Title: Alive [Chapter Seventeen]
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.
After tossing and turning all night Sage slid out of bed, determined to leave before Aidan could sneak into her room. She got ready in a hurry, grabbed her textbooks, and drove away from the house as quietly as possible. Avoiding him for the time being was probably the coward’s way out but she didn’t care; she wasn’t ready to talk to him yet. Frankly, she didn’t even know how to broach the topic without sounding completely selfish.
When she was alone with Aidan, it was easy to pretend rest of the universe didn’t exist. They were in a cocoon, safe from the terrible realities of the world. They protected and cared for one another because they only had each other to rely upon – or so she thought. Last night had truly revealed that he wasn’t alone, like her. Aidan didn’t need her. He didn’t feel the desperate craving for a connection the way she did, because there were people in his life he was already close to. Theo and Cat were his family, the people who mattered the most to him. Maybe if there was a chance they would accept her one day and allow her into their little fold, she wouldn’t feel bitter and angry about it – but she was an outsider, forever relegated to remain on the outskirts.
The image of Aidan cuddling her sister taunted her again. It was burned into her brain, not ready to be forgotten no matter how much Sage wished it away.
Although she was secure in the knowledge he cared for her, maybe even loved her, she was no longer sure if his feelings were unique towards her. Loving him was like riding a terrifying, gut-wrenching rollercoaster that filled her with dread one second and made her come alive the next. It was the most incredible rush of euphoria unlike anything she’d experienced before. He was the only guy she had ever loved but it wasn’t the same for him – he had been in love before, with Cat, which meant he must have experienced the same kind of emotions for her too. How did he get over that? Had he, even? She didn’t think it was possible to ever not want Aidan. Did that mean he still wanted Cat? Remembering them holding each other, it was obvious there were still lingering feelings there – the thought of which made her want to retch.
Busy with her thoughts, Sage didn’t realise she had already arrived at the beach. Considering it was a Sunday and the weather was comfortably warm, she expected the place to fill up quickly. Gathering her things together, she started walking towards her preferred spot: a hidden area near the rocks where not a lot of people visited.
“Wanna tell me what the fuck is up with you?” Aidan asked.
He’d already left by the time she returned home late last night and she’d ignored his calls since then. However, it was only a matter of time before he confronted her. Of course she hadn’t expected that to happen in school, in the hallway, in front of other people. She pursed her lips and took a deep breath before turning around to face him. “Can we not do this here?”
“Why are you avoiding me?”
“I’m not. I’ve just been busy.”
He scrutinised her for a few seconds. Feeling uncomfortable, she averted her gaze from him.
His demeanor was visibly softer when he spoke next. Her eyes automatically scanned the hallway to see if anyone was watching them. With the sudden curious glances being thrown at them, they were the center of attention. “People are looking at us,” she said softly.
Aidan leaned in closer. Resting his hand over her head, trapping her against the locker, he tilted his head to the side, a flirtatious smile playing across his face. She hated that smile, hated it, because it made her knees weak and set her heart racing. There was absolutely no way she could remain strong in her resolve when he looked at her like that.
“You have a tell. Did you know that?”
She glared at him. “What are you talking about?”
“I always know when you’re bullshitting. You have this thing you do.”
“Yeah, right,” she scoffed. “Now who’s the bullshitter?”
“Okay. Let’s test it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Whatever.” She sent him a haughty glance. “Tell me what it is.”
He smirked. “Why would I do that?”
“Because you’re a nice guy.”
“Really? Am I?” His golden gaze pierced into her, taking on a somber glint. “Then why are you pissed at me? What did I do wrong?”
“You didn’t do anything.”
“You’re lying again.”
“It’s me, okay? I’m just freaking out over… nothing.”
“Hey,” he murmured, cupping her face with his other hand. His thumb caressed her skin with a touch so gentle it turned her insides into liquid. “It’s not nothing if it’s keeping you away from me.”
“Can we please not do this in front of people? I’m really not in the mood to be gossiped about today.”
“Who cares about them? They say shit about you all the time anyway.”
“Yeah well, maybe I’m tired of that. Maybe I don’t want to give your friends any more reasons to come after me.”
Irritation flared in his eyes, he was running out of patience. “Fine.” Aidan stepped back. “Find me whenever you’re ready to talk. Maybe I’ll still care.”
She watched him storm away, guilt flooding over her.
Sage wanted to be alone, and that meant having lunch in the back field far away from prying eyes. Unfortunately Marcus was already sitting at that spot and drinking from a flask when she approached him. He moved aside, giving her space to sit back against the giant tree. Since he was unpopular as her, she had invited him to join her and her friends for lunch several times, but he always just said ‘no’, not even bothering to make any excuses for turning down her invitation.
“What’s wrong?” Marcus asked.
She could smell the heavy stench of liquor on his breath. “Maybe I should ask you that question.”
“Do you get wasted every day?”
“Are you always such a nosy bitch?”
She was taken aback at the harshness of his words. What the hell?
“Sorry,” he said a second later, giving her an apologetic smile. “I just don’t like it when people butt into my business.”
“Okay. Sorry. I was just being polite, I guess.”
