The incident with Jason was just a one-time thing. Still, when I was thinking about how it'd happened, I couldn't believe that it was really me who actually had done that. I punched him. That was like a damn scene from a movie! I'd never before hit anyone. Not like that. What was happening to me?
Anyway, Jason was not only ignoring me now but he also started to avoid me. It was a nice change after all those weeks of flaunting and pretending to be in love with Lavinia right under my nose.
And about Lavinia... Of course, I still felt sorry for her and all but she turned out to be even more annoying than I thought she was. I couldn't grow inside me any sympathy towards her not only because of ex-relation with Jason but also because simply she wasn't kind of person I could honestly like. She was one of those girls, seemingly, without personality who only know how to comment on other people's looks and make some vicious conclusions on its base. I was happy that Lavinia's older than me and we didn't have any classes together. Because really... I couldn't care less that someone has greasy hair or a pimple on their forehead. Why would I want to talk about it?
The valentine's day was coming and I was more than sure that I'd spend it doing some quizzes like "What your future husband should be like?" and this kind of depressing stuff. Luckily, my plans changed. Well, I still didn't have a boyfriend but it turned out that on the 14th of February the twins have a birthday. I couldn't help but smile at the thought that Tony (who's probably the least romantic person I know) was born on this exact day.
As obviously I didn't have my own money and I was feeling uncomfortable asking Vince for it, I decided that my present for the boys would be a homemade cake. I used the same recipe as for Christmas, just modified it a bit and added more layers. I remembered that they had really loved my bake so I hoped they'd appreciate it one more time. Of course, I didn't manage to hold it back from them. Seemingly, this house could look empty most of the time but whenever I'd try to do something without my brothers knowing, suddenly they all were around. Shane immediately discovered that I was baking a cake and he gave me a disarming smile when I admitted that it's for him.
Apart from it, an eating-out was planned. It was the second time when I was going to a restaurant with all of my brothers and I almost forget how it was. For this occasion, I chose an inky dress with a long sleeve and a big bow on the chest. It was really pretty and I'd not worn it earlier because it seemed too elegant. I curled my hair in waves and put some glowstick on. This time I presented way better next to my brothers than the last time. I still wasn't as posh as they were but I was doing some progress.
When I entered the garage, almost everyone was already there. They were standing around Tony's new motorbike and admiring it. It had to be his birthday gift. It looked impressive.
I caught Vince giving me a long look. It worried me a bit but I tried to ignore it. He can't have any problems with my outfit. He was the one who'd bought it for me. He'd accepted it.
And if we're talking about appearances... Vince looked like a million dollars and I really wouldn't be surprised if his clothes together with accessories were worth something close to that. His black suit was almost screaming out "I'm tailored and costed a fortune!". And the rest of my brothers weren't any worse.
Just as the last time, we split into two groups. Tony and Shane took the motorcycle and the rest and I rode in Will's car. The restaurant where we had a reservation looked very luxurious. I think it was the first time I was in such an expensive place. I mean I imagined it had to be expensive because there were no prices on the menu. It wasn't a problem for my siblings.
We were valeted by many people and I was just shyly following my brothers' steps, overwhelmed by this lushness. They, on the other hand, were very relaxed, probably used to being in this kind of places from an early age.
"How do you like it?" Will opened me when everyone sat at our booked table.
"This place is... marvelous," I answered, looking around self-consciously. It really was marvelous. The inside was in subdued colors, mainly cream. The sculptures on the walls looked amazing but the ceiling in the shape of a dome decorated with a spectacular fresco presenting some medieval painting was definitely the most impressive.
"It's the best restaurant around. Our favorite," He informed me.
"Sometimes it's good to have a break from fast foods," Shane confirmed, rubbing his hands at the sight of a waiter carrying menus for us.
"And it's been a while since we came here last time," Dylan added.
"Vince, you were here last week, right? Having some business with Ricardo?" Will turned to Vince who was looking through a wine list and just nodded his head in confirmation.
"Ricardo? That loaded fatty?" Shane laughed and got a warning look from Vince.
"Walls have ears so better behave and keep your opinions for yourself," he said quietly but clearly.
Shane biddably focused back on his menu.
"We wanted to take you here in the first week when you arrived but finally we chose another place. We thought you could get a bit overwhelmed here," Will explained to me.
"You thought right," I admitted, again staring at this incredible ceiling and he laughed.
If they'd decided to take me here at the beginning of my stay with them, I'd have died. Still, I couldn't say that I got used to the luxurious lifestyle that my brothers lived and it's been many months since I'm with them but surely, I was dealing better with it than in the first weeks of my move.
