Vince was following me when I entered the kitchen. Exceptionally, all my brothers were present at the dinner. There were two seats left at the table and without a second thought, I chose the one next to Will, leaving the pleasure of sitting next to Tony to Vince.
In my mouth, I still felt a bitter taste of the talk with my guardian. My head was hanging because I had no courage to meet the eyes of any of my brothers. I was simply embarrassed. They surely heard something. It took me a moment to understand that the truth was I was embarrassed only with myself.
I felt a sting of anger. At Vince, obviously, but mainly at myself.
I didn't crazily dig into my burger like the rest but I was picking at it so no one would niggle about me starving myself again. By the way, it was a funny view to see my oldest, always elegant brother with a huge bun in his hands. Fast foods didn't suit his image.
My brothers were talking together but I didn't listen to them. I was focused on controlling the rising anger that suddenly woke up inside me.
I asked Vince not to hurt Audrey. Is it a lot? Couldn't he just calm me down and promise that she would be fine and, I don't know, maybe even apologize and admit that he crossed the line? Couldn't Will stop, when he was passing us, put his hand on Vince's shoulder and mutter to his ear to chill? That I didn't do anything?
And Tony? He could take a bullet for me but it was too hard for him to say to me a word that wouldn't be marked with irritation, boredom or malice? Did it have to be so difficult for him to hug me back then, in the hospital?
Dylan. I remember how he let me sit on his lap when he came to my bedroom to apologize. He let me cry and whispered me some kind words. Why couldn't he do that more often? Why couldn't he smile at me from time to time with a smile other than this annoying smirk which I knew so well?
Shane didn't get under my skin as much as the others but it doesn't mean he was always all right. He never took my side. He was funny and usually nice but he never ever defended me in front of the guys. Once he told me that they all just cared about my safety and that I needed to understand them. Was it the way to show to another person that you care about them? Threatening to them, making them sad, ignoring their opinions?
My bottom lip started shaking and I couldn't control it. At that moment I felt as if I was drifting in the sea of sorrows and hatred and I just lost it. Suddenly, my burger changed into a big, yellow stain because of tears that appeared in my eyes and made my vision blurry. I think they even started falling on my plate.
Dylan was telling some story but he stopped in the mid-word when his eyes noticed my face. He gaped at me with a raised brow as if he tried to understand what the hell was happening to me. Soon, the rest of my siblings followed his look.
"Hailie, hey, what's going on?" Will's gentle voice sounded right above my ear. His arm wrapped my shoulders which made me take a shaky breath. I think that was the first time when his delicate touch irritated me even more instead of soothing my feelings.
I lifted my eyes and blinked a few times, trying to get rid of those tears but there were too many of them, so I just dried them with the sleeve of my shirt. When I noticed that everyone was staring at me, I thought about how humiliating it was.
Just for a moment though. Because I was still angry and I heard a voice in my head saying that I had the right to cry. I had the right to feel bad and I shouldn't be ashamed of it. I was sensitive and I cried a lot, maybe too much but this time I. Had. The. Right. To. It.
For a while, my gaze crossed with Vince's one. He was sitting in front of me and boring into me indifferently.
"What's wrong with her again?" Dylan muttered.
I was grateful to heavens that we were eating with hands because if I was holding the fork right now, I would stab him with it. Instead, I gave him a sharp look and let the fury that burst inside me like a volcano which was burning me now encouraging me to argue take over me.
"What's wrong with her? Let me think, maybe she's hurt because her brothers are jerks?!" I shout out in a shrill voice, standing up. Will's arm slipped off my shoulders.
There were a few seconds of silence.
"You did not just say that," Dylan gasped with disbelief. I noticed how his eyes darkened.
"Oh, Dylan..." I laughed bitterly, not caring anymore, "If only you knew how much more I would like to say..."
I saw anger showing on the guys' faces. Vince was the only one whose eyes were still emotionless.
"Hailie, what's got into you?" Will asked sternly.
"Spoiled brat," Dylan spat.
"Yes, Dylan," I hissed. It was much easier for me to disrespect him than Will, "I am the one who's spoiled. Please, for once look at yourself."
He leaped to his feet and normally I would appreciate that there was a table between us and thanks to it him towering over me wasn't so visible but right now I really didn't care.
"You have everything for the asking here and you dare to talk to us this way?!"
I raised my eyebrows. This time I couldn't believe his words.
"Everything? What is this everything? Expensive clothes?" I spat, pulling the neck of my shirt that Vince bought me, "The newest iPhone?" I took the phone out of my pocket and slammed it on the table with a bit more force than I was planning to use, "Private school?" I shook my head, staring at him as if he was insane, "Don't you understand that these are nice additions that mean nothing when you feel unloved, when your mum died and left you alone, when you have no one apart from brothers who for most of the time treat you like an intruder or a problem? For God's sake, for every kind word I've heard from you I had to fight and beg. I am so embarrassingly happy every time when at least one of you mercifully hugs me or at least smile at me. All I hear are the rules and what I can and cannot do," I bored into Vincent who surely was listening to my every word but whose face I couldn't read, "You are interested in me only when I do something you don't like. But am I really so terrible? I am one of the best students in my school!
