The swedish prince Episode 9 & 10

🌹🌹The Swedish Prince🌹🌹
🌸🌸 (ROYAL r0m@nç£)🌸🌸
🌹Chapter 9🌹
Maggie’s POV continues
It was probably an hour before my alarm went off that I finally did fall asleep. So when I woke up again I had that sticky panic that I didn’t know where I was or what had happened.
I gr0@nand look at my phone as everything comes flooding back to me again.
It’s six a.m, the sun is moments from rising, the dark-gray light of dawn starting to brighten before my eyes.
It’s also Saturday, which means the house will be silent until around eight or nine when the first bleary-eyed kids make an appearance.
I’m not even working today and normally sleep in for another hour before I get started on the day’s chores, but suddenly I’m all too aware of the foreigner in the house.
I get up, sl!pon my robe and sli-ppers and silently open my door, padding down the hall. Pike’s door is still closed–so much for him spending the night outside his door with a gun–and I have no idea what to expect if I open the stranger’s door. Should I wake up Pike just in case? Do I nee-d a knife?.
I quic-kly duck into the bathroom and gr-ab one of my razors, the closest thing to a weapon, and holding it in one hand like I’m about to br@ndish someone with it, I put my hand on the knob and gently open the door.
It doesn’t creak. Everything creaks in this old house but for once the door opens silently and I’m able to take a few cautious steps inside the room.
It’s completely dark inside, so I keep the door open so the light from the hall is able to flow in, a sp©tlight on his legs that ba-rely illuminates the rest of him.
He’s slee-ping, I think. He’s motionless anyway, though I can see the rise and fall of his che-st. He’s on his back, which in hindsight wasn’t the best place to leave him since he might have gotten sick in the night and choked.
I realize I’m staring at him like a total creeper, mesmerized by his face even in the low light, the way that the shadows catch the hollows of his cheeks, the depth of his brows, the sharp angles of his jaw.
Then he stirs, just a little.
“Korkort?” I whisper, not wanting to startle him. “Mr. Sverige?”
He mumbles something in some language, his eyes still closed.
“I don’t want to alarm you,” I continue. “Just know that you’re safe and sound.”
God, do I ever sound like a moron.
I reach out and t©uçh his foot.
His very long, very large foot. It sticks straight up off the be-d like an Easter Island monolith.
He twitches.
I should probably st©p tou-ching his foot.
“Who is that?”
The voice makes me yelp, jump off my feet.
I wh!paround to see Callum in the doorway, ru-bbing his eyes and staring at the man.
Then I wh!pright back in time to see the man wake up.
Sit up.
Sees me.
Sees Callum.
Starts yelling.
I don’t un-derstand him, but he is pissed and being pissed in a foreign language always sounds worse.
“Callum go back to your room!” I yell at him, waving him away frantically before I approach the guy, my hands raised, but of course one of my hands is holding the razor and it’s gleaming in the light from the hallway like a guillotine blade about to fall.
The man’s eyes wi-den and he moves back, rattling the headboard and somewhere down the hall I can hear doors open.
Oh cra-p. So much for keeping this un-der wra-ps.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” I say, trying to sound as-suring though my voice is cracking like thin ice.
“Then why do you have a razor?” he says, speaking English now. That same perfect English from yesterday, his accent seeming to melt away though his voice is booming.
I stare at the razor for a moment while he keeps talking, “Where am I? Did I have an accident?”
I shake my head. “No. No you’re fine. You’re safe.”
“I’d feel safer if you dropped that weapon,” he says, nodding at the razor, his words sounding more polished as he calms down.
I nod and can’t figure out where to put it. I don’t want to put it in the bathroom because I feel like he’ll make a run for it when I do and the last thing I want is for this stranger to come barrelling down the hallway into everyone else.
And I don’t want to put it on the be-dside table behind him in case this was a tactic on his behalf and then he’ll be the one armed with the razor. And I’m definitely not giving it to Callum who I can tell is still standing right behind me.
So I chuck it across the room where it hits the window and drops to the floor.
“Callum don’t walk over there,” I tell him, still keeping my eyes on Korkort.
“Where am I?” Korkort repeats.
“You’re in our house,” Callum says.
