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Brownies

Benny:

I don’t know what’s going on.

It’s only been a minute, but once Thea came over to sit with the group at lunch, she couldn’t take her eyes off Alex.

I know I wonder about Alex’s bruise, but I don’t find it anything to stress over. He’s a rough person, he told us it was a fight. It makes sense to me.

She keeps glancing over at Alex as if no one’s watching. But I am.

Noticing her is easy. She’s someone that makes all the hatred and roughness of the world just a bit more bearable. She’s just so good.

And then I wonder what’s going on between the two.

And then there’s Connor. He’s doing the same thing with Levi. I don’t know what’s going on and apparently Ethan doesn’t either, and he’s quite vocal about it.

“Why the fuck does everyone keep looking at each other?” He questions, raising an eyebrow.

He looks between Thea and Alex then between Connor and Levi, who both have blushes on their faces.

Alex’s head snaps toward Thea. He looks surprised that she was looking and I’m surprised he didn’t notice, he must have been lost in thought.

His eyes narrow at her “quit it” he hisses and I have to refrain myself from yelling out at him for speaking to her that way. I thought we were past this.

Her eyes widen and she tilts back a little “sorry”

He looks away from her and picks at his Sandwich, continuing to eat, not meeting anyone’s eyes.

Ethan raises an eyebrow at him before swinging his eyes to Connor and Levi, who also haven’t stopped glancing at each other.

“And you two?” He asks

Connor clears his throat and lifts his head while Levi’s face goes red and looks away.

“I was thinking about something that happened over the weekend” Connor says confidently

Immediately we all start to worry, including Thea, which I absolutely admire.

“Are you okay? What happened?” Reece asks worriedly

They both shake their head “don’t worry right now, it’s okay” Levi says

Connor looks at him sharply “it not okay, it was serious and you need to tell them”

I look at him curiously “what happened” I ask hesitantly, nervous for the answer.

Levi fidgets a little and looks at Connor for strength. Connor nods at him encouragingly and he takes a breath. “There were some..complications at my home over the weekend” he clears his throat and mumbles just loud enough for us to hear “it got broken into again”

My heart drops at the same time as anger rises “are you fucking kidding me?”

“Hey!” Connor snaps at me “it’s not his fault, don't yell at him”

I huff and clench my hands in my lap “I wasn’t yelling at him”

Ethan isn't doing much better than me “why the fuck wouldn't you call us? We could have helped!”

Connors jaw clenches “I had it covered”

“It's okay now guys” Levi speaks up “I'm fine, it's fine”

Reece looks sad as he looks at him “it may be fine now, but it’s not fine that it happened

I just wish Levi would consider letting us help him. I don’t want to see him hurt and it seems that with him, that could happen any time.

I glance over to Alex. His eyes are hard as he stares at the ground in a harsh glare. I can almost feel the anger rolling off of him. He’s quiet, which is slightly unusual, usually he explodes right away with his emotions in the forefront of his mind. This time he looks deep in his head.

He wouldn’t say much about the giant bruise on his face, but his lack of an answer just makes me want to know about it more. He’s a secretive person, I get it. But if he’s holding out on something like this, I want to know why.

There is just so much happening in our circle right now. Alex has secrets, Levi is keeping us at arm's length, Connor is acting weird, and then Thea.

Thea, her golden hair and bright eyes. Her beautiful laugh and playful attitude. She’s unexpected and she caught me off guard. But she’s become important. And I’m glad for that.

“I'm leaving” Alex unexpectedly says as he stands up and wipes off his jeans

“Can I talk to you Alex?” Thea asks

His eyes flash with emotion but he turns his head and looks down so they are out of sight. A move that looks almost practiced. “Yeah whatever” he pauses a moment as Thea stands, holding her backpack by the strap, and walks over to him. They both walk away and the rest of us follow them with our eyes before turning back to look at each other.

Ethan throws his hands up in an exasperated motion “what the hell is happening around here?”

Connor rolls his eyes as he chews on some chips and Reece just shrugs in a ‘don't ask me’ motion.

Levi doesn’t say anything but his attention is captured by some football players who seem to be heading our way. “We’ve got company, 12’o clock”

Ethan looks around “which way is that?”

Levi points past Ethan's head and he twists his body to watch as three of the football players come over.

“Well if it isn't the fucking dream team over here” one of them laughs looking at us. He points at Connor “the dying writer” Connor rolls his eyes at him but looks down to fiddle at the grass.

He points at Levi “the broke kid” levis eyes dim and his whole face crumbles. That isn’t something you can just shrug off, not him. Connor's head snaps up at him and his eyes burn a million degrees and looks about ready to murder him.

