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A Specter Legacy Ch 15


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The Specters' insides get churned up and flipped around as the family struggles to move on again.

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A Specter Legacy Ch 15

  1. 1. Ch 15 Soundtrack: “Pull Out My Insides” by Does It Offend You, Yeah?; “Between Sheets (Instrumental)” by Imogen Heap; “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5; “Stop and Stare” by OneRepublic; “Death And All His Friends,” “Parachutes,” and “Twisted Logic” by Coldplay
  2. 2. Sydney heard a wolf howl in the distance and shivered. She’d never been out this late before, but she couldn’t go home just yet. She didn’t want to be there. She didn’t want to be anywhere, really, and she certainly didn’t want to think. Thinking was definitely bad on all accounts. She just… needed to breathe. And so, after wandering around for a while, she’d ended up in a square downtown. She sat there for a while just staring—not thinking, not doing anything, just looking and staring at passerby.
  3. 3. “Mind if I join you?” Sydney heard an older voice say and panicked. “Uh, yes, actually,” Sydney said quickly but it was too late.
  4. 4. He sat down. Sydney sneaked a peak at the guy, a bit nervous. But he didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything, just sat there. A few minutes later Sydney was a bit creeped out and blurted: “Okay, what’s your deal? I don’t even know you buddy so could you please just—” “But you do know me,” the guy interrupted.
  5. 5. “Um, I’m pretty sure that I don’t.” “I’m a friend of your parents.” “Yeah. Sure.” “Seriously,” he smiled. “Don’t you recognize me? I’ve been to every single one of your family’s parties, including the one for your sister a couple weeks ago.”
  6. 6. “Um…” Sydney hesitated. Her mom and dad did have a lot of friends. It could be possible… “I’m Taz. I went to the Académie with your parents, roomed with your father though most of it, actually. I grew up with him and your aunt right here in Crystal Springs.” He smiled softly. “I’m practically your uncle.” “Oh. I… didn’t know any of that,” Sydney confessed, slumping back on the bench.
  7. 7. “Your mom asked me to look for you when I stopped by this afternoon.” “Oh,” Sydney said again. The two sat there in silence for a bit. “Well, aren’t you going to demand I go home?” Sydney asked. “No.”
  8. 8. “No?” “No. You’ll get there eventually. I’m just here to make sure nothing happens to you.” Sydney’s mouth dropped open. “Huh. Maybe you do know my dad after all.”
  9. 9. “And what if I don’t want to go home?” Sydney couldn’t help breaking the silence. “What if I never go home at all?” Taz smiled a bit. “You have to go home some time.” “No, I don’t. I can just run away. Never look—huh? Are you laughing at me?” Taz tried to quiet his chuckles. “I’m sorry. It’s just you Specters are all alike.”
  10. 10. “Oh, really?” “Oh, yeah. That’s basically what your aunt, uncle, and dad did after their brother died.” Taz shrugged. “Anyways, I’m sorry. Go on.” Sydney scowled. “I was about to say how no one at home understands me.” “I think you’ll find that they do,” Taz smiled again.
  11. 11. “Look, I don’t know what you have against home. From what I can tell, you’ve got a pretty good one. But I do know that running away doesn’t work. Ignoring things doesn’t work. It just saves all your grief for another day, building it up so it’s even harder for you to let it go.” Sydney just looked at him. “What is going to help, though, is your family and friends. I’m not saying it’s easy or quick. But they’re the ones that hold you up. You lean on each other, making the burdens a little lighter.”
  12. 12. Sydney shook her head. “It’s not that simple. I—” “No, it’s not. It’s not simple at all. It’s hard. And you’ll never feel the same as before. But you can only try. You just have to put one foot in front of the other and just keep moving. And before you know it, you’ll realize that—” “Don’t say that everything will be okay. Because it won’t be. It’ll never be okay.”
  13. 13. “No, maybe not,” Taz agreed softly. “But you’ll look back and you’ll realize that you’ve come a long way. That you’ve gotten a little distance, passed a little time.”
  14. 14. Sydney was quiet a moment. “Just put one foot in front of the other?” she asked. Taz nodded. “Preferably in the direction of home.” Syd sighed. “Okay, I guess. I’ll go home.” *****
  15. 15. In was late when Sydney got back; practically no one was awake and she didn’t see her parents at all. When she reached the top of the steps, however, she bumped into Rose. “There you are!” Rose exclaimed.
  16. 16. Rose pulled her sister in for a hug. “Mom was so worried about you. Everything’s so crazy around here! Aunt Liz got sick and—” “Ugh, let go.” Sydney cut her sister off and pulled away.
  17. 17. “What’s the matter with you?” Rose demanded. “How could you just run off like that? And why are you so cranky?” “Just leave me alone, Rose. I don’t really feel like talking.” “Sydney,” Rose shifted, frustrated and unsure of what to say. “We’re all hurting, too. And everyone was worried about you—”
  18. 18. “Oh, please,” Syd rolled her eyes. “Yeah, everyone was so worried that they came looking for me and demanded that I come back home. Oh, wait, that didn’t happen.” Rose was taken aback. “Only because things have been so crazy around here. Aunt Liz—” “Just save it, Rose. I’m home, okay? Now I’m tired and I’m going to bed.”
  19. 19. “I’m just trying to look out for you, Syd.” “Yeah, sure.” “Syd—” “You’re so busy looking out for me that you’re going to run off and go live with your boyfriend.”
  20. 20. “Not this again. Syd, I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to—” “Whatever, Rose. I can take care of myself.”
  21. 21. Sydney pushed past her sister. “I’m going to bed.” And Rose was left standing there in the hallway, wondering. *****
  22. 22. Things were weird the next morning at breakfast. Everyone tried to put on their best faces and forget the strange night before, but none of them could ignore the empty seat at the other end of the table. As Melanie chattered quietly, trying to fill the silence, Asher stared and brooded into his pancakes. His mind wandered over the events of the night before and everything his dad said. Surely it couldn’t be true. …But then, how would he ever know?
  23. 23. “Did any of you ever play rock, paper, scissors?” Asher suddenly blurted out. The girls just looked at him. “Well, did you?”
  24. 24. Rose spoke up first. “Well, yeah. We used to play all the—” “WHAT?” Asher exclaimed. “When? How long ago was this? What about Spencer? Did he ever play with you? Did he lose?”
  25. 25. Melanie and the girls stared at each other. “Ash,” Melanie finally began, “what—” “Answer me!” Asher interrupted. “Did he play? Did Spencer play rock, paper, scissors?”
  26. 26. Sydney glanced nervously at her father. “Well, yeah, we used play to—” “Well, not anymore! I don’t want that going on in my house; I forbid each of you from playing that game ever again.”
  27. 27. “Dad—” Rose started, half laughing. “Are you for real?” “It’s official,” Sydney whispered, “Dad’s lost it.” “Girls,” Melanie chastised.
  28. 28. “I’m serious!” Asher banged his fist on the table for emphasis. The dishes clattered and everyone jumped as the silverware landed back on the table. “There will be no rock, paper, scissors in this house—or anywhere for that matter. None of you will ever play that game again! I forbid it.” He looked at his daughters expectantly. “Well? Am I understood?”
  29. 29. The girls glanced at each other nervously. Sydney and Paige certainly had never seen their father lose his temper before. Even Rose had never seen such rage on her father’s face. She stuttered a yes while Syd nodded, and Paige’s eyes were as big as saucers as she mumbled an agreement. They sat in silence for a moment.
  30. 30. “Ash,” Melanie said gently as she laid a hand over her husband’s. “Why don’t you go upstairs? Go lie down and rest.”
  31. 31. “I don’t need to r—” Asher began to snap but trailed off as he met his wife’s eyes. Reaching some unspoken agreement, Asher rubbed his temple and agreed. “Fine. You’re right.” He got up and stalked out the room. The rest of them sat there in silence watching Asher stomp up the steps. “What was that?” Rose finally asked when her father was out of earshot.
  32. 32. “I… I don’t know.” Melanie answered. *****
  33. 33. Later that morning Paige found herself staring out the upstairs window. Breakfast was super weird to be sure, but it didn’t really matter. It was just another reason, another example for the obvious conclusion: She couldn’t stay there anymore.
  34. 34. And that backyard was the reason why. Suddenly, being there at home just made her uncomfortable. It was bad enough that she couldn’t go to the backyard without getting goose bumps, but now…
  35. 35. It was like the well was haunting her. Watching her every move across the house. It made her uneasy, this constant reminder of her brother’s death. It was just one more thing to keep her up at night and she already had plenty of content for nightmares.
  36. 36. So that afternoon she resolved to take some action and do what, honestly, she already planned on doing since she was a little girl: she applied for college early. With any luck, she could be gone before the end of the week. Maybe then she could shake this uneasy feeling, forget about the dreams and the voices and all the death—and just get a decent night’s sleep.
  37. 37. “Paige?” “Oh, hello, mother,” Paige jumped, trying not to sound guilty as she closed the tabs on the computer. She wasn’t exactly trying to keep secrets, but she didn’t want to be talked out of anything either. Unfortunately the computer was located in her parents’ bedroom, making privacy difficult. “What are you up to?” Melanie came in and walked over to the desk.
  38. 38. “Um,” Paige hesitated. There didn’t seem to be a way out. She might as well get the truth out. “Well, I was applying for scholarships.” Melanie’s brows roses before she gave a light laugh. “Oh, Paige, you don’t have to worry about that stuff yet. You have plenty of time. Why don’t you go relax a bit?” Paige shook her head. “I can’t. Relaxing does not come easy to me lately.”
  39. 39. Melanie nodded sympathetically. “I know. You need something to take your mind off things. But why don’t you join a club? Your school has a bunch of extracurriculars and—” “Actually mother,” Paige interrupted before Melanie could launch into her ‘making friends and getting involved’ speech. “I was hoping to leave for college early.” “How early?” Melanie demanded.
  40. 40. Paige sighed. “This weekend,” she admitted. “This weekend?” Melanie exclaimed. Paige sighed and stood up. “Yes, mother. I know it might seem sudden—” “Of course, it’s sudden!”
