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Discovering Me (Book 1 of Discovering Me Series)

By @ess1223

{Isabella}

I remained in bed, staring at the wallpaper after I kicked Milo out. He saw too much. I didn’t know how to face him so I ran. It hurt too much to know he was staying, willing to endure all that my latest mess would cause me to do without so much as closing his eyes when it got too difficult to watch.

“Don’t do what you’re about to do.” Elle ironed a dress at the front of the room.

“What am I about to do?” 

“Shut down. You can’t do that right now.” 

“You’re all going to leave soon enough. This way, it won’t hurt. And I’m supposed to have lunch with my dad today. I don’t even know how to look him in the eye after this.” Tears started pelting my sheets as I thought of him.

“We’re not going anywhere and daddies are supposed to protect their little girls. Tell him the truth and I’m sure he’ll be at the kid’s throat too.”

“He doesn’t act like a normal dad. If anything, he’ll side with the Windsors. ” 

“Aud has your back. If he does take their side, just take comfort in the fact that you have a Nani with a super sexy David.”

I was somehow able to smile. “If I’m Lilo, whose Stitch?”

“Milo. It’s not always easy to know what he’s saying and he’s still learning our American customs.”

“I don’t know how he’d feel like being called a little blue alien. It doesn’t matter. I can’t continue to weave him into my complicated mess.”

“He needs complicated. It fits into his life. If we were on his home turf, you’d see the circus that he lives in is very theatrical. And you can’t run from him. He is literally across the hall.”

“Watch me, I’m quite talented.” 

“No, –” She stripped the warm duvet off of me. 

“Hey!” I scrambled over to look at her. 

“I’m not letting you skirt your life. You’d hate me the moment you came to your senses. Get up, I’m helping you get ready to take on the world.”

I allowed Elle to construct the most wholesome outfit she could comprise of what we brought to New York. It consisted of a yellow sundress, white lace cardigan, and modest heels. We even topped it off with a matching headband. 

“Are you going to be back in time for our outing? We are supposed to go to the Met as soon as Milo comes back from the hospital.”

“He’s where?! Why?”

“Hairline fracture. He’ll be fine in a few weeks.” She waved her hand dismissively.

I charged over to his suite. I knocked repeatedly. Verna answered the door, looking rather perplexed.

“Is Milo in? I heard he was hurt. I –“

She opened the door further to reveal him seated on the couch, watching as Finn and Sami played video games. I eyed the plastic splint attached to his left hand.

“I’m sorry. You shouldn’t – your hand – I’m sorry.” I blurted.

He slowly rose from his chair. “I did this.” He held up his hand. “You didn’t point to him and say, ‘Babe, punch that bischero in the face.” He approached me.

“I don’t even know what that means.” I smiled softly.

“See.”

“I just wanted to see that you were okay. I was on my way to visit my dad.” I pointed to the door with my thumb, breaking eye contact.

“Wearing that?” He scanned me from head to toe.

“You’re a style expert now?”

“No, by no means, but you do not look like yourself.”

This gained Sami’s attention and she paused the game to get a look at me.

“You look like you just time traveled from the 1950s.” She stated bluntly. 

“Hey, Peggy Sue, do you mind picking up some ice on your way to the sock hop? We’re almost out.” Finn added. 

I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. 

“Fine! I’ll change, but just know, I was only trying to make sure he wouldn’t be looking down on my outfit along with everything else I’ve done.” 

“You haven’t done anything.” Finn retorted as he and Sami returned their attention to the television. 

I went back to my room to change. Elle was out. I assumed she was with Ryan or Morgan. I undressed and walked over to my drawers. I pulled out my gray owl sweater. After slipping that on, I put on a pair of black, turquoise, gray, and white patterned shorts. I paired that with short black leather boots with studs. I removed my headband and pulled my hair up into a ponytail and tied a turquoise bow around it. I was situating my cross body purse when someone knocked on the door.

“There she is.” Milo smiled when I answered the door.

