Title: Alive [Chapter Sixteen]
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 entered the kitchen to find Maria in there, stiffening instinctively when the older woman shot her a cold glance. Although the housekeeper was always civil, her short answers made it obvious she had no interest in exchanging pleasantries let alone forging a friendship, and after months of constantly being rebuffed by the woman, Sage no longer bothered to try.
Per their usual routine, they nodded at each other and both went about their own business.
Shortly after Sage was almost done making a sandwich when Aidan waltzed in, whistling, grinning like a fool. He’d been playing basketball with Theo in the back, and from the smirk on his face, she gathered he won the game. Although they didn’t speak, he winked at her before swaggering over to Maria and wrapping his arm around her.
“Maria, how do you do it? How do you get hotter every day?”
Sage rolled her eyes, smiling to herself at the giddy expression on Maria’s face. The housekeeper may not have been fond of Sage but she held Aidan in high regard and it showed in the gentle way they constantly teased each other.
“Don’t you have any thing better to do than flirt with an old woman?” Maria retorted.
“I have a thing for cougars. I can’t help it.”
“Boy, don’t you be sassing me.”
“What would you like me to do instead?” he asked suggestively.
Sage chuckled before she could stop herself which elicited a curious glance from Maria. After the many arguments she and Aidan had exchanged in this very kitchen, usually in front of Maria herself, Sage wasn’t surprised by the woman’s reaction.
Aidan jumped up to sit on the counter, grabbing a freshly peeled carrot from Maria’s hand. “You shouldn’t be eavesdropping in private conversations, orphan Annie.”
He cocked his eyebrow, encouraging her to continue the charade. Well, she certainly didn’t want to disappoint him. “Orphan Annie, huh? Did you use up all your brain cells to come up with that one? No wonder your head looks a little small today.”
“Worried about me?”
“Couldn’t care less actually.”
“Liar.” He munched on the carrot. “Shouldn’t you be out casting spells or whatever it is losers like you do with your free time?”
“Shouldn’t you be at home? Oh wait, your parents probably kicked you out again.”
“Aidan is always welcome here,” Maria replied.
“Thank you, Maria,” Aidan said before turning his attention back on Sage. “There’s a rumor going around you keep a shrine to me in your room.” His eyes gleamed with wicked delight; a sly smile curved his lips. “Do you get down on your knees to worship at my altar?”
“No, but I do keep a Ken doll handy when I’m in the mood.”
“I know.” She smirked. “It’s vapid and soulless, kinda like you.”
“Now you’re just making me blush” He grinned. “Been getting freaky with doll me?”
“Oh so freaky. I snapped the legs off yesterday.” She held up her hand, crossed her fingers. “Here’s hoping voodoo works!”
“That is not something to joke about, young lady!” Maria scolded, her face red with anger. “You need to learn some respect-”
“But Aidan doesn’t? I don’t see you chastising him when he insults me,” Sage pointed out, annoyed by the woman’s blatant hypocrisy. “Maybe you’re the one who needs lessons in respect.”
“I don’t need to be lectured by a child.”
“Apparently you do,” Sage fired back. Maria didn’t respond, instead storming out of the kitchen in a huff. Sage shot an irritated glance at Aidan who stared back at her with an amused expression. “What are you smiling about?” she snapped.
“You look so hot when you’re pissed off.”
She knew exactly what he was doing: flirting with her, distracting her, anything to calm her down. It was the same tactic she employed when he was upset; unfortunately for him, she wasn’t in the mood to be placated. Turning around, she grabbed the loaf of bread from the counter and threw it back in the fridge. Suddenly Aidan’s hands encircled her waist, hugging her from behind. Being comforted by the gentle warmth of his touch was enough to simmer her down until, finally, she felt in control again. Closing her eyes, she leaned back on him.
“Maria’s known me since I was a kid. That’s the only reason she lets me get away with shit,” Aidan cajoled. “It has nothing to do with you.”
“That’s not true. Even if I hadn’t said anything she would still blame me. She has this family’s mentality down perfect.”
He circled her around to face him, his fingers tucking in a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. “Hey, I’m sorry. If I hadn’t started this-”
“Don’t be,” she interjected, brushing her lips against his. “I was having fun telling you off.”
“I bet.” He nuzzled her forehead. “Do you really have a voodoo doll of me?”
A small chuckle escaped her lips. “Maybe. Why, you scared?”
“No, I just want doll me to have as much fun as I do. Maybe I should give him a Barbie so he doesn’t get lonely.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “And we can use them to re-enact-”
She placed her palm over his mouth. “No, we are not going to do doll porn. So you can just forget that idea.”
He sighed melodramatically. “Why must you always rain on my parade?”
