I kept waking up during the night to check up on Lia, but she remained unresponsive, still consumed by the dark part of her mind. I remember how she told me that this could last for days, and I’m worried I won’t be able to bring her back like last time. I tried, but nothing worked.
Sometime around noon I take Lia downstairs, settling her on the couch in the living room. I tried to ask her to eat something, but I got no reaction, just like yesterday with the hot milk my mom brought us.
I put the blanket on Lia and adjust her pillow before going to the kitchen with a sigh. I’m met by my parents and the guys sitting at the table with solemn faces as they eat.
“Oh, Blake, you’re up. How’s Lia?” Mom is the first to notice me and I see she’s really worried.
I sigh heavily. “Still the same. I put on a movie for her in the living room, but I don’t think she can see it. She’s completely shut down and I couldn’t get her back.” I take my seat at the table and fill my plate. I don’t really have much appetite, but I have to eat something and stay strong for Lia.
Right when I’m finished, the doorbell rings. “I’ll get it.” I say, getting up.
“Mr. Clarke.” I don’t even try to hide my surprise when I see him. He looks as if he couldn’t sleep last night.
“Is Lia here?” He cuts straight to the chase as I let him inside.
“Yeah, she’s in the living room, but I have to warn you-” he interrupts me mid-sentence.
“I know. I expected as much. That’s why I’m here.”
“Good afternoon, Tyson.” “Hello, Tyson.” My parents greet simultaneously as we enter the kitchen.
“Good afternoon. Am I interrupting something? I just wanted to see Lia, but she wasn’t at her house.” Tyson glances at the guys, who look at him with wide eyes, apart from Will and Ty, who already know who he is.
“Of course not. These are Blake and Lia’s friends from school.” Mom answers.
“Then if you don’t mind, I’ll go see her now.” Tyson excuses himself when my mom nods with a sad smile.
We all stay in the kitchen to give them a little privacy, though I don’t know what’s the point, considering Lia’s state.
“Who’s that?” Nathan asks quietly.
“Lia’s dad.” I tell him, glancing towards the living room, where Lia is.
After few minutes a heartbreaking wail resounds through the house, making me jump off from my seat. I rush to the room, with my parents and friends following, but I ignore them. The sight in front of me makes me stop dead in my tracks.
Lia is sobbing loudly into Tyson’s neck as he kneels on the floor in front of the couch with her small body engulfed in a tight hug. He keeps stroking her hair soothingly and I feel my eyes prickle with tears at the sight. My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t even try to hide her tears, crying quietly behind me.
After a long while Tyson pulls Lia’s face away a little, but her arms don’t leave his neck. He cups her head, and with a stern look talks to her.
“Everything will be okay, I’ll take care of it. – he wipes her tears with his thumbs before continuing – You’re mine, little mouse. And no one will ever take you away from me. Ever. – he glances at me, cracking a smile – Well, maybe your future husband, but that won’t happen for at least 10 years. So why don’t you stop crying and give me a proper hug, hmm?” I barely stop myself from bawling my eyes out at the touching moment I’m witnessing. Lia roughly wipes her face with the sleeve of my hoodie before basically lunging at her dad.
“My little mouse. Daddy will take care of everything. Shh, don’t cry anymore, you’re breaking my heart now. – he rubs her back as she cries in his arms – My little warrior.” He pulls her away a little, but doesn’t remove his arms from her, just cups her wet cheeks. “What’s your name, little mouse?” He asks seriously. What is he doing?
Lia sniffs before continuing. “Lia. Lia Clarke.”
Tyson grins at her. “And Clarkes are?”
Lia grins back through tears. “Ferocious and not to be messed with.” The fuck?
“That’s right! Those motherfuckers made the worst mistake of their lives by messing with us, didn’t they?” Tyson’s expression turns sinister and it’s fucking scary. I do not want to get on this man’s bad side. But it’s when Lia’s face turns menacing that a shiver runs down my back. Those two are so much alike.
“Lia, would you like to eat something? You haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Mom breaks the silence, getting Lia’s attention, but she doesn’t wait for response. “The pasta should be still warm, so come and eat. There’s enough for both of you.” She glances at Tyson before going back to the kitchen.
“Come on dad, Sam makes killer pasta.” Lia smiles widely and takes Tyson’s hand, getting up from the couch. She stops for a moment when she reaches me. “I’ll explain everything later.” With that she leads her dad to the kitchen.
“Are you okay with your friends staying here?” Tyson asks Lia as we all sit in the living room, drinking coffee.
“It’s fine. There’s no reason to keep it a secret after they saw me break down like that. They’ve already seen it twice.” Lia shrugs.
“What happened?” Dad cuts straight to the chase.
Lia lets out a deep breath before speaking. “My parents called me.” This gets confused looks from everyone except me, as they glance between Lia and Tyson.
