Hackers with(out) Remorse - (Book 4 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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10a. - The Kids (Ain't All Right) Pt. 1

Hacker Rule #12: Keep your identity hidden. Use both a mask and a voice changer.

“Tyler! Tyler, come here! Hurry up!”

A 9-year old Tyler stumbled out of his bedroom, rubbing his eyes. His ears sensitive to all the screaming and yelling going on that woke him from his slumber. “Tyler, I said hurry up!”

He stopped rubbing his eyes and allowed his vision to set, only to be startled by the look on his mother’s face. Her long dark brown hair was a tousled mess on her head. And even more alarming was the black eye that distorted her pale face. “TYLER!”

Tyler jumped startled as his mother roughly grabbed him by the shoulders. “Remember that secret hiding place you and Owen found? Remember?” she asked, frantically. Tyler nodded apprehensively. “I need you to take your brother and go back there until I tell you to come out,” she said, looking him in the eye. “Okay?”

Tyler’s brow furrowed in confusion. “...Again? But-”

“Don’t fucking question me, Tyler!” she snapped at him as she violently shook him. Tyler looked at her fearfully and she quickly covered her face, trying to hold back her tears. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Just... just do this for Mommy, okay? It’s like a game. We’re just gonna play a game, okay? Like before, remember?”

Tyler watched his mother scurry to the bathroom. He could hear a crash come from downstairs before his father’s loud voice boomed throughout the house. “WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU, BITCH?!”

His mother stumbled out of the bathroom, holding 8-year old Owen. There were bloodstains all over his shirt as she held a cold compress to his lip. “Keep it on your lip, Owen, okay?” she said, pressing the ice pack to her youngest son’s face. She nudged Owen towards Tyler who took Owen into his arms.

“He hit you again?” Tyler asked, looking at his brother. Owen looked up at Tyler with big blue eyes, bloodshot and filled to the brim with tears. He slowly nodded without uttering a word.

“We don’t have time for that,” their mother said, pushing them. “You need to go, Tyler. Take your brother and go hide. Just like before. And I’ll come get you right after.”

“But, Mom,” Tyler pleaded. “He’s gonna-”

“I said go, Tyler!” his mother said more forcefully. The anger in her voice and the clashing of furniture accompanied by their father’s violent growls downstairs shook them both. She could see the tears spilling down the cheeks of her boys, and it took everything in her not to break down. They were paralyzed with fear.

“It’s just a game,” she said, holding onto their shoulders. She tried to muster a smile despite the black eye that was swelling up on her face. “I’ll come get you both after, okay? And then we can go to the park. And get pizza from Uncle Joe’s down the street. You guys like Uncle Joe’s pizza, right?”

They both looked at her helplessly without a word, and her head fell in defeat. “Tyler... Tyler, sweetie, I need you to be a big boy and take care of your little brother, okay? And then I promise I’ll be right back. Please just do this for your mother.”

Tyler wiped the tears from his face and nodded before he quickly grabbed Owen’s hand and led him down the hallway. She watched as Tyler crouched down and pulled back the carpet covering the corner of the wall. He opened a latch leading to an opening that only the two of them could fit inside. Tyler turned to Owen who still had blood dripping down his shirt and pushed him towards the opening. Owen got down on his hands and knees and crawled inside the hole. Tyler looked back at his mother and could barely make out her face in the dark. But he could make out the nodding of her head as she urged him to go on. Tyler quickly crawled inside after his brother and closed the latch.

The two of them sat in the small, empty dark space that reeked of mold and housed more spiders than they could count. Tyler grabbed a dirty cloth from the last time they had to hide in there to wipe Owen’s shirt with. They could hear more banging and yelling downstairs. “WHERE’D YOU HIDE THAT LITTLE FAGGOT!”

“Please, Aaron, just stop! You’re out of control when you-”

Owen jumped when he heard the sound of a loud slap followed by a body falling to the floor. He looked at Tyler with big, tear-filled eyes full of anxiety. Tyler swallowed the lump in his throat and quickly put his hands over Owen’s ears. “Remember that song we learned at camp last year,” Tyler said, covering Owen’s ears.

Owen shook his head as more tears spilled down his plump, flushed cheeks, mixing with the blood dripping from his lip. “Come on, you remember,” Tyler said, fighting back his own tears. “S-someone told me… a little secret… come on, Owen...”

