Crossroads

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Chapter 2

Mia

“I need to use my brain. Because like Sophie Monroe said... The brain is the most outstanding organ. It works 24/7, 365 days from birth, until you fall in love...”

PRESENT

I always hated my birthday.

Not that I hate my life or anything, quite the contrary. I love my life, I just can’t stand the whole attention, the fake gift unwrapping and trying to look surprised and happy about whatever people give to you...

It might sound pretentious as hell, but I feel like I have most of what I need in my life. I don’t want people spending their time and money to give me something I usually don’t really need...

“Oh come on, you can’t do that...” I whine at the view of my smug brother in front of me.

“I can and I will.” He shoots me his trademark grin, the amount of amusement on his face telling me that he’s up to no good today.

“Please don’t, Liam...”

But he just shrugs before grabbing my leather jacket and then throwing it in my lap, that grin still playing on his face. I can see it in his eyes, he won’t let me argue with him on this.

“Don’t make me call mom and dad.” My big brother Finn’s voice echoes from the hallway until he steps into my living room, a teasing smirk on his face.

“Come on, not you, too... I thought I was your favourite. Where are Aiden and Ethan when you need them...”

Aiden and Ethan are Liam’s triplet brothers. They had to drive back to uni this morning, Ethan has an exam in a few days and Aiden usually drives him.

“You know you are, lil sis. That’s why I’m not calling mom and dad.” He winks at me, and I can’t help but roll my eyes. Finn is usually on my side, but he loves to push and tease me whenever he can.

“Yeah, M. Come on, let’s just have some fun tonight. I promise I’ll protect you.” My big brother Max, who is also Finn’s twin brother, is already waiting by the door, running a hand through his perfectly styled hair while giving me that goddamn big brother grin.

“I don’t need your protection.” I retort. None of us needs protection, really, but for me of course it’s different. I am the only daughter between five brothers, after all.

“Yes, we know that. Doesn’t mean I’ll let you out of my sight.” He responds, and I just can’t help but roll my eyes before heaving a heavy sigh, knowing that I definitely won’t get out of this.

“Come on, Ri and Jer will be there as well. And you know we don’t want to call mom and dad. We got them on speed dial.”

Of course they have to pull the parent card. They all know how much I love my parents, just like all of us do. Mom and dad have always been big on birthday parties, insisting on celebrating every single one of our days of birth to honor them as well. That’s the reason why we had the whole family over yesterday - and by whole family I mean the house, garden and driveway were packed to the brim with relatives and friends.

“Fine. But stay off my back, please. Just a bit”

Max and Liam share a look that tells me that that will probably not happen. I have never been able to do things the way I want to. It’s driving me insane, and even though I love all my brothers from the bottom of my heart, sometimes I just wish they’d let me live a little.

“We’ll see about that.” Liam’s voice echoes through the room, the delight clearly audible in his voice.

Fucking great...

We arrive at the bar about half an hour later, and I can’t help but sigh happily when I clock my best friends at a high table, both of them waving at me as soon as they spot my presence.

“Ri! Jer!” I immediately walk over to them, and they just open their arms to embrace me in the three-person-hug we all know too well.

“Happy birthday, nerd.” Jeremy interrupts Riley before she can even think to speak.

“Yeah, happy birthday, bee! Again.”

Riley has been my best friend for years now, we went to high school together and followed the same career path afterwards. With Jeremy it’s different, we hated each other in high school, but when he sat down next to me in one of my college classes and shared a bag of nerds with me, a sudden friendship formed.

“Thanks, guys. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Of course! Even though I’m still a little hungover from yesterday.” I can’t help but laugh at Ri’s whining, she does look a little pale, admittedly.

“Yeah, I swear your grandma really can hold liquor. Such a badass woman.”

Jeremy rubs his forehead like he’s thinking of the amount of hard liquor that went over the table yesterday, and I have to laugh at the expression on his face when we break the hug. My grandma is a real badass, and as much as I hate being the center of attention, I do love having my friends and family around.

“But of course you look ravishing again, Mia. how the fuck do you do that?”

Ri studies me up and down with that mischievous grin on her face, and I immediately raise my finger to stop her from thinking the wrong things. This unusually beautiful Moroccan woman likes to meddle with my love life.

“Don’t you dare, Riley. I will hunt you down.”

