his cheeks.

“This is going to be good” Britland teased “hardly anything ever makes you blush.”

“You know how I told you we had to make an emergency landing?” Britland nodded so Felix continued “well we were only a couple of hours outside of Brooklyn Heights….”

“Wait don’t tell me” Britland chuckled “let me guess. Crystal called her parents to come get you.”

“Yeah” he sighed “except I hand no idea she had.” His cheeks deepened in color as heat spread across his face. The way Crystal’s soft lips felt as they left a trail of feathery kisses across down his neck. The way his hands trembled as he released her towel letting it flutter to the floor of the tiny hotel bathroom. The way his heart leaped into his throat at the sound an impatient knocking on their hotel room door.

“They’re early” Crystal muttered stooping to grab her towel. She looked up questioningly at the sound of Felix’s smothered groan. “Don’t be like that. It’s probably just my parents” she secured her towel around her as kissed his nose.

He stepped further into the recesses of the bathroom wondering if it were too late close the door before Crystal let her parents inside. Crystal’s excited voice saying “daddy” as she leaped into an older man’s arms was all the answer he needed. “Felix come out here and meet my parents.”

Searching the tiny room for a towel Felix groaned remembering how they had used the majority of them to mop up a spill the night before. The towels were in a pile under the sink on the other side of the wall. “Um” his voice cracked as he peeked around the half-open door. “Hi” he clutched the door as if it were a shield.

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“Felix” Crystal motioned for him to come out.

“I’m not exactly dressed” he protested his eyes pleading with her.

“It’s alright” Crystal assured him ignoring the scowl furrowing the crevices of her father’s face.

“Maybe we should come back later” Gayle suggested tugging on her husband’s arm.

“Nonsense” Trent’s lips were a thin straight line. “I want to meet the young man boinking my daughter.”

“Dad” Crystal protested.

“That is what you call it isn’t it?” Trent demanded his voice deadly serious.

“That’s just crude” she glared at her Dad “it’s not like I haven’t done it before. I just didn’t bring them home to meet you.”

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“Crystal” Gayle cried “that’s uncalled for. Your father only wants what’s best for you.”

“I’ll be the judge of what’s best for me” she said her eyes locking with her dad’s.

Challenging him. She jumped a little when Felix came out of the bathroom behind her to take her hand.

“Mr Milton” he swallowed hard “I…” he gripped Crystal’s hand. “I love your daughter. It’s more than just sex to me.” He smiled down at her. His eyes softening as he gazed into her eyes. I may not be the best thing for her but she’s the best thing for me.”

Gayle moved forward placing a hand on her husband’s tense shoulder. “Thank you for telling us. With everything we’ve heard about you we did have our reservations.”

Trent grunted prodded by Gayle’s elbow in his side. “We’ll be in the lobby. Finish whatever you were doing.” He turned stomping from the room.

Gayle gave them an apologetic shrug. “I’m afraid your Dad still sees you as his little girl. Give him time.” She turned walking from the room following her husband.

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“I’m sorry” Crystal cried when they were alone again. “I thought he’d be cool about this.”

“If my daughter was dating someone like me. I’d be anything but cool” Felix assured her touching his forehead to hers.

“Did you mean it” she asked entwining their fingers together.

“Mean what” he asked somewhat confused.

“That you love me” she glanced up meeting his eyes. “It’s ok if you don’t…”

“I meant every word” he brushed his fingertips across her cheeks until they curled into her think wavy hair. He pulled her close “I love you more than I can say” he murmured brushing his lips across her forehead.

***

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“Wow I never thought you’d ever say it” Britland teased.

“Say what” Felix demanded sitting up tense. His eyes darting around defensively.

“Say I love you to anyone” Britland shook his head. His tone serious no hint of his earlier amusement remained in his voice.

“I never thought it’d happen to me” Felix sighed. “I kind of hoped it wouldn’t. I did everything to make sure it wouldn’t.” He glanced at the floor images of him with multiple faceless women danced before him. “I kind of cringe to think about the way I used to be.”

“Why” Britland inquired “it’s not like you forced anyone to be with you. I mean they knew it was a fling. A one night stand. You weren’t offering them forever. Just a fleeting moment of passion.”

Felix gave his best friend a shocked but curious look. “Wow listen to you! You’ve really loosened up since you’ve been getting some.”

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“Yeah yeah” Britland put a hand up to conceal the rising heat on his cheeks. “I was a bit uptight before. I do see things differently now. I doubt I could ever …. you know…”

“Have lots of anonymous sex just for the fun of it” Felix finished for him. He lifted his head meeting Britland’s eyes smirking a little.

“Yeah I’m more the kind of guy who wants that deep commitment and connection with someone before I could ever be with them intimately.” His cheeks became a deep emerald-green as his eyes darted around refusing to settle on any one thing. A part of him was afraid Felix would laugh at him for his notions of love and commitment.

“I never understood that about you” Felix took in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “I thought you were missing out on so much fun.” He got up moving restlessly around the room. “Now I realize I was the one missing out.”

Britland moved to join him “you really do love her, don’t you?”

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Nodding Felix glanced out the window. His eyes taking in the skyline of the city he loved. The city he loved more for its nightlife than its beauty. The easy accessibility of clubs, booze, gambling, women. All his vices all in one place. It reminded of the life he once thought he enjoyed. “I was never really happy here” his own shock at his words was thick in his words. He turned towards Britland as the blonde placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. I was doing so many things to fill a hole I didn’t know how to fill. I didn’t know it at the time. Not until I met Crystal and she made me look at things in a different way.”

“I’m sorry” Britland mumbled “I should have been there for you more than I was.”

“It’s not your fault” Felix shrugged “I was in a downward spiral. You couldn’t have stopped me if you tried. Besides you had other things on your mind.”

“Yeah I guess” he glanced over his shoulder his eyes full of concern. “I should go check on him.”

“Yes go” Felix nudged him forward “I have homework to do anyway.”

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“Since when? You never did homework” Britland chuckled.

“I know” he shrugged self-consciously “people change.”

“Have you decided on a major yet” Britland asked moving away.

“I’m thinking business” Felix said moving towards the couch. Retrieving his books from the coffee table. “I like numbers.”

“Felix the accountant” Britland quipped “it’s doesn’t sound quite right.”

Grimacing Felix shook his head “I was thinking more like a financial advisor or stock broker.”

“I’m still undecided” Britland breathed in deeply feeling weighed down.

“I think you should go into early childhood development” Felix suggested “I think you’d do well.”

“Pediatrics” Britland said thoughtfully.

“You can do it” Felix encouraged “you’d be good at it.”

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“It’s a big commitment” he mumbled rubbing his stomach as he thought about his friends suggestion.

“Have you told him yet” Felix asked out of the blue.

“Tell him what” he asked jumping a little at the intrusion of his thoughts.

Raising an eyebrow Felix looked from his text-book “that your pregnant.”

“How did you …” his hand dropped to his side.

“I guessed” Felix chuckled “you’ve been sick every morning. Plus you’re always rubbing your stomach.”

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Glancing over his shoulder like he was afraid someone was listening. “You haven’t mentioned this to Carson have you?”

“No of course not” Felix assured him “he needs to know but he won’t find out from me. Keep in mind it’s not something you can hide for long.”

“I know” Britland sucked in his bottom lip “I just don’t know if he can handle the news on top of everything else.”

“Who knows? It might give him something good to focus on” Felix suggested.

Considering his words Britland’s expression changed to doubtful skepticism. “I’ll think about it” he mumbled moving towards the hall.

“I’ll be better if you do it sooner rather than later” Felix called after him knowing the blonde could still hear him whether he acknowledge him or not.

***

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Walking away Britland knew Felix was right. He couldn’t hide his pregnancy from Carson forever. Sooner or later Carson would notice. The bathroom door was open indicating Carson must have come out and went back to their room. Automatically Britland went to the room they had been sharing. He expected to find Carson inside instead the room was dark, silent and empty. Backing out Britland went down the hall to Carson’s room. It felt strange that Carson had retreated to his room.

Knocking softly he waited for a response. Not receiving one he opened the door a crack “Carson I’m coming in” still he received no response. Releasing his pent-up breath Britland took the silence as acceptance he walked in. At least it wasn’t a point-blank no.
The room was silent. A single light from a lamp on the nightstand alleviated the darkness. Britland’s eyes were directed to a corner in the room where the rustle of clothes drew his attention. Carson was curled up in the corner, staring blankly into space. His heart sank knowing that today was going to be another bad day.

Settling on the floor with a muffled groan Britland faced Carson. He sat silently watching as his lover suffered and him not knowing how to help. “Are you going to be ok?” It was a stupid question. Anyone could tell just by looking that Carson was the furthest thing from ok.

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Carson’s eyes flickered in the blonde’s direction. He held his I-phone in his outstretched hand. “They called” his voice was small shaky and mournful.

“They who” Britland wondered frowning at his fiance’s phone. The furrows deepened as he read the display “your parents. What did they want?”

Carson dropped the phone as if it suddenly scalded his hand with intense searing heat. Pulling his knees to his chest hiding his face behind his hands. “Dawson’s case has been reopened. Something about new DNA being found.”

“Oh” Britland mumbled. From conversations he’s had with his Grandpa he knew the DNA wasn’t new. It was old DNA they discovered while examining the same evidence from seventeen years ago with new forensic science they use today. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” The misery he saw in Carson’s eyes told him otherwise.

Instinctively he knew Carson’s parents hadn’t called pleased with the news. Why? Wouldn’t the parents of any missing child want to know what happened to their child? A little voice inside his head kept telling him Carson’s parents knew more about Dawson’s disappearance then they admitted to and were now afraid of being discovered.

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“What did they say to you” his voice was thick with anger.

“They said….they said” Carson gulped for breath “I should have left things alone. That I” his breaths were ragged and painful “I shamed them enough.”

