One step closer a stepbr.., p.20
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       One Step Closer: A stepbrother, stand-alone novel., p.20

           Kahlen Aymes
“Look, Caleb. I’m not going to let you brush me off while you hold Wren’s hand. She’s buying shoes, not getting open heart surgery, for God’s sake. She’s not that fragile. I’m getting sick of this pathetic big brother routine. I barely knew she existed before this trip. You can’t be that concerned about her.”

  Anger exploded in Caleb’s chest. “I don’t give a fuck what you’re tired of right now, Macy! Jesus Christ! Get over yourself for ten minutes!” His voice was low, but intense.

  He left her standing there, mouth agape and went to pay for the dress against Wren’s objections. When he was finished, Macy was gone and he didn’t even care. If she wasn’t in the food court when they were finished, he’d text her. He was beyond putting up with her unreasonable behavior.

  He put his hand over Wren’s as she started to pull her credit card out of her wallet and handed the woman his. “I’ve got this.”

  Wren shook her head adamantly. “No Caleb.”

  “I’ve got this, Wren.” He put an arm lightly around her waist and nodded at the clerk to run his card. He bent down so he could speak in Wren’s ear. “Rumor has it, I’m about to be loaded.”

  “Maybe it’s all going to charity,” she teased. “You might be dead broke.”

  He laughed. For the first time feeling light hearted since Macy confronted him in the great room earlier in the afternoon. “Even so, I’m still buying your dress.”

  Wren gasped at the total the nice old woman gave after ringing up the purchases. “Maybe just the dress and the scarf,” she began.

  “We’re good.” He shook his head at the sales lady. “Ignore her. We’re good with this. Thank you.” Caleb smiled and took hold of the two hangers protruding from the plastic bag and hauled it over the counter. “Have a great day.” He winked at the woman.

  “You two are so cute together. Have a nice day.”

  He smirked. “Thanks.”

  “Caleb, that’s too much.”

  “Hear that? We’re cute.”

  She punched him hard in the arm, but his muscle was hard and she was sure her hand was the more damaged of the two. “Ow! You don’t need to—”

  “Hush.” He took Wren’s hand and threaded her fingers through his, then headed her toward the escalator. “Now we need shoes, right?” He grinned down at her with one raised eyebrow.

  “I only have flip flops and Vans. So, yes I do, but I’m buying them.”

  “Whatever,” he said, amusement lacing his voice. There was no way in hell he was letting her pay for them.

  The shoe department was to the right at the bottom of the escalator and Wren let go of his hand as she started to browse the tables laden with different types of shoes, organized by type. There were fancy heels and pumps, open toed boots, stilettos, and others with chunky or stacked heels. The dress had a simple elegance, and she wanted a shoe that would be as versatile.

  Soon, a salesman was bringing out five different styles in her size. Caleb planted himself in one of the chairs in the middle of the department, the dress bag draped across his lap. As Wren sat next to him, she couldn’t help notice the way many of the women and teenage girls perusing the shoes sending glance after glance in his direction. He seemed oblivious to their interest as he checked his phone.

  The two years they spent at the same high school was laden with girls trying to get with him. If she hadn’t known better, it could have been it’s own varsity sport. Once she stopped cutting herself and dressing in disguise, and they were seen coming and going together, she was inundated with questions and pleas for introductions.

  Caleb kept to himself. He was never involved in sports or after school activities; his fight club had been his sport; the one that kept his body honed. He never went to the school dances, and neither had she.

  “Are you still fighting, Caleb?” Wren asked as they waited.

  “Not as much. I did find one club in San Francisco and I fight occasionally, though not with the same frequency as in high school.”

  He wasn’t fiddling with his phone anymore and she reached out to put her hand over his. “Caleb. This probably isn’t the place, but I don’t think I ever thanked you.”

  He looked at her, his eyes inquisitive. “For what? “

  She shook her head softly. “Everything. Without the fighting, I wouldn’t be a dancer now. Without you… I might have killed myself. You saved me from my mother, helped me have a life, and made me realize I was worth something.”

