The car engine came to a slow stop as Roman put the car into park. The sun had just set, and the previously orange sky was now darkly lit with various stars glistening in the dark.
My knee shook up and down as I gathered my bag and slung it over my shoulder. Pushing my hair behind my ear, I let out a low sigh before peeking over at Roman. His jaw was locked, and his eyes were glued outside the window. To say he wasn’t the most ecstatic about my plans for tonight would be an understatement. Ever since telling him that I would be going to Mason’s home, he had been antsy. I knew he was trying to mask it behind furrowed brows and a deep scowl, but Roman was worried deep down. He was taking a big risk helping me out.
Technically, his loyalty lied with my father, yet he still went out of his way to help me. I didn’t deserve his kindness, but I was eternally grateful for it. Roman had helped me through more than I had imagined, and I could only hope to return the favor one day.
He had initially refused to take me, and was completely against it. However, I explained to him that Mason was particularly suspicious about me, and the only way to ease those suspicions was to act normally. If I avoided Mason, he would know that I something was wrong, and would try to find answers.
At least thats what I tried convincing myself. I knew deep down, I had wanted to take the risk and come here tonight. I wanted to spend more time with Mason. I didn’t know what exactly Mason and I were, or where we stood, but I didn’t want anything to ruin it. I knew that I was playing with fire, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to stop. All my life, I had allowed others to dictate my life, and for once, I wanted to follow my heart. Mason had been nothing short of genuine and kind to me, and no matter how hard I had tried to keep him out of my life initially, he managed to find his way back.
“What time will you be done?” Roman broke the silence. Glancing over at the dashboard, I saw that the clock was nearing 6 p.m.
“Around 8:30.” I responded, to which Roman nodded. I didn’t plan on spending too much time at Mason’s house. Part of the reason was because I didn’t want to allow too much time for any of Rick’s men to catch onto us. But another part of me also knew it was because I was nervous. I didn’t what to expect from Mason’s friends or family, but I knew that I was terrified of meeting everyone. Not only was I new to socializing, but I always had the internalized fear that everyone knew about my father and I, and my upbringing. Besides, a few hours would be more than enough time, and wouldn’t raise too many suspicions.
“I’m letting it slide this time, Isabella, but you need to put an end to whatever this is with this guy. Rick didn’t put you in college for you to actually be living a normal college student life. He put you there to cover his own ass, and to take advantage of your enrollment there. There are eyes and ears everywhere, on people that even I don’t know exist. They’re hidden in plain sight, and one wrong move could land us both in deep trouble.” Roman said as I stared ahead at dimly lit street. Roman was right, but I was battling with my mind and my heart. I knew that Roman had my best interest in mind, but it wasn’t as simple as he made it out to be.
Despite the internal battle in my mind, I knew that it would be for the best if I began to distance myself from Mason. My time at college could be cut short at any minute, and soon, I would end up back where I was before. It was better if I didn’t allow myself to fall too deep in with Mason.
But, I knew that there was a difference in knowing the right thing to do versus following the small voice in my head that told me it was worth the risk.
Mumbling a quick goodbye to Roman, I pushed open the car door and stepped out of the car. Roman had parked a few houses down to avoid anyone seeing him. I had told Mason that Isla would be dropping me off, and him seeing Roman would only unleash a string of questions that I also wouldn’t have the answers to. As I made my way down the pathway, I tried to ease my nerves as best I could. It was one thing to face Mason alone, but meeting his family and the other people attending the dinner was a whole different story.
I could feel my heart racing in my chest as I approached the front door. I could hear voices coming from inside the house, and just as I raised my hand to ring the doorbell, the front door swung open. I was greeted by a young girl, who I immediately recognized as Mason’s younger sister. She had obviously changed from the photo I had seen of her, but her smile is what made her easily recognizable.
“Hi, I’m Isabella.” I greeted her as I held my hand out for her to shake. I watched as her smile widened as she shook my hand in return before inviting me into the house.
