“I think I just got someone killed,” I said with the blood draining from my face.
“Hil, is that you?” Dillon’s concern for my well-being was something I had grown to love him for.
“It’s me. What have I done?”
“Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick! Where are you?”
“I’m in a hospital,” I said, looking around at the other concerned people in the waiting room.
“No, I mean, what city are you in? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I lent someone my car, and they were in an accident. My phone got an alert saying it had been rear-ended and an ambulance had been called. Dillon, I think someone tried to run me off the side of a cliff.”
“Hil, you have to tell me where you are.”
“I don’t know where I am. It’s a small town in Tennessee. But I’m fine. I just needed to hear your voice. You can’t tell anyone you’ve heard from me.”
“Remy has been asking me about you. He said that your father is worried.”
“You definitely can’t tell him. Promise me you won’t.”
“Okay. I promise. But you can’t just disappear like that again.”
“I won’t. But I have to do this. I need to prove to them that I can make it on my own.”
“Didn’t you just say someone tried to run you off the side of a cliff?”
“I’ll be fine, Dillon. I can do this.”
“I was told that my mother was brought in,” someone with the hottest southern accent said, pulling me away from my conversation with Dillon.
I looked up to see a guy at the reception desk twenty feet in front of me. He had jet-black hair, broad shoulders, and an athletic build. I could only see him from behind, but I was drawn to him. And when the guy who drove me to the hospital rushed to him, I got up to join them.
“I have to go.”
“Don’t disappear on me again. You have to tell me where you are.”
“I’ll call you soon. I promise, Dillon.”
I ended the call and joined the two guys at the reception desk. Marcus, the one who had driven, turned to me as I did. “Hil, this is Cali. Dr. Sonya is his mother.”
The taller built guy looked at me. As he did, my knees wobbled. There was something about his smell and the way his eyes peered into mine that made me weak.
“Why was my mother driving your car?” the gorgeous man snapped.
I stepped back, taken off guard. Certainly, I could understand why he would be upset. I might be too if I was in his situation. But couldn’t he see that I was concerned as well?
“She had admired my car when I first arrived at the bed-and-breakfast. She had mentioned it a few times, so since I was supposed to be leaving today, I asked her if she’d like to take it for a drive. Should I not have? Is she not a good driver?”
Staring at me, Cali relented.
“No, that’s fine. She’s as good of a driver as anyone. You couldn’t have known what would happen. I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
“It’s Hilaire, but everyone calls me Hil,” I said, offering him my hand.
Taking my small hand in his, he held it for longer than I had expected. The way he peered at me made me feel vulnerable. It was like he could see into me. I had no secrets when he looked at me like that.
“It’s good to meet you, Hil. I guess I should apologize for what happened to your car.”
“Don’t be absurd. That’s what insurance is for. I’m just hoping your mother will be alright.”
Cali let go of my hand and turned away, breaking whatever connection we had. It hurt to feel it go. The downside to growing up the way I did is that I didn’t get the chance to meet guys like Cali. As protective as my father was, I didn’t go to school. I never had anything but tutors. I never got a life.
When my father figured out that I liked boys, he didn’t make a big deal about it. But guys became another thing for him to protect me from. I felt like his little Princess. But not in the way that felt like I would find a Prince. It was in the way that told me that I couldn’t be trusted to do anything. That was a part of the reason I was on this trip, to prove that I could survive on my own.
If I were being honest, another reason was that guys who looked like Cali, and made me feel the way he did, were far and few in between. At twenty years old, I was still a virgin. That would never change living under my father’s protection. I had to get away. But now I was in a hospital in the middle of who-knows-where Tennessee, unsure of what to do, where to go, or how to get there.
“Thank you for coming, Marcus. But you don’t have to stay. I’m sure you have a lot to do. I don’t want to keep you from it,” Cali said, not looking at him.
“No, I can be here for as long as you need me. She’s your mother, but I cared about her too.”
“Thank you. But Claudee and Titus will be here soon. There’s no need for you to stay,” the built guy said dismissively.
“No, seriously, I can stay as long as you need me.”
Cali turned to face him with a look that could have been chiseled in marble.
“Marcus, go. I’ll let you know how she’s doing. I’m sure Hil will need a ride back as well.”
I jolted back hearing my name said in the same dismissive tone. Did he not want us here? Was he upset with me because if it hadn’t been for me, his mother wouldn’t be in the state that she was?
I put my hand on Marcus’s shoulder.
“We should go. I’m sure that Cali will update us when he knows more.”
Cali turned to me with relief on his face. I wasn’t sure why. Was there something going on between the two. Did they have history?
I turned back to Marcus to get a better look at him. He wasn’t my type the way Cali was, but he was still very attractive. He was nowhere near as built as the Adonis standing next to him, but he was fit and shared Cali’s dimples.
