I stared at my reflection in the mirror.
My face was surprisingly well-rested. I've slept for almost twelve hours. When I woke up, it was hard for me to believe that yesterday's events weren't just a bad dream. A long shower I took refreshed my mind enough to remember every monstrous detail from the last evening.
I finished drying my hair. It's grown a lot. Now it was shiny and perfectly straight. I could do a lot of stuff with it but I chose to leave it loose. I put on a red, tight jumper and black checked skirt. Lately, I've been wearing sweats, jeans and other very casual clothes. Today, I felt the need to look girlier.
After a moment of thinking, I decided to add one more detail to my outfit. I reached for a little chest that was in my garderobe since I moved in. I was keeping jewelry there. It was enough to fit it as I didn't have it that much anyway.
Now, I opened it and took out one of not so many remembrances of my mom I had. They were tiny, golden earrings. Really small hearts with some rock. Very cute and I've had them since I was born but my mom didn't let me wear them. She was afraid I'd lose them. I was afraid of it too. Today, however, I decided to put them on. For some reason.
Before I left the room, I looked into the mirror one more time. That was the first time in a while when I liked what I saw in there. I wasn't overdressed. But I looked p r e t t y.
I already had breakfast but I went to the kitchen anyway, expecting to see at least one of my brothers there. I was right but also got surprised as it was Shane who I met there. He was sitting at the table and in front of him, there was a plate with a mountain of scrambled eggs which he was sipping with coffee.
"Hi," I spoke, gazing him carefully. He didn't look rested at all. His eyes were tired. The last time I saw him was in the cafeteria when he left in a hurry with Dylan. It was right before Tony and I were attacked by the bald man. So many days. All of them he spent at the hospital, staying close to his twin. At the thought of that, I felt a sort of respect towards him. I knew that my brothers had a strong bond between them but it's these kinds of situations that show how solid it really is.
Shane raised his eyes at me.
"Oh, hi," he mumbled and kept staring at me.
I have to admit that deep inside I was scared of meeting Shane. I feared that he'd blame me for what happened to Tony. A quick reminder: it was me who that bullet was for.
I bravely held his look for a few really long seconds and then I dropped my head.
"How's Tony feeling?" I asked shyly, fidgeting with my fingers.
He dragged his eyes away from me and came back to reality, sniffing and having another huge bite of eggs.
"He woke up and immediately started to behave like a little, fucking princess so I'd say he's all right," Shane answered and I peeked at him at the sound of vulgarism. At the end of his words, he smiled with amusement and that was the smile I used to see at Shane's face always when he was joking. Oh, how extremely relieved I just felt!
I even giggled.
"How are you feeling?" He questioned, getting serious.
I shrugged. I didn't want to talk about my emotions because my perfect shell I built in the morning would break in the blink of an eye and one more time I'd be a little, crying girl with a red, swollen face and messy hair.
"Hailie, here you are. Ready?" Will appeared in the kitchen, apparently looking for me. I've seen him earlier today but just for a moment when he worriedly asked about my well-being and made sure I ate something for breakfast.
I turned to him and nodded, however, just one look at me was enough to know the answer to his question. I was definitely ready.
"You look beautiful, little one," he said with approval. He also gave me a sly smile and winked at me.
I blushed but I couldn't do anything about the smile that also lit up my face. After all that I went through, I needed some kind words that would cheer me up.
We all were going to visit Tony and although we could easily fit in one car, my brothers always were choosing comfort and that's why Dylan and Shane took the sports ride and I landed up in Vince's elegant car.
I saw with the corner of my eye how my mentioned brother's scrutinizing eyes slide on my person up and down but he didn't comment on the change in my look. Dylan, however, as soon as he saw me, almost fell over his legs and started to curse the uneven floor.
Not that I looked sεﾒy or like one of these girls my brothers would have their eyes on. Ugh, even the thought of it was disgusting me. But, as I mentioned before, there was a quite meaningful difference between little Hailie in sweats and well-groomed Hailie in a skirt and red jumper.
"Who was the blond?" I asked casually when Vince turned an engine on. I was looking indifferently through the window, almost not caring if I get the answer. That's what I learned from my brothers. That it's always worth a try to ask them questions because from time to time they really did answer. So I had nothing to lose.
"Father's old friends," Vince said.
I know that I just said that it happens that they give me a reply but I didn't expect my oldest brother to share one with me just like that.
I moved my eyes to the back of his head. I was sitting behind him because the passenger's seat was taken by Will.
"Father's old friend wanted to kidnap me?" I repeated to make sure that's what he meant. I was surprised at how freely I could speak about my own kidnapping. Did I so get used to all those new stuff that was threatening to my life that now I could discuss it so casually?
