Dear J, I wish you were here now more than ever. Out of the two of us, you were the smart one. Even if I didn’t always follow it, you gave the best advice. I know you would modestly be downplaying your importance, but really, sometimes I’m still lost without you.
I told myself I would not get close to anyone because then I wouldn’t get hurt. But I didn’t protect myself as well as I thought. Why is it I’m the first one to get suckered?
You would be like Aunt Keniesha. You would tell me to buck up and face this head on. Yet the only thing I really want to do is gather up Blue and leave this place far behind.
As enticing as it sounds, though, to just chuck it all and start over, I know I can’t do that. It isn’t who I am.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what happened after we found out that Cricket is actually a Covington.
I went on a search for her and found her in the basement studio. Her back was to me, so I couldn’t see her expression but her body language told me she knew I was there.
“I’m looking for my planner. I thought I left it down here,” she said with a quiet voice.
“Why didn’t you tell me who you are?”
“How could I? You can’t possibly understand the situation I was in.”
“Try me,” I sighed. What I really wanted to do was lay into her about all the lies. Instead, that stupid part of me – that part of me that can feel other peoples’ pain and then write a song about it – held back.
There was a long, pregnant pause, and then she began talking. “All I ever wanted was for my father to accept me. To be glad I was alive. He never paid any attention to me at all and even called me a ‘useless girl.’ I spent most of my childhood away from him, obviously, as he was in prison. So, when I grew up and he was released, all I wanted was to make him happy.”
I stared at my feet as she spoke. She didn’t cry, but there were tears in her voice. With all my might, I reminded myself that I was the one who’d been wronged here and that her sob stories were just that.
“But there were conditions to gaining his approval,” she continued. “My mother had already told me about the trouble he’d gotten in to. But I didn’t want to believe he would ever purposely hurt anyone. He was still my father.”
She turned to face me, her cheeks flushed and her eyes red from crying. “He pulled strings to get me this job right out of university. I was thrilled because he finally saw some worth in me.”
“So what happened?” I asked, wishing that I didn’t care.
Tears brimmed her eyes and spilled down her cheeks but she didn’t bother to wipe them away. Her shoulders slumped forward as she went on, “He doesn’t love me at all and I don’t think he ever did. He made it very clear that he’d only gotten me this job so I could mess with you. I don’t think he’ll rest until every last Noble has suffered the same way he has.”
My head reeled and my face began to burn. I clenched my hands into fists as I listened to her. “He has suffered? Really?”
How could Garret Covington be so delusional? He’d gone to prison, yes, and rightly so! According to my mom’s diary, her father Prescott had been a scientific genius who had created the formula that had eventually eradicated Fading Finger Disease. Garret’s father, Don Covington, had not only stolen Prescott’s scientific formula and claimed it as his own, he had also arranged the car accident that had killed both of Mom’s biological parents! Don Covington had reaped the benefits of the formula my grandfather had created, thereby stealing the fortune that rightfully belonged to my mother. Don’s wife, Victoria, had tried to manipulate my mom into marrying Garret because she was afraid that Mom would figure this all out eventually. Victoria couldn’t stand the thought of losing the money or the Covington image.
Luckily, my dad had been hot on the trail before even meeting Mom and had been instrumental in bringing the Covingtons’ down. Later, it was discovered that the Covington family was also responsible for the deaths of Aunt Keniesha’s parents. When all of this came to light, Garret took a plea deal. In exchange for providing evidence against his own mother, his prison sentence was reduced to twelve years. Don had died years before any of this happened and his wife Victoria died before the trial even began.
Cricket’s eyes told a story of guilt and shame. I could almost feel myself getting sucked in, so I looked away from her quickly.
“He thinks he’s suffered. And I believed him, Leo,” she lamented. “I came here ready to do whatever he wanted me to do. I spent my entire childhood wishing for nothing but his attention and love.”
“Did you get it?” I spat the words at her.
“No!” she wailed, completely breaking down into a shuddering mess of tears. “I couldn’t do the things he wanted me to. I refused.”
My emotions were a wreck. On the one hand, I had the irresistible urge to take her in my arms and comfort her. On the other hand, I wanted to scream at her and make her understand the pain she was causing me.
Finally, I choked out a question. “What did he want you to do?”
She totally broke down now, answering me between sobs. “He wanted me to woo you…. he wanted me to break your heart….. and destroy you.”
How could anyone be so vile? “And that’s why you were flirting with me?”
She nodded then shook her head. Apparently, even she wasn’t sure. “At first, yes. But I really like you. I found that I didn’t want to hurt you. In fact, at one point, I flat out told him to forget it. He was so angry with me but I stood firm. That’s when Bexley started giving me problems.”