Helplessly Britland watched large tears roll down Carson’s cheeks. “This is not your fault” he moved slowly towards Carson. Carefully he pulled Carson close not wanting to upset him anymore than he already was. “You were a child. You are not responsible for what happened to your brother. Your parents should be ashamed for what they’ve done. Then and now.”

“I know” he sniffed into his Britland’s shoulder. “I thought I had put this behind me. I thought they couldn’t hurt me anymore.” He drew in a shallow breath “here I am a puddle of mush.”

Holding Carson’s face between his hands Britland forced his fiance to look at him. “You don’t need them. If they can’t see what a wonderful person you are they don’t deserve you.” He clamped his mouth shut on the words he wanted to say. The ones that he felt were true but had no evidence to support them. Sooner or later he knew Carson would have to face the truth that his own parents had either covered up what happened or had been the culprits that night his brother disappeared.

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“I won’t let them hurt you anymore” Britland pressed his forehead to Carson’s feeling inadequate as the strong emotional support but if he wasn’t, who would be? “You’ve done nothing to ashamed of. Shame on them for making you feel this way. Shame on them for putting their image above finding the truth. Shame on them for not loving their children enough…” Carson’s shoulder shook his arms “what? Are you laughing?”

“Thank you” Carson leaned back resting his head on the wall. “I needed to hear that. I know what you said is true. It’s just after being told all your life how its your fault it’s easy to fall back into that mind-set. I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I’m an emotional wreck.”

“There’s no need to be sorry” Britland assured him. “You can lean on me. I’ll be your support.”

“Fight my battles too” Carson smirked a hint of a shimmer of humor in his eyes.

“That too” Britland settled into Carson’s lap. “Everyone needs someone to be their dragon slayer.”

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Smiling a little the tension easing around his eyes “alright dragon slayer. How are you going to keep my dragons from getting to me?”

“First of all” Britland leaned forward planting a soft kiss on Carson’s lips. “We’re going to get your phone number changed. They don’t need to contact you. Anything your parents have to say can be said to the police.”

He saw the immediate recoil in Carson’s eyes before he shook his head in refusal. “What if they need to contact me? What if they find out something about Dawson?”

“Grandpa will keep us informed of how the investigation is progressing” Britland assured him. He didn’t mention it would be without the theatrics, the drama and the guilt inducing comments that never failed to erode Carson’s confidence. Gently he put a finger over his fiance’s mouth “he’ll tell us everything we need to know. We don’t need your parents to tell us anything.”

“My parents….they really are suspects, aren’t they” Carson asked looking down unable to meet Britland’s gaze. Profound sadness filled his eyes.

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“Did they tell you that” Britland asked. He had been aware that whatever evidence that the new testing techniques had discovered pointed towards the parents as suspects. He hadn’t wanted to tell Carson until there was more proof.

“It’s what they implied. Mom kept saying the investigators were asking for alibi’s for that night during the time Dawson would have been taken.” He closed his eyes squeezing his eyes tight. “I think she wanted me to tell them who I saw in the room that night.”

“You didn’t tell her” Britland stated careful not to pose it like a question. He didn’t want Carson to feel he didn’t trust him yet it would have been easy to fall into the trap to give information to an emotional appeal.

“Of course not” Carson mumbled. “I’m probably wrong anyway. It was so long ago.”

“Don’t worry about it” Britland said standing up “the police will figure it out. You don’t have to.”

“Why didn’t they figure it out then” Carson demanded.

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“I don’t know” Britland shook his head “it was almost twenty years ago. They can do so much more now than they could then. DNA can be discovered from the smallest things. Things they couldn’t test for then. I’m confident that they’ll figure out what happened. My Grandpa will get to the bottom of it.”

“What if he’s dead” Carson asked. His voice low as if he were afraid it was true.

“At least you’ll know” Britland sighed. He knew that’s not the answer Carson wanted to hear. It was however the most likely outcome. After seventeen years the chances of Dawson being found alive was slim to none. Getting up he held his hand out “let’s go out.”

Carson stared at Britland’s outstretched hand a moment before taking it “out where?”

“I have a craving for frozen cheesecake with chocolate sauce.” Britland laughed at the face Carson gave him.

“It’s too cold to eat that” Carson protested retrieving his coat from the closet. “How about we go out for Italian?”

“And tiramisu” Britland added eagerly. His stomach growling in anticipation. “I’m starving” he announced hoping that over dinner would be the perfect time to tell Carson he was going to be a daddy.

Chapter 15 – Reflections of the Past / Chapter 17 – Too Soon

Hannah – Chapter 32 – Missing You

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Ryan stifled his instant irritation at having his baby sister follow him around the house like a lost puppy. Every time he moved he stumbled into her. “Why don’t you go outside and play?” he asked.

“Will you come with me?” she asked eagerly tugging on his arm.

“Not right now” he tried to shove her towards the door.

“Just go outside with her” Trent suggested “she’s missed you.”

“Fine” he groaned.

“If you don’t want to, don’t bother” his sister cried running to her room. A moment later her door banged shut.

“Ryan would it have killed you to spend a little bit of your time with your sister?” Gayle asked.

“I was….” he looked from one parent to the next. Their disapproving, disappointed looks speaking volumes. “I was waiting for a text from Charity,” he mumbled looking down.

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“Charity would understand you needing to spend time with your family” Gayle pointed out. Crossing her arms she leaned on the wall “honestly Ryan you’ve barely said two words to any of us since you’ve been home.”

“She’s a pest” he complained.

“She’s your sister” Trent asserted “she may seem like a pest now but you’d miss her if something ever happened to her.”

“Yeah I know” he rolled his eyes “I don’t need a lecture. It’s just….why did you have to wait so long to have her.”

“It wasn’t by choice” Gayle said averting her eyes.

“Or lack of trying” Trent continued getting up to put is arms around his wife offering what comfort he could.

“I wanted a large family” Gayle explained as tears shimmered in her eyes “You came so easily soon after we were married.”

“We assumed it would be just as easy next time around” Trent squeezed her shoulder “we were wrong.”

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“I had almost given up hope when we finally had Faith” Gayle gave her husband a grateful look.

Ryan looked down at his phone smiling as a text came through from Charity. He felt his parents disapproving frown as he responded back. Looking up he demanded “what?”

“Aren’t you going a bit fast?” Trent asked.

“Fast” he repeated. He couldn’t his his astonishment. “I’ve known her practically all my life.”

“Then she’ll understand you need to spend time with your family.” Trent said trying to be reasonable. Glancing down at his wife of twenty years he said “son your mother and I understand how important Charity is to you….”

Gayle smiled up at him “we know this is all new and you want to spend every moment you can together…”

Ryan could hear the but hanging in the air as he asked “then why are you upset with me?” He glanced down to respond to the text he just received.

“Because there is such a thing as too much” Gayle gave her husband a pleading look.

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“Ryan you don’t want to smother the poor girl” he chuckled a little when that had his son tilting his chin up in defiance.

“I’m not” he protested “Charity hasn’t complained.”

“Nor will she until she can’t take it anymore” Trent said “girls tend to do that.” He grunted in pain as Gayle elbowed him. “What?” he asked looking down at her with a mischievous grin.

“That’s not true” Gayle shook her head at him “Ryan you do need time apart. Have you been out with your friends since you’ve been home?”
He took a moment to think about the past few weeks. “Hannah was over a couple of days ago.”

“Try a couple of weeks ago” Gayle corrected “she left after a couple of hours of watching you text Charity. I want you to think about something. Before Hannah left she said she felt like she had lost her two best friends.” She stepped forward placing her hands over his his stilling his fingers as they flew across the keyboard. “If Hannah’s feeling that way imagine how your family feels. You’re in the room with us but your mind is elsewhere.”

“Fine” he grumbled putting his phone away resisting the urge to take it out when he felt the familiar buzz alerting him to a new text. “Whatever” he muttered throwing himself into an empty chair.

“Look honey” Trent pointed towards their son “isn’t it heart warming how much he wants to spend time with us?”

Ryan rolled his eyes wondering how long he’d have to wait until Charity gave him the all clear to come to Isla Paradiso. He couldn’t wait to see her again. Texting was great but it didn’t compare to be being able to see and hold her in his arms.

***

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“Honey can you put that thing away?” Zane asked with a petulant tone.

“Don’t you remember what it was like when we first met?” Graham asked “it felt like we couldn’t get enough of each other.”

“I still feel that way” Zane smirked as his husband crawled into his lap.

“Get a room” Charity mumbled peering up from her phone display.

Chuckling a little Graham moved to the couch beside Zane. “Is this better?” he asked innocently.

“Much” she mumbled fingers flying over the keys as she typed.

“Charity can you put that thing down for a few minutes?” Graham asked “we haven’t had a chance to really talk since you came home.”

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked setting her phone on her thigh.

Her parents exchanged glances. Graham took a deep breath before asking “are you mad at us?”

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“Why would I be mad?” she reached for her phone to respond to the text she just received.

“Stop deflecting” Zane reached across the coffee table snatching her phone from her hands “Ryan can wait.”

“It’s called multitasking not deflecting” she hugged her knees to her chest sulking.

“It’s deflecting when you use this” he waved her phone in the air “as a means to keep from talking to us.”

“Whatever” she mumbled refraining from rolling her eyes.

“Wipe that look from your face” Zane snapped.

Charity gaped at him. It was plain to see she had no clue what face she had made that had so irritated him.

Graham glanced from his husbands face to his daughters. Sighing he said “sweetie are you mad at us for not telling you about your mother?”

Charity dragged her eyes away from Zane. She could see by the way Graham sat tense on the edge of his seat that he was anxious over her reply. It mattered to him whether she was mad. The simple answer was “yes” she snapped her mouth shut as soon as the angry word escaped her lips. She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. Her pink haired father seemed to shrink in on himself. “Daddy please” she pleaded “you have to understand. This total stranger came up to me with papers proving she was my mother. I didn’t know what to believe.”