“I can take you back to Dr. Sonya’s,” Marcus said, too sad to meet my eyes.
“Thank you,” I said as if I didn’t want to stay as much as he did.
“I’m sorry again about what happened to your mother,” I said, capturing Cali’s attention but not his gaze.
He barely acknowledged me. Staring at him, I desperately wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him that his mother would be alright. But there was a prickly armor covering him that I couldn’t penetrate.
Maybe he could see that I was gay and didn’t like it. In the world I grew up in, hiding your weakness was the first step to survival. My attraction to guys was my weakness. At least, my father thought so. That was why I did my best to hide it.
Unfortunately, when I met guys who were hotter than sin, me hiding how I felt was like an elephant hiding behind a lamp pole. Cali is that hot. And maybe he doesn’t like elephants.
Leaving as Cali requested, Marcus and I were silent as we drove back to the bed-and-breakfast. The entire way, he looked as confused by our interaction with Cali as I was. Cali didn’t seem like a bad guy. Could he just not be very talkative? Did he have a history of being quiet?
Speaking of histories, did he and Marcus have one? Was there reason things seemed tense between the two? Had the two been sexual?
“I need to apologize for the way Cali reacted. He isn’t usually so…” Marcus paused.
“Quick to get rid of people?”
Marcus laughed. “No, that part is typical Cali. He’s usually a little nicer about it, though. You shouldn’t take it personally.”
“Do I what?”
“Do you take it personally?”
Marcus’s mouth opened, but he didn’t speak. It took a while for him to say,
“Sometimes. He and I went to the same high school. Cali was on the football team and had girls throwing themselves at him. We didn’t exactly hang out in the same circles.
“Our mothers are friends, so we were often forced to spend time together. I always felt like such an inconvenience for him. I guess nothing changes.”
“So, Cali had a lot of girlfriends?” I asked, unable to hide my intent.
Marcus looked at me joining the long line of people who could see straight through me. He chuckled.
“Funny enough, although there was an endless line of girls after him, I never really saw him with any of them. He is more of a brooding, loner type.”
“He mentioned two guys joining him. I take it that neither is a boyfriend?” I asked hesitantly.
Marcus laughed again.
“No, Claudee and Titus are his long-lost brothers.”
“Yeah. Last fall, Titus’s boyfriend passed around a DNA test and it turned out that the three of them share the same father.”
“That’s exactly what the rest of the town thought. It was a real scandal. Cali’s mother was one of the people everyone couldn’t stop talking about. ‘Did the three of them all have the same father? How are they so close in age? Who was this man?’
“None of the mothers said. Supposedly, they wouldn’t even tell their sons. Cali and Dr. Sonya we’re pretty close until then. Now, Cali spends most of his time back at university.”
“Cali attends college?”
“Yeah. He’s on the football team. He and Titus both. Last season, Titus set the record for yards run in his position, and Cali set the record for yards kicked.”
“That’s an athletic family.”
“Apparently,” Marcus said with a painful ache in his eyes.
“I take it that you don’t attend university?” I asked, assuming that he was around my age.
“I wasn’t blessed with the natural ability that so many people in this town have. If it was in the water, I certainly didn’t drink it,” he said offering a smile.
“No, but I’ve tasted your pastries. You don’t need to play football when you can make stuff that tastes like that. I know people who would kill for one of your chocolate croissants,” I said genuinely.
Marcus blushed. It was enough to make me think that he was interested in me. It only took a moment of picturing him naked before realizing that I saw him more as a brother then someone I would want to get into bed with. Cali, though, just thinking about him felt like someone was squeezing my heart. Was this what it meant to ache for someone?
“I appreciate you saying that,” Marcus said, pulling me from my increasingly elaborate fantasy of Cali. “Baking pastries is how I relax.”
“I would trade an arm to be good at anything as much as you are at baking. I couldn’t tell you how to boil an egg.”
Marcus laughed. He must have thought I was joking. I wasn’t. Growing up, we always had housekeepers and chefs. For a short while, we even had a food taster. It’s a little hard to learn how to survive on your own when there is an endless supply of people who are paid to do things for you.
Switching topics for the remainder of our forty-five-minute drive, he told me about growing up in a small town. It was very different from how I grew up in New York. I asked him if he had ever caught fireflies in a mason jar. He laughed and said that he had.
“The next thing you’re gonna tell me is that you and your friends would fish down at the creek.”
He looked at me embarrassed.
“You don’t understand how few things there are to do here. But, have you ever tried it? It’s actually pretty fun.”
“I guess. It’s got to be better than awkwardly pretending that you don’t have a crush on any half-decent boy that your parents set you up on a play date with.”
Marcus looked at me with realization.
“So, you’re into guys?”
“If by into, you mean desperately longing to have one in me, then yes,” I admitted with a smile.
“That’s cool,” he said, seeming to mean it.
