“Rae... I’m lost.”
I looked up at Jez, who stared at the present in her hands. We were sitting around the Christmas tree at Christmas morning, opening presents. I was surprised to find a present from the Prestons in general, and two other, one from Danger and one from Gran, who left it here without me noticing. The present from the Prestons was an expensive collar for Flanny with her name carved on it in gold letters. It was actually a present for my pet instead for me, but I appreciated it nonetheless. They could’ve given me nothing, after all.
The present from Danger was a small-sized towel with red letters sewn into it that made the word “redling”. It was cute and annoying at the same time, so I just thanked him.
Gran’s present was an old book of her deceased friend, Geraldine West. I was really happy about this one.
But now, it wasn’t about me. It was about Jez, who seemed as lost as she claimed herself to be. She, unlike me, got a present from each step-brother she had, and in her hands now was Danger’s gift, which was a necklace of pinkish-white pearls, which looked real. It’d probably costed him a lot, and was really beautiful. I wondered what was wrong with Jez that she was so weird about it.
“Don’t you like it?” I asked her, hesitant.
She shook her head. “I love it,” she whispered, her sky-blue eyes flashing to where Danger sat with Gunner and Ryder and talked about their own presents. “It’s just...” she bit her lower lip, and I suddenly had a good idea why she reacted like that.
“He outdid himself,” I stated. “You didn’t expect him to spend so much money on a gift for you.”
She nodded slowly. “I don’t know what to make of it,” she said quietly, “I mean, it’s beautiful, and I always whined about how I wanted a pearled necklace. But I don’t... I didn’t expect him to actually listen to me and buy me one.”
I grinned a little. “You’re touched,” I said, almost surprised.
Her response was to blush and I knew I was onto something. “Do you... like him?” I asked, lowering my voice.
The blush on her face deepened and she seemed baffled and lost and really cute. “I... I don’t know...” she didn’t sound convinced.
I bit back another grin. “You so like him, Jez.”
She glared at me. “N-Not true, Rae,” she tried to sound confident but failed. “I... how...”
“You do,” I pushed, seeing as she flushed further. “I see it in your eyes. You do like him.” I crossed my arms. “Unbelievable.” I thought she was still adoring Gunner, but apparently she didn’t. I knew that Danger felt things for her, too, even though he refused to talk about it and when I did manage to get him to talk, his hints were enough.
I wondered if it was possible to step-siblings to be together. I mean, they were both adopted by Henry and were practically a family, but they weren’t blood-related. So maybe they could...
Jez said nothing, just stared at the necklace. After a few minutes of silence, she took a deep breath, and her face softened, her flush became only slightly pink, and she smiled. She looked thousands time more beautiful than ever, and I found myself grinning at the sight. Oh yeah, something was brewing in her pretty head. She probably pondered what to do about this newfound crush.
I tried to imagine them together. Danger Lane and Jezebel Smith. They could be a really good-looking couple; Danger with his shaved head, cattish-green eyes, pouty lips and tall, big frame; And Jez, with her soft dark-brown hair, sky-blue eyes, curvy and tall figure. They could be like Beauty & The Beast.
Yeah, they could fit very, very well.
“Well,” I smirked. “Don’t just sit here. Go say thank you.”
She looked startled. “What do you mean?” She asked, and I realized it was the first time she asked me for some piece of advice.
My heart softened. “You should thank him. Danger.” I specified.
“O-Oh,” she flushed and then nodded. “Can you put the necklace on me?” She asked, and I did just that. When I finished, she flashed me a hesitant, slightly fearsome look, and I nodded in encouragement. She took a deep breath and went over where Danger was now laughing with Ryder about something, while Gunner just grinned a little.
I ignored the way seeing Gunner affected my insides just when I saw Maddox saying something to Henry and Evelyn and coming over to where I was sitting alone now. I looked up at him as he took the seat next to me, gray eyes sparkling. “I have something for you, Rae,” he said, taking out a small present.
