The Parents: Anastasia

“Alright, very good, Mikah. I think we’ve got what we need.”

“Oh, great.” The actor in front of us changes drastically as he comes out of character. Gone is the dark, imposing dominant that had just been holding a whip over his head, ready to deliver the most delicious kind of punishment, and in his place is a welcoming set of clear blue eyes and an expectant smile. “Anything else?”

“Just the nudity. You can remove your clothes whenever you’re ready.”

An embarrassed smile creeps across my lips as the stranger in front of me pulls off his shirt. His arms are thick, his abs are toned, his chest impressive. He has the perfect body type, but it’s all going to come down to…

When his underwear falls to the floor, I have to glance up at the ceiling and take a breath to avoid losing my professional composure.

Keep it together, Anastasia.

“How do you feel about shaving?” The director asks, staring at the hair around this stranger’s penis as though she were asking his preference on a paint color. He shrugs, entirely nonplussed.

And the impressive package dangling between his thighs makes it clear why.

“Whatever you think is best for the role.”

“Hm. What do you think, Anastasia?”

“Great,” I chirp. “I mean, uh… I’ve got everything I need. Thank you, uh… Mikah.”

“Sure.” The actor picks up his pants, and I take a breath again. He moves to take the piece of paper the director hands him, then thanks us all for the opportunity and leaves the room. The women around me start fanning themselves.

“Thank-you for writing this book, Anastasia,” one of the studio execs says to me.

“And to think, all these guys are just trying to look like her husband,” the producer says. “How do you get any work done?”

I laugh, and because the grueling weeks we’ve already put into this production have made these women like sisters to me, I add, “Oh, make no mistake. I’m going home to night and fucking the shit out of him tonight.”

They all laugh, and the director raises her eyebrow. “Does he know that we’re casting his part today?”

“Oh, god no. I picked this week because I knew he’d be busy doing campaign work. That’s why we had to have final callbacks in Seattle instead of LA. He thinks we’re doing script rewrites today.”

“Smart woman.”

I touch the tip of my nose, then point directly at her just as the door opens. Instead of another beautiful man coming in to read dirty lines and show off his crown jewels, my assistant hurries toward me.

“Mrs. Grey, the school just called. The kids are in the principal’s office.”

“My kids?”

“All three of them. You’re gonna have to go down there, I’m afraid.”

“Oh god…” I shake my head and turn an apologetic look on the director. “I’m sorry, are we done for today?”

“Yeah, Mikah was the last one. We all agree it’s going to be Jason, right? He blew me away.”

“Absolutely,” the producer says.

“I agree. We’ll make a decision on our female lead tomorrow?”

“Yep, see you at 8.”

I thank everyone seated behind the long table while I gather my things, then walk with my assistant to my car. She can’t tell me exactly what they did, but she can tell me that a three day suspension is on the line and that they weren’t able to get ahold of Christian yet.

And since there’s a possibility of suspension, I consider not telling him.

Mother’s instinct to protect the lives of her children and all…

“Well, think of an angel and she shall appear,” he answers when I get into the car and ask the onboard system to call his number. He’s in a good mood, which means his interviews are going well.

That’s good news for my kids.

“Hey, baby. What’s going on?”

“I’m just sitting in front of a blank monitor waiting to debate this stooge on my dad’s economic policy.”

“Oh, do you need to go?”

“Not for a few minutes. What’s going on?”

“Well, not great news… I got a call from the school. The kids are in trouble.”

The good mood in his voice vanishes in the span of a breath. “Which kids?”

“All of them.”

“Even Calliope?”

“Yep.”

“Jesus Christ…” I can hear his teeth grinding through the phone, and I brace myself for the full force of the storm before I continue.

“I’m on my way down there now. Apparently, suspension is on the table.”

He’s silent. And then he’s mad. “This interview is only going to take seven minutes, I’ll be right behind you.”

Christian hangs up without saying goodbye to me, and the chill in his voice makes me shiver. I press my foot harder against the pedal, coaxing more speed from the engine to ensure I’ll make it to the school before he does. When I pull into the parking lot, my eyes scan the cars around me for the familiar Lamborghini more intently than they search for an open parking space. When I don’t see him, I pull into a guest spot at the front, and take a moment to prepare myself.

I’m probably making more out of this than I should. I have great kids. How bad could it be, really?

The answer is bad enough that I spot them huddled together in a panic through the office window on my way in. Teddy is holding a towel against his face.

Great.

“Excuse me,” I greet the woman behind the desk. “My name is Anastasia Grey. I’m here for Calliope, Theodore, and Lucas.”

She glances up and her eyes morph with a very definitive you’re-a-bad-parent kind of judgement. “Yes, thank you for coming, Mrs. Grey. Right this way.”

She gets up from her desk and leads me to a door. On the other side of it, I find my children. Each and every one of them looks relieved when they see that their father isn’t half a step behind me. It’s actually a kindness that I pierce their shiny bubble of hope before he comes in here and stampedes all over it.

“He’s right behind me,” I warn them as the secretary disappears behind me. “Now, what did you do?”

It’s like watching a play I’ve seen 100 times. All three of them curl their lips beneath their teeth, and stare straight at me with blank expressions. There isn’t a guilty fidget or a nervous twitch among them. But this time, their stonewalling doesn’t matter because the vice principal opens his office door and motions for the four of us to come inside.

“Fighting!” he shouts, purple in the face. The vein on the side of his thick neck bulges through his skin and pulses with the thundering beat of his heart. “I tell you, Mrs. Grey. We put up with a lot from these boys. They’re often down right miscreants! But violence is absolutely unacceptable and I cannot tolerate it! Mr. King is being evaluated for a concussion, which puts him out of this Friday’s game. There were college scouts coming to see Mr. King play, Mrs. Grey. The actions of your children may have seriously jeopardized this child’s future.”

“I understand that, Dr. Wolfe, and I am very sorry. I am sure that none of this was their intention. I assure you, Mr. Grey and I will be taking this matter very seriously.”

“I don’t know that discipline at home will be enough this time, Mrs. Grey. I’m afraid I have no choice but to suspend Lucas and Theodore for the rest of the week. And Calliope will also be suspended pending the investigation of serious accusations that have been levied against her to the student ethics committee.”

“Allegati-?”

“No!” Teddy shouts over me. “Mom, I can’t be suspended! My chemistry test starts in like five minutes. I can’t miss it, it’s a third of my grade!”

“They won’t let me play if I get suspended!” Luke adds.

“Harvard!” Calliope shrieks.

“Dr. Wolfe, there has to be some kind of middle ground here…”

“I’m sorry, but the decision has been made. Your sons may return to school on Monday. We’ll be in contact regarding your daughter.”

“What are the allegations against her?”

“Mom—“ Calliope’s nervous voice interrupts, but before I can answer, the door bursts open and Christian steps into the room. He looks livid. Enough so that the vice principal recoils when my husband’s eyes land on him. His eyes find me next, then finally, our children.

All three of them look at the floor.

“Dr. Wolfe, would you give us a moment alone, please?”

“Mr. Grey, perhaps you would be interested to know the reason your children are in my office this afternoon?”

Christian’s eyes glint with dire warning. “Yes, but I would like to hear it from them before I hear it from you. So if you wouldn’t mind…”

He moves to the door and opens it, effectively ordering the man out of his own office. It’s the kind of alpha move that makes the room feel suddenly hot. Although, that could be  just my afternoon of casting coming back to haunt me…

The vice principal straightens his jacket, then stalks out of the door. Christian closes it and rounds on the kids.

“Talk.”

Time for Act II.

Luke and Teddy turn in unison to look at Calliope, and she looks up at her dad with the same big doe eyes that have been getting her out of trouble since she was four.

“Daddy, Brighton King is a jerk. He is constantly following me around and harassing me to go out with him, even though I’ve told him he’s a creep about a million times.”

“Okay,” Christian says, nodding as he takes in the information. The intensity still burns in his eyes behind the calm, even tone. “Don’t like this kid already. Continue.”

“Well…” She seems to lose her words as she stares up at her father, which is a deviation from the performance that I’m not used to. Both of her brothers look at her like they don’t understand what she’s doing, and my husband’s gaze sharpens.

He thinks he’s about to break her.

“Calliope, tell me what happened.”

“He was waiting for her at her regular parking place this morning,” Luke jumps in. “He said something gross about her giving him a blow job.”

Christian’s face goes from dangerous to malevolent. “Excuse me?”

“Yeah,” Teddy agrees quickly, pulling the towel away from his face. I see the bruising around his eyes and nose for the first time, and it takes everything I have not to go to him and pull him in my arms. My poor baby. “So Calliope said something really mean back and embarrassed him in front of everyone.”

“What?”

Luke smirks. “That he could spend his weekends jacking off like he always does…”

Christian looks back to Calliope, and she flinches. “Is that true, Calliope?”

She nods at her shoes, then sniffs and looks up at her dad with tears glittering in her eyes. “He came up to me at lunch and called me a whore in front of the whole school. Everyone heard him, Daddy.” She blinks, her composure breaking as she’s overtaken by a sob, and looks down at the floor.

“So I hit him,” Teddy says. “Luke tried to warn him this morning that he needed to be more respectful. I gave him the chance to apologize, he chose to get fucked up.”

“Theodore!” I chastise him, but Christian holds back a hand to silence me. He looks at Luke.

“Did you hit him too?”

“No, I pulled them apart.” He points to the purple bruise forming around his eye. “I got this because Brighton sucker punched me while I was trying to keep Teddy off of him.”

“They’re all suspended,” I tell him. “The boys through the rest of the week, Calliope pending the investigation of whatever rumors are going around about her.”

“What rumors?” Christian asks.

Calliope’s eyes go wide with fear and she sinks down in her chair like she’s hoping if she can make herself small enough, her dad won’t be able to see her. “Well, uh…”

“That she cheated,” Luke blurts out.

“That she brought alcohol…” Teddy says over him. They look at each other and then back at Christian, talking over each other again.

“I mean, she cheated,” Teddy says.

“I mean, she brought alcohol…”

“Oh, god…” Calliope moans, dropping her face into her hands.

Christian glances back at me, silently telling me that I’m the one who is going to have to unravel that mystery. When I nod, he turns back to the kids, and Teddy slides forward to the edge of his seat like he’s ready to jump out of it.

