One step closer a stepbr.., p.8
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       One Step Closer: A stepbrother, stand-alone novel., p.8

           Kahlen Aymes
 

  Anger festered in Caleb’s chest and heat began to race like fire under his skin. “I love you, Jonesy. I owe you a lot for always taking care of me after mom died, but he did not get her into Juilliard. Wren earned her place among those students. He made a couple of calls and arranged her audition, and then paid her tuition. He used his money, because that’s all he knew how to do. He wasn’t some saving grace, Jonesy. He ruined everything I wanted.” With Wren, his mind screamed.

  Maybe, Caleb didn’t know about the suite of rooms that Edison had remodeled for Wren, or how Edison sent Veronica off on duties for the company over half the time to keep her away from Wren, Jonesy thought. But given how close Caleb and Wren had been… how was that possible?

  Jonesy could see the resentment seething inside Caleb and because he’d just lost his father, she decided not to press. She could only hope that eventually Caleb would be able to understand his father’s motivation, and to forgive him for his misguided methods.

  Caleb began to walk from the room, intent on taking the plates with him downstairs to watch a movie and maybe get his mind off the memories. He felt like his chest was ready to explode, and he didn’t want to talk about his father or Wren any further.

  “Thanks for the food,” he muttered over his shoulder.

  “Caleb, about the service…” Jonesy stopped him. “There is a place for your father inside the mausoleum, and the service has been arranged for Monday. The funeral home will take care of notifying the media with the obituary Jonathan wrote. Unless, of course, you’d like to write one?”

  Caleb turned, still laden with plates. “No. No, I don’t. I’m sure what Jonathan wrote is fine.”

  “Alright,” Jonesy nodded her silver head. “Jonathan mentioned the will is being read early Monday evening. Is there anyone I need to notify to be in attendance? What about Wren?”

  “She’s on her way already.”

  The old woman’s eyes lit up. “Oh!” She smiled softly. “It will be so nice to see her and to have the two of you back together under one roof.”

  “Yes. I’ve arranged for a car to pick her up,” Caleb rambled, unsure why admitting he’d taken care of Wren’s ride felt like a bigger confession. “Tomorrow.”

  With that he left, using the stairs off the kitchen to retreat back downstairs, then choosing one of the black leather recliners directly in the middle of the surround sound setup, and in front of the big projection television. There were trays hidden inside some of the arms of the chairs, and Caleb juggled the plates into one hand, so his other was free to pull one out. He found the remote, flipped on the Direct TV and wolfed down his meal, setting the empty plates on the seat of the recliner sitting next to his. Caleb made a mental note to take them up to the kitchen later.

  He was uneasy, feeling physically sick inside. It wasn’t the nauseous; puke your guts out kind of sick, but the empty, desolate, hole-in-your-chest kind of feeling. Caleb didn’t want to think about his father’s death, the gravity of the decision hanging over his head, or dealing with the pressure he’d undoubtedly get from Macy. And Wren; all he could do was hope he could figure out a way to make things easier between them.

  He realized it would be almost impossible to rest, and despite the distraction and white noise drone of the television, he wasn’t able to fall asleep. The chairs were the finest leather, and luxurious. More comfortable than most beds he’d ever slept in. He got up and pulled a blanket out of one of the closets in the hallway leading by the bathroom. He recognized it as one Wren used to use regularly. He hesitated briefly, before taking it with him back to his place in front of the television.

  Caleb settled back in and tried to concentrate on the movie playing on Cinemax but all he could think about were his father and Wren. His eyes were unseeing, though trained on the screen as his mind ran rampant.

  When he was seventeen, he and his father had gotten into a particularly nasty argument about a long vacation the two adults were taking. Normally, Caleb would have rejoiced at having the house to himself for a couple of weeks, but his stepsister was younger and being left in Denver with him. He still wasn’t acclimated to Wren, and even though he’d started watching out for her at school, he didn’t want to be responsible for her because his father decided he wanted to bang his new wife to the French Riviera. But, that was when he’d discovered who Wren really was, and looking back, he wouldn’t have changed anything about it.

