Tag Archive | Vincent Rake

Glitter – Chapter 4 – Sugar and Spice

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“Mommy” Aubrey called from the kitchen table.

Glancing up from the computer screen Trinity frowned. “Mommy’s busy right now” she said turning back to her work and the two columns that refused to balance. She had been at it for several hours and she still couldn’t balance the books of her biggest account.

“But mommy” Aubrey’s voice was small and insignificant compared to the problems she was having.

“Not now” she said going back to her sums that refused to make sense.

Aubrey sat with her head down, teas trickling down her cheeks. Silently she scooted her chair out and methodically began to put her colors away. Carefully she tore the page she had been coloring from her book. With deliberate strokes she printed her name at the bottom. It was the way the famous artist did at the museum her daddy took her to.

Taking her picture she tiptoed over to where her mother was muttering over her computer. A slight rustle of paper alerted Trinity to the little girls presence. “Aubrey” she sighed “I said not now.”

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Startled Aubrey let her drawing slip through her fingers and flutter to her mother’s desk. She squeaked turning and ran to her room.

Trinity’s eyes fell upon the drawing her daughter had been working on. It was very good for a five-year old. Picking it up from her desk she wondered when she had turned into her mother. She had spent most of her childhood trying to get her mom’s attention.

Saving her non-progress she stood up. Avoiding Vincent’s eyes as she walked across the room towards her daughter’s bedroom door. Knocking softly she opened the door to find her daughter curled up on her bed shoulders shaking. “Aubrey” she called softly crossing the room. Sitting on the edge of the bed she stroked her daughters fluffy head “I’m sorry.”

There was no perceptible change in the small figure lying with her back turned. “Sweetie I’m sorry” Trinity tried again. “I like the picture you colored for me.”

Sniffling Aubrey sat up rubbing her eyes. “You do” she asked her voice low uncertain.

“Of course I do” Trinity nodded “I’m going to have it framed so I can have it on my desk all the time.”

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The corners of Aubrey’s mouth quirked upwards. “You really like it that much” her eyes were round with surprise. “I could make you another one. One that’s even better. I mean I got out of the lines there. The color isn’t quite right.” Her small hands reached for the picture to take it from her mother’s hands.

Gently Trinity kept the picture from her daughter’s reach. “It’s perfect the way it is.”

“It’s not good enough” Aubrey insisted “I can do better.”

It hurt hearing her daughter’s words. Trinity never saw herself being a mother and she found out she was expecting she had cried for a week. Her biggest fear was coming to reality. She was becoming her own mother. Demanding perfection. Lifting her daughter’s quivering chin up she smiled down into her daughter’s eyes. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. You made it for me. That’s all that matters. I love it because you made it for me.”

“I’m sorry mommy” Aubrey leaned into her.

“For what sweetie” she asked

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“For disturbing you while you worked” she mumbled looking at the floor.

“I’m sorry for getting upset with you” Trinity said kissing the top of her daughter’s head.

“Now that you’ve apologized to each other” a deep voice said from the door “maybe we could all go out for dinner and a movie.”

“Yeah” Aubrey cried running to hug her father.

Smiling Trinity joined them moving a little slower but with no less excitement than her daughter. “It sounds like a date.”

***

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“Daddy watch” Aubrey called trying to get his attention.

Smiling Vincent turned from Trinity “I’m watching.”

“You sure” she demanded hands on hips.

“Positive” he got his phone out ready to capture her latest feat.

“Alright here goes” she poised herself in the sand. Her feet spaced evenly apart as she took off to make the best cart-wheel ever. Halfway through she lost her balance causing her to fall to her knees in the loose sand.

“That was awesome” Vincent clapped.

“I didn’t do it right” she complained crossing her arms.

“It was a very good attempt” Trinity said coming up beside her daughter. “Next time you’ll do better.”

“But I wanted it to be perfect now” she pouted.

“You can’t be perfect at everything” Vincent said putting his phone away. “Let’s go for a swim” he suggested.

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“No” Aubrey shook her head “I don’t want to.”

Kneeling in front of his daughter he asked “what do you want to do then?”

Thinking for a moment Aubrey smiled. “I want to build a sand castle.”

“Ok” he grinned sitting in the sand with her.

“Not with you Daddy” she objected “I want to do it by myself.”

Vincent stood up watching his five-year old daughter select a different spot in the sand to build her sand castle. Looking down as a hand landed on his forearm “my little girl doesn’t need me anymore.” He was half-joking despite the ache in his heart.

“She’s growing up” Trinity said moving to the blanket where they had their picnic lunch a couple of hours ago.

“She’s five” Vincent protested joining her.

“Don’t worry she still loves you” she assured him.

“I hope so” he muttered tossing a handful of sand in the air.

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“I love you” Trinity said reaching for his hand eyes sparkling in the sunshine.

“That’s not the same” he pouted.

“What am I old cheese” she demanded moving to get up.

Grabbing her hand he pulled her down to him. “That’s not what I’m saying. I love you to the moon and back.”

“I love you too even though your still as sappy as ever.” She giggled as his hands went around her waist slipping lower to her hips. “Not here” she warned “people are watching.”

“Let them watch” he nuzzled his nose into the side of her neck placing soft kisses along her collar-bone.

“What about Aubrey” she asked trying not to give in to her growing desire.

“She’s seen us kiss before” he tilted his head back “we’re on vacation. Relax.”

“I’m trying” Trinity muttered leaning into him.

“You know what our problem is don’t you” Vincent asked after a moment or two of silence.

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Trinity scowled up at her husband “what is our problem?”

“We don’t take near as many vacations as we should” he gave her a bland innocent look “we don’t know how to act while on vacation.”

“I’m not the only one who works too much” she grumbled taking offense.

Making hand dampening motions Vincent sighed. “I didn’t mean it that way” his eyes glancing towards their daughter making sure she was still occupied with building sand castles.

“You implied it” she huffed. Sitting up she pulled her knees to her chest. Her eyes looked out of the ocean waves. “I’m sorry” she apologized a moment later “I’m never any fun anymore.”

“That could change” Vincent said making sure to keep his tone light.

“Not anytime soon” she retorted “I have the Brockhaven case to review next. You know how awful their books are.”

“Do you like your job” he asked her.

“What” she blinked at him like she didn’t quite understand his question.

“Do you like your job” he repeated enunciating each word carefully.

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“Of course I do” she flipped her hand dismissively.

“It’s not what you had wanted to do in college” he pointed out.

Her shoulders rose and fell as she dropped her gaze to the sand. Her fingers drew circles. “We need the money” she said it like that was all there was to it.

Reaching for her hand Vincent stilled her idle circle drawing. “It’s not your fault” he said gently.

Staring at his hand, his thumb gently rubbing the top of her hand. “I keep thinking if I hadn’t been so caught up in my career things would be different now. If I hadn’t forgotten about our dinner date. If I had left earlier, even a minute sooner things would have been different.”

“Honey it’s not your fault” his voice cracked as he battled the emotions that were bubbling up inside him.

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Jerking her hand away “it was my fault don’t you get it? I was driving. I was rushing. My mind was on all the things I left unfinished. I was thinking of my job, my career instead of paying attention to the road. Maybe if I hadn’t been distracted I could have seen what was going to happen. I keep thinking I could have prevented it.”

She stumbled to her feet Vincent following her. “Don’t do this to yourself. It wasn’t your fault. It was an accident. A terrible accident.”

Her left hand reached out to him while her right hand softly traced the scars on his once unmarred handsome face. “If I had been going slower it would have been you who had died that night. Instead it was a little boy.” Her face crumpled as she remembered the screeching of tires and crunching of metal as the truck tore into their car as it ran the stop light that night almost 2 years ago.

Pulling her close Vincent held her as the memories tore her apart. He rubbed her back whispering soothing words as she cried into his shoulder. The accident had been the reason she quit her job despite his protests. He knew even if she didn’t at the time it was her way of punishing herself for the accident. An accident that was out of her control.

***

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“Daddy” Aubrey tugged on his pants leg “Is Mommy ok.”

“She’s a little sad” he smiled down at his wild haired little girl.

“Is she missing Toby” she asked.

He felt Trinity shiver in his arms at the mention of their son’s name. “Yes she is sweetie.”

“Mommy” Aubrey waited a moment looking up waiting for her mom to look down at her. “It’s alright if you still miss him. I do too… a lot.”

“Thank you sweetie” she sniffed moving from her husband’s arms. “I didn’t mean to make you sad too thinking about Toby on day like today.”

“I’m not sad” Aubrey insisted shaking her head. “Toby wouldn’t want me to be sad. So I made up my mind to be sad.”

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“You’re right” Trinity agreed shocked when her daughter threw her arms around her in imitation of her father.

“Love you Mommy” she murmured. Pulling back Aubrey asked “can we go see my friends now?”

“Are you down playing already” Trinity asked glancing at the half-finished sand castle.
Shrugging Aubrey shuffled over to it. “It wasn’t very good anyway” she kicked at the walls with her feet until it caved onto itself.