I looked down at myself. “I’m scared he won’t like it – the new me.”

“I do not see why not, you are pretty fantastic.”

“You’re a bit biased.”

“He should be too.”

I forced a smile, but said nothing in response.

“I am back at arm’s length, I see.” 

“Running’s all I”m good at.” I teared up.

“No.” He put his hand on the side of my face. “That’s never been the case.” He caressed my cheek with his thumb.

“Don’t make this harder for me by saying stuff like that.” I managed to lock my eyes on his as tears streamed down.

“I am still in this. Stop trying to count me out.” He removed the moisture from my cheek. He placed a kiss on my forehead once they were all gone. “I was going to wait to give you this later, but I want to make sure you have a part of me with you when you speak to him.” He removed a light blue rectangular box from his cargo shorts pocket.

“I can’t –” 

“Yes, you can.” He placed the box in my hand.

There were five charms fastened to a platinum bracelet — a crown, a ballet slipper, a heart with ‘I love you’ inscribed, a ‘New York’ sign, and a diamond encrusted butterfly. 

“Milo, it’s so beautiful, but I don’t deserve–” I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. 

“This collection of charms will only make sense to you.”

“What do they mean?”

He pointed to the crown. “That is all that some people see when they look at me; you see a person instead.”

He moved on to the ballet slipper. “Dancing brought us together. It is also your dream to be a ballerina. I know you will do it.” He looked up and smiled at me.

The New York charm was next. “It is where you’re from. Instead of forgetting the past, we should acknowledge it. It had a hand in shaping who we are now. New York is also where your favorite movie took place and where you learned you have people who are unwilling to leave you behind.”

“This one is pretty self-explanatory. I love you, who you are and romantically.” He shrugged, pointing to the ‘I love you’ charm.

“And last but certainly not least, the butterfly. I know why you wear your bee necklace. Aud’s nickname for you is very cute, but you are butterfly in my eyes. Bees spend their whole lives working to please a queen. Butterflies flutter about their lives as they please. And like you, they have undergone a change that allowed them to transform into who they were always supposed to be. You effortlessly shine, making people, myself included, observe you in awe. That is why I purchased the diamond version instead of the standard one.” He removed it from the box and fastened it onto my wrist. 

I nodded in understanding as tears escaped my eyes. A few of the droplets fell onto his hand because I was looking down. He looked up at me with a panicked expression.

“Is it idiotic? Do you hate it? I can return it. The receipt–“

“This is way too expensive.”

“Money is not exactly an object.”

“Still. I don’t want you to think you can buy me.” I subtly dried my eyes, embarrassed that he was seeing me cry for the millionth time in 24 hours. 

“That was never my intention. I want you to know this is real, have something tangible that expresses that I care.” 

“You are not allowed to buy me anything for a very long time if I keep it. I’m serious.”

A brilliant grin eased onto his face. “Not even for your birthday?”

“Especially, I hate that day.”

“Why?”

“It’s never been mine.”

“Then I am glad I gave you this now. Did I do well?”

“You should have more faith in your ability to make me happy. You’re my sexy, Listonenian-accented skater-boy. I’d have this reaction to a juice box if you gave it to me. “

He chuckled. “You and all your names for me. What are we up to now, twelve?”

“Something like that. If you want, I can just swap all those out for your all time favorite: Miley.” I smirked deviously as I brought up Anna’s pet name for him.

He shook his head at me as he leaned down to kiss me. I placed my hand on the side of his face.

“I prefer the million you have come up with.” He said between kisses. 

“Alright, Klutz Charming. I’ll keep that in mind.” I pecked him one last time. I patted him on the chest and resumed walking away. He grabbed my hand. I twirled back around. 

“Good luck and be you.” He kissed the back of it. 

“I will.” 

He offered me a warm smile and turned around to head back to his suite. I watched him as I waited for the elevator to arrive. I chuckled to myself when I saw him trip over the wheel of a maid’s cart.

