~Baby can I stay a while? It’s hard to say goodbye when I’m leaving~ Khalid
Chapter Theme Song: ‘Stay’ by Khalid
They say that ′it’s the little things that matter’. Well, I can’t say I don’t believe that.
Sitting around a dining table with Ansel’s family makes me realize what I’ve been missing out on. The shared laughter among them, the unity and the bond; it’s something I’ve always wanted. Mr. Austin is telling the table about an embarrassing story about Aiden, and everyone is laughing. Genuine laughter.
Ansel’s twin brothers are nineteen years of age, and they attend a university a few miles away from here; their parents couldn’t afford to enroll them into one of the highly talked-about prestigious institutions. They are identical, so it’s quite difficult to differentiate between them; however, Aiden has a beauty mark close to his nose and Arden doesn’t. I guess that’s something that can be of aid.
Alex attends Crossview High School, which is where Ansel attended first, but only spent a term before he was awarded a scholarship to Crosshill High due to his brilliant academics.
Their family may not be of high-class, but the relationship they share among themselves is priceless.
Ansel’s laughing at his Dad’s storytelling. His eyes drift to me in the process, and he studies my distant expression. He reaches his hand out and touches my arm under the table.
I bring my eyes to look at him.
“You okay?” He whispers.
I nod a little, realizing I was spacing out for longer than I thought. I resume eating the home-cooked meal that Melissa prepared. Ansel was right; she is quite a good cook. I can’t recall the last time I’ve had something this delicious.
I like being here around Ansel’s family. It’s not one of those awkward dinners where the parents ask you about your future ambitions and aspirations. It’s more comfortable as if they’ve known you all their life and don’t feel the need to interrogate.
“Wow, you’re almost through with your food, Rain. Would you like some more?” Melissa asks, offering a pleasant smile.
“Uh, yeah...thank you.”
She reaches for my plate willingly and gets up to head to the kitchen.
“Where’s Alaric? He should be home by now.” Mr. Austin says, checking the watch on his wrist.
Alaric? I hear that name quite often.
Arden shrugs, shoving a forkful of vegetables in his mouth. “Probably out with some girl,” he muffles.
“Dude.” Alex shoots his brother a look. “You better not say that around Sam.”
“Yeah, watch your mouth, Arden,” Ansel agrees, pointing his gaze to his brother who just frowns.
“But it’s facts, even Sam knows it. The entire neighborhood does.”
The front door to the house opens, and heavy footsteps make their way in before the door slams close again.
“Speaking of the devil.” Alex chuckles.
The footsteps approach the tiny dining room, and I bring my eyes to see a guy making his way inside. He’s holding a metal toolbox, with a leather jacket lazily thrown over his shoulder. My jaws almost drop when I realize how he looks a lot like Ansel and his brothers in one, but mostly, Mr. Austin. He’s tall, with a muscular built and his face has a faded stubble but it’s not hideous like Jeff’s. He’s wearing a grey t-shirt and jeans, all smeared in grease. I can tell he probably does mechanical engineering or something.
“That’s my big brother, Alaric,” Ansel tells me. “He’s twenty-four.”
“Alaric, meet Ansel’s guest, Rainey.” Mr. Austin introduces.
“Oh, hi, pleasure meeting you. It’s about time Ansel brings a girl over.” He chuckles, extending his hand toward me. I flush at his statement and gesture to take his hand when he quickly wipes it onto his shirt with a smile. “Don’t want to get grease all over you.”
I smile when he finally takes my hand in his, giving it a light shake. His hand is calloused and rough against my palm; I can tell he does a lot of hard work.
My eyes then dip to an inked art on the inside of his arm. It’s the exact design I saw at the tattoo parlor the other day; a snake coiled around the numeral five. I squint my eyes as my curiosity piques, but when he pulls his hand back, the tattoo is hidden again, and I am forced to tear my eyes away.
He turns away to leave the room while Melissa returns with my plate, placing it in front of me before looking at her almost vanishing son. “Alaric! Don’t you want dinner?”
“I’m going to take a shower!” He yells back. His footsteps fade away up the wooden stairs, and his mother frowns.
“He barely eats dinner,” she complains.
“Well, more for me.” Arden greedily grins while getting up from the table and moving off to the kitchen.
The front door of the house opens, then closes once again. Soon after, Sam enters the dining room, holding a little boy in her arms. I am taken aback by her presence, but she did say she was going to stop by earlier this evening at the café.
“Oh Sam, you’re here.” Melissa smiles while adding more vegetables from a bowl on the table to her husband’s plate.
“Goodnight everyone,” she smiles brightly.
Instantly, my thoughts lead back to my worries from earlier today. Is she Ansel's girlfriend? Is the kid in her arms their’s?
Sam puts the little boy down and he races over to Ansel’s side, who smiles as he pulls him into his arms and sets him on his lap. The gesture doesn't ease my probing mind, but instead, makes it far worst.