Vincent exchanged glances with his wife before squatting down beside his daughter. “Sweetie not everything has to be perfect.”

“I know” she mumbled.

“Then why” he gestured towards the ruined castle.

Shrugging she crossed his arms “I didn’t like it anymore.” She looked up her chin set in a stubborn line “can we go now?”

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“As soon as you pick up your things” Vincent told her. It worried him that since the accident Aubrey had become obsessed with the idea that she had to be perfect in everything she did. Any little mistake had her either quitting or sulking.

Joining Trinity at the picnic he sighed “maybe we should reconsider family counseling.”

Nodding she glanced towards the ocean. A far away look in her dark eyes. “You’re right we should” she said putting the last remnants of their picnic away.

Turning her towards him “I’m sorry” he murmured “this wasn’t a very good idea coming here.”

Looking up at him, her eyes moist, she shook her head. “It was a wonderful idea. We needed this. Our family needed this.”

“But…” he looked away to watch Aubrey picking up seashells along the beach. Every time the waves washed up on the sand around her ankles she’d giggle.

“Do you hear that” Trinity asked “that’s our little girl. No matter what that giggle was worth it.” She drew his head down to hers placing her lips over his to shush his next comments. “We’ll get through this. Maybe not today but sometime we will be a family again.”

***

 

 

By the time they made it back to the resort everyone was outside by the pool. Aubrey squealed in delight running to join her friends. “Jason, Royal you made it” she shouted.

“We’ve been here for hours” Royal informed her.

“Have not” Jason contradicted.

“Have too” Royal insisted glaring at his twin.

“Whatever” Jason muttered wandering off as his twin and Aubrey started to whispering into each other’s ears. “Benji can I join you guys?”

Benjamin looked up with a ready grin “sure Jason. We’re about to start the races.”

“What races” he asked confused.

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“Wheelbarrow races” Christopher said “it’s me and Justice. Noble and Loyal. You and Ben.”

“All we need now is a judge” Justice said eyeing the adults to see which one they could rope into their little game.

“Grandpa will do it” Noble assured everyone.

Loyal shook his head “I doubt it.”

“How come” Noble persisted brows knitting together.

“Derek is here” Loyal giggled “they’re in love.” He made kissy faces to the amusement of the other boys in the group.

“Eew gross” Benjamin scrunched up his nose like he smelled something bad.

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“You mean they kiss and stuff” Jason asked.

“Yeah gross” Benjamin affirmed.

“That’s not gross” Jason protested “I kiss my mommies all the time.”

“That’s different” Benjamin insisted.

Perplexed Jason asked “why?”

“It just is” his friend insisted.

“Ask him anyway” Christopher said to Loyal “I bet he’ll do it for us.”

 

Glancing over at his Grandpa Loyal shrugged. “He looks preoccupied” using a word he heard his parents use when he and his brothers were in the middle of some game or movie.

“You don’t even know what that means” Christopher objected.

“I do too” Loyal snapped “it means he’s busy.”

Glancing at Graham he shrugged “doing what? Holding hands? He can do that while he’s judging the race. Just ask him. We can’t have a race without a judge.”

“I’ll do it” Noble volunteered marching off towards the adults. “Grandpa will you be our judge?”

Graham smiled down at his grandson “a judge? For what?”

“For the race” Noble pointed towards the others who waved back “we’re having a wheelbarrow race and we need a judge.”

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“Can’t I just watch” Graham asked reluctant to leave Derek by himself.

Derek nudged him “go ahead. The kids need a judge. I’ll watch.”

“You don’t mind” Graham asked taking his grandson’s hand to the excited clapping of the others.

“Why would I mind” Derek smirked “I have a much better view from here.”

“No mushy stuff” Noble warned “a judge has to keep his eyes on the race.”

“No mushy stuff” Derek promised eyes on Graham’s face.

 

 

Graham’s cheeks held a slight blush as he allowed his grandson to guide him to the finish line and explain his duties as judge. He could feel Derek’s eyes watching him giving him a peculiar warm feeling inside his stomach. It was nice to feel desirable again he thought as he waited for the kids organize themselves for the race. He waved at Derek while he waited. It had been too long since anyone had made him feel this way. He caught Charity watching him, a knowing grin on her face. He may not have much to be thankful from the years he had been with Zane but their daughter was of the good things. He wouldn’t regret that or the grand kids that resulted from it for anything.

Chapter 3 – Puppy Dog Tails / Chapter 5 – Everything Nice

Hannah – Chapter 36 – Not Afraid

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Divia relaxed into Renee leaning her head back resting on the other woman’s shoulder. “I don’t want to go back” she sighed closing her eyes.

“You don’t have a choice” Renee chuckled entwining her fingers with Divia’s.

“Yes I do” Divia shook her head “I could stay here and work for McDonald’s.”

“No” Liono’s deep baritone caused both girls to jump.

“Dad” Divia sat up straightening clothes that didn’t need straightening. “It’s my choice.”
Liono’s eyes shifted towards his daughter. His chin lifted in challenge “you will not quick school to flip burgers. I won’t allow it.”

“You don’t have a say in what I do” Divia stood up facing her father slapping away her girlfriends hands.

“Divia” Renee’s harsh whisper barely registered on her radar.

“I won’t let you throw your life away” Liono took a step forward eyes glittering dangerously behind his dark lashes.

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“Who says that I’ll be throwing my life away?” Divia challenged swallowing hard to keep her nervous giggle under control. “I want to stay here with Renee.”

Crossing his arms he inclined his head “I can appreciate that. I doubt she wants you to sacrifice your dreams to stay home with her to play house.”

“We love each other Daddy. Not playing house” Divia protested biting her bottom lip “we’re going to be married.”

Liono’s eyes widened at the unexpected proclamation. “How are you going to pay for the ring? The wedding? The house?” He rattled off the list of things she hadn’t thought about. “Do you think you can afford those things on your wages from McDonald’s?”

Blood rushed from her face as she tried and failed to come up with an answer. She hadn’t thought about it. Her eyes turned towards Renee in silent appeal.

“No don’t” Liono barked “she’s not a part of this discussion.”

“I beg to differ” Renee said standing up to face the older man. “I plan on marrying your daughter. I am involved.”

His lips twitched a little. Ignoring her comments “what will you do when you want a child? It’s not going to be as easy as it was for your mother and I. You’ll need special procedures. Procedures that cost money. Where is that money going to come from?”

“We’re in this together” Renee blurted out taking Divia’s hand “it’s not all her responsibility.”

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This time Liono stared at the girl as if challenging her to continue. When she fell silent he nodded. “You’re correct but it makes things more difficult when the division of responsibility is unbalanced. Is this something you’ve discussed? Something you both agreed on?” He could see by the nonverbal exchanges that it wasn’t. “All I’m asking from you is you count the cost before you decide to do something. If you really want to flip burgers at McDonald’s I won’t stop you. I couldn’t even if I wanted to.” He eyed his daughter until she squirmed beneath is scrutiny. It wasn’t like it had been when she was a kid when she’d squirm from fright. This time it was because she was thinking over what he said.

“Renee” she turned to the girl “did you really mean what you said? That you wanted to marry me?”

“Yes” Renee nodded intensely watching the other girl’s eyes “I love you.”

“I love you too. I don’t want to flip burgers not really” Divia chuckled a little “I really do want to get my degree in psychiatry.”

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“I know” she whispered “it’ll only be a few months we’ll be apart.”

“We could call and text” Divia added.

“Plus you can home on the weekends” Liono added smiling at both of them. “So when’s the wedding?”

Both girls glanced at each other “we don’t have a date yet” Renee said.

“It just sort of came out” glancing at her hand “I don’t even have a ring yet.”

“We can help with that” Elyse said moving towards her room. A couple of minutes later she returned with a couple of small boxes. She exchanged a meaningful glance with Liono before saying “these were your grandmother’s rings. My mother gave me her engagement ring to give to my daughter and your father inherited his grandmother’s ring when his mother passed away.”

Clearing his throat Liono continued his husky as he held back his emotions “It would be an honor if you would take wear these rings as a symbol of your love for each other.”
He handed each of them a box his eyes unusually moist. Elyse kissed his cheek “my husband the old softy.”

 

“Dad I” Divia’s voice choked up as she glanced at the rings then at her parents. “I don’t know what to say” tears rolled down her cheeks and this time she didn’t feel the need to hide them. “Thank you.”

Slipping the ring on her finger Renee held her hand up admiring it. “It’s beautiful” her voice hushed as if she were afraid to break the mood.

“Your family now” Elyse beamed at the girl “you’ve made our little girl happy. Happier then we’ve ever seen.” She pulled the speechless girl into her warm embrace.

“Daddy” Divia cried throwing her arms around him. An action she never thought she’d ever feel comfortable doing a mere year ago. Now it seemed natural “I love you so so much.”

