Chap 4

"You get out right now!" She yelled, and swung open the heavy front door, insects flying in with the ignorance of cold adventurers. "GET OUT" She screamed, like her lungs could not bottle her fury.

And she ran. Socks offered little to no protection against the concrete sidewalk, the dewy grass that gleamed with melted snow—picking up traces of the sun and embedding them within her socks.

Wet and cold, she slipped over the patches of ice, breath panting out in little puffs of fog that dissipated as soon as she breathed and whipped past. No time to admire the cold balls of frost that her mouth created, like little cotton candy forms lingering in the air.

Where was she running?

She didn't know until halfway, when little Wes showed up on his bike, glancing cautiously at her as he tried to keep his eyes on the road.

Shivering, she paused, looking at her brother. She slowed to a walk, scared he would bike into an oncoming car.

He didn't look at her as he maneuvered his bike to keep from running into the ditch of gravel between grass and road. She walked safely on the sidewalk.

"Mom wants you to come home," he finally said.

She looked ahead now as well, admiring the cold stealthy landscape.

"No, she doesn't," she said stubbornly, still hearing the echo of the screaming.

Wes sighed, "She told me to get you, Wendy."

Do you want me home, Wes?

But she knew it in the way she knew herself that he didn't care. She watched him, knowing he would follow her. "Okay, go ahead and tell her I'm coming. I'll catch up."

Stupid silly Wes. He nodded, turning his bike around. As soon as he disappeared, she took off running again, and she hoped he would not turn around to see.

Not until she got to June's house. She didn't think twice—just ran past the roads of cars, drivers and passengers who made her blush in her T and pajama shorts, running in socks while the snow had yet to finish melting under the sun.

But she didn't think about the late sun. She relished the ice clinging to her ankles, and the ice whipping about in the wind to lash her skin. Her lungs burned with the crystals she inhaled, and she felt so alive.

The Thomases' front door sat on a hilly driveway, and she thought she nearly expired by the time she reached it, but it seemed only a second before the door was opening and Samuel Clyde, an upperclassmen from their high school, stood before her.

She swallowed an iceball in her throat.

He stood blinking at her for a moment, his eyebrows arching up. Without taking his eyes off her, Sam called into the house, "Uh, hey, Roan! I think your little sister's friend is here…"

He trailed off, staring openly, and she cringed mentally, remembering her old crush on him, and acknowledging that it could only feelslightlyless embarrassing at this point.

He was soon shoved out of the way as Ronan bounced into the open doorway, taken aback by Wendy's appearance—cold, ragged-looking, and trembling like a stray cat.

"Uh, Wendy," he stuttered. "June's not…here right now. She's at dance."

Her eyes shuttered closed, but what leaked out was the same helpless glint that June had cried with when their parents had announced their impending divorce.

"Oh, that's ok," her voice sounded wispier today, and she pasted on a smile that he had not learned until this moment to see through.

"Come in," Ronan offered almost timidly, used to poking fun at her, not watching her big brown eyes cloud with something he had never seen in them before.

But Wendy was turning away. "Can you just tell her I came by?" she asked, and hopped down their brick steps, landing on snow-covered socks that nearly caused her to slip.

He watched her walk away, and it was when she almost slipped a second time down the steep driveway that he called out, "Wendy! June should be coming home soon."

She turned around almost gracefully; dark eyes making him feel self-conscious, but her trembling and the bleakness on her face made him stay there, even when Sam poked his head out from behind the doorframe with curious wide eyes.

A half-hearted grin and some words drew her back to the open doors, like a moth to a flame. And when he took hold of her frozen wrist, surprised at the touch, the warmth of his palm nearly seared her frost-bitten skin, and she imagined the moth had burned.

Ronan repeated gruffly, "Come in. June will be home soon," and neatly dragged her into the beautiful house, closing their door against the insidious cold.

.

I awoke to the feeling of my skin on fire, and kicked my blankets off restlessly. A lingering image of a moth flitted through my mind, and when I sat up, damp pools at the corners of my eyes broke loose down my cheeks. I slapped them away and jumped out of bed, jerking Logan awake.

"Sorry, baby," I mumbled as I stumbled out of my door. But it was quiet throughout the rest of the apartment. Blearily, I walked up to June's door, nearly tripping over something on my way.