You've never said anything. And you have to know about it. You know everything. I didn't even want to drink one, stupid glass of champaign with my friends because I was afraid you'd find out and get angry," Now I looked at Will and then took a deep breath and glanced back at Dylan. I started talking again but this time my voice was calmer and bitter, "I wasn't meeting with Jason to spite you. He just was a person that wanted to talk with me and seemed to care for me and who, I hoped, would give me a bit of love. But you beat him. And he came to hate me," Now I gazed at Tony who froze and was gaping at me bewildered, with his eyebrows raised as if he saw a dwarf, "I didn't blurt out to Vince about your gun to get you in trouble. It's just I had never before seen a freaking gun and suddenly it was there, in your car! And you were so mean to me. I got so scared, you have no idea how much!" I dropped my eyes at my hands, breathing fast and once again trying to control my voice so I wouldn't yell too much, "I didn't know what was happening. My only source of information was some dumb gossips about you that travel around the school. I wanted to discover something more, to know who are those people I live under one roof with. I didn't feel safe. And then I found out that I have a bodyguard. That there are people who want to kidnap me or kill me. What does it even mean?" I moved my eyes at Vince again, "You said that if someone hurts me, you'll personally kill them. You threatened a man with a knife before my very eyes. You agreed to beat Jason. And you are surprised that I can't look into your eyes?! My mom wasn't even able to kill a fly or a spider and now I am under the care of a person who so casually speaks about hurting people?! I... I can-not... It is... I... don't know..."
The deep, hysterical breath I took turned out to be the end of my long speech. I could say much more but the energy that fuelled me has already run down. As if I earlier had taken a drug that now stopped working.
Slowly, I felt a wave of heat spreading across my body. My cheeks were burning me the most and I was more than sure that I blushed. There were also ominous shivers that mercilessly ran through my back.
Am... am I dreaming?
Did I just say it all out loud? I had a look around, astonished. I forgot that I was standing. Dylan was standing too. He was looking at me as if he saw me the first time in his life. No, even the first time he saw me, he was more indifferent. Now, he was shocked. They all were. Will's mouth was parted and eyes widely opened. Shane was blinking probably wondering himself if he was dreaming. Only Vince had a blank face. There was no even one muscle that would twitch in reaction to my outburst.
The silence was so thick that it started to choke me. I gulped nervously. It wasn't a nice feeling. I took a step back. I bumped into my chair. It made a lot of noise. I caught the back of it so I wouldn't fall. I took my hand away as soon as I regained my balance. One more step back. And then I just turned around on my heel and ran out of the kitchen, leaving my brothers unmoving at the table, looking like sculptures.
In the corridor I passed next to Eugenie who stood there, holding the wall, apparently hearing my show and not having the courage to enter the room where such a drama was going on.
With some weird desperation, I caught the doorknob to my bedroom and I charged into there, carefully closing the door behind me. I hugged them and tried to calm down my crazily fast-beating heart. I was shaking and finally, I managed to cry loudly sliding down to the floor. I lied there shrunken, slowly relaxing.
What did I just do? Was it me?
For the first minutes, I was listening uneasily, worrying that someone would follow me. I imagined angry Dylan who opens the door to my room without knocking. Nothing like that happened though.
After some time, I crawled to my bed and managed to get onto it to lie the rest of the afternoon on some softer surface. My head was hurting. I was falling asleep and waking up in the rotation. Once I saw the door opened and Vince peeked in but I wasn't sure if it happened for real or it was just a part of a dream. And I had a lot of bizarre dreams.
I opened my eyes widely when I suddenly woke up, feeling sweaty a second after Tony pushed me into some horrifying, gloomy building that was my imagination of an orphanage. He cussed at me and someone's arm grasped on my wrist and started pulling me inside. Tony lightened his cigarette and waved at me with a smirk. Vince's posture appeared behind him. He bored into my panicked eyes blankly.
My heart was pounding and I was blinking trying to get my eyes used to the darkness that now was consuming my room. After the latest season of nightmares, I made sure to have a night lamp next to my bed which I used now eagerly. I groaned when I had to raise my head. The pain was killing me! I was also covered with sweat. That wasn't normal. I felt so cold. Or hot. I couldn't decide. I groaned again.
I had a temperature for sure. My head would explode in a moment. I hid under the comforter just to kick it away in a second when I felt too warm. The shirt I had on was completely wet. I had to get sick. I needed some medicine, some pills that would make me feel better and stop this terrible headache. The problem was that I couldn't even get up. I didn't know what time it was. Was Eugenie still working? I didn't have my phone with me. I left it in the kitchen, on the table.