I warn her, definitely not feeling in the mood to fend off her matchmaking services. She made it her mission to find me a man, and I can’t deny that it irritates the hell out of me.

“Ugh, fine. I’m just saying...” She rolls her eyes, but I just shake my head in a disapproving manner.

“Come on, Ri. Let it go. It’s her birthday...” Jeremy intervenes, and I shoot him a quick thankful smile.

“That’s exactly my point...”

“Riley Marianne Jenkins...” I try to sound as threatening as possible as I interrupt her, and I actually see the fear in her eyes when she hears the use of her middle name.

“Oh shit. Full name time...” She then laughs, and both Jer and I can’t help but join in as we bump shoulders, knowing that in the end, we will always love each other.

“Okay, okay... I’ll stop. I’m just saying, you’re entitled to a birthday fu...”

“A birthday what, Ri?” Max interrupts Riley, luckily, before she can say something she might regret in front my now appearing brothers. Both Liam and Max look utterly unimpressed while Finn just stifles a laugh, obviously loving the tease about my love life.

“Oh, uh... A birthday bash! That’s why we’re here, right?” She tries to smoothen the mood, and fortunately Max just raises an eyebrow at my best friend, who suddenly turns absolute crimson before hiding behind Jeremy.

“Dude. I don’t want to face his wrath.” Jeremy whispers, even though all of us can hear.

“Toughen up, bro. That’s what you’re here for, right?” She replies. And even though I find this conversation very amusing, I immediately redirect my attention to Finn when he throws his arm around my shoulders and pulls me into his side.

“How does it feel to be twenty-three, lil sis?”

“Same like twenty-two, I’d say.”

“Always so anticlimactic...” He rolls his eyes at my response, but I just shrug.

“I call it realistic.”

“Ah come on, baby sis... Celebrate yourself. You sure as hell deserve it.”

And I don’t know what it is, but the way he’s looking at me when he’s saying it just makes my heart melt. Finn and I have always had a special bond and been through so much together, I’d do literally anything for him.

“Okay. Fine. You’re responsible for bringing me home, though.”

That makes him grin before he presses a kiss on my head.

“Hah, as if Max would let me do that... You know how he is.”

I nod my head, knowing that it’s true. Being the oldest son, Max has always been protective of all of his brothers, but especially Finn and I have gotten the worst of it. It’s exhausting sometimes, but at the same time... There are reasons he is the way he is, and I guess that’s why we tolerate it so much.

“Alright guys, let’s move to our spot.” Max interrupts our conversation before leading us to our usual spot at the far end of the bar, ordering a variety of bottles filled with all kinds of liquor.

We all grab our drinks, starting with a beer before we move to the strong stuff, and Finn of course needs to make a big deal out of this, raising his bottle like he’s about to hold the most important speech ever.

“Okay, baby sis... Where do I begin...”

The whole group collectively groans, not really wanting to hear an hour-long speech.

“Keep it short, twinnie.” Max warns him, but Finn just waves him off before looking back at me.

“No one will tell me how long I speak about my favourite sister...”

“I’m your only sister, Finn.”

“Doesn’t matter, I still love you the most.” He winks at me.

“Even more than me?” Max throws him a mock appalled look.

“Even more than you.”

“And me?” Now it’s Liam’s turn to pout, making the rest of us laugh out loud as Finn just rolls his eyes.

“See, that’s why I love her the most. Fucking hell...”

“Just wrap it up, Finnie!” Riley interrupts him as well, and it’s so goddamn hard not to laugh at my big brother as he glares at her, obviously tired of being interrupted.

“Jesus, Fine! Okay. Mia, you all know we love you, you’re the best. We all know how much this family values your opinion and your presence. You really are extraordinary. So please, stay the great girl you are and please, please find yourself a hunk of a man so you can rile up our brothers.”

He grins at Max and Liam who just narrow their eyes at him. I can’t help but laugh before I wrap my big brother in a hug, knowing that even though he was teasing, his words were honest for a variety of reasons.

“Thank you.” I press a kiss on his cheek and he just ruffles my hair before shooting me another wink.

“Always, sis. Always.”

“Alright, that calls for shots!” Riley starts distributing shot glasses before filling them with one of the poisonous bottles on the table.

