A/N To my favorite readers: To shape this story more into a book, than an endless list of chapters, I decided to split it into parts. Therefore, this update is the last chapter of the first part. Nothing will actually change because I am not going to create a new book and will continue adding new chaps here. Just letting you now to keep things in order. And btw, thank you for so many motivational messages and comments I got from you. Your support is amazing and works like magic for me. Also being in a top 10 in the teen fiction genre made me so grateful to have such wonderful readers like you. Sending love to all of you!
In a snail's pace, I was going down the stairs, step by step, the next day, when I had to face my oldest brother. I felt much better and the rest of the night I slept calmly. The medicine helped. Right now, my head was still pounding a bit but it was just a shade of the fever and tortures I went through.
Eugenie, who visited me in the morning, gave me one more pill to swallow and informed me that Vince wants me to stay home today, what I reluctantly accepted. I wanted to go to school. I missed too many classes already. And I didn't even have the phone to contact Mona and Marshall. I just gained back their trust and I didn't want to create again some suspicious situations around me and force them to do guesswork.
Besides, staying home meant inevitable dealing with Will, Vince or Tony, or all of them together which didn't put me in a good mood, to say the least.
Eugenie told me right away that Vince asked to see me as soon as I feel well enough to get up and refresh. Then I should let her know so she could notify him about my readiness. My throat tightened at hearing this but I gave her a pale smile and nodded.
That is why, following the instructions I got, I was going now to our home library. On my way there, I heard the sounds of a video game and I was sure it was Tony who occupied the couch in the living room. I passed him unnoticeably and turned straight to the room I liked and hated the most in this house at the same time.
The light-green accents which it was decorated with were soothing my nerves and the sight of books (which there were many of) was uplifting my mood. I was curious if any of my brothers read at least a few of them.
However, I didn't forget why I was here. The talk with Vince was waiting for me. Never before I have done something that could be seen in his eyes as such a huge lack of respect. I was hesitating at the rationality of my previous explosion because I was afraid of the consequences but deep inside I knew that if I could take time back I wouldn't change a word in my speech.
"How are you feeling?" A cold, formal voice asked me. At its sound, I immediately stiffened. I sat squeezed in the corner of the sofa, sitting with my knees to chest, waiting for him at least fifteen minutes so it was enough for my mind to drift away to another world.
"Better, thank you," I answered as politely as I could.
Vince was wearing a black T-shirt and dark trousers. His hair, as always, was swept back, his watch on his wrist and the signet on his finger. Bright, icy eyes fixed on me. This time I was avoiding them not only because of fear but also because of shame. Did I really shout at him? Did it really happen?
My brother took a seat in an armchair which he was usually choosing when we were meeting here. He treated me with a silent therapy which was quite cruel, considering how nervous I already was. Finally, I couldn't hold the tension and I spoke.
"I'm sorry Vince. I shouldn't have yelled," I said trying to have eye contact with him to mark the honesty of my statement.
I remember the lectures from my mom who always repeated that it is very rude to raise your voice at the others. Especially at your legal guardians. Especially at your legal guardians who were Vince. All right, those two last sentences I added myself but the sense is clear. My mom almost never yelled at me. Actually, Vince neither.
"You shouldn't have," he agreed, fueling my anxiety.
"But I don't regret the things I said," I added suddenly, not really planning it.
Vince raised his chin a bit and squinted his eyes, not moving them from my face. He kept silent so I decided to continue.
"I know that maybe I should have told you about my feeling earlier but it is so hard! In the beginning, I didn't have the courage and then everything was building up and in the end I... I felt that I... can't anymore."
He was looking at me for one more long while before he opened his mouth. Seriousness and concentration were almost radiating from him. He was speaking in a calm, well-balanced tone like a doctor who patiently explains the diagnosis to his patient.
