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A Lost Tale
The lines of fate on my hand, once so brisght, faded into echo.
The memory of his face in my dreams, once so luminous, passed into shadow.
Her heart pounded, anticipation spreading through her bloodstream like wildfire through parched woods on a dry autumn afternoon. She knew he was coming, he was close, he was here. Finally. Every throbbing beat of her heart attested to his ever closer proximity.
She flew out of the secluded cave in an exhilarated run, all her tribe’s warnings forgotten. Her heart was leading her where it belonged. To him. And her heart had never been wrong – she always followed its guidance and it always led her to triumph. Triumph over fear, over pain, over starvation. Her heart led her tribe to greener pastures, to lusher lands, to forests teeming with wildlife to be hunted and ripe fruit to be plucked.
At the tender age of fourteen, she was the chief of her people. She was their guide and their leader. She has never led them astray; they only prospered under her leadership. So why did they not understand now that her destiny lie with him? That he was the lone destination of the journey that was her life? Finally she saw him, materializing out of the mist that blanketed the forest in the early morning light. There was no mistaking his large form; no man she knew was that tall or that broad. His hair glinted like a golden beacon amidst the grey fog.
“Archelaus!” she shouted in joy and ran to him. Her dark hair was flying behind her like the wings of a raven unfurling in the wind. She hit his solid chest, her head resting exactly where it belonged, right where his heart beat strong. Her fingers curled into his emerald green tunic and she inhaled the earthy scent that was his very own, that clung to him like dew to leaves.
“I knew you would come for me Arc,” she breathed in relief. “I knew you would find me.”
She looked up into his face then, his golden eyes. And frowned at him. His eyes were filled with pain. No, pain was too mild a word for what she saw there. It was despair of a man who saw his most cherished ones being destroyed with no power to save them. She let out an alarmed sound and clasped his face between her small palms.
“Arc, what has happened? Do tell me!” she said in a panicked whisper, as if speaking aloud would make the catastrophe more devastating.
“I am sorry, Signý,” he whispered back at her.
She noticed then that his arms were not wrapped around her. She only had to get within touching distance and he would open his arms to engulf her in them, her safe haven from everything that was frightening in the treacherous world. She missed those arms now and knew something was terribly wrong. She took several steps away from him, her heart now stuttering in fear rather than desire. Her worst nightmare was coming true and it was emblazoned clearly in his eyes.
“I am scared, Arc,” she said in a voice quavering with dread.
“I love you Signý, more than I have ever loved anyone,” he said softly. Yet his declaration only heightened her trepidation. Archelaus looked distraught, but his suffering was for something that was about to take place rather than something that had already come to pass.
“No, Arc.” Her dark blue eyes filled with tears. “Why?”
“You killed them, Signý. All of them…” his voice broke.
Yes, she had killed them. But she never imagined that Arc would impugn her for defending her own. Her tribe had warned her that the killings will not go unpunished. They forced her to go into hiding until the storm passed. But in the deepest chasms of her soul, she was certain Arc would never fault her for those deaths. Self-defense was an accepted motive for murder.
“You know I had to, Arc,” she pleaded. “They would have slaughtered my people, all the children and the women…”
“And you brought him back.” He was pointing out a folly she had not meant to commit and one she regretted with all her heart. He would have been better off dead. Now Arc looked at her with jealousy and accusation in his eyes, asking questions she had no answers to. Yet for some reason, the jealousy gave her a small measure of pleasure. It signified his love for her. And for her, that was the be-all and end-all of her existence.
“Do you love him, Signý?” he whispered.
She closed her eyes. Of course she had loved him, but not in the way Arc meant – not in the manner she loved Arc, all-consuming and soul-shattering. But what was the point in explaining it now. She knew that Arc was bound by his oath to his clan to make sure she did not commit any more crimes against his kind – as much as she was bound by hers to her tribe to protect them with her very life. Which she obviously was about to do.
Also, her deadly gift that enabled the other mistake has to be confined. But that did not stop her heart from shattering into countless pieces or her soul from shredding into slivers. Since he won’t be able to kill her, he was going to take her captive and keep her imprisoned to ensure she would not be a threat to his kind ever again. And that was something she could not bear, being his hostage while he chose another female. One of his own kind, of royal lineage. The responsibility of continuing his line fell upon his shoulders and Arc was too honorable to turn his back on his people.
Signý knew she would die a thousand deaths upon seeing another woman with him, bearing his children, raising them with him. All the while, Signý, caged in his dungeons, hearing all the painful details of his life with someone else, drowning in her own despair, her love for him turning to hatred. A more tragic life, she could not imagine.
No, she will not be able to endure all that, especially not hating him. She turned on her heels and ran – even if trying to outrun him was doomed to fail. He shouted her name – in fury now, his heavy tread only five or six feet behind her. She clutched at the bejeweled dagger hidden in the folds of her dress. A gift from him, given and accepted it seemed a long time ago.
When he inexorably caught her arm and spun her around, she pointed the sharp edge of the blade into his rock hard midriff, slicing through his tunic. Thick blood showered her hand and his eyes flared with rage, as she had known they would. He was a born predator whose control was shaky at the best of times. That was the magic his clan had placed upon him on birth – the protection of the heir at all cost. When his life was in danger, instinct always overruled logic. And an identical dagger found its way into her heart.
Two pairs of eyes widened in shock; Signý’s from pain and Arc’s from having inflicted it. She looked from the hilt protruding between her breasts into the eyes of the boy she loved. The golden light in them enfolded her and her heart stopped beating, leaving the ghost of her smile on her mouth. Her vacant eyes mirrored something infinitely close to peace.
And he howled in agony, in a pain that would never cease as long as he lived. His tortured voice echoed in those mountains for a long long time…
Chapter 1 – Fate??
This night seemed to be a fateful one – I felt somehow. There was a strange current in the air, an ambiguous aura of momentous things to come. Or maybe it was just my far-fetching imagination or my desire for something different to happen (to me at least) – that never does in the small town I live in.
At fifteen (another four weeks to my sixteenth birthday), I am predictably with no car but to compound my depression, I have no boyfriend and no part-time job either. But I’m looking. For the part-time job, I mean. If only there were more bookstores than sports shops in this little town where I live, I might’ve been snagged up pretty fast. But no one is able to picture me in a Sports Centre, not even my next-door neighbors who own the biggest one in town. Not that I am overweight or ungainly. It’s just that people see me as too much of a geek – even with a black belt in karate. Most people avoid talking to me. According to my mom, it’s because my shyness comes across as arrogance and according to my dad, it’s because people are intimidated by my intelligence. Why didn’t God make me as beautiful as I was smart? A major tussle is due when I meet my maker. Not that I’m in any hurry to meet him.
