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Screaming in the Silence - Epilogue

Novel By: Think Pink
Romance



This is the stand-alone Epilogue for those that have already read Screaming in the Silence. Based on reader and fan requests for a more definite ending to the book, Lydia Kelly penned this epilogue to provide more information about the fate of the main characters.

Do Raleigh and Kaden reunite? What happens to Marshall and Ray? Is Raleigh able to move on from the harrowing experience?

For those that haven't read the entire book yet, it is available at B&N.com with this Epilogue included.

Thank you for all of your support. View table of contents...


Chapters:

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Submitted:Jul 6, 2012    Reads: 3,094    Comments: 8    Likes: 1   


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SCREAMING

in the

SILENCE

By Lydia Kelly

* * *

For my best friends

J, H, A, & A

My ship, my anchor, and the stars which guide me home.

Publisher Note

The original version of Screaming in the Silence was discovered on the Booksie.com site in 2010. Lydia Kelly, the author, began posting the story a year earlier and it quickly gained a following of readers who hung on every chapter, eager to see what would happen to Raleigh and Kaden. In October of 2010, the book was edited, the ending tweaked, and the story published by WorldMaker Media. Over the next year and a half, it became an even bigger hit, selling tens of thousands of copies and attracting a new group of die-hard fans.

During this period, one of the main requests we have received is the desire so find out what happens to Raleigh and Kaden. Do Raleigh and Kaden wind up together? Does Kaden get out of jail? What happens to Ray and Marshal?

In response to her fans' requests, Lydia Kelly penned an Epilogue to the story. WorldMaker Media has included it in a new version of Screaming in the Silence and has also created this stand-alone version for those who have already read the book. This stand-alone version is being offered free of charge on the WorldMaker Media site and other online retailers except Amazon, where it it not possible to list anything for less than $.99. If you haven't read the entire book yet, we encourage you to start at the beginning and see the tragic events that began one of the most improbable love affairs of all time.

We'd like to thank all of the fans for their comments and support. We do listen. Please continue to communicate with us on Facebook or via email.

On a related note, a preview of Lydia Kelly's next book, A Harper's Education is included in this ebook following Screaming in the Silence. A Harper's Education tells the story of a Laila Roberts, a West Coast girl who transfers into the prestigious Harper's Prep her senior year in high school. Surrounded by privileged youth, she soon realizes that the relationships of Harper's students are determined by wealth and family connections. In true Lydia Kelly fashion, it explores controversial and provocative subjects while spinning an original story with unforgettable characters.

To learn more about Screaming in the Silence, visit:

www.worldmakermedia.com/screaming

Epilogue

I smiled at Matthieu. He smiled back, his slightly wrinkled lips exposing false teeth. In my two and a half years in Paris, Matthieu had become my closest friend. I had never imagined that as my 30th birthday approached, I would be living in a foreign country and spending the majority of my time with a 75 year old grandfather with whom I could barely communicate. Granted, we understood more of each other now than when we had first met, but we still shared those frustrating moments when neither of us could say or sign the things we really meant.

I had met Matthieu and his oldest son during my first week in Paris. They had a small business selling homemade pasta and I had happened upon their stall while I was wandering the market looking for groceries. Paul-Henri had seen me studying the different pastas and eagerly tried to make a sale, speaking in French while all I could do was stare at him. Luckily, Matthieu had intervened and asked me something which looked like it could have been in English.

"English?" I had asked quietly. "I'm sorry, I don't speak French."

It took them both a long moment to realize my unique situation, and while Paul-Henri looked flabbergasted by the challenge, Matthieu gave me a bright smile and pulled a pencil out of his pocket.

"Would you like to buy some pasta?" he wrote and I eagerly nodded my head.

And for a few weeks, that is how we communicated. We would write and point and nod or shake our heads. It wasn't much, but it was the only personal interaction I had with anyone apart from the emails to my father and my friends back home. It was nice to use my voice, even if only for a few minutes each day.

Then one day Paul-Henri asked how long I would be staying in France. I had told him that my plans were uncertain, but as of that day, I would be staying indefinitely. He smiled and then said something to his father who nodded in return. After that, things were written in English and French, and thus my lessons began.

I never got around to telling Matthieu why I was in France. He had asked once and I said I was staying at a friend's apartment while he was out of town. As the weeks turned into months, and then into years, we never discussed the subject again, which is why I was surprised when he brought it up so suddenly.

