A Bad Girl's Love

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Chapter 23: Amaya

I stare at Shawn and Aaron, watching how they interact with each other even with their eyes closed, one of them also being comatose. I can’t help but sigh at the sight of Aaron’s head on his dad’s slightly bruised bare shoulder, Aaron also holds Shawn’s hand on the tighter side since he couldn’t exactly hold it back.

I slowly bring my hand out to swipe some of Aaron’s hair away from his sun-kissed forehead before doing the same with Shawn’s jet black curls that are soft as Aaron’s softest blanket. I find myself entranced when I think of the similarities between them but I also celebrate their differences because it’s what makes me love them so much.

I wish I could stare into their eyes at the same time again, or fall asleep with Aaron laying in the middle of us. I want to wake up to them. I don’t want to go to sleep thinking with nothing but worry on my mind. There’s so much that I want to get back but the terribly sad truth when it comes to us is that our story isn’t written out. It’s something that I have to live in anticipation about and can’t skip forward to the part where things get better or see if they even will. I have no choice but to play this out.

On the brighter side, Aaron is getting his first good sleep in the days since all of this happened.

“Los quiero tanto a los dos. Siéntase major pronto, Mr. Bear, tú también mi pequeño canguro.” I place a lasting kiss on Aaron’s forehead before leaning over to place a kiss on Shawn’s chapped lips but only allow it to last for a second or two. “How’s your mom doing?” I ask while turning to look into Xavier’s sad cerulean eyes, once again reminding me of the face Jonah and I used to make each time we were kicked when we were already down, some of those times being literally. “That bad?”

“I don’t know, I guess you could say she’s doing as well as she can for the events that happened. These last five days have really hit her, you know? She’s been crying herself to sleep at night. Last night was really hard, I had to tell her over and over that I was alright but she didn’t believe me,” he sniffles out at the end before allowing his head to fall in his hands. I can tell he’s about to cry and, to be honest, I am too.

“Do you believe you?” Xavier scratches the back of his head.

“Not a damn part of it.” A new rasp appears in his voice. “I- I think slower now. I have to be in a room that’s almost dead silent to work at the same level that I usually would. If it’s too loud it takes me twice as long to think and I get headaches a decent amount.” Xavier motions to his head while taking his time with his sentences. “Dr. Martin says I should bounce back in about a month or so.”

“That’s good to hear.” I move over to him before taking a seat beside him.

“Is it really?” He leans back in the seat as he lets his legs stretch out in front of him while simultaneously placing his head on the wall behind us. “Think about all of this, the life that we’re living right now or even the position we’re in right now. You can’t honestly say that you’re happy with what life is now; our only worry should be what we’re doing after high school and which colleges we may or may not want to go off to.

“Now look at Shawn, he has so many dreams that could’ve been easily achieved but if and when he gets out of this… his future might not be his anymore. We’ll never know what life could’ve been for him had this shit not happened to him in the first place. He’s lying in that hospital bed and we don’t have a single clue as to everything going on.

“This is pain on a level that I never once have felt before, I know you feel it too. Your pain is driving you on this long road of finding guys that did this to us which could be risking your own safety and I know Shawn won’t be happy if he finds out about your plans, you are aware, right?” I don’t say a word since he already has the answer, there’s no need for me to confirm anything.

“You feel that you need to do this and I respect that decision, just make sure you don’t stop watching your back. I’m going to get better, Aaron is going to get better if he’s given time and speaks to someone, and you, well Amaya, you’re a wild card to me.” Xavier brings his hands through his wavy light brown hair before tugging at it with a firm grip.

“I can’t say that you’re going to feel better if you pursue these jackasses and they get away with everything, and so part of me doesn’t want you to find them. I don’t want you to get your hopes up and think that you can do it all, finding who did this could be close to impossible, and if you do manage to- I don’t want you to end up in the same place as him,” the words leave him slow as he jerks his head in the direction of Shawn. “All of us have been through enough, p-please don’t force us to feel more p-pain and despair.

“I know you feel anxiety towards all this, we all do. You, Aaron, and I each have reasons to blame ourselves, at least in our minds we do, but that doesn’t fall on us.

“Do you know how hard it is to go through my day knowing that I was there but couldn’t be of any help to him? I can’t find security in my brother being okay in any way until he wakes up and that’s what haunts my brain every passing second.” I allow Xavier to do all the talking like he has allowed me to do on multiple occasions, he needs to get all of his thoughts out there instead of letting them free-flow around in his head.

I can be the person he comes clean to.

“Every time I go to sleep I can hear him scream and yell with each hit. I can feel the hits that the man planted on my face over and over until I wasn’t conscious.” I close my eyes before Xavier’s muffled cries echo through the room. “I hate the thought of him suffering when all I can think about is how when Shawn and I would argue as kids Mom would pull out this picture she took of us when I was crying and Shawn had his arms thrown around me, trying to stop me from crying. We were only about a year or so old in the picture, it’s my favorite one of the two of us.

“One of the hardest things for me is knowing that we’re going to be physically okay, mentally will most likely take a chunk of time, but back to what I was saying about us recovering on the outside, yeah, that’s amazingly beautiful, but what about him?” Xavier invites me into the conversation.

Dammit, I wish I had an answer to that but I’m still searching for one my damn self.

“I don’t know where he’s going to end up, I don’t know when or if he’s coming back, and I sure as hell don’t know a lot about this situation, but I need to figure this out,” I mutter out while rubbing at my temples during the process.

I’m so damn tired and overwhelmed. I wish I could laugh in the same ways I did when Shawn would make a dumb joke. I took all of it for granted, but more specifically, I took Shawn for granted and I’m always going to regret that.

