I wasn’t saying my parents didn’t.
My parents loved me. I wasn’t a neglected child. I never felt as if they’d shipped me off because they didn’t want to deal with me. Even when Owen and I went to Hillcrest Academy, our parents checked on us regularly. They were around a lot of the time in the beginning too, but they traveled for their careers. Daily phone calls and sometimes hourly emails became the thing for us. I knew when I checked my computer, I’d have ten emails from my mom. So I never felt unloved. It wasn’t that.
I just preferred doing my own thing.
After Owen, it was easier that way.
“You ask me for anything. You hear me, Miss Aspen?” Sandy’s voice was hoarse.
I felt my throat close, and I bobbed my head. “I hear you, Miss Sandy.”
She nodded, her eyes holding mine as I slipped down the hallway.
My phone woke me up on Monday morning.
Rolling over, I saw my screen. Marie calling.
I sat up, rubbing a hand over my face and hit the button. “Hey, Mom.”
“Where are you?”
I hadn’t gone home last night.
She was pissed, and glancing at the clock, I saw it was five in the morning. “I’m at Zeke’s.”
“You were at Zeke’s all weekend.”
“I was at Zeke’s cabin all weekend. We came back late, and I crashed at his house.”
She sighed loudly. Her voice went low. “I’m getting sick of this, Blaise.”
Yeah. Well. There was a lot to get sick of, on both our ends.
I didn’t say anything, though, because I got it.
I did my own thing. I never checked in with her.
It was different in New York. I’d been just as independent there, but she’d been busier. Luncheons. Banquets. Charities. She’d had more friends there too. A daily text checking in with her had satisfied her there, not here.
When we moved to California, everything changed.
She went through a quick divorce. There’s money, but now she wants to work too.
She changed. I hadn’t. I wanted to go back to the way we used to be, when she let me do my own thing. Then again, why she was trying to keep a hold on me was beyond me.
“Mom. I have two weeks left of school—”
“Exactly. Two weeks. You’re still under my roof for those two weeks, and then you have the summer.”
Now I was the one frustrated. “I’m in New York this summer.”
She snorted. “Yeah, right. I know how that’s going to go. You’ll say you’re out there, connecting with your father—”
“He’s not my dad, now is he?” I cut in, my hand tightening on my phone.
She faltered a second, and then kept on as if I hadn’t said a word. “But you won’t ever see Griffith. You’ll spend all your time with Jaxon and Connor. And I love those boys as if they’re my own, but I know the trouble you three get in when you’re together.”
Her voice rose. “I don’t want to be a grandmother! Do not get anyone pregnant, Blaise.”
I stopped, looking at the bed beside me and feeling a bit guilty. A tad bit. Mara lay on her pillow, watching me. I hadn’t lied to my mom. We were at Zeke’s house, but I’d talked Mara into staying too. And we hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep since the last time I’d reached for her was an hour ago. Hence my exhaustion, and I knew I’d be even more wiped for school because my mom was not going to let me off the phone anytime soon.
I mouthed at Mara, “I’m sorry.”
She nodded, but with a big yawn, she got up.
Silently, she began dressing.
This scene had played out a lot at my house; my mom just didn’t know. Mara would dress, then slip out and head home. She had her own entrance at her house, so I wasn’t sure if her parents knew she was gone and didn’t care, or if she was just really good at sneaking out. I’d asked a few times in the beginning when she started sleeping over, but she always told me not to worry about it. So I’d stopped worrying about it.
This morning, I felt a bit shittier than I usually did.
I reached over, taking her wrist. I mouthed, “I’ll drive you home.”
She frowned, pulling her arm free, and shook her head.
“Blaise!” Mom practically shouted.
I scowled. “What?”
Mara slipped from the room.
I rose, padded over to the door, and opened it. She was already down the hall.
“Stephen invited Tasmin over for dinner tonight. I want you here.”