  He placed his free hand over hers, so one of her hands was between both of his. “Wren… you’re worth everything.” Emotions swelled and he swallowed at the tightness starting in his throat. His eyes started to sting. “Look at your life. You bring pleasure and beauty to the world. When you dance, it’s like magic.”

  “I felt guilty every time you came home with a bruised face.”

  “You know my life was shit before you showed up. If not for you, I would have thought my mother died for nothing.” He cleared his throat, knowing he was exposing much more than he intended to do in the shoe department at Nordstrom’s. “Anyway, I would’ve been fighting regardless. I was already doing it, remember?”

  “I know. But, you started doing it more often. Ballet lessons are expensive.”

  He laughed, his cobalt eyes locking with hers. “Don’t I know it! I wouldn’t change it, though. Look at you now. You’re like a butterfly, finally out of your cocoon.” Caleb stopped. His words made him second-guess his decision. Half the estate might just be the shackle she didn’t want. “I’m so proud of you.”

  “Okay,” the salesman said, as he put a stack of boxes on the carpet in front of Wren. “I didn’t have this one in a six, but I have a six and a half.”

  He began opening boxes and pulled individual shoes out of each one. Caleb watched in silence as she tried on each style, offering his opinion with a nod or shake of his head when she looked at him. He felt sorry that the close moment they had just shared had ended.


  AFTER THE SHOPPING trip, Caleb had showered and changed into a navy blue suit, a crisp white dress shirt, and silver and navy patterned tie. He’d already told Wren that he had a meeting with Jonathan before the visitation, and spoken to Jonesy about all the women going together with the driver to meet him there. Macy on the other hand was another story. She’d been silent and stoic on the ride home after they’d found her at the Michael Kors store buying a new spring bag. Clearly she was upset, and in all honesty, he couldn’t really blame her.

  He reluctantly made the trek from his room to hers to let her know what his plan was. Despite how he was feeling about the coming end of their relationship, he wasn’t a big enough prick to blow her off completely.

  Macy opened the door after a brief knock. She was dressed in a dark grey pencil skirt and pale pink blouse; and her hair was slicked back in the usual chignon she wore for work. The suit flattered her curvy figure and could be considered sexy, but not overtly so. She looked beautiful, and her makeup was perfect. Her level of sophistication was so different from Wren’s, who was naturally beautiful and uncomplicated.

  “Hey,” he said quietly, waiting to be asked inside.

  She turned away, leaving the door open to retrieve the jacket to her suit from the hanger in the closet. “Hi.”

  He walked in, closing the door behind him. “I have a meeting with my father’s lawyer before the wake. Jonesy said she’d have something for you and Wren to eat in the kitchen and then the driver will bring you all over.” His suit jacket was open and he shoved both of his hands into his pants pockets. “You look nice.”

  She let out a small sound of disgust, ignoring Caleb’s compliment. “I’d prefer to come with you, now, Caleb. I’ve had enough of little Wren for one day.”

  Caleb stopped, and huffed with a short shake of his head. His eyes were incredulous as he looked at her. It was getting to the point that he couldn’t stand having her around. “What is your problem, Macy? If you don’t like what’s happening, you don’t have to come al
ong. Wren has a right to be there.”

  Her face fell. “I’m sorry. Can’t I just come with you?”

  “It’s a confidential meeting. I’ll meet you at the funeral home in a couple of hours. If you don’t want to have dinner in the kitchen, then you have the rental car... grab something on the way.” Macy’s back visibly stiffened and she took a slight pause slightly before donning the jacket and closing the one button in front.

  “Is it about your father’s will?”

  “Among other things.”

  “So, why can’t I come? It’s no secret what’s in your father’s will. You’re his only child.”

  “Jonathan asked I come alone.” Caleb looked at his watch, impatiently. It was close to 4:30 PM and the service started at 6. “I don’t have time to argue. I just wanted to let you know what I’m doing.”

  He began leaving the room, but Macy followed him through the house.