Okay, so I might still have a chance at being relatively acceptable-looking once my braces are gone in a few days and my glasses traded for contacts, which seem highly improbable at the moment because I’ve tried unsuccessfully a couple of times already. My eyes are hardwired dispel lenses and go into full waterfall mode whenever I try to try them on. I might just have to wait for my eighteenth birthday so I could get laser done and rid myself of my glasses forever!
Now to give a better picture of me, I’m five feet six and weigh anywhere between a hundred and ten or a hundred and fifteen pounds, depending on how much dark chocolate I devoured that month. My black hair is a mass of long, wild curls, mostly because I hate going for haircuts. At this time, it falls all the way down my back and halfway down my buttocks. My best feature may be my aquamarine, wide-set eyes if it weren’t for the oversensitive tear-ducts that just refused to accommodate contact lenses (yeah, I know I’m repeating myself). So mostly, my striking eyes are lost behind thick-framed glasses. My skin is extremely pale and prone to flushes of red, if I’m not careful. At times, I wish I had darker skin like my mom where blushes won’t so prominently highlight my embarrassing moments. All thin-skinned people should be able to empathize with that…
Since I never get invited to any parties (know what I mean about nothing happening – not to me anyway), I was having dinner with my parents as I do most nights. As usual, dad was chattering on about how many people he carved up and sewed back. Being one of the only three surgeons in the small town ofRyon’s Creek, he is usually scheduled for at least one surgery every couple of days and I have the thankless job of hearing the splendid details of his accomplishments.
He does this to arouse my interest in the field of medicine with the hope that I might decide to follow in his footsteps. Of course I’d love to be a doctor – if I hadn’t been cursed to faint at the sight of blood. My hemophobia is the cause of great distress for my father, and for me, too, since I actually enjoy imagining myself in the cool white coat. However, the vision of me with a scalpel poised above taut white skin brings my fantasies to quite an abrupt conclusion. Still, I refuse to go to therapy. Already my schoolmates consider me somewhat abnormal, but if they found out that I was seeing a shrink, I will no doubt be labeled a certified nutcase.
If I fell short of the expectations of one parent, but met those of the other, I might feel better about myself. However, I was destined to let both of them down. You see, while my dad is devastated over my fear of blood, mom constantly obsesses over my geeky looks. That’s because she is a stunning brunette with beauty-pageant-worthy good looks. Also, she owns the only classy beauty parlor in our small town and part of her Job Description is to keep her own profile up. Which might be why I am a constant grievance for her; because I am such a plain Jane. People expect her to work her magic on her own daughter before experimenting on the general population of the town. Yet hers is the most crowded shop at most times, so go figure.
Tonight, she decided I need to go for a hair cut. This definitely was not the momentous thing I was waiting for.
“Sasha, baby, look at your hair! You have to come over to have your hair done after school tomorrow, it’s a royal mess,” she said in an agonized voice, like my flyaway hair was giving her actual heartache.
Normally, she only does this when I’m alone with her; that is when dad leaves for the early morning shift at the hospital or when he returns from the late one. Usually, she controls herself from going on about my lack of charms in front of him. He always comes to my defense and she’s stuck having an argument with him instead of gaining any headway with me. Tonight, she kind of forgot he was sitting there. My hair must’ve been misbehaving more than usual.
“At least, there’s something royal about me. Why would I want to get rid of it?” I said crossly. She’ll have to bribe some anesthetist to knock me out before I’ll allow her to drag me into her shop to endure six hours of torture that involved washing, cutting, hot oil treatments, blow-drying and then more hair treatments. My curls won’t be tamed and I wish she’ll stop trying.
“Sweetheart, you’ve got such pretty curls. If only you will use some de-frizzing serum or spray and let them loose…” she pleaded, twirling her finger in her own, straight and silky chestnut brown shoulder-length mane.
I gave her a horrified look and imagined myself with my midnight black curls all de-frizzed and loose down my back. The picture I came up with was of a mongrel going to grooming school to pass itself off as a purebred Poodle. Not a very pretty picture. I decided it would be prudent to leave the table as soon as possible and started shoveling the vegetable lasagna into my mouth, almost pushing it up my nose in haste.
“Honey, a girl should know how to groom herself. You’re going to be sixteen and you dress like an eight year old, scruffy jeans and faded Tees,” she continued, unfazed by my sudden enthusiasm at trying to inhale my food.
Dad remained hidden behind his novel, which I can see now is by Dan Brown. It must be very exciting given the fact that he still hasn’t come to my rescue. I cleared my throat a few times to get his attention. He remained oblivious.
“Dad!” I finally shouted.
He surfaced from his book, his sandy brown hair falling across his forehead into deep green eyes. He pushed it away carelessly. “What?”
“Sash! Why do you always bring your father into our discussions?” Mom pouted, quite like the eight-year-old she just accused me of being. Her chocolate brown eyes shooting daggers at me.
“What discussions?” he said absently, itching to go back to his book.
“Mom wants me to go to her shop for a hair makeover,” I said urgently before the book claimed his attention again.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Why?”
I smiled smugly.
“It’s just a haircut! She’ll be sixteen in a few weeks but she dresses like a six-year-old,” mom said, knocking another two years off my supposed behavioral age just like that – probably because I turned to dad for support. Yeah, she’s juvenile. Definitely.
“Tani, you can’t force her to become a beauty queen like you. My daughter has the brains to do the works,” he sighed in an exasperated way.
“Oh? I bet you noticed my brains when you first saw me, given that we met in a Club?” she countered.
“I did notice your brains and you have proven yourself. You have a successful business, sweetheart,” he replied.
“Yeah, but you didn’t see my brains then. You were gawking at my chest,” she said in triumph. Dad blushed. I blushed. My mom has the propensity of blurting out the most embarrassing stuff at the most inopportune moment.
“That’s not the reason I proposed to you. It was definitely because of your brains that I married you,” he insisted.
“Yeah, but it was my black mini dress that caught your attention,” she said in a bored voice. “Would you have noticed me if I were in scruffy jeans and a stupid T-shirt embossed with BRAINIAC?”
“I would have, too,” he replied indignantly.
“Nah-uh, no way,” she retorted.
I watched them affectionately – even arguing, they made a very pretty picture. Their relationship was one based on deepest love, but nothing more. I mean no two people could be more different than my parents. My dad, Lance Bradley Stryker, loves psychological thrillers and action movies. My mom, Tanya Elahi Stryker, loves romance novels and equally mushy chick flicks. While dad is practical, mom lives in a fantasy world most of the time. Only thing they have in common is an obsessive need of maintaining tidiness, which they passed on to me. Unfortunately.
