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Miles off

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Chapter 1

Looking at my computer in the library. I try to act like I’m not listening to the girls in my class talking to each other. I have a reputation for being a loner and I want to keep it. I shouldn’t be interested in them talking but I can’t help but be.

“Yeah, apparently Milo’s voice is toe-curling you know what I mean.” One of the girls is saying. I look at my screen pretending there’s something ridiculously interesting about the PowerPoint presentation I am creating. instead, I have written toe-curling. I quickly delete it. yeah, it’s not that kind of presentation. I don’t think my teacher would be impressed if it was that kind of presentation, actually, it might excite the old man a bit too much. I don’t want to be responsible for giving him a heart attack.

“Milo that hot guy who graduated last year?” one of the girl’s questions.

“Yeah, and his four friends,” she says. I think about the guys I had used to see in the music room during lunch break. I had avoided them all like the plague but on more than one occasion I had stood outside the music room and listened to them practicing. I knew how good the five of them actually were. Milo, Tyrone Hunter, Zach, and Owen were so talented it was unbelievable and sometimes they had even sung one of my big brother’s songs and hearing his music was like he was back with me. only for a few moments. He had let me down, but in a way, I knew he never planned to. He did get me out of Moms and Dads after all. He did have full plans to get custody of me, that he had been working on for a year, I’ve seen them now. hell, he had even set me and Jez up a college fund and left most of his money to us and a bit to Makena. It even turned out he had been paying all our bills since he left at 16. Which explains why we never got kicked out or had our electric or water cut off. I had told the lawyers I didn’t want his blood money though. but then it wasn’t mine till I was 21 anyway and the lawyer had told me to think about it. but told me my brother left strict instructions that the money was mine to support me though out anything I wanted in life, that I was to go to college and study whatever the hell I want and do a tour of the world and live life to the fullest. he was flexible how I did it. I knew he had written it before Jez had died as it said about always being there for each other. it was his just in case letters, letters he never really planned for us to see. I look at my screen pretending I know what I am doing. I don’t. I have been swept up in life and blown about like I am a leaf. Nike had tried to get custody of me quietly but it was denied, by the time the courts had fully stripped away my parent’s rights and I had been back and forth to them I had turned 16 and got myself emancipated using one of Greys lawyers for help and Nikes money that he had paid the lawyer before I could, even though I had been scrimping and saving to try to. my mom died of a drug overdose on my 17th birthday and I haven’t seen my dad since her funeral. I work part-time at a health club as a lifeguard. I don’t mind the job and it’s interesting seeing the life I could have lived. but I don’t think it would have suited me. I touch my locket, its chain it had come on had long ago broke, but I still wear it. I have changed the chains more than I care to admit but the locket was the one and only present my brother ever gave me when he was alive and that means a lot to me. it was also one of a kind because inside it I had discovered our names engraved behind our picture with the words ‘my family not just smoke.’ was that truly how he had felt about me?

“But we would never get into Club Lewis it’s a celebrity club!” one of the girls says almost like she had given up already. I don’t blame her. I knew how impossible places were to get into. hell, my own work was impossible to get into. I don’t even know how I got the job. I had been desperate when I went to the interview. 15 years old and needing a job so I could try to get out on my 16th birthday. my lawyer had told me it would look better to the judge if I was trying to support myself. I have a little room that I rent in a home for teenagers exactly like me. there are rules in place that if I break, I will find myself homeless. no boys, no alcohol, no drugs. no ditching school. not that I would break any of those rules. alcohol and drugs cost me a family. and boys? yeah, not happening.

“What if we get there early enough. it’s an under 21 night. it might not be too busy.” one of the girls said. I think about it seriously. I could go. no one would stop me. as long as I was home by 11 pm I wouldn’t break the buildings curfew. I could find a spot in the crowd and just listen to them.

“We can try.” one of them says. I listen to them make their plans.

Stood in the que for the nightclub, I can’t believe I am doing this. it’s stupid, I’m never going to get in. I didn’t get here early enough. I’m surrounded by all these kids my own age who want a chance to meet a celebrity, I don’t belong here. I don’t care if someone’s a celebrity, hell my brother was a celebrity and most of the three weeks when he did turn up he tried his damn hardest not to be recognized. I just have me and that’s what’s important. why am I here? I could just turn on YouTube and get to watch an old music video of my brother. I don’t need to hear his music live. it’s not him singing and playing. I should give up and go home, its four hours to curfew after all. I shouldn’t risk being out this late. Hell, it would surprise them that I’m out even this close to curfew. the only time I’m ever close to my curfew is when I do a staff event at the health club, then I talk to the building supervisor and they extend the curfew for me. I look at my watch and go to leave the que when a girl’s voice catches my attention.

“Oh, honey I’m so glad you made it.” She says pulling me into a hug. what? was she drunk? who the hell was she? whilst hugging me she whispers to me.

“play along. My date is not getting the hint that I’m not interested in sleeping with him. I just need to get in there and then it’s done. play along and I will get you in without the que.” she says it all quickly I am not sure what the hell is going on, but I’m going home anyway.

’James this is my really good friend Marie.” the girl says with a smile that is ridiculously innocent. how the hell does she look so innocent when she’s lying her ass off? although I am kind of surprised about how close she has got my name.

“Come on Marie,” she says pulling my arm towards the bouncer. I go with her. I can scream and alert people that somethings going on. but right now, nothing seems to be, well except the fact this girl is chatting to me asking me how long I’ve been waiting in the que.

“um an hour,” I admit. she shakes her head.

