TIMELINE IS RIGHT AFTER FALLEN CREST UNIVERSITY :) AND BEFORE WHERE LOGAN’S BOOK WILL PICK UP.
Sam looked up from the couch where she was sitting, in the basement, or more appropriately still in the basement. Mark came out of his bedroom and stopped in surprise at seeing her. His hand was raised, going through his hair, but he let it fall back to his side. He asked, “Can’t face the music?”
A burst of voices sounded from the floor above them and they both looked up. Mark was referring to the Christmas gathering that his mother, her stepmother, had planned.
She let out a short laugh. “Yeah. How’d you figure?” A wry grin tugged at the corners of her lips as she raised her hand, holding a glass of Bourbon in it.
“Mason and Logan aren’t here yet?” He came around the end and sank down on the other side of the couch. It was a long curved couch, so Sam was still positioned in the opposite side of the room as she stared back at him.
She shook her head. “They went to Helen’s this morning. When she found out that not only was Garrett coming tonight, but Analise and James too, she changed her mind. Said she wanted to do her own thing, with her own kids, and I believe she’s heading to Paris tonight.”
Mark chuckled, leaning back against the cushion. “Never thought I’d say this about Mason and Logan’s prissy mom, but that was smart of her.”
Sam grunted, finishing the rest of her drink. She looked at it and sighed. Now she’d have to get up and walk towards the bar. That would entail moving. That would entail she’d have to get her ass up from the couch. Going to get a drink wasn’t the problem. She was scared that once she stood up, Malinda would magically know and would open the basement door. She’d call down to them to come up and be ‘social’ and because Sam loved her stepmother, she would go upstairs. The problem--she couldn’t ‘face the party’ as Mark had said. There were people up there that Sam didn’t want to see, or she just wasn’t ready to. She was taking a page from Logan’s book and she was waiting till she had a good buzz before heading up there. Because she had that irrational thought of Malinda sensing when she stood up, she was good with staying in place. Her ass remained sitting.
Mark had been watching her and he laughed now. “Come on.” He stood up and held his hand out. “I’ll fill you up again.”
She tensed up, but relaxed at his last statement. “Oh my God. I’ll love you forever, Mark.”
Taking the glass, Mark laughed again and shook his head, going to the bar in the corner of the room. “No, thank you. I don’t want that. I am good with our brotherly/sisterly bond.” Reaching for a second glass, he glanced up and caught her eyes. A look passed between them and Sam found herself smiling for real. It wasn’t forced or in panic. She liked Mark. With all the craziness she’d endured over the last few years, having a nice stepbrother had been an unexpected icing on the cake, but she knew what he meant. Nope. There wasn’t anything more than a friendship and step-sibling bond between them. If there were, she shuddered at the drama that would’ve been. She sighed, relaxing even more. “Yeah, Mason would not be happy with that.”
Mark filled her glass, and brought it over, along with holding one for himself too. After handing it to her, he sank back onto his seat. “Oh yeah. Between Mason and Logan, I’d probably end up in the hospital at some point.”
“They’re not that bad.” She sipped her drink, then thought about what she just said. “Nevermind. You totally would.”
Mark laughed, taking a big drink from his glass. “I have no wish of landing on their shit list, never did.”
She’d been lifting her glass back to her mouth, but paused and lowered it. “Is that why you were always kinda friendly with Logan? Even back during our sophomore year when I was still at Fallen Crest Academy?”
The corners of his mouth turned in, like he was holding back a laugh. He shrugged, looking sheepish. “Yeah. Kinda. I always got along with Logan, but once it came out how close you were with them, and I knew the hard-on that Adam had for you, let’s just say I had to be careful at times. Going against the Kades is a dumbass move and Adam knew that, but Adam is Adam. I love the guy, but it was obvious you were going to end up with Mason. Fuck. Everyone knew that. People just had a hard time accepting it, for whatever reason.”
Mark’s mother hadn’t began dating Sam’s father until the next year. At the time, neither hadn’t realized how they would be tied together, but Sam was grateful. When she started dating Mason and became ‘family’ with Logan too, things had been tense before she transferred from Fallen Crest Academy to Fallen Crest Public School, where Mason and Logan both attended. There’d been verbal confrontations, more than a handful of showdowns, and a couple punches thrown. Thinking about it now, she asked, “They never did anything bad, did they? Like setting anyone’s car on fire or anything like that?”
Mark tossed back the rest of his drink, and grimaced. “That burned.” He focused on her again. “Nah. They never did stuff like that. That was only against the Roussou peeps.” He shook his head. “Budd Broudou never knew what he was signing up for, going against Mason and Logan.”
Sam had to agree. The four year rivalry between the schools, Fallen Crest Public School and Roussou had been dangerous. Thinking back on it, she was surprised nothing horrible happened to either of them. She shuddered at that thought, but thinking back over the last few years with their recent battle against Park Sebastian, she knew she should be thankful nothing happened to any of them, herself included.
“Mark?” The door leading to the basement opened and Malinda called down, “Samantha?”
They shared another look. It was time to face the music.
Sam finished the rest of her drink and Mark lifted his up, but it was already empty. He groaned. “How about shots?”
