“I just bathe in that sparkle in his eyes when he looks at me, when he appreciates every single inch of my soul with a single glance.”
I love my family.
I really do. And that’s probably why I suddenly feel so guilty, so bad for telling my parents about this mess. They supported us through thick and thin, gave us everything we could ask for, and still they have to deal with this. It’s ungrateful, and I hate it.
But they deserve to know - I realize my mother is worried about Max and me, worried about her children drifting apart when all they did was stick together all their lives.
“Wait, so they were a couple?” she asks, heaving a sigh and running her fingers through her beautiful hair. I see the empathy in Dad’s eyes when he places his arm over her shoulder, tugging her closer on the two-seater sofa they’re occupying in their living room.
“Apparently, yeah... I don’t know the full story yet. Apparently Ri broke up with him, and a few months later, shortly before Pops passed...” I swallow, still seeing the pain in my mother’s eyes when I mention her father, “She spoke to him again. Jer says she thinks their talk riled Max up, and that that’s why he flipped and talked to Link...”
Dad shakes his head, pinching the bridge of his nose before he exhales deeply, “Why wouldn’t he just tell us that? Why wouldn’t Riley tell us that? I don’t understand his intentions behind hiding it, I mean...” he shoots a quick glance to my mother, who just shakes her head as well, “I mean that doesn’t make sense. I know we talked about the business and that he wants to take over in a few years, but surely he didn’t think he couldn’t be in a relationship, right?”
“He’s been in relationships before, so I don’t really get it...” Mom mutters, staring blankly ahead with narrowed eyes.
“I don’t think it’s because of something like that. You can’t put that blame on yourselves...”
Both Mom and Dad look at me now, the parental sympathy in their eyes as always warming my heart. They supported me a lot over the past years, especially Mom pushed me to keep going with therapy whenever I felt like it became too much.
“Come here, princess,” Dad says, stretching out his arm. I follow his notion and leave the armchair to step into his grasp, only to be pulled on his lap.
“Dad...” I chuckle, but he just shrugs as he positions my legs over Mom’s lap next to him, his arm around my waist as he looks at me, the all too familiar eyes studying me with interest.
My father’s touch has always made me feel so special. Ever since I can remember he made me feel strong but gentle, made me feel like I can be who I want to be, that it’s my choice to become the person I dream of. And I know he’s been blaming himself for the issues I’ve been dealing with, even though it’s not his fault. Not in the least.
“You know none of this is your fault, right?” he asks.
“Really, though, honey,” my mother speaks up, taking my hand and giving it a squeeze, “We know how much this must affect you. And we want to make sure you know we’re on your side, always.”
I nod my head, having a hard time suppressing the tears again. “I know, Mom. I know. It’s just... I don’t know why everyone keeps hiding things from me. It just... It hurts.”
Mom nods her head, the way she looks at me makes me think she has a fair idea what this feels like. I sometimes forget how much my parents have been through, how long they have been together... Or just generally how long they’ve been on this earth. They probably had their fair share of unfair treatments in their life, as well.
“I know, honey. I know. We’ll get to the bottom of this...”
Dad suddenly snaps his head to the left, and seconds later we hear the front door close, Finn’s voice echoing through the living room when he steps inside. “God, sis, how old are you? Twelve?” he laughs when he spots me on my parents’ laps, but I just shrug, finding it somewhat comfortable by now.
“You’re just jealous,” I say, stretching out my tongue when he walks over to me and pulls all three of us in a hug.
“Yeah, can’t deny that.” Both Mom and Dad shake their head with a laugh at that, and Finn takes my hand before pulling me off the sofa.
“Hey!” I exclaim, but Finn just hugs my side before leaning in to whisper, “You better go outside, I brought you a present.”
My eyes widen at his words, and it only takes one look at his scrubs to connect the dots. “You’re such a meddler.”
“Ah, thank me later.” He winks and I just shake my head as I make my way outside.