"Cherie." Matthieu addressed me with the same term of endearment he used with his daughters and granddaughters. I truly believed I had become part of his family. "Why are you still in Paris? Has your friend never come home to claim his apartment?" He repeated his questions in French and I watched carefully as his lips moved, picking up a word every so often.

"No. He hasn't come home," I said, hoping he couldn't see the conflict which raged behind my eyes. The last letter I had received from Kaden had been nearly 5 months ago. He had written and said he was up for parole and that he was hoping to see me soon. He would be waiting for my letter, the letter I was supposed to write letting him know if I wanted him to come to France or if I wanted him to stay away.

I never wrote back.

I couldn't write back. What was I supposed to say to that? Prison allowed me to go on without having to make a decision about our relationship. He had to be there. He couldn't leave and so it was easy for me to keep up the correspondence with him, knowing that no matter what I said or what feelings I confessed, there was an entire ocean and many steel bars between us. The illusion of Kaden, the man who claimed to love me and dream about me every night, had quickly replaced the monster everyone assumed he was. But I knew that if I saw him, if I felt him touch me, that illusion would be shattered. And I simply wasn't ready to let it go.

It was difficult, not writing to Kaden. I had looked forward to his letters, which arrived every Thursday and continued to arrive even though I stopped writing back. I hadn't opened one since. I didn't want to know what he had to say. I didn't want him to convince me that we should start over, that I should give him a second chance, just like I didn't want him to tell me he wasn't coming. Why should I have to make this decision? I was the one who had been hurt.

"But you will stay in France, won't you?" Matthieu asked.

"Of course I will. It's my home now," I answered with a smile.

"It makes me happy to hear you say that."

We grinned at each other and I finished my coffee. It had been a boring day at work but French lessons with Matthieu had brightened my mood. My father had supplemented my income for nearly 6 months after I left, clearly believing that I was on an extended vacation. It broke his heart when I asked him if he knew anyone at the US Embassy who could get me a job and a permanent work visa, but he pulled some strings and I started a job as a part time filing clerk. At least at the Embassy I could understand what people were saying, though the conversation was never very interesting. Nevertheless, I made a few friends. Between Matthieu and 'the Americans' as he called them, I found myself feeling more and more comfortable in my new surroundings.

"I need to pick up some things before I go home," I said in French. Matthieu flashed a big smile although I could tell he had struggled to understand what I was trying to say.

"Very well, Ma Cherie. À demain."

"Until tomorrow," I repeated and stood up to leave.

Matthieu walked me to the door of his small flat and kissed both my cheeks.

I left my friend's apartment feeling uncertain, a mood which had been virtually unknown to me for some time now. Maybe not completely unknown, but certainly suppressed.

My uneasiness stayed with me for nearly two weeks after I left Matthieu's apartment and grew stronger with each passing day. It felt like my mind was counting down to something, some great surprise or culminating finale. I couldn't stand the feeling, but there was little I could do. So I made my way silently through the streets of Paris, going about my daily routine as best I could.

And then one day, the countdown ended, just like I had hoped and dreaded it would.

* * *

I made my way silently through the busy Paris streets, ducking into the grocery store near my apartment just as it started to rain. I took my time gathering the things I needed, meandering up and down the aisles and trying to kick the trepidation I felt. Maybe I should read Kaden's letters. At least I would know his plans. Maybe he had decided on his own that he wasn't going to come see me. Would they even let him out of the country if he were on parole? Surely one of my friends or my father would have warned me if he had been released. But then again, they had their own lives to lead and I had adamantly campaigned for everyone to leave the trial and my kidnapping in the past. Maybe they had done that, or maybe they just wanted to make me think they had.

The rain hadn't stopped once my groceries had been paid for and the streets were visibly less crowded. With a bag under each arm, I walked as quickly as I could to the apartment and let myself into the courtyard. The marble stairs were slick with rainwater and I took my time, carefully watching my steps as I made my way up to the now familiar black door of Kaden's apartment.

Looking just a few stairs ahead of me, I stopped as I came around the last corner. A pair of grey sneakers rested just in my line of vision. Attached were two denim clad legs, bending at the knee. Their owner sat on the landing. He must have heard me climbing the stairs because he was sitting up straight, his hands neatly folded in his lap. But he couldn't have known that it was me. Maybe he just hoped it would be.

