I’m sitting at the island bar of the kitchen with Nico, both of us scarfing down some eggs and toast as we usually do in the mornings. Neither of us talks as we are too busy eating and it’s too early anyway to engage in any type of conversation.
Although today we actually have something to talk about, but I’m trying to avoid it as much as possible. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that she is here now. Nico hasn’t mentioned anything after yesterday’s fainting incident and I sure as hell won’t bring it up.
I see movement from the corner of my eye, and I lift my gaze to see Sofia walking into the kitchen hesitantly.
“Hola niña!” Carmen, the housekeeper, greets her enthusiastically. “Cómo dormiste?”
“Bien. Gracias, Carmen,” she responds, but she doesn’t seem fine or look like she slept well.
She takes a seat next to Nico and looks down at her plate. “Hey,” she says to him quietly and doesn’t acknowledge my presence.
“Hey, sis. Ready for your first day of college?” he asks her a bit too excited. I know for a fact he’s just trying to lighten the mood.
“Yeah, I guess.”
She picks up her fork and starts pushing her plate of eggs around. She looks like she’s about to take a bite, but then scrunches her nose and puts it to the side. Instead, she grabs a banana from the counter and unpeels it. She then proceeds to cut it with a knife in tiny pieces and only eats a few small bites.
I know I shouldn’t be staring at her so obviously but I can’t help myself. She’s just so different now. I entertain the idea that she might be sick. The way she fainted so easily yesterday, all the weight she’s lost, and the way she’s picking at her breakfast like it’s poison leads me to the hypothesis.
She suddenly looks up and catches me staring at her. I take a quick drink of my orange juice to try to defuse it, but she’s looking at me like I have an extra head growing out of my shoulder. Like I’m out of place.
I know it must seem strange to her that I’m here, but it’s not. At least, not anymore. I have been living here for the last four months and whether I like it or not, this is my home now. This is how I start my mornings every day. I wake up, have breakfast with Nico, go to class, soccer practice, then come back home. On the weekends we usually have a game followed by a party where I mostly end up hooking up with some girl for the night. She just hasn’t been here to know all that.
“We should get going,” Nico turns to tell me.
“Yeah,” I grunt. I can’t help my sour mood.
“Wanna drive? I forget whose turn it is.”
We usually take turns driving in the morning. Usually it’s whoever feels like it or isn’t about to fall asleep. I immediately shake my head. “No, I’m tired.”
It isn’t a lie. Truth is, I didn’t get much sleep last night. Not that I usually sleep well, but last night was especially rough. But the reason I don’t want to drive is because I don’t want to end up with Sofia sitting next to me up front in the passenger seat.
We stand up to go, and Carmen shoves lunch bags at us as we head out of the kitchen. It still feels weird that she treats us like a bunch of kids, but I still appreciate the gesture and thank her on the way out.
Once we’re in the garage, Sofia quickly gets in the back of the car. I would normally tell her to sit up front, but she seems pretty determined to sit back there and I’m not about to start an argument with her.
The ride to school is pretty uneventful, as it usually is. Nico makes small talk with me about practice today, and Sofia just stares out the window.
He parks the car in the lot of the university and we make our way towards campus. Sofia is quickly walking a bit ahead of us as if she knows exactly where she’s going.
Nico speeds up to her and wraps an arm around her shoulder. “Sofia, we have practice after school. Are you okay to wait for us? It shouldn’t take long as it’s just tryouts for new players,” Nico explains.
“That’s fine,” she responds.
“Here, hold on to the keys then,” he says handing them to her.
She shrugs but puts the keys in the front pocket of her jeans. Last I knew she didn’t really drive, but maybe that’s changed now.
“Do you know where to go? Here, show me your schedule.”
She hands him a piece of paper that looks like it has been folded and unfolded one too many times.
“Okay, so you’re actually on the other side of the building. Adrian can take you though. See you later, princess.”
Before I can protest, he turns around and disappears through the glass doors of the main building. Sofia turns around to look at me in surprise. She probably notices the scowl on my face, because she immediately says, “Don’t worry. I’ll just ask someone else.”