Then I stopped. Judging by the light coming through the windows, it was not even sunrise, and June would bite my head off for waking her so early, friend or no. Sighing, with my fist raised halfway to the door and that subsiding adrenaline simmering through my body, I retreated back to my room.

Standing in the middle of it, I picked up my cell phone and dialed Wes again, for no apparent reason that I could think of. I could only think that I hadn't managed to keep my promise to make monthly-calls.

"Hello?" came a confused-sounding male voice. I was so startled by the response that I dropped my cell phone onto Logan, who ignored me completely.

Quickly snagging the phone back up, I tried saying hello, only to find my voice clogged somewhere between my chest and my tongue.

I cleared my throat, "Hi. Wes?"

There came a pause. "Uh, Wendy?"

"Wes!" I felt so relieved that I plopped onto the side of my bed. "How are you?"

There came the sounds of shuffling. "Um, Wendy, it's two in the morning."

I checked my bedside clock, "It is! What are you doing up at two in the morning?"

"I—why are you calling me at two in the morning?"

"Oh," I blinked at my clock, the fog in my mind clearing a little. "Well, you never pick up during normal hours."

He sighed, "I tend to be working most of the time."

"Do you never rest, Wes?"

A pause. "Wendy, why did you call?"

"I wanted to talk to you." My eyes rested unseeingly on my wall.

"We talked a few months ago, didn't we?"

"Can we meet up for lunch or something? I haven't seen you in months," I continued.

There came another one of his pauses. "Wendy, I have to work."

"Please, Wes." I couldn't voice why it suddenly seemed so important to me. But it was.

I heard a voice in the background, and I thought it must be Alexander, Alexandro, whoever. "What about next week sometime? I can probably meet you for an hour for lunch?"

I ignored the thought of his boyfriend as I asked, "How's Monday?"

"Yeah. Okay, Monday."

"Great. I'll see you then, Wes," I said, letting him go, but not before, "You can't change your mind, ok?"

"Yeah, ok." And he clicked off. I shut my cell, letting it fall in my lap as I stared at it. The next thing I knew, my back was on the bed, and I was waking up to sunlight on my face, drying the patches of snot that Logan vigorously left on my cheeks.

Groaning, I shoved him off my body and sat on the edge of my bed for a few minutes, registering noises outside my room. June wouldn't be up at…I glanced at my clock: eight in the morning. I tiptoed into the hallway, noticing the suitcase and duffel bag sitting outside our guest-turned-storage room.

Continuing to the kitchen, I noticed a person whose back distinctly did not look like June's.

But the eyes he threw over his shoulder towards me were definitely hers. Ronan's face greeted me along with a casual, "Morning, sunshine."

It took me a second to remember his announcement of crashing at our place, and I murmured, "Oh. I thought that was a dream."

Ronan threw on a smirky grin, "What kind of dream?" And he looked me over in a quick glance. As if I wouldn't notice.

I looked away from him and rubbed my eyes, because even in just a T-shirt and basketball shorts, he looked far better than I could handle at the moment.

"How long are you staying exactly?" I asked, ignoring his question, moving toward the countertop and plopping onto a wooden stool.

Ronan turned back to rummage through our cupboards, "Just 'til my own flat's lease starts."

I covered a yawn, "When's that?"

Logan came tromping out of my room, edging cautiously around Ronan to place his furry head plaintively upon my thigh.

The sound of our toaster popped, and Ronan piled up a plate with toast, "Beginning of the school semester. June didn't tell you anything?"

I shook my head absently while petting Logan's head, latching onto the word that caught my attention, "School?"

Ronan had his hands full with the plate of toast, and the carton of juice, a piece of toast hanging from his lips. He still had ridiculously nice lips.

"Yeah," he chewed briefly, dropping the carton down in front of me and plucking a glass from the dish-washer as if he lived here on a regular basis. "I'm going back for an MBA in business."

That took me aback, "You're going back to school? I thought you hated school." As soon as he received his expected bachelor's in business, which he completed a year early as well, he peaced out with his father to travel the world.

Ronan sent me a half-hearted grin, "Things change," and plopped himself at our small kitchen table.