I got up to leave discreetly now that my mission was accomplished. Mom was so absorbed in her quarrel with dad that she totally forgot about my hair. I am a genius, even if I say so myself.
I walked into my room and looked around, making sure nothing was out of place. My bedroom is the palest shade of green with mostly white furniture. Being an only child, I have my own attached bathroom and a walk-in closet. I switched on my computer to check my emails. Not that I usually get many messages (not counting the junk mails). Tonight, I got an email from my cousin Zoella fromPakistan, whom I adore like a little sister. I was quite certain it would be an exhaustive account of her past week along with some inquisitive questions about my imaginary boyfriend.
At the tender age of fourteen, Ella is convinced that all girls inAmericamanage to get hitched when they hit thirteen and lose their virginity around the same time. She seems to think that if she flew to visit me, she’ll be the only virgin around. However many times I tried to enlighten her with the truth that I am a geek and no remotely sane guy will even think about subjecting himself to the embarrassment of being my boyfriend, let alone trying to meet the high expectations I’d have from any guy trying to be my other half, she still manages to delude herself into thinking I have done the deed already.
So I just let her imagination run wild; after all she seems to enjoy living vicariously through my fantasy life. In fact, I even admitted (lying of course) that I was going out with a totally hot guy called Steven (with a description of hottieStevenStrait) and occasionally fed her false tidbits about my supposed love life. Yawn! I left her email until Saturday, when my imagination will be at its peak so I could cook up some steamy stories for her. I have a reputation to keep, even if it’s bogus and for a girl who is thousands of miles away and will never learn the truth!
I jumped into bed, although I was feeling kind of restless. Tonight seemed strangely silent; somewhat like the lull before a storm. All my senses were on fire, a strange unrest raging chaos in the cells of my body. My skin felt like it was buzzing, though for what reason I couldn’t tell. Nothing this strange has ever happened to me before. I looked through the glass ceiling above my bed, gazing at the stars that conquered the dark sky. Only in a small town like Ryon’s Creek could you see such a brilliantly starlit night.
However, instead of being lulled to sleep by the quaint atmosphere, an urgency raced in my blood, compelling me to go out to explore. Explore what though? Once again, I couldn’t tell. I tossed and turned in bed until midnight, which was over an hour since I climbed into it. Normally, I’m asleep within fifteen minutes of hitting the sheets. Sighing in resignation, I threw the covers off and stood up slowly. Without switching on the light, I retrieved my jeans from the chair next to my bed and pulled them on.
It was time to sneak out. It’s an old habit, albeit a bad one, but I love to sit in the park around the corner in the middle of the night to read my books or just watch the stars while lying in the grass. Ryon’s Creek is a peaceful, trouble-free place so I never worried about being mugged. I left through my backdoor and walked swiftly to the small park round the corner.
Parking myself on my favorite bench, I open Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to devour for the umpteenth time. I’m seriously obsessed with Harry… only if he were real. I’m sure he’ll be a lot hotter than Daniel Radcliff and taller as well; plus the cleaning charm will work quite well for my room. I’ll even make do with Artemis Fowl (he’s brainy like me, though I have no criminal aspirations)… or maybe Alex Rider (he is totally hot, but doesn’t seem to be growing older than fifteen and I will sadly be one whole year older than him in another four weeks).
Okay, so I’m obsessed with characters in books – mostly British characters too, but never really met a single real male who arrested my attention for more than a minute, except my best friend Ethan Macho and my ex-best friend Connor Macho, current nemesis. Most guys usually walked away before their fifteen seconds were up. That’s why my first experience (as a teenager), holding a conversation with a stranger of the opposite sex was fairly embarrassing and utterly feeble. Let’s start this from the bench…
So here I am, on my favorite bench, biting my nails as Harry battles a dragon when he appears out of nowhere on the bench opposite mine (not Harry!). I didn’t realize he was there until I actually looked up for a moment to take a deep tense breath (when the Hungarian Horntail almost threw Harry off his Firebolt) and had it caught in my throat. Yes, that’s how impossibly beautiful he was.
His titian hair fell in soft red, gold and caramel waves around his shoulders. He had a straight aristocratic nose, a full and wide mouth, golden skin and long dark lashes surrounding hazel eyes. He was looking the other way, lost in thought. Since he was not paying me any attention – why would he?? – I decided it was safe to stare a little longer. Don’t judge me too harshly. I do have raging hormones even though I keep them in check most of the time. And honestly, it’s not that difficult when you’re surrounded by self-important, arrogant, pompous and relatively less intelligent boys than yourself.
While I was lost in my discreet ogling, he suddenly looked in my direction in a bored way, but his eyes widened when he saw me staring. And my heart stopped altogether. There was something strangely familiar about him, like someone I might have met before. But that wasn’t possible – there was no way I’d have forgotten a face this stunning.
His bright eyes captured mine, assessing me curiously. I dropped my own eyes and swore under my breath (at myself, not him) and decided to leave. With haste. It was almost two in the morning and my mom might actually decide to check on me tonight and if she saw that I wasn’t in bed, she’ll no doubt think I was up to something with some guy somewhere. Not that it should upset her so bad. She might be thrilled to hear that some guy is actuallyinterested in me.
As soon as I stood up, I found him standing in front of me, his eyes scanning my face. So I was wrong. His eyes were molten gold mixed with sparkling emerald, rather than plain hazel that I had thought initially. He was even more unimaginably handsome up close than he had been from afar. And how could anyone’s hair have so many colors? In fact, he was a palette of colors from his spellbinding eyes to his myriad-colored hair to his gold-bronze skin. It was impossible to use one single color to define any of his features.
“You see me?” he asked in a deep, husky voice that flowed like honey and felt like velvet. Yeah, I was losing it and embarrassingly so. I realized at that moment that my brain was spouting schmaltzy dialogue from sappy romance novels. Definitely time to stop stealing mom’s novels.
“Er…you’re standing right in front me, of course I see you,” I mumbled stupidly.
“That’s not possible,” he whispered, astonished.
“I you want me to pretend I didn’t see you, that’s fine. I’ll leave now,” I said, my voice lapsing into the full-blown sarcasm I use whenever guys talk nonsense to me. I start to walk away and he fell in step with me. I was speechless for a moment.
“How do you see me?” he demanded, walking next to me. I felt some sort of static energy rolling off his body, something tangible and hot. It was two in the morning and I was walking down an empty path in an empty park with a stranger, who could easily hurt me. Yet somehow, I didn’t question my safety although I clearly should.
