When I enter the apartment, I’m not surprised to see Wanda still sleeping and her boyfriend, Fred, emptying the fridge. “What about school?!” He exclaims the second he notices me in the entrance.
I don’t answer him and instead hobble to the couch where my aunt is sleeping. “Hey, I asked you something!” Fred shouts angrily, stomping towards me. Or rather - staggers. He’s completely drunk.
“Wanda, wake up.” I shake my aunt lightly, ignoring her deadbeat boyfriend.
“The fuck you want?” Wanda grumbles tiredly, slapping my hand off her shoulder. “You should be at school.”
“There was some trouble… I need to talk to you.”
“What did you do?” Wanda snarls, suddenly fully woken up.
“I… I didn’t do anything, but there’s something I need to speak to you about, as you’re my legal guardian.”
“Oh shit, this can’t be good.” Fred huffs, getting a glare from Wanda. “Shut up. - she sneers before turning back to me - Explain.”
How do I explain this? I don’t even know what happened myself! It all happened so quickly and there was no time for me to digest what transpired with the Knights.
“Holy fucking shit! - Fred laughs as he looks out the window - Wanda, you gotta see this shit.”
“What is it?”
“The Knights are here.” Fred reveals. Wait, he knows them? How? Are they famous or something?
“You’re shitting me! - Wanda exclaims in shock - What do they want here?!”
“Um, that’s what I wanted to talk about… I was offered to stay with the Knights for a while and change schools, but I need your approval.” I get Wanda’s attention again, making her turn to me with wide eyes.
“What did you just say?” She asks slowly.
“The Knights offered me to stay with them for a while and change schools.” I repeat, getting increasingly more worried as my aunt’s face turns pale as a sheet.
“What?” Is she deaf?!
“I heard that! Are you fucking serious?!” Wanda yells, making me flinch at the sudden loudness. I can only hope Kaden didn’t hear her as well. I don’t want to seem even more pathetic than I already am.
“Why would I lie…” I mumble sarcastically, getting increasingly annoyed with my aunt. I don’t know what the big deal is. I mean, it is surprising that some people want to help me to this extent, but does she really have to react like this?
I watch stunned as my aunt and her boyfriend exchange confused looks which soon turn into gleeful grins that just scream trouble. Uh-oh.
“So you’re saying that you’ve caught the Knights’ attention and they want to help you change schools and stay with them, huh?” Wanda trails off, sitting beside me on the worn out couch before she starts rubbing my back affectionately. She’s never done this before!
“I think so… But I need your approval.”
“Oh, you have my approval, girl. If you want, I can even sign a fucking paper to say I’m letting you go with them! - Wanda exclaims happily, suddenly in much better mood - In fact, let me write it right now.” She rushes to grab some piece of paper and a pen before she quickly scribbles something on it. “Here you go. My written approval for you to stay with the Knights and for them to arrange a new school for you.”
Approval for the Knights to change my school? What the hell? That’s not their responsibility!
“I knew you’d be useful at some point.” Fred comments with a nasty grin plastered on his face. So you thought I’m useless. Good to know.
“Did you know that the Knights are extremely loaded?” Wanda asks conspicuously, grabbing my hands and rubbing them softly. Her gesture should’ve been reassuring and kind, but all I can think about is how suspiciously she and Fred act. “Well, they are. - she continues - So I want to ask you for a favor. Since they seem to have taken a liking to you, you can borrow some money from them.” WHAT?! How did she come to that conclusion?!
“Not much, just around twenty grand.” Fred chimes in casually.
“TWENTY GRAND?! You want me to borrow twenty grand from them?!” I shout indignantly, absolutely appalled by their audacity.
“That’s the least they could give us if they intend to take you! - Wanda argues harshly - I’m not even asking for a lot, just twenty grand! It’s nothing to them!”
“They’re not taking me! I’m not some hostage! They’ve only offered to help me because I was bullied at school!” I defend, wiping off the angry tears that roll down my cheeks.
“I don’t care. If they want to take you, they have to at least pay us.” Wanda declares sternly, completely unbothered by how cruel she appears.
She makes it sound like they’re selling me to the Knights…
Is that what it is?
Before I can argue more, someone knocks on the front door. Kaden must’ve heard the screams…
While Fred goes to open the door, I try to calm myself down and erase the signs of crying from my face. It doesn’t work. I know I probably look like a mess right now.
