Almost a year has passed since I killed Demetri, and I was physically free of him. Mentally, though, it was quite the opposite. I haven’t slept properly in a year due to the memories of Demetri and Damon that haunt me the minute I try to close my eyes. I spend my days taking short, frequent naps so that I can stay awake long enough for my brothers and Papa to not notice how much I had been affected by everything that had happened after Mom died. They couldn’t know how much I was struggling, how much I wanted to stop existing. How much I wanted everything to just stop.
Thank God for Hunter or I don’t think I would have been able to survive. It took a while for me to trust him, but I eventually told him my real name. I sneak out to see him at least four times a week, sometimes more depending on how bad I’m hurting on any given day. I wasn’t coping in the healthiest way, but it was the best I could do without them knowing. My family was finally safe with no looming threat, and I refused to be the reason why this sense of normalcy was disrupted.
It was the night before school started after the holidays, at least it was for Teddy. I hadn’t gone to school in a year, choosing to do online school instead. The idea of spending eight hours away from my brothers and Papa made me anxious. I could deal with three hours, maybe four at the most. But eight? That was just asking for a panic attack.
I made sure to see my friends every weekend, though. Jamal, Cara, Raphael, Marco, and Arya have helped me so much over the months, even if they didn’t know it. It didn’t help that I was starting to have feelings for Arya, feelings that only further intensified when she came out to me and only me. I hadn’t seen her in some time because of how busy she had been during winter break, but that would change tonight.
I was meeting up with them at midnight. It was tradition for my friend group to sneak out to a nearby park and hang out the night before school started after summer and winter break. Arya said that she had exciting news to share with us today, and I was hoping that she had finally gained the courage to come out to the rest of our friends. All of us would accept her, and that had become clear when I had come out as pansexual to them last summer. I knew it would take a lot of courage for her to come out, especially when she wasn’t sure how her family would react, but I would be there for her when she was ready.
I was waiting for Papa to come check on me like he did every night. Then, I would sneak out to see my friends.
A knock on my bedroom door brought my attention to where Papa was standing, smiling at me.
“Hi, honey. I just wanted to see you before I went to bed.”
I opened my arms for a hug as Papa laughed and sat next to me, wrapping his arms around me. Letting out a yawn, I leaned closer into Papa’s body, basking in the warmth and love he radiated.
“Aves, are you having trouble sleeping?” Papa asked.
“No, why are you asking?”
Papa kissed the top of my head as he said, “It’s only nine o’clock, and you seem tired. I’m an old man, which is why I’m going to bed now. What’s your reason?”
“I just stayed up late last night reading and didn’t get much sleep,” I lied as I tightened my grip around Papa’s torso. “You don’t need to worry.”
They couldn’t know about the nightmares that plagued every second of my sleep. I couldn’t burden my family any more than I already had.
“You’re just like your mother,” he chuckled. “She always had her nose in a book, especially right before we would sleep. I had to bribe her to get her to put the book down and get some rest.”
“Bribe her with what?” I asked, looking up at him
Papa smirked and shook his head. “Adult things.”
My eyes widened as I pulled away from Papa and buried my face in my pillow, trying to forget the words that had left his mouth. “Why did I ask? I’m traumatized,” I muttered, my voice further muffled by the pillow.
“Sorry, Aves,” he said, ruffling my hair. “I guess I’ll let you sleep. I love you. Sweet dreams.”
Kissing the top of my head, Papa left my room, closing the door on his way out. Not too long after, I heard another knock on my door.
“Come in,” I grumbled.
The door opened, revealing Emilio. “Hey, I just wanted to check if you’re still up for sparring tomorrow morning.”
Over the past year, the twins had been giving me self-defense lessons and teaching me how to fight. Being able to protect myself made me feel more in control, like no one would be able to hurt me again. We would usually spar in the morning for a few hours before they went to work at the tattoo parlor they owned.
The twins had decided that college wasn’t for them and wanted to open a business together. With Matteo’s art skills and Emilio’s understanding of business, their shop had become successful quickly.
They were involved with the Mafia as well but to a lesser degree than Alessandro and Elijah. Leo would be a doctor for the Mafia once he graduated from medical school this year and completed his residency at one of my brothers’ hospitals.
“That sounds good,” I smiled. “What about Matteo?”
“He’s working late tonight doing a job for Sandro and probably won’t be back until two or three in the morning,” Emilio said. “He won’t wake up early enough to join us.”
