I sit on the balcony of my bedroom, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and breathe in the salty sea air as I do every morning. Something about the ocean is healing, but I've been breathing in the same air for over two years now and I'm still not healed. I don't think I will ever be healed. They say that time heals everything, but I don't see how the simple ticking of a clock can heal a damn thing. It sure hasn't done that for me. Maybe I need a new watch.
Everyone thinks I'm okay now, at least those who know my secret. Everyone else just thinks I'm your typical nineteen year old getting ready to start college in a week. Moving across the country wasn't difficult for me at all. Leaving my childhood home and the people who hated me with a passion was a welcome event, but moving to Charleston, South Carolina where no one knows me hasn't exactly been easy either. I gave up the idea of having friends the same night I was put in that police cruiser. You can't trust people to have your back. Not even your own family. You can become enemy number one very quickly.
I take a final sip of my coffee as the sun rises over the ocean. Then I do what I do each morning. I breathe in one final lung full of sea air, and I let my past go for the day. I have to do it all over again each morning as it creeps back into my mind every time I sleep. Like an unwelcome visitor, I throw it out into the ocean every morning. It's a tug of war, and I'm not really sure who's winning at this point.
My days are spent being the fabulously wealthy step daughter of a real estate tycoon and the perfectly groomed daughter of an elite Charleston socialite. My mother has fallen into the life of her dreams here. She adores her husband of two years, Bruce Avery, and the fact that she no longer has to work is a plus for her. She spends her day shopping, laying out on the beach and occasionally volunteering to cement her place in the community.
Still, I'm glad my mother is happy even if I'm not. I released happiness in the back of a police car. I gave it away and allowed the Universe to give it to someone else. I couldn't enjoy it, and holding onto the hope that I could ever have a piece of happiness for myself again was too painful for me. Better to just release it into the wind. It's like having a beautiful pair of shoes that you leave sitting in your closet. You shouldn't do that; you should donate them to someone who can and will wear them.
"Bruce, we have to tell her sometime soon," I hear my mother saying downstairs. When will she ever realize how well this huge, hollow house transmits sound? I sneak to my doorway, cracking it open just enough to hear their conversation downstairs.
"I don't want Willow to be fearful of him. He was a good kid, just a bit misguided back then."
"Can't he stay somewhere else?"
"No. The probation officer said that this is how it's done, and I can't just abandon him. His mother is dead, baby. There's no one else."
I back away from my bedroom door and take a deep breath. What are they talking about? Who is coming to live with us? As far as I knew, Bruce never had children of his own. Maybe he's helping a friend?
Moments later, I hear my mother calling up the stairs for me. I walk out of my room trying to act like my normal self, whatever the heck that is.
"Good morning, dear," my mother says as she kisses me on the cheek at the bottom of the winding staircase that leads into the formal foyer with marble floors. Did I mention just how incredibly rich Bruce Avery really is? His house is like a freaking mansion sitting on the beach, and there is more gold and marble in it than I've ever seen in one place in my life. The house looks like Donald Trump decorated it himself.
"Good morning. What's up?" I ask as she puts her arm around my waist and walks me into the living room. I sit on one of the overstuffed chairs next to the massive marble shrouded fireplace. She and Bruce sit on the sofa, and I know this isn't good. It's never good when two people sit down across from you and hold hands.
"Honey, we need to tell you something," my mother starts. Her new fake Southern accent is grating on my last nerve, but considering the amount of pain I've brought to her life in the last several years, I choose to keep my mouth shut. She could prance around naked all over town and I wouldn't utter a word. I have no right to criticize my mother after the compassion, albeit fake to me at times, she has shown me.
"Okay..." I stammer wondering where this is going. I hate suspense. I don't even watch Survivor on TV anymore because I can't stand the suspense of tribal council. How silly is that? Suspense brings anxiety for me. I'd rather just know everything that is going to happen in my life in advance so I can plan for it. Surprises are dangerous. That's a lesson I learned the hard way.
"Well, you see, we've been keeping something important from you for a long time now. Bruce has a son." She takes a deep breath as if she has been holding in air for the last month.
"Okay. I can live with that. A step brother. Where is he?"
"In prison," Bruce pipes in. He is fidgeting and nervous which is completely out of character for him. I wonder why telling me is so nerve wracking for them. "He's currently in prison in Atlanta, but he is being released in two weeks." Bruce is talking faster than normal as if he's just trying to push the words from his mouth as fast as possible. I feel a little sorry for him.
"Where will he live?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
"He will live here," my mother says looking down at her hands and trying not to sigh at the end of her statement. This must be hard for her because she wants to support her new husband, but I know she doesn't want her life derailed yet again by another unruly young person. She's already experienced that once with me, and now a convict is coming to stay. Lovely.
"Can I ask why he was in prison?" It takes a lot of courage for me to ask, but the truth is that I want to know who I will be living with. I need to protect myself, and one cannot protect themselves adequately without knowing what kind of threat they are dealing with in advance. I like to prepare myself for these kinds of things. I didn't used to be Type A, but I became one at fifteen.
"Willow..." my mother chides as if I have asked for the details of their sex life or something.
"It's okay, honey. She deserves to know more about her step brother," Bruce says. At least he gets my need to know although I am quite sure if my mother ever told him the truth about me, my butt would have been sitting on the curb long ago. "Kellan got involved in a bad crowd in high school. It was never drugs for him, only alcohol. One night, when he was seventeen, he made a really stupid decision and drank too much before driving a group of his friends home from a party. He fell asleep at the wheel and veered into oncoming traffic. His best friend, Jake, was thrown from the vehicle. He is paraplegic now. His other two friends got some minor scrapes, but they were okay."
"So why did he go to prison then? Because his friend was so badly injured?"
"No. There's more. When he veered into oncoming traffic, he hit a minivan with a young mother and her two toddlers inside. She was the wife of a police officer, and they were coming home from vacation. The father was following behind them in another car. She and those babies were killed instantly." Both Bruce and my mother start to choke up. I can tell the pain is so fresh for him.
"Wow. How horrible..." is all I can manage to say. I feel stupid. But really what does a person say to something like that?
"They sentenced him to five years in prison, and his time is up. He just turned twenty three years old."
"Have you met him?" I ask my mother. She shakes her head no. "Why haven't I heard anything about this before now? I mean everyone around here seems to know everyone else's business."
"Because this all happened in Atlanta. My business used to be there. I moved to Charleston to get a fresh start and make a place for Kellan when he came home. A place where he could start over too." The pain on Bruce's face is palpable.
I'm not sure what else to say at the moment, so I look to my mother. Her face shows me nothing. "If there is anything I can do to help prepare his room, let me know."
"Thanks, Willow. I appreciate that, but Carmelita will handle it." His maid is like his right arm. She cooks, cleans and takes care of pretty much everything for our family.
I stand up and start toward the foyer when Bruce calls out to me.
"Willow, I hope you'll give him a chance. I know you're not used to being around someone who has killed other people, but please try to get to know him. He's going to need all the support he can get to shake the stigma of being a felon. I have no idea what kind of guilt the boy has been living with for all these years."
I give a slight smile and nod my head before heading up the stairs. I can't speak or look at him for fear that he will see my own demons in my eyes. I sure know what Kellan is feeling, but no one can ever know that or our cross country move was all for naught.
Genre - New Adult Romance
Rating – R
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