Something was off, or maybe it was my broken perception of the modern family, regardless this wasn’t normal. No one’s family looked like this.
With Emerson’s hand on my lower back, I was nudged forward and managed to smile at the small crowd. Everyone stared at us with nothing short of... joy. Emerson remained unfazed by all the attention, proceeding to walk me over to a chair that he pulls out before carefully tucking me inside. If I wasn’t so stunned by how closely his family was paying attention to us I’d have reciprocated to his chivalry. Again, he proceeds without awareness of anything unusual.
His relaxed state makes me want to retaliate but this wasn’t the place for my fits. Immediately, my instincts tell me to leave, run from the attention, the gaze that would cherry-pick my faults. I felt a weight on my chest holding me up to the expectation that these stainless marble countertop reflected. I try not to panic, reminding myself it was all in my head. I didn’t even know these people.
But they know you.
This conscious voice was a poisonous seed planted by my father. He’d check up on it from time to time, ensuring he had me under a tight leash. The only way to overcome it was a distraction. Previously, this came up as attention from Chester, getting a New job, finding a boyfriend.
Now, in this space, it was difficult. Too much was happening at once. It was stupid of me to agree to this, I should be resting right? This logic was countered by the fact that I wasn’t tired, just hungry.
My basic needs were the baseline for reasons on why I shouldn’t be seated here. I started spiraling. I should leave at the first chance I get, sure being away from Emerson would hurt for a while; it would break me—but it would be best for both of us if I wasn’t here.
As though he could read my thoughts, my plans, Emerson looks over—sadness in his eyes. I grew uncomfortable with these growing instincts towards me. There’s no way he should know me this well, there was a learning curve to intimacy and he was skipping ahead.
He was more than just attentive, he was hyper-aware, managing to translate the slightest shift in my comfort. It showed itself to me as a sixth sense of sorts. Now it was marked by his back straightening, eyes narrow and shimmering when they landed on mine. Reading.
Then they examined the environment. My fear became as clear as a stench in the air. He jumped back to me with fright as though the second of neglect would result in monumental distress on my part. The thought made me smile.
His features soften, jaw loosening, eyes dulling when he sees my smile. Our exchange, and my over-analysis of such was merely a few seconds but seemed longer somehow.
He focuses on his family and immediately curses, "Heavens. At least say something."
The air in the room shifted as a different wave of consciousness filled the space. Confusion then understanding flooded their facial expressions, all except Chance who was gazing hungrily at the roasted chicken. For everyone else Emerson’s words reminded them that they hadn’t, in fact, said a word.
"Pardon our rudeness, my dear," a woman to my right says with a hand to her chest and the other reaching out in my direction. She had bouncy auburn hair, thick on her shoulders eyes a deep blue, "We’ve just heard so much about you over the past couple of months that we became a little ...starstruck."
My eyes almost jumped out of their sockets. THEY’RE starstruck?! By me?!
I decide not to follow in their footsteps by gawking, as much as I wanted to, instead I gave a small smile, "It’s okay," my voice was sheepish, not the strong one I intended on using.
The man to her right smiled at something unsaid before giving a nod apparently signaling the beginning of the meal.
The spread was... intense. Very heavy meats and few of anything else. Steaks, beef, chicken, shrimp casserole, steamed vegetables, white rice and grilled asparagus. The portions were large and I wondered if we’d all be able to finish it..
"Oh gosh," the woman speaks again, "Adira we never asked if you had any allergies. Emerson didn’t mention any but I’m not even sure if he knows…"
My chest warms at her consideration, "Um I’m allergic to cinnamon, but that’s all I know."
I half expected her to call out the house cook or full kitchen staff to cross-check but she merely considers by glancing over each dish, "Okay I don’t remember us using any cinnamon."
"I’m sorry 'us'?" I couldn’t help but ask.
"We both cooked this meal," The man, who I assume is her husband says gently, handing me a bowl of asparagus, "Normally, we switch every other day but considering the occasion we both wanted to make it special."
The occasion? Meaning my being here. Wow, this was a big deal for them.
"I’m honored," I admit truthfully, "Thank you, I’m sure everything is delicious."
"You’ll only figure that out if you actually eat," Emerson scolds softly, hearing my stomach growl despite the clanking of the silverware and light conversation, "Like regular portions."
I looked down at my plate of chicken, asparagus and rice, "This is a regular portion," I glare at him with a challenge in my tone.
He narrows his gaze, "Whatever you say."
I took it as a victory and started digging in. The flavors all blend phenomenally and I was about to compliment the chefs when the girl to the left of Chance handed me a bowl to pass on to someone on my right.
I begin reaching for it when I hyper-extended my arm, flinching then hissing loudly, "Ah."
"Careful, I'll get it," Emerson takes the dish and hands it over easily, "You okay?"
The sore under my right arm was throbbing but that wasn’t a great conversation starter, so I just nodded and thanked him quietly.
There’s a lull silence that wafts over the room, and I was on the verge of blaming my injury for it when someone speaks.
