Chapter 31 - Stone (Part 2)
After taking Aubree from behind in the shower, her moans muted by a moist washcloth clenched between her teeth, they both felt more clear-headed to face the day and the challenges it presented.
Another test, Stone reminded himself.
Aubree got two minutes with her parents before Stone mentally announced he was coming down. He overheard her mother’s snippy remarks and decided enough was enough and cut their argument short by joining them for breakfast.
He would not tolerate such disrespect toward his mate—even if it came from her mother.
Sandra drew away from her daughter immediately after he entered the kitchen, grabbing the plate of bacon out from the oven that was keeping it warm and setting it down on the table.
The air was thick and heavy with tension as they gathered around the table for breakfast. Silence loomed over their heads as they ate the feast of blueberry muffins, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausages. Stone helped himself to a little of everything and complimented Sandra on the eggs in an effort to break the tension.
“Aged cheddar,” she said, stabbing a piece of egg with her fork.
Aubree picked at her muffin. “You love that stuff.”
“You like your coffee, and I like my cheddar.”
“I like coffee too,” Steve piped up, sipping the black liquid with a gleeful expression.
“Of course you do. She gets it from you.”
Steve raised his mug and winked at his wife sitting across from him, earning a scowl in return.
“May I have some more eggs?” Stone asked, reaching out with a hand for Sandra to pass the ceramic bowl of eggs over.
He wondered how he’d be able to conceal his lycan appetite. If he ate more than a human’s share, what would Aubree’s parents think? He wanted to distract their attention enough to eat as much as he could without their awareness.
Sandra handed him the eggs and he piled three large spoonfuls on his plate before handing it back.
“Speaking of coffee,” Aubree rose from the table, “I’m going to get some more. Anyone else want some?”
Her father handed her his mug, while Stone declined. He’d barely touched his, realizing that he did prefer that French Vanilla flavor, artificial or not.
He already had his vanilla and sugar fix today, anyway. He was sated.
He grinned to himself, keeping his head lowered as he continued to eat. He felt Aubree’s amusement bubble up within him.
[What was that you were thinking?]
[Something inappropriate to share at the table.]
Her back was to everyone as she filled the two mugs with more coffee, adding cream and sugar to her own while her father drank his black. She was smiling to herself, he could tell.
“So, what’s the plan for today?” Steve asked. “You kids off to a party, or something?”
Aubree shrugged as she turned around and handed her father his mug of coffee before sitting down at the table. “Not sure at this point. I’m going to call Brooke after breakfast to make sure we’re still on for tonight.”
“Why wouldn’t you be?” her mother asked.
“Some stuff came up yesterday that we need to iron out.”
Her mother raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you two rushed over there yesterday?”
“Uh-huh,” Aubree hummed, nodding her head while her fingers wrapped around the mug of coffee and lifted it to her lips.
Stone stabbed a sausage with his fork and had to force himself to take small bites, rather than shove the entire thing in his mouth like instinct dictated. He wanted to cram three in at once, they were so small and delectable.
Table manners... What a concept.
“Does she know about...” Sandra trailed off as her gaze shifted to Stone.
Smacking her lips, Aubree lowered her mug and refused to look at her mother. “Yup. She knows. She knows all about it.”
The clang of Stone’s fork hit the plate as it pierced through the next sausage.
Silence fell as Aubree and her parents picked at their meal while Stone struggled to take reasonable bites.
“Have you thought about calling, Dan?”
“He’s been calling here every day since you changed your number, asking about you. I think you ought to talk to him and give him more closure. He sounds distressed.”
Aubree sighed as she pressed her palm to her face. “Can we not talk about him right now?”
Sandra glanced at Stone as he helped himself to more bacon and sausages before turning her attention back to her daughter. “He called last night while you two were out. He’s back in town, you know. Maybe you should try—”
“Oh my god, Mom! I’m not calling him or seeing him! We’re over! He knows that!”
“If he calls again today, you should talk to him,” Stone cut in then, his head lowered over his plate as he continued to eat. [He knows it’s over between you two. He still cares about you enough to try and reach you through your parents. Something tells me that he wouldn’t go to those lengths if it wasn’t something he considered urgent. Hear him out, even if it is another attempt to reclaim you—and I don’t think that’s it.]
[You don’t think he’s in danger, do you?]
[I’m not sure. Perhaps he can tell us where Carina is hiding and what her next move is. If he’s here in Chicago, chances are, she is too, and there are lots of vampires with secure hiding places in the city. He may be trying to give you a warning to keep you safe.]
He could feel Sandra scrutinizing him despite keeping his head lowered, and his hold tight on the fork.
