The Queen of Bad Things

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Chapter 9. Insane Asylum

Aria had been home for a week. For the most part, I avoided being near her. Angel and Aria’s relationship grew stronger, but I couldn’t say the same for her and me. Aria decided to forgive Tammy, and Aria spent a lot of time with her mother.

As much as I wanted to get closer to Aria, I wasn’t sure how to. Things between the two of us weren’t easy at the beginning, mainly because of what I hid from her — and once again, I hid the same thing from her. A person couldn’t possibly take in that amount of crazy information and remain sane.

“Ace, are you playing this game or what?” Austin asked.

All of the boys stared at me with the same worried expression.

“Man, if you weren’t up to a poker night, you could have said something. We understand,” Benny said.

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose with my finger and thumb. “No,” I said. My head shook back and forth. “It’s fine. I needed a distraction.” I handed the blunt to Luis.

Luis hit the blunt and passed it to Joey. Smoke rolled out of Luis’s mouth, and he coughed.

“You’ve been distracted the entire game, bro,” Benny said. Benny handed the blunt to Abel.

“What’s going on?” Austin asked.

“I was just thinking. . .” I trailed off. I shook my head. “Forget it. Let’s just play the game.”

“You can tell us,” Abel argued. “Maybe we can help.”

“With Aria? I doubt it. I don’t even know what the hell to do with her,” I said and snorted.

“You were awfully deep in thought. You must have some kind of idea,” Austin said and handed the blunt back to me.

I sighed heavily. “Well, I was just thinking that I want to tell Aria the truth, but I think it would be too much. All of this has been a lot of pressure on her as it is, and I don’t want to add more. Things aren’t going well between her and me either. It’s fucked up like I don’t know how to get close to her. What I feel for her and what she feels for me are a hundred percent different.”

“Hmm,” Luis hummed.

“That’s too much to throw on her at once,” Austin said. Austin put out the blunt in the ashtray.

“Do the same thing you did the first time. It worked back then. Why wouldn’t it work now?” Benny arched a brow.

“It’s not that simple,” I muttered. I threw my cards down on the table. “I don’t have shit.”

The others laid their cards down. Luis won the round.

“Damn, you’re the only one who had a decent hand,” Austin said and chuckled.

Luis smirked as he took the money from the center of the table.

Abel threw a poker chip at Luis’s head.

“Don’t be a sore loser,” Luis said and laughed.

“I think I’m done. My luck sucks lately,” I said.

Austin leaned toward me with a serious expression. “You need to talk to her more. Maybe you should train her again.”

“Without telling her what she is? That’s a great idea,” I scoffed and rolled my eyes.

“Start over,” Abel said.

“That’s what she needs, and it’s probably the only thing that is going to work. It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Joey said.

“The problem is that I remember what we were. How am I supposed to just ignore that? I’m barely coherent around her most of the time,” I said.

“It’s worth a shot,” Austin said.

The boys got to their feet.

Luis shoved his wad of cash into his pocket with a smile still planted on his face.

The boys let themselves out of the mansion, and I headed upstairs. I meant to go to my bedroom, but I heard music. The bedroom door at the far end of the hallway was ajar. A light shined through the doorframe.

Curiosity got the best of me. The song lured me in. I stopped in the frame of the door and pushed it the rest of the way open.

Aria sat on the bed singing along to a song that both of us knew. As a matter of fact, I knew that Aria heard me play the song often when we first met.

Why this song? — I wondered.

Aria had a book in front of her, and her laptop open but off to the side. The book wasn’t just any book. It was a photo album. Aria flipped through it.

“Aria,” I said.

Aria’s head snapped up, and her gaze locked with mine. Aria closed the computer and the photo album simultaneously. “Hey, I thought you were playing cards or something?” Aria swallowed hard and rubbed the side of her neck with her hand.

“The game is over,” I said. I looked pointedly at the album. “You shouldn’t be looking through that. We talked about this. I understand if you look at the pictures that are around the house, but you’re forcing it. The doctor said not to—”

“Oh, come on, Ace,” Aria snapped. “I don’t care what the damn doctor says. It’s not coming back. You said you brought me home to see if something would trigger it, but nothing has!” Aria’s face reddened, and her nostrils flared.

“Look, I know that it’s frustrating—”

“No, you don’t know what it’s like. It’s more than frustrating.” Aria crossed her arms over her chest. “I can’t remember any of the things in these pictures. People are putting it in my head that I lived some fairytale life. From what I recall, my life was anything but that.”

I sighed and walked across the room. The bed sank under my weight. “You’re right. I have never lost my memory. I can’t imagine what must be going through your head, but don’t think for a second that it is only hard on you.”

Aria bowed her head. “You mean for you?”

I grabbed her chin and forced her to look at me. “Not just me. There is so much you don’t remember and a lot of people that you meant so much to that you no longer remember. You had a lot of friends, and they miss you.”

