Chapter 14. Man To Man
Two months had passed since Aria wrote the numbers. Aria had no recollection of writing the numbers or where they came from. She thought too hard about it, and I figured that was the reason she didn’t remember the numbers or writing them down. We also fired Nicolas, but we gave him two weeks to find a new job.
Austin came into the study and plopped down on the red velvet couch. “We need to have a man to man,” Austin said.
Angel sat in front of my desk with blocks. Angel stopped stacking and looked up at Austin.
Austin chuckled. “I’m not talking about you, buddy, but I’m sure you and I will have those one day too.”
Angel grabbed a block and threw it at Austin. The block hit Austin in the knee.
I chuckled. “Okay, what is it?” I dropped my pen. “Hurry up, though. Benny is going to be here soon.”
“For what?” Austin tilted his head.
“To try to figure out what the hell these numbers are.”
Austin sighed. “Okay. Something has been different with Kalia and me lately. She’s been avoiding me. I’m starting to think she is seeing someone else. Yesterday after she ignored me for the tenth time in a row, I went for a walk on the beach.”
“And?” I arched a brow.
Austin swallowed hard. His eyes pierced mine. “Guess who I ran into?”
From the look on his face, I somehow knew. Call it twin’s intuition or that I knew my brother well, but for whatever reason, I knew. “Carley,” I stated confidently. Carley and Austin hadn’t spoken much over the years. Eons ago, Austin and Carley dated. We were still practically kids when the two had been in a relationship. Austin and Carley took each other’s virginity, and Austin broke it off with her out of fear. Carley was devastated, but things got better for her when she started seeing Jax, but he died a couple of years ago.
“Yeah,” Austin said. Austin intertwined his hands and stared down at his feet. Guilt filled his expression.
“Hell, Austin, you didn’t—” I stopped. “Damn, man. How fucking old are you? You could have just broken it off with Kalia or something. I can’t believe Carley would do that to—”
“Ace, stop. I didn’t, okay? I mean, we didn’t—” Austin stopped and groaned. Austin buried his face in his hands. He took a deep breath before his eyes locked with mine.
“Okay. . .” I trailed off and pursed my lips. I leaned back in my chair and placed my hands on top of my head. “I’m lost. If you didn’t cheat, what is the problem?”
“Carley and I got into a pretty deep conversation. I had gotten to the beach in the afternoon and didn’t leave until midnight. We talked, laughed, and just hung out. I almost kissed her, but I stopped myself. It was really close,” Austin said. “How the hell is it possible to still feel this way? What happened between us was years ago.”
“You and Carley had something pretty strong, though, Austin. Everyone knew that, including the two of you. Even Jax knew it. He just didn’t like to think about it.”
Austin leaned back against the couch and crossed his ankle over his knee. “I care about Kalia, and I don’t want to hurt her. Over the last couple of months, I’ve thought about settling down, but I’m not so sure that I want to with Kalia. I love her in a way, but not the way that I did. . .” Austin trailed off and frowned.
“Not in the way you did, Carley. I can’t say I’m surprised, but what if you came to this realization too late? Carley may not love you that way anymore, Austin,” I said. I hated saying that to him. When I pointed it out, Austin looked as if he might break in half.
“Yeah,” Austin whispered. “Maybe it isn’t a good idea.”
“There is only one way to know for sure, Austin. The sooner you decide, the better. You need to end it with Kalia first,” I said.
“I get that,” Austin said. “If I can get ahold of her.”
The study door opened. Benny came in, followed by Aria and Carley.
Carley stopped when she saw Austin.
Austin turned to see Carley froze near the door.
Aria stopped beside me, and Benny stopped in front of me. I handed the numbers to Benny. “I don’t know what they mean. I need you to figure it out.”
“Austin, can we talk?” Carley asked.
“Um, yeah,” Austin said.
I looked around Benny at Austin.
“Wish me luck,” Austin mouthed.
I smirked and nodded. My gaze flickered to Benny. From the look on Benny’s face, I knew he was thinking.
The study door closed behind Austin and Carley. Aria stared at the door curiously and looked at me. “What is with them?” Aria asked.
“Beats me,” I lied smoothly.
“Ace, I think it’s a tracking number,” Benny said.
