Title: Alive [Chapter Fourteen]
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.
Aidan rang the doorbell at the Woods residence. As he waited for someone to answer, a mixture of nostalgia and sadness materialised in the pit of his stomach. When he was younger this home had been a haven for him, an escape from the fear and dread that was always present in his own house. At one point Theo had even given him a key, and Aidan had come and gone as he pleased. Then, Sage left him. After that, this was the last place he wanted to be. Reminders of her lurked in every corner, haunting him, eliciting pain and despair.
The door opened, providing the distraction he needed from reminiscing about the past. Maria, the Woods’ housekeeper for as long as Aidan could remember, greeted him with a friendly smile.
“Aidan darling, how are you?” She enveloped him in a big hug, which he returned with full enthusiasm. As expected, she began to scold him almost right away. “It’s been ages since you’ve stopped by.”
“If you weren’t so busy with all your boyfriends, maybe I would visit more. You know how jealous I get when I see you with other men.”
“You’ll just have to accept I’m too hot for one man to handle.”
His lips formed into a pout. “Ah, keep breaking my heart, why don’t you?”
“I seen your picture on some gossip blog the other day.” Linking her arms through his, she led him into the living room. “You had some girl with you that looked like she hadn’t eaten in months. Holly something or other.”
“No need to be jealous, Maria. You’re the one who owns me body and soul.”
“Oh, please,” she scoffed.
Aidan chuckled. “Did you get the birthday present I sent you?”
“Where you think I’m going to wear fancy earrings like that?”
“To our date, obviously.” He flashed a wicked grin, knowing full well he was about to earn a disapproving stare. “Just that and nothing else.”
She smacked his hand lightly. “Behave yourself, boy.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“I hope you been taking good care of yourself and not running around like a hooligan.”
“I can do both.”
“Hmph.” Giving him a thorough look-over, she turned around. “Let me get you some cookies. I just baked a fresh batch.”
“No, it’s alright. I’m actually here to talk to Thomas.”
“Mr. Woods,” she corrected, facing him again.
Aidan smiled, this was a conversation they had exchanged many times. “Sorry. Anyway, he around?”
“In the den. He just finished dinner a while ago.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t forget to say goodbye to me before you leave.”
Aidan smiled and made his way down the hallway, pausing for a moment in front of Thomas’s office. Stay calm, he reminded himself. As much as he wanted to demand an explanation for why Thomas was hell-bent on keeping him from Sage, he couldn’t afford to lose his temper. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the closed door.
He slipped inside, plastering on a fake smile. “Hey, Mr. Woods. Can I talk to you for a second?”
There was a surprised glint in Thomas’s eyes. “Of course.”
Aidan strolled in and took a seat in front of Thomas, noting how much the other man had aged recently. The last time their paths had crossed a few months ago, Thomas hadn’t looked this fatigued. Stress had taken its toll on his face with dark circles evident under his eyes, his once black hair now peppered with grey.
“How’ve you been, Aidan?”
“Been in touch with the kids lately?”
“Yeah. I was with Cat last week, and I’ll probably visit Theo soon.”
“He speaks to you more often than he does me.”
Thomas smiled. “So, Aidan, what can I do for you? I know you’re not here to pay me a social visit.”
Aidan debated continuing their charade of camaraderie, but he was tired of playing nice. Leaning forward, he leveled Thomas with a keen stare. “Cat mentioned something interesting when I was with her.”
“What would that be?”
“Apparently you’ve been paying the detectives I hired to give me fake info on Sage.”
A thick layer of silence fell over them, the tension reaching a pitch high. Neither spoke. Aidan kept his gaze trained on the older man, taking in any nervous movements Thomas may exhibit. There were none.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Thomas finally said, breaking the silence.
“I think you’re lying.”
“Why would you want to keep me away from Sage?”
“Maybe because my daughter is better off without you,” Thomas fired back, all pretense of civility dissolved between them. “Everyone always assumed she was a bad kid, but I knew she wasn’t. You were the source of most of her troubles.”
Aidan sneered. “Pretty convenient to claim her as your own when she’s not around to need anything from you.”
“I don’t need to justify my actions to you.”
“Maybe not, but it’s about time someone called you out for your shitty parenting skills.”
“And you think you’re qualified to do that?” Thomas retorted. “What would you know about being a parent? You spend most of your time embroiled in bar fights.”
“Which should tell you I meet a lot of assholes.” Aidan lifted his eyebrow in disdain. “And I definitely know one when I see one.” He flashed a smug smile.
“Get out. Now.”
“You can’t hide her from me forever. I will find Sage.”
“Why? So you can make a mess of her life again?”
“I cared about her more than you ever did.”
“Obviously she didn’t feel the same way or she would have contacted you by now.”
As much as Aidan wanted to wipe that condescending look from Thomas’s face, there was no denying the truth. If Sage gave a damn about him, she would never have abandoned him, but she had – after repeatedly lying about her feelings until he’d truly started to believe she genuinely loved him.