“Hey, An, how was daycare?” He smiles at the little boy, who utters a response but I am too consumed with my thoughts to listen.
“Sam, would you like some dinner?” Melissa asks.
“No, I just ate. Thanks though, Melissa.” She smiles at her, then her eyes go to scan the room, landing on me. Her face lights up. “Oh! Rainey, hey.”
I half-smile. “Hey…”
“Oh, you two met?” Mr. Austin asks, using a napkin to wipe his lips, as he looks between us both.
“Yeah, we met today at Ansel’s workplace. By the way, where’s Alaric?” Sam frowns, taking a few steps backward as she yells up the stairs. “Alaric!”
“He’s taking a shower,” Aiden says, raising his glass to his lips.
“I hear my little man down here!” Alaric’s voice booms off the walls as he jogs down the stairs.
“Daddy’s here,” Ansel says as he ruffles Anthony’s hair.
He lets Anthony down from his lap and he ecstatically chases over to Alaric who effortlessly scoops him up into his arms, planting a kiss on his head. “Hey, big man. Woah, you’re heavy. Has he eaten dinner, Sam?”
“Yeah he did, Babe.” She responds, moving toward Alaric and planting a kiss on his lips.
So, Sam is in a relationship with Alaric and that’s their son? I can’t deny the relief I suddenly feel to discover that. Now I feel awful for thinking she was Ansel’s girl.
“I’ve been calling your cell all day Alaric, and you didn’t pick up.” Sam crosses her arms, tilting her head to the side as she glares at him.
Alex and Ansel exchange glances, and I notice the look of guilt on Aiden’s face as he sips his juice.
“Uh, I’ve been busy.” Alaric answers. “I’m going to take a shower, are you coming up?”
“Yeah.” Sam looks a little sad, but forces a smile regardless.
I recall the earlier conversation among the boys about Alaric being with another girl and that Arden shouldn’t say it in the presence of Sam. Is he cheating on her?
“I’ll be back Ma’, cover my food up,” Alaric tells his mother before he walks away with his son and girlfriend in the direction of the stairs.
“Oh shit…” Arden who has entered the room again, freezes, holding a plate filled with food. “Did he just say cover his food up? Cause I just emptied the pot.”
Melissa throws her son a glare and he just shrugs, moving toward his seat, but not properly sitting before he starts eating.
Alex grimaces at his brother. “And you say you’re the sane one.”
I try not to laugh as Melissa turns her eyes back to me. She smiles. “Rain, we don’t have a lot of rooms in this house, but you can sleep with-”
Aiden cuts his mother off. “She can just sleep with me, I don’t mind.”
“No, she will not be sleeping with you.” Arden counteracts. “She can sleep with me; I think I can better control myself than you can Aiden.”
Ansel smiles, shaking his head pitifully at his brothers. “What makes you think I’ll let my guest sleep with any of you?”
“Tell them, Ansel.” Alex grins, shifting his eyes to me and cheekily raising his brows. It’s not rocket science to know that he’s thinking smut again.
“She won’t be sleeping with neither Aiden nor Arden.” Mr. Austin makes clear.
“Dad, why? Why would you fight out a brother like this?” Aiden dramatically pules.
“Because you can’t control yourself, Aiden.” Alex chimes in, rolling his eyes.
“No, you cannot. Dude, you watch porn for breakfast. There is no way to convince me that you're not horny twenty-four seven.”
“Alex, you will sleep in the twins’ room for the night and Rain, you can sleep in Ansel’s room,” Melissa instructs.
My cheeks heat up at the statement. Sleeping in a room with Ansel is nerve-wracking.
Alex smiles, splaying his arm over his chair and looking between Ansel and me. “I don’t have a problem with those instructions…none whatsoever.”
By the time dinner is finished, the rain has resumed its heavy showers on the rooftops of the house. Ansel’s Dad asked for his help with fixing a Television in his parents’ room and I offered to assist Melissa in cleaning the table. I wanted to do the dishes as a token of gratitude for her letting me stay the night, but she insists I go upstairs and get some rest. After a few seconds of her convincing me, I decided to head up to Ansel’s room and call it a night. I am pretty tired after the events of the day, including the confrontation with Olivia and Lisa in the girls’ restroom and Jeff’s embarrassing behavior at the café. I could use some sleep.
Looking up and down the narrow aisle, I realize that I don’t know which door is his. I take a chance and knock at one, and the door opens to reveal Alaric, Ansel’s big brother. He has finally taken his shower, now dressed in a sleeveless tank top and sports shorts. Now that all the grease is nonexistent, he looks even more like Ansel.
“Wrong room.” He says simply.
“Oh, sorry.” I offer an awkward smile and gesture to move off when Sam appears over his shoulders. “Is that Rainey?”
Alaric moves away from the door, granting his girlfriend space and I turn back around to meet her gaze.
“Hey, is everything okay?” She asks, tying the strings of her burgundy robe.
I nod, smiling a little. “Yeah, I just got lost.”