  41. 41. “Paige, you just barely transitioned. You’re hardly old enough to go to college.” “I am not a child, mother—” “Yes, you are! You’re my child!” “Be that as it may, I am quite capable of making decisions for myself. This is a good move for me. I am hardly being challenged in high school now.”
  42. 42. “Paige, you have all the time in the world for college. What about making friends and learning new things and—” “Mother… I… To be honest, I would rather not stay here any longer,” Paige finally blurted out. Melanie looked taken aback. “I know losing your brother was hard, Paige,” she said slowly. “But that doesn’t mean you should run away.”
  43. 43. “Mother, you do not understand. Spencer is only a part of it. There is nothing for me here anymore.” “What!? Paige, this is your home. You live here; your family’s here—” “Mother—”
  44. 44. “You’re not going, and that’s final!” Melanie declared. “Well, I am going whether you like it or not!” Paige yelled back. The pair stared at each other, unable to believe what just happened. They’d never fought before. Paige opened her mouth as if to say something, but then changed her mind and fled the room, leaving Melanie to stare after her. *****
  45. 45. “There you are, little guy,” Asher cooed softly as he finished wrapping up the baby’s diaper. He was one quiet fellow, but then again, maybe that was because of the snapdragons.
  46. 46. Asher sighed as he gave the baby a bounce. So much had happened in the past two days, it seemed surreal. But sure enough, when he peeked into the guest room that morning, Seth was here and Liz wasn’t. That was his name, Zeph had told him. Liz had named him Seth before she died.
  47. 47. “Alright, here you go,” Asher gently placed Seth back into his crib and stood up. Should I go make breakfast? he thought. He wondered if any of the kids were up yet; he and Melanie had let them take a few days off from school. But thoughts of breakfast only brought up memories of the previous morning. The awkwardness. His outburst. Geez, he thought. Everyone probably thinks I’m insane.
  48. 48. Instead he found himself going back to his bedroom. He sat on the bed and rubbed his temples. Was Dad right? It can’t be true, can it? Thoughts raced through his head. He wanted to get up and yell ‘You’re lying!’ at his father. He wanted to demand the truth, find out what the real challenge was. But he couldn’t. Andy was gone too. “Why now?” he whispered.
  49. 49. “Ash?” Melanie walked in. She was about to ask if he was okay, then realized how stupid that would sound. Nothing was ok. “What’s on your mind?” she asked instead. Ash looked at her. “Rock, paper, scissors,” he tried to smile. Melanie rubbed the back of her neck. “Where did that even come from?”
  50. 50. “My father.” “Oh? I’ve been meaning to ask—with all the confusion around Liz, I forgot. How is—” “He’s dead.” Melanie gasped. “Oh, Ash.”
  51. 51. “He died that same night,” Ash said as Melanie sat down. She grasped his hand and he twined his fingers with hers. “Was he sick?” Ash shook his head. “Not really. I think it was just old age.” He closed his eyes a moment. “I got to say goodbye.” “You did?”
  52. 52. Ash nodded. “I think he was waiting for us.” He paused. “He knew, Mel. About Zeph. And about Spence, too, I guess. I had gone to ask him about it and he told me it was the legacy.” Asher looked at his wife. “He told me that it was the challenge. Spencer… Spencer lost. He lost rock, paper, scissors.” “What?” Melanie wasn’t sure she followed.
  53. 53. “That was the challenge, Mel. That’s what he told me. The next challenge was rock, paper, scissors.” “Asher—” “I know.” “Asher—”
  54. 54. “I know. It’s ridiculous. It’s insane. But that’s what he said.”
  55. 55. Melanie was quiet a moment. “Is it possible that, you know… He was senile?” Ash stared at a spot on the wall. “He didn’t seem like it. I think he was serious, Mel.” He gulped. “I mean…” “Ash. I know that things may have seemed… Well, you know. But that’s not true.” “But what if, Mel? What if?”
  56. 56. “Ash—” “Then it would be my fault. All my fault.” “But it wasn’t.” “But—” “It was an accident. You know that Ash. He hit his head.”
  57. 57. “He hit his head on the wishing well, Ash. You know that. That’s what the police said. It was an accident. No rock, paper, scissors involved.” Asher pinched the bridge of his nose. “I hope so,” he said slowly. “You know so,” Melanie countered. She patted his back. “Come on. Stop dwelling on it. Come help me instead.” “With what?”
  58. 58. “With convincing one kid to go to college, and then convincing another not to go.” Asher snorted. “Paige wants to go early, huh?” “I don’t understand it, Ash. It’s like all our kids are running away from us. And one actually did run away. This isn’t funny, Ash! Stop laughing.” “I’m sorry. I know. But can you blame them? Right now home hurts. It doesn’t feel safe.”
  59. 59. “It’s still their home. And Paige is still too young to go!” “It could help. New distractions might be good for her. She’s been a heck of a lot more quiet lately, even before the accident.” “She just transitioned last week!” “I know Mel. I know. But I can’t fault her for doing the same thing I did.”
  60. 60. Melanie stood up. “You are hardly the perfect example, if I remember correctly, Mr. Broody Pants.” Asher smiled and shrugged. “I’m not saying she should turn her back on us and never speak to us again. I’m just saying that college may not be such a bad thing.” “Whose side are you even on?” “Mel…” “Okay, well, what about Rose? She’s going to grow up in two days.”
  61. 61. “Alright,” Ash stood up. “One last talk with Rose.” “Thank you. And Asher?” “Hmm?” “It was an accident. It’s not your fault.” “How’d you—”
  62. 62. “Oh, please; we’ve been married for like eighteen years.” Ash smiled. “Come here.”
  63. 63. But as he pulled his wife in for a hug, Asher still wasn’t entirely convinced. He had to be sure. He had to find out more about the legacy. *****
  64. 64. “Not this again,” Rose mumbled, feeling a bit of déjà vu. “Dad, come on. I thought we agreed last time.” “You mother just wants to make sure you haven’t changed your mind.”
  65. 65. “And I did say I’d try to convince you up until the very last moment. This is a big decision, Rose. You’ll never get this opportunity again.” “I know, Mom.” “And I just want to make sure you’re sure.” “I am sure.”
  66. 66. “And running a business isn’t exactly easy—not all the time and certainly not when you just start out,” Asher added. “We just want to make sure you thought this through.” Rose shot her father a pained look, as if to say ‘Not you too.’ “I have thought this through; you know I have. And Heath and I came up with a business plan.” “You did?” Ash and Mel asked simultaneously.
  67. 67. “Yes. We’re going to use the profits from Little N’ Local to buy and furnish the club.” “And then what?” “And then… We’ll… We’ll just run the club.” Melanie smiled softly. “Doesn’t sound very thorough.” “It doesn’t need to be; it’s a club, Mom. We get people to come and dance and hang out. Simple.”
  68. 68. “It may seem so now, but you never know what problems you may run into,” Asher spoke up. “Exactly,” Melanie agreed. “It couldn’t hurt to take some classes in business at least before you rush into things.” “Dad didn’t need any classes before he took over the business, did he?” Ash glanced at Melanie. “No, but I had already graduated—”
  69. 69. “What about grandpa? Did he take business classes?” Rose interrupted. “He still did well, right? So I’ll be fine too.” Melanie sighed. “It’s not that we don’t think you’ll do well. It’s that it doesn’t hurt to have some insurance. Look Rose,” she tried a different approach. “It’s not just you. Paige is considering leaving early for college—much earlier than we’d anticipated.” “It would ease your mother’s mind if you went along, too,” Asher explained.
  70. 70. “Right. She’s still quite young and it’d be good for her to have a big sister there looking out for her,” Melanie said. “Oh, so I guess I don’t count?” Sydney interrupted as she stormed into the room. She’d overheard the conversation as she came downstairs and it did nothing to quell her anger. “Paige won’t need me as long as Rose goes, huh?”
  71. 71. “Sydney, you know that’s not what either of us said.” “It’s close enough!” “Sydney,” Melanie tried to calm her daughter down. “This isn’t about you—” “Nothing ever is! It’s always about Rose! It’s always ‘Oh my Plumbbbob, Rose isn’t going to college?’ time for an intervention! It’s Rose this, Rose that. I could run away and no one would care—oh, wait! I did run away and nobody did care! Maybe I should just leave for college, too.”
  72. 72. “Sydney, of course we cared. And we were going to talk to you about it. Rose’s situation is just a little more pressing because she’s going to grow up soon—” “Again with Rose! It’s all about her and her birthday—” “Sydney, calm down,” Asher tried, but his words were only ignored.
  73. 73. “Nobody seems to care about when my birthday is, about what *I’m* going to do. About how I’m supposed to grow up without a twin! Nobody even notices anything about me—” “That’s not true—” “Sydney, you’re overreacting—” “Oh, yeah, nobody even noticed that I broke up with my boyfriend. That I’ve been having a hard time ever since we came back from vacation!”
  74. 74. Sydney’s accusation was met with silence. In all the chaos of the last few days, nobody had noticed anything amiss. “Well, you don’t have to worry about not noticing things anymore. I’m leaving too and none of you can stop me.” With that, she turned around and stomped back upstairs.
  75. 75. Melanie and Asher shared a glance while Rose shifted uneasily in her seat. “So,” Melanie began after a moment. “You wanna handle that or should I?” Asher cracked a smile and rubbed his temples. *****
  76. 76. Sydney was furious, but lately, that wasn’t really news. After stomping upstairs she threw open her wardrobe and started packing. She didn’t really see much point in staying any longer. Wasn’t family supposed to help you? Wasn’t family supposed to notice things? Weren’t they supposed to be easy to talk to? So why was it that whenever she came home, all she felt like doing was yelling at everyone and trying to get as far away as possible?
  77. 77. After a quick rap on the door, Melanie stepped in. She was up first. “Sydney,” she began, but was interrupted. “Don’t. Just don’t. It’s too late. You don’t really care and I don’t really want to talk. So let’s just leave it at that. I’m going to leave as soon as I can.” She grabbed her outerwear and pulled her sweater over her head. “Tonight, if I can manage it.” “I’m afraid I can’t just leave it,” Melanie sighed.