"Hailie, I know that the loss of a mother is painful. I also lost mine at a young age. I am sorry you had to experience it. It's obvious that I, even being your legal guardian, will not replace her. I agreed to take care of you because we are siblings, family and I would never let you end up in an orphanage. No matter your will. However, I'll repeat it once again. I won't replace your mother. I am not her. I am not affectionate, I will not always stroke your head, hug you for good morning and kiss your forehead for goodbye. It doesn't mean that I don't care about you, it doesn't mean that you are not important. I was also raised in a home full of love but it was shown in a different way to the one you are used to. Father was always teaching us, me and the rest of your brothers, that family is the most important, that we have ourselves and we have to always watch for each other. He didn't cuddle with us nor praised for an A on a test. But he loved us. We had clear rules set which had to be followed. There were also punishments, worse than a grounding or a taken phone," here Vince raised his brow at me pointedly and I bit shyly my lip, listening to him like in a trance, "I wasn't ready to take care of a teenager. You have no idea how grateful I am to your mother that she raised you so well. At the same time, I know that our father would have done that differently. It is hard to imagine how he would have behaved towards a daughter but most likely he would have locked you in our house and tried to protect you from any possible danger. He would have let you start dating in your late thirties," now on Vince's face appeared kind of a smirk but I was just staring at him with my eyes opening wider and wider, "And if he had found out you smoked a cigarette or tried to starve yourself..." he didn't finish, only shaking his head.
I was quiet, processing all that I just heard but he wasn't done yet so I turned my full attention back at him.
"About the rest of your brothers... especially Dylan and the twins... They are young. Younger than me. They didn't have a chance to spend much time with our mother. Less than you had with your own. They are used to living in a male circle and the only women they deal with end up in their beds after parties. And then, out of nowhere, they found out they have a little sister. They are still learning how to live with you. I understand that it may be overwhelming for you as it is hard for you to go against them by yourself. I know they can be oppressive. But I am not going to interfere in your relations. One day you will find a way to deal with them. One thing is sure. We are all raised the same way and we all have the same values and that is why I know that they love you and they want the best for you. They just show it their way."
Tears showed up in my eyes because so honestly as today, Vince has never spoken to me before. Most of all, it was the first time I looked at this situation from my brothers' point of view. I felt that my eyes opened. They were making many mistakes and I was still angry with them for tons of stuff but now I started to look at them differently. Not like at mean jerks. How egoistic of me it was to never think about that they also lost their mom in the past. I didn't know the details (as always) but the loss of a mom is a loss of a mom. It hurts the same. If she died when Vince was, let's say, a teenager, then Dylan and the twins probably barely remember her...
I wanted to ask a few questions about the mentioned father as his memory intrigued me but somehow I felt it wasn't the right moment. Maybe I chickened out.
"Thank you for telling me this," I whispered finally, biting my lip.
"You're welcome. If once again you feel that something is wrong and you want to talk, then before you explode, come to me and I will explain to you why things are the way they are."
I nodded, blushing at the thought of my yesterday's behavior.
Vince's arm moved and he took out my mobile out of his pocket. He passed me it and I, totally surprised, immediately reached for it. I didn't expect that I'd get it back so fast. However, when I glanced at it, my heart skipped a beat. The screen was cracked in a few places.
I swallowed and raised my worried look at my brother. He was watching me and my reaction.
"I'm sorry," I stuttered quietly, feeling endless shame. Vince bought me this awfully expensive phone because I accidentally broke my old one and I dared to destroy it in an act of anger! What is wrong with me?!
"Your problem. This time I am not going to pay for fixing it."
I nodded to show him I agree with him totally. I didn't deserve him covering the spendings caused by my childish behavior. Oh God, if only I could, I would curl up and die.
Luckily my phone was still working and the screen wasn't as broken as the last time so I could still use it.
"Is there anything else you want to say?" Vince asked after a moment.
I lifted my head and met his eyes, licking my lips. The words I was going to share with him weren't about to come out easily.
"Thank you for taking me under your roof."
Vince nodded but I had one more thing to add. I had to get rid of this heavy doubt weighing on my heart.
"I had a dream that you were so angry with me that you gave me up..." I mumbled.
My brother laughed - shortly and quietly but also with amusement. But then he sighed and looked at me slightly gentler, with a bit of leniency.
"I won't give you up, Hailie, no matter how angry you will make me."
I believed him again.
Now I nodded, feeling a wave of great relief. I know that in the past I had various thoughts about living with my brothers but today I was sure that the last thing I wanted was a permanent separation from them. Especially if my other perspective was to end up in an orphanage.
In the end, Vince got up and I followed his example. I wanted to hug him but I stopped myself, remembering what was his attitude towards cuddling. Yet he guessed my thoughts because he sighed again.