“I know who you are, I’ve been so excited to meet you!” She exclaimed as we stood in the foyer of the house. I congratulated his sister on her acceptance into the dance academy to which she let out a small blush before meekly thanking me. From the small glimpse I had of the house, it was everything I had expected it to be. Mason’s home was beautiful. Various photographs littered the walls, small pieces of decorations were precisely littered across the furniture pieces, and the fresh smell of warm cooked food was in the air.
It was the kind of home I had dreamt of on the nights where I had slept on the cold floor with a week old empty stomach.
“So, before I take you into the main room, I need to know if my brother has been treating you well. He refuses to tell me-” Brielle began to say as I watched her with a small smile of my own. Before she could finish her sentence, she was interrupted by Mason who joined us in the room.
He wore a defeated expression on his face as he pulled Brielle into his side, “Seriously Brielle?” He deadpanned as he stood directly in front of me. The smell of his cologne engulfed the air around me as my eyes scanned over his appearance. He looked good- as he usually did- but I had a newfound appreciation for Mason’s beauty. He sported a rugged appearance on the outside, with a small 5 o’clock shadow lining his face. His hair gently fell over his head in messy waves, and I couldn’t help but feel the urge to run my fingers through his locks.
I hadn’t realized how far I had fallen into a trance until I heard Mason speak up again, “I’m sorry about her.” He said, causing Brielle to let out a loud giggle as she pushed Mason away.
“What! You wouldn’t tell me anything, so I figured I’d ask the guest of honor myself.” She explained as I watched them both with amused eyes. Mason rolled his eyes before turning to me. I watched as his eyes scanned over me as heat rushed to my cheeks. Isla had helped me get ready today, and had loaned me some clothes. She was more than willing to help me get dressed up, and even added some curls to my hair along with some makeup. I had decided that I didn’t want anymore slip ups with Mason, so I had stolen Isla’s concealer and taken it with me to the bathroom and made sure to cover up any bruises or marks on my body. After Isla had finished getting me ready, I could barely recognize the girl in the mirror. I looked, and felt like a completely different person, and for the first time in a long time, I actually felt pretty.
“I’m so happy you came. You look amazing, Isabella” Mason finally said to me after a moment of elapsed silence. Brielle had slipped away while Mason and I had our silent exchange, but from our brief encounter, I already liked her. Her bubbly personality and cheerful attitude made it hard to believe she had endured the loss of a twin brother. But I knew better than to judge, some people were experts at hiding their pain, I knew all too well what it was like putting on a facade for others.
“Thank you for inviting me.” I said back to him, as he placed a hand at the small of my back. I could feel butterflies fluttering in my stomach as Mason began to lead me into the main room.
“Here, let me introduce you to some people.” He said as I pushed my hair behind my ear. I could feel my hands getting clammy as we approached everyone who was lounging in the main room. Various people were scattered across the room, engaged in conversations with one another. I could see a few children running around the house playing with one another, as the sound of mixed chatter filled the room.
I exchanged ‘hellos’ with people as Mason guided me across the room, introducing me to nearly everyone he knew. It was a foreign feeling for me to see how normal people actually lived. It had been so long since I had experienced a family occasion like this. The last memory I had of something like this was nearly a decade ago, before my father took me away from my mother and brother. All I had were faded memories, that were slowly beginning to get fuzzier.
I could feel my heart getting heavier as I thought about my family, and the last thing I wanted was for anyone to realize how out of place I felt at a gathering like this. Pushing aside the thoughts that threatened to seize my night, I focused on what Mason was saying as he talked about some of the people who had been invited and how he knew them.
I allowed Mason to guide, and used him as my shield as we made our way out of the living room and towards the kitchen. Stepping into the room, the smell of various dishes greeted me as my eyes landed on a woman who had her back to us. Her long brown hair was tied in a low bun, and she was humming a tune to herself as she finished placing a dish on the counter.