  78. 78. “Sydney, where is this all coming from? I know things have been difficult lately. It’s not easy losing a brother, but you’ve been acting so unlike yourself—” “Like you even noticed!” “Of course I noticed. Sydney, what about all your plans? Your dreams? You were going to the Winter formal and prom—what about the Battle of the Bands? You’re just going to give that all up? And what’s this about Houston? The two of you are--”
  79. 79. “It doesn’t matter anymore! Nothing matters anymore. I just want to leave. I can’t stand being here anymore. There’s no point to anything anymore.” “But why? Sydney—” “Because everything is ruined, okay? Spencer’s gone, Rose is leaving, going off on her own, and Houston’s staying here—nothing’s as it should be, nothing’s going right and it just doesn’t matter anymore. There’s no point to anything.”
  80. 80. “I didn’t know you felt that way,” Melanie tried to reach for Sydney, but her daughter brushed her hands aside. “Of course you didn’t; you don’t even care. No one cares. No one gets it and it doesn’t even matter anymore because everything’s already changed!” Sydney paused for air, breathing heavily. “And nobody even noticed,” she finished more quietly.
  81. 81. “Sydney,” Melanie said gently, “I know you’re upset. You’re hurt and angry and scared and I know it seems like no one cares, but I do. Your father and I both do and we’re always here for you.” “Really? Because it doesn’t seem like it. You both are always busy or talking to Rose or talking about Rose or—” “We’re still here for you. We always are.” Melanie tried to hug Sydney again.
  82. 82. But Sydney pulled away. “Don’t Mom. Just forget it. I’m leaving. I don’t want to be here anymore and right now college sounds like a really good idea.” “Sydney—” “I don’t wanna be here, I don’t want think about Spencer, and I don’t want to talking about anything!” Sydney practically shouted.
  83. 83. Melanie was silent for a few moments. “Okay. Okay,” she took a breath. She reached for Sydney one more time, but she only pulled away again. Melanie felt like she was being stabbed in the heart. “Just promise me one thing,” she said softly. “Just remember that you can always come home.” *****
  84. 84. Asher, meanwhile, went to check on Paige. He couldn’t believe she wanted to leave home already. She was his baby. His little girl. But, he realized, it was time. “Hey, kiddo,” was all Ash got out before Paige groaned. “What’d I do?” “Look, Father, Mother already made it clear that she did not wish for me to leave so soon. However, I have already made a decision about which I am quite firm so there is no need for you to attempt to dissuade me from—” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m not here to talk you out of anything.”
  85. 85. “You… Are not?” “No.” Asher smiled. “I can hardly talk you out of something I once did, something I think was the right choice. You’re right, Paige. It’s time. It might be a good time for all of you to go.” Paige was dumbfounded. “I… I do not know what to say.” Her forehead wrinkled. “And when did you make this choice?”
  86. 86. “When I was your age,” Ash admitted, “I lost my brother, too. It was hard for me, hard for all of us, really, to even think about staying at home.” “O-oh.” “The circumstances were a lot different, but…” Asher closed his eyes, remembering. “I was angry at my father. Confused. I had trouble sleeping for a while. I can only imagine… If I had stayed home, things might have been worse.”
  87. 87. “R-Really?” Ash nodded. “The constant reminder of everything, the memories around every corner—even when I moved back home four years later, I had trouble.” “So… you understand?” “I do. Or at least I can relate.” Asher shrugged. “Your mother’s different.”
  88. 88. “She’s not ready for any of you to leave yet, really. To grow up. And it’s especially hard now, after losing Spencer. We thought we’d get a little bit more time with each of you,” Asher explained softly. “Our first instinct is to hold you close.” Paige gulped and nodded. “But it isn’t right to keep any of you here. It isn’t good for you.” “What do mean?” Paige asked nervously.
  89. 89. “You aren’t okay.” “Wha—” Paige rocked back a little, floored. “And that’s normal. I don’t expect you or your sisters to be acting like your normal selves. You just suffered an unimaginable loss.” At her father’s words, Paige felt a bit of relief. Spencer, she thought. Of course he’s talking about Spencer.
  90. 90. “I think college will be good for you; a good distraction. It’ll help keep you busy, keep you moving.” “My thoughts exactly.” “And you might meet some new people, make some friends.” Not exactly my thoughts, Paige couldn’t help but think.
  91. 91. “Yes,” Paige agreed begrudgingly, “I will probably meet some new people. But I am not going to the Académie to make friends, Father. I am going to work. To learn.” Asher smiled. “I know that Paige. And neither did I. I was hell bent on staying single, on focusing on my degree. And then I met your mother. She changed everything.” Paige shifted, uncomfortable. “What does all that have to do with—”
  92. 92. “Look, honey, don’t think I haven’t noticed you don’t really have friends outside the family.” Paige opened her mouth to speak, but Asher held up a hand. “It’s hardly all your fault. Here at home, in school,” Asher continued, “A lot of your peers might be a little intimidated by you. By your eagerness to learn. It might be easier to find people with similar interests and those more on your level at college.” “I guess...” “All I’m saying is, keep an open mind. Don’t shut everybody out.”
  93. 93. “I… will try to keep that in mind.” Asher smirked. “I know I sound like… Well, like your father. An old man who talks too much. But people can teach you things too. And love is not something you want to miss out on or overlook—” “Dad…” “And it’s okay to admit that you’re scared—”
  94. 94. “Dad!” “What? People can be scary. And it’s scary getting to know someone, admitting how you feel—” “Dad. Can we please talk about something else?” Paige demanded. Asher smiled and looked at his daughter. “Alright, I’m done. But remember--”
  95. 95. “Dad…” “You’re my little girl.” Asher pulled his youngest in for a hug. “My baby. Always. And I’m always here for you.” “Okay,” Paige agreed, leaning into her father’s embrace, letting him squeeze her tight. For just a second she relaxed, allowing herself to be a little girl who needed her dad. Then she pulled back, remembering to act with the decorum of a young scientist in training. “Thanks, Father. I will be fine.” *****
  96. 96. The next two days were a whirlwind. Paige and Sydney were both set on leaving home but Melanie had persuaded both to stay until Rose’s birthday at least. She wasn’t exactly happy about that either, but Rose was growing up and there was nothing she could do about it anymore. So, bright and early that morning, the family watched Rose transition.
  97. 97. It was a strangely silent affair. No party, no music or friends. Rose was a bit disappointed—a part of her still wanted the fuss and attention of a Specter birthday; becoming an adult was a big deal, after all—and yet even she couldn’t deny that she wasn’t really in the mood for a party. And so she quickly and quietly blew out the candles and transitioned, ready to finally embrace adulthood. *****
  98. 98. “Hey, just where do you think you’re going?” Asher demanded as Sydney tried to slink out the house. “The taxi’s almost here. I was just—” “About to leave without saying goodbye to your old man?” Asher raised a brow. “I don’t think so.” Sydney scowled, unaffected by her dad’s charm.
  99. 99. “Look, dad, like I told Mom, I don’t want to talk. I—” “Listen, missy, you may be about to leave home, but we need to get a few things straight.” Sydney’s mouth dropped open. Her dad never talked to her like that. “You,” Asher pointed, “Just like Paige, and just like Rose, are my little girl. And none of you are leaving home without a monster hug from your dad.” Sydney blew her bangs off her forehead in frustration. “Dad—”
  100. 100. “Sydney.” Asher interrupted. She scowled. “You can’t just joke around and pretend like everything’s okay. You can’t just say—” “Sydney,” Asher interrupted again. “I’m your father. And no matter what you think, no matter how mad you are, or how many tantrums you throw, the facts won’t change. And the facts are that you are well-loved.”
  101. 101. “Dad,” Sydney exclaimed. But Asher kept going. “You are my daughter, Sydney, and I love you. You can leave home. You can storm out of here, hating both your mother and me and vow to never come back—hell, I did that. But it changes nothing. I love you, Sydney. You are my daughter. This is your home. You’re about to leave and you have to say goodbye.” Asher waited as his daughter scowled, pouted, and huffed.
  102. 102. “Goodbye, Dad,” Syd said eventually, staring at the ground. “Goodbye, Sydney.” Asher paused, looking at his daughter, taking all of her in. “You can always come home, you know. Your mother and I really are always here for you.” Sydney said nothing.
  103. 103. So Asher pulled her in for a hug. “Dad!” Asher ignored this too, and kissed her on the forehead. “Take care, honey. And call your mother when you get there.” Sydney sighed. “Fine,” she grumbled before heading for the taxi, making Asher smile.
  104. 104. ***** One long taxi ride later and Sydney and Paige were at the Académie, all grown up and ready to take on the campus and the academic world.
  105. 105. They were both housed in Maxwell House, their uncle’s old dorm, though neither of them knew it. But the campus was full of surprises and tidbits of history like that, just waiting to be discovered. In any case, while Paige might not have been thrilled to be surrounded by so many new people, Sydney was. She couldn’t wait to make new friends and explore.
  106. 106. The first thing she did was head to the store. Though the outfit she grew up in wasn’t bad, it wasn’t exactly her style. She spent her scholarship money on a shopping spree and got herself some new threads, then set off to get to know the place a bit. Wandering around campus, she already came to know a few faces— cheerleaders, dormies, classmates in death-to-llama jackets…
  107. 107. She kept herself busy and her mind off Spencer by exploring and greeting everyone. She wanted to make a bunch of friends and become a name on campus. It wasn’t long before she determined that she’d have to find out everything she could about the campus sororities, deciding that’s where she needed to be.
  108. 108. Paige on the other hand, promptly put her scholarship money in the bank. The first thing she did was go online and look up her class syllabus so she could get a jump start on the semester’s assignments. The second thing she did was tidy up and clean the bathroom so she could take a shower—there was no way she trusted the personal hygiene habits of those dormies. She resolved to call a maid first thing in the morning.
  109. 109. When she left her room at all, it was usually to visit the dorm’s study lounge, which actually had a decent library, considering the building’s reputation for being party central. She never stayed long, though. The lounge was an open area and many of her dormmates loved to come and dance in front of the nearby stereo. Paige just shook her head at such antics, glad that all the rooms were singles. College definitely wasn’t quite what she expected. *****
  110. 110. Pick up, Pick up, Asher thought, willing a voice to respond on the other end. It had been a week since his daughters had left for college and he was starting to get a little pissed at the lack of communication: Zeph hadn’t called. Not even once. Come on, Asher pleaded. Pick up so I can yell your ear off and force some sense into you. “Hello?” Asher’s thoughts were cut off by a groggy deep voice.