Raising an eyebrow, I took it and opened the unexpected. It was a Smartphone, with touch screen and all. Shocked, I looked at Maddox in question. “Why are you giving me this?” I asked, frankly weirded-out by the act.
“It’s about time you have some way to contact your new family,” he shrugged indifferently. “Father saw you had no phone, and now we took care of it.”
My new family? Things just got stranger and stranger. They considered me a family? Really? Even after everything I caused them? Wasn’t I a burden to them?
Determined to keep it cool, I nodded in mock-understanding and Maddox cupped my cheek in a brotherly-fatherly affection that made me jerk a little. He then smiled at me fondly, like I was an old friend of his, or some lost daughter that returned home after a long time. This look disconcerted me more than I’d like to admit. But it lasted only for a few moments because then Evelyn called him and he left me, staring after him in utter confusion.
Fortunately, nothing odd happened afterwards. Christmas day went uneventfully, and so did the first few days of the holiday. I saw almost nothing of Gunner, and I could never be more grateful for that. It was enough that every minute I thought about him, about his lips, about his infuriating personality. I didn’t need to feel the attraction in addition to all that.
I took the phone-numbers of all my “new family” members and put it in the numbers I remembered from memory: Isobel’s and Echo’s. I didn’t know if Echo’s number would do me any good, but I thought maybe it was for the best.
Afterwards, I found the number of Chase through a clipped conversation with Isobel, who was still distancing herself from me, and then I called the school’s Golden Boy.
“Who’s this?” Chase’s snapped voice was not what I expected. Shocked, I said nothing, and heard him curse. “Who the fuck is this? Is it you again, Edison? I told you to leave me the fuck alone. I’m not going to join you and your group of freaks, do you hear me? I’m not going to be - “
I decided to stop it right there. “Chase?” I said in a tiny voice that made him pause. I sat down on my bed with curiosity eating me from the inside. Edison? Who was he?
Silence filled the line and after a few moments, Chase said, slowly, “Rae?”
“Me and no other,” I confirmed. “Who’s Edison? And why do you sound freaked-out?”
His laugh was startled a bit. “I’m sorry,” he said lightly. Too lightly. “Edison is... is someone whom I don’t like very much and he’s been harassing me to do something for him. He’s just a stubborn son of a bitch so don’t worry. Anyway, since when do you have a phone?”
I let it drop, knowing I wouldn’t gather anything else from him if I pushed. “I always had a phone,” I told him, “but now I have a new one.” I didn’t tell him that I left mine at my previous home because Gran couldn’t bring it to me. Henry said it could be tracked and he didn’t want to take any chances, so I was phone-less until today.
“I see,” Chase sounded as though he smiled. “Well then, congratulations!”
I grinned a little. “Thank you.”
“How did you get my number?” He asked.
“I see... that’s cool. So... why did you call?”
I bit my lower lip, and took a deep breath. “I think I can make it to New Year’s Eve party.”
“Really?” He sounded surprised and happy. “That’d be great!”
“Yeah...” I mumbled. “So... I just wanted to let you know that I may come. Remind where it is?”
“At Leo’s rooftop. He lives at downtown in the highest, richest building there. You know what I’m talking about?”
“So there. He lives in the penthouse in the last floor. It’s not hard to find his apartment and it’ll be loud inside, so you won’t have any problems.”
“So... I’ll see you there?” He sounded hopeful.
I grinned. “Yup.”
“That’s... that’s great,” he said gleefully. “So, see ya.”
“Bye.” I turned the call off and grinned a little to myself.
Later that day, I went to talk to Jez about the party. She wasn’t really keen on going, but I promised her all sorts of promises and practically begged. I needed this distraction from my life, and Chase provided me that. I knew he considered it our first date or something like that, and I was determined to take it. I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for Gunner to come to terms with his feelings or whatever. Besides, I wanted to know if kissing Chase would make me feel the things I felt with Gunner, even if in a lower dose. I needed to know there was another option for me.
So, after a long talk with Jez, I finally convinced her to come. Besides, she’d said, she could find some fling there.
