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’s first week back in school had her staying late every day to catch up on all the work that was missed during her expulsion. It was hectic, and she went through the motions like clockwork, keeping herself constantly busy. David was worried about her but was smart enough to leave her alone and she was grateful for it. Almost on cue, Cat’s loud, flirtatious voice drifted from a few tables down to drag Sage back to reality. ”
“Aidan, stop it!” Cat squealed dramatically, laughing.
This was the first time Sage was having lunch in the courtyard since her return, and it was a stark reminder of why she’d avoided the place for so long.
“We don’t have to stay here, we can go to the back,” David offered.
Watching Aidan and Cat flirt a few feet away was bad enough, but what made it worse was waiting for the inevitable to happen. It was only a matter of time before the entire school found out the intimate details of her relationship with him, and it would be wise on her part to assume whatever Aidan shared would be peppered with salacious details. Everyone would find out she’d slept with him, all those deeply personal things she’d said in confidence to him, and her entire life would be open to ridicule. “I can’t run every time I see them together. I just have to suck it up and deal with it.”
“Why the fuck does Aidan keep looking over here?”
She was grateful to have her back turned to them. “Ignore him.”
“Not that easy to do when he’s glaring at us.”
“Do you want to switch seats?”
It was David’s turn to send her an irritated glance. “You know, you don’t need to pretend everything is fine. We’re friends. If you want to cry or scream or bitch about them, I’ll listen.”
“There’s nothing to bitch about. I did something stupid and now I need to move on.”
“He fucked you over. You’re not the type to take something like that lying down.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t want to fight anymore. It’s exhausting.”
“How are things at home? I hope you don’t have to see them there.”
“He’s not allowed to come over anymore. And Cat’s Cat, just a lot more smug. She loves to remind me how stupid I was about Aidan.”
“Want me to kill her for you?”
Mimicking his deadpan tone, Sage shook her head ‘no’. “She’s not worth going to prison for.”
“Just think, a few more months from now and we’ll be outta here. No more losers to put up with, and plenty of hot guys to keep us busy.”
“Only if I get into any of the colleges I picked. My record at Belleville hasn’t exactly been great.”
“Must you let your crappy reality get in the way of my awesome fantasy?”
Sage chuckled. “Ok, fine.” She leaned forward, resting her chin in her hand. “We’ll be roomies in college, and we’ll date really hot twins. Yours will be a-”
“A hockey player. Oh, wait! No, not hockey-”
“He’ll play hockey, football, soccer. Whatever you want.”
“And guitar. My man has to know how to play guitar.”
“So a future rock star on a sports scholarship?”
“Hello, he needs to be rich!” David’s face twisted into a disgusted scowl. “I don’t do poor.”
“And yours? What’s he gonna be like?” David prodded.
A sharp bolt of despair cut through her façade of normalcy, she swallowed the lump in her throat. Two weeks ago she’d been fantasizing about a future with Aidan. Now, she was desperate to never see him again. Just when she thought her composure would crack, David reached out to hold her other hand. “Your twin is going to be awesome. Smart, sweet.” David paused, squeezing her hand. “And nothing like him.”
Sage gave him a half-hearted smile. “Promise?”
“Yes, you loser. I promise.” David winked at her. “You and I are going to have an awesome life. You’ll see.”
For a moment Sage actually believed him, until the thought of Aidan and Cat pulled her swiftly out of the fantasy. Maybe David was right about the future, and things would get better. For now, however, she still had to find a way to live through the hell that was her life now.
Sage stepped out of the shower, grabbed a fresh towel from the shelf and started drying herself. Catching her reflection in the mirror, she scrutinised her naked body. Shit. She looked the same. What the hell? After finally managing to carve out some time for the gym (something she’d been putting off for months now), she’d been killing herself during work-outs, hoping to see results sooner rather than later. Yet, there was no change in her body. The trainers did say it would take at least six weeks to see any improvements, and it had barely been a month, but she was running out of patience.
“Mommy, someone’s knocking.”
Snapping out of her pity party, Sage slipped into a robe. “Okay, I’ll be there in a sec.”
“Can I open it?”