“Dad, I can’t be suspended. My chemistry test is happening right now, I’m missing it.”

“You’re not going to miss it,” Christian says. “Pick up your stuff, I’ll walk you to your classroom. I’ll deal with you when it’s over.” He turns and points between Luke and Calliope. “You two can go home with your mother.”

“But Dad, what about football?”

“You don’t get to play football when you get in fights at school, Lucas. Go home!”

“Yes, Sir.” Both Calliope and Luke scramble out of their seats before he can change his mind and claim their punishments for himself as well. I slowly get out of my seat, keeping my eyes on Teddy, who looks like he was just handed a terminal diagnosis. Christian reaches out to kiss me goodbye, and after briefly brushing my lips against his, I stand up on my toes to whisper in his ear.

“Please remember that he’s only fifteen, and that you were a teenager once too.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I know exactly how I’m going to deal with him, Anastasia.” There’s no room for argument in his response, so I turn and kiss my now terrified looking son on each cheek.

“I love you,” I remind him. “Good luck on your test.”

The nod I get in response feels more like a tremble than anything else.

Calliope drives home like there’s a cop behind her. She maintains five under the speed limit, never misses a signal, pauses at every stop longer than necessary, and keeps her DADSGRL vanity plate right in the middle of the lane the entire way. They pull into the garage, head straight into the kitchen, and wait for me to come in behind them.

“Leave your phones on the counter and go to your rooms.”

“My phone?!”

Now, Calliope.” Her face melts with misery as she places her phone on the marble, the same way a grieving mother would if she were being forced to lay her child on a burning pyre. Then she turns and runs for her bedroom, screaming about how she hates everyone.

“Camille’s going to call, Mom…”

“And you’re going to miss it.” I point at the counter and he drops his phone next to his sister’s, though without all the dramatics she used. Once I hear the second door close from the bottom of the stairs, I meander into the living room and collapse on the couch. My feet are pinched in my shoes, my butt is sore from sitting on a hard stool all day, and I could really use one hell of a drink. I have no idea what Christian is going to do with Teddy and as the worry starts to mount deep in my gut, my phone rings on the arm rest next to me.

I glance down, expecting the worst. But it’s Big-Luke.

“Hey, you won’t believe the day I’ve had,” I answer. He chuckles on the other line.

“I think I’m about to find out. Your husband has summoned me.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. He asked me and Jade to meet him at the school. I’m on my way there now.”

“Hi, Ana” Jade says, but I don’t get to respond before Luke starts talking again.

“What’s going on?”

“Some boy at school called Calliope a mean name and Teddy punched him. All three of my kids have been suspended.”

“Oof, that’s a shame. I really liked your kids. I’ll remember them fondly after their passing.”

“That’s not a funny joke, I’m worried that’s why Christian called you. You’d tell me if he asked you to hide a body, right?”

“You know you’ll always be my number one.”

“Good,” the phone beeps and I pull it away from my ear. The contact displayed on the screen tells me it’s my kids’ school again, and the small bit of reprieve I’ve taken talking on the phone with my best friend vanishes all at once.

What if Christian tracked down that Brighton kid…?

“Hey Luke, I gotta go. The school is calling again.”

“Yikes. Good Luck.”

“Thanks.” I hang up, then answer the next call cautiously. “Hello?”

 “Hello, is this Mrs. Grey?”

“Yes, may I ask who’s speaking?”

“This is Dr. Sutter, I’m the sophomore chemistry teacher at your sons’ school. I’m actually grading Theodore’s test right this moment.”

“Yes, Dr. Sutter,” I breathe in relief. “I remember our meeting from parent/teacher conferences a few weeks ago. Thank you for allowing Teddy to take the test this afternoon. He’s studied so hard, he was devastated when he thought he was going to miss it.”

“Oh, yes his efforts are very obvious. He doesn’t seem to have missed a single question on the entire test, and for any other student that would raise serious questions for me. But Theodore is a gifted student.”

“Yes, I agree. And thank you for telling me. He’s been so stressed about this test, he’ll be very relieved to know he did well.”

“Curious, though. Lucas also did very well. Exceptionally well, in fact.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. In fact, his test is identical to his brother’s… down to the handwriting.”

My heart sinks. “Oh no…”

“Mrs. Grey, I trust I don’t need to remind you that cheating is an offense that this school deems worthy of expulsion, do I?”

“No. Dr. Sutter… I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into these boys. Truly… I know that Luke has been really worried about his grades because of football, I’m sure Teddy just thought he was helping his brother.”

“Yes, I understand. Theodore is my best student, and I would hate to have one lapse in judgement shatter his future. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. An impressive score like Theodore’s should be kept, his actions with Lucas aside, that’s a score that’s earned. I will allow him to keep his grade and his brother to retake the test next week, and I won’t report him to the ethics committee for cheating. In return, I would like both of them to write me a 10,000 word essay on the importance of academic integrity, and they will both spend one hour after school in my laboratory conducting inventory for me for the rest of the semester.”

“That’s more than fair. Thank you so much for your understanding, Dr. Sutter. I promise you, it will not happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t. Good-bye, Mrs. Grey.”

“Goodbye.” I hang up, and ask the ceiling why I can’t be the kind of mom who doesn’t care what her kids do at school. Then I get up and drag myself and the weight of how much I don’t want to have to do this up the stairs.

I go to Luke’s room first.

“Come in,” he says after I knock softly against the door three times. I ease my way inside and find him laying on the bed, tossing a football into the air and catching it.

“We need to talk, Mister.”

“I don’t know what’s going on with Callie, you’ll have to ask her.”

I sigh, and pull the chair from his desk to the side of his bed to sit. The floor is cluttered with so much junk, it’s almost an impossible task.

“While I don’t believe that for a moment, I’m not here to talk about Calliope. I just got a call from Dr. Sutter.”

He turns to me, slowly, and raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Anything you want to tell me?”

“Uh… no?”

“Luke.” This time, he hears the seriousness in my voice that tells him I know what he did. He doesn’t make excuses, he doesn’t try denying it any further. He just lays back in bed and starts to toss the football again. “Do you want to tell me why your test this morning was in Teddy’s handwriting?”

“Not really.”

“Come on, Lucas. You know that cheating is wrong. You could have been expelled and the only reason you aren’t going to be is because Dr. Sutter is being very kind and generous to the two of you. Why would you do this?”

“I was going to fail. I didn’t want to blow my season…”

“You don’t think cheating could have blown up your season?”

“Mom, you don’t get it!” he shouts, sitting bolt upright and rounding on me like he’s ready to fight again. “Everyone was ragging on me this morning for spending time with Camille and not studying, but the truth is that she was trying to help me learn the material for the test, and never got anywhere. I can’t keep up! I don’t understand any of it. I’m not smart enough. I’ve tried, and tried, and tried, and all trying does is make me feel like an idiot when I fail. There was no way I was ever going to pass that test. Teddy could, and he wanted to see the test before he had to take it this afternoon.”

He throws himself down on his bed and turns away from me, his words still hovering between us like an angry swarm of bees. I push out of my chair and crawl on the bed behind him, running a comforting hand over his arm.

“You are smart enough, Luke.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

“Hey.” I pull on his shoulder and until he rolls back on his back. There are tears swimming in his eyes. “Your daddy told me about the talk you had this morning. He and I think that it’s a good idea to take you to the doctor for some tests. It shouldn’t be this much harder for you, and the fact that it is might mean there’s something else going on.”

“What, like Dyslexia?”

“Maybe.”

His face sours. “So you think I’m so dumb I have mental problems?”

“No, I think you might be playing with a set of rules that no one else is. How far do you think you’d get if your team only got one down on offense and the other team got four.”

“Nowhere.”

“Exactly. Getting you into the doctor and getting you on the right plan is just about getting those three extra downs back.”

He sniffs, and wipes his nose with the back of his hand, then nods. “Okay.”

I lean forward and kiss him on the forehead, then get up and walk back to the door. Before I leave, I pause and turn back to face my son. “You’re grounded, by the way. You will put your Xbox and all of your devices on my bed by 6 PM, do you understand me?”

“All of them?!” I nod, and a look of horror crosses his face that, without context, could suggest I asked him to smother a baby. “Mom, what am I going to do?! I don’t get to go back to school until next week!”

I smile. “I wouldn’t worry about being bored. You’re going to write Dr. Sutter a 10,000 word essay on why academic integrity is important, in additional to the hour you’re going to spend an hour after school helping him upkeep his lab for the rest of the semester.”

Ten thousand words?!”

“And, you’re going to write me a 15,000 word essay about what this has taught you, and how you’re going to grow from this experience. Once I have those papers and you retake your test, you may have your devices back.”

“But that’s not fair! Camille will break up with me if I don’t talk to her for that long.”

“Oh that’s more than fair. If you’d like to talk to your girlfriend, I suggest you get writing. Six PM, Lucas. Do not make me send your father to track you down.”

“I won’t.” I give him a look to communicate how serious I am, then step out into the hall and close his door behind me.

One kid down, one to go. 

I take two steps down the hall, and knock on my daughter’s door. Unlike my son, she doesn’t invite me in. Privacy is a big thing with me and my kids. I know their dad doesn’t respect theirs, so I always make an effort to overcompensate and give them the space they wouldn’t otherwise have. But after I knock for a second time and still get no response, I reach down and slowly push open the door.

“Calliope?” She’s on her bed too, but she’s lying with her face in her pillow. Her shoulders shake violently, and without the door between us, I can hear her muffled sobs. “Calli Lily?” 

I pick her up so that she’s sitting, and the wails of pain that pour out of her rip my soul apart. Her makeup is ruined, leaking down her face in long steaks. She’s beet red, and soaked in her own tears, 

“What’s wrong?” I ask, rocking her back and forth. She just whimpers mom and continues to break apart in my arms. It’s devastating. I can feel my heart breaking more and more as each long minute passes, and my daughter continues to cry her eyes out. It takes nearly fifteen minutes for her to calm down enough that I can wipe her eyes and get her to look at me. 

“What happened?” 

Her lip trembles, and she shakes her head. “I can’t tell you.” 

“Yes, you can. You can tell me anything, Calliope.” 

“Not this.” She looks up at me, eyes bright red and so full of tears they start to leak over the corners again. “Daddy will kill me.” 

