Title: Alive [Chapter Four]
Summary: Sage Alvi’s whole world turned upside-down when she lost her mother to cancer. Now forced to live with a father she never knew, she’s trying to navigate her way through a new home, city and school. To make things worse, her half-siblings hate her and she’s being bullied by the cool crowd.
They say high school is hard, but this is just ridiculous.
Sage sat on the outside bleachers with her friends, watching the soccer team practice in preparation for the big game later that week. While Tanya was intently watching the action, critiquing the players’ strengths and weaknesses, Angela and David were simply there for the eye candy. If Sage had to be honest, she was there for the latter as well.
“Does Theo walk around the house like that?” Angela asked.
Sage glanced over at her half-brother. Theo had removed his jersey, revealing a muscular upper body. “Ew.”
“Are you kidding me? He’s fine,” David added in a wistful tone.
It was on the tip of her tongue that Theo was her brother when she remembered they didn’t know the truth. “Guess he’s not my type.”
“Forget Theo,” Angela said. “I want some of that.”
Sage followed Angela’s gaze and realised her friend was talking about Aidan. With his sun-kissed skin and sparkling eyes, he was perched in front of the net before leaping up high in the air to block the ball from going in. A wave of cheer erupted from a small crowd gathered on the other bleachers, consisting mostly of sophomore girls, and he flashed a bright smile in their direction. “Looks like he already has a fan club, babe.”
“I wish Aidan would take his shirt off,” Angela sighed.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind that at all,” David added.
Tanya remained blissfully unaware of their conversation. “Westview has a pretty strong team but I think we have a good shot. As long as Theo and Aidan don’t fuck it up.”
“Sage, isn’t Aidan always hanging out at your place? Is he back together with Cat?” Angela prodded.
“I don’t know. I don’t really talk to him.”
“Ugh, what good are you?”
“I heard Cat’s dating someone else. Some guy from college. And Aidan is pissed about it,” David said. “And she’s planning on bringing him to the game on Friday night.”
“Really?” Tanya asked. “I hope Aidan doesn’t get distracted by all that bullshit. He needs to focus on the game.”
“Oh my God, will you just chill about the stupid game? Nobody actually cares about that shit, you know,” Angela huffed.
As the group bickered over the importance of the game against their rivals, Sage focused her attention on Aidan. The top half of his uniform was drenched with sweat. His eyes, while squinting under the glare of the hot sun, remained glued to the ball. Her thoughts turned to the scars on his body, and she wondered if his teammates ever questioned him about the marks. They must have. How did Aidan explain the wounds away? Or did he find some way to hide them when he was in the change room? No matter how much she tried not to think about his situation, she couldn’t help herself. All her musings led to the realisation there was no way those scars were a result of a one-off fight. After all, this was Aidan. If he was involved in a brawl he’d be bragging about it instead of acting cagey as he’d done that night. Of course that meant there was something even more sinister going on with him, which was troubling.
David nudged her legs. “Chris and I are going out for dinner after the game. Want to come?”
She tore her gaze away from Aidan, and reminded herself to stop obsessing over him. They were not friends. She didn’t even like him, and his problems were none of her business. Besides, her life was complicated enough – the last thing she needed was to borrow trouble.
After a long night, Sage was finally home and getting ready to hit the sheets. While she’d never been much of a sports enthusiast, watching the soccer game tonight with her friends had been a lot of fun. That was until their rivals made a comeback in the second half to score two goals, and beat the Belleville team in a heartwrenching upset. She was supposed to go for dinner with David and Angela but neither of them had been in the mood after that loss. An hour later she was on the brink of sleep when someone knocked on the door. A quick glance at the clock revealed it was close to one in the morning. The only one who would show up at this time would be her dad, and only if it was an emergency. She jumped out of bed and rushed to answer it, except it wasn’t Thomas waiting for her on the other side – it was Aidan.
The last time Sage had seen him was after the game, when a verbal fight broke out between Aidan and a player from Westview. Aidan had already been in a foul mood due to the loss, and being taunted by the other team certainly hadn’t helped matters any. If it hadn’t been for Theo dragging him away, she suspected there would have been a huge brawl right then and there. Now here he was, face twisted in pain. He was gripping the door frame like he was unable to stand on his own without support. “Aidan, what happened?”