“You said before that you hadn’t told me everything. Just tell me, please, even if it’s a little at a time. I can’t take not knowing,” Aria said. “I mean, you haven’t even told me how we wound up together.”

“I haven’t told you because I know that your memory loss may not be permanent. You haven’t even been awake that long. You need to give yourself some time,” I insisted. My hand dropped from her chin.

Aria’s chin quivered, and her hand clenched the comforter. “It’s hard.”

“Believe me, I understand that, better than you think. This isn’t a walk in the park for me. I would love to tell you. It would be easier if you knew everything. I just don’t think you’re ready to hear everything. I want you to stop looking for the answers in photo albums and in other people. Let it come to you,” I said.

Aria sighed and shrugged. “Fine.”

I leaned over and pressed my lips to her forehead. “I’m going to bed.”

“Me too,” Aria murmured. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

***

In the weeks that followed, Aria had nightmares but couldn’t remember them when she woke. Aria went shopping with her friends. Aria didn’t remember them, but it helped her with who she was. The only thing I could think to do is slowly get Aria back into her old routine. She hadn’t had a single memory back.

Aria had a couple of checkups. I spoke with the doctor without Aria present and asked him to be straight with me. The doctor said that he and his team didn’t believe that Aria would make a full recovery. They thought she was lucky to have very little damage since the only thing wrong with her was nearly two years’ worth of memories missing. It took all I had not to punch her doctor in the face when he told me that.

The only light in the study came from the fireplace and a dim lamp on the desk. My hand scribbled across the paperwork. I had to give Carlos props for dealing with it all by himself for years. It felt like I was behind no matter how hard I tried to keep up. I stayed up late most nights and barely got any sleep. I couldn’t involve Aria to help because she was unaware of the situation.

“Ace?” Aria murmured.

I lifted my head slowly. “Hmm?” I hummed. “What are you doing up?”

Aria had on a silky pink pair of pajama pants and spaghetti strap shirt to match it. “I couldn’t sleep,” she said.

“Bad dreams?” I dropped the pen and leaned back in the chair.

“Sort of.” Aria sat down on the couch across from the desk. Her hands intertwined, and she leaned forward. “I can’t ever seem to catch more than a few hours of sleep.”

I sighed. “Same here.”

“What are you working on?” Aria gestured to the desk and tilted her head.

“Just paperwork,” I said and shrugged.

“Isn’t that my job?”

I rubbed my forehead. “It was. You did a better job than I am.”

“Well, you probably helped.”

“As much as I could.”

“And lately, you have been doing it on your own,” she said.

“Yes.”

“Maybe I should learn how to do it so that I can help,” she offered.

“Honestly, I don’t even have time to teach you,” I said. It wasn’t entirely true, but I couldn’t let her come across the paperwork for the guns. The illegal guns weren’t exactly on paper, but the profit showed on the paperwork as miscellaneous, and I didn’t want her to raise questions.

“Oh, okay.” Aria looked taken aback.

“So, did you remember the dream this time?”

“Actually, yes,” Aria said. “I can’t make sense of it, though. I’m sure it wasn’t real.”

“Well, why don’t you tell me about it,” I suggested.

Aria knitted her eyebrows together and shook her head as if to push out her thoughts. “It’s stupid, honestly.”

I sat down on the couch beside her and forced her to look at me. I kept ahold of her chin as I spoke. “I don’t believe that. If there is something that you aren’t telling me. . .” I trailed off. My lips mashed in a straight line. “Aria, you need to tell me. It could be a memory, but I won’t know if you don’t tell me.”

Aria sighed and frowned.

Whatever her dream was, it clearly made her uncomfortable. Suddenly, I knew that it had to of been a memory. I swallowed hard and let go of her chin. “Was I a part of the dream?”

Aria looked away. “Um, sort of,” she mumbled. She intertwined her fingers again and fidgeted. A deep blush crept up her neck into her cheeks.

“You said it was a bad dream,” I pressed.

Aria’s gaze locked with mine. “I was on the phone with you, and I was running down this dark alleyway. I told you there were men chasing me. You told me to run faster.”

I nodded. “Anything else?”

“They caught me. I couldn’t see their faces. They carried me back down the alleyway to this black SUV or something. I don’t remember anything else. I think I woke up after that.”

The memory of the night Aria was kidnapped filled my mind. It was the same night that she found out Carlos was her father and that we were Latin Kings. I gnawed on the inside of my cheek. Of all things for her to remember, how could she possibly remember this first? I let go of the breath I had been holding.

Aria scoffed. “See, I told you that it was stupid. It’s not even real, is it? It was just a dream.”

I didn’t know whether to tell her the truth or not. “We’ll talk about it more tomorrow. We’re both tired. Let’s go to bed.”

“Okay,” Aria muttered.

