Stay Strong

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Chapter 5

I woke up early the next morning, roughly around five thirty. I felt, for once, well rested.

I shuffled my way into the kitchen, opening the fridge before deciding to make some simple pancakes and eggs. After fixing enough for two and setting the full plates on the small table I went to wake up Candice.

I knocked on her door before opening it and slipping inside her room. I flipped on the light switch while calling out her name gently. When she didn’t stir I sat down on her twin sized bed and shook her shoulder.

She wined, pulling her covers over her head and rolling over. I laugh softly, a small smile tugging at my lips.

“If you don’t get up you won’t get any pancakes,” I whisper, standing as she sat up quickly. She jumped out of bed and rushed down the hall, jumping over her many toys that littered the floor of her bedroom. I laughed as I followed after her.

When I made it to the kitchen, Candice leaving me in the dust, I found her already digging into her food. I sit down across from her and begin eating. We sit in silence for a few minutes, each enjoying the food. Soon we finished the food, putting out plates in the sink. Candice runs off to her room to get ready while I go to my own.

Once I am done I walk into the living room to find Candice watching cartoons on the television. I throw my hair into a ponytail and grab our bookbags from beside the door. “Ready Candice?”

She turns off the television and jumps up from the couch, skipping over to the door. I hand her the bookbag and we leave the house. I lock the door behind me as Candice gets in the car.

“Good morning, girls,” Mrs. Lanes, our neighbor calls out. I smile and wave at the elderly woman before getting into the car and pulling out of the driveway.

I take Candice to school, kissing her on the forehead before heading towards my own. Once I find a parking spot I hop out of the car before grabbing my bookbag and shutting the car door.

“Hey, Aspen,” a voice said from behind me. I turn around and come face to face with Landon.

“Hey.” I nod my head in greeting and head towards the front doors of the school.

“Not in the mood for conversation, huh?” he laughed. I shrugged, trying to ignore all of the stares we were getting. I almost rolled my eyes. Do these people have nothing better to do? We’re not a zoo exhibit.

“Something wrong?” he asked, running his long fingers through his brown hair.

“Do the stares bother you?” I ask bluntly, looking him in the eye. He stared at me confused for a moment, gray eyes wide, before laughing gently.

“Kinda, yeah.” He nodded his head sadly before saying, “That’s what happens when your father is a millionaire.”

I tilted my head at him and then it dawned on me. “Landon Barnes. Your father is Dave Barnes, CEO of some steel company, right?”

He stares at me shocked. “Yeah. Right on the dot. But...how did you know my last name?”

I barked a laugh as we stopped in front of my locker. “It’s all Sonia talks about. ‘Sonia Barnes’,” I did a dramatic, dreamy sigh to mimic Sonia when she was talking about how Barnes just fit her.

A sick look passes over Landon’s face before amusement lights up his eyes. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. I’m sure she’d show you the paper she kept writing it down on,” I give him a lop-sided grin as I put my books in my locker. He freezes, staring at me. I stop what I am doing and turn to him. “What is it?”

That seemed to snap him out of whatever was wrong and he shakes his head so fast that I thought for a second that he was going to give himself whiplash. “Nothing, nothing. Nothing’s wrong,” he mumbles, looking down at his feet, the tips of his ears turning pink from where they peaked out of his hair.

“Okay,” I draw the word out, closing my locker. “Well, I’m going to go find Bryson, Vanessa, and Sonia. What to come?”

“Um...I do, but,” he paused, scratching the back of his neck.

“Sonia?” I elaborate for him. He nods his head and, as luck may have it, Sonia rounds the corner and sees Landon through the busy hallway. When she sees me beside him her eyes narrow and she huffs before stomping her way over to us, practically shoving her way through the crowd.

“Run,” I whisper to him. He looks at me confused until Sonia calls out his name and his face falls and his shoulders sag.

“Sorry,” I whisper as Sonia finally makes it over to us.

“Hey, Landon. Did you think you could run off without me?” Sonia drawls, clutching onto Landon’s muscular arm. I turned my head away from the sight of Sonia’s small fingers wrapping around his bicep.

“Yeah, I was kinda hoping I would manage to get away from you,” he snaps. I look up to see him trying to pry Sonia off of him. I almost laugh if it wasn’t for the look Sonia was giving me as she held on to Landon for dear life.

“Sonia,” I start, “why are you looking at me like that?” She scoffs and takes her hands off of Landon.

“No reason. You haven’t directly done anything wrong,” she shrugs. I narrow my eyes at her. I saw the gears turning in her head. She was planning something.

“Do you need me to watch Candice tonight?” she asks sweetly. I pause, staring at her. I knew she wouldn’t hurt Candice. She saw her as a little sister. But Sonia can be unstable at times.

“I do. I won’t be working as late either so I only need you to watch her for about four hours.” I narrow my eyes at her, hoping that they conveyed a message that said if she did anything to Candice, that she was going to regret it. She may be my friend, but my sister came first. Always.