"So Adira," the older male started speaking, "It would be horribly rude if we didn’t introduce ourselves so I’ll start, my name is Victor Hunt. I’m Emerson’s father," It was nothing short of obvious. Emerson has inherited his breathtaking smile—pearly and straight— along with his facial structure. Unlike, Emerson’s shifting shades Victor’s eyes held a comforting warmth in the depth of the dark blue, almost purple eyes all of which contrasted with his huge intimidating build. His hair was tightly coiled and neatly shaped. He gestures to his left immediately next to me where the lady with the auburn hair sat, "This is my wife Chelsea."
She smiles at me, "Again we’re so excited to finally meet you dear." She had dimples and vibrant eyes that twinkled when she spoke. Her hair was fiery seeming to have as much personality as her talkative eyes. Her skin was a smooth light olive tone that brought a different sense of energy to her rosy-lipped smile.
"Thank you so much for having me," I expressed my gratitude heavier than Emerson would have appreciated but he remained shut nonetheless.
The person to Victor’s right was next and beamed up at me in anticipation. She was my age, possibly younger—but they all seemed young.
"Hi I’m Charice, Emerson’s sister." Her hair was a combined texture of both parents, soft loose curls I would kill for. The light brown tips hinted that it was dyed but her roots revealed a deeper shade, inherited from her mother. She styled her hair up in a bun with two dangling strands in front. Her eyes were a mixture of blue and hazel, shining happily as she smiled at me.
"And we’ve already met," Dr. Williamson spoke sweetly. Now that most of my panic has resided, I was able to actually process how he looked. The peppered hair paired surprisingly well with a young face—maybe only a few years older than Emerson. He wore square rimmed glasses which stood proudly before his green eyes, "But please call me Chance."
I nodded and mentally ensured that I had all the names down. Victor, Chelsea, Charice and Chance.
"It’s nice to meet you all," I faced Victor and Chelsea, "And thank you again for allowing me to stay here for a while. I really appreciate these accommodations and hope it isn’t an inconvenience."
Both their eyes go wide, as if they didn’t expect it, a second later their looks softened, "Of course," Victor smiles, "And there will definitely be no inconvenience. Stay for as long as you need."
I nodded softly, "Thank you."
"So tell us about yourself," Charice chirps happily.
I huffed humored, "There really isn’t much to share," and nothing I’d want to reveal to this perfect family. My presentation now, bandaged and bruised, should be enough information for them.
"See I don’t believe that," Chelsea teases, "Let’s start easy, hobbies?"
I smiled at the effort, "Oh, oh Dr. Hunt is coming out," Charice laughs gently handing Chance a chunk of steak.
"I’m a first year Law professor in a nearby private institution," Chelsea fills me in. That would explain the house, well at least half of it, "But regardless, I still think there are layers to every person on this planet. So let’s hear those hobbies, think about things that bring you peace."
It was a well-presented question.
"Um," I did my best to fight the nerves that built themselves in my body. I imagine things that bring me peace. Emerson. Other things, "I like walking my dog, reading and…music."
There’s satisfaction with my answers, "Do you play any instruments?" Chance asks genuinely interested.
I nodded, "I play piano and sing but it’s been a really long time since I’ve done either."
Victor chirps up at this, "I have a black grand in our music room," he says with the pride of a musician, "We should see how much out of practice you are one of these days." The thought excited me more than I realized it would.
"That would be amazing," I admit happily.
"Would you consider making any of those hobbies into a career?" Chelsea asks sweetly.
"I’m interested in Psychology actually, maybe branch out into therapy," I shocked myself with my openness, but it all felt...right.
There are hums of agreement blended with impression, "Why that field?" Chance asks honestly.
I shrugged and tried to maneuver an answer that didn’t involve me reconfiguration my childhood trauma into a career choice, "I guess, I find how the brain works really interesting. How it kind of acts as its own worst enemy in some cases not to mention there’s a need for better mental health practices in underserved communities and identities— like children and women," I thought of my mother’s death, if it could've been...prevented, "It’s not a money-making profession but I’d be useful."
When I finally looked away from my plate to find looks of respect heading my way. These stares— unlike others— were comforting, "That is a very noble profession and one that you would excel in without a doubt, just based on your passion," Charice encourages gently.
"Thank you," I took another bite of the chicken, "It’s been a slow journey though, I took a couple of courses at the local community college but had to take last semester off," because my father had bashed my head in so hard I got a concussion and cranial bleeding.
"Well you’re still young," Victor adds happily, "You have your entire life ahead of you."
"Not to mention that last year she got accepted into some fancy pants private school a couple of hours away for their accelerated Master’s Program," Emerson feels the need to mention, making me glare at him, "What? If you’re not going to brag about your accomplishments then I will."
"That’s really impressive," Chance praises impressed, "You’re more than capable then. Just give it time."
I smiled and nodded at him refocusing on the food before me. I ate my fill and soon couldn’t fit anymore in my stomach— a quarter of the food stared back up at me in disapproval. Years of deprivation had made my stomach shrink in size capable of only eating like a toddler apparently.
Emerson looked at me with resistance on his tongue, I could hear his voice now, "That’s it?" He’d ask.