“Clearly you’ve never been into guys,” I laughed.
Marcus looked away without responding. There was something he wasn’t saying. Maybe if I had had any opportunity to refine my gaydar, I would know what it was. The only other guy I knew who was into guys was Dillon, and he had as hard of a time hiding it as I did.
When we arrived back at the bed-and-breakfast, Marcus asked me if I would need anything now that I didn’t have a car. I told him I would be fine. He then gave me his number and told me to call if I needed anything. I was grateful.
I was trying to be independent and self-reliant, but the truth was that I didn’t know what I was doing. What was I going to do now that I didn’t have a car? More than that, what was I going to do without cash?
If you’re trying to take the kind of trip that I was, you can’t rely on your father’s credit card. Credit card purchases can be tracked. If I used it, my father would know exactly where I was.
Alternatively, you could take the family car that doesn’t have a tracking device in it, pocket a few stacks of cash that your father keeps hidden around the house, shut off your phone, and go whatever you want.
That was the option I chose. But I also kept the cash in my car thinking that’s where it would be safest. Should I have thought about that before allowing Dr. Sonya to take it for a drive? Clearly. But how could I have guessed that my car and all of my money would end up at the bottom of a mountain pass?
What was I supposed to do now? I had no car, I had no cash, and if I wasn’t mistaken, Dr. Sonya had someone else scheduled to check into my room tonight.
It wasn’t like I didn’t have any options. If worst came to worst, I could always use my credit card or call home. But I didn’t want to do that. For once in my life, I wanted to show my father that I wasn’t completely helpless. I could take care of myself. But the more time that passed on my little adventure, the more I started to think that I couldn’t.
Entering the bed-and-breakfast, the faces of four people immediately turned towards me. They looked like two sets of couples dressed for an adventure vacation. Wearing hiking boots and with large backpacks on the floor next to the couch, I reasoned that these were the visitors that Dr. Sonya had said would be replacing me. I wasn’t sure what to say to them, so instead of saying anything, I hurried past them to my room.
Behind my locked door, I collapsed onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. I felt so lost. I had to do something, didn’t I? I couldn’t just lay here hoping everything would workout. Didn’t self-reliant people take action? Didn’t they anticipate what would happen next and prepare for it?
Paralyzed, I laid there for more than an hour considering what I should do. I knew that Dillon would help me if he could, but that wasn’t our relationship. I was the one who had adopted him. Dillon had been the son of my favorite housekeeper. After my parents arranged a play date, I decided that he would get the life I wished I had.
When he graduated from high school, I convinced my father to start a scholarship program and then made sure that he got it. I also made sure that his dorm room at college was furnished with everything he would need. The scholarship included spending money so he didn’t have to get a job, and he got a clothing allowance so he could find a great guy and have a happy life.
I didn’t do this because I wanted anything from him. He is my friend. I just want him to be happy. I’m sure that he would help me now if he could. But he was in New Jersey, and I knew the exact amount in his bank account. Asking Dillon for help wasn’t an option.
Hearing a knock on the door I snapped out of my downward spiral. Quickly pulling myself together, I sat up. It had gotten dark since I had laid down. Scrambling to my feet, I flicked on a light.
“Yes?” I said, suddenly face to face with Cali’s chiseled cheekbones.
“I was wondering if you’re gonna be checking out soon?” he said with an unmistakable weight on his shoulders.
I didn’t want to burden him with my trivial problems. He had enough to deal with thanks to me.
“Yes. Of course. I guess I just lost track of time.”
“It’s just that there’s someone scheduled for this room, and I still have to clean it…”
“If you need more time…”
“No. I don’t have much. I can be out in a few minutes.”
Instead of replying, his gaze rolled over me. It gave me a warm feeling that settled deep inside of me. Tightening his lips, he gave me a nod and returned downstairs.
Well, this was it. I was going to have to make a decision. Tossing the few things I had into my bag, I took a last look at myself in the mirror and left the room.
“I’m out,” I told Cali when I found him in the kitchen.”
“Okay, thanks,” he said, scurrying up to the room behind me.
With nowhere to go, I joined the guests in the living room. It was a comfortable space. The furniture had pictures of birds on the upholstery. There was an ornately designed throw rug under the coffee table in front of it and shelves surrounding the space with books and knickknacks from around the world.
I wondered how it was to grow up in a place like this. It felt like a home filled with love. I knew what that was like. My father was intensely devoted to his family. My mother, my brother, and I were everything to him. It was the rest of the world that had a reason to fear him.
It only took twenty minutes for Cali to return and escort the new guests to their rooms. He looked at me and our eyes made contact for a moment. But that was it. He was busy. I understood. How was he supposed to know what I was going through? Besides, he had real things to worry about.
Thirty minutes later, when he returned to the living room and found that I hadn’t moved, I felt embarrassed. I couldn’t look at him.
