“Layla, I don’t want to talk about it.” I sighed while lying down on her bed.
“Why not? You have no problem talking to Eric about it. I want to know.” She pouted while plopping down onto her beanbag chair.
“It’s just my dad. He makes it seem like he wants to be here, but then I heard him talking on the phone about possibly being paid to be here, and I just can’t decide if I should confront him about it.” I confessed.
Layla’s facial expression dropped a little, but she quickly recovered.
“Maybe he’s talking about something else? You don’t know if it’s about you and Brody. I say talk to him about it.” She replied, looking sincere.
“Yeah, I think that’s what I’m going to do. I just have to figure out what I’m going to say.”
“So, I heard from a little bird that things got intense with Eric down at the tracks yesterday.” She smirked.
“Ugh, I’m going to kill him.” I glared, “I get that you two are step-siblings, but do you really have to talk about everything together?” I gave Layla a pointed look.
“Duh, that’s the sibling code.” She chuckled.
“Since when is there a sibling code? Brody and I literally share nothing with each other.” I deadpanned.
“It’s only for step-siblings, I guess. Besides, Brody isn’t exactly outgoing.” Layla laughed.
“Yeah, well neither am I. I guess that solves that.” I shrugged.
“Cecil, you worry too much.” Layla sighed as she opened her Coca-Cola.
“Tell me something I don’t know.” I smirked.
“Um... I have a hot date tonight?” She smirked in response.
“You what?” I jumped up.
“Yeah... I met someone.” She smiled sheepishly.
“Who?” I demanded to know, “That guy from the movie theater?”
“No, I never called him after that. This guy is one of Eric’s friends. His name is Derek.”
“Is he cute?” I questioned.
“Totally.” She nodded, “I wouldn’t be dating him if he wasn’t.”
“Way to be shallow.” I teased, making her laugh, “I can’t wait to meet him!” I smiled.
“Not before I go out with him! I’ve got to make sure there’s a spark, ya know?”
“I hear ya.”
“Anyway, I gotta get going. My mom wanted me home tonight for some big announcement.” I shrugged while standing up and grabbing my bag.
“Oh, what kind?” Layla asked.
“I’m not sure, I guess I’ll find out soon enough. I’ll text you later.” I assured before giving Layla a hug, and leaving her house.
Layla’s POV –
“Thank you for the date, Derek. I had a lot of fun.” I faked a smile.
“Really? That’s great! Maybe we can go out again sometime!” He winked.
“I’ll... get back to you.” I patted his shoulder, before heading inside and locking the door behind me.
I let out a sigh.
“Worst. Date. Of my life.”
“Hot date wasn’t so hot huh?” I heard Eric chuckle from inside the kitchen.
I walked in and saw him sitting at the island with a bowl of cereal in front of him.
“No. Your friend is a moron.” I rolled my eyes, slapping his shoulder as I walked past him.
“Derek? Man... and he’s the smart one from my group. Well, apart from me.” He smirked.
“Let’s just say... Layla is happy being single for now.” I replied while grabbing a water bottle from the fridge.
“Oh... just so you know, I hate you.” I suddenly stated.
“What? Why?” Eric asked.
“For making me lie to my best friend! That’s why!” I glared.
“Hey! It’s not a big deal. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” He simply stated.
“Are you kidding me? This is probably the ONE thing that will hurt her the most, Eric. I can’t believe you talked me into doing this. She’s going to hate us when she finds out.” I rose my voice, but not too loud as to wake up our parents.
“Key word is if she finds out, which she won’t. I already have that taken care of.” He shrugged, “And if you were smart, you’d keep your mouth shut about all of this. I don’t want her to hate any of us. We are all she has besides her mom and Brody, and even then they don’t always have her back like they should.”
Eric got up and placed his finished bowl of cereal into the sink.
“We’re doing this because we love her, Layla. Even if the truth comes out in the future, she’ll understand why we did it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. She’ll see it as us going behind her back and forcing her dad to have a relationship with her. It’s just... not right.”