The guy then points to me “the little prissy shit”

I sigh. Of course he would think that. Just because I dress nice, take care of myself, and have some money, doesn’t make me ‘prissy’

He points to Ethan “and the orphan

He looks down at his nails “anyway, just wondering if a pretty little blonde went-” his whole head snaps to the side as Alex seemingly comes from nowhere and punches him square in the jaw “you little fucker!” Alex growls as he pulls him to meet his fist once again.

His friends look on wide-eyed at the scene. Alex pulls the guy by his shirt up close to him, face to face “talk about my friends one more time, and next time you’ll be picking up teeth”

Alex shoves him in the opposite direction and he stumbles forward, throwing a glare our way before walking away with his group.

Alex stands with his hands balled and his head down, he breathes out harshly and glances our way before stalking away.

The air is tense and no one talks. Connor leans over towards Levi and whispers something in his ear. He nods and they both quietly stand up and walk off.

“And people wonder why there’s a feud between the baseball and football players” Reece sighs tiredly and he looks off, not really looking at anything. “Some are nice enough” he talks seemingly into the air “but that guy, Jake,” he shakes his head “he’s one of the worst”

Ethan sighs “today is absolute shit”

Reece smirks half-heartedly “and it’s hardly twelve”

-*-

“It’s my fault, you know?”

I frown at her “what are you talking about? Thea, it’s not your fault. I’m sure Alex would have done something similar no matter what happened”

She shakes her head and matches my frown “no, I made him angry when we talked and maybe if I hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t be at risk for suspension”

I place a hand on her shoulder as we walk out of the parking lot towards my car “he’ll be okay. He makes his own decisions and if anything, the bruise he has can work in his favor”

“Do you know anything about it? The bruise, I mean” she asks me

“He does a lot of what he did today. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone got a shot or two on him”

Sometimes I do wonder where they come from. I’m so used to making my own conclusions that I guess I’ve never stopped to wonder what the real reasons are.

I used to worry about it, but he would constantly tell me it was fine or that it was a fight, I guess it stuck.

My chest feels a little heavier and I curl and uncurl my hands. I feel like a bad friend. I mean, who just brushes off bruises? Why did I never think harder? Should I be?

I make a note to bring it up again. I need to know that it’s not anything to worry about. I know his father isn’t a great person, he can be gruff and standoffish but do I need to worry about violence?

I shiver just thinking about it. Sure my parents can be hard to deal with, but if this was a reality for me, I don’t know what I would do.

I move my hand from her shoulder and channel some bravery as I move to take her hand. She accepts it and it makes my heart stop for a second. The power this girl has over me.

She looks up at me as we approach my car. Her eyebrows pinch together in worry “I just don’t want him hurt”

I nod in agreement “none of us do. I’ll ask him about it okay?”

She shakes her head and lets go of my hand “I don’t think that a great idea, I tried earlier but he got pretty mad”

She walks around to the passenger's side and I unlock the car, we both slide into our seats. “As you said, I don’t want him hurt, and if it’s serious, I want to know”

I begin pulling out of the parking lot and she looks back at me with worried eyes “you don't think it's a.. home situation, do you?”

I purse my lips and my hands clench a little harder on the steering wheel “For all our sakes, let’s hope not”

Nothing is said for a little while, both of us not sure what to say after that. Thea looks out of the window, watching the area as we pass it.

“Do you want to come to my house for a little while? I mean, to just hang out?” I ask, quickly looking at her then looking back to the road.

The next time I look over at her, she smiles excitedly and nods “yeah, of course. That sounds nice”

Relief spreads through me and I nod “alright” I attempt to sound neutral “cool”

“I feel like I don’t know much about you guys. I’m excited to know a little more about your life” she may say this innocently, but I’m terrified for her to know more about me. Not only because of my parents or my seemingly ‘double life’ I live, but what if she learns who I truly am and she walks away?

“Whelp, now’s your chance to run” I joke as we pull into the gates of the property. I may be joking, but I don’t know if I could handle it if she walked away now.

It may seem selfish, but I want her around. Now, then, after. I just want her around. I’m afraid she’ll get close, and then decide I’m too much. She won’t want to deal with my drama.

My hands flex over the wheel and Thea unbuckles her seat belt as we pull into the garage. She briefly puts a hand over my right one, bringing the flexing to a stop. “Never” she says softly.

We both get out of the car and I meet her on her side as she inspects the house, not giving away anything about her feelings.

I bite my lip nervously. It’s not exactly my style of a house, it’s extravagant and flashy, with a white exterior and banisters on both the outside of the house and on the balcony.

The windows are big, giving a more modern look to the outside and making the inside look more open and bigger.

The garden is well kept due to our gardeners, it’s not like my parents would ever do the work. There are flowers of all kinds, the bushes cut to perfection, leaves raked from the trimmed grass and the koi pond to the right makes the whole outside look showier.

“You have a very beautiful home” she finally says and I smile tightly at her.