“Mom, meet Isabella.” Mason introduced as Mason’s mother turned around with a startled expression on her face. His mother didn’t look a day over thirty as her eyes scanned over Mason before landing on me. Her eyes were identical to Mason’s, and were brightly lit as her face lit up in a smile. I watched as she rounded the counter, and was a taken aback when I felt her pull me into a tight hug. My arms remained limp at my sides for a brief second as I registered what was happening. Physical touch had only ever come in the form of abuse and violence, so when Mason’s mother’s warm touch met mine, I couldn’t help but let out a small sigh of relief. Wrapping my arms around her, I returned her hug. The smell of her floral perfume surrounded me, as I relished in her motherly touch that reminded me so vividly of my own mother’s.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Isabella. You’re so beautiful.” She commented once she had pulled back. I felt my cheeks redden at her compliment as I timidly thanked her
Just as she began to step away from me, a loud noise sounded from the living room, followed by a screech from Brielle. Turning to Mason, I watched as he let out a deep sigh of frustration before turning to face his mother and I.
“Mom, please don’t say anything embarrassing while I go check out what happened.” Mason half heartedly said to his mom, to which I let out a small giggle. I watched as she slightly swatted at Mason, before he made his escape into the living room.
“Come, let me fix you a plate.” Mason’s mom said as she pulled me over to the counter. My eyes slightly widened as I took note of how much food she had prepared. There were various pots filled with pasta, bread, chicken, and vegetables. There were some dishes I didn’t even recognize as my eyes scanned the food in awe. The food smelled and looked delicious, and I didn’t protest when Mason’s mother filled my plate with a little bit of everything. I watched as she fixed herself her own plate before ushering me over to the counter where she had pulled out two seats for us.
Joining her on the counter, I turned to face her with a grateful smile, “Thank you Mrs.Reed. The food looks amazing.” I complimented her as she gave me a small smile.
“Oh please, call me Jeana.” She said as she took a sip of water. Taking a small bite of the pasta, my eyes slightly widened as I chewed the food. Despite having easier access to food now that I was at college, it was still surreal to me when I ate a warm meal. Mason’s mother’s cooking was stellar, as I continued to take more small bites. “I was very eager to meet you. Mason speaks very highly of you.” Jeana broke the silence as I looked up at her. I could feel my cheeks blazing at her comment, and I could see a mischievous smile on her face as she watched my expression.
Mason talked about me to his mother?
I was surprised at his mother’s comment, but I couldn’t help the fluttery feeling in my heart knowing that Mason had talked to his mother about me. Taking the napkin and wiping my face, I set it down before answering. “He’s a great person. We actually met in our history class.” I explained as she let out a hum in response.
“That must have been terrible for you, having Mason as your classmate in history of all classes. Mason and Brielle were never the best at history. That was more up Nick’s alley.” She commented as she let out a small laugh. I could see a flicker of sadness pass through her eyes at her comment about Nick, and I couldn’t help but feel something tug at my heartstrings as I stared at Jeana.
Placing my hand on top of hers, I kept my gaze locked onto her’s as a frown occupied my face, “I’m so sorry for your loss, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been.” I softly said to her as she gently nodded her head. I could see the pain in her eyes as she squeezed my hand as a bitter smile made it’s way onto her mouth.
“Thank you, sweetheart. Some days are harder than others, but as the years progress, it becomes more manageable.” She said as I felt my eyes well up in tears. Jeana seemed like a lovely woman, and I couldn’t fathom how difficult it must have been for her to lose a child. Despite enduring such a big loss, she still managed to keep a smile on her face. I could tell she was a great parent, and only hoped that Mason and Brielle saw that too.
We both finished eating our meals, talking about college and random things. I made sure to keep any personal questions aligned to what I had told Mason about myself, and luckily his mother wasn’t as intrusive as he was, and kept things mostly at a surface level. Mason had joined us halfway through the meal, but was quickly whisked away again by one of Brielle’s friends who needed help with something.
Although I did want to spend time with Mason, I was enjoying my time with Jeana. Despite Mason’s warnings to not tell me any embarrassing childhood stories, she continued to do so, making me laugh harder than I had ever before.
I had decided to stick with Mason’s mom in the kitchen, and help her clean up. Nearly everyone had finished eating, and were now seated in the living room where Mason was setting up a movie. Mason’s mother and I were standing in the doorway of the living room watching in amusement as Mason interacted with Brielle and her friends. Despite looking frustrated and ready to call it a night, he still managed to look painstakingly beautiful. The sleeves to his shirt were rolled up, revealing his muscled arms. His messy hair fell over his eyes as he focused intently on setting up the TV.