“Can I come in?”
He limped inside, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and encouraged him to lean on her while they made their way towards her bed. When he finally sat down on one corner, grimacing in pain, she studied him closely. He wouldn’t look at her, his gaze locked on the floor. There were no bruises on his face, but she knew, instinctively, his body was covered in them. That dreadful feeling returned to her stomach. As much as she wanted answers, now was not the time. He needed help and support right now, not an interrogation. Aidan was wearing a bomber jacket which she suspected was causing him added discomfort. Without asking she removed it from his shoulders, and then realised maybe she shouldn’t have. It was intrusive to assume he needed help when he hadn’t actually asked for it. Embarrassed, she took a step back. Her stomach clenched with anxiety at the devastated expression that still marked his features. She felt helpless. “What do you need, Aidan?”
It was a long time before he spoke. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Don’t worry about it. Do you want me to get Theo? Cat? Tell me what to do.”
“Just let me rest for a while?”
The tremor in his voice broke her heart. “Stay as long as you want.”
Sage paced back and forth for several minutes, pondering her next move. It wasn’t until the flicker of annoyance in his gaze that she recognised her fidgeting was probably making things worse. Finally she took a seat on the bed, her body partially turned towards him in case he needed anything.
After a while she reached out and hesitantly laid her hand on top of his. Her father had done the same when she sat next to her mom’s bed in the hospital, staring at the lifeless body that once used to be such a vibrant personality. In that moment the simple gesture by Thomas had provided her with much needed comfort; she wanted to do the same for Aidan.
They sat there in silence, the air thick with tension as the minutes ticked by. It was difficult for her to remain still, to patiently wait for him to talk, but she reminded herself whatever he was going through was much bigger than her feelings.
Soon after, his fingers brushed her own. “Can you help me with the shirt?”
Sage moved to stand in front of him, aware of his keen gaze following her every action as she unbuttoned his shirt. Despite her best efforts not to betray any emotion, her fingers trembled as soon as she spotted the red, angry wounds on his chest. “Are you okay to walk to the bathroom? It’ll be easier to clean up in there.”
“Whatever you want, Florence Nightingale.”
His attempt at humour was obviously for her benefit, and she didn’t want to make things awkward by not playing along. “I’m surprised you even know who she was.” He rose to his feet, and they walked to the bathroom together. His body weighed heavily against her own. She worried the physical contact would further aggravate his pain, but he didn’t complain. Once inside, he sat on the edge of the bathtub while she searched for alcohol wipes and bandages in the medicine cabinet.
“Nightingale was a porn star, right? Did some softcore porn as a sexy nurse?”
She returned his smile. “Something like that.”
“Are you aspiring to be a porn star or a sexy nurse?”
Kneeling down in front of him, she tended to his chest and stomach. At one point he hissed with pain, but when she checked on him he simply gave her a fake smile. He may not have asked, but she discerned she needed to be more gentle. After every swipe of the alcohol swab, she blew softly on his skin to ease the sting. Shortly after she jumped into the tub to clean the cuts on his back.
“Why are you helping me, Sage?”
Her hands paused as she pondered an answer for him. In the end, she went with the truth.
“I don’t know.”
“Not sure why I’m here either.”
“Looks like we’re in the same boat.”
She rolled her eyes at his lame joke.
They returned to the bedroom a bit later, and he kicked off his shoes before she helped him onto the bed.
“I’ll leave soon, I promise,” he said, leaning on the headboard behind for support.
“Don’t be stupid. You can stay the night.”
“How do I know you’re not going to try to seduce me while I’m sleeping?”
“Guess you’ll just have to risk it.” About to walk away, she froze when he reached out to grab her elbow. The warmth of his skin against hers was strange, exhilarating, and entirely too intimate. As if experiencing the same awkwardness, he removed his hand immediately.
“I’m sorry for showing up here.”
“I told you it was fine.”
“I was an asshole to you.” He hesitated, regarding her with an expression she didn’t quite understand. “I’m sorry I said shit about your mom.”