Owen blinked furiously as more tears fell. His bottom lip quivered as he tried to continue the song. “A-b-bout the girl with the curly hairrr.”

Tyler grinned. “When she speaks it’s kinda funny...”

“...And her nose moves like a bunny...” Owen continued.

“And you’ll find her dancin’ crazy at the country fairrr!” They both giggled out loud before they heard another crash downstairs, startling them both.

Tyler quickly wrapped his arms around Owen, pushing his little brother’s face into his chest and getting his blood on his shirt. “K-keep singing, O,” Tyler choked out. He held his terrified brother tightly as they both trembled in fear.

“Hey.”

Tyler looked up and was nearly blinded from the lights of the waiting room before his brother’s face came into view. “Here,” Owen said, handing him a cup of water and two pills.

“Owen, I don’t need-” Tyler protested.

“Either you take this shit willingly, or I’m stuffing it down your damn throat,” Owen threatened him. Tyler sucked his teeth as he grabbed the cup of water and pills with his blood-stained hands. “Your hands are fucking disgusting, bro,” Owen said, handing his brother some hand sanitizer.

Tyler rolled his eyes as he grabbed the wipes and wiped the remaining blood off of his hands. He glanced up at Owen to see his brother frustratingly running his fingers through his hair. “...how... how is he?” Tyler asked hesitantly.

“Lucky for us, he’s still alive,” Owen muttered.

Tyler looked down as he took a deep breath. “...I didn’t mean-”

“You can’t keep doing this shit, Ty,” Owen cut him off.

“It was a reflex.”

“Breaking his nose and knocking out his teeth was a reflex? Really?” Owen said sarcastically.

“That homophobic piece of shit called you a fuckin-”

“I know that, Tyler! You act like this is the first fucking time I’ve dealt with hateful shit like that! But, you can’t just beat the living daylights out of anyone who gives me shit for being queer.”

“I beg to fucking differ,” Tyler muttered.

Owen shook his head in frustration. “You need to get your hand looked at.”

“I’m fine,” Tyler quipped.

“Bull-fucking-shit,” Owen said, looking around. “Can we get a nurse over here?”

A woman walked over and eyed Owen up as a bright smile came to her face. “Hi! How can I help you?” she asked, getting close to him.

“My brother fucked his hand up,” Owen said. He gestured to Tyler sitting down who already looked like he was ready to walk out. “Can you help him?”

“Sure,” the nurse said, walking up to Tyler. She inspected his hand, looking it over. “Just a few abrasions, but it doesn’t seem like anything’s broken. I can bandage it up free of charge,” she winked as she stood to her feet.

“Thanks, but I don’t need-” Tyler started.

“If you don’t shut all the way up, Tyler, I swear,” Owen threatened him.

“Why am I the one getting all your anger?” Tyler said flippantly.

“Because I’ve been trying to get you help and you refuse and just take your shit out on everyone else. I’m fucking fed up!” Owen said aggravated.

Tyler sucked his teeth and turned his head. “I’m fine, Owen...”

Owen covered his face with a groan when he saw Jason and Tiana rush through the doors. “Owen!” Tiana shouted, running towards him. She flew into his arms as if he were the one who had been injured. “Are you okay?” she asked, taking his face between her hands as she looked him over.

“I’m fine, T,” Owen smiled at her reassuringly. Her tenderness towards him made it increasingly difficult for him to pretend to be indifferent towards her.

Tyler eyed the way Tiana comforted Owen before Jason blocked his view. He looked up at Jason who sported a casual grin. “Which poor son of a bitch did you fuck up this time?” Jason smirked.

Tyler sighed. “We stopped at the bar for a drink. This guy’s broad tried to kiss up on Owen and Owen joked that he was more interested in her man-”

“That wasn’t a joke,” Owen said quickly. “He was definitely way hotter than she was.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “And of course that brought out the homophobic assholes-”

“If he was a homophobe, I fail to see the issue here,” Jason shrugged. “Hope you got him good.”

“He almost killed him,” Owen sighed.

“Shit. What’s the damage?” Jason quirked an amused brow.

“I just broke his nose,” Tyler shrugged.

“And his jaw. And his teeth,” Owen added.

“Niiiice,” Jason smirked. “Shit, babe. We missed out on all the fun,” he said, looking at Tiana. She immediately flushed over as Owen and Tyler eyed her curiously.

“What exactly were you guys doing anyway?” Owen asked her.