Irritated, I grab the schedule from her hands and start walking towards her classroom after checking the room number. I don’t turn around to see if she follows me, but I know she’s behind me as I clearly hear her footsteps.
A few people greet me along the way and glance at Sofia curiously, but I barely acknowledge them. I’m not in the mood to do any introductions.
After what seems like an eternity, we arrive to her classroom and I finally stop and look at her. She’s wearing glasses and I notice her eyes are red and a bit glossy. She usually wears contact lenses so I assume they must be irritated or something. Her blond silky hair is pulled back in a braid and falls loosely towards the side of her shoulder. She’s also wearing jeans that look like they are a couple sizes too big and a large sweater that covers most of her body.
She looks like she’s trying not to stand out, but I think the effect is quite the opposite. The glasses look really sexy on her and combined with the braid she looks so innocent. Even when she’s clearly not at her best, she is still absolutely beautiful. I silently curse myself out for still thinking about her this way even when I don’t want to.
“Are you going to be okay?” I ask her.
“Yes, thank you,” she answers way too politely.
I hate how vulnerable she’s become. I still have no idea what happened or why she was gone for so long, but it’s not my place to ask. Nico let it slip it had something to do with some family issues one day when he got drunk so I left it at that. The Durants have already done so much for me, letting me stay with them last fall when I had nowhere else to go.
She looks like she could really use a hug though, but I’m not the person to do that for her. Why aren’t her parents here for her? The thought makes me anxious so I nod and hand her schedule back to her. My work here is done and now I can go back to my regular life.
I tell myself to walk away and leave. I’m half way down the hall when someone bumps into me. I turn around to see it is him out of all people, and he actually has the audacity to smirk at me as he continues walking down the opposite way of me. I think about turning him around to punch his face in, but I have to remember where we are and the last thing I need is to get expelled my last semester of college or even worse, get kicked off the soccer team. I only have a few months left of this hell hole and then I’m out of here.
As I look behind me, I notice Sofia is still lingering by the doorway of her classroom. It almost looks like she is hesitating to go inside and is trying to convince herself to go in.
But then something I never expected happens and I feel like I just got kicked in the balls. The jackass actually stops in front of Sofia and starts talking to her. No fucking way.
I practically sprint back towards her and I’m already seeing red. It’s way too early for this crap. I swear if he lays one finger on her I’m going to lose my shit.
“Sofia, I need to talk to you,” I say once I reach her, interrupting whatever the jackass is saying. I try to conceal the alarm in my voice, but I don’t think it comes out that way.
She turns to look at me in disbelief.
“Sofia, huh?” I hear him say to her. “Now was that so difficult, princess?”
She shudders and takes a step back from him. It’s not lost on me that he uses her actual nickname that he has no clue about as an endearment, but the way he says it is completely wrong and makes my blood boil. I’m also yelling at myself for even giving him the smallest information about her, but I’m also slightly elated to see she didn’t want to give him her name and doesn’t seem to like him.
“Get lost, Ruiz,” I tell him. Before I can stop myself, I stupidly add, “She’s with me.”
His eyes go wide in amusement. “Is that so?”
It’s difficult to explain what exactly our relationship is, but that was the first thing that came to mind. We basically live together now, but there is no way in hell he’s finding out about that. No one knows I live with the Durants and I intend to keep it that way. Regardless, this asshole needs to know she’s off limits.
“Adrian is friends with my brother,” Sofia answers before I can stop her. We probably should have warned her about this, but it never even crossed my mind. But the way she said that almost sounded like a threat, and I can’t help but feel a little proud.
“Who is your brother?” he asks, but I see him studying her features and it’s only a matter of time before he puts it together. Dammit, why do they have to be freaking twins and look so alike?
“That’s none of your damn business,” I answer for her. “Leave her the hell alone.”
“Well, that might be difficult being that Sofia and I are in the same class,” he answers smugly.
I feel a hole in the pit of my stomach. I hate the way he even mentions them together in the same sentence. “What the fuck are you doing taking a freshman class?” I bark at him.
“That’s none of your business, is it? C’mon Sofia, we’re going to be late,” he says still looking at me.