“I tried that, Benny,” I muttered. “I took it to the fucking post office to see if they could find it.”
“Maybe it is a fake tracking number,” Benny said.
“Like untraceable?” I asked.
“Right. It’ll take me a while, but I might be able to figure it out. It must have been scanned at some point,” Benny said. “Someone could have deleted it from the systems at the post office. Next time just call me. It is my job, right?”
I rolled my eyes and flipped him off.
Aria chuckled. “Oh, hey, you are supposed to pick your sister up at the airport for your mother.”
“Right,” I muttered. “I’ll be back. Put Angel down for his nap.” I pecked her on the cheek.
“Okay,” Aria said.
My car sat in the driveway. I put my sunglasses over my eyes and stopped when I heard Austin and Carley’s voices.
“Can I just ask you one thing?” Carley asked.
“Shoot,” Austin said.
“Did you ever love me, like even a little?” Carley asked.
“Like a lot, and that’s the part that scared me. I was afraid of hurting you, of getting hurt, growing apart, and getting older. I mean, you name it, I was afraid of it. I pushed you away because it was the easier way out. I’m not nearly as brave as people think,” Austin said. “I’ll always regret what I did to you. Well. . .” Austin trailed off. “It wasn’t the worst thing. You loved Jax, right?”
“Yeah,” Carley said. “Just not the same way I loved you, not even close. He knew it too, and he always tried harder for that reason. I felt so guilty when he died, like I should have tried harder. I-I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I get that.”
“If you decide not to leave her, I get it. I don’t want you to give her up if she makes you happy,” Carley said.
“I’ll let you know what happens,” Austin said.
Austin and Carley were just around the corner of the stairs. I closed the front door hard enough so they knew I had come out.
“I have to go get Sierra. Do you want to come?” I asked and smirked.
Carley and Austin both rolled their eyes.
“You two have fun with that,” Carley said.
“I’m going to pass. I think you can, uh, handle this one on your own,” Austin said and bit his lip.
I threw my head back and laughed. “Come on, guys. Sierra isn’t that bad,” I argued.
“You’re right. She is worse than bad. She’s a nightmare,” Austin said and chuckled. “I wish she would go, poof.”
“Austin, she is our sister,” I scoffed.
“Sorry, I’m with Austin on this one. Has Aria met her yet?” Carley arched a brow.
“No,” I said and shook my head. A small smile crept across my face.
“Have fun with that,” Carley snickered.
“Well, Sierra is going to Mom’s house. I’m sure she will be over sometime this week, though,” I said.
“I’m going to be very busy this week,” Carley muttered.
“I’ll bet you are,” I snickered.
“Me too,” Austin said and nodded.
I laughed and finished the distance to my car. The GTO roared to life. I spun it around and headed for the airport.
Sierra didn’t travel light considering she intended to stay for only a week. Her bags took up most of my trunk.
“You packed for like a month,” I said.
“Plans changed,” Sierra said. “I’m moving back into Mom’s house.”
I pulled onto the highway and glanced at my sister. “Really? How come?”
“Well, school is over, and the job-hunting wasn’t going well,” Sierra said.
“What happened to your boyfriend?” I asked.
“We broke up,” Sierra said. From the tone of her voice, I knew she didn’t want to talk about it.
“Oh.” I let the subject drop. I wasn’t the type to pry into my sister’s love life. Sierra and I weren’t close the way Austin and I was. However, I tolerated her much better than Austin did.
“How are Angel and Aria doing?” Sierra asked. “Mom said that Aria lost her memory.”
“She has some of her memories back, but not many. It seems to be fewer lately. She’s stressed over it,” I said. “Angel is good. He walks and talks.”
“That’s good. No incidents with Austin?”
I arched a brow at her. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, come on, Ace,” Sierra snorted. “Mom told me that you two fought over Aria.”
“That was a very long time ago. Austin and Aria get along well. Austin and I are fine too. We all moved on from that ages ago,” I said.
“You or them?” Sierra challenged.
I sighed. This is the exact reason why Austin can’t stand to be around her. Sierra is nosey and thinks she is always right about everything.
“Sorry,” Sierra muttered.
“It doesn’t matter, Sierra,” I said. “Aria doesn’t even remember that crap. Austin is with someone else.”