Sage quickly swung the bathroom door open and found her seven-year-old daughter staring up at her. An eager smile curved the little girl’s face, her beautiful brown eyes – so very similar to Layal’s – shining with excitement.
As hard as it was, especially with Ziyah playing the doe-eyed part to perfection, Sage shook her head ‘no’. “Honey, you can’t. You’re not old enough, remember?” As the knocks grew more insistent, Sage made her way out of the master bedroom, heading to the entrance door located at the end of the hallway. Ziyah followed beside her, tugging at her arm. “I’ll be right there,” Sage yelled, hoping they could hear her over Ziyah’s loud pleas.
“But you said I could when I turned eight.”
“Are you eight now?”
“No, but I’ll be eight soon,” Ziyah whined.
Sage tried a different approach. “When you’re tall enough to look through the peephole, then you can answer the door.”
“What if I never get that big?”
“You will, if you eat the vegetables I give you instead of hiding them.”
“No! I hate vegetables! They’re so gross!” Ziyah stormed back into the den but not before sticking her tongue out at Sage defiantly.
“Big girls don’t have temper tantrums!” Sage called after her. Turning around she opened the door, and found David waiting for her on the other side, wearing the same disgruntled expression as Ziyah.
“Geez, took you long enough!” he huffed, handing her one of his bags. “Don’t just stand there, help me.”
“What are you doing here?” She pulled the rest of his things inside. “You’re supposed to be arriving tomorrow night.”
“Oh, is this not convenient? Should I come back tomorrow?”
Shutting the door behind him, Sage gave him an amused smile. Her best friend may have been an adult but, sometimes, he behaved as bratty as her daughter. “No need to be so snippy, drama queen. I’m just surprised you were able to get up here without security stopping you.”
“Pretty boy Rob was about to call you but I told him it wasn’t necessary.”
“And he just took your word for it?”
“I can be pretty convincing when I want.”
“Now who’s being snippy?” David pointed out. “And as to why I’m here early. Let’s just say Patrick isn’t too happy with me right now and I needed some extra loving from my favourite girls.”
“Aw.” Sage encircled him in her arms and gave him a tight hug before pulling back to examine him. David was always in a jovial mood but today his eyes were red, like he’d been crying. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Nothing wine can’t cure.”
“Something tells me the one bottle I have won’t be enough.”
“Oh honey, think more. Think at least five.”
“Looks like I’ll have to make a pit stop at the liquor store.”
“Uncle David?” Ziyah squealed. Her long braid swung side to side as she ran towards them from the opposite end of the hallway. Upon reaching David, she wrapped her arms around his legs. In turn he picked her up, playfully nuzzling her while she giggled hysterically.
“Is this my Ziyah?” he teased. “I didn’t even recognize you, munchkin. You’re so big now!”
“Tell Mommy that!”
Curbing back a smile, Sage gave her daughter a stern look. “What do you think Uncle David will say about how you acted just now?”
“Uh oh.” David tapped Ziyah’s nose lightly. “What did you do?”
“Nothing, Ziyah? Really?” Sage asked, reaching up to brush the hair away from her daughter’s face. “Munchkin over here just yelled at me.”
“That’s not nice, hun.”
“But she was being mean!” Ziyah whined, playing with the necklace around David’s neck.
“You were knocking, and I asked her if I can open it, and she said no.”
“Seems like Mommy wasn’t being very nice either.”
“David!” Sage glared at him with disbelief. “She can’t be opening the door. What if it was a stranger?”
Realising his mistake, David affected a disciplinary tone. “Mommy’s right, Ziyah. It could be a stranger and we shouldn’t be opening doors for them.”
“But you’re not a stranger.” She wrapped her chubby arms around his head and squeezed him with a tight grip.
“Okay, smarty pants,” he said, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “So your mom tells me you have a new boyfriend, Missy. What’s his name?”
“His name is Bobby. He calls me Zee.”
“Zee? That’s silly. That’s not your name.”
“But I like it. And he gave me a card.”
Chatting animatedly with each other, David carried Ziyah back to the den. Sage was left alone in the corridor, surrounded by his things. “No, no, go ahead. I don’t need any help. I can do this all by myself.” He was supposed to be staying for a week; he’d packed enough for a month. As usual. Exhaling a heavy sigh, she started dragging his very heavy luggage towards the guest room.