“Nothing,” Tiana said quickly.

“Don’t lie, babe,” Jason grinned. “I already told Owen I was hungry. And I was about to feast, but...unfortunately, beautiful here wouldn’t let me enjoy my meal. Maybe next time...” he said, eyeing her as he habitually bit his bottom lip. Tiana glared at Jason who chuckled amused.

The same nurse returned with a few bandages and sat down in front of Tyler. “The gentleman who was admitted earlier is recovering fine,” the nurse said, grabbing Tyler’s hand. “He’ll need a few molar implants, however.”

“Is he pressing charges?” Owen asked.

The nurse shook her head. “His partner refused. You guys lucked out.”

“Great, then we can go,” Tyler said, standing to his feet before the nurse could finish bandaging him.

“Are you sure you don’t want to be-” the nurse said quickly.

“He’s good. Thanks,” Jason said, nudging Tyler to the door. Owen grabbed Tiana by the waist and escorted her to the door, following after Tyler and Jason.

“That’s probably the first time I’ve ever seen you not hit on a woman,” Tyler said, walking towards his bike.

“I’m trying to restrict my diet so I can fulfill a more... permanent appetite,” Jason said. He wrapped the rest of Tyler’s hand with the bandages the nurse left him.

“What the fuck does that even mean?” Tyler asked, confused.

“Don’t you worry your little tightly-wound ass,” Jason said as he looked at Tiana. “Ready, babe?” he winked. Tiana’s jaw tightened as Owen looked at her confused.

“His persistent thirsty ass actually wearing you down, T?” Owen asked.

Tiana shook her head and pretended to laugh. “He’s just being stupid.” She glanced back at Jason who quirked an intrigued brow, waiting to see what her next move was gonna be. “Let’s... we’re gonna finish up that map grid when we get back to the house, okay?” she said to Owen as she walked back over to Jason.

Owen looked at her surprised as she took the helmet from Jason and hopped on the back of his bike. “Am I fucking losing it?” Owen muttered to Tyler.

“To lose it implies that you actually had it at some point,” Tyler said, strapping on his helmet. “Which would be presumptuous.”

“Man, fuck you,” Owen said, sucking his teeth.

~*~

“Move the line further down,” Tiana said, holding up the large paper as Jason drew a line underneath. They both sat on the floor of the living room in front of the couch as they finished mapping out the grid.

“I think you need to move the paper up a little bit, babe,” Jason said, trying to maneuver around her.

“No, you’re just doing it wrong. Jason! That’s not-! Move-” she said, elbowing him in the stomach. Jason chuckled as he rolled over on the floor next to her, lying on his back. He folded his hands over his stomach and looked up at her kneeling on the ground as she continued sketching the grid. Tiana glanced down at him and rolled her eyes. “What is it, Jason?”

“When was the last time you had an orgasm?”

The pencil immediately broke as she slipped on the paper and lost her balance. She looked at him startled as he immediately burst out laughing. “You can’t be asking me questions like that out of the blue, you crazy ass,” she muttered.

He grabbed another pencil from off the table and handed it to her. “I’m serious,” he persisted. “I’m talkin’ a real toe-curling, lip-quivering, clit-throbbing orgasm.”

She glanced at him again and sucked her teeth as she continued to etch. “When I said I wanted us to get to know each other, I meant like... favorite color, favorite hobbies. Favorite food...”

“Hmm,” he hummed, pretending to think as he looked up at the ceiling. “My name is Jason Davis. I’m 6’2. I love long walks on the beach and dipping french fries into my ice cream. I love to eat pussy and some might say I have an unhealthy obsession with sex.”

“Jason,” she sighed.

“There’s also this beautiful drop-dead gorgeous girl I can’t seem to get off my mind, and it’s driving me just a weeeee bit insane...”

She looked at him to see his blue eyes peering at her with a mischievous flicker behind them. She cracked a grin as she looked back at the map she was working on. “Tell me more about your family. Any siblings?”

Jason sighed as he put his hands behind his head. “I have a sister.”

“Older? Younger?” Tiana asked.

“She’s my twin.”

Tiana looked at him surprised. “Are you guys close?”

“Not anymore.”

She twisted her mouth and looked at him to see his eyes were no longer on her. They were slightly glazed over, staring at nothing. “Should I stop?” she asked concerned.

