The Hartbrakers echo through the dumpster. The sweet melody hums perfectly against the metal. Zoe’s voice filling the darkened space. The only piece keeping me sane. The only light illuminating my prison is the IPOD I thankfully had shoved into my skirt pocket. The drums bang, the melody picks up, and then she screams. A deep, echoed roar reverberating off the tin-can wall. Filling my ears with her anguish and despair to match my own thoughts filing through my muddled brain.
Time ticks by as slow as the yellow-tinted slug slithering across the garbage in front of me. The smell drifting through the dank air becomes manageable, my nose getting used to it. It no longer burns my nostrils or turns the acid in my gut. It just is.
By now I’ve gone through the playlist twice, all 25 songs. Learning a chorus or two, lightly singing along. Darkness settles around me, the outside still as quiet as it had been a few hours ago. Despite the stench, my stomach gurgles for the dinner it missed a few hours ago. I wonder if the twins missed me at all? If they inquired where I was? The after-party would be underway right now. Would they notice I hadn’t shown up? Or did they even care at all? They seem to care for me, but why has no one found me? Why was I still going insane inside this stinky death trap?
If the point of putting me in a dark dumpster was to break me, well—they might win this round. The only conversation I have right now are the voices in my head. The doubt. Heartbreak. Am I good enough to finish this? Or is my death bed inevitable, like Magnolia? I sigh, knowing I need to use caution around everyone at this school. My guard can never lower more than an inch. Especially after they rushed me after class and threw me in here. Fuck.
My back stiffens against the back of the dumpster wall. Leaves rattle outside, hard frantic footsteps sound against the concrete sidewalk. Thudding. Echoing inside my stupid, smelly prison. Thud. Thud. Thud. Closer and closer the footsteps get, stopping, turning, and yelling. My name. Someone's looking for me. My heart speeds up, blood pounding in my ears. I finally make it to my feet.
“Hey,” I yell, pounding my heavy fist against the metal. It crunches and thuds beneath my fist, making enough racket hopefully gaining their attention. I quiet the music, desperation pounding through me. This might be my one shot at a rescue, so no mistakes. I pound harder, more frantic, yelling until my voice is hoarse. Desperately clinging to the voice of my potential savior like a lifeline.
“Kaycee?” The voice asks frantically in a high pitch. Relief spills over me in waves. My muscles let go of the tension I’ve held for the past few hours until I finally allow myself to relax. To feel nothing but relief.
“Yes,” I shout, pounding on the wall again. My eyes flutter up towards the roof of my enclosure. The familiar thudding of whatever sat on top to weigh it down is thrown against the ground with a thud.
Fresh air rushes into the dumpster, sending me to my feet. “Oh, Kaycee,” Chase says, reaching a hand in. “We’ve been so worried about you.” He says through a breath, lifting me out of the dumpster. I take in the fresh air to my lungs, chest heaving with the relief.
“You were?” His eyes run up and down my body, even squatting down in front of me, checking me over for injuries. His lips turn down at the gouge in my leg, but stands before me, cupping my face in his large palms. The look he gives me conveys more emotion than words could ever express. His grey eyes swim in unshed tears.
“Are you shitting me?” Tears spill over the edge of my eyes, sinking back into the darkest thoughts I had an hour ago. “Of course we were worried. When you didn’t show for dinner…..” He closes his eyes, going back in time to a few hours ago. “We were so worried, but we thought maybe you got preoccupied with something. Even through the game….. I had such a bad feeling. And then you didn’t show for the party, we knew then.” Swallowing a lump in his throat, he reopens his eyes, reconnecting our gaze. Moisture blossoms in his eyes again, his head shaking.
Tears track down my cheeks at an unstoppable rate. I can’t stop them. I can’t contain myself. These emotions I’ve held back come to the front of my mind. Without thinking, I fling my arms around his shoulders, and without hesitation, he lifts me into his arms. His warm, inviting, lovable arms. I bury my nose into the crook of his neck, sobbing into his flesh. His hug instantly squashes the negative thoughts floating in my brain. His sunshine parts the black clouds in my mind, growing the flowers of positivity inside of me. I needed him—them. They ground me.