Sage was caught somewhere in dreamland when the nonstop ringing of her cell phone abruptly woke her up. Thinking it was the alarm going off, she tried shutting it off only to realise it was Aidan calling. Immediately she sat up straight, staring at the screen. It was past two in the morning. After everything that happened, why was he calling her? Her first instinct was to answer. In those moments when her control slipped and she allowed herself to remember, her heart ached for him. There had been no closure between them, no time for her to process that things were over – something Aidan didn’t seem to struggle with as he’d moved on to Cat the very next day. Then again, it’s not like he’d ever actually loved her, which he’d openly professed.
The phone stopped ringing. Maybe he’d dialled her number by accident trying to reach Cat, Sage mused bitterly, and then chastised herself for it. It was better for her to suppress her feelings than wallow in them, because, otherwise, it meant Cat and Aidan had won.
Her phone buzzed again, this time with a text message notification. “I miss you.”
Sage sat there dumbfounded, gawking at her phone. Did he take her for an idiot? How could he possibly think she would respond to him after he’d been flirting with Cat day after day, flaunting their reconciliation in her face? Or maybe she was over-thinking the whole thing. Maybe Aidan was looking for a quick fuck and figured he would try his luck again with her since she’d slept with him so easily before.
She turned off her phone, set it back on the table, and crawled back under the covers. It was a while before she felt relaxed enough to sleep again.
The next morning she was getting ready for school when another text message from Aidan popped up on her phone. “Meet me in the third floor bathroom at 9. Please.”
All her determination to stay composed dissipated in an instant; rage coursed through her veins. Acting on pure instinct she rushed out of her room and into the main house to look for Cat, whom she found in the kitchen, drinking a smoothie.
“Tell your boyfriend to stop calling me and texting me. I’m not his fucking booty call.”
Before Cat could respond, Sage stormed out.
Later that day, despite having to walk past Aidan several times in the hallway, Sage felt a lot more in control of herself. Although his gaze remained fixated on her every time their paths crossed, it was easier to ignore him knowing he wouldn’t approach her with others around – he wouldn’t risk word getting back to her sister. Too bad for him Sage had already exposed his secret, which was probably why Cat was nowhere to be found in school – a massive change from all the time Cat spent clinging to Aidan these days.
An hour later Sage was at her locker to grab a textbook when Aidan came up behind her, startling her with his sudden appearance.
“How long are you going to keep avoiding me?”
She didn’t respond, she didn’t even look at him.
“I know I fucked up. I shouldn’t have given you an ultimatum about Mom,” he said, leaning back on the locker next to her. “I was just so pissed off at you that day, and I know I said some horrible things. I didn’t mean it, any of it. You know that, don’t you?” His voice quivered with raw emotion. “I am so sorry.”
He was close, too close, for her peace of mind. She slammed her locker shut and tried to walk away but he blocked her path. trapping her against the wall.
“I say shitty things when I lose my temper. It’s just a heat of the moment thing, it’s not personal. It never means anything. You’ve done it too,” he reminded her. “When we fight, that’s just how it is. That’s who we are, and then we get over it and move on. Remember?”
Was it really that simple for him? His declaration of hate was seared into her brain, ready to taunt and torment the second she thought of him, and while it was true she’d said horrible things in the past, she’d regretted them instantly. He, on the other hand, had clung to that rage, using her sister as a weapon to further punish her.
“Say something. Please.”
Refusing to even glance at him, she focused her attention on his neck and realised he was wearing her necklace. A part of her wanted to rip it away from him immediately but she didn’t want to do anything that would betray her emotions.
“How do I fix this? Tell me.”
How could he sound so sincere now when only a few days ago he’d been cruel and callous, and sucking face with her sister? What was wrong with her that she was actually considering speaking to him?
“Talk to me, Sage. Please say something.”
He leaned in closer, resting his forehead against hers. She felt his breath hum against her cheeks, the touch of his fingers stroking hers, and her body trembled at his close proximity. How could being with him feel so right when she knew how little he really felt for her?
“I know you’re angry right now. I was too. I was so fucking mad until I realised I was about to lose you. But I can’t do that, Sage. I can’t be without you, and I know you feel the same. We’re stuck with each other. That’s how it’s meant to be.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat.