“Is everything okay?” he asked me, drawing my eyes to his.
Staring at him, tears welled in my eyes. I was being ridiculous. I knew it. I had options. I had nothing to complain about. But here I was crying while a person who could be losing his mother remained strong.
“I’m sorry. I’ll get out of your hair now,” I said getting up, grabbing my bag, and hurrying to the door.
“Wait. Stop!” he ordered, halting me. Facing away, I couldn’t look at him.
“You don’t have a car. Where are you going?”
“I can call for a ride.”
“If you could do that, you would have already. Do you have anywhere to go?”
“Really, you don’t have to worry about me. How’s your mother?”
When he didn’t answer, I turned to face him. Pain rippled through him.
“The doctor says that she’ll eventually be alright. But I could barely stand to see her like that. She’s always been so full of life, ya know. To see her lying there with tubes attached to her, I couldn’t take it.”
Without thinking, I rushed to him and gripped his shoulder. If I had thought before I did it, I might not have. When he didn’t pull away, I was glad I had.
“The doctor says she’s gonna be alright?”
He nodded confirmation.
“That’s really good. I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that.”
As if regretting he had given me a peak under his mask, he quickly straightened up and pulled away.
“Thank you. And, I’m so sorry about what happened to your car. My mother has insurance. It will take care of it.”
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. You just worry about your mother and everything else I’m sure you have going on.”
“I’ll be fine. But you didn’t answer my question. Do you have anywhere to go?”
I wondered what I should tell him. I had already said that I would be fine. He hadn’t accepted that answer. Deciding I should tell him the truth, I shook my head, no.
“Then, you’ll stay here,” he said kindly.
“But the room is gone.”
“You’ll stay in my room,” he said confidently.
My mouth dropped open as I stared at him wondering what he was suggesting. He quickly clarified.
“I’ll stay in my mother’s room. My room isn’t much but…”
“No, thank you. I’m sure it’ll be more than enough,” I said as relief washed through me.
“You’ll need to give me a few minutes to straighten it up and maybe change the sheets,” he said with his fair-skinned cheeks turning red.
“Don’t go through any trouble.” I implored.
“No, just give me a minute. I’ll be right back,” he said hurrying up the stairs.
I watched his ass as he left. Damn!
As I led him down the hallway to my bedroom, I pictured the guy following me. His tousled, curly hair fell halfway down his forehead. And his wide eyes and full pink lips reminded me of a Kewpie doll. He had to be the hottest guy I had ever met.
This was not the time to think about that, though. I had other things to worry about. My mother was in the hospital. It was hard not to blame myself for her being there.
Ever since I learned that Titus, Claude, and I were brothers, things had been tense between my mother and I. When I had confronted her with it, she had tightened her lips and walked away. She knew. For my entire life, she knew that I had brothers and hadn’t told me. Why? How could she do that to me?
“Here it is,” I said, turning back to the shorter, lean guy behind me.
“Are you sure this is okay?” he asked, his eyes hinting to his vulnerability.
“It’s no problem,” I said, staring at him blankly.
The gorgeous guy continued to look at me as if there was something he wanted to say. I couldn’t imagine what it would be. Staring back, I had an ache in my chest. Overwhelmed by a desire to pull him into my arms and slip my fingers into his nest of hair, I looked away to gather myself.
“Do you think your mother will be coming home soon?” he asked, drawing my gaze.
“Don’t worry. You can have the room for as long as you need it.”
Hil looked embarrassed.
“That wasn’t why I was asking.”
Staring at him again, it was clear that that wasn’t what he was asking.
“Right. No, I’m sure it will be at least a couple of days. The doctor told me that she looks a lot worse than she is. Luckily, it’s mostly scratches and bruises. She escaped a lot of the internal damage that might have made things tricky. But she’s not completely out of the woods. I’ll be heading back in the morning to check on her,” I said, again being overcome by regret.
“Please, give her my best.”
I stared at him. The pain in his eyes told me that he really did think that what happened to my mother was his fault. I couldn’t understand why. He wasn’t the one who had crashed into her or had left the scene of the crime. He was the one who called the ambulance that rescued her.
I tightened my lips and nodded before turning toward my mother’s bedroom and leaving Hil in my wake. Opening the door at the end of the hall, I didn’t look back. I desperately wanted to, but I didn’t want to get too attached. He could be gone by the time I woke up and I was tired of having my heart broken.
Trust was an issue for me and it didn’t help that the person I thought I could trust the most had allowed me to live a lie. So I wasn’t going to let myself feel something for Hil no matter how gorgeous his eyes were. I had to protect myself from him.
But with the door locked behind me, I pictured him again. As soon as I did, my cock got hard. I placed my hand on it and squeezed.
This wasn’t the first time I had had feelings for a guy, but the other times hadn’t felt like this. I had had crushes, but this felt like more. And the more I felt, the more I knew I needed to fight it.