“you’re on the VIP list,” she informs me.

“Um, I doubt that,” I say. but the girl walks up to the bouncer with my arm linked in hers.

“Hello, girls welcome have a great evening,” the bouncer tells us lifting the rope so we can go in. I look at the girl not sure what the hell happened.

“I’m Ella, you work at the health club, don’t you? Marie isn’t it?” she asks me all innocently? I look at her and now I do she does look kind of familiar. was she a celeb? was that how she got me in like that?

“Mariah,” I tell her, she grins at me.

“you need to tell your manager he is calling you the wrong name,” Ella tells me with a smile. yeah, not a priority for me.

“Would you like a drink?” Ella asks me. no now I know your technically one of my work clients nope. we are told constantly not to cross the barrier between being staff and friends, but to make every client feel special.

“No thank you. thank you for getting me in,” I say looking around in disbelief at the packed nightclub. I could see and hear the band on the stage actually playing one of Mac and Cheeses hits.

“They are so good, aren’t they? hopefully, a music producer will come by in the next few weeks and watch them.” Ella tells me.

“Hopefully so,” I say with a smile.

“Come on I will get you a drink,” Ella tells me, grabbing my hand she walks me to the bar. I don’t know what to do or say.

“what would you like?” she asks me.

“um a soda is fine,” I say.

“What soda?” Ella asks.

“um cola,” I tell her not sure what is going on. Ella grins she really doesn’t look as innocent now.

“One cola and one bottle of water,” she tells the waitress when we get to the front. the waitress takes the payment then gets our drinks.

“Come dance with me. please Mariah,” she says with a grin.

“Riah,” I tell her not sure about what I am saying, I hide behind my curtain of long black hair. Ella’s own blonde hair is scraped back into a neat high ponytail.

“Riah that’s really pretty. as pretty as you. you shouldn’t hide behind your hair.” she tells me. what do you say to that? she tucks a bit of my hair behind my ear and I find myself being dragged onto the dancefloor.

“I have a midnight curfew.” I find myself telling her not sure why.

“How far away do you live?” she asks me worriedly, looking at a watch on her wrist.

“Half an hour’s drive, my cars parked around the corner,” I admit. she grins at me, does something on her watch and says.

“I’ll make sure you make curfew. just relax Riah. enjoy the band with me. you’re my date tonight.” she tells me with a grin, and she starts dancing for some reason I find myself joining her. I kind of feel like I have two left feet but Ella grins at me the whole time and takes my hand and we start dancing together. I listen to my brother’s music and dance with someone who doesn’t know me, and I feel like a weight is lifted from me. for the first time in ages, I don’t feel so alone in the world. I look at Ella not sure how she achieved a miracle of helping me relax.

“Riah which one do you think is the hottest?” she asks me with a grin.

“Owen and Hunter,” I admit, not sure why. but Owens tousled brunette messy hair kind of shows how little he cares about how he looks. I had seen him rock up to school in the same outfit more than a few times, he put so little effort into what he wore to school. but I had seen his grades and he was one of the top of the school. he missed out on valedictorian by doing no effort to get it. but I know he had the grades. I had seen him a few times leave work looking exhausted he works in a shop on my block, I see girls purposely go in and buy items so they can talk to him, but I couldn’t do that. when he serves me, I find myself hiding behind my hair and mumbling my thanks. Hunter on the other hand is the typical LA surfer. Blonde long hair that im surprised he got away with at school. The amount of times I had crossed Hunter as he was coming out the library the last few years. He used to stand next to me looking through books when I was choosing a book to loose myself in during lunch so I wasn’t alone with my thoughts. when he had talked to me and it was most days I had just hid behind my hair and mumbled, but he was always saying something as if trying to get me to smile. they must both think I’m damaged. maybe I am.

“I really like Milo, but I don’t think he likes me,” Ella says, I look at her realizing she’s serious and she’s not as sure on herself as she acts.

“Why don’t you think he likes you?” I ask her, not so sure why talking to her is so easy for me.

“I came across too nosy with the waitress here, asking her personal questions when we weren’t busy. I just wanted to make sure she was okay. I hate to know someone’s struggling when I can help.” Ella admits I see she means that. that’s what takes me by surprise.

“I also poured a bottle of water over my dates head in front of him after he grabbed my boob, but I don’t think he saw the boob grab.” She admits.

“I also had another two disastrous dates in front of him,” she mumbles.

“Do you go on a lot of disastrous dates?” I find myself questioning her. how the hell am I being this forward with her? she nods.

“Way too many, I can never work out if people want to date me because of me, or because of who I am,” she admits. I look at her and realize what she means.

“But when I don’t tell them who I am, they don’t fit into this side of my life,” she says indicating the bar.

“I am a business major and a math geek, but I’m also someone who likes to let loose. I need it loud to be able to think and not feel like I am drowning in my own head. I need to be able to have conversations with someone like does everyone see the same color blue and if color is just an optical illusion one moment and the next, I need someone to be able to rock out to this kind of music. I then need someone who can keep up with me on the waves surfing, then understands that I will sit and yell at a football match whilst playing 3D chess. she admits to me. I blink at her. I think I know more about Ella than I know about people my own age who I’ve been around for years.

“You’re asking for a lot Ella,” I admit to her.

“I know but I can dream, no one can ever take my dreams away from me Riah,” Ella tells me, I think about what she means, I think about Jez’s list of places she wanted to go. I think about my own fear of ever being hurt again or losing anyone, that suffocates me.

