My Saving Grace

Despite losing her mother when she was ten, Sophia Grace Weston has the life most kids dream of. Growing up, she had a loving father and was always surrounded by the most privileged people, but when she enters college, a brief encounter with Chase Lincoln reveals that life isn't easy for everyone like her. In fact, life can go spiraling downwards in just the blink of an eye. And when that happens, sometimes all you can do is pray for a saving grace.

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10. Chapter 10

I never saw Antonio again for the rest of that year. 

 

One night after work, I had even tried to hit up a few strip clubs in the LA area to see if I could catch him in his act, but he wasn't at any of them. With each walk out the door, I'd felt more pathetic than ever. 

 

On my way home, thoughts of him flaunting his tall, tan body for the female population's pleasure had clouded my mind, and I'd clutched the steering wheel tightly, feelings of jealousy running through my veins. 

 

I had no claim over him--we'd been nothing more than strangers in the same car--but god, if he'd ended up in my bed that night, I wouldn't have let him leave so easily.

 

Of all the guys out there, I just had to be attracted to a professional male stripper.

 

Until now, I still couldn't attach the Antonio I'd briefly met to his career. He'd been so formal, composed, and dressed with such class...I guessed looks were deceiving after all, just like he'd said.  

 

As the months passed, my work consumed me to the point where Antonio became a subject of the past, but whenever I did walk by the Ralphs on Sunset Blvd, he was the first thing on my mind. 

 

During the third weekend of October, I flew up to Minnesota for my college homecoming football game and was able to reunite with Alexa Langley, whom I'd missed more than anything. 

 

She was as gorgeous as ever and still had the outgoing, reckless personality I loved. She also proposed that I fly out to New York to spend New Year's Eve with her, and I'd quickly agreed to the idea. Besides, my holiday break lasted until the day after New Year's. 

 

Thanksgiving was spent at my grandparents' house in La Jolla, and before I knew it, Christmas came right around the corner. After a productive day at work, I decided to go Christmas shopping for my family, Peter, and Ella. 

 

For the past few months, my father had begun seeing a woman he'd met at one of his company charity events. Her name was Jennifer, and she worked as a human resources manager in San Diego. At forty-five years of age, she'd been married once, but like my dad, had lost her spouse; he'd died in a car accident. 

 

From what I'd heard so far from my dad on the phone, Jennifer seemed like a wonderful woman, and I was looking forward to meeting her at our family Christmas reunion. 

 

When I was younger, the thought of my dad in a serious relationship with someone felt like a betrayal to my mother, who I knew loved her husband very much. Then as the years passed, I gradually embraced the idea of my father being able to find happiness again. 

 

Mom would want him to be happy.  I did, too. So, I sure hoped Jennifer was the one. 

 

Two days before Christmas, Nick and I drove down to San Diego. Alyssa, his girlfriend, was spending Christmas with her parents in LA this year. Something told me they were going to end up getting married; I'd never seen two people so right for each other, apart from Mom and Dad, of course. 

 

Derek and Claire Weston's love had been unbreakable, a kind of love I wanted for myself someday. 

 

"How's life as an engineer going for you?", Nick asked as we cruised down I-405. 

 

"Great. I feel like what I do actually matters, you know?"

 

"Yeah, it definitely does. You thinking about maybe working for R&D soon?"

 

"That's the ultimate goal, bro." I smiled. 

 

"You'll get there. I know you will." He gave my shoulder an affectionate squeeze. 

 

"Thanks for the confidence booster."

 

"Anytime, sis. So, how many guys have you slept with since moving here?"

 

I laughed quietly. 

 

"None."

 

His eyes widened. 

 

"Seriously? What happened to those college days of yours? I remember your roommate telling me once that the guys there called you Sex on a Stick Sophia."

 

I simply stared at my brother with a deadpan expression on my face. 

 

"You've got to be kidding me."

 

"I'm not."

 

"Ugh, what's wrong with people," I groaned, rubbing my forehead as I slouched in my seat. 