"Speaking of change," came June's voice as she, too, stumbled out of her bedroom door. "If you plan to live with us, Roan, you can't get up this early, or at least not make this much noise so early."

She stopped in the middle of the hallway, with what I supposed was Ronan's duffel bag threatening to fall on her barefeet, and looked at me blankly, "What the heck are you doing up so early?"

I stretched, but quickly yanked my T and shorts down when I caught Ronan's eyes lingering on my legs. "Logan woke me."

June huffed expectedly, crossing her arms over her rumpled nightshirt, "That's what you get for always keeping him with you."

"I know, I know." I finally plodded around the counter to reach Logan's food bowl and dry kibble, said dog practically shoving me on my side as he followed me to breakfast.

"Want some toast?" Ronan offered June and me. June rolled her eyes and took a piece, plopping herself down in the only other chair at the table.

"By the way, can't you put on some clothes while I'm here?" Ronan commented as he poured a glass of juice.

She arched a neat brow, "Because you haven't seen females in less?"

Ronan raised his eyebrows, "I don't need to see my sister's."

I cleared my throat, "We'll start wearing more when you're here."

Ronan didn't look at me as he spoke around a piece of toast, "I only said my sister."

My first reaction besides forcing down the rebellious gulp of juice I took was to glance at June, who, scrunching her button nose, chucked the rest of her toast at Ronan, "Ew. She counts, ok?"

I cleared my throat again, and prompted, "So, when's your lease start?"

His answer surprised me. "Well, school starts in late August. So two months."

I blinked, and couldn't stop myself from asking, "Two months? How did you not tell me about this?" This last question I directed at June.

She and her brother spoke through eye contact, and, irritated, I chomped into some toast, waiting.

June finally met my eyes, "I'm sorry, Wen. Really. I just…wasn't sure how you'd feel about it."

"Well, it's not like I'd say no." I felt a little hurt that she would keep something like this from me. We promised to run it by the other if we wanted friends over for even a weekend.

Ronan offered, "It was kind of sudden, and—"

June interrupted, "Oh, you don't need to justify it. Wendy, you wouldn't have said no, but I didn't want you to find an excuse to be somewhere else for the summer."

I didn't know what to say to this. There was a small silence, and I blushed, not understanding why.

Ronan poured some more juice, "You always seemed to disappear if I happened to come home."

"That's not true," I protested. "You rarely came home."

"Yeah, but when I did," and he shrugged.

"Well," I said, uncertain how to proceed, "Well, I'm glad we cleared this up. I'm glad you're here. I haven't seen you in awhile."

By the end of the sentence, I realized I was sincere. "Really," I added quietly, and it wasn't until he smiled reassuringly at me that I found I had smiled at him.

June just rolled her eyes, "Don't get mushy on me, guys. You didn't see me getting all emotional on you."

Ronan winked at me, and something clenched briefly in my chest. "Do I get a welcome home hug now? "

June exclaimed, "Quit flirting, Roan! She's like your sister, too!"

Ronan frowned a little confusedly at her, but I cut in with, "We haven't had a chance to clear out the extra bedroom, though. Should we start that this weekend?"

Ronan shrugged, "The couch was fine last night." And I glanced over to find a light blanket thrown over the cushions.

June got up to put her dish in the sink, "You can clean out the room yourself. You're the one who wanted to stay here."

Really? "Wait, so where's your dad now? You were staying with him the last few years, right?"

"He's somewhere in Italy right now." Ronan looked like he would say more, but flicking his gaze to his sister, he seemed to think twice. "I got tired of the traveling, so I just came back on my own."

I watched June's hands tighten over the glass she held under the water, and allowed myself to say simply, "That's too bad."

June brusquely wiped her hands off as she passed us to her room, her long legs under the nightshirt making Ronan grunt something about ugly sisters.

"Shut up," she threw blithely over her shoulder, "you were adopted."

"Ah," returned Ronan, "Explains my looks."

"So, about the room," I prompted, still wanting to make up for my rudeness not only just now, but yesterday at the mall. "I don't mind helping out. I have an article due Monday, so, other than that, I'm free."

June surprisingly offered, "We'll get started clearing out the spare room in the afternoon," as if she hadn't said just a second ago that Ronan could clean on his own.

