A/N: Please accept my apologies for the missed update; I almost didn't get this one out tonight, either. I've had extraordinary amounts of homework, as well as the delightful experience of studying for a subject you know nothing about… Thank you for all the wonderful reviews!
It seemed much, much longer than a week since Trent had been attacked. I'd been strangely restless ever since, feeling like I was about to crawl out of my skin. Jasmine noticed that I was snapping a lot more than usual, but I tried to behave normally around Trent. The last thing I wanted to do was worry him further, and I was pretty sure that telling him about how I felt like tearing something to bits with my bare hands would make him worry.
Hell, it was making me worry.
I bounded down the stairs, carrying my all-purpose backpack, and hoping that I wouldn't run into anyone. I'd arranged to meet my boyfriend at his house, and considering that I'd lately been spending more time at the Gardners' than my own place, it was a safe bet that I'd need the toothbrush and spare underwear. It seemed incredibly bizarre to spend the night in Trent's bedroom, knowing that his parents knew that I was there and that we were dating – read: kissing, making out, giggling like mad school girls - and yet seeing them smile every time I turned up announced. Over the past week, I'd learned some of the family's little idiosyncrasies; I knew to avoid Sebastian when he was pacing and muttering while waving a paintbrush unless I wanted to be asked to pose, or help mix paints; I knew that Leanne was a chocoholic, and that her battles to hide her stash from her children were legendary; I knew that Claire went to bed with a teddy bear each night, yet was perfectly capable of verbally tearing you to shreds if you even so much dared to tease her about the relationship she had with Puddles.
Perhaps predictably, considering the little Trent had told me about him, the only one I didn't really get along with was Tristan. It wasn't that he was hostile toward me; we were always polite, if nothing more. But once or twice, I'd caught him staring at me with an intensity that had surprised me, and made me vaguely uncomfortable. He was cooler still toward Trent, and for that, there were times when I wanted to shake him. I realised that he had every right to have a problem with his brother, but not when it was Trent, and not when it was hurting said brother.
I meant, not when he made no effort to work it out. There, that sounded a little less biased, didn't it?
I faltered when I reached the last step, cursing under my breath. The TV was on in the living room, and the door was wide open; if my father was in there, it was more than likely that he would snag me before I got out the door. I'd been doing my absolute best to avoid him lately, for two different, equally good reasons. First, Trent had been keeping a very close eye on me, and while he didn't say anything, I got the feeling that he was biding his time. And that all he needed as an excuse to pounce was an indication that I'd been abused. It almost made me smile, this fierce protectiveness, but I had absolutely no desire to see Trent go up against my father. The consequences of such a meeting could not be anything but bad.
The second reason was that in my current state, I really didn't want to risk getting the intense urge to bite him. That would be even worse.
Of course, since Murphy's Law always seemed to be on double duty when it came to me, I heard my father's voice before I was halfway to the door.
I sighed, and slowly trudged into the living room.
He was sitting on the couch, sipping at a can of beer. Jasmine and I had been lucky for the past few days, as he'd been extremely busy at the garage and we'd had the house practically to ourselves. On the flip side, he was now taking a couple of days off. You gain some, you lose some.
"Where are you going?" he asked me, voice only slightly slurred.
"A friend's." I held my breath, resolving to keep my answers as short as possible.
"You've been spending a lot of time out of the house lately, boy," he continued, and it was with a shock of the century that I noticed him leering at me. Leering. "You got yourself a girlfriend?"
"Yes," I heard myself blurt out before I could think it over. "I do. Do you mind if I stay the night?"
His grin widened, and I didn't know whether to congratulate myself or hit myself over the head. On the plus side, I obviously wasn't going to be getting any trouble over staying the night at Trent's. But on the other hand, my father now thought that I was fucking some girl, and that was just wrong. My mind instantly shied away from the images.
"You go ahead, since it's the weekend." His grin disappeared from his face in an instant as his eyes went curiously flat. "But don't you dare not turn up by Monday."
I shivered at the menace in his gaze as I nodded dumbly and headed for the door. I could never, ever forget that even when he was acting out some twisted parody of a father/son relationship, he was perfectly willing to threaten me. And hurt me. Why, with him, it was just another facet of the father/son relationship!
I felt the restlessness grow, and shoved the incident from my mind, focusing on Trent instead. There was another reason why I was so anxious to see him today, and while it did have something to do with my backpack, it wasn't because I'd casually packed my best pair of boxers. Wrapped in a cloth bag were my mother's letters, which I'd pored over diligently until my eyes hurt from the poor lighting. I planned to show them to him tonight, finally let him in on the last of my secrets. If there was something Trent had managed to get through my thick head over the past couple of weeks, it was that he was there to listen, and that I would be incredibly stupid to ignore the help he could give me. Not that he'd ever phrased it in quite that way, but the stupid part was definitely implied.
Leanne opened the door, wearing an apron. I blinked. She just wasn't the sort of person you picture wearing an apron, and… was that flour on her hands?