Kaden's face was exactly how it should be - no longer tired and worn like in the courtroom, but strong and fierce like it had been the night he had kidnapped me. What seemed like millions of memories flashed before my eyes - the trunk of the car, Julie's body, Kaden's touch, Ray's glare, Marshal's innocence. Neither of us moved as I studied his expression, wondering if I should be terrified, relieved, or overjoyed. His jaw clenched as he tried to keep his emotions at bay, but his emerald eyes betrayed his calm. He was scared. I had never seen this part of him before. On the witness stand, even on the day he turned himself in, he was never scared. Wary, sure. Uncertain, only at times. But scared? I didn't even know he was capable of feeling that way.

The bags in my arms suddenly felt unbearably heavy. My muscles started to quiver as I waited for him to speak. But we remained there in silence. I could feel the water dripping from my hair onto my neck and face. My skirt must have been clinging to my legs but I couldn't bring myself to move.

Suddenly Kaden jumped and I let out a gasp, terrified he was going to attack. A look of sadness crossed his face as he slowly stood up.

"Thunder," he explained in one word and I knitted my brow in confusion.

Thunder? That was the first thing he could think to say to me after all this time?

"I didn't mean to startle you," he continued. He took a step toward me and I held my breath. "Can I carry those for you?"

I nodded slowly, holding out one bag and then the other. Kaden took them, careful not to let our hands touch, and then turned to walk up the remaining stairs to his apartment. I waited until he was at the door before following him, my legs barely moving as I did so. It felt all too surreal, unlocking the door as Kaden waited patiently. He kept his distance, which I was grateful for, and watched me intently as I stepped out of my shoes and left them under the table in the entryway. I took the groceries from him so he could do the same and immediately walked to the kitchen.

I put the groceries away, trying to convince myself that nothing about this evening was different. That nothing had really changed. But when I was done, I had no choice but to turn toward the door and see Kaden standing there. A small smile graced his lips.

"I see you've made yourself at home," he said.

"Yes," I replied, my voice scratchy in my throat. "Oui."

His smile widened and I could see his fear dissipating. "And you've learned French?"

"Juste un peu," I confessed. Only a little.

He took a large step toward me and raised his hand as if he were reaching for me. "Raleigh, I…"

"Stop!" I said forcefully and he became as still as a statue. "Please don't come any closer."

"Okay," he nodded in understanding and composed his thoughts before speaking again. "I can see from your face that you didn't know I was coming. I wrote to let you know that I would be here, but I hadn't heard from you in so long…" he didn't finish his thought because we both knew that I hadn't been writing. "I didn't even know if I would still find you here."

"When did they let you out?"

He raised his eyebrows, probably realizing that I hadn't been reading any of his letters. "Almost five months ago."

"And they let you leave the country?"

"I had to renounce my US citizenship. I've done a lot of jumping through hoops to get here. That's why it's taken me so long to get to you," he added slowly.

I nodded but then shook my head. "And what if I hadn't been here?"

"I would have found a way back to you." His confidence was back and I didn't doubt for a second what he said.

"Have you talked to Marshal?" I asked suddenly, wanting to remain in control of the conversation. Looking at Kaden, speaking to Kaden, hell, even thinking about Kaden caused an avalanche of memories to fall directly on my head, the good mixed in with the bad. But thinking about Marshal was different. I had no negative memories associated with him. I would always think of him as my knight in shining armor.

Kaden, winced upon hearing his name. It probably brought too many bad memories back. "I saw him once, a few weeks after I got out. He's working on a fishing boat a few towns down from..." He paused to clear his throat. I could see his entire body, from his brow to his knees, was tense. "…from my house."

His house. The one where I had been held captive for so many weeks: starved, raped and beaten. The house where I fell in love with Kaden.

"How is he?" Marshal had never deserved his prison sentence, in my opinion. He had gotten 24 months. He had walked out after 18. Three weeks before his release, Ray had been stabbed during a fight. He had died in prison before his case made it through the first appeal.

Kaden had written to tell me what had happened, but I felt absolutely nothing. No relief, no sadness, no joy. Nothing. Neither of us had ever spoken of Ray again.

"He seems to be doing well," Kaden answered, and I smiled. "After his parole, he says he's going to move to Alaska to work on fishing boats up there. I guess he likes it well enough."

"I'm happy for him."

"He asked if I was going to find you," Kaden said quickly, looking rather ashamed.

"What did you tell him?"

"I didn't lie." Kaden looked at me as though he were seeking my approval. "He told me I should stay away, let you get on with your life."

I raised my eyebrows and waited to hear his excuse.

Kaden's face sank. Maybe he wanted me to tell him that I was glad he showed up today. That wasn't going to happen. Not just yet.