His blue eyes slit over to her before a smirk split to his face. “Being sexy? Don’t think that’s possible for you, babe.”

Tiana rolled her eyes. “Asking about your family.”

He deeply exhaled as he sat up and looked over the map she was measuring. He grabbed the pencil from her hand and seamlessly started making accurate and precise marks. “Addiction runs in my family,” he said, scribbling away. “My sister is a drug addict. My pops is an alcoholic.”

Tiana bit her lip as she watched him work even faster, accomplishing in seconds what she had been working on for almost an hour. The guy was far more brilliant than he had led on. “He’s got alcoholic hepatitis and severe liver cirrhosis. After the first couple of jobs, I had enough money to put my Pops in a long-term rehabilitative clinic where he gets the help he needs and treatment for his illness. It’s a shit ton of money,” he chuckled. “But he’s worth it.”

“My twin sister,” he continued as he took out a measuring tape. “Is a pretty well-known indie actress. You can catch her in the next Jake Gyllenhaal movie. She’s actually really good if you can get past the fact that she only contacts me to help feed her addiction rather than to see how her brother and Pops are doing. But hey, such is Hollywood. Playing the sister who pretends to care only to victimize herself when she doesn’t get her way is probably one of her best roles. Now, that’s an Oscar-worthy performance.”

Though Jason was smirking and laughing as he spoke, Tiana could sense that there was a tinge of anger and hurt behind his words. He nearly broke the second pencil from how hard he was writing. Jason seemed like the kind of guy who often used jokes and humor to hide the pain he was actually feeling.

She brought her hand to his shoulder and he visibly shook from her touch. “Shit, babe. You touch me like that again and this conversation may head in a very different direction,” he said with a quirked brow.

“I’m just trying to comfort you, Jason.”

His eyes probed her for a brief moment before he quickly grabbed her waist and flipped her onto her back. He startled her with his speed. “There are much better ways to do that, beautiful,” he said, caressing her lips with his.

Tiana instinctively closed her eyes as Jason slipped his tongue into her mouth. Her heart rate quickened as she felt his large bulge grow against her stomach. His hand roamed from the back of her head to her cheek and down the side of her neck before he was palming her entire left breast with his hand.

Jason only allowed himself to break their kiss so he could taste more of her. His lips traced the curve of her jawline before scouring down her neck. He tasted a bit of metal and opened his eyes to see a pair of dog tags hanging around her neck. He picked it up and read the name James Morris along with his service number, blood type, and religion.

“My dad’s dog tags,” Tiana said. He looked up at her to see her big brown eyes filled with emotion. “Dante and I shared them when my dad died. But... then Dante died...” Jason watched as Tiana closed her eyes and a tear slipped down the side of her face. He felt a hollow feeling in his gut watching her cry. It angered and broke him all at once. “I was going to bury them with him,” she breathed out. “But then... what would I have left...?”

Tiana felt Jason’s thumb gently press against the side of her face as he wiped her tears away. She opened her eyes to see him giving her an uncharacteristically warm smile. “Is your mom still recovering okay?” he asked.

“Dante told you about her?” Tiana asked, surprised.

“Dante told me everything,” Jason smirked. “Except... how fucking beautiful you were.”

Tiana rolled her eyes with a chuckle and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “She’s doing okay. Not necessarily better and there’s still no cure for her illness but... she’s stable.”

Jason nodded. “I remember Dante stressing out a lot over her condition.”

“He was always stressed,” she chuckled. “It was like his default mode.” Jason analyzed the details of her face, admiring her unblemished smooth dark skin, her plump lips, her dark brown almond-shaped eyes, and her cute round nose. “You need to stop looking at me like that, Jason,” she smirked.

“Why?” he asked. “Do I make you nervous?” His eyes followed his finger that traced down her neck and between her breasts.

“Yes, Jason, your constant horniness always makes me very nervous,” she said sarcastically.

Jason snickered as he gently rotated his finger over her nipple that was just barely poking through her shirt. “Your nipples are hard... did I make you horny, baby?”

“Because you’re teasing them!”

“It’s called foreplay, babe,” he smirked as he leaned down to lick her neck.

“We’re not having sex, Jas-ah!” she gasped in surprise as his hand possessively cupped her core.

