Crossroads

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Chapter 9

Mia

“Feeling his arms around me is like coming home after being astray for years, even though it was only a matter of weeks.”

PAST

After contemplating my life for what must have been hours, I use the spare time I have to work out, get a shower, and then make my way over to my parents’ house. The workout helped to calm my nerves, even though I still feel like I’m on fire, the two-hour-long drill not having the effect I had hoped.

The closer I get to the house the more I feel the uneasy feeling creeping up on me, though. I’ve been so preoccupied with Lincoln that I haven’t really thought about what I’d say to my dad or how I’d behave towards him. I hate that I feel this way, I love my dad more than myself and being in this weird space with him just doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not who I am.

I finally reach my childhood home, noticing that Max’s motorcycle is not parked in the driveway, where it usually is. I shake my head and type in the code on the pad next to the doorknob, and the second I open the large oak door I’m being engulfed in the scent of lilies, my mom’s favorite flowers. The fragrance left an imprint in my brain, I recall me and my brothers running through the house, our dad chasing us and always catching me first, tickling and blowing raspberries on my belly before going after his sons. I can’t help but smile at the memories, I’ve truly been blessed with the most supportive family one can imagine.

“Mia, sweetheart.” My mom’s soft voice shakes me out of my reverie, and I watch how she wipes her hands on her jeans as she approaches me before her arms widen, ready to embrace me.

“Hey, mom.” I smile as I wrap my arms around her, the familiar scent of motherly love filling my nostrils when she rubs my back.

“I missed you, honey. Please don’t stay away from us again for so long.” She pulls away to look at me, her fingers brushing my hair out of my face with a concerned smile.

“I missed you, too. I’m sorry for staying away. I just... I needed to breathe.”

“I know, honey. It’s okay.” Her fingers rake through my hair as she nods her head, her kind emerald eyes sparkling with sympathy. I know that she does in fact understand what I’m talking about, as protected as I am, my mother will probably always go first in this family. She’s the holy grail to every single one of us, the protective frame of mind my family shares definitely goes overboard when it concerns mom.

“Where’s Max?” I ask as I nod to the front door, silently mentioning the missing motorcycle in the driveway.

“He’ll be here in a minute. He wanted to get dessert at Mikanos’.”

“Mikanos’?” I can’t help but grin. Mikanos’ is our favorite Greek/Italian style restaurant, we’ve been going there for ages. They make the meanest Tiramisu, I basically survived off of that stuff when I still lived with my parents.

“Yep. You know your brother, he just wants the best.” She winks at me.

“Sis!” Two way too similar voices interrupt our conversation, and I can’t help but grin when I see Ethan and Aiden basically running around the corner.

“Hey, baby bros!” I open my arms for them to embrace me, and that’s exactly what they do, their way too large frames basically smothering me between their chests.

“We’re eighteen, sis.” Ethan starts. “Yeah, it’s not like we’re babies anymore.” Aiden continues his sentence, and I can’t help but laugh as I wiggle out of their grasp.

“You’ll always be my babies, you know that.” It sounds ridiculous, considering they’re both a foot taller than me.

“It’s three years, Mia. Don’t go overboard.” Ethan argues, and I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at them.

“Say that to Liam, he’s the one who insists he’s so much older than you guys because he managed to get out three minutes before the both of you.” That makes them laugh, and I can’t help but ruffle both of their heads, their hazel colored hair disheveling in the process.

“Hey, what are you guys doing? Are you tattling again?” Liam’s voice echoes from right behind them, and I lean to my right to find Finn and him approaching us with wide smiles on their faces.

“Always. Now come here.” I grin as I wave Liam over, who just rolls his eyes but still walks over to me, his way too buff arms squeezing me tightly. He may look like a bad boy, and he certainly is one as well, but I know he’s as much a family man as the rest of our male relatives.

“Hey, sis. I missed you.” He whispers into my ear, and I can’t help but rub his back before I press a kiss on his cheek. Out of all my brothers, the triplets are the ones I see all too rarely. They live at a college a couple of hours away from here, and even though they always come to the Friday dinners it’s still different, I can’t see them as much as I’d like to.

“I missed you, too, Lili.” I pull back just in time to see the frown crossing his face from his nickname, the one that Ethan invented as a kid when he couldn’t pronounce Liam, and instead went with the short version that’s all too familiar due to my mom’s favorite floral decoration.

“Stop pouting, baby bro.”

“Ugh, you’re insufferable.” He retorts, although I don’t miss the smirk on his lips when he moves aside to give in to Finn’s complaining right behind him.

“Move, it’s my turn!” My big brother grins before he wraps his slender arms around me, and I can’t help but embrace him for a second longer than necessary, just like I always do. The guilt creeps into my system as I hug him tightly, knowing that I definitely should’ve called him more often than I did. I know I acted impulsively when I stormed out of the house a few weeks earlier, but I just couldn’t deal with anyone for a while, needing to find my own headspace.