“Put your contacts in or your glasses on, Superman!” I called after him.

“Anything for you, Lois!” 

I walked into the elevator with a huge smile on my face as I looked down and meddled with my bracelet.

~

I wasn’t looking forward to going home. I hated it there. I knew walking in that my visit would be less than pleasant, but I was anxious to see Bosworth and Sophia. He had been with me since before I was born. He taught me all the things parents are supposed to teach their kids, like how to walk and talk. He saw me off to my first day of school when I was five. He’d always ask about my day and make me snacks when I got home. I considered B to be the true parent in my life. He never settled down or had kids of his own. He always treated me and my sisters like we were his daughters. He had full right to, considering he single-handedly raised us. He would’ve definitely known about my eating disorder if he wasn’t traveling constantly with Sophia for her modeling gigs. Once upon a time, I tried so hard to be Genette’s definition of beautiful. I almost killed myself in the process. She still didn’t care, neither did my dad. I was nothing to them, but I’d learned in rehab and at boarding school that I was something special to other people. They were the ones I needed to focus on. 

As I rode the elevator up to my penthouse, I took deep breaths to keep myself from too worked up.I was determined to face what I had done head on. I wasn’t going to cower away in fear. I was going to take responsibility for my actions.

When the elevator opened up into the foyer, I walked in to find it much livelier than usual. Models and agents filled the living room; test shots of them were being taken by the stairs. I felt like I just walked onto the set of a photoshoot, not my home – both of which I felt and looked out of place. The models kept evil-eyeing me. I did my best to ignore them. When the models passive-aggressively barricaded my access to the staircase, I sighed heavily.

“I live here! I don’t want to be one of you!” I snapped.

My outburst made them turn around and mind their own business. I wormed my way through their line and hiked up the staircase. I passed my room without the urge to enter it. Sophia’s door was open. I peeked my head inside and saw she was having a tea party with Bosworth.

“Izzie!” She bounced out of her seat and ran over to me at full speed. 

I giggled and leaned down to pick her up. I situated her on my hip. “How are you, Little Lady?”

“I’m a big girl now.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. Have you been keeping B company for me like you promised?”

She nodded. “Having a tea party. Want to come?” 

“I have somewhere to be, but I see you like the leotard, tutu, and ballet slippers I sent you for your birthday.” I said chuckling lightly as I took in her outfit.

“‘Like’ is the understatement of the century, Iz. She never wants to take them off. Your parents have invested in a full closet of them to keep her from wearing the same ones every day. Yours are by far her favorite.” Bosworth joined us by the door.

I smiled. “I’m glad. I’ve really missed you.” I pulled him into a side hug as I continued to hold Soph.

“I’ve missed you too. You look well. Why did I have to hear about your boyfriend through Audrey? That’s unacceptable, Missy.” He teased. 

I fought off a smile.”You can’t get mad at me! I’ve told you about him. It’s Milo.” I whined in my defense.

“We knew you liked him.” He smirked.

My face flushed. “Not right off the bat. It took a while.”

“Doesn’t it always?” He smiled.

“Nice bracelet.” He caught sight of my gift.

“Milo just gave it to me.” 

“Very thoughtful. I like him ever more.” He took Soph from me.

“He’ll be happy to hear that. I’ve told him all about you.”

“Good things, I hope.” He adjusted her on his hip.

“Of course. What else would I say?” 

“I wanted to be sure. Soph and I would love to keep you here all to ourselves, but you have a meeting with your father. I love you. Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing. You look so happy.” He offered me a warm smile.

“I am.” I told him honestly.

“Bye, Sissy, I love you!” Sophia waved from within his arms. 

“I love you too, Sweetie.” I placed a kiss on her cheek. 

I walked down the hall. I didn’t walk into my dad’s study as soon as I arrived. I looked at the closed door and took a deep breath. I removed my phone from my purse to turn down the ringer volume. I stumbled upon eight texts:

ELLE: I love you, Babydoll! Stay strong. Imagine me hugging you for good luck. I’m sorry I wasn’t in our room. Blame Ryan. xoxo.

