When I woke up, the sun was high in the sky and for a quick moment panic rushed through me as I considered heading to work. Was I late?! Why hadn't Chester woken me up? He always-
Then it registered.
The gold trimmings against the peach walls seemed to giggle, shimmering when the sunlight hit them. The bed wasn't the small twin I grew up in, no, this monstrous beauty was a queen-sized cloud. There was a sense of endlessness tied to its comfort, there was also an emptiness. "That's on you" the gentle voice in my subconscious sings teasingly.
She had been talking to me while I slept. Her soft tone revealed a lot to me throughout the night. My emotions were enhanced as memories rushed by with a keener sense of detail. I had no strength for nightmares, too busy being enthralled by a beauty I couldn't see. It should be concerning but worse things could have happened.
I sit up in bed and rubbed my face, trying to piece together what happened in the last 24 hours. I was about to swing my legs off the bed and stand when a knock sounded on the door.
"Come in," I sing gently realizing just how I tired I was, even considering the fact that I overslept.
Before I could look to see who it was, Chester rushes inside with his tail high in the air and nose pointing upwards, a smug look on his face. Regardless when his large brown pearls landed on me they softened and the joy that filled my heart was overwhelming. I owed him my life.
Without this self-absorbed, protective pup I would have met a frozen death, or even worse, my father might have found me. His tireless barking echoed in my mind, the sound that led Emerson to my unconscious body just a couple of seconds later. Then there was him. Emerson.
As if sensing a shift in my focus from him to anything but, Chester runs into my legs. I stoop down to cuddle him in, burying my face in his white fur. He pulls away gently and licks my face, making me to laugh as I pull him back into the covers with me.
My bedroom door closes softly and I look over to see that whoever dropped him off decided better than to stay. I felt guilty for the relief that washed over me so countered it with a, "Who brought you here baby?"
He growls at the long-hated nickname and I was about to taunt him further when a yawn pushes through me. His head pops up and tilts to the right innocently as he takes the image in, then his eyebrows drop, glare solidifying as he bared his teeth gently.
"I know, you're right," I sighed setting back beneath the covers, "I should probably get some more sleep."
He smiles at his victory and spins in a circle by my thighs, fluffing the sheets before settling. The action combined with a different kind of glare seems to speak, "I'll wake you up when I get concerned"
I laid my head on the pillow with a smile cuddling deeper as the beautiful voice from earlier sings a gentle, "I know you want him to lay next to you."
I glare at her internally and she giggles before adding, "All you'd have to do is call his name loud enough and he'd break down the door to get to you."
"Enough," I snapped at her, but she just cackles on. It was soothing enough to sink me deeper into slumber, so deep that a found comfort in a space where not even trauma from my father could find me.
The next time my eyes fluttered open the sun was low in the sky. HAD I SLEPT THE ENTIRE DAY?! When my head popped up from the pillow to check on Chester I found him sound asleep. Traitor. I had just stepped out of bed when someone knocks on my door and slips a note underneath the crack.
I couldn't help but smile at the old time method of communication and was too excited to open the neat small envelope.
I hope you feel rested, we'll be having some more guests for dinner in about an hour or two. I'll drop by your room to get you beforehand. Love, Emerson.
I instantly look past the fact that his penmanship resembled a font, or that I'd be meeting more people that were close to him, only focusing on the last two words. My insides exploded as a humming in the back of my mind intensified.
The beautiful voice giggles, "Well that's a start."
I glared at her as I placed the envelope on my bedside drawer and slowly headed to the adjoining bathroom. My fixation on the words was enough to distract me from the pain my body still experienced. I had fallen asleep with the bandages around my ribs and one on my thigh. The pressure build up caused me to realize how painful it would be to remove them, but it could've been worse. When I made it to the bathroom, just a few feet of travel, I was sweaty and my entire body pulsed in pain. I washed my face in the sink before unzipping my hoodie and peeling away my tank top. Then came the bandages.