“Is Faye here?” I snap my head to the entrance when I hear Mrs Knight’s voice. She’s standing by the entrance with a harsh scowl on her beautiful face and Mr Knight right behind her. I’m slightly surprised I don’t see Kaden with them. He must’ve gotten bored of waiting…
“Ah, yes, she’s here. Faye, you have guests.” Fred lets Kaden’s parents in and sends me a fake sweet smile. After demanding that I borrow money from the Knights he actually has the audacity to pretend to be a caring uncle. What a joke.
“Sorry about the mess, Mr and Mrs Knight. We didn’t expect guests.” Wanda goes to greet the Knights warmly and I’m left hoping the nice couple won’t be fooled by her act.
“You must be Faye’s aunt.” Mr Knight concludes knowingly, not even accepting Fred’s outstretched hand.
“Yes, I am. Wanda Pierce. - my aunt introduces herself, not minding her disheveled state or the smell of liquor coming from her and her boyfriend - My little niece has told me about the offer you so kindly presented to her. I have to say, I didn’t know my sweet girl had such connections.” Wanda jokes. At least I hope she’s joking.
And what was that? My little niece? My sweet girl? Is she fucking kidding me? She didn’t even acknowledge me as her family when I came here and now she’s pretending to be a loving aunt?! Fuck her!
I’m only here because I wanted to avoid going to an orphanage.
“I’m only trying to help her out. Living on a fourth floor with no lift is too strenuous for someone in Faye’s state. She shouldn’t have to walk to and from school and climb countless stairs every day. Not to mention the neglect she’s undoubtedly enduring here and the bullying she’s been suffering at school. It only makes sense that she’s removed from such environment, wouldn’t you agree, miss Pierce?” Mrs Knight says seriously, seemingly not in mood for games.
“I agree, of course, but I have neither funds nor connections to take her from one school to another or drive her there. I don’t even own a car, Mrs Knight.” Wanda defends, but Mrs Knight is not impressed by her response. I can see it on her face.
“Is that so… Then surely you wouldn’t mind it if Faye went with us and received proper care.” Damn, she’s fierce! I love her!
“Of course not. But I’d like to make a request… - oh no, here we go - As you’ve said, the conditions we live in are not suitable for Faye, but we have no money to change that…” Wanda sighs sadly. It hurts to see her act like this, even if what she says is true. This place is a dump and Wanda really doesn’t have money to get something else.
But that’s because she spends all her money on her parasite of a boyfriend, liquor and knickknacks she doesn’t even need.
“You want money?” Mr Knight asks coldly, his eyes darting between me and Wanda questioningly. “For letting your niece stay with us? Surely you realize that it’s starting to sound like you want to sell her to us.”
“That’s not true! - Wanda shouts indignantly - I wouldn’t do that!” Yeah, you would.
“Faye, what do you think of this?” Mrs Knight turns to me imploringly, leaving me in shock. She’s asking me? Really? I mean, I’m happy that she’s including me in this, mostly because ever since I came here, my aunt and Fred have been making all the decisions for me, but I don't know what to say about this.
“I… um... I’m not sure.” I mutter nervously, dropping my gaze to the floor in shame. What can I even say? Don’t give my aunt any money? I want to go with you but I don’t want to be bought? What am I supposed to say?
“You are Faye’s legal guardian, correct?” Mrs Knight turns back to Wanda.
“That’s of course until she turns eighteen, correct?”
“Yes…” Wanda trails off confusedly.
“Then, seeing as Faye is still underage, you are the one who can make decisions regarding her accommodation, correct?” Mrs Knight implores. What is she getting at?
“Then do you approve of Faye staying with us?”
“Not for free.” Wanda scoffs. I knew she’d say that.
“Do you really want to play like this? - Mrs Knight chuckles darkly - I’m not sure you’re in a position to make any demands…”
“Oh really? And why is that?”
“For starters, you’re inebriated. Secondly, this place doesn’t fit the requirements needed for getting custody of a child. It’s not nearly big or clean enough. Thirdly, with Faye’s state of health taken into consideration, the lack of elevator in the building or you forcing her to walk a few miles to school can be seen as neglect that borders on life-threatening. Besides, the fact that you even sent her to school with such serious injuries could render you unfit for a guardian. Should I continue?” Mrs Knight says coldly, shocking both me and Wanda to the core. I had no idea she’d be so adamant about getting me out of here. It’s not like she has anything to gain from it.