“It’s ok, I got you,” he whispers on repeat, securing his forearm under my butt. My legs wrap around his waist, melting me to him like butter on a pan. Sobs roar through my entire body, shaking me and Chase. I let it all out. The pain. The sorrow. I let it free, hoping this will be the last ounce of negativity inside of me so I can move on with my plans. Even the strongest crumble and fall, it all just depends on if they can glue themselves back together again. And I will. But for now — I need this. I’ll crumble, bumble around, but I will rebuild from this setback. Stronger. With my allies by my side.
“Thank you, thank you,” I whisper into his neck, my lips brushing against his flesh. “I was in there forever.” My body shudders against him again.
“I found your backpack,” He whispers, walking with me in his arms. He bends down, slinging it over his shoulder. Vibrations spill from the denim of his jeans. He carefully fishes it out, answering it.
“I can’t fucking find her!” It’s Seger’s pain laced voice spilling through the phone. “What the fuck?” He yells again in aggravation.
“Man, calm down, I found her, she’s fine…. ish.” He finishes, sending Seger on another tangent.
“Ish? What the fuck does that even mean, Benoit. Where the fuck are you?” His voice carries through the phone so loudly, I can hear every breath he takes. Every curse he spills on my behalf.
“South of the main building, listen, we’ll meet you back..”
“Come to her apartment,” Seger says, losing the hostility in his voice. “And—uhh—prepare her.” He says more softly this time. I can picture his movements in my mind, swiping a hand down the back of his neck.
“What do you mean, prepare her?” Chase asks, turning his head a little, forcing his conversation to be one-sided. “Oh—shit.” He breathes, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll be there in like five.” His hold tightens on me as he shoves his phone back into his pocket.
“What’s going on?” I ask, lifting my head. Our noses brush against each other’s, making eye contact once again. His tongue wets his lips, averting his eyes from mine. “Chase?” I nudge my nose against his, gaining his attention again.
“Someone broke into your apartment,” he whispers. “We’re going to meet the guys there.” My heart beats against my ribs, falling into the pit of my churning stomach.
Bile burns the back of my throat, thinking about all my precious possessions hidden away in my room. “How...how bad is it? Did he say?” My voice turns frantic, anxiety building in my veins, coursing through my limbs again.
Chase shakes his head, taking more steps towards my apartment building. “No, he didn’t say. He just wanted me to get you there.” He takes off, practically running with me in his arms. Carrying me like I weigh nothing. I snuggle back into his neck, finding comfort in his embrace for the first time in a long time. These boys have done something to my phobia, taking it away with their fingertips. Something I never thought I’d come across.
Chase pants like a dog, coming to a stop right outside the door. Dropping me back down to my feet, handing me my backpack. I frown, looking through it, finding nothing inside. I move my hand from side to side, huffing when nothing comes out in my fist.
“I’m going to kill them,” I seethe, gritting my teeth together.
“Who was it?” Chase asks, taking my hand. He leads me through the lobby and towards the elevator on the main floor. Kids turn to us, wrinkling their noses in my direction. And I can imagine now, it isn’t because I’m with Chase or it’s just me. The dumpster left its mark on me.
I lift my arm, smell my shirt, and nearly gag at my scent. “How the hell did you get so close to me? I reek.” I groan as we step into the elevator. Chase shrugs, keeping a hold of my hand, and presses the button for my floor.
“I didn’t really notice, I was more relieved my new girl wasn’t dead.” I nod, because fair point.
“Oscar, Trent, and fucking Carter. They grabbed me after I left the building.” I practically snarl their names like a rabid animal.
“I’m going to obliterate them,” Chase growls, slamming his free fist into the side of the elevator. “I’m so sick of this shit, it’s ridiculous.”