He grunted with the intensity of her hug. Somewhat awkwardly he wrapped his arms around her “I love you too. Even when I’m challenging you.”

“I know daddy” she pulled away to wipe at the tears flowing from her eyes. She no longer felt the fear she once had to show her emotions around the stoic man she no longer felt was hard as stone.

***

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Vincent glanced at the downcast face of the girl sitting across from him in the passenger seat. “Trinity is something wrong?” his gentle voice broke the silence between them. “We can do something else. We don’t have to go to the beach.”

“No it’s fine,” she murmured lifting her face up to watch the scenery pass by her window. “I want to go to the beach.”

Vincent glanced towards her. Her lackluster voice only emphasizing that there was indeed something wrong. He gripped the steering wheel tight enough to turn his knuckles white. She hadn’t been the same since he mother called a week or so ago. “Is everything alright at home? With your mother?” He asked hoping that she would open up and talk to him.

“Hmm what?” she asked turning to look at him a distracted look in her dark expressive eyes.

“Your mom, is she ok?” he asked watching the traffic ahead of him afraid to glance over and see confirmation in her lovely face of what he feared was happening. The last few weeks had been like a dream to him. More than anything he wanted this dream to last.

“She’s fine” she said turning to look out the window again “she’s always fine.”

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The lack of emotion in her voice only added to the ominous feeling he had twisting his insides into knots. If he wasn’t driving he’d pull her close to him. Something about the way she held herself had him thinking she was about to shatter into a million pieces like a fragile glass ornament would falling to the floor. He reached across the console dividing them. Took her hand “you know you can tell me anything right?” He squeezed her hand before she had a chance to tug her hand free. His hand felt empty afterwards matching the hallow feeling in his heart. He was losing her. He didn’t know how or why but he was losing her. “Trinity please tell me what’s wrong?”

Her head jerked at the entreaty in his voice. She could hear the hurt in his voice. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. She felt like she was caught in a riptide she couldn’t swim out of no matter how hard she tried. She kept getting further and further away from what she wanted most.

Moisture build up behind her eyes and a single tear rolled down the side of her nose. She hastily wiped it away before it had a chance to betray her true feelings. As perceptive as Vincent was to her moods he no doubt was aware of her melancholy state of mind.

With false cheer she forced a dazzling smile on her face. Turning towards her companion she said “what are we doing today?”

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Vincent shivered at the fake cheer in her voice so reminiscent to the way things had been before. Mentally he shook himself. He wouldn’t go down that road. He wouldn’t start looking for similarities to the past. “Um” he mumbled thinking he had already told her “we’re having a picnic at the beach…”

“Sounds romantic” she batted her eyes at him falling into the habit of flirting when she didn’t want to think about what she was feeling. The concerned rise of Vincent’s eyebrows had her murmuring “sorry I…” she groped for words “I’m just really excited. I really like picnics.”

“Try to contain yourself a little while longer” he said trying to sound as cheery as she was “we’re almost there.” He had looked forward to this picnic for weeks. Picnics had always been a favorite of his since he was a little kid. His parents would take him to the park. Spread a blanket on the ground and cuddle together while he ran off to play. The weekend picnics had become some of his favorite memories of his childhood. He’d been hesitant to share that with Trinity. Afraid it’d be too provincial for her tastes. To his surprise and delight she had suggested a picnic as one of their first dates. Now he wondered if she had been trying to hard to please him. Pretending to like the same things he did. She could have learned of his love of picnics from his parents. They hadn’t exactly been shy about telling her about his embarrassing childhood antics.

Prompted by his sudden fear she was toying with him he said “we can do something else if you’d like. I know you wanted to try out that new roller coaster at Simmerica.” His heart raced at the thought of standing in a long line to ride what looked like a death trap. The long slow chug up to the first drop. The hesitation at the top before the first car toppled over the edge. The thought of it left him breathless.

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“Why would I want to do that?” she asked evasively.

He could hear the irritation in her voice to match his own growing frustration. He felt trapped onto a course he couldn’t change like the Titanic going ever closer to the iceberg that was its eventual doom. Sighing he turned into a parking lot. Getting out he proceeded to unload the trunk handing her the blanket and beach umbrella while he took the rest. “Why don’t you choose the spot to set up our picnic,” he suggested. She simply nodded and walked towards the sandy beach. Two weeks ago she’d have insisted they walk together. Disappointment and fear made his chest feel heavy as he followed in her wake.

His mind distracted he didn’t notice where Trinity had spread their blanket until he almost walked past a couple flirting. Stopping his gaze riveted on the girl as she smiled up at the buff surfer dude as he wrote his number on her hand. “Give me a call sometime” the guy said flashing her his impossibly white teeth. He nodded towards Vincent as he walked off stopping briefly to pick up his surf board.

“Trinity” Vincent choked as if he were being strangled and his heart was being cut from his chest.

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The smile she worn moments before faded and disappeared. “Vincent I didn’t see you standing there.” She hurried over to him to help with cooler.

“Are you breaking up with me?” he asked his Adam’s apple bobbing up and done in distress.

“Yes…no” she fell to her knees beside the cooler she dropped.. The contents spilling over the blanket. “I don’t know” she cried “I’m so confused.” She covered her face with her hands sobbing.

Her distress broke through his own daze of misery. “Talk to me. Give me a chance to help. Don’t just walk away from me.” He pulled her close. He could feel her shoulders heaving against him as she sobbed on his shoulder. Her hands twisting into his shirt.
“My mom she called” she gulped trying to calm herself.

Vince remained silent letting her talk. He had known something was up ever since her mom called a little over a week ago. Trinity had started to act strange soon afterwards, pushing him away in the process.

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“I was so happy” Trinity pushed away from him sniffing, wiping at her eyes. “I wanted to share my happiness with her. I told her how you made me laugh. How special I felt around you.” Her eyes filled with confusion and hurt “she laughed at me. Said I was being naive and gullible if I thought you were different from any other guy.” Fresh tears erupted “she said I was a fool to believe in love. That I needed to keep moving on to the next fun interesting prospect and not settle for an ideal that would only leave me hurt in the end.”

“You believed her” it wasn’t statement of fact. He could see from her actions that she had. He wanted to pull her close, tell her she was wrong that she didn’t have to be like her mom. Then the image of the surfer and the way she leaned in close smiling up at him and he wondered.

“Don’t you?” she demanded “you saw what I was doing. Flirting. I promised I wouldn’t. I did. I didn’t even want to. I kept hearing me mother saying when the fun is over move on. I wanted to make it stop.” She looked up with troubled eyes “maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m not capable of love and relationships. Maybe I need to be with a different guy every week.”

“Trinity” he said her name hoping to catch her attention “were you happy before?”

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“Before what?” she asked confused.

“Before with us. When it was just you and me.” He moved closer, his fingers gently drying the tears on her cheeks “did you enjoy being with me? Did you miss being with someone else?”

“Don’t be silly” she took a deep breath “when I was with you it was like no one else existed. That’s why I…” she looked up eyes wide “that’s why I was so excited to tell her I had found the one and if I could she could too.”

“Am I the one?” he asked ears buzzing stunned.

“I think so” her voice was small like she was almost afraid to admit it. Her lips twitched as she repeated “yes, yes you are” her voice full of certainty “you’re the one. The one I’d be willing to give up all others for.”

“Are you sure?” he asked pulling her close against his chest.

“I’m sure” she lifted hand to run through his short blond hair “you’re mine and I don’t want to give you up.”

“Good” he smiled brushing his lips over her’s “I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”

“I know I’ve fallen in love with you and it scared me” she pressed her lips firmly against his showing him how she felt. Pulling away a moment later to gaze into his eyes. She smiled up at him “I’m not scared anymore.”

Chapter 35 – Reunion / Chapter 37 – Letting Go

Hannah – Chapter 34 – Second Chances

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Divia sat alone on the park bench gazing up into the sky. She couldn’t believe how much had changed in the last couple of months. She never thought her dad would be so accepting of her being gay. She looked up as Renee came to join her. The other woman sat down next to her nudging her arm. Looking over she smiled taking the rainbow-colored snow cone “thank you.”

Renee gave her an appraising look “is something the matter?” she taking a small bite from her own blue raspberry snow cone.

Shaking her head Divia gave her a small smile. “I was thinking about my dad. I never gave him enough credit when I was growing up. I just assumed he wouldn’t understand.”

“Yet we have him to owe for getting us together” Renee put an arm around her “your dad’s pretty great if you ask me except when he’s yelling.” She chuckled a little “he only wants what’s best for you.”

“I’m beginning to see that” Divia snuggled closer to Renee listening to the distant sounds of children playing, birds chirping in the nearby trees and a couple of dogs barking a block or two away. “I guess I’ve always known it” she rested her head on Renee’s shoulder “I had it backwards. I was the one who was trying to change him. I always wished I had a kinder more sensitive dad like Hannah’s dad Eddie. Someone who wasn’t loud and scary. I thought my dad wanted a different daughter. One who wasn’t scared of him.”