Remembering his disrespectful words from their first interaction unleashed a fresh wave of anger and hurt, and she leveled him with a hostile stare. “Don’t ever insult her again.”
“I won’t. I swear.”
His emphatic response gave her pause. He seemed genuinely regretful, and she found herself softening again. “Do you need anything else?”
She contemplated ignoring that little voice in her head that wanted answers. In the end, however, she couldn’t. “Can I ask you something?” Panic flashed in his eyes, quickly replaced by a blank mask and she realised he didn’t want to share what happened. “Never mind.”
He exhaled a heavy sigh. “No, it’s fine. I owe you that at least.”
Careful not to touch him, she sat at the foot of the bed. “Is it your dad who does this to you?”
His eyes widened slightly. A multitude of emotions – anger, shock, embarrassment – flooded over his face while he squirmed under her observation. Even if he didn’t say anything, she already had her answer. Her heart started pounding in her chest. “Have you ever told anyone?”
A bitter laugh escaped his throat. “Why would I do that?”
His attitude was perplexing. “Because what he’s doing is wrong. Because he hurts you-”
“Only when I’m acting like a bitch.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Or when I embarrass him, like I did tonight.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? This isn’t your fault!”
“Spare me the platitudes. I’m not an after school special.”
He glanced away, his lips pursed into a thin fine.
“Look at me, Aidan.”
He obeyed, even as his chin jutted out defiantly. “What?”
“You’re the biggest jackass I know. I think I hate you more than I’ve hated anyone before.”
“Wow. Stop. You’re making me blush.”
“No one deserves this kind of abuse, not even you. And this is coming from a person who detests you.”
There was a storm brewing in his eyes, the hazel in them transitioning into a hue so dark it was, frankly, intimidating. “Hate me that much, huh?”
“Just being honest. I don’t see the point of sugar-coating things.”
His lips shaped into a genuine smile. “Me neither. It’s annoying.”
“Then you know I’m telling the truth. You don’t deserve this.” Maybe it was a good thing he was silent. As much as she wanted to understand where he was coming from, his refusal to believe her was frustrating. “What he’s doing is wrong. You get that, don’t you?”
“It doesn’t matter, anyway. He’s leaving for New York tomorrow. I won’t have to see him for a while.”
“Until he comes home and decides to do it again,” she pointed out. “I can help you, if you want.”
“You already have.”
“No, I don’t mean like this. I… can talk to someone, get you the help you need.” As soon as the words left her mouth, he started to scoot off the bed even while flinching. “Aidan, stop. What are you doing?” With one hand on his chest and the other wrapped around his shoulder, she blocked him from getting up.
“Get away from me. I don’t want anything from you,” he gritted through clenched teeth. “This is my life. You don’t get to fuck with it!”
“He has to stop hurting you!”
“Why the hell did I think I could trust you?”
“Okay, okay. Calm down!” Using all her strength, she grappled his arms. “I won’t say anything.” He finally stilled, close to tears. Seeing him so distraught broke her heart; she reached up to cradle his face. “I won’t, okay?”
“Swear to me.”
“I promise.” He scanned her face, his gaze piercing into her. At first he seemed to be gauging her sincerity but then something shifted, as if he was searching inside her for something she wasn’t quite willing to give. Their close proximity, the intensity of his stare – it all left her feeling quite unsettled. Needing some distance, she urged him to sit back on the bed. “Get some sleep. You’re probably exhausted.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll crash on the couch.”
“You can sleep here with me.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
He offered her an amused smile. “You think I’m going to try and fuck you?”
“You’re not my type, remember?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot you like skinny blondes. How very diverse of you.”
“Checking out my exes?”
She chuckled. Bantering with him was so much more easier – and comfortable – than having to deal with the tension that crept in at times between them. “If I sleep here, you swear to keep your hands to yourself?”
“Couldn’t do much even if I wanted to.”
“Well then, scoot over. Unlike your skinny exes, I take up space when I sleep.”
“To be fair, they’re usually on top of me. And not exactly sleeping.”
“Yeah, yeah. Shut up.”
He shifted over, allowing her to lie down next to him. Despite putting on a brave front earlier, Sage was now having second thoughts about sharing a bed with him. Something told her sleep wouldn’t come easy tonight. “I’m going to leave the lights on.”
