11 – Revelations


It was because of resistance that Hunter and I hardly spoke during the next couple of weeks. I picked a random guy from school to help with my project, so that I could avoid a confrontation at home. Ryan was the first candidate, but I knew that his after school job would conflict with my assignment. I appreciated what he was doing. I really did. But I wasn't going to respect him for it.

Hunter wasn't home much. When he bothered to show up, he was usually drunk or in a foul mood. I wasn't anxious enough to talk to him when he was like that. He wouldn't listen. And yes, it was about the kiss. I respected Hunter for needing his own time to sort things out, but his distance made living in the Green house unbearable.

Every now and then, I'd wake up in the middle of the night. When I'd end up in the kitchen for a midnight snack, I wasn't too surprised to see Tristan sitting at the table.

After the unwanted arrival of their parents, Tristan hadn't changed much. He kept to himself and didn't bother with Hunter. I figured that Tristan was smart enough to let his brother get through his issues on his own. As much as I commended him for giving Hunter his necessary space, I was worrying that they were both avoiding a conversation they wanted. In that retrospect, I couldn't blame them. I wasn't anymore interested in hearing about Penelope and Stephen than they were.

And with so much on my mind, I went to the kitchen for solitude. I didn't find it.

Tristan was sitting at the table, staring at a wall with a faraway look in his eyes. For the third time in five days, he was hiding in the kitchen.

"Hi," I squeaked uncomfortably, "how are you?"

A sigh escaped his lips. His hands were awkwardly under his chin. His elbows were propped up on the table in an uncomfortable manner. A cup of something hot, in an old, chipped mug sat untouched. "I feel like shit."

I pursed my lips together, not expecting Tristan to say anything revealing. But he had. And my entire plan had to be reworked. I wasn't going to be the one that salted his wounds. It was too late to leave.

I was beginning to hate midnight. There wasn't any hiding in the dark. An escape from reality was just as unlikely.

"I'm not too sure I want to respond to that," I said.

Tristan groaned through his teeth. "Listen, Karoline, you don't have to dodge the subject of my parents. You're not going to hurt my feelings or anything," he confirmed. "No, that job belongs to Stephen and Penelope."

I stared at the table's intricate design. My throat was swollen. "I didn't want to intentionally hurt your feelings."

"Why is that?" he asked hollowly. A slow, smirk tugged at the corners of his lips. "I know," he started, his eyes shining with recognition, "it's because you feel sorry for me." He paused to take a sip of his drink. After swallowing hard, he stared at me with a glassy gaze. "Because I'm the black sheep. Right?"

I didn't know what to say. Tristan was right. I felt sorry for him. But he was letting Stephen's words infect his wounds. And for that very reason, I couldn't feel sorry for him at the same time. "Why do you let it bother you?"

Tristan laughed sadistically. "Come on, Karoline. You damn well know why. Look at your own life. I'd say it'd be a pretty good example."

"My problems are different. My father is a good man. He's just teaching me a lesson. Denise isn't a good woman. She just wants more time with my father," I snapped. "I'm not as angry with him as I used to be. I still dislike him, but he's not Stephen."

I swore I heard Tristan whimper. In a low, dangerous voice he said, "Low blow. Don't you think?"

"I didn't mean it like that, Tristan, and you know."

He scoffed, pushing the mug off the side of the table. It shattered with such a great force that I jumped. A sly smile was etched on his tired face. Tristan Green was loving every minute of getting under my skin. And it only infuriated me that much more. He had the upper hand, and he wasn't afraid to show it.

When he spoke, his voice was sharp and firm. "You should be grateful that your dad is living his life. As soon as my father married Penelope, I knew that things were never going to be the same." He licked his lips and looked up from the table. "She was his trophy wife. He just wanted someone who would look good at his side for social functions." A look of pure sadness crossed his face. "At home, he treated her as if he didn't exist. To please his needs, he had a new mistress every month."

"I didn't know," I whispered in a hushed voice.

"No one has needed to know until now." His eyes darkened when he turned towards the doorway.

I raised my eyebrow. "Are you saying that Hunter doesn't know about the mistresses?"

Tristan forced a laugh. "Karoline, he damn well knows all about that. Why do you think he gets so upset around Penelope? No, this is about much, much more than that."

"What is it about?"