  111. 111. “Well, well, well. So you do exist.” Zeph sighed. “Crap.” Knew I shouldn’t have answered. “Look, Ash, I’m beat. I just got back from a run; I’m dead tired.” Mentally Zeph winced. “Can we talk later?” “Later? Oh yeah, sure. Later, after you return one of the thirty messages I left on your answering machine. Later, after your son grows up to hate you.” Zeph sighed again. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?”
  112. 112. “Hell, no. Zeph, where the hell have you been?” “Ash, I’m really tired ok? I haven’t even been around most nights; I’m too restless. I can barely sit still.” “And most days?” Ash asked, not giving up. “Most days I sleep from running the hell around town and staying up all night. I’m tired, just like I am now.” “Zeph, I understand you’re having a hard time dealing with things. You’re upset.”
  113. 113. “But this is your son we’re talking about here.” “Ash, please. Do you really have to do this now?” “Yes.” “I can hang up you know.” “And I can call back. I don’t have a job, you know. I can do this all damn day.”
  114. 114. Zeph gave a long sigh, rubbing his temples. “Zeph, come on. When the hell are you going to visit your son? You haven’t even seen him.” “Ash, look, I can’t, ok? I just can’t. I mean, what if he looks like Liz?” “You would know if you actually stopped by to take a look at him.”
  115. 115. The pair were silent for a moment. Asher paced the kitchen, listening. Feeling the anger and hurt radiate from his brother through the phone. He wasn’t ready. “Fine,” he sighed. “What about Dad’s stuff?” Ash switched tactics. “Did you go through anything? Find the will?” Silence. “Zeph?” “Why the hell would I be doing any of that?”
  116. 116. “Because—” “Listen, I’m not going through any of Dad’s goddamn stuff.” Ash sighed. “I guess we could wait for the letter from Sim City Insurance. I was just hoping…” “Hoping what?”
  117. 117. Ash sighed again. That there’d be something about the legacy. “Never mind. I’ll see if Aerith will help go through Dad’s things. In the meantime, come see your son.” “Yeah, yeah.” “I’m serious, Zeph.” *****
  118. 118. Aerith sighed and stood up. She was tired of reading vampire lore. She’d lost track of how many hours she’d spent in the library, researching. But there was little else to do while she waited for Zeph to return her calls. That night—the night her father and Liz died—it seemed surreal, like a waking dream, but days later nothing had changed back. Her father was dead, as was Liz and her nephew. Aerith wasn’t sure what this really meant for her.
  119. 119. Putting her book back on the shelf, she decided to give Zeph another call. After a few moments, she got through. “Hello,” her big brother’s voice greeted her. It was deep and gravelly and a bit of a growl; he must have changed. “Hey. I can’t believe you actually picked up. You know it’s been pretty hard to get a hold of you.” “Yeah, yeah.”
  120. 120. “I’ve been calling you every night.” “I’m busy at night.” “Well, nighttime’s the only time I can call. Remember?”
  121. 121. Zeph closed his eyes and sighed. “Yes. Sorry. Fully chastised. Anything else?” Aerith hesitated. “Did anything about the will come yet?” “No.” “Well, did you go through any of Dad’s things? Find the will yourself?” “No. Why the hell does everyone keep asking me that?”
  122. 122. “Didn’t we all agree you’d stay at Dad’s so you could sort through his things?” “No. I never agreed to anything like that at all.” “Zeph—“ “Look, the only reason I’m here is because I’m broke and I’ve no place else to go.”
  123. 123. Aerith sighed, running a hand through her hair. She stayed silent a moment, then: “Did you see Seth yet?” “What is this, the bloody fucking Inquisition?” Aerith couldn’t help but smile. “Ash called you then?” “Yes. He already read me the riot act, so don’t you bother, ok?”
  124. 124. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” Aerith murmured as she eyed the fireplace, knowing Zeph’s guilt was a better motivator than anything else she could have said. “He’s determined to come down here and give me a piece of his mind.” “Now that’s not a bad idea.”
  125. 125. “Not you too. Listen, I don’t need a lecture.” “Maybe not, but we do need to talk, Zeph. And not just about Seth—about Dad, about the legacy, about everything.” “I really don’t wanna—”
  126. 126. “What about the house Zeph? I mean, life insurance aside, we need to figure out what to do with it and the rest of Dad’s stuff. Do we sell it? Split the profits? Give everything to Ash’s children?” “Well—“ “And what about the dogs? Who takes care of them?” “I didn’t think—”
  127. 127. “No, you didn’t.” Aerith sighed. “I don’t know, Zeph. Maybe that’s a werewolf thing or something.” “Hey!” “We need to make some decisions, Zeph. Together.”
  128. 128. “I get it.” “Do you?” “I’m here, okay? I’m at Dad’s house right now and I’m not going anywhere. You wanna talk, then fine let’s talk.” “Good.”
  129. 129. “But not about Seth. Anything except Seth.” Aerith rolled her eyes. “I’ll text Asher then. We’ll meet you tonight.” She just finished saying her goodbyes when Wes walked in.
  130. 130. “Hey, there pretty lady. Tired of hitting the books yet?” “Oh my Plumbbob, yes,” Aerith moaned. “Then how about a study break? You know, I haven’t really had a chance to take you out and show you the city. How’s about we go out and hit up the clubs? The gang and I were just about to leave; come with and I can show you all about the thrill of the hunt.”
  131. 131. “The gang? You mean the Tricous? I’ll pass.” “Oh, come on, Aerith. You can’t avoid them forever. Get them to know them a bit.” Aerith shook her head. “Although I do find the idea of spending time with the Tricous and hanging out in clubs less than thrilling, that’s not why. I already have plans tonight. I’m going over to my dad’s to visit my brothers—”
  132. 132. “Oh.” “What? What’s with the face?” “Well, I mean… I already told you, Aerith. Hanging out with norms and old family… It’s just never a good idea,” Wes shrugged. Aerith sighed. “And I already told you how I feel about that.”
  133. 133. “Aerith, I’m just trying to protect you. Spare you a little pain. I’ve seen it over and over—” “Right. I get that. But imagine if someone told you to stop seeing your brother.” Wes smiled. “Actually—” “Oh, forget it. Look,” Aerith began, unsure of where to start or how to explain.
  134. 134. “It’s been a very difficult time for my family. My nephew died—” “Right; you mentioned that before. It must have been hard for your family but—” “And my dad. And my… Sister-in-law…They died too.” Aerith said slowly as she watched Wes’ brows fly to the top of his forehead. “And I just found out one of my brothers is a werewolf. So as you can see, things are pretty crazy back home.” “W-w—” Wes sputtered for a moment. “A werewolf?” he finally managed.
  135. 135. “Are you serious? Aerith—” Wes ran a hand through his hair. “Aerith this is big! You can’t—” “What? You’re going to tell me there’s a feud between vampires and werewolves and I can never see my brother again?” Wes smiled at that. “Nah. That’s only in movies. I mean, there was a feud once, but it was an isolated incident. Two brothers fighting over a girl or something,” Wes waved that off. “But most of us ignore that—especially since werewolves are rare.”
  136. 136. “I mean, I haven’t seen a real one since… Well, it’s been centuries.” Wes looked at her. “Is there a pack, or is it just him?” “I don’t know. Does it really matter?” “I guess it doesn’t. it’s just—werewolves! Geez, Aer. Maybe you shouldn’t hang out with him.” “I thought you just said there wasn’t a feud between vampires and werewolves.”
  137. 137. “There isn’t. It’s just that werewolves tend to… encourage, um, behavior that we vampires generally don’t condone.” Wes paused, taking in Aerith’s confused look. “Bestial behavior,” Wes clarified. “And well, you’re new and in a fragile state, so—” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m hardly fragile.” “Aerith, you still won’t accept—” “So what, we disagree. That doesn’t mean I’m incapable of taking care of myself.”
  138. 138. “That isn’t exactly what I meant,” Wes said, exasperated. “Then what did you mean?” Aerith demanded. “I’m saying that… That you’re not taking being a vampire seriously. There are certain things that we do and don’t do. There are certain things you refuse to learn—” “Like what?”
  139. 139. “Like listening to your elders and learning what they have to teach you.” Aerith frowned. “So this is just another way for you to get me to do what you want. Well, I’m sorry, Wes, but I have a mind of my own and—” “Yes, you certainly do. You think you know the answer to everything already and won’t let anyone teach you anything.” “And just what are you trying to teach me? How to read dusty old books?”
  140. 140. “You haven’t tried to teach me anything useful—” “That’s not true. And I’ve tried to get you to come with me or the Tricous, to join others of your own kind and you’ve resisted every time—” “What do I need to hang out with them for?” “Exactly! You don’t get it. You need to be around others of your own kind. To learn more about that part of yourself, to learn to accept the vampire part of you.”
  141. 141. “How are you supposed to know what being a vampire means if you won’t let anyone show you, if you won’t join anyone on a hunt?” “W-What?” “It’s time you stop hiding in the library, Aerith. The way you figure out what being a vampire means is by doing. By watching those around you. You’re a part of a community, whether you like it or not.”
  142. 142. Aerith was quiet for a moment, still. “Maybe… Maybe you’re right,” she agreed slowly. Wes smiled. Finally. “But,” Wes rolled his eyes as Aerith continued. “I can’t just ignore my family either. Right now, I need to be there, sort though things. Help my siblings. Then… Then later, we can talk about, you know… Doing more vampire things.”
  143. 143. Wes sighed and agreed. In a flash, Aerith was out the door and down the hall. He looked after her and shook his head. He knew she was afraid. She’d never hunted. Never drank blood. He’d seen it before, with some newbies. She hoped to put off that side of her, but it never worked. She’d only go crazy. No, it was past time she joined them. She’d have to learn eventually what being a vampire really meant. *****
  144. 144. The Tricous were in the living room when Aerith rushed down the stairs. She briefly raised a hand in greeting before darting out the door. Tina saw this from over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. “And so the princess is off again,” she remarked as the door slammed shut.