“Maybe,” I say deep thinking it. The band has stopped playing I look up at them and watch Owen put his bass into his case. Music is still playing, but the DJ looks to have taken over.

“Have they finished?” I ask Ella.

“Yeah that’s them done for the night,” Ella admits as I watch Hunter laughing and smiling at something one of the guys said.

“They perform every Thursday night,” she says looking at me like she’s deep thinking what she says.

“Do they perform originals?” I ask.

“I will find out.” She says with a grin. I shake my head but smile. I kind of wish I had Ella’s balls.

“Please come back next Thursday. meet me outside at 7 pm and I will get you in from the beginning of their set.” She says giving me a pleading look.

“I’ll try,” I say looking up at the whole band not sure what I’m really thinking. my brother was a guitar player, is that why I like Owen? did I really have that big an issue? He even sings a lot of Greys lines in the songs. Whilst Hunter. Hunter is so fun that maybe just maybe he could help me, see the bright side of life.

“If not, I will be at the health club sometime next month. if you could have a break so we can talk?” She asks almost encouragingly.

“Ella you don’t know anything about me. I’m staff at the club, we aren’t your friends.” I say not sure why I gave her such a dose of reality.

“I know, but I have a feeling we could be friends,” she says there’s so much hope in her voice and on her face. what the hell?

“Ella I’m not the kind of person who could be your friend,” I admit to her. She looks like I’ve slapped her.

“there’s nothing at all wrong with you Ella. I just, I’m not friendly,” I admit to her, why I can even tell her this is weird to me.

“I like to be on my own,” I tell her, it’s true in a way. I only have to be responsible for me. I can’t have someone let me down again. I don’t think my heart could physically take losing someone again.

“There’s nothing wrong with you. I’m just better of alone,” I admit to her, she looks me in the eyes and a look crosses her face.

“who hurt you?” She asks me like she wants to pull me close and hold me. she’s so scary. everyone.

“No one.” I lie.

“I’m just someone who wants to be alone,” I tell her.

“Fine, you can be alone,” she says matter of fact. I dunno why that disappoints me, I got what I wanted.

“You can be alone with me.” She says. she smiles at me. She grabs my hand and smiles at me, it’s weird.

“I’m here when you need someone even if you don’t want me there.” She tells me. I shake my head in disbelief.

“I’m here you come or don’t, but I’m always here.” She says, she looks at her watch.

“but you got to go,” she says sadly.

“Please Riah remember everyone needs someone,” she tells me.

“Bye Ella it was strange meeting you,” I say, and I walk away from her, her words ringing in my ear. she doesn’t know me.

why am I here? why am I stood outside club Lewis at 6.50 pm on a Thursday night? why did I come back? was it to see the band or for Ella? I couldn’t even decide in my own head. What if Ella stands me up? I will know there’s no point at all in trying again. I’m not ready to be hurt. I touch my locket wanting it to save me from this fate.

“You came,” Ella says excitedly. I turn and look at her, she’s in a different black dress to last week. She grins at me and doesn’t comment at all about how I am in the same outfit.

“I’m so glad you came.” She says excitedly. she grabs my arm and links it in her own and starts walking us off.

I realized it would be a bit too much like a stalker to go to your work and ask for your number. I wanted to get hold of you.” She says with a grin.

“Um, why?” I ask.

“A music producer is going to come to watch them next Thursday and I know you would want to avoid that day.” She informs me with a grin.

“Why would I want to avoid?” I ask confused.

“It’s Nike,” she tells me, color must drain from my face as she looks at me like she knows more about me than she should. How would she know though? Most people don’t even remember that the band had familys. If they mention familys they only call us Mac and Cheeses little Macorinis. Yeah my names sometimes in there but they thankfully have no pictures of me. I told my lawyer I wanted privacy to grieve when I was ten and a magazine was trying to push for a meeting with me. That was the only and last time they ever mentioned me talking to the press. My foster dad at that point had laid into the lawyer once id left the room. I remember silently crying as I heard him demand what was in the mans head to ask a kid to talk about her family when she had just lost everyone she loved.

“I know right, I would avoid him to if I could. but I can’t when I want him to come to see the band.” She says with a grin.

“I think you’ve got the wrong.” I start worriedly.

“Mariah Ashlyn Flynn, Greyson Flynn’s little sister. you’ve got the same eyes and last name.” Ella says looking at me, I look around to make sure no one’s close by. Ella takes me up a set of stairs. her arm still linked in my own. I want to run away from her.

“How do you.” I start.

“I never really introduced myself to you either. we have met a few times. But they were all years ago” Ella says nervously. we have met? she’s making no sense.

“I think you were 2 the first time, I look about 3 from the picture and Mac looks a few months old. It was just before they became famous,” she admits. what the fuck is this?

“Ella?” I ask as a question as she unlocks the black door at the top of the stairs above the nightclub I realize.

“You also came to stay with us for a few months just after Grey died, but you spent most the time in your bedroom crying and when you weren’t crying you just used to sit there and not really be there, if you know what I mean. mom said you were in shock, that we needed to give you time to grieve. That you had just lost your sister and brother within a month of each other and your heart was broken” Ella mumbles nervously.

“Mom and Dad were going to foster you and they hoped to adopt you when everything was sorted out. if Nike couldn’t. but you got returned to your parents but they didn’t give up until they had to” she says nervously. I kind of remember a little girl then in my first foster home that I had been back and thought to for a while. but her name wasn’t Ella. was it? I could have sworn it was Danny.