“That’s not your job. You don’t have to try and fix all the problems around you like Nancy Drew, sometimes we have to lean back and allow others to help us. We need to move forward instead of taking steps backwards. Starting Monday I’m going back to school. I’ve already done all the make-up work Dylan’s been dropping off.” I definitely can’t relate.

Cody’s been dropping by my hotel room for the past couple of days since I left his house. He went back to school on Wednesday and he’s also given me a pile of work but I’ve been too lazy and lost in my own head to touch it. Not to mention that I can’t get much down even if I wanted since Aaron is still connected to me by the hip.

Part of me wants to go back to school while a larger portion doesn’t think I’m capable of getting through a day without getting pissed off. The news of Shawn and Xavier getting jumped has to have already spread by now. When it comes to news this big it gets out faster than a speeding bullet piercing through the air.

People knowing means that this gets messier than it already is, for instance people speaking about it from different directions could end up with someone getting hurt by my fist connecting with their face. Everything is going to get overbearing and I don’t even want to think about all that has happened, let alone having gossiping teenagers around the hall asking me questions to get the full story. I’d rather avoid that as long as I can.

“You’re not concerned in the slightest about how you’re gonna react to people bringing it up?”

“Oh no, you seemed to have misunderstood, I’m very much concerned, but if I let others stop me with the words they say then I won’t be doing a whole hell of a lot. Eventually I’m gonna have to go back and I don’t want to wait until I have no choice but to come back.” I bite down on my lip as I try not to think about how much I relate to that statement.

Being strong can sometimes mean pushing yourself to do something that you don’t want to do, and I sure as hell don’t want to go back to school…

“Will you come back with me?” he asks before looking to me with his eyes full of hope.

“Why did I know you were gonna ask me that?” I mumble out asI shake my head. “We’ve each helped each other stay strong so much in the span of our friendship together, so yeah, I’ll go back with you.” I ignore the tightness I start to feel in my chest after agreeing to go back to a place that feels almost impossible to be in.

Xavier reaches out to take my hand before he gives it a small squeeze.

“This reminds me of our first day of school, you remember that?”

“Yeah, Ave, I do.” A genuine smile spreads across his face and I can tell he’s thinking about the better times when there weren’t as many problems. “It was because of you stealing Shawn’s snack that he tackled me down to the ground.”

“I was only joking around and I told you, it’s not like he needed all of it anyway. He was being stingy with his snacks, sharing is caring.”

“It’s also caring to not take someone’s snacks,” I reply back.

“Well, it’s a fun story to tell the boy, isn’t it?” I shrug my shoulders. “Well, from kindergarten to now, you, me, and Shawn each have stuck together. We’re the inseparable trio, and you know I’m here, right?” I lean over to peck his cheek before resting my head on his shoulder.

“You never fail to remind me, and I’m here too. I’m sorry for distancing myself.”

“You don’t need to apologize for taking a break from everything, I understand, we all do. Shawn and I each have taken breaks to stop ourselves from doing something stupid.” His voice is light; he places his head over my own.

“My break was my stupid thing,” I say while staring at Shawn’s motionless body.

“I don’t think so. I think what happened was meant to happen even if it feels hard now. I still believe everything happens for a reason even with the current circumstances, and being targeted.” He has far too much faith in this cruel ass place.

“I used to feel that, but now, now I don’t know what to believe except that life keeps on fucking me over,” I force out as tears start streaming down my cheeks.

“I feel that, but if we get fucked over, let’s do it together. Let’s put everything else in the back of our minds and make sure we get out of this alive. Shawn and I have a lot of differences, but some things that are similar is that the two of us see your struggle and your strengths as one of the few things that keep you moving.

“We’re only as strong as we allow ourselves to be and I know all of us are going to make it through this together and find the light at the end of the tunnel. I know it’s not much, but believe me when I say that further down the road this will be worth it.”

I don’t know if I can, but I will try my hardest to. I want nothing more than to feel that this isn’t worth nothing, that all of this is going to be better. I’ll close my eyes and see that Shawn is better and when he is we can talk all about… everything. We can figure out where we stand.

I have to hope for something, anything good at all to happen and drag me out of this nightmare I can’t seem to wake up from.

“I’m in need of some strength right about now,” Xavier says in a small voice.

“Oh really, what for, might I ask?”

“I’m going to Dad’s office to tell him about Shawn being here since he hasn’t received the news in the past five days.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Xavier gives me a shaded look but doesn’t say a word. “I’m not talking about telling him, I think it’s a good idea for you to be the one giving him the information, but I mean going to his office. Doesn’t seem like the right place to go for that. Do you have even the smallest idea as to what you’d like to say to him?” Xavier stares at the side of my face.

“I don’t have a single clue, but I know I have to say something to him. I have to be the one to tell him. Mom said she was cool with me being the one to do it if I felt it was something I needed to do, which it is, and she had no clue what to tell him,” he croaks out before I take my hand from his to instead wrap my arms around him for a side hug. “Please come too.”

“What about him?” I ask as I point over to Aaron. We watch as he turns on his side, revealing his bright red left cheek.

“What about him? We take him with us, we shouldn’t be gone too long and we can always come back after. I bet you Dad’s gonna want to see him.”

“Ugh, fine,we can go, but it’s only because I love you and I see that you need the support. I can also predict that your dad is gonna be angry as hell about this and that’s something everyone can relate to.” Xavier slowly stands before pulling me up from my seat.

“Thanks for this,” he says while in the process of grabbing his jacket from his chair.

“Oh, we’re going now?”

“No, on Christmas Eve, yes now, Amaya,” sarcasm laces his voice.

I grumble out a few words beneath my breath before moving over to Shawn and Aaron.

“Lo siento, Canguro,” I whisper; I start to slowly pry Aaron’s hand from Shawn’s which turns out to be harder than I thought it would seeing that he has a death grip when he wants one. A small whimper comes from the cracks of his lips as his hand is ripped away from his father’s. I allow him to take my hand in return to hopefully stop it and to my luck, it does. “Por favor, no despiertes, Aarie.”