My next breath takes the wind out of me. I lean into her, pressing my forehead against hers, and my hand over her heart. “Nothing you could ever do will make me or your dad stop loving you, or make us not want to help you. I’m always on your side. Please, just tell me what happened?” 

It takes a minute, but after staring at me helplessly through her tears, she finally breaks and starts to sob again. “Mom, everything’s so bad. Everyone is talking about me, everyone is lying about me, Izzie and Lizzie abandoned me…” 

I lift her chin to look in her eyes. “Why?” 

“I like a boy,” she admits in a whisper, and the confession actually makes me look nervously at the door to make sure her father isn’t hovering there listening. It’s not hard to make the connections between ‘I like a boy’ and another boy calling her a whore. I just do my best not to jump to conclusions about the details. 

“A boy,” I repeat. 

She takes a breath, like I’ve lifted the weight of the world off her chest, and nods. “His name is Pete, he goes to my school. We started talking at this party I went to with Lizzie and Iz back in August and…” She shrugs. “I like him.”

“Okay, tell me what you like about him.”

“Well…” She bites her lip, and I feel an unwelcome wave of foreboding. “He’s really funny and smart, almost philosophical. He doesn’t care about what people think about him, and I think that’s so cool. He’s his own person, you know? And he’s so hot. He’s got dark hair and these dark eyes that I swear see all the way down to my soul. He gets me.” 

Oh no

I clear my throat. “That’s intense.”

“You have no idea.” 

“Is there anything I should know about him? Or you? Or what you may or may not be doing together?” She doesn’t respond, but I can see the guilt spelled out plain as day on her face. I know her well enough to know that she’s not going to give it to me freely, but if I walk her there, she won’t lie to me. “Were you at Elizabeth’s house last night?” 

“No.”

“Where were you?” 

“I was with Pete. He drove me up to the north side of the lake and we… parked.” 

Breathe in. Breathe out. “Did you have sex with him?” 

“No!” Her denial comes out shrill, defensive, and a few more pieces of the puzzle fall into place. 

“Okay, I believe you,” I assure her. “What did happen?” 

“Well… we made out.” 

“And?” 

“And… he felt me up a little bit.” 

And?” 

“That’s it. He wanted to go further, but I… I didn’t want to. Yet. I mean, maybe I do… I don’t know.” 

“You’re not ready,” I tell her, and her eyes start to glisten again. 

“But he is.” She lets out a long, burdened breath. I want to push her on what she just said, but I think I see her warring with the decision to tell me in her head as I sit and watch her, so I try to give her the space, and let her come to me. 

“We meet up every morning under the bleachers in the football stadium. At first, it was just a place he and I could talk without everyone gawking at us and being in our business. He’s not part of my circle, and my friends don’t like him.” She swallows. “I knew it was going to be bad when people found out about us.”

She pauses, almost like she’s going to stop. So I press her on the part I actually care about. “You meet him every morning under the bleachers?”

“It’s where we had our first kiss, and ever since that happened we’ve been doing a lot less talking and a lot more kissing. This morning, when I went to go meet him, he asked me to… to…” 

The look she gives me in her reticence pleads for understanding, so I reach out and take her hand. Even though I’m not sure I’m ready to hear what she has to say, I give her my warmest, most understanding look and say, “It’s okay, Calliope.” 

“He asked me to give him a hand job.” 

“Did you?” 

She bites her lip, and nods again. “I think… I think he might have real feelings for me and I was afraid that if I didn’t, then he would think I was lame and never talk to me again.”

Flames roar to life in my gut. “If that’s how he reacts, then he’s fucking loser and you should never talk to him again. A boy who really cares about you will wait until you’re ready. And a boy who doesn’t, is not a boy you need to be involved with in any way.”

“But I want him to like me back, Mom. So much.”

“I know you do.”

She takes another shaky break and looks down at her fingernails. “Two girls caught us right in the middle of it, and they told everyone. Now the whole school is talking about me, lying about me. Calling me names. Teddy said someone told him that I was giving him a blowjob. Luke told me he heard that I was having sex with three guys. Then Brighton called me whore in front of the whole school so now everyone thinks it’s all true… everything is so horrible, I wish I could just crawl into a hole and die!” 

She falls onto the bed and starts sobbing again, so I gently rub a hand over my back to calm her down. “No, you don’t, Calliope. This isn’t the end of the world, I promise. People have said awful things about me, and about your daddy, to the whole world, and we made it out the other end. It can feel like the universe is collapsing in on you, but I promise it isn’t. People will move on.” 

“You don’t get high school, Mom. People have been waiting for the moment they can take me down. They started hashtags on Twitter! “CancelGREYtion” and “DisGREYce.” I had everything, and I’m going to lose it all!”

“You know, Cal. You said the thing that you liked most about Pete is that he didn’t care what other people thought. That he got to be his own person. Maybe, the reason you like that about him is because, deep down, you want to be more like that. Maybe the truth is that all the popularity, and followers, and sponsorship, don’t actually make you happy. In fact, I have a suspicion that they might be making you miserable.”

She sniffs.

“Think about that, okay?”

She doesn’t respond at all that time, so I get up to leave. Her voice stops me at the door.

 “Are you going to tell dad?”

“Don’t worry about your dad, okay? I’ll handle it.” She nods, and looks up at me with trust shining in her eyes that wasn’t there before.

“Thanks, Mom.” 

“Anytime, Calli Lily.” 

After my talk with Calliope, I take the kids downstairs and sit them at the table to do their homework while I cook dinner. I’ve allowed them temporary access to the WiFi so they can email their teachers and ask, plead if they have to, for the work they’re going to miss during their suspension. 

A suspension I now fully intend on marching into the school tomorrow and getting overturned. That is, if Christian has already done it for me. 

Luke is dismayed that every one of his teachers sends him plenty of work to go along with the essays he has to write, and pouts miserably over his open Algebra book while he tries to get through the new chapter without any help. Christian’s better at the math and science stuff than I am, so I promise him his dad will help him with his work after dinner… except he still isn’t home by the time I get dinner on the table. 

And my child hasn’t come back either. 

I call three times, and get increasingly shorter iterations of rings before being sent to his voicemail. Teddy doesn’t answer his phone either. The kids finish their dinner and help me clean the kitchen before we finally hear the ominous rumble of the garage door. 

Luke and Calliope exchange nervous looks. I dry my hands on a towel and walk to meet them in the garage, preparing myself to take in and roll with whatever punishment Christian has dealt out. He was a wild teenager, maybe he’ll surprise me. Maybe he’s actually uniquely qualified to deal with hormonal teenagers acting out on their rage. 

Maybe. 

I come through the door to find my husband climbing out of his Lamborghini and a wash of horror overcomes me when I realize that Teddy isn’t with him. 

“Christian Trevelyan-Grey! Where is my child?!” I shriek. Luke and Callie poke their heads through the door then turn pale as a sheet, as though their greatest fears have been realized. Christian smirks. 

“Relax, he’s just a little bit behind me. I drive a Lambo, remember?” 

“What did you do?” 

“He gave a kid who called his sister a whore in front of the whole school a concussion today. I gave him the punishment I thought adequately fit the crime,” he says, though the last of his words are drowned out by a deep rumble that starts up the driveway. I look in time to see a brand new, cherry red Porsche pull into my garage. 

“What?!” Luke screams behind me. “No fucking way!” 

“Language, Lucas!” I jab him with my elbow, but keep my eyes on the shiny heap of metal coming toward me. The car stops, and Teddy climbs out from behind the wheel, while his Uncle Luke steps out from the passenger’s side. His face is bruised and swollen, but his smile stretches from ear to ear. 

“You like?”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Calliope says in disbelief. Her eyes move to her baby pink BMW, then looks at her dad like he’s betrayed her. Luke looks like he’s about ready to explode. 

“So I get grounded and he gets a PORSCHE?!”

He stood up for his sister,” Christian says. “You tried to stop him instead of backing him up.”

“Teddy also cheated on a test today,” I add, giving Christian a hard look. The arrogance on my husband’s face melts away, and he frowns. Teddy loses his smile and turns sharp eyes on his brother. 

“Dr. Sutter called,” I continue. “It seems our sons thought it would be a good idea to switch places this morning so Teddy could take Luke’s test for him…” 

“Which I did to help my brother,” Teddy argues. “Family first. Right, Dad?” 

Christian sighs, the utter lack of agreement plain on his face, then turns to look at me. “So, what? Are they expelled?” 

“No. Thankfully, Dr. Sutter is willing to give them another chance. Teddy and I can have a discussion about his punishment upstairs.” 

“But, Mom!” Teddy complains. 

“You heard your mother,” Christian sighs. “Now, get inside.” 

“There’s dinner in the fridge,” I tell him. 

He makes a helpless sound, looking between us with his mouth agape. But he trudges forward without another argument. 

“Teddy.” Our son turns morose eyes back on his father. Christian holds out his hand. “Keys.” 

“Dad, no…” 

“You can have them back when you get your license,” he says. “Now go eat, go wash up, and go to bed.” Teddy drops his keys in his dad’s hand and stomps into the house. I nod to the other kids, and they fall in line behind their brother. The door closes behind them, and I turn to face my husband.”

“Cheating?” He scoffs in disbelief. I nod. 

“I already talked to Luke about it, but you and I need to talk about Calliope.” 

A/N: This was originally supposed to be 4 parts, but it felt incomplete without Christian’s POV, so I’m going to add one more chapter. However, I’m just about to get on a plane for Indianapolis, so I’m not going to be able to write and post that chapter until next week. See you then, and #GoHawks.

Theodore Raymond

 My locker is right next to Luke’s, so I have to listen to him bitch the whole way there. His body hums with pent up energy. His fingers curl into fists so tight that his knuckles turn white.

“I swear to god, one day, I’m going to punch that smug motherfucker right in his pretty-boy face. He can’t threaten to bench me. Doesn’t he know who I am?”

I snort while I pull open my locker. He and I both know that he won’t do anything. Like it or not, Brighton is the quarterback and football is a QB sport. Luke likes to take the easy route in almost every way he can find, but the one thing he truly cares about and works hard at is football and his future in the NFL. He won’t do anything to jeopardize that, no matter how pissed off he gets.

And that makes me nervous.

“One of us is going to have to do something if he doesn’t lay off Callie soon. You know that, right?”