I nodded my head in understanding. “Okay,” I said as I got under my covers. “I’m going to go to bed early so I’ll be able to wake up tomorrow. Good night.”
“Good night, Aves,” he said, closing the door.
Just a few more hours before I sneak out.
I was sitting in the park with all my friends except Arya. Sneaking out hadn’t been too difficult, especially now that I could disable the cameras in less than a minute, and I was easily able to tamper with the tracker on my phone to make it seem like I was home. After the Russians were handled, Alessandro had removed the trackers from my shoes, but he insisted that I keep the one in my phone for safety reasons. They had made too many enemies over the years to take any risks.
Arya had sent us a text saying that she would be late due to issues sneaking out, but I didn’t mind as long as she would be able to join us. I was just excited to see her and hear the news she had to tell us.
The crisp January air was blowing in my face making my nose and ears numb. Jamal, Marco, and Raphael were sitting next to me complaining how they were going to get frostbite while Cara and I just rolled our eyes.
Boys. They complain about everything.
“If you three don’t stop complaining, I swear I’ll knife you,” Cara muttered in Italian.
Marco and Raphael backed up, their eyes wide with fear, while Jamal had a confused expression on his face. “What did you say? I’m taking French, not Italian,” he said.
I shook my head, a smug grin tugging at my lips. “You don’t want to know.”
A few minutes passed before Arya came running towards us. “Sorry I’m late,” she said once she reached us. “Naina was being annoying and wanted to sleep in my room tonight, and my mom wouldn’t let me say no. I had to wait until she fell asleep to sneak out. Hopefully she doesn’t wake up until I get home or my parents will kill me.”
Naina was Arya’s little sister who had just turned eleven years old. She also happened to be Teddy’s best friend. They met at a piano competition a few months ago and immediately hit it off. The two always join us for our hangouts nowadays and have become true partners-in-crime. Arya also had an older brother, Kunal, but he wasn’t home often since he was at college in Boston.
“It’s fine,” I said as I lightly touched her arm. “How was your break?”
“So many dance practices,” she sighed. “My dance teacher took advantage of my two weeks off and made me practice every day for six hours. I need a break from this break.”
Arya was a Bharatanatyam dancer, which is a type of Indian classical dance. She had explained to me that at the end of your dance training, you have a graduation ceremony called an Arangetram, which is basically a three hour solo dance performance. Arya had been practicing every day for hours and hours to prepare for this, and it was now only a few months away.
I slung my arm over her shoulder and said, “You have no reason to be stressed. You’re an incredible dancer, and I know you’ll do amazing.”
The rest of my friends nodded their heads in agreement. “But you said you had news for us?” Jamal asked.
“Right,” Arya said, a small smile on her face. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I have a boyfriend.”
A silence engulfed the atmosphere as the shock settled into each of us. Cara broke the silence by hitting the back of Arya’s head and saying, “Who the fuck is this guy, and why didn’t you tell us? When did this start?”
“Ouch,” Arya groaned as she rubbed her head. “His name is Cameron, and we started dating before the break started. I didn’t want to tell you guys until it was official, but don’t tell my parents or Naina. And definitely not my brother. I’m not exactly allowed to date.”
“We won’t tell anyone, but wait,” Marco said. “Is this the Cameron from that party we went to?”
“Which party?” I asked.
“You weren’t there, Ava. It was when you had the flu and were too sick to join us,” Arya said.
More like suffering from the worst hangover of my life, but sure. We’ll stick with that.
“And yeah, that Cameron.”
I could feel my heart breaking, and all I wanted to do was cry. It didn’t make any sense that Arya would tell me she liked girls right before starting to date Cameron. Maybe Arya meant that she was bi, but I don’t know. She never mentioned any labels, just that she liked girls, but now wasn’t the time to confront her. I would be a shitty friend if I outed Arya to the rest of our friends. It should be her decision and her decision alone of when she decides to come out and to whom. I would never take that away from her.
“There’s a party not too far from here, and Cameron said he’ll be there. I want you guys to meet him,” Arya said, her eyes briefly landing on me.
I couldn’t do this. Pulling my phone out of my coat pocket, I pretended to open up my text messages. “Oh shit,” I muttered.
Raphael turned to me, his eyebrows furrowed. “What’s wrong?”
“Teddy texted me,” I lied. “He’s asking where I am. I got to go before he freaks out and tells my brothers and dad. I’ll be in so much trouble.”