“Hey, pumpkin.” His soft voice catches me off guard and I have to take a deep breath in order to compose myself, suddenly feeling vulnerable as hell.

“Hi, pancake.” I whisper his own nickname back to him, his chuckle immediately vibrating between us as he places a kiss on my head, his arms squeezing me once more before letting go.

“You look skinny. Have you been eating?” He eyes me up and down and I roll my eyes before slapping his chest with a grunt. Finn always tried to cram me, deserving his nickname when I once puked all over the kitchen table because he fed me ten pancakes at the age of six.

“Yes, Finn. I know how to eat.” I roll my eyes at him.

“Okay, just making sure. I haven’t seen you in so long.” There’s no accusatory element in his tone, and yet I can’t help but feel guilty for the way I’ve been acting. My head is all over the place right now.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, no. It’s okay, pumpkin. I get your reasons, really, I do. Just don’t shut all of us out next time, alright?”

“Yeah, I promise.” That makes him smile and he presses a kiss on my forehead, smiling at me when he pulls back. Before I can say anything else though I hear the unmistakable loud footsteps I have been dreading and longed for at once, the treads echoing through the hallway until they come to a sudden halt.

“Mia...” My father’s deep voice reverberates around us, silencing the background chatter from the rest of my family.

“Hey, dad.” I turn around to see my father standing in the doorway, his blue eyes hesitant and filled with so much love, I simply can’t stop the lump from forming in my throat.

“Come on, pups. Let’s prepare the rest of dinner.” My mom shoots me another encouraging smile before gathering my brothers, silently shooing them out of the hallway.

I just stand there for a second, trying to swallow the tight feeling in my chest as I watch my mother whisper something into dad’s ear, and he just nods at her before placing a soft kiss on her cheek, his eyes immediately settling back on mine. I can literally see how he fights with himself, how he’s trying to figure out a way to approach me, and it hurts so goddamn much to see how hesitant he is.

“Dad...” I start, but I can’t stop the fresh set of tears that immediately fill my eyes. Within seconds my dad strides towards me, and I can’t help but basically throw myself at him, his large arms immediately wrapping me in a tight hug. Feeling his arms around me is like coming home after being astray for years, even though it was only a matter of weeks.

“Oh, princess...” His voice is strained when he squeezes me so tightly, I almost think he might crush my ribcage from the force. But I don’t mind, I’ve missed him so much, my past irritation is instantly replaced by the sole love I feel for this man.

“I’m so sorry, princess. I really am. I know I was wrong, and I sincerely apologize.”

I shake my head against his chest as he feathers my head with kisses, my arms tightening around him in an attempt to ground myself.

“It’s okay, dad.”

“No, no. It’s not. I know that now. And I know you’re still angry. I know that because you’re as stubborn as I am.”

And I can’t help but chuckle softly at that, feeling the smile on his lips when he presses another kiss on my temple. I remove one of my arms to wipe the stray tears that fled my eyes, clearing my throat before I take a step back to look up at him.

“Yeah, I am. You can’t just go around and threaten my bosses to fire me, just so I don’t get a job. I want to work, dad.”

The whole ordeal began when I started my beloved job at the library a few months ago. I tried keeping it a secret from my family, knowing my dad would just insist on giving me the money I needed so I didn’t have to work. Not that I need any money, my parents give me more than they should in the first place, but that just wasn’t the point. He just went about and either bribed or threatened every single employer I worked for, using his well-known name in this city to get them to fire me. I ended up losing six jobs in a matter of two months, and after I basically exploded into the last bosses’ face he finally told me who’s behind it all. It pretty much went downhill after that.

“I just don’t want you to overwork yourself, honey. I know how much you’ve been studying for your degree already. You shouldn’t have to work and strain yourself too much.”

“Dad, I told you. I don’t do it because I need the money. You guys already overdo it with the amount of money you transfer each month. It’s hyperbolic.”

“It’s not...” He starts, but I immediately stop him by raising my hand, signaling that I need him to listen to me.

“Yes, it is. But that’s not what this is about. I want to be able to live my own life, I want to work if I want to work, I want to stand on my own feet. You guys already pay that ridiculously expensive apartment.”

“Which is way too small for you.” He mumbles, and I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at him, to which he responds with a curt nod, understanding that it’s my turn to speak.

“It’s not too small. I love it the way it is. But I need you to understand that I want to be my own woman. I want to be myself. You guys are so overbearing already, I at least want to have that.”

I whisper the last words, and I see that he’s taken aback by that statement, but it’s the truth. It’s hard figuring out who you are, who you want to be, when you’re constantly being pampered and watched by your whole family. It may sound like a first-world problem, and maybe it is, but it’s just frustrating to me.