  Caleb closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Remembering more shit about Wren wasn’t going to help him sleep, but there was no helping it. She was everywhere in this house. After the first few months of knowing her, they spent a lot of time in this room, watching TV and basically hiding out from their parents. Wren hated Veronica as much as Caleb hated Edison, and that built a strong bond between them.

  He could see it in his mind as if it were happening all over again.

  After the blow out with his dad, Caleb snuck out through the back stairs, so upset he considered never coming back. His adrenaline was on overload and he needed to get rid of his aggression. He called his best friend; gunning to find a fight club event, but it was a Sunday night and the two boys weren’t able to find any openings on short notice.

  They’d ended up in a more dangerous part of town, looking in a circuit that they weren’t regulars in, and Caleb’s smart mouth had landed them both in a brawl. Dex and Caleb were tougher and stronger than most boys their age, but they were outnumbered four-to-one by one of the more ruthless gangs and they got their asses handed to them. In all honestly, they’d been lucky they came out of it alive.

  There was no denying that Caleb had gotten into some trouble, most of it on purpose to piss off his father; he’d gotten arrested twice, but he wasn’t stupid enough to dabble in gang warfare.

  Caleb and Dex had no choice but to leave the destroyed car and run away like hell was on their heels. It wasn’t easy because of the injuries; Caleb’s face was turned into hamburger, and he’d taken a few kicks to his ribs, his knuckles battered and bruised. Though he’d had some awful pain in his chest and side, Dex was the one who needed medical attention since his shoulder had obviously been dislocated, his arm hanging painfully loose at his side.

  Even worse for Dex; his prize 66 Mustang that he’d rebuilt with his Dad and brother had been trashed with a tire iron, and then torched. Dex’s dad, Darren, was livid at their recklessness, but he still came to get them; delivering Caleb home after spending two hours in the ER getting Dex’s shoulder reset. Caleb was badly beaten, but contended he didn’t need any medical attention; and had insisted on waiting in the backseat of the car during the hospital visit.

  Caleb had been lucky. His own father was out of town with the plastic bitch to some cosmetic convention and he’d had a few days to heal up. Except, he really had the shit beat out of him, and he was worse off than he, Dex, or Darren, originally thought.

  SHE WAS NERVOUS.

  Wren Brashill hadn’t been back to Denver in two years, and she hadn’t spoken to Caleb since her birthday. She’d been sad that day, even though she had a date with Victor that evening; Caleb didn’t call until late that night, and she’d suffered waiting for it all day. Though they didn’t keep in touch as much anymore, she still missed him everyday.

  Everything had been so messed up since they’d slept together when she was eighteen, and Caleb pretended he didn’t remember it the next day. It had hurt her deeply because she’d loved him in secret long before that. To date, she still hadn’t confronted him about it; still hadn’t told him she knew that he was fully aware of what happened between them. Before that night, he’d been the one person she leaned on: the only person she trusted. God knew her life before knowing him had been hell. She lived inside herself, finding it a safer place than the world where her mean and vindictive mother hated her. Wren had only known solitary confinement inside her own soul, hating herself as much as she hated her mother.

  Her fingers traced over the faint scars that remained on her wrists from the ti
mes she sought to ease her mental pain, with self-inflicted physical pain. Her dark garb and reclusive behavior had hidden those scars from her mother, but never Caleb.

  Wren closed her eyes; her right hand closing over her left wrist where a white ink tattoo now resided over those scars. She remembered the pain she’d gone through and the solace that Caleb had become to her; he protected her and she’d grown to trust him implicitly. Caleb had adamantly insisted she be herself and stop hiding behind her disguise once he’d confronted Veronica and warned her to stop her cruel ways or face his wrath. Wren still worried about the faint red lines on her wrist would be seen by counselors or teachers, and had been ashamed of the scars; ashamed of the weakness they represented, though Caleb insisted they should be worn like medals of battles fought. He’d been tough as nails, though he had this innate vulnerability that she’d seen on rare occasions when he’d let his guard down.