  145. 145. “This is ridiculous,” she continued after a sip of her drink. “She doesn’t even want to be here. All that power—just wasted!” She took another sip. “I’m tired of waiting. Trying to talk things out. We should just move ahead on our own.”
  146. 146. “Are you sure about that?” Andrzej asked. “I mean, to burn bridges before they’re fully built... It’s hardly wise.” Tina rolled her eyes again. “I’m tired of putting off our plans because the Princess says no.” Lila shrugged. “We have been doing things really slowly.”
  147. 147. “Exactly.” Tina pointed. “How are we supposed to get anything done with her running home every other night. Or with her whining about how she doesn’t want to do anything,” Tina waved her arms, sloshing her drink a bit. “I mean, you guys, we are finally in position! This is what we’ve been waiting for, for years. We have to remember our goals.”
  148. 148. “Okay, I’ll bite.” Lila raised her brows. “What are you suggesting?” “I’m suggesting that we move forward. With or without her.” Lila smiled. “Time to start recruiting?” “Oh, yeah,” Tina grinned back.
  149. 149. “Andrzej?” Tina looked at him. He nodded. “I already have a list ready.” “Of course you do.” Tina smiled again. “Any news on any other descendants?” Andrzej shook his head. “Not yet. But we’ll find them soon.” “In the meantime,” Lila grinned. “Let’s go hunting.”
  150. 150. ***** “Where are you off to so late?” Melanie asked as she came downstairs. “Dad’s.” Asher replied. “Aerith and I want to get together, talk about the will, sort out the house and all that. I know it’s late—” “I get it. It’s good to see you doing something together.” “I know, right? It’s weird.”
  151. 151. “I’m also hoping I can convince Zeph to stop by sometime. You’ll keep an eye on Seth?” Asher looked at her. “Of course. I checked on him already; he’s already fast asleep.” Asher nodded. “Alright then, I’m off.” “Be careful.”
  152. 152. Melanie watched her husband leave with a little bit of a sigh. She knew he’d be back, but she couldn’t help but feel lonely. The house was so empty now. Even Rose—who had surprisingly decided to live at home for a little while—was out, on a date with Heath. It was just her and Seth. She couldn’t help but feel a pang of longing for her children and the full house she’d grown used to. *****
  153. 153. Heath pulled his chair in closer to the table. “It seems like forever since I last saw you,” he said. “I know.” Rose closed her eyes and sighed. “So much has happened.” Heath reached out to hold his girlfriend’s hand. “Happy Birthday, Rose.”
  154. 154. Rose smiled a bit. “Thanks. I never thought… This all just isn’t what I thought it’d be, you know?” Heath nodded. “How’s your family holding up?” Rose sighed again and shrugged. “Well, I told you Syd and Paige left early for college, so I don’t know. I haven’t really heard from them yet. It’s so weird and empty at home…” she trailed off. “Heath… I know we talked about—”
  155. 155. “It’s okay, you don’t have to say it.” “But it’s just, I feel bad. We had plans and now…” “We still have plans. We’ll just start some things a little later than we thought.” Rose smiled. “Thanks. I don’t think I could move out right now. Mom’s so… quiet. And sad.”
  156. 156. “Like I said,” Rose continued, “It’s empty at home and I don’t think she could handle me leaving too. Now right now.” “Rose, seriously, it’s okay. We’ll just focus on getting the club up and running. No rush. We’ve plenty of time to move in together.” Rose nodded and looked at her menu. The pair were silent for a moment.
  157. 157. “Did you get a chance to go over the stuff I emailed you yet?” Heath spoke up. “Oh, yeah. That location looked perfect! I already jotted down some ideas for themes and the design and stuff.” Heath smiled. “I shoulda known you’d cut right to the fun stuff.” Rose grinned as the waiter set down their food.
  158. 158. “It’s going to be so cool!” Rose exclaimed between bites. “I’m thinking a stage and a bar downstairs, and a loft apartment upstairs, with a home office. Some of the other clubs in town are so dated, so we’ll definitely have an edge. As long as we keep things fresh, I think we’ll draw a crowd.” Heath cocked his head, thinking as he chewed. “That’ll take a lot of money though. Maybe we should just build the club first, then add on the loft later…” he trailed off as Rose shook her head.
  159. 159. “Don’t worry; we’ll take the proceeds from Little N’ Local to fund the construction. We should be good.” “Yeah, but…” Heath said slowly, wondering how to explain. Rose wasn’t exactly a fan of business plans and numbers. “We don’t want to do anything too crazy expensive because that’ll make our rent higher. Or it’ll cost more to do upkeep. That could really hurt us in the beginning when things are slow.”
  160. 160. “Oh, Heath, you sound like my parents. Don’t worry so much.” Heath smiled. “I know. I’m just want this to work out.” “Me too.” “And starting up a club right away, well, it could be tough to draw enough people right away.”
  161. 161. “Yeah, but, there’s nothing to worry about. I mean, it might take a while, but so what? It’s not like we need the money and there’s always Little N’ Local. We can use that to cover everything if things get sticky.” Rose gave a bright smile then continued digging into her meal. Heath just sat back, a little stunned. Suddenly he realized how differently he and Rose had grown up, how differently they viewed things. Things like money.
  162. 162. The club, it was practically a hobby for Rose. Something to do until she was famous. If it did well, great. But if not… Well, it didn’t really matter if she failed. She had her family to go back to. A family that was very well off and could afford to dump thousands of dollars on their daughter’s dream. And if the new club went under, why, it wouldn’t even make a dent in the family finances. Rose had no idea what it was like to struggle for money. She didn’t seem to care about profits—this club was just supposed to be fun. Fun. It was like—Breathe. Heath cut off his thougts before they could go any further. Just take a deep breath and calm down.
  163. 163. “I… I still think we should be cautious,” Heath finally managed to say. “And we will!” Rose smiled at him. “Chill out, Heath. The club’s going to be awesome!” *****
  164. 164. “Stupid doorbell,” Zeph muttered as he came downstairs. The one night he’d managed to drift off, he had company. “Why don’t you just come in?” he yelled through the glass door. “I mean, it’s not like either of you actually care whether I want you here or not.”
  165. 165. “Hello to you too,” Aerith smiled as she walked through the door. “Ash already here?” “Oh, yeah,” Zeph grumbled. “Took one look at the kitchen and got all huffy. Started baking.”
  166. 166. “Baking?” Aerith raised a brow as they walked into the kitchen together. “My, my.” “I can’t really complain, though.” Zeph admitted. “It smells amazing in here.”
  167. 167. “Damn straight it does.” Asher quipped, taking the lasagna and putting it in the oven. “You shoulda seen the mess in here, Aer. Week old sandwiches and dirty dishes left on the counter—” “They were hardly a week old,” Zeph interjected. “Might as well been. It was absolutely filthy in here and not a thing to eat in the fridge.”
  168. 168. Zeph shrugged as he sat down. “What can I say?” “Nothing! Absolutely nothing. You should be ashamed of yourself,” Ash chastised. Aerith smiled. Once a big brother, always a big brother. “So how’ve you been, Zeph? Other than the filthy kitchen thing, I mean.” Zeph shrugged again. “It’s been a week.”
  169. 169. “What does that mean?” Aerith asked. “Well…” he shrugged again. “I’m still here.”
  170. 170. Asher wiped down the counter then crossed his arms. “It’s been a rough week,” he finally said. “A lot’s happened. No one’s trying to beat you up about it, Zeph. But life does go on. And there are things we need to talk about.” “It’s why you’re here, isn’t?” Zeph gestured. “Let’s get on with it.” “Okay then,” Asher said.
  171. 171. Aerith and Zephyr both looked at him expectantly. “Why are you both looking at me?” “You wanted to talk, so I assumed you had something you wanted to say.” Aerith nudged Zeph. “Shh. I don’t know, Ash, I guess I just—we just—assumed you’d take care of everything.”
  172. 172. “Why’s that?” “Because you’re a know-it-all.” “Because you’re responsible. You have everything together—you’ve a family and all that.” “Plus you’re oldest,” Zeph added and at this Aerith had to nod in agreement.
  173. 173. Ash sighed. “Fine. First, the house I guess. I think Dad meant for us to keep it.” “How do you figure that?” Aerith raised her brows. “I found Dad’s will. Conveniently labeled and everything—first thing you see when you turn on his computer,” Ash smiled wryly at his brother. “What? I never said I’d look for it.”
  174. 174. “Anyway,” Ash continued. “He left you guys some things.” “But not you?” Zeph interrupted. “Geez, he musta really hated you.” “Haha. No, Dad explained things to me before I move out, years ago. The money he made from Little N’ Local, the business he started, well, that was mine. I used it to buy my house. Plus, he gave the deed to the business to me. That’s my inheritance.”
  175. 175. “This new house,” Asher pointed unnecessarily to the floor, “he left for you, Zeph.” “But why? I mean, a few weeks ago I didn’t even need it. I had my own place to live.” Ash shrugged. “He didn’t say why. He just left it to you. He specified it was to be kept up and maintained and the dogs taken care of, etc. He even set aside money for it.”
  176. 176. “Money from where?” Aerith wondered. “I never saw Dad sit still a day in his life,” Asher had to smile at that memory of his father. Andy was always busy, always had some project. “He probably kept working up until the day he died. In any case,” Ash shrugged. “I did send him profits from the business from time to time. Which brings me to you, Aer.” “Yeah,” she raised her brows.
  177. 177. The timer dinged and Asher moved to get the lasagna. “The business, it was just Dad’s way of making money. At first he used the profits to build the old house, but after the renovations were done, he—we—didn’t really need the money. So he started putting it in a trust for you, then the kids.” “Really?” Asher nodded. “Then later, like I said, we used profits to fund the move, to buy my house and this one.”
  178. 178. “But once we were both settled, Mel and I, we didn’t need much money either. So I continued to put some money in the trust for you.” “Asher! You didn’t need to do that. I mean, you have kids, you could of—” “I did. I set aside money for all of them, don’t worry. And we even bought a cabin up in Three Lakes. But the business, it makes a lot.”
