This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
I tap my pencil against my desk and push my glasses up the bridge of my nose, as I watch the clock hands ticking away, counting down the final seconds to the final bell of the day. Miss Caldwell, my homeroom and English teacher, is lecturing us on Shakespeare’s brilliance when he wrote Romeo and Juliet. Don’t get me wrong. I am closet Shakespearean. I just don’t want a certain cousin to catch wind of it and shout it to the school. The girls I go to school with all believe that if a guy is well learned in literature, they have the chance of staking a claim and being the only girl he dates. Not so.
The last time someone heard I enjoyed reading old classic plays, the girl somehow managed to spread the rumor that we were together, when I had never even spoken to her. She moved away before the start of junior year. Thank the Heavens, because she ended up being a skivvy kind of girl. Last thing I heard about her was that her mother moved them to Vegas and had her dancing in one of the hotels. It is sad, very sad.
My parents always tell me that if a girl does not respect herself it can be hard for anyone around her to respect her. I do not have that problem. Probably because I watch how my father treats my mother. Respectfully. Lovingly. Tenderly. That is how I wish to treat my girl, if Fate ever decides to let her show up in my life.
“Ren,” Miss Caldwell, snapping her fingers near my face. “Are you with us today, Mr. Michaels?”
“Yes,” I reply, sitting up straighter in my desk as the rest of the class laughs, including my two cousins.
I glance over my shoulder to glare at Mitch and Ben. They snigger, but put on a straight face after the teacher calls attention. I look back at the white board, trying to concentrate on what she says. I have been growing up with Mitch and Ben since before we could talk. Mitch is my cousin by blood, on my mother’s side. Ben is only a year younger than we are, but is wicked smart and is a grade ahead of most kids his age. Mitch’s parents adopted Ben after they learned they would not be able to have more children. They are much older than my parents are, and they had their first son at a very young age. I believe he is nearing thirty years old. He is married and has two kids. I have met them a couple times and I know he loves them with everything he has.
The bell rings and I fly out of my seat towards the door. I nearly knock a girl to the floor, immediately catching her before she loses balance.
“Sorry,” I say with an apologetic smile.
“It is okay, Ren,” she says, smiling back. “Have a nice Thanksgiving.”
I nod and start to head down the hallway to my locker. I feel bad that I did not know that girl’s name. I could have struck up a conversation. Perhaps I could get Mitch off my back about me not talking to girls. I talk to girls, I just do not want them to think I am into them and then end up having to break the news to them and lose a friendship. Guys and girls can be friends, and not feel things for each other. I have seen such a friendship and I admire it. I do not envy it. I am not one to envy.
One might consider my family royalty. No, not literal royalty. My dad runs one of the top banks in New York. However, we are not like most banking families. My dad runs honest business and he cares about his clients. Even when they are unable to meet payments, dad will pay out of his own pocket. My father does not wish for me to join the business and I am grateful for it. I think I might prefer to be on the reporting side.
I groan as I plaster a smile on my face and turn to my cousins. Mitch has Ben in a headlock, as usual, as they traipse towards me. I notice Ben’s face slowly losing color and smack Mitch upside the head.
“Let him go!” I scold, pulling Ben from his grip. “I thought Aunt Berta told you to stop doing that. Ben passed out last time.”
“He needs to build backbone,” Mitch smirks, shoving Ben’s shoulder. “He’s a bit of a . . . how do you say this?”
“He can build a backbone without your help,” I glare at my cousin and turn to my locker.
Ben goes to his own locker, which is right next to mine. Mitch sniggers and goes to his across the hall.
“You alright man?” I ask, glancing at him as I stuff my books into my backpack. “You don’t have to let him torture you, you know.”
“We both know why he does it,” he replies, shaking his head as he does his locker combination. “The older one has every right to tease the younger.”
I shake my head and slam my locker shut. I glance towards a cluster of girls, who are giggling as they talk to Mitch. He flashes his signature smile as he lets the girls stuff scraps of paper into his pockets. Possibly phone numbers and emails. As if, he does not already have the number and email of every girl in school, which I believe he does.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, patting Ben’s shoulder as we head towards the exit. “Let’s catch the bus.”
“Mom will kill me if I don’t come home with Mitch,” Ben groans, shaking his head.
“It’s not like Mitch will be heading home anyway. You know that he always heads to the Metro after school.”
“You know he plans to try and get into the Calders’ Thanksgiving gala tonight, right?”
I arch an eyebrow as we head to the bus stop. Reginald Calder is the owner of Calder and Co., my father’s competitor in the banking business. Unlike my dad, Mr. Calder is a hard, cold man. If a client cannot make a payment, he closes their account. Which sends them over to my dad and he helps them out. Every year, Mr. Calder hosts a Thanksgiving gala at his bank. There is always a thick layer of security, and anyone uninvited gets the boot. This is an invitation only, black-tie, event that everyone wishes to attend. Well, everyone except me. Ever since Mitch got his license, all he has ever done is cause trouble. Getting into the gala, uninvited, is at the top of his trouble list.
“You’re going with him?” I ask as the bus pulls up in front of us.
“Of course I am!” Ben grins, “Sheila Rolland is friends with Jade Calder. That means she is going to be there, and I plan to romance her.”