  “I’ll wait in the car or outside the room, but I’m not staying here in this mausoleum without you.”

  Caleb regarded her with calm indifference as she caught up to him. He was more than annoyed that she speculated on the content of his father’s will, but he’d be damned if he’d show it. If she wanted to wait in the car, that was fine with him.

  “Fine. I’ll let Jonesy know you’re coming with me.” He walked into the kitchen calling the old woman’s name, but she was nowhere to be found. “Jonesy?”

  There was a small white board that she kept on the side of the large stainless steel refrigerator. She’d kept there for him since he was a small child, and he used to write down a list of food or other things he needed her to buy on her shopping trips. He quickly scrawled out a note.


  I have a meeting with Jonathan and I have Macy with me. See you and Wren there.


  “Come on.” Caleb walked to the doorway that led from the kitchen into the garage, then stood back and waved her through in front of him. He had the key fob in his hand and unlocked the door as they approached the same grey luxury car they’d taken earlier in the day. After he held open her door and she was securely inside, Caleb walked around and slid into the driver’s side.

  Macy watched his every move with guarded eyes as she set her small bag on the light grey leather seat next to her.

  “What's the story with you and Wren anyway?”

  Caleb started the engine and was soon navigating his way out of the garage.

  “Our story?” The corners of his well-defined lips lifted in a wry half smile. “Her bitch mother moved in on my dad not long after my mother died. I already had a deep hatred for my dad. I mean; I fucking wished I could kill him. I wished he’d died instead of my mom. She was the best person I think I’ve ever known. There was a bevy of the best doctors, but no one could save her, and at the end, my dad disappeared.” The memory was still painful; Caleb’s expression was stoic as he kept his focus on the road ahead.

  As they pulled out of the gated community and Caleb merged into traffic, Macy continued. “That doesn’t tell me anything about Wren.”

  “My mom was the face of Lux, and after she died, Veronica was hired to replace here.”

  “Right. She was that blonde model, right?”

  “Yes. She became the new spokesperson, face, whatever. One day, my dad showed up with her and her kid, told me he’d remarried and the two of them were moving into our house. I wanted nothing to do with either of them.”

  “Wow. I’m sorry, Caleb. That must have been hard on you. How old were you?”

  There was genuine sympathy in her voice that made it easier for Caleb to continue. Jonathan’s office was about twenty-five minutes from the house and he decided that maybe she’d be more understanding about Wren if he told her a few of the facts. “Sixteen. I remember being so pissed I wanted to break something. Veronica was a plastic bitch, and I could see it from day one. Wren was barely visible, but I thought she was strange.”

  His eyes narrowed with the memory and his hands deftly maneuvered the car onto Interstate 25. “She looked different then. Her clothes were black, she used to wear this short black wig and a lot of dark eye shadow.” He was introspective, like he was speaking to himself. “She acted like a scared mouse that barely spoke and didn’t eat. She was skin and bones, and really screwed up. Even at school, she kept to herself and kids made fun of her. It was brutal.”

  Caleb cleared his throat and glanced at Macy who was listening with rapt attention. He decided to leave out the part about Wren cutting.

  “Why would she disguise herself? I know that the Goth thing is big with some kids, but even at home?”

  “Her mom was a mean, cold bitch, who couldn’t stand it if anyone was prettier than her. Wren was much more beautiful. As she grew up, Veronica got meaner. I remember the first time I saw her as she really was. I thought I was dreaming. I’d just been in a particularly bad fight and I was in pretty bad shape… I didn’t think she was real. All that golden hair, and her eyes without all that shit on them were… amazing. I’ll never forget that moment.”

  Macy bristled in her seat. Clearly, there was much more to Caleb’s relationship with Wren than she thought. She folded her hands in her lap and glanced out the window, letting him continue.

  “When she told me the truth, I wanted to kill that bitch. I already hated Veronica, but after that, it was worse. I decided that Wren would never suffer under her hands or anyone else’s again, and I wouldn’t let her disguise herself anymore.” He laughed bitterly. “I used my fight winnings to buy her clothes and enroll her into dance lessons. Dancing was the only thing she wanted, and with all this money,” he waved around at the rich interior of the very expensive car, “ Veronica wouldn’t allow her to take classes.”