“If you don’t want me to see you, the better way would be to go the other way,” I suggested in a hard but shaky voice. While I have a black belt in karate, he was one solid foot taller than me.
“This is not possible.” He sounded confused.
At that, I swirled to face him and was stunned into silence again for about three seconds. “Did you just escape from a padded room by any chance? I mean, there aren’t any mental asylums around here that I know of, but I’ll be happy to call them from out of town if you like.”
Great, so I meet a hot guy who actually follows me and turns out he’s a mental case. Massive blow on my self-worth, that was. But he actually didn’t look like a lunatic. He was dressed in very expensive looking clothes – a pair of blue jeans that were artistically molded to him in all the right places and a knitted pullover in light yellow. He continued to frown at me and I refused to back down.
It didn’t look like he was going to go psycho, or should I say more psycho, on me any time soon, so I considered it safe to look at him a bit longer. Although it didn’t help much with mental clarity, at least he was looking at me too and not with disgust or ridicule. He actually looked lost and frustrated, and a bit awed underneath it all.
“I’m Ariston Kavanagh,” he said suddenly, throwing me completely off guard. He had a very beautiful accent, but for the life of me, I couldn’t place it.
“Sasha Stryker,” I said coolly.
I really couldn’t figure out why I told him my name. He was a stranger, a strange stranger really. And I was never one to talk to strangers of the Y chromosome. I barely spoke to guys I knew with the exception of Ethan…and Connor at times I guess. Oh, and Dev – though he hardly counted as a guy, more a man.
Now Ariston was scrutinizing me with a curious, unrelenting gaze and I was mentally cursing myself for standing there, subjecting myself to him. I shook my head like a dog freshly out of bath, but in this case, I was clearing my head of dreamy fog rather than water. Now that my mind was a bit unscrambled and my thoughts more in order, I decided to start walking again and he decided he should follow me. Not that I should object to it since he was so bloody gorgeous, but he reminded me too much of the nightmarish interactions I had with the jocks in school who tagged beside me sometimes just to scoff at me or say nasty stuff.
“Where do you live?” he asked casually.
“None of your business,” I retorted angrily. Then it hit me that I was headed home anyway so he would know where I lived after all – if he continued to walk with me. I stopped and glared at him. “Stop following me.”
He grinned for the first time since I laid eyes on his face, which once again disoriented me. While he was gorgeous enough when frowning, he looked heavenly with a dazzling smile plastered on his face. I took another deep breath. I doubt I’d ever gotten that much oxygen into my lungs in a whole week as I was getting in the last five minutes. The guy was the devil incarnate with his shining eyes and glorious hair.
“I just wanted to know where I could find you if necessary,” he said in an amused voice.
“And why would you need to find me?”
“I don’t know, maybe I want to see you again?” He gave me another wicked smile and I spluttered incoherently like a fool.
“Who’re you?” I felt like an idiot when he laughed.
“Ariston Kavanagh,” he repeated again, with a look that clearly said he was questioning my mental health, although he was the one acting peculiar.
“I know your name. I meant I’ve never seen you here before. Are you new in town?” I demanded.
“Yes, we just moved into the mansion on Raven hill.”
I just stopped and stood stupefied for a moment. He lived in that HUGE manor on Raven Hill that looked like a small Castle with an uninterrupted view of the valleys. The place must cost a fortune and has been empty for over two decades now.
“And you walked all the way here from your house this time of the night when you have a backyard twice as big?”
“If I had not come here tonight, I would not have met you. I would call that fate.” He smiled and I was left speechless once again during a brief encounter. Not a good sign.
“This is a small town; we would have met sooner or later. If not here, then somewhere else,” I reasoned, not sure why I was prolonging the encounter. There was something about him that was fascinating, and I’m not just talking about his looks.
“But I wouldn’t have known,” he said in a whisper so soft, yet it caused a huge fluttering in my chest.
“Known what exactly?”
He bent his head to close the distance between us and looked me straight in the eyes. “That’s for me to know.”
I decided on the spot that he was handsome, hypnotic but most importantly, he was a nutcase. “I better get home now,” I said and started hurrying away, hoping he’d go back to the huge castle on the hill.
“I’ll walk you.” With that, he started to stroll next to me once again. I was seriously baffled by this behavior; guys just didn’t escort me around like that.
“Why?” I asked suspiciously.
“The hour is late and a young lady should not be allowed wandering unaccompanied at this time of the night. It’s not safe,” he pointed out in a way that indicated this should have been obvious to me without his having to bring it to my attention. And I hate being patronized.
“This is notNew York, just a small town. It’s safe to walk around, no matter what time of day or night,” I fumed.
“Evil does not consider the time or place; it will find you if it seeks,” he said quietly, but very seriously.
For a moment, I was genuinely chilled and my arms were covered in goose bumps.
“Are you talking about yourself?” I muttered and started to take longer strides, trying unsuccessfully to put some distance between us. Of course my five-six frame couldn’t match his six-six one. I was no midget but he was too tall; my head barely covered his wide shoulders.
“Do you consider me evil?” He sounded slightly baffled.
“If you continue to follow me, then yes,” I said.
“If I follow, it is to protect, not to harm.” Now he sounded hurt.
“The point is why should I believe you?”
“You do believe me,” he said. His tone left no space for argument from my end.
Strangely enough, I did believe him. Otherwise, I might have tried to make mincemeat out of him with my karate chops. Not mincemeat, but maybe left him with a few bruises and run already.
“So where do you go to school?” I asked, just to change the subject.
“Should I be going to one?” he said curiously.
“How old are you?”
“How old do I look?”
“Why do you always answer a question with a question?” His prevaricating tactics exasperated me.
“You’re doing the same thing.” He grinned. To my great chagrin; his comment rang somewhat true in this case.
“Okay, you look maybe seventeen or eighteen… I don’t know,” I finally said. Despite his height and formal manner, he looked no older than eighteen at all.
“So I am seventeen; should I be going to school then?” he asked.
“Yes, you should be in high school if you are in fact seventeen,” I replied with some irritation.
“Do you go to school?” he said in a seriously interested voice, like he really cared what I did.
“Yes, I do as all kids my age and your age do,” I said sarcastically.
“Then I guess I should consider getting myself enrolled,” he pondered.
“You haven’t been to school?” I asked in disbelief.
“That must be very boring…” I ventured to say, though I actually thought it must be cool. No jocks, airheads, idiots and morons to deal with. Just plain and simple education.
“On rare occasions, boredom may set in. Mostly, I’m content alone.” He shrugged.