“Thanks” we walk up the stone pathway up to the obnoxiously white door. I unlock it and it effortlessly swings open. We walk in and I take off my shoes, she follows my lead and unties her shoes, and puts them with the others.

I smile at her blue converse placed with the heels and boots from my mother, and the loafers and Testoni’s from my dad.

I put my black Nikes on the shelf -shoes which my parents disapprove of greatly -and lead Thea through the house.

The staircase splays out in a grand gesture in the center of the foyer and leads up to a balcony looking over the floor and the second floor of the house.

I take Thea towards the right of the staircase and into the large kitchen we have. Our cook, Natalia, is in the kitchen most likely getting ready for dinner. “Hi Natalia” I say and she turns to look at me

“Hello Benjamin,” I’m about to tell her for the thousandth time to call me Benny when her eyes settle on Thea.

She straightens out and smiles in Thea's direction “hello there, I'm Natalia, the Sanders’s cook. Who might you be?” I know this must be quite a surprise to her, I haven’t brought anyone besides the guys here for a long time, and now that Thea’s here, I have no doubt that Natalia will be adding her to the list of people to ask where she is on other days.

Thea smiles sweetly “I’m Thea, it’s lovely to meet you Natalia” she holds out her hand and Natalia gently takes it. In a household full of people who believe they are in a whole other class of people and their friends, it’s not often that Natalia is offered a hand.

“Likewise” Natalia looks at Thea softly and she looks at me. “What can I get you two?”

I clear my throat “I was hoping we could use the kitchen for a while”

Natalia looks at me sternly “you know your parents don’t like you doing that Benjamin”

I throw my head back and look at her blandly, letting her know exactly how much I care about that fact “I know, I know, but they’re not home right now and I promise to clean when we’re done”

She narrows her eyes “fine. You have until six because I still need to finish dinner and your parents will be home around then”

I throw my hands up “yes!” I look at Thea “you hear that Thea? We’re going to cook!”

She giggles and I wink at her, making her shake her head amusedly

Natalia takes off her apron and hangs it on a hook in the pantry “have fun” she calls as she walks away.

“So what are we baking?” Thea asks as she looks around at everything.

I move around the kitchen pulling out basic materials “dessert?”

She nods enthusiastically “okay”

I take out measuring cups and spoons along with bowls and spoons “how about you pick what we make? We have the ingredients to make about anything”

Her eyes brighten “do you have the ingredients to make brownies?”

I scoff jokingly “do I have ingredients to make brownies? Hell yeah I do!”

I take out the chocolate chips and cacao powder and she moves over to the fridge “is it okay if I take the oil and eggs from the fridge?”

I nod “of course”

I hop up and look over the ingredients on the island. “The problem here is that I don’t actually know how to make brownies”

Thea pauses and looks at me from the fridge “really?”

“Yeah, as much as I love to cook, I don’t get to do it all that much” I shrug like it’s no big deal. I do wish I could cook more than I get to. My parents don't love me cooking when we have cooks to do it for us.

Thea comes over with the other ingredients and looks at me “if you ever need a different space to try out different recipes, you can always come over to my house”

“Won’t your parents mind?” The gesture means a lot to me but I don’t want to start taking over her kitchen, especially since I have my own kitchen. Sure it’s not the best circumstances, but I make it work as best as I can.

She seems to freeze a moment before recovering “no. They won’t”

I wonder if she has a good relationship with her parents. They seem like a sore spot for her when brought up in conversation.

I try to fix the mood I’ve seem to put her in “well, do you know how to make brownies? or are we going to have to do some guesswork?”

She seems to wince a little before giggling awkwardly “it would seem we’re going to be guessing”

I chuckle “This ought to be interesting”

She picks up the cacao powder “this looks like a base to me. I mean, brownies are primarily chocolate anyway”

It's not like I know what I’m doing so I nod and hand her a measuring cup “I would say about two cups”

While she does that, I pick up the eggs and hold two in my hands “this seems like the next step”

I look up at Thea for confirmation and see that she’s surrounded by a cloud of chocolate powder. She waves a hand around her face as she closes her eyes and scrunches her nose.

I chuckle “you’re supposed to put it in near the bowl, not drop it in from higher heights”

She stops moving and sticks out her tongue at me “I know that now”

She has bits of chocolate on her face and even though she tries to rub it off, it just seems to spread out.

She huffs and picks up a wooden spoon. “Do the eggs and then I’ll stir”

I stifle a laugh “are we just going to forget about the chocolate on your face?” I make a circular motion around her face and she pointedly turns her nose up.

“I’m just going to ignore it and pretend it never happened. I feel silly enough”

I choose to entertain her idea and begin cracking eggs into the bowl.

As she stirs the bowl, I take the oil and put it in slowly until the mixture is fully wet.

She jumps up and stops stirring “sugar!”

I nod slowly “Well that could have been bad” I walk away and reach above the fridge to get the sugar.