Aaron’s legs wrap around my waist when I move to Xavier.

“Can you hand me his blanket?” I ask softly.

“Yeah, sure,” Xavier says before handing me Aaron’s Flash blanket. I use one hand to wrap it around him while the other is used to keep him in the same position. “You ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” We make our way over to the door.

Xavier and I make our way out of the hospital quicker than we’ve ever gone before and maybe it’s because we’re in a rush to get out of the suffocating atmosphere that can sometimes knock the wind out of me harsher than a sucker punch. I hate being in hospitals but the sad part about this is that part of my heart is left behind with each step I take distancing myself from the place.

Each time I’m in that room I have to try and trick my brain into thinking he’s only sleeping but that’s practically impossible when I hear the beeping of the machines or even see that tube that’s shoved down his throat to help him breathe. I think about how it would stop his heartiest of laughs that come from deep within his chest. I miss that laugh.

I miss when we would say I love you instead of me lying and saying that I hate him. I can’t ever hate him. I wonder how I could be so stupid and walk away from the best thing I’ve ever had in more ways than one for the second time.

I’d rather have my nightmares go back to being crowded with Derrick instead of the ones that are now filled to the brim with Shawn screaming out for the pain and attack to just be over. I wish the only screams to come were back to Aaron’s that would come whenever Shawn would tickle him or they’d be running around.

“How does it feel?” Xavier breaks the small silence we manage to fall into as I place Aaron into his carseat on the passenger side. I securely strap him in before moving over to the driver’s and climbing in.

“How does what feel?” I ask once we’re situated in the car; I glance over to him, noticing the slight tremble in his lips, the creases in his forehead, and even the smallest twitch of his ear.

“Being in this car, driving, knowing that he was sitting in that very seat just five days ago.” His voice cracks and I can tell it’s because of the unspoken part of the sentence. This was the last place that Shawn was where he wasn’t in physical pain. “Our time in this car wasn’t so bad,” he takes in a shaky breath. “We joked around and I just- I wish I was back to that day when things were good and not so blurry. You know in three weeks it’ll be the first Christmas that Shawn knows.”

“Yeah, it would be…” God, I don’t want anything for Christmas beside Shawn being okay.

“So back to my question, how does this feel?” I stare up at the ceiling before placing my head back on the headrest.

“This, this hurts like hell, but not because he was here. This bites because each time I get in this car I have these hot flashes of each of the moments we’ve shared in this place.” Xavier awkwardly shifts in his seat while I pull my hood over my head to get lost in the thoughts of my brain.

“Did any of it involve the seat I’m sitting in?”

I’ve never seen him so angry before. The moment he pulled up the sleeves to his jacket I knew a fight was going to break out. He pulled Jake outside of the school by the collar of his shirt before throwing him on the ground and glaring down at him. Jake’s hands only go up in surrender.

“You think it’s alright to walk up to women and just slap their ass?” Shawn growls out while moving closer to him.

“I didn’t exactly hear her tell me she hated it,” Jake says stupidly. Shawn pulls his arm back before hitting him; his head jerking to the side. “What the hell?!”

“You gave the wrong fucking answer. You don’t touch women like that unless they tell you it’s okay. Be a gentleman you damn pig,” Shawn huffs out while refusing to look at me. His eyes are set dead on his target.

“Wasn’t aware you owned her,” Jake says while massaging his jaw. So he wants to be a little smartass, huh?

“I don’t own her. She’s her own person and that’s not changing. I don’t want to see her or other women defiled just because of people like you wanting to slap them on the ass or say piggish shit to them. Now fix your damn act before I fix it for you,” Shawn voice gets dark and that’s when I can see the change. All the pent up anger and aggression inside from finding out what his dad had done and how he’d left, Shawn’s been fighting it for the past two years. I knew it’d eventually come back.

“Oh well what’s the Momma’s boy gonna do to me? Gonna call your mom and tell her, or you gonna call your dad and say some shit? I’m not scared of you,” Jake tells him before Shawn’s muscles tense.

“I don’t call my mom for help and my dad left you fucking piece of shit. And you should be very scared of me, because I don’t like you, a single bit. That means you’ve got a moment or two to give me a reason not to break your arm,” he growls while I find myself stepping closer to him and Jake.

“Didn’t know you were that thirsty, man,” Jake laughs out before Shawn shocks him by punching him square in the jaw and doing it on a repeat. I don’t know what’s running through his head but I do know that it’s something dark. This isn’t him. “Fuck you.”

“Shawn,” I say his name; trying to grab his attention. “Stop. Don’t do this; this isn’t you. You know this isn’t you; you’re not mean,” I say softly. “You don’t fight people like this; you’re one of the kindest people I know.” Then he stops and slowly turns to me.

That’s enough time for Jake to jump up and punch Shawn before I decide that I’ve had enough of this. “For the love of fucking god. I tried helping you,” I say to Jake before walking over to them and punching him at my medium strength; enough to tell him that he should just stop. He looks to me shocked until realization of what happened clicked in and he ran off down the road. “We need to talk.”

“That sounds bad,” Shawn says as his cheeks turn red. I sigh before taking his hand in my own and pulling him over to his car.

“Get in,” I tell him. He does as told; letting go of my hand before I go in on the other side and open the door. Shawn looks to me with those beautiful green eyes that take my breath away and almost always make me forget what I want to say. But not now. “You shouldn’t have picked a fight,” I tell him with soft eyes. I’m not mad at him for it but that doesn’t mean I’m too happy either, even if he was trying to help.

“I couldn’t have not, he- he…” he trails off.

“He what?” I ask with a raised eyebrow.