MORGAN: Best wishes. You can do this. We love you! ?

SAMI: Give me an address, Watson and I will kick some ass in your honor.

FINN: You’ve got this. If you don’t, we have your back.

NICK: Happy thoughts. You’re great. Good luck.

RYAN: It wasn’t my fault Elle was MIA. I know she’ll say it was, but it wasn’t. Keep doing your thing. You have to stay crazy to keep rollin’ with our crew. 

MILO: Don’t be afraid to show off your new wings, Beautiful. I love you. I’m right there with you.

I couldn’t keep a giant smile off of my face as I read my words of encouragement.

They all really did love me and I loved them. I always thought a family had to be compiled of parents and siblings. They destroyed that notion the moment they started including me in their hi-jinx. They were a real-life family and they were all mine.  

I took a beat to reply to each of their messages. I sent each of them a personalized variation of the words ‘I love you’. After turning off the sound on my phone, I placed it into my purse. I knocked on his door. I strolled inside confidently when I was given the okay.

Like every other room in our penthouse, My Dad’s office was the epitome of class and wealth. It was very artfully decorated, but it was cold and empty, much like a museum. The two people looking at me with similar icy expressions may have influenced that conclusion.

“Take a seat, Isabella.” My dad ordered in a hard tone.

I silently complied with his orders. I sat down on the couch across from his desk.

His face lacked all traces of compassion. He was sitting at his desk with his hands folded. His salt and pepper hair was slicked back. His gray eyes read furious. His lips were pursed in a straight line. He was in his standard shirt, tie, and lab-coat combo, leaving me to believe that he came home between procedures and had no intention of eating lunch. Genette was sitting in an armchair in the corner. Her platinum locks cascaded below her shoulders. She was wearing a sleek pencil skirt and a patterned blouse. Her five-inch heels were cutting edge in the fashion world. She had her legs daintily crossed at the ankle as she maintained her perfect posture. 

“I still can’t believe you would do this to us.” Genette placed her hand on her mouth as if she was struggling to hold back tears.

I internally rolled my eyes. I sat up straight and kept my hand on my bracelet. 

“I have bought and paid for every little thing you’ve wanted – ranging from clothes and toys to the state-of-the-art boarding school you currently attend. –” My dad started. 

I tore my eyes away from Genette’s self-pitying and looked to him. 

“All I wanted in return was for you to stay out of trouble. Instead, you’ve made it your personal mission to drag down the Hales family name. I thought the occasional partying was as bad as it was going to get. You proved me wrong when you quickly made a name for yourself as a party girl. I thought because you’re so good at partying, you could attend a simple celebratory party for Everett without doing something to mess it up. You proved me wrong when you flipped a table and collapsed in front of everyone.” His words were a slap in the face, but I ground my teeth and maintained my composure. 

He sighed heavily and diverted his eyes from mine, as if I was too much a disappointed for him to give me his full attention. “Your eating disorder almost got my show cancelled. I could’ve lost my entire empire — my books, my practice, all of it. Why did you stop eating?” He demanded harshly, snapping his eyes back to mine.

“I — I didn’t stop. I restricted what I did and expelled afterward.” I corrected. 

“Why?” He reiterated in the same hard tone.

I flickered my eyes to Genette for a moment. Tears collected in my eyes and I looked down at myself. “I wanted to be beautiful.” I muttered in a small voice. 

“That’s ridiculous.” He scoffed.

I looked up at him. “It was very real to me.” 

He rolled his eyes. “I lined up a boarding school in Switzerland for you to attend after rehabilitation. Audrey, Everett, and Bosworth practically begged me to allow you to attend Sella Moora instead. You’ve repaid me by getting mediocre grades in your academic courses and befriending all of the troublemakers in the place. They have assisted you on your ongoing quest for attention, especially your boyfriend.”

