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Eat You Alive
Mom: I’m sorry we’re missing you for Christmas, honey. Maybe we can see you for spring break?
I bit my lip in Maywood Heights’s International Airport. It was the closest one to get me to NYC from Pembroke University, and I’d taken a couple bus transfers to get here.
Me: Yeah. Maybe.
I texted my mom what she wanted to hear, and when I had told her I’d come back home initially for Christmas break, I’d meant it.
I supposed I’d been braver then.
Mom: Okay, and Merry Christmas. We really will miss you.
I was sure she would, and I hated that I’d gotten her hopes up. I hadn’t meant to do that.
Swallowing, I texted my mom more of what she wanted to hear. I emphasized again how I was sticking around school to work on an independent photography project. I planned to layer my portfolio a bit with some community work before my internship with the New York Times next summer. This was true, but the project definitely could have waited.
I basically told her everything but the truth.
I hadn’t been much of a liar before this year. Actually, I didn’t really lie to anyone in my life at all. When it came to my mom and her wanting to see me, I merely avoided, and after everything that’d gone down with Wolf, I’d been determined to get over my demons. I’d been brave and said fuck it to all the things that made me weak. I refused to give in to insecurities.
And that went double for weaknesses of the heart.
My mom’s text about Christmas had come in right before break. She wanted to see me, and I’d actually told her yes. I was ready to get over mental crap and just move on with my life.
Instead, I watched a plane take off from a terminal.
I literally sat in my seat and watched my plane to NYC just leave, and I never felt weaker.
What’s wrong with you?
I thought I’d gotten over this. I thought I was stronger, but here I was giving into the same stuff that held me back. I felt good telling Heath and some of our friends I was going home to actually be with family instead of sitting around an empty campus and even told them a bit about my family. I’d been proud I’d gotten over bullshit, my own shit.
You’re a fraud.
But what was worse surrounded the fact I was a liar. I lied to myself every day, charging through life and telling myself I was fine and not damaged goods. I said that I was better than before this year began. I was stronger and because of the things I’d gone through. The whole thing with Wolf hadn’t made me weak. He hadn’t made me weak.
Forcing my phone away, I got up. I was out a ticket back home but didn’t focus on the fact. My mom had paid for it. She’d paid for everything because she wanted me to come home.
Swallowing, I decided to see if I could get a bus ticket back to Pembroke. I might have to stay overnight in town since it was late, but that was okay.
But is it?
I was well aware I was most likely in the same town Ares “Wolf” Mallick was currently in. He and his family lived here, but the odds of seeing him were slim. In fact, there was no reason I had to see him at all.
Determined not to, I took a seat at the front of the airport. I didn’t particularly like flying, but I’d never had an issue. Not like with cars anyway.
Rubbing my arm, I ended up finding a bus back to campus through a search on my phone. I was booking the ticket when someone called my name.
I shifted, and needless to say, I blinked.
I didn’t recognize the guy, tall, broad. His chestnut-colored hair swept back in a clean fashion. In all honesty, the guy kind of looked like Heath but was like way hotter, bigger. His thick legs were housed with brown trousers and his button-up made him appear like one of my younger professors.
The guy had a messenger bag on his shoulder, his head cocked. “Fawn Greenfield, is that you?”
It was the voice that’d done it, a familiarity there. I did know this guy, but he definitely looked different from the last time I’d seen him.
Jesus, he was… huge.
I remembered Bruno Sloane from high school, but he hadn’t looked like a linebacker the last time I’d seen him. I mean, he’d always been handsome but…
He edged closer, literally beaming. I supposed to see me, and when I really did realize that was him, I left my bag and came over too. “Bruno?”
“Just Bru now,” he said, getting to me. He appraised me up and down, and I had to say, I did the same. I mean, the guy didn’t even look like himself. “Wow. Fawn Greenfield. Can I hug you?”
I laughed that he asked, and I wondered why I hadn’t done that right away.
We’d been kind of close.
We’d been as close as we could have before we’d parted ways, and I remembered his family moved around a lot. He was a new transfer when he’d come to my high school.
“Of course.” I bumped another laugh, bringing him into an embrace. The guy was just as solid as he looked, and I chuckled. “You sure you’re Bru and didn’t eat him?”
This was a joke, of course, and I was happy he got that. He laughed too, and when he let me go, he raised his hands.
“Had a growth spurt, I guess. A couple.” He shouldered his bag, and as he appraised me this time, my face warmed a little. I wasn’t used to such attention by guys who looked like they belonged on the covers of Men’s Heath and GQ.
At least, not lately.
Forcing all that out of my head, I asked Bru how he’d been doing. He said he was living here in Maywood Heights now and just got off his last plane from school.
“Long fight,” he said, and I was exhausted after hearing about it. Apparently, he went to some fancy school off the coast of Europe? He chuckled. “Happy to be back home for Christmas. What are you doing here? You live here too? In Maywood Heights?”
“No, actually.” I really didn’t know how to get into the fact that I’d just missed a flight back home, to my family. “I go to school at Pembroke. Going back there now.” I shrugged, trying to look casual. “I missed my flight home.”
His look was curious. “You couldn’t find another flight or…”
“It’s complicated.” I rubbed my shoulder. “Anyway, it’s good to see you.”
“Good to see you too, and this is crazy. Wow. Fawn Greenfield.” He braced his big arms. “I wondered about you.”