I’m not surprised when I find Lincoln leaning against his car in our driveway, a bright smile on his face as soon as he spots me. He makes his way over, his arms wrapping around my body as soon as he reaches me. “Hey, handsome,” I say, trying not to faint from just how beautiful he looks today.
“Hi...” He searches my eyes for a moment, and I know what he’s looking for, that he’s asking if I’m alright. I let him find his own answer, a sudden content smile on his lips indicating he found it before he leans down and kisses me so deeply, I feel like I just dove to bottom of the sea with the simple collision of our lips.
I feel a sigh leave my lips when his tongue enters my mouth, and I can’t help but meet him, holding on for dear life as our tongues dance their familiar waltz. “Parents...” I mutter, knowing I’m nowhere near strong enough to resist him today.
He chuckles, pulling back before pressing another kiss on my lips as he whispers, “Sorry... You make me feel like a teenager sometimes.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Good thing, definitely a good thing.” A smirk plays on his lips as we pull apart, and I just bathe in that sparkle in his eyes when he looks at me, when he appreciates every single inch of my soul with a single glance.
“You’re early...” I say, stating the obvious since it’s only five in the afternoon.
“Yeah,” he sighs, brushing some hair out of my face, “I felt horrible this morning for leaving so early. And my patients were nice today, the last surgery went better than expected and I just wanted to be here, so I asked a colleague of mine to cover the last hour of my shift... I also ran into Finn, and I offered him a ride when I saw him fiddling with his bicycle outside. And now I’m here.”
He shoots me a warm smile, and I reciprocate it before getting on my toes to press another kiss on his lips. “I appreciate it. Thank you.”
“Of course.” He wraps one arm around my waist, tugging me into his side when he asks, “Now... How was your day?”
“Pretty good, we had lunch and drove over to Grams’s house, we came back like half an hour before you guys showed up...”
“Hey, guys!” my mother suddenly calls out from the hallway, “You can come inside, you know?”
I can’t help but laugh, shaking my head before looking up at Link, “You up for that?”
“Sure,” he nods his head with a smile.
And so we make our way inside, but the second I step foot into the house and want to close the door behind me I feel a hand on my wrist, the sudden feeling making me jerk backward as I turn around to see who the hell startled me like that.
“Can we talk, please?” My best friend begs, looking between Link and me, her eyes apologetic and somewhat desperate, too.
I can’t help but sigh, knowing that I have to let her talk. I wanted to talk to her before I talked to Max, but then I thought that in the end, Max is my brother. He’s my flesh and blood, he should have the right to explain himself first.
“Please, Mia... I need to explain so much.”
“Yeah... Yeah, okay.” I finally give in, looking up at Lincoln who just shoots me a sympathetic smile. “Will you be okay on your own for a few minutes? I want to...”
“Mia...” he interrupts me, pressing a swift kiss on my lips, “I’ll be fine. You go take care of this. Let me know if you need me,” he whispers at the end, and I simply nod my head, grateful that he makes it this easy.
I press another kiss on his cheek before stepping outside again, following Riley into the front yard. She takes a seat on the swing hammock next to the pond, and I hesitate for just a moment before I get in next to her, instantly swimming to our familiar rhythm. “Fuck, I’m so sorry...” Ri whispers as she turns to look at me, the tears in her eyes instantly breaking my heart.
“Jer told me he told you... I don’t even... I don’t even know how to justify this, Mia. I don’t know,” she sobs, shaking her head while covering her eyes with her hand. She looks utterly heartbroken, and as much as I’m hurt and angry, I can’t help but wrap my arm around her, pulling her closer while rubbing her back.
“Fuck I don’t even deserve to cry, gosh...” Riley sniffs, wiping her face and taking a few deep breaths. “I don’t even know where to start...”
“Maybe at the beginning?” I interrupt, everything within me screaming for answers. Once again I’m tired of bullshit half-assed answers. I want the truth, and I want all of it.