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“I’m sorry” he sounded miserable “I hoped she wouldn’t track you down when she knew we couldn’t pay.”

Zane patted his hand “sweetie you dad and I didn’t want you to feel you’re mother only wanted to find you for the money she might be able to exploit from us.”

She nodded feeling miserable for the pain she could see in their eyes. “I didn’t want to believe you kept her from me all this time.”

“But you still wanted to know her” Graham added “I understand that. Every child wants a relationship with their parents if they can have one.”

She nodded “all she wanted was money though.” She jumped to her feet feeling trapped. Before she could go more than a few steps strong arms engulfed her.

“I’m sorry” Graham held her smoothing her hair “it’s awful to realize that someone only wants you for what you can give them.”

She could feel his heart beat beneath her hand. “I’m sorry. I should never have listened to her.”

She felt the warm comforting arms of her other dad as he came up behind her hugging both of them tight. “It’s alright sweetie. You have us. You have Ryan.” Charity could hear the terse way he said Ryan’s name.

“Don’t you like Ryan?” she asked fear gripping her heart. “I thought you liked him.” She didn’t want to have to choose between her parents and her boyfriend.

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“Sweetie” Graham chuckled “your dad is never going to like any boy who takes you away from us.”

“You’re my little girl” Zane said with the same petulant tone he had used earlier “I don’t want to think about anyone taking you from us.”

“Ryan wouldn’t do that” she insisted “we’re going to run the resort together.”

Stepping back Graham grinned at her. “Are you planning our retirement already?”

“We’re not that old yet” Zane protested.

“I never said that you were” she watched as Zane put an arm around Graham. “It’s just when you are old you won’t have to worry about anything. Ryan and I will take care of you.”

Looking at Graham Zane winked “I don’t know about you old man but I feel all warm and fuzzie.”

Ignoring his husbands antics Graham took Charity’s hands. “You don’t have to worry about us. I want you to be happy. Pursue your dreams. You don’t have to tie yourself down to the resort just because you think that’s what we want you to do.”

“It’s not that daddy” she smiled at him “I want to take over the resort. I love it here and I want my children to love it as much as I do.”

***

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Feeling somewhat lost without his phone Ryan wandered into the backyard. His little sister was sitting motionless on one of the swings. “Hey kiddo” he leaned on the swing set watching her.

“Go away” she sniffed running a grubby hand across her eyes.

“Hey” he murmured dropping to his knees beside her “I’m sorry.”

“So” she kicked her toes into the loose sand “am I supposed to forgive you now?”

Taken slightly off guard Ryan sighed “yeah I was kinda hoping you would.”

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Grabbing the chain as she swept past him Ryan stopped her forward momentum. “I know I hurt you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

She gave him a disbelieving look. “Yeah right” she jumped from the swing. “Did you think calling me a pest wouldn’t hurt my feelings?”

“I wh…” he shrugged cheeks burning as he stared at the ground. “I’m sorry. What else can I say?”

“That wasn’t even the worse of it” she crossed her arms “you ignored me. Do you know how that made me feel?”

Ryan shook his head shoving his hands into his pockets. This was worse than anything his parents could have said to him. “What can I do to make it up to you?” he asked as the silence hung between them

“Jerk” she grumbled “I wanted to yell and scream at you.”

“I deserve it” he said quietly without moving.

“It’s no fun if you just stand there and take it” she took a small step towards him tears making her eyes water. “I really missed you Ry.”

“I missed you too” his voice gruff as he fought back tears.

“Liar” she gave him a severe frown.

“I did” he declared “I really really did.”

“Words are cheap” she said lips twitching “you need to prove it.”

“How?” he asked closing the gap between them.

“Dinner and a movie” she said glaring up at him.

“Its a date” he held his arms out to her. With a giggle she ran into them.

***

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Later that night Ryan lay on his bed. His phone pressed to his ear. “Sorry”he murmured “my parents confiscated my phone.”

“So did mine” Charity giggled “I guess we have been over doing it a little.”

“I guess” he agreed sighing “I miss you.”

“I miss you more” she grinned “what can we do about it though?”

“I was thinking….” he bit his lip suddenly afraid it wasn’t a good idea.

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“About what?” she prompted after his silence continued longer than expected.

“Maybe I could go there for a couple of weeks?”

“What about your family? Don’t you want to spend time with them?” she asked.

“It’s a couple of weeks” he rolled his eyes “besides we’re adults. We don’t even have to come home for the summer if we don’t want to.”

“That’s true” she said hesitantly.

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To Ryan’s ears she sounded distant and sad. “Don’t you want me to come?”

“Of course I do” she cried “it’s just…”

“Just what?” he demanded sitting up.

“I don’t know if my dad’s are ready for me to be dating seriously yet” she admitted.

“Is that all?” Ryan could hear the bitterness in his voice “do you want to break up?”

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“What?” she cried “of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“So I can come” he asked again.

“See if Hannah will come to” she requested “it might make my parents happier if it were a group thing.”

“Alright I’ll ask” he promised giving in “can I still come if she can’t come?”

“You think she won’t?” she asked panic rising in her voice.

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“I’ll ask. That’s all I can do” Ryan said trying to ease her anxiety “she’s in the same boat we are.”

“At least my dad’s know you” Charity laughed softly “I don’t envy Hannah having to introduce Donovan to her dad’s.”

“Especially Uncle Rory” Ryan laughed as he thought about Hannah “I wish her luck.”

“She’s going to need it” she agreed “tell her to come. She’ll need us if Donovan’s visit goes bad.”

“I’ll do that” he promised “Charity….” He swallowed audibly, heart beating fast in his chest. His palms felt clammy as he fought for air “I love you.”

Silence greeted his proclamation. After a moment she said “I love you too.” Her voice stilling his panic and wildly beating heart.

Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities / Chapter 33 – Where Is Here?

Hannah – Chapter 9 – Monday

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Monday morning they stood outside the school staring up at its foreboding walls. Thanks to the events of less than a week ago they were two down. Zach was still recovering from his injuries and Divia was on her way to her first day in private school. “This is it,” Ryan said taking a foot forward “remember no one goes anywhere alone.”

They nodded. Ryan had always been their group leader even as children they had followed him. He had been the one to take charge no matter the situation. Sunday night they had come up with a strategy they hoped wouldn’t allow anyone to become vulnerable to attack. They would arrive together and leave together. No splitting up.

They stood staring up at the building they had once felt safe and secure in. Now they felt only a cold dread to once again walk within those halls. “Have you considered our proposal?” Kristen’s unwelcome voice asked from behind them. Hannah turned to face her. Her breath caught in her throat seeing Bull sneering at them from Kristen’s side. His arm snaked around her waist possessively.

Teasha snarled stepping forward as if she wanted to pounce on them. Hannah grabbed her arm pulling her back. Stepping between her friend and the other girl. Hannah glared at them then glanced back at her friends. Calmly she remarked “as you can see I’ve made my decision. My friends mean more to me than being a cheerleader. I have no desire to be a shallow Kristen shadow.”

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Kristen’s eyes narrowed for an instant before returning to normal “you won’t get another chance.”

“I’m actually ok with that,” Hannah told her “being a cheerleader would have enhanced who I am not define who I am.” She turned to Teasha wrapping an arm around her “I know who my real friends are.”

“You’ll regret this,” Kristen yelled after her.

“I doubt that,” Hannah called back without turning or stopping.

“Are you sure about this?” Teasha asked “you’ve wanted to be a cheerleader since middle school.”

“I’m positive,” Hannah assured her. She had lain in bed for countless hours considering her options. No matter how much she wanted to be a member of the squad she couldn’t sacrifice her friends. “Things change,” she said “cheerleading would have been fun but do you think I could cheer knowing what it had cost me? No I’m happy with my decision. They’re not my friends. My friends would never put me in a position to choose them over someone else. I couldn’t hurt you guys like that.”

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“Same here,” Ryan agreed “even if I could play I wouldn’t. Football isn’t that important to me anymore. I chose the team once over you guys. It won’t happen again.”

“You had no idea what was going on,” Vincent protested. He could see the guilt in his friends eyes as Ryan looked down at his feet. “Give yourself a break. You thought they were your friends,” Vincent put a hand on his shoulder giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“I was wrong,” Ryan mumbled shoving his hands into his pockets “I feel like such an idiot.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Teasha seconded Vincent’s thoughts “your true friends will always be here for you.”

“I know” he sighed looking up at the door coming to a stand still “I’m not looking forward to this.” The others came to a stop beside him nodding.

Vincent was the first to move “let’s get this over with.” He squared his shoulders, lifted his chin and put his right foot forward. The others exchanged glances before following his example.

***

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Hannah and Ryan stopped beside their lockers while Vincent and Teasha went on to theirs. Hannah tried to keep her chin up and pretend the shocked curious looks didn’t matter. Her resolve started to falter as the unkind sneering looks raked over her and the not so whispered remarks that were said loud enough so she could hear them. The malicious spiteful looks from people she didn’t even know who had nothing but hate for her and her friends. Her hands started to shake making it impossible for her to enter her locker code. She wanted nothing more than to run from that place and never come back.

“Hey you can do this,” Ryan’s deep reassuring voice in her ear boosted her confidence.

Looking up with gratitude in her eyes “how do you do it?” she asked thinking he looked so calm and unruffled by everything.

Shrugging he gave a sketchy grin “just ignore it” he said slamming his locker shut.

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“Look who we have here, Ryan Milton football team captain.” Pretending shock the boy covered his mouth “oh I forgot ex-captain. He quit. Couldn’t take a couple of harmless tackles. You’re as much of a wuss as that queer friend of yours. I bet you two were more than friends.”