“He touched you. And I hated it. I hated it so damn much, it felt like all I could do was think of ways to hurt him. I mean, I-” he cuts himself off to not say something. He’s holding back and I know it.

“What were you going to say?” I ask; he only shakes his head. “Shawn…” I trail off before placing a hand on his cheek; he leans into my touch. My heart starts to flutter in my chest as I can only stare at him.

“Only I get to touch you that way,” he says while staring into my eyes. “Not a single other person. You’re mine,” his voice now has this protective quality to it and I can’t say that I don’t like the sound of it.

“Am I now?” I ask.

Shawn bites his lip before leaning closer to me so that our faces were only a few inches apart. “You might not know it yet, but yeah, you’re mine,” he whispers before slamming his lips onto my own; I sit there frozen. I don’t even notice how long it was before I began to respond to him but it couldn’t have been too long.

I can feel myself slipping under his control. And when it happens, I know I won’t be able to control it. I love the feel of him. I love the way he touches me and treats me like I’m the most valuable thing in his life. But most importantly, I love him, I’m still in love with him like he’s still in love with me.

“He wasn’t wrong when he said I wanted you,” he whispers against my lips. “I want you every hour of the day. I want you when I’m about to go to sleep and all I can think about is kissing you or having you run your fingers through my hair. I want you every time I hear you say my name and when you touch me in the slightest.”

“Drive,” I practically growl out. It’s not even an angry growl but one that makes his eyes light up with something I haven’t seen in a very long time.

His hands fumble with the key and the ignition before he gets it in and revs the engine. He guns it down the road and doesn’t say a word until we somehow end up at our spot. This guy is too damn good for me. When he gets out of the car I follow close behind before he comes up to me with a predatory look on his face.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispers while staring at me.

“Thank you,” I say as my cheeks turn red.

“So since we left the prom without me getting the dance that you owe me, would you please give me that dance now?” he asks with his cheeks just as red as my own. He’s nervous. And it makes him that much cuter. So I tell him yes before he takes his phone and plays Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House, the song that has somehow manage to become our own. “It felt needed,” he says before placing his phone on the hood of the car.

His arms wrap around my waist as my arms wrap around his neck to pull him close. “I didn’t thank you,” I tell him softly.

“You didn’t need to. I’d do it a hundred times over; plus, that kiss was enough to thank me, and ditching the prom to dance with me at the spot. And you, Amaya, are enough for me to do anything for… I love you,” he whispers, still holding me to his chest. I knew it was coming by the way we are with each other, especially in this moment. He never was the type to hide the way he felt and I really appreciate that much.

“I love you too,” I say before he kisses me again.

“No, none of them involve that seat; I have enough class to not have sex in a car though Shawn can get in his own horned up state of mind, he knows there’s a line that we would never cross.” Though our spot is another story, but I probably should keep that aspect of our relationship a secret from his brother. “The most this car has is makeouts and a whole hell of a lot of tension. My memories don’t all have to do with that, some of them have to do with jokes that Aaron was gladly asleep for.”

I rest my hands on the steering wheel, gripping it tightly.

“I can’t stop thinking about if Friday was my last time speaking to him face to face. I shouldn’t have pushed him away; I’m a fucking idiot for it, even if it was for a good reason.” I wipe my tears that begin to fall harder than the Niagara Falls.

“Look, nobody is exactly happy for the break-up and I’m glad you see that it was a mistake, that’s why I’m going to say this and you aren’t allowed to get angry, got it?” I go ahead and nod since I have an idea as to what he’s going to say. “I know some of what Shawn said to you on the day you left and dropped Aaron off with us for the weekend.

“I can tell you that he was feeling a fair amount of pain and that’s the reason he called you a coward, but it’s partially true.” I already knew that, Aaron said it in a nicer manner. “Technically, all of us are cowards at one point or another, but you’re prone of running from your problems when it comes to Shawn. Why is that?”

I shift in my seat making his crystal gaze land on my own, his eyes lock in with my own.

“Because each time I don’t run away someone I care about gets hurt, examples as follow: Shawn, Jonah, Aaron, even you.”

Xavier reaches out to wipe my tears away with the pads of his thumbs. “You’re strong for putting people first in the ways that you have, but I’m requesting something from you. Please think long and hard before you walk away, don’t let that be an impulse because one day you might walk away and never have the chance to make things right.”

I nod before he places a kiss on my forehead. “Now don’t feel so bad about crying in front of me or anyone for that matter. You have the right to cry just like everyone else does.”

“It doesn’t feel that way.”

“Amaya, if you weren’t crying I’d be concerned. You’ve been in love with him since we were just kids and I swear it started the second he ran into you and you stared into each other’s eyes for the first time. It was because of that love you feel that you had Aaron, so allow yourself to feel about this.” Xavier starts to rub my back.

What if this kid never meets Shawn?

“How has Jonah been reacting?” Xavier sighs out, changing the subject.

“I don’t know, half of the time he’s either locked up in the apartment or at Ace and Alexis’s house.” I start the car, turning the key in the ignition to do so. “It feels like we’ve been drifting apart for the past few weeks, like he’s about to break-up with me.”

“He’s your brother, he can’t break-up with you.”

“No, but he can keep putting distance between us,” I say as I start to maneuver my way through the parking lot and onto the main road.

“Don’t allow him to do that. I know you and Jonah have had your ups and downs just as Shawn and I have had ours, but we never allow ourselves to stop talking for so long. Which brings me to my next question, do you really think it’s a good idea to let him stay there alone?” he asks while retracting his hand before grasping his hands together.

“No, I don’t, but I don’t have options. He refuses to come to the hotel that we’ve been at and I can’t bring Aaron back to the apartment. He already wakes up screaming where we are, I imagine it’ll be far worse back there.” It’s not really something I have to imagine since I know good and damn well what his reaction will be if he’s back there.

