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The foundation series bo.., p.30
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       The Foundation Series Box Set, p.30

           Kira Adams
 

  Peyton was easily recognizable, but my stomach lurched forward as I realized her head was on Noah’s shoulder and they were both fast asleep. Great, exactly what I need. I didn’t bother waking them as I unlocked my car and popped the key into the ignition. I watched as they both quickly came to.

  Peyton’s eyes were wide as saucers as she hastily jumped off the trunk and away from her human pillow to approach the driver’s side. Her eyes looked tired, sad, and most of all drained. It would have been apparent to anyone that she had been crying hard. Noah followed suit in a more protective manner.

  She opened the door slowly, trembling as she did so. I could easily see now that she had a jacket draped over her shoulders, one I assumed was probably not hers. Noah was watching protectively from behind her. What I would have given to wipe that smug look off of his face.

  “Where have you been?” Peyton asked in a quiet voice.

  So many emotions were swirling inside of me, I had to think before I spoke. When I didn’t immediately answer her question, she continued.

  “Do you even know what time it is? I’ve called you at least fifty times. I wasn’t sure where you ran off to; if something happened to you.” And even though her eyes looked all cried out, tears began to creep their way out the corners of her eyelids.

  I instantly felt guilty. I really hadn’t thought about anyone but myself. It was one of the only times I could say without a shadow of a doubt I’d been selfish. I sighed loudly, attempting to collect my thoughts when Noah’s deep voice cut into them. “Come on Peyton, let’s go. It’s obvious he has nothing to say to you.”

  I watched as Noah reached for Peyton’s arm and began tugging her the opposite way of my car. My heart rate spiked to an all-time high as I cut the engine quickly and jumped out of the car faster than he could blink, grabbing her other arm. “Let her go.”

  “What the hell man?” Noah hissed back at me, a tight grip still fastened to my girlfriend’s other arm. To any outsiders, we looked like the picture perfect definition of a tug-of-war.

  “Let her go,” I said again through gritted teeth.

  “Have you been drinking?” Peyton asked after she apparently caught wind of my breath.

  “Come on Peyton, let’s go—we can talk about this later.” I continued attempting to release Noah’s grip from her arm to no avail, causing the jacket she had keeping her warm to fall to the ground.

  “Jace, you’re scaring me.” Peyton said in a tiny voice that broke my heart. It was the last thing on earth I wanted.

  I dropped my head in defeat. “I’m sorry.”

  “I’m not letting her get in that car with you after you’ve been drinking. Go home, clean yourself up.” Noah was all sorts of helpful tonight.

  “Yeah, well, luckily, you don’t make her decisions for her. Now beat it.” Peyton was still in the middle of the two of us, and our grips had not loosened in the slightest.

  “Let go of me!” Peyton yelped; although I wasn’t sure who it was addressed to. Me? Noah? Both of us?

  “You heard what she said, let her go!” Noah released his grip on her arm, and pushed her gently aside so he could get up in my face.

  “Or what?” I pressed, knowing my actions and attitude were completely unlike me. Probably compliments of my earlier alcohol consumption.

  He didn’t bother answering, instead letting his fist do the talking for him. His knuckles against my cold skin sent me flying against my car door and then to the ground.

  “Oh my God!” Peyton shrieked, instantly falling to my side. “Are you okay?”

  I was rubbing my face gingerly, attempting to soothe the pain.

  “Go home Noah,” Peyton said in the shortest tone I had ever heard her use.

  “But…” he began, to which she interrupted him again, only this time, she got up in his face.

  “Go home,” she repeated through a tight jaw.

  “Fine, suit yourself.” Noah threw his arms up in surrender. “You deserve better than this, Peyton, and you know that.” I watched as he grabbed his jacket from the dirty ground, wiping it off as he did so.

  I grinded my teeth agitatedly as I watched him finally turn around and begin walking the opposite way.

  I turned my attention to Peyton, my face softening. “Peyton…”

  “Don’t!” Was all she said angrily, quickly hopping up to her feet.

  I followed suit, still rubbing my sore face gingerly.

  Peyton climbed into the driver’s seat without another glance at me. I slowly rounded the car to the passenger side, opening the door and climbing in. We drove in silence for what felt like hours. I kept opening up my mouth to speak, then closing it softly, unsure of what I could say to make the situation any better.

  When we were inevitably a few blocks away from her house, I finally found the courage to speak. “I’m sorry.” Okay, it wasn’t a prize winning apology—but it was a start.

  Tears began forming at the corner of her eyes again and my heart strings pulled. I gently placed my hand on top of hers. “I’m so sorry, Peyton.”