I thought Shane would feel a little intimidated because of Vince's remark (at least I know that I'd be for sure because it's how I was, always taking stuff personally). However, Shane wasn't so sensitive because a moment later he laughed out loud with Tony, totally unaffected.
And it came to me that restaurant equals food and I got stressed because I wasn't sure what to order. I didn't want to waste food by not finishing it, especially that I was convinced that it has to cost a fortune here. But I couldn't order anything at all as it would make everyone suspicious.
Well, I wasn't as clever as I thought.
The first part of our little family trip was really great. It's been a while since I laughed so hard. My brothers were really funny and I loved spending time with them this way. I admired how comfortable they were in their own company. It was amazing. Their bond was almost magical. They could tease each other, sometimes they understood each other without words. I listened to their discussions and jokes with some fascination. Even Vince was relaxed.
Until everyone was already finishing their meals and I still toyed my ravioli. I'd taken a few bites but I couldn't have more. I thought that my trick with pretending to eat was going quite well. However, at some point, I accidentally shared a look with Vice who bored into me intently. The same look he gave me in the garage before we left the house.
I quickly broke it and, as if nothing happened, I slid my eyes to Dylan.
"How much longer are you going to play with your food?" My oldest brother asked, drawing everyone's attention firstly to him and then to me.
I gazed at him with widened eyes.
"But I'm eating..." I protested quietly, sounding totally not confident but trying to prove I'm telling the truth, I forked one of the pasta envelopes.
"Show me, please," Vince demanded and took a sip of his red wine.
I felt all my brothers' eyes on me.
I looked at my food and my stomach clenched only at the thought of chewing it. I gulped nervously.
"What's your problem?" Dylan asked confusedly, watching my ridiculous fight with myself.
"Hailie, just take a bite..." Shane added, equally surprised.
My lips started to tremble. I was staring at my delicious and scrupulously-prepared dish with reluctance. For me, it was the same as if they forced me to eat some cardboard.
"I don't want to," I muttered, trying to sound firm. I had right not to be hungry, didn't I?
"I'm not asking if you want," Vince reminded me, using his full-of-authority voice which completely clouded my own, pathetic one.
I pursed my lips.
"Hailie, what is going on?" Will ask gently after a moment of silence.
An excuse, I needed an excuse, quickly...
"I have a stomachache."
Will looked at me worriedly and he opened his mouth probably to ask me about some details but Vince broke in.
"I want to see you eating," he repeated severely and mercilessly. A moment ago we all were laughing at Tony's joke, what went wrong?! Why was he so angry out of sudden?
"I can't," I replied tearily.
"What the hell does it mean you can't?" Dylan spat, visibly getting irritated.
I didn't have a response to it.
"Tell me, dear child, why would you starve yourself?" Vince asked me calmly after another sip of wine.
"I'm not starving myself."
He sighed, bored with my denials.
"When was the last time that at least one of you saw Hailie actually eating?"
That question was directed to the rest of my brothers so there was nothing much I could do apart from sitting quietly and looking at their faces which firstly were expressing confusion and then turned into shock when they realized that they didn't know the answer.
"It doesn't mean I starve myself! We just rarely eat together!"
"Mhm. And that is why you lost weight?" Vince continued and his look was getting sharper and sharper.
"I didn't lose any weight," I hissed because he hit a raw nerve. I'd like to lose weight.
He leaned back on his chair and looked at me through his narrowed eyes, gently rubbing the stem of his glass with his fingers. I had the impression that the boldlier I was towards him, the less lenient he became.
"So why the dress I bought you, that I remember was skin-tight, now is hanging loosely on you?" He asked in a low and dark voice.
It brought me up short.
I peeked at my outfit. It was a bit baggy but had it really been so close-fitting before? Did it mean that I got thinner indeed? I did notice that my clothes became a bit broader, especially pants but I assumed that it was just a washing machine's fault or something. But I'd not washed that dress yet... That's weird because when I looked into a mirror, I didn't see any change. Is it possible that it actually happen?
A big smile appeared on my face and I raised my head excitedly just to meet Vince's chilly gaze. He surely wasn't going to congratulate me on my success.
"Why are you smiling?" Shane asked, narrowing his eyebrows.
"Hailie, is that true? Are you trying to slim down?" Will was clearly shocked.
"I just..." I started but I didn't have enough clout to continue.
"Are you fucking kidding me now?" Dylan growled loudly.
"But you are so skinny..."
"What the hell..."
I dropped my head at the sound of all those voices which I didn't want to hear.