“You and me both.” I agree, as we step off the elevator and head towards my apartment.
My frown deepens, standing in front of my broken-down door. That bastard even rejoiced in having my key, but from the look of it, they took a damned ax to it. Seger bolts from inside of my room to where we stand in the doorway.
“Kaycee, thank fucking fuck,” Seger wraps his arms around me, holding me tight against him. His nose brushes against my hair. “You fucking stink…. no offense.” He pulls back, cupping my cheeks, checking me over for injuries.
“They threw her in a damn dumpster like savages. Who does that?” Chase asks.
“Crazy people, that’s who,” Zepp says, stepping out of my room, and pulling me into an embrace.
“My computer,” I groan into Zepp’s chest. “It’s……..”
“Salvageable,” Zepp says, finishing my sentence. “Whoever came here, obviously didn’t know to damage the tower too, not just the screen. On both of them.” Relief spills through me again until my eyes meet the floor. Every single piece of clothing is on the ground, bleach stains lining the dark fabrics. They tore my school uniforms to pieces like someone had a sword and went to town. My computer screen’s glass scattered on the ground kicked up into my shredded sheets. Feathers from my pillows and mattress cover the room in a fine white, almost like snow has fallen. There isn’t an inch of this place they haven’t wrecked.
“Sorry, Kace,” Seger says, putting a hand on my shoulder. Chase squeezes my hand he still holds and Zepp tightens his hold on me.
“They said my punishment for hanging with you all was the dumpster…. but why this?” Tears threaten to spill again. I never remember wanting to cry like this. They have ripped a piece of my soul from my body at the sight of all my things thrown around like trash. Even Magnolia’s paintings sit on the floor, spray paint tagging across the beautiful flowers, and onto the surrounding carpet.
“It’s a warning, I think,” Zepp says hesitantly.
“For what?” I shake my head against his chest, letting the boys surround me with their presents. I’m not sure I could do this without them right now.
“For us,” Seger whispers. My eyebrows shoot up into my hairline.
“Did they?” I whisper, pulling back from Zepp’s chest to inspect their downed faces.
“Yeah, about 10 minutes ago,” Zepp confirms my worst fears for them.
“Where did they post it?” I ask, crossing my arms across my chest. A million thoughts shoot through my mind.
“Why, you wanna watch it?” Seger quips, a grin spreading across his face, despite the sadness in his tone.
I snort, “Well duh, everyone needs a twin-sandwich, right?” Chase chokes beside me, coughing on his own spit.
“Ugh,” Seger groans, rolling his eyes.
“Why did you really ask?” Zepp asks, tilting his head.
“It’s a little known fact my siblings are disgusting, and that’s my doing,” I say with a shrug, peering across the room again. My heart breaking at the sight of it all. I wish I could make it all disappear and go back to how it was before.
“How so?” Chase asks, done choking on his own spit.
“My siblings liked to show off their gross body parts at parties. They constantly had pictures taken and put online.”
“And?” Seger asks almost impatiently.
“And I got rid of the evidence.” A grin finds Zepp’s face as soon as I say it.
“She can take it down, is what she’s trying to say,” Zepp says, slapping a hand across Seger’s chest.
“Fucking computer nerds,” Seger shakes his head back and forth, grinning like an idiot. “I was kinda hoping you wanted to watch it, we could turn it on the big screen, reenact it..you---Umph!” Seger loses his breaths, as Chase’s fist softly finds his stomach.
“Cut the shit, Seg.” He says shaking his head. “So what do we need to do?” Chase asks. I turn to Zepp, rubbing my hands together.
“I have a monitor you can borrow, want me to grab those?” And so he does. The boys help me lug my important computer to the house, along with Magnolia’s paintings. I can’t admit in front of Chase yet why I’m bringing them, just that they’re important to me. The boys help me turn in a claim to the school, taking pictures of the damage, hoping a crew will help with the damages. Zepp claims if the school does nothing, he’ll buy me anything I need. But I tell him my dad can help, if I explain about the break-in, just not the other things happening. I don’t want my dad to pull me from this school.