"I told him that I would stay away if that's what you wanted. But I needed to hear it from you first."

I merely nodded in understanding.

"He said he was happy to see me," Kaden continued, "but he didn't want me dropping by again."

I swallowed the lump in my throat. Marshal, innocent and kind Marshal, had been tainted by Ray and Kaden. I hoped he could put his life back together.

I didn't know what else to say so I stood there, waiting for him to make the next move.

"Why did you stop writing Raleigh?" he asked. Was he now the one who was desperate for answers? I had been there once; I knew how helpless he must have felt.

"You were asking too much," I told him, knowing I was going to have to explain myself. "You wanted me to send you an answer; you wanted me to make a decision and I couldn't do it. I shouldn't want you here, and part of me truly doesn't." I couldn't prevent the tears from falling from my eyes. "But now that you are here, standing in front of me and I can actually see you talking to me and see that you aren't just living in my imagination, I feel like I have found a part of me that has been missing."

So much had been said between us during his time in prison. I held nothing back in my letters, never once sparing his feelings. I hadn't let him forget why he was there, what he had done to deserve this punishment. There were times when I felt disgusted with myself for allowing our relationship to continue. The letters were raw, intimate, and honest despite the distance between us. There were times when I missed him more than anything. And there were times when I hated him. I wrote him all of this and he took it in stride. Never once did Kaden deny his guilt but never once did he apologize. He had done that before, the last night we were together, and I still felt as if he meant every word of it. I didn't need to hear it again.

"If you want me to leave, I'll leave. I just need to hear you say it," Kaden said. "But nothing would make me happier than for you to ask me to stay."

And there it was again. The choice was up to me and I, in no way, wanted to make that decision.

"You never gave me a choice before," I said coldly. He flinched. I knew that would hurt him. "So you'll have to excuse me if I hesitate."

"I'm not asking you to make up your mind completely. Just for tonight. Do you want me to stay or do you want me to leave?"

I sighed and went with my first instinct. "Leave."

He nodded his head. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He turned toward the door before I could read his expression and I instinctively took two steps after him.

"Kaden, wait."

He looked over his shoulder at me before turning his body. "I nearly forgot what it sounded like when you said my name," he said.

I wanted to speak but I couldn't. The memory of the first time I had spoken his name hit me like a slap in the face. Kaden had been an entirely different person to me at that time: a mystery, a monster, a glimmer of hope in a terrifying nightmare. But that wasn't the man I saw in front of me now. The emotions I had once felt in his presence, the horror, the uncertainty, the anguish, they were quickly dissipating as I realized that I was now in control. I didn't have to relinquish anything to Kaden if I didn't want to.

"Knowing that you are here, I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight if you leave."

"Then I'll stay," he said, taking a hesitant step in my direction. We were now close enough to touch and I could feel my fingers itching to reach for him. He must have been feeling the same way because he slowly lifted his hand. He hesitated before touching my face but when I didn't shy away, he gently brushed a stray curl from my cheek.

"I've missed you so much, Blondie."

I smiled for the first time since seeing him. He smiled back and his fingers stroked my skin. I closed my eyes, savoring his touch, but quickly opened them when I remembered how little I trusted him.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he promised, reading me as he always had. "Never again will I hurt you."

I nodded and closed my eyes, giving in and letting him hold me. His arms encased me like a warm blanket on a cold night as he held me close to his chest. I felt as though I was floating, liberated from some prison I had been keeping myself in. His body this close to mine didn't scare me, as I thought it would. It felt familiar and safe and I never wanted him to let me go.

Had I created a new illusion for myself? Now that Kaden was here, had I somehow convinced my mind to forget all the horrible things he had done to me? To Julie and to Carla? No. I certainly still remembered being kept in the basement, being denied food, being forced into submission. But I had somehow come to terms with it. I remembered what Kaden had said at the lake. He wasn't a bad person; he had just made some fucked up decisions. I wasn't a bad person either, but by many standards, I had made some really fucked up decisions. Leaving my friends and family to live in Kaden's apartment in Paris? Kaden, the man who had kidnapped and raped me. Not that my decisions hurt anyone but myself. Certainly they would confuse people, but no one was physically or emotionally damaged by them.

Kaden held me for what seemed like hours. Hundreds of emotions ran through my mind but only one kept returning - relief. Relief that he was here, relief that I had stayed strong, relief that he still wanted me, and relief that I knew we could make it through. Kaden had my heart even after all of our time apart, even after I gave up needing him, even after I had learned to hate him.

