"What are you saying?"
Laynie rolled over and pushed the ugly duvet off of her. Was that Walter shouting? Who was he shouting at?
"You can't do this!"
Laynie swung her feet over the side of the bed, favoring her sprained ankle. It was a school morning, but normally Walter would have woken her up by this time. In some way other than shouting, that is.
As she sat and listened, she didn't hear any more of Walter yelling. He talked more, presumably on the phone, but in a quieter tone.
Laynie hobbled around her room, getting ready for school as quickly as she could.
She carefully made her way downstairs, backpack over her shoulder, and ventured into the kitchen, where her father sat.
Walter held his head in his hands, his shoulders slumped as though defeated.
"Is everything okay?" Laynie asked quietly.
He looked up at her, and she was startled. His face was set hard, and his eyes were red. Laynie reflexively flinched.
Laynie was indecisive of what to do, but shortly sat at the table across from him. "I assume it wasn't about something good."
Walter let his head fall into his hands again. "She broke up with me. Over the phone."
Laynie put a hand on her dad's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, that's awful."
He looked up again, slowly. "She said I'm spending too much time with you."
Laynie cautiously pulled her hand away, heart beating faster. She rose slowly, locking gazes with Walter.
"I... I'm going to be late for school, I'll see you later." She turned and left the kitchen, calling over her shoulder as she left, "I'm sorry."
Her day at school was long and tedious, spent worrying about her dad and trying to calm her hungry stomach. In her haste to escape the house, she hadn't packed a lunch.
When school let out, she didn't want to go home. She wanted to say she knew her father was trustworthy, but she had driven a wedge between Walter and Alissa, apparently, and she knew he was angry. She didn't know how he was going to react, or if it was even going to affect anything at all.
Instead of leaving the school to start her walk home, she sat on the stairs outside of the school and looked out at the nearby highway.
Not long after she sat there, a boy plopped down beside her.
She raised an eyebrow at him, and found herself looking at a reasonably attractive boy, probably her age. He had big thick glasses over blue eyes, and short dark hair. Even shorter than her own.
He smiled at her, a pure, genuine thing. "The girl who stayed in Stark Tower. The girl who fought off a mercenary with a loaf of bread in Costco."
She almost snorted. "The last part is a rumor, but yeah, I lived with the Avengers."
"Where's Carter? How did you end up here?" he asked, broadly gesturing to the space around them.
"Well excuse me for being paranoid, but who are you?"
He stuck his hand out. "Shawn Worthington, resident superhero nerd of Santa Fe, fictional and otherwise."
Laynie shook his hand, not able to hold back her smile. "If you must know, the Avengers took care of the men that were hunting me and Carter. She's in a foster home now, and I'm with my dad that I don't really know."
He grimaced in sympathy. "I'm sorry. Same thing kinda happened to me, my dad started acting up in a criminal fashion a couple years ago, I had to move here to live with my mom."
"I'm sorry," Laynie said, looking back out to the highway.
"Nah. She turned out to be really nice, I don't know why she didn't have custody in the first place." Shawn shrugged. "So, why are you here?"
"I told you, I'm with my dad. The Avengers couldn't keep me."
"No," he said, laughing. "I mean, why are you here, on the stairs?"
Laynie laughed nervously. "I guess I kinda made my dad upset this morning. I'm not really looking forward to going home."
"You want me to walk you home? I can stick around a little while afterward, make sure he's good?"
"Oh, I don't think he'd hurt me, it's just..."
"You don't know him," Shawn finished. "I feel you." He gave her another bright smile.
"Maybe instead of suspiciously milling around outside, you could come in?"
He shook his head. "I don't do interventions. Whatever happened, you have to work it out with him."
Laynie laughed. "Fair enough. A walk home sounds great, then."
She and Shawn strolled casually, and silently, for a few minutes.
"Okay, I can't help the question. What are the Avengers like?"
Laynie grinned. "They're great. Bruce, the Hulk, he's actually a super nice guy. Kinda sensitive. Thor isn't quite the godly type- he's pretty clueless about earth and has become addicted to honeybuns. He's even bigger in person. Tony's really nice, contrary to popular belief. You just have to be able to appreciate the sarcasm. Pepper Potts, she doesn't really count, but she's great. Natasha and Clint are both kinda quiet, until you get them angry. They're cool. Steve is... Patriotic. And quiet. They're all kinda unlikely friends, but they work together and love together like a family. I... I miss them."
Shawn couldn't help the smile. "How cool is that? Nobody else can say they've lived with the Avengers."
Laynie laughed. "Yeah."
They arrived at Laynie's doorstep too soon. She stood in the driveway awkwardly, fiddling with the strap of her backpack.
"Thank you for walking me home."
"No problem. I'll stay out here for a few minutes. If anything's wrong just give me a shout."
Laynie nodded, then gave a little wave goodbye. It was refreshing for a stranger to not want to bully or kill her.
Upon entering the house, she instantly wanted to leave. She gave a glance over her shoulder to Shawn before the door swung shut behind her.
The whole place smelled like alcohol. Not too strongly, but enough to put her on edge.
Her father came stumbling out of his room and to the top of the stairs. "Whosere?" he slurred, eyes passing right over Laynie.
His eyes swept the downstairs a few more times, finally stopping on his daughter, squinting awfully. "What ch'you want?"
"You," he said, pointing and squinting. "You made 'er leave. You're the- the problem!" He took a step down the stairs.
Laynie saw a mostly empty bottle of amber liquid come into view, and she took a step back. "You know I didn't mean to."
"Your fault!" he shouted, loud enough to hurt her ears.