“Carley? I heard Jax died,” Sierra said. “Go figure; she would go running back to Austin.”
“He’s with a different girl,” I muttered. For now—I thought to myself.
“What else is new?” Sierra scoffed and scowled at the dashboard. “I lost track of the number of girlfriends he has gone through.”
“That really isn’t your business, Sierra. I would watch where you stick your nose. That type of shit pisses Austin off, and you know it.”
“Is it the worst thing in the world that I care for my little brothers?” Sierra asked.
“Of course not, but we’re adults. We’re pretty good about making the right decisions for ourselves.”
Sierra nodded and let the conversation drop. Whatever went on with her ex-boyfriend must have done a number on her. Typically, she would argue with people until she is blue in the face. It’s the first and probably the last time that I would ever win an argument with her.
We pulled into Mom’s driveway. I helped Sierra get her things into the house. Mom waited impatiently in the foyer.
“Sierra!” Mom squealed.
“I’m going to leave you two to it. I need to get back home. I have a lot of work to catch up on,” I said. “Come for dinner tomorrow.”
Sierra smiled and kissed my cheek. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Anytime,” I said. I hugged my mother goodbye and left.
I climbed into my GTO, and my phone rang. I pulled the phone from my pocket and slid my thumb across the screen. “Hello?” I asked.
“Hey,” Austin said.
“Did you find her?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Austin said and sighed.
“I found out why she’s been avoiding me like I’m the fucking plague,” Austin said. The engine of Austin’s vehicle rumbled to life in the background.
“Well, what is it?”
“You’re not with Sierra, are you?”
“Nope, just me. Spill it,” I said.
Austin groaned. “She’s sort of pregnant.”
“P-pregnant? Holy shit. . .” I trailed off. “Um, is it your kid?”
“Yeah,” Austin muttered.
I pulled the GTO onto the highway and headed toward home. “You didn’t tell her about Carley, did you?”
“No,” Austin said. “I didn’t even get the chance. First, I asked her why she was avoiding me, and that is when she told me. After that, I just couldn’t do it. She said she was scared to tell me.”
“Wow,” I huffed. “So, now you’re going to tell Carley to forget it?”
“What choice do I have?”
“You can’t stay with someone just because you have a kid with them, man.”
“I do love Kalia, just not the same way. I can’t leave her alone with a baby. I don’t think Carley would even let me do that. I got to let you go. I need to call Carley,” Austin said.
“Okay, good luck,” I said.
“I’m going to need it. Thanks,” Austin muttered. Austin hung the phone up.
After I heard the news about Austin and Kalia, I drove around for a while. I couldn’t bring myself to go home right away because I was worried that Austin wasn’t making the right choice for himself. There was too much on my mind. Austin was only a sliver of it.
By the time I got home, it was long past dinner time. Most of the lights were turned down for the night.
Rosa walked into the foyer. “Good evening, Ace.”
“Hey, Rosa. Do you know where Aria is?”
“Last I knew, she was about to put Angel to bed,” Rosa said.
“Thank you.” I hurried upstairs to Angel’s bedroom, which wasn’t far from ours. The door was cracked slightly.
Aria’s voice floated into the hallway. “It’s time to go to sleep, Angel. You’re tired, and so am I.”
“Dada,” Angel said.
“He’s not home,” Aria murmured. “I’m sure you will see him in the morning.”
I sighed and opened Angel’s bedroom door the rest of the way. Aria turned around to face me. Angel smiled and stretched his arms out for me. I took him from Aria and kissed the top of his head.
“You were gone. . .” Aria trailed off. “I thought you were just going to the airport.”
“We’ll talk about it,” I whispered to her. I walked over to the chair in the corner of Angel’s room and sat down.
Angel rested his head against my chest and yawned. His little hand patted the side of my neck as I rocked him back and forth.
Aria smiled at us and snuck out of the bedroom.
It didn’t take me long to get Angel to sleep, but I nearly rocked both of us to sleep. I placed Angel in his crib and snuck out of his room.
Aria stood at her dresser, combing through her hair. I leaned against the frame of the door and watched her. I wasn’t just watching her. I took her in. I let the fact that she was still alive set in. After everything we had gone through, I needed to take a moment to appreciate the fact that she’s still here.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Aria turned to face me.