Eric was suddenly standing in front of me with both hands gripping my shoulders.
“You aren’t going to tell her anything. You promised.” Eric said in a low voice as he frowned.
“Why should I keep this promise, Eric? What’s in it for me other than losing my best friend?” I challenged.
“Look, if you tell her, not only will she get mad at me, but she will get mad at you too. Is that what you want? You don’t have any other friends Layla. You put on this act of the girl who doesn’t care about anything, but I know you care about her and I know you don’t want to be alone again.” He threatened.
“I...” I frowned, because he was telling the truth. I don’t want to lie to Cecilia anymore, but he’s right, I don’t want to lose her either. Eric had basically put me in the worst situation possible by telling me his plan.
“You know what? Fine. But if shit hits the fan, I’m telling her it was your idea, not mine.” I glared.
“Trust me Layla, if she finds out, it’s both of us that she’ll hate.” Eric sighed.
“Ugh, I hate you right now.” I glared again, pushing Eric away and walking upstairs to my room.
I shut my door behind me and plopped down onto my bed.
Why was Eric acting so controlling? I didn’t like it. Also, how was he convincing our dad to give him the money to pay Cecilia’s dad off? He’s got to have some kind of cover story, because I couldn’t imagine Larry doing that, even if it was for his son.
Maybe Eric was lying to Larry.
This entire situation was driving me nuts. To top it all off, that date was atrocious. I found it hard to believe that Derek was the smartest of the group. Although, it certainly wasn’t Eric.
I needed to figure out a way to defuse the situation, before Cecilia hears something that she isn’t supposed to hear.
Cecilia’s POV –
Once I drove home and got inside, I was surprised to find my mom sitting on the couch laughing, drinking a glass of wine with... Michael?
“Um, hi?” I said, causing both Michael and my mom to look up.
“Hey Cecil. Come say hi to your father.” My mom smiled.
What the hell is going on here?
“Um, what’s up?”
“Michael here came by to see us. Don’t be rude.” My mom glared.
Just then, the front door opened and Brody came in. I supposed he stayed at a friend’s house last night.
“Mom! Dad!” Brody smiled running inside.
“Hey kiddo!” My mom smiled, pulling Brody in for a hug.
“I knew you’d come by dad. Want to go see my car collection now?” Brody asked, jumping up and down.
“Not now sweetie, your father and I are talking. Go on and get to bed. Cecilia, you too.” My mom demanded.
“Goodnight Brod.” I said, still not having moved from my spot in the living room.
Once Brody left, I gave my mom a pointed look.
“What’s all of this?” I gestured toward the nearly empty wine bottle, and my mom’s feet propped up on Michael’s lap.
“Your father and I are just catching up, Cecil. It’s been a while.” My mom smiled up at my dad who gave me a wary look.
“So this is your big announcement? You two are... are a thing now?” I tried not to sound angry.
“Cecilia, manners.” My mom warned.
“Cecilia, why don’t you get to bed and let your mother and I finish talking. I’ll come see Brody’s cars another time. I’m sure he won’t mind.” Michael tried to demand while handing my mom the last bit of wine.
“Um last time I checked, I didn’t have to answer to you.” I stated dryly, causing Michael to give me a hardened look.
“Cecilia. Listen to your father.” My mom barked while shooing me away with her hand.
“You’ve got to be kidding me...” I mumbled under my breath while stomping away.
I went to my room and slammed my door shut after me.
I grabbed my phone and called Layla.
After a few rings, she finally answered.
“Cecil, what’s up?” She seemed a little shaken up, but I was far more focused on my own shit right now to ask her if she was okay.
“Layla... it’s my dad. He’s here. Like, in my house. He’s drinking wine with my mom and demanding things from me like he has authority over me or something.” I glared, though I knew she couldn’t see me.
“Whoa, what? Why?” Layla suddenly seemed interested.
