Amara shuddered in Finn’s arm as climax took her. Literally three breaths later and he was overcome as well. As ways to wake up went, he’d never found better.
The beautiful brunette slumped in his embrace, draping herself over Finn’s broad chest and basking in the early dawn light. Other girls might have concealed themselves modestly beneath the bed sheets but Amara was gloriously nude. The length of her shone whitely against his ebony skin, a contrast he never failed to find pleasing.
“Mmmmm, it’s all downhill from here,” Amara murmured, her soft brown eyes half-lidded with pleasure.
Finn traced the Chinese symbol on her arm, the hanzi for ‘Light’. It was usually so apt. “You’re cheery, you are. Not even awake thirty minutes and it’s all downhill? What’s the matter, babe?”
“Did you forget they’re coming, in like…” Amara rolled slightly over his chest, pressing delightful curves against him. “Damn, we need to get up, get showered, get some breakfast and be ready to go when they get here in the next couple hours. I hate my life.”
“I’ve been looking forward, you know. Meeting your parents. Especially since they live in Orlando. What I still don’t see is why you never-“
Amara silenced him with her mouth. Then she rolled off of him entirely and started fishing for clothes. Finn just lay there, flat on his back, marveling at the sheer majesty of that graceful creature. At least until she threw his shirt over his face.
“Come on, British boy. If you want to meet my folks, you better move your ass. Or I do, anyway, if I don’t want Alley beating me to the shower.”
Finn yawned hard enough to crack his jaw as he walked out of the bedroom after his girlfriend, who’d found the second-floor bathroom at the end of the hall empty and promptly leaped inside with a gleeful pounce. Chuckling, he noticed Nate’s room was ajar and peeked in. The redhead was rolled up on his side, facing the window, snoring peacefully.
Except Nate had plainly occupied only half the bed. The sheets on the other side were empty but had held another body in the not-so-distant past. Finn blinked. That was unexpected.
To confirm a suspicion, he bravely cracked Jia and Julie’s door a fraction and the mystery deepened. Julie was snug in her bed, soundly asleep. Impossible to tell at the moment if she’d spent most of the night in Nate’s bed or not but the act was convincing enough at least.
Except Jia wasn’t in her bed. While the Asian girl woke up with the sun to do Bible study, she usually returned to her bedroom and read in the early morning. No sign of her yet. What was she up to?
Finn scratched his head and cracked Alley’s door open to see if the two girls had decided to have a conversation or something. He immediately regretted it. The bare-bones room was littered with clothes that had obviously been stripped off in a tremendous hurry. A bra had even ended up dangling decorously from a lamp. A much larger bra than A Cup Alley ever wore.
Sure enough, Alley wasn’t alone in bed. For once, the blonde slumbered like the dead, probably worn out from a night of sexual theatrics he half-regretted he hadn’t heard. The real surprise was the other occupant of the bed. Danielle Wyngarde lay in Alley’s arms, unmistakably curled around the other woman and sleeping the blissful sleep of the deeply satisfied.
“You shouldn’t peek in Alley’s room.”
Finn half jumped out of his skin as Jia spoke up. The tiny Chinese girl had evidently snuck upstairs to head to her bedroom and detoured to investigate Finn’s breach of the female sisterhood’s privacy or however these girls thought about it. Unfortunately, Finn’s surprise was sufficient to accidently send the door crashing open.
The most embarrassing scene all semester happened in the next ten seconds.
When the door hit the interior wall, Alley reflexively and probably still unconsciously rolled out of bed, hit the floor and came up with a gun. She’d also unfortunately taken the bed sheets with her, promptly exposing every naked inch of Danielle to the incredulous eyes of the onlookers. At that instant, Jia looked into the room as she turned to head back to her own bedroom. Lambert Acres’ resident strong girl promptly froze in place and her jaw dropped.
“Jesus, Jia!” Dani scrambled up out of the bed, having gone from sleeping to utterly humiliated in four seconds flat. She snatched a pillow off the bed and covered herself up. “W-what are you-“
“English, what the fuck.” Alley groaned, rubbed a palm against her forehead and tucked the pistol away before she scared someone. “I mean, seriously.”
“I-” Finn started to say, while his mind scrambled for a coherent explanation.
“Dani, how could you?” Jia’s surprise had turned to utter horror. “I thought you…what were you thinking?”
“I, uh, I mean-” Practically every inch of the pale silver-haired girl went red before Finn’s eyes. “I don’t-“
“I can’t believe you’d sleep with…with…” Jia’s outrage seemed torn between the fact that Dani had slept with Alley, slept with a girl or maybe just slept with anyone. “What would your brother think?!?”