"He wanted to teach us a lesson but he wouldn't have hurt you. Probably he would've locked you in a nice bedroom and given you sweets at will," Vince told me, concentrating more on the road than on me.
What the hell does it mean?
"Are you kidding?" I called out, losing control for a second. I received a sharp look from him in the rear mirror.
Shane's blue Lamborghini overtook us. Dylan showed something to us through the window and Shane beeped the horn a few times, loudly and longly. Did they have a party there or what? I noticed Vince rolling his eyes and Will shaking his head.
"Jerry didn't control himself at all! He could've killed me even accidentally!" I shouted angrily and I took a deep breath because I felt I'm losing it and that was not the plan for today.
"Hailie, planning the consequences for Charles leave to us," Vince said sternly.
"Why did you beat Jerry but with him you just started to talk? It was him who stood behind the whole idea, Jerry was just a pawn!"
Vince sighed and Will looked through the window. Maybe they were losing patience but I didn't really care. If I cross the line, they will tell me. That's what I learned.
"Jerry's no one important and Dylan made sure it'll stay like this. Charles, however, is a big fish and consequently, we deal with him differently," Vincent explained.
I was thinking about what I just heard for a while.
"What happened to his daughter?" I asked suddenly, remembering the blond's words at Audrey's kitchen.
Vince one more time bored into me in the rear mirror. Good thing that the road in front of him was now empty.
"It's not your business, Hailie, and before you begin to protest, I'm warning you. You're starting to annoy me. We're not that far away from home yet, I can still turn back and leave you there. I'll give your regards to Tony."
I got quiet.
See, that's the line I spoke about.
Vince was always annoying me so much when he behaved like this but what could I do? He wasn't bluffing, I knew it too well. And he always knew what to say to close my mouth. He didn't play fair but apparently it was the last thing he cared about.
Well, at least I got something. The blond was my father's old friend. I sighed quietly at the thought that if I was going to gather every piece of information so slowly, then I'll never find out what is happening here.
When we arrived in front of the hospital, Shane's car, of course, was already parked there. I obediently followed my brothers to the building. They knew where to go. Vince and Will talked a bit but I was silent. I didn't have anything to say.
In the elevator, I felt my heart started to beat faster and when we were going through the corridor I thought it'd jump out of my chest. Since the beginning, I've really wanted to visit Tony and now, when I was just about to see him, I got nervous. I wouldn't be surprised if my brothers could hear my speeding pulse. My palms got sweaty.
And what if Tony didn't want to see me?
Every time I imagined me paying him a visit I was thinking only about showing him how grateful I was for saving my life. Now, another thought came across my mind. Maybe Tony didn't care? He went through so much and it was kind of because of me. Suddenly I slowed down. Maybe, maybe it wasn't a good idea for me to go there?
Well, now I didn't have a choice. I gulped, trying not to draw any attention and raised my head high. Ok, so Tony may cuss me out or something. Not a big deal. I can bear it.
Without knocking, Vince opened the white door. He came inside first and I was right behind him. The room was just slightly bigger than the one I woke up in after the accident. There was a window with a view to a yard. The bed, on which my brother was lying, was surrounded by many complicated devices but half of them looked like they were turned off. The most noise was made because of the small tv screen that was hanging on the white wall in front of the hospital bed.
Shane was sitting sprawled on the chair with his legs laid on Tony's bed and Dylan was standing in front of the tv, trying to change the channel with a remote control that apparently needed its batteries changed.
And then my eyes landed on Tony's face.
He was just moving his own ones from Vince to me.
And they met.
I fought with a verve to stop the tears from showing up. I knew that if I let them on that, they'd fastly roll down my cheeks and the last thing I wanted to do was to be a crying baby in front of my brothers again.
Tony was pale and had bags under his eyes. His facial hair grew a bit and he looked kind of more mature. Although he was lying on a hospital bed, just partially covered with a rumpled comforter, he didn't look as weak as I would expect. He was visibly tired but he seemed to be quite ready to jump out of bed and fight with someone for fun. Maybe that was just an illusion but I hoped that he really was recovering as fast as everyone was saying.
I didn't know what to do or say. I wanted to smile but at the same moment Tony turned his gaze away and I felt disappointed. He didn't want me there?
I moved towards him together with Will and Vince but I felt that I stiffened.
"All good, Tony?" Will asked him.
"Fucking awesome, all the nurses leach over me," he answered and leaned his head back, grinning.
"The same nurses that inserted a catheter on you?" Dylan teased, turning his head from the tv for a moment.