She tripped on the rug, falling against the door. "Walter! I am going out with a friend, I'll see you later."
He shouted something after her, but she was bolting down the front yard before he could get a thought out.
"Hey!" Shawn jumped up from the curb, turning in time to catch Laynie in a hug. "Whoa, what happened?" His voice was full of worry.
Laynie was trembling head to toe, causing her backpack to slip off her shoulder. "He- he's not good."
He pulled his phone out of his pocket. "I'm calling the cops."
"No! He didn't hurt me... Just..."
Shawn reluctantly put his phone away. With a sigh, he pulled Laynie's backpack off her shoulder and put it on his own. He took her hand, and pulled her toward the way they'd come. "Let's get out of here."
Laynie wiped a tear off her cheek, following Shawn.
They walked in silence for about ten minutes, right beside each other, hand in hand. Laynie considered the fact that it might be weird to let this guy she just met lead her around town, but she was a little numb. Besides, there was just something about Shawn that said he could be trusted.
Laynie was definitely shaken by her father's display. It wasn't as if she had never seen a drunk person before, but they usually weren't violent. Or maybe they just weren't that drunk. No, it was the way he had shouted and slurred at her that had shaken her to the bone. She still wasn't sure if she could trust him, and was beginning to remember that her mom had left him for a reason.
Shawn only released her hand once they were on the doorstep of a run-down home, and he fumbled around to get a key in the lock.
Once he did, he waved her in behind him and hung their backpacks by the door.
"Mom," he called. "I'm home!"
A middle aged woman with masses of brown curly hair stepped out of the kitchen, where a beautiful smell of a home-cooked meal was pouring out. That woman was Shawn's mother. "Shawn! Where on earth-" she stopped short upon seeing Laynie. "Oh. Well, why didn't you warn me we were having a guest?" The woman smiled, wiping her hands on her apron as she approached Laynie. "I'm sorry for the mess in here, you know boys," she said with a poke at Shawn.
He rolled his eyes, a smirk on his face.
"Mom, this is Laynie Combs. She's the girl that lived with the Avengers!"
This seemed to make her very flustered. "Oh my, whatever are you doing here?"
"Well, I'm supposed to be with my dad..." Laynie trailed off, and the woman looked to her son for guidance.
He shook his head. "Sorry for dropping in on you mom, but I figured we'd have plenty to share."
"Of course," she said warmly. "There's always room for another around the table."
Laynie smiled. "Thank you Miss Worthington."
"Please, just call me Mary."
Laynie nodded, and they all filed into the kitchen. Laynie took in the sights and smells around her. There were dishes in the sink, shoes lined up against one wall, and a few pots on the stove. It smelled strongly of roasted onions and garlic, and seared meat.
"Shawn, to get your sister and clean the table. Laynie, would you mind giving me a hand with bowls?"
"Not at all, where are they at?"
Laynie helped Mary bowl up the delicious smelling beef stew, while Shawn and his older sister Jane set the table.
Once sitting around the table, the family all bowed their head and said a short prayer over their meal.
Laynie loved the stew the second her spoon touched her tongue. "This is delicious," she said enthusiastically.
Mary beamed. "Thank you Laynie."
Jane elbowed Shawn, who sat beside her. "I can't believe you finally dragged a girl home," she teased.
Shawn rolled his eyes, but turned pink around the cheeks.
"Jane, be nice to your brother," their mother chided.
Jane grinned like a cat, and Laynie couldn't help herself from a smile either.
"Mary, thank you for letting me eat with you on such short notice."
She waved a hand. "Don't be silly, I love having guests. My children just don't appreciate my lovely cooking anymore."
"They sure don't," Laynie responded with a smile.
"Has Shawn mentioned his giant nerd collection yet?" Jane rushed. The second the words were out of her mouth, a muffled thump came from under the table and she winced.
Laynie watched in amusement as Mary glared her children down. "Well, I know he's a nerd, but I have yet to hear of this collection."
After thoroughly glaring down his sister, Shawn turned to Laynie and smiled. "Maybe I'll show you later."
Mary smiled at her bowl knowingly, and Laynie had to wonder what she was missing.
After the table was cleared, Shawn brought in Monopoly and set the game up. The whole family plus Laynie played a long and happy game, and by the time it was finished, the sun was going down.
"I should probably be heading home," she said heavily as she helped clean up the game."
"Would you like a ride?" Mary asked.
"No ma'am. I live just down the street."
Normally she would've taken the offer, she was quite afraid of the dark, but she didn't want this family to see any more of her father than they had to. She liked them too much to make that impression just yet.
"I can't thank you enough for dinner, it was great."
Mary gave Laynie a big hug, before she could even react, and she was reminded of her mother. She felt like she was in her arms for a few short moments, and then reality came crashing around her.
"You're welcome to come back any time, Laynie."
Shawn grabbed their backpacks, and they made the trek to her home once again. This time, Shawn walked her all the way to the porch.
"Thanks for everything today," Laynie whispered.
Shawn handed her her backpack. "You're welcome. It wasn't a problem at all, my mom really does love having mine and Jane's friends over."
Laynie smiled wordlessly. "I'll see you at school tomorrow, right?"
"Of course. Have a good night. And... Be safe, okay?"
She nodded firmly, and held her head up high as she sneaked into her house for the second time that day.
A chainsaw snore ripped through the silent living room, and she peered over the edge of the couch to find her father sleeping hard, an empty bottle resting on his chest. He was going to be very hungover tomorrow.
She tip-toed upstairs and just to be safe, locked her door before going to sleep.