“Then my mom got really sick about 9 months later, they were still fighting in court to have your parents rights stripped away. everything went so mad for a long time. mom died quiet quickly. then dad got sick himself.” Ella admits.

“Ella.” I start not sure what I am going to say. She hasn’t got the wrong girl, but at the same time, I don’t really remember this.

“Well, actually Ella’s a nickname, same as Riah is yours. My names Daniella,” she says nervously again. which is where Danny came from. I look at her unsure as she unlocks another door and opens it wide for me and I walk in feeling like I have no choice but to listen to what she wants to say. I can then tell her to fuck off. I look around at the office confused. office is the only word to describe this place. gold records line the wall though and photos of a man shaking celebrities hands my brother included.

I look at one wall and it’s a huge window. where the hell are we?

“you can watch them set up, just look down. It’s a one way they can’t see us. but we don’t want to go into the club too early,” she says nervously. I walk over to the window and look down and we are indeed above the club and can see the band setting up.

“you work here?” I ask her not sure what’s going on as I watch Owen tuning his bass.

“I own here,” she says nervously. I turn to look at her not sure what the hell she was talking about.

“My name is Daniella Lewis,” she says nervously.

“Oh?” I say in a bit of disbelief. really was it that small a world?

“My dad split all the business between me and my uncle a year before he died,” she admits nervously.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I say, and I mean that. I actually look at a picture on the wall and a small memory of them comes back. they were nice people and understanding. The women had constantly run her hand in my hair and told me it was okay to cry. The man had been really protective of me kept telling the paparazzi to leave me alone and sorted out the media ban on pictures of me going up for the few years.

“I cope. but it’s a lonely life. you never really know if people are your friends for who you are or who you are and what you can do for them. do you get me?” she asks me. I nod. I would never name drop my brother.

“So why are you telling me this. if you know who I am. you’d know I turned my brother’s money down. told everyone to fuck off the moment I was emancipated.” I say giving her a look, that says I meant it.

“Yeah I know, and they did all fuck off,” she says. yep, it hadn’t taken me much to get rid of them. I occasionally get the odd letters from my brother’s lawyers, but I don’t reply.

“They gave you a year and a half alone. don’t you think that was long enough?” She asks me. No. I shake my head no.

“Well, you can carry on telling the lawyers and Nike to fuck off. but you’re stuck with me. I will hunt you down Riah.” she says.

“Why the hell would you do that? you don’t know me,” I tell her.

“I don’t know you?” she asks me.

“No, you don’t,” I say.

“do you even know you?” she asks me.

“what the fuck does that even mean?” I snap at her.

“you put a wall around yourself and one-day someone’s going to smash it down and you’re going to get hurt,” she tells me. she grabs my arms and turns them.

“you think Nike didn’t hear the moment your building supervisor noticed the first cut, the amount of evidence you self-harm?” She questions me angry with me. what the hell!

“You’ve been hurt, no one’s saying you haven’t. hell, that court battle went on forever! 6 years!” she says looking at me like she wants to slap me, no not slap me, slap me I was used to, she looked like she wanted to hug me. Why was that more scary?

“6 years and you were constantly back and forth. 6 years until you finally said enough yourself.” She says she’s still holding my arms and looking me straight in the eyes.

“Why the fuck do you even care?” I snap at her.

“I love you.” she snaps at me.

“you don’t know me.” I snap back at her.

“Then let me get to know you.” she snaps at me. she grabs my arm and looks at me.

“Tell everyone to fuck off as much as you want to. but I’m not going to listen,” she tells me.

“Why the fuck not,” I question her, not sure why I haven’t just walked out.

“Because you’re my family, you’ve always been my family. we haven’t got much left,” she says matter of fact.

“Anyway, you can’t do a tour of the world and not have someone to tell about it. hopefully, I can even join you if I get the time off work,” she says. I shake my head.

“What makes you think I’m even going to take the money for the tour. what makes you think I’m not going to go to college?” I ask her.

“What major?” she asks me.

“journalism or English lit,” I tell her, where the fuck did that come from? yeah, I like to write, but really journalism? why not just a writer? it’s what I do now in the evenings. books not songs like my brother. But words fill my head and the only way to get them out is to write and some of my books. Yeah they show how damaged I am.

“Perfect you can do your college and then do your tour and write about it,” Ella says with a grin.

“Ella,” I say in disbelief.

“Riah,” she says in mock disbelief. I roll my eyes at her.

“Did you know who I was last week?” I question her.

“yep,” she says with a smile.

“but you still saved me from a bad date,” she tells me.

“you lied to me when you called me Marie,” I say matter of fact.

“Nope, I thought you might go by it now when I’ve heard them call you Marie all the time at work and you never correct them, I’ve tried to talk to you so many times Riah.” Ella tells me. she looks at me with so much hope in her eyes. What the hell is happening?

“Ella.” I start.

“You can walk away from me Riah but I’m here and you know exactly where I am. I will give you a few weeks before I hunt you down. but when I do you won’t get rid of me again.” She says matter of fact.

“You’re so weird,” I say.

“So are you,” she assures me. she looks down at the band.

“He’s so hot,” she says.

“Changing the conversation doesn’t.” I start but then I look down and see Owen he is sat down with the guitar on his lap his eyes shut. They start practicing a song I have never heard.

“Yes, an original. high five.” Ella squeals.

“Ella, do you often sample your own alcohol?” I ask her in disbelief.

“No dad told me you never sample your own,” Ella tells me matter of factly.