"Mostly them because they know already how big I am."
Dylan and Shane burst into a laugh, appreciating Tony's joke and Will and Vince snorted with amusement. Tony really felt good already.
I bit my lip. All those perverse stuff they could talk so openly about were always embarrassing for me.
Then the storytime started. Tony asked about the bald guy and he got just a brief answer but I had an impression he was able to get from it more than me. No one was speaking about any details, probably because of my presence, but my brothers seemed to use some code that only they could understand so their talk sounded to me like a really poor version of what actually happened. Then they moved to discuss the events from yesterday. A few times I caught Tony shooting me quick peeks but most of the time he was focusing on insulting Jerry.
We spent quite a lot of time in the hospital. I didn't speak almost at all. But at some moment, Shane left to the toilet, Dylan and Will went to get coffee for everyone and hot chocolate for me and Vince received some important call. In one, sudden moment I was left alone with Tony.
My brother was visibly surprised by the fact that everyone unexpectedly vanished into thin air, just like me. He didn't comment on it though, just reached towards the remote control that Dylan left on the bedside table. Next, he concentrated on making it work and we probably wouldn't have spoken until my brothers come back if I didn't decide to make a move.
Because it was me, who wanted to visit Tony. He saved me and I wanted to thank him. It wasn't the most important now if he was going to accept my gratitude or not. I just had to show it to him anyway. That's what I wanted to do, that's why I came here in the first place.
That's why while Tony was busy with tapping this damn remote, I got up and came to him. Only when I was so close that he could grab my arm, he raised his look at me. It wasn't prejudiced like I expected but either affectionate in any way. It was neutral as if he just wondered what I was doing.
He didn't have to wait for the answer long because I immediately lifted my arms and cautiously, not to touch the wound on his stomach, I closed him in a hug. He stiffened but I didn't let him reject me. My heart was pounding like crazy and I couldn't do anything about the fact that this time my eyes really watered. I felt Tony's tough abs underneath me and smelled his natural, masculine smell not mixed with any perfumes.
"Thank you," I whispered to his ear. I wanted to tell him much more but I was so emotionally charged that I couldn't choke out any more words of appreciation apart from that one, the simplest one that had the biggest meaning.
He had to understand because suddenly, to my endless joy, I felt his arms wrapping around my back. I took a deep, shaky breath. He hugged me!
To be stuck in Tony's embrace was one of the best things in the world. I wasn't mistaken, he was still strong. And his attitude towards me was still an unknown. But he hugged me back. He's never cuddled me like that before. Never before he made such a sweet gesture towards me that now was dissolving my heart.
"You have nothing to thank for," He muttered and still sounded indifferent but I didn't care because after all, he hugged me. I wanted to argue with him that I do have what to thank for but I just gave up. I preferred to simply enjoy this nice moment.
And suddenly the whole burden of all those things that happened to me lately and that shouldn't have happened ever to anyone, suddenly it got lighter. Audrey's anger, Jerry's betray, the bald guy's aggression, the young motorcyclist's death, the blond's smirk... for a moment I forgot about it all. The most important thing was that Tony is alive, conscious and that he wasn't angry with me.
"Can I have a hug too?" Dylan asked, smirking. He just came into the room together with Will. They both were holding paper cups with our takeaway drinks. That's when I pulled away from Tony and blushed.
"Fuck off," Tony said to him, adjusting his pillow behind his back.
I sat back on the chair I was taking before and accepted hot chocolate from Will that I didn't really fancy to drink anymore. I was so happy that I didn't need more sweetness.
"What the fuck is that?" Tony barked at the sight of the content of his cup that Dylan just passed to him.
"And what does it look like? Water, dumbass."
"I've got fucking water here, you were supposed to get me some coffee."
"Coffee is for adults and you are on a diet," Dylan replied to him in a childish voice which ended up in Tony emptying the cup in one gulp and squashing it with one hand to throw it at his brother. The paper ball hit Dylan at his cheek but it didn't fall to the floor because he caught it and threw back at Tony who bounced it with the remote, like in baseball. The squashed cup flew right in front of my nose and would hit Vince's arm but he snatched it and before anyone knew, he threw it straight into a bin.
It was funny and we started to laugh. This time I wasn't too intimidated to do that.
I watched my brothers' amused faces. Everyone was speaking. They were taunting each other, sometimes even offending but those were caressive insults. The ones that only siblings would understand. Then I thought that whatever will happen, they'll always be there... Audrey can be mad, Mona can stop speaking to me, there can be people in this world who wish me ill but those five guys here - no matter how often annoying, unfair or possessive - they will always have their's back. And mine's too.