  She sucked in her breath as the memory washed over her, her heart swelling with benevolence that only Caleb could inspire. She recalled that night like it was yesterday; the two of them snuck out of the house after their parents had gone to bed and he’d taken her to a late night tattoo parlor on the back of his motorcycle. It had been the first time she’d been that close to him, the first time her body had been plastered up against his back, and then, he’d held her hand the whole time. She’d only been fifteen, but already, she’d been in complete awe of him.

  Her fingers lovingly traced the lines of a white stallion on the inside of her wrist. Caleb thought she chose white ink because it would hide the scars but still be subtle. He thought Wren chose that horse at random. Neither was true.

  To Wren, Caleb had always been impervious and strong, but now, worry over how his father’s death was affecting him, consumed her. Caleb and Edison’s relationship had never been easy, but this was as final as it ever would be; no more time for second chances. A regretful shudder ran through her slight form.

  Her own relationship with Edison had grown closer in the years after Caleb left for college, and she was thankful. With Caleb gone, he was the only thing keeping her awful mother at bay. It was strange that he’d become more of a father to her than she’d ever known and sadly more, than he’d ever been to his own son. The thought filled her with sorrow. Caleb was so good and giving; he deserved much better than he’d gotten from his dad. He deserved everything.

  A plethora of emotions flooded over her whenever she thought of the dark-haired boy who had at first intimidated her, but later became the one person she could rely on the most. Caleb did everything he could for Wren, and she worshiped him like a hero; because that’s what he was to her. It was more than a crush; she was closer to Caleb, even when they were fighting like cats and dogs, than she was to anyone else in her life. As time wore on, she was losing hope that anyone would ever touch her heart the way he had.

  Caleb had been her tough, gentle savior; and Wren wondered if it would be possible for her to help him, now. She wanted to, and maybe even needed to. More than anything, she regretted the distance that had grown between them over the years. She longed to offer comfort and melt away the abyss that the past had created.

  Wren and two of her best friends had flown to Bali during a break in their performance schedule and she’d been lounging on the beach with a book she’d been trying to find time to read for the past three months, when the bellman’s shadow fell over her. He gave her a message informing her to phone Edison Luxon’s lawyer, Jonathan Westwood.

  Trepidation had filled her and she quickly rose, at the same time pulling her cell phone from the beach bag that was resting beside the lounge chair she’d just vacated. She gathered her things and began walking briskly into the hotel; Ainsley and Michelle had both called after her.

  “Wren! Where are you going?”

  “What is it?”

  “I have to make a call! Something’s wrong!” She’d shouted back at them.

  It had to be bad. She talked to her stepfather more regularly than she did her own mother, and so the lawyer’s name and title on the message filled her with dread. Her hands shook violently when she dialed the number, already guessing the reason for his call. Her worst fears were confirmed moments later when she got to her room and Jonathan confirmed that Edison had died.

  “What happened?” she’d asked, her face crumpling, and the thickness of tears cracking her voice. “When?”

  “Last night. Mrs. Jones found him in his bed. Looks like a heart attack. I’m so sorry, Wren. I know the two of you were close.”

  Wren wiped away a tear with a quick hand, holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder, already pulling out her suitcase and rushing to the dresser in her hotel room to begin throwing her things haphazardly inside.

  “When is the funeral? Is Caleb coming in?” she asked, still crying softly, her snuffles permeating through the phone. Given the state of their relationship and knowing how Caleb felt about him, it wasn’t a given. Someone should be there, though. How sad to die and have no one but business associates to mourn you?

  “The funeral arrangements will be made tomorrow. Mrs. Jones is handling most of it, I think. Caleb came in earlier today, but too late to do that. He’s at the Denver house.” It was 1:00 in the afternoon in Bali, which made it 9 PM Denver time.