“I’m the only relative that could take care of her, so it’s not like she has anyone else to go to.” Wanda laughs bitterly.
“You seem to misunderstand something, miss Pierce. - Mr Knight sighs - It’s not rudimentary that the legal guardian is a relative. Judging by the state you and… whoever this man is, are, one report is all it would take for you to lose your custody over Faye.”
“Do you really have to go that far for this girl?! - Wanda exclaims defensively - What do you even know about her?! Why are you trying to take her away?!”
“If you think you can resolve this by yelling, you’re mistaken, so I suggest you keep your voice down. - Mrs Knight sends my aunt an icy glare - You have two choices: go the easy way or go the hard way.”
I can honestly say I didn’t expect Mrs Knight to be this… intense.
“What’s the easy option?” Fred asks nervously. I can see why he’s scared. The Knights are beyond intimidating!
“Sign an agreement stating you’re leaving Faye in our care until she turns eighteen. You’ll be pretty much giving up the custody and you will no longer be allowed to make decisions concerning Faye’s accommodation, education, medical care or anything else.” Mrs Knight retorts sharply. I can actually feel tears flowing down my face at the tenacity with which she fights Wanda for me. I’m just a stranger to her, someone who simply went to the same school as her son, yet here she is, arguing with my aunt over me.
How can I ever repay her for this?
Maybe I should just put a stop to this before things escalate… Maybe I should just stay obediently with Wanda and Fred…
“Fine. - I whip my head to my aunt in shock - I’ll sign the paper. It’s not like I can win against the infamous Knights.” She grumbles. “When will I get the papers?”
“I have them right here. - Mrs Knight takes out her phone - I have all the legal documents ready at all times. You have no idea how many times I have to do this shit.” She chuckles humorlessly. “Oh, and before you think we’re doing this just to fuck you over, read the agreement properly. The settlement you’ll receive is stated in section 8.2, paragraph 6. I hope you’re satisfied with the amount.” She hands the phone over to Wanda, who quickly skims through the contents of the file before gasping loudly in shock.
“Are you serious?”
“I’m always serious when it comes to dealing with something like this.”
“Where do I sign?” SERIOUSLY? Just like this?!
“Your fingerprint will suffice for now. I will send my lawyer over with all the paperwork later today, so make sure you’re at home when he arrives.” Mrs Knight states, taking her phone back from my aunt, then she turns to me. In a split second she goes from a stern, cold and business-like person to a warm and motherly woman. “Grab whatever you need and let's go home.”
“Really?” I croak, my throat tight in emotion. I don’t know if it’s shock, relief, gratitude or fear of the unknown that I’m feeling, but it’s so intense that it nearly suffocates me.
“Of course. You’re staying with us now.” Mrs Knight smiles kindly.
“I need my parents’ stuff.” I rush to get up from the couch I’ve been sitting on, but in my haste I almost trip over the carpet and fall. Luckily, Mr Knight manages to catch me. “Thank you.”
“Are your things in that room?” Mr Knight asks as he gestures at the bedroom with his head, still holding me upright. Oh my god, what will Mrs Knight think of this?!
“Um, yeah. Y-You can let go now, Mr Knight, I will manage on my own.” I stammer, keeping my gaze on the floor to hide my embarrassment.
Mr Knight doesn’t release me, though, and instead takes me to the bedroom, where he carefully sets me down on the small bed before walking outside, leaving me with Mrs Knight. “This mess should be considered a health hazard, I swear to god.” She mutters, kicking some of Fred’s dirty clothes away. I tried to clean this room as much as I could, but all I could do was dust it a little. I couldn’t bend that much to pick up the things from the floor.
“Tell me what you need and I’ll grab it for you, okay?” Mrs Knight says with a smile.
“It’s no problem.”
I don’t need a lot of things with me, just some of my parents’ memoirs, clothes, underwear and books. But when I tell Mrs Knight where my clothes are, she tells me there’s no need to take them with us unless they’re really important to me because she intends to get me new stuff. I try to argue and tell her she doesn’t need to go to such lengths, she only waves it off and says that I’m under her care now, so it’s perfectly fine to let myself be pampered. Her words, not mine.
I can’t win against her, so I give in.