  179. 179. Asher shrugged. “It seemed so important to Dad. I think… He felt you were a bit unsure, about what you wanted to do with your life, I mean, and I think he wanted to make sure that if you wanted… Well, you could buy a house of your own someday. And how could I argue with that? So I continued to put in money too. It’s yours now, if you want it.” Aerith blinked, a little speechless. “How much exactly—”
  180. 180. “By now, it’s a little under three hundred thousand dollars.” Zeph whistled. “Damn. That’s a lot of money.” Aerith gulped. “I… I don’t know what to say.” “I guess the old man really knew how to look out for ya, huh, sis?” Zeph smirked.
  181. 181. Asher just looked at him. “Not just her, Zeph. Us. This house, it’s worth almost two hundred thousand. And he left you about another fifty grand just to keep it up. And that’s not even including his life insurance. The letter finally came this afternoon. We all getting payouts and there’s something for all my kids, too.” Asher paused. “Say what you will about Dad, but he always made sure we were provided for, that we were taken care of financially. He worked his entire life for that.”
  182. 182. The trio sat in silence for a few moments, thinking that over. “There’s something else he left us,” Ash spoke up after a while. “The legacy.” Aer raised her brows while Zeph just scowled. “What he said that night… I can’t forget it.” Ash looked down. “I can’t help but think, but wonder if… If that’s why I lost Spencer.”
  183. 183. “Bullshit,” Zeph said suddenly, breaking the quiet. “Even I know that it was an accident. Some freak wishing well thing, right?” He looked to Aerith for confirmation and she nodded. “Right, so don’t worry abou—” “It’s not that simple!” Asher snapped. He sighed. “I just feel,” he tried again, this time more softly, “Like… I’m unsure, okay? I just need to make sure.” He looked at his siblings. “Can you understand that?”
  184. 184. “Of course,” Aer said softly. “I know that Dad used to write stuff. He always said he was writing a book about the legacy and the rules and stuff. I just… I thought he might of left it around.” He looked at Zephyr. Zeph raised his brows.
  185. 185. “Look, I know dad gave me a copy of one of his books once and I’m going to look for it. But…” Zeph just looked at Asher, waiting. “But he must have had some copies here as well. He would’ve at least gotten one from the publisher.” Zeph crossed his arms. “I’m waiting to hear what this has to do with me.” “You’re staying here, Zeph. Would it kill you to just take a look around?”
  186. 186. Zeph snorted. “You know how I feel about the legacy.” “I’m just looking for some answers. Maybe he said something about the challenges, and how each generation was supposed to die.” “Maybe he did and it’s all crap.” “I’d like to know too.” The brothers stopped bickering to look at their sister.
  187. 187. Aerith shrugged. “Maybe it says something about why we have to stay… this way,” she gestured to herself and to Zeph. “Maybe it says if we can be cured.” She looked at Zeph. Zeph frowned, looking from his sister to his brother then back. “You two want to look, then look. I’m not promising anything.” *****
  188. 188. Rose got out of the car and took a breath. She was at Little N’ Local and for the first time, she’d be running things all by herself. In fact, for the foreseeable future, it’d be just her and Heath. Her parents didn’t mind giving her the money to open up her own club, but she would have earn it. Running the family business for a few weeks would give her the cash she needed as well as practice.
  189. 189. “Hey!” She ran up to Heath and gave him a hug. “You’re here already.” “Yup. I thought I’d check on things before we open.” “Yeah, how we doing?” Heath smiled. “Everything’s fine. So good in fact I thought we could take a bit of time and talk.”
  190. 190. Rose cocked her head. “Talk? ‘Bout what?” “The club. We still don’t really have any business plan or outline.” Rose waved him off. “Oh, that.” “Yes, oh that. Rose, I’m serious. I want everything to be professional. I don’t want to let you or your parents down, especially not due to lack of proper planning.”
  191. 191. Rose just smiled and shook her head. “You’re overreacting. There’s nothing to this, Heath. We raise the money, build the club, then go.” “Go what?” “Run things. It’s a club. You’re overthinking everything.” Heath shifted. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared. There’s a lot you don’t realize—”
  192. 192. “Like what? You show up, sims buy the tickets, hang out and have a good time then they leave. It’s the same thing we’re doing here.” She waved a hand at Little N’ Local. “Yes, but the difference is that this place is already established. It has a customer base. It’s different when you just start out and—” “Heath!” Rose interrupted, laughing. “Just relax.”
  193. 193. “Yeah, we’re starting over, but you’ve got the years of experience and I’ve got all the flair and genius ideas.” Heath smiled at that. “We’ll be fine. Come on,” she grabbed his hand and pulled him inside.
  194. 194. After opening the place, she dragged Heath over to do some karaoke, convinced he was worried too much. They laughed and sang and just had fun. They didn’t really worry about tickets; they sold themselves. She and Heath just hung out and watched the money rake in.
  195. 195. That’s pretty much how the next few weeks went at Little N’ Local, and Rose was sure her own club would be no different. It’d be a breeze and she’d get to do what she loved most everyday: sing and be with her boyfriend. She couldn’t wait to earn enough money and start her life. *****
  196. 196. “Hey, Syd!” Sydney turned around and stopped at the voice. She’d only been on campus a few short weeks, really, but already she getting popular. She was always running into some dormmate or classmate or acquaintance. “Oh, hey, Christa. What have you been up to?”
  197. 197. “Studying, mostly. Can you believe midterms are only two weeks away?” “I know!” “I’m thinking of going out this weekend—blow off some steam, you know? You in?” Sydney nodded. “Sounds good. Just text me.” Then Sydney noticed Christa’s jacket. “Hey is that a llama? With crossbones on it?” she laughed. “What—”
  198. 198. “No, no, no. Don’t even ask, I can’t say.” “Wha? But—” “Nope! But trust me,” Christa smiled. “You’ll probably find out real soon. Later, ‘kay?” “Uh, okay…”
  199. 199. “That was weird,” Sydney mumbled as she walked into the student lounge. But things were only about to get weirder. Brushing some hair out of her eyes, she glanced up and almost tripped in surprise. “Oh my Plumbbob,” she blurted.
  200. 200. Houston turned at the sound of her voice. “Syd.” His face was a mixture of happiness, sadness, and uncertainty. He walked over toward her, but seemed very unsure of himself. He stopped right in front of her, before he got too close. “How are you, Syd?” “What are you doing here?” she blurted out. Houston looked a little disappointed. “I thought you’d be happier to see me.”
  201. 201. “I… How… How are you even here?” Syd didn’t know how she felt. She decided to concentrate on getting some facts. She looked him up and down. “Do you… go here? To the Académie?” “Yes—” “But how? I thought you couldn’t get in. You didn’t have the money or the grades.” “I busted my ass, that’s how. I talked to your Mom and Dad and—”
  202. 202. “My Dad?” Sydney exclaimed. “What? What are you talking about?” “Sydney,” Houston couldn’t help smiling, “you’ll figure things out a lot more easily if you let me finish talking.” “Oh. Right. Um, so you were saying?” “I talked to your parents and got some advise. When we were still together.”
  203. 203. “I think they knew what I was on about because your Mom told me about some scholarships the Académie has. I never really paid much attention to grades before, you know? But I was able to pull them up some and going to Prep instead of Crystal Springs High helped. I was able to get a partial scholarship. And… And your Dad, he offered to pay the rest.” Sydney’s brows flew to the top of her forehead. She didn’t know what to say.
  204. 204. “He said he thought it would make you happy. And that he would do anything to make you happy.” Houston smiled at her, and for the first time not a trace of worry was on his face. “So you see? We can be together now. Again. Everything’s… Okay.” He looked at her. Sydney smiled weakly. “I… I don’t know what to say.” Houston’s smile faltered. “You’re not happy.”
  205. 205. “Of course I’m happy for you—” “But not for us. This is about us, Syd.” “We broke up—” “Why?” Houston demanded, his voice full of hurt. “Tell me why, Syd. I still don’t know.”
  206. 206. Sydney shifted, uncomfortable. “I just… It was the right thing to do. I was going away and you… you were staying back home.” She looked at him. “You never talked to me about it. We could have found a way. Made plans.” “I didn’t think it would work—” “But it did, and I’m here! I’m right here, Syd. So what do you want to do?”
  207. 207. “I… I don’t know.” “Why the hell not?” Sydney gulped. “I need some time, okay. I was just starting to get used to things. Thinking about moving on and stuff.” She looked away, unwilling to admit it, but she owed him the truth. “Being here has been so good for me… I thought I was getting a chance to start over. Move on.”
  208. 208. “I don’t want you to move on, Syd. I want to be with you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.” “But I don’t know what I want,” Syd practically shouted. She took a breath and tried to calm down. “I don’t know who I am anymore. What I want anymore. I used to have all these dreams and plans… For the first time in my life… I’m considering something different. I’m painting a different picture. I don’t know what’ll look like when it’s done, but… I want a chance to figure it out.”
  209. 209. “This is… This is my time to explore. To find out who I am and what I want.” Houston just looked at her. “I know exactly who you are, Syd. And what you want.” Sydney sighed and shook her head. “Houston—” “Do you remember when we first met, Syd?” he interrupted. “Houston, that was ages ago. We were little kids. And no.”
  210. 210. “Yes, you do,” Houston insisted. “You were driven. You had a plan. You were determined to best your sister in everything and I was going to be part of it.” “Houston,” Syd huffed. “That’s not my plan anymore. I’m trying to find a new dream, a new—” “I know, I know I get that,” he waved her off. “My point, is that back then, I didn’t really know any of that. I didn’t get your plan. It didn’t really make sense to me.”
  211. 211. “I didn’t get all of it, don’t know if I ever did, but I knew I was looking at greatness.” “Houston—” “And I still am. You were and are really special, Syd. I didn’t understand everything, but I vowed to wait. I figured you’d tell me. That I’d get it eventually. And I knew how I felt, Syd. And I knew that I liked you and that you were special and it’d be the mistake of a lifetime if I let you go. So I agreed to whatever stupid thing you asked me to do and waited.”
  212. 212. “Houston,” Sydney sighed, confused, “Spit it out. What are you trying to say?” “Back then, Syd, I was sure—and I still am sure—that someday we’d be on the same page. And you’d see I was perfect for you. So you need to figure things out? Fine. You want to think about things? Get a new dream? Sure. Whatever. I’ll wait.” Sydney’s lips parted. She was speechless. “I don’t see the picture, either, Syd, but I’m sure it includes you and me together.” He shrugged. “And I’ll wait for however long you need to see that.”