I finally felt him pull away and I opened my eyes to look up at him. I could see that he felt relieved as well. He no longer looked scared but his eyes stared at me with sadness and longing. His hand lifted from my shoulder so he could sign.

I love you.

I looked at his hand and knew it to be true. Gently, I raised mine and placed my fingers lightly on the front of his neck.

"I want to feel you say it," I told him.

"I love you," he said without reservation and I smiled as I reached for his hand and placed it over my heart.

"I love you too."

The warmth from his smile filled the room and I took comfort in knowing that I had caused him such happiness.

"Now prove to me that you deserve it," I challenged him and he chuckled.

"Where do you want me to start?"

"Dinner would be nice."

Kaden smiled and looked as if he were about to kiss me. His eyes glanced down at my lips but he took a step back once he realized I had figured out what he was thinking.

"I need to earn that too, don't I?" He asked with a grin.

I smiled before taking a seat at the kitchen table. Watching Kaden work his way around the kitchen was like watching a child rediscover a favorite toy. Kaden had once loved this place and probably still did. I hadn't moved anything, but memories aren't always as accurate as one would like them to be. He slowly opened and examined every drawer and cupboard as if finding a small memory of his childhood in each piece of kitchenware.

We made small talk over dinner. He asked me about what I did from day to day even though he already knew. He was happy that I liked Paris, that I considered it my home. He didn't ask about my family or friends, if they missed me or if they wanted me to return to Delaware. Those questions, just like the questions I had about prison, would wait for a later time. But everything would eventually be laid out on the table. All skeletons would come out of the closet and all fears would be addressed. It would happen one day at a time.

* * *

As I slowly let Kaden back into my physical world, I grew to appreciate how much he had meant to my emotional one. I had been running away from everything and everyone I had known when I met Kaden. The time I spent with him had turned my worst nightmare into a reality, but it had taught me so much about the human heart. I could never justify my feelings for Kaden to anyone and I had learned to control my own expectations and not allow others to dictate them. So it didn't surprise me when one day I found myself leading Kaden down the hallway to the bedroom. Not one step of this process had been easy for either of us and I knew that giving Kaden my body would be one of the most difficult things I had ever done. But we were ready.

I closed my eyes as Kaden kissed me and lifted me onto the bed. I tried not to anticipate the fear or regret I might feel while making love. As I felt the smooth sheets beneath my back and Kaden's body above me, I started to panic. I opened my eyes and Kaden looked at me with a mixture of sadness and the guilt, determination and kindness.

"We don't have to do this," he said and I could tell he was whispering.

"I want to," I told him. "But it's been so long and I'm afraid."

"Afraid of me?"

"Yes. And afraid of everything this implies."

Kaden lifted one of my hands which had been clenching the sheets, kissing each finger before setting it gently by my side. "Do you remember the last time we were together?"

I nodded.

"I asked you to close your eyes and imagine you were anywhere but in my bedroom with me."

I nodded again.

"Try it again. Close your eyes and try to think if you would rather be anywhere else in the entire world. And, if you find a place, we'll get up right now and go there."

I took a deep breath. Slowly, my eyes closed and I willed my body to relax. I could still feel Kaden on the bed next to me. He was drawing circles on my hip with his fingers and gently kissing my neck and shoulder. I tried to think of some exotic or distant location I had seen in a magazine or read about. Bali, Bangladesh, Belize. I'd love to see the entire world. But I was in no hurry.

I thought of my friends back in Delaware, how they were living their lives without me and how much I missed them. But even the longing I had for my friends couldn't replace the happiness I felt in Paris. With Kaden.

I started to shake my head as I opened my eyes. "No," I whispered, a tear running down my face. "I don't want to be anywhere else."

Kaden nodded his head and kissed each of my eyelids. I felt all hesitation and regret melt away. I knew that I had become officially liberated from every rope and chain that Kaden had ever tied to me. I didn't need him; he wasn't taking anything from me. I simply wanted him.

We made love all afternoon. Like everything in our new relationship, all it took was time for us to find our stride again.

* * *

And now, with a child on the way, and years of hard work and happiness to make up for the weeks of pain and sadness, I have never once regretted asking Kaden to stay that night.