Who the hell does he think he is? Now I know he’s just messing with me, testing me.
I feel Sofia inch closer to me, and the small movement solidifies my next actions. I step in front of him in warning, pulling her behind me. The smile on his stupid face tells me this is exactly what he wants. He would love to see me get in trouble over this. He’s been itching to take over my position on the team, but I’m not about to let that happen. I’m older than he is, faster, and better than he’ll ever be. And he damn knows it.
“I’ve already said this once, but it seems you need it repeated. She’s not going anywhere with you. Not now, not ever. So leave her alone and fuck off before I pound your stupid face in.”
My hands are already balled into fists and I’m so ready to make true on my words. Forget everything I just said, I would do anything for this girl behind me without even thinking about the consequences.
I suddenly feel a small hand wrap tentatively around my wrist and it instantly calms me down. I turn to look at her and she’s pleading me with fragile eyes. She looks embarrassed as hell and I realize that I’ve now caused a scene as there is a crowd surrounding us.
“This isn’t over, asshole,” Ruiz mutters at me and finally makes his way inside the classroom.
This isn’t good. She’s gonna have to drop this class after today. I think Ruiz already figured it out, but even if he has half a brain, once they call the roster he’ll know that Nico is her brother.
I take a deep breath and pull Sofia to the side. “Are you okay?” I ask her.
“What the hell was that about, Adrian?” she whispers at me.
“I’ll explain later. Just wait for me here once your class ends, alright? And please don’t go near him.”
She nods at me, but I need more confirmation than that.
“Promise me, Sofia.”
“Alright, I promise. Just go to class already. Or do you just start fights in the hallways around here?”
I narrow my eyes at her and almost manage to laugh. “I mean it, Sofia. Wait for me here.”
She rolls her eyes at me and enters the classroom just as the clock turns to 9:30am. Shit, I’m late already.
I get to my class and take a seat in the only empty chair. The professor has already started his lecture, but thankfully he doesn’t call me out on it.
My mind is still whirling around from everything that has happened since I woke up this morning. I feel so angry at the world. I’m angry that she’s back, I’m angry that Ruiz is messing with my shit, and I’m angry about the way she’s making me feel.
When she wasn’t here, I didn’t have anything to worry about but myself. But the minute she walks back into my life, she has to go and cause havoc in it. Now I have to worry about her, whether she is okay or not, whether that dickwad is bothering her, whether she needs someone to look out for her. She shouldn’t be my responsibility, but she is. In a way, I think she’s always been.
I partly blame all this on Nico. He’s gonna freak once I tell him what happened. I consider sending him a text, but I’m afraid of his reaction and what he’ll do. He’s even more hot-headed than I am and he can easily turn into a loose cannon. I’ll wait to tell him in person later, once I manage to calm myself down.
“Yo, Carter!” I feel someone kick my leg and look up to see one of my teammates trying to grab my attention from the seat next to me.
“You’re so deaf sometimes,” he says. “You coming? Class is over.”
I get out of my seat, amazed that I didn’t even realize it. The professor must have let us out early because it’s only 10am.
“Have you heard about the new girl yet?” he asks as we reach the hallway.
“No. What new girl?” I ask almost irritated. He should know by now I really don’t give a shit about this.
“Two words, dude. Fresh fucking meat.”
I’m about to tell him those are three words and not two and to learn how to freaking count, when his next words leave me cold.
“Apparently, she’s hot as hell and rocking the schoolgirl look with a braid and glasses. There’s even a pot going around already to see who hooks up with her first.”
I grab him by the collar and nearly slam him against the wall. “She’s Durant’s sister, asshole. Tell everyone to back the fuck away. Who started it?”
He looks at me like I’ve gone mental and maybe I have. He answers me anyway. One of the perks of being team captain is that people usually know not to mess with me. “I don’t know. I just got some messages about it in a group chat, but I think it might have been Ruiz.”
I let go of him and head back towards Sofia’s classroom. Suddenly, I can’t wait for soccer practice to put all these bitches in their place.
I wait for her to come out of the classroom. I swear if I see Ruiz I’m going to break his damn phone right in front of him for starting this shit over a group chat. Sometimes I hate modern technology. Surprisingly, he doesn’t show up. He probably went to hide somewhere like the pussy that he is.