The guys let me borrow a shirt and sweatpants to hold me over until new uniforms can get sent over to the house. So after a shower and I mean a thorough shower, I finally set down at the computer with Chase by my side. Seger and Zepp headed off to the dining hall to grab us all a late dinner while I track down the sex tape of them floating around the internet.
“How do you know how to do this?” Chase asks with his jaw open wide, watching my fingers bounce against the keys.
“It’s my specialty, I guess,” I say with a shrug, starting a tracer on the picture, tracking it down to the original site of upload. The house goes quiet as I let the computer work its magic. Tracing photos or videos rarely takes long, but it just depends on how secure the original is. Once I track that one, I can delete them all, and hopefully, save the boys some face.
Chase’s body heat pours into the side of my body, bringing me back to the moment he wrapped me in his arms. Our noses had touched in such a way, I wanted to kiss him. Again. He and I have done it before, but as a teenager, I want to do it again. Something I never thought I’d have the chance to do or want to do. But being in his arms, being carried across campus like the most important person in the world, makes butterflies flutter to life in my belly. I wonder if he remembers the girl he kissed in the darkened corner of a film studio after a round of hide and seek? The girl he laughed with and had fun with for just a little while. I wonder if he remembers what my lips felt like on his. Because I've never forgotten.
I sit back in my chair, peering over at Chase’s curious face. His eyes watch the codes springing across the screen in wonderment. He can’t peel them away, even if he wanted to. His jaw still hangs open, fascinated by it all.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” I ask, tilting my head to the side. His eyebrows furrow at my words, eyes finally leaving the tracing code.
“Uh.. remember you? Like what? From that first day? Because if you couldn’t tell, I haven’t been able to get you out of my head for a while. Ah—shit.” He groans, running a hand down his face. “I can’t believe I just said that,” he whispers again, cheeks tinting red.
“I enjoyed the wooing,” I say through a breathy laugh.
A chuckle rumbles through his chest, “Yeah, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Who knew all I needed to do was shove things in your locker to please you.” He snorts.
“And if all this hadn’t had happened? What would have been your next step?” He rubs his chin, eyes glazing over.
“Ah—there’s a little Italian place, it’s really good down in Point Bluff, I was going to see about taking you there. Hoping you’d dress up, and I’d wear a suit….. but then…” His words trail off in sadness, my head nodding in agreement.
“You can still take me, you know. I do enjoy spaghetti.” He snorts at that last part.
“Shit, spaghetti? They have more than that there. You should see what my sister Ainsley gets, it’s ridiculous.” He sighs.
“We were 10,” I start, taking a deep breath, as his attention comes back to me.
“What?” He whispers in confusion.
“It was one of the last days of filming, my dad brought me that whole week, and Tate Benoit brought his son.”
“Oh, shit, holy shit,” Chase says, slumping in his chair, mussing up his hair with his fingers.
“We played hide and go seek because they needed us out of the room. Probably because they were filming something not so good for kids.” I giggle at that, resting my wet head against the back of the leather chair.
“You tried to hide well, but I still found you crouched beneath a black speaker. And then…”
“You kissed me,” I whisper, looking over at him. “It was my first kiss... and well, second, third, and fourth.”
“I couldn’t stop, because I knew I’d never see you again. Dad said he wasn’t doing the movies anymore because it was the last of the series. And…. well... I didn’t know if I’d ever laid eyes on you again.” His fingers run the length of my jaw, running in tiny circles.
“They were good kisses,” I say, his face leaning towards mine. His eyes dart between my lips and my eyes, fire brewing behind his grey eyes.
“The best kisses no one has compared to them since.” His breaths fan across my face, lips miserably close to mine.
“You’re a liar,” I grin, examining the vast ocean in his eyes, pulling me into him. “I’m sure someone has given you better kisses since then. We were kids,” His nose nudges mine, my eyes fluttering close at his proximity.