“Brielle drives him insane, yet there isn’t a single thing he wouldn’t do for her.” His mother commented as she watched the interaction as well.
“He’s a good brother.” I agreed with her as she nodded her head before turning to me and taking my hand in hers.
“Thank you, Isabella. I can’t help but feel that you are a part of the reason why Mason is finally opening up again. I feel my son coming back to me.” She whispered, as her eyes welled with tears. I didn’t know what to say to her, and decided that words wouldn’t be enough as I squeezed her hand in response and returned her shaky smile with one of my own. Turning back to the other’s, I locked eyes with Mason who had an unknown look in his eyes. We both kept our gazes on one another, neither of us able to look away first.
Mason’s mother’s words rang in my mind as I processed what she said. I was torn because it was clear she had seen a shift in Mason’s behavior, and felt that it had to do with me. Whether or not that was true, I didn’t know what to do anymore. Roman’s words had been in the back of my mind all day, and I knew that I needed to let go of Mason soon.
I had to.
But I didn’t want to.
Mason had broken me out of the shell I had been in for years. He made me feel giddy and excited, but more importantly he made me feel safe. As if I was protected at all times.
And I didn’t want to let go of that feeling.
Excusing myself, I made my way over to the bathroom to briefly catch my breath. My thoughts had begun to make me feel suffocated, and I needed to isolate myself before it became obvious to everyone else around me. Locking myself into the restroom, I turned the water on, and splashed some droplets on my face, hoping that it would force my mind to shut off for a bit. Looking up at the mirror, I tried to recognize the girl in the reflection. I looked the same as I always had, yet something about me felt different.
I could feel myself slowing pushing out of the bubble I had been in for as long as I could remember. I was doing things I would have never envisioned doing before. Hell, I was in Mason’s home meeting his family. The idea of that alone would have never crossed my mind months ago. Glancing down at my phone, I saw that the time was nearing close to 8:30, and that Roman would be here soon and I needed to begin saying my goodbyes to everyone.
I felt my heart sink as I realized that it would probably be the last time I would see Jeana and Brielle. Whatever Mason and I had going on needed to come to a stop soon, before it landed me in deep waters with Rick. His anger on a normal day usually led to a violent attack on me, and I didn’t even want to begin to imagine how he would react if he got news about my whereabouts.
Pushing myself away from the counter, I wiped my hands dry of any excess water before turning the knob and stepping out of the bathroom. I barely made it a few steps, when Mason’s body stepped in front of me. I let out a startled gasp, as I glanced up at him. He wore a beautiful smile on his face as his hand reached out too steady me.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He apologized as I waved my hand in front of him.
“It’s okay, I was coming to find you anyways. My ride should be here soon, so I should get going.” I said to him, glancing over at the clock that was perched on the wall behind him. I watched as his smile dropped, and was replaced by a small frown as he nodded his head.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to spend too much time with you. Brielle and her friends had me working as their personal assistants tonight.” He said, causing me to let out a small giggle. As we made our way back down the hallway, Mason spoke up again.
“I hope my mother didn’t embarrass me too much. She has a tendency to overshare every bad thing I did as a child.” He said as we stepped into the living room. Turning to face him, I glanced over at his mother who was now seated next to Brielle. Their attention, along with the others in the room was focused intently on the T.V which had a random movie playing on it.
“She was lovely, I’m glad I met her.” I sincerely said to him as I clasped my hands together. I could see a smile erupt on his face at my words, but he didn’t say anything in response as we made our way over to the couch to say goodbye to Jeana and Brielle. They both let out a small groan of protest when I mentioned I had to leave, but quickly pulled me into a hug before making me promise to return soon.
I tried to conceal the bitter smile that threatened to erupt on my face, as I returned their hugs before waving goodbye to the others and heading towards the front door, Mason directly by my side.