He and I shared a smile as she closed her door.

.

A frustrated screech echoed throughout apartment A602, specifically within the small confined bedroom-turned-storage-room that we were attempting to clear out. Logan hid safely in my bedroom.

Aside from the boxes of old clothes and equipment that June once used for her shop, there were old books, laptops, luggage bags, and even an old desk that took up the entire left wall of the spare room.

Ronan ignored his sister's scream as he eyed an old sound system propped underneath an extra mattress wrapped in paper.

"You know, I think I could use that stereo. We shouldn't have to move this out."

June huffed, and I almost laughed to see the wisps of black that stuck out in loops around her head. My bangs had glued themselves to my forehead, and even in a half-hearted bun, strips of my hair kept falling out to stick to the back of my neck.

"Well, you would've been the one moving it, anyway, so it's up to you."

Ronan smiled genially, "Remind me why you guys are here again?"

"To tell you where to put the stuff," I joked, placing some old textbooks on top of the television Ronan had moved into the hallway.

June spoke up, "Remind me why you are here again?"

Ronan lifted another box. "Missed my favorite girls."

Wiping sweat off my brow, I didn't think as I snorted in disbelief, "A phone call would've sufficed."

June thankfully just lamely fist pumped the air, remaining seated on the carpet where she'd tripped over some cords earlier.

Her cell phone ringing in the kitchen brought her to her feet instantly, and I didn't miss the relieved smile on her lips as she darted out of the room.

"Hey, Mom!" came her husky voice from the hallway. I'd never heard her so happy to hear her mother before, and it made me laugh.

Ronan chuckled beside me, and I nearly dropped the box I was holding when I realized how close he stood, the very heat of him enveloping me. I turned to watch him survey the room thus far, his wide lips just slightly parted, and his hands making as if to yank his shirt off over his head. But he stopped and turned to me.

"Do you guys not turn on the A.C. until it's boiling?"

I would not tell him he could take off his shirt. I would not. I shook my head absently, getting a better grip on my box.

"Well, if I'm going to be the one moving the rest of this stuff, maybe I'll stick with the couch for tonight. What do you think?"

I tried to imagine if he still had that scar on the side of his hip bone, but decided that to let my mind wander there was a bad idea. So I looked him in the eyes.

"Thanks, Mom, even though it's not technically my birthday yet."

"Wendy?"

I blinked a few times, "What's up?" then jerked back as Ronan leaned towards me with amusement dancing on his face. It even seemed to waltz across those cheekbones of his, down to the corner tip of that full wide mouth of his. I swear if I sighed, I'd slap myself before slapping him.

"I asked what you thought of my suggestion," that mouth said.

"Oh, Ronan's already here. Yeah. No, it's just him, Wendy, and me. Yeah."

My mouth opened a few times, but nothing came out, so I nodded a little erratically. By sheer force of will, I focused on Ronan's nose, but even that didn't help because it was straight and perfect.

"You're going cross-eyed, sweetheart," and I felt his breath hit my lips.

"You want to throw it tomorrow night? Oh. Yeah, no, of course I'll make it. Well, let me ask them, hold on."

And suddenly, I could breathe. Ronan pulled back just as June popped her head around the doorway, beamed at her, and said, "Yes, we'll make it" before she could say a word.

June frowned, "It's rude to eavesdrop."

Ronan shrugged a shoulder, moving toward the desk in the room, "You might want to try toning down your voice then. I'm sure they can hear you next door."

She rolled her eyes, then ducked back into the hallway, saying loudly, "No, you can talk with the adoptee tomorrow night."

I stood rooted to my spot, concentrating on breathing, and willing the redness creeping up my ears to subside. But then Ronan glanced at me from over his shoulder, his lips twitching.

"I thought I'd be nice and not take off my shirt."

Finding my voice, I snipped, "And I thought you'd changed."

He turned to face me fully, smiling softly, "I'm glad to see some things haven't."

I bit the inside of my cheek, planted the box down on the floor, and left him to his own devices.

.

A/N: Parts of this chapter were...experimental. :P

Also, incredibly late update. Please forgive me, esp for the fact that I'm still not done writing the whole story.