“Shut up Brannon,” Ryan growled turning around to face his ex-teammate.

“I bet you were more like friends with benefits. Tell us Ryan were you top or bottom?” the boy smiled as his comments earned him approving nods from others listening in the crowd. Pushing Ryan against the lockers Brannon stuck his face close to his “I’m glad you’re not on the team anymore. Football is for real men not for little girls.”

“Let him go,” Hannah demanded.

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“Or what?” the boy asked pressing harder on Ryan’s throat making him gurgle as his throat closed up. He grunted laughing “your such a pansy needing a little girl to protect you. I bet she fights better than you.”

The bell rang and the crowd of students started to drift away towards their respective classes. Ryan brought his hands up and shoved Brannon away from him. Gulping for air his ribs protested the movements as they fought against his bindings. Ignoring it all Ryan gasped “I’d rather be gay then be a bigot like you.”

“Yeah whatever,” the boy mumbled eyeing him waiting for an opening to attack again.

A teacher stuck his head outside his classroom “get to class,” he ordered them before going back inside to tend his students.

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Laughing Brannon took a step back. He gave Ryan one last nasty look “this isn’t over,” he turned away to presumably go to his first class.

Hannah reached for Ryan preventing him from pursuing Brannon “don’t” she pleaded afraid he’d get hurt even more than he already was.

“I can’t do this,” he mumbled kicking the locker in front of him.

“I sent a text to the others,” Hannah told him “they’re on their way.”

***

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While they were talking Vincent and Teasha came up beside them. They took one look at Ryan and started walking towards the exit. After a brief hesitation and an insistent tug on his arm Ryan followed. Breathing the crisp clear air he sighed “I’m sorry I lost my cool back there.”

“With reason,” Hannah told him “Brannon was asking for it but he knew you were in no condition to fight back otherwise he’d never have done it.”

Ryan rubbed his collar-bone wincing from the bruises Brannon had left behind.

Teasha looked at him with concern her blue eyes worried “he didn’t hurt you did he?”

“I’m fine” he felt a little self-conscious as she pulled his shirt down to inspect his injuries.

“Hold still,” she demanded as she ran her fingers lightly over his skin.

Shaking her hands off him Ryan walked away “I said I was fine,” his cheeks burning brightly.

Silently they followed him into the parking lot coming to a stop beside the car. “I take it we’re leaving,” Vincent stated.

Nodding “I can’t go back in there,” Ryan’s voice shook vibrating with emotion.

They piled into the car Vincent mumbled “maybe Divia’s parents weren’t wrong about sending her to a private school.”

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“Would you go if you had the chance?” Hannah asked turning in the front see to look at him. She wouldn’t be surprised if Vincent said yes. He had more brains the rest of them combined. A private school could probably offer him more than what he’d get in public school.

“I would if I could,” he sighed wistfully “it’ll never happen though. We just can’t afford it. My medical expenses and glasses make it impossible.”

“My dad’s would love to send me and Zach to another school,” Teasha added beside him “I heard them discussing it but they can’t afford it. Not with all the other kids and Zach’s hospital bills. It’s out of the question.”

Hannah nodded knowing it wouldn’t be a problem for either her parents or Ryan’s to send them to private school. “I won’t go unless you guys could come to,” she said coming to a decision turning to face the front “we’re in this together.”

“Yeah me too,” Ryan said from the driver’s seat “I just can’t do it today.”

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“I kind of feel like we’re the musketeers. All for one and one for all,” Hannah said fastening her seat belt.

“Where are we going?” Vincent asked as Ryan drove from the parking lot.

“I’m open to suggestions” Ryan said glancing in the rear view mirror.

“The park” Teasha suggested.

“The part it is then,” Ryan smiled relieved that they were leaving that hell hole behind them. He never wanted to go back if only it were that easy.

***

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Pointing towards the swings Hannah began to run “last one there’s a rotten egg.”

“No fair,” Teasha cried running after her “you started before us.”

Grabbing the chains of one of the swings Hannah giggled “I win.” Her eyes twinkled with merriment as she sat down demanding “push me.”

Vincent came up last panting “alright m’lady your wish is my command.”

Teasha watched them catching her breath. Sitting in the other empty swing she said “you sound like your eight instead of sixteen.”

“Right now I wish I was eight,” Hannah squealed as Vincent pushed her higher “it was better than.”

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They all nodded in agreement. Just about anything would be better than now. Teasha noticed the goofy grin on Ryan’s handsome face “I bet I know what your thinking” she teased.

“I bet you don’t,” he retorted sitting on the ground pulling at the green grass.

“It’s a girl,” Hannah said teasing him.

“Don’t” he mumbled feeling his cheeks flush.

“It is a girl,” Teasha giggled “he’s turning bright red.”

“I know who it is” Hannah giggled in delight.

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“Ryan and Charity sitting in a tree,” Teasha chanted kicking her legs to go higher as she began to swing.

“K-I-S-S-I-N-G” Vincent joined in on the fun earning himself a glare from his friend.

“You better stop or I’ll tell everyone who you like,” Ryan threatened his tone serious.

“You wouldn’t dare” Vincent gave him an uncertain stare.

“Oh do tell us,” Hannah pleaded.

“Yes do,” Teasha added.

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“What do I get in exchange if I tell you?” Ryan asked relieved that their attention had been diverted from him to Vincent.

“I’ll give you all the money in my pockets,” Hannah offered.

Shaking his head Ryan snorted “you never have money in your pockets.”

“How do you know I don’t?” she demanded sticking her bottom lip out pretending to pout.

“You never do,” he shook his head at her “you used to get me with that when we were kids or have you forgotten?”

“Then what do you want?” Hannah asked “I want a secret for a secret,” Ryan looked at Vincent who nodded back at him.

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“What do you want to know?” Teasha asked her smile slipping.

“I want to know who you like Teasha,” Ryan said with a mischievous grin.

Teasha turned to Hannah eyes pleading. Hannah shook her head firmly “you can keep your stupid old secret. We don’t want to know.”

Both Vincent and Teasha sighed in relief. “Ok have it your way,” Ryan shrugged “it would have changed your lives though.”

“I bet you don’t even know who Vincent likes,” Hannah said.

“Whatever makes you feel better,” Ryan said laying back in the grass. He closed his eyes enjoying the peaceful surroundings. His parents wouldn’t be pleased to know he skipped class but they’d understand.

***

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Later that night the parents gathered in Eddie’s living room. “I know we’re all concerned about our children’s safety and well-being,” Rory looked from one worried parent to another.

“I can’t tell Ryan he has to stay in school if he feels threatened,” Trent said telling them what happened at school that morning “he’s been hurt enough. I send my kids to school to learn not to collect bruises.”

Gayle nodded taking his hand squeezing it tight “I’m all for sending him to a private school.”

“For some of us that’s not an option,” Ramsey announced “I’d like to get them out of that place. We just don’t have the funds to do it.”

“We’re in the same boat as you,” Milo added.

Leaning into her husband Jillian said “with Vincent’s special glasses, follow-up eye exams and surgeries we barely make enough to cover our expenses now.”

Eddie stood to address the group. He swallowed feeling on display but he pressed on “I’ll understand if you say no but I want to make this offer,” he looked to Rory who nodded and waved for him to continue “it’s important to our kids that they stay together.” He sighed remembering how Hannah had a minor melt down when they had suggested the possibility of sending her to a private school. “Rory and I would like to offer to cover the fees for anyone who needs the help.”

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Bruce looked to Ramsey whose initial reaction was to refuse the offer. “Please,” Bruce pleaded “can we at least discuss it?”

Ramsey looked around the group of people who had become an extension to his family. As much as he disliked the idea of accepting what felt like charity to him the offer he knew was made from good intentions. “Alright we’ll discuss it,” he smiled at his husband who snuggled into him looking at him like he hung the moon. A look and feeling he’d never get tired of.

“Jillian and I will need time to discuss it as well,” Milo told them “we appreciate the offer but it’s an awful lot to ask of you.”

“We’re willing to do it no matter the cost,” Rory assured them “it’s important to Hannah and if it gets our kids out of an unsafe environment I’m all for it.”

“Gayle and I will help with the cost,” Trent offered to the astonishment of his wife “but I have one concern. If we do this aren’t we giving our kids the message that it’s ok to run from their problems?”

“I don’t see it like that,” Bruce shook his head “sometimes they need to know that their safety and well-being is the only thing that matters. We as parents are here to make sure they have that safety even if that means sending them to another school.”

Gayle turned to Trent “I know you want to treat Ryan like a man. Teach him to handle his problems but he’s not there yet. He’s still a kid, our kid. He shouldn’t have to worry about getting beat up for going to school or choosing to be friends with someone.”

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“I know but what if it’s no different in another school? We could be exchanging one problem for another,” Trent said addressing the group.

“It’s a chance we’re willing to take,” Rory said taking Eddie’s hand “we won’t be sending Hannah back to that school. We’ve already called and taken her out.”

Eddie nodded “it’s not like she’s learning anything there except how to be bullied. I commend all of our kids for standing up for themselves and each other. It takes a lot of courage to do that. Unless the school does something, which I don’t see happening the situation isn’t likely to improve.”

The other parent’s nodded “they seem to think the football team can do no wrong,” Jillian said “then you add in the other parents and we’re facing an insurmountable task.”

“The way I see it,” Ramsey spoke his voice low and furious “is we either put up with the unfair treatment or we do something about it.” He tried to smile reassuringly to his husband “we’ve already taken the twins out and we’ve discussed the idea of homeschooling them.”

“I’m going to call the school tomorrow,” Jillian said “Vincent won’t be going back either.”

They all turned to Trent and Gayle who slowly nodded “Ryan won’t go back either.” Gayle said looking towards Trent who nodded wrapping his arms around her “whatever’s best for the kids. Their safety is all that matters.”