Once I see Sofia, I ask her for her schedule again even though I’ve already memorized it and I know exactly where we are going. She hands it to me and like before, I walk her to her next classroom in silence.
I wouldn’t even know what to say to her and now is not the right time or place to tell her. “Wait for me here again,” I tell her before leaving her at the door. I hear her scoff behind me. She probably hates me right now, but I’d rather have her hate me than the alternative of the entire soccer team hitting on her to win some stupid bet.
We pass the rest of the day in this manner, and I’m surprised she hasn’t slapped me yet although she has made her annoyance with me very clear. I know I’ve been terrible company, acting like a caveman around her. This isn’t how I envisioned my day going either, but she’s left me no choice so she’s just going to have to deal with it.
I leave her at the cafeteria after exchanging more monosyllabic words, telling her to wait for me one more time. She responds by giving me the finger and buries herself in one of her textbooks. I chuckle in what seems to be a very long time and make my way towards the soccer field.
I immediately spot Nico and I can already see him fuming in the distance. If there were body heat technology in the real world, I’m sure I could see the smoke coming out of him.
“Hey man, so you heard?” I ask him.
“Fucking Ruiz, man. I swear he says one thing to me and I’ll murder him. I already got all these other assholes to stop the dumbass bet. I can’t believe he would do that, or that these idiots would go along with it. I mean, are they all just messing with me or is my sister really that hot?”
“Um … well, she…” I trail off, not even knowing what to say. The answer is yes, obviously she is, but I’m not going to say that in front of him.
“Forget it. Don’t answer that question.”
We both turn around to see Ruiz walking in our direction and I already know this is gonna end up being a disaster.
He has this evil look on his face and I actually feel sorry for him for what’s about to happen.
“You’ve been holding out on me this entire time. Why didn’t you tell me your little sister is even more fuckable than your girlfriend? Or should I say ex-girlfriend?”
Nico is already charging at him and manages to get the first punch in. Ruiz looks like he was actually waiting for it, the sick bastard. He’s able to dodge the next few punches from Nico, but then Ruiz tackles him to the ground and I see his fist connecting with Nico’s jaw and that’s when I decide it’s been enough.
I grab Ruiz by the arms and lift him back up from Nico. He tries to get out of my grip and I nearly laugh at him. I’m much taller and stronger than he is so there’s no way that is going to happen.
I make it look like I’m trying to hold him back, but really I’m just positioning him in place so Nico can freely do more damage to him. I nod at him, and he’s off of the ground in an instant. He punches Ruiz twice more in the face and then jabs him in the stomach, causing him to bend over in pain and I let him fall to the ground.
Nico is about to kick him in the side, but I stop him and pull him back. Ruiz certainly deserves it and much worse, but if I let Nico continue he’ll get into a hell of a lot more trouble.
“You’re lucky we’re on school property, Ruiz. Next time, I will end you,” Nico spits at him.
“Next time I’ll make sure Carter isn’t here to save your ass,” he grunts out of breath.
Coach decides to show up at this moment. “Ruiz, you better not be starting shit again on my team,” he warns him.
“Durant started it. He punched me first!” he yells.
“So you’re telling me you just came over here for a friendly talk? I’m not buying it. Go clean up and don’t bother coming back. You’re suspended from the team until next week.”
“Whatever. It’s fucking tryouts anyway,” he says storming off.
“You’re on a thin line too, Durant. Five kilometers after practice and that’s me letting you off easy,” Coach continues. “Carter, walk with me.”
I go to follow him, hoping he doesn’t rip me a new one.
“I saw what you did and I’m not happy about it. You’re the captain of this team and I expect more out of you. I know Ruiz is nothing but trouble, but you shouldn’t have held him up like that. These guys look up at you and I’m counting on you.”
“Sorry, Coach. It won’t happen again,” I tell him. Unless he dares say something about Sofia again, I think to myself.