Trying to shake it from my mind, I stripped off my shirt and jeans and fell into my mother’s bed. It was weird being here. I hadn’t slept in it since I was a kid.
What I had told Hil was true. Dr. Tom, my mother’s doctor, had said that he thought my mother would fully recover. But what I hadn’t told Hil was how awful she looked. Purple bruises covered her fair skin. And pumped with painkillers, she stared at me as if I wasn’t there.
My mother had always been so strong. So full of life. I used to think of her has being “too much”. Now I would give anything to have her back to the way she was.
There had to be a reason she hadn’t told me that I had brothers, right? And why she had always refused to tell me anything about my father? There had to be.
But none of that was important now. The only thing that mattered was that she got better. And I was going to do whatever I had to to make that happen.
Sitting in the waiting room the next morning, images danced through my mind. Would Mama look better? Worse? Were the drugs that she was on masking a head injury that would rob her of her spirit?
I barely slept the night before thinking about it. I had been a fool to fight with her. I would now give anything to take it back.
“Mr. Shearer?” the stout, dark-skinned woman said from behind the receptionist desk.
Getting up, I quickly stood in front of her.
“That’s me,” I said with my heart thumping in my throat.
“You can go back now,” she said, barely looking at me.
Was her uneasy eye contact because things had not gone well overnight? Heat washed through me considering the possibility.
“She was moved to room 201. That’s on the second floor. Would you like directions?”
“You changed her room?”
The woman’s tired eyes met mine. After only a second, they popped back down to the sheet in front of her.
“It says here that she was moved due to an upgrade in her status. It’s a good thing,” she said with a practiced smile.
“Thank you,” I said relieved and headed towards the stairs.
I didn’t like the smell of hospitals. It smelled like death. I knew that too well. I couldn’t take losing my mother. And as much as I tried not to think about it, the thought flooded my mind as I crossed the halls.
When I found room 201, I reached for the knob and paused. I really couldn’t take it if Mama’s condition had taken a turn for the worse. This whole thing was a nightmare. My heart raced and my breath labored thinking about it.
Gathering up as much courage as I could, I knocked and pressed lightly on the door. Peeking in, I held my breath.
“Cali?” a strained but familiar voice said from within.
“Yeah, it’s me, Mama.”
“I’m glad to see you,” she said with drowsy eyes and a smile.
Allowing the door to close behind me, I moved to the side of her bed. Although she was more awake than she had been the night before, she might have looked worse. All of her purple bruises had darkened. I couldn’t imagine that being a good sign, but hadn’t they moved her to a new room because she was doing better?
“That bad, huh?” my mother said, reading the look on my face.
“No, Mama. You’re looking better.”
My mother smiled. “Here’s a secret, Cali. You have a tell when you lie. A mother knows,” she said emphasizing her usually light Jamaican accent.
Was that true? Could she tell when I was lying? I was certainly lying this time.
“Mama, how did this happen?”
Sadness entered my mother’s eyes. It was the same one she got whenever I brought up my newly-found brothers.
“Does this have something to do with my father?”
She looked at me, staring into my eyes.
“It does, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know that. And neither could you, so there’s no point in asking about it.”
“What are you talking about? Someone told me that your car was rear-ended. You could have been killed. I almost lost you. If you’re still in danger, I need to know about it. If someone’s trying to hurt you because of me…”
Mama took my hand in hers. Looking at her, all I could see were the tubes attached to her arms.
“What happened was an accident. That’s all it was.”
“But what if it wasn’t? You have to tell me who my father is. If he’s someone dangerous, I have to know. Titus, Claude, and I need to know.”
For the first time since finding out there was more to my past than I was being told, my mother looked at me with empathy. I hoped it would be followed by an explanation. It wasn’t.
“Even now you’re not going to say anything?”
“Cali, there is nothing to say.”
As relieved as I was that my mother seemed more like herself, I was once again furious at her. I deserved to know the truth. She was withholding a part of who I was from me.
Maybe if I knew who my father was, it would explain things about me that I didn’t understand. I wanted to yell that at my mother, but I couldn’t. Not now, and maybe never again.
“I’m going to be taking a break from school to take care of the bed-and-breakfast,” I said to her, changing the topic.
“No!” she replied emphatically.
“What do you mean no? There are guests staying there. Now that business is starting to pick up, we have to think about reviews.”
“Promise me that this won’t affect your schoolwork.”
“Do you think I care about school right now? Do you see where you are?”
“I said, promise me! Your education is what’s important. That should always come first.”
“There is nothing more important than getting you healthy,” I explained to her.
She squeezed my hand. “Thank you. But the doctors here will take care of that. You just worry about your grades. Let me worry about the business.”
“You say that, but what could you do from this bed?”
“More than you think,” she said with a smile.