“You know how it works, Sunrise,” Alley said, slowly climbing to her feet with the sheet wrapped around her. The half-lidded eyes and unsteady gait were telltale signs of a barely conscious girl. Her voice had gone dark, though, heavy with a rising anger. “You’re doing one thing and it leads to another. Look on the bright side, at least she picked someone who couldn’t knock her up.”
Finn whistled at the sheer audacity of that and promptly ducked out of the line of fire. Ambling around the furious preacher’s girl, he peeked in on Nate and found the ginger scratching his head and staring in puzzlement from his bed. Finn made the unmistakable gesture to stay down and promptly shut Nate’s door to keep the poor kid out of trouble.
As the screaming started up behind him, he ran into Julie on her way out of her bedroom. The bed-rumpled brunette looked pained. And she bore a very distinct hickey mark on the juncture between neck and shoulder.
“You might want to-” he started to say.
“Stay in my bedroom?” Julie sighed. “Won’t help. I can hear everything anyway, with my ears and my telepathy. At least if I’m downstairs, I only have to have one set of senses assaulted.”
Finn chuckled, once more glad for his reflexive screening of all telepathic signals, incoming or outgoing. Like the gentleman he was, he let Julie go down the stairs first while he peered back at the bathroom door. Doubtlessly Amara could hear every word too. So far, it seemed like she’d had the good sense to stay in the bathroom at least.
Moving down the stairs, he was astonished to find the kitchen was already occupied. By Eli Amsley, who was in the midst of making a large breakfast clearly intended for everyone. The tall blonde, bearded upperclassman glanced up from the skillet of hashbrowns he’d just set on the girl and gave him an acknowledging nod.
“So, suppose you can hear all that?”
“The neighbors on the other side of those trees out there might not,” Eli said, managing a half-hearted chuckle, one Julie shared as she hopped onto a bar stool.
“Don’t suppose you could, you know, get your girlfriend out of there, break things up?”
Eli shook his head, the chuckle dying away entirely. “This has been a long time coming. Jia would only bottle it up again and it’s already been unhealthy. She needs to have it out. And Alley-“
“I wish she’d picked someone else for her first girlfriend,” Julie said with a sigh. “Someone without any personal connection to Jia.”
“Be that as it may, I’m glad it’s happened,” Eli said. Finn raised an eyebrow and even Julie seemed surprised. “Alley’s been hurting a long time. As far as I know, this is the first time since Iris that she’s even tried to reach out to someone. I don’t subscribe to casual sex but, out of the range of Alley’s self-destructive behaviors, this is the healthiest thing I’ve seen her do yet.”
“Self-destructive?” Julie scratched bed-matted hair and yawned. “Alley? She’s the most cheerful girl I’ve ever seen.”
Eli’s face hardened and, in that instant, Finn knew. Or rather, Finn realized Eli knew something. He’d seen something the others hadn’t. But instead of pushing the topic, Eli only asked “How would you like your eggs?”
Finn stretched, then turned when he heard feet hammering down the stairway. Dani Wyngarde emerged into view a second later, tears streaming down her face. She didn’t bother opening the door. Instead, the distraught girl just ran through it, insubstantial as a ghost.
Instantly he looked back at Eli. The college junior just lifted an eyebrow, shrugged and went back to the skillet of bacon cooking in front of him. “I know you’re all in the HCP at West,” Eli said to Finn. “I knew before that girl phased through the door or whatever she did. Don’t bother and ask me how I found out, it doesn’t matter. I don’t plan to report any of you, any more than I’d report Jia.”
“That’s…just smashing,” Finn said slowly. “Good on you, mate. Good on us, come to think of it.”
Finn traded relieved looks with Julie. Then he frowned a little and sidled up close to the brunette. She had a meaningful expression on her face that suggested she had something he needed to hear.
“Jason Wyngarde outed himself in a fight with Jia,” Julie said quietly, the hissing of the bacon and the distance keeping the conversation from Eli’s ears. “He’s telling the truth, though, Eli isn’t planning on reporting any of us.”
Wiping his brow, Finn leaned back against the wall and shook his head slowly. “We got lucky then.”
“There’s something else I want to talk to you about,” Julie said, in a tone of voice that suggested she was very reluctant to bring it up. “It’s about Amara.”
“What about her?”
“I don’t know what she’s told you, Finn, but I can’t help what I pick up and she’s been broadcasting distress the whole time she’s been in the shower. If you care about her, the decent thing to do might be to come up with an excuse not to meet her family today.”