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Renee’s laughter was soft and reassuring. “I think Liono likes you just the way you are. He told me how much he worried about you while you were away. He never wanted to send you away to that boarding school. He thought at the time you needed to find out who you were without your friends always around. Then you left for University and met that girl.” She paused a moment to press a gentle kiss on Divia’s forehead “your mom didn’t paint a very nice picture of her to your dad.”

“I never said anything negative about her” Divia lifted her head protesting.

“I think that’s what made Liono suspicious” Renee shook her head her shoulders rising in a shrug “everyone has faults and you seemed to be blind about hers.”

Nodding Divia stood up crossing he arms in front of her. “I know. I practically worshiped the ground Marzia walked on. Which left me feeling I wasn’t worthy to be in her presence.”

Coming up beside her Renee slipped her hands into the younger girls. “I think Marzia didn’t know what a treasure she had.” She gazed steadily into Divia’s eyes “I won’t make that mistake.”

“Really” Divia asked eyes trying to see the answer in the blue depths of the woman in front of her. “What makes you so confident that you won’t? Maybe I’m not worth it.”

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“I don’t want to change you” she murmured placing a soft kiss on the girls cheek before tugging on her hand to get her to follow her. She walked towards the almost deserted beach. “I think you’re enough just the way you are.” She was silent until they reached the water’s edge “I started off wanting to be your friend. I never once wanted to make you idolize me or to be special like I deserved to be placed on a pedestal. We’re equals. We’re both human which means, I’ll make mistakes and so will you.”

Divia stared up at her in wonder. It was true Renee had never once tried to change her. She hadn’t insisted she wear a certain style of clothes or wear her hair a certain way. Didn’t promise to wait than pressure her for more. Didn’t always need her to make herself feel better. “For the first time I….” she hesitated uncertain exactly what she wanted to say.

“Yes” Renee asked lifting an eyebrow in need of waxing.

Giggling a little Divia smiled holding the young woman’s gaze. She took a step forward cupping her hands around Renee’s face. “I think for the first time I know what love is.”

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Renee breathed in deeply of the salty air from the ocean, the sand, the faint Lilly scent from Divia’s shampoo. Turning slightly she kissed the girls palm of one of the hand’s framing her face. “Does that mean what I think it does?”

Divia smiled moving closer until their bodies molded together. Dropping her hands to around the girls waist holding her close. “I love you.”

“I thought that’s what you meant” Renee smirked leaning her forehead on Divia’s.

“Shush” Divia instructed as she took control of the moment and brought her lips to Renee’s in a tentative kiss. It felt like the first time, her stomach somersaulted inside her making her knees weak. It was the way she imagined feeling but never did until this moment.

***

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Breaking the kiss Renee let a sigh escape, “it’s getting late.”

Nodding Divia took her hand to escort her back to the parking lot where they had left their car. “We’re going to be late and Vince hates when people are late.”

“Yeah” Renee giggled remembering the one time they told the uptight blonde they’d meet him at the movies and he was about to explode when they arrived five minutes before the movie started. “We won’t have time to change before we need to be at the restaurant.”

“What time is it?” Divia asked sliding into the passenger seat careful not to drag in half the beach with her.

“Six o’clock” Renee said backing out of their parking spot.

“What” she exclaimed “we’re supposed to be there now.”

“Relax” Renee laughed “it’s not the end of the world if we’re a few minutes late.”

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Divia nodded as she began to rummage in her bag for her lip gloss and brush. “I wish I had a hair tie or something” she mumbled surveying her touch up job in the mirror.

“You look fine” Renee assured her.

“That’s not saying much” Divia complained “you’d say I looked fine even if I were wearing a burlap sack.”

“Well it’s true” Renee laughed at the murderous glare Divia shot at her from across the car. “I doubt the restaurant would let you in though.”

“Haha very funny” Divia grumbled.

A few minutes later they pulled into the restaurant parking lot. “Aren’t you going to comb your hair?” Divia asked before the girl got out of the car.

“Why?” Renee asked “my hair isn’t going to look any less messy if I comb it.” Silently she held her hand out for the brush Divia was holding out to her. She ran it through her long hair a few times. “Better?” she asked tossing the brush at Divia before getting out of the car.

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“Not really” Divia shook her head when Renee gave her an I told you so look. Coming around the car Divia wound her arm through Renee’s. “Thanks for trying anyway. I appreciate the effort.”

Giving her a quick peck on the cheek Renee said “for you I’d do anything.” Divia immediately tried to hide behind her long blue hair. “Why do you do that?” Renee demanded stopping to tuck the long strands behind Divia’s ears.

“Do what?” Divia asked pretending she didn’t know what Renee was referring too.

“Hide” Renee said gently holding the girls face so she’d have to look at her “you always hide when I try to compliment you.”

“I don’t” she objected shaking her head in denial.

She raised an eyebrow “does it embarrass you to be told someone thinks the world of you?” She persisted knowing she was making Divia uncomfortable “did something happen to make you doubt yourself so much?”

“Well” Divia glanced towards the ground “I guess it all started when I was about thirteen. I was all legs and elbows. I was the awkward ugly duckling next to all my friends. Hannah and Teasha were so much prettier than me.”

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Renee snorted at the picture that entered her head of Olive Oil. “I’m sorry” she covered her mouth with her hand “please continue.”

“Well we were at the beach and a bunch of boys from school came over to us. You know flirting and showing off. I felt left out. Invisible.”

“Oh honey I’m so sorry” Renee pulled her close “kids can be so cruel sometimes.”

Swiping at her eyes Divia nodded “whenever someone compliments me I feel like that awkward little girl again.”

“There’s nothing awkward about you now” Renee squeezed her tight in front of the glass restaurant door. Before releasing her she have the girl a soft kiss on the cheek “you’re beautiful to me.”

“Thank you” Divia murmured feeling her cheeks flush with heat as she walked through the open door Renee was holding for her.

***

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Vincent had arrived early to take advantage of the time to check his emails and his social media sites. He hadn’t had the chance to check with all the baby prep his parents were having him help with. His dad was hopeless when it came to putting anything together. Vincent had taken it upon himself to dismantle and reassemble the crib that his dad had half assembled in his room one night when he couldn’t sleep. For the safety of his unborn sibling he had volunteered to assemble any other accessory his mother purchased that the baby absolutely needed.

Before he left for the restaurant that evening his dad had taken him aside saying “thanks son.”

“For what?” he asked confused to what his dad was referring to.

“You fixed the wobble in the crib” his cheeks were a deep crimson “you may have noticed I’m completely inept when it comes to assembling anything. When we were expecting you, Liono put everything together for me.”

“I’m glad I can help” Vincent smiled at his dad “it’s not a big deal. Are you and mom going to find out what it is?”

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Milo shook his head “your mom and I want it to be a surprise. Boy or girl we’ll be happy with either.”

Sitting in his car Vincent wondered if his parents lack of curiosity of the baby’s gender was because he had been so sickly and they just wanted a healthy baby. In a way he could understand that. He had cost his parents dearly with all the medical expenses he put them through for his eyesight. At times he felt guilty for all the money they had put into him. If it weren’t for his medical expenses his parents would have been able to have the large family they had always wanted.

Restlessly he got out of the car. He walked aimlessly around the plaza knowing it was too early to get a table. He didn’t relish the idea of sitting at a table for three alone until Divia decided to show up. Turning his phone off he decided he didn’t want to read anymore messages. None of them were from the one person he wanted most to hear from. Following his parent’s advice he had sent Trinity a text telling her how much he liked her. He hadn’t received a reply. He had to accept she didn’t want the same things he did.

“Vincent….” a familiar voice called his name.

***

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At the sound of her voice his heart jumped into his throat choking him. “Trinity” he whispered half afraid he had imagined her voice. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” she bit her bottom lip looking down and away appearing uncomfortable in his presence. “I got your message.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “I” she repeated breathing rapidly “there’s something I need to tell you.” She looked up a frightened expression on her normally confident exterior.

“Me?” he cried “what do you need to tell me that you haven’t already said? I know you’re not interested in relationships. I’ve accepted that.” Had she come all this way just to reiterate what she had already told him? He wanted nothing more than to sink into the ground and disappear right where he stood. He didn’t want to hear what she had to say. It hurt too much the first time.

“That’s what I thought too” she took a hesitant step forward putting a hand out touching his arm. “I thought I didn’t want commitments.” She stared at her hand on his harm before moving her gaze to his eyes “I think I’m ready to try…”

He blinked. Was something wrong with his ears? Did she just say what he thought she said? Did she really say she wanted to try? With him? Her hand suddenly felt hot and heavy sending shock waves through his entire body “What does…um….I mean….yes I’d like that” he stammered.

 

 

She smiled up at him. The corners of her eyes crinkling. “Good” she let a giddy laugh escape “I was afraid that you had um…” she took a deep breath “I was afraid you had given up on me.”