Chapter 8 – No Way Out / Chapter 10 – A New Adventure

Hannah – Chapter 7 – Bad Day Part 3

 

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Teasha pulled into their parking space once she had dropped Vincent and Divia at home. She put a gentle hand on her brother’s shoulder. Fear furrowed her brows as he jerked from her light touch. He moaned in pain otherwise he didn’t move or acknowledge her. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming. Nodding she scrambled from the car. Ran the short distance from the car to the front door.

Her legs felt like rubber that had been super heated to the point it had lost its cohesion and shape. “Dad,” she yelled throwing the door open “come quick. Please Zach needs help” she gulped for air leaning weakly on the door frame.

Her dad’s looked up shock registering in their faces and eyes as they took in her appearance. Mascara smudged cheeks, puffy red eyes, chalky white complexion. “What happened,” Ramsey asked recovering first.

Bruce watched as Ramsey pulled their daughter into his arms. Shock took his breath away as he dropped down beside them “where’s your brother? Where’s Zachariah?”

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Three gulps of air Teasha managed “he’s hurt. Hurt bad daddy.” Upon hearing those words Ramsey let Bruce take Teasha from him. As he moved to get Zach he heard her say “daddy they beat him up. It’s … it’s terrible.” Ramsey digested those words as Bruce cradled her in his arms providing what little he comfort he could under the circumstances. Heart beating like a jack hammer Ramsey ran to her car.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had run so fast. He slowed as he neared the car. Opening the door Zach fell into his arms. “Zach, oh god Zach” he ran his hands through his son’s tangled blond hair he usually kept in a bun.

“Dad…dy,” Zach’s swollen lips moved but no further words came out. His eyes were swollen shut, his nose a bloody mess, bruises covered the majority of his body that he could see. Ramsey swallowed several times to keep the bile down as a wave of sickness swept over him upon seeing his child, his son in this condition.

“Shh,” he soothed cradling his son against his shoulder like he did when he was little and skinned a knee falling from his bike ” we’ll get you fixed up.” He gulped back tears as frustration and anger welled up inside him. Whoever did this was going to pay he thought as he carefully picked his son up.

 

***

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Time ticked slowly by as Teasha clung to her dad’s hands while they waited for someone to tell them about her brother. Was he alright? He had to be alright! She blinked back tears in the vain attempt to keep from sobbing. It was too still. Too silent. Even the nurses seemed to whisper and tiptoe past them as they went about their duties. Teasha wanted to scream, to listen to some heavy metal music or turn the TV on blasting the sound. Anything to block out her thoughts. If only she had stayed with Zach this morning instead of joining her friends. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled into the sea of silence.

“It’s not your fault,” Bruce told her wrapping an arm around her, squeezing her tight.

“I shouldn’t have left him,” she cried ignoring him.

“Why did you sweetie?” Ramsey asked more to let her talk than for anything else.

“I was joining my friends and….and…” she gulped looking up eyes wide, shocked “Dexter Gage was coming and I thought…” she stopped talking glancing at her hand, picking at her fingernails. She had giggled thinking that it was so cute that her brother had finally worked up the courage to tell his crush he liked him. It was so sweet ….

“You thought what?” Ramsey prodded. He had met Dexter multiple times at the house.

“Isn’t that the boy Zach has been tutoring in algebra so he could stay on the football team?” Bruce asked.

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Teasha nodded sniffling “yeah he’s the one.” She took a deep breath while she considered telling her parents about what she was beginning to suspect.

“Excuse me,” a deep voice interrupted them “I’m Dr. Krause. Are you Zachariah Ferris’s parents?”

“We are,” Ramsey confirmed as he and Bruce scrambled to their feet.

Glancing behind Ramsey’s shoulder the doctor smiled reassuringly towards Teasha before suggesting. “How about we talk over there?” he said leading the way.

Teasha watched from her seat as the doctor talked to her parents. They seemed to fold in upon themselves as they both put an arm around the other in an attempt to support each other under the burden of whatever bad news the doctor was giving them about their son. A lump formed in her throat making it impossible to swallow, cutting off her air. She knew she should have brought Zach here first instead of wasting time taking him home. Why didn’t she listen to Vincent when he suggested she take him to a doctor? Why did she listen to Zach’s pleas to go home? She should have known better.

Her parents turned and slowly came towards her. Their faces were pinched, lines she hadn’t noticed before were etched in furrows upon their faces. “How is he?” she demanded jumping to her feet. Her voice shook as she pleaded with whatever power that existed ‘please , please let Zach be alright.’ Instead of answering her they pulled her into a group hug and just held her, themselves, each other as the combined tears soaked each others shirts. “He’s dying isn’t he?” she choked unable to keep her fears inside.

“No no Sweetie no,” Bruce stammered holding her face between his palms I’m sorry if we scared you into thinking that. It’s just….”

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“It’s bad isn’t it? I know it’s bad,” she sniffed trying to keep her nose from running “dad never cries,” she said taking a tissue that Ramsey held out to her “he was crying just like we were.”

“Teasha,” Ramsey sighed “you’re right it is bad. Zach’s injuries are pretty severe. He….” his voice cracked as his throat worked but no sound came.

“Daddy,” Teasha cried reaching for his hand. “I want to see him,” she demanded suddenly.

“We can’t see him yet,” Bruce tried to pull her close but she pushed him away trying to run down the hall to the recovery room. She had to find her brother.

“I need to see him,” she screamed “he’s my brother. My twin. I have to see him.” Seeing Ramsey break down in front of everyone had broken something inside her. She couldn’t wait and do nothing.

“Teasha honey he’s in surgery,” Bruce told her keeping his voice calm. The same calm he remembered his own father having when he told him and his siblings their mom was going to die. “Zach has a splenic rupture. They won’t know how bad until they have a chance to get in their and see if they can fix it or not.”

Her face fell and her mouth fell open. Her eyes large “people die from ruptured spleens” she choked out.

“He’s not going to die,” Bruce told her firmly “do you hear me? He’s not going to die.” He held her gaze with his. She fell into his arms crying like a limp rag doll being tossed away.

***

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An hour later she sat stiff and unmoving between her parents, staring at the boring white walls with unfocused eyes. Her parents each had been allowed into Zach’s room for a few short minutes while she was forced to sit here alone and worry. She jerked in surprise as the emergency room doors opened and someone was reeled in on a gurney.

Watching remotely she observed the victim was a boy about her age with chocolate-brown hair in a yellow jersey just like …. those were the school colors. A football uniform. Teasha pushed herself to her feet. The paramedics turned the gurney in front of her. She gasped in shock “Ryan?” she cried. The tears she thought had dried up were once again flowing like a river down her cheeks.

He opened his eyes and attempted to smile at her “hey” he croaked in obvious pain as he winced.

Despite her protests the contrary paramedics took him through the doors for x-rays.

Ten minutes later Ryan’s parents came running through the emergency room doors. Panic and shock etched lines in their faces as they were told to have a seat in the waiting room. Trent sat heavily in a chair mumbling “it’s a been a hell of a day.”

“Language,” Gayle chastised him nodding towards Teasha.

Grunting he mumbled “sorry.”

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“How’s Zach?” Gayle inquired.

“He’s out of surgery,” Ramsey informed them “he’ll be in hospital for a few days possibly a week to make sure his spleen is healing.”

“That’s good news” her voice sounded relieved.

“What happened to Ryan?” Bruce asked sounding as if he didn’t want to hear anymore bad news.

“Football injury,” Trent said “he’ll be ok but he won’t be playing for the rest of the season.”

“That’s too bad,” Ramsey commiserated with him “he was the star player.”

“Yeah well accidents happen,” Trent shrugged.

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“Accidents?” Gayle nearly choked on the word “I don’t call being tackled to the ground by every boy on the team an accident. It was deliberate and I want to know why.”

Teasha stared at her. Could she be right? Gayle was usually so calm that it was shocking to see her so upset. “The football team did this on purpose?” she asked as all the day’s events seemed to click in her head.

Gayle nodded. Trent stared at her a moment asking “why? Does it matter?” He looked at her frightened face before continuing his voice a little gentler “why don’t you tell us what you think happened?”

“Today at school…it was…weird,” she shrugged lacking the right word to describe what she and the others had encountered that day. She took a deep breath before continuing “Hannah tried out for the cheer leading squad yesterday,” she told them deciding to start from the beginning in the hopes they would see the pattern she discovered. “She was unofficially told she made the squad yesterday but today her name wasn’t on the list.” She looked around at all the adults. Her gaze stopped on Trent “you can ask Ryan to confirm it since he was there yesterday as part of the selection committee.” She rubbed her hands along her sides. Everything that had happened today had one common factor, the football team.

“Bull, I mean Cale McCracken was also on the committee yesterday. He has a long-standing grudge against Ryan because the head cheerleader Kristen wants Ryan while Bull wants her. So he takes every opportunity to make life difficult for Ryan. Ryan’s been able to keep him under control until today.”

She looked at the floor gathering her thoughts “Bull likes to bully the nerds into doing his homework. Um” she paused feeling guilty about implying Vincent was a nerd “today he was roughing Vincent up in the hallway before lunch. He wanted Vinny to do his science project but Vincent refused per usual. Bull knocked his glasses off and smashed them.”

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Nodding Gayle said “I spoke with Jillian earlier today. She was complaining about how careless Vincent was with his expensive new glasses and how they couldn’t afford to replace them. I guess Vincent didn’t tell her what really happened.”

“That sounds like Vinny,” Teasha smiled she knew how much he hated attention especially if his parents got involved demanding Bull to apologize or pay for the damages. They all knew that would only make things worse. “Ryan had been able to keep Bull from giving Vincent too much trouble.” She moved restlessly as they all stared at her.