“What mean and untrue words were about to come out of your tempting mouth, beautiful?” he whispered in her ear. He rotated his palm against her core over her jeans. Tiana whimpered as Jason licked and sucked the soft parts of her neck that he seemed to be growing attached to. She felt his hands creep up to the waistband of her jeans before sneaking underneath. She could already feel her panties dampening from his teasing touch. “...Are you wet for me, baby...” he said heatedly in her ear. “Cause Daddy really needs a taste.”

“I’m not calling you ‘Daddy’,” she breathed out as she closed her thighs around his wrist.

“You’re right...” he said, prying her thighs open again. “You’ll be screaming ‘Daddy’.”

“How did you manage to make our bonding moment so X-rated,” she groaned as she bit her lip. “We were getting well-acquainted.”

“Well, my tongue plans to get ‘well-acquainted’ with your body,” he smirked against her neck as he played with her panties. “Every. single. inch.”

Suddenly they heard the door slam followed by footsteps. Tiana quickly shoved Jason off, sending him rolling across the floor. “After Joey goes live, we’ll set up the feed so it reaches every screen and social media site. Motherfucker won’t be able to do shit once we expose him,” Tyler said.

“Good. And we’ll be ahead of his campaign, so it should fuck his shit up before he gets the chance to announce his candidacy,” Owen said as he stepped into the living room. They could hear scuffling in front of the couch but didn’t see anyone. Only Tiana’s cell phone on the table and Jason’s hoodie on the couch. “...uh...T? Jason?” Owen called out, trying to peek over the couch.

Tiana’s head quickly shot up from in front of the couch. “Owen!” she said. “Heyyyyyy.... sup, buddy?”

Owen quirked a curious brow as he watched Jason sit up as well, running his fingers through his hair. “...sup...? What are you guys doing?” Owen asked.

“Nothing!” she said quickly. “I mean working. Writing. Talking. On the project you gave us.” Tyler and Owen looked at her confused before Jason chuckled, standing to his feet.

“We just finished the map grid. You can send it to that Richardson fella. We’re ahead of schedule thanks to beautiful’s quick skills,” Jason said.

“Good,” Owen said. “Yea, he’s got a few things lined up for us. Glad you guys could finish it so quickly.” Jason rolled up the map and handed it to Owen. Tyler glanced at Tiana curiously, wondering why she had her arms wrapped around her, as she stared at the floor. “You should probably get some sleep, T,” Owen said, eyeing her. “It’s been a long night.”

“Uh, yea,” she said, quickly standing to her feet. She kept her chest covered, trying to hide her hardened nipples.

“Jason, we’re doing a raid of that bitch Stan Riley running for senator. You in?” Tyler asked.

“An opportunity to fuck shit up for a bigot? Why not,” Jason said, stretching. He caught Tiana looking at him with a flushed face and didn’t bother trying to hide his grin.

“Good night,” Tiana said, rushing off to her room. She fumbled with the handle, trying to open her door.

“You’re not subtle at all, babe.” Tiana jumped startled and glanced to her left to see Jason leaning against the wall with a smirk on his face.

She rolled her eyes. “We were stupid for doing that in the middle of the damn living room.”

“Is there a reason why you don’t want Owen to know?” Jason asked, walking towards her.

She continued to fumble with the door in frustration. “He’s just... super overprotective sometimes and I’m not in the mood to deal with his big brother bullshit.”

A knowing grin came to Jason’s face. “Big brother... right...”

“The fuck with this door?!” she blurted.

Jason grabbed the handle and turned it as the door easily opened. Tiana threw her head back in embarrassment and frustration. “I can’t tell if you’re trying to get away from me because I annoy you or because I turn you on so much you don’t know what to do with yourself,” Jason grinned.

Tiana looked at him and hesitated. “Both.” She walked into her room and closed the door before he could say anything else.

~*~

David couldn’t help but smile at the way Tiana ran around the exhibit like she was one of the many children that attended the museum. It was a drastic change from the Brooklynite he had gotten used to working with during class. “David! Look at this!” He strolled over to her and looked where she was pointing to see a pendulum swinging in different directions. “This is one of my favorites,” Tiana said, looking through the glass.

“Ahh,” David nodded. “It’s all about the position of the equilibrium and the trajectory of the pendulum. Especially when you consider the gravity force of-” He glanced at Tiana to see her smirking at him. “What?” he asked.

“You’re such a nerd,” she smirked.

David burst into laughter. “You brought me here!”