“You good with this?” He whispers, my head nodding in agreement.
The heavens finally open when his lips meet mine. Soft. Sweet. Caressing lips pressing against me. He holds them still for just a moment, before his tongue darts against the seam of my lips. I tilt my head more, inviting his tongue to dance with mine. It’s slow, pleasurable, and it’s something I never want to let go. Electricity dances through my veins, my body wants me to jump into his lap, and take what I need. But I settle for running my hands through his wild blonde hair. I was right in my assessment of him before. I will get lost in him for days and I don’t know if I care about it anymore.
Chase reluctantly pulls back, as the other boy’s loud voices come from the front yard. “Yeah... nothing has changed, still the best.” I hear the grin in his voice, but I can’t open my eyes long enough to know. I’m in a dreamland full of soft lips, twisting tongues, and breathy sighs.
“Yeah,” I breathe out, as the front door opens with a loud creak. I expect Chase to pull back in front of his friends, but he doesn’t. He keeps his palms cradling my face, tilting it so it’s obvious what we were doing.
Zepp and Seger’s footsteps falter in the front room. “I think you broke her, dude,” Seger says walking forward, humor in his tone. There’s not an ounce of jealousy in his voice, not that I expect them all to like me or anything. That’d be strange, wouldn’t it?
Chase snorts, pulling his hands back. My head is still in a dream state, eyes swimming in a haze, spilling into my non-functioning brain. Braindead, I’m brain dead. What on earth was I doing? My eyes pop back open at the sound of Zepp and Seger’s footsteps.
Seger’s grin stretches across his face, laying my dinner in front of me. Reality slams back into me at the smell of the food in front of me, begging for my attention. They piled steak and mashed potatoes onto my plate, with green beans with bacon.
“Thank you,” I barely get out before the first bite is into my moaning mouth. “Ahhh—it’s so good.” I groan through the bite of steak they brought me. Seger’s teeth sink into his bottom lip, eyes glazing with heat, watching me devour my steak.
“I also picked you up these,” Seger says, placing two perfect cupcakes in front of me. “They put out their fall variety today, hence the orange, chocolate, and sprinkles.” He grins at me.
“Is it pumpkin?” I ask, swallowing my bite of food, staring at the cupcakes like they’re the only objects in the room.
“Piece of advice, boys, if you want to get to her heart, bring her cupcakes.” Seger snorts, walking away from us to his own food.
Chase shifts uncomfortably in his seat, peering behind him and back to me. He shoves his own dinner into his mouth, head hanging low. “Embezzlement,” Chase whispers, eyes finding mine. “You asked me before what they had on me,” I nod my head.
“Your dad?” I whisper back. Shame sparks through his eyes, shoulders slumping forward. Strands of his shaggy blonde hair fall into his gray eyes, concealing the pain twisting on his face.
“Yeah,” he whispers back. I reach over with my free hand and weave our fingers together, bringing his attention back to me.
“That’s not on you, though. That’s all on him.” I whisper, squeezing his hand in support.
“If... if he didn’t do it—he’d probably be broke. Ainsley and I wouldn’t be here and we know it if it wasn’t for him. Which sounds terrible. He’s taking money from his own company, hiding it just to support us. This school. Our lifestyle.” Chase swallows hard and I see where the guilt is coming from. Deep in his heart, he knows his father is wrong for what he’s done, but he can’t out him. They’ll be homeless, schooless, and friendless. They’ll lose everything the moment his father is outed as a fraud and a thief.
My eyes stare at the codes swirling on the screen in front of me. “Do you have proof?” Turning my head towards Chase, I examine his stiff behavior. His tongue darts out, licking his lips.
“I—uh,” his voice stammers, his hands reaching into his pocket. “Just the text.” He says, swiping through his phone.
“So you’ve never caught your father doing this? No physical proof?” His eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.