“I’m fucking empty without you, I’m nothing, a complete mess. You make everything in my life better. You make me better. You get that, don’t you?”
He cradled her face, gently nudging her to meet his gaze, and she was struck by the deep pools of his green eyes. It would be so easy to drown in them and forget all the pain.
“What we have is amazing. It’s special. It’s worth fighting for. So scream at me. Yell at me. Hit me. Punch me. I don’t mind, I can take it. As long as it makes things right between us again, I’ll do whatever you want.”
The bell rang; the hallway started to fill up with students. The whispers grew louder, their stares more blatant; Sage realised they were the center of attention.
His voice was hoarse with tears when he spoke again. “I… love you. I’m sorry it took me this long to admit it but I’ve never said those words to anyone. Not my parents, not… anyone. Except you.”
David’s words resurfaced in her mind, reminding her of how easily Aidan had dismissed their relationship to Cat. If Aidan’s feelings were true, sincere, he wouldn’t have felt the need to hide them.
“I love you, Sage.”
It was the final straw; she couldn’t take it anymore. Using all her energy, she pushed him away. “I want my necklace back,” she said, amazed by her own ability to sound so serene when her heart was bursting with such pain. “I’d appreciate it if you could give it to Theo instead of your girlfriend.”
She walked away, ignoring the anguished look on Aidan’s face and the hushed murmurs of everyone watching them.
The rumour mill seemed to have gone into overdrive after her public confrontation with Aidan two days ago. It seemed like everywhere Sage turned, there were people whispering about her. She used to think being called a terrorist and other racial slurs were bad enough, but now they gossiped about her being a slut and it stung worse.
A while back some girl had walked in on Aidan and her in the bathroom. Now that everyone seemed to be curious about them, the freshman was sharing details and enjoying her moment in the sun – even though the chick had only caught a glimpse of Sage’s back, and definitely hadn’t recognized her at the time. Of course that one encounter wasn’t enough to satisfy everyone’s salacious streak; as such, the rumours circulating around school now had Sage fucking plenty of other guys, all over the place, with multiple eyewitnesses to boot. Since then the assholes in Belleville, including a lot of Aidan’s friends, were making nasty gestures and lewd comments whenever Sage passed by. It was degrading, and she’d come close to losing her temper many times, but she forced herself to ignore them each time. Ultimately the school administration would blame her for any confrontation and she couldn’t afford to get into any more trouble.
Aidan hadn’t shown up in school since their last fight. Neither had Cat. Sage figured he ran to her sister for comfort and now the two were probably holed up in his place, fucking each other’s brains out. She’d once heard Aidan and Cat always found their way back to each other; if only she’d listened and didn’t fall in love with him.
The bell rang, snapping her out of her reverie. Knowing the hallway would be crowded if she were to go out there now, she lingered in class for several minutes. Asking Mr. Smith inane questions about the study material was far preferable to dealing with the assholes waiting out there to taunt her.
Sage exited the school, relieved to find the parking lot practically empty save for a few students hanging around. As she neared her car, it became clear one of the back tires was flat. Someone had stuck a pin in it.
She circled around to inspect for more damages and spotted a piece of paper stuck in the front windshield. Her body tensed as she picked it up to read it.
Eat my dick at lunch tomorrow? I’ll pay more if you swallow. Whore.
Sage ripped it up and threw it to the ground.
“Looks like you need a ride.”
She turned around to find Theo standing a few feet away, looking down at the punctured tire. “Nothing gets past you, does it?”
He smiled. “Bad day?”
“Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
“We’ll have one of dad’s drivers fix up the tire and drop it off at home.”
That sounded a far better option than waiting here. “Thanks.”
Shortly after they were on their way, with Theo zooming along the road while Sage stared out the window. The car was filled with awkward silence which wasn’t unexpected. Except for a handful of occasions, like the time he’d urged her not to hurt his best friend, they barely hung out or even spoke. She pondered making conversation but, frankly, wasn’t in the mood.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you and Aidan but can you talk to him? He’s so fucked up right now.”
Sage clenched her jaw. “He’s not my problem.”
“That’s a shitty thing to say. I thought you cared about him.”