I tried to ask her what about Danger, because it seemed they got closer since Christmas morning, when she got that beautiful, expensive pearled necklace from him. She avoided the subject and later that day, at dinner, I saw she was sitting as far away from Danger, and that Danger avoided her as much as she avoided him. I was wondering what was going on between the two but when I tried to talk to Danger about it too, he was a Sphinx.
Which made me frustratedly curious.
But as much as it sucked not to know, I wanted to focus on other matters. Like the upcoming party. I couldn’t sleep at nights because I expected it so much. It was my option to move on, even if a little bit. Because it seemed like Gunner wasn’t going to do anything about him, me, or us, and I was tired, so tired, of waiting for him. I wanted someone to just love me unconditionally, not someone whom I loved despite seeing him kill, despite him being such a jerk to me, while he just pushed me away time after time anew.
And Chase... Chase seemed like he was already interested in me, in some miraculous way. And I wanted to be loved. Selfish as it was, I wanted to be loved more than I’d love the other half. I wanted to feel adored and sexy and beautiful and watch how the other guy looked at me with appreciation every time like it was the first time.
And if Gunner couldn’t give me that... I’d try to find it with Chase.
A day before New Year’s Eve, I paved my way to the attic, where the piano was waiting just for me. Outside it was dark and snowing, and it showed perfectly through the glass walls of the attic. I turned on the heat on and sat next to the magical musical instrument. I touched the keys, feeling the excitement purging into me.
I closed my eyes and let my fingers the freedom to do whatever they wanted. They started dancing on the keys in a slow, sad melody, and I’d put inside everything I felt since I came to the mansion. Every aspect of my living here. Gunner. Danger. Jez. Ryder. Granny. Maddox. Henry.
It felt as though I had a confinement, and now it lifted off me. I was feeling freer than I’d felt since coming here. Playing the piano as much as I wanted, composing melodies, playing some of the classical pieces I remembered and even modern ones, like those of Richard Clayderman, or Yiruma, or even Yann Tiersen. I just played and let everything inside.
Then... then I remembered some song I didn’t play ever since third grade. My grandmother sang it to me when I was very little to help me fall asleep. It was my favorite song of all times, and whenever I sang it, a nostalgic feel filled my heart. It was the song “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. A song I’d likely never forget, as long as I was living.
I closed my eyes, let my fingers play the melody I didn’t play for so long. I opened my mouth and started singing along while closing my eyes.
I wasn’t a singer. I didn’t have the voice to be a singer. But I could sing the right notes, and that was what was important. Besides, it wasn’t like I sang for someone. I was singing for myself.
So I sang, and felt as tension lifted off my shoulders. Tension I didn’t know was even there. It felt majestic to think about nothing and everything, to just sing and ignore everything else, to give myself to the music.
It was so wonderful that by the time I finished singing, I was sure someone was watching me. I glanced to the door, and didn’t see anyone. Thinking I probably imagined things, I kept on playing more songs, singing along them as well. I didn’t care about anything more than just singing and feeling loved by the grand piano, by the music pouring of my fingers and throat.
I didn’t know how long I was there, but I guessed it was about few hours already. So, regretfully, I left the attic and went back to my room, where I stayed for the rest of the remaining day, reading the book Gran gave me for Christmas.
It wasn’t until midnight when I finally put the book away and got into the fluffy bed. Flanny was already fast-asleep and now it was my turn. The duvet was warm and heavy and I felt as sleep was about to take me under.
I was half-asleep when I heard the door to my room opening. I tried to fight the sleep, but the exhaustion was unbearable. So my eyes were closed and only my ears worked. Soft steps sounded and I felt the closeness of someone. I wasn’t sure who it was, though.
Then a warm, big hand caressed my wild hair, and my mind seemed to recognize the touch but I was too tired to figure it out. Then soft, kind lips pressed against my forehead, and I was almost asleep.
But then I heard a soft, low, deep voice murmuring, “Sweet dreams,” and before I could do anything, sleep took me under, and the next morning, I was sure that it’d all been a dream.