“I—uhh—well, I’ve never asked him outright. I just... assumed?” His voice raises an octave, then falls flat. “But what if... what if it’s not true? And they…”
“They played on your vulnerability?” I finish his sentence, his head nodding in agreement.
“Your father plays loose. It’s a shame he’s about to lose. If you play the game, your secrets are safe with us. If you disobey, punishments will await, so play the game, follow the rules, and we seal our lips.” My head cocks to the side, clicking on the file they sent along. The PDF’s download onto his phone, displaying page after page of proof. Money from Benoit’s production company funneling into his own bank account, hidden from the IRS, and his business partners. Part of me wonders if this is all photoshopped for Chase’s benefit to keep him in line. Although, the twin’s situation really happened. But how many secrets can everyone have?
“This could be faked,” Chase takes back his phone, pocketing it.
“I don’t know. What if it’s real and they really expose this? We’ll lose everything.” Shame fills him again, his eyes conflicted on what to do. If he stays with me, he knows what will happen. Zepp and Seger’s punishment is proof of what their disobedience caused them.
“Then it looks like I’m going to have a busy Saturday.” I shrug, switching to a new screen on my computer.
“How?” Chase leans in towards the computer as my fingers get to work.
“Your father has a business, he has records of everything. In theory, I should be able to access his business files, his personal computer, and extract proof. If they could pull these pages to keep you in line, then I should be able to too.” My grin grows wider at Chase’s wide eyes.
“You can seriously do that?” Chase breaths, relief spilling through his body. His stiff shoulders relax just a little.
“Of course she can,” Zepp says from behind my chair. His heated gaze spills across me as he watches me work.
“Watching her fucking work gets your rocks off, doesn’t?” Seger stuffs the rest of his dinner into his mouth, talking through the bits of steak on his tongue.
I snort as my computer finally pings after three hours. “Looks like I found the source of the video.” After a few clicks, I take the original video down from the secure website they put it upon, and I ruin every single copy. “After this, I’ll get alerts if anyone tries to upload it again.” The twins stand behind my chair now, surrounding me with their presence.
“We’re never letting you go now,” Seger says in awe, staring at the computer.
“Never, ever,” Zepp says, placing a hand on my shoulder.
“Fuck it,” Seger groans, leaning in towards my face. “You’re the fucking queen.” He mutters before his lips are on mine.
My mind goes back to the little oasis Chase had just taken me to. Seger’s lips are more demanding, more savage against mine. His hand finds the back of my neck, begging me to melt into him, making us one. He groans as my lips open for him. Our tongues savage, melting together in true Seger fashion.
My eyes stay closed even when he removes his lips from mine. His breaths fan my face, nose nudging against mine. “Seriously, you’re fucking amazing. You do not understand how much this means to us, that you would take that shit down before our dad got wind of it. We owe you so much.” His lips brush mine again, just one last time before he pulls away.
Zepp leans down, pressing his lips against my cheek. “Thank you, Kaycee. We are here for you every step of the way. We’ll help you, always.” His lips brush my cheek again and then he pulls away.
“Alright,” Seger jumps to his feet with a clap. New energy bursts through his veins, his eyes wild with excitement. “We have a crazy fucking cult to take down and a murderer to find.” His body jolts, realization churning in his eyes.
The moment hangs in the air. Our gazes turning toward Chase’s confused expression. “You in or you out, Benoit?” Seger asks, taking a step closer to me, placing his hand on my shoulder in support. Zepp takes a step closer to me too, placing his hand on my other shoulder.
“You don’t have to,” My voice trembles at the thought of him walking away now. After so much. “You can walk away now to save you and Ainsley.”
“But if you stay, you stay. There’s no going back to how it was.” Zepp adds to the tension in the room that’s building around the four of us.
Chase swallows hard, eyes darting between the three of us and the computer screen. The thoughts in Chase’s mind swirl, showing every emotion in his eyes. His face twists and turns until he bolts up to his feet. His mouth drops open, his feet carrying him halfway across the room, and back again.
And when his answer finally comes, tension fills the room tenfold.