"All right, come here," he muttered and the corners of his mouth were twitching with amusement. Encouraged, I headed to him and matched my body into his spread arms with pleasure. He tightened them on me and then stroked my back which gave me nice chills. After a moment he let me go and met my eyes, "And by the way..." he started, raising one brow, "Taking advantage of the fact that Will is not here to defend you... One more time you put yourself into the state like yesterday and I will send you to the hospital and make you stay there at least for a week. Understood?"
"Understood," I replied, giggling. I knew he was serious and I even got goosebumps at the mention of the hospital but somehow I couldn't stop the laugh. It was just such a typical Vincent. He couldn't be nice for too long. A threat had to come out of his mouth in the end, otherwise, he wouldn't be himself.
Vince pretended to be grave but the last gaze, he gave me, was amused again.
After this talk, I congratulated myself on the show I made yesterday even more. I was right not to regret it. Of course, I still had to face the rest of my brothers but, as it was known, the reaction of Vince was the most important for me.
I met the boys at dinner. Today again everyone was present at the table what was super weird. For all those months, since the beginning, when I started to live with them, they were barely able to gather in one room even for a moment and now, for two days in a row, suddenly they were having a full meal together.
I showed up in the kitchen the last and right away I felt uncomfortable. Silently, I took the chair next to Will. The same as yesterday. I felt at least four pairs of eyes on me but I stared at the floor, collecting my thoughts. Something was compressing my chest and I really wanted to get rid of it so I took a deep breath and raised my eyes at the people surrounding me.
"Sorry about yesterday. I had a bad day... I guess..." I mumbled and my sight slide across their faces, purposely not stopping on any of them for longer than a quarter of a second.
"That's fine, Hailie. Would you like to talk about that?" Will asked me gently, tilting his head to see me better but I just shook mine.
Someone spatted with contempt and this someone was, of course, Dylan. I pursed my lips, giving him a gloomy look. This guy will kill me.
"What's your problem?" Will turned to him, raising his voice. I was happy he didn't speak like that to me because he sounded quite unfriendly.
"Don't you want to pat her head to prize her for yesterday's hysteria?" Dylan grunted to him.
"She's been through a lot lately. Tell me, why wouldn't I at least try to comfort her?"
"Because if we don't stop babying her then she'll never grow up," Tony answered him.
I dropped my gaze to my knees.
"Why do you want her to grow up so much?"
"Because out there there are more fuckers like Jerry who will want to hurt her? She has to be tough."
I shivered and felt Will's hand on my tight. It helped. When I glanced at him, he was boring into Tony with irritation.
"Stop scaring her pointlessly. The situation with Jerry won't happen again."
"You know very well you can't guarantee that. Especially in our world."
Another dose of shivers went through my spine.
"So what's your idea, hm? Is it better to make her afraid to step out of the house?" Will asked with anger.
"Exactly," Dylan hissed.
"No, it's better that she knows how to behave when she finds herself in a danger again," Shane spoke, also taking part in the discussion.
Hello, I'm here, with you, in one room! I wanted to say it out loud but I decided that for now, it would be better not to draw any attention to myself. They all looked pretty annoyed and I was sure it would be better for me to stay in a shadow.
"What, you want to give her a gun?" Dylan spatted.
"And why not?" Tony muttered, shrugging.
"Are you serious? Yeah sure, let's put a gun to her schoolbag. Together with books, a pencil case, and a lunchbox!" Will said with disbelief and the hand he was holding on my tight, clenched into a fist.
"Not to give her a gun but to teach her how to use it," Shane suggested calmly.
"And why the fuck would she need to know how to use it?" Dylan shouted gruffly and taped his forehead, staring at Shane.
"Fucking hell, well I don't know Dylan, maybe so in case she is attacked like with Jerry, she would know how to defend herself without being afraid of fucking killing someone accidentally?" Tony growled, rolling his eyes.
"You want to train to be a killer our fifteen years old sister who naively believes that a fucker that shot you should go to jail?"
"What killer, what the hell are you talking about?"
"The ability to use a gun is the ability to use a gun. You can make yourself believe that you teach her self-defense but in the end, you will teach her killing," Will remarked. He took his hand away from my leg and now he was lifting it and pointing his finger at the twins, marking this way the power of his words.
I didn't know what was happening. How was it possible that suddenly everyone was so furious? I felt awkward. And then I realized that Vince was the only one of my brothers who wasn't participating in the argument. I peeked at him. He was watching them and listening actively their points but for now keeping his thoughts to himself.