“You know, for being the only child that got my dashing looks and impeccable charm, you surely do have a lot of your mom’s emancipated mindset.” He smirks at me, and I release a quiet chuckle as I shake my head.

“I thought I was one hundred percent you.”

“Maybe ninety-nine.” He winks, wrapping his arm around my waist and tucking me into his side, his chin resting on my head as he releases a sigh.

“I’m sorry, princess. I am. Your mom already ripped me a new one, believe me.” I laugh as I look up at him, his eyes that look so much like my own now filling with amusement, and I feel my heart swell at the fact that I have my dad back.

“I’m serious, though. If doing this means you stay away from me for so long, I promise I won’t ever do it again. Go get a job, if you want to. I understand that you want to be independent, and I understand that we might be a little too much sometimes. Especially me.” He squeezes my waist. “I only did it because I love you so much. You’re my little princess. I don’t want anything to happen to you, ever. You are my everything.”

I can’t help but tear up again at his words, and he immediately wraps me in another hug, his large palms rubbing my back as he speaks to me. “Are you okay, honey? I know you’re still upset, but I feel like there’s something else going on that I’m missing here.”

I hate that he knows me so well, and I hate that I can’t talk to him about this. It’s not the situation itself, it’s because it involves a man, and I feel like after settling one argument there’s no need to start another. One that would probably end much, much worse than this one.

“I just missed you guys so much. I hated not seeing you all... But I think I needed the space.” I try going with half a truth, and luckily my dad just nods his head, placing another kiss on my temple before pulling away to look at me.

“I missed you, too, princess. So much. And I know your mom did as well, more than she probably lets on. Make sure to give her a proper hug later, okay?”

“You just want me to get her off your back.” I narrow my eyes at him, knowing that mom was less than impressed by his behavior as well.

The difference is, she’s married to the man and has to actually stay with him. Not that she’d ever want to leave, I have never seen anyone look at their partner the way my parents look at each other. It’s the purest form of love I have ever witnessed, and I know no matter how badly my dad messed up, he’d never do anything that would risk his marriage.

“Maybe just a bit.” He winks. “But, really. You know your mom, she needs her babies’ love.”

I nod my head at him, understanding that he’s right. My mom basically lives off of the love we share as a family, and I can’t help but regret that I deprived her of my own for so long. She didn’t deserve that, she was always in my corner when yet another argument emerged from the overprotective actions the male members of our family displayed all too often, and she stood by me every step of the way when I had to find out who I am as a woman amongst five brothers.

“Yeah, okay. I understand. I’ll make sure to squish her.”

“That’s my princess.”

“You really need to stop calling me that. I’m far from a princess.” I whine, but dad just shrugs with a smile on his face.

“You weren’t when you were two. I still remember how you insisted on wearing that ugly pink princess dress every day for a whole month.” He grins as he relives the memory, and I just roll my eyes at him, knowing that it annoys the hell out of him.

“I was two, then. I’m twenty-one now.”

“I really do not see your point...”

I punch his arm but he just laughs before wrapping me in another tight hug, and I can literally feel how my heart clicks back together from being back to normal with him.

“I love you, princess.”

“I love you, too, old man.”

“Wow. Ouch.”

We both chuckle, even though I have no idea how he can take that statement seriously. My dad is like the youngest looking father I’ve ever seen. People have mistaken him for my big brother way too often.

“Come on, your old man is starving.”

After making sure to give my mom another decent hug, which she apparently needed since she almost didn’t let me go in the end, we’re now all seated at the dinner table. I sit between Finn and dad who have been bickering back and forth since the moment we sat down.

“Sorry, sorry. It was prime time over there and they had to make another sheet of tiramisu for us. We need to let it sit for an hour before we can eat it.” Max rambles as he comes rushing into the dining room with a large carton in his hands, giving all of us a quick glance as he darts into the kitchen, before coming back out with a sigh.

“Did you wash your hands?” Mom asks, and I have to stifle a laugh when I see how badly he has to suppress an eye-roll, but dad just shoots him a stern look before Max walks back into the kitchen.

“Who raised that boy...” Finn mumbles, and dad immediately slaps the back of his head even though he obviously suppresses a smirk as well.

“It’s funny that he still doesn’t get it.” Liam states, and I can’t help but join in.

“Don’t tell me you wash your hands every single time before you eat.”

“He doesn’t.” Aiden and Ethan speak simultaneously and shake their heads at me, eliciting a laugh from the rest of us.

“How is it you two always gang up on me? We’re supposed to stick together.” Liam complains, but Ethan and Aiden just shrug at his statement.