The End


Author's Note

Raleigh and Kaden's journey has been such an emotional experience for me. When I first started writing, I had no intention of them ever ending up together. However, as the characters developed, I was no longer certain of the fate I would create for them. I left the story open-ended because I wanted give the reader the freedom to imagine their own ideal ending for the characters. This epilogue was incredibly difficult for me to write because the lines of right and wrong have been completely blurred throughout Raleigh's story. But I understand the need for closure, and I hope this provides some for those readers who seek it.

I truly appreciate all of the support from my friends, family and fans! Being able to share Raleigh and Kaden's story with all of you has been a surreal and rewarding experience. Thank you all so much!

* * *

Lydia Kelly is the author of Screaming in the Silence, published in 2010 by WorldMaker Media. She was born and raised in Oregon where she currently lives with her husband and son. Her second book, A Harper's Education is the first in a series of novels for young adults.

Please enjoy the following preview of Lydia's Kelly's second book, A Harper's Education.

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A Harper's Education
by Lydia Kelly

When innocent Laila Roberts transfers to the elite Harper's Preparatory her senior year of high school, she is simply hoping the school's reputation will help her get into Yale. Surrounded by privileged youth, she quickly learns that the relationships of Harper's students and their future prospects are determined by wealth and family connections. One wrong step can lead to social disaster. Against her better judgment, Laila falls fast and hard for handsome twin, Sterling Pierce. But her new relationship puts her on a collision course with Kalyn Andretti, the reigning Queen Bee of Harper's, who will stop at nothing to break up Sterling and Laila for one last fling with her ex-boyfriend before graduation.

As Kalyn puts her schemes into action, not even she can imagine how her plans will rock the school and leave Laila, Sterling, their classmates, and Harper's changed forever.

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Prologue

"Miss?"

"Miss?"

"What?" Laila responded sharply.

"I need to ask you a few questions, if that's all right."

She looked around her dorm room at the well-made bed, the poster of Yo-Yo Ma that Tennille had above her dresser, and over on her side of the room, his picture in the heart frame. Tears blurred her vision. Where was he? He said he would be right back. "I don't think so." Maybe the officer didn't hear her. Perhaps she hadn't really said anything? Or, he simply chose to ignore her answer.

"I understand you knew the deceased."

"They have names," Laila said, irritated. She didn't want to answer any questions. Laila wished she could hide away somewhere and forget everything she had just seen.

"Most people find it easier to keep things less personal," the officer said quietly.

"Would you find it easier? What if it was someone you knew?" She finally looked up at the young police officer, directly into his sympathetic brown eyes. His radio squawked and he turned down the volume. "I know this is difficult. I promise I only have a few questions for you."

Laila took a deep breath and attempted to push the images out of her mind - blood, pale skin, sprawled bodies. Her own screams echoed through her head. She started shaking and felt the bile moving up from her stomach. She closed her eyes and hugged herself tight.

"Do you remember what time it was when you heard the shots?"

Laila shuddered and shook her head. "I don't know. Around nine I guess."

"Do you know what might have caused this to happen?"

Was he serious? He knew what had gone on at Harper's Prep. No one had seen this coming though. Three dead students in the span of two weeks.

Laila closed her eyes again. The last two weeks had felt like a dream. Everything else seemed so insignificant now. "Things at Harper's have been fucked up since I've been here." She almost never swore but why bother holding back?

The officer raised one eyebrow and gave her a moment to wipe away her tears.

"Was this related to the incident last week? Did they all know each other?"

Laila nodded her head. "Yes."

"Were they all friends, enemies?"

"At Harper's you don't really know," she mumbled. Her body started to shake again and she looked around, trying to find something to steady her, someone to help her. Sterling, she thought, as grief overcame her. Why did he leave her alone? Was he okay?

"I think we should leave this until tomorrow," the young officer said, catching her look and understanding she couldn't go on. "Get some rest. I'm sorry for the loss," he said, before turning and walking out the door.

She sobbed and wanted to run into his strong arms. The world had collapsed around them but in his arms she felt safe. She felt a familiar touch; she didn't feel afraid to cry.

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Chapter One

Seven months earlier…

The bass from a jacked up stereo pounded through Laila's body. Her new roommate, Tennille, had dressed her up, dragged her to the party, and forced her onto the dance floor. "I'm not in San Francisco anymore," she whispered to herself, descending the stairs. A couple kissed passionately in a corner and a tall blonde guy with cargo pants and a t-shirt gulped down something in a red cup. Yup, definitely not her old school.