She chuckles. “Yeah, I realized that much. What I meant though was if everything’s okay after that incident today…with your stepdad.”
“Oh…” I shift awkwardly. “Yeah…I’m fine.”
She smiles genuinely, and I can tell she is waiting to hear more but I find it difficult to open up to people, so a weird silence stretches for a few seconds.
“So, uhm, do you have clothes for the night?”
I shake my head. “No, I was just going to sleep in my tank top.”
She smiles. “Oh, but the night is so cold, you could get sick. Okay, wait here.”
She hurries inside, then returns in no time with a folded suit of clothes in her hand. “Here, I don’t know your size, but I think this will work.”
I smile, accepting it from her hands. “Thank you.”
“And Ansel’s room is two doors away from this one. Try not to knock on the horny twin’s door, you won’t make it out alive.”
I chuckle. “Advice noted.”
She laughs. “Okay, goodnight, Rain.”
“Goodnight, and thanks.”
“Sure.” She nods again, waiting for me to turn away before she pulls the door up close.
I knock at Ansel’s door, hoping he has returned from assisting his Dad with the television ordeal. When I get no response, I realize he’s not inside. Hesitantly, I enclose my fingers around the knob and push the door open. As I thought, the room is empty.
I step inside reluctantly. I am not one to enjoy strolling inside other people’s space without them being present, but since I was already granted permission to sleep in this room, I guess it’s okay, right?
I switch the light on, gently pulling the door up behind me. The familiar scent of him fills the room, pleasing my sense of smell.
Ansel’s room is an obvious contrast to mine. It’s not a huge space but it feels cozy and comfortable. The room is simple, consisting of a closet on the left, a lamp table on the right and a huge furry mat in the center of the room. Two beds are present, one must be Alex’s since they share the same room.
I rest my knapsack down and decide to get changed. The rain beats against the small window across from where I stand, and a tree cast shadow on the transparent glass, its branches scraping against it in a systematic motion. I shiver at the cold night air seeping through its creases as I pull my dress shirt off.
Feeling quite chilly, I jerk my legs as I hastily enclose my fingers around the slim zipper at the back of my skirt to pull it down. After several seconds of attempt, while cursing under my breath, it finally jerks down. I roll my eyes skyward while I slip off the uncomfortable fabric, hissing when my toe gets caught in the hem. Now only wearing my bra and underwear, I gesture to reach for the suit of clothes I was loaned when the door to the room thrusts open.
I horrifically snap my head in its direction, my eyes widening in surprise as soon as they meet Ansel’s.
He freezes, and I blink, frozen in place as if the world is standing still.
His eyes rake over the huge tattoo of an eagle with shackled feet on my back, just before he swallows hard and swings his back to me quickly.
“I’m sorry, I should have knocked. I didn’t know you were in here.”
Quickly, I grab the shirt Sam gave me from the bed, throwing it over my head in haste, while my cheeks heat up immensely.
“It’s okay, I shouldn’t have been in your room…I-I should have waited until you got back.” I reach for the small shorts from the bed speedily, slipping it on while almost falling over my own feet.
“No, it’s not okay. I shouldn’t have barged right in, I got too used to living in a house filled with boys. I didn’t see anything though...if that makes you feel better.” He runs his hand through his hair, blowing his cheeks out.
No, it makes me feel worse because I know he did see something. He saw my bra; he saw my underwear and lord knows what else he caught a glimpse of. He’s just trying not to make me feel embarrassed, but I can’t say it’s working at all.
“I-I am dressed now.”
He seems hesitant despite the announcement. “Can I turn around?”
He spins around, his face is visibly crimson. His eyes fall to my legs for a swift second, the shorts revealing a fair amount of skin. I cross a leg over the other, tugging the T-shirt further down in efforts of not feeling too exposed.
“I am sorry.” He says, scratching his forehead, awkwardly.
“It’s okay, I am sorry I came in without permission.”
“No, you did get permission. It’s just that I should have knocked.” He offers an apologetic smile, staring at me. His eyes are so easy to get lost in that I tear my gaze away. Wanting to change the topic, I reach for my skirt off the floor. “I-uh, I don’t know which bed to sleep on.”
“Anyone you want.” He smiles, moving over. “I don’t mind, but if I were to give you an advice though, my bed would be better. Alex brings a girl over quite often.”
Knowing exactly what he means, I nod my head. “Oh…” I chuckle.
“Yeah, he’s not exactly the definition of a saint.” Ansel titters. “I’m going to take a shower; you can settle in.”
I smile. “Yeah, thanks for having me here.”
“Don’t mention it, Rain.” He smiles before he walks to a door I hadn’t notice at the left of the room. When he opens it, I catch glimpse of a bathroom over his shoulders before he closes it behind him.
Wow, that door could have saved me so much humiliation.
^A/N: The chapter theme song is also dedicated to Sam and Alaric, I love it so much lol :-).
Thanks for your support, ILY!