“Come on Riah don’t leave me hanging,” Ella says still holding up her hand. shaking my head at her I find myself high fiving her. not sure why I haven’t walked away.

“Riah everyone needs someone, and you know you’re stuck with me. its why you haven’t left.” Ella says matter of factly.

“Me and you against the world?” I say scoffing.

“Yeah but not just us two. me, you, Alfie, Brett, Mac, Stasia, and Nike.” She says matter of fact.

“We all need each other. Nike lost everyone too. it’s not just you who lost Grey.” Ella says. guilty I knew that. but it wasn’t Grey’s loss that was the hardest for me. it was still Jez’s. Grey had left when I was five. yeah, he came back just before he died, but Jez had always been there.

“I get it you’re not ready to face everyone. but can we try to be friends? you might not need me. but I need you.” Ella says as nervously. I nod, not sure why. Ella pulls out her cell phone.

“What’s your number?” she asks me. rolling my eyes, I pull my own phone out. I could have walked away but something deep inside me tells me to stay. I give her my number.

“Rules.” I start.

“Oh interesting, what’re the rules?” Ella squeals excitedly.

“No telling people who I am,” I say.

“Ditto you will soon discover no one knows who I am. that I’m there boss. they just think I’m someone who’s a regular.” Ella says. I raise my eyebrow at her.

“Ella, how long do you think that’s going to work for you?” I ask her.

“A good few years, my managers are all the best.” She shrugs. I laugh I can’t help it. it is a proper belly shaking laugh too. I don’t think I’ve laughed like this in a while and it’s more at the whole disbelief of the situation.

“No paying for everything,” I say matter of factly.

“Done.” Ella shrugs.

“No trying to convince me to take my brother’s money. I have decided to take the college fund and world fund but.” I start feeling wrong having decided on that much.

“Okay, but he would rather you have it than the bank.” She says. I know and he made that clear enough in his letters.

“I will decide for myself when I’m ready to,” I mumble.

“Okay,” she says. she looks down at the club.

“It should get busier soon,” Ella informs me.

“So, they don’t know you’re their boss but you’re trying to get them signed?” I ask her.

“they are so good Riah, you got to admit they could be big,” she says. I look down at them.

“But will it break them?” I ask her.

“Did it break mac and cheese? they were still family. fame could come and go but they would have been there forever together.” she says matter of factly. it was what my brother wrote. he felt that way about the band but not his own family. but then did I truly blame him? I had walked away from them myself.

“Family by choice, not blood,” I mumble, looking at the band.

“but they haven’t got the years of abuse and hope for the future that Grey and the others had,” I say looking at them.

“I know, and maybe that’s a good thing Riah. no one should have been put through what you all went through.” Ella says. I look down at the band.

“Money on them being the next big thing,” Ella says.

“I don’t bet money,” I say looking at them.

“I’m also with you on that bet,” I say watching Owens’ fingers work the guitar. My eyes go to Hunter and how hes got a smile across his face as he gives the beat that I can feel right down into my soul.

“Friends?” Ella asks me with so much hope.

“I’m not the best girl for the job,” I mumble.

“Actually, I need someone to give me a dose of reality I think you could do that brilliantly,” Ella says. I shake my head.

“I’m not a miracle worker Ella,” I say but I have a small smile at the corner of my lips. how did this all happen?

“No, your you. that’s better.” Ella informs me.

“come on I’ll get you a soda,” Ella says and then she opens the door back the way we came in. I follow her out as we sneak into the club unnoticed. who would have thought I would be sneaking into the Lewis club with the owner. she grabs my hand and pulls me to the bar. I get a soda she gets a water and she pays.

“why do you pay?” I whisper-shout to Ella.

“I’m no one special in here. none of the celebs are. they can have tabs, but they pay up.” Ella says to me with a wink. I shake my head at her, but she grabs my hand and drags me onto the dancefloor. I can’t help but letting myself go and dancing with Ella. I keep stopping and looking up at the band. When they move to one song, I have to stop my dancing.

“Little angel judging me, you’re sat in my head in your hand me down dress. sitting there when I’m trying to rest.” Owen sings I could swear I hear the word Jez rather than rest from one of the guys. but I can’t. could I?

“your lost grey eyes pouring into my soul. telling me of things I should never have let go. I try my best for you, but you’ll never know. How I do this all for you and smoke.” Owen sings. shit, I look at Ella wondering if she understood that song like I just did. the thing is the band wrote the songs together. but Carlos sang most the lines. so, everyone always thought it was his stories in the music. but both Mac and her mom had blue eyes and the fact was this was Grey’s chorus.

“The devil’s screaming voice fills my head as he screams and fights and breaks your lights and we all hide what we have left in the darkness inside.” Owen sings but it’s Grey I hear.

“I’m sorry I left but I’ll be back soon, I’m making the room for you too.” he sings no he meant two. it was written too but it means two doesn’t it?

“I’m trying to shine the light back in. Get rid of all this sin.” he sings. I fill like everyone has disappeared. it’s only me stood there and Grey. it isn’t even Owen. it’s Grey. giving me a message. he wanted to come back. this song was released the tour before he died. with 9 other songs. but this one was Greys song and it was his message to Jez before she died telling her he was coming back for her.

“The world is starting to shine the light back in, I feel like this time I can win. Yes.” Owen sings. but again, I hear Jez.

“This time I’m going to win. this time Angel I’ll set you free. you and little me. because this time I’m the fire and you too are the smoke and this time we are going to rebuild all of our hope. We will not be smothered by the ash left behind” Owen sings.