“Get out,” Thomas threatened. “Or I’ll have the cops escort you out.”
“Oh, good. They love me over at the station.” Thomas didn’t react to his sarcastic words, instead continuing to glower at him. “You look like you’re about to have a heart attack. I’d hate for that to ruin Theo’s day.” He stood up, saluted Thomas with a flippant smile, and sauntered to the door. Before leaving, he turned to look at Thomas one last time. “I’ll let Sage know you said hi.” Aidan walked out, slamming the door behind him.
Maria was waiting for him in the hallway, her face covered in anger. “What is wrong with you, boy? Why would you talk to Mr. Woods like that?”
Irritation surged through him, but he curbed his tongue.
“You need to treat him with respect. And why you still looking for that girl? All she’s ever done is bring trouble to this family. Things were great between Mr. And Mrs. Woods before she came along.”
“How great could it be if a sixteen-year-old girl was able to ruin it?” Aidan snapped.
“Don’t speak to me in that tone.”
“Fine, I won’t. As long as you remember Thomas isn’t perfect. He’s the one who fucked around, had a kid, and then treated her like the charity case instead of taking responsibility for her.”
“You need to leave. And don’t come back until you’ve learned some respect.”
“It’s too bad you drank the kool-aid, Maria. I always thought you were smarter than that.”
He walked out of the house with long strides, determined to get away from all these hypocrites. Even after all this time, it still burned him up to hear people disparage Sage. She was the scapegoat for the Woods family, with everyone finding it easy to blame the bastard daughter rather than analyse their own actions. And the fact that Sage hadn’t been meek or docile but a fighter who refused to take any of their shit lying down had only aggravated them further.
It had been the same way in high school. It was Sage who was bullied repeatedly for being new, for being Muslim, for being the fucking antichrist as far as everyone was concerned, and when she retaliated the authorities blamed her instead of investigating the truth.
While he understood why Sage ran from all these assholes, what he couldn’t comprehend was her running from him. Throughout their relationship she had always maintained they were best friends, each other’s support system, and they’d always have one another’s back – but it had all been lies.
Despite his trust issues he’d fallen in love with her, and she’d deceived him in return. For that he could never forgive her, and she would pay.
While Sage was pulling out her history textbook from the locker, someone’s fingers grazed her back. By the time she turned around Aidan had already walked past her to join his buddies at the opposite end of the hallway. She observed him for several minutes, watching while he goofed around with his friends. Sadness rippled through her. Never could she hang out with Aidan in school, sit together at lunch, or hold hands like a normal couple – not as long as Cat and her minions were around. They made her life a living hell as it was, doling out hateful, racist comments that were slowly chipping away at her confidence; Sage didn’t even want to consider how much worse their behaviour would get if they discovered the truth.
“Fantasising about torturing Aidan?” David teased, joining her.
A part of her felt guilty for lying but she played along anyway. “How did you know?”
“Pretty obvious. If looks could kill, he’d be dead right about now.”
Sage quirked her eyebrow. “Killer glare would be an awesome superpower to have, don’t you think?”
“Totally.” David turned to her. “So is Aidan still giving you a hard time?”
“You know what they say. Once a jackass, always a jackass.”
“Yes, but what a pretty jackass he is.”
She rolled her eyes at David’s breathless tone. “Come on, fanboy. We have to get to class.”
Heading towards their classroom, they turned the corner to find Cat and the rest of her clique standing a few feet away from the entrance. Sage stiffened at the sight of them. When Cat noticed her, she whispered something to her friends and they all broke out into laughter – except for Tish.
It had been a few weeks since their fight, and today was the first time Tish had shown up in school. Her face was still swollen from the nose surgery. She glared at Sage with contempt in her eyes but that wasn’t the only emotion emanating from them. There was also fear.
“Come on, don’t pay attention to them,” David said.
“Don’t worry.” Determined not to let them get to her, Sage held her head high and walked past Cat and her friends. Of course they snickered louder, calling her nasty names. She ignored them but couldn’t help noticing Tish hadn’t engaged in the rest of the group’s antics. Why was Tish not being her usual vicious self? Was she really that scared? A part of Sage was glad for it; however, guilt flowed through her almost right away. She didn’t like eliciting fear in others, not even Tish; the thought of it made her stomach churn.
Sage gave herself a mental shake, reminding herself this was all temporary. Tish didn’t matter, neither did Cat. In a few months she would graduate and finally be free. Free to make her escape from Thomas and the rest of his family, and free to be with Aidan without any fear of repercussions. Until then she simply had to curb her temper and stay out of trouble.
Later that afternoon Sage pushed the door open to the girl’s bathroom door, wondering if Aidan was already here. Not many people used this bathroom as it was located on the third floor, near the teacher’s lounge. As soon as she stepped inside a pair of arms encircled her from behind, startling her.
“Hey,” Aidan whispered in her ear, stippling the back of her neck with kisses.
She grinned. “Hi.”