I looked down at my mother who was covered in bruises but still thought that she could do it all. That was the woman I had grown up with. Not even driving into a forty-foot-deep ravine could stop her. I smiled and conceded.
“I’ll stay in school. But I’ll have to take a break, at least for a few days.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Mama, you’re being ridiculous.”
“Promise me,” she said softly but with more weight than any two words deserve to have.
“I promise,” I told her, knowing that she was the master of doing the impossible. Now I was going to have to figure out how to do the same.
“Okay, Hil. You have to tell me where you are,” Dillon said, using the tone he implored whenever he wanted to be taken seriously.
“I told you, I’m fine,” I said, looking around Cali’s football-themed room.
“You say that, but how do I know it’s true? This is coming from the person who said they might be unavailable for a few days and then fell off the grid for more than a week. Does that sound like someone whose word I can count on?”
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, Dillon was right. It was a shitty thing for me to have done. I just took off without telling anyone where I was going or when I would be back.
I didn’t regret doing it because it was the only way I could get out. And what if my father, or even my brother contacted him. Dillon was a really bad liar. If he knew, they would know he knew and eventually get it out of him.
I was keeping Dillon safe by not telling him that I was going… even if it killed me that he no longer felt that he could trust me… and Dillon’s trust meant everything to me…
“Fine,” I said crumbling under the thought that I could lose him as a friend. “I’ll tell you where I am. But no specifics.”
“You know me, I’ll take what I can get,” Dillon said, jokingly referring to his love life.
“I’m currently in a hot football player’s bedroom while lying snuggly beneath his sheets.”
There was a pause on the other end followed by a piercing, “What?”
I couldn’t stop the smile that plastered across my face.
“Yeah. I’m staring at all of his football equipment right now,” I said, looking at the sports gear that had been piled in the corner of the room.
“Oh, now you have to tell me where you are.”
“I told you, I’m fine.”
“Um, you sound a little better than just fine.”
“Maybe,” I said with a smile.
“But I don’t understand. Yesterday you told me you thought you killed somebody.”
Remembering how it felt waiting in the hospital for Cali wiped the smile from my face.
“Yeah. That happened too.”
“How did you almost kill someone?” Dillon asked delicately.
“I should have gotten rid of my family’s car as soon as I passed the first car rental place.”
“By the way, Hil, when did get your driver’s license?”
Dillon knew the answer to that question. I hadn’t. Not only did we both grow up in New York City, but I had a driver to take me anywhere I needed to go. When we arrived, my driver turned into my bodyguard. That had been no way to grow up.
Although, to be fair, it took less than two weeks of being on my own for someone to run my car off the road. Was I making a horrible mistake not having protection? Was I signing my own death certificate by running from the people who were paid to keep me safe?
I didn’t want to think about that, right now. I had gotten out and I wanted to make the best of it. I needed to figure out how to have a life.
Remy had one, and as my father’s first born, he was in a lot more danger than I was. Yet, my father didn’t require him to have a bodyguard. He could do whatever he wanted. It was only me who he thought couldn’t take care of myself. I had to prove him wrong. I had to show him that I could make it on my own.
“Has Remy asked about me again?”
“Since the last time I spoke to you?”
“Remy can be persistent.”
Dillon laughed. “I wish. I don’t know if you know this, but your brother is hot. He could slide into my DM’s anytime and have whatever he wants.”
“And that’s why I can’t tell you where I am,” I said disappointed. “Also, ew.”
Dillon didn’t respond.
I had always been insecure when it came to Remy. He and I were nothing alike. Not only did he get all the height, he also got all the muscles and tattoos. I was just his soft, little brother that needed someone to do everything for him. I hated it. I would do anything for that not to be true.
“I’m gonna go,” I told Dillon, losing my enthusiasm for the call.
“Go and do what?” he asked, prying me for more.
“To be honest, I don’t know. I’m pretty much stuck here for now. Maybe have breakfast. I’ll figure things out from there.”
“I want you to call me every day to let me know you’re okay. If you don’t want me to tell Remy that I heard from you, you’re gonna have to give me that.”
“I’ll call you,” I told him, hiding how much it meant to me that he cared.
“And you know you’re gonna have to give me more details about the football player, right?”
“As soon as I have something to share, believe me, you’ll be the first person I tell.”
“Stay safe,” he said with enough sincerity to tell me how worried he actually was for me.
“I promise,” I said, ending the call and looking around.
What was I going to do today? The previous few days I had driven around to the hiking spots Dr. Sonya had told me about. I didn’t actually go on the hikes. That would have been crazy. But the views from the trailheads were beautiful.
That, however, was back when I had a car. I was going to have to do something about that. But what? The only money I had were the few hundred dollars I had in my wallet. That wasn’t going to get me very far.
I didn’t see any way this could end without me crawling back to my family admitting that I had failed. That might have been inevitable, but it didn’t have to happen today. What did have to happen was breakfast. Hopefully it was going to be waiting for me when I got downstairs.