“You have another option, come back to living with us, at least for now, I know Mom has offered that much to you, plus, you’re always welcome home.”

“I know the pair of you already barely get sleep, I can’t put you through his night terrors too.” I glance over to him out of the corner of my eye.

“You most definitely can. You guys are family and family is there for you for your weakest moments. Let us be there for you guys and I honestly think that having Aaron back in the house might help Mom to focus on something else.” The plea is clear in his voice and I could use the help, but how can I take such a kind offer when I hurt Shawn and Xavier both whether it be intentional or not.

“How about I give you an I’ll think about it?” I say while giving the road my full attention once again.

“Yeah, that works,” he says in a shrunken voice, “and I want you to actually think about it.”

“Alright Ave, I swear I’ll think about it.”

“Good.”

The car falls back into silence, neither of us making an effort to say anything seeing that we’re lost in our thoughts. I can tell what he’s going to say to his dad is taking over his thoughts, and ironically, the same thing is on my mind.

What’s he going to say to his dad?

I don’t want to ask him about it because he probably doesn’t have an idea as to what he’s going to say either. That’s something he and Shawn have in common, neither of them can really think about things when they’re trying, but the moment they’re forced into a tough spot things come together.

I wish I had that type of thinking.


*****************************

“Hi Mrs. Fausta,” Xavier says the moment we walk into his dad’s building. I hold Aaron closer when a woman with dark brown hair and hazel eyes glances over in our direction.

“Ah Xavier,” she starts with a bright smile, “it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen you but you’ve got the same face. I remember when you were just a boy.” Xavier only nods. “How is Shawn doing?”

“Uh- he’s a- he’s complicated,” Xavier doesn’t elaborate on the very situation that’s bringing us here. His pain radiates off of him, filling the atmosphere around us but I can’t tell if she’s feeling it too and ignoring it or if she’s just this oblivious.

“Can you let him know that I hope things get better?” We all hope things get better.

“Yes, ma’am.” Ma’am, I’ve never heard Xavier say ‘Ma’am’ before.

Mrs. Fausta’s eyes transfer over to me and Aaron. “Who might you two be?”

Xavier motions for me to come a bit closer and I do, not by much, but enough. “This is Amaya, she’s my best friend and Shawn’s girlfriend.” I decide not to correct him because it’s a better thought that he’s placed in my head. All I know is that the moment Shawn’s back I plan on working things out. “And this is Aaron, their son.”

“Nice to meet you,” she says with an unwavering smile.

“Nice meeting you too,” I say back while trying to forget that she’s now staring into my soul. There’s a twinkle in her eyes too.

“Is it fair for me to assume you’re to see your father?” she asks before adjusting the glasses that sit on the bridge of her nose.

“Yeah, is he in?”

“Yes, but he’s speaking to someone in his office at the moment.”

“Is it business related?” Xavier asks before Mrs. Fausta lightly shrugs her shoulders.

“All I was told was that he’s speaking with someone in his office.”

“Okay, well can you call him and let him know that we’re on our way up, we have to speak to him about something very important,” he emphasizes while leaning forward just a bit, I can only imagine the look on his face.

“Alright, go on up,” she says while motioning for us to go up to his dad’s office.

“Have you thought about what you’re going to say?” I ask while peeking down at Aaron’s mushed up face as we head into the elevator. Xavier presses the button for the twelfth floor, his foot beginning to tap a ferocious rhythm away on the ground.

“Not really, I plan on winging it.”

“I guess we can wing it as a team then.” I notice a change in the way he’s breathing. “You awake?” I keep my voice just above a whisper in case he’s actually still asleep.

His grip lands on Shawn’s jacket before he fists it.

Xavier cranes his neck to take a look at Aaron’s face; I watch the small exchange as Aaron slightly waves at him before Xavier does the same. Aaron looks between us before holding his arms out for a transfer.

“Amaya?” It’s a small question I could see coming from a mile away.

“Go for it.” Xavier takes Aaron and his blanket from me, almost immediately I miss the warmth that the pair was offering me.

“I think it’s a good time to say that this is going to be a hard conversation, especially now that-”

“I’ve got that handled,” I say before reaching into my pocket to take out my phone and a pair of cherry red earbuds. “Wanna listen to some music, Kangaroo?”

Aaron shrugs in response before I put in my pin and open Spotify up; I start my ‘Aaron’s playlist’ and Dean Lewis’s Be Alright starts to play. I hand him the phone along with helping him place his earbuds in his ears.

“It’s loud enough that the words will sound muffled to him but it won’t mess with his hearing.” Xavier nods while watching me. “Is there something else you need to say before we go in there, I can’t read minds all the time.”

“You think we should do this another day? I think another day would be a far better option,” he speaks fast before reaching to the elevator buttons on the wall; I slap his hand away. “Ow, what the he-”

“If anyone should want to puss out of this, it’s me. Your father and I are nothing but complicated when around each other, we haven’t been normal around each other since we were just about ten and then things started to slowly shift into this awkward mess.

“Now think about how you would feel if you were him finding out that everyone knew your son was in the hospital but didn’t open their damn mouths to speak up about it. If that happened with Aaron-” I cut myself off- “let’s just say it won’t be pretty for the person who kept that vital information.” Xavier blows out a smoker’s breath from deep within his lungs. I can tell he’s seeing things the way I’m seeing them.

“Yeah, but-”

“No buts. You know you aren’t going through this by yourself, I’m here to get you through it and so is Aaron if you need a big and cuddly hug. I don’t really do big and cuddly.” Xavier cracks a smile. “Remember that it doesn’t make you weak to breakdown,” I remind him while placing a hand on his shoulder, “and you’ve got this.”

