Bloom For Me

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3| Sore Throat .•°

“I went out looking for love when I was seventeen. Maybe a little too young but it was real to me. And in the heat of the night, saw things I’d never seen. Oh, oh, Seventeen.”

Chapter Theme Song: ‘Seventeen’ by Troye Sivan.

.•° ✿ °•.

SOFIA

I grab some matching bras and panties and other essentials that I’ll need. I am thinking to seek out a part-time job because taking money from Abe and Pearl makes me uncomfortable. I ask the store clerk if they are hiring, but she says they had just taken on a new girl last week and no more spots are available at this time. Regrettably, I collect my stuff from the packaging boy and return to the parking lot.

I climb back into the car and Abe drives us back onto the main street. I am quieter now than before because the need to break free and acquire my own cash is stifling. Though driving with Abe is fun, Pearl has placed me in such an uncomfortable situation by making the man pay for my damn underwear and sanitary products. To some it’s trivial, but to me, it’s humiliating. I feel like a parasite. Imagine knowing that your money paid for the panties on a teenage girl’s pimple-covered butt.

“Would you like something to eat?” He glances over at me, the orange glow from the setting sun reflecting on half of his face.

His question is only salt in my wound and a blunt mockery to my dysmorphia.

“No,” I answer softly, and it’s no secret that the man has picked up on my sudden mood change. But as with everything else, he doesn’t call me out on it. It’s either he’s really mature or just doesn’t care. And I prefer running with the latter to save me later disappointment.

Mama told me that I was born prematurely. As thin as a needle. But I somehow pushed through with so much determination in my flimsy little body. Perhaps that was why Pearl and Charles (my dad) didn’t want me. I was too...too unappealing. And now my returned parent must be seeing the reason she had left me behind.

I am still SO unappealing.

So unappealing that I inflict physical pain onto my own self. By the time I get home, and the cold night drifts in, my throat feels as though a thousand cats are scraping against the walls.

Then I begin to prepare myself for bed and the toothpaste burns against the bruise unrelentingly.

I gather myself in bed and try to fall asleep. And after twisting and turning for hours on end, I finally succumb to the tiredness weighing me down.

Morning comes fast, but the sun isn’t bright. It’s obvious it’ll rain today, and the coldness only causes my throat to worsen. I climb out of bed to get ready for school before Pearl decides to come up. I brush my teeth, spit in the sink, and almost freak out when I see blood.

Shit. I grab the small hanging mirror off the wall and bring it close to my mouth. Then I open as wide as possible and attempt to see down the narrow passage. Nothing. Just pure darkness.

I sigh and throw the mirror down, pressing my hands against the basin as I blow out a sigh of exhaustion, frustration, annoyance. Mostly with myself.

Next door, Abe is playing some sort of music. It sounds like a rock band, and he’s trying to sing over the voices. He sounds awful, and I can’t help the light smile that tugs at my wet lips. I walk over, and this nosey stalker-like thought comes home to me. The crevices. If I look close enough, I might be able to see him.

With my hands flat against the walls, I place one eye at the side nook of the door, squinting the other. And to my delight, I was right. I could see Abe very clearly. His hair is wet and free, stopping at his mid-neck and he’s...

Naked!

I quickly back up, the heel of my foot bumping against a bucket on the floor. I still instantly with both of my hands freezing mid-air, then I hear his music stop abruptly. Complete silence.

With narrowed eyes, I leap forward to peek again. He’s now fixing his belt buckle as he walks out of his room.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He’s on his way to mine!

With wide eyes, I pivot on my toes and run back over to my bedroom, shutting the bathroom door fast, and cringing when the slam echoes throughout the house.

Shit.

I sit on my bed just in time for my door to knock.

“Sofia?”

I swallow. I am sorry, I really didn’t mean to see your butt, Abe.

“Sofia?”

“Coming!” I stand up from the bed, unable to feel my feet as I move anxiously toward the door. I crack it open, and he lifts his eyebrows handsomely. His eyes are pleasant, so I relax slightly.

“Good morning.” He says, and I nod, pursing my lips.

“Good morning.”

“You know why I am over here, right?” He squints his eyes, and my heart jumps in my chest.

“Um...I-I am not sure...”

“Make a guess.” He tilts his chin.

“Um...” I narrow my eyes, pretending to think as my hands grow slick with sweat. I slide my eyes up to the roof, squeezing the ridge of the door to suppress my agitation.

He places his palms on either side of the sill, the silver chain around his neck hanging over and glistening in the hallway. “Pearl left earlier, so she said I should take you to school.”

My shoulders slump with ease as I sigh inwardly. “Oh.”

Abe narrows his eyes as he smiles lightheartedly. “You look relieved. Were you doing something wrong in here?”

I blink my eyes. “What?”

“You look like I almost caught you red-handed.”

I shake my head, diverting my attention to the ground. “I wasn’t. I-I mean I wasn’t doing a-anything.”

My stammering. I hate it so much. And my complexion is not doing such a good job at convincing him; I bet.

