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Sugar Plum Isabella Starling, Jenika Snow 2022/8/5 16:59:14

“Oh, God,” she groaned as we waited for the sound of approaching footsteps. “My dad is going to be so pissed.”

The door flew open. Rosie’s Dad stood before us in a stained tank and a bottle of cheap whiskey in his hand. “What is this now? Holly, is that you?” He narrowed his eyes on me like he couldn’t see me very well in the darkness.

“Hello, Mr. Grimshaw,” I managed. “We’re just bringing Rosie home.”

He glanced at his daughter before shaking his head with disgust and muttering something under his breath. He walked back inside the house while Bastian and I exchanged confused glances. Then, we walked Rosie into the messy house, past the living room strewn with pizza boxes and bottles, and into her tiny room in the back. I helped her get on the bed and tucked her in while Bastian watched. I kissed Rosie’s forehead, and she muttered something before starting to snore. Giggling, I left her there to sleep and followed Bastian out of the room.

“Mr. Grimshaw?” I asked sheepishly as we passed Rosie’s father in the armchair in the living room. “Could you make her drink some water? It will help.”

“I ain’t doing that,” he muttered, never taking his eyes off the TV as he took another swig of his drink. “She can take care of her own damn self.”

Bastian grimaced, and I knew an altercation was coming. “Please don’t.” I tugged on his shirtsleeve, making him look at me with those stormy eyes of his.

“Mr. Grimshaw.” Bastian’s gaze rested a moment on mine before he turned to face Rosie’s father. “You will take some water up to your daughter’s room. And tomorrow, you will make her a nice breakfast.”

“Says who?” The man finally tore his eyes away from the TV, glaring at Bastian.

“Says me.” Bastian pulled out a hundred-dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to Mr. Grimshaw. “Here’s something to help with that.”

The man stashed the money, staring at Bastian with greedy eyes. His demeanor changed in an instant, and I ached for my friend, who had to live in a situation like this.

“Come on, sugar plum.” Bastian tugged on my hand, and I followed him out of the house and into the night.

The cold air sobered me right up, making me remember all the things left unspoken. We got into Bastian’s car without saying another word. He started the engine and started driving, and I felt my nerves act up as I asked, “Are you taking me home as well?”

“No,” he said firmly.

I didn’t dare argue with him.

The rest of the ride was tense. I kept folding my hands in my lap, intertwining my fingers as I tried to get my mind off where Bastian taking me, trying to clear my head. Why was he taking me to his place? Was he disappointed in me? God, why’d I let myself get this way?

He hadn’t said a word since we pulled away from the house, and the tension in the car was palpable.

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Finally, we came to a stop in front of his apartment building. I hadn’t been here very often, maybe once or twice in the past years, but never inside, which, now that I thought about it, was a little strange. But I’d never questioned it.

I was getting more and more nervous as he parked the car in the garage, sat there for a second, then got out and walked around to open the passenger door for me. He held his hand out for me to take, and I slipped my palm in his much bigger one.

Once I was standing, he didn’t move, crowding me in the best of ways.

“Are you feeling a bit more yourself?” They were the first words he’d spoken since he’d picked me up.

“Yes,” I said softly. “Thank you again, Bastian.”

The air around him was tense, his gaze seeming heavy-lidded as he stared at me for the longest time.

Finally, I followed him into the complex. When we reached his apartment, the inside was almost impersonal, with a lack of decor. It was as if he didn’t care about the little touches that made a house a home.

“Haven’t you been living here for years?” I found myself asking Bastian as I looked at the only picture frame I saw. It still had the stock photo inside, and I felt my eyebrows knit.

“Yeah,” he said that lone word in a gruff tone. He grimaced right before he turned on the lights and walked into the state-of-the-art kitchen. I stood there and watched him grab a tall glass and fill it with water from the fridge. “I just never got around to decorating.” It was like he said that as an afterthought.

“Or getting your things out of boxes?” I said softly, trying to add some humor to the awkward situation I found myself in.