And she seems to understand that, too, because she suddenly starts talking. “I always had a crush on Max. Even in our high school years... He was just... God, I don’t even know.” She shakes her head. “We both know I have bad boy issues.”
I almost laugh at that, because damn isn’t that an understatement and a half.
“I never acted on it though. I was too scared of losing you, simply...”
“Why would you have lost me?” I immediately ask, wanting to get all the questions cleared up as soon as I can.
“I don’t know. I mean, I was a kid back then, and he was your brother... I didn’t want to complicate things. I just swallowed it down,” she concedes, and I have to admit I even understand her, somehow.
“But then we got older, and when you started that job at the library you didn’t have time for our movie nights on Wednesdays, and somehow Max and I ended up there on our own, and...” she sighs, “It all just happened so fast, I don’t even know. I fell so hard for him, fuck...”
She wipes her face again, drying the tears she can’t stop from falling. “I told him I couldn’t do it, and that we needed to talk to you about this before we did anything, and he even agreed, but we just... We couldn’t stop, and we couldn’t find the right time to talk to you, and then... Then they kicked me out of my apartment.”
“What? Who?” I ask with wide eyes, this is the first time I’m hearing about any of that.
“Yeah,” she sniffs, “I lost my job, couldn’t pay rent, and you know how my parents are, and after a few months the landlord just... Kicked me out. I was so humiliated. I didn’t know where to go. I forgot that I was also supposed to go to the movies with Max that night, so when he showed up at my apartment and saw me standing there with my belongings... He didn’t even ask, he just loaded my stuff in his car and drove us to his apartment.”
I’m not only speechless, but also absolutely tongue-tied in my head by her confession. I expected a lot, but this was definitely not it...
“So it happened that I basically moved in with him, and I asked him not to say anything to you or the rest, I mean...”
“Wait, but Jer said Max was the one who didn’t want to say something?”
She shakes her head, guilt written all over her face when she answers, “I told Jer that, but it wasn’t Max. He was so kind the whole time... He even offered to talk to you so I didn’t have to do it on my own, but I just... I was embarrassed. You always got your shit together and worked even though you didn’t have to and you just excel at your classes... You’re so strong and confident and I mean fuck, you’re like wonder woman or something. I just didn’t want to admit that I was unable to manage my own life... And for the record, he was so adamant about the whole thing, kept pushing me to talk to you, but I just... I wasn’t strong enough.”
I’m so shocked, I don’t even know what to think. The only thought that pops into my head is that this is extremely ironic, and that once again it shows how much communication can save you from a ton of issues.
“That’s not true, Ri, you know that...”
“I know, I know,” she interrupts me, “I know I’m strong and I know I could’ve talked to you and that I didn’t have to be embarrassed about anything... But Mia. We study this stuff. We know that rationality is not always present in extreme situations. And... I don’t know. Max understood me. He looked for a new apartment for me, and I actually felt like things were going well when I moved there... But then...” she sighs, “Do you remember how we both were really busy, when you had that fight with your dad?”
As soon as she says it it’s like a coin drops in my head, offering all the answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. “Yeah, you said you were busy because of moving and uni, and I was occupied with work, or rather finding a job since Dad kept getting me fired... We didn’t see each other for a while back then until you showed me your new apartment.”
“Yeah... Well, I knew about the fact that you kept losing your job, but by the time you found out that your dad was behind all of that, our friendship already suffered a great amount. And when you came to see me that night and told me about the past weeks and that you knew that it was your dad’s fault for a few weeks at that point, I just got so fucking angry.”
“At who? And why?”
“At Max. Because he knew all of that, and he didn’t tell me. He kept pushing off the talk we wanted to have with you, saying you were in a weird mood, and I thought it was because of the jobs you kept losing, but he knew about the fight with your dad and didn’t tell me. I felt betrayed by that.”