“Do brownies need flour?” she asks and I shrug

“Maybe we should have looked up a recipe” I begin taking out my phone but she puts a hand over mine

“I think we should see this out until the end, see where it ends up” she moves back to the bowl and takes the spoon, pointing it at me “so no recipes”

I put my phone back in my pocket “alright alright, no recipes”

“Here’s a measuring up for the sugar, try one cup and we can add more if needed” she hands me the cup and I start measuring.

When I pour it in, I stick my finger in the batter to taste it

“Benny!” Thea looks at me with her mouth open “don't, don’t do that!”

I hold my hands up, waving them around as I speak “Well how else are we supposed to know if it tastes good?”

“With a spoon” she mimics a scooping motion in the batter and tilts her head at me like it was obvious.

“Well, I don’t want to do extra dishes” I raise an eyebrow at her “do you?”

She’s quiet for a minute before focusing back on stirring “wash your hands”

I smile triumphantly and move to the sink to wash my hands

“Oh! And get some flour while you’re over there” Thea calls to me “do we need vanilla extract? Lots of things need that” she pauses “get that as well”

I flick my hands in the sink to get the water off and reach up to get the flour from one of the top cabinets and open a drawer with the vanilla, holding that in my arms.

I stumble a little as I hear voices drifting from the foyer, making the flour and vanilla slip from my still wet hands, spilling on the floor.

“Benny!” Thea rushes over “what happened? Where do you keep your broom? Or do we need paper towels? Or-”

“Oh. Benjamin, what are you doing in here?” my head snaps up from its gaze on the floor to meet the blue ones of my mother standing at the entryway of the kitchen, in a long black dress and some sort of what I’m sure is real, fur coat.

“You’re early. Why are you early?” I ask with a pounding heart. I didn’t want her to meet Thea. Not now, maybe ever.

Thea turns at the sound of her voice and smiles a bit awkwardly “hello Mrs. Sanders, my name is Thea. Benny and I were just baking some brownies”

My mom's eyes look at Thea, no doubt seeing the chocolate on her face and the bits of ingredients on her clothes.

“Hm” she hums “I figured you had someone here, those shoes I saw were quite the giveaway”

She looks back at me. Not giving Thea another word. “Benjamin” she emphasizes my name, most likely because she caught how Thea called me Benny. “Have Walter take your..friend home. You have a shoot tomorrow and I need you preparing”

Natalia walks in and her eyes widen at us before looking back to my mother “Mrs. Sanders, I didn’t know you were going to be home early”

“Natalia, I want this mess cleaned and dinner ready at its usual time” she says cooly

Mother” I gain her attention through clenched teeth “there’s no need for her to clean it. I was just about to”

She sighs like this whole conversion is a waste of her time “You know how I feel about you using the kitchen Benjamin. There is no need for you to even step foot in here”

“Now take Ms. Thea outside to meet Walter so she can be taken back to where she came from, and see your father in his study”

I take Thea's hand without hesitation and pull her away from the kitchen, needing her out of there “I’ll take her” I say as I pass by my mom

I don’t listen to whatever protest she says as I pull Thea back to the foyer. She has no resistance against my hands, telling me she wanted to get out about as much as I did.

I hand her shoes to her and I start putting mine on. “Sorry we never finished” I mutter

She smiles halfheartedly “it’s okay. I still had fun. I’m sure they wouldn’t have come out great anyway”

I’m grateful for how she’s trying to lighten the mood but I can tell the interaction sucked the joy from this moment and I don't think it’s coming back.

“So is Walter a taxi or something?” she asks

I shake my head and lead her towards my car “he’s a personal driver” I mutter “but I’m taking you home”

We both get in and without words, I start the car and pull out of the driveway.

My hands are tight around the wheel and I try to take a breath to calm down. “I really am sorry about that, my mom is just-” I struggle a little to find the words “-difficult” I finish.

She smiles reassuringly “don’t worry about it. So your mom isn’t the mom of the year all the time, its okay Benny”

I can hear the truth in her words and it relieves me that she isn’t extremely upset. However, the embarrassment washes over me in waves and I find it hard to look at her.

She sighs “Benny,” I gather some courage to look at her for a moment before looking back at the road “I’m okay, you’re no different from the Benny I knew an hour ago. You are still funny, kind, and considerate. I told you before, I’m not going anywhere.”

I let out a breath, my fingers flex on the wheel and a soft touch stills them. With her hand still on mine, she doesn't look up at me, but instead she looks out the window, the light from outside lighting up her face. “Do you understand me?”

We come to a stoplight and my eyes flutter shut momentarily.

I’m not going anywhere

She’s not going anywhere

“Yes”

I hold onto those words like a rope holding me up in the clouds. Because as beautiful as it is in the sky, I’m not sure I’ll survive the fall if it breaks.

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