The wrap was thick, meaning it would take a while for me to unravel the entire thing. I considered cutting it but didn't trust my shaky hands with a pair of scissors and my already damaged body. Sighing I found the end of the wrap and started my de-mummification.
I was down to the last couple of layers and it was getting painful. Tears filled my eyes as I leaned against the chrome sink regulating my breath. I searched the room and finally found a towel I could bundle then bite on. This became necessary as my skin grew resistant to separating from the stretchy bandage. I was down to the last bit and bit hard, screaming into the towel, eyes pressed closed.
I take a couple of heavy breaths and rested against the sink. I look down at my injuries and was appalled by the deep purple and red bruises that spread around my ribs. My face has cleared up more than I expected, my lip completely healed minus the light strip on the bottom. The bruising along my cheeks reduced significantly, leaving my skin in the thankfully clear state I was used to.
Everywhere else was atrocious. My midsection was in a state of complete dismay. There wasn't a space that wasn't decorated with bruises or cuts. Bruising on my hips explained why I limped when I walked, especially when paired with the slash on my upper thigh and throbbing in my ankle.
I take it all in and stripped down to nothing heading for the fancy shower. I turn on the water to get it at a temperature that wouldn't hurt me any further. To the right of the glass door there was a keypad. Settings such as water pressure, temperature and Bluetooth speakers were available. They were so freaking rich.
I push my poverty to the side and stepped into my shower with preset conditions. I wanted to hate it, but it was perfect. Admittedly when I exited, walking was easier. I stepped carefully into the non-slip rug and grabbed a towel. When I washed out and tied my hair up, I proceeded to drying the rest of my body.
I walk back to the bedroom and searched through my duffel for clean underwear and a bra-even though I didn't want to wear one. I slide into both, then looked for clothes that were acceptable. I chose my nicest joggers and a gray t-shirt. The outfit unintentionally revealed my curves more than I'd like it to but beggars can't be choosers.
I grabbed a jar of hair lotion and walked over to the vanity finally, letting my hair out of the towel. I comb the moisture cream through my hair until the coils solidified and settled. I knew this wouldn't last long, so decided to brush it down into a low ponytail.
I opened the drawer of the vanity and was happy to see a brush. It's too longer than expected to make a middle part but soon I was setting the entire look under a silk head wrap I grabbed in the rush. I sighed and leaned back in the chair with my eyes closed. So much happened in a day, too much.
The words were a constant. Did I love Emerson? "Of course you do" the voice was adamant on this, "You don't want to love him but you do."
"I don't even know him," I argued mentally.
"You know enough," She says surely, no anger in her tone, just patience, "in fact you know enough to be ruined by leaving him. And not the type of ruin you've been exposed to. This would be one you cannot prepare for. You'd break beyond repair"
"I'm already broken beyond repair!"
She seems to smile when I say this, "Sweetheart you have so much to learn," There was no condescension, just truth, "Give him a chance, a real one, to prove that you belong with him."
"I said I'd stay a couple of weeks didn't I?" I reminded her with a scowl.
"I wasn't around for that, and haven't backtracked your memories that far yet."
"I'll explain later,"
Someone knocks and my insides go to mush, it must've been Emerson. Had it been 2 hours already.
"Give me a second," I call as I untied my silk scarf. I threw it in my duffel and walked over to give Chester kisses in his sleep.
I limp back over to the front door and opened it to a god. Emerson's beauty surpassed that of any ...thing really. The radiance he emitted was unearthly, and he was just wearing a t-shirt and sweats. Heavens help me.
"You're going to need more than a few mere angels sweetheart,"
I resist the urge to scowl and instead focused on him. He smiles down at me and I feel like climbing into a hole, "Hello, Sleeping Beauty," he laughs closing the door behind me.
I huff at his joke, "Hi."
"How are you feeling?" He asks genuinely.