“Yea, so we can nerd out together,” she grinned, standing straight. “I like this pendulum because it kind of signifies to me that regardless of where you are in life, there are no limitations. Your path can go either way.”

“That’s a unique way of looking at it,” David smiled.

“Using philosophy to question science. How many rules am I breaking?” she teased.

“Far too many,” he chuckled. He followed her as she walked down the long corridor of the brightly lit Math Museum. Children could be heard screaming and laughing as the monotone voices of the virtual instructors spoke all at once. “I have to say, of all the dates I’ve gone on... the Math Museum was never a place I’d imagine being an option,” David teased.

Tiana turned around and smirked at him. “Go on dates often, David?”

“I walked into that one,” he laughed.

“Yes, you did,” she smirked as she turned around again. David scratched his chin as his eyes roamed over her dark brown legs. They were complemented by the bright red skirt that stopped above her knees. The white shirt and blue cardigan made her look fairly different from the typical jeans and hoodie he was used to her wearing in class. Tiana looked up at another exhibit that excited her and turned to David to see him unabashedly eyeing her form. “David?”

He looked up at her surprised and immediately blushed as he averted his gaze. He anxiously rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry...” he muttered sheepishly. “You’re just...”

“Dorky?” she laughed.

“...gorgeous...” he said, catching her eye.

She gave him a small smile before she quickly looked back at the exhibit, trying to ignore the butterfly feelings in her stomach. “What do you think of this one?” she asked.

David walked next to her and eyed the exhibit in front of them. “Alchemy?” he asked.

Tiana nodded. “I’m a lover of all things science. Imagine a world where we can recreate matter into something completely different.”

“Sounds more like magic than science,” David teased.

Tiana shrugged. “Magic is just science we don’t understand.”

“Quoting famous science writers! You are a nerd!” David laughed.

“Hey!” Tiana laughed, poking him. “You knew what you were getting into when you asked me out, okay!”

David laughed as he grabbed her wrists to keep her from poking him. “And I have no regrets...”

Tiana looked up into his beautiful hazel-green eyes and felt her stomach do a flip. She chuckled nervously and quickly backed away. “I’m craving ice cream,” she said abruptly.

~

David and Tiana walked along the narrow path of Central Park, eating ice cream cones that they had bought from one of the food carts at the corner. They had spent over an hour together talking and laughing since leaving the museum. “So have you always been a science fan?” David asked.

Tiana nodded. “Since I was a little girl. Thanks to my dad, our lives practically revolved around science and math. He used to always tell us that there weren’t enough black people in STEM studies and that we needed to change that. Make a difference... an impact not just for our community but the world. I swore my dad thought sometimes Dante and I were Iron Man with the ridiculous ideas he’d tell us to work on.”

David smiled softly. “You guys were close? Your family?”

“Yea,” she smiled fondly. “All of us were. Things just... started to fall apart once my dad got sick. When he died, my mom got sick too, which I’m still convinced is linked to how much she misses him. They were truly each other’s soulmates. And then Dante dying was just...” Tiana stopped short, and David looked at her concerned.

“I’m sorry, Tiana. We really don’t need to talk about this,” he said comfortingly.

Tiana looked up at him and smiled. “It’s okay. I like talking about my family,” she said. “Sometimes I just need to remind myself that the good times we had outweighed the bad. Dante was... one of the most incredible human beings on this planet. He had such a soft and kind spirit. A gentle soul. And he cared about... everybody.”

“He sounds like a great guy,” David smiled.

“He was,” Tiana said. “What about you? Any siblings?”

“I used to have a brother,” David nodded. “But he also passed a while ago. It was really heartbreaking for me because I learned so much from him. Right now I’m just living with a close friend who is allowing me to stay up here with him while I focus on my research. Being here just makes me miss my family more. I just hope I don’t disappoint them.”

“Damn, I feel that,” Tiana sighed. “It’s always hard losing someone close.”

David frowned as his forehead creased. “Sometimes, it’s still difficult for me to carry on without him.”

He felt Tiana grab his hand and looked down at her to see a sympathetic smile on her face. “One of the best things about being human is finding comfort in grieving with others,” she said.

David’s eyes searched hers, and he contemplated kissing her before he stopped himself. He had reservations about falling for her too hard too soon. He didn’t want to risk getting hurt again. But with the way she was looking at him now... he felt he was slowly losing that battle. He gently rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand as he smiled down at her. “Thank you, Tiana...”

~*~

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