“so, burn the house down, relight the dark. sometimes it’s going to take a huge spark. but the futures ours and the futures near in fact the futures almost here.” Owen sings.

“Yes, it’s going to take a huge spark, but this time we aren’t all in the dark.” Owen sings. the song carries on, but the rest of the lyrics don’t hold much meaning. they are about Jez though. it was released before she was dead. it was his message to her that he was coming back for her. she was almost 18. she could have left with him. why hadn’t she before then? because of me? Grey had everything in place with the lawyers as soon as Jez died. he had already started a year before hand. I had seen that. Was he going to get us both out? Was that his plan?

Jez was hit by a drunk driver on her walk to the bar to pick mom and dad up. as they had called and yelled at her to come to get them as the bartender wouldn’t let them have the car keys. she never made it. I often wonder what would have happened if I had woke up more that night and begged her not to leave me home alone again. rather than just grunt okay when she told me where she was going. mom and dad walked home in the end. I remember dad screaming at Jez for being a lazy bitch and storming in my room. the angry look on his face when he demanded where Jez was. why she hadn’t come got him. his look of anger at her empty bed. I told him she went to get him. he told me obviously not as it was 3 hours since he phoned. five hours of me worrying about my big sister later the police were at the door. Jez had been hit by a car and she was gone. that phone call from mom and dad cost her life. Owen looks straight down at the audience and our eyes meet as he sings the next line of his chorus.

“so, burn the house down, relight the dark. sometimes it’s going to take a huge spark. but the futures ours and the futures near in fact the futures almost here. Yes, it’s going to take a huge spark, but this time we aren’t all in the dark.” Owen sings looking me straight in the eyes as if it’s just me he’s singing to his piecing dark blue eyes make me feel like I could drown. Ella grabs my hand then snapping me out of the moment. I turn to look at her breaking my eye contact with Owen.

“Alfie’s here are you up to seeing him again?” she asks me. Alfie was her uncle if I remember rightly and he was close in age to how old Jez would have been. I nod.

“Yeah alright, maybe he can tell me what you’re on.” I tease her, but I make sure she can tell it’s a joke. She grabs my hand and pulls me off the dance floor towards a huge group. nope, nut uh. They were mountains!

“Ella” I shout in disbelief as she pulls me to the crowd. a crowd surrounded by models. she hits one of the guys on the back as hard as she can. He turns laughing.

“Hey, shorty.” He says pulling her into his arms and straight into his armpit Ella squeals in disgust. thankfully dropping my hand.

“OMG ALFIE YOU STINK.” Ella practically shouts. but not many people can hear her as the band is singing again. not a Mac and Cheese song.

“Oh, shut up shorty I showered,” Alfie says laughing. Ella’s laughing too.

“Oh, Marie,” Alfie says looking at me and realizing who I am. shit.

“Riah.” Ella corrects him. But Alfie has reached out and pulled me into a hug. I pat his chest not sure what else to do. I don’t like to be hugged. Especially by someone who could put their head on mine and squish me.

“You finally came then. it took you a long time. finally stopped telling everyone to fuck off?” He questions me, squishing me into his chest more. I can’t help but notice how I could fit in the gap so nicely. fuck off. nope, not happening ever. not with someone like Alfie. not that there’s anything wrong with Alfie. Blonde like Ella and built like Thor, he was a hunk, rich and famous in his own right. that’s why he was a no. not that he would ever look at me that way anyway. who was I at the end of the day? I don’t want to ever drop my brother’s name. especially not to get a guy.

“No, let me fucking go.” I manage to get out, although I can feel a blush on my cheeks. Alfie chuckles but he lets me go.

“It’s really great to see you Riah. are you managing to keep Ella out of trouble? I know it’s impossible. she needs to go back to an all-girls school.” He whisper-shouts to me making sure Ella sees and hears and can see his smile.

“Did it help?” I ask.

“Not at all,” Alfie informs me laughing. He pulls me to the bar.

“Soda or water?” he questions me.

“Soda,” I tell him. he’s left Ella with the team. I notice she’s in a deep conversation with two guys.

“If she’s being too much tell her. she’s just so excited to finally have you home.” Alfie says matter of factly.

“Home?” I question him.

“You can tell her to fuck off Riah. but Ella doesn’t ever listen.” Alfie tells me.

“I see that and think I know where she got it from. but Home?” I question him.

“Family for us is a choice and we chose you. We will always choose you.” Alfie says. I look up at his brown eyes they look into my own as if he can see me, more than anyone else ever has.

“As I said to Brett, we will let him come and go. but he has to know he’s never fully alone as we are always stalking him.” Alfie says.

“that’s kind of worrying,” I tell him meaning that.

“you think we are just going to let a 19 and a 17-year-old be alone in the world?” he questions me.

“Yes, as I’m an emancipated adult and Brett sounds as old as Ella,” I point out.

“Exactly, you’re all the same sort of age. Have millions to your names yet all of you hide it. You think someone isn’t going to try to get close to the three of you for your money?” Alfie questions me.

“So, don’t trust anyone. ahead of you on that Alfie. It includes you.” I say.

“I will never ask you for a penny Riah. I will never force you to accept the money. but as the adult of the group. I will assure you that if anyone ever hurt you, I would make sure they paid.” Alfie tells me.

“You’re scaring me, Alfie,” I admit. Alfie pulls out a wallet from his pocket.