"It's about me. Penelope isn't my mother. I was born long before my father even knew her. I was probably around twelve or so when he met her. She was exotic in his eyes. He saw that beauty and craved to have it all to himself, even if he couldn't stay faithful to her. It wasn't that long after when she got pregnant with Hunter. Because of his status, he married her and made Penelope promise not to mention her pregnancy until after the honeymoon."

Part of the stairs creaked and Tristan froze. "I, don't think talking about this here is going to do Hunter any good. He's grieving. When he decided that he was finally leaving home after they nearly abandoned him, our dad made it quite clear that he was cutting all ties with his family if he moved here. He wanted to stay with Penelope, but he still managed to make a decision that was in his best interest."

"Best interest?" a new voiced added, somewhat amused.

"Hunter," Tristan said lowly, "how long have you been standing there?"

He carelessly shrugged his shoulders. "I caught the beginning. So, I guess we're only half brother's then?"

Tristan sighed and pushed back the chair. He was about to get up but Hunter stopped him. "No, Tristan. Don't."

The two exchanged a look of pure anger. After all that had gone down, I couldn't understand what good fighting would do.

"Why didn't you tell me?" His eyes shone with distrust. "Why would you hide the truth for so long?"

"Dad promised me not to."

"Since when did you listen to Stephen? He broke promises all the time," Hunter added, spitting saliva at Tristan.

"I made that promise when I was young and naive. I don't care who you are or what you've done. If I make a promise, I'm keeping it."

I thought that was pretty admirable. Why didn't Hunter see that? Tristan was an awesome older brother—even if he was nearly thirty and only Hunter's half brother.

"Fuck this," Hunter cursed. "Fuck everything. I don't give a damn."

Even though it was directed at Tristan, I knew he was talking about me too. The way his eyes briefly met mine was all the conformation I needed. I realized that after such a bad night, that he just needed some time to himself. Hunter was quite a reactive guy. When something was on his mind, he didn't have a problem expressing just how pissed off he was. Most days, I thought that was admirable. But not this day. No, Hunter wasn't going to bring me down. I had enough of that at home.

I got to my feet, a feeling of surprise overcoming me. After being in the middle of things for so long, I just wanted out. I wanted a little bit of space. It was something I need. And leaving their house for a while was the only thing I could do. What could I say?

"I'm going for a walk," I declared. Hunter made a motion to follow me, but I glared at him. "Alone," I added bitterly. "I know when I'm not wanted." Reaching the screen door, I opened it with such force that it slammed against the house.

I was not one to get angry. Sure, I got upset, but I never resorted to anything of this multitude. After everything that had happened, I treated Hunter like he was the one being melodramatic. I sighed, quite upset.

Honestly, I was the only idiot being melodramatic. And it pissed me off. Couldn't there be one day where something didn't happen? I wasn't asking for much. God, I needed a break. Didn't I deserve that at least?

The air was chilly when I stepped outside. I inhaled deeply. It was going to snow—the smell in the air was all the proof that I needed. And the fact that more snow was coming only further dampened my foul mood. Between everything, I felt as if my head was going to explode.

A walk was the only solution I had left. Pulling my jacket closer to my body, I shivered. There were many things I had yet to get done, and I didn't know where to start. There was Mr. Thomas' assignment—to which I still didn't have a grade for. There was finding a job so that I had a little cash in my pockets. And there was home. The animosity was probably still there. After all that had gone down, they must've hated me.

Since that fateful event, they hadn't tried to contact me. I hadn't made that effort either. And the bad part was that I wasn't anxious to apologize to my Dad or Denise. Sure, there was that guilt eating me away for avoiding something I knew was clearly unavoidable, but something else was holding me back. It essentially wasn't the apology. No, it was much more than that I was worried about.

Things at home were broken. Well, Colorado wasn't my home. Regardless of what happened, it was going to be Florida. Florida was the only place that mattered. If we hadn't moved in the first place, none of this crap would've even occurred. I wanted things to go back to the way they were, but that wasn't happening.

And because of that very reason, a few, lone tears slide down my reddened cheeks. In Denver, there wasn't my best friend, Kara White. No, at Wallace Jones High School, I became the goddamn loner. Who wanted to talk to the new girl? Who wanted to tarnish their reputation? No one. There was only Ryan and Hunter who had been somewhat accepting and friendly. Of course Hunter was playing the protective boyfriend, but there was the simple fact that he was pretending. That was the keyword.

