Anti stepbrother, p.32
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.32
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           Tijan

  going to get a divorce, and I wanted it. The fighting would stop then, you know? But if I had my ultimate dream, they would’ve been like your parents. Love, happiness, normal amount of fights. That type of bullshit. I wish I had it.”

  “I’m sorry?”

  Kevin laughed, straightening in his chair. “Don’t worry about it. This is a Matthews thing. It’s not your problem. My mom shouldn’t have involved you.” He grew thoughtful, and the side of his mouth lifted. His right dimple showed, blinking at me. “Plus, you were probably busy with Caden, right?”

  Was he kidding, or was that genuine? I wasn’t following at all. He ripped that hole back open. I frowned, remembering when the gnawing pain had first appeared. It had been before him. Before I met Sheila. Even before my mom died.

  My mom. That hole was my mom.

  Kevin stared, not saying a word. I felt like he was deciding what to say, and right then, the air shifted. An intimate vibe filled the room. It made my insides clench, and my stomach started to churn.

  I was in pain.

  I felt like my organs were being crumpled into tiny pieces. Someone’s hand was in there yanking them out and crushing them before dropping them on the floor.

  He murmured, almost too softly for me to hear, “What if I told you I was jealous of Caden? Would that be a problem?”

  I didn’t respond, but his words were in me, and they were bouncing around. They mingled with Caden’s parting words. “That was before I fell in love with you.”

  I wasn’t hearing Kevin anymore. I could only hear Caden’s voice, and feel that hole. I felt my mom. She was everywhere. She was nowhere. She was inside me, beside me. She was being buried. The alarm that sounded when her heart flatlined was deafening.

  My mom was gone, and I’d never dealt with it.

  I’d pushed it off for so long. I’d pushed her off, and now she was back. That hole was gaping wide, oozing, and she was overwhelming me. I couldn’t see. Tears began to fall, and I stepped backward. “I’m going to leave.”

  “No.” Kevin got to his feet. His arm shot out, like he was going to grab me, but his hand just hung there. “Don’t go. I’m sorry if I pushed. I shouldn’t have.”

  I edged backward. “I don’t like this.”

  “Don’t go. Please, Summer.”

  I shook my head, pulling my shirtsleeves over my hands. I clenched them tightly, straining my shirt over my shoulders and chest. “Stop it,” I shook my head, seeing her next to me. In front of me. Her eyes were too knowing, but too damning at the same time. “Don’t look at me like that.”

  “Summer.”

  I kept edging away until I was at the door. Kevin reached for me. His mouth moved, but it wasn’t him I heard. It was my mom.

  I shook my head even harder, like I could banish her away with the motion. I couldn’t… I couldn’t deal with this. I choked on a sob, feeling my knees bend. I was going to fall, and then it would be over. She’d be in me again. I’d never be able to not feel her again.

  “No,” I whispered.

  “Summer.” I turned to see it there again—that same look in her eyes. They were Kevin’s, but it was her. She was looking at me through him.

  I shook my head. “Stop it.”

  “Summer.”

  He was touching me. No. She was touching me.

  I was having a breakdown. A small part of my mind was telling me this. I had put off grieving her, and now she wouldn’t have it. She wouldn’t let me go, not anymore. Then I was falling.

  Arms caught me. Tears wet my cheeks, and suddenly I felt a soft touch on my cheek. Someone brushed my hair back from my face. I looked up. It was my mother. She’d caught me, and she was crooning to me. Everything was going to be all right.

  Everything was going to be all right.

  CADEN

  I tried to tell myself I needed something from Phillip, and that was why I was in the basement. It wasn’t because his room was next to Matthews’, or because Summer was in there at the moment. None of those things. I really did just need the stapler.

  I hated this.

  This girl, she got inside of me. She wound me up, and I hated it.

  I hated how I felt for her, and missed her, and wanted her with me no matter where we were. I hated everything about it because of how fucking exposed she made me feel.

  As I came downstairs, I heard the crying first. He’d hurt her. I was going to rip him apart, but I stopped in the doorway. I couldn’t unsee what lay before me. Kevin cradled her, and she grasped onto him like he was her lifejacket.