“I don’t want your cash and I’ve already got a drink.” I point out. indicating the drink, he’s just brought me in my hand. I notice the band are coming off the stage, but Alfie thrusts a few pictures into my hand from his wallet. I look down at them, I can’t help but be curious. I’m three in the top picture sat on my 16-year-old at the time brother’s lap, with his arm round Jez’s shoulders. I look at everyone, Grey and us, Fern and a young boy a bit older than me on his lap, Nike, Carlos with Makena in his arms as a little baby, Makena’s mom, Dan with Ella on his lap, Alfie with Ella’s moms arm wrapped around his shoulder, and another guy I can’t remember name off. on it is written ‘Our family. family is a choice.’ I look at it and see a smile on Jez’s face that I can barely remember. I turn to the next picture, it’s the same group of people but stood on a beach. I must be around five. This time I’m stood behind a sandcastle next to a two-year-old Mac holding her hand Ella stood holding my other hand and Jez hers and Alfie I take it Jezs other hand. The band are all hugging each other behind us with the guy I don’t know. Macs mom in her dads arms at the end her hand on Macs shoulder.

“I can get you a copy of all the pictures,” Alfie says deadly serious. I change to the next picture not sure what to say. it’s a picture of Jez and me older, I’m 10, my black hair is in braids. I remember this day as it’s one of my best memories with Jez. it was my 10th birthday. Jez had managed to get the two of us tickets to Disney with her boyfriend coming along. It was an amazing day and the three of us had the best time in my whole life. we had ridden every ride we could fit in until the end of the day. but we couldn’t have any of the pictures because we couldn’t risk mom and dad seeing them. the picture he had just given me though had Jez and me with Minnie and Mickey. a huge smile on both our faces but you could see a darkness behind Jez’s eyes a tiredness I hadn’t realized she had.

“How did you get these pictures?” I ask as I flip to the next picture which has Jez and me on a rollercoaster, we are both grinning. Alfie points to the guy in the seat behind us. I look at him closely and realize Jez’s boyfriend was Alfie.

“The Mickey one I took, the rollercoaster one I brought on the day,” Alfie admits to me the next picture is of Alfie and Jez in front of the castle kissing, it’s taken at a funny angle, with a thumbprint in the corner.

“You weren’t the best photographer.” He teases me, looking at me like he wants me to understand.

“Give me a break I was 10,” I mumble. the next picture is of him and Jez on a football ground. he’s fully suited up and Jez is wearing his jersey.

“That was taken a week before she died,” Alfie admits.

“why didn’t you come to her funeral?” I ask him. Always having needed that answered.

“I did,” Alfie says, I shake my head. I would have remembered that.

“Hardly anyone came Alfie. I would have noticed you. at that point, I still knew you.” I say., looking at him for answers.

“I stood with Grey during the funeral.” Alfie tells me.

“What?” I ask,

“He stood behind the curtains at the front, he didn’t want to be near your parents. He couldn’t, he wanted the day to be about Jez not him. He knew if your parents had seen him all they would have talked about to him was money and he couldn’t face that. He just wanted Jez to be sent off nicely.” Alfie tells me.

“What?” I ask,

“Me Grey, Nike, Carlos, Fern, Graham and my brother Dan all stood behind the curtain right at the front. then when you and your parents went to the wake the priest gave your brother his own and let us have time with the grave alone.” Alfie admits.

“Do you know how hard it was for him and me not to go and grab you during that service?” Alfie asks me. I shake my head no to him. He hands me the next picture on the pile. It’s of me from a distance, I recognize the outfit as the outfit I wore to the court the day I got emancipated. It’s taken from a distance. I’m looking at the folder in my own hands in disbelief.

“The day you got.” Alfie starts to explain.

“If we are going to make this friendship work, you got to stop stalking me.” I mumble.

“Actually, this wasn’t me. I just asked for a copy as I wanted a recent picture of you as the only pics, I had of you was 3 and 10.” Alfie informs me.

“the stalking ends.” I say firmly giving him a look.

“Yeah you just need to talk, and it stops. No more disappearing and fuck offs.” Alfie tells me.

“Fuck off Alfie.” I tell him, I sigh looking at the next picture, its of Alfie with Jez. They are sat on a bench and I can see its dark, I’m asleep on the bench wrapped in the jacket Jez had been wearing.

“You and Jez were constantly out late at night. I would meet her most nights and sit with her, so you both weren’t out alone. I never can forgive myself for not being there that night. When I got to the hospital it was already to late.” Alfie admits to me.

“You got to the hospital?” I ask him, tears running down my face.

“I was on the phone to her. she was cursing your parents out. It took me a lot of therapy to get over the sound of that call. I often think if she wasn’t on the phone to me that she would have been walking faster and wouldn’t have been on that sidewalk when the car mounted it.” Alfie says. I look at him and I have to say how I feel myself. The honesty in his eyes begging me to forgive him needs me to tell him.

“I only ever blamed my parents and myself for her death. And maybe Grey.” I admit, I look at my empty drink cup. Aware that Alfie and I have managed to get into a dark corner where we are alone.

“My parents were the reason she was out that day, if they hadn’t been them, she would have been home in her bed safe. She wouldn’t have had to go out that night.” I say.

“Why do you blame yourself Riah, you’re not responsible at all. Hell, you were asleep when Jez left that night. She told me how guilty she felt leaving you home alone asleep if anything ever happened to you because of them she would never have forgiven herself.” Alfie tells me. I blink at him holding back my tears.

“If I had woke up, delayed her. Made a fuss about being home alone.” I start.

“you would have had to go out with her, then maybe you would both have died.” Alfie says looking me in the eyes.

“She would want you to live your own life.” He tells me firmly.