 

"Everything."

 

"And for your information, Nicholas, those days don't exist anymore. I'm fine like this, though. No need to get attached to anyone." 

 

"Sounds good to me. You're only twenty-three, so no need to rush." He flashed me a grin. 

 

"Yup. End of conversation."

 

"Ok."

 

An hour later, Nick pulled into the driveway of the magnificent house we'd both grown up in. With her shining personality, my mom had lit up every room she walked into, but in the days following her death, a darkness had descended upon our home, and despite all its luxurious furniture, it felt emptier than ever. 

 

To this day, I still couldn't fathom how my father had managed to live by himself all those years Nick and I were in college. Around us, he'd always put on a smile, but at night, I remembered hearing the sound of his silent sobs in the bedroom he and Mom had shared. 

 

It was utterly heartbreaking, even for my 10-year old self. 

 

Through the window, Dad saw us getting out of the car, and he rushed to open the front door. His arms were open wide, and I ran for them, but Nick beat me. 

 

"Nick, my boy, how are you?" They shared a big bear hug. 

"I'm doing great, Dad. You?"

 

"Never been better. My two kiddos are home with me again." He playfully ruffled Nick's hair then turned to pull me into a giant hug. 

 

"I've missed having you live in California, pumpkin. It's so much easier to see you now." He smiled, his blue eyes shining. 

 

"Don't worry, Dad, I'll be here for a very long time." I kissed his cheek. 

 

Nick went to grab our suitcases from the car trunk, and like past visits, I put all my things in the bedroom Mom used to sleep in whenever she and Dad fought. She had also slept there during the first several months of their marriage. 

 

Apparently, a former secretary of Dad's--who'd also been an ex-girlfriend--couldn't bear to see him and my mom together, so she did everything in her power to tear them apart. 

 

One time, she'd kissed my dad in front of my mom in his office, and after a huge fight, my mom had gone to sleep alone in her room. That was a story my dad had saved for right before college. 

 

After lunch, Nick went to pick up our grandma and uncle from the airport, and by seven, our house was packed with relatives. There were more than enough bedrooms to accommodate them, so no one needed to stay at a hotel. 

 

I caught up with all of my cousins, especially Declan, whom I'd always been closest to. He was older than me by a couple of years and happily married. In fact, everyone present was either married or dating, with the exception of me. 

 

"I know a couple of guys at work your age I could set you up," Declan offered. 

 

"Pssh, a woman as beautiful and intellectual as Sophia won't have trouble finding a husband, believe me," my grandma, Heather, interjected. 

 

More than ever, I desperately wanted to go back to the days when my love life wasn't the hot topic of conversation.

 

"Who's up for a game of pool?", Nick asked, popping his head in the living room. 

 

I quickly stood up from the couch. 

 

"Me."

 

"Sweet." He grinned. 

 

At last, I was saved. 

 

***

 

"We should probably head to the airport soon. Your flight is in two hours," my dad spoke, glancing down at his watch. 

 

The four of us--Nick, me, Dad, and Jennifer--were having breakfast at Richard Walker's Pancake House before I left for New York. My mom's best friend, Charlotte Decker, had introduced her to this place, and thank god she did. The food here was exceptional. 

 

"How long will you be in New York?", Jennifer asked. 

 

"Until New Year's Day. Then I have to go back to work," I replied. 

 

"You'll have a wonderful time there. Especially this time of year." She smiled warmly. 

 

After meeting Jennifer Taylor for the first time on Christmas Day, I decided that she was a very sweet woman who genuinely cared for my dad. With dirty blonde hair and round hazel eyes, she was extremely attractive, too. She'd never had children of her own before, so she especially enjoyed getting to know Nick and me. 

 

As soon as I finished scarfing down my apple pancakes, Dad paid for the bill and then we headed out to his Range Rover. The drive to the airport was filled with childhood stories and joyous laughter, and my heart had never felt so full since Mom's death. 