And I knew that pretending was worse.

When Max would give up on having me, Hunter and I would break up. No matter how clean cut it would be—I knew that it was going to be messy. In the short amount of time we've spent together, something was different between us. Each kiss we shared was getting more intense than the last. And it didn't take a genius to realize that Hunter was pushing away.

I blamed that on his father, Stephen. If he hadn't shown up, Hunter wouldn't have kissed me. Ten seconds later, he wouldn't have apologized and said that it meant nothing. Well, if that's how he felt, I was going to return the feeling. No, Hunter Green wasn't going to get the benefit of the doubt. No, Hunter Green wasn't going to use me like I used him. And hell, I didn't care if that was selfish or something that a bitch would do.

"Karoline?" a hoarse voice asked.

I blinked through the darkness, taking in a deep breath. Sitting on a bench, I saw Ryan. He was bundled up with a duffel bag at his side. I couldn't help but frown. He was selling. It was obvious from the way he sat there. Ryan was pretty strung out. And in all the times I had seen Ryan, I had never seen him strung out. I didn't know how to react, so I just stared him down.

"It's late," he stuttered. "What are you doing out here?"

I took a few, hesitant steps closer.

"I needed time to think," I told him honestly.

He sighed. "Lin, I think you should go home. It's not safe out here."

"Home? Ryan, if I could go home, I would." Home was Florida.

"It's not safe out here," he repeated, his eyes focused on the lamppost.

Ryan clearly wasn't interested in talking. It was about business, and I resented that fact. He was the one to start the conversation, anyway. I opened my mouth to say something, but I quickly closed it once I realized I had nothing to say to that. It was a valid point.

"You shouldn't be here," he said suddenly.

My hands fell to my hips as I stared him down. He was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with an unknown logo in black on the front. The hood concealed most of his shaggy, dirty blond hair. His jeans were faded and tattered in different places. All in all, I realized that Ryan didn't look too good.

"Why?" I asked boldly, taking a step closer, "Am I bad for business?"

Ryan sighed and shifted. "Sit," was all he said.

I was about to protest when I noticed someone coming. There was no way I could ditch Ryan after things got bad, but I knew drug addicts weren't the most patient. So, I sat beside Ryan. He stiffened but didn't utter a word. I figured things were better that way.

"Ryan?" a voice queried.

"Max York," Ryan said calmly. "What do you need?"

His grin widened. "Your best, Matthews. Only your best."

Ryan loosened up, stealing a quick glance at me. "You two know each other, right?"

Max's smirk widened. "We've exchanged words and such," he answered casually. "Right, Karoline."

I bit my tongue. "Sure, you're the baby of the group, aren't you?"

Max's smirk faltered. "Sixteen. So what?"

"Isn't that a little young? You should wait until you're at least seventeen to ruin your life." I paused and nudged Ryan in the ribs. "Take my stepbrother, here. He's a good example of doing the wrong thing."

Ryan managed a laugh. "Yeah well. Watching porn is wrong too, but you don't see that stopping anybody."

"That's a bad example."

Max cut in. "There's a lot of tension between the two of you. When it breaks, I don't want to be in the crossfire. So, just give me a quarter of your best."

Ryan reached for his duffel bag. I turned and looked the other way. Whether or not I approved of what Ryan was doing, I had no intentions of watching him make a sale. Max, on the other hand, mumbled a slightly buzzed "sweet" before he thanked Ryan and paid. Ryan, in turn, simply said, "okay." And that was the end of that conversation.

I didn't turn around until I was sure Ryan had the duffel bag zipped up.

"Ryan," I stated warningly, "Raven told me you're doing this because you found out the truth about the cave in."

He coughed uncomfortably and shook his head. When he turned, I got a good view of his eyes. The brown looked clouded. There was no doubt about it that Ryan had used at some point before he went to work.

Ryan grinned slyly. "Raven isn't exactly the greatest source of information."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"She's a pathological liar, Lin. That's what."

I crossed my arms over my chest. "So, why are you suddenly selling?"

He sighed. "Is is really that important?"

"You're my stepbrother. You tell me."

"Fine. Denise and I got into a little argument. Unless I had a job and cash, they were kicking me to the curb."

I watched Ryan hazily. "Ryan, what were you fighting about?"

His eyes suddenly twinkled with amusement. "Well, that's a pretty long story."