I didn't want to see my brother. Nor beg them to help me. But I felt so terrible! If only I had enough power, I would crawl out of bed and look for them. I knew they probably hate me. They had to be angry with me.
I was lying and suffering for quite a long time. There was no way I could fall asleep again. At some point, I started to wonder if it's possible to die out of such a monstrous fever. In the past, these kinds of things were killing people, right?
Finally, the door to my room cracked open and I saw Will having a look at me. Our eyes met. However, he didn't enter. He took a step back and I understood that apparently he wasn't going to come in. I panicked that he would leave and I would go through my tortures alone again.
"Will!" I whimpered as loud as I was able to which meant it was nothing more like a pitiful squeal but he heard me because he stopped.
"Yes?" He asked quietly and maybe it was just my brain making me believe what I wanted to believe but he didn't sound as kind as always.
"I feel sick..." I cried unclearly and I clenched fist on the comforter out of the effort it costed me.
I had to admit that Will immediately got close to my bed and leaned over me to touch my face. As soon as he stood next to me, a concern spread over his face. Almost as if he wasn't mad at me.
"Goddammit, Hailie, your forehead is hot!" He said loudly but more to himself than to me and then he muttered, "What did you do to yourself?"
I didn't answer because I had no energy to do it. But I felt a bit better, trusting that Will would help me. He seemed to be worried. Even if he hated me now, he wasn't a sadist.
"Wait," he said to me (although it was obvious I wasn't going anywhere) and he left my room in a hurry. I didn't want to be alone again but I knew it was necessary.
He came back really fast with a bottle and a glass of water and some medicines. When he was putting them on my nightstand, I noticed the hour on the watch he was always wearing on his wrist. It showed 2 am.
My brother helped me to sit up and he swore under his breath when he realized how wet my shirt was. I held his arm tightly. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to get up even a little bit. He gave me two tablets to drink up. I followed his instructions obediently.
At that moment, Vince came into my room. My body stiffened visibly at his sight. While I believed Will, even when angry with me, would always help me, I wasn't really sure what to expect from my oldest brother.
"You'll feel better soon, little one. You should change into some comfy and most of all dry clothes," he said and gently unwrapped my hands and put me back on the bed with so much caution as if I was made of ceramics.
I whined with protest, woe, compliance, I don't even know. The temperature made me feel like raving. Vince stood in front of my bed and looked at me with his arms folded. At least I was sick and had a good excuse to avoid his gaze with impunity.
Will disappeared for a second in my wardrobe and quickly came back. He threw some clothes on my bed, muttering something about a blanket. To my surprise, Vince nodded and left. Then, Will uncovered me what made me shiver. He helped me to change, undoing the buttons of my shirt and he kindly looked away when I was getting rid of my bra. I could barely move but I really did feel better when I landed into soft sweatpants and a loose jersey. After that, Vince came back and in his hands, he had a huge, fluffy blanket that he and Will together covered me with.
I still had terrible shivers, my head didn't stop hurting and the medicine didn't start to work yet but I already felt improvement. It was enough that there was someone I could depend on. Even if right now the terms between us were tense.
I felt ashamed. Ashamed because of yelling at people who now were so good to me. They could ignore me, decide that I got what I deserved and maybe just threw some painkillers to my nightstand but no. They really, really tried to help me. A quiet voice in my head was convincing me that I had no reason to feel this way but I was the type of person who always knew better than this wise voice and as a result, I bothered myself with everything.
An awful quiver went through my body and I shook, hugging the blanket tighter. I had my eyes closed. Someone's hand stroked my cheek. Will.
"Get some rest, Hailie, everything's fine," he whispered to my ear.
Is it? Really? They weren't angry at me? They won't give me away to an orphanage like in my dream?
"Sorry..." I mumbled and the wise voice in my head shouted out to shut up.
"Shhh..." Will muttered and turned to Vince, "Calm her down."
Vince answered something to him but I didn't catch it.
"She's afraid of you, not me. Calm her down," Will repeated.
I heard Vince sighing and Will took his hand from my face. I felt him moving away. And then his place was taken by Vince. I opened my eyelids, although I didn't want to see his cold look.
"One more time you put yourself in that state and..."
"Vince, come on," Will broke in with disapproval.
Vince got quiet and gazed at me for a long moment and I just stared back at him. Just being sick like I was now, I could bear this connection. Such beautiful eyes he had! Too bad they were always so chilly. It seemed like there were icebergs visible in them.
"You are not alone, Hailie. You are not a problem. And you are loved. And now calm down and get some rest," He said simply, putting a wet strand of my hair behind my ear. In the end he touched my chin, stood up and left.
Will was saying something to me but I didn't remember what. The painkiller started to work and my headache was slowly letting go. And when my body finally understood that it can chill out, a wave of sleep took over me.