"In my opinion, she should learn self-defense. Not only using the gun but also a few simple tricks. The basic training. For her own good," Shane shrugged.
"Agree," Tony muttered, raising his arm for a few seconds like a student in a classroom.
"Absolutely no!" Will snapped.
"You are fucking ridiculous," Dylan supported him, boring into both twins.
A moment of silence followed in which we all realized that the final decision was up to Vince. The final decision was always up to him but my brothers' arguments seemed to help him make it. Anyway, at one moment all the faces (including mine) turned towards our oldest brother. The thing he was about to say will have a direct impact on me so I was waiting in tension.
He moved his eyes to me and returned my look. It was a very intensive connection but I didn't break it. Finally, he spoke.
"What do you think, Hailie?" he questioned.
My eyes widened when I understood that he was asking me for my opinion.
Naturally, he asked for my opinion, this is how it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be my call. My brothers were fighting over something that wasn't even their business. How annoying that was!
But I wasn't used to Vince allowing me to decide for myself.
"Seriously?" Dylan barked, boring into Vince with a mixture of shock and anger. He shot him an irritated look back.
"I wasn't asking you, was I?" He growled sharply.
Dylan spat with contempt again, reluctantly turned away his sight and also got quiet. Vincent, as soon as he made sure that his younger brother has nothing else to add, turned back to me.
"Do you want to learn self-defense?"
I licked my dried lips, wondering. Did I want that? I remembered the fear that accompanied me when I saw the gun in Tony's car. Then the other one, in the drawer, in the library. And the one that Mona dragged from Dylan's bedroom. And how the bangs of shoots deafened me in the forest. And... and how I fired at Jerry. How terribly afraid I was and how much I didn't want to kill him. How I shot blindly. Never, and I mean it, never ever again I wanted to find myself in this kind of situation but if there was at least the slightest chance that I would, then I surely needed to know how to behave.
Slowly, I started nodding, gradually becoming more and more convinced.
"Yes," I answered clearly.
Vince nodded, accepting my reply.
"Very well then, let's have it this way. You'll start in the middle of holidays," he ruled.
I didn't wonder back then why he choose the mid of summer. I focused more on Dylan, who swore and shook his head, clearly not happy, digging his fork in the plate of risotto that Eugenie placed right in front of him.
Tony leaned his head back and laughed out loud, rubbing his hands as if he was preparing for fun. Shane shrugged again and concentrated fully on his food and Will pursed his lips in a straight line and was gazing at Vince, demonstrating his disapproval for the whole idea.
And I grabbed my fork and couldn't stop awkward shivers that were going through my body. It took me a moment to realize that they were caused by... excitement?
The last weeks of school I spent fully committed to studying. I was doing my best to keep up my grades. Audrey was avoiding me like the plague and whenever our paths crossed accidentally, her behavior was confirming my conviction that I did not only lost a friend but also gained an enemy. Before I would never have thought that this rather calm and usually sensible girl could be so nasty.
At least I had a feeling that my bound with Mona and Marshall became stronger and I was eternally thankful for that. I got sad when Mona informed me that the whole holiday time she was going to spend visiting her family in Canada. I didn't want to separate from her for so long. To my surprise, it turned out that my own summer wouldn't be as boring as I expected.
Not long before the end of the school year, Vince announced to me that there was a trip planned for me, Dylan and the twins. To Thailand. A few days later, I was still sure it had to be a joke. I was going to fly to another continent with the three of my brothers! For a month!
The abstractness of this idea couldn't fit into my head. My every question about the trip was being stalled with a simple "you'll see". I didn't know anything. Why Thailand, why just with Dylan and the twins, why for a month, where did this plan come from. However, at some point, I got tired of guessing and decided to accept it and enjoy it. Especially when I googled pictures of this country and immediately fell in love with this paradise.
I'm flying to Thailand and I was going to get as much as I could from this holiday. I deserved some rest after this hard year full of sadness and insecurities. After mourning, getting used to my brothers and their secrets, after all this stress and barrage of schoolwork. Time to relax.
When the time to pack came, I was standing in my wardrobe and I hesitated for a moment. Then I reached out and put to my suitcase a neatly folded, yellow checked dress. I couldn't resist and I grinned at the thought of the reaction of my brothers when they would see me wearing it. In a second, I got serious, shocked with myself. Since when I was like that? I don't know. But the wide smile quickly came back to my face.
I never imagined that on this trip I would meet my father.