I snuggled deeper into my pillow, willing the beams of sunlight to be swept behind a cloud. Yesterday had been rough, and I wasn't ready to face the day, but the thing about living in Florida, the sun shined seven days of the week regardless of how shitty you felt inside.
Footsteps sounded outside my room, followed by the creaking of wooden stairs. I listened as they moved to the kitchen, a familiar sound. Soft voices, one male, one female floated from under my slightly cracked door.
"Mom," I whispered, recognizing her sultry laugh.
I knew their routine, the same each morning regardless if it was a weekday or weekend. My mom sipped coffee and nibbled on granola as she poured a cup for my dad. He'd eat his bowl of Raisin Bran, guzzling his coffee like it was a caffeine drip, while he listened to the daily news.
The urge to run downstairs overwhelmed me. I dug my fingers into the bed, knowing there was no one down there. My dad wasn't home. And my mom... She wasn't there either. Squeezing my eyes shut, I took a deep breath, followed by another until the memory was gone, washed away like the morning tide.
Pain fractured in my chest, splintering until my limbs felt heavy, pinning me to the bed. I wanted nothing more than to pull the covers over my head and sleep the day away. But even in sleep, it didn't always take away the hurt, the shame, or the regret. Those would be with me always, regardless of where I was.
I loosed a breath, relaxing my fingers one by one and stared at the white ceiling. It had been weeks since I'd an "episode" as I termed them. Those muddied moments where I forget what had happened, where I have real-like dreams of my life before, or the worst, when I hear her talking to me.
Being with the Malone's had helped chase away the episodes, or at the very least, reduce the frequency.
Now I was back home, and so was my past, the one that haunted me every second of every day.
I felt a headache poking at my temples when my phone buzzed on the bed beside me and I groaned. Ignore it, that little voice inside me said. I didn't want to talk to anyone, but the person texting me didn't seem to give a shit about what I wanted.
It buzzed again.
Swearing, I reached across the bed and I unlocked the home screen to see three missed texts from Preston. The last one said he said: Ev, If you don't answer me, I'm coming over.
Uh, hell no.
I owed Preston an explanation for my odd behavior yesterday, but why did it have to be so goddamn early in the morning? One of Preston's flaws. He was an early riser. Where I, like Tristan, preferred to sleep in.
My teeth ground together at the thought of Tristan and I sharing any sort of habits. I couldn't believe I had crushed on him for like ever. So much for being a good judge of character. I had been warned and had always known he was trouble, but trouble in my mind didn't always mean bad.
Except in Tristan's case.
I thought what hurt the most was I'd been under some delusion that I understood Tristan, who he was, why he acted the way he did, but last night blew that shit out of the water.
Before Preston could make good on his threat and show up at my house, I sent him a text back. Just woke up. We need to talk. I'll come over in an hour.
Hopefully, that would give me enough time to get my shit figured out.
I had spent the majority of yesterday gorging on pizza and texting Sam, but now that the sun was up glaring its sunshine in my eyes, I had to face my life.
"Fuck," I groaned, raking a hand through my mop of messy hair.
So much for having a clearer head after sleeping on Tristan's ultimatum. If anything, I was as confused as ever, but I did have to admit getting out of this house was appealing. The silence was suffocating me.
Wednesday couldn't come soon enough. Classes didn't start until the following week, but I was moving into my dorm on Wednesday, which meant I only had to survive living in this house for a few more days.
Throwing the sheets to the side, I padded to the bathroom in nothing but a T-shirt to brush my teeth. One look in the mirror and I knew it was going to take more than deodorant, a spray of perfume, and a hairbrush to make myself look human. Nothing sort of a miracle would do that.
While I scrubbed my teeth, I contemplated my options. Neither was ideal. Preston had been a part of my life for so long. He'd been there when no one else had. I wasn't sure I knew how to live my life without him in it, and if I did this, if I ended our relationship, I wasn't positive we could be friends.
What would I say to him?
Was I really going to let a bully tell me who I could and couldn't love? There was a motive behind him wanting me to break up with his brother, and I deserved to know why. He owed me that much. I might have been in shock yesterday, but today, I was ready to take on the eldest Malone, no matter how stupidly hot he was.
I refused to live my life for someone else. There were no do-overs. This life we were given was short in the scheme of things. It only took a split second and poof, it could be taken from us.
My mind was made up.
Tristan could suck it.
* * *
It had been less than twenty-four hours since I'd run from my safe place, and it was weird how in that small amount of time so much could change. I wrapped my arms around myself staring at the Malone's massive house in the circular driveway. Taking a deep breath of salt laced air, I moved forward with purposeful steps. I stopped at the front double doors and eyed the doorbell, chewing on my lower lip. Did I ring the bell or just walk in like I'd always done?
Why did this have to suddenly be so complex?
I couldn't remember the last time I'd rung the bell, and I decided right then that wouldn't change. Screw Tristan.
A pang went through my chest at the thought.
There had been a time I had very much wanted to screw Tristan. Hell, the other night I'd been in his bed willing and ready. What did that say about me?
That I was seriously fucked up.
Pressing down on the brass latch, I let myself into the open foyer, voices traveled from down the hall where I knew the kitchen was. I followed the sounds, my canvas tennis shoes clapping quietly over the marble floor.
Blaine and Anna were in the kitchen going through their morning routine. The sight of Blaine sitting on the table with his probably second cup of black coffee and Anna eating a slice of avocado toast while standing at the island filled me with ease. There was a comfort in seeing that some things never changed.