“Uh-huh, I see.” I actually did. It would be a sheer state of contentment if he looked in the mirror all day. “Your parents are okay with you being home all the time?”
“Should they not be?”
“There, you’re doing it again.”
“Doing what?” he asked with as wide-eyed innocent face.
“Answering a question with a question,” I pointed out.
“Oh.” He frowned. “I’m not around girls much, so I am a bit disconcerted I suppose.”
“I’m just asking you simple stuff, not discussing molecular biology or quantum physics.” I was happy to know that he was as lost as I was.
“Molecular biology and quantum physics may actually be better topics of discussion in my case,” he admitted with an embarrassed expression. I laughed.
“Okay, so here we are,” I said in a slightly disappointed voice when I saw my house.
He was the most interesting…er…interested person that I ever met and now that he didn’t seem so crazy anymore, I wanted to talk to him for a bit longer. Why did my house have to be so close? Should I now offer to walk him to his house, given that we’ll be walking for an hour at least? I doubt that ploy will work since he obviously didn’t think males would be in any sort of danger wandering the night unaccompanied.
“You live here?” he asked curiously, his eyes on my two-storey, four-bedroom house. Of course he could not see the pool in the backyard or the pretty garden that my mom maintained.
“Well, it’s not a twenty-bedroom mansion but it’s home,” I said casually.
“It’s perfect,” he said it like he meant it. “Sometimes a twenty-bedroom mansion feels like a haunted castle with only two people.”
“There are only two of you?” I probed, which is quite unlike me – since I never probe into other people’s business. Yet, I wanted to know everything about him. As long as he would allow me to do so.
“At the moment, yes. My family will be coming a few weeks later. Right now, it’s only Gladys and me,” he said quietly.
“Gladys?” I sputtered. I was stunned to feel jealousy splintering in my heart on hearing that he lived with a female. I frowned at myself – I hardly knew the guy, so why was I feeling such possessiveness towards him. It made no sense whatsoever. I needed to get away from him pronto before I lost my mind some more.
“My housekeeper,” he clarified.
“Ah, I see,” I nodded, stupidly relieved to hear his answer. And what kind of people had housekeepers anyway? I guess the super-rich, multi-millionaires who lived in huge mansions on hilltops. “Er, any butlers?” I was being sarcastic and regretted it almost immediately.
“He’s with my parents. He will join us later as well,” he replied in a neutral voice. I exhaled in relief that my sarcasm had been lost on him.
“I should go in now,” I said lamely, jerking a thumb toward my house.
“It was a pleasure making your acquaintance,” he said, then actually took my hand and planted a soft kiss on my knuckles. I almost fainted on the spot. Who knew knuckles were erogenous zones?
While I stared at him in swoon-ish awe, he waited with a serene smile on his face. It struck me belatedly that he was waiting for me go inside so he could leave. I, on the other hand, wanted to stand there with him till morning came. I walked through the door in a daze, then ran up the stairs to my room so I could watch him go from my window. As I pushed back the curtains, he was still standing on the sidewalk. After giving me a big smile and a small wave, he left. I stood there watching him until he was out of sight, my mind in a strange turmoil.
What was it that I had felt with him just now? A very strange sort of connection, some intangible emotion, an unusual kind of trust I do not give anyone easily. And I had felt oddly safe in his company. But what was there to feel threatened from in the first place? With my heart hammering, I slid underneath my covers after removing my clothes.
Chapter 2 – Assaulted!
I woke up to the shrill ringing of my alarm clock and proceeded to throw it under the bed without second thought. Why was I so tired? Then I remembered – because I had dreamt about meeting a handsome stranger who kissed my hand. Or was it a dream?
I decided it couldn’t possibly be real, because one – no one could be thatgood-looking, and two – no one kissed hands in this era. And the feeling of intimacy that I couldn’t possibly have felt with someone I met for the first time. So I concluded that I had an amazing dream and sighed loudly.
Getting out of bed was all the more difficult now that I was getting myself all worked up over a ridiculous but amazing dream. I simply wanted to get back to sleep and dream about him again. Just as I was about to doze off again, mom banged the door asking me to get up.
I dragged myself out and crawled to my bathroom on all fours, my head hanging – yeah, I do that when I don’t want to get up. The shower revitalized me, so I decided to look for proof to confirm if I had truly gone out last night. I started with my Harry Potter book and found it lying on the bedside table, which did nothing to confirm or dispute that I had been out.
Whichever book I am reading at the time will invariably end up on my bedside table and there were four of my favorite books stacked there now. My clothes were all hanging properly in my walk-in closet as usual and the jeans on a chair next to my bed – again nothing to suggest that I had or had not been outside last night.
With a loud groan, I decided to get dressed and forget about last night. I settled on a pair of faded blue jeans and a warm, long-sleeved lavender T-shirt, and threw on my sports jacket in white. I twisted my hair into an untidy braid down my back and went down for breakfast. Mom was her usual effervescent self and dad was lost in his morning paper. I was glad that he was working the later shift today, so mom won’t be able to bring up the topic of my transformation again.
“Sash, you’re still looking for a job, sweetie?” dad asked from behind his paper.
“Er, yeah… you found any?” I asked, bored.
“Yes, I forgot to mention last night that one of my friends called me yesterday. She’s looking for a shop assistant – an art gallery.” He now looked up and grinned at me.
“No way!! Which one?” I screamed. My other passion, apart from books, is paintings. While I am no good at actually painting anything, I like looking at them. So an art gallery would be the perfect place for me to be working in.
“Mallory Hinkle’s gallery. She’s looking for an assistant for Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings – perfect schedule for you.” He grinned wider.
“Awesome! When can I start?” I could barely contain my excitement.
“Hons, in the real world, you go for an interview first,” mom added slyly, her eyes alight with amusement.
“Urgh! Okay, so when is the interview?” I asked dad.
“Friday at five, make sure you’re on time,” he murmured, already lost in his paper again.
“And dress properly,” mom added.
I rolled my eyes at her and decided it was time for departure, before she decided to drag me to her shop today to make me presentable for an interview three days away. Picking up my bag, I ran out the backdoor after pushing my feet into my well-worn sneakers. Taking my bicycle from the backyard, I strode through the back gate. And my hitherto perfect morning came crashing when I saw Connor sitting on the stairs leading up to his backdoor.
I would’ve walked away – no, make that rode away – as fast as I could if he didn’t look so dejected and forlorn.
Connor Macho (no kidding – the surname’s real) and I have been next-door neighbors literally since childhood. He’s two years older than me, and was like the irritating big brother I am glad I never had, until he turned sixteen and went alien on me. I missed him a lot for a long while; he was one of my only childhood friends along with his brother Ethan who’s an year older than me.