“Don’t be afraid to tell me these things, even if you think they aren’t something that happened.”

Aria nodded. She got to her feet and sauntered out of the study.

***

My back pressed against the back of the couch. “Holy shit,” I breathed.

I sat up so fast that I nearly fell off the bed. My hand caught the end table, and I stopped myself from falling. My chest rose and fell heavily. Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead.

“Apparently, I’m not the only one with nightmares.”

My eyes traveled in the direction of the voice. My gaze stopped on Aria.

Aria stood just several feet from the bed. “I, um, came in to wake you up. . . Austin is here,” she said.

“Shit,” I muttered. I threw the blanket off of me and climbed out of bed.

Aria’s eyes swept over me, and she gasped. Aria’s eyes widened, and her cheeks reddened. She spun around on her heel and ran out of the room.

I pursed my lips and looked down, not understanding what her problem was, then I realized that I was naked. My cock stood loud and proud too. I chuckled and bit down on my lip to stop from smiling. “My bad. . .”

Most nights, I didn’t wear clothes to bed, and if Aria had her memory, she would have known that. Aria didn’t wear clothes to bed most nights either, or at least she never used to.

Aria assumed that I had a nightmare, but I didn’t. The dream was about Aria, and it definitely wasn’t a bad one. I didn’t always wake up with an erection, but when I did, Aria was the reason.

It didn’t take me long to get dressed. By the time I finished, my morning glory had gone away.

Austin and Aria were in the kitchen. Aria poured three cups of coffee. She slid a cup to Austin, handed one to me, and grabbed her cup. Aria didn’t meet my gaze, and she rushed out of the kitchen.

I smirked and stared after her.

“What’s with her?” Austin asked.

“Nothing,” I said and chuckled. “She’ll be fine. I’m glad you’re here. I have to tell you something. Come to the study with me.”

Austin followed me into the study.

“Shut the door,” I said.

The door closed with a soft thud.

I sat on the edge of the desk and faced Austin.

Austin sat on the couch across from me and raised an eyebrow. “I’m guessing it is something you don’t want her to hear?”

“She had a dream and remembered it this time. I almost wonder if she remembers some of the others and isn’t saying anything.”

“So?”

“It wasn’t just a dream,” I hinted.

“Oh,” Austin breathed. “A memory?”

“The dream was a memory, but she thinks it was just a dream,” I clarified. “She dreamt of the night that Kal kidnapped her. She didn’t see the men that grabbed her, but she recalls being on the phone with me. She remembers the men grabbing her and carrying her back up the alley.”

Austin snorted. “Of course, that would be the first thing she remembers. Did you tell her it was real?”

“No, I can’t. Not without explaining what happened,” I muttered. “I think I’m going to wait and see if she remembers anything else.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Austin agreed.

Aria came into the study with Angel in her arms. She stopped a couple of feet from the door. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Not at all,” I said.

Austin turned back to look at her.

“I just wanted to let you know that Mom and Tina are picking Angel and me up. We’re going to the park,” Aria said.

“You could have driven, so they didn’t have to come all the way out here,” I said.

Aria pursed her lips for a moment. “I didn’t know that I could drive.”

Austin looked back at me. He bit his lip to stop from laughing.

“Right. I could have taken you,” I said. “You do have a license. Maybe we should work on your driving again.”

Confusion clouded her eyes. “Again? Are you the one that taught me to drive?”

“Um, yes.”

“I guess we could work on that,” Aria said. “I didn’t want to bother you about going out. You’ve been busy.”

“We’ll go for a drive when you get back.”

“Sounds good,” Aria agreed. She left the study and closed the door behind her.

Austin broke into hysterics. “Man, I don’t know how you do it. It’s so hard to see her act like that. Over the last two years, she turned into such a badass and for that to just diminish. . .” Austin trailed off. “Poof.” Austin made an explosion with his hands.

“I know,” I said and sighed. “It’s like your life rewinding and watching it happen all over again.”

“How are you holding up?” Austin asked.

“It fucks with me, bro. It hurts to see her look at me with such unfamiliarity. It’s killing me. I’m not sure what I’m going to do if she doesn’t get her memory back.”

The study door opened, and Joey walked in. Benny followed after him.

“Hey, what’s up?” I asked. “I wasn’t expecting you guys today.”

Joey and Benny sat beside Austin.

“I came to see your reaction,” Benny said and smirked.

Joey ran his fingers through his hair and knitted his eyebrows together.

“Well, what is it?” I looked pointedly at Joey.

“Benny thinks that I’m crazy,” Joey started.

“Correction, I think we need to sign him into an insane asylum,” Benny said and chuckled.

Joey rolled his eyes and snorted.

“Spit it out,” Austin said. Austin’s eyes burned with curiosity.

There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that my curiosity matched Austin’s.

“I’m not going crazy,” Joey muttered.

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