“They haven’t –” 

He immediately cut me off. “He punched Colin Windsor in the face. There’s nothing you can say that will change my perception of that delinquent. He’s lucky his parents aren’t pressing charges. That was assault.”

I looked down at my bracelet. “Colt took pictures of me naked and sent them around to everyone we know.” 

“Why do you always put yourself in these situations!?” He cried in outrage.

I started biting my nails as my stomach knotted. 

“Don’t do that. It’s disgusting.” Genette snidely commented.

I looked directly into her eyes. “I hate you too.” I resumed biting my nails.

“Are you going to let her say that to me?!” She looked at my father.

He sighed. “She doesn’t mean it.” 

“Yes I do.” I kept my eyes on her. “I sincerely hate you, Genette.” 

He rolled his eyes. She crossed her arms and started to pout because of his lack of intervention.

“You are just like your mother.” He stated.

“How? I don’t even know her.” 

He breathed a humorless laugh. “You know, Isabella, I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t think you have a future. You are too good at throwing it away just like Leslie. You’re far too much trouble, especially for someone whom may not be my daughter.” He snapped with finality.

“What?” Tears collected in my eyes.

“Your mother’s a whore.” 

“Genette, what did I say about calling her that?” 

“You act like you still love her!” 

“Will you give us a moment?” He insisted with an air of irritation. 

“But, Honey, I – “

“It no longer concerns you!” His words cut like knives. 

I had never seen him direct anger directly at her. He would walk away in frustration, but he never spoke up or told her to stop. It made me wonder why he suddenly cared.

She scoffed and exited, taking her sweet time. I jiggled my foot in discomfort and played with my bumble bee charm with the hand my bracelet was attached to.

Regardless of what my father said, I knew I would be able to move forward because Audrey would stand by my side no matter what. On top of that, I had plenty of people that believed in me, that loved me for who I was as a person. He had the power to throw me off track, but he would never destroy me. I was the only person with the power to do that. 

 I sat up a bit straighter and mustered up the courage to look at him.

“I did love her, your mother. I still do in a way, but I could never make her happy or save her from herself. Leslie was unstable before he addictions completely consumed her life. She was hospitalized for a suicide attempt shortly after we were married.” 

“What happened?” 

“I needed to go to work to support us. She complained about being alone all the time. She accused me of abandoning her, of not understanding. She attempted to pick a fight with me as I was leaving for the hospital one morning. I ignored her for the most part, needing to remain on schedule. She smashed a vase and slit her arm with one of the shards.”

“What did she say to you after the fact?” 

“That she felt empty. She looked at me the same way you did when I visited you in the hospital.” 

“You never looked at me.”

“Yes, I did, for as long as I could.” 

I shook my head.

“Do you understand how hard that was for me? She called me up and made me promise that I would take care of you. You are a reminder that I couldn’t do the same for her. I couldn’t take it.”

“She called you?” I willed myself not to cry.

“Her mother called her. She encouraged her to stay away, saying her presence would further upset you.”

“She tried?” A few tears trickled down.

“Yes, but I agreed with her. She struggles with consistency. She would’ve flown off the deep end as soon as she saw you, believing it to be all her fault.” He adjusted his watch. 

His fidgeting humanized him. It was nice to know it wasn’t easy for him either. 

“A lot of it was.” 

“You don’t understand what’s she’s like! She – ” He wiped his forehead to get a hold of himself. “She has very little control over what she does. She loves you and Audrena. She struggled with her moods before Audrey was born, but she was genuinely happy for a few years after she was. She took her everywhere, loving the constant companionship.” 

“Aud doesn’t remember that.” 

“She remembers some of it. They had good times together, but there were plenty of bad ones too. As Audrey became more active, her moods became more erratic. It got to the point that I was afraid to leave them alone together. I hired a nanny. She ran her out of the house almost immediately. I asked her mother to stay with us for a while to take care of them.” 

“You hate Yaya.”