“At lunch we have a specific table we all sit and eat at. You know how clicky high school can be. Its unusual for jocks to sit with nerds and such. Everyone usually didn’t bother us though since we’ve been doing this since forever. Today though Divia was chased out of the lunch room by Kristen with a message for the rest of us that we had lost our table. You know how Divia is. She’s so shy and Kristen was really nasty and had her in tears.”

Growing tired of standing Teasha moved to sit between her parents again. “By that time I had found Zach pretty much in the same spot I had left him at this morning,” she shivered remembering that moment and how she had all but dragged him to their car. Swallowing she shook her head “Hannah sent me a text message to meet them there as they were all going to leave for the day. They all had to jump into my car because several members of the football team led by Bull was surrounding it. I didn’t know what else to do but leave.”

“You think the football team is responsible for Zach’s injures don’t you?” Ramsey asked.

Nodding she leaned over laying her head on her knees “I think Dexter set him up. I think he figured out Zach had a crush on him. I think Dex enlisted Bull’s help into discouraging Zach.”

“You might be right,” Ramsey said getting to his feet and pacing. Teasha watched him seeing the jerky movements that showed how upset he was. He turned, without a word stomped towards the exit doors.

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Bruce quickly stood and followed after him. “Ramsey where do you think you’re going?” he demanded catching up with him.

“To find that boy and shake the truth out of him,” he growled his fingers curling into fists.

Bruce gripped his husband’s arm firmly while he stared into his eyes. Slowly he nodded releasing his grip “alright,” he said letting him go “don’t do anything stupid,” he pleaded “I don’t want to have to bail you out of jail.”

Snorting Ramsey took a couple of swift steps back to him and swept him into his arms. “Don’t worry you won’t have too. I’ll ask Eddie to bail me out,” he gave Bruce his trademark mischievous grin “just be here for our boy. You know I’ve got to do this.”

Nodding Bruce threaded his hands behind Ramsey’s neck pulling him down. Their lips locked in mutual need to comfort, to reassure the other. “I love you,” Bruce murmured letting him go.

“The feeling is entirely mutual,” Ramsey assured him. He watched Bruce walk backwards towards the hospital doors before turning. He jumped the curb running towards his car. It was hard enough he thought to admit you’re not like everyone else without the object of your feelings betraying you. He was proud of his son and sickened by what happened to him.

***

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Ramsey sat in his car staring up at the house Dexter Gage called home. He had no recollection how he had gotten there. His mind drifted while driving. As if on automatic pilot he drove while he was preoccupied with everything that had happened in his children’s lives that and by extension the other kids he considered family. Scowling he looked up at the house. The Gage family obviously had money.

He got out of the car slamming the door shut behind him. The door opened an inch to his insistent knocking. “I need to talk to your son” he growled looking down at the older woman peeking out at him.

“He’s not home,” she snarled moving to shut the door in Ramsey’s face. He stuck his foot in the door preventing her from shutting it. Pushing hard he forced his way into the house yelling “Dexter get your ass out here.”

His furious voice carried through the house. The woman stood with her hands on her hips glaring up at him. “Get out” she shouted at him.

“Not until I talk to that boy of yours,” A head poked out of a door down the hall and he charged in that direction. “Dexter” he called outside the closed door “as much as I want to I’m not going to hurt you.” He sighed trying to calm his breathing “please I just want to know why you did it.”

The door opened a crack a soft frightened voice came through from the depths of the room “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to. Bull made me.”

Making his way into the room Ramsey found the boy curled into a fetal position on the floor crying. “Dex what happened? Why’d you do it?” his anger evaporating upon sight of the boy.

Hiccuping Dexter looked up flinching upon seeing his mother in the doorway “mama I’m sorry. I really did try but I…”

“You’re weak. Good for nothing. Screw up,” her face contorted in rage and disgust “you should be ashamed of yourself. Get out of my house and stay out.”

“But mama I’ll do better. I’ll try harder…I” he choked on his words and sobs wracked his body.

“Come on son,” Ramsey held a hand out to the boy “I think you should come with me so your mother can calm down.”

“She won’t calm down,” he muttered “she hates me.” He grabbed Ramsey’s hand accepting his help. “She told me to get out” waving at a couple of duffel bags on the floor “I packed a few things but I had nowhere to go.”

“You’ll come with me for now,” Ramsey told him finding he couldn’t leave knowing this was what the boy had to cope with. They moved towards the door where the woman still stood arms crossed.

“You can call his father. He’s like you. A faerie. That’s why I left him. Wouldn’t let the boy see him so he couldn’t turn him into one of your kind. I guess he’s just like him though.” She turned her back on them “get out and never come back.”

***

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After getting the boy and his bags situated in the car Ramsey glanced over at the huddled heap in the passenger seat beside him. Dexter turned eyeing him, his nose bright red, eyes puffy and swollen from crying. Ramsey couldn’t find it in him to yell at the boy. It felt too much like hitting a hurt puppy. Sighing he started the car.

As he was putting the car into gear Dexter’s hesitant voice broke the near silence “he said he wouldn’t tell. He said just have Zach meet you at a certain spot at school. I didn’t” his voice dissolved into sobs.

“Who?” Ramsey pressed the boy for more information.

“Bull,” he cried “he caught me and Zach kissing at the theater on Saturday night. He said if I didn’t do as he said then he’d tell my mom I was gay. I couldn’t face her finding out I” he gulped “you saw what she’s like.”

Ramsey felt his ire rising as he listened to the boy “so you set Zach up to save yourself.”

“I didn’t know Bull was going to beat him up,” he flinched expecting Ramsey to hit him “Zach’s alright isn’t he? I mean Bull didn’t hurt him that bad did he?”

“No he’s not alright,” Ramsey let his anger go swamping the inside of the car “he could have died because of you.” He wanted to say more but the incessant whimpering and sobbing was more than he could bear. It made sense why Zach had refused to say what happened. He was protecting the sniveling mess next to him even though as far as Ramsey was concerned Dexter wasn’t worth the cost his son paid.

Chapter 6 – Bad Day Part 2 / Chapter 8 – No Way Out

Hannah – Chapter 6 – Bad Day Part 2

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Silence descended upon the lunch room as Ryan walked through the door. He collected his tray then made his way to his usual table. For a moment he stood confused at all the unfamiliar faces at his table. Scanning the room he tried to find another spot to eat. Some empty chair or table where he could sit and eat in peace.

A girl with dark hair, full blood-red lips and curves in all the right places noticed him before he could move off in another direction. She stood up as Ryan’s eyes swept across her unphased by her beauty. “Kristen,” he mumbled as she came towards him.

“This isn’t your table anymore,” she advised him her lips forming a perfect pout as he frowned at her. “This isn’t a joke” she said her voice a sneer she reserved for the lowest dregs of society.

His eyes narrowed as he surveyed the snickering girls behind her. Turning his attention back to Kristen he asked “does this have anything to do with me refusing to sleep with you?”

She gasped as the girls giggled behind her “that’s a lie” she snapped recovering herself “I’d never sleep with you.”

“Oh” Ryan said putting on a pretense of angelic innocence as he said “I must have misunderstood your intentions yesterday. You must have been trying to put your hand down my pants to measure me for my new football uniform.”

Her cheeks took on a brilliant red as the girls burst into derisive laughter. “I never” she gasped even though any number of girls at the table had seen her trying to do just that during the yesterdays try outs. “If anyone says different will be off the squad,” she threatened turning to face the girls. They averted their eyes losing their smiles. Each nodded acceptance to the terms to keep their positions on the squad.

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Turning her attention to Ryan once again she smiled “you can have your table back as long as you do as your told.”

“I won’t sleep with you,” he said to the quickly muffled snickers in the background.

“You don’t have a chance with me unless you give up your worthless friends. You know the ones that don’t belong in our circle,” she lifted an eyebrow at him as she took a step towards him “you know they don’t belong in the same social class as us. We’re popular and they’re just nobodies.”

A muscle ticked in his jaw “that wasn’t what you told Hannah yesterday. You told her she was the best one at try outs and she’d be on the squad.”

“She has to comply with the same terms as you,” she informed him ” dump the low lifes or suffer the consequences.” Turning her back on him she joined her friends. Before sitting down she said “it’s really not that hard to choose the right thing to do, now is it?”

Ryan stared at her, for a moment stunned before walking away. His appetite gone he dumped his tray before walking from the cafeteria. The door closed behind him as he leaned against the wall to pull out his phone. He sent a quick text hoping his friends had gotten home without any complications.

***

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It had been the longest day ever Ryan thought as he changed in the boys locker room. The atmosphere was frosty and tense between him and the team. Bull slammed his locker shut before walking towards Ryan. He came to a stand still in front of him. Sighing Ryan glanced up from tying his shoes. “Move” he mumbled as he tried to leave.

“You embarrassed me for the last time today,” Bull said his voice booming off the locker room walls.

“Maybe if you learned to read you wouldn’t get embarrassed,” he wasn’t surprised when Bull slammed him hard into the lockers behind him.

“I’ve had just about enough of your smart ass comments,” Bull snarled spitting in his face “things are gonna change around her Milton. Either you tow the line or your out.”

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“I can live without being friends with you,” Ryan told him cheekily “no one tells me who my friends are, certainly not you.” His voice rose so that everyone in the locker room could hear him. He looked around at the boys he had thought of as friends not just as teammates. Their unfriendly glares towards him showed how wrong he was. He shoved past Bull and out the door towards the practice field more shaken than he wanted them to see.

“Hey Milton,” Bull called after him “don’t walk out that door without agreeing to our terms.”

“Or what?” he challenged “you can’t make me quit the team. You can’t make me dump my friends. You don’t own me. I make my own decisions.”

“Alright Milton have it your way, we’ll see how you like it,” Bull nodded a certain gleam in his eyes. All the boys but one nodded in unison as well. A silent pack of wolves ready to follow their alpha.