“She had so many plans.” I say.

“I know. But we both remember her and that’s going to keep her spirit going. She wouldn’t want you to do her dreams. She wanted you to have your own. She wanted you to enjoy life.” He tells me.

“So, do what you want in life, but know we are here.” Alfie tells me. He looks over at the group of guys and then looks at the dance floor, I look where he’s looking and see he’s watching Ella on the dance floor.

“She has such a big crush on that lead singer.” He says shaking his head.

“Do you blame her he’s hot.” I say looking at Milo. Alfie shakes his head.

“Nope, your both going to date nice boring men, maybe that sit all day and do taxes all day.” Alfie says nodding at his own plan.

“Fuck off Alfie.” I tell him not sure how this is all so easy with Ella and Alfie.

“Not happening again Riah.” Alfie informs me.

“Hiding behind a smoke screen of lies of I’m fines.” Milo sings.

“Nike.” Alfie says, I nod knowing he’s telling me whos story this song was. I know it’s a mac and cheese one.

“So he’s not fine?” I ask Alfie, thinking of the man stood there in the suit when I was 16 in court, when he was still pushing for custody of me.

“Do you think he doesn’t regret everyday not being on that plane with his family. How many times hes almost spirled back to the drugs, but Brett, you, Mac and Stasia were all he had left. How it kills him that he hasn’t seen Mac since she was 8 and hasn’t seen Stasia since she was only a few months old. How it kills him when he sees you somewhere alone and you blank everything around you.” Alfie says.

“How Brett drives him crazy hiding himself from everyone and drinking, how he can see him going down the same dark path Nike went down, if he doesn’t have guidance.” Alfie says.

“Then theres you.” Alfie sighs looking at me, I wait for him to put me down like my own parents always have.

“He just wanted to show you he loved you.” Alfie says, I shake my head.

“Maybe I don’t want that.” I say.

“you don’t want someone to care about you?” Alfie asks me, I don’t want to care about someone, I don’t want to lose someone again like I lost Jez and Grey.

“I don’t.” I tell Alfie and its not a lie.

“Well tough luck Riah. Family care, go college, explore the world, have fun, work out what you want yourself. We are here when you get back.” Alfie says.

“What if I never come back.” I ask.

“Then I will personally come hunt you down and give the Jez would be disappointed with you speech. I remember it so well from the time she caught you stealing, even though she fully understood why you stole that toy.” Alfie says giving me a look.

“I was 8.” I mumble.

“Yeah an 8 year old, who wanted a toy that all her friends had. But she couldn’t.” Alfie says.

“They stole your childhood Riah, don’t let them steal your future because your scared.” Alfie says.

“I’m not scared.” I lie.

“Aren’t you? Because I am. Being scared is what keeps me sane. Every time I step foot on the field Riah, I’m scared.” Alfie tells me.

“why?” I ask.

“how many hits can I take before I don’t walk away? How many people are counting on me to score, its only a sport, but try say that.” Alfie says giving me a look.

“life’s about ups and downs, you’ve had more downs than most. So, pick yourself up and dust yourself off now. Your 17 enjoy your youth.” Alfie says.

“the war of my heart, but I didn’t know how much I loved you until I had nothing left to fight for.” Milo sings from the stage. I look over at him.

“That line then was perfect.” Alfie mumbles.

“They aren’t watching us Alfie.” I point out.

“Maybe they are. Maybe they never left us. Come on Riah just have fun and enjoy life, I’m not telling you to do anything but have fun.” Alfie points out.

“you know you always wanted to go play in the snow.” Alfie says nudging me.

“what about next winter break you come skiing with Ella and me.” Alfie says.

“You ski surely.” I start.

“I may spend more time in the inside gym.” He admits. I shake my head at him. I look over at Ella and sigh.

“I am 17 and it’s a school night…” I say.

“So, what your saying is you want to meet us during the day on the weekends, with what spare time Riah, you practically work all weekend. I know this for a fact as Ella try’s to go when she knows your there.” Alfie says.

“She doesn’t come regularly.” I say and I know that for a fact.

“She hates exercise.” Alfie admits. I look at Ella dancing away,

“Really?” I question him.

“I know you’d think 3 hours at the gym was torture by how she acts.” Alfie tells me shaking his head. I shake my own at him.

“I’m not ever joining you at the gym.” I mumble.

“Yeah what’s this I hear about you failing gym at school. How exactly do you fail gym?” Alfie questions me.

“Stop stalking me.” I tell him laughing now though, why is it so easy with him and Ella?

“Come on gyms like the easiest class at school.” Alfie informs me.

“If you think so you do it.” I grumble.

“I did and got onto a college football team and now pro.” He points out.

“They won’t let you graduate if you fail gym.” He tells me.

“that’s got to be the biggest lie ever.” I tell him.

“its not a lie it’s the truth. Google it.” He tells me laughing.

“Ha I will.” I say to him smiling at him.

“okay tell me the results when I see you next.” He says laughing. He then looks at me seriously.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been around Riah. I owed you and Jez more than that.” He says looking at me like he wants me to realize how sorry he is. I shake my head.

“you don’t owe me or Jez anything.” I inform him. He looks at me like he wants to say more but he doesn’t want to push to much on our first meeting in years.

“Come on then let’s get back to Ella, we have years to catch up on but tonight isn’t the right place for that and your still not really ready to be pushed to far.” Alfie says looking at me like he fully understands, the thing is I can tell he wants to. My wall suddenly doesn’t feel as high as I want it to be.

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