  Macy sighed. “That’s too bad.” Even she had to admit the situation sounded overly harsh.

  Caleb’s mind flashed back to a painful memory. “Yeah. I almost got arrested for assault once. Veronica went into Wren’s room and hacked a big chunk of her hair off. Can you believe that shit?” The fingers of his left hand grazed his strong chin as he rested his elbow against the door. “It was gorgeous and she fucking cut it off.”

  “What did you do?” Macy asked softly, watching the emotion cross his features as he drove.

  “I fucked her up. When I heard Wren crying and I went up there and saw what had happened; I lost it.” He could remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday.

  “Wren!” Caleb ran into her room at the sound of her sobbing. It was those harsh, wracking sobs that you feel in your chest, even if they aren’t your own. “What the hell?” he asked in shock as he looked down upon her.

  She was on the floor, leaning on her bed. On one side of her head, her hair was wacked off at the shoulder and he saw it, even though she had buried her face in her bent arms. Next to her on the carpet was a big chunk of her hair and a pair of scissors lying side-by-side. Seeing it, Caleb didn’t need to ask what happened.

  “That cunt!” he had bellowed. “I’m going to fucking kill her, Wren!”

  He fell to his knees and gathered her close; her small form melting into him as she cried. His hand cupped her head and his other arm pulled her into the cradle of his arms. “I’ll take care of this, Bird. I swear to God, she’ll never touch you again.”

  After a couple of minutes, Caleb cupped her cheek with his palm. “Stay here, and lock the door when I leave.”

  “Caleb, don’t get in trouble,” Wren pleaded in a sad voice, her hand feeling at her head to assess the damage. Her chin started to tremble again. She’d have to get it all cut off if it was going to look like anything.

  “Just stay here.”

  He grabbed the scissors by the blades and shot out of the room like a rocket, slamming the door behind him.

  “I had the scissors in my hand when I went to find my stepmother.”

  “Oh dear God! Did you stab her?”

  Caleb grunted, and shook his head with the start of a devious grin. “No
. I got my dad’s electric beard trimmer out of his bathroom, then found Veronica, backhanded her, and sent her flying to the floor. It’s the only time I’ve ever hit a woman, but it was so I could pin her down and mow a strip down the center of her head.”

  Macy couldn’t decide if she was horrified or if it was funny in some twisted way. “What happened?”

  “She screamed like a banshee and I went back upstairs with Wren and waited for the cops to show up. Veronica called them, and they hauled me to jail, but my dad posted bail a couple of hours later and Jonathan got the charges dropped.”

  They arrived at the law offices and Caleb pulled into a parking spot near the door. It was Sunday and the lot was completely empty except for Jonathan’s BMW. When Caleb put the car in park, he glanced at Macy. “After that, my dad and I had an understanding that he’d keep Veronica away from me and Wren, or I was going to beat the shit out of her, and fuck the consequences.”

  “So, your dad was better after that?”

  “He was less in my face, but he got back at me when he shipped me off to MIT.”

  “Why, if you didn’t want to go?”

  “That’s another story. I have to go inside.” He shut the car off, but left the fob in the middle console for her. “It’s nice, so you might enjoy having the windows down, and of course the stereo. This shouldn’t take long.”

  Caleb left Macy in the front seat of the car and walked into the elegant building that housed Jonathan’s law firm. It was in an older part of Denver, and his offices were in an old Victorian house that had been renovated. The interior was indicative of Jonathan: elegant and majestic, with rich furnishings, fine wood and leather, with bookcases lining several of the walls.

  Caleb knew the old house well, and had spent a lot of time in Jonathan’s office when he was younger. He made his way through the halls to the back, past several other offices, to the largest one at the end.

  Jonathan was in a dark suit sitting at his desk, with two sets of papers sitting in front of him. He looked up when he heard Caleb approach.

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