Title: Alive [Chapter Nine]
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.
Sitting in the emergency room of their local hospital, Sage listened meekly as the nurse who bandaged her fractured finger recited instructions on how to take care of it. Although the finger still hurt, it paled in comparison to the ache growing rapidly in her chest. The last thing she possessed of her mother’s was now gone, lost in the hands of a spiteful, vindictive person and there was nothing Sage could do to change that. The loss was unbearable, eliciting such anger that she wanted to scream and retch at the same time.
Thomas Woods was usually calm and in control. However, he was pacing back and forth at the moment, forehead furrowed with impatience. As soon as the nurse left them alone, he turned to her. “You broke that girl’s nose!”
“She deserved it.”
“The principal wanted to suspend you for a week but I negotiated down to three days. Believe me, that was not easy. Luckily the Summerfields are more reasonable people. They’ve agreed not to press charges as long as I pay for Tish’s surgery. And you’ll have to apologize to her, of course.”
“No! No way in hell am I doing that. She stole my mother’s necklace-”
“You’re mistaken. Her father assured me that he bought it for her personally last week.”
“She’s lying! In class she said her maid gave it to her.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m sure you’ve simply misplaced yours. It’s probably in the pool house somewhere.”
“How can you say that?” she cried. “I know that necklace! Mom wore it for as long as I could remember. Couple of years ago one of the links in the chain broke and mom used a safety pin to hold it together. You think it’s a coincidence Tish’s necklace is broken in the same way? And the infinity pendant is scratched up. Why would Tish’s look that way if it’s supposed to be brand new?”
A strange expression crossed Thomas’s face, he pondered in silence for several seconds. He seemed to be lost in thought, and Sage started to wonder if he was coming around to accepting the truth. Otherwise, he would have dismissed her concerns already.
“Even if what you’re saying is true, that doesn’t excuse your behaviour.”
Her heart sank.
“Besides, there’s nothing we can do now. It would be inconsiderate to drag this matter on when we really need to put all this unpleasantness behind us. If you want, I’ll buy you another necklace.” He turned his back to her. “I’ll go see the doctor about getting you released.”
Thomas walked out of the room, leaving her alone. Bewildered, she wondered how her father could possibly think a new necklace was enough to replace the significant memories attached to the one Tish stole. All sorts of questions about her father began to flash through her mind. Did he really think buying a present would be enough to assuage her concerns? Was he really that superficial? How could her mom, a sweet, generous, wonderful woman fall in love with someone as callous as Thomas?
Struck by the image of Layal during happier times with that necklace around her neck, Sage was once again reminded of everything she had lost. Tears of despair welled in her eyes. She wanted to scream so loudly that her father would be forced to acknowledge her instead of brushing her aside whenever she became too inconvenient to deal with.
She looked up to find Aidan rushing towards her. As he closed the distance between them, the dam inside her burst. Tears expelled down her cheeks. Upon reaching her he cradled her face, dropping a tender kiss on her forehead. “Ssshh, it’s okay. You’re okay.” Hugging her carefully so as not to touch her wounded finger, he consoled her, murmuring soothing words until she finally stopped sobbing.
Encased in his arms, she felt safe, protected. No longer alone.
When he pulled back to examine her finger, his face hardened with anger. “I’m going to kill that bitch.”
“She has my mom’s necklace, Aidan.”
Confusion gleamed in his eyes. “What necklace? What are you talking about?”
“She or Cat, one of them, stole my mother’s necklace from my room and now Tish has it!”
“Are you sure? Maybe you just lost it or something.”
The tenuous grip on her emotions dissolved as soon as she was confronted with his skepticism. With Thomas and everyone else, their suspicions weren’t exactly a surprise; they had the lowest opinion of her. But Aidan, despite their recent bout of conflict, was supposed to be different. He had encouraged her to be strong, to keep being herself, yet now he doubted her as well; it felt so much worse to be betrayed by Aidan than Thomas. “You think I’m lying too? That I’m making this shit up?”
“I didn’t say that. I’m only asking-”
“Get the hell out!” she raged, pushing him away with her good hand. “I should have known you would be just like the rest of them.”
“Aidan? What are you doing here?” Thomas stood by the door, glancing back and forth between her and Aidan.
“Ah, I just-”
“He stopped by to tell me to leave Tish alone, but he shouldn’t have bothered.” She levelled Aidan with a hostile stare. “As far as I’m concerned, you and your friends can go fuck yourself.”
“Sage!” Thomas snapped. “Please watch your language. Do you really want people to hear you speak like that?”He walked over to the chair in the corner and picked up her schoolbag. “I’ve signed your release papers. Let’s go home.” Glancing once again at Aidan, Thomas offered him a polite smile. “Tish is in room five if you’d like to see her.”
Aidan remained silent, his gaze boring into Sage. Embarrassed about her earlier breakdown, especially considering he didn’t even believe her, she was determined not to fall apart in front of him again. She didn’t need him. She didn’t need anyone. Head held high, she walked past Aidan and followed her father out of the hospital.
As soon as Thomas pulled the car into the garage, Sage was ready to make her escape into the pool house. The ride from the hospital had been fraught with tension and despite Thomas’s efforts to make small talk – as if pretending everything was okay was going to make her forget what he did – she’d remained silent. Her father, like everybody else, believed her to be a liar. It wasn’t surprising, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Not that it mattered. None of it did. Because these people, these pretentious, rich, arrogant snobs, weren’t important. They were simply part of a difficult phase in her life that she had to overcome. It was only a few more months until she graduated and then she’d be out of here, away from all these hypocrites.