Then I got over it once I joined high school and saw a whole new, inferior version of the Connor I knew. Connor’s main objectives in life now are to French-kiss a different girl in school corridors on weekly basis (he’ll be running out soon), play football (that explains the sudden and massive brain damage) and pretend I don’t exist (for which I am glad). So he’s dreamy-looking, six-three, platinum blond hair so fair it looked white, gas-flame blue eyes that most girls swooned over, and pale complexion like mine, which is a mystery given the fact that he plays football almost every day after school.
I stood at the fence and eyed him with cautious concern, the need to comfort him building up slowly in my chest. He had been my best friend for over ten years, so I still feel some remnants of old friendship tugging at my heart at times. Right now, he looked almost unhappy and I wondered what could make the hot and happening Connor Macho look so vulnerable and distressed. Slowly, he looked up and saw me staring at him.
With some shock, I realized that his eyes were red-rimmed – like he had been crying. With more shock on his part, he saw me gawking at him with his red-rimmed eyes. His jaw dropped and he got up slowly, starting towards me, no longer looking dejected or unhappy. He looked like he wanted blood – mine.
Immediately, I rode away, deciding on the spot to send him a note written in blood to swear that his secret was safe with me. Maybe not in blood…since I collapse at the sight of it; I hope he’ll be happy with red ink. I’ll promise not to tell anyone that I had caught the macho Connor crying on his backdoor stairs. He didn’t seem to have followed me and I didn’t turn around to check. Maybe he was getting his corvette to run me over on the way to school. I stayed on the pavement as far as possible.
Then things got even more progressively out of hand when I entered the locker room and once again ran into Connor. His corvette beat my bicycle, of course. What did I expect? He found another way to punish me, which was far worse than running me over with his car. He decided to bring my existence into the spotlight, simply by talking to me in the locker room in the presence of twenty some students. Now, unfortunately for him (or me in hindsight), I’m blessed (or cursed, in hindsight again) with a smart mouth complete with a repertoire of witty retorts on the tip of my tongue, always ready to be unleashed.
“Hey Sash, what’s up?” his said, his usual ‘swoon-over-me-baby’ smirk back in place that clearly said I should drop on my knees and worship him. Maybe he was trying to make me forget his maudlin face from this morning?
I arched an eyebrow elegantly (I hope it was elegant) and looked around in disbelief. “Are you talking to me, super-stud?”
His smirk slipped by a tiny fraction, but he composed himself casually. “I’m looking at you, aren’t I?”
“What do you want now, Con?” I said, with emphasis on ‘Con’ since he hated being called that. He was ‘Connor’ to everyone now. The football team captain cannot be a Con now, right?
“I was just saying hi, Sash. Why do you always go crazy like that when I talk to you?” he asked. Although his tone was teasing, his gas-flame blue eyes wanted to incinerate me to ashes.
“Maybe because you hardly ever talk to me anymore?” I suggested.
“Maybe because you hardly ever want to talk anymore?” he countered.
“Maybe because we have nothing to talk about?” I said angrily. It wasn’t me who didn’t want to talk and I won’t let him blame me for his actions.
“Maybe if you let your sarcasm go for a hike, we could still talk?” he said silkily.
“Maybe if you didn’t french everything with two legs and a skirt, we might manage?” I snickered. I wanted to have the last word, and I damned well was getting it too. He was equally determined I won’t win this time.
“Maybe if you weren’t so jealous of my girlfriends, we could still be friends like before?” he grinned. How I ever thought he needed comforting this morning was totally beyond me now.
“That’s entirely out of line! I’m not jealous of your silly half-brained girlfriends, Connor. I just wish you’ll spend more time with Ethan than chasing your bimbos,” I spluttered angrily and lost the ‘maybe’ game. But it gave him pause.
He knew Ethan had been having a hard time for the last few months, and he rarely did anything to help. Ethan has been restless, his grades suffered and he disappeared for long periods of time claiming sickness and totally refused to tell me where he’d been. Regardless of how many times I asked him, he would not share his troubles with me and I presumed it might be some ‘guy’ problems that he wouldn’t or couldn’t discuss with me. In fact, I was seriously worried that Ethan might go the same way as Connor and stop being my friend.
See, Ethan’s hunky too, so I’m a thorn in most girls’ sides because he prefers spending time with me in the library than with them in the corridors…doing you-know-what. Sometimes, I feel a strange dissociation taking place in my head when I look at Connor; the friend who was no longer there. A sense of emptiness filled my stomach… that I hid quite well with sarcasm and a six and half-foot high, twelve foot thick wall.
I didn’t want to talk to Connor because I hated him for changing so drastically, I hated losing the friend who stood up for me against bullies and above all, I hated it when he brought me into the limelight that I avoided at all costs. Now that was a lot of hatred going on, and I wondered if a visit to the school councilor was due.
“What about Ethan?” he said through gritted teeth. “He doesn’t want to leave your shadow, that’s hardly my fault.”
“Maybe he’s still got more brains than testosterone?” I took the opportunity to lapse back into my ‘maybe’ game; it was childish but hey, it felt good.
“You can have both in equal quantities,” he flared, stepping closer and breathing right into my face.
“You’re living proof that the contrary is correct,” I announced frostily and started to turn around to leave before he could figure that one out. He was faster – both physically and intellectually – than I gave him credit for.
He grabbed my arm and spun me around, pinning both my arms behind my back with his right hand. His other hand was at the nape of my neck and he brought his face closer until only a couple of inches separated us. He breathed in deeply and for a moment, I actually thought he was inhaling my scent. His eyes hardened suddenly and if it was possible, he might’ve had smoke coming out of all his orifices. I contented myself with that image for a while.
This was the position we had ended up in plenty of times as kids. He’ll hold me hostage like this every time I said or did something to annoy him. Since I couldn’t move much, we’d try to out-stare each other – a game I lost countless times. It’s very hard to stare into those icy/fiery (depending on his mood) blue eyes for too long.
This time, he glared at me but there was a strange conflict in his eyes, a look of sheer desperation. He looked angry, helpless and desolate all at once. My brows furrowed in worry. I so wanted to wrap my arms around his neck, to pull him in, to comfort him. But I knew I had lost that right over two years ago. Still, my lips parted to ask him what was wrong, because I felt to the core of my being that something was wrong with him, something that I might be able to put to right if he just told me what it was.
At that precise moment, he crushed his lips against mine. First came shock, followed by anger, ending in panic. He held both my hands in a manacle with his long fingers wrapped securely around my wrists. His other hand was buried in my hair, tightened into a fist against my scalp.