I end up taking all of my books, my parents’ photo albums, wedding rings and my mom’s styling kit that she loved dearly. She was a hairdresser and I’ve always aspired to follow in her footsteps and hopefully become as good as her. She’s the one who showed me how amazing it is to work on people’s appearances and make them happy with themselves.
When Mrs Knight has everything I want to take with me packed, she calls her husband over to take me outside, where we find Kaden patiently waiting in the hallway. I was sure he’s left by now!
Mrs Knight asks Kaden to take me to his car while she and Mr Knight take my bags, getting a shocked look from me. She wants Kaden to carry me again?! Why?
“No need to look so surprised, Faye. - she chuckles - If someone saw my husband carrying you out of the building, they’d think he’s kidnapping you. And it makes more sense to have Kaden take you downstairs since he’s the one who brought you up here.” Logically, it makes sense, that’s true. But emotionally? Not so much. Being in Kaden’s strong arms, engulfed by the scent of his rich, manly cologne is doing inexplicable things to my poor heart.
It’s definitely unhealthy to be in his arms for too long.
Even though I want to, I don’t protest. Any opportunity to avoid those hellish stairs is welcomed.
So I let Kaden take me from his father’s hold and carry me to his car. I’m absolutely stunned by how easily those men pass me over from one to another. It’s as if my weight doesn’t even bother them! How are they so strong?!
Of course, I don’t dare ask them that.
Instead, I let myself relax in Kaden’s hold and fall into the role of a damsel in distress. It actually feels nice to have someone so concerned about my wellbeing and health. Feminists would curse me to death, but I like this feeling of having someone to lean on. I like it that I don’t have to be strong anymore and I can let someone else care for me.
Unlike earlier, I’m not really scared of being in a car with Kaden. On our way to my aunt’s apartment complex I was absolutely terrified that we’d get in an accident. The memories of my last moments with my parents just started flooding my mind and I could hear my bones break, I could feel the glass shards from the windows stab my skin, I could feel the impact of the hit, I could hear my parents’ screams. It was like I was back in my dad’s car on that fateful day.
We didn’t get into an accident, luckily, and I’m more assured we won’t get in one this time as well. Kaden is really careful behind the wheel. He doesn’t speed, he does no dangerous maneuvers, he doesn’t show off… He just drives while some rock music plays on the radio.
I can’t help but watch Mr and Mrs Knight as they ride before us on their Harley. They look so good together. And their relationship is something that anyone can be envious of. They remind me of my own parents. My mom and dad were inseparable, they always had to be together, mostly because of my dad’s unbelievable paranoia when it came to mom. He always thought that someone wanted to steal his wife from him, so he showered mom with so much love and affection she wouldn’t even think about leaving him. Not that she wanted to. Mom was absolutely in love with dad. She always told me that she liked how obsessed and jealous dad was over her. She said it made her feel loved and cherished. She also told me to never let a man take me for granted or treat me badly. ‘A true man won’t hurt someone he loves,’ she used to say.
I’m so lost in my thoughts that I don’t even realize when we arrive at the Knights’ house.
Or should I say - mansion.
Holy cow, their house is huge!
“I’ll help you get out, alright?” Kaden asks tenderly as he shuts the car’s engine.
“Can I use my crutches?” I request tentatively. I don’t want everyone here to see me carried, even though it’s really nice to be in Kaden’s arms.
“If that’s what you’re comfortable with.” Kaden retorts with a smile then quickly gets out of the car and rounds it to get to my side before opening the door and helping me out. His arms leave me only for a moment as he takes my crutches from the backseat and hands them to me, and then his big warm hand lands gently on the small of my back, supporting me as I hobble towards the entrance, following Mr and Mrs Knight.
I’m not even surprised when an elderly man opens the front door and greets the Knights with a slight bow. Their house is huge, so of course they’ll have some people working here. By now I’m pretty sure they’re aristocrats. I mean, even the elderly man calls them ‘my lord’ and ‘my lady’. That has to mean something.
Kaden keeps his hand on my back the whole time, for which I’m thankful when I enter the gorgeous foyer. Good god, this is unbelievable. The interior of this place reminds me of a luxurious hotel I’ve seen once on the Internet. Everything is so pristine, so shiny, so expensive-looking that I’m afraid to step inside. I don't let my eyes wander over the beautiful interior for too long, having caught sight of Mr and Mrs Knight handing my bags over to two women before turning to me with warm smiles.
“Welcome to your new home, Faye.”