 

"I'll see you when you come back, sis," Nick said when we arrived at the departure area, giving me a hug. 

 

"Ok. Say hi to Alyssa to me."

 

I turned to Jennifer next.

 

"It was an absolute pleasure getting to know you, Jennifer. I hope we'll see each other again soon." 

 

She smiled, pulling me in for a hug. 

 

"You're such a gem, Sophia. No wonder your father adores you. And yes, I'd love to see you again, too."

 

I glanced over at my dad. 

 

"Dad, be good to Jennifer, alright?"

 

"I will." He chuckled, slipping an arm around her waist. 

 

"Well, that's all I have to say for now." I grabbed my suitcase and wrapped my other arm around my dad. 

 

"Have fun in New York, sweetheart, and send your friend, Alexa, my love."

 

"I will. I love you, Dad."

 

"I love you, too. Fly safe."

 

And this time when I bid my father goodbye, I left with the assurance that he was indeed happy.  

 

Six hours later, I landed in the Big Apple and was practically bouncing in my seat at the thought of seeing my best friend again. Two days in October simply hadn't been enough. 

 

After grabbing my suitcase, I rushed out of the plane, and the moment I stepped outside at the pickup area, the snow began to fall. I sighed with content, remembering how much I'd missed seeing those tiny white flakes. 

 

"Sophia Grace Weston!" 

 

I whipped my head around at the familiar voice. There, dressed in a long, black Michael Kors jacket, stood my other half. 

 

"Alexa Nicole Langley!"

 

We ran towards each other, and her arms reached out to give me a bone- crushing hug. 

 

"Girl, it feels like a lifetime since I've seen you, not two months," I said, my voice muffled by her jacket. 

 

"I know right." She stood back to look at me. "You look amazing, Soph. And god, how'd you get so tan?"

 

"Daily doses of California sunshine."

 

"Gotcha." 

 

I'd only been in New York twice before, but never during the holidays. On our way to Alexa's apartment--which she shared with one of her co-workers--I admired the stunning view of the city skyline, which spanned miles. The stop-and-go traffic downtown allowed her to point out famous buildings, including the Nike headquarters she worked for. 

 

Wreaths adorned the streetlamps, and holiday lights dazzled the trees while the snow created a thick blanket of white. During my time in Minnesota, I'd come to understand why people said you couldn't experience the true Christmas spirit without snow. 

 

But at the end of the day, I still was a California girl at heart. 

 

It felt like an eternity when we arrived at Alexa's apartment in Manhattan, and after taking a hot shower, I helped her make dinner. Her roommate was visiting family in Pennsylvania, so it was just the two of us.

 

While digging through her cabinets for spices, I saw a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, and a sad smile formed on my face. 

 

"What's wrong?", Alexa asked, setting down her cutting knife. 

 

I took the box out, showing it to her. 

 

"I always think of you whenever I eat this at home."

 

"Gosh, I'm going to cry now." Her eyes were brimming with tears. 

 

"I miss seeing you everyday. You were the best roommate I could ever ask for."

 

"You, too, Sophia. You, too."

 

We shared a brief, meaningful hug and then resumed cooking while our college playlist sounded through the speakers. 

 

Later that night, Alexa and I sat on her couch, sipping wine. We talked about work and her transition to such a large city. The cost of living was more expensive, but her job paid the bills, and she was able to save extra money every month. 

 

Some time during our conversation, I might have had too much to drink because when she asked if I was seeing anyone, I brought up the story of Antonio. Then again, Alexa was someone I always spilled my heart to. 

 

"And you haven't seen him since that night he kissed you?", she asked, utterly intrigued. 

 

"Nope." I shook my head sadly. 

 

"You always go for the most interesting guys. First Chase now Antonio. And the sad part is, I never even get to see them."

 

"Cause they keep disappearing, that's why. Something must be wrong with me." I blew away a strand of hair covering my forehead.