“Yeah.” He slams his locker closed. “I was just hoping he could manage to not be an absolute ass wipe until after the season…”

Like I said, he’s not going to do anything.

“Hey, what’s good my man?” Brody Case holds up his hand and I slap mine against it. Luke grips Robert Giles by the hand and beats his chest against his.

“You have chemistry 4th period, right?” I ask. Brody’s face goes sour.

“Don’t remind me. I’ve been studying for a week and I still feel like I’m going to bomb. Dr. Sutter is a sadist.”

“Oh, great. This all makes me feel real good, guys,” Luke says.

Rob laughs. “Because you’ve spent all week studying Camille?”

“They said study chemistry, and I did. Maybe they should be more specific.” He winks and I roll my eyes.

“I’ve got to get a higher score than Tanner McKinney. Do you think we could talk about the test over lunch?”

“You know, if you really wanted to get a leg up,” Brody starts, leaning in like he wants to keep what he’s going to say next strictly between the four of us. “Why don’t you and Luke just Lindsay Lohan this bitch?”

Luke crinkles his brow. “Is that like a drug thing…?”

“No, switch places! Luke has Sutter 1st period. Go take the test as him, and when you take it this afternoon, you’ll already know everything that’s on it. You two are identical, how would he know?”

“That would be so fucking epic,” Rob says.

Luke turns to me, his eyes widening. “Oh my god, Ted. Please? If you guys are this worried, there’s no hope for me. This test is like a third of our grade. You could help me for the rest of the semester.”

I chew on the inside of my cheek, mulling it over. This is wrong, I know that. I can almost feel the disappointed look I’d get from my mother covering my body like slime for just considering it.

But…

I mean what are the odds we’ll get caught? Even my parents mix us up all the time, and my dad is so in our business that I’m surprised he can’t identify us by scent. I doubt Dr. Sutter has taken the time to study the extremely subtle differences between my brother and I to be able to figure us out. Besides, aren’t my parents always saying that family is more important than anything? I really do have the chance to help Luke make it through the season…

“Alright, let’s do it,” I tell him. He grins, then waves to our friends as I drag him to the bathroom. We pick two stalls next to each other, strip, and pass our clothes and backpacks beneath the barriers between us.

“Ugh, you need to work on your fit, Ted. This is not a vibe.” He gives me a slanted look. “You know our parents are billionaires, right?”

“Shut up. Meet me back here during passing period after class, okay?”

He holds out his hand and we close the deal with the secret handshake we made up when we were seven. The first bell rings, and we hurry out the bathroom in the opposite direction than either of us should be heading.

When I get to the chemistry lab, I’m confronted with a problem I never considered. Dr. Sutter has a seating chart, and I have no idea where Luke sat down the first day without knowing he would be stuck there for the entire semester. 

What am I supposed to do? Ask?

“Luke!” a girl shrieks from somewhere off to my right. I turn just in time to be enveloped by a cloud of blonde hair. “I’ve been thinking about you all morning,” she moans in my ear. “Did you think last night was as hot as I did?”

I freeze. “Uh…”

Her hand cups my face and forces my head around so that she can kiss me. It comes like an assault. Her tongue slides into my mouth and I almost gag.

“Luke!” she snaps, pulling away and looking more offended than I’ve ever seen anyone look before.

“Camille, relax,” I hiss, pulling her aside so people stop looking at us. “I’m Teddy.”

“What?! Oh my god!” She leaps away from me and drags her sleeve across her lips to wipe me off her mouth. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

“When was I supposed to do that?”

She glares at me, and I hold up my hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Will you calm down? I’m going to take his test for him, I need Dr. Sutter to think I’m him.”

“You are?” Her eyes glitter with intrigue. “Oh my god, he’s so bad. I swear to god, he’s the hottest guy in this entire school.”

“Yeah, great. I’ll practice my best man’s speech. Will you help me?”

“How?”

“Where does he sit?”

“Oh. Back row, middle table, left side.”

“Great. Thanks, Camille.”

“Mhm.” She smirks and then moves to a table near the front, coincidentally the seat I occupy in my class. I head to the back.

While the last few minutes before the final bell tick down, I try my best to keep my head down and not draw any attention. Luke’s more popular than I am, so most people wave or try to catch my attention in some way. It goes against all my instincts to smile back, but it’s what he would do. My thoughts about whether or not my flawless performance deserves an Oscar or not all drain away when the door opens, and Liam Bancroft enters the room. 

I swear to god, it’s like he walks in slow motion. 

His hair, a soft, dusty brown, is long on top, and swept artfully across his brow. He runs his hands through it as he nods to Camille at the front of the class. The green letterman’s jacket draped over his long, lean body really brings out the flecks of gold in his deep brown eyes.

He holds himself with the kind of confidence that suggests he knows how good looking he is, which I assume is the same confidence that lets him be totally out and proud to the whole school. To even be brave enough to audition for the football team, let alone play varsity and hang out with the rest of the jocks. He goes on dates with other guys. He took a dude to homecoming this year. He’s just getting over having his heart shattered by a boy who had loved him. 

I don’t know what’s more powerful. My yearning for him, or my envy for the life he gets to have.

Because I don’t get to be out.

I don’t know if I ever will. 

Liam’s grandfather isn’t running for president. Liam’s mother hasn’t built a career on graphic erotica that has made her a household name. Liam’s father isn’t Christian Grey.

My dad is a good dad, don’t get me wrong. He pays attention to us – sometimes a little too much, but all three of us are seen and know it. He invests himself in the things we care about, and even though he can be downright terrifying when he’s mad, I have no doubt that the man would take a bullet for me if it ever came to it.

But he’s a guy’s guy. He likes fast cars and dark liquor. He likes playing sports with my brother and fishing with my grandpas. He’s the biggest, baddest man in any room he enters, and I don’t know if a man like that can accept a gay son. The risk isn’t worth finding out. Every day, I’m terrified I’ll slip up and he’ll discover my secret, and never look me in the eye again.

Liam’s bright smile, which has starred in countless of my fantasies, turns in my direction and starts toward me. I feel my heart thud in my chest when I realize he’s headed for the chair directly next to me.

Of course he is. He’s on the football team and I’m supposed to be Luke. 

“’Sup, Grey? You ready to get your ass reamed, or what?”

“What?”

“This test… Everyone is freaking the fuck out.”

“Yeah.” I try to smile, but I worry it looks more like a grimace. Thankfully, he seems to chalk that up to nerves over the test because he ignores it.

“Brighton tell you there’s a scout coming to the game on Friday?” 

“Oh, yeah. He…” My voice trails off as the door flies open and Gretchen Hernandez comes into the room like she’s being chased by wolves. She goes directly to Amanda Martin and starts whispering in her ear.

“What do you think’s going on there?” Liam asks.

“I don’t know.”

“No!” Amanda gasps. When Gretchen nods her head, they both turn to look back at me, and I feel my whole body deflate.

Oh no.

I bury my nose in my chemistry book, or Luke’s chemistry book which both looks and feels like it hasn’t been opened all year. Thankfully Dr. Sutter calls the attention of the class before either of them can confront me.

The test I take from the stack going around the room is heavy. Dr. Sutter gives us the entire period to complete it, and by page 3, I start to worry about finishing. The room around me is filled with a constant chorus of tortured groans and desperate sighs. I’m actually relieved. There isn’t a single question I don’t know the answer to, and getting the chance to go through this now, will help me pace myself better this afternoon.

No way I don’t completely ace this.

Eat it, Tanner McKinney.

When the bell rings, a few people in the room are on the edge of tears. Liam drops his head and bangs it on the table. I take a deep breath of relief. That is, until Amanda stops in front of my desk.

“Oh, how the pious have fallen.” I look up and see her holding her hands in front of her, as if she were praying.

Fuck. Busted.

“What are you talking about, Amanda?” Liam demands. Gretchen’s superior smile turns evil.

“Oh, didn’t you hear? Calliope Grey got caught blowing a guy right before the first bell. Turns out Little-Miss-Perfect is nothing more than Little-Miss-Slut.”

“You better watch your mouth, Gretchen,” I snap at her. She just smirks before walking away.

“What the fuck?” Liam asks. I shake my head in disbelief.

“It can’t be true. I know my sister.” 

And I know that she knows our dad would actually murder her if she did what they said she did.

Luke and I manage to reclaim our own identities without any problems, except the asshole didn’t take notes in the English class he went to for me. But the rumor Amanda told me in chemistry spreads through the student body so swiftly and efficiently, I start to wonder how it got started. And what kernel of truth was its impetus.

At lunch, everyone is so obsessed with talking shit about my sister, that eyes start following me everywhere I go. I make my way to the table I share with Luke, Brody, and Rob, feeling like I’m swimming through a fishbowl. I don’t know how Calliope deals with this all the time.

“Dude, what’s going on with your sister?” Rob asks.

“Nothing, shut your fucking mouth,” Luke barks back. Clearly, like me, he understands that the rumor can’t be true, but it sounds like he’s had to defend her more today than I have.

A hush falls over the cafeteria, and I turn to see Calliope standing at the entrance. For the first time since I came to this school, she isn’t flanked on either side by her minions. She stands there like an island, with everyone staring at her.

I watch her take a deep breath, straighten her back, and march straight for the table no one else still dared to occupy with her head held high. I’m proud of her, but I can spot the tremble she’s trying to hide in her lip as she sits down.

Thankfully, people don’t stare too long. But we all know that chatter that starts up again as eyes move back to their peers is all about her. 

“Poor Callie…” Luke whispers.

“Oh, I don’t think we’ve even seen how bad it’s going to get yet.” I tap his shoulder and point to the door again. The crowd parts and Brighton King starts barreling towards our sister. His eyes burn with jealous fire, and Calliope recedes a little as he approaches.

“Tell me it’s a lie!” he shouts at her, and everyone hears it because everyone is listening.

Calliope’s whole face goes pink. “I don’t owe you anything, Brighton.”

Her voice shakes, and the room fills with ominous oohs as everyone collectively acknowledges that she didn’t deny anything. Brighton reaches down and slaps Calliope’s open Diet Coke off the table. It gets all over her before slamming against the wall and rolling across the floor, spewing caramel colored foam everywhere.

It isn’t lost on me in this moment that, if the rumors are true, the guy she did this with doesn’t stand up to defend her. That only adds to my anger and, as I look over at Luke, I see him shaking with rage too.