“Thanks for being here with me, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“Probably have a bit more sanity,” I half-joke.

“You’re probably right about that.” I punch him in the arm before he winces, bringing a hand to his newly sore arm. “Damn, you pack some heat, shit.” I smirk at him. “You didn’t even let me finish, I was gonna say, ‘what fun would that be?’”

“I guess I’m sorry for punching you then.”

“You do realize that I’m holding your child?”

“What’s that got to do with anything? I didn’t even come close to Aaron, he’s still nodding along to whatever song is going on in his ears.” Xavier’s eyes narrow before he maturely sticks his tongue out at him.

“Very mature.”

“Never said I was the most mature one in the room.”

The elevator doors open before us and that small bit of light I managed to bring out has slithered back inside as though it never made an appearance in the first place. I hold my hand out for him to take, he rolls his eyes but takes it with a quirk in the corner of his mouth.

“You ready?”

“As ready as I’m ever going to be for this conversation,” he offers before we step out of the elevator and start on the stretch to his father’s office.

Eyes from all different directions come to us, making my skin crawl with how self-conscious I feel, though I don’t make it too known I pray. I know some of the stares have to do with the fact that I’m walking in a business office in a high school letterman jacket, a pair of AND1 sweatpants that used to be Shawn’s, and black Converse. Another reason being that we brought Aaron, a four-year-old, into this building that’s supposed to be strictly work.

These people each look like a bunch of rule-followers seeing as they each have on suits and dresses without a single edge to them. It all seems so bleak and boring, but what they do with their lives while at work is their own business.

Then the final reason for the stares, some of them have to know that Xavier is the boss’s son, that’s probably why nothing has been said or something like that.

“It’s been years since I’ve been in this place, it feels so… weird.”

“I’ve never been in a building this big, so I can guarantee you that this is a stranger experience for me than it is for you.”

“Wanna bet?” he responds back.

“Do you two know where you’re going?” a woman’s chipper voice comes from behind.

Xavier turns real fast before I do the same but at a slower pace because I don’t have enough energy to do anything fast pace today. Me and the woman almost immediately get lost in a staring contest but I can’t help but to check out the rest of her.

Chestnut hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail at the top of her head, the tips looking a bit lighter in shade compared to the rest of it. The woman’s eyes a deep brown that are smoked out with shades of make-up along with some eyeliner, but she doesn’t look like she needs it.

“Yep,” he answers with a nod of his head, “we’re heading to my father’s office. It’s forward a bit and around the corner.” My eyes slightly narrow as I watch her slowly creep her tongue out to dampen her lips.

“His o-office changed recently, it’s actually that way.” There’s a slight crinkle in her nose before the tips of her ears turn red.

“Thank you.”

“No need to thank me,” she says before scurrying off, out of our sight.

“She’s lying, continue the way you were going.” I look over to Xavier to see him adjust Aaron in his arms with pure confusion written all over each of his features.

“What reason would she have to lie? And why would you think she is?”

“I’m good at reading body language and-”

“Oh, you’re good at reading body language, do I want to know how you got good at that?” I shrug my shoulders.

“It doesn’t all go back to Shawn, only some things do. Get your head out of the gutters, Harper.” He only nods in response, not saying a word. “Now back to what I was saying before you asked me about my knowledge of body language, I can tell she was lying because of the way she licked her lips-”

“Shawn licks his lips all the time, doesn’t mean he’s lying.”

“Some people lick their lips as a defense mechanism when they’re trying not to say something, which is hiding information, some consider that to be lying. She had a small crinkle in her nose too, the tips of her ears turned red, and the slight stutter when she said office. I’m pretty good when it comes to figuring these things out, not to forget the hesitation in Ms. Fausta’s voice when you told her to call your dad and say you were on your way up.

“Your dad was also conversing with someone in his office, supposedly.” Dammit, he was right, I am becoming Nancy Drew. “Now stop doubting me, and let’s go,” I say while yanking him in the direction of his father’s office.

“I got this iffy feeling in my stomach,” he confides once we reach the door that reads ‘Raylan Harper’ across on a black name tag.

“You’ve got this,” I encourage him before he nods, throwing out an arm to open the office door.

Mr. Harper comes into sight, green eyes murderous as he glares at a woman that stands across from him, a hand on his desk like she’s at home. Her dark brown hair cascading down her shoulders in gorgeous waves that made her look like a goddess. She turns her head and I’m met with the sight of stressful cerulean eyes.

“Dad,” Xavier makes our presence known.

His father’s eyes come over to him, fear apparent as his eyes shift between the woman and his son. He makes his way over to us in wide strides.

“You have to leave, I’ve said it politely once, but I’m starting to lose my patience. Don’t make me call security over this.”

I feel like I’m missing something here.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” she gasps out while staring Xavier down; she creeps forward slowly but surely. “Xavier?”

“Yeah, who are you? Have we met before?” I notice the tears begin to well in her eyes.

“I’m Laurel, you were just a baby, but wow, you’re so grown now,” she starts with such caution that you’d think she knows how this is going to go.

She’ll get burned in ways similar to what Xavier felt when he found out he was given up. It doesn’t shock me an ounce when Xavier jerks out of her way of touch.

“Can we speak for a moment?” the plea is clear in the quiver of her voice, but Xavier backs further away, getting behind me and squeezing my hand for dear life.

“N-No. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Xav-”

“No, don’t try to call out for me now. You had years that you could’ve come and try to explain everything to me, including how you could carry me for nine months, take a look at me, and decide that I wasn’t good enough for you. The moment you had the chance you handed me over. You didn’t try finding me.” I feel a small twinge in my chest, imagining myself in the same position as him, or even being his mom.

I couldn’t let go of Aaron and not see him grow up in front of me, I know it had to hurt to make that decision, so there had to be some sort of reason, right? Anything to make at least part of Xavier’s despair disappear.