“So you did get my message. I wasn’t sure when you didn’t text me back.”
“Text? What text? I’m only here because I felt like going for a stroll.” They sauntered forward until she was leaning against the counter with his body pressed tightly behind hers. She met his eyes in the mirror, smiling softly as he dropped a kiss on her shoulder. His fingers slowly and expertly made their way to the buttons on her top, undoing them. “Nice touch with the out of service sign.”
“I know.” He beamed proudly. “No one will interrupt us now.”
“Interrupt what exactly?” Turning around, she looped her arms around his neck. “I’m here to talk, nothing else.”
A shadow of a smile played across his lips. “Liar.” He trailed wet kisses along her jawline while his hands remained busy unbuttoning her shirt. “You don’t want to talk.”
“So why did I come?”
“You haven’t yet.”
A soft chuckle escaped her lips. “Proud of that one, aren’t you?”
“Not really. You walked right into it.”
Watching him while he knelt in front of her, his lips lingering on her chest and tongue stroking her skin, his hands doing things that were slowly starting to drive her wild, she laced her fingers through his hair and dropped a kiss on the top of his head. “Aidan,” she half-groaned, half-murmured, heat unfurling throughout her body like wildfire. She pulled up his sweater from the back, splayed her fingers across his skin. He felt hot, ready; she ached to feel him inside her.
He picked her up suddenly, placed her on the edge of the counter. She circled her legs around the back of his thighs and simultaneously reached for his zipper when he pulled his lips away. Cradling her face in his hands, he peered at her, his golden gaze shining with dark intensity. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I have something for you.”
She raised her eyebrow. “Is this something in your pants?”
“Yes, pervert.” He grinned. “But it’s not what you think.”
“What is it?”
He pulled out a small jewellery box from the back pocket of his jeans. There was a strange glint in his eyes which aroused her curiosity further. “I hope this isn’t an engagement ring,” she teased, reaching for the box. “I want to be able to get into a club without a fake ID before I get hitched.”
“Shut up and open it.”
Inside the box lay a necklace which bore a striking resemblance to the one Tish had stolen from her. Sage realised almost instantly it wasn’t a replica, like the one Thomas had bought to bribe her, but the actual necklace Layal had owned – the broken link was still held together by a small safety pin. She picked it up, stared at it for several seconds, trying to wrap her mind around it. “This is my mom’s. The one Tish took.”
“How did you get it from her?” He hesitated to answer; the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach worsened. “Aidan, how did you get this?”
His jaw clenched with agitation and he took a step back. “What difference does it make?”
“What did you do?”
“You really want to know?”
“I’m asking, aren’t I?”
“I paid someone to hack into her phone, found some stuff she doesn’t want anyone to see.”
“What kind of stuff?”
Aidan locked eyes with her again but there seemed to be no trace of the boy she loved at that very moment. Instead he was cold and menacing – a stranger. “Videos of her fucking most of the football team. Naked pictures of herself. Amateur porn collection of her own work. Unfortunately, not as hot as it sounds.”
“And you threatened to show it to people if she didn’t give you my chain back?”
He stepped forward, his eyes boring into hers. “I promised her it would go viral if she didn’t.”
Oh God. She felt sick. No wonder Tish had seemed so afraid of her. “How could you do that, Aidan?”
Taken aback by her words, his gaze turned steely. “Do what? Find a way to give you back your mom’s necklace? You were miserable! I watched you cry over it for days and it tore me up on the inside. And that bitch hurt you. She broke your finger, remember that?” His eyes brimmed with frustration and he paced back and forth in front of her. “She took something from you that you loved. She’s been a fucking bitch to you! I wasn’t going to let her get away with it.”
“This is wrong, Aidan.”
“Fuck you!” He levelled her with a hostile stare. “Don’t pretend to be some kind of saint – you’re not! I know you. You’re a fighter. Like me. You don’t just take shit from others. You always fight back.”
Fine, he was right about her – about them – but this was different. It was wrong, very, very wrong, and she felt it with every fibre of her being. Unable to look at him any further, she averted her eyes away from him.
“You’re all I’ve got, Sage, and I won’t let anyone hurt you. I’ll protect you no matter what, even if it means having you hate me for it.”
“I don’t hate you.”
“That’s hard to believe when you won’t even look at me.”
The anguish in his voice broke her heart but she remained silent. Truth was this angry, cold, hateful facade of his terrified her. She’d been exposed to this side of him in the beginning; although, since then, he’d always been sweet and wonderful with her. That darkness, however, was still there and lurking inside him, and now that it had made a reappearance she had no idea what to do.
The air was thick with tension. He was waiting for her to say something, anything, to assure him things between them were okay. Few seconds later, when she still hadn’t spoken a word, he walked out.
To be continued…
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A/N – Thank you to all those reading, especially those wonderful people who have taken the time to share their feedback. Whether it’s through comments here or via Facebook messages, I truly appreciate the wonderful support you guys have given me.