  He kept brushing her hair back, rocking her, and saying it was going to be all right. Over and over. All I could do was stand there. Pure horror and hatred filled me at the same time—horror that she was hurting, and hatred that he got to be the one to comfort her.

  I started forward. “Let me take her.”

  He tightened his arms around her. “I told her how I felt about her. Why do you think she’s crying?” He looked at me like he pitied me. “I missed my chance before. I won’t let her go now.”

  “She’s not crying because you professed your love, dumbass. Why is she crying?” I touched her arm. “Summer.”

  But she clasped him harder, burrowing her head against his chest.

  Kevin gave me that smug smile, brushing a hand over her hair once again. “See? I told you. I’m the one she wants.”

  “You’re lying.” I reached for her again, but it was the same result. Her cries grew louder, and she pressed into Kevin, almost shuddering.

  “If I am, you’ll find out later.” He jerked his head toward the door. “Go. She’s going to stay with me tonight.”

  My hands itched to hit him. I couldn’t. It’d hurt Summer, and that was the last thing I wanted, but I couldn’t keep them from flexing into fists beside me.

  His eyes fell to them, and a dry laugh slipped out. “You know what’s funny? I didn’t even want this, not until later. I had it locked down in high school. No guy asked her out because why would they? I was living with her. I could take her away from them any time I wanted.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t a problem, and I thought it’d be the same here. I could fool around. She could have her fun. But she’s always my end game. At least, I had her in the back of my mind.”

  Something was way, way off here. Why was he talking like she couldn’t hear him? What had he done to her? “You were stringing her along this entire time.”

  “Until you.” His words chilled. “Until she fucking fell in love with you, But not anymore.” He lifted her, cradling her in his lap. Her hands reached for his shirt and twisted there, holding on. “I got her now. I’m not letting her go.”

  “There’s a special place in Hell for you.”

  Summer continued crying, and I was afraid to upset her more. “Once she stops crying, I’m going to find out the real reason for this.”

  None of this made sense to me. Choosing to be with Kevin and dissolving into tears wasn’t something Summer would do. I sat back and pulled my phone out.

  “What are you doing?”

  Oh yeah. Kevin suddenly seemed all too alarmed.

  “I’m calling in her friends.”

  Once Avery was on her way, I sat back and waited. There was no way I would leave Summer with Kevin, not in this state.

  I’d been wrong to question her before. I did trust her. I just didn’t trust him.

  It was an hour later when everything came to light. Avery arrived, along with a few other friends, and they took Summer into the bathroom.

  Thirty minutes after that, Avery came out. “She’s not making sense, but I think this is all about her mom.”

  “Her what?”

  “Her mom.”

  “That doesn’t make sense. She never talks about her mom.”

  “I think that’s the point. Something happened, and she snapped.” She glanced over her shoulder to where Kevin was sitting, two of our fraternity brothers keeping guard. I wasn’t sure if their purpose was to keep him there or to k
eep me from pummeling him.

  Avery called over to him. “She wasn’t holding on to you. She thought you were her mom.”

  “What’d you say to her?” I was across the room in a second. Brushing past the guys, I grabbed Kevin by the shirt and hauled him up.

  “Nothing!” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. He looked toward the door, like he could bolt for it. “I swear. I just told her I had feelings for her. That’s all…” Then he slumped in my hands. “Oh.”

  “Oh?!”

  “Oh?” Avery was right there with me. Her hand found her hip. “Oh what, Kevin? What did you say?”

  “Nothing.” He jerked up a shoulder, or tried to. I was still holding him. “I did mention her mom, but it wasn’t in a bad way.” He held his hands up, pleading. “Really. I didn’t mean to upset her. I just thought she was having a hard time because she didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

  “My feelings?” I growled.

  “You know, because I told her how I felt. I didn’t know she was crying about her mom. I thought it was about being with me, like she’d made a mistake or something. I was trying to tell her everything would be all right.”

  I wanted to do so much more than bodily harm, but I forced my hands to let go. He dropped to his feet, and I stepped back. I was going to rip this guy if I didn’t get out of here. Turning, I said to Avery, “Take care of her.”

  “Where are you going?”

  “Anywhere away from that guy.”