“You mean she’s involved with Garret?” I asked, mentally kicking myself for not having guessed this already. How deep did this run and who else was tangled in Garret’s web?
“She’s involved but I don’t know how. All I can say is she that she knew I was a Covington and she threatened to expose me. Don’t you see? I was really caught between wanting my father’s approval and not wanting to hurt you.”
“I need time to think about all of this. But one thing I can see is that even though you say you don’t want to hurt me, you haven’t once apologized for anything you’ve done.”
Before I could say another word, she scooped her planner up from a nearby table and ran from the room.
Later, I watched from a window as a taxi whisked her away. Any part of me that had wanted to comfort her felt dead now. What it came down to was that I couldn’t tolerate lies. Even if she’d been telling the truth about not wanting to hurt me, I could never trust her. My chest began to hurt as I thought about how close I had come to destruction.
Summoning up my resolve, I found Bexley in the kitchen.
“I thought you’d be gone by now,” I said coldly as I came into the room.
She tried to smile, but it was strained. “I was hoping you didn’t really want me to leave.”
“Why would I want you here?” After what I’d been through with Cricket, my patience was definitely nonexistent. “So give it to me from the top, spit it out. I think I deserve an explanation.”
As she continued to look at me, I began to see that her docile expression was a mask, carefully in place. I didn’t know if I could break through the facade and find out what her involvement was or not, but I was going to try.
“Just tell me, Bex.”
“You don’t trust me, do you?”
I shook my head. “Not even a little. So, what’s your agenda been?”
Realizing the jig was up, she let her guise down, and sighed, almost seeming relieved that she didn’t have to put on an act anymore. Her expression became one of increasing anger as she rapidly talked.
“Well, I guess there’s no point in continuing with this charade. Here’s the thing, you idiot, I can’t stand you!”
I was taken aback, my jaw dropping. “What the – ”
” – That’s right! You have to be the stupidest man on the planet!”
“Where is this all coming from?”
“It’s coming from the fact that you’re so trusting and easy to fool. You and that stupid family of yours. I’ve just about had it with all of you.”
Bexley had been the one person I thought I could trust. She’d been there whenever I’d needed to talk or confide in someone. Obviously, she’d been that person to me on purpose. Now I saw just how right she was. I was the biggest idiot ever.
“So did Garret get you this job, too?” I asked, my heart sinking and my stomach turning. In a way, this hurt even worse than Cricket’s lies.
“OMG, no,” she said, her voice going up an octave. “Do you think he’d ever do anything for me? Not on your life! That’s why I had to do this all on my own. But don’t think he isn’t proud of me now because he even said he is! Of course, he won’t be too happy about it all blowing up like this. But he’ll blame your dad, not me, so we’re good.”
I was speechless. It was like she wasn’t even talking to me anymore. She was just thinking out loud as if I wasn’t even there.
“I’m just as good as Cricket! I’m actually better than her any day of the week! She’s nothing but a whiny little b – ”
” – Why do you care how you compare to Cricket?” I interrupted as my mind was trying to keep up.
“Why do I – ” she sputtered, her sentence trailing off with obscenities. “Listen, and try to keep up. Cricket whined and whined about how he didn’t notice her and wouldn’t acknowledge her worth. But what did she ever do to earn his love? Absolutely nothing! By the time I came on the scene, it was pretty clear that the way to get on his good side was to take an interest in him. I was always a curious person, so I took it upon myself to figure out who Cricket is. I was shocked, of course, but it gave me more courage than ever to go after what I want.”
“Garret is the older man you’re dating?” I mumbled.
“OMG, Leo! Keep up! I made that up to redirect you from the truth. You made it so easy! The truth is, I’m Garret’s daughter, too. He was wining and dining both our mothers around the same time. I don’t know about her mother, but mine was a bit of a gold digger, so getting pregnant seemed like a good idea to her. I’ve known since I was a child who dear old dad was, but he was in prison, thanks to your parents, so it’s not like I could have a relationship with him. When I found out about Cricket’s existence, my only option was to edge her out of the picture. It worked, too. Dad can’t stand the sight of her because she’s such a disappointment. But not me. I’ve done everything he asked and more!”
For the one hundredth time today, my jaw hit the floor. “B-but, Cricket didn’t say you were half-sisters!”
She laughed but it wasn’t a pleasant sound. “Because she hasn’t figured that out yet.” Her face turned beet red as she yelled, “I’m the smart one! Me!”