She looked around the crowded basement. The bottom floor of the Wellsworth Hall dormitories opened from the stairs into a large room where the students danced and socialized. Fat, gothic pillars spiraled up from the foundation. Long, dark hallways crept from the main room and disappeared back around the building. Students relaxed and chatted on expensive looking couches and chairs. Blue and gold banners hung from the ceiling and the walls, proudly displaying the school colors and crest. That crest. Laila had been studying it ever since she had received her acceptance letter from Harper's. A horse and lion standing erect on their hind legs at either side of a shield, a knight's helmet above them, and the word consciencia bannered below. Laila assumed the founding fathers of Harper's had designed such an intricate crest with the intention of instilling a sense of pride and honor in all those who were deemed worthy of wearing it. Needless to say, she felt she had a lot to live up to.

Laila knew the aristocratic elite of the United States counted on Harper's to educate their children and prepare them for college - mostly Ivy League Universities. When her parents had suggested she attend the school, Laila had almost choked.

"Let me tell you who's who," Tennille said, breaking her thoughts.

"That guy over there, the one with the leather jacket and black hair, that's Julian Polk, kind of the leader of the popular crowd. His parents own Polk Industries, one of the largest makers of plastics and tapes in the country. The blonde girl standing next to him is Kalyn Andretti, his sometimes girlfriend, soon to be fiancée unless he impregnates someone else before graduation. Her parents are also filthy rich."

"Wait," Laila stopped her, trying to grasp the concept without laughing. "Why is she his soon to be fiancée if she's only his sometimes girlfriend?"

Tennille smiled at her question. "Welcome to Harper's, girl, where old money means old tradition. Kalyn's family and Julian's go way back. They aren't allowed to call it an arranged marriage, but that's essentially what it is."

"Are you serious?"

"Hmm, afraid so," Tennille said. "Pretty archaic, don't you think?"

Laila nodded in disbelief. Her friends back home were going to love the stories she would have for them. They had all warned her about going to an East Coast school, but even they couldn't have imagined arranged marriages.

"Okay, so who else is here?"

"That guy standing next to Julian, staring at you like you're a perfect piece of filet mignon, that's Chase Nichols."

Laila squirmed in discomfort as she caught Chase's eye. His tall, lanky figure was slouched at the shoulders and his eyes looked red and swollen even from across the room. He wore his chestnut hair slicked back and he ran his tongue over his pale lips as he stared at the two girls.

"Chase gets away with almost everything because his parents donate an obscene amount of money to the school every year. His mother is a Harding, one of the founding families of the school and supposedly descended from someone on the Mayflower. He has a massive sense of entitlement that stretches into the female population, although he usually ends up with Julian's left-overs.

"Now, on the other side of the spectrum," Tennille continued, taking Laila's hand and spinning her around, "are the ones you don't have to look out for. The kid sitting alone in the corner, the one with red hair, that's Randy. He's one of two seniors here on scholarship, which means he doesn't have many friends."

"Who's the other one?"

"That would be yours truly." Tennille smiled proudly. "Although, I've managed to stay under the radar for the past three years."

"And Randy hasn't?"

"He used to be really bothered by all the ridicule. During his freshman year they almost expelled him for fighting because Julian and Chase and all their friends wouldn't leave him alone. I guess he just didn't know how to deal with it."

"He doesn't look like the type of guy who would get into a fight."

"He might not have money like everyone else here, but he can hold his own, that's for sure. But I think he's calmed down now. Either he doesn't let it bother him as much or he's become better at suppressing his anger."

"Poor guy."

"Oh, don't even think about feeling sorry for him," Tennille said. "He hates that more than anything. Randy's the most down-to-earth person in the school. That's probably why we're such great friends. We tell each other everything."

Tennille didn't really have a censor when it came to her opinions. "And what about you? How do you survive?" Laila asked.

"Me? I'm a novelty at this school. Harper's administrators are always looking to impress the board with their recruits. I'm a music prodigy with the added bonus of being, how did they put it, 'culturally diverse.'" Tennille sure didn't lack in the confidence department and there was no reason that she should. Her long black hair flowed like one continuous wave down her back and dark, thick lashes fluttered around her large brown eyes. Laila would have killed for Tennille's flawless mocha colored skin, but as it was, she was stuck wearing SPF 50 on a daily basis.

"And there they are," Tennille pointed to the stairs. Three figures entered the room, the dark light of the basement shadowing their silhouettes. The music almost seemed coordinated for their entrance and nearly all of the girls threw them sideways glances.