“Answer me!” Brighton screams at my sister, but Luke still doesn’t get up.

“Fuck off, Brighton. I’m not your girlfriend!”

“No, you’re a fucking whore.”

Well. That’s it I guess.

“Hey!” I shout, leaping to my feet. “Don’t fucking talk to my sister like that.”

“Oh, yeah?” He turns to me, the fight he wants obvious in his eyes. “You got a problem, Grey?”

“Yeah, and you can apologize to her or I’m going to come over there and make it your problem.”

“No reason to apologize for calling a spade a spade.” He looks down at my sister with disgust. “Or, in this case, a slut a slut.”

I curl my hand into a fist and start towards him.

But here’s the thing… I’m more of a Dragon Age kind of a guy than a fighter. He dodges my first swing, and catches me right in the gut. All the air leaves my body, and I fall to the ground.

“Teddy!” Calliope calls, falling to her knees at my side. I push her away and scramble to my feet. “I don’t need your help, Cal.”

Brighton laughs and punches me in the nose.

My vision goes black and I stumble backwards, bending over to cup my face. My palms fill with my hot blood, and when my sight comes back, I see that the only reason I haven’t gotten a second blow is because Luke is restraining my attacker.

“Knock it off, Brighton!” he says.

“Get off me!”

He shoves my brother and starts towards me. I watch Luke stumble back, and it breaks the part inside of me that cares whether or not this guy is about to kick my ass. I charge at him, somehow managing to knock him to the hard linoleum. We roll around, punching each other every chance we get, and it’s honestly not great. But I’m beyond caring about pain. I just keep punching.

Luke manages to pull Brighton off of me, but when I scramble up to him again, my brother shucks him off and catches me by the shoulders.

“Teddy, not here…” His plea is cut off when he turns to look back at Brighton again and gets a hard right hook to the jaw that sends him to the ground.

“No, Luke!” Camille screams from the front of the crowd just off to the left, and she dives on the floor to get to my brother. My vision goes red.

“Argh!” The sound rips out of me as I lunge at Brighton. When I get him to the ground this time, I straddle his waist and let my fists fly, pummeling every inch of him I can reach as hard as I can, as fast as I can. But the set of hands that pull me off him this time aren’t Luke’s. Instead, I stare up into the furious eyes of Dr. Wolfe, the Vice Principal.

“My office, now!”

It’s not like I’ve never been in the Vice Principal’s office before. The chair I’m sitting in is so familiar that the seat practically forms to my butt. Luke and I like to pull our fair share of pranks, but it’s all in harmless fun. I’ve never been here for anything like this. The severity that hangs in the air and the throb in my bones make the experience a whole new level of terrifying. No one even talks to us. Dr. Wolfe pointed at the chairs we’re sitting in now and went into his office. Nothing has happened since then, and that was over half an hour ago.

My test is in twenty minutes.

I stare at the seconds ticking past on the clock above my head, holding a towel against my nose. It wasn’t broken when the nurse looked me over, so she didn’t have a reason to keep me. Brighton, on the other hand, has a concussion, so he doesn’t have to sit in the torturous silence waiting for his fate to be handed down.

Lucky bastard.

“Will you please do something?” Luke hisses at Calliope.

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know. Bat your eyelashes or whatever stupid thing you do that gets you whatever you want all the time. If I don’t get to practice after school, I can’t play on Friday.”

“Okay, okay. Wait here.” Calliope gets up and goes into the room next to ours where the secretary is sitting. Luke and I both creep to the door to listen.

“Excuse me,” she begins. “Hi. This is all just a huge misunderstanding. You see, there’s an entire cafeteria of witnesses who can attest to the fact that Brighton King was in strong violation of the Bishop Blanchett anti-bullying policy, and I don’t think my father, the inventor of perpetual motion, would be too pleased to hear that you’ve taken his children out of class, robbing us of our educational opportunities, for the crime of standing up to a bully.”

“Well, your parents have already been called. We can ask him when he gets here.”

“Oh.” The trepidation in her response is reflected in the stillness that suddenly overcomes Luke and me. Bishop Blanchett is normally the kind of school to handle things without the involvement of the parents, and while most kids think that means the school gets to punish us more harshly… most kids don’t have our dad. There’s an ethics committee, a student conduct council… they only call the parents in if you’re really in trouble.

Fuck.

Calliope walks back into the room two shades paler than she was before. She sinks into her chair, and buries her face in her hands.

“We need to get our story straight before they get here,” Luke says.

“You think?” I snort.

Luke turns to Calliope, and waits. “So what is it?”

She doesn’t turn to look at him so he pushes her to get her attention and her head snaps up like a cobra ready to strike. “What?!”

“Don’t yell at me, we’re in this mess because of you.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“So you weren’t banging three dudes under the bleachers this morning?”

“What? No! Oh my god, the people at this school are such assholes!” She throws her face into her hands again, so I tell Luke to back off my with eyes and try the good-cop approach.

“So, what’s got Brighton so pissed off, Calliope?”

She glances up, her eyes focusing on the bloody rag I still clutch to my face, and her shoulders droop. “Well…”

“It’ll go in the covenant,” Luke promises, holding out his pinky. It’s an agreement between the three of us that started years ago. Anything that goes into the covenant has to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And nothing that goes in can ever come out.

I hook my pinky around Luke’s, and after another second of hesitation, Calliope follows suit.

“Okay… do you guys know Pete Bigler?”

“The emo dude?” Luke asks, his nose wrinkling in distaste. Her eyes narrow and her jaw clenches the same way Dad’s does when he’s irritated. The judgement clears from Luke’s eyes. “Yeah, okay. We know who he is.”

“Well, we’ve been kinda… seeing each other in secret for a few weeks.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the reason why it’s been in secret is probably barreling his way here like an angry bull as we speak. The only thing I know about Pete Bigler is that he gets to school every day on a motorcycle.

“You were blowing Pete Bigler?” I ask.

“No! I was… well, sort of… you know… giving him a hand job.”

“Ew!” Luke says. “Calliope, no. Do you know how much better than him you can do?”

“What, you mean  like Brighton King?”

“Well, no. But Pete Bigler. He’s…”

“You don’t even know him, Lucas!” Calliope cuts him off. Her whole persona turns cold and I can see the fight brewing in her eyes just as strongly as I saw it in Brighton’s. This time, I douse the flames instead of fanning them.

“So what are we going to tell our parents?”

“Excuse me?” an achingly familiar voice says in the room next to us. “My name is Anastasia Grey. I’m here for Calliope, Theodore, and Lucas.”

“Yes, thank you for coming, Mrs. Grey. Right this way.” A few seconds later, Ms. Ashford walks into the room with our mom on her heels. We all breathe a collective sigh of relief when we see Dad isn’t behind her, but that hope dies the moment the secretary leaves the room again.

“He’s right behind me,” Mom warns us. “Now what did you do?”

My gut sinks.

I’m already sore and achy from Brighton’s blows. How the fuck am I going to face my dad?

Next Chapter

Calliope Katherine

The vanity in front of me is littered with open makeup and at least six different sized brushes. The lights are hot and the air in my room is still filled with the sticky-sweet scent of hairspray. None of that affects me. I’m as still as my grandma in surgery as I swipe the bristled wand of my mascara over the ends of my eyelashes. 

“And that’s the completed look,” I say brightly, leaning away from the mirror and turning to smile at my phone. “Thanks for getting ready with me this morning, guys. And remember, there’s still time to register to vote before November. Vote for my grandpa, and help us take back the future, today. Love you!” 

With a wink, I press my finger into the screen of my phone to end my livestream. Once I’m sure the camera is off, I flip off the lights on the vanity and let out a sigh of relief. 

The softly filtered morning light pouring in through my window is surprisingly golden. The days have been getting darker and gloomier as summer has turned into fall, but today the sky is clear and powder blue. Crimson leaves make a spotted pattern on the perfect emerald grass in the backyard, and the bare branches left behind carry the chill of autumn through the golden sunlight. 

Luke is in the backyard playing catch with Dad, so lean against the window and watch them for awhile. The truth is, Luke is really talented. His problem is that he knows it. He’s one of the only two sophomores in the whole school starting on the varsity team, and he’s been the star. Playing under the big lights every Friday night and hearing the crowd roar his name after he makes one incredible catch after the other is starting to go to his head. 

It’s making him annoying. 

The best thing for him is to be forced to condition and train with Dad every day, really. I still have stress dreams about the times he’s helped me prepare for piano recitals. The first knuckle on my middle finger still aches sometimes from the long hours I spent practicing. 

Mom, on the other hand, already has a customized Seahawks jersey with GREY and Luke’s high school number stitched on the back.

God help us, and the gravitational tilt of the earth, if his giant head ever does make it to the NFL.

When Dad waves for Luke to come inside, I turn around, pick up my bag, and head downstairs. Teddy is already in the kitchen, sitting on the counter, while Mom reads the flashcards that have been stuck to his hand for the last week to him and finishes breakfast. On the counter across from her, there’s an iPad that shows the gray screen from the end of my stream. 

“Good morning, Calli Lilly,” she greets me when I slide into the seat next to my brother. She slides a bowl of oatmeal with eggs and fruit on the side across the counter. 

“Mom!” Teddy snaps. “I need to study!” 

“Teddy, you’ve had these cards memorized since last weekend. You are going to do fine, I promise you.” 

“I can’t do fine. Tanner McKinney isn’t going to do fine. I know he’s got his eyes on Harvard, and they only accept one student a year from Bishop Blanchett. It has to be me.” 

Mom gives him an exasperated look. “Why don’t you worry about finishing your breakfast before you start worrying about Harvard?” 

My gut clenches. I know exactly why Teddy is stressed about Harvard. That’s what you do in my family. Grandpa went there, Mom, Aunt Kate, Aunt Mia, hell even Dad for a little while… Not getting accepted into Harvard for either of the Grey children who aren’t destined for a SEC or Pac 12 school isn’t an option. 

Teddy’s still a sophomore. I’m six weeks away from the SATs and my hair is already falling out. 

Luckily, I just got a hair vitamin endorsement. 

Silver linings, right? 

The back door opens, and Dad and Luke both come into the kitchen, pink-faced and grinning. 