When I glance up, he’s smiling. I hate it when he smiles at me. But I like it too. But mostly hate it because...it makes me feel weird and I shouldn’t be feeling weird. He’s just being polite, and he’s my mother’s whomever.

“Anyway, I am supposed to take you to school. But from the looks of it...” He smiles and drums his fingers against the sill, “it doesn’t seem like you’ll be ready anytime soon.”

I slump my vision to the clothes covering my body. My huge sweater, and a tiny pair of men’s underpants that I’d normally wear to bed. I push the lower half of my body behind the door as it’s way too revealing.

“I am sorry. I’ll be down in a minute.”

“It’s alright. I am gonna get dressed too, so come down when you’re through, okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

He swings me another beam before he walks away from the doorway, and I get a glimpse of the tattoo on his back as he retreats to his room. A snake. A black one coiled around a sword. It lies right in the top of his spine.

I chew on my lip and close the door, walking over to my bed and sinking into it. Luckily, I hadn’t seen much of his naked body earlier. Just his...butt. I really shouldn’t do that again if I want to live here peacefully. The last thing I’d want is to come off as a freak who peeks at naked people through bathroom holes.

After recovering from my first experience of seeing a grown man nude, I conjure up and proceed to get ready for school.

Maryland High School’s uniform is a simple white blouse and a black pleated skirt. No jewelry except for earrings, and you’re not allowed to dye your hair without an official slip from your medical doctor. Quite a boring set-up, one would say.

I push my feet into my black patent shoes, retrieve my backpack, and leave for downstairs. The smell of brewing coffee and pancakes wafts through the living room as I break the corner of the hallway to get to the kitchen.

Abe’s back is turned to me while he stands by the kitchen counter, and my face gets hot all over again. He’s wearing a white button-downs with a black vest draped over it, his hair snatched in a ponytail.

I clear my throat as I enter through the door. “I am here.”

He turns to me with a mug in his hand. “Oh, right in time. We can have some breakfast then go.”

Breakfast? I am not sure I can consume anything without my throat firing up. Plus...I am on a diet, or whatever one could call it.

“Um, actually, I am fine. ” I shake my head quickly.

He swings half of his torso to me, a brow raised. “But you didn’t have dinner last night, did you?”

I open my mouth.

“Not eating affects your learning, you know.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to eat, it’s just...I am not hungry.” I claim, and he studies me absorbingly. His chin lifts, and I feel as if I am being secretly interrogated.

“Despite not having dinner last night?”

“Yeah...”

“You can’t not eat breakfast under my watch.” He continues. “I can’t allow that. Pearl would be mad.”

I doubt she’d be.

I let out a soft sigh and move closer to him.

“Okay, I’ll have a sip of the tea.” I impulsively grab the fresh cup from the counter, but it’s too hot and it slips from my fingers and crashes on the floor, the scorching liquid splashing all over my thighs.

I yelp as I step back, pulling up my skirt upon reflex. Abe’s amazed eyes settle on the thin tights covering my privy parts and I widen my eyes as I frantically tug it down.

Oh my God.

My cheeks are potently red as I cave into my shoulders. He turns his face away, and his jaw flexes. He looks somewhat guilty as if he were the one who’d lifted my clothes.

“That was a mistake, I—”

“Sit down, Sofy.”

“I am sorry; I should clean up the floor, Mr. Cage—” I spin around and squat to pick the pieces up, but he grips my arm and pulls me up to my feet. The glass crackles under his costly shoes as he steps forward.

“What did I say about calling me Mr. Cage? Sit on the chair.”

I stare up at him, feeling like an ant below his towering frame. A few strands are loose from his ponytail, falling over dark, chestnut eyes. He jerks his head to the seat, and I plant my butt there immediately.

My consciousness kicks in again and my thighs begin to sting from the burn. I wince and shake my legs as he quickly walks out of the kitchen and returns with a first aid kit.

“I should have warned you that it’s hot.” He tells me regrettably as he sits on a chair and hauls himself closer to me. His perfume is surrounding me, and our knees are brushing against each other. A subtle contact that holds no meaning, but still sends a chill up my arm. Maybe it’s the rain. It’s starting to spot the earth on the outside, the sound of it hitting against the kitchen window.

Abe’s breathing is audible. I can hear it above the gradual downpour. Was it because I burnt my leg or because I shocked him by lifting my skirt? It’s funny. I don’t enjoy showing my body to people.

I glance up under my lashes to observe him. Up close, his face is smooth, looking almost unreal. His eyebrows are perfectly arched, and he has a faint stubble under his nose.

Suddenly, he glances up, and I have never looked away from someone this fast before. “It’s raining,” I mention stupidly.

He grabs what looks like an ointment from the box, but I hold my hand out quickly.

“I-I can do it; let me.”

I don’t want him seeing my legs. Earlier was enough.

“Are you sure?”

I smile. “Yeah, I got it.” I take it from his fingers.