“I see.” Finn scratched the stubble on his chin as he considered the situation. “I didn’t realize it was quite that bad.”
“In her own way, Amara has as much baggage than anyone under this roof right now. Alley’s is obviously tied up in her past, and Jia’s involves Jason and her son and her parents. Nate, that’s obvious.” Julie took a breath and pressed on. “Amara’s issues are entirely about her family. From what I’m hearing, I really don’t think she’s capable of engaging with them without being hurt further. Do her a favor; get her out of this meet-and-greet. I’m sure you’re curious about them but she’s not ready.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the pitter-patter of angry feet. Jia stormed down the stairwell. When she landed at the base, she gave the wall a frustrated hit and put her hand through it. Dismayed, Jia pulled her hand out and shook dry wall dust from her knuckles.
Alley stumbled down after her, still wrapped in a sheet and visibly upset.
“Why Dani?” Jia asked, turning sharply and glaring at the taller blonde who’d stopped at the landing just above the floor.
“I was hurting and she was there,” Alley said, eyes gleaming wetly. “It’s not like I’m planning to date her. It was just-“
“And does she know that?” Jia put her hands on her hips. “I saw how she looked when she ran out of here. Was that the face of a girl who’d only come over for a…a booty-call?”
“It was a mistake,” Alley said, running a hand through her rumpled blonde hair. “But, even in hindsight, it wasn’t a mistake I could avoid making. I’m not pretending this makes me a good person or that apologizing will make everything alright. But you have my apology anyway. It won’t happen again.”
“Alley, are you into me?”
“Jesus, you really want to know?” Alley clenched her hands into fists and nodded. “I’m more than into you, Sunrise. It was love at first sight. I’m head over heels for you. It’s not your fault. You didn’t encourage me or invite me. A relationship with me is the furthest thing from your mind, especially with Jimney Cricket in the kitchen cooking you breakfast. None of that matters, though. Weird as it might sound, my love for you has nothing to do with you. It’s mine, it’s my feeling, and it’s enough to just feel this way again. I’ve spent almost three years with a dead heart, Jia. You make me feel. It’s usually pain but it’s something. Because if I can love you, maybe I can actually find someone again, someday. Maybe there’s more to this fucking shell of a life than duty, service and the fucking bullet I’ve wanted to put in my head every night for three years now. Maybe I’ve got more waiting for me than a grave and a final chance to stop hurting. Maybe. In the meantime, I’m going to go upstairs now and get dressed. You’ll be gone by the time I’m back and that’s okay. We can pull through this, Sunrise, you and me. It’s going to be hard but we’ll find a way back to being roommates and maybe even friends again. But right now, I need to go cry because, welcome as this pain is, seeing your rejection still hurts.”
With tears streaming down her face, Alley turned back up the stairs and rapidly vanished back into her bedroom.
Silence reigned in the living room. Jia stood there, utterly stunned. It took Eli approaching her and putting an arm around her shoulders to coax her into the kitchen to get some food. Julie gave Finn a pain-filled wince and sighed before heading upstairs, obviously intending to fetch Nate down for breakfast.
That left Finn alone. He hesitated, weighing his respective options. At last, he settled on walking up the stairs. His room and Jia’s were empty, he could hear Julie talking to Ginger in Nate’s room and Alley’s door was shut with barely discernable sobs making their way through the wooden barrier. Ignoring all those options, Finn reached the end of the second floor hall, knocked once and opened it up.
Inside the small, cramped bathroom he found Amara sitting in the bathtub, soaking up heat from a steadily pouring shower. The beautiful girl with short hair, a fetching tattoo and a haunted expression looked his way and shivered. “I can’t seem to get warm,” she said, as if an explanation was the reason he’d come in. “I’ll be done soon. Is it over out there?”
Finn took a seat on the edge of the tub, sighing at the look on her frightened face. She was terrified. So he reached out, took her dripping wet hand and squeezed it tightly.
“Seems to me there’s been enough drama today. Let’s put your family off. What with finals coming up after Thanksgiving, let’s not worry about them for a few weeks. Sorted?”
“It’s sorted,” Amara said, nodding once and cracking a smile as she sniffled. Only then did Finn realized she’d been crying the whole time, her tears covered by the spray of the shower.
“How’s it feel, having the healthiest relationship in this whole house?”
“We do?” Amara wrinkled her nose and laughed. “We do!”
“You and me, babe.” Finn leaned over and kissed the tip of her nose. “I’m not leaving you, ever. It’s you and me, against the whole world if need be. You’ll always have me, babe. Always.”