About to open the car door, she paused when Thomas spoke her name. Biological parent or not, he was like the rest of them, which meant she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Refusing to meet his gaze, she stared straight ahead at the garage wall.“What?”
“I know you wouldn’t have attacked the Summerfield girl unless you really believed that necklace was yours.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“I guess what I’m trying to say is… I believe you. I think she was intentionally trying to provoke you.”
Shocked, she turned towards him. His eyes were heavy with regret, making him appear older than his age. “You believe me?”
Relief surged through her, she exhaled a sharp breath. “I know you’re not happy about my behaviour. I’ve caused you a lot of trouble ever since I came to live with you, but I promise to be better. Just please help me get the necklace back, and I won’t get into any more fights. You have my word.”
He averted his eyes away to focus on the steering wheel in front of him. The minutes ticked away. She waited with bated breath for him to answer. Eventually growing desperate, she reached out and touched his arm. “Please, Dad.” It was the first time she had called him that. “Please do this for me.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t.”
In the next minute he was gone, leaving her alone in the car. Broken-hearted once again.
After wondering for months why she hadn’t been able to grieve Layal properly, the answer finally dawned on Sage. Keeping her emotions at bay had been her mind’s way of protecting herself from the honest truth that she was really, truly alone in this world. Never would she see that wonderful, warm smile on Layal’s face again. When she was in trouble Layal wouldn’t be there to hug her and tell her everything would work out. When she graduated from high school, her mom wouldn’t be part of the crowd, cheering with pride like she’d done during the grade eight ceremony. Forget graduation, her mom would never again be a witness to any of the future milestones in her life.
The numbness which had blanketed Sage for months dissolved in an instant, leaving her filled with rage. She was furious at her mom for dying and leaving her alone, her father for not caring, at the world because there was no one left to offer her unconditional love and support. She was an orphan and it wasn’t fair.
Just as quickly the anger had attacked, it left, except now she was enveloped in anguish. It spread through her like poison, into every vein and crevice inside, until her body shook with the sheer force of it. The only way to lessen the despair was to finally give into it, stop fighting it, and let it overtake her.
Falling to her knees on the floor of the poolhouse, she wept for the family she once had and would never have again.
Almost an hour passed before Sage stood up and reached for the phone on her bed. It had been vibrating with notifications for the past half hour. Guessing it was David trying to reach her, she checked the messages. With the exception of one text from David, they were all from Aidan, along with the two calls she had missed earlier.
“I know you’re pissed. I’m sorry. Can we talk? Call me. Please.”
They were all variations of the same message, pleading with her to contact him. Swiping some of her tears, she dialed Aidan’s number. He answered on the first ring.
“Sage?” His voice was frantic with worry. “I screwed up, and I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to talk to me-”
“It’s fine, Aidan. I should be the one apologizing.”
There was stunned silence on his end. “I’m confused.”
She sniffled, tears streaking down her cheeks again. “When you came to check up on me, I totally overreacted. I was a bitch to you.” Taking a seat on one corner of the bed, she stared down at her broken finger. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not calling for an apology! I’m worried about you.”
Although Aidan sounded irritated, she realised that was simply his way of dealing with stress. Fact was he had reached out to her even though they had been arguing earlier and she’d been horrible to him, proving there was genuine kindness lurking underneath that asshole exterior of his. He’d put aside his pride and anger when she needed him, which was a lot more than what Thomas was willing to do. “I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?”
The vulnerability in his voice brought a small smile to her face. “Yeah, I am. I wouldn’t lie to you.”
A soft chuckle escaped her throat.
“Are you sure you didn’t hit your head or something?” he teased. “Because you seem a lot different than the chick I usually talk to.”
“What, I’m not as bitchy?”
“You said it. Not me.”
There was a brief bout of silence next, free of any awkward tension, like two close friends who were simply content to be with each other.
“But don’t change too much, okay?” he spoke again after a while. “I don’t think I can handle you being so nice. It freaks me out.”
“Besides, you look hot when you’re mad and bitching me out.”
She should have gotten used to his flirting by now but it still affected her, making her anxious around him. Was she supposed to ignore him or flirt back?
“I’ll make Tish pay for what she did to you.”
The cold, hard determination in him almost frightened her. What if he did something crazy and was caught? If his father was dragged into this mess as a result, there was no doubt he would take his frustrations out on Aidan. There was no way she was willing to chance that. “I don’t want you involved in this.”
“Why? Because you think I don’t have your back? That I’m her friend?”
“No, because you’re mine. And I don’t want to risk getting you in trouble.” The silence between them was deafening, causing her to worry. “Promise me you’ll stay out of it, Aidan.”
“Fine. But only if you do me a favour in return.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I’ve been sitting by the pool for like an hour and it’s freezing out here. Can you let me in?”
Quickly marching to the window, she peaked outside. Although it was dark, she spotted a figure sitting on a lounge chair a few feet away. He waved his phone at her, the bright, blue moving screen looking alien-like in the darkness. “When did you get here?”
“I told you, about an hour ago. I followed you guys from the hospital.”
“Why didn’t you come in?”
“Because you were angry, but I also didn’t want to leave you alone,” he replied. “Don’t worry, no one saw me and I parked my car a block over.” He stood up, taking slow strides towards the pool house. “Not to be a drag or anything, but I’m freezing my ass off here.”
Ending the call, she walked to the door and opened it. The sharp chill of the cold air struck her skin but it paled in comparison to the warmth that surged through her once Aidan met her gaze. Holding her stare, he swaggered over until he stood directly in front of her with only a few inches separating them. Her heart pounded in her chest, with such fierceness at one point she worried it was going to jump out of her body.
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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.