"You're eating this ravioli right fucking now!" Dylan commanded me, with every second getting angrier.
"I c-can't..." I whined, looking at him pleadingly.
"Do you want me to fucking feed you?" He asked in a raised voice, standing up. He was looking at me down, ready to come up to me. I stared at him terrified, not able to say anything.
"Sit," Vince said calmly but icy.
I felt relief when, in a moment, Dylan took a deep breath and obeyed. He was still boring into me though. I gulped just at the imagination of him force-feeding me. I knew that he was capable of doing it.
"What does it mean that she can't?" He turned to Vice.
"It means that's what she stuffed her little head with and now she's disgusted just at the sight of food," Vince explained to him, not taking his eyes off me.
"Well, awesome, now let's stuff this head with something else..."
"If you force her to eat, she'll probably throw up."
"What the fuck?" Shane exclaimed, looking from me to Vince. Even Tony gaped at me with puzzlement.
I played with my hands not daring to meet any of my brothers' eyes. Vince was right. If I had to swallow even a bite of anything, I'd at least gagged. Ok, that didn't sound good...
Vince told the rest to leave me alone and (to my relief) they slowly came back to chatting and joking. I could feel some tension though. Dylan was shooting me annoyed looks from time to time and Will was peeking at me with concern. I didn't say anything more, I just shook my head at the offer of dessert.
When we came home, Shane, Dylan, and Tony immediately disappeared upstairs. Apparently, they were getting ready to go out to some party.
"Hailie, wait for me in the library," Vince turned to me before I even left the car.
Oh no, please. I knew that the subject that started in a restaurant wasn't closed just postponed but I hoped that at least today he'll leave me alone.
Reluctantly, I headed to the library and took a seat on the couch. After a few minutes, my guardian came in and sat in the armchair. I remembered when we'd been there the first day I'd arrived at the Monets' house and Vince told me about the rules.
Now I was more afraid than then.
My oldest brother was looking at me for a long time before he started his talk.
"Hailie, do you even understand what you're doing to yourself?" He asked. Something in this question made me feel sad. I don't know what was that. But I shook my head in response, quite unaware of my doings.
"That's what I thought," He said and tightened his jaw, apparently not really pleased.
I was silent. I had no idea what to say.
"Eating disorders are not fun, Hailie. Tell me, do you want to end up in a hospital?"
I shivered at the thought. I hated hospitals.
"No," I whispered.
"No one plays around there. If a patient refuses to eat in a traditional way, they are fed by the feeding tube. Do you know how it works?" His voice was getting darker.
I wasn't answering, just looking at the carpet, all tensed.
"A long tube is inserted to your stomach, through your nose. A very, very horrible feeling."
I started to shake.
"Hailie, if you don't pull yourself together, I won't hesitate to send you to this kind of treatment. Do you want it?"
Now, also my chin and lips were trembling and my eyes watered. I shook my head one more time.
I heard Vince getting up and then his soft steps when he was approaching me.
"Stand up, Hailie," He demanded.
I listened, trying to catch the balance because I went weak at my knees.
I hadn't expected what happened next. Vince cupped my face and made me meet his eyes. He also dried the tears that rolled down through my cheeks with his thumbs. He was surprisingly gentle.
Automatically, I caught his wrists with my hands but I didn't even try to pull them away, I just looked into his bright eyes, now completely focused on me.
"Hailie, you're beautiful and intelligent and I'm not saying it just because you're my sister. I find out one more time that you're hurting yourself, especially like that, and I won't be that nice. Understood?" He said and it was the first time when in his strict, low voice I could hear a tiny little bit of... affection?
I parted my lips in a reaction to this unexpected discovery. Totally astonished, I nodded.
"Yes," I whispered softly when I got back my voice.
Vince took away his hands and nodded too.
"Since now you're going to eat breakfasts and dinners at the presence of one of us. Dylan and the twins will also watch you in school, during lunch breaks. And tomorrow we'll think if you need any specialistic help," He decided in the end.
I had no other choice than agree.
Then he asked if I wanted to add anything and when I didn't, he ordered me to go to my bedroom and have some rest. So I did. While changing my clothes, I looked at my body in the mirror. Have I really lost my weight? I still didn't see it but today's confrontation with my brothers made me wonder if I can really believe my judgment.
And Vince told me I'm beautiful and intelligent. Remembering those words said by him, I felt something warm in my heart. He was looking into my eyes. He was honest.
Beautiful and intelligent.
When I was laying in my bed, I was still thinking about it and soon, I fell asleep with my face lit up with a little smile.