I put my phone back in my pocket and sent a weak smile to Arya. “Hopefully I can meet Cameron some other day.”
Arya’s smile faltered as she nodded her head. “Definitely. I’ll introduce you two later. You guys will get along. He’s a really good guy.”
After saying my goodbyes, I ran to the road, but instead of running home, I went in the opposite direction towards the place where I had my first taste of whiskey. Rummaging through the contacts on my phone, I pressed the call button when I saw his name.
After the third ring, he picked up and said, “Ava? What’s up?”
“Nothing, Hunter,” I said as I continued running down the road. “Are you at the place right now?”
“Yes, but you shouldn’t come.”
“Why the fuck not?” I yelled.
“Ava, you have a problem,” he said. “You can’t get drunk every single night. You’re barely sixteen years old for fuck’s sake.”
“Isn’t this partly your fault?” I gritted out. “You’re the one who introduced me to alcohol or was that your fucking evil twin?”
“I never should have done that,” he said.
“Well, too late. I’ll be there soon, and you better have a bottle of whiskey or some type of alcohol ready for me.”
I needed to forget. I needed to feel numb.
“Give me the fucking bottle, Hunter.”
I had reached the abandoned building where Hunter and I had first met, but Hunter was being an asshole. He might see me as a younger sister, but I don’t need another overprotective brother in my life who won’t let me make my own decisions. What I need is for that intoxicating liquid to make its way through my body so I can forget the years of trauma. The pain in my heart was growing as the news of Arya’s boyfriend settled in my mind, and only the feeling of the whiskey burning my throat would make it stop. I couldn’t handle all these emotions anymore. It was too much.
I jumped up to grab the bottle from Hunter’s hand, but he jumped up as well, holding it out of my reach.
Hunter didn’t understand. I didn’t just want the whiskey, I needed it. My hands were shaking, and I was sweating even in the frigid January air. The only thing that would make this stop was the taste of alcohol.
“How about we compromise?” I suggested. “You pour me a drink instead of giving me the whole bottle. Just enough to stabilize my hands, Hunter. Nothing more.”
Hunter sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “Fine, but you won’t get any more than this,” he said. Hunter pulled out a red solo cup from his backpack and poured some whiskey into it before handing it to me. I took a seat on the ground slowly sipping the drink.
“Ava,” Hunter said as he sat down next to me. “Please get some help. I care about you, and I hate to see you like this. You need to tell your brothers about everything.”
“Shut up, Hunter. You wouldn’t understand,” I said. “Why don’t you turn on some music and let me drink in peace. Please and thank you.”
Hunter looked defeated but listened. Connecting his phone to the Bluetooth speaker, he blasted the music for all to hear. “Ava,” he yelled over the music.
“Shut up,” I yelled back. “I can’t hear you over the music.”
I chugged the remaining liquid and threw the empty cup at Hunter, hitting his head.
“Real mature,” he yelled.
I smirked and closed my eyes, leaning back on the wall. Until one sound caused me to snap my eyes open and jolt upright.
“Police sirens,” Hunter confirmed. He turned the speaker off and stuffed the whiskey in his backpack, slinging the bag over his shoulder. Grabbing my hand, he said, “Come on. We need to get out of here.”
We ran out of the building using the back exit but were immediately stopped by two cops who had guns pointed at us.
“Hands up,” one of them yelled.
I turned to Hunter who already was holding his hands above his head. Copying his movement, I started approaching the cops slowly.
“Stay right where you are, kid,” his partner said. “I’d hate to use this gun on you.”
I smirked and said, “Well, I’m sure my brother wouldn’t be too happy to learn that you shot his little sister.”
Before they could react, I disarmed both of the cops using the skills that Emilio and Matteo had taught me, throwing the weapons far away from us. With the guns on the ground, I punched the cop who was closer to me in the jaw and made a run for it with Hunter right behind me. We ran as fast as we could, but it was all in vain. Four cop cars skidded onto the road and surrounded us, blocking any chance of escape.
The officers stepped out of their cars, their guns pointed at us. One of the officers yelled, “Get on the ground, and put your hands behind your head.”
Hunter immediately listened, but I was more hesitant. “Ava,” he hissed. “We have no other choice. Do what they say before you get us both killed.”
I sighed before lying face down on the asphalt road and putting my hands on top of my head. A cop roughly grabbed my hands and handcuffed them before pulling me up from the ground.
“You’re under arrest for trespassing on private property, assaulting an officer, and evading arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”