Wringing her hands together, she stared up at the ceiling.
“I think you need new pyjamas.”
She smiled, surprised it had taken him this long to comment on them. Torn and tattered, they were her favourite pair. She had spent many a Sunday mornings in them, lazing around the apartment with her mom. “I think you need to shut up.”
“If you want to take them off, I’m okay with it. I just want you to be comfortable.”
“Isn’t that sweet of you?”
“It really is, isn’t it?”
“No wonder you have so many girls throwing themselves at you.”
“Well that, and because I’m hot.”
His soft chuckle helped alleviate some of her stress.
“You really hate this place, don’t you?” he asked.
“Not all the time.”
“Just when Cat goes after you?”
“I can handle her. It’s her friends I can’t stand, especially when they start with that terrorist shit.”
“Don’t let them get to you.”
“Easier said than done.”
“They’re ignorant. You’d think they’d be smart considering the advantages they’ve had.”
“You think money makes people smarter? Come on, you know better than that.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” She sighed. “Cat hates me for what my parents did. Her friends hate me for being Arab. I just… I’m not used to being hated for things beyond my control.”
He tapped her shoulder. She turned towards him. Despite the lack of physical contact between them, she was keenly aware of his presence.
“I can help you, you know. I can fuck them up so bad they’d be too worried about themselves to come after you.”
It was not an idle threat, having been the target of his viciousness. There was darkness in him, capable of brutality, and it simultaneously intrigued and terrified her. “No, don’t get involved.”
“Because I can take care of myself. I don’t need your help.”
Although his eyes flashed with irritation, he didn’t argue. “Fine. But I’m here if you change your mind.”
As they lay beside one another, eyes locked, with only a few inches of space separating them, it was all too much for her. It was easier sniping with him, or even engaging in small talk, but with Aidan’s concentration fully on her and nothing to distract her from his penetrating gaze, she felt on edge. Abruptly, she turned her back to him.
“Have you met him yet?” he asked.
There was a brief pause before he responded. “Cat’s new boytoy.”
“No. Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you anything. I’m not a narc.”
“No need to get pissy. I was just making conversation.”
“Whatever. Go do the dirty work yourself if you want info on him.”
Of course he would be jealous, it was only natural as he still held feelings for his ex-girlfriend, but it still bothered Sage – and she didn’t want to think about what that implied.
“Theo doesn’t think you’re all that bad.”
Sage smiled. “At least not everyone hates me.”
“I don’t either.”
She chose to ignore the solemnity of his voice. “Does he know… about your dad?”
Aidan tensed again, his tone bordering on acerbic. “He would never say anything. I trust him.”
But was silence the right approach? How could it be considering someone was hurting Aidan? Maybe Theo wanted to seek help but Aidan had forced him to remain silent, just like with her.
“Do you miss it?” he asked.
“Your old life.”
“Yeah,” she breathed softly. “A lot. I wish,” she waited, trying to swallow the lump in her throat, “my mom was still alive.”
“But that’s never going to happen, Sage. Things would probably be a lot easier if you just accept that.”
Silence filled the air once again, and she pondered the strange circumstances they were in. Aidan was the one who was hurt and in need of comfort, yet he was consoling her. Maybe he did act like a jerk most of the time but there was a side to him that was sweet and gentle. If only he didn’t insist on hiding it.
Soon fatigue took over,and she relaxed enough to fall asleep.
Loud bursts of laughter from the pool woke her up the next morning. At first she didn’t move, remembering Aidan had slept beside her. Would things be more awkward between them in the bright light of day, she wondered. When she opened her eyes, however, the space next to her was empty. Sitting up, she scanned the room for his things and found them all gone. A heavy sigh escaped her lips. His leaving was probably for the best. After all, how would she explain his presence in her room if they were to be caught? And if Cat were the one to discover them, her half-sister would hate her even more.
There were many good reasons Sage should have been thankful he’d left – yet she couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
To be continued…
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A/N – If all goes according to plan, this will be the second novel I publish 🙂 I wrote this five years ago and I think a lot of the problems Sage faces, unfortunately, is very relevant today. Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to drop me a comment.