  She pulled into the driveway, cutting the engine; neither of us moving an inch. She couldn’t even look me in the eyes. She was avoiding all eye contact with me swiftly by staring out the driver’s side window. After what had to have been the most excruciatingly nerve-wracking moment of my life, she finally spoke. “You just left…without saying a word. You just got up and left me…”

  “Peyton…” I attempted to explain myself when she cut me off.

  “No!” She said forcibly. “You didn’t want to talk, so now it’s my turn.”

  I swallowed roughly, realizing just how upset I had made her; just how unfair I had been.

  “Don’t you dare do that again,” Peyton hissed. “I had no idea what happened to you. I was so close to calling all the hospitals in the vicinity to see if you had been admitted.”

  My chest felt tight as I felt the anguish and pain from her words. Her big, round, brown eyes were brimming with tears. I couldn’t stop myself; I grazed the side of her face softly with the back of my hand.

  “I’m sorry I made you worry…” I whispered in a soothing voice.

  Instead of pulling away, she leaned into it. “I don’t know what I would have done if…”

  She didn’t have to continue for me to know where she was headed with that statement. “I know, I was selfish, and for that I am deeply sorry. You know I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you right?”

  She nodded lightly.

  “Peyton, you’re all I have left. I can’t lose you too.” I had been an emotional wreck the past couple of years. It was hard to imagine just how much I had been through; how far I had come.

  “What happened tonight?” Peyton asked. “Why didn’t you answer any of my calls?”

  “About that…” I began. “I’m going to need a new phone.”

  “What?” she asked, a confused look spreading across her face.

  “I might have broken and misplaced it.”

  Her eyes widened as I continued.

  “I want to talk to you. I want to talk to you about everything, and I will, I promise you, but I’ve had enough heartache for one night. Can we put this to rest just until tomorrow?” Although her facial expression read one of confusion and anxiousness, she hesitantly agreed.

  Just as she began to reach for the door handle, I stopped her. “I love you, Peyton Lane.”

  Her posture softened at my confession. “I love you too.”

  “I’m sorry for everything I put you through tonight, honestly. Noah was right, you do deserve better than me…I’m sorry for holding you back.”

  She looked back at me with an incredulous stare. “You’re the best person I know, Jace Austin; everyone is entitled to a couple of off days a year. Just don’t make it a habit.”

  I didn’t deserve her, but I wanted her, I lusted for her, and I was going to do everything in my power to make it all better.

  Twenty Two: The Most Unexpected Surpris
e

  It didn’t take me long to come clean with Peyton on the reason I had pulled my disappearing act. It was almost unfair how quickly she forgave me for my fuck-ups. She spent the next week glued to my side, probably afraid of my growing unstableness. Her parents had also been more than accommodating, allowing me freedom to come and go as I chose. They knew I was hurting; I was in pain, and they wanted to help ease a little bit of the tension.

  I had grown to hate funeral homes and churches; so depressing they were. I spent way too much time in them after the school shooting and even before with all of my family’s tragedies. I was simply adding another to the list.

  It was surprising to me how many people showed up to give their condolences. I wasn’t sure half of the crowded building even knew my grandmother personally, but they were there to show their support. Peers, students, and teachers alike filled the small church where the ceremony was being held. The newspaper that housed her obituary referred to me as Day Height’s ‘local hero’.

  I felt nothing like a hero, and I definitely didn’t feel worthy of all the attention and light being shone on me. Besides Peyton, I really didn’t have many other people I shared my true feelings with; my insecurities.

  A few days after my grandmother’s funeral, I was called by her lawyer. They had her will and I was asked to be there for the reading. My Uncle Richard was there too, along with my cousins Roman and Randy. It was only the third time in my life I was meeting my dad’s brother and his kin. I was merely a baby the first time, and not much older than eight years old the second time. They had always lived overseas, stationed with the military. It was uncanny his resemblance to my late father. I had to blink a good ten times before I realized it was not Frank walking towards me, but his sibling.

  Although I had informed him of Frank’s passing, Richard and his family had not been able to make it down for the intimate ceremony we held for his brother. I almost thought it was better that way. Having to have the awkward conversation about me being the reason for his passing was not on my agenda. Not that they didn’t have access to all the news reports on it and my trial.

  “Jace Austin! Is that you?” Uncle Richard’s voice boomed loudly. He was smirking widely, taking me in.

  I nodded. “Uncle Richard, how have you been?”

  He embraced me in a brief hug then released me. “Oh, you know the military; always keeping us busy.” He glanced behind him at his two sons staring us down. “Do you remember your cousins?”

  I nodded slightly. “Vaguely.”

  “That’s right, you were all pretty young back then. Randy, Roman, come say hi to your cousin, Jace.” He motioned with his hand for them to join us.

  My cousins were a couple of years younger than me; probably no older than sophomores in high school, but they towered over me like their father. They all had the same sandy brown hair and blue eyes that had become a staple in my family.