 

"Nothing's wrong with you, Soph. Men are just weird."

 

I managed to smile, and while Alexa ranted about one of her male co-workers who'd stood her up on their date, I gradually drifted to sleep. 

 

***

 

Disposing of my finished lunch in the trash, I took the elevator back down to my assigned laboratory. Alexa had just called to wish me a happy birthday. My birthday had always been easy to remember because it was the day after St. Patrick's, and this year, Nick and I were going to Drake's concert this weekend to celebrate it.

 

New York had been one of the most memorable trips of my life, and the highlight of it apart from seeing Alexa was experiencing the ball drop in Time's Square on New Year's Eve. Never had I seen so many people packed into one area, and the atmosphere had been absolutely exhilarating.

 

Prior to that night, Alexa had made a deal with me that if I kissed a stranger of her choice at midnight on New Year's Eve, she'd give me a hundred bucks. Because having some money wouldn't hurt, I had ended up kissing an old, balding police officer. 

 

And believe me, it was something I never wanted to think about ever again. 

 

"Sophia, can I talk to you for a moment?", Darren, my manager, asked once I reached the lab. 

 

"Of course. What's up?"

 

"Ok, so each year, USC's chemistry department always has engineers and scientists from various companies come in to talk about how the topics covered in class are used in actual jobs."

 

"Yeah, my university used to do that, too."

 

"That's great. Anyway, I was wondering if you would be willing to speak during one of their lectures tomorrow? You're an outstanding engineer and graduated college not too long ago, so the students will be able to relate to you as opposed to someone older."

 

"I would love to. Do you happen to know which class I'd be speaking to?"

 

He looked down at his clipboard. 

 

"Thermodynamics."

 

"Ah, I remember that class. Not so good times." I sighed. Darren laughed. 

 

"Same here. But you'll do great."

 

"I'll try my best." I smiled. 

 

The next morning, I woke up bright and early for my talk at USC. Darren had assigned me to the 9:30 am lecture, which unfortunately meant that I'd have to deal with heavy traffic. After showering, I changed into a pair of cropped black pants, white blouse, and burgundy blazer. 

 

In the kitchen, I brewed coffee while spreading some cream cheese on my bagel, and by eight, I slipped on my black heels and was out the door. Apart from a Rose Bowl game, I'd never been to USC before, so I was looking forward to seeing it in detail. 

 

An hour later, I arrived on the campus and easily managed to find a parking spot. With the map Darren had given me yesterday, I went in search of Stauffer Science Lecture Hall. 

 

A young male, probably around my age, greeted me when I reached the entrance to the lecture hall. 

 

"Welcome to USC! I'm assuming you're the chemical engineer Abbott Laboratories sent to speak at our lecture?"

 

"Yup. My name is Sophia Weston."  

 

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Sophia. My name is Michael, and I'm one of the teaching assistants for this lecture section." The smile on his face was contagious as we shook hands. Then he opened the door, ushering me inside. 

 

"I'll introduce you to Professor Rossi. He's been teaching this class for a few years now," Michael said. 

 

"I'd love to meet him." I smiled. 

 

There wasn't a single empty seat in the room, and as my eyes roamed over each bright, young face, I was transported back to my own days as a college sophomore. I loved working, but nothing could ever surpass the time I'd spent at the University of Minnesota. 

 

"There's Professor Rossi," Michael spoke, and I snapped out of my thoughts. 

 

Professor Rossi was standing behind the podium, having a conversation with one of his students, but as soon as she returned to her seat, his full profile became visible.

 

And my world came to a grinding halt. 

 

"Antonio." The name left my lips in a startled gasp. 

 

At the sound of my voice, Antonio's head turned to where I stood, and our eyes met, the look of shock on his face mirroring my own. 

 

"Sophia..."

 

 

 

A/N- Well, I bet none of you saw this coming(; But if you did, then I'm impressed. Read on to see what happens between Sophia and Antonio, and remember to like and comment!

 

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