“What about those nights where I would cry myself to sleep, wondering why I wasn’t good enough for you to want me. I think about the times where I would have screaming matches with the woman that was actually there for me over everything and now-” His voice gets high pitched at the end and I can tell he’s trying hard to keep his cool. “All of this is such bullshit. You don’t get the chance to come here and start a fucking storm with each step you take towards me.”

“I was so young with dreams that-”

“Didn’t involve dragging a child along for? Look, I get that you were young and wanted to do whatever the hell you want to do with your life, but there are people who are younger than you that had their accidents and mistakes and took care of them. Loved them. And they’re still shooting for the stars,” Xavier starts to move to my side, taking a small glance at Aaron.

“I was your mistake just as much as I was his,” he points to his dad, “it shouldn’t have been his job alone to find me a place to call home. You should’ve worked together on that instead of giving me up without even trying anything, if you tried to support me and it didn’t work, well that would’ve been a different story.”

“You’ve got to believe me when I say it’s not that I didn’t love you, it’s the opposite, I knew what I was capable of financially and stability wise, it seemed he and his wife were a better option for you than I would be. I could barely take care of myself, let alone a child,” Laurel tries to explain but I can see it’s not sitting with him.

Poor Xavier just can’t catch a break.

“You could’ve called, written, or visited, and as for stability, Mom was the only person that could really give me that much,” he bites out; Mr. Harper shrinks down a bit but doesn’t open his mouth to say a word which is most likely for the best. “I would leave from here, but we have something important that we need to discuss, so can you please excuse yourself, Laurel?”

I watch her face slowly drop before she slowly nods and makes her way out of the office.

“You didn’t have to be so harsh with her.” Xavier’s heated gaze lands on me for a few moments before it drops.

“I could’ve been a whole hell of a lot worse.”

“That’s not the type of person you are.” He moves away from me to lower Aaron down into one of the leather chairs his dad had across from his own computer chair; he places a kiss on top of his head. “No matter what a person does to you you shouldn’t allow that to change who you are and your morals, especially when the person we’re talking about is you.”

“Fine, I’ll keep that in mind if I ever encounter her again, cool?” Xavier gets a bit snippy with me and I decide to let it go this time around, but that’s not going to happen too often. “Now what was she doing here?” He turns to his dad, watchung how he buttons the top two buttons of his dress shirt. “Unbe-fucking-lievable. You call my birth-mom for a goddamn booty call?”

“What the hell, no, I didn’t. I wouldn’t ever- I wouldn’t do that again. I told you I’m not that person anymore.” He runs a hand through his gelled back hair. “I was in here like twenty minutes ago, it got hot in here so I opened the first two buttons on my shirt. Next thing I know she’s barging in here, bombarding me with questions about you to which I avoided mostly. She wants some one on one time with you to try and get to know you and everything.

“This fixed image you have of me, I understand it, but that’s not me. I’m changing my act and yes, I know it’s late, but I already pushed one amazing woman away from me and so this is something I have to go through.” Mr. Harper plops down across from Aaron before tugging at his tie. “What’s up with him?”

“What do you mean what’s up with him?” I ask while glancing over to my son, doing a mini examination from where I stand to make sure nothing’s up with him. “Looks fine to me.”

“No, he’s gloomy. I can see it in his face, from the small amount of time I’ve spent with him I know he’s more on the positive, bouncy side. He looks like he’s just barely making it through the day.” A frown makes an appearance on his face as he sits, observing his grandson.

“Everyone’s been in the slumps these past couple of days,” Xavier doesn’t say more than that.

“Well, with all three of you here I’m guessing this is something important you’re about to tell me?” We both nod. “Alright, uh, where’s Shawn? Last I spoke to him was Saturday.” Xavier and I make brief eye-contact.

“What did you speak about, out of curiosity.”

“Nothing much on the phone, we were supposed to meet up on Wednesday at the local gym, but he didn’t show up. I take it he didn’t want to talk to me and just changed his mind, he send you guys instead?” I shake my head deciding that now is the time for me to open my mouth and come clean.

“It wasn’t Shawn’s choice to stand you up, he’s not that type of guy.”

“Well, then how come he didn’t show?” Xavier huffs out before pulling his phone from his pocket, he scrolls through, his face twisting up and I know he’s found what he’s looking for.

“Here.” He shoves his phone into his father’s hand but makes sure Aaron isn’t able to catch a glimpse of the horrible image.

“T-This can’t be real.”

“Nobody wishes more than us that that image was photoshopped, but it wasn’t. Shawn’s really hurt.” Xavier’s gaze lands on his feet since he can’t stand the sight of his dad’s broken face anymore, but I watch, noticing the similarities between each of the Harper boys as I do so. Yes, that does include Eli who I’ve been so busy with everything else, I haven’t had the chance to look further into him and his story.

“Why didn’t anyone come tell me this sooner? Is he okay?”

“Mom didn’t know how to tell you and honestly, neither did I. We’ve each been trying to grasp the situation and what its impact has been on our lives. I haven’t been to school since last week, I’m going back on Monday since Dr. Martin thought it best for me to take a week off.” His dad jumps up from his desk, coming back around the side where we are.

“You were involved?”

“Shawn and I were jumped on Sunday, Aaron witnessed… everything, I got a concussion, but Shawn, he got the worst of everything. Right now he’s in a coma since…” Xavier drags out but my attention isn’t on anymore. My eyes are too trained on Mr. Harper’s pale face as I watch him stumble backwards.

Aaron eyes come up to us, concern filling them before I motion to the pens and piece of blank lined papers that he could draw on to keep busy. He nods, getting lost in his own world while my focus goes back to making sure Mr. Harper doesn’t faint at the news.