He stood up and she held her empty glass to him. “Sounds good to me.”
Taking both, he crossed to the bar and called upstairs, “We’ll be up in a few, mom.”
The door closed, but instead of returning to the gathering, Malinda came downstairs. Sam followed Mark. He went around the bar and she was standing between two of the barstools. Both turned around when Malinda came to the bottom of the stairs. She stopped, fixed them both with narrowed eyes, and rested her hand to her hip.
They waited, unsure how she’d proceed.
She laughed and snorted at the same time. “Well, fix me one too, my adorable son.”
Sam had been holding her breath. She let it out now, giving Malinda a shaky grin as her stepmother came to stand next to her. Malinda put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her to her side. “Oh honey.” She brushed a strand of Sam’s hair back, tucking it behind her ear. “I am so sorry about your mother.”
And the real reason why Sam couldn’t bring herself to walk up those stairs was just named. Analise Stratton, who still shared Sam’s last name even though it would be changing to Kade once she married Mason and Logan’s father, James Kade, had invited herself to the family Christmas gathering upstairs. In fact, after arriving on Malinda and Sam’s father’s doorstep a week ago, Analise had declared she was ‘back’ in a lot of other ways. She spent a long stint at a group home, but was released because she was believed to be ‘ready’ and ‘capable’ of returning to her normal life outside of the group home setting.
And that meant she was ready to be Sam’s mother again, or she was going to try. That was how she put it the night she arrived. Since then, Sam had nothing to do with her. Analise called every day. Sam ignored the calls every day. She came over twice more afterwards until Malinda had a private word with Analise. Sam hadn’t been able to overhear the entire conversation. She’d come in the back door from a long run and stopped short
before going out in the kitchen. Once she heard her mother’s voice, she froze, but then heard Malinda saying, “...you have to let her come to you.”
“But she never will.” Analise sounded impatient. “I just want my girl back.”
“You’ve been gone for almost two years, and before that you hurt her.” Malinda remained strong, but comforting at the same time. “You can’t come back in and make her want a relationship with you again.”
“Because she’s been brainwashed. That’s why--”
Sam immediately tensed, hearing the anger in her mom’s voice, but Malinda spoke up, “Now, you stop.” Her voice dipped low, as if she moved closer to Analise. “No one has brainwashed that child against you, but she’s an adult herself. She’s in college, Analise, and whether you like it or not, Samantha will make up her own mind if she wants a relationship with your or not. It took me an entire year for her to warm up to me and I’ve been here. She lived with me her senior year of high school.”
“And thank you for that.”
Sam blinked, startled at the sudden switch in her mother’s voice. She sounded genuinely grateful.
“Look,” Malinda added. “Just give her time. Give her space. Let her come to you.”
“I want to see her for Christmas.”
A knot formed in Sam’s stomach. She shifted, turning towards the opened doorway and pressed a hand to the wall. She went back to holding her breath.
There was a moment of silence before Malinda cleared her throat. “Well…”
“She’s my daughter, Malinda.” Analise sounded firm.
“I get that, but maybe I could have a small gathering. Everyone in the family could come here instead. Sam might feel more safe that way, and not so forced into a small intimate thing.”
“You think she would?”
“I think…” Malinda seemed to be choosing her words with caution. “I think… you’ll have a better chance at having some form of conversation with her if it happened here.”
“I don’t want Mason or Logan here--”
Malinda carried on as if she didn’t hear that part, “--and especially if Mason and Logan are here too.”
Sam bit down on her lip. The knot loosened up, but she wasn’t becoming less tense. It was loosening up with anger. Her blood was heating up. Her mother dared come in here, dared to demand a holiday with her, and dared to demand Mason and Logan not be there? The two people who had been there for her over the last few years? Her fingers dug into the wall, but she was blind to how her nails would leave marks.
“Those boys hate me.”
“Well, they have reason.” Malinda let out a breath. “You hurt someone they both love. They protect her fiercely.”
“And they’ve brainwashed her against me--”
“Analise, you have to stop. You can’t think of them that way.”
“How should I--no. You’re right. My therapists said the same thing. They’re her family. They took care of her when I couldn’t. I have to remember that.” A brief, but broken-sounding laugh came from Sam’s mother. “They’ve had her when I haven’t. I only focus on that sometimes, but you’re right. I need to thank them for loving her and protecting her.”
“Mmm hmm. I think that’s the best way of handling both of those boys, and they aren’t boys anymore either. They’re men. And they’re going to be in her life forever.”
“I know. I do. I’m sorry. I’ve tried reaching out to Mason, but he won’t return my calls.”
Malinda barked out a genuine laugh. “Oh honey. I’m sorry, but you have a better chance at talking to your daughter than that one. If you want some advice, I’d apologize to both of those boys. Thank them for loving Sam, and leave it at that. I wouldn’t hold my breath for any forgiveness or acceptance from either of them. Hell, I wouldn’t hope for anything other than civil silence from them. That’s all you’re going to get.”
“Yeah…” Her mother grew silent. “I suppose.”
“Listen,” Malinda said louder, and with a forced cheerfulness. “I’ll talk to Sam, make sure the small gathering is okay with her, but I really think that’s your only shot of spending the holidays with your daughter.”