Thoughts of Mara vanished, and I knew if I didn’t let go of the phone, I was about to break it. It wasn’t long ago that I’d learned my mom’s new boyfriend was actually my biological father, and that he had two other kids.
The brother didn’t want much to do with me. Fine by me.
Tasmin was not the same.
My sister was trying to force a relationship to the point that it was pissing me off.
My mom had tried this family dinner before, and I’d gone. I’d taken Zeke with me, mostly to act as a buffer because my brother’s hate was palpable. And that’d been the last time they tried to put the two of us together.
Tasmin, or Taz as everyone called her, was a whole other matter.
She was at our house most nights now, and it was becoming exhausting.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like her. I just didn’t want anything forced on me, not before I was ready. Let me relish in hating my non-bio dad for a while before I had to manage a whole kumbaya moment with the new family.
I’d been rifling through years of hatred toward Griffith when I thought he was my dad. When I found out I wasn’t his kid, a lot made sense.
But he was still calling.
He claimed he wanted a relationship, but I didn’t trust the asshole. That was part of the reason I was going to New York. I wanted to find out his real agenda—whether it was to mess with my mom or something else—because I knew he didn’t give two fucks about me.
“Say you’ll be there, and I’ll let you go back to sleep.”
I sighed. I knew my mom. She’d keep me on the line until I had to go to school. She’d done it before, knowing I couldn’t bring myself to hang up on her. It just felt wrong, even though she treated me like she was my annoying older sister at times.
I’d take Zeke. Hell, at this rate, I’d take the entire group: Brian, Branston, Penny, all of them. Mara.
“Fine.” I gave in, needing to sleep. “Just text me what time later. Love you, Mom. Bye.” And I ended the call. That wasn’t hanging up, in my mind. We’d discussed things. I’d agreed. The conversation was resolved. I was just getting off before she could remember to add limitations, like I had to come alone to dinner. If she texted, I could say I never got it, because I wasn’t above being immature like that, not for dire situations like family dinners.
On the way to the bathroom for a quick piss, I texted Mara.
Me: You get home okay?
Scrolling, there were a few more texts. One was from Tasmin.
Taz: Hey! How are you?
I deleted it, tossing the phone aside. I was crawling back into bed when Mara’s response came through.
Mara: I did. See you in a few hours.
I didn’t reply, just collapsed into my pillow and hoped for more shut-eye.
Students at FCA had recently successfully petitioned not to wear uniforms anymore, so I was still getting used to that. We’d had to wear uniforms for elementary school, and then also at Hillcrest, so coming back and finding out I could wear normal clothes had been a kick. I’d loved it, until I realized the scholarship kids were being targeted because of it.
Not that we had a ton of scholarship kids, but there were a decent amount. Not every kid came from a wealthy family at Fallen Crest Academy. Just the majority of them.
Anyway, as I approached school, I instantly knew what I was witnessing ahead of me. One of the scholarship kids was being targeted by the mean girls: Penny Lancaster, Kit Carlson, Deja Lorenze, and Mara Daniels, though Mara usually kept off to the side. And the last one was Ria Richter.
I didn’t know the girl’s name, but she was crying and holding her backpack against her chest.
Penny laughed at her, crossing her arms. “I’m just saying, walk away. You weren’t invited this weekend for a reason.”
Annnnd that’s why I chose to hide my eavesdropping.
I walked right past the girl, going around the others too, and veered through the crowd heading toward school.
I wasn’t a warrior woman. I wasn’t about confrontation at all. If it involved me, I’d stand my ground. Or I’d probably name-drop my parents. And if worse came to worst, I could spew out my brother’s name, the alive one. I knew he was known about by certain power players in this school, i.e., Zeke Allen. But in general, I tried to avoid doing any of those things. Wallflower. Invisible girl. Those were my choices for a reason. I was not brave and courageous enough to take on the mean girls of Fallen Crest Academy. They were ruthless.
I almost dropped my book as I jerked around in front of my locker.
Then I relaxed. It was my partner from biology.
She gave me a smile. “How was your weekend?”
What was she doing?