My breathing fractured, along with my heart. His betrayal shattered the remnants of the memories I still cherished. I promised myself that from this moment on, I’ll never ever let myself reminisce the times we had spent together and I’ll never again hope that someday, my friend will come back to me.
“Connor! Let her go!” I thanked the Almighty God a thousand times when I heard Ethan’s voice from behind me, but Connor did not let go until Ethan was literally hauling him off me.
I gasped for air, feeling light-headed with anger. After getting hold of myself, I threw a punch in Connor’s gut and ran away. I did not give in to the very strong desire to rub my throbbing knuckles and howl in pain until I had locked myself in my favorite cubicle in the girls’ toilet. The guy had abs made of steel plates.
Shutting myself in my favorite cubicle, I sat down to cry my heart out, making sure I wasn’t loud enough to attract any attention. The tears were for the friend I had lost and still hadn’t mourned. People do part and friendships change, but to me,Devon, Connor and Ethan have always been the constant. The worst part was I still couldn’t figure out what had happened to Connor; it was like I was waiting for some sort of closure that did not seem to be coming. Two years have passed since he first went alien on me. If I were anything like my other best friend Amber Kirkendoll, I’d be seriously contemplating the alien body-snatchers theory.
Around lunchtime, when I didn’t resurface, Ethan bribed Amber to get me out of the toilets. She came in and told me I’ll forever smell like shit and piss if I didn’t haul myself out. I left quite quickly after sniffing myself in disgust. Ethan, pacing in front of the toilet door, sighed in relief when I stepped outside sulkily, and then wrinkled his perfect nose in distaste at the smell. Still, he braced himself in true camaraderie and placed a warm arm around my shoulder, while managing to keep his distance. Amber walked quietly on my other side, her headphones plugged in at full volume. Today, she had on a citric-orange dress with silver knee-high boots.
Amber is peculiar and fashion-challenged with orange-red hair even more unmanageable than mine. But despite the flame-colored hair and bright summer-sky blue eyes, she always turned up in the most atrociously colored clothes like fuchsia, electric blue, magenta, parrot green and…you know what I mean.
Also, she has a major crush on Ethan. How do I know? Well, she has confessed to me about a gazillion times and is probably expecting me to do something about it. However, I find it hard to believe that with her dress sense, any half-decent boy would ask her out. Anyway, who am I to comment on her wardrobe? I am considered a geek myself and only wear – as my mom pointed out – T-shirts and jeans, not brightly colored though. We both needed major makeovers with some plastic surgery thrown in if we were to ever snag guys.
“How’s everyone reacting?” I asked Ethan reluctantly, knowing I’ll be the butt of a lot of smooch-jokes for the next few decades.
“In a state of shock, of course,” he shrugged.
“Great!” I grumbled.
“Mrs. Littlechild found out what happened. She wants to talk to you,” Ethan added softly in a worried voice.
He knew I had every right to report the incident to the headmistress (being new in our small school, she takes it upon herself to attend personally to all disciplinary matters) but he was also concerned about his brother. Kissing an ace student against her wishes in the locker room with twenty odd witnesses could be very damaging for Connor.
But despite wanting to shackle him to a bed of nails and jumping on his chest, I knew I wouldn’t report him. Not that I am a coward – that’s something no one can ever accuse me of, but I didn’t want Connor in trouble. Even after all the trouble he caused me. Ethan would be hurt too and he was my only true friend, whose loyalty I didn’t want to test.
Amber – well – she talked gibberish at most times, but a girl needs other girls to gossip about girly stuff and she is the only taker who willingly listened to my female troubles. Not that I have that many anyway.
“Can you do me a favor?” I said suddenly.
“I’ll get you the tights to wear on your head for the next decade or so, but I don’t have those handy right now,” he said in a mock regrettable tone. I elbowed his ribcage, and rubbed my elbow immediately. Maybe it was not such a good idea to test my martial art skills on these two brothers. Their bodies were as hard as granite.
“I was actually hoping that you’d ask Connor to kiss someone – anyone – and I mean real soon, in some really crowded corridor. That way, people should forget about the ghastly encounter in the locker room,” I said, my tone desperate.
“You’re not going to report him?” he asked reluctantly.
“He’s a jerk, but I’ll deal with him myself,” I said, with confidence. I would’ve easily defended myself if not for the shock of being kissed by the one guy I would never have expected it from. Not that I have in mind any other guy whowould have tried; guys just didn’t go into raptures of kiss-o-mania when they see me.
“Why would the school hunk want to kiss the school geek?” I voiced out rhetorically.
“I’m glad you punched him, though,” Ethan grinned at me. “He’s probably got a bruise the size ofRussiaon his abdomen.”
“I doubt that; it’s me with the bruise.” I rubbed my knuckles absently. “But he’ll have a lot more the next time he tries,” I said, hoping he did so I could kick the crap out of him with my sturdy combat boots (which I’ll be wearing everyday from now on) rather than my fragile hands.
“You want him to try kissing you again?” Ethan sounded incredulous and I flushed crimson. Did I just say that I wanted him to try to kiss me again?
“Of course not! I just meant he’ll not be getting away with it if – BIG if – he tries again; I’ll be ready,” I fumed.
“I doubt he’ll do it again. I’ll make sure he didn’t,” Ethan promised in a disgruntled voice, his face clouded with anger.
“Don’t be mad,” I said softly, putting my arm around his waist and noting how massive he was becoming.
He was already as tall as Connor, and still growing. While Connor is a platinum blond with gas-flame blue eyes, Ethan has golden blond curls that fell into pewter gray eyes, which are full of humor and compassion. I remembered Connor being like that too. Once upon a time, his fiery blue eyes reminded me of sparkling tinder-fire – warm and scorching. Now they felt like arctic blue ice – glacial and forbidding.
With Ethan on my side, I spent the rest of the afternoon pretending not to notice the sideward glances I was getting from different people. And then I saw the Three Furies coming my way – sashaying my way – eyeing Ethan shamelessly.
“Hi, Ethan!” Jodi Dumbleton smiled at Ethan in a way she probably thought was coy but ended up looking lewd. She’s your average high school Barbie with bottle-blonde hair and washed out blue eyes. Her cronies – Nora Card and Tracy Aniston – gave Ethan equally vulgar smiles, ignoring Amber and me like we were mere irksome flies buzzing around a confectionary. They are bottle-blondes too, but in varying shades.
“Hey Jodi, what’s up?” Ethan grinned back and continued walking, with his arm still around me. Jodi, Nora and Tracy glared at me contemptuously.