Just as we made our way outside, I could hear the sounds of cheering coming from the living room. Glancing back, I saw that a man, who appeared to be the same age as Mason and I had just walked in from the backdoor. He was a couple inches shorter than Mason, and had jet black hair that was styled perfectly on his head. I didn’t know why, but for some reason I had an inkling that I had seen him somewhere. I couldn’t pinpoint where exactly, but his face was oddly familiar.
“That’s Tyler, one of my best friends. I’ll have to introduce you two another time because once he starts talking he won’t stop.” Mason joked as I let out a small laugh. Nodding my head in agreement, I followed Mason outside the door. It made sense that Tyler was one of Mason’s friends, I must have recognized him from campus.
Stepping out of the warm home, I was instantly greeted but the cold air as Mason shut the door behind him. The temperature had dropped significantly these past few weeks, as we edged closer to the winter season.
It was not exactly 8:30 yet, meaning Roman most likely hadn’t arrived, but I needed to say my goodbyes to Mason before he came to avoid him possibly seeing Roman in the car instead of Isla. Turning to face him, I saw that he had already been silently observing me. Shoving my hands into the pockets of my jacket, I let out a small breath.
“Thank you for inviting me, it was great meeting your family. Give Brielle my best wishes again.” I said to him as he softly smiled at me.
“It was no problem, besides my mother loved having you. She and Brielle really took a liking to you.” He revealed to me, causing my heart to warm. I had been nervous that my timid personality would come off as weird to Mason’s friends and family, but his revelation had put my fears to ease.
Mason and I didn’t exchange any words after that, but we kept our eyes locked on one another. It seemed as if all words had died in my mouth as Mason took a step closer to me before cupping my cheek with his warm hands. His hand was so gentle on my face, as if I was the most fragile thing on the planet. I could feel my breathing begin to come out in slow labored breaths as the distance between Mason and I slowly began to diminish. My heart was going haywire in my chest, and I could feel my thoughts in a frenzy as Mason’s face edged closer to mine. We hadn’t broken eye contact, and it was as if we were saying everything we needed through our eyes.
Mason waited until his lips were merely a feather’s touch away from mine before I felt his soft breath on my face as he spoke. “Isabella?”
Words were beyond me, and I felt as if I was frozen in my spot as I let out a hum in response.
“Can I kiss you?” He whispered so quietly, that if we weren’t standing so close to one another, I wouldn’t have heard him. My hands that were previously in my pocket were now limp at my sides as his question rung in my mind I didn’t allow myself to think too much about it, as my body took control and barely nodded my head.
That was all the indication that mason needed as his lips connected with mine. I could feel my heart exploding in my chest as the rest off the world disappeared around me. His lips were soft as they gently pressed against mine. I felt my arms grasp the lapels of his jacket as my body firmly pushed against his. Mason’s lips were soft and gentle against my mouth as he guided me through a small kiss. I felt as if I was an antique glass with the way Mason was handling me in that moment- as if he was afraid that he would break me.
Little did he know, he was the reason for my becoming.
His hand remained cupped around my cheek as my eyes fluttered open. A million thoughts rang through my mind, but I ignored it as I looked up at Mason who was silently staring at me with a small smile lining his face.
I watched as he opened his mouth to say something, but he quickly shut it as the sound of a car approached.
Roman was here.
The small bubble that Mason and I were in was now shattered as I came back to reality. As much as I wanted to remain in Mason’s tight embrace, I knew that it was time for me to head home. Pushing my hair behind my ear, I stood on my tip toes and placed a featherlight kiss on Mason’s cheek. The soft stubble on his cheeks grazed against my lips, as I pulled back and gave him a small smile.
“Goodnight Mason.” Was all I said before pulling back.
“Goodnight Isabella.” He said in return as we both gave each one last look before I turned around and made my way down the pathway and headed down the sidewalk towards Roman’s car that was hidden behind the neighbor’s SUV.
My legs felt like jelly and ground felt as if it was swaying as I tried to wrap my head around what had just happened. Despite the fluttery feeling in my chest, and my heart that was beating uncontrollably, I couldn’t help the one thought that had seized control of my mind.
I was falling for Mason Reed.
They finally kissed!
It was an agonizing 41 chapters but you all made it to this part finally!
Thank you all for reading!
Lots of love & Happy New Year!