Shaking his head in denial he took her hand in his as he began to walk towards the restaurant. “I’ve liked you from the moment I saw you at that Halloween party last fall. I’ve done everything I could think of to purge you from my mind.”

Walking beside him her shoulders rubbing against his. “I spent most of my summer in Monte Vista hoping my mom would convince me that my old way of doing things was the best way. She’d go out on one date after another and I began to wonder if she were happy. She smiled but her eyes seemed dull and lifeless.” She looked up at him “I knew then I didn’t want to be like her. Going from one man to the next. I want something more. Something I’ve been afraid of since my Dad walked out on us. I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

“Afraid of what?” Vincent asked gently stroking her cheek.

“Commitment. Of having someone I love walk out of my life again.” She reached a hand up to his pressing it firmly to her face. “I never meant to hurt you. I know I did and I’m sorry.” A single tear rolled down the contours of her face “I’ll understand if you don’t want to give me another chance.”

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“Of course I’d give you another chance” he gasped “I haven’t been able to get you off my mind. I owe you so much. Who knows what might have happened to me if you hadn’t helped me.”

“Did you ever get your wallet back?” she asked as they resumed walking.

“Nope” he shrugged “the girls have community service though. The cops found my credit cards in their dorm room. Thankfully they hadn’t used them yet. Just spent all my cash.”

“They’ll do it again” Trinity foretold “community service is just a slap on the wrist.”

“Maybe” Vincent said feeling more charitable now that he had what he wanted most. Glancing at his watch he said “I’m supposed to meet Divia and her girlfriend at this restaurant” he pointed towards the building they had been walking towards. “Want to join us?”

Trinity shook her head hanging back. She could see Vince looking at her “I don’t want to intrude….”

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“Nonsense” he shrugged off her protests “you’ll be with me.” He smiled at her “if it makes you uncomfortable you don’t have to.”

She looked at him then at the restaurant. A thousand thoughts racing through her head at once. She had never been with anyone long enough to meet family or friends. There was a first time for everything she thought smiling up at him. “I’ll come if you promise not to flirt with any blondes.”

He chuckled a little “deal no blondes but red heads and brunettes are fair game.”

“Hey” she protested slapping his arm “I never said that.”

“Alright no flirting” he said holding the door for her “unless it’s you doing the flirting.”

She gave him a worried glance then smiled “I only want to flirt with you.”

Chapter 33 – Where is He? / Chapter 35 – Reunion

Hannah – Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes he’s alive” he affirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“When will you be back?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your room” he said quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 30 – Therapy / Chapter 32 – Missing You

Hannah – Chapter 28 – Almost

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Groaning Vincent swallowed grimacing as his tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth. His throat was parched like he had just finished a running a marathon. He opened his eyes a crack blinking at the sudden brightness of the unfamiliar room. Where was he?

He moved to sit up. Swinging his legs over whatever he was lying on. He grabbed his head as the room spun around. His head began to throb to an unheard beat. What did he do last night?

The last thing he remembered as leaving the club. Drinking one too many drinks. The girls helping him out. Their high-pitched giggles as they ran their hands up his arm. One of them, he squeezed his eyes shut, one of them kissed him. The other had…he reached for his back pocket groaning when his hand came up empty. His wallet was gone.

“It’s about time you woke up” a concerned voice said from above his head. A door opened and closed. “How’s the head?” she asked as she dropped something heavy on a something with a loud bang.

“Pounding” Vincent mumbled “where am I?” He winced as he tried to move his neck.

“My dorm room” Trinity said coming into his limited eye sight. “It was closer than yours” she added.

Rubbing his temples he groaned “I think I’m going to be sick.”

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She handed him a nearby trash can “use this.”

He grabbed it in time to empty his stomach contents into it. “Thanks” he mumbled holding the trash can in case he needed it again.

“You should probably see a doctor,” she advised him “you took a pretty bad tumble.”

He grunted as flashes of the night before come to mind. The one kissing him kept him distracted while the other took his wallet “she hit me.”

“What was that?” Trinity asked from her desk.

“She hit me” he repeated “she took my wallet than hit me.”

“You don’t mean those blonde’s you were with last night” Trinity asked turning to face him.

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“Yeah them” he moaned “I must have been an easy mark. Here I was thinking they liked me. I should have known better.”

She refrained from agreeing with him. “Be thankful it wasn’t worse” she said turning back to her homework.

“Is it really that late?” Vincent asked after several minutes of silence had passed between them. “I couldn’t have slept that much.”

“Well you were pretty out of it” Trinity said from her desk “don’t forget you did take a nasty knock to the head.” Sounds of him retching filled her ears “you might have a concussion.”

“I think I’d rather be dead” he moaned wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Come on” she said moving from her desk “you need to see the doctor.” She put an arm around him as he swayed on his feet.

“Thank you” he mumbled grateful for her support.

***

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Trinity drove him to the hospital. Helped him inside. “I’ll wait here” she said as he waited his turn in line to talk to the beleaguered nurse behind the admittance desk.

Vincent shuffled over to where she was sitting “you don’t have stay.”

“I don’t mind” she said looking up from the book she was reading “I have plenty of things to keep me occupied.”

Vincent nodded noticing for the first time the book bag lying next to her feet. With a groan he leaned back wishing he had left when Ryan had left the night before.

They sat in silence for several minutes each pretending the other wasn’t there. Vincent heaved a loud sigh a he leaned his elbows on his knees mumbling “I can’t do this.”

“Can’t do what?” she demanded laying her book aside.

“This” he waved a hand around “I thought I wanted fun and games. No commitments. It’s just not me.”

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“Vince I…” she gulped, heart pounding in her chest.

“I know you don’t want commitments. You like having a different guy on your arm every night.” He gazed across the full waiting room wishing he were any place else. “I can’t do that. I want someone to look at me like I hung the moon. Someone who see’s me. Wants me.” Shaking his head “I don’t know maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I…just forget it.”

He got up and shuffled towards the water fountain. Trinity watched him go. Her eyes never leaving his back. What was she supposed to say? She couldn’t just change her mind about her feelings about relationships, could she? Admit she wanted a steady one guy committed relationship. Besides that would he even believe her? The entire thing made her feel slightly nauseous.

She watched as he took a seat on the opposite end of the waiting room. Glumly she glared out the nearby window. A young couple with a baby stood on the sidewalk. Balloons with congratulations written on them fluttered in the air above their heads. Their smiling happy faces a contrast to the gloomy gray skies. Had her parents been like that when they brought her home from the hospital? What had gone wrong between them? Was hat what she was running away from all this time?

Turning from the window she gazed across the crowded waiting room. A part of her longed for that kind of relationship. Someone to call her own. What was holding her back from taking what she wanted? Fear. Fear that she’d get hurt. Hurt the way she had been when she lost her horse. She never wanted to experience that kind of loss again.

She stooped to gather her things. Standing she made her way towards Vincent. He sat with his head down staring at the floor. Taking the empty seat beside him. She stared at him willing the words she wanted to say to just come out her mouth.

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Vincent rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably aware of Trinity’s presence.”What do you want?” he grumbled eyes focused on his toes.

“I…” the words got stuck in her throat. Taking a deep breath she tried again “Vincent I might want to …”

“Vincent Rake,” a nurse called from the admittance desk.

Vincent stood up hesitantly beside her “you might want what?”

“Never mind. It can wait,” she waved him forward “you shouldn’t keep them waiting.” She could see the hesitancy in his eyes. “Go” she repeated “I’ll be here when you get out.”

Nodding he walked towards the nurse. He glanced back before going through the emergency room doors to see the doctor. He had the feeling he was missing something.

***

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Hannah woke up feeling as if she had been wrapped up in a comfortable cocoon. A small smile fluttered across her face as she closed her eyes snuggling into the side of the person beside her. Their arm moved, falling across her. The events of the night before flooded her mind. She shivered as if from cold and his arm tightened around her.

“You cold” his groggy voice asked.

“No” she smiled snuggling into him. She wasn’t cold. It was the same feeling she had the night before. The one that kept her from wanting to be alone. She kept feeling the hands of her attacker. She hadn’t needed protecting. She had been enough. She had kept her head. She had been afraid. Who wouldn’t be?

Her dad’s insistence that she learn to protect herself had paid off. He’d be so proud of her. She brought a hand up to her eyes. Wiped a stray tear away. She’d never be able to tell him. His gentle sensitive nature would never be able to cope with it. She didn’t want him to be in turmoil because of her. She didn’t want him to worry about her anymore than he already did.

Rory on the other hand would take it in stride. He’d be concerned. He’d worry. He’d be confident his little girl could look out for herself. She looked up to find Donovan leaning on one hand starting down at her. “What?” she asked irritation plain in her voice. She hated waking up early and after last night she hadn’t slept well.

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“You’re crying” he gently wiped a tear away “do you regret staying the night?”