“Because it’s so much fun when I do.” Theo’s voice drifted into the kitchen, yelling for Aidan to join him in the other room. Sage eased her grip on him. “Your boyfriend’s missing you. You should go.”
“Jealous?” He smirked, playing along. “Don’t be. I love you both. Maybe you a little bit more.”
It was the first time he’d admitted to loving her, it was a strange sensation. A part of her couldn’t help wondering if he really meant it or was she reading too much into a light-hearted moment. It’s not like he confessed to being in love with her or anything, which meant he was probably just teasing her, right?
Her gaze pierced into him in an attempt to gauge his thoughts, but as hard as she tried to read past the blank expression that now masked his face, she couldn’t.
“I should go. Your bro hates it when I keep him waiting.”
She stepped back, nodding her head. “Okay.”
His hands gripped the sides of her waist all of a sudden, pulling her against him, his lips covering her own. Frantic, desperate, he kissed her with a raw urgency that left her trembling against him. Just as quickly as he’d swooped in for a kiss, he pulled away, leaving her on edge.
“I’ll sneak into your room after everyone’s gone to bed,” he said breathlessly, planting a quick peck on her forehead before leaving her alone in the kitchen.
She stared after him, heart pounding in her chest, trying to wrap her mind around what just happened. When she’d first told him she loved him and he hadn’t returned the sentiment, she’d wondered about the sincerity of his feelings. Eventually she came to the realisation he simply wasn’t used to expressing emotions. He didn’t grow up hearing he was loved – another reason she despised his parents – and because of that he had a difficult time vocalising sentiments. She didn’t like it, but she’d learned to accept it. Except now he’d just blurted it out, maybe as a joke, and she didn’t know how to deal with it.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Cat rushed into the kitchen a minute later, sending her the obligatory irritated glance that seemed to be part of Cat’s daily routine. She looked through the cupboards, throwing things on the floor as she searched for something.
“What are you looking for?”
“Mind your own business,” Cat sniped.
“No need to be a bitch about it. Just wanted to help you.”
“Yeah, right.” Finding the snack item she was searching for, Cat turned around with a scornful smile on her face, voice laden with sheer vitriol. “I don’t need your help. You’re the charity case, not me.”
“I’m also your sister.” Sage flashed a smug smile at Cat. “Don’t forget that.”
“As if I could when I have to see your goddamn face every time I turn around.”
“Like dealing with you is such a fun time for me?”
“Why don’t you fucking leave then? Dad will give you money to take off. Just leave us alone. Let us be.” Cat marched towards her, blue eyes brimming with frustration. “If you weren’t here, everything could go back to normal. We’d all be happy again!”
Anger, hostility, perpetual disdain were emotions she was used to from Cat, but not hurt, never hurt, and certainly not the level of pain that was displayed across her sister’s face right now. Unsettled by the onslaught of guilt that flooded over her, Sage found herself at a loss for words. Not that it mattered as Cat was already on her way out of the kitchen.
Sage woke up later that night, turned to glance at the clock on the nightstand table. It was almost three in the morning. She was still alone in her room; Aidan hadn’t joined her as promised. She slid out of bed, put on her slippers and headed out of the pool-house. Sounds from the TV reached her ears upon entering the main house and she followed the noise into the family room, stopping in her tracks at the sight that greeted her. All three were fast asleep with Theo sprawled along the love seat while Aidan and Cat were nestled in each other’s arms on the adjoining couch.
It wasn’t just jealousy that surged through her, sharp and acute, but also sheer envy. Aidan and Cat looked like they belonged with each other, the cherished golden All-American couple that everyone rooted for. They didn’t have to hide their relationship, not when the world expected them to be together.
Sage realised how much of an intruder she really was as she regarded the warm, cozy intimate picture her siblings and Aidan presented. The three of them had grown up together, they had history, and despite the fact Cat treated them like shit most of the time or that Theo and Aidan were rivals in most things, they shared a deep connection that could never be broken. She ached to fit in with them, to form her own place within their little group, but it was impossible. She was the family’s dirty little secret, a source of conflict and unhappiness as Cat had reminded her earlier tonight, and she would always remain an outsider, a stranger who’d never be allowed in.
It hurt, it hurt far worse than she could have imagined.
The phone vibrated loudly. It shook atop the nightstand table, waking Aidan up. The woman beside him stirred as he reached to grab the phone. It was a text message from a number he didn’t recognize, piquing his curiosity as to who it could be. Theo wasn’t speaking to him, neither was Cat, and his mother was off to some retreat in the middle of nowhere.
He checked his phone to read the message.
“Found Sage. Will email you deets shortly.”
Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe.
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