“I’ll pick her up from school, then,” she smiles and bounds off down the hall.

“You have a sister?” Landon asks. I jump slightly. I completely forgot he was there.

“Yeah. She’s six,” I stated, kind of bored with the conversation already.

“I’d love to meet her. Do you have a picture?” he asked, smiling down at me. I realized then that he was tall. A few inches taller than me. I was almost six foot myself. What the hell did his parents feed him?

“...be at Sonia’s tonight.” I shook my thoughts out of my head and started up into his gray eyes as he continued to talk.

“Huh?” I asked dumbly.

He laughed, “You weren’t listening at all were you?” I shake my head with an apologetic look and he laughs again but doesn’t repeat himself.

I was about to ask what he was saying when someone threw their arm around my shoulders. I turned my head and found Bryson grinning at me, Vanessa walking up behind him.

“Sonia sure knows how to throw a shit-show,” he laughed. I rolled my eyes and glance up at Landon to see him staring at Bryson’s arm where it was around my shoulders. His look was dark and he seemed almost angry.

“Landon?” His head snapped up and his eyes meet mine. He smiled and stuck his hands in his pockets.

“Are you two a thing?” he asked, glancing between Bryson and me. I stood there shocked for a moment before his words finally registered in my brain. Bryson was laughing so hard that he had tears coming out of his eyes and he was clutching his stomach. Vanessa was no better, she was laughing so hard that she was almost on her knees.

“What’s so funny? I didn’t know the possibility of me having a boyfriend was so funny to you two,” I snapped sarcastically at them.

“I-I’m sorry,” Bryson got out between laughs but Vanessa had no such luck. Landon looked between the three of us. He looked lost but he was a smart boy so he’d figure it out.

Once Bryson calmed down he stood up straight, taking deep breaths. “Aspen is beautiful. And half the guys at this school know it, but, as you can see, she can be... intimidating so they don’t have enough balls to ask her out, or even talk to her. But I’d go with her,” Bryson paused and I was sure it was for dramatic effect. I rolled my eyes and shook my head. I looked into Landon’s eyes and saw that they were dark again and his hands were clenching and unclenching at his side.

“If he was straight,” Vanessa wheezed out from where she was sitting on the floor. Bryson bust out laughing again and I couldn’t help but laugh with them.

“You don’t have anything to fear from me, you’re not my type,” Bryson said when Landon’s face contorted into a strange look between relief and worry but as Bryson told him not to worry relief was the only emotion on his face. “You also don’t have to worry about anyone stealing Aspen away from you,” Bryson grinned. “Once again, the boys at this school have no balls.”

Landon’s face when from tan to pale in the span of two seconds as he looked from Bryson to me. He mumbled something under his breath and shook his head. He looks at me again and I swore his eyes darted from my eyes to my lips and back again. I tried to ignore the feelings it stirred in my chest. Telling myself that if he knew about my past he wouldn’t look at me like that again.

“Spare the poor boy and let’s get to class,” I grin, hoping it didn’t look as forced as it felt. I helped Vanessa up and we all headed off to our classes and before long lunch rolls around.

I had to spend thirty minutes staring at Sonia drool all over Landon like he was some kind of damn dessert. I did have to admit though, he was really good looking. He kept glancing at me and the few times I meet his stare he flashed a grin at me that had my heart jumping into my throat. I ignored the feeling and focused on the salad in front of me. Soon school was over and we headed to our cars.

Once I got in I shut the door and started the car. As I was about to pull out of the parking spot my phone began ringing. I looked at the unfamiliar number and was about to put it down but something told me to answer it. So I did.

“Hello?” I say into the phone.

“Hello. Is this Aspen Peterson, daughter of Monica Peterson?” a low, smooth voice came over the phone.

“This is she,” I said timidly. How did this man know my mother’s name? Candice and I have never talked about what happened. Hell, I haven’t even talked to Bryson, Vanessa, and Sonia about what happened since I told them about it. And that was years ago.

“Hi. Um...,” the man’s voice went from steady to unsure in a matter of moments.

“Yes?” I asked, feeling confused and kind of scared.

“I am Gavin Graves. And there is a possibility that...,” he stopped again and I was about to tell him to hurry it up when he finished his statement with, “that I am your father.”

I froze, staring at the stirring wheel in front of me. I felt like laughing. And crying. And screaming. But none of those things happened so instead I just stared straight ahead. My father...

“Ha! Good one. Well, if that is all-”

“No, wait! Please. Hear me out,” he pleaded.

“Listen here, Gavin Graves. If you ever call me again, I will be reporting you to the police and filing for harassment. I never knew my father and I sure as hell don’t want to know him. He left my mother when she was pregnant with me. If you have something to say to me then say it to my face. Not over the phone where you can hide. If that is all, fuck off,” I half yelled into the phone before hanging up and throwing it into the seat beside me.

I was grumbling to myself as I pulled out of the school parking lot and headed to work. Life could never be simple, could it?

A/N:

Again, I’m sorry. But here is the first chapter of the three I’m posting today.

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