The boy in front had dark hair and towered over the rest of the students. His eyes searched the crowd. Two blonde boys trailed him, their ashy hair picking up the colors of the strobe lights. The closer of the two had a wide grin on his face and deep dimples. His twin brother looked more somber, his eyes fixed calmly on the crowd.

"Who are they?" Laila yelled, only to have the song end as she shouted the last words. Two girls next to them snickered. A slow song started playing.

"Hands off the dark-haired one, he's mine," Tennille laughed and waved her hand in the air. The boy with the dark hair gave her a crooked smile and pushed his way through the crowd.

"You're finally here!"

"I told you I would be," he said in a deep voice as Tennille threw her arms around his neck to kiss him. It wasn't indecent or prolonged, but it made Laila blush. She had never shown any public displays of affection but she supposed that was because she never had a boyfriend for long enough to display much of anything. At her old Catholic school, boys were scarce.

"Tate, this is my new roommate, Laila."

Tate extended his hand. "Welcome to Harper's Preparatory," he said with a bow.

"Thank you," Laila smiled.

"And this is Alistair and Sterling," Tennille said, before returning her attention to Tate.

"Laila, what a beautiful name." The cheerier of the blonde twins took her hand and brought it gently to his lips. "I'm Alistair, the more handsome of the Pierce twins."

His brother rolled his eyes behind Alistair's back. Laila smiled at his dimples. "You two look identical to me," she admitted.

"Almost, but not quite," Alistair continued.

"How am I supposed to tell the difference?"

"Sterling's got the crazy eyes. I've got the dimples." Alistair glanced at a group of girls standing a few feet away. "If you'll excuse me…"

Laila watched him leave, impressed by his confidence and ease. She turned back to his brother, a little disappointed to find Tennille and Tate dancing in what appeared to be a world of their own.

"So, I guess it's just you and me," Sterling said and Laila suddenly felt very hot. His voice, unlike his twin brother's, was deep and silky. Laila looked up at him. Although not as tall as Tate, he still towered over her. He had a flawless complexion, a tan from the summer sun, and short, ashen hair pushed messily away from his eyes, making him appear as though he had just rolled out of bed looking this handsome.

"I guess so," Laila smiled at him, unsure of what to think. He appeared so stereotypically preppy when broken down to the basics: blonde hair, athletic build, simple blue button up shirt paired with expensive jeans. But he seemed to have an edge, a glint in his eye that attracted her attention.

Laila struggled to find something interesting to say to Sterling when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

"Hey," a voice said from behind her. She turned around and forced a smile when she saw Julian and his friend Chase.

"You're new here, aren't you?" Julian asked, chewing on a piece of gum while he spoke.

"Yeah. I mean, yes, I am," she said trying to sound as if she belonged at this East Coast preparatory school. They both snickered.

"I'm Julian. This is Chase," he said, taking her hand and kissing it, much like Alistair had done. But unlike Alistair's innocent touch, Laila felt Julian's tongue run between her knuckles, his fingers tightening around hers. She pulled her hand away softly but with enough force to break free.

"I'm Laila. It's nice to meet you." She nodded at each of them, rubbing the back of her hand against her side, suddenly incredibly uncomfortable under Chase's constant stare and Julian's playfully devilish grin.

"Where are you from?" Julian asked.

"San Francisco."

"Surprise, surprise," she heard a voice from beside her say with a whiny, slightly slurred drawl. Kalyn and another girl stepped in beside Julian. "A blonde with blue eyes from California. I'm guessing she's a Democrat as well."

The smile faded from Laila's face. Kalyn looked like she had stepped out of Vogue, with teased and highlighted hair, flawlessly applied makeup, and a designer dress. She was model beautiful. Kalyn looked Laila up and down.

"It must be an uncommon thing around these parts, I suppose." Laila said before she could stop herself.

"What, Democrats?" Kalyn laughed and Julian smirked.

"No. Natural blondes."

Sterling, Julian, and Chase laughed. Kalyn simply glared at her.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Julian asked, taking a step toward her and reaching for her waist. Kalyn scoffed and turned away, dragging her friend by the hand toward the exit.

"No, I'm fine, thank you," Laila replied quickly, moving backwards and stepping on Sterling's feet.

"Are you sure?" Julian looked at her through narrowed eyes, glancing at Sterling.

"She said she's fine." Sterling put a hand around Laila's thin arm, taking a few steps back and pulling her with him. "We were just about to sit down before you interrupted us. Why don't you spend some time with Kalyn?"

altA Harper's Education is available online from Amazon, B&N, and other major booksellers.alt





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