“What is going on in here?” Now it’s Thyme behind me. “Who is he?” she g@sps.
I turn to look at her standing there in her pajamas. “Thyme, take Callum to the kitchen now. plea-se. And wake up Pike while you’re at it.”
“I’m alre-ady up,” Pike says, not sounding impressed, not looking impressed. He comes into the room, arms crossed, eyes fixed dangerously on the stranger, Rosemary right behind him.
That doesn’t put the stranger at ease. He immediately gets to his feet and everyone kind of goes whoa and takes a step back.
Even though I know he’s tall, he’s just such a looming, formidable pres£nce, he commands the entire room.
“I nee-d someone to tell me what the…” Sverige pauses, looks at Callum, “heck is going on here before I call the police.”
“You should be grateful I didn’t call the police on you last night,” I can’t help but retort.
The man flin-ches slightly, a cloudy look coming across his eyes.
“Now, if everyone will just calm down and I’ll explain,” I go on. “This is Mr. Sverige,” I announce to everyone behind me, gesturing to him. “Mr. Sverige is staying at my h0tel.” And at that, a look of realization washes over his face, slowly at first, then like he’s been doused in cold water. I clear my throat. “I was with Annette at the bar last night and recognized him. He wasn’t feeling very well, to put it mildly, so I decided the best bet would be to bring him back here so he could, well, sleep it off.”
I’m pretty sure my mother would have sugar-coated this whole situation to everyone, maybe to spare potential embarras-sment on his behalf, but I’ve never been good at sugar-coating.
“Why didn’t you take him back to his h0tel?” Rosemary asks.
I lock eyes with him. Even in the dim light, they’re the kind of eyes you get lost in.
Not here, I remind myself. Stay on task.
“Because,” I say carefully. “The h0tel doesn’t like the staff and the guests to mingle outside of work hours. I could have gotten in trouble.”
The guy nods, swallowing thickly. I watch his Adam’s apple bob in his n£¢k and feel a low hum in my core.
“Everyone up to speed now?” I ask in such a way that’s basically telling everyone to get out.
I turn to look at them with wild eyes to coax them on their way. Rosemary and Thyme and Callum are still staring at Sverige, both fascinated and scared by him.
With a grumble, Pike goes in front of them and attempts to make them backup, ushering them into the hallway.
“You might as well wake up April too,” I call after them.
“April never c@m£ home last night,” Rosemary informs me as she disappears into the hall.
“I think I should go,” the guy says, quic-kly gr-abbing his leather jacket from the chair, though he wo-bbles on his feet just enough to make him quic-kly sit back down on the be-d.
I stare at him in confusion trying to make s-en-se of two things at once. “No, I’ll drive you,” I tell him abs£ntly while my mind goes over what Rosemary said. April didn’t come home last night? Why is no one more worried about this? Why am I the last to hear of it?
“I can get a cab,” he says, searching his leather jacket pockets for his phone. When he finally locates it, he swears. “$h!t.” It looks dead.
“It’s not a problem,” I tell him. “I brou-ght you here, it’s only fair I take you back.”
He looks up at me, his forehead creasing, and for the first time I feel like I’m really looking at him and he’s really looking at me. We see each other, not in some awkward n-ked encounter or drun!ken mishap, but actually as two people, two strangers brou-ght together in the strangest of circu-mtances.
“Is this your house?” he asks after a moment, breaking his gaze to glance at his blank phone again.
“Well I live here, so yeah,” I tell him.
“And those are your…kids?”
“Siblings,” I tell him, not wanting to get into it. “I’m the oldest.”
He nods. “I see.” He’s staring at his hands now, shaking his head ever so slightly. “I’m really sorry for what happened last night. If I…if I hurt anyone, if I did anything, I can make it right.”
“Hurt anyone?” His words make me stand up straighter.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember any of it and I was at a bar…”
“Well I can’t tell you if that was your first bar of the night or not but from what the bartender said, you took a seat at the bar, ordered a drink and that was that. You pas-sed out. Then my friend and I got there and I can confirm that you didn’t hurt anyone, you were out cold. And when the bar was closing, well it was either I bring you here or the bartender was going to call the cops to put you in a drun!ktank.”