  213. 213. “But.. But why?” she asked softly. “Because I want to stay with you. I made that choice a long time ago, Syd, and I’m not changing now.” *****
  214. 214. Paige grabbed a seat in the empty cafeteria. Not many of her dormmates were up so early—Maxwell House was the party dorm, after all. But that didn’t change Paige. She was often up bright and early and made sure to eat a real breakfast before class. She didn’t mind eating in an empty cafeteria—in fact, she kind of liked the quiet after all the chaos of the rest of the dorm—but it meant she didn’t really have an opportunity to make friends. So, when a voice over her shoulder asked if he could join her, her mind, flickering back to her father’s words, went: Why not? “Sure you can…” Paige trailed off as she caught sight of who she was talking to.
  215. 215. He was shirtless. His hair was unkempt and shaggy and there was a faint stubble on his chin. She scowled, but it was too late. He sat down.
  216. 216. The stranger took a seat and then looked her over before taking a bite of his pancakes. “Hey,” he said. “I know you. Have I seen you around somewhere?” “Probably,” Paige said wryly. “We live in the same dorm,” she pointed out, her tone icy. The guy raised a brow. “No, I mean… I think we have class together.”
  217. 217. Paige said nothing. “Math 101?” he continued to ask. “With Professor Garth?” Paige hesitated, but finally nodded in agreement. “Great!” he grinned at her. “I knew I’d seen you. I’m Gallagher.” He looked at her expectantly.
  218. 218. Paige looked away, focused on cutting her pancakes into tiny bits. Moments passed. Paige briefly wondered what he thought of her and her rudeness, but she squashed the thought. She had standards. That meant no associating with whatever kind of lowlife he was. I mean, who went to the cafeteria with no shirt on?
  219. 219. But it seemed Gallagher was not to be deterred; he was intent on making conversation. “Um, and you are?” Begrudgingly, Paige answered. “My name is Paige.” “Paige…” he repeated slowly, his eyes flickering over her. “It suits you.”
  220. 220. For that, Paige had no comment. Especially not a nice one. So she returned her focus to her meal. They ate in silence for a while.
  221. 221. “So,” Gallagher tried again to break the ice and Paige nearly groaned aloud. “How about that test last Monday?” Paige shrugged. “I mean, this class, it’s so much more than I expected, you know? Much tougher than high school.” Again Paige said nothing. “I always see you raising your hand in class and I think, ‘how does she remember all that,’ you know? And the tests— man, are they beasts or what? I’m sure the last one ripped my average to shreds.”
  222. 222. Paige raised her head briefly. “Yes, I’m sure it was difficult… For some.” She took another bite of pancake but realized she had lost her appetite. Meanwhile, Gallagher’s smile faltered and, for the moment, he was speechless.
  223. 223. Paige decided she was done with breakfast and rose. “If you will excuse me,” she said quietly before she cleared her plate and walked away.
  224. 224. Gallagher was still silent, unable to think of anything to say as she walked away. A minute later, he unfroze, realizing he was still staring after her. He shook his head clear and tried to focus on his food. “Wow,” he mumbled. “Just… Wow.” *****
  225. 225. Sydney needed a distraction. Seeing Houston again had rattled her. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do about her boyfriend—or friend, rather. She wasn’t supposed to be calling him that anymore. Anyway, one thing she did want to do was rush. She’d dreamed of joining a sorority for forever. So one afternoon she decided to do something about that called Heather Huffington over to schmooze and get info.
  226. 226. “Hi!” Syd said brightly. Sorority girls were upbeat, right? And peppy.” “Hey.” Heather sounded bored. “Like, you called me about Tri Var?” She hated recruiting but it was her turn this week. “Right! Um, so I was wondering if you could tell me more about it. Like what sorority life is like, if you are accepting any members right now and how to join and stuff.”
  227. 227. Heather nodded. “Yeah, ‘kay. What’s your name?” “Sydney Specter.” Suddenly Heather’s bored features turned into a mask of rage. “Um, did I say something wr—” “Is this some kind of joke?” Heather demanded. “Uh, no.”
  228. 228. “Your last name is seriously Specter?” “Yeah.” “Are you, like related to Zephyr Specter? Or Asher?” It was hard to say which name she pronounced with more hatred. “Asher’s my Dad’s name. And I guess Zephyr’s my uncle. I haven’t really—”
  229. 229. “Are you for real?” Heather yelled. People in the tv lounge were starting to give Sydney looks. “Um…” “There’s no way in hell I’d let a Specter join Tri Var!” “Whoa! What’s your problem?” “You’re my problem!”
  230. 230. “Look, I don’t know what you thought, kid, but I see right through this little charade. I remember your uncle and I’ll never forget that stunt your Dad pulled—you Specters are all jerks.” “Wha—” Heather laughed. “I mean, seriously? Come on. You better take your trampy butt back to whatever hole you crawled out of.”
  231. 231. “Excuse me?” Sydney put her hands on her hips, a slow rage building within her. “You heard me. I’m going to make sure your life is miserable, tramp. This little prank will be the last thing you do. Kiss your social life goodbye, toots. This is my campus now.” Sydney grew furious. She didn’t know where to start. “How dare you—” “No, how dare you! I’m not going to let some ugly skank walk all over me and—”
  232. 232. “Who are you calling skank?” Sydney yelled back. “Have you looked in the mirror? You’re the tramp! You’ve got fifty pounds of makeup on!” Heather gasped. “That’s it! You’re so dead! You’ll never step foot in Tri Var—” “Like I want to join anymore anyway!” “And your life will be a living hell—I’ll blacklist you from every campus party ever!” With that, Heather stormed out, leaving Sydney fuming and confused.
  233. 233. ***** The next day Sydney found herself at the library. She had to get out of the dorm— her fight with Heather was all anyone could talk about back at Maxwell House. Even now, she could swear she heard giggling and whispering. Okay, well she probably did hear whispering, it was a library after all, but it felt like the whispers were about her, like everyone was staring. Yet every time she looked up, she saw nothing.
  234. 234. She tried to let things go and focus on her homework, but couldn’t. She kept replaying the scene in her mind, trying to make sense of things. What the hell did that girl have against me anyway? Sydney wondered. She just didn’t understand Heather’s problem with her and was fuming that she didn’t even get a chance to apply to Tri Var before being rejected. Joining a sorority was supposed to be key to her college plans—what was she going to do now? “There you are.”
  235. 235. “Huh?” Sydney stopped scowling at her notebook and looked over her shoulder. “Hi,” a girl walked up to her. “I’ve been looking all over for you.” At Sydney’s confused look, she smiled. “I’m Chris.”
  236. 236. “Oh.” Sydney stood up. “Um, hi.” “And you’re Sydney, right? Wow, you’ve sure grown up.” Sydney raised a brow. “Uh, have we met before?” “I’m a friend of your dad’s. He and I went to school together.” “Oh, okay.” Sydney nodded, wondering where this was going.
  237. 237. “So I heard you tried to sign up for Tri Var,” Chris chuckled. “Yeah. How—” “Oh, news travels fast on campus—especially among the Greek Houses. Plus Heather couldn’t wait to yammer my ear off about you.” “Really, why?”
  238. 238. “Well, as current president of Tri Var’s rival frat, she hates me too.” “Oh? Well… Hey, listen—maybe I could join your frat…” Sydney trailed off as Chris gave her an odd look. “What? Don’t tell me I can’t join either?” “Of course you can join. It’s your frat.” “What?”
  239. 239. “I’m current president of Specter House. The frat your dad started when he was here.” “My dad founded a fraternity?” “Yes,” Chris laughed. “It became really popular too; everyone kinda forgot about Tri Var when your family was on campus.” She patted Sydney’s shoulder. “It’s probably part of why she hates you so much.”
  240. 240. “Oh. Really?” “Yeah. I mean, Tri Var had its lowest numbers ever when your Dad was here. Specter House got to be so big—we had all the best parties in the sickest frat house and everyone was dying to join.” “My Dad threw the best parties?” Sydney asked, skeptically. “The absolute best,” Chris assured her.
  241. 241. “I… I never knew.” “Well, now you do!” Chris smiled. “Like I said, Heather was pretty miffed at all the attention Specter House got. Everyone kinda forgot about it, especially since it’s so far out and kinda run down. And then, there’s the thing with your uncle…” “Yeah, she mentioned him. What thing? What happened?” “Heather had the biggest crush on your uncle and everyone knew it.”
  242. 242. “She tried to get him. Hard. But failed. He’s the only one who ever turned her down, apparently.” Chris rolled her eyes. “She says she never really liked him, but clearly she’s still torn up about it. Anyway, she pretty much hates your family now.” “Well, after yesterday, I can’t say I’m too fond of her either.” “Which is why you need to join Specter House. Take your rightful place at the top of the social food chain.”
  243. 243. “I don’t know about that, I just got here after all. I don’t know if I could run a—” “Please, you’re a Specter. Everyone will love you. And I’ll teach you everything there is to know about running a Greek House. Just stop by the house before you say anything. It’s amazing—much better than dorms; you’re going to love it. ‘Course, you’ll probably want to put your own spin on the house, but we’ll talk about that later. Just stop by, okay?”
  244. 244. “Um, okay.” Sydney shrugged. She was a bit overwhelmed, but she did want to join a sorority and here was one, begging to recruit her. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. She could join her father’s old house and bring Heather down. She could be like, the top person on campus. Everyone would know her and want to be friends with her. Sydney smiled. “You know, what? You’re right. I should join. I’ll see you this weekend,” she promised, her head already flooded with plans. *****
  245. 245. It was late before Syd got back to the dorm. It took her much longer to concentrate and finish her coursework than she thought. She was too excited. Finally she felt like she had some direction. The first thing she did when she was done with her homework was call Houston and ask him to meet her. “Syd,” he greeted her. “I have to say, I’m a bit surprised.” “Yeah, I know. But I need your help.”