“You’re looking good out there, Kiddo,” Mom says, turning with a shaker bottle in each hand filled with protein powder and almond milk. Luke’s turns bright pink, because Mom still puts strawberry Nesquik in it for her special little guy. Dad’s eyes linger on the bottles in Mom’s hands, then he readjusts his hips, and Luke groans with disgust before snatching the bottle out of Mom’s hand and sliding across the counter, past the breakfast she has made for him, and heads straight to the fridge to raid the freezer for Toaster Strudel. 

“Welcome home, Daddy!” I say, skipping over to him and throwing my arms around his neck. He’d been in Ohio at some University no one’s ever heard of for the debate Grandpa had against the President on Tuesday. I was already asleep when he got home last night. 

“Thank you, Princess. I missed you.” 

“Mmm.” My hum gets louder as he squeezes me so hard, he forces all the air from my diaphragm. I giggle, then take a step back, skipping from foot to foot as I prepare for the pitch I’ve been practicing since he left. “Daddy?” 

“Yes?” 

“Well, I was thinking. It’s great and all that I’m starting to get sponsorships for my channel, but I think that I’m wasting my connection with my viewers on just ad revenue. If I came out with my own products, like a makeup line, maybe, I’d have a direct revenue stream and I’d be able to build my brand. Think of how impressive that will be on my Harvard application.” 

“No, Calliope,” my mother interjects. 

“But, why?” I demand, turning to confront her so quickly that my hair whips my dad in the face. “I already do makeup videos at least once a week, I’m on a ton of PR lists… it’s the next logical evolution!” 

“Because you’re still in high school, Calliope. Launching a makeup line is a full-time job, and you already have one of those. When you graduate, then you can think about getting into business ventures, not before.” 

“Dad!” I round back on him, expecting him to take my side.

He doesn’t. 

“Your mother is right. You have all the time in the world to work, don’t trade away your youth for it. It’s a mistake. Trust me.” 

I feel my face melt into an ugly pout of disappointment just as a flash of light bursts from the other side of the kitchen. Luke has his phone out, pointed directly at me.

“What are you doing?” 

“Documenting this for posterity. I’m calling it, ‘the one time in seventeen years Dad has ever told Calliope no.’”

“Ugh, you’re such a jerk!” I grab the counter so I can launch myself at him, but Dad snags me by the arm and yanks me back. 

“You know, there is one thing I did want to talk to you about.” The dangerous edge of warmth and casual amiability to his voice instantly has me on guard. 

“What?” 

“You told your mother that you went to Elizabeth’s house for SAT prep after school yesterday, right?” 

Shit.

“Yeah,” I lie with an incredibly unearned sense of self-confidence. 

“And you were at her house?” 

“Mhm.”

“Then why was your car at the school until 6:30 last night?” 

I could almost breathe a sigh of relief. 

This is the man who put tracking devices in my tennis shoes when I was a toddler, and he doesn’t think I know he’s following my car? It’s a little insulting. 

“Lizzie wanted to drive together. We went in her car.” 

“Your phone was also at the school.” 

“I left it in my car.” That one comes out free and clear, because I did leave it in my car. Along with my bag and the locket he gave me when I was five. With him, you can never be too careful.

Dad crosses his arms over his chest, the suspicion still firmly set in his eyes. 

“You expect me to believe that you, Calliope Katherine Grey, were without your phone and had no access to social media for three and a half hours yesterday, and you never, at any point, went back to get it?” 

“Well, let’s not get crazy. I had my laptop.” Actually, I didn’t, and it really was one of the most difficult ordeals I’ve ever had to endure. But fuck was it worth it. 

Dad looks over at Luke and he shrugs. “I was at practice, she wasn’t at the school.” 

He looks at Teddy.

“I saw her right after the final bell, and she was with Lizzie.” 

I could smile. 

In a world long ago and far away, my brothers and I couldn’t wait to snitch on each other. A football goes flying through the house, right into the Ming vase that dad spent months trying to get for the front room? I practically wrote a song about it and performed it in front of my entire family along with a tap dance. If I ever snuck into Mom’s bathroom to try on her expensive lipsticks, my brothers would tackle me to the floor and hold me there until she caught us. 

I was about twelve when it dawned on me that tattling is just a scam my dad used to spy on us. Ever since then, the boys and I have been working off an ironclad see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing deal, and it’s saved us all a world of trouble over and over and over again. 

“Hm,” Dad puffs, clearly not believing me, but not having enough evidence to question me further. Teddy swoops in to save the day. 

“Dad, I’ve got a huge chemistry test today. Will you please read flashcards with me?” 

“Sure, hand ‘em here.” 

Luke tosses his blender bottle into the sink like he’s shooting a basket, then disappears upstairs to take a shower. I eat my oatmeal and scroll Instagram, listening to Teddy and my dad repeat chemistry equations back and forth. 

Seven o’clock comes and goes, and Luke never comes downstairs. I start getting anxious with each precious minute before the first bell that dwindles down, and Teddy starts to complain about having his schedule thrown off and it affecting his ability to concentrate. By 7:15, Dad has to up there and physically bring him down to get him out the door. 

“Ugh, what is that?” I ask, crinkling my nose while I slam the car door behind me. The engine is so silent when I start the car that I have to actually wait for the Endurance logo to pop up on the screen in my dash for me to be sure it’s on. 

“My new cologne,” Luke answers. “Camille bought it for me.” 

“What, did you bathe in it?” I reach up and lower the convertible top to let in clean air, then slip a pair of shades over my eyes and gun it out of the garage. 

There are a lot of perks to being a Grey kid. We get that. Most kids don’t live in houses like ours, or drive the cars we do, or spend their summers on a yacht in the Mediterranean. I’m grateful for the amazing life my parents have provided me, absolutely, and I try to practice that gratitude every day. Today, I’m grateful for the parking. 

There are lines of cars slowly crawling up the aisles of the parking lot, and each and every one of them ignores the open one near the front. Not because there’s a reserved sign or a blue line. The thing that keeps it empty is more intangible, but possibly more effective. 

It’s the air of ruthless power and authority that I have spent years observing from my father, and perfecting. 

I pull into my widely-known-to-be reserved spot as if there was a red carpet leading me there, then step out on the asphalt where I’m greeted by two girls dressed in outfits that perfectly coordinate with mine. Elizabeth and Isobel, my right hand girls. Their clothes are part of their daily assignment, to watch my live stream each morning and plan accordingly.

Low-key, it’s a game plan half the girls in the school follow.

I’ve watched the various popular girls come and go through the years. Some have drastic personality changes that make them into exiles, some physically have moved away, and others just never had what it took to be the queen bee. I did. And unlike the other, I don’t make mistakes. I don’t trip up.

That’s where my girls come in.

It takes a lot to keep the crown on your head, and I’ve played enough chess to know that even a queen doesn’t have enough power to safeguard her kingdom alone. With Lizzie and Izzie, I know everything about everyone, and I know exactly how to use that to my advantage. No one can challenge me, because I’m prepared to take down everyone.

“Morning, girls,” I greet them, smiling as I take the coffee Lizzie holds out for me.

“Morning, Callie,” they repeat in unison. I expect Izzy to launch into her morning report of everything that’s happened since three o’clock yesterday afternoon that I need to know about, but she doesn’t. There’s an awkward pause and when I turn to look where they’re staring, I see why. 

Brighton King is walking toward us. 

“Oh, god…” I groan. 

“Hey, Grey!” he calls, which is, thankfully, directed at my brother. 

“What’s up, Brighton?” Luke answers. 

“There’s a scout from Auburn and LSU coming to watch the game Friday.” 

“Really?”

“Calm down, sophomore. He’s coming for me. So, I swear to god, if you drop so much as one pass this Friday night, you’re going to wish you never showed your face around this school by Monday. Got it?” 

“Oh. Well, I think-”

Well, I think…” Brighton cuts him off in a mocking voice. “Don’t think, Stupid. You’ll hurt yourself.” 

Luke’s face flushes, and I feel a hot spike of anger. 

“Shut up, Brighton. The only reason the team is anything is because you’ve got him to catch those weak ass throws you lob ten yards short of the target every week.” 

Brighton’s eyes flash in my direction, and I read him instantly. He could have gone with vengeance. Instead, he chooses to be a creep. 

“Callie, why do you always try to fight with me when we both know what you really want is to be at that game, right behind the player’s bench, with my letterman jacket around your shoulders and my hickeys all over your neck?” 

“I’d rather drink bleach.” 

“Feisty this morning.” I roll my eyes and start toward the building, but he falls in step right behind me. 

“Come on, what do you say, Callie? My brother can get us some alcohol. After the game, we could drive out to the north side of the lake and park. Have a few drinks. Maybe explore the idea of your very first blowjob.” 

His hand moves under my hair and across my neck. It sends shivers of revulsion down my back. 

“Don’t touch me, Brighton.” 

“You know, you say no but you’ve got goosebumps, Calliope.” The hand on the back of my neck starts to caress me. I cringe away from his touch, and Luke steps between us to shove him away. 

“She said don’t. That means no.” 

“Careful, Grey. You want to see a minute of playing time the rest of the season, you’ll turn around and walk away.” 

He hesitates. A lifetime of ‘defend family above everything’ keeps him rooted in place, but the fragile line of opportunities that all his dreams depend on has him swaying with the desire to go. 

He doesn’t though, and that’s enough for me. 

It’s not like I actually want to screw up his season.

“Leave him alone, Brighton,” I say, turning and walking away. 

“What about Friday night?” 

“I’m sure you and your hand will have a great time, just like you have every other Friday night this year.” 

There’s a chorus of laughter that echoes through the onlookers we’ve drawn, but I don’t stay to enjoy my petty win. I walk through the front doors and part the crowds that fill the halls like the red sea. Eyes follow every single step we take. Lizzie and Izzie both glow under the attention, and normally I would too. But the twenty-five minutes before home room may just be the exception to the rule. I spot a clock on the wall of an open-doored classroom as I pass, and see just how much of those precious minutes Brighton took up. 

“Girls,” I say, stopping dead in my tracks. I turn to Lizzie and slip my bag off my shoulder into her waiting hands. “Take this to my locker to unpack and bring my books to homeroom. I need to go to the bathroom.” 

“I’ll go with you,” Izzie volunteers. 

I frown. “I meant the nurse’s office. I’m getting my period and the cramps are killing me.” 