His eyes wi-den somewhat fearfully at that. “It would have been easier for you.”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I guess because I’d seen you earlier in the day…” Pause for awkwardness. “It just didn’t feel right. Look, about that, I’m sorry I walked in on you n-ked.”
“You are?” he asks, tilting his head ever so slightly to study me throu-gh his long lashes. “I could have sworn you enjoyed that.”
Now my brows are raised.
A small smile tugs at the corner of hisl-ips.
He’s fv¢king flir-ting with me.
“It was an accident,” I tell him. “You oughta lock your door if you’re going to be strutting around your room n-ked like that and can’t hear if someone’s knocking.”
“But then I would have never met you, would I have?”
“That was scarcely a meeting.”
“Sure, but then you never would have seen me later and felt bad enough about the whole thing to actually take me to your house to sleep off the drugs.”
“Drugs?” I repeat. God, I should have figured it was drugs.
He frowns, getting back to his feet. “Prescription drugs,” he says emphatically. “I, uh, took a pill or two I probably shouldn’t have and then had something to drink, which I most definitely shouldn’t have. The combination has been known to knock me out before. I’m not sure what I was thinking.”
He stares past me at the wall and for a moment I think he’s judging the stained and peeling wallpaper of my parent’s neglected old be-droom but then I realize he’s lost in his thoughts, his gorgeous eyes running throu-gh an array of emotions I can’t sort throu-gh.
“Well don’t worry too much about it,” I reas-sure him. “You weren’t much of a problem at all.”
I don’t want to tell him that I felt strangely compelled to take care of him all night. That even though our encounter previously was anything but S-xual and ro-mantic, I couldn’t st©p thinking about him.
Even now, with him standing here in this room, pu-lling on that worn, bu-tter-soft leather jacket over those thick arms, those broad shoulders, I wish there was something I could do to make him stay longer.
I’m no longer holding onto a razor blade, he no longer seems like a dangerous stranger. I actually want to get to know him because even from this brief time I can tell there’s a lot more to this man.
Behind the movie star good looks, there’s a man with a story, the kind you want to pu-ll up a chair and get lost in.
I cough awkwardly, suddenly aware of how I’ve been staring at him. “Well, Mr. Sverige, I guess I’ll take you on your way.”
“Thank you, Miss America,” he answers.
I give him a funny look. “Where are you from anyway?”
“You don’t know?” he asks.
“I couldn’t figure it out,” I tell him. Then my expression turns sheepish. “Which reminds me, I better go get your wallet.”
“My wallet?” he asks in surprise.
I point to his boots at the foot of the be-d before I head out of the room. “Your boots are there. Let me just gr-ab it.”
He starts to sit down at the end of the be-d and I quic-kly scamper to my room to gr-ab his wallet.
Pike reaches out to gr-ab me just as I curl my hands around the leather and come back into the hall.
“What are you doing, Maggie?” he asks in a hush, pu-lling me toward him.
“I’m taking him to the h0tel, chill out.” I shrug myself out of his grasp.
“I’m coming with you.”
I look him over. He’s always been protective, but this is on another level. “I’ll be fine. He’s not going to murder me.”
Not the best choice of words. They hang in the air between us.
“Don’t joke about $h!t like that,” he grumbles, his dark brows knit together. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“You’ll never be without me,” I tell him. “I promise you that. I promised mom and dad that when I agreed to be the guardian. I’m never leaving you guys, got that?”
He sighs, running his hands down his face. Then he stares at the wallet. “How much money does he have in there?” he asks quietly.
“Why?” I ask suspiciously.
“Maybe he won’t miss it.”
My jaw nearly drops. “Are you suggesting we rob him?”
“Actually it was Callum’s suggestion.”
“What is wrong with you two? I’m helping someone and you’re suggesting I rob him while I’m at it?”
“We nee-d the money.”
“Doesn’t mean we take money from someone else. And what the hell is wrong with that kid to suggest that? Didn’t our parents raise him better than that?”
Pike shrugs. “We’ll find out at the teacher meeting.”
“Everything okay?” comes Sverige’s de-ep voice as he turns the corner, staring at us openly.