She turned to face him. “And I thought he wasn’t an asshole. Guess we were both wrong.”
“I knew the two of you were a bad idea!” Theo smacked his hand against the steering wheel in frustration. “I told him to stay away from you. I told him it was a big mistake!”
“Now you can rub it in his face and gloat.” She plastered on a fake smile. “Every cloud has a silver lining, right?”
He shot her an irritated glance before turning his attention back on the road. After a short bout of silence, he spoke again. “You really don’t give a shit, do you?”
“I don’t. Not anymore,” she lied.
“He cares about you!”
A bitter laugh escaped her lips. “He’ll get over it. Faster, if you dangle Cat in front of him.”
“Fuck, no! She’s messed him up way worse than you.”
Which only proved Aidan’s feelings for Cat were a lot more intense. Sage swallowed the lump in her throat. “Look, he has a chain of mine which means a lot to me. Can you get it back from him?”
“Why should I help you when you won’t help me?”
Sensing Theo’s frustration, she paused, choosing her next words with caution. “You’re worried about him. I get that. And yeah, he’s probably in a bad place right now, but once things blow over he’ll be fine. Think about all those times he and Cat broke up. Things eventually went back to normal, right? Well, it’ll be the same again. Probably quicker.” As much as it hurt to admit, she knew it was the truth. “It’s better to cut off all ties now instead of dragging things along indefinitely. He’ll move on faster.”
“You sound so sure of yourself.”
“Because I am.” Her heart ached; she felt sick. “You were right, Aidan and I were a huge mistake. Things should have ended a long time ago.”
“He seemed so happy though. He was actually making plans for college; he’s never done that before.”
Sage gave her brother a small smile, shrugging her shoulders. “Frat parties. Can’t join a frat if you’re not in college, right?”
Theo didn’t respond, instead watching her curiously. She turned away from him, reminding herself to keep it together.
The next day at school she was sitting by herself in the courtyard, working on an assignment while waiting for David to join her for lunch. There were people snickering behind her, catcalling and making disgusting suggestions, but she willed herself to ignore them. If this was what was in store for her until graduation, she had to find a way to cope with it – sooner the better.
She looked up to see if David was nearby, and suddenly froze at the sight of Aidan striding towards her at a fast pace. She didn’t realise he was back in school. Aidan slid onto the spot next to her on the bench, grabbing her pen away from her hand. She turned to glare at him, finding it difficult to remain apathetic when he was sitting so close. It wasn’t bad enough that his eyes were focused and penetrating right through her, but she also sensed everyone else staring at them. “Leave me alone,” she said, surprised by her own calmness.
“You’re not getting your necklace back. Want to know why?”
“Because you’re an asshole?”
“Because you gave it to me. You gave it to me. I didn’t ask you for it, I even told you I didn’t want it because I knew how important it was to you. But you looked right at me, and you told me you loved me, and you said you wanted me to have it. You chose to do that; I didn’t force you into it. You don’t get to change your mind now just because we’re going through a bad phase.”
Heat spread across her cheeks, both from anger and embarrassment. Why was he bringing up something private? Was he trying to put on a show for his friends? She moved to stand up but his fingers curved around her elbow, pulling her down again.
“Tell me how to fix things between us.” There was a frightening desperation in his eyes. “Because I can’t stand this anymore.”
“There is no fixing things. We’re done.”
“Fuck you!” he bit out, leaning in closer. “I love you, and you love me. We’re not done.”
Her resolve to remain unaffected dissolved right away. “Oh, were you showing me how much you loved me when you hooked up with Cat again? Was that why you had your tongue down her throat every time I turned around?”
“That was a mistake.” His voice softened, his eyes flashed with regret. “I was pissed and wanted to hurt you. That’s all. People do it all the time.”
That’s all. She wanted to laugh at the utter ridiculousness of his words. Seeing him with Cat, day in and day out, had devastated her and made her feel more worthless than she could have imagined. Yet here he was, using anger to justify all of his actions – probably a lesson he learned from his parents.
“I know it was stupid, I shouldn’t have done it,” he continued. “I swear it’ll never happen again.”
No longer concerned about the attention, she pried his fingers off her arm and stood up. Filled with contempt, she glared down at him. “You think I believe you? You’re a filthy. Fucking. Liar. And I don’t want you around me.”