“But I loved my wife and daughter. She was the only one who could get through to her. Les did well while she was treated -“

“For what?”

“Borderline Personality Disorder.”

“Is that why you didn’t want to leave me when the psychiatrist came in?” My chest constricted as I recalled that day.

“Yes. You have a family history, one Audrena is not fully aware of and it could’ve played a hand in your diagnosis.”

“Do you think that’s what I really have?” I tucked my bangs behind my ear.

“Possibly, but probably not. You’re five times more likely to have it because one of your first degree relatives does and you exhibit some of the symptoms, but you’re missing too many to qualify.” 

“Not to mention my issues are in direct response to child abuse.”

“You were not, – ” He sighed. “Your mother stopped taking her medication after a while, claiming they were wrong about her and she didn’t need it. She started going out every night. She would be drunk or hangover when Audrey came home from school. Along with me, she slept with several different men. You were conceived during that. I signed your birth certificate and we never had you tested. It made things easier.” He folded his hands on his desk.

“For whom? You left us alone with her and we had no idea what was going on! You -“

“And your grandmother never lets me forget it. Yet I didn’t see her jumping at the chance to intervene! She’s just as responsible as I am!”

“I am so sick of this – everyone lying and hiding things from me! ” I chocked. “ENOUGH! I’m done!” I shot up from my chair and charged to the door.

“I didn’t leave you alone. You had Bosworth. It was never supposed to get to this point! You were never supposed to-” 

“I’m a person, not a failure! That’s all I’ll ever be to you. I owe you nothing!” I slammed the door when I left.

Genette was standing outside. I sighed. “You win. He’s all yours. I don’t want him anymore.” I guided her to the door with my arms. I walked away after my gesture. 

I stole two bottles of wine from the cellar and wandered into my old room. They had converted it into a guest bedroom. I shut the door and sat down on the plush carpet. I used a bottle opener to remove one of the corks and drank directly from the bottle as I stared out the window.

 I stopped thinking. I simply allowed myself to cry and drink. I was on the second bottle when sadness shifted to anger. I pulled my hair back and screamed, intermittently sobbing as I thought of every night I cried myself to sleep, every morning I woke up feeling worthless, and all the afternoons I spent writhing in agony. I felt out of control of every aspect of my life. I acted on impulse to gain some of it back.

I rose to my feet and swiped my arm across the dresser, breaking everything in its path. I pulled out each of the drawers and threw them down on the ground. I smashed the delicate vases and lamps. I took a long swig from the wine bottle. There was barely a forth left when I used it to shatter the mirror, breaking it in the process. Red liquid splattered onto the white carpet, resembling blood. I tore all of the linens off of the bed, strewing them every which way. By the time I was done with it, the room finally depicted the way I felt in that house – a hideous disaster, bled dry by people who thought I was a mistake.

I went to the bathroom before walking downstairs to leave. One of the agents examined me from head to toe when I reached the bottom of the staircase. 

“Staring’s rude.” I bore into her with dead eyes.

“You’re not who we’d usually go for. You’re too short for high fashion, but we’re running out of options. We’ll do a test shoot in the living room. ” She gestured me towards the living room, half-heartedly.

“No.” I pushed past her.

“Then why are you here?” She called after me.

“Home. No more. Not a model, dancer.” I held up my index finger as if I were making some sort of important declaration.

“You’re a stripper?” Her incredulous expression made what she was thinking crystal clear. She tried to imagine how I made money with my lack of breasts and curves.

“Basically. Whatever. You’re a pimp.” 

“What gives you –“

“You take these really – really pretty girls, and make them sad — think that they need you to survive, and then and then — you make money. Pimp.”

“That’s not what I-“ She struggled to come up with a rebuttal.

“Liar!” I wandered off without explanation. 

I staggered outside and spotted one of my father’s drivers standing outside one of our town cars.

“We go bye-bye.” I pointed in the direction of the driver’s seat.