“And after that?”
“And...after that, give her time. You can’t force a relationship. You have to let it unfold, but both parties need to want the relationship. She has to want it, too.”
“I know. Okay.” Analise drew in a breath, letting out a shaky laugh. “Thank you, Malinda. You’ve been so wonderful about this whole thing. Thank you for all the visits too.”
“Of course. Okay. Sam went on a run and if I know her, she’ll be coming home soon. I’d not be here if I were you.”
“Okay. Call me about the party, though.”
A moment later, the door opened and then closed. Sam suddenly felt exhausted all over again. She didn’t think it had anything to do with her hour-long run either. She held still, still standing just inside the doorway and waited until Malinda came back into the kitchen. As she did, her stepmother looked at her. Sam saw the prepared guardedness on Malinda’s face. She knew Sam had been there the whole time.
Sam sighed, dropping her hand from the wall. “You’ve been to see her?”
Malinda reached up and rubbed at her forehead. The lines were tense around her eyes and her mouth was strained. “I have. It was a condition from her therapists. I’m sorry we never told you, honey.”
Sam frowned. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that, but she jerked up a shoulder. “I guess it makes sense. Better for you to deal with than me.”
“I know.” Malinda’s hand went from her own forehead to Samantha’s. She rubbed her thumb over it. “Oh, Samantha. You shouldn’t have any of these worry lines.”
Sam didn’t pull away and when Malinda pulled her in tight for a hug, she went, but she didn’t raise her arms to hug her back. The numbness that had always been there when she dealt with her mother was creeping in once more. It was low. It lined the bottom of her stomach, but Sam knew it would never go away, not while Analise was back. It had thawed over time, when Analise went away, but it was back.
Malinda hugged her and whispered, “Your mother will never hurt you. I won’t let her. David won’t either.” She pressed a kiss to Sam’s forehead before stepping back. Her hand was still on Sam’s shoulder. “But I have to ask about the holiday thing. Are you okay with that? I figured it was the best way to make sure you feel safe and she won’t raise a ruckus, trying to force you to do something you don’t want. We both know that’d end in a huge fight, one that she’d lose, but it would just be a pain in the ass for you to deal with.”
Malinda was right. Sam realized it then, that Malinda was trying to prevent a line to be drawn. And Analise would’ve done exactly that. She would’ve tried to force Sam to see her. Sam wouldn’t have done what her mother wanted and it would be a battle all over again. Sam nodded, trying to force a smile back to her stepmother. She murmured, “Thank you. Yes, I’m okay with it.”
Malinda smiled back, though it still seemed tense. “Just keep Mason and Logan at your side. You’ll be protected. Your mother’s scared of those two.”
And that was the plan, except both of them were still at Helen’s. Sam gazed at Malinda now, as Mark pushed a shot into her hands. Analise arrived an hour ago, but no Mason and no Logan were present. Sam knew that was why no one ventured down to the basement to ask her to come up, but she knew the clock was ticking, hence why she’d been waiting for Malinda to sense she was walking around the basement. She’d have to go up there at some point in the evening.
She watched as Mark and his mother both had a shot. She already took hers, and now she was starting to feel the alcohol. This was ridiculous. She was in college. Her mother hadn’t been able to hurt her for years...she shouldn’t be scared of her, not after all the shit she had faced being in Mason and Logan’s lives. But she had a feeling that no matter her age, no matter where she was in her life, there’d always be a
little girl inside of her whenever she would see Analise.
She took a breath and rolled her shoulders back.
Enough was enough. She needed to shove that little girl inside to a corner because Analise couldn’t have this much control over her. Not anymore.
She said, “I’m ready.”
Malinda watched her gravely. “Are you sure?”
Mark put down the Bourbon bottle. “Even though Mason and Logan aren’t here?”
She nodded, though her neck muscles had tightened up. “I’m sure.” The booze was warming her up too. “Helps that I got a little buzz going too.”
Mark grinned. “Well, okay.” He came around the bar and nodded towards the stairs. “Until Mason and Logan show up, I’ll be at your side.”
They both arched their eyebrows up at Malinda. She gave them a sheepish grin. “Well, until my hostessing duties pull me away.”
Mark chuckled, putting his arm around his mom’s shoulder. “No worries, Mom. I know that I’ve just gotta get you liquored up enough and you’ll be giving Analise an earful all on your own.”
“Well, I have been nice to her, a lot nicer than I wanted to be.” She looked and held Sam’s gaze. “But you let me know if it’s too much. Your mother is allowed in this house only because I understand her pain, from mother to mother, but if she hurts you at all, I’ll kick her out. I’ve held my tongue more than I usually do with her.”
“I will.” Sam nodded. “Okay. Let’s go. Let’s get it over with.”
The three of them went upstairs.
As they left the peace and quiet from the basement, they stepped into a Christmas wonderland. Malinda had decorated the house over the weekend, but with the lights turned down and the Christmas lights lighting the room, Sam was struck by how beautiful the entire first floor was. It wasn’t just the living room, but also the kitchen and dining room. All of the counters in the