“What’s this?” I almost retch from the smell of what I fear can only be one thing.

“Tequila!”

A rumble of groans echoes through the group, and I can’t help but laugh when I see the insane amount of pain on my brother’s faces.

“Eww, hell no...” Finn grimaces as he studies the shot glass in front of him.

“I’m not drinking that hell water.” Max retorts as well, but Riley just slaps his arm before lifting her glass.

“Stop whining, be a man and drink, Max!”

For some godforsaken reason they actually listen to my best friend, every single one of them betrays me by raising their glasses with smug grins on their faces, especially Finn’s.

“Come on, lil sis. Let’s do this.”

And I guess that’s how this mess started. Because only three shots later, Finn, Riley, Jer and I move to the dance floor, deciding we should let loose a little.

I have to admit I’m enjoying myself much more than I thought I would, even though it shouldn’t be a surprise. Finn and Riley always know how to get me into the mood, I swear if Finn wasn’t gay I would’ve played matchmaker on these two already.

“Jesus, I need a break.” Riley pants as she places one hand on my shoulder, taking a deep breath.

“Yeah, me, too. Let’s get another drink and take a breather.”

“Yes, please... I’m all sweaty.” Finn chimes in, and soon all three of us make our way through the crowd and towards the bar, leaving Jeremy dancing with whoever he just had glued to his hip.

“We definitely need to go dancing more often. I mean we’re only twenty-three and already act like our dancing days are over...” Riley throws her arm around my shoulders as we follow Finn back to the bar.

“Yeah, you’re right, we really should do...”

“No way!” Finn suddenly stops in front of us, sending both Ri and me crashing into his back with a loud thud.

“Finn!” I call out, trying to get his attention.

“Whoa. Sorry. But I’m pretty sure I just saw Doctor Grumpy from the hospital.”

“What?” My eyes follow his glance, definitely not finding what he’s looking for.

“Yeah, do you remember that hot doctor that always looks like someone ran over his cat?”

“You mean your attending?”

“Yeah, he’s basically my boss. And I’m pretty sure he’s here...” He looks around the room again, obviously having somewhat of an interest in the man.

“Well, go and say hello. Ri and I will wait for you by the bar with a new round of drinks, alright?” I shoot him a smile and he presses a quick kiss on my cheek.

“Alright, see you in a minute. I’ll be quick.”

Riley shakes her head at Finn as he disappears in the crowd, and I just pull her after me until we finally reach the bar.

God, I’m parched.

A few minutes later we’re served and Riley and I both take big gulps of our beer, desperately needing to cool down.

But then it happens.

I can smell his scent before I even see him.

It’s the distinctive scent of oak and citrus, a piercing odour that immediately induces a lump in my throat, my mind instantly clouded and foggy.

God, I feel the shiver running down my spine as his scent comes closer and closer. I can literally sense how he’s coming closer to us, like an avalanche full of emotions threatening to swallow me whole.

My fingers wrap around the bottle as I take a deep breath to calm myself, but holy shit that was a mistake.

Because all it does is speed up my heartbeat, his scent now taking over all of my senses as I go into some sort of hyperawareness-state, and I can feel that he’s almost right behind me without even seeing him.

Fuck, Mia. Get your shit together.

“Birthday girl!” Finn’s voice resonates right behind me.

Oh no. Oh no no.

Riley turns around before I do, giving me a few seconds to compose myself before I have to face him.

“Holy shit, Finn. He really is hot.”

Oh, Lord. Why, Riley, why? I really need to stop this before embarrasses Hinn even more.

“Uh... Thanks, Riley... Um... Mia?” Finn’s desperate voice calls out to me, and I know this is it.

Pull on your big girl panties, Mia.

And I swear I think I’m prepared for it, his scent already taken my nostrils hostage, but when I turn around to actually face him...

Holy motherfucking shit.

My breath hitches when I see the look on his face because the neutral expression of his features indicates that he doesn’t recognise me.

Again.

And maybe it’s that stinging feeling in my heart, or maybe I’m just bitter because of the way things occurred back then, but I find myself not wanting to give him the satisfaction. If he doesn’t recognise me, then I sure as hell don’t know who he is, either.

“Hi.” I nod my head at him.

He studies me intently, almost like he’s trying to remember me, trying to read me, figure out my motives.