“I am waiting for -“

“He be more mad if see drunk.” I bumped into the closed door.

He sighed and opened it for me. I collapsed on the backseat, holding onto my purse like teddy bear.

“Where am I taking you?” He adjusted the rearview mirror.

“Audrey.” 

He was aware of her address and drove me there without further questions. It was raining by the time I arrived. I took off my shoes and strode up to the gate slowly, wiggling my toes in the puddles. I put my finger on the buzzer and held it there until someone answered.

“Hello?” Everett’s voice broke through.

“Me.” 

“Izzie? How’d you get here?”

“Car. All wet. Don’t like it. Toes do. I don’t. Bad toes.” I frowned at them.

“Are you drunk?”

“The door — gate?” I pushed my wet hair out of my face.

He opened the gate. I hobbled onward, keeping my balance by allowing myself to use a few extra steps for stabilization. The last bit of alcohol I had kicked in and I fell onto the front lawn. He ran to me with a jacket.

“Iz — Izzie, open your eyes.” He pleaded. 

I did it. I winced when rain pelted my eyeballs. 

“How much have you had to drink?”

I shrugged and closed my eyes. 

“Nope, we’re going inside.” He scooped me up and tossed me over his shoulder. I remained limp as he carried me. He sat me down on the bench in the foyer when we were inside. He pushed my hair out of my face as my head drooped.

“When did you start drinking?” He steadied me.

“Soon.” I sighed. I cracked my eyes open. “It’s all spinning.”

“What have you had?”

“Wine.”

“Is that all?”

I nodded. 

“Tell me the truth.”

“Merlot. Yummy.”

“Do you feel sick?”

“Just sleepy. I’m okay.” I put my heavy hand on his shoulder. 

“I am not advocating teenage drinking, but it is 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Iz. Isn’t it a little early?” He stepped away to remove his wet shoes.

“This is what happens when your mom doesn’t want you because she doesn’t know who your daddy is.” I closed my eyes and rested my head on the wall.

“What?” 

“I was a whoopies. Man in suit told me.”

“Izzie, open your eyes.” 

I used all my strength to open them. “Talking. Fine.” 

“Can you make it upstairs to up on dry clothes?”

“Yep. Where’s Aud?” 

“A lunch date with her friends. She needed time out of the house. Are you sure you can get there?”

“No call her. She mad.”

“She won’t be-“

“Mhmm.” I tried to stand up slowly. 

He helped me. “Izzie, -?”

“hmm?” I held onto his arm for support.

“Do you still want to be – here?” He struggled to find the right word.

“Kill myself?” I looked over at him.

“Yes, that.” He was intimidated by my bluntness.

“No.”

“I need more than that. Something can’t happen on my watch.”

“I’m good — good. Sleepy.” I grasped onto the banister once we had reached it.

“I love you.”

“I know, David.” I sighed.

I struggled to strip out of my drenched sweater, the heavy wool clinging to my skin. He took over before I hurt myself. He shifted me onto my side and tucked me in beneath the covers. 

“I put water on the nightstand.” He smoothed down my hair. “I’m taking Emmy with me. Her baby monitor is in here with you. If you get sick, I’ll hear it and be up here to help you.” He kissed the top of my head. He turned off my light and shut the door. 

I ended up getting sick, vomiting on myself and the bed. Everett was kind enough to clean me and the room up before allowing me to lay back down. I woke up hours later to Aud stroking my hair.

“Did he call you?”

“He didn’t have to. Milo did.”

“How did he know?”

“You called him drunk.”

“I did?”

“You did.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You reached your coping capacity. I was warned about this. I called her to ask if it was true.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. She told me everything.”

“I can’t bring myself to hate her anymore. All of it wasn’t her, but I still don’t know who I belong to.” My vision clouded.

“Me. I’ll adopt you to make it official.”

“Thank you.” I sniffled. 

“I want so desperately for you to be happy.”

“Usually I am. I can’t live here after graduation.” I made futile attempts at drying my eyes with my fingers.