In an abruptly freaky way, she calmed, her face as charming as it always was. “Before you ask more stupid questions, let me just say that it’s funny how you and your band are broke now, isn’t it? Don’t be too mad at Reggie, though. Once I slept with the money manager and convinced him to give Reggie the account information, it was just a matter of sitting back and watching it all unfold. I didn’t even have to prod that crook into stealing from you; he did it all on his own. It was way too easy, but then, I was always really good at reading people.”
“Well, read me now!” I growled at her. “I want your crazy ass out of this house and away from my daughter. Crawl back to wherever you came from.”
She smiled coyly, further driving home the fact that I hadn’t really known this woman at all.
“I want you gone.” I stiffly repeated, my mouth dry as dust.
And that’s how it was left with Bexley. Looking back, there is so much I wish I’d said to both Bex and Cricket. Some people are really quick on their feet. They always know what to say or how to get the best of someone. I, on the other hand, need more time to process things. The anger and embarrassment I feel now, though, overwhelms me. My idea of running away with Blue doesn’t seem half bad at the moment.
To make things that much worse, I feel like a jerk for missing my dad’s birthday. He’s everything a father should be and he deserved to be honored for that.
He’s an elder now and won’t be around forever. Which makes me feel worse about neglecting him.
Instead of celebrating a birthday, I’m thinking about how the wind has been kicked out of me. Again. Why is it that I can never seem to catch a break? Okay, J, you might think I’m just staring at the city from my favorite spot so I can feel sorry for myself. I can hear your self-assured voice now, telling me that the world hasn’t ended.
Looking at the bridge, I can see cars going along with great purpose. People, who look like little dots from this distance, are bustling in and out of shops, doing their thing. The sky is my favorite color of blue with big, fluffy clouds that remind me of cotton candy. So, no, the world hasn’t ended, but how is that? Why is everything just continuing as if nothing’s happened?
I was so lost in thought, I didn’t hear Aunt Keniesha come in to stand next to me. “How could anyone have a problem on a day as beautiful as this?”
“I was kind of thinking something similar,” I admitted.
She told me then that Mom had gone to lie down with a headache and that Blue was playing under Rachel’s watchful eye.
“I assume you went to talk to Cricket? I saw her leave in a taxi.”
I nodded. “Yeah. And I talked to Bex, too. She’ll be leaving soon if she hasn’t already.”
“I think that’s good.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
I spent the next twenty minutes telling my aunt all of the sordid details I’d learned.
The more I told her, the more incredulous her expression became. When I was finished, she said, “Well, good riddance to them both! Your parents will be glad they’re gone, too.”
Slowly, I nodded.
Aunt Keniesha touched my arm gently. “Leo, this may be a silly thing to say, but try not to take this to heart. They’re Covingtons and I’ve never known a more vile family. Every single one of them is a user and master manipulator. You’re not at fault.”
“I feel like….. it feels like everyone I’ve ever been involved with is just a liar. I can’t trust anyone.”
“Closing yourself off is not the answer. There are plenty of good people in the world who are worth your time.”
She was right, of course. But before I could agree with her, she resorted back to her usual speech. You know, the one I’ve heard a million times:
“I refuse to let you fall into some kind of depression over this. You’re part Noble, you know, and that means you hold yourself upright and comport yourself with dignity.”
I resisted the urge to say the words in unison with her.
After spending more needed time alone, some of it with my guitar, I went upstairs to tuck Blue in. Her face absolutely lit up when I approached her. If that wasn’t a reason to hold myself upright and not wallow in self-defeating thoughts, I don’t know what was.
“Daddy,” she said, “I saw Miss Bexley and Miss Cricket leaving today.”
This kid knew way more than I gave her credit for. “So you did. I guess I should explain.”
She giggled a little. “That’s okay, I know why they left.”
My heart stopped as fear stabbed my heart like a spear. The last thing I ever wanted was for Blue to be exposed to this ridiculousness. “You do?”
Dramatically, she rolled her eyes. “You finally realized they’re no good.”
This kid was probably surprised it’d taken me so long to see what she seemed to have noticed ages ago.
She rewarded me with one of her small smiles and said, “Try not to be too sad. We don’t need them.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” I agreed as I pulled her covers up for her.
Author’s Note: Since this chapter was published, I’ve had two inquiries as to where Keniesha’s outfit could be found. It is called Balmain Crop Top/Pant (mesh by AllAboutStyle included).
THIS is the link to the outfit (which is the second one in the top row).
All of the places I get CC from are listed on this page: CC/Mods. But if there is a specific item you are wondering about, feel free to ask.