  “Oh God.” Her voice was anguished. “Is he okay?” Her throat felt tight and swollen as tears tumbled down her cheeks. Thoughts of Caleb engulfed her. She felt a sudden urgency to get to him. He said he hated his father, but Edison had been the only parent he had for the past sixteen years; they were each other’s only blood relative. Edison had an older sister, but she had died years earlier, and they weren’t close. They were so estranged, from what she’d learned from Caleb, that his aunt hadn’t even put in an appearance for Celine’s funeral. Wren worried the implications would be devastating when it finally resonated with Caleb that he was the last in the Luxon line.

  She had to go to Denver. And, she had to go now. For a split second, Wren worried that things would still be awkward and strained between Caleb and her considering the last time they’d seen each other, but she hoped they would fall into the easy closeness they’d always shared before…? Well… before. So much time had gone by; maybe things between them would be healed.

  “You know Caleb, Wren. He’s always been strong, but I’m not sure this has hit him yet. He’s been pretty stoic,” Jonathan replied.

  “That’s what I’m afraid of. I’ll get there as soon as I can,” she said.

  Wren was worried about Caleb. Even in those times when she was spitting mad at him, completely hated him, never wanted to see him again, or he’d crushed her heart… she worried about him. And, she loved him. There was no denying it, and she’d stopped fighting it years before. She’d tried to build a life without him, but even so, she still loved him more than anything. She could convince Caleb to the contrary, but she couldn’t lie to herself. He’d saved her life; and she’d saved his. He was the one man she measured all others against, and they’d all fallen short. Even Sam.

  “Thank you, Jonathan.”

  As she hung up the cell phone and tossed it on the bed near her purse, her breath caught on a sob. Unspeakable sadness for the man who had died, and for Caleb, engulfed her as she bent at the waist, catching herself by one hand pushing into the mattress. Wren cried hard for both of those losses, sobs wracking her small frame for a good ten minutes.

  Finally, she gathered her composure, took a quick shower to rid her skin of sunscreen, dressed quickly, and finished packing. She called her friends to tell them she was leaving, and within an hour was at the United Airline ticket counter forking over her passport and a credit card.

  Wren spent the next twelve hours traveling and thinking. A young girl, traveling with her parents from Los Angeles to New York, sharing Wren’s final leg to Denver where they were making a connection and recognized Wren from her lead role in the U.S. tour of Cinderella a year before. The girl’s chatting and obvious excitement help
ed to take Wren’s mind off of the sadness.

  She wore no make-up and looked far younger than her twenty-four years, her luxurious blonde curls pulled up in a loose, messy bun. Her blue eyes were tired, and her iPod was shoved into the lightweight hoodie she’d taken to wear on the plane. Once her plane landed and she made her way into the main terminal and past the security checkpoint, Wren saw a large man dressed in his black chauffeur uniform, holding a cardboard sign with her name on it. He’d told her his name and picked up her bags without added small talk and soon she was falling asleep in the backseat of the limousine, she assumed Jonathan had hired to pick her up.

  Without going home to New York, she only had what she’d taken on her vacation, and it hit her that she didn’t have anything appropriate to wear.

  She’d cried for the first twelve hours after she’d learned of Edison’s death, hiding behind her sunglasses and plastering her face against the inside of the airplane. Thank God for her window seat.

  When the limo pulled into the neighborhood of the magnificent Luxon home, Wren sat up and tried to do some damage control to her appearance, using her phone’s reverse camera mode to look at her face. She looked like hell, and after a minute put the phone away in acceptance. It wouldn’t matter to Caleb, anyway. He’d seen her at her worst, and this was hardly the time to worry about it. It was just before noon, Denver time, and she’d have jet lag for a day or two, at least. Her eyes were tired and she couldn’t stop a yawn.

  As the limo drove around the circle drive in front of the big house, Wren’s hand rose to touch the gate locket that was always nestled under her clothes, except when she was on stage. It was a small pendant consisting of three layers that were connected by one hinge at the top. The top one was filigree made from 18 karat gold and embedded with a scattering of diamonds in the ornate design that swung over the two others behind it. Each one held a picture of Caleb, one when he was a baby and another, a candid of him from high school she’d placed there. The three gates hung on a long fine gold box chain; the diamond cut making it glisten in any type of light.

 
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