“Where are you going to go?”

“Maybe California. I liked it there. Anywhere far, far away would suffice.”

“But you’ve always wanted to dance for NYBC.”

“Everything’s changed.” I dried my eyes.

“You’ll find your place, don’t worry.”

“I think I already have.”

“Sella Moora?”

“Not exactly. My friends.”

“You should stay here for the remainder of break, though. We need to get through this as a family. We need to speak to the lawyer, get a paternity test, and dozens of other things in a short span of time.”

“I’ll let you take care of me. I could really use the help.”

“Good -” 

“Babe, I really need you to watch Em. She won’t go to sleep and I have work to do.” Ev opened the door, holding a small bundle to his chest. 

“Yeah, hand her to me.” She rolled onto her back. 

She removed Emmy’s blanket and guided her head to her bosom. Her hand was balled into a little fist and she struggled to stay awake.

“Thanks.” He backed out of the room. “Iz.” He nodded with a smile. He shut the door behind him.

“Did you and David have an illicit relationship of some sort? You are sixteen, Iz, far too young to be involved with a twenty-eight year old. Ev is more than ready to confront him about it.”

I snorted. “No, never. The David I was talking about is fictional. You’re my Nani.”

“Your what?” 

“Nani, like from Lilo and Stitch. She takes care of Lilo after their parents die. She makes sure their broken little family a happy one. And she puts up with Lilo’s quirks, regardless of how outrageous they might be. David’s her boyfriend. He’s dorky-cute.”

She smiled. “That sounds about right.”

Em whimpered. 

“Shhh. It’s okay.” Aud rocked her gently.

“You smell nice, pretty girl.” I kissed her chubby cheek.

“Daddy gave her a bath. It usually makes her tired.” She rubbed her back.

“What time is it?” 

“The brink of midnight. This is when he gets his demos done.”

“Are the guys here?”

“Yes. I am sure they are raiding the refrigerator as we speak. They better not get crumbs in the studio. That’s one of Ev’s vacuum areas. He will try to put it off, but I won’t let him because I don’t want bugs in this house.” She adjusted Em’s pajamas. 

“How are they with Emmy?”

She smiled. “They love her. In fact, I am sure they collectively made her too excited to sleep. Did I tell you what they gave her when she was born?”

“No.”

“Child-sized versions of all of their instruments and a leather jacket for her to wear when she is old enough to use all of them. Brought them to the hospital and everything.” 

I giggled. “I’m sure you loved that.” 

“It was excessive, but original and very thoughtful.” 

“It will very loud when she is allowed to use them.” 

“She won’t be any louder than they are. She’ll be a cute little rocker.” She kissed the top of her head.

“Are you going to lure her into the science world as well?”

“Her room is covered with constellations. She has periodic table building blocks, plush DNA dolls, and a chemistry-themed mobile.”

“She’s going to be one smart cookie. Music and science — lots of brain development.” 

We quieted down to give Em a moment to close her eyes. Her steading breathing and light snores let us know she was fast asleep.

“We’ll test your DNA against mine. If we’re a match, he’s your father too.” She whispered.

“You can do that?”

“Mhmm. Science is what I know best.”

“You also know how to make insanely cute babies.” I smiled at Em’s sleeping face. “I really am sorry about today. Ev shouldn’t have had to do that.” I kept my eyes down, scared to look at Aud.

“I don’t want you drinking anymore.”

“I haven’t in a really long –“

“No more, Iz. It keeps your medication from working.” She stated firmly.

“Okay.”

“Promise me.” 

“I promise.”

“Now give me a kiss.” 

I fought off a smile as I kissed her cheek.

“I’m not mad at you. I’m worried.”

“I don’t want you to worry anymore.” I put my head on her shoulder.

“Milo is too. Even after I told him you were here, he still sounded panicked. Don’t even get me started on Ev.”

“Any of you.” I corrected. “I mean it. I love you.”  

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