I would shrug with a sheepish smile and take his hand, assuring him I was okay. The action would be enough to relax him for a while. My head would find rest on his shoulder and without thinking about it his arms would wrap themselves around me. The shelter he provided was one of my favorite things, he was sure, definite, aware that I had a damaged past that he wouldn’t learn about in detail. Except random bursts of anger and frustration at small triggers. Needles, sudden crashes or shouts, sadistic laughter.
What was I doing? I couldn’t stay here. Was I kidding myself? I should just save myself the heartbreak, if Emerson knew even half of what I’ve been through, even his resolve would shatter. He’d send me off with well wishes and some change in my pocket that I’d refuse. I’d leave and live a life of agony, knowing that I met someone— the person made for me— and let him go because I was afraid.
A soft pressure is applied to my temple and I look up to see Emerson smiling my way, time slows down for a moment. Asking, begging me to reconsider my plans entirely. I was being urged to think of a possibly happy life with him, and it was eating me whole. Happiness 21 years later? Finally?
Time proceeds normally, "You’re overthinking something," He says gently. I was. He glances my plate and his eyes grow angry, it made me smile, "That’s it?"
I laughed shortly and his eyes shimmered at the sound, I wanted to find my shelter in him. In some way I already had. He was my peace.
"I’m full," I said weakly, the events of the day paired with all my injuries was finally catching up on me.
"Oh sweetheart you must be exhausted," Chelsea considered interrupting one of Victor’s stories, "You’ve had a long day I’m sure."
I smiled and nodded, "It’s been a hectic one."
"I can follow you up to your room," Emerson offers gently and I’m too exhausted to fight him on the offer.
I wished everyone a good night and thanked them profusely for what seemed like the hundredth time that night. We start up the stairs with caution but I needed to stop, to look at him. Emerson Hunt, a successful businessman, son from a wealthy family, a loving soul who is helping me up the stairs. He worries when I stopped moving, glancing down to where he knew my bandages were.
"Are you okay?" His words are gentle.
"Do you really want me to stay? Here with you I mean," My voice was soft, a part of me fearing rejection despite the conversation we had earlier. ‘I’m taking care of you Adira’. He was sure that he could. Even considering what he knew of my history. He was so sure.
He pauses at the sudden question eyes widening then softening, "I want you to stay with me." There wasn’t space for doubt in his response, so the fact that I was able to find it was proof enough that much like the brain, I am my own worst enemy.
"Hey, hey, no tears," He hums wiping away the drops from my cheeks, "What’s wrong?"
"I’m just processing," I admit truthfully.
"A lot has happened over the past couple hours," He says sympathetically, "Don’t go into overdrive. We’ll talk more tomorrow, or the day after, if you still need time."
"Tomorrow," I assure him as we continue to the top. Once there, we climb another, shorter flight and I was led down a broad hallway lined with different rooms. Huge strips of light made their way in through the floor-to-ceiling windows that were to one side of the hall. The moon peaked its way in and I couldn’t help but stare up at it in fascination.
"This is a good spot," Emerson says also looking up, "But there’s also this area on the roof, maybe I can show you tomorrow if you want to. We can have the discussion then?"
I nodded absentmindedly, all my worries being washed away as if I were the tide and the moon my sorceress. There was a tug in my chest, as my eyes filled with just her.
"I’d like that," I stated happily. I saw his smile without looking, but he had to pull me away from the captivating sight before me. I entered a room to the right and was stunned— though at this point considering everything else I've seen I shouldn’t be. The door opened to a light peach colored space with gold trimmings and the mahogany furniture that lined the entire house. There was a king sized bed, a walk in closet, adjoined bathroom and make up station.
To one corner there was a window sill with cushions and my duffel bag right by it, a sleeping Chester guarding it with closed eyes and soft snores. I smiled at my baby.
"My room is two doors down the hall and to the right," Emerson mentions gently, "So if you need anything that’s where I’ll be. The bathroom should be stocked with whatever you might need."
I nodded and felt the tug of the bandages under my hoodie, I just needed sleep, "Thank you," I sighed holding my mid section as I limped over to the bed. He rushed by my side, pulling the heavy comforters to the side so that I could lay in it.
I sat and reached down to remove my sneakers when he shocks me by falling to one knee. He takes my ankle gently and loosened the laces before sliding the shoe off with more care than I would’ve ever done. He continues to the other and looked up at me, "Socks or no socks?"
"No socks," I blushed heavily and he doesn’t jump at the opportunity to make fun of me.
I smiled when he took the sock off, wanting to hide my chipped nail polished toes from his perfect gaze. Warm hands wrap around my feet in concern, "You’re still cold."
"I’m anemic," I admit gently, "It’ll be a while before I warm up." He grew worried, "I’m okay Emerson, I just need sleep."
He sighs and nods, "Okay," I’m tucked in and received an angel kiss, just as my eyes fluttered closed.
"See you in your dreams," His whisper is a lullaby.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS!
Is Adira overthinking this? What do you think Emerson is feeling? Let me know! Next Chapter will have responses to any questions you comment with!