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Step-Lover

By´╝ÜBella Jewel


CHAPTER ONE

NOW



Raindrops keep falling on my head…

I jerk up in bed, arms dashing out in front of me as if to stop an invisible force that’s never there. It takes me a moment to calm my breathing, control my jerky movements and realize I’m in the now, not the then. I reach up with shaky hands and rub my eyes. I have the same nightmare every night; I have since I was eight and my father and sister were taken from me.

That night lives in my dreams, it haunts my days, and it’s a never-ending spiral of agony. Every time I close my eyes I see my sister’s lifeless ones, staring back at me. Even after all these years, I can still see the image in my head as if I were there only yesterday. My heart aches every morning, because I’m forced to wake up the same way with each rising of the sun.

It’s been eleven years, but time doesn’t heal everything. That night changed not only my life, but also my mom’s life. We went from having everything, to having nothing. My parents didn’t have life insurance. They never thought it would happen to them. I think that happens to a lot of people. When we lost my father and sister, we had to sell our home and move to something a great deal smaller. We’ve been here ever since.

That was the smallest part of our difficult journey. How do you support someone who is grieving as much as you? My mom was so strong; she held it together when I needed her, but I heard her sobbing at night, alone. She and my dad, they had that relationship. You know the one. The one that’s rare, beautiful, and once-in-a-lifetime. They were happy. They were normal.

There was nothing ugly with our life.

He wasn’t drunk driving. They weren’t fighting. No one came onto our side of the road. My father didn’t have a heart attack. No, it was a tire blowout. That’s it. That’s what took away my beautiful life. A tire. One simple tire. It blew, and when I say it blew, I mean it blew. Then the car skidded, Dad tried to correct it but we went off the road and flipped before the car twisted around a tree.

A tire ended it all.

“Aria?” My mother’s soft voice calls from down the hall.

“I’m up,” I yell back, running my fingers through my hair.

“Honey, I’m late for work. Do you need a ride to school?”

I groan. I want to stay in bed. I don’t want to go to school. It’s always hard to go for that last week before summer starts. It’s my first year in college, and so far it’s going as planned. When I finished high school, I knew what I wanted to do. I had the grades. I had a plan. I joined a Pre-Med program to start the journey into medicine. The school has Pre-Med students, as well as students studying medicine and starting internships.

The school is just around the corner from where I live, so I’m able to come home to Mom every day. This isn’t always what I’d prefer, but for the moment it works. I’m nineteen; there are times I’ve wanted my own space more than air, so lately I’ve been working on trying to change it. Especially now Mom’s newly married. It’s taken her eleven years to find him, but now she has I’m finally seeing a smile that’s not pretend.

I don’t think she loves him like she loved Dad, but she definitely adores him.

Jack Hutchens is a handsome, rugged, burly man. She’s been dating him for more than a year, and they tied the knot only last week. I like Jack; he’s a good, loving man. He’s handsome as all hell, too—tall, dark, and rugged. He has three sons, all of whom I’ve not met because they live in California with their mom. And apparently they don’t visit their dad.

I figure I’ll meet them eventually. I don’t mind when that happens. I don’t need replacement siblings. I don’t want a new family. I want my mom to be happy, but that’s where it ends. I don’t need a new dad. I don’t need new brothers and I don’t need to substitute something that will never go back to the way it was. However, for my mom I’ll do just about anything, so if this makes her happy, I’ll deal.

“Ari! Hurry! I want to talk to you.”

I sigh and throw my legs out of bed. I plod down the hall, one of my socks hanging off my foot. I round the corner into the lounge and see Mom and Jack standing in the kitchen. She’s scurrying about, grabbing her keys and muttering about something. Jack is leaning against the counter, grinning, arms crossed over his broad chest.

“Morning honey,” he says when I enter the kitchen.

I flash him a tired smile. “Hey Jack, how’s it going?”

“Good. You ready for school?”

I scrunch up my nose. “No. I wish I could just start summer vacation early.”

He grins, showing two perfect dimples. My dad had dimples too, but that’s the only thing he and Jack have in common. Dad was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and had a smile that melted my heart. My sister, Milly, looked exactly like him. I take after Mom, which is hard sometimes because we have no piece of them left. She always called Milly and I chalk and cheese. She was so fair and I’m so dark. My hair is black, my eyes emerald green, my skin a light olive.

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