“You sure you don’t want company?” Izzie checks. 

“No, I’ll catch up with you during the next passing period.” 

They exchange disconcerted looks, but shrug and wave as they turn to go. I wait until I see them turn around the corner, then start as quickly as I can towards the door at the back of the school. 

It’s difficult slipping out unnoticed, but thankfully a teacher monitoring the hall draws everyone’s attention by busting a kid for having a bandana hanging out the back pocket of his uniform. I open the door just enough to slide out, then hold it as it closes so no one hears the catch of the metal sliding back into place.

There are fewer people on this side of the building. The track team is huddled up at the edge of the football field, just having finished practice, and the two people I pass on the sidewalk around the stadium are too absorbed in their phones to pay any attention to me. 

I take one last cautionary look before slipping through the unlocked gate, then dash to the bleachers. 

“I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Pete says. He takes a long drag from the end of a cigarette that doesn’t smell like tobacco, then drops it on the ground and grinds it into the gravel with the toe of his chuck taylors. His long black hair falls into his eyes, and when he shakes it away, the solitary beam of light peeking through the slats between the seats glints off the piercing in his lip. 

There’s no other guy like Peter Bigler at Bishop Blanchett High School. It’s a private school in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America, but he didn’t grow up here. He’s from further south, in Tukwila, which I only know exists because it’s between Seattle and the airport, and my dad once told me that if he ever caught me there, I’d be grounded until menopause. Pete’s dad is a tenured teacher at the school, so he gets to go here tuition free. Everything about him screams that he doesn’t belong, from the tattoo just barely poking out above the collar of his shirt, to the black sharpie scribbled all over the nail on his ring finger. 

He’s wild. He’s dangerous. He’s so fucking hot that I can hardly stand it.

“Sorry, it was my stupid brother’s fault.” 

“Oh, yeah?” He gives me a trouble-is-headed-your-way grin, and I feel my knees weaken. 

That’s not just a cliché.

It actually happens.

“Come here,” he tells me, and I stumble forward into his open arms as though I never had another choice. His hand moves up to grab my face while he kisses me, and it makes my blood hot beneath my skin. The way he touches me always feels so imperative. Like he’s been dying to do it his whole life and now that he can, he’s overwhelmed by the starvation of my absence. He kisses me like he has to. He wraps around me like he’d battle dragons to keep me safe. 

“You always taste so fucking good,” he growls against my lips. I feel the gold bite of metal against my arms as he pushes me back into the bleachers and presses his body into me. “You got me so fucking hot last night, Callie. I swear to god, I don’t know how I let you get out of that car.” 

“I wish I didn’t have to leave. We never have enough time.” 

“So let’s make the best of what we have.” His hand moves up to cup my breast, which doesn’t shock me at all. But after a few minutes of very heavy petting and deep tonsil exploration, he pulls away from my lips, and moves to whisper in my ear. 

“Touch my dick.” 

I freeze. “What?” 

His hands disappear from my boobs and move down to the buttons on the front of his trousers. My eyes go wide as he pulls out the band of his boxers, and I see his erection poking out at me through the opening. 

Pete and I have been meeting like this for a little over a month now, since Kyle Warner’s end of summer party back in August. Under the bleachers, in the backseat of his beat up Toyota Camry… He’s been all over me, and it’s been an intoxicating ride, like rollercoaster that only ever goes down.

Last night, we parked behind the Northgate Mall and made out until our faces were swollen. He took off my bra and put his mouth on my boobs, and that’s as far as we’ve ever gone. Nothing below the waist, for either of us. 

I’ve never even seen a penis in real life before. 

“Just put your hand on it,” he urges me. I stare down at him, feeling suddenly very hot behind the ears. He pushes his hips forward, then pulls my lips back to his. “Come on, babygirl. You don’t want to give me blue balls, do you?” 

Babygirl

He’s never called me that before. Does that mean something’s changed? That his feelings are becoming more real? Is he falling in love with me? It feels that way when he kisses me. I feel that way when he touches me. 

My heart starts to pound at the possibility and the only thing I can think in that moment is not to fuck it up. So I take a deep breath, reach into his pants, and wrap my fingers around his dick. 

It’s somehow both softer and harder than I thought it would be. His shaft is as rigid as steel, but he feels smooth and warm in my hand. When I squeeze him, he shudders, and when I start to move my hand up and down, he grunts against my lips. 

“Oh, fuck that feels good, Callie.”

“Like that?” I check. He reaches down and wraps his hand around my fist, tightening my grip around him, and tugs faster. I follow his lead, adjusting pressure and speed according to the groans each action pulls out of him. His hand goes back to my boobs, clawing at the buttons on my shirt until he can get inside my bra. 

“Mmm,” he moans. “You have such sexy tits, babygirl. You’re so fucking hot, god I want to come on you. In you…” He bites his lip as he glances down at my hand, then looks up at me with blazing eyes. “You want to make me come, don’t you Calliope?”

My mouth has gone completely dry, so all I can do is nod. The grin he flashes makes me feel like I’m making a deal with the devil, but that doesn’t mean anything to me at that moment. All I care about is showing him how good I can make him feel.

“That’s it. God, you’re so filthy. I’m almost there. Don’t stop…” 

“Oh my god!” 

The world around me suddenly goes cold. I turn and see Rebecca Reinhardt and Jennifer Paddington crouched in the opening under the bleachers, staring at us in shock. There’s a cigarette in Jennifer’s hand that tumbles to the ground as she gapes at us. 

I don’t know what to do, and the gravity of the situation has me paralyzed. I stand there, mouth open, holding onto Pete’s dick with one hand, and curl my fingers into his jacket with the other. 

Slowly, the shock on their faces melts away into a pair of vindictive smiles, and they slowly back out of the bleachers. 

“Shit, what do we do?” I hiss in panic. 

“Keep jacking me off, why the fuck did you stop?” 

The bell rings off in the distance and while I turn toward the direction of the sound, tears prick in my eyes. 

“Fuck!” I cry, and I start to sprint towards the school, ignoring Pete’s calls, and fighting back the tears that seem determined to fall.

I don’t even make it back into the school before I feel the metaphorical weight of my crown start to teeter from its firmly steady position on top of my head. 

Next Chapter

Lucas Elliot

Her hair is like the fields of barley and wheat we drive past on the way to my Grandpa Ray’s house. It sways in the wind, and carries a scent that makes me think of summer. She doesn’t realize how often she plays with it. I’ll stare at her from across the table when I take her to dinner and watch her toss it over her shoulder or twirl it around her fingers. It’s crazy. She doesn’t even think about it, and it’s constantly got me so full engrossed that I once missed a grand slam the Mariner’s hit to win the game in the bottom of the 9th inning. 

It’s so pretty and soft. 

Like her. 

The way it tumbles over her shoulders or when she sweeps it up on top of her head, and wispy tendrils fall in a delicate frame around her gorgeous green eyes. I want to bury my face deep into her hair, and breathe her in. I want to run my hands through it and feel the cold ends slide like silk through the tips of my fingers. I want to–

“Wake up!” Teddy’s voice only just manages to break through my dreams of Camille before I’m walloped in the face with a heavy pillow. My head jerks back and the corner of the pillowcase snaps my exposed eye. 

“Ah!” I scream, reaching up to cover the blinding pain radiating from my eyeball. “What the fuck, Ted?” 

“Your alarm has been going off for ten minutes. I can hear it all the way in my room.” 

As the pain subsides to a dull throb, the shrill chirp from my phone starts leaking into my consciousness. 

“Fuck!” I dive for it and leap out of bed the moment I see the time. Teddy scowls while I scoop a pair of basketball shorts and t-shirt from the top of my hamper, so I blow him a kiss as I push my way past him out the door.  

“If I fail this test today, I’m going to kill you, Luke!” he calls down the hall after me. I flash him a grin as I pull on the banister to round the stairs.

“Not worried about it. I’ll bet on you, Poindexter.” 

He tells me to fuck off while I take the stairs two at a time, and I hear Mom shout his name all the way back from her bedroom. The instant karma of it makes me grin, but that comes right back to bite me in the ass when I slip on the rug at the bottom of the steps in the basement and stumble into the gym, right into a rack of plates. They teeter, swaying to the left, then even further to the right. The momentum on the next swing is enough to send them clattering noisily to the ground. 

Behind me, I hear the sound of a metal bar sliding back into the grooves on the bench press. I turn, moving slowly like I’m afraid to spook a wild animal.

My dad is not amused.

“You’re late.” 

“I know, I overslept.”

“Greys don’t oversleep.” The gray in his eyes goes hard in the way only his can, like the steel of a broadsword ready to lunge out and cut you. I swallow the lump of trepidation growing in my throat. 

“I’m sorry.” 

“I don’t want apologies, I want excellence. Do you think this is excellence, Lucas?” 

He saw my midterm grades. Shit. 

“I’m trying, Dad…” 

“Are you? Because you have to get into college to have a shot at an NFL career, and I know you were too young to remember the whole college admissions scandal thing, but I’m not going to Felicity Huffman myself because you don’t want to study.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to study, I’m just… I don’t know. I’m tired a lot, it’s hard to concentrate.” 

“You wouldn’t be so tired all the time if you weren’t staying up until one in the morning on FaceTime with your girlfriend.” 

My eyes go wide with horror. “You know about that?” 

He rolls his eyes. “Of course, I do. Nothing happens on your phone that I don’t know about. Honestly, Calliope should have taught you better than that.” 

Well, she did tell me that dad monitored our calls. I thought since FaceTime used WiFi, I could get around all that. And, you know, there’s the added bonus of having my smoking hot girlfriend on camera while we’re both totally alone.

I grin. “Well, if I have to give up the girl or the 5 AM workouts, I choose the workouts. So if you’ll excuse me…”  

I turn and start for the door, but my dad grabs me by the back collar of my t-shirt. 

“Luke, I’m serious. You’ve got a hell of a lot of talent but none of that means anything without discipline. What you want is not going to be handed to you the way so much of the rest of your life is. It takes work, dedication, and a lot of sacrifice. Are you willing to commit to that? Because if you’re not, you’re wasting both of our time.” 

I stand under his expectant gaze, knowing that I’m messing up and that the opportunities to do that are getting fewer and fear the closer I get to senior year. But it’s not like I try to fail. Teddy and Callipe have never even had a tiny blemish on their spotless GPAs. Watching how proud our parents are of them while they give me some variation of the same lecture over and over again isn’t exactly what I’d call a great time.