After Donovan had walked her home she had been shivering so much he had led her to his room. Wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and held her until the shivers stopped. She had seen Eddie in enough anxiety attacks to recognize the signs. Donovan had done everything Rory had done for her dad. She felt so weak and fragile. “Just hold me” she requested the same as she had the night before.

Donovan moved around in the bed pulling her close. He placed a soft kiss on her forehead “you have nothing to fear. No one will hurt you.”

She let herself relax into him. Closing her eyes she listened to his steady even breathing. “I wish you could meet my parents,” she said wistfully “they’d like you.”

Her head bounced on his shoulder “I doubt that,” he chuckled “most parents; especially dad’s don’t like me.” Silence fell between them. He stroked her long blond hair breathing in the light strawberry scent of her shampoo. “Besides I thought you didn’t like me.”

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“I don’t” she readily agreed.

“Then why would you want me to meet your parents?” he asked curiosity lased his words.

“Are you still mad at me for how I reacted yesterday?” she asked turning in his arms to look up at him “I am sorry.”

“No I’m not mad” he squeezed her tight “it’s just” he stopped staring across the room a perplexed look in his eyes.

“it’s just what?” she prompted.

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“We’re from two different worlds,” he finally said sitting up pulling his knees to his chest “we see the world from different eyes.”

“Don’t say that” she cried “we’re not that different. I well I don’t know anything about hacking or…”

Shaking his head he interrupted her “you’re the good girl my mom always hoped I meet. The one she hopes will make me want to mend my evil ways.” He glanced away not wanting her to see how conflicted he felt about what he was going to say next. “We just won’t work. I’m the bad boy. Not the kind of guy you take home to your parents.”

“No” she protested with force. “You don’t get to break up with me. Not like this. You’re too busy pretending to be the bad boy that you don’t see how much you’ve changed.”

Amusement made his lips twitch. “Oh I think I know myself pretty well.”

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“Really?” she challenged eyebrows arched “the bad boy would have taken advantage of the damsel in distress. I practically threw myself at you last night begging you to have sex with me but you didn’t. Instead” her eyes locked with his “you held me in your arms until I fell asleep. You were the perfect gentlemen.”

He broke eye contact with her “it’s not like I didn’t want to.”

“That’s what makes you different” she asserted “the bad boy wouldn’t have hesitated. You did. Even hacking you do it with a purpose. To help someone out of a bad situation like Waylon. If you were really a bad boy you’d be making yourself rich.”

His hand moved across his rumpled blankets. Smiling when he felt Hannah take it. “You sound so sure of yourself. Why? I could be manipulating you. Tricking you.”

Shaking her head she lifted his hand to her lips “you’d have done that already. I think I’m the only one you’ve ever let see who you really are.” She leaned her head to the side watching him “I think that scares you.”

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“Nothing scares me” he bluffed “least of all a green-eyed blonde little girl.”

“I see you and that’s what scares you” she bit her lip “please say you’ll come to meet my dad’s.”

“Dads?” his voice sounded stressed “I’m awful with just one dad but two. I don’t know.”

She nodded “just don’t mention what happened last night. My dad will freak out.”

“Why?” he asked meeting her gaze “you handled yourself well. You didn’t need me or anyone to rescue you. I’d think they’d be proud of you.”

 

 

Looking down she nodded “my dad Rory would be proud of me but daddy….” she sighed blinking back tears “daddy would freak out. He’s the one who insisted I learn to protect myself but he wouldn’t want to know I actually had to use it to save myself.”

“I think you wrong” Donovan squeezed her hand “but I promise I won’t tell him.” He leaned over kissing her lips at first soft and gentle than more passionately as she returned the kiss. His hands traveled down her body hiking up her dress.

She pulled back eyes sparkling dangerously. Batting his hands away she pulled her dress down. “You had your chance last night. Now you’ll just have to wait.”

He rolled over groaning “woman you’re going to be the death of me.”

Giggling she straightened her clothes before walking to the door. “I hope not. If you die now you’re going to miss out on a whole lot of fun.”

Chapter 27 – Homeward Bound / Chapter 30 – Don’t Need You

 

Hannah – Chapter 22 – If You’re Not Having Fun

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Trinity tossed the book aside. She was supposed to be studying instead all she could think about was the blond who was with Vincent. She had been walking past his dorm when she had seen him come out with a girl on his arm. She had recognized the girl from the theater.

She stepped into the shadows not wanting to be noticed. The last thing she wanted to do was explain why she was at his dormitory. She had no reason for being there. She couldn’t even use the excuse she was walking by on her way home. Her dorm was in the other direction. She might have been able to use Ryan as her reason for being there except he seemed to be on some sort of double date with Vincent with another cute little blond on his arm. Briefly she wondered what happened to the girl Ryan had been so hung up on. Had she finally turned him loose from the hook she had him on?

As the couples got into a taxi Trinity backed up further hoping they wouldn’t see her. “Excuse me” she mumbled when she bumped into someone. It was the girl she had been wondering about. The girls eyes seemed glued on the group driving away. Trinity doubted the girl was even aware of her presence and a second later she shuffled off in the direction of the door.

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Somewhat relieved Trinity set off for home. She didn’t even know why she had felt compelled to go to Vincent’s dorm. Ever since that movie night she felt somehow drawn to the tall, intelligent, good-looking blond.

Glancing at the time Trinity moaned. That was almost three hours ago. Why couldn’t she just forget him? She never had trouble before. No one had ever gotten under her skin led alone her mind. Sometimes it just took talking to someone else to forget about the guy who had winked at her the moment before. Why was Vincent’s face imprinted on her brain? Why was he different?

She grabbed her ear buds and changed into her workout clothes. She’d go for a run. It was late but she hoped by the time she returned she’d be too exhausted to think about anything or anyone.

***

Vincent wrapped an arm around the pretty blonde smiling broadly at her. He had no idea what she was talking about. All he had been doing was nodding for the past hour. He looked across the table at his friend who seemed to be bored out of his mind. Couldn’t the guy crack a smile? Pretend to be interested or at least having a good time? He kicked Ryan’s shin under the table which got him an angry glare before Ryan buried his face in the menu.

That was the last thing Vincent wanted Ryan concentrating on. Ryan had agreed to go out with Liz’s, Lisa’s, Lydia’s ugh what’s her name’s friend. Vince didn’t want him scrutinizing the cost of the meal. For a guy who had the ready cash Ryan acted like he didn’t have any money to afford an expensive meal. As expected Ryan jerked his head up from the menu scowling in disapproval.

Vince tried to ignore it. Play innocent. He knew Ryan would give in and cover the cost of the meal for all of them. No doubt he was going hear about it later. Vincent would promise to pay him back and Ryan would tell him it wasn’t necessary. Vincent gave his friend his best innocent grin “I didn’t know it would be this expensive when I suggested this place.”

Ryan gave him a doubtful look that left Vincent with no doubts. He was definitely going to hear about this later. For now he’d play along. Vincent felt a pang of guilt at manipulating his friend this way. He didn’t even know why he wanted to impress these girls so much especially when he couldn’t even remember their names.

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Once they left the restaurant Vincent took Ryan aside “I know you don’t like her but I’m asking you. Please stay.”

“I’m tired” Ryan shook his head “I have a test to study for and homework to finish.”

“Those are excuses and you know it” Vincent snapped “I’ve known you long enough to know. If you had an assignment due you wouldn’t have gone out at all tonight.”

“If you know me so well why’d you think I’d like a girl who would rather act like a ditz instead of owning her intelligence?” Ryan growled barely keeping his voice down so the girls couldn’t hear him.

“I never said you’d like her” Vincent rolled his eyes “what I said was you needed to go out and have some fun.”

“I’m not having fun” Ryan pointed out.

Scratching his head Vincent nodded “no you’re not unless you like having teeth pulled.”

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Ryan gave him a sharp look “I like having intelligent conversations not constantly bombarded with prattle that means nothing.” He took a step forward “seriously she hasn’t stopped talking all night. My ears hurt. I need some peace and quiet.”

“Alright go” Vincent sighed “go home. I’ll manage without you.”

While Ryan made his apologies and his escape Vincent almost wished he was going with him. He enjoyed a good intelligent conversation too. These girls seemed to talk to hear themselves speak. Unbidden the thought of Trinity came to mind. She never wasted words. She said what she meant. She didn’t play games except she wasn’t into relationships. She wanted to have fun. When Ryan turned and started walking towards home Vincent almost decided to call it a night and go with him. The girls however were gazing at him like he was some kind of king or hero. This time. This moment he was the center of someone’s universe. He wasn’t ready to give that up. Not if it meant going back to being the invisible guy. The one no one saw. The one who blended into the back ground.

He put his arms around the girls and smiled. No he wasn’t going back to that persona ever. He was going to have some fun. “Where shall we go?” he asked expansively.

The girls giggled whispering to each other before whats-her-name suggested “let’s go to this little club we know about.”