“I don’t know! But they looked really comfortable and... god I hope my mom doesn’t take him back this fast. I still haven’t figured out what’s going on with the money issue and if he does something to hurt her, I don’t know how she’ll take it.” I blurted out.
“Cecilia... calm down! I ’m sure everything will be fine. This is good news, right? Your family could be together again, all of you. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?” She seemed desperate for me to accept this and be happy about it.
“Why are you pushing this so hard? God, you sound just like Eric.” I sighed while sitting at my computer chair.
“I just want you to be happy, that’s all. You’re my best friend Cecil.” Layla sounded sincere, but I still couldn’t forget about everything I’ve heard that easily.
“I don’t know Layla. I think I’m going to confront Michael.” I knew I was going to confront Michael. I just wanted to see how she would react.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Cecil. You don’t want to start a fight over nothing.” She seemed nervous.
“Layla, what’s going on? What aren’t you and Eric telling me?” I urged, trying to find the missing pieces to this puzzle.
“Nothing! I promise! I just want you to have the father that you’ve always wanted. That’s all.”
I heard mumbling in the background and it sounded like Eric.
“Is that Eric? Why is he listening and what’s he saying?” I demanded.
“Nothing, Cecil. He just told me that dinner was ready. I gotta go, but I’ll see you at school tomorrow!” With that, she hung up.
Dinner? At 11 o’clock? Surely, her parents were asleep by now. It was at this exact moment that I knew something was going on with Michael, and somehow, it involved Layla. Eric and Layla.
Now I had two things that I needed to figure out.
Why was Michael being paid to have a relationship with us, and why was my best friend and boyfriend involved?
This was getting out of hand very fast.
The next morning, I woke up to my annoying alarm. After taking a much needed shower, I went down stairs for some breakfast.
“Good morning Cecilia. Pancakes?” Michael smiled while standing next to the stove.
“I like Waffles, not pancakes. You should know that.” I mumbled while sitting at the table.
“Right... I’m sorry. Want me to make you some waffles?” He quickly added.
“No, there’s no time. I’ll be late for school.” I sighed while grabbing two pancakes and setting them on my plate. I put some ketchup over my scrambled eggs and began eating.
“How’s school going? Have you thought about what college’s you want to apply to yet?” Michael asked, trying to make small talk.
“I’m only a sophomore. I still have two years of high school before I need to worry about college.” I rolled my eyes while shaking some salt over my eggs.
“Still, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. I started looking at college’s in my freshman year. I set goals for myself and I worked towards them. You can too if you set your mind to it.” He smiled, while taking a seat across from me.
I assumed Brody was still showering and my mom was still asleep since she didn’t have to be at the hospital until this afternoon.
“Well forgive me for wanting to have a little fun, before worrying about my future.” I stated.
“I understand. You want to just be a teenager. I was that way too in a way. We have a lot in common.” He smiled again, flashing me his pearly whites.
“Common... right. So tell me, how come we haven’t met our Aunt yet? I mean she lives here in town right. Why don’t we invite her over sometime?” I suddenly asked, causing Michael to look at me with wide eyes.
“Your Aunt is... very busy. Her schedule is crazy. She hardly has time to breathe. I’ll check with her to see about a visit and get back with you.” He casually replied while taking a sip of his coffee.
Red flag number one.
“Great! Maybe we can all go out and do something fun, like mini golf or horseback riding!” I suggested with a smirk.
Michael’s face turned a shade paler as he held up the newspaper he was reading.
“Your Aunt isn’t really into strenuous activities, but I’ll ask her for you.” He smiled.
Red flag number two.
“So, you and Eric are very close yeah? You see that going far?” He suddenly asked, causing me to eye him suspiciously.
“Yes. We are. Is there a problem with that?” I asked, feeling irritated at his change of topic.
“No, of course not. I like Eric. You should keep him around for a while. I mean, look at that nice car he bought for you.” He gestured towards the driveway. “He must really care about you.”
“He does, actually. He’d do anything for me.” I stated, finally getting fed up with this interrogation.