  I ended up at my parents’ house, and Colton sat next to me. He handed me a beer, keeping a water for himself. Marcus came in and sat down. I hadn’t called him, but I assumed Avery had. Colton got up and came back with a second beer for his other brother.

  Marcus leaned forward. “What do you want us to do to him?”

  SUMMER

  Caden…

  A voice whispered his name in the back of my mind. Bits and pieces came back to me. Caden said he loved me, and I remembered going to see Kevin after that. Then the big fucking hole that I’d covered over since my mom’s passing ripped open last night, and there was no closing it again. I broke down. There was no other way to say it.

  Summer Stoltz had taken a cruise to Insanity Sea, and now I was docked back on land. And I felt the shit. I was the shit. Shithead Summer—that was my new name. I groaned, catching my head in my hands. “Oh, no.”

  “What?”

  “He was here, wasn’t he?”

  Avery was here with me. Shell. And I think Claudia, but I couldn’t bring myself to look. I still wasn’t a fan of the bitchy pit bull who never apologized for her wrongdoings. I sat on the floor of a bathroom. I guessed it was Kevin’s because of the towels with an embroidered K on them.

  I scrambled up from the floor. “I have to go.”

  “Wait. Where are you going?”

  “He told me he loved me, and then I broke down. I have to make it right.”

  I was out the door when I heard Avery ask behind me, “Kevin did?”

  “He’s not here.”

  The shed was empty, so I went looking for Caden in the house. I followed a guy to the kitchen and out to the backyard.

  “What do you mean he’s not here?”

  He dumped the bag of ice he’d been carrying into a cooler and shrugged. “I mean he’s not here. He took off for a bit.”

  “Where’d he go?”

  “Carl,” another guy yelled, sticking his head out the door. “Fill that up and just stay there. We’ve got the drinks coming. I need you to man the bar. Got it?”

  “Got it.”

  The guy at the door stared at me before he slipped back inside. I frowned. What had that been about? It didn’t matter. I needed to make everything better, explain my feelings. That’s what mattered.

  I folded my arms over my chest. “We were talking.”

  He frowned, glancing at me. He had to stay put to man the bar, so that meant I had him cornered.

  I wasn’t above tapping my foot like a five year old. “Spill it.” Caden was their unofficial leader. They always knew where he was.

  “Look, you should go talk to Phillip. He had front row seats for what went down.”

  “So something did go down.” Victory flared up in me. “What happened?”

  He narrowed his eyes. “You been to your stepbrother’s room yet?”

  “No. Why would I?”

  “So you don’t know he got kicked out?”

  “I was in the bathroom for an hour.”

  “Shit went down in that hour.”

  I gazed around with new perspective. Carl was only manning one cooler. There were four others around the yard, along with a new bonfire pit and two tables getting set up for beer pong. A sick feeling began to develop deep in my gut, and I didn’t like it.

  I asked, feeling faint, “Is Kevin here?”

  “Nope.”

  Caden wasn’t here.

  Kevin wasn’t here.

  A buzzing started in my head. “You said Phillip was there? When whatever happened?”

  “Yep.”

  I cleared my throat, my hands becoming sweaty. “Where’s Phillip?”

  “He’s the one who just told me to stay here.”

  “Lovely,” I murmured to myself. That guy didn’t like me. I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be too forthcoming.

  Still, I headed back inside and asked the first guy I saw. “Where’s Phillip?”

  “Downstairs.”

  Oh, crap.

  My knees grew weak, and my hands trembled as I made my way down the same stairs I’d been up not long ago.

  I moved forward, the hallway suddenly looming. One room had a closed door, but the other two stood open. I couldn’t look away from my stepbrother’s room.

  It was completely bare. Even the sheets had been stripped off the mattress. Two guys were moving around in there, one picking up garbage and the other vacuuming. They finished as I watched, then grabbed all the cleaning supplies and packed them away. They moved past me on their way out, and I gulped. Within moments they came back with new bedding and made Kevin’s old bed.

  Avery, Claudia, and Shell came to stand in the bathroom doorway. One of the guys reached behind them and grabbed Kevin’s towels.

  “What’s going on?” Avery asked me.

 
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