***

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In a fit of frustrated anger Trinity tossed her books onto her desk after she came back from her short run. A framed picture crashed to the floor. “Great! Just great” she mumbled as she stooped to pick it up. It was the only family picture she had of herself and her parents. She ran a finger lightly over the picture. When had they been this happy she wondered? They had all been smiling. Even their eyes had a sparkle that hadn’t been their since. It was the last time they had ever done anything as a family. She had been about eight or nine at the time. It was after that vacation her dad started to be away from home for long stretches of time and her mom had become more and more withdrawn.

Who cheated first? Her dad when he was away from home or her mom seeking companionship while her dad was away? Trinity tried to remember through the haze of time. She was twelve when she found out about her dad’s other family but before that her mom seemed to have a revolving door of men she called her ‘special’ friends.

Each one would bring her an expensive gift, the newest trendiest toy they could find. One guy even gave her a pony. She loved that pony. A slight smile graced her lips before her eyes misted with tears. She had liked that guy the most. What was his name? Tony? Jim? Ed? It was too long ago. He was part of a long stream of men her mother paraded in and out of her life.

Trinity ran up the road towards the stables. She couldn’t wait to see Sorbet. She had been shut inside for hours having one boring class after another. She knew she should go inside first. Her mother expected her to greet her first thing when she got home. Everyday it was the same boring routine. Dutiful kiss on the cheek. Homework. Change clothes. Then freedom. Glorious freedom. Hair whipping in the wind. Yelling as she raced across the fields on top of Sorbet. She relished those moments of carefree abandonment.

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Today was different. She had this feeling that something was wrong all day. It was nothing she could put her finger on but something wasn’t right. Her book bag slipped from her shoulder falling to the straw strewn floor of the stable. Trinity stared into the stall where Sorbet should have been waiting for her.

Turning she ran from the stable. Tears staining her cheeks as she burst into the house. Approaching her mother where she waited for her return. Turning dull listless eyes her mom sat stiffly on the couch. “You’re late” she informed her daughter glancing at the time as if to emphasize her point.

“Where’s Sorbet?” Trinity demanded her chest heaving “where is he? Where’s Sorbet?”

“That’s no way to greet your mother” her mom rebuked her turning her cheek up waiting for the dutiful peck on the cheek.

Hands clenched at her sides Trinity took a step forward ingrained obedience taking over. The instant her lips touched her mother’s dry skin she stepped back repeating “where’s my horse mama?”

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Her mother’s eyes flickered towards her daughter a glean of guilt in them before sliding away. “Sorbet is gone,” she stood as if to leave “you’re not to ask about it again.”

“Gone” Trinity cried as if her whole world just imploded upon itself “gone where?”

“How should I know?” her mother shouted at her “where ever John lives I suppose. I told him to take it when he left.”

“Tell him to bring Sorbet back” Trinity demanded stomping her foot.

Her mother’s eyes narrowed as her pinched nostrils flared “Sorbet isn’t coming back. Neither is John. They are both gone just like your father is gone.”

Trinity watched her mother stride purposefully from the room. Her shoulders straight, her back rigid. The air between them vibrated with tension. Once she was alone Trinity turned running from the house. She ran to the stables where Sorbet should have been waiting for her. The one thing she love most in the world was gone forever. The one thing she thought was hers was ruthlessly taken from her. She leaned against the stall door falling to the floor crying.

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First daddy left. Then John. Now Sorbet. She had no one. No one but mommy and mommy didn’t want her not really.

She didn’t know how long she had cried on the cold straw covered floor. She must have cried herself to sleep as the next thing she knew she was waking up in her bed inside her room. Her mother was sitting beside her looking worried. “I’m sorry” Trinity mumbled.

Her mother gave her one of her rare sweet smiles. Gently she brushed a lock of hair from Trinity’s face “one day you’ll see why becoming attached to things isn’t the way to go. Being attached to something means getting hurt. No one wants to get hurt.”

Trinity pulled the covers close around her chin listening intently to her mother’s words. “You’ll see” her mom continued a gentleness in her words “once it stops being fun it’s time to move on. If you’re not having fun there’s no point in being with someone.” Trinity didn’t know exactly what her mom was talking about then but she had a sense that what she was saying was important. She had lived by those words never doubting them until now. Was it really the best way to go through life?

***

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Trinity sighed putting the picture carefully on her desk. How little she knew them. How much her mother’s words had impacted her life she hadn’t realized until now. It had been her mother to move on to the next guy once the fun was over. Unconsciously she had copied her mom in her pursuit of fun. A life without entanglements had seemed the best way to go. It had worked up until now. At least she thought it had. Once again she glanced at the family in the picture. Was it really what she wanted? Her dad had gotten remarried. Started a whole new life for himself. Had she been right to cut off all ties with him?

Blowing her nose she dried her eyes. There was no more studying to be done tonight. She needed to distract herself. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror. She had to make a quick change but she knew exactly where to go for the distraction she needed.

Thirty minutes later she walked into the noisy club. She walked confidently onto the dance floor and began to gyrate her body in rhythm of the music. She soon gathered an appreciate audience. She slapped a hand from her waist when someone tried to pull her close. She took a step back not wanting to be hemmed in. Her rhythm faltered when her gaze fell upon a small group. Then she smiled beguiling at the owner of the wandering hand pulling him closer. At the moment she was in the mood to put on a show.

Vincent shook his head as his date offered him another drink. Ears buzzing he held his hand over his glass “no I’m fine” his words slurred together. Was he drunk? He might be. He wasn’t sure. He had never been drunk before. He hadn’t thought his fake ID would pass inspection. The bouncer hardly gave it a glance as the man’s eyes raked across the girls.

Vincent gladly sat at the table the girls guided him to where the room rotated around him. The girls giggled kissing his cheeks before going off to dance. He felt on top of the world as he waved at the girls as they gyrated around each other. Somewhere in his drunken state he thought their touches and giggles seemed to be bit more intimate than two best friends. If he didn’t know better the way they were acting reminded him of Marzia and Divia the few times he had been around them.

His smile slipped then faltered altogether as his eyes caught sight of someone on the other side of the girls. His breath caught in his throat….Trinity. A roaring swishing sound filled his ears. What was she doing here? Dancing was the obvious answer. He watched the guy grinding up against her as he reached for the drink he had refused minutes before. His eyes followed her every movement. She seemed to enjoy his misery. He moaned emptying the drink in one swift gulp.

The blonds finding his attention diverted from them hurried to his side. Through the alcohol induced haze he heard them talking. It was like he was under tons of water and the voices were a million miles away. He allowed them to pull him to his feet. Swaying he almost fell over. Definitely drunk he giggled.

Chapter 21 – How Much / Chapter 23 – Not What He Meant

Hannah – Chapter 21 – How Much?

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Charity fidgeted with the silverware laid out neatly on the cloth napkin on the expensive white tablecloth. Idly she wondered why any restaurant, regardless of how elite would use white anything. It showed every stain, every spill that clumsy customers made. A darker color would hide the stains better. She took a sip of water from the cool sweating glass. Eyes darting around the slowly filling dining room. Where was she? Charity glanced at her phone. She was late…again.

Charity tried to convince herself that the woman was late the last time they met too. Maybe she was a chronic late arriver. Maybe Ryan was right. Maybe her so called mother was up to something. The thought of Ryan brought a sour look to her pretty face. It had been over a month since Ryan had spoken to her. Not a word since that incident at the coffee shop with her mother. She had unfairly blamed him for that first meeting failing. She had been hurt. Disappointed. Humiliated from being rejected by the very woman who gave her life. She had let him walk away without a word. She had thought he’d come back. He didn’t.

“Excuse me” a calm patient voice said above her “are you ready to order?”

“No um” she looked around the room “I don’t think my date is coming.”

“I see” the waiter wrote out a ticket “I’m sorry but I do have to charge you for the water and taking up a dining table.”

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Hastily she dug into her wallet for the five dollars she needed to cover her expenses. What kind of place was this that they charged for water? Walking outside she was relieved she wouldn’t have to find out how expensive the meal would have been. No doubt her mother would have expected her to pay for that too like the latte. She had come prepared with her emergency credit card.

She had felt guilty slipping the card into her wallet knowing her parents had given it to her for emergencies. She doubted having an expensive meal at an elite restaurant would qualify as an emergency. Glancing into the night sky the first stars of the evening were just becoming visible. She felt like a child as she thought about what she’d wish for. If only her problems could be solved so easily.

She arrived back at the dorm in time to see Vincent and Ryan leaving arm in arm with a couple of long-legged blond beauties. She hung back in the shadows hoping they wouldn’t notice her. What did they see in them?

Charity had never considered herself a jealous person. It was just weird to see Ryan with someone else. See him smile down at someone the way he used to look at her. She wondered if the blond had butterflies in her stomach whenever he looked at her like that. Was he happy now that he had forgotten all about her?

She walked into her room surprised to find it dark and empty. She curled into a ball on her bed a teddy bear hugged close to her chest. She smiled sadly remembering where and when she had gotten Mr Puffer.