“If he needs more closure, you should give it to him,” he added, deciding then and there to open himself up to her parents. “I know, I would have benefited with more closure if I had been in his shoes.”
[Are you sure?] Aubree mentally asked, reading his mind.
[Yes. Perhaps they would both benefit from hearing it. Give me something to lead into it.]
Aubree tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she lowered her gaze. “I supposed... But this is different.”
“I know, but it still came as a shock to him. If he’s still grieving, he might need one more chance to talk to you in order to move on. If I could turn back the clock, I know I would have made more of an effort to connect with my parents before their deaths.”
Aubree’s parents froze—her father in mid-sip of his coffee and her mother wiping the bacon grease from her fingers with a napkin.
He glanced up at Aubree to catch her eye for a second before looking down at his plate again.
He’d gone over the details with her in the days leading up to their visit. Should his past ever come up in discussion, they ensured that the fabricated story sounded plausible so they knew what to say.
Yet another lie, but one grounded in truth.
“And how could you have predicted that? Besides, you were overseas. I’m sure it was hard trying to find time to call them,” Aubree said.
He shook his head. “We both know why I didn’t call.”
[I’m going to pull back and see what happens,] Aubree said in his head.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up. We’ll talk about it later, okay?” she said, to which he nodded.
Aubree’s mother took the bait. “I’m sorry for your loss. It must have been hard.”
[Run your hand through your hair. Makes you look more self-conscious and adorable,] Aubree suggested.
He followed her directions, despite the fact that he didn’t want to look adorable, but if it would help to tug on Sandra’s heartstrings, he would do it.
He sighed, exaggerating it as best as he could. “It was time I faced it. I couldn’t keep running from the past.”
He glanced up to see Aubree nodding. [Keep going.]
“Oh? Did you have a falling out with your folks?” Steve asked.
He shook his head and lowered his gaze to his plate of food again. “No, we were close. It’s just... I was married before... to my high school sweetheart.”
Sandra’s chair scraped against the tiled floor as she pushed back from the table. She sucked in a breath of air and held it before releasing it in a rush.
“And when she died in a car accident with our young son, I couldn’t face any of it.”
He listened to the sudden spike in Sandra and Steve’s heartbeats. Blood drained from their faces as their scents shifted to shock.
He continued, keeping his head down and his grip tight on the fork in his hand. “I enlisted in the Marines then. Hoping to forget everything by surrounding myself in a new environment that demanded my full attention and utmost discipline. But every night, it would all come back to me. I would never grow old with my wife. Never watch my son become a man.”
The fake story rolled easily off his tongue.
“I tried to avoid anything that would remind me of them—even stopped calling back home and talking to my family.”
He hung his head as Aubree reached across the table and touched his hand, caressing his knuckles with her thumb.
“When my parents died, everything came rushing back to me and hit me hard. I couldn’t run from it any longer. I never got to say goodbye to my wife, my son, nor my parents.”
He cleared his throat, pulling away from Aubree’s hand and jamming his fork into another sausage. “Aubree has a chance to make things right with Dan. She should do it.”
Sandra struggled to swallow as Steve cleared his throat.
“We all make mistakes, and I think you’re right. It might be a good idea for Bree to give Dan a chance to say whatever it is he has to say. He only ever reached out to us when it was urgent and he couldn’t reach Bree,” Steve said.
Sandra’s chair scraped against the floor again as she rose to her feet. She picked up her plate. “I apologize for bringing up Dan in front of you. But... I’m glad you understand... and I’m sorry for your loss.”
He could smell her sweat, a mixture of anxiety and fear, as she swiftly left the table and went to the sink, scrubbing her plate with the rough side of the sponge.
He glanced at Aubree’s father from the corner of his eye before shoveling a handful of sausages into his mouth.
Steve’s attention was on his wife’s back. A frown marred his face. The laugh-lines sank as his forehead creased.
Aubree hid her face behind a hand, a smile playing on her lips. She caught him with his mouth full as he continued to gorge, while Aubree’s parents’ attentions were diverted.
[Animal,] Aubree chided in his head.
He ignored her and reached for his mug as Steve rose from the table.
“Excuse me a moment,” he said in a low voice before taking his plate to the sink.
Stone peered over Aubree’s shoulder as he washed the bacon and sausages down with lukewarm coffee.
Steve set his plate on the counter and wrapped an arm around Sandra’s waist, leaning into her stiff posture.
“What’s wrong, hun?” he whispered into her ear.
She shook her head as he drew his arm away from her waist and began to rub her back.
“We all make mistakes,” he repeated again, like a secret whispered into her ear.