“That was the evening I went to your apartment for the first and last time in a while, because I met Lincoln afterward...” I mumble, mostly to comprehend the situation for myself.
Ri nods, “Yeah. Max and I had a fight after that. I said some things I didn’t mean, same as him, but I just... I couldn’t be with him after that. Something just clicked. It just showed how bad we were, in a way. And I wanted to protect our friendship, which was complete bullshit because I pulled away from you so much afterward, you just reminded me of him. I couldn’t... I just...” She sobs again, covering her face with her hands as she cries, and suddenly I feel so, so sad for my best friend. Not only did she lose her boyfriend but also her best friend, all in one day.
But I can’t deny that her actions also awake that fire within me. Because not only did she hide those things from me, she also broke my brother’s heart, in a way...
“And then I said those things,” she says in between sobs, trying to calm herself.
“What did you say?”
Taking a few more breaths she looks at me, the tears still streaming down her face when she whispers, “It was like a week before your grandpa’s death... Max came to see me, wanted me back, I mean you know him. He’s stubborn and didn’t want to take no for an answer. I was still in a bad place, not having talked to you or Jer in weeks... I was afraid of falling for him again, because I still loved him so, so much... Fuck, I still do, I just...”
She looks up at me, and I see the glaring apology in her eyes, see the guilt and pain on her tear-streaked features. “I told him that I wasn’t his responsibility anymore, and that we were a bad idea and that he should stop hiding things from his family, that I lost my best friend because of him...”
I can’t help the gasp that leaves my throat when I look at her, realization striking me like lightning. No wonder Max was so distant toward me. “Riley...”
“I know,” she sobs again, “I know, I know I fucked up, fuck, I know that... I was so overwhelmed, and so heartbroken, and I just... I didn’t know what to do. God, and then I was too proud to go and apologize and take that shit back, and he went to talk to Lincoln, which ended in your broken heart, too, and it all just...”
And for the first time in weeks, hell for the first time in years considering Max and I haven’t been particularly close lately, I feel sorry for my brother. I finally understand his behavior, his words, his motivation. Not that it excuses that, in any way, but I get it.
Ironically, we were in the same boat, without even realizing it. And suddenly I feel another thing, something that boils right in the pit of my stomach: Rage. Pure and utter rage. Because although I understand Riley’s reasoning... She hurt my family. The one thing I hold closest to my heart.
“Mia, please, I just...” she begs when I get up from the hammock, desperately needing distance right now.
“Ri... I just... Fuck. You know exactly what I feel right now. You know me well enough to know that. I need to think. I just need to breathe, please let me breathe, because I’m so fucking close to losing my shit right now.”
She nods her head, the tears still streaming down her face as I take deep breaths, trying to suppress my own waterworks. I don’t need this now. I still need to talk to Max. I want this to be done, I want to live my life again...
And as I look at her I feel this storming rage in my veins reaching its high, the unfairness and cruelty of Riley’s behavior has me fired up like a cannonball. I need to get away from her, otherwise I’ll explode right into her face.
“I’m so sorry...” Riley whispers again, but I just shake my head as I turn and make my way back inside, trying to ignore my best friend’s sob behind me.
I can’t believe she would hide this from me for so long. Making mistakes is one thing, but owning up to them another... Max must have felt like hell when Riley said those things. Blaming him for the loss of her best friend... She forgot that he must have felt like he lost a sister, too.
Still taking deep breaths I close the front door, leaning my back against it for just a minute as I try to calm the storm in my heart. I hear the commotion coming from the living room, but I focus on myself for a moment, on my breathing and my thoughts, until I feel a familiar hand on my cheek.
“Link...” I whisper before opening my eyes, seeing him standing right in front of me, a worried as hell expression on his face.
“Are you okay?”
I nod my head, suddenly hearing more voices from the living room, and generally just now noticing how tense Link seems. “Is everything okay in there?”
“Yeah,” he nods, “It’s just... You should probably join us in the living room.”