"Hey, Alex," she said with a smile. "Trent's around the back, lazing around as usual."
I smirked. "Does he normally do that? I haven't noticed."
"Mmm, well, I'm sure you guys have better things to do when you're together." She paused. "Tell me I didn't just say that about my son."
Shaking from suppressed laughter, I gave her a mock look of regret. "I'm sorry, Leanne. You did, and I'm not about to let you forget it."
Shaking her head, she laughed and made a shooing motion, sending me on my way. "You're a fiend, Alex!" she called after me. I gave her a little wave of acknowledgement.
Trent was indeed lazing around, and on a deck chair no less. I wondered if it would be too vain of me to presume that his denim cut-offs and tank top were for my benefit.
"Hey," he said, and pushed down his sunglasses to give me a smile.
I smiled back as I sat on the grass next to the chair. "I think I'm in love with your mother."
"Oh?" he said, and arched a blond eyebrow.
I loved the way Trent could easily slip into any one of personas that were all him, and all completely genuine. I'd never known anyone as multi-faceted before. I'd told him that a few days ago, and had received the biggest smile I could ever remember seeing on a human face. Then I said that maybe I just needed to get out more, which had earned me a dirty look, and I first got to meet Trent's pouting princess side.
"Yep. She just managed to single-handedly pull me from my brooding, in less than a minute. So don't be too surprised if I run off with her one day."
Trent tilted his head and then made an imperious, come-hither motion with his hand.
"Well," he said archly, "we'll just have to change that."
I grinned and obeyed the command, resting my elbows on the edge of the deck chair. He shifted to his side and leaned in to kiss me, long and deep and very convincing.
"Okay," I said after I'd gotten my breath back. "Scratch that. I'm not running away with your mother."
He laughed, and then took hold of my arm, pulling me up onto the chair. I had some doubts about its ability to withstand two teenage boys – particularly two horny teenage boys – but happily snuggled next to Trent's scantily clad body.
"So, why were you brooding in the first place?" he asked lightly. I didn't buy it for a moment.
Wordlessly, I snagged my backpack from the ground and took out the folder with the letters. He took them from me with a questioning look, but didn't ask. I waited quietly as he skimmed over the first one, paused, and read it in full. Then he rifled through the rest, pausing to take in a date, as I began to fiddle with the end of my t-shirt. I'd never been good at dealing with suspense.
After what seemed an age, he looked up, eyes looking worried.
"Letters to my mother," I finished. "That weren't written by my father."
We stayed silent for another endless moment, and I got the feeling that he knew exactly what I was talking about. I'd learnt to trust my feelings lately, even though I was far from accurate all of the time. Trent had been helping me to practice with my shielding – though we didn't get all that much practice done in a single session, considering the number of times we'd dissolve into giggles after I caught him staring at parts of my anatomy – and at the moment, it was the better option. I couldn't quite handle trying to filter emotions 24/7.
"Come with me," Trent said suddenly, unfolding himself from the chair with much more grace than I could manage. This fact was confirmed when I scrambled after him an almost fell flat on my ass.
"Where are we going?"
"For a walk."
Trent grabbed hold of my hand and pulled me along to the bottom of the garden. I'd never been there before, didn't even know about the path that wound toward the direction of the river. I balked, stopping dead in my tracks.
Trent turned around, still holding my hand like I was about to run off in hysterics.
"Come on, it's just… Oh."
The light dawned as he quickly steered me in the other direction, leading me away from the river. "Sorry about that, it was so insensitive of me, especially under the circumstances, please forgive me?"
I couldn't help but smile. "You're a dork," I said affectionately. "An adorable dork."
He returned my smile, tentatively, and I realised that he was nervous about this whole thing. Did I really look like I was going to have some sort of breakdown? I'd had a few days to think about the letters, and I was still relatively sane. I had other, bigger things to worry about, in any case.
"I just wanted to talk to you about this, make sure you were okay with it," he said softly.
I took a look around and pulled him onto a patch of grass, underneath a gum tree. I'd always felt comfortable sitting under trees, ever since I could remember. They make you feel safe.
"It's weird," I said slowly once I was siting with my back against the trunk, Trent nestled next to my shoulder. "I mean, I have all these wonderful, tragic memories of my mother, and now I don't know what to think. It's kind of like finding out your favourite soccer team snorts coke behind the bleachers." I paused. "Except that that's a bad analogy, because I don't like soccer and I don't give a damn if people snort coke in their own time."
He laughed softly, but I could tell that he wasn't convinced.
"I think someone would notice if all those sporty people took hard drugs, Alex. But," - oh yeah, here came the but - "are you really okay?"
I took a moment to think about it. "No, not really. I want to know. I want to ask Dad about them, but that would probably be one of the most monumentally stupid ideas I've had in my whole life."
Trent tensed slightly, and raised his head from my shoulder. "Yes. It would. Please don't do anything stupid."
"But I never intend to do anything stupid," I said plaintively. "It just happens."
"To you more than most people," replied an amused voice, and it took me a long, puzzled moment to realise that it wasn't Trent's.