Anna looked up, sensing my presence and a genuine smile beamed on her lips. She was tall and slim, the little tennis skirt showed off her defined tan legs. Her long honey-colored hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. It was Sunday morning, which meant Anna had her tennis lesson. "Hey, there." She came around and engulfed me into a hug. Her hair smelled of shampoo and expensive hair products. "We miss you. Preston said you left yesterday."
I leaned up against a cabinet, toying with the cloth runner spread on top of the island. "Sorry, I was hoping to tell you first. I just needed a few days to myself and get ready for school."
"I can't believe you and Preston are both leaving. We're so proud of you." Her eyes misted, and if I didn't steer the conversation quick enough, she would be taking a tumble down memory lane. That was a street I wanted to stay clear of.
"I couldn't have done it without you both. Is Preston home?" I asked.
Her head bobbed up and down as she took a sip from her mug. "Somewhere. I swear, I hardly saw the two of you all summer. Is there anything I can say to get you to come back? I know it is just a few days..."
"I appreciate it. You've both been too generous, but I think I need to do this."
"Well, you're always welcome here, honey, you know that?"
I swallowed. "I do."
"We're stilling driving you up to school, right?" she asked, hopefulness weaving into her voice.
I nodded, unable to disappoint them. My dad wouldn't be home for another month. "Yep," I replied. Sam would meet us up there with her parents. It was hard to believe that next week, I'd be a college freshman. In some ways, I felt so old, older than my eighteen years. And in other ways, I still felt like a little girl who wasn't ready to leave home.
"Have you had breakfast?" Blaine asked, peering over his newspaper to give me a charming grin, much like his sons. It was easy to see when looking at Mr. Malone where Preston and Tristan inherited their good looks. Blaine wasn't hard on the eyes for a dad.
"I'm fine. I just came to see—"
From the corner of my eye, I saw movement and my heart thrummed in my chest like I'd just popped a pill of speed. Tristan strolled in and I sucked in a breath.
Why did he have to look so damn good? It wasn't fair. Assholes shouldn't be allowed to be drop-dead gorgeous too. It should be outlawed.
Anna heard my intake of air. "Surprise. Tristan's home. Isn't that great?" She was beaming at her eldest son who continued to stare at me.
Surprise indeed. My face deadpanned, but I quickly try to cover it up with a forced smile, regardless that I felt my throat swell. "Hey," was the only words I managed to say to the blackmailer.
Anna's gaze volleyed between us, noticing the lack of enthusiasm on my face. I was a sucky actress. Lying wasn't part of my genetic makeup. "Shoot. You already knew, didn't you? I swear, no one can keep a secret around here."
Blaine shook his head, returning to his paper and a chill settled into the room.
Anna was trying to make a big deal out of Tristan being home as she usually did, but somethings took more than enthusiasm and fancy dinners to mend, like the relationship between Tristan and his father. They didn't have much in common other than their dark features. Perhaps in some ways, they were too much alike. Too pigheaded.
Tristan ignored his less than stellar greeting from his father and answered his mother, but his eyes were on me as he came to stand at my side, our arms brushing. I fought not to jerk away. "I ran into Ever Friday night." His dimpled grin hit me straight between the legs.
What the hell was wrong with me? Tristan was now enemy number one. My body needed to catch up and get onboard with the I-despise-Tristan-to-the-depths-of-my-soul campaign. Maybe I should make signs and protest outside of his house, chanting and cursing his name—the antichrist.
The idea made my lips twitch and I forgot myself for a moment.
"What's so amusing, Ever?" Tristan whispered for my ears only. His breath was hot on the side of my neck.
I shoved my elbow to the side, sinking into his gut. "Sorry," I said sweetly. "I slipped."
He coughed, covering a laugh.
What was this thing between us? Why the fuck was he being...nice to me? It felt like old times. He was making my head spin and I wanted to get off this dizzying ride called Tristan Malone.
Was it possible he regretted the other night? Was it too much to hope for? Did he want things to go back to how they were before Friday night when he morphed into the asshole of the year? Perhaps he'd deleted the photos, wiped them out of existence and we could go back to how things used to be. Me dating his brother and him teasing me.
I wanted to go back to normal.
This unknown with Tristan was driving me insane and I had enough crap going on in my head without him adding to it.
"We were hoping to have one last dinner with all of us together. Think you can stand us for one more night before going off and conquering college?" Anna asked with a playful smile as she took a bite of toast.
My mind went blank. What do I say? "Um," I mumbled, racking my brain for a good enough excuse to back out of dinner. The last thing I wanted to do was be trapped into spending time in a room where Tristan was present unless he had changed his mind. I peeked over at him, confusion brimming in my eyes as I wanted for him to give me a sign.
Oh, he gave me one already. He practically smacked me in the face with it.
"We could take a couple pictures. You. Me. Preston. What do you say, Ever?" He winked.
I felt like I'd been hit in the gut. Dickwad.
All I could do was gape at him, unable to believe what I heard. There was no mistaking the innuendo. He hadn't forgotten about yesterday morning and he wasn't going forget the threat.
"Honey, are you okay?" Anna asked, worry lines creasing her forehead. She laid a hand over mine on the countertop. "You look a little pale. Let make you some toast."
My lips wobbled. I didn't want any toast. I wanted to take this entire year back and start over. I wanted to know what I'd done to make Tristan hate me so much?
I read the gleam in his eyes. After dinner. He expected me to break up with his brother after dinner.
"Dinner would be great," I replied, my voice flat.