I want to tell him I'm okay but then his eyes, his huge hazel eyes, searched my own and found happiness there. How could I taint such purity with a lie?
"I'm um...," I hated how soft my voice got whenever I felt vulnerable, "I've been better." I pair my response with a smile, hoping it would soften the blow but no such thing happened.
"What's wrong?" He stops walking and holds my shoulders with care.
"I'm just in a lot of pain and kind of hungry," I say sweetly.
He hums in agreement as we approach the first set of stairs. I look down at it with a sense of horror.
"Will you allow me to carry you this time? I'll be careful."
I pretend to think about it, knowing I'd agree if it meant I wouldn't have to push my body to an extreme that would leave me bedridden.
"Yes please," I agreed and his eyes shimmered, "Don't look that surprised."
He smirks before securing an arm on my back while the other looped behind my knees, "It's just that normally you make me fight a little harder before you cave."
I laughed and looped my arms around his neck as I settled in his embrace, "That should be a testament of how tired I am." It was easy to rest against his chest as I soaked in his scent. Cedar wood and seawater.
"True," he chuckles and proceeds to jog down the stairs with a questionable ease. It was as if I wasn't a weight he had to carry. In fact, there was no labor in his breathing, nor any weakness in his arms, "I'm trying really hard not to be offended by how shocked you are."
I laughed at his ability to read me in my silence, "I'm not shocked," I said gently, "just... Impressed."
He smiles at me turning a sharp corner before heading down the second flight, "How did you sleep?"
I hummed at the memory, "Great. That bed... is so comfortable," he chuckled happy that I was content. I didn't want to ruin the mood but there was something eating me up that I need to mention, "You ...um...didn't visit me last night."
In any other context it would sound romantic-sexual even, if followed up with a "the bed was lonely without you". But in this case all I referred to was that mental space I've grown accustomed to him occupying.
"Well I feared," he carefully turns so as to avoid my head hitting the railing, "that -considering the push it took to get you to stay here in the first place-you'd think I was being overbearing."
I nodded understanding where he was coming from, "I wouldn't have," I said gently, though appreciative of his hesitation, "I missed it."
He smiles and tightens his hands gently as he continues finally to the living room, "Me too," he sighs, "I took a couple of days off work so we could spend some time together."
"You didn't have to-"
"I know you think that," He laughs softly, "But trust me, the company is in better hands without me there gazing off thinking about you."
"Is that why you were looking like a little school girl today?" A new voice adds from further in the dining hall. The joke is well-received, considering the build up of laughter.
How many people was I meeting?
"It's only a few close friends," he says as if reading my thoughts, "Wouldn't want to send you running for the hills now would I?"
I smiled and rested on his shoulder which seemed softer than my feather pillow. "You could have that comfort all night, if you wanted."
I push the voice to the side and refocused on Emerson, "So you went to work today?"
He nods entering the dining hall, taking the attention of everyone in the room. He couldn't care less, "I left out at around 7 this morning and wanted to tell you goodbye but you were asleep."
My cheeks tinted pink, "Yeah, sorry I was really tired."
He laughs gently, "You don't have to apologize for being tired. You've had a rough couple of days."
To say the least.
I nodded and he gestures to someone to my right, a guy our age. He smiles and pulls out the seat for me and Emerson places me on it gently. Then, as if my face needed to be a different shade of red, he plants a kiss to my temple before heading to the kitchen.
I looked around the room and spotted three unfamiliar faces. The first of which walks over to me with an outstretched hand, "Anthony Kama," he was tan with deep blue eyes and dressed as though he left immediately from an office job, "I'm Charice's boyfriend and Emerson's best friend."
This title is met with protest as the other two men approach with intention in their steps, "He's also a serial liar," this person held an accent, slightly but just enough to be noted, "I'm Gavin Crosse, Emerson's business partner and lifelong friend." He brushes his brown hair to the side with the swoop of his fingers, a dazzling smile to match.