***

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For the third time Ryan was tackled to the ground. One after another piled on top of him squeezing the air from his lungs. “What’s the matter with you?” the coach yelled at him “get your head in the game.”

“Yes coach,” he gulped then turned to face his teammates. The majority refused to meet his eyes and the ones that did were hostile. Bull snickered “looks like you’ve lost your mojo Milton. We’ve taken it easy on you so far.” He grunted refusing to acknowledge their threats. “Last chance, Milton,” Bull growled “it’s them or us.”

Grimly Ryan met Bull’s hostile gaze and grinned “them,” he said his voice firm and sure. Mentally he tried to prepare himself for the backlash he was sure to get for his decision. When it came it was like being hit by a locomotive.

He was knocked from his feet. His face smashed into the turf. A loud audible snap took his breath away. A fiery red-hot pain seared his side. Time slowed. Then stopped. His vision dimmed then went dark.

He could hear the coach cursing above him. His teammates laughed as they slowly moved off him from the pile up. Bull was the last to get up. He ground a knee into his back laughing at Ryan’s grunt of pain. “You asked for this,” he snarled before removing his knee from his back and walked off to join the others.

Ryan lay on the ground unable to move. Pain shrieked through his body. Each breath a painful ordeal to be avoided as long as possible. He could only think how this could have been avoided altogether if he had gone with Hannah at lunch. He had chosen the team over his friends in a misguided sense of loyalty to the team. A loyalty they didn’t deserve.

Strong hands rolled him over to his back. His vision cleared so he could see the clear blue sky above him. He blinked when the wrinkled, worried face of his coach encroached upon his view “your going to be alright Milton.”

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He grunted in pain as someone else inspected him for broken bones, internal injuries and other things. He wanted to tell them to leave him alone but it required to much effort. Air he didn’t have to spare. “Broken ribs,” a voice said above him “we should take him in for x-rays just to be safe.”

“I’ll call his parents to meet us at the hospital,” the coach said “don’t worry Milton we’ll get you all fixed up.”

“The game,” Ryan squeaked.

“You’ll be out for the rest of the season,” the coach replied standing up eyeing the team milling around watching. “Laps now. You’ll run laps until someone tells me what the hell is going on.”

Ryan could hear their angry groans and complaints as the boys moved off “not my fault,” he gasped trying to sit up.

“Calm down,” the EMT said pushing him down.

He closed his eyes as pain overwhelmed him. He definitely should have skipped class today he thought. He moaned as they moved him to a stretcher before passing out again.

***

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“I never liked him playing that dangerous sport,” Gayle said from the passenger seat.

“He’s alright,” Trent said taking her hand and holding it tight “it’s just a couple of broken ribs.”

“Oh is that all?” she cried “he could have punctured a lung or something.”

“Mom please,” Ryan croaked from the backseat “it’s not the sport.”

“Then what is it?” Gayle demanded.

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“Unreasonable demands,” he said vaguely “I didn’t comply. This is the consequence of my decision.”

Trent gave him a concerned look over his shoulder “what are you telling us?” he asked.

“I was told to choose between my friends or the team,” Ryan closed his eyes as the car hit a bump sending stabbing pain through his ribs. “This is their way of getting me off the team I guess.”

Gayle and Trent exchanged worried looks. “We’re proud of you son for not caving into their demands. Why didn’t you just come home with the others?”

“I didn’t know what was going on at the time. With the game on Saturday I couldn’t skip class.” He took a shallow breath trying to control his breathing best he could “I feel like an idiot for choosing the team this afternoon. I should have left.”

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They drove on in silence until they reached the house. Trent and Gayle moved around to help their son from the car. “I’m not an invalid,” he complained leaning on them for support “don’t say it. Right now I feel enough of an idiot.”

Helping him to his room Gayle pushed back his hair “we love you son.”

“Love you to mom,” he laid on his bed closing his eyes for a moment “have you heard from everybody else? They get home alright?”

“They were all scared but fine,” Trent told him “get some rest. We’ll talk later.”

He knew what that meant. The parents were meeting to discuss things. Which meant something big was happening or had happened. He closed his eyes trying to blot out everything that had happened during the day.

***

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A couple of hours later he woke up to the sound of his vibrating phone. He had received multiple calls and texts while he had been asleep. Most of them were from the team, some were threats, some were apologies and others were pleas to not tell on them. He deleted all of them too angry and hurt to want to deal with them. He responded to the texts from Vincent and Divia. Teasha had left a message, her voice alternated between anger and tears. Nothing from Zach which he found odd.

He dialed Hannah’s number and her subdued voice was all he needed to know that things were bad “what’s up buttercup?” he asked trying to sound happy when all he wanted to do was scream.

“Are you alright?”she asked ignoring his false cheer.

“No” he said dropping all pretenses “every single member of the football team sat on me in an epic pile up. My ribs hurt and I can’t breathe.”

“I should have insisted you come with us instead of leaving you behind,” Hannah said after a pause she continued “it was awful Ryan. Zach was beat up pretty badly.”

“By whom?” Ryan asked sitting up. Zach’s silence was even more ominous now than he thought.

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“I think Bull did it. Zach won’t tell us,” her voice became quivery as she fought back tears “Bull and his henchmen almost attacked us in the parking lot before we were able to leave. Teasha said her dad’s took one look at Zach and made a beeline for the hospital. He’s there right now.” She gulped “now your hurt…”she burst into tears.

“Hannah it’s going to be alright,” he assured her.

“Did you know I could make the squad if I comply with certain terms?” Hannah asked “Kristen called me and said all I needed to do was dump my friends.”

“Kristen said the same thing to me at lunch,” Ryan said.

Another pause ensued “what are we going to do Ry?”

“I don’t know. I know I’m not looking forward to school on Monday,” he said.

“Neither am I,” she agreed.

***

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They talked for another fifteen minutes than glancing at the time he made one more call. His mouth spread into a smile at the sound of a girl saying “hello” in his ear sending butterflies to flight in his stomach.

“Hey” his voice cracked as his ribs chose that moment to throb in pain.

“Ryan” she cried her voice a mixture of fear and relief “Nana said you were hurt at football practice.”

“Just a couple of broken ribs,” he told her keeping his voice neutral.

“Oh is that all,” she repeated in disgust “you could have punctured a lung or something.”

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She sounded so much like his mom that he started to laugh until the pain in his ribs took his breath away. His vision dimmed until he was able to get the pain under manageable levels “don’t make me laugh.”

“I wasn’t trying to make you laugh,” she mumbled “but you’re really ok aren’t you?”

“I will be,” he told her.

“Good,” she sniffed “I was worried.”

“Worried enough to give me a kiss?” he asked trying to keep his voice light and teasing.

“Don’t be silly. Your my best friends cousin. Kissing you would be gross,” he imagined how her face must be scrunched up like she had seen or smelled something disgusting. He sighed trying to squelch the disappointment he felt. He knew Charity would never see him as anything but Hannah’s cousin. It didn’t mean he liked her any less. He just wished it didn’t hurt so much when she rejected him.

Chapter 5 – Bad Day Part 1 / Chapter 7 – Bad Day Part 3

Eddie – Chapter 18 – Consequences

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Exiting the elevator the girls combined gasps alerted the guys that something was wrong. “Stay here,” Liono commanded as he and Milo went to inspect the damaged door. He and Milo exchanged worried glances as they moved cautiously towards the door.

“What the hell happened here?” Liono demanded.

Shrugging Milo crept closer to their apartment. What reply could he give? He wasn’t here when it happened. How was he supposed to know what happened? He glanced back towards the girls who were standing anxiously by the elevator. Turning back to Liono he nodded towards the door “I hope Bruce is ok.” He could tell by the shift in Liono’s stance and nod he had been thinking the same thing. “Should we call the cops?” Milo asked.

Liono stared at the damage. If Bruce wasn’t hurt he was going to make the guy pay for the damages. If he was hurt Liono would still make him pay for the damages. He’d just be nicer about how he told him. “Did you hear that?” he asked Milo.

Nodding “it sounded like someone crying.”

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“We better tell the girls to call the cops,” Liono said taking charge again and giving commands. He waited until Milo came back from his errand before entering the apartment.

“The police should be here in a few minutes,” Milo informed him.

“Uh huh” he grunted stepping over the ruined door.

Grabbing his arm Milo hissed “you’re not going in there.”

“Someone could be hurt in there,” he wrenched his arm free and stomped into the apartment sure that Milo would back him up.

***

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Gayle gripped Trent’s hand as they walked through the hospital doors. Her eyes darted around the emergency room. People of various shapes and sizes littered the chairs waiting for their turn. Trent tugged on her arm as he walked past them oblivious to their stares. “He’s already in a private room” he whispered in her ear. He led her towards a different set of doors “just keep walking” he told her as an agitated grumpy middle aged woman yelled at them “visiting hours are over.”

“What if she comes after us?” she asked as she let Trent guide her to a nearby elevator.

“She won’t” he told her confidently “that would require her leaving her enclosure. Once she does that she’ll be mobbed by half a dozen tired, grumpy, angry people who have been waiting way too long to be seen.”

“What are we going to do once we get up there?” she asked in a breathless whisper.

Looking around the empty elevator Trent pulled her close “why are you whispering?” His normal voice sounding too loud in the enclosed space of the elevator.

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Slapping his chest “I didn’t want to be overheard,” Gayle laughed at the absurdity of it all.

“By who?” Trent smiled down at her “we’re in an empty elevator.”

“I’m not used to sneaking around hospitals at night,” she told him as the elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open.

“And you think I am?” he asked grunting when she elbowed him in the side.

She gasped upon exiting the elevator and coming face to face with a couple of hospital security guards. Leaning close to Trent she whispered “now what?”

***

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Rory glanced over at Eddie who had been silent and staring trance like out the window. Taking his right hand from the steering wheel Rory held it out to him palm up. “It’s going to be alright,” he said hoping to instill confidence. The corners of his lips quirked up when Eddie took is offered hand in his.