“C-Coma?” he stutters out before using his desk to support himself. “He’s gonna wait up from this, right?”

“They- uh, they don’t know, he has a decent amount of problems excluding the latter stated, one problem being that a lung collapsed which is why he has the breathing tube in him,” I explain without allowing the words to sit and process in my own brain.

“Can we backtrack a bit, you said Aaron was there…?”

“Yeah, he- a man was forcing him to watch the whole ordeal, when he tried to get away he was stricken,” I growl out that last part before noticing a white knuckled fist on the desk that looked ready to strike.

“Do we have any idea as to who did this?”

“Not necessarily, but I can probably find out in the span of a week or two.” I fold my hands in front of me before rocking on the balls of my feet.

“How exactly can you do that?” Mr. Harper asks with this desperation in his voice that I’ve only ever heard before in Shawn, but it was a single time.

“Cutting around the corners, and Derrick.”

“You want me to make some type of agreement with him or something like that?” I stare at Aaron, noticing the small nod to his head as he writes away on the paper.

“No, I don’t think he’d ever make a deal with you, but I do believe he’d be willing to scratch my back for me.” A look of confusion comes to sight. “Right, you’re behind on all this. Long story short, Derrick ended up skipping town a bit over a month ago after the whole Asher Bentley situation of whom I didn’t know you guys went to high school with. Anyway, Derrick said he needed to try and make amends for his previous actions. I’m also not in a gang any longer.”

Mr. Harper nods his head along, but I don’t know if he’s actually following me or just agreeing to everything I say.

“If Derrick wants to become a better person, skip ahead, do you have a way to contact him? Do you have a phone number? E-mail? Address? New name if he has one which wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Jonah can track anyone down, all I have to do is convince him to look into Derrick, either that, or we speak to Cason.”

I heard he’s one of the nice brothers, but all I know is that Taylor was a fucking creep who I could’ve went my entire life without meeting and I would have a fighting chance at happiness.

“That’s Derrick’s older brother, right?”

“How do you know that?” Xavier beats me to the question.

“Growing up, the Stones were the family that everyone spoke about even after they ended up skipping town for a bit, and when they came back, not all of the Stones were with them. Anywho, everyone could name each of them and describe the person just off of hearing the names. We all knew there were “things” going on with that family, but we figured it was safer to leave all that in the dark.

“Soon, after Derrick’s parents were dead people found out that Cason was the one saving his brothers from foster care, and boy did he have an awful lot on his hands.” Mr. Harper shakes his head clear of the past before standing a bit straighter. “How can Cason be of help in any of this?”

“If Jonah decides that he doesn’t want to get involved with this, Cason might be the only other way to get in touch with Derrick.

“What about your mom?” I almost freeze at the mention of her.

“Mom and I haven’t exactly been speaking, she doesn’t even know about this, or Aaron.”

“Since when?” Xavier presses in a soft voice.

“Since the jumping and all this shit around me started. I’m confused, alright?” It isn’t alright, none of this is.

Why did I have to wait until now to start feeling resentment toward my mom? This is the time where I need as many people as I can get in my corner.

“What’s confusing you?”

“You guys, your mom, and my mom,” I explode before looking over to Aaron for the millionth time since this conversation started. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It seems pretty important.”

“Well, it’s not, and this isn’t about me so can we go back to Shawn’s room now?” A hand reaches out to grab me firmly but not enough to hurt me, so I allow it.

“Look Amaya, I’ve been a major pile of shit to a lot of people, you being top five on my list and there is no reason for my behavior, and for that, I am sorry. You didn’t deserve it, and now I’m coming with some advice, keeping things bottled up will only end up with you exploding at the worst possible moment in the worst way imaginable.” I wish I hadn’t already known that.

“Sometimes it feels like my mom doesn’t love me, okay?” I take in a deep breath before forcing my eyes away from everyone in the room. “I keep thinking about how each time I would end up in the hospital, she never came rushing to me to find out how I was doing. It would be hours before she even showed up, and there have been times when she didn’t even come at all.” My eyes begin to water.

“It made me think that there was something wrong with me and so I was always shocked when I found you, Shawn, and your mom waiting for me, but she wasn’t there. At least I knew I had people willing to be in my corner though the one person that really should’ve been there was gone.”

Small arms wrap around my waist so I look down to see Aaron with tear tracks on his cheeks, a lip puckered out, and eyebrows raised. ‘I love you, Mommy,’ he mouths out before squeezing me tighter.

“How long have you been listening?” He doesn’t even try to mouth out an answer for me and I can tell it’s because he thinks he’ll end up in trouble for it. “I’m not mad at you, it’s alright,” I speak softly while holding him closer to me. “One day you just might be an actor, but all I’m asking of you is that you please refrain from listening to a conversation that we placed music in your ears so you couldn’t hear.”

‘Sorry.’ Aaron’s lip puckers out.

“Mhm,” I mutter out before wiping away the tears from his face, doing the same with my own once I’m done. “It all seems so minor when it comes to me. Mi familia tiene que ser lo primero sin importar lo que me hagar.” I switch over to Spanish, knowing that he can understand what I’m saying to an extent, but not as much as he does English.

Xavier and Mr. Harper, however, each have enough Spanish class time to comprehend what I’m saying.

“Amaya, you-”

“No digas nada, please, estoy demasiado para esto.” Both of the Harper boys bite their tongues before nodding.

“Are you guys heading to the hospital now?” Mr. Harper asks in a small voice.

“Yeah,” we answer in unison.

I lift Aaron up and into my arms before grabbing his blanket from his seat and walking out of the office deciding that now is the perfect time for fresh air. The fresh air would probably do good for him too. I’ll wait for them in the car.

“How about we go outside to wait for your uncle, it’s a bit stuffy in here.”

‘Okay, Mommy, let’s go outside.’

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