Grabbing her things haphazardly, she tried to walk away but he was fast and stealthy and blocked her path before she could leave.
“Hey dude, be careful. Don’t leave any bruises on her. It’s my turn to fuck her after lunch,” yelled Jordan, a friend of Aidan’s, from a few feet away. Everyone laughed in response.
Tears threatened to overwhelm her but she refused to give into them. Not in front of Aidan or anyone else. They could try and break her, humiliate her, but she would never let them win. No matter what. Her jaw clenched, she leveled Aidan with a hostile stare. “Get the fuck out of my way. Or I’ll start spilling secrets that you don’t want your friends to know.”
His eyes turned cold, his face blank. She waited for him to hurl insults at her but he remained quiet, his gaze boring into her. Finally he moved away, swaggering towards the table where his group was at.
One minute everyone was hollering and cheering Aidan on as he approached them. The next Aidan had grabbed Jordan by the neck, pulled him to the ground, and started beating him viciously.
Her first instinct was to rush towards Aidan, stop him from making a huge mistake. Instead, she walked back into the school building.
Grabbing a bottle of wine and two glasses, Sage headed out of the kitchen and into the den. David was plopped down on the couch, flipping through the channels on the TV.
“Here.” She handed him a glass, filled it halfway with wine.
“That’s it?” he asked, pouting.
“How about you finish that first, boozehound?” Sitting down on the opposite corner of the couch, she raised her feet to rest them on his lap. She poured herself some wine before setting the bottle aside.
“I love that kid to death, don’t get me wrong, but oh my god is she exhausting!”
Sage laughed at David’s words, taking a sip of her drink. “Welcome to my world.”
“I can’t believe how much she’s grown in a few months. Next time I see her she’ll probably look like a teenager!”
“Ugh, don’t even go there. She’s already so frickin’ stubborn.”
“Takes after her mother, obviously.”
She kicked him playfully and he grinned.
“Sooo…” He turned towards her, spreading his arm along the back of the couch. “How did the date go?”
“The one you told me about last week on the phone. Don’t even pretend like you don’t remember.”
She rolled her eyes. “He freaked out when he found out I had a kid.”
“Here’s an idea. You could have just not told him.”
“Yeah, ’cause it’s so easy to keep something like that a secret.”
“Not like you have to marry the guy. Date him, fuck him, and then cut him loose.”
“Not that easy to do, my friend.”
“Yes it is, my friend. You just have to give it a shot.”
“Honestly, he was a drag. One of those douchebag stockbroker types. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and come home.”
“You don’t need to like a guy to fuck him.”
“But you should be able to stand him.”
“Yeah, yeah.” David studied her with a scrutinising stare for several seconds. “I don’t know if it’s the wine or whatever but you look really good. Happy even.”
Sage beamed. “I’ve been hitting the gym.”
“Ah, that’s what it is.”
“That and work has been going well lately. I sold two houses last month and it looks like some more things will pan out soon. And Ziyah’s happy, healthy.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just in a good place right now.”
“I’m glad. You deserve it.”
“So do you. Want to tell me what’s going on with you and Patrick? I know something’s wrong.”
He downed the rest of his drink. “Not right now. Maybe later.”
She reached over to give his hand a tight squeeze. “I worry about you.”
“And I worry that you’ll never get laid again.”
She hit him lightly. “Shut up!”
“Haven’t you heard? If you don’t use it you lose it.”
“Yeah well, it’s been used. So stop getting on my case!”
“Why didn’t you just say so? That’s all I needed to hear.”
“Can we drop the subject now?”
She smirked, throwing her hand up in the air. “Thank God.”
A short while later she was fixing up the guest room when David walked in, rubbing his wet hair with a towel. “I want to tell you something but I don’t know if I should.”
She cast him an exasperated glance, sitting down on one corner of the bed. “I hate when you start a conversation with that.” He didn’t respond but the gleam in his eyes was certainly disconcerting. “What’s going on?”
“I ran into Madeline a few weeks ago.”
Her body stiffened immediately upon hearing that name. Instinctively panic surged through her but she took a few deep breaths, reminding herself there was no longer anything to worry about.