The last man huffs and parts between them, both smiling down at me with green eyes and thick shoulder-length black hair. He takes my hand and kisses the top of my knuckles, "Cody Wilde."
All their effort made me laugh, especially when paired with Charice's, "Don't worry girls you're all pretty."
They granted her the attitude she provided them and soon Chance and Emerson's parents join us.
"It's nice to meet you," I smiled in the direction of the three new faces.
"She was talking to me," Gavin comments under a cough when we all settle.
Emerson rushes in last, taking to seat immediately next to me. The spread today was no different than yesterday in terms of quantity but my hunger didn't care.
"How are you feeling my dear?" Chelsea asks sweetly as we all start eating.
"Better," I smiled half-heartedly, "And you?"
She nods, "A bit tired honestly. We had a long day of redecorating today," She chirps happily.
"And by "we" She means she dragged dad along to hold her purse while she picks out color pallets and designs," Charice whispers to my left making me laugh.
"That's not true," Victor protests in proud defense of his wife, "I carried the bags of things she bought and pushed the shopping cart too."
This makes the table explode in laughter.
"How are your injuries doing?" Chance asks concerned, "I was supposed to remove the bandages last night but you fell asleep quickly."
My face burns in embarrassment, "Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm doing okay," I lied.
"Bull," Emerson counters immediately.
I scowl at him but he sticks his tongue out, a gesture I returned.
"We can set up a meeting later in my office," He smiles gently passing me the salad bowl.
"Actually I don't-"
I'm cut off by Emerson, "Nope."
He knew I'd ask about payment for his services, something that I wasn't supposed to worry about. It was impractical and I needed to push back somehow. So, I glared harsher before adding, "I should be able to speak on behalf of my own health."
"Within reason," He challenges taking some chicken out for me. It smelled divine, "For the next two weeks we have to go about it by my rules."
I rolled my eyes and handed him the rice, "You must've lost a screw if you think I'm just going to sit here quietly and agree with your every decree. If that's the case find yourself a new girlfrie-"
I stopped myself but it was too late. Emerson's head popped up and his gaze deepened ever so slightly. I wish he wouldn't bring it up. I felt my panic rising with each millisecond that went on in silence.
"I don't expect that of you," he says calmer, happier even, "But as it pertains to Chance's service that is something that can't be refused."
"I'm paid on a contracted service," Chance spoke reminding me that there were in fact other people present, "Not by each procedure but rather a sum of money is given to me by the Hunt family for a year of service and it is renewed annually."
"For as long as we decide to keep him around at least," Cody laughs.
Despite the humor, I appreciated knowing that this was a prearranged contract. But what kind of family had an on call doctor... inside their mansion? Too many questions.
"We?!" Charice queries insulted, "It's bad enough having Emerson and Anthony around here constantly I couldn't imagine the hell I'd go through with all of you. Well except Gavin But that's just because he's dreamy," she bats her eyelashes making Gavin wink and Anthony groan on resistance.
"I thought Anthony was your boyfriend," I mentioned to Charice quietly.
"He is but all 6 of us were raised together with the exception of Chance," She explains softly.
"A period I like to refer to as the dark ages," Chance adds making us all laugh.
"Regardless of the fact that he's my ma-my boyfriend sorry," she apologizes for the gentle stutter, "their testosterone is stifling."
"Which is why we're more than grateful that you're here to even out the playing field," Chelsea adds making me smile as I bite into a price of broccoli.
"How long have you been married?" I asked them both.
Chelsea tenses up as she tries to think back, "Definitely before any of the kids," she hums, "So what? 25 years?"
"26," Victor narrows his eyes, "you'd think that a gift every year would make her remember our anniversary."
"I just like the gifts," she admits clutching onto Victor in admiration.
26 years was a long time, "That's really amazing."
"How about your parents?" Chelsea asks absentmindedly.