“You talk to girls even less than I do,” I chuckle, shoving him as we board the bus. “How in the world do you plan to romance this girl while trying to avoid getting the boot from security?”
“I can romance any girl I wish. I just need to use the Michaels’ name and I’m in like Flynn.”
I roll my eyes and glance over my shoulder at Karina Matthews, the captain of the girls’ volleyball team, as she boards the bus with her friends.
“If what you say is true,” I say, turning back to Ben as we grab an empty seat at the back of the bus. “Why don’t you practice your techniques on Karina?”
Ben’s face turns pale and I bark with laughter. I ruffle his thick brown locks and pull out my tablet. Smart people do smart things. I read and forget about the rest of the world. I lift my foot onto the bench, resting my elbow on my knee as I flip through to my favorite Sherlock books.
“Dude,” Ben says, glancing at my shoes. “Aren’t those the same shoes you got for Christmas, two Christmases ago?”
I look down at my dirty, worn out, Converse and shrug.
“They still fit,” I explain, patting them proudly. “And they still have a few miles left in them. If the soles fall off, then I will get a new pair.”
“Ren,” Ben sighs, shaking his head in disbelief. “You have more than enough money to buy a new pair of shoes every month, if you wished. It goes for your clothing, too. Why do you insist on dressing like you can’t afford a toothbrush?”
“I have told you a thousand times, but I will gladly explain it again.” I click off my tablet and turn to look at him. “I wish to live a humble life and not have people fawning over me because I’ve got money. I have managed to avoid conflict of interest thus far and I like being frugal with my allowance. I probably have enough saved up to buy two new cars, if I were to think about it. When people see you walking down the halls, wearing the latest style, they automatically think you have money and only want to be your friend because of that detail. I wear my better get-up when I am visiting family or joining Dad at work.”
Satisfied with my speech, I turn my tablet back on and follow Dr. Watson’s description of a Sherlock case.
Jade Calder tries her best to hold back the tears. Every year it is the same. Her father has his assistant plan the Thanksgiving gala at his bank. He invites all of his peers and their families, with the occasion opponent in the banking business just so he can embarrass them to prove he is better at what he does. However, this is not why Jade is near tears. Her mother died in a car accident on this very evening. Her father did not seem to care, nor did he grieve long enough to prove he loved his wife at all. In fact, he remarried three months after the accident.
Jade was close to her mother. She had been in the car the night of the accident. They were on their way to the gala when the car hit a sheet of ice on the road. Jade has survived, coming out with scrapes and bruises, but her mother had gotten the worse of the hit. She had been in a coma for a few days, but she never woke up. It was hard on Jade, but she was lucky her older brother, Tyler, was always ready to drop what he was doing to be near her when she needed him.
Jade sits in her room, still wearing her school uniform, curled up on her side with her pillow clutched to her stomach. Her door is open, but it does not matter because she does not have a lock for privacy anyway. Tyler, her older brother, appears in the doorway and knocks, though he is already walking in.
“Hey sis,” he says softly, sitting on the edge of the bed. “How are you holding up?”
“He doesn’t even care,” Jade whispers, not trusting her voice. “I came home a few moments ago and all he said to me was to make sure I remember to be polite tomorrow night. I asked if I could stay; he knows that I don’t like going because it is the night Mom died.”
“Come here,” her brother pulls her up to his chest and holds her close. “Jade, I know it’s hard, but I don’t Mom would want you to grieve her for so long. It has been two years. I think you should put it behind you and move forward.”
“I can’t,” she cries, squeezing her eyes shut. “The only reason I still grieve is because Dad doesn’t seem to care at all. It is almost as if he never loved Mom in the first place. Sometimes I wish it had been me who didn’t make it.”
“He did love Mom. They were already thinking about getting a divorce before the accident happened. And don’t you ever think that way. If it had been you who didn’t make it, I would have lost my sister. Yes, I lost a mother, but there is a reason you survived and I am grateful that you did.”
Jade nods, sobbing into Tyler’s shirt while he rubs her back. Tyler kisses her hair before pulling back to see her face.
“I believe Sheila Rolland will be there tomorrow,” he says with a sad smile.
“You and I both know she’s a fake,” Jade says, shaking her head as she wipes her eyes with the palms of her hands. “I don’t even see her at school anymore. Last week, we went to the mall to look around and she liked this dress. It was a nice one and I thought it would look nice, but she had to go and say ’You should buy this for me.’ When I asked why, she responded, ’Because you’re the one with the extra cash.’ She is so . . . I cannot stand people like that. I want real friends, not fake people who are around because my father is loaded.”
“Friends like that are rare,” Tyler nods, patting her hand softly. “I was thinking of heading out to eat . . . nothing ritzy. Just plain old Chinese. You want to come with?”
Jade slowly smiles, nodding.
“Good,” he goes on, touching his sister’s nose. “Because I am not in the mood for another family dinner.”
“Last week was a disaster, Tyler,” she says, sighing. “I know Collette is just trying to keep things from falling apart, but Dad is no help.”
“One of these days, it is all going to come back in his face. When you go off to college, I will be right behind you and he will have to deal with it. I can tell that once we are out of this house, we will not think twice about never turning back. Now, get changed so we can scoot out of here.”
Jade smiles and nods as Tyler stands. He smiles at her before leaving.
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