And I see this sparkle of recognition in his eyes, or at least I think I do, but then it vanishes like snow on a sunny day.

“Hello.”

His deep voice causes my heart to tumble left and right, but I stretch out my hand after he answers, trying to be polite and most of all not letting him know how much he actually phases me.

I watch as his eyes flick from my face to my outstretched hand, the hesitation in his irises being obvious as hell. I see his brain working, see the almost invisible tremor in his fingers when he shakes my hand, the impact of his skin on mine causing me to almost jump back. Hot, liquid lava immediately starts running through my veins as soon as his eyes meet mine again.

We’re just standing there for God knows how long, his tight grip on my hand acting as a stabilizer because fuck, I’m not sure if I can keep this charade going for too long.

“Uh, Okay... Well, Doctor Grey, this is my sister Mia. She’s uh... It’s her birthday today.”

Finn’s voice snaps both of us out of our weird trance, and my eyes shortly snap to Finn, who studies me with a raised brow right next to Riley, whose jaw is already on the floor.

Shit.

“Nice to meet you, Mia. Happy birthday.”

Okay, that’s how we’re doing this...

“Thanks. Nice to meet you, too... Doctor Grey.”

The tension between us could be cut with a knife, even though I really don’t know why he’s acting so weird if he obviously doesn’t have a reason to care.

I guess it’s that exact thought that makes me pull my hand away from him, and even though my skin feels so goddamn cold without his touch already, I bathe myself in the feeling of rage that’s running through me. I can’t let this happen, again. Especially not now that he’s kind of Finn’s boss.

“Well, have a nice evening, Doctor Grey. It was nice to meet you. Please be good to my brother, he means well.”

I don’t know how I do it, but I somehow manage to even shoot him a wink before I then grab Riley’s hand and turn around, desperately needing to get away from him.

As soon as we reach the dance floor I chug the beer in my hand, letting the sparkling liquid fuel my soul as I take another deep breath. But of course even now his scent is still lingering in the air, I swear it drives me insane.

“Holy shit, Mia... What the fuck was that?” Riley shoots me a worried look, but I just shake my head before grabbing the bottle in her hand and lifting it to my lips, still needing to cool myself down. I notice how she looks behind me with a helpless glance, and I can’t help but roll my eyes, knowing what’s coming next.

“Slow down, Mia. Talk to me.” She pleads, but I only close to my eyes to gather my thoughts.

Fuck.

“What’s wrong?” Jeremy appears right behind me, and I don’t know what it is, but suddenly I feel absolutely overwhelmed with the number of people surrounding me right now.

“Nothing. I just need some air... I’ll be back in a minute, alright?”

“Are you sure? I can...?” Jeremy starts, but I just smile at him before squeezing his arm, interrupting him in the process. Considering I have five overbearing brothers, I made it very clear to Jeremy that I do not need another protector in my life, and as much as I appreciate his concern, I also hope he realises that I just need some space.

“I’m sure. I’ll be back in five minutes or so. Could you keep Max off my back, please?”

Both of them nod their heads at me, they know how hard it is to get a minute on my own. And so I shoot them one last thankful smile before I make my way outside, the crisp spring air brushing against my skin as I close my eyes, taking another deep breath when I lean against the wall next to the backdoor of the bar.

It’s so unreal to me that he has this kind of effect on me, still. My body just reacts to him, like it did the very first time. Hell, it might be even more intense now, for whatever reason.

After all this time. And after he failed to recognise me... Twice.

The last time he forgot who I was, when I saw him on that bridge, already hurt, even though I kind of understood it. But now... It just makes my blood boil. The pain is morphing into something more palpable, more real.

Pure and utter fury.

I open my eyes and pull a cigarette out of the package, flicking it between my fingers while I let my thoughts flow, my emotions running through my veins with an intensity that makes my skin tingle.

And as I stand there, lighter in one hand and cigarette in the other, I promise myself one thing.

I will not let him get to me. No matter who he is and where he works. I can’t let myself open up to him, again. I just can’t.

Because as strong as I am, love makes me fragile. It can bring anyone to the knees. Hell, I’ve seen it with my parents, my grandparents, my brothers...

I need to use my brain.

Because like Sophie Monroe said... The brain is the most outstanding organ. It works 24/7, 365 days from birth, until you fall in love...

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