Pulling myself together for when I ran into the gorgeous guy who had slept a few doors down, I left my room and headed for the kitchen. Crossing the living room, I saw the same pair of couples that had been there when I had gotten back from the hospital.
“Excuse me, you’re staying here as well, right?” the skinny, grizzly looking man in flannel and hiking boots asked me.
“Yes, you checked in last night, right?”
“Yeah. Do you know if there’s supposed to be breakfast?” he asked, flashing a realization through my mind.
The gorgeous guy had said that he was heading to the hospital early. Considering he was going there to see his mother, and his mother was the one to make breakfast, the kitchen was going to be empty.
“Yes, there is. And it’s usually great. But…” My eyes darted around as I figured out what I should say.
“But?” the guy echoed.
I looked at him with an idea.
“But it might be a little limited this morning. Can you give me a second? I’ll go check on it,” I told him, excited by my idea.
Leaving the group, I entered the kitchen. Looking around, nothing seemed too intimidating. Hadn’t I watched our chef cook for us a thousand times? Some of what I saw had to have rubbed off on me, didn’t it? How hard could making breakfast be?
Opening the well-stocked fridge, I stared inside. Everything was in there. It looked like enough food to feed an army. It was overwhelming.
“Eggs,” I said remembering the delicious scramble Dr. Sonya had made for me the morning before.
Retrieving one of them, I stared at it and then pulled out another. These were definitely eggs. There was no doubt about it. And somehow what was inside was supposed to be cooked and place on a plate with a garnish on the side.
What was I doing? I didn’t know how to scramble eggs. I couldn’t even boil an egg. If I was left in a fully stocked kitchen by myself for a week, I would probably starve to death.
“Do you know if it will be ready soon?” the scruffy guy asked, poking his head past the kitchen door. “We have a hiking tour scheduled in an hour. We’re wondering if we should instead grab breakfast at the diner down the street.”
“No, you don’t have to go anywhere else. Breakfast will be coming up in a second. I’ll let you know when it’s ready,” I said, hiding my terror with a smile. I was sure he didn’t notice.
When he retreated with a doubtful look, I turned back to the impossible task in front of me and tried not to panic.
Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I settled myself.
“You can do this, Hil. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be something that qualifies as breakfast.”
With a new mission, I returned the eggs to their container in the fridge. Scrambled eggs were intermediate. I was a beginner. So I looked around for something that was beginner level.
On the back of the top shelf were a few of Marcus’s pastries.
“A continental breakfast?” I contemplated, remembering a few of my family’s trips to France.
Retrieving the croissants, I opened every cabinet until I found plates. Arranging them as nicely as I could, I next looked for a knife and the clay butter container Dr. Sonya had presented to me the last few mornings.
“There it is,” I said as relief filled me.
This was close, but I needed something else.
“Cereal!” I blurted, not knowing why I hadn’t thought of it before.
Scouring the cupboards, I found two boxes of cereal. I would offer the group both. Retrieving bowls and the milk, I took it past the swinging door to the dining room table and laid it all out. Returning with the croissants a few seconds later, I called the group into the dining area and nervously watched their faces.
They didn’t look too disappointed. Shouldn’t I take that as a win? I mean, I had figured out how to feed four people. I could technically be considered a sustainer of life.
“Thank you,” the group leader said before they all sat down and dug in.
Struggling to contain my excitement, I said, “Just let me know if you need anything else,” and then retreated to the kitchen.
It’s hard for me to express how great I felt having taken care of this. Maybe I wasn’t as helpless as everyone thought. Perhaps I could do this. It wasn’t like everyone else was smarter than me. It was just that no one had ever given me the opportunity. I had never had to. But if I did, might I rise to the occasion?
Waiting in the kitchen for the couples to leave, I reentered the dining area with a plan. The excitement of it made me tingle. It would be something that I couldn’t even imagine myself doing just days earlier. But I was sure I could do this.
Retrieving the plates and extra food, I put everything away and placed the dishes in the sink. Looking around to see what else I could do, I realized that the dishes weren’t going to wash themselves. The question was, though, how do you wash dishes?
Looking around, I spotted a bottle of dish soap. Wondering how it worked, I squeezed some of it onto the bowls. The florescent green lines just laid there. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting it to do.
Finding a sponge at the back of the sink, I came up with a new plan. It was just like taking a bath, right? Except with dishes? There wasn’t more to it than that. Right?
When that was done, I placed them in the draining rack and looked down at them pleased. I had just washed my first set of dishes. It really wasn’t that hard. More than that, I had a sense of accomplishment that I rarely felt. I really was capable of more than anyone gave me credit for.
With a newfound excitement, I left the kitchen for my room. I had to figure out what else I could do. There had to be something, right? It was then that I thought of Dillon. His mother had been our housekeeper. If there was anyone who would know, it would to be him.