I closed the distance between us and wrapped my arms around her waist. “I’m just taking you in.”
Aria chuckled. “What does that even mean?”
“It’s been a fucked-up year for us, bebita. I watched all the bad things you went through to get this far. I was here when they carried you out of the house on a stretcher. I watched body bags come out of the house and wasn’t sure if you were in one of them or not. The last several months have been a total fucking nightmare. When I find out who did this to you, and I will find out, I’m going to—” I sneered. My nostrils flared, and my muscles tensed up. I couldn’t think of a bad enough word or phrase. There weren’t words for what I would do to the person responsible.
Aria wrapped her arms around my neck and pecked me on the lips. “Don’t even go there, Ace. Don’t even think about it. When that time comes, we will deal with it together.”
“I want to tell you something, but don’t say anything to anyone. I’m not sure that Kalia and Austin want everyone knowing about it yet,” I said.
“Okay?” Aria arched a brow and leaned her head back to see me better.
“Kalia told Austin she’s pregnant,” I said.
Aria snorted. “She isn’t the only one.”
“W-what?” I stammered.
“So are we,” Aria said. “Well, I am.”
My arms dropped from her waist to my sides, and I stared at her dumbfounded.
Aria sighed and dropped her arms. Her gaze fell to her feet. “I wanted to do this different or smoother, I guess. I wasn’t sure how you would take it.”
It shouldn’t have surprised me. Usually, I was good about protection because birth control didn’t work for Aria too well, but the first night we had sex after losing her memory, I slipped. How long ago was that? Pregnant. Like really pregnant? Again? Jesus, we don’t have time for Angel half of the time. Now we are going to have another one? Angel isn’t even out of diapers. What if she is upset?
“Ace, say something,” Aria murmured.
“Pregnant,” I whispered.
Aria looked up at me and bit her lip. “Mhm,” she hummed. A deep blush crept up her cheeks. “I don’t know how. I mean, I thought I was on birth control. I am, aren’t I?”
“Well, you have the Mirena, but Angel snuck past the pill. The doctors said birth control doesn’t seem to work with you,” I said. “Are you upset?”
“I’m more worried that you are,” she said.
I shrugged. “Not really. We already have one. It’s just that we leave Angel alone a lot. Well, we leave him with Rosa. Sometimes it seems like she knows him better than we do. We’re always working or gone. You only just started getting back to yourself. The timing isn’t great, but we’ll figure it out. We always do.”
Aria sighed. She walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. “You didn’t want anymore, did you?”
I stared at her for a long moment before I sauntered over to her and knelt on the floor between her legs. I grabbed her face and forced her to look at me.
Tears welled up in her eyes.
I chuckled. “I don’t look forward to the hormones. You were impossible to please the last time you were pregnant.”
Aria scowled at me and rolled her eyes.
“I do want more. I thought we might be married before we had more, but things didn’t really go as we planned. Things don’t ever seem to go the way we plan. That’s just our lifestyle, I suppose. It’s not the first time you have been pregnant, and probably won’t be the last, bebita. I’m fine with it. You just took me by surprise. The timing isn’t good, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not happy about it. I love you,” I said. The last part came out barely above a whisper. I hadn’t told her that since she lost her memory.
Aria smiled. “I love you.”
I wiped her tears away with my thumb. “Now stop crying. You’re making me feel like an asshole. I was never very good at reacting to pregnancy. It’s too bad you don’t remember how I reacted to the first pregnancy. You would have known what to expect if you had.”
Aria laughed and nodded.
I lowered my face to her stomach and kissed it. The action surprised Aria. I stood up, grabbed her face in my hands, and pressed my lips to hers. I pushed her down onto the bed and broke the kiss.
Aria stared at me, confused. “What?”
“The good thing about you being pregnant is I don’t have to use a condom.” I wiggled my eyebrows.
Aria threw her head back and laughed. “You don’t like those much, do you?”
“I fucking hate them,” I said and smirked. “It doesn’t feel the same. I like being able to feel you.”
Aria bit down on her lip. I lowered my face to hers and sucked her bottom lip between my teeth. She gasped and arched her back. Her fingers tangled into my hair.
As always, it took us no time at all to get undressed. Most of what Aria had been wearing was shredded beyond repair and strewn across the bed.