  246. 246. “You do?” Houston smiled, a hopeful look on his face. Sydney sighed. “I do. Look, I don’t know yet, about us. About what I want us to be. But I do know that you’re my best friend. And that if I’m going to takeover the campus, I’m going to need you by my side.” “Takeover over campus?” Houston asked.
  247. 247. “Yes. Heather Huffington is going down.” Houston’s mouth quivered and Sydney realized he was trying not to laugh. “It’s not funny, Houston! She humiliated me.” “I heard.” “You did? Crap, that’s fast. Right, so obviously I gotta get revenge. Tri Var is going down and I’m going to biggest thing the Académie has ever seen.” “They won’t know what hit ‘em.”
  248. 248. “Exactly!” She paused. “Wait, are you making fun of me?” “Wouldn’t dream of it.” Sydney scowled, looking him over. “Well, anyway, I’m going to need your help.” “What do you need me to do?” Houston asked, relaxing. He couldn’t stop smiling now that he was back in familiar territory.
  249. 249. “Well, I don’t know yet. I need ideas first. We gotta start brainstorming.” “When you say we gotta start brainstorming, you mean—” “Okay,” Sydney clapped, excitedly. “Here are my ideas,” she went on and started gesturing wildly. Houston couldn’t help but smile again. Politely he cocked his head and listened. He hadn’t seen Syd so excited in a long time.
  250. 250. “Houston! Are you listening?” Sydney demanded. “Of course I am.” “Then why aren’t you writing any of this down?” Houston watched Sydney’s brow arch in indignation and he could of sworn he fell in love all over again, right there.
  251. 251. “Well?” She tapped her foot. He grinned. They’d be back together in no time. “I’m sorry, Syd,” he finally responded, “I don’t know what I was thinking.” “Well, I surely don’t know,” Syd huffed. “Come on. Let’s go inside and get some paper. And pay attention for once. Geez.” *****
  252. 252. Night had fallen but Paige couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t that she was still having nightmares—admittedly, the dreams were less now that she was on campus—it was just the restlessness. She couldn’t shake her uneasy feelings and all her nervous energy. It kept her up at night. That was when she usually wandered into the music room, a rec room next to all the bedrooms that was filled with every instrument she could think of. Not many came in here so at night, when she couldn’t sleep, she came in, picked an instrument, and just played.
  253. 253. Tonight it was the piano. Although she usually played the violin, she loved the piano, too. It was beautiful and refined. Precise. As her fingers flew over the keys, she relished the music and the release of emotion. She didn’t realize she had company. ******
  254. 254. For some reason, Gallagher couldn’t sleep that night. He’d been lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and the beams of moonlight streaking across his room, fighting their way past the blinds. And then he’d heard the piano. He’d heard it before. Often, when he was up late studying or just as he was drifting off to sleep. The noise didn’t bother him. It was calming, actually. Sometimes he even fought sleep to stay awake and listen. He always wondered who was playing; whoever it was, he or she could really play. That’s what he was thinking that night when realized he could just go down the hall and find out.
  255. 255. He followed the music around the corner and made his way into the music room. It was her. Paige. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her since that weird encounter the other morning. She didn’t seem to notice him and so he stood there, quietly. Listening.
  256. 256. Eventually, of course, she looked up and the spell was broken. She stopped playing. She looked at him and said nothing for the longest time. Then she raised a brow. “Well?” she demanded. “What is it? Am I bothering you?” N-No,” Gallagher shook his head emphatically. “Please don’t stop. I just wanted to know…” he trailed off. She was already standing up.
  257. 257. “I’m sorry,” he tried again, shifting from one foot to the other. Something about this girl made him uneasy. “You didn’t have to stop—I didn’t mean to disturb you or anything. I just… wanted to know who was playing.” She shrugged. “I suppose it was inconsiderate of me to play so late anyway.” Gallagher snorted. “Please, most people are even back yet.” Paige looked at him questioningly. “It’s only one am and there’s a few parties at the frats tonight.”
  258. 258. Paige nodded and the two of them stood there, looking at each other. “You’re really good you know.” “Thank you,” she eyed him strangely. “Where’d you learn to play?” he cocked his head. Paige marveled at his interest. “From my sister.” She paused. “And my dad.”
  259. 259. “We are a musical family, I guess,” she shrugged. “They taught me everything I know, especially my sister.” “Is she as good as you?” She thought about that. “Probably better,” she finally said. “Though it is hard to tell. She usually plays guitar.” Gallagher nodded. “Sweet. Do you play that too, or is just the—”
  260. 260. “What are you doing?” She demanded, cutting him off. “What do you mean?” Gallagher asked confused. “I have been rude to you. Made it clear I do not want to talk to you.” She shook her head in confusion. “And yet, here you are, chatting away and asking me questions like—” she faltered a bit. “Like, well, nothing happened.” Gallagher shrugged. “What’d you like me to do?”
  261. 261. “I do not know,” she confessed after a moment. “But your behavior is most odd. I have not even apologized.” Gallagher shrugged again, a bit uncomfortable. Was he blushing? He wondered. It felt like he was blushing. “I guess I just like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. You could’ve been having an off day. Besides,” he said slowly. “You can still apologize.” His eyes captured hers.
  262. 262. A moment later, Paige gave a slight nod. “That is true. I…” She paused. Apologies didn’t come easy to her, she realized. She rarely had anything about which to regret. “I apologize. It was wrong of me to be so rude. To judge you before I even spoke to you.” “Judge me?” Paige felt her cheeks get warm. “You, um, weren’t exactly properly attired…”
  263. 263. Gallagher took in her blush and her sudden awkwardness, then laughed. “So that’s what that was about! Wow, okay.” Paige tried to defend herself. “That kind of dress—or lack of dress, I should say— is hardly appropriate for public settings—” But Gallagher only laughed harder. “I’ll try to remember to keep my shirt on, if only for your sake,” he smiled, then suddenly a gleam appeared in his eyes. “Just tell me one thing.”
  264. 264. Paige’s brows rose. “A part of you really liked seeing me without a shirt.” He smiled again. “Admit it.” Paige’s cheeks felt like they were on fire. “I—I will admit no such thing—” Gallagher’s laughter drowned out her protests. Scowling, she turned away. “Oh, come on,” Gallagher tried to stop laughing, but failed.
  265. 265. “I’m only teasing.” “Good night!” was the huffy reply. And then she left. Gallagher didn’t’ know how Paige managed to ground out the two words, her jaw was clenched so tight. He smiled to himself. This girl, he thought to himself, not sure where the rest of it was going. There’s just something about her. Something he couldn’t put his finger on. Something he liked. He smiled again. He’d just have to figure her out.
  266. 266. ***** “Surprise!” Rose shouted. She was practically jumping up and down. “The building’s done early.” Little N’ Local had easily made the money she needed to buy and furnish the club. And, eager to start her dream, Rose had pushed for construction to be completed early.
  267. 267. The club was done, ready to open in the coming week after she and Heath hired a few employees. She decided to call the place The Edge.
  268. 268. It had a fully equipped stage and viewing area.
  269. 269. Along with a bar and state of the art DJ equipment.
  270. 270. “What do you think? Isn’t it great? I know it’s a lot of pink, but…” she shrugged. “It only seemed natural, considering.” Heath was quiet a moment. “It does look great. And expensive.” “Oh, come on, not that again. Everything’s already paid for and it looks great!” Yeah, but how will we make enough for upkeep? Heath wondered but didn’t say aloud. In any case, Rose was already dragging him to the back.
  271. 271. She led him through a private entrance and up a flight of stairs. “It’s a loft!” she exclaimed. “Well, kinda.”
  272. 272. “Anyway, it’s your very own apartment!” Rose squealed. “So no more worrying about rent or a place to live or me moving out.”
  273. 273. “You’ve got your very own place just seconds from where you work,” Rose beamed at her boyfriend.
  274. 274. “So what do you think of everything! Do you like it? It’s not too girly up here is it?” Rose looked at him, waiting for him to say something. “What do I think…” Heath said slowly, taking everything in and trying to gather his thoughts.
  275. 275. “Well…” Thoughts raced across his mind. I think it’s too much. I think it’s a lot of money to put down when we said we’d start slow. I think I could never afford this apartment on my own and if things go south, I can’t possibly pay you back. I think it was irresponsible to go ahead with all this when we didn’t even finish our business plan yet. Heath sighed and scratched his head. “I think I can’t believe my girlfriend did all this just for me.”
  276. 276. Rose beamed. “Come here,” he said, pulling Rose in for a kiss. “It’s not how I would have done things,” he admitted, “but then again, I’m a little more cautious. Everything looks great. Thank you.” “You’re welcome,” Rose smiled again and kissed him back.
  277. 277. “It’s not perfect yet though—I still can’t move in,” she frowned a little as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “My parents are still adamant about that. They think we’re too young.” She rolled her eyes. “They want us to wait a bit.” “I’m okay with that. We’ll still have plenty of time to ourselves,” Heath reminded her. He kissed her again.
  278. 278. Things got pretty heavy. But Rose had definitely heard what Heath had said. A part of her mind lingered on his words. They were running a business together and he would live right over the club. They would have plenty of time alone, just like now. No one would interrupt them. Burst through the door. Tell them to slow down. As the business got busy, she’d be practically living here anyway. They could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.
  279. 279. They could do whatever they wanted, Rose thought again before she suddenly broke off the kiss and pulled away. Heath looked at her, surprise in his eyes. “You okay? Is something—” “I’m fine!” Rose squeaked. She winced at the sound of her voice. Even to her ears she sounded weird and panicky. Heath raised a brow. “You sure?”
  280. 280. “Yes,” Rose took a breath, trying to calm her nerves. “I just, um, forgot. I need to get home. Now.” Heath definitely looked skeptical. “Really? But it’s only—” “I promised I’d babysit!” Rose blurted. “Dad’s supposed to go over to Gramp’s—or Zeph’s now—and Mom’s working, so…” She trailed off, meeting Heath’s eyes. They didn’t believe her. They were worried. Confused. “I’ll, um, see you later, ‘kay?” She didn’t look at him again, just squeezed his arm and dashed downstairs.
  281. 281. The End. Hope you enjoyed this update and sorry it took so long to come out. As always you can find me at, and I appreciate all comments and feedback. Later Simmers and happy reading. :)