  “I’m sorry about all that you’ve had to go through. I know we haven’t had a chance to spend a lot of time together in the past, but I hope you will let me make it up to you now.” My uncle’s eyes glossed over; he looked like he was about to cry.

  “It’s okay, Uncle Richard, it wasn’t your fault.”

  He shook his head in an irritated fashion. “I’m his brother; I should have been there and I’m sorry. I hope you will forgive me.”

  I hugged him for a long time after that, soaking in the feeling of family. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. The sound of a door opening was what eventually separated us; my grandmother’s lawyer had come out solely to herd us back into her office.

  It didn’t take long for my grandmother’s lawyer to decipher her will for us. She left her house, her car, and all of her physical possessions to Richard and his family to do with it as they pleased. I never expected anything, so when her lawyer told me I was the sole heir to her life insurance policy, my jaw dropped to the floor.

  I hadn’t been hurting for money in a while. Oddly enough, I had also been the sole heir to my father’s life insurance policy. You could imagine my surprise when I found out. For someone who hated me with everything in his being the last year of his life, I was surprised he would have left me with such a gift. With the two policies put together, I was walking away with over $250,000.

  For the first time in my life I could do anything my heart desired; money was no object. Even with that knowledge, the first thing that popped into my head was simply spending time with Peyton, no matter the capacity.

  I spent the next couple of days with my Uncle and cousins before they returned back to France. I was thankful for any semblance of family I could get.

  * * *

  Seeing my uncle and cousins had been therapeutic for me. It reminded me that while Jax and my father had both seemed like poison, the rest of our family was wildly different. In fact, the only thing about my uncle that even resembled my father was his looks. His laid back, calm demeanor was one you would come to expect from a man who had been in the military. He was very humble and genuine and I was almost jealous of my cousins for having such a normal childhood. Being in the military wasn’t necessarily normal, but the lack of physical and verbal abuse within the family was.

  It was the weekend after they had left and a beautiful Sunday, so I decided to go for an afternoon run. I was just making my way back towards the opening to the park when I noticed a camera crew walking towards me. At first I looked around rapidly wondering what they were doing in the deserted park, and then, I realized very quickly that they were fixated on me. My new iPhone began buzzing in my pocket, demanding my attention. I reached for it and swiped my finger across the screen to answer. “Hello?”

  Even though I recognized the voice; even though I knew without a shadow of a doubt who was calling; it was still hard to believe.

  “Yes, may I speak with Jace Austin?” the familiar voice asked through the speaker of my new phone.

  “Speaking.”

  “Jace, do you know who this is?” The cameras in my face were difficult to ignore as she awaited my answer.

  I nodded, swallowing loudly.

  “Jace, its Kelley!”

  She didn’t have to elaborate. I knew full well the voice of Kelley Lacey. Peyton and I had spent many a school night enjoying her quirky talk show. It had been on the air for almost six years now and was one of the most watched daytime talk shows in television history.

  “I think he’s shell shocked,” she stated, chuckling. It wasn’t hard to imagine an entire studio audience laughing at my clammed up responses. “Do you know why I am calling you today?”

  With the camera still pointed at me, I shook my head no.

  “We received a letter from a very concerned girl, who filled us in on the tough year you’ve been having.” My heart began racing as I knew without a fraction of a doubt the girl she was referring to was Peyton.

  I rubbed my hand anxiously back and forth through my short hair. “Yeah…” I hated being the center of attention.

  “Jace, I want to invite you to Los Angeles for a weekend retreat and I’d love for you to be on my show next Monday.”

  I wasn’t sure I heard her right. Kelley Lacey is asking me to be on her show? What in the world did Peyton tell her about me? I swallowed again, sensing the eyes of the world on me, awaiting an answer. “Okay,” I said softly.

  “Do me a favor will you?” she asked. “Bring Peyton along too. I’d love to meet the beautiful person who wrote that heartfelt letter.”

  “Yes ma’am,” I answered.

  “Well Jace, I have to run, but my team will give you all the information on your upcoming trip to LA and we will see you soon!” Her voice was a bubbly as ever.

  “Thanks Kelley,” I managed to get out before I heard the click of the phone.

  The camera men immediately ceased filming and handed me a packet of some sort. “What is this?” I asked.

  “Everything you will need for your trip; plane tickets, hotel reservations, directions
to the studio.”

  I took it in my hands, still having trouble believing any of it was real.

  Peyton never ceased to amaze me.

  * * *

  I met up with Peyton later in the day, anxious to hear more about the letter she had penned to the infamous Kelley Lacey.

  “Seriously…how did you do this?” I asked as we walked alongside each other in the same park I had been tracked down in earlier that day.

  “I didn’t really do anything but write a letter, Jace…this was all you,” she responded, looking down as we walked.

 
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