I looked at him brazenly. "Why don't you sum it up for me?"

"Denise walked in on Raven and I having sex. Is that good enough?"

My stomach churned in disgust. "Are you guys still together?"

"No," Ryan said casually. "Raven and I have a very simple relationship. When we're needy, we have each other."

I glared at him. "Don't you think you deserve more than a one night stand every now and then?"

"Why? It's just sex. Is is supposed to be more to it?"

"Well, yeah," I stammered. "For some people it is."

Ryan shut up and stared at the sky. He had been more talkative than usual. And he was much more willing to share details than most nights. Something had to be off. Ryan Matthews wasn't a very willing sort of guy. The less people knew, the better it was. So, why was he going out of his way to answer my questions? He obviously didn't believe me.

"What are you doing here?"

"I went for a walk."

"You left Hunter's side? I'm surprised. The both of you have been pretty cozy lately."

"Until his parents," I muttered under my breath.

Ryan perked up at that. "His parents dropped by?"

I licked my lips and stared at the snow-covered ground. "Yeah, it was a disaster."

"I bet," was Ryan's response. "Stephen Green is a hard man to please."

"That's putting it nicely, too," I added. "Things were pretty messy. He didn't agree that Hunter and I were dating. He didn't approve of Tristan's career path. He didn't treat Hunter too kindly about me living there."

Ryan eyed me wearingly. "Did you say anything?"

"I gave Stephen a piece of my mind, Ryan."

Ryan was suddenly quiet. "You should be careful." It sounded more like he was warning me about it than threatening me.

Against my better judgment, I pushed the envelope. Ryan was the sort of guy that didn't really care what happened to other people. I was wondering if I was starting to grow on him a little. Even though we weren't big on talking, Ryan was a very straightforward guy. He wasn't smart enough to be cryptic or to say something that was the opposite of how he was feeling.

It was one of those things I admired about Ryan's personality, but I wasn't sure if it was such a good thing. Taking the brutal truth was a lot harder than I imagined.

"Why? Why should I be careful?"

A slight smile crossed Ryan's face. "Stephen Green, if pushed enough, will destroy your life, Lin. I hope you realize that you've given him good reason to ruin yours."

I sighed. The temperature had fallen since I walked outside, but it wasn't enough to push me back. No, Tristan and Hunter needed time alone—to discuss their relations to one another. And because of that very reason, I wasn't itching to head back to the Green's place. Sooner or later I'd have to.

"Why are you telling me this?"

Ryan pulled the messenger bag between his feet before he turned to stare me right in the eyes. "Lin, maybe I don't think you're that bad. You stood up to my mother and then you stood up to your father. You weren't afraid to tell them exactly what you thought, and that's something I find admirable. I'm not even that blunt."

My cheeks heated up. Was that Ryan's idea of a compliment? If it was, it worked. "Thanks," I said shortly, "but I have something more important I wanted to ask."

Ryan leaned against the back of the bench. "Ask away."

"Why did Raven tell me that you're selling drugs because you found out the truth about the cave in and how I wasn't involved?"

His face shone amusement. "Sister, do you think I'm stupid enough to think that you brought down part of the kitchen ceiling?" I didn't answer. I figured it was rhetorical. "I've, slowly, been prying at my mom to let you come back home, but she makes some awful excuse up. So, Raven didn't lie. I got into a fight with my mom because I thought she was being ridiculous. I said something about losing Miss America and how it was causing her to turn more plastic than she already was."

I smiled. I genuinely smiled. "But why?"

He shrugged. "I felt like shaking things up a bit."

Then we lapped into a comfortable silence.

Ryan Matthews was hardly a great guy, but the fact that he went through so much trouble to prove my innocence—made me admire him more. I knew that we weren't on the fast track to becoming friends. At school, it was customary that we ignored each other. We didn't have the same social circles, and it was too much to assume that we'd damage our stereotypes to be friends. Being civil outside of school was already hard enough to keep up.

No matter how nice Ryan was, he could never take the place of my best guy friend, Lucas Parker. Lucas was the sort of guy that made everyone around him comfortable before he was comfortable himself. He was a pretty selfless person, who was easy to get along with. In Florida, he did anything from wakeboarding to skateboarding. He was the most active of my friends.