They drove the rest of the way in silence. Rory rubbed his thumb up and down the side of Eddie’s soft hand offering what little comfort he could. Pulling into a parking lot near the police department Rory asked “do you have enough money to cover the bail?”

“I think so,” Eddie mumbled turning to get out of the car.

Walking around the car Rory took Eddie’s hand “if you need more I can help.”

Blinking at his offer Eddie asked “why? You don’t even like him.”

“It’s not a matter of me not liking the guy,” Rory shrugged feeling his cheeks flush “You do. I know you well enough to know you wouldn’t have let him near you if you didn’t trust or like him.”

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While he knew Rory’s assessment of him was true Eddie could feel himself withdrawing inside. Had he let his insecurities dictate how he interacted with the people around him? Sighing he wondered if he’d ever be whole again or if that one disastrous point in time would forever color his future, holding him back from the things he wanted. Looking over towards the foreboding building he said “you don’t have to worry about Ramsey.” He wasn’t sure why he said it just that he felt it needed to be said.

“I’m not concerned with that right now,” Rory assured him putting an arm around him “let’s worry about getting Ramsey out first then we’ll worry about everything else.”

Nodding Eddie knew Rory was right. He disliked the thought of being in a tug of war again. If only Rory would have accepted his declaration of love so many weeks ago he wouldn’t have to worry so much now. Taking a deep breath Eddie walked across the street and into the police station.

“Can I help you?” a tired over worked voice asked from behind a partition.

“Err” Eddie mumbled overwhelmed by the activity going on around him.

Stepping forward Rory announced “we’re here to post bail for a friend.”

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“Take a seat kids this will take a while,” the man waved them over to a row of chairs obviously dismissing them.

Balking at the man’s attitude Eddie shocked not only himself but Rory too who stood beside him. “We’re not kids that can be dismissed until your ready to deal with us.”

“Look sunny,” the man pointed a finger at him ready to launch into some tired refrain about respecting authority

“No you look here,” Eddie shouted shrugging off Rory’s restraining hands “you arrested my friend on trumped up charges and I want him out.”

“Eddie please,” Rory tried to dissuade him from going any further.

“No I will not just sit down and do as I’m told” Eddie shouted “I have one friend in the hospital another in jail. I will not just sit and wait.” Turning to the officer “I want to talk to your superior.”

***

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Ramsey paced his small cell. He should be used to being locked up by now. It wasn’t his first time although it was the first time he didn’t deserve it. He felt the sting of being wrongfully accused and wondered if the truth would ever come out or if they’d take what looked like a slam dunk. He wanted to scream that he shouldn’t be in there. He didn’t deserve to be locked up in this stinking hell hole. He needed to be at the hospital begging for Bruce to forgive him, to give him one more chance.

An image of the young blonde blue eyed male with the infectious laugh that never ceased to bring a smile to his face. Why had it taken something like this for him to realize what his feelings were? Why had he clung to Eddie for so long? What had he been so afraid of?

He banged his head against the cool steel bars. A scream was building deep within him. What if he was convicted? His fingerprints were all over the glass and bottle. He hadn’t given a thought about what it would look like to anyone else. Who would drug someone then bring the evidence with them? Seeing Bruce so out of it, so sick had scared him. Scared him more than anything ever had and he’d seen quite a bit in his young life. His dead beat dad had left him in the back rooms of every seedy bar he could in order to drink himself to oblivion. Ramsey had learned quick how to survive on his own.

***

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Milo followed Liono into the apartment. Heart pounding he had the fleeting sensation that he was walking into a trap. The crying increased in volume and intensity. It seemed to him like the crying was forced, fake. He glanced over at Liono who at the best of times had little to know patience for weeping women. At his father’s funeral Milo recalled Liono had patted his weeping mother’s shoulder mumbling a few heartfelt words. He had been relieve when Milo had arrived and he could pass her onto his shoulder letting her tears soak into his best friends suit instead of his own.

He was pulled from his recollections by Liono’s loud demanding voice “what are you doing in here?”

“I came…looking for….Milo” the girl managed to say through hiccups and sniffles.

Milo forced back a groan upon hearing her voice. Amber was the last person he expected or wanted to see. The double date with Jillian had opened his eyes. There was something about Amber that made his skin crawl. “Where’s Bruce?” Milo asked her holding his hand over his mouth and nose as the putrid stench of stale vomit assaulted in sinuses.

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“I….I don’t…know,” she sobbed throwing herself into Milo’s arms.

Reluctantly Milo patted her back. The cold calculated look in her blue eyes didn’t go unnoticed before she resumed her sobs. “Ramsey crashed through the door like a mad man.” She ran her hands up and down his back leaning her head on his chest. “It almost seemed like he was jealous. I was so scared.” She looked up at him tears streaming down her cheeks. She almost looked as scared and innocent as she pretended to be “it’s not my fault that Bruce preferred me to him is it?” she asked hiccuping to effect “I would have preferred to have spent the evening with you.”

Milo was saved from coming up with a response when a couple of police officers entered through the broken door.

***

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“Visiting hours are over,” the guards deep voice boomed in the silent hallway.

Trent wrapped an arm around Gayle’s waist “we’re going up to the third floor waiting room.”

“Family of the accident victim brought in a few minutes ago?” the security guard inquired.

“That’s right,” Trent nodded without blinking. He hoped Gayle would play along or at the very least keep her mouth shut. He watched the guards eyes move from him to Gayle and stop.

“Alright you’re free to go,” the guard said satisfied they were who they said they were. “Next time just inform the receptionist why you’re here. It’ll save us all a headache.”

“Hopefully there won’t be a next time,” Gayle said giving the guards a weak smile.

Once the guards had walked away they made there way to the waiting room. Turning to Trent she asked “what was that all about?”

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“What?” he asked feigning innocence.

“You know what,” she slapped his hands away from her walking towards a chair in the far corner of the room.

Following behind Trent slouched into a chair “I wanted to make sure we got in here.”

“Was it necessary to lie?” she asked deciding to let him squirm a bit.

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice interrupted him.

Turning her attention from Trent she gazed up at the young nurse who had approached them. “Yes can I help you?”

“Are either of you related to Bruce Van Winkle?” she asked.

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“No” Gayle replied shooting a look at Trent “we’re friends of his.”

“Oh that’s too bad,” The nurse turned to walk away “he’s been asking for his cousin.”

“He’ll be here soon,” Trent informed her “Eddie asked us to come until he got here.”

A brief smile crossed her tired face “that’s good.” She turned to walk away “please let me know when he arrives.”

Gayle glared at Trent “you just couldn’t help yourself could you?”

“It’s not exactly a lie. Their families are related.”

Rolling her eyes she turned away from him staring out the window.

***

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“It’s your lucky day” an officer announced approaching Ramsey’s cell “you made bail.” The door opened allowing Ramsey to exit through it. As he walked past the officer the man snickered “you’ll be back.”

Not if I can help it Ramsey muttered under his breath. Once Bruce woke up this would all be cleared up. He tried to ignore the cat calls from the other inmates as he walked past their cell doors. He wasn’t coming back he told himself firmly despite the little voice of doubt that kept asking questions. What if Bruce didn’t wake up? What if Bruce is confused and can’t identify who drugged him? A hundred different scenarios played out in his mind.

Collecting his things he felt the hostile gaze of the man who had arrested him burning into his back. He squared his shoulders refusing to show the man any sign of weakness. Was he getting soft he wondered. There had been a time in the not so distant past that a few hours in a cell wouldn’t have left him feeling so jumpy. Exiting the door he looked up to find Eddie and Rory waiting for him. A sharp pain like a knife twisting in his guts took his breath away. At that moment he realized that at no other time in his life had he so much hanging on the line. Marching up to Eddie he demanded “how is he?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie stammered unsure of himself and Ramsey’s demanding tone.

“I need a ride,” Ramsey said walking towards the outside door.

Shrugging Rory took Eddie by the arm and followed Ramsey from the police station.

***

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As the officers took Amber’s statement the others listened. Milo shook his head murmuring “that doesn’t sound like something Ramsey would do.”

“He wouldn’t need to,” Jillian agreed coming to stand by Milo’s side.

“What do you mean?” one of the officer’s asked.

“It was Ramsey who broke up with Bruce,” Liono explained “Bruce would have taken him back if Ramsey had asked him to. If anything Bruce would have been the one to have a jealous fit not Ramsey.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Amber demanded spit flying from her mouth.

“Well…yeah I guess I am,” Liono said “why would you just sit in here after a jealous ex-boyfriend had smashed in the door? At the very least you should have called the cops.”

Elyse nodded in agreement “your story is full of holes.”

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One of the officers who had stepped back from the group to receive a dispatch came back into the room. Approaching his partner he whispered in his ear so that no one else could hear. Their demeanor’s changed as they turned their attention back to Amber. “Did you know there’s a warrant out for your arrest?”

“That’s just a stupid misunderstanding” she told the officer batting her eyes up at him.

“Then why did you flee the country abandoning your children with your victims parents in the process?” The officer stepped forward with handcuffs at the ready “not so stupid now is it?”

Eyeing them in disbelief that soon dissolved into hatred “what victim? He wanted it.”

“He wanted it so much you had to drug him” the officer clicked the handcuffs around her wrists “Your fingerprints were on the bottle that was used to deliver rohypnol to you second victim.”

“You have no proof that I drugged Eddie or Bruce” she shouted struggling against her restraints.

“No we just have hospital records from both victims” The officer bent down and stared into her face “I wonder if they were your only victims or if there were others.” Looking over at Milo then back at her “you definitely have a type. If there are others I’m making it my duty to find them.” Turning to his partner he said “read her her rights.”

 Chapter 17 – Wind of Change / Chapter 19 – Aftermath