If I hadn’t known Ethan since we were both in diapers, I would have questioned his mental capacity. The guy just never seems to grasp the fact that all the silly girls who keep greeting him in the corridors are not doing it just to hear a “hey, what’s up?” but looking for more attention.
Ethan is totally oblivious to the fact that he is one of the most sought after catches in our High School, with only his brother ahead of him on the list. Only because Connor is the football team captain. For that matter, I would say Ethan is a better catch than Connor any day because he has never dated anyone and is still a virgin (I know that for a fact). Then again, he’s only just turned seventeen…
“Morons,” Amber hissed at the Three Furies once they were out of audible range.
“They were just saying hi Amber,” Ethan sounded bemused at her.
He knows how touchy Amber gets when all those smitten girls greet him in the corridors, but he thinks the reason for Amber’s displeasure is because they ignore her. He is blissfully unaware of the fact that Amber gets jealous when the airheads are so straightforwardly flirting with him, which she is incapable of doing.
I hope he’ll remain as supremely oblivious to Amber’s misguided affections for the next couple of years. I am not mean, but I don’t think I’ll be able to survive the tragedy of my two best friends dating and then breaking up and not wanting to be in each other’s company anymore. Amber’s unusual behavior will definitely take its toll on Ethan and a break-up is guaranteed within a week. She actually wears tin foils in her bra and panties because she is convinced that there are invisible sprites in our school that can see through your clothes. Somehow, tin foils can dissuade their X-ray vision and her private parts are safe from their scrutiny.
There are many more such eccentricities that would take me forever to list here, so I won’t go there unless absolutely necessary. Let’s just say her paranoia stems from all the romance novels she’s read involving Fae and stuff. She would’ve acquired a PhD by now for her knowledge of the different types of Faery and the Seelie / Unseelie courts, vampires, werewolves, ifthese did in fact exist. While I do acknowledge the fact that all the fantasies I read are merely that – fantasies, Amber is quite sure that our world also contains mythical creatures that hide themselves quite well with their glamour and illusions. I let her indulge in her silly ideas, without feeding her obsession gratuitously.
The rest of the day passed in a haze with Ethan glaring at anyone who dared to look at me funny and me trying to avoid everyone’s eye. I knew what they were thinking about Connor and me, and I was determined not to let the incident get me down.
Before leaving school, I reassured Mrs. Littlechild that nothing untoward had happened to me, though she seemed a bit too well informed of the notorious kiss. Between warning me about bullies and throwing in comments about encouraging guys by failing to report offensive behavior, she also asked probing questions in the direction that I might be going out with the famous Connor Macho and not admitting to it. I don’t know if she thought I was protecting my own reputation or trying to avoid tarnishing Connor’s perfect record of cavorting with only the crème de la crème of the female population of our school.
In my dreams, I might imagine Connor falling for me just so I could break hi heart and dump him. In my nightmares, I would envision myself falling for him. I shuddered at the thought. The only requisites to date Connor are shapely figure with long legs and big breasts, bottle-blonde hair, willingness-to-snog-anytime-any-place and an easy lay (I’m just guessing the last part).
I doubt I qualified in any of the physical categories but even if he changed his tastes, ‘part-time-girlfriend-you-can-snog-in-the-corridors’ is just not on my list of top ten activities. Not even top hundred…or thousand…
Ethan didn’t bother to offer me a ride home after school and I climbed on my bicycle as usual. It’s Connor’s car they take. He used to ask me all the time, but I felt a kind of strange glass wall surfacing in the car whenever I was there – the wall Connor built when he turned sixteen and bought the car. So I stopped riding with them two years ago and my bicycle is as good as any other form of transportation. It even keeps me in shape. I rode up to my front door and saw that Ethan and Connor had already arrived. Their corvette was parked in its usual place.
“Sash!” I heard my name and turned to smile dazzlingly at Devon Macho, Connor and Ethan’s older brother.
I had a major crush on him from the age of eight to fourteen when I finally forced myself to face the fact that he’ll never be interested in me because I am at least seventeen years younger than him. Not that he looks thirty-three or anything. People would swear that he was at most twenty-five until he threw his driver’s license in their faces. Dev is blonde as well, dark blond in his case, and his eyes are a very intense ocher color. Although only six-two, he’s broader and more muscular than both Connor and Ethan.
“You’re back!” I screamed and rammed headlong into his chest, throwing my arms around his neck. I wondered if I should tell him about what happened in school with Connor.
“Whoa, at least someone missed me,” he laughed. “So how’s my candy-apple?”
“Cracking,” I giggled. He told me once that he had nicknamed me candy-apple when I was a mere toddler because of my naturally rouged cheeks that looked like candy-apples. “What do you mean at least someone missed you?”
“My brothers were having a ball with me gone, turning the house into a cross between a Salvation Army camp and a war zone. I just put them both to work, cleaning all the rooms and throwing out the Chinese food containers and pizza boxes they started collecting while I was gone. Neither is too happy to see me, I can tell,” he grinned.
“I would’ve offered to clean the place, if the smell of discarded boxers and dirty socks wasn’t so unbearable when I last visited Ethan,” I said in mock regret. He laughed and mussed my hair.
“Okay, kiddo, gotta go and keep an eye on my rebels lest they sneak out. I’d invite you in, but I don’t think either of them is dressed appropriately enough to have a young lady around.” He kissed my forehead and walked into his own front yard with a half wave. I stifled a sigh and waved back sadly.
My parents had kind of adopted the three brothers when they moved into the house next door. According to my mom, Ethan was only two and Connor three at the time. Their parents had died in a car accident, leaving an eighteen-year-old Dev with two baby brothers to look after.
My mom – bleeding heart that she is – enfolded them into our household immediately. She invited them over for meals, babysat Connor and Ethan along with me. They became my playmates and best friends. The fact that Connor and I were always the closest until he went extraterrestrial on me two years ago still makes me pensive at times.
Dev now owns the biggest Sports Centre – Being Macho – in our little town where both Connor and Ethan work part time. He had bought the store with his parent’s insurance money and built it into a very lucrative business. But I honestly think the only reason so many people – mostly women I must clarify – go to their store is because all three of the brothers are delectable looking and can flirt like nobody’s business. Frankly, I imagine they could sell ice cubes inAlaskaand make a profit.
Dev never leaves Ryon’s Creek so we were all quite surprised when he said he had to visitNew Yorkfor some reason and disappeared for a week. I was glad to see Dev and I am also sure both Connor and Ethan were happy even if they grumbled about having to clean the place. I parked my bike in the backyard and went in through backdoor to an empty house – brilliant!