Whenever we had the opportunity, we went on little trips together where we would do extreme things like bungee jump or climb a mountain. It didn't matter if I was afraid of heights because Lucas always made sure that I felt secure and safe. We watched ridiculous movies together and egged houses when the humidity was too much to bear. We shared the same favorite foods, and we even worked together for a few years. Lucas was also the sort of guy that had a hard time just being in the friends zone with women.

When I introduced Kara to him for the first time, he flirted with her nonstop. He didn't give up until she agreed to go out on a date with him. He was every word of a gentleman, but Kara White wasn't the sort of girl that wanted to be tied down to one man. After ten months of dating, she broke it off with him so harshly that I almost lost Lucas as my best friend. From that point and time, I haven't been as close with Kara as I've wanted, but we've managed to stay as close as friends as we could.

The three of us didn't hang out together, anymore. Things were too awkward and broken hearts were still on the mend. It was through seeing that-that I knew how impossible a relationship was. It didn't last. My mother fled at a young age and even Kara fled the coupe. I've hated to say that the reasons I thought dating was ridiculous was based on those two things, but it was. I wasn't afraid of my heart getting broken – I was afraid to be the heart breaker.

Dating Hunter Green was fun, casual, and easy, but we were on the verge of discovering feelings I didn't want to admit to. No, having a real relationship with him was out of the question. In the first place, I was not ready to commit. And I wasn't ready now. With Max York hot on my heels, I knew that being in a serious relationship was the only way to go.

And all of these thoughts were brought on by one question.

Ryan asked, "What is your relationship with Hunter?"

I wanted to answer, but I didn't know how to. All I knew was that I had too many issues in my life that had to be dealt with first. Dating couldn't be a top priority. It didn't matter how I felt about Hunter or not. Our relationship had to stay fake, or else I was going to add another issue to my pile. And that particular pile was already dangerously teetering with all the weight on it.

"We don't have an established relationship," I finally answered.

My answer wasn't pleasing. It tugged at my heart painfully. Was I lying? Was I avoiding the truth? I didn't really know.

And I didn't argue when Ryan didn't push it. It was probably better that way.

Two hours later, we finally decided to end the conversation. Besides Max, Ryan didn't have any business. Drugs, as he expected, weren't as wanted as he thought. On a few occasions, a few kids dropped by and asked if we had any alcohol, but besides that – business was dead. And it was a good thing. I didn't want to awkwardly sit in the cold as Ryan made money illegally.

No, we just talked about a bunch of weird topics. We mentioned my dad, vaguely. As far as Ryan would say, he was fine. Ryan admitted that he seemed a bit off and lonely since I left, but I didn't smile. Even if my Dad was rethinking his discussion, I couldn't smile. I felt horrible. It was ridiculous that we had to fight in the first place, but I knew as much as Ryan did that it wasn't a good time to patch things up. Denise was entering another pageant with my father's full support. They were talking about taking a second honeymoon in Hawaii. If that happened, they'd be away a month.

I sighed.

In a short amount of time, I was missing out on a lot of things.

"Are you okay?" Ryan asked suddenly.

I smiled. "Yeah, I am."

As we exchanged goodbyes, I was surprised when Ryan hugged me. It wasn't a loose hug at all. No, it was a tight hug. And when he pulled away, I had no problems asking about it.

"What was that for?"

Ryan smirked. "I wanted you to be okay. Is that such a bad thing?"

No, I told myself. It wasn't a bad thing at all.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: It seems everyone likes Hunter. I got the most reviews for last chapter. Oh boy. I hope you didn't expect too much here. It was pretty mundane and uneventful. I thought it was time to stop throwing so many curve balls. Also, don't fret, Hunter will be back next chapter. Also, I am really going back and editing the first couple of chapters by February. I hope those will further aid in the understanding...of where this story currently is and where it's heading. Chapters 4-6 will be edited during the first week of February. 7-9 should be complete by the second week. And so on. I promise all things will be up to par by mid February - if not sooner.

Also, I have decided that I won't pick up any of my previous stories UNTIL I finish this one. Too many stories are making my head spin. And when I pick up the other stories, they will be removed from the site, edited, and then reposted. So, if you want to know which story I work on first, look for the one I remove first. Again, I'm sorry to those of you that are confused. This is the LONGEST story I've ever written without an outline or a solid plot, and there are bound to be plot holes and things that don't add up. I'm the queen of inconsistencies, so keep that in mind.

Review, if you'd like. Please and thanks.

Faded Soulfire