“Yeah, sure.” He swayed closer, making her feel uneasy at his close proximity. “Anyway, you were going to tell me what was wrong.”
“What makes you think something is?”
“Because you don’t usually come out to the back field.”
“I didn’t realise you knew so much about me. Very stalkerish of you, Marcus.”
“I only noticed because you’re alone today. Most of the time you’re hanging out with that fag.”
“Don’t call David names.”
“Why not? He is a fag.”
“If you don’t stop, I will smack you across the face.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
How had she not realised how much of an asshole Marcus was before today? No wonder he never wanted to sit with her and David. A part of her had assumed Marcus was better than the other ignorant idiots that roamed Belleville, that maybe because he was constantly gossiped about he would be more tolerant towards others who experienced the same thing. Clearly she was wrong.
“Tell him to stop checking me out. It’s gross. I feel like taking a shower when he looks at me.”
One more word from him, and she really didn’t think she could hold herself back any longer. Maybe the smart thing to do was to walk away. She attempted to sidestep around him but he blocked her path.
“I would beat that bitch but he’d probably like it.”
Her patience had reached its limits. This fucking loser thought he could insult her best friend repeatedly and she wouldn’t do anything about it? Enough was enough. She was done. Using all her strength, she slapped him across the face.
At first he just stood there, shocked, and she felt a huge bout of satisfaction at the stunned look on his face. Good. Maybe now he’d think twice about calling people names.
He rubbed the spot she struck. “Guess everyone was right. You are a cunt.”
He grabbed her wrist, his fingers digging into her skin, and pulled her against him so violently she went hurling against his chest. Struggling, she tried to knee him in the balls but he was quicker and stronger.
“You’re gonna regret that, you fucking cunt!”
Suddenly Marcus was thrown to the ground and Aidan was standing behind him, his face red with anger.
Before she could wrap her mind around what was happening, Aidan knelt down next to Marcus and started punching him with brutal force.
She froze momentarily, shocked, incapable of any kind of response, until the violent fight finally snapped her out of her stupor. She screamed at Aidan to stop but her pleas fell on deaf ears. The sheer madness on his face was indicative of how out of control he really was and it frightened her. His viciousness came out in full force when anyone harmed him or those he loved – which meant Marcus was in deep trouble. While Marcus could jump off a bridge for all she cared, she didn’t want Aidan to end up doing something horrible.
Marcus took a swing at Aidan, fist landing against Aidan’s jaw. It must have been painful and would’ve given anyone else pause but Aidan seemed to be in a trance, oblivious to the wound, and simply continued to fight. He returned the punch with equal ferocity, slamming Marcus back to the ground.
Desperate, she threw herself on Aidan’s back, clinging to him, clutching his clothes to pull him back. “Stop, Aidan. Please stop!” He stepped backwards unexpectedly; in turn, she lost her balance and her knees gave way. She fell to the ground, groaning in pain – and it was that which finally captured his attention. He was panting for air when he leaned down next to her.
“Are you okay?”
Cupping his face, she used her thumbs to swipe the blood from his bleeding lips. “Don’t do this. Let him go.”
The deep pools of his eyes were a vivid green, roaring with turbulent anger. “He hurt you!”
“But I’m fine now. I’m fine. See?”
His gaze pierced through her, studying her intently. Soon, she sensed a shift in him. The calm returned to his face as he held her gently when, once again, Marcus sucked-punched him from behind. She shrieked, watching Aidan fall down next to her. Hot rage coursed through her veins. Grabbing Marcus’s leg, she bit into his skin as hard as she could. He screamed in pain, striking her face with extreme force. Instantly, everything went dark.
Aidan sifted through all the photos of Sage in front of him, studying every detailed image until it was etched into his brain. Her hair no longer reached her waist; it was much shorter now, resting just below her shoulders. She was wearing business suits in most of the pictures, appearing professional and sophisticated – a far cry from the casual girl he remembered.
Most importantly, she was happy. And not alone.
In the pictures the detective had sent him she was with a little girl. There were shots of them playing at the park, Sage walking her to school, one with her tying the kid’s shoelaces and another where she was swiping the tears from her daughter’s face.
He fixed his gaze on the little girl. Although the detective had yet to send him a birth certificate, he already knew the truth. Apparently she was in first grade, which made her about seven. He’d done the math and realised the kid had to be his. He studied her tiny face, hoping to spot some kind of resemblance to him – there was none. Then again, she didn’t look like Sage either. If anything, her features were similar to Layal, Sage’s mother.
Anger washed over him, red, hot, intense. He’d spent all these years imagining how he would make Sage regret leaving him, the many ways he would hurt her, but now there was nothing he could do. His hands were tied. She had his kid, and even he wasn’t that much of a bastard that he’d do something to Sage which would inadvertently hurt the kid. To do so meant he was turning into his father.
For one moment he considered letting it all go and just moving on with his life. The kid looked alright, happy, maybe the best thing for everyone involved was to leave her with Sage – but a part of him yearned for answers. He needed to know why, he needed the truth.
At the very least, Sage owed him that much.
To be continued…
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