“It was in New York, at a restaurant.”
“Did she say anything to you?” Sage wondered out loud.
“Nope. I don’t think she even recognized me.”
“Don’t take it personally.”
“Oh, I’m happy to be off that witch’s radar.” David sat down next to her. “She wasn’t alone, Sage. Cat was with her. And she definitely remembered me.”
Deep-buried anger from long ago threatened to expose itself and crush her but Sage refused to let that rage break the inner peace she’d fought so hard to cultivate. Those people were a part of her past, and that’s where they would remain. Before she was alone and vulnerable, a perfect fodder for predators, but not anymore. Now she had a daughter to protect, a life she loved that was free of hate and prejudice – and one she’d worked hard to built – and no one was going to threaten it. Absolutely no one.
“Bitch gave me the nastiest look you can imagine,” David remarked.
“Did you speak to them?”
“Good. Just stay out of their way.”
“You ever think about-”
“No,” Sage interjected before he could finish the thought. “I don’t. That part of my life is over.” He leaned in closer and placed a gentle kiss on her right cheek. The gesture was affectionate, warm, and exactly what she needed to pull her out of her gloomy state. Linking her arm through his, she settled her head on his shoulder.
“You’re the toughest girl I know,” he said.
“I’m not a girl, David.”
“Fine. Woman. Whatever. Point is you’re tough, but you’ve been through a lot. It’s not easy to put all that shit behind you.”
“No, it’s not. But I did it and that’s where it’ll stay. Behind me.”
There was a brief moment of comfortable silence between them.
“Hun, as much as I’m enjoying you cuddling me to death I need to catch up on some sleep. I have to take that daughter of yours to the amusement park tomorrow and you know that ain’t going to be easy.”
“Pussy.” She stood up, dropped a tender kiss on his forehead before turning to leave.
“Thanks for the talk.”
“Thanks for letting me stay.”
“Like I have a choice.”
He rolled up the wet towel and threw it at her; she blocked it with the door. Chuckling, she walked back to the kitchen to clean up.
The water in the tub was almost scorching hot, just the way Sage liked it. Submerging herself in it, she lolled her head back on the edge and let the warmth wash over her. Baths were a luxury with the schedule she kept; luckily with David taking Ziyah to the park and spending the afternoon with her, she had the time to indulge in one today.
She was a few chapters into a murder mystery novel when the knock on the main door reached her ears. Frowning, she wondered who it could be. Did David leave something behind? No, if that were the case, he would probably call. Also, security in the lobby hadn’t bothered to contact her which meant it was probably a solicitor who had managed to sneak past them. Ignoring the sound, she went back to reading. However, soon the knocks grew incessant, irritating her to the point where she finally couldn’t take it anymore. Sage stood up and climbed out of the tub, grabbing the nearest robe along the way to cover her dripping body as she walked to the door.
She looked through the peephole to see who it was, and, suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. It felt like the wind had been knocked out of her lungs, rendering her senseless.
“Open up, Sage. I know you’re in there.”
His voice. Aidan’s voice. Playful and taunting, still the same yet somehow completely different.
“I can hear you moving around, thinking, freaking out.”
It was no surprise the asshole was provoking her.
“I can stay here as long as I have to, whole night even. Carpet doesn’t look too comfortable but I’ve slept on worse, with worse.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. She had to get him out of here, as quickly as possible. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to cool down. Losing it was not an option, not now, not in front of Aidan. It took a few seconds but at last she managed to regain her composure. Calm and collected, she finally opened the door.
Aidan stood there leaning against the wall, one foot crossed over the other, striking a casual pose. His hair was slightly longer, blonder, while his face held the slightest hint of scruff – like he hadn’t shaved in a few days. Dressed in jeans, a black t-shirt and a leather jacket, he looked every bit the jackass she remembered and more. He had always been good-looking but now there was a hardness to his features, almost a weathered edge that made him appear infinitely more handsome.
As she waited for him to speak her hands felt clammy, stomach queasy, heart drumming so loudly she was worried it would give out. Except he remained silent, his green eyes locked on her.
To be continued…
A/N – Thank you for reading. If you enjoy my writing, my debut novel Follow You Down is available for sale on Amazon.