Most of the time, I just feel like dirt. 

“It’s harder for me, Dad.” The vulnerability in my voice melts the icy stiffness that grips his frame and he leans down to look me in the eye. 

“What do you mean?” 

“Everyone does everything so fast. I’ll read something, but I won’t understand any of it. So I’ll go back to read it again, but then everyone else is already moving on to the next thing and I’m behind. But I can’t catch up because I missed the middle parts.” My shoulders slump with my frustrated sigh. “I always think I’ll just do it at home, but the teacher doesn’t come home with me.” 

“What about your mother and I? You know, people are generally of the opinion that she and I are pretty smart.” 

“You’re never here. Ever since Grandpa’s campaign started, you’ve been away more often than you’ve been home. Mom’s got all the movie stuff going on… Jade tried to help me once, but she barely made it through her regular classes. Ten years ago. There’s nothing she can do to help me with Algebra II.” 

He frowns. “What about Teddy? He takes the same classes you do.” 

“I’d rather Teddy think I was lazy than dumb.” 

The very last of the tension in my dad’s face disappears. His eyes shine with concern as he reaches out to cup my shoulder. 

“You’re not dumb, Luke.” 

“Then why does everybody else do everything so much easier than me?” 

“I don’t know, but now that you’ve told me, I promise that your mother and I will do everything we can to figure it out. I’ll get you a tutor, if you want. And you could meet them at Aunt Mia’s house if you don’t want your brother and sister to know.”

“You won’t tell them?” 

“Not if you don’t want me to.” 

I hesitate. The idea of spending my free time with some nerd trying to teach me Economics isn’t exactly my ideal scenario. But Coach already warned me that if I didn’t get my GPA by the time report cards came out, I could kiss State goodbye.

And probably a few of my teeth when Brighton King found out he was going to be without his go to receiver with his senior year season on the line.

“Yeah, okay.” 

Dad smiles and clasps my shoulder once before straightening again and moving back to the same bench he was on before. “Pick up something heavy,” he tells me. 

“Again and again and again…” 

My routine is the same as it is every morning. Yoga, cardio, strength training. It’s boring, monotonous, and too easy to focus on how tired I’m getting. Dad has the TV set to CNN, watching two commentators I don’t care about talking about the debate Grandpa had with the president a few nights ago. It does little to distract me, so I let my mind wander back to my dreams about Camille.

We’ve known each other since Kindergarten. She was in my 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade class. I had her in homeroom all year in 8th grade, and she was in both my biology and French class Freshman year. 

How did it take me all that time to realize how absolutely gorgeous she was? How is it possible that up until a few months ago, I just thought of her as a girl I went to school with? Why did it take a tight white tank top over a hot pink bikini and a bucket of ice cold water to make me see her? 

Or the fact that she has the most incredible set of tits I’ve ever seen.

I have to drop the barbell over my head to cover the boner that tents my shorts when memories from the night before start flooding into my brain. She went farther than she’s ever let me push her before. I’m going to be haunted by that coy look she gave me when she took off her t-shirt after I asked if I could see her tits for the rest of my life. When I asked her to lick the tips of her fingers and pull on her nipples, she did that too.

“Luke?” 

“Yeah, Dad?” I squeak, turning to face him in a way that makes it impossible to tell that I’m hard in the folds of my shorts. 

Something getting increasingly harder to do…

“You ready to go to some drills?” He holds up a football. 

“Uh… yeah. Sure.” I turn back toward the opposite wall, close my eyes, and banish Camille from my thoughts. It doesn’t work, so I take a different approach. “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut…” 

I mean to whisper, but Dad sneaks up behind me somehow and overhears. I try to shift my shorts again, but it just draws his attention. 

He smirks. “You need something that requires more thought than listing states you’ve already memorized, Son,” he chuckles. “The point is to divert blood flow back to the brain.”

I flash him a guilty look, but he gives me a conspiratorial grin. 

“I usually try to think of business deals I’ve lost in the past and what I should have done differently.” 

“This still happens to you?” 

His grin broadens. “Have you seen your mother?” 

“Ugh, gross.” I grimace as I get the very unwanted mental images his stupid smile puts in my head and stomp away. There’s a door on the other side of the room that lets out into the backyard, under the veranda. Dad stops right at the edge of the grass and the stairs that lead up to the main level of the house, and lobs the football into the air. I take off, throwing myself forward with reckless abandon as I steal as much purchase from the ground as possible. Since my growth spurt over the summer, I’m so much faster. I make it across the yard with plenty of time to turn and catch the ball right before it hits me in the chest. 

“Excellent, Luke. Great speed. Now, high knees all the way back. Let’s go…” 

We spend about twenty minutes moving between catching and calisthenics. It’s my favorite part of the morning because it’s the time I get to shine in front of my dad. Calliope may be perfect in his eyes. Teddy may be the budding genius in the family. But in these few minutes we have alone together every day, I get a break from being the screw up. Each spectacular catch I make, every personal record I break… it all culminates in the pride I see reflected in his eyes. 

It makes me feel ten feet tall. 

“Alright, we gotta head in so you can eat before school. You’re doing great, Kid. Your footwork is getting really, really good. I’m impressed.” 

I beam at the praise. “Thanks, Dad.” 

He tosses me the ball and we start up the stairs together. Before we get to the kitchen door though, I tug on his arm to pull him back.

“Wait…” 

He turns and raises an eyebrow at me. “What?” 

“Can I, I mean… uh, can I ask you something, and you won’t get mad?”

“Probably not, what is it?” 

I grind my teeth together, second guessing my curiosity. But now that I’ve brought it up and he’s staring at me, waiting, I can’t really back down. “Well… you met Mom when you were 19, right?” 

“Right.” 

“Well, was she… your first?” 

“Love? Absolutely.” 

“No, not your first love. Your… you know, first.” 

He narrows his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest, almost defensively. “No, she wasn’t.” 

“Oh. How old were you when you, uh… with a girl, for the first time?” 

“Fifteen.” 

His answer is blunt, and the fact that he gave that answer so easily is surprising. “That’s the same age I am now.” 

He nods his head, slowly. Keeping his eyes trained on me the whole time. 

I fidget. “Do you… regret it? Doing it before Mom?” 

I see his jaw twitch as he mulls over his next words very carefully, like he’s trying to hold back something and he’s afraid if he doesn’t think it through exactly, he’ll let out a secret. So I’m surprised by his curt reply. 

“No.”

“Oh.” A thousand things run through my mind at once. My dad is a lot of things and very important to a lot of people, but the thing I know about him better than anything else is that he absolutely, entirely, and forever is in love with my mom. The way he talks about her makes it seem like she’s always been the only girl in his life. Learning there’s another is a whole new aspect of him I’ve never heard about before, but as much as I want to question it further, the tacit permission he just gave me to do exactly what I want to do is really what I need to focus on right now. 

“Something you want to tell me, Luke?” he asks, when I’m quiet for too long. 

“Well, um…”

Dad sighs and pulls me over to the overstuffed patio furniture next to the door into the kitchen. I look into his probing eyes with caution. 

“Are you having sex?” he asks.

I press my lips together, then shake my head. “No, sir.” 

He doesn’t waste time not believing me. “Are you going to have sex with this Camille girl?” This time, I don’t answer. He continues like I did. “Look, I’m not going to waste my breath telling you not to, but if you’re going to start having sex, there are somethings you need to know and remember.” 

“You already gave me the sex talk, Dad.” 

“This isn’t just about mechanics.” 

I narrow my eyes at him, and he moves his chair forward and leans in closer to me. 

“Condoms are not optional. I know you think you’re the first genius who ever thought of pulling out, but you’re not, and I promise you, it won’t work. If you don’t believe me, you can take both your brother and sister, go look in the mirror, and see the proof yourself.” 

I place a hand over my chest like I’m shocked. “Are you telling me that the Grey children were all accidents?!” 

My voice is exaggerated in its offense, but only because it’s well known family lore that Dad only has three kids because he got snipped basically the day he found out about Teddy and me. He doesn’t rise to my bait though. 

“I’m serious, Luke. Every. Single. Time. It only takes once, and a baby or an STD could ruin your whole life.” 

“Okay, okay. I’ll wear a condom.” 

“And remember that Camille, or whatever girl you’re with, is not just an object for you to fuck and move on. She is a person, with feelings, who is giving a part of themselves to you. That’s not a little thing, no matter how much you may think it is. If you choose to sleep with a woman, you will respect her, and the trust she has given you. Believe me when I tell you that I have never been put through more hell or been hurt worse than I was by a woman whose heart I broke.” 

“The woman you slept with before Mom?”

“No.”

“Then who?” 

He takes a deep breath, then shakes his head. “Maybe when you’re older.” 

It’s my least favorite answer to anything. I’m fifteen, I’m not a baby anymore. I can handle the fact that my dad was probably an asshole when he was young. Hell, he’s an asshole at 39. And the fact that he doesn’t want to talk about it, makes me want to know more. 

“Who was she?” 

“Who?”

“The woman you slept with before mom.” 

“She was… someone I don’t like to think about anymore.” 

“But you said you don’t regret sleeping with her.” 

“That’s not what you asked before.” I scrunch my eyebrows together with confusion, and he lets out an exasperated sigh. “I’m not at all proud of the person I chose to do it with, but I don’t regret having sex before your mother. It taught me how to be the lover she deserved–”

“Okay, okay, okay…” I cut him off before I start to think of his dirty hands on my angel of a mother. It’s bad enough I have to hear it all the time… from five doors down the fucking hall. “I’m sorry I asked.” 

He smiles, which is a nice break in the tension that’s been building between us for the last few minutes. “The point is, I have no illusions that you’re getting to the point where you’re going to start having sex, and I’m not necessarily of the mindset that you need to fight that. But wear a condom, be selective, and don’t be an asshole.”

I grin. “Would you say that to Callie?” 

He doesn’t even blink over it. “Absolutely not. When I gave her the sex talk, I told her that condoms weren’t effective and sex would kill her.” 

I laugh, and he gets up out of his chair, reaching down to help me to my feet. “You’re going to be late for school.”

“Okay. Thanks, Dad.” 

“Anytime, son.”

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