***

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She and Hannah were waiting for Ryan to join them at the arcade. They had taken up the space beside the photo booth. Giggling at the sounds coming from within. “What do you think they’re doing in there?” Charity asked .

Laughing harder at her friends ignorance. Hannah grabbed Charity’s arm and pulled her through the exit doors “you don’t want to know” she said with a knowing grin.

“But…” she turned to look back wondering what Hannah was talking about “didn’t you want a picture?”

“Not now” Hannah giggled “not after what they did in there.”

Knitting her brows together Charity was on the verge of asking what exactly she was missing when Ryan came running up to them.

“Sorry I’m late” he panted “I had to baby sit my baby sister until my parents got home.”

“Eew” Hannah protested when he tried to put his arms around her “you’re all sweaty and gross.”

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“What did you expect?” he asked “I rode my bike all the way here.” He winked at Charity before opening the door for the two of them to go in first.

Charity tripped on her way in. Her mind still distracted. Ryan winked at her. OMG Ryan winked at her. Did that mean he liked her?

“Earth to Ity” Hannah said sounding annoyed.

“Err what?” she asked confused.

“What game do you want to play?” Hannah asked.

Charity could feel their eyes watching her. Waiting. Her cheeks felt like they were on fire as Ryan suggested one game after another. She could see his mouth moving but she couldn’t understand anything he was saying. “Ow” she cried scowling at Hannah “what was that for?” she demanded rubbing her arm where Nana had pinched her.

Ignoring the girls Ryan pointed at the claw machine “what do you want out of this thing?”

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Hannah pointed at some object that looked fairly easy to get. After a couple of tries Ryan presented it to her. “Charity what do you want?” he asked smirking.

Biting her lip She studied the machine and the objects within. She wanted this to be difficult if not impossible for him to accomplish. She smiled pointing towards a stuffed bear wedged in tight with other objects surrounding it.

“Are you sure?” he asked dubiously.

“Yeah that’s the one” she nodded.

“Come on Ity choose something else” Hannah entreated her bored already.

Eyes beaming Ryan inserted his tokens “what my lady wants she shall receive.”

Several hours later and several discarded objects they had given to the growing crowd of little kids Ryan finally succeeded in getting the teddy bear from the claw machine. “For you my lady” he said with a deep bow he presented the teddy bear to her.

***

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Charity squeezed Mr Puffins to her chest. It was hard to believe that was over five years ago. They had been such kids then. All good friends. A tear dropped on the bears face. She couldn’t believe the boy who had spent hours trying to get a stupid teddy bear from a machine had given up on her. She missed her friend. Missed hearing his voice. Missed knowing he had her back.

Why had she let her mom, a virtual stranger, push her friends away? Ryan was only looking out for her while her own mother was jerking her around like a dog on a leash. The least that woman could have done was call to say she wasn’t going to be able to make it. Swiping at the hot angry tears Charity couldn’t help but wonder why she ever cared about that woman. That woman hadn’t even wanted her. Somehow she acted like Charity owed her something. She didn’t. She didn’t owe her a damn thing. Charity’s hand flew to her mouth shocked that such a word might have come out of her mouth. She felt like she ought to have her mouth washed out with soap. She shouldn’t have let that awful woman drive a wedge between her and Ryan.

***

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Ryan put his arm around the cute blond as he walked from the dorm. Secretly he wished the girl would be quiet for at least ten seconds at a time. It was constant nonstop dribble about absolutely nothing. What did he care about why this pair of shoes was better than another pair? This dress hugged her curves better than another that just hung in all the wrong places. She had gone on and on until Ryan had to consciously resist the desire to roll his eyes at her shallowness and inane prattle.

He caught the amused look in Vincent’s eyes. He wondered where his friend had met these two air heads and why he wasn’t mooning over Trinity anymore. He didn’t have time to think much about it as the girls started hinting they were hungry. He helped his date into her jacket, if you could call the flimsy piece of material he wrapped around her shoulders a jacket.

They walked outside to the excited prattle of the girls. Ryan hesitated for a moment thinking he saw something in the shadows. Was it Charity? She looked so sad. Should he go and check on her? While his mind was preoccupied with what he may or may not have seen he allowed himself to be dragged along with the group.

Before he knew it he was sitting at a table with a fancy white tablecloth staring at a menu. Scanning it his eyes bulged at the astronomical prices. What kind of place is this? He kicked Vincent’s leg under the table to get his attention. “I can’t afford this” he grumbled despite the gasps of despair from their dates.

Glaring at him Vincent calmly closed the menu “why didn’t you say anything when I mentioned going out to eat?”

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“You never said we were going to the palace” Ryan snapped “I had no idea how expensive this place is.”

“Can’t you make an exception this one time,” Vincent huffed “I know you prefer McDonald’s but I promised the girls fine cuisine.”

Silently seething Ryan picked up the menu knowing that Vincent was hoping he’d foot the bill. He shot his friend a look over the menu half a mind to walk out and stick him with the bill. Lucky for Vincent he had his head buried in his menu.

Once they had placed their orders and Ryan had a mild infarction at the cost he tallied in his head he smiled at the girl to his right. She really was pretty. Despite her incessant prattle he knew there was more between her ears than air. She was one of the top students in the school. He couldn’t help but wonder if this blond bimbo act made her feel better or if it was a camouflage for the unsuspecting male.

Ryan much preferred intelligent conversation to incessant talking without a point. He shot Vincent another look wondering what Vincent saw in these girls. Failing to get his friend’s attention Ryan nodded absently at whatever the girl was saying. It didn’t seem to faze her to know he was barely even listening to her. His mind kept going back to Charity. Had she met with her mom? He should have been there with her. He shouldn’t have let his frustration get the better of him.

***

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“I’m tired” Ryan yawned demonstrating just how tired he was.

“You can sleep all day tomorrow” Vincent tried to persuade him.

“Not tonight” Ryan shook his head. The last thing he wanted to do was hang out for another few hours with his date. He was crazy to have let Vincent talk him into going out with … her in the first place. He couldn’t even remember her name. “I have an assignment do and I’m tired,” he begged off.

“Have it your way” Vincent laughed putting an arm around each of the girls as they continued into one of the popular clubs on campus.

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Shaking his head Ryan turned to make his way back to the dorm. Vincent knew him well enough to know he couldn’t wait to escape his date. He much preferred a girl who knew how to enjoy a comfortable silence. Charity had always been able to know the difference. Sighing he looked up in the night sky. He missed her so much. Even if she never wanted anything more than to be friends he was willing to make do with whatever she was willing to give him. It was painful not being able to talk to her.

Hannah kept telling him to apologize. Honestly what did he do to apologize for? He just wanted to protect her from her mother. Charity wouldn’t listen to him. She blamed him for the failed meeting at the coffee shop. That hurt the most. Charity should have known he was only trying to help her.

He shoved his hands into his pockets as he continued towards the dorm. He had seen Charity as he left with his date. She must have taken a step back so they wouldn’t notice her. He had seen the anguish in her pretty face and knew that something was terribly wrong. He should have gone to her. Should have wrapped his arms around her telling her everything was going to be alright. He failed her when he left her like that.

***

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He heard someone clear their throat nearby. Glancing up he saw the woman who had come into the dorm with papers proving she was Charity’s mom. His eyes narrowed as she approached him.

“I need to talk to you” she said without preamble.

“Unless you’ve come too say your going to leave Charity alone we don’t have anything to talk about,” he tried to step around her but she grabbed his arm forcing him to look at her.

“I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say” she squeezed his arm.

He could feel the bite of her fingernails in his skin “what do you want?” he asked as she dragged him towards an unlit path. Dismayed he jerked his arm free. Every instinct telling him to run.

“I’m not going to hurt you” she said laughing at him “you should see your face.”

Rubbing his arm he scowled at her “what do you want?”

“You want me to leave Charity alone” the woman said ignoring his question. She looked up at him a sinister gleam in her eyes “how much is it worth to you?”

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“What?” he stammered unsure he was hearing her correctly.

She gave him a pitying glance “you heard me.” She took a step closer to him running a casual hand up his jacket “how much are you willing to pay me to leave Charity alone?”

His eyes darted around the darkening campus. He had known this woman was up to something. He just didn’t expect it to be about money. Why him? “No” he shoved her hands away from him.

“Pity” she pouted “I thought you cared about her.” She took a step back “I’ll have to get it from Hannah instead.”

“Leave her alone” Ryan growled.

She raised an eyebrow at him “I thought that might get your attention.”

“How much?” he asked.

“I’ll be in touch” she said turning and walking away.

Ryan watched her until she seemed to melt into the darkness. Heart pounding in his chest he wondered if he had enough cash to cover her demand. He doubted it. If he went to his parents they’d want to know why he needed so much money. Not that they were stingy or anything it’s just they were his parents. Questions came with the territory. What was he going to do?

Chapter 20 – Falling In and Out of Place / Chapter 22 – If You’re Not Having Fun