“Really? That’s good to hear.” He smiled, though to me it was more like a smirk.
Red flag number three.
“Alright... enough of your games. What are you really doing back here and why are you so worried about Eric?” I asked.
“Why? What has Eric told you?” He suddenly asked, instantly regretting it the moment after he spoke.
“He hasn’t told me anything, you just did actually. Tell me what’s going on or I’ll make sure you never see my mom or Brody ever again.” I spoke through gritted teeth. I could feel my anxiety rising, but I was quick to recover, taking deep breaths.
“Are you okay Cecilia?” He asked, looking concerned.
“I’m fine. Just answer the question.” I glared.
“Alright listen... I know this was supposed to be a secret, but honestly, I don’t see the harm in anything. You and Brody get your dad back, and my sister gets the help she needs. It’s a win, win. You should actually thank Eric for his generosity.” He casually replied while placing his coffee mug into the sink.
“W-what do you mean his generosity?” I blinked.
“Let’s just say, my pockets aren’t hurting anymore and your Aunt’s medical bills are being taken care of.” He smirked while turning off the stove.
Suddenly, all of the missing pieces fell together and everything made sense. Eric was paying off my dad.
“So you never wanted anything to do with us at all? It was all a transaction so you wouldn’t have to pay for your sister’s medical bills anymore? You used us all only for your benefit?” I ranted, taken back by the new information.
“Listen, I know you want us to be a big happy family, and I guess I can handle being with your mom for a while and seeing Brody, but sadly this is only temporary. Once your Aunt’s medical pills are paid off and I’m no longer needed, I’ll be heading back to my real home in Washington and all of this will be over.” He replied, as if he wasn’t toying with my family’s feelings at all.
“So Eric knew this entire time? Eric’s been paying you to have a relationship with us? He lied to me...” I quietly mumbled. I could feel the fiery burn of betrayal scorching me from the inside out.
“Hey, don’t feel bad. He did it because he loves you or whatever. I’m not complaining, so you shouldn’t either.”
“You son of a bitch!” I suddenly yelled.
Michael’s eyes widened in shock as he marched over to me and placed his hand over my mouth to shush me.
“Shut up would ya? If you even think about telling your mom any of this, I’ll just tell her you’re making it up because you don’t want to accept me back into the family. She’ll never believe you over me, think about it.” He glared, speaking harshly. His grip on my mouth tightened and it almost hurt. I yanked my face away and grabbed my bag from the kitchen table.
“Eric still has one more check he needs to give me, and I’m not going to let you fuck this up for me.” He stated coldly. “I have a lot riding on this, and not just because of your Aunt. Now get to school. I’ll take Brody this morning so you don’t have to worry about him.” He smiled.
I felt tears beginning to form around my eyes, but I didn’t dare let one fall in front of him. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of winning.
“When I get home, you better not be here.” I stated before walking out of the front door and slamming it after me.
I got into my car and sped off to school. My knuckles were white from the death grip I had on the steering wheel.
Eric lied to me. Michael lied to me. Eric’s been paying Michael to have a relationship with us. Michael was using our family. He was going to hurt my mom and little brother in the process, and there was nothing I could do about it.
The anger I felt was nothing I had ever felt before. I almost wanted to grab my anxiety medication just in case I needed it, but somehow I knew that I was far beyond anxious or nervous.
I was livid.
I finally pulled into the school parking lot, and as I parked my car, I noticed Layla and Eric smiling and laughing outside of the school doors. I assumed they were waiting for me.
It was in that moment that I had finally made my decision. I wasn’t going to let Michael dictate our lives. I wasn’t going to sit by and let him hurt my family again.
I took a few deep breaths and slowly unbuckled my seat belt. I opened my car door and got out, slamming it shut, which caused many of the students nearby to look up and stare.
Eric and Layla both looked up at me. The instant they saw my face, it was almost as if they knew exactly what I knew. Layla’s face turned apologetic and Eric seemed... not phased?
One things for sure, the cat was definitely out of the bag.