“Off and on, yeah.” His smile touched his eyes. “With the way things ended, I hoped you were okay, I guess. Hoped you were well.”
He didn’t have to go into the details. He and I had started a friendship, and some jealous bitch had used that as an opportunity to make my life hell more than she already had. She liked Bru, and I had gotten in the way of that.
And then, I’d left.
It’d actually been me to leave school after I…
Well, he knew the story. Everyone did. I kicked a girl’s ass after she hurt me, and this had all started because of a friendship. This boy had literally just been nice to me.
And then, that was it.
“You doing okay now?” he asked, and I didn’t want to say another lie. I was tired of lying, so tired.
“Things could be better.” I said this, but tried not to let that reflect on my face. I turned around, picking up my bag. “Again, it was good to see you.”
“Yeah. Same.” He let me walk away a few steps, but then, came around me. “Wait. I can’t let you just go back to Pembroke. Spend Christmas alone?” That smile hit his eyes again. “This might be forward but you should come spend Christmas with my family and me.”
My mouth parted. “Bru, I couldn’t…”
“It’s not a big deal, and my family would love it. My parents and my brother and sister…”
I frowned. “I’m sorry. Your parents and brother?” Back when I knew him, it was just him, his sister, and his dad. He had no brother either.
I supposed his dad could have gotten remarried, and he inherited a brother that way. I figured that was what he’d say.
But then, his smile wiped.
“Uh, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “My dad got in an accident in high school. My sister actually had family here in town. Blood family, and they took us in.”
“Yeah. It’s a crazy story, but it worked out.” His head cocked. “Anyway, I got adopted so now my sister’s brother is mine and her parents. Oh, and my sister Sloane is a twin. Like literally this story is insane, and you won’t believe…”
He started to go into then, detailing it. He said a lot of words, but I stopped listening I think around the time he mentioned his sister’s name (which I’d forgotten) and the fact she had a twin.
I came back in at his brother’s name.
“His name’s Ares,” he said, and I think by then, he realized I wasn’t listening. A frown took his lips, and sickness overpowered me. He stepped forward. “Fawn…”
I couldn’t breathe, gasping. I tried to play it off, waving him away, and he guided me to sit.
“Hey. Fawn, what’s up?” Concern touched his eyes, and it probably should.
It definitely hit me.
I hadn’t made the connection. I mean, how could I? I hadn’t remembered Bru’s sister’s name, and in all the research I’d done on Ares, I hadn’t recalled reading anything about a Bruno Sloane.
And even if I had…
I definitely couldn’t see the forest from the trees back then, completely obsessed with Ares Mallick.
I really couldn’t breathe now, and Bru hovered beside me. This guy from my past had no idea what he just said to me. How he’d triggered something and unveiled a trauma that was obviously still powerful. My friends didn’t even speak Ares’s name around me. I’d told them we broke up, and though civil, they never ever brought him up. They didn’t because the topic always got this response out of me.
It always got a reaction.
What was sad was I’d never told them not to mention Ares. They just didn’t because they knew what the topic did, but none of them were ever brave enough to ask. Push.
Bru’s hand hovered behind me, and when our gazes clashed, I swallowed. “I can’t go home with you.”
“Why?” He looked concerned now, really concerned. “I told you it wouldn’t be a big deal, but if you want me to ask my parents, I will.”
He started to get out his phone, like he’d call them, and I waved my arms. “Don’t. You can’t.”
What did I tell him? What did I say? That his brother captured a good part of my freshman year in a stronghold only to leave me changed?
Only to leave me… broken.
Wolf had broken me. He’d shattered me, and I was still feeling the grip of it. I still loved that arrogant asshole, and it didn’t matter what I told myself or others. The fact of the matter remained unchanged.
But he doesn’t care about you.
I thought he’d been bluffing that day. I thought he couldn’t possibly be as cold and callous as he was those final moments in our dorm. That he might actually have felt something for me, and I wasn’t a stupid idiot for falling for him.
He didn’t come back. He’d spoken not a word to me after that day, and even if he had, I would have told him to fuck off. I didn’t wait for any man let alone Ares “Wolf” Mallick. Even if he’d come back, my frustrations would have kept me away. The two of us were doomed.
I guess our destiny had been set from the jump, Wolf and me. Our relationship had been created under false pretenses so there was no way it could have ever been something more. I’d been a fool, an idiot just like he said.
“Fawn, I don’t…” Bru gripped his hair, his eyebrows narrowed. “I don’t get it. Why can’t you come?”
Because this was yet another complication in my life. It was another way in which I was weak, and once more, Ares Mallick was about to make me a liar again. I was going to be the fool continuing to play his game, and even after he used me.
Even after he left me.
I was so tired of being the liar. I was so tired of being a fraud and the fool someone used to fulfill their own ambition. I did that for someone who didn’t care about me. Meanwhile, I was about to lie to someone who’d been a friend to me. I didn’t want to do that anymore. Lie.
I faced Bru, and for the first time in months, I felt brave. I felt a real true bravery I hadn’t felt since that day with Ares. The day before things changed, and I’d felt empowered. I ruled my own world. I’d taken life and made it mine. I’d dared to love someone who didn’t love me, and fuck if I was going to continue to be that person’s puppet.
I wet my lips. “I had a fake relationship with your brother Ares, Bru,” I stated and watched as his eyes twitched wide. I braced my arms. “And we fooled your entire family for a good part of the semester.”