“Fine,” I say quic-kly, glaring at Pike and his audacity before whirling around to hand Sverige his wallet. “Here you go. I was only holding onto it as collateral. In case you turned out to be a psychopath or something.”
He takes the wallet from me, our f!ngersbrushing against each other for a second that seemed extra-long and drawn out in my head.
“It’s all in there,” I tell him, nodding at it.
He holds it in his hands for a moment before he says, “I trust you” and sli-ps it into his jacket pocket.
“We better go,” I say, eyeing Pike to step out of the way.
“Are you going to get changed or drive him in that robe?” Pike asks.
I sigh. “Hold on. Stay there. Pike, be nice.”
I turn and run into the room and pu-ll on pajama p@n-ts and a sweater in seconds, returning to the hall to see them both where I left them, staring at each other awkwardly.
Pike looks at me. “Any idea where April is anyway?”
I shake my head with a gro-an . This isn’t the first time April hasn’t come home but even so, we’re going to have to find her soon. “Have you texted her?”
“Of course,” he says. “Called her too. No answer. And the messages are getting delivered.”
“She’s probably slee-ping,” I say. And I hate that I think I know where.
I head down the stairs with the foreigner right behind me, his footsteps surprisingly light on the steps. Now that he’s up and about, not drugged, not n-ked, he moves with a regal kind of elegance.
His b©dy seems to glide effortlessly throu-gh the space in front of it with a kind of confidence I can only dream of.
I bet he’s a fantastic lay, the thought flits throu-gh my head. I don’t bat it away.
“Nice house,” he says as we head down the hall toward the kitchen. I glance at him over my shoulder to see him looking over the walls, the crooked paintings, the old ph0tos in broken frames.
“It’s really not,” I tell him, hoping if we move fast enough past the kitchen no one will st©p us.
No luck.
“Hey,” Callum practically yells at us as I pas-s by the kitchen and the foreigner decides to st©p in the doorway and peer inside at the scene.
“Callum, be polite,” I warn, trying to glare at him over the guy’s mas-sive frame and failing miserably, even on my ti-p toes.
The guy moves over so it’s the both of us in the doorway now and Callum, Thyme and Rosemary are sitting around the kitchen table with bowls of No Name Flakes of Corn. Callum is holding the container of sugar like a weapon, poised over the cereal and re-ady to let loose.
“What’s your name?” Callum asks him, ignoring me.
“It’s Mr. Sverige and I’m afraid we have to go,” I get in quic-kly. “Thyme, don’t let him put that sugar in his cereal, do you un-derstand?” I place my hand gently on Sverige’s bicep. It’s ha-rd . So ha-rd . “It’s a tra-p. We should go.”
“A tra-p?” he asks, glancing down at me and there’s such inti-mate curiosity in his eyes that I suddenly feel h0t un-der my skin, realizing the two of us are standing rather close to each other, and I’m tou-ching him.
I have trouble swallowing, my eyes focused on hisl-ips. “Yeah,” I say softly, knowing I should take my hand away.
“She thinks we’re going to say something embarras-sing,” Thyme says, almost proudly. It’s enough to tear my eyes away from him and fix them on her, warning. My hand drops to my side.
“She’ll have an aneurysm,” Callum adds, and I know I have to get this guy out of here before my brother starts talking about the other words he learned.
“Come on,” I tell him, nodding down the hall.
“Okay, Miss America,” he says and I’m both flattered and confused by the nickname. “Very nice to meet you all,” he says to them in his polished voice. “I bid thee farewell.”
I give him an odd look at that one and as we continue down the hall I can hear Rosemary repeat to the others, mimicking his accent, “I bid thee farewell?”
“So, where are you from again?” I ask him as we head out to the minivan. I don’t think he ever told me.
“I thought you knew,” he says and st©ps in front of the van. “Is this your vehicle?”
I can’t tell if he’s being judgey or not, his damn poise and accent are ma-king it difficult, as well as the fact that he said vehicle instead of car. “Yes, get in, your highness.”
His face goes white. He blinks at me. Is he having a seizure? The drugs kicking in again?
“Are you okay?” I ask.
He nods slowly, goes around to the side of the van and opens the pas-s£nger door.
“Why did you call me that?” he asks evenly as he sits down.