I tense for a second, my stomach feeling queasy despite the delectable food before me.
"You don't have to answer dear," Victor adds softly, "We don't want to pry."
"The least you owe them is an explanation," the beautiful voice sounds in my head. She was right. Especially, if I were staying for this long. I look up from my plate to answer when I realized that all eyes were on me. And not just in an attentive way.
Had I managed to say the words out loud? No, that wasn't possible, though she was my voice, she also seemed to be intimately involved with me. My defense came quickly and naturally. I had to look more closely later on.
"Is something the matter?" I decide in the polite way of asking what was wrong.
My voice cracks the spell and now eyes turn to either Emerson or myself first with surprise then... happiness.
"Sorry love," Chelsea mentions, "You were saying something about your family?"
"Well, my parents were married for about 4 years before they had me. My mother passed from medical complications when I was about 2." Then hell started, but they didn't need to hear that.
"Daddy's girl then huh?" Gavin teases softly.
I purse my lips and forced a smile that I hope reached my eyes.
"Good luck with that Em," Cody eggs on making me gape at both men in betrayal.
"You're supposed to be on my side!" I laughed shaking my head.
"See what I mean?" Charice shakes her head, "Can't trust them."
"Ouch!" Chance holds his chest as if Charice's words had in fact hurt.
"Can't trust us now but let the moon curse you with your monthly or you get sick," Anthony huffs in disbelief. The moon? It was a strange expression but I got the basis of it.
"Annnnthooonnyyy," Cody and Gavin whine in an attempt to mock a sick Charice.
Chelsea attempts to hide her laughter but fails immensely, "You guys suck." Charice sighs playing with her steak.
Anthony consoles her with a kiss to the side of her head and I smile at the fluidity of their relationship. It was easy to believe they belonged together, it just... felt right.
Then I looked over at Emerson, anyone with eyes would be able to see that we weren't meant to-
"We said we would try," the voice reminds me sternly, "wholeheartedly."
I sighed and decided to distract myself, "So how long is this vacation from work?"
"Well, I took off a week, we'll see if they last that long without burning down the entire thing."
"We said we would handle it!" Gavin snaps from across the table.
I laugh at this loving the bond he shared with his friends. When I got my fill I listened in on the conversations that flourished. I allowed myself to let go, to just for a second, see if I could exist without worrying. If I could stay here with him, and his family.
"You wouldn't exist without him," the voice reminded me gently, "He's different. Incomparable."
"Hey," He faces me with a residual smile on his face, "You a little quiet. Full already?"
I smiled and nodded wanting to establish some level of contact with him. The desire was quick and persistent. But, as usual, my anxiety stops me from tackling him on the spot. Instead I settle for taking his hand under the table, lacing our fingers as I leaned into his shoulder.
"Watch out for that move son," his father warned making me turn my head slightly, "That's how they lock you in."
The table laughs, "It's true," Anthony confirms sipping from his wine glass.
"You guys are just dramatic," Charice rolls her eyes.
"Don't say we didn't warn you," Victor sings.
I laughed and just then someone opened the front door, "We're still in here," Chelsea calls knowingly. With the open door came a blast of cold wind so I rubbed my shoulders.
Emerson notices then reaches to wrap his arms around me. Once encompassed in his embrace, I feel a stark difference in temperature and couldn't help but lean in deeper, burying my face in the crook of his neck.
He laughs but continues to rub nonetheless. I appreciated the consistency and was about to comment when I peeked over his shoulder and saw her. She was breathtaking. A thin figure complemented her flawless skin and wavy brown hair. Her eyes were a piercing green, face perfectly angular, tall too. I wouldn't be surprised if she modeled.
Her eyes settled on me, entangled in Emerson's arms, and they harden to stone. The switch was dramatic. Her mood change made everyone in the room aware of her presence. Conversations stopped but all she did was look directly at me with fiery eyes and balled fists.
"Oh, Adira this is Justine."