“Alright.” He nods and gets up, walking out of the kitchen.

I squeeze the white cream into my palm, rub my hands together, then massage it into my thighs. It stings, but the cold sensation soothes the discomfort. When I am through applying it, I tug my skirt back down and get up from the chair. I thought I’d get away with not having breakfast, but Abe returns and puts a perfectly fried pancake on a plate and pour me a new cup of tea.

He places the breakfast on the table, drags out a chair, and sits across from me. I meet his eyes, and he smiles slightly, drumming his fingers on the table.

“After you’re done, we’ll leave. Don’t worry; I don’t have to be at work until...” He looks at his expensive watch. “Whenever.”

I force a smile. Oh, Lord. And here I was saying he wasn’t stubborn. I clear my throat and sit back in the chair. He leans back in his, crossing a leg over the other and interlacing his fingers in front of his knee.

I reach for the fork and poke at the pancake. He’s watching me closely; I can tell.

“So, do you do that often, Sofy?”

“Do what?” I am no longer trying to be nice. He’s acting like my father.

“Not eating dinner.”

I still. Then sigh. “No.”

He’s quiet for a while, and I add. “What’s it to you?”

“Sorry?”

“What’s it to you?” I swirl the pancake into the syrup, trying to stick the fork into a piece of strawberry. It keeps falling off, and Abe stares at the action.

“It has nothing to do with me; you’re right. But you seem very fit and healthy. I wouldn’t want you spoiling that.”

“Fit and healthy...” I scoff quietly.

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

I look up. “I am sure you can see that I am not particularly fit and healthy." Can’t he see my huge thighs and the ridiculous bumps on my face? What’s wrong with him? Right, he is too good-looking. There had to be a catch to it. He is what people call: too good to be true.

“Explain to me why you are so against the things I just said.” He leans forward on his legs, a hand perched under his chin.

I shift in my seat. “You’re going to be late for work.”

“I am already at work.”

Confusion mars my features.

“Tell me...” He sits up comfortably and splays an arm over the chair. “Why are you so against what I said?”

“What do you mean by already being at work?”

He smiles, amusement sparkling in his pupils. “Answer me first.”

“Well...I won’t win with you, will I?”

“Nope. Another quality of Scorpios is that they don’t back down easily.”

“I am not against it. I am just not fit and healthy.” I tear a piece of the pancake with my fork though I still haven’t eaten the part I’d cut. “I am going to be late for school.”

“Finish your breakfast.”

“What do you mean by already being at work?” I brush my skirt off to avoid looking at him. I hate how seems to be studying me.

“Because I am.”

“It’s...confusing.”

“It’s not. I am a part-time psychologist, Sofia.”

I still, my eyes sliding up to his. “Really?” My brows furrow in confusion. “But you’re a CEO.”

He chuckles. “So, I can’t be a psychologist too?”

I smile and shake my head.

“Why?”

My smile stretches wider, and I look down.

“Mm?”

I lift my head and shrug. “How do you have the time?”

“I make the time. The secret is: CEOs don’t truly run their companies. They have a bunch of people doing that for them. All they do is deal with important investments, sign things off, then leave half day to go about their business. They call the shots.”

“Oh...”

He smiles and jerks his head to my plate. “Eat, or we are gonna be late.”

Even with such a smooth conversation, he still finds the loophole to make me eat. I reach for the fork. I take it back. He can be stubborn.

“I’ll be back, I’m gonna grab my phone.” He says and gets up, and I gaze up under my eyelids, watching as he fades out of view.

“God forgive me...” I mutter as I stand up and grab the plate, quickly walking over to the window and emptying the contents on the green lawn. There is this cute little puppy out there. He’ll enjoy the meal. I am about to move away when I hear his light footsteps returning to the room. His scent reaches first.

“Woah. Finish already?”

I nod. “Yeah.” I rinse the plate and put it in the drainer, then go to sit back in the chair. Abe is smiling with his hands stuffed into his trousers, and I don’t look at him as I reach for the cup of tea. It’s now cold.

“And you ate all of the pancakes.”

“Mm...” I bite my lip.

“Oh, Sof.” He begins to walk over to me, slowly and calculatingly, with his heart-fluttering smile still in place. “If we are gonna be friends...”

He places his palms on either side of me on the table and leans down to my height. His face is close to mine, and my heart suddenly stops working. I still, eyes wide, face red. He looks down at my mouth, then back to my eyes.

“What are you—”

He grips my chin and brings his face even closer to mine. This is inappropriate. I don’t think this is right at all. My stomach somersaults, flipping with a thousand butterflies. I stare up at him, and with such close proximity, I can see the little spots of gold in his honey-like eyes.

Then after a few seconds, he sighs. His smile disappears but comes back in short order. “If we are gonna be friends...I don’t think we should lie to each other.”

My mouth falls open.

“All I can smell on your breath is toothpaste, Sofia...”

And I melt into the chair.

~

Ending song: ‘Fall Into You’ by Houses On The Hill♡

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