“Between you and me, I’m considering benching Ruiz. He causes too many disruptions on the team, so hopefully one of these new guys can take his place in midfield. There also might be some scouts coming to look at you later this season, so don’t fuck this up.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” This is what I’ve been working towards the last four years so I damn sure won’t do anything to jeopardize it.
Once practice is over, I head back to the cafeteria to get Sofia. Nico is still doing his stupid laps around the field and probably won’t be finished for another 20 minutes. I soon realize she’s not sitting in the same place that I left her and I immediately panic. I think about Ruiz leaving practice early and begin to think the worst. I grab my phone to text her.
Me: Where are you?
I check the text history and am surprised to see that the last text I sent her was from May of last year, asking her the same exact question. I never heard back from her that day. Or any other day for that matter.
Before I’m able to dwell on that fact much longer, my phone vibrates in my hand. Unlike last time, I don’t have to wait eight dreadful months for an answer.
Sofia: In the car.
I curse and hurriedly head over to the parking lot. I text Nico along the way to tell him where we are.
I find her sitting in the passenger seat of the car with her feet up on the dashboard and listening to music. I get in the driver’s seat after throwing my stuff in the trunk.
“Why didn’t you stay where I told you to?” I ask her. It comes out rougher than I intended, but I’ve had a long day.
“Are you seriously gonna keep ordering me around? I’ve had enough of your bullshit for one day,” she retorts. She brings her legs back down and sits upright in her seat.
“It’s dangerous, Sofia. Something could have happened to you.”
“In a parking lot? How paranoid are you?”
“Yes, people get assaulted all the time! Get your facts straight,” I almost yell at her. Just thinking about it has me on edge, but in retrospect it was actually better she came here instead of Ruiz possibly running into her. It’s the only reason I’m not straight up losing it right now.
“You’re impossible,” she says in exasperation. “Where is Nico by the way?”
“He should be here in like ten minutes. He’s doing some laps.”
“Just some soccer stuff.”
“What did he do? Is he in trouble?” she asks worriedly.
“No, he’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“So we’re back to that now?” she says narrowing her eyes at me.
I take a deep breath. “Just wait until he gets back. It’s not my place to tell.”
She looks away from me and stares out the window. There are so many things I want to ask her, so many things left unsaid in between us. After all this time, she’s sitting right next to me, but she feels so far away.
I want to ask her how she is, how her classes were, but I’m afraid to say anything to her. Every time I open my mouth, I seem to say the wrong thing and I don’t want to upset her anymore than she already is.
We sit in silence until Nico shows up, but his mood isn’t any better than either of ours. In fact, it’s much worse. I feel for him after hearing about all the comments about Sofia, and Ruiz having the nerve to bring up Ana. The asshole really did a number on him today.
“Nico! Are you okay?” Sofia exclaims, taking in his appearance. He’s a bit banged up, but honestly I’ve seen him a lot worse.
“Fine,” he mumbles, a bit out of breath.
“What happened?” she asks fully concerned.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he responds.
“Nico … was it that guy Ruiz?”
Just the mention of his name makes him go crazy. “What did I just say, Sofia? Did I stutter?” he full on yells at her.
She immediately flinches and crouches down in her seat.
“Hey, you don’t fucking talk to her like that!” I yell back at Nico. It was a completely automatic reaction, and both of the Durant twins are looking at me stunned. I know I shouldn’t be getting in between this, but he’s taking it out on her when it’s not her fault.
“Look. Let’s just … everybody calm the fuck down, alright?” I say, more to myself than to them.
I huff in my seat and turn on the ignition. As I exit the parking lot, I glance over at Sofia and she’s looking out the window again. I notice she wipes her eyes from underneath her glasses and it nearly kills me that she might be crying. My hand reaches out to her instinctively, and I have to force myself to bring it back to the wheel before I do anything stupid.
This day has really been shit and it’s only the first day of the semester. I can’t help but think that the three of us are all fucked up in different ways and none of us really know what’s going on amongst us.
Worst of all is Sofia. It’s ironic how this morning I didn’t want to know the first thing about her, and now I’m craving to know the smallest things. I’m still not even close to figuring out what’s going on with her, but I know for a fact she is thinking this is all her fault and she couldn’t be more wrong.