“How does someone run a bed-and-breakfast?” I asked my friend.
“How am I supposed to know that? I’ve never even been to a bed-and-breakfast. Have you forgotten that I’ve never been further than New Jersey?”
“I know,” I said feeling bad about assuming. “It’s just that…”
“… my mother is a housekeeper?”
“Okay. Is that bad?”
“It’s not great.”
“No, that’s fine. I guess I’m just being sensitive. Everyone at this school acts like they have money to burn. They keep inviting me to things that there’s no way I can afford.”
“If you need me to send you more money…” I told him feeling bad.
“That’s not why I said that, Hil. Please, just be my best friend right now.”
I swallowed, unsure of how many things I had said poorly. I wanted to be supportive. And wasn’t money the way my parents had shown me that they cared? Wait. Was I just acting like my parents? Yikes!
“You’re right, Dillon. And that sucks. But I know you. You’re probably the best guy there. You’re the best person I know.
“And if I wasn’t the only guy you knew, that would mean so much to me, Hil” Dillon said almost sounding sincere.
“Whatever,” I said with a laugh. “You know what I mean.”
“You mean that you love me. Yes, I understand. And I love you too.”
I took a second to think about how lucky I was to have Dillon in my life before my thoughts turned back to my brilliant plan.
“So, do you think your mother would know how to run one?”
As Dillon ran through the list of reasons why he wasn’t going to ask her, I came up with a list that answered my own question. Most of them could be summed up in two words: ‘ be awesome.’ How hard could that be?
For the next few hours, I chatted with Dillon. When he hung up to go to class, I walked through the house full of energy. That continued until Cali returned. Hearing the front door open, I rushed downstairs to greet him. He seemed startled by my presence as I descended the stairs. He stared at me with a tortured look. I froze.
“Is your mother alright?” I asked, feeling a sudden lump in my throat.
“She’s feeling better, thanks,” he said, before passing me as he headed toward the stairs.
“Wait, could I talk to you about something?” I said, grabbing his attention. The way his steely eyes locked on me when he turned made my knees weak.
“What is it?” he said gruffly.
I knew he was having a hard time right now, so I tried not to take it personally. But it also made me think about what he would look like if he smiled.
Catching himself, he hung his head with an apologetic look.
“I’m sorry. I just have a lot on my mind.”
“That’s perfectly fine. You have a lot to worry about. Which is kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.”
He turned, looking at me questioningly. I felt the heat from his gaze. It was enough to make me think naughty thoughts about him. Pushing those aside for the time being, I took a breath, gathered myself and then asked him to follow me.
Taking him into the kitchen, I showed him the dishes I had cleaned.
“So, this morning the other guests asked about breakfast.”
“That’s okay. I took care of it.”
“You took care of it?”
I smiled. “Yeah. I offered them a few of the croissants in the fridge and cereal. I know it wasn’t what your mother usually prepares, but they seemed happy with it. And it was something you didn’t have to worry about.”
Cali looked at me, not saying a word.
“Was that okay?”
“Yes, of course. I’m just sorry you had to do it. That was my responsibility.”
“Don’t worry about it. In fact, I was thinking that I could help you out more. I mean, until your mother gets back. But, even then, I’m sure there are things that you’ll need help with,” I said, trying to hide my vulnerability.
Cali just stared at me. I melted under his gaze. What was he thinking? Did he see me the way everyone else did? Incapable of taking care of myself, much less anything as complicated as this place? I was about to retract my offer when he relieved me of my suffering.
“Have you ever worked at a bed-and-breakfast before?”
“No, but I have a lot of experience watching people work at a bed-and-breakfast,” I offered, knowing it wasn’t nearly the same thing.
The gorgeous, built guy continued to stare at me. The longer he did, the more naked I felt. I couldn’t take it anymore. “Please say something.”
“I’m sorry,” he said with sincerity. “I was just thinking of something my mother said.”
“What was that?”
“It doesn’t matter. Do you know what’s involved with taking care of a place like this?”
“No. But I can learn,” I told him enthusiastically.
“There are a lot of things that aren’t fun to do,” he explained.
“So, I’m sure you would prefer to find someone else to do them.”
“Are you sure you’re up for it? You don’t strike me as someone who likes to get their hands dirty.”
“I can get my hands dirty. My whole life everyone’s assumed that I’m helpless. It’s not true. I can do stuff. Someone just needs to give me a chance. If you let me help you, I promise you won’t regret it. Besides, I owe you this.”
“Why do you owe me?”
I apologized, reconsidering what I said. I couldn’t tell him that the reason his mother was in the hospital was because of me. I didn’t know much, but I knew that wasn’t something that you said in a job interview.
“It was my car your mother had the accident in.”
“Which is why, if anything, I owe you.”