“My biological parents.” Lia clarifies. “They left me when I was 10 and dad – she glances at Tyson – adopted me about a year later.”
“Wha- – dad hesitates – what happened in between?”
“I was homeless. Dad found me and pulled me off the streets.” I sigh quietly, while my mom gasps in shock. “That’s when I got the scars on my back.” Lia tells my mom.
Guys seem shocked, so do my parents.
“After my parents abandoned me I developed a trauma.” Lia says.
“That’s why she shuts down when things get hard. It’s a defense mechanism.” Tyson adds.
“Why did they call you?” I ask worriedly.
“They want to take her back.” Tyson grumbles, getting angry.
“Can they even do that?!” I exclaim in shock.
“Technically yes, since they never relinquished their parental rights so the adoption was never legally finalized. And I’m still a minor, so they can reclaim their custody. If I was 18, I would be considered an adult and they wouldn’t be able to do anything.” Lia explains.
“Over my dead body!” Tyson growls furiously, clenching his fists. Lia reaches out and takes his hand, squeezing it tightly. Tyson leans over and kisses her head, giving her a small smile. I smile at the two. There is this chemistry between them that no one can get through. It’s like they have their own little world and it’s adorable to watch.
“Dad, we both know it won’t be easy to win the case if they go to court with it.” Lia breathes out with a worried frown on her face. Shit, this is fucking serious. No wonder she broke down.
“Then I will drag this out until your 18th birthday, so they won’t be able to do anything.” Tyson assures her.
“If you want, I can contact my company’s lawyer to help you in case those people decide to go the legal way.” Dad offers.
“I don’t think that will be necessary, but in case it comes to that, I’ll be sure to remember.”
“But why would Lia’s biological parents try to contact her all of a sudden? Why now?” Will asks the one question that was burning in my mind.
“Money. – Lia spits. – They are drowning in debts and they want my money to pay them back. Stupid motherfuckers! As if I’m going to help them.” She seethes, leaning her elbows on her knees.
I don’t like seeing her so stressed. It hurts to know I can do nothing to help her. For the first time in my life I want to curse the fact that I’m only 17. I’m fucking powerless.
“It still doesn’t really answer his question. Why now?” Damien implores with a curious look.
“Tomorrow is Lia’s 17th birthday, the day when she receives the inheritance from her grandfathers. The money was supposed to be transferred to her trust fund that day. But if her parents got back full custody of her before her 18th birthday, they would be able to access the account and take the money. That’s why they contacted her.” Tyson explains, leaving us speechless. Those people are not even thinking about Lia, they just want to claim her inheritance!
“They won’t get the custody, and they won’t get anything from me.” Lia sternly states.
“You got that right, little mouse. One does not mess with us Clarkes.” Tyson smiles at Lia, stroking her hair.
“If you didn’t tell us Lia was adopted, I would never be able to guess. You two are so much alike it’s scary.” Josh exclaims with wide eyes. Lia and her dad exchange knowing glance, before smirking mischievously at him in perfect synchronization.
“Oh god! Stop this, it’s freaking me out.” Ty covers his eyes when Lia and Tyson wink at him in sync for the third time. We all laugh at his cringing face and the tension in the room breaks.
“Do we freak you out?” “Do we freak you out?” The two say at the same time, tilting their heads slightly. Ty’s face is a comical mix of fear and cringe. We can’t stop laughing at him.
“Why are you laughing Blake?” “Why are you laughing Blake?” The torturous duo suddenly turns to me. Once they see my expression, they high five and burst out laughing.
“You should’ve seen your face, boy. Priceless.” Tyson chuckles.
“Oh not again!” I whine, thinking about them torturing me. But this time I won’t be so easily intimidated.
“I wish I could torture you a little longer, but I can’t stay. There’s a lot to do. Will you be okay, little mouse?” Tyson turns from me to Lia.
“I’ll be okay. You don’t have to worry.” She pats his arm reassuringly.
“I hope so. And if those people call again, don’t pick up.” Lia snorts at this.
“That won’t be a problem. I broke my phone.” Tyson chuckles, shaking his head.
“I should’ve known. You have a deadly temper.” He sighs. “I think it’s time for me. Blake – my head shoots up at the sound of my name – take care of her. You know more than anyone so I’m trusting you with her.”
I give him a firm nod.
My dad sees Tyson out after he bids his goodbyes. The guys leave soon after, slightly distressed about what they learned here. But I know they won’t tell anyone about it.
“I had no idea it was this serious.” I say as I cuddle with Lia in my bed.
“That’s because I didn’t tell you. I just wanted to calm down, but once I reached the river, something just broke. And I didn’t have my phone to call you.”
“I was so worried.” I squeeze her tightly, burying my face in the crook of her neck.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t expect it to get so bad.”
“Please don’t do this to me again. I don’t know if I can take it third time.” I plead quietly, kissing her neck.