He’s not wrong, though. Even though they’re triplets, Liam immediately stepped into the big brother role for those two, he not only was born three minutes earlier than them, Ethan and Aiden also were more malnourished, meaning they had to stay in the hospital a little longer after birth. It’s weird, they even both wear glasses and almost look alike, while Liam is much taller and generally has much rougher features. Genetics are odd sometimes.

“Maybe if you started cleaning up your shit in our apartment we’d actually stick to you.” Ethan retorts, and Aiden just nods his head in agreement.

“Oh come on, I’m not that bad...”

“Yeah, you definitely are.” Max chimes in as he walks back into the room, holding his hand up to prove that they’re freshly washed, before he gives each of us a quick shoulder squeeze, except for mom who gets a kiss on the cheek.

“Hey, lil sis.” He winks when he squeezes my shoulder the last, and I quickly look up at him with a smile.

“Hey.”

“You okay?” He mouths the words, and I just respond with a curt nod, not wanting him to snoop around, but he just raises a questioning eyebrow at me.

“How are you supposed to know what my apartment looks like?” Liam luckily breaks our interaction, and I can’t help but sigh from relief when Max walks over to his seat.

“Dude, I’ve been to your place more than once, and every time Adam and Eve over here weren’t there it looked like someone ate the whole place and threw it back up.”

I can’t help but snort at Max’s comment, and even mom and dad shake their heads in amusement now.

“Oh come on, that’s not true.”

“Son, don’t forget we know what your room looked like when you still lived here.” Dad returns with a smirk on his lips.

“Pa, come on...”

“Okay, that’s enough, pups. I didn’t cook for three hours to have it go cold because Liam can’t see that he’s a slob.” She winks at Liam, who now just forms an O with his mouth as he crosses his arms in front of his chest. Before he can say anything though dad already grabs my hand to his right and Aiden’s to his left, making Liam sigh before he untangles his arms to close the hand-holding-circle.

“Okay, I’ll make this one quick.” Dad begins the traditional pre-dinner speech. “Thank you for preparing this meal, love, and thank you for being here, pups.” He looks at all of us, his glance staying on mine for just a second longer.

“Thank you, ma.” We all say in unison, even though Liam’s words come out as a grunt.

The rest of the dinner goes by surprisingly uneventful, except for the typical teasing left and right, of course. I do notice that Max is shooting me weird glances every now and then, but he always avoids my gaze when I try to look at him. It’s weird, but nothing too out of the ordinary considering he always watches me like a hawk.

“So, how are your studies going? You have exams coming up soon, right?” Liam asks as we all sit in the living room with bowls of tiramisu in our hands.

“Yeah, in a few weeks.” I nod my head as I swallow the way too delicious tiramisu I still have in my mouth, suddenly realizing I haven’t really done anything for my studies during the course of last week, my mind was way too occupied with a certain doctor in my apartment. I need to change that if I want to finish this semester successfully.

“You doing okay with that?” Max chimes in, obviously having picked up on my hesitation.

“Um, yeah, I guess. It’s just a lot, but I’m good.” I smile at him, neither wanting to worry him nor wanting to give dad another reason to feel bad about my desire to have a job.

“Sweetie, you know it’s okay if you want to take a break, right?” Mom shoots me a smile, and I just nod my head at her.

“I know, mom. I don’t need a break, though. I’m already ahead of the uni’s schedule and I can always postpone some exams if I feel like it.”

I can feel Max’s eyes on me as I say that though, and I can’t shake the feeling that something is up with him. Making a mental note to talk to him about it another time I suddenly feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, and I don’t know why, but I suddenly feel extremely anxious. Usually we’re supposed to silence our phones during dinner, but there’s this weird feeling in my belly that tells me I have to answer this.

Knowing that if I answer it here and now I’ll just start another discussion that I do not want to have, I quickly excuse myself to go to the restroom, where I then hastily glance at my phone, noticing that it’s my old number calling me.

Shit.

“Hello?”

“Mia...” I can immediately tell that something’s wrong. Lincoln’s voice sounds strained as I hear him panting down the line, and I can’t help the enormous wave of guilt crashing down on me from the sole thought of him hurting himself because I left him alone.

“Lincoln, what’s wrong?” His panting breaths travel through the phone, and then I flinch when I hear something crash in the background, my mind going through all worst-case scenarios right now.

“Mia, please, can you... Fuck... Mia. I... I need you.” It almost sounds like he’s crying when he says the last sentence, and once again, even though I’m still indescribably angry at him, I feel my heart crack from the pain in his voice.

“I’m coming, Lincoln. I’m on my way. Take a deep breath for me, okay? I’m coming right away. Just stay on the line.”

But as I rush out of the bathroom, trying to think of a way to get out of here without raising too much suspicion to my behavior, I realize that he hasn’t answered me yet.

“Lincoln?”

Silence.

“Lincoln!”

Even more silence.

Fuck. I need to get to him.

Now.

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