I shrug as I get in my seat and buckle up. “Because you looked like you were judging my ride, just as you were probably judging my house.”
“Your ride?” He frowns at me. “I would never do that. I wasn’t judging. I was interested in your house, that’s all. I like it. It’s charming. It’s got life.”
He’s so sincere I can’t help but believe him.
Good lord, he’s so gorgeous and yet so, so odd.
“Okay, good.” I sigh, turn the key and the van gives a bit of a cough and rumble before it purrs to life. “Sorry. I get defensive sometimes.”
He presses hisl-ips together, frowning. Those eyes of his Sk-irt over every inch of my face, studying me. My stomach does a backfli-p. I can’t remember the last time a man–hell, anyone–looked at me this way. “You know, it was really nice of you to do what you did,” he finally says
🌹Chapter 10🌹
Maggie’s POV
“No worries. I guess I felt guilty for seeing you, uh, vulnerable and stuff,” I tell him as I bring the van onto the road, not comfortable with all this sincerity.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch a small smile on his mouth. “I didn’t mind at all.”
Nor should you, I think to myself trying not to smile in return.
“Anyway, so what are you doing here in ol’ Tehachapi? It’s not exactly the forefront of culture and civilization.”
He li-cks hisl-ips just enough that I see the ti-p of his pink ton-gue, then turns his attention out the window. “I was just pas-sing throu-gh when my car broke down on the highway. About thirty minutes east of here. Middle of the desert. That was a day.”
“What’s wrong with it? You know my brother works as a mechanic, he could help you out. You know, if you nee-d it.”
“We’ll see. I’ve been trying to fix it myself for the last few days,” he says with a shrug. “I think I nee-d a new carburetor.”
“You can fix cars too?”
“What? don’t I look like I can?”
Well, no. Not with his elegant mannerisms, the way he holds himself, the fit of his clothes.
It looks like he pays people to do everything for him and yet there’s not an arrogant thing about him. A bit of c0ckiness from the way he bites hisl-ip, a confidence that comes in knowing he looks like a god but arrogance no.
I end up shrugging. “I don’t know, I don’t know a thing about cars to be honest.”
“Well I do,” he says, almost defensively. “Been working on cars ever since I was a child helping, uh, my father’s friends with them. The problem with this car is it’s an old car, a mustang, 1965. Those p@rts take time, yes. Might be here for a bit longer.”
Is it crazy that I’m relieved that he’s staying in this town for longer? It is crazy.
“Don’t you have somewhere you nee-d to be? Where were you headed?”
“Los Angeles,” he says. “And no, I have nowhere I nee-d to be. I’m…on vacation. For another week. Then I fly out of Los Angeles and back to Stockholm.”
“Stockholm? So you’re Swedish!” I knew it.
“Is that a surprise, Miss America?” he says, adjusting his seat to give his long legs more room. “You’ve been calling me Mr. Sweden this whole time.”
“Korkort Sverige,” he says.
“Isn’t that your name?”
He breaks into a grin, a movie star smile that shows off perfect white teeth, ma-king him look simultaneously younger and even more handsome.
My b©dy is reacting to this fas-ter than my br@in can, my breath catching in my throat, my heart thumps ha-rder in my che-st.
“Sverige means Sweden in Swedish,” he says. “Korkort means driver’s license. I’m afraid you’ve been calling me Mr. Swedish driver’s license.”
I bur-st out laughing. “You’re kidding me.”
“I’m not,” he says. “I quite enjoy it.”
“So what is your name?”
“It’s…,” he pauses, “Johan. Johan Andersson.”
Just like it said on his license, I just thought that was where he lived or something. He’s also pronouncing the “J” like a “Y.”
“Well don’t I look like the horse’s as-s,” I remark.
He frowns quizzically. “You have a very nice as-s. Not at all like a horse.”
I’m laughing again. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”
“I would never joke about a nice as-s,” he says, straight-faced though his eyes have a mischievous slant. “Miss America.”
“You can st©p calling me that now.”
“Let me think about it. What is your real name?”
“Maggie. Maggie McPherson.”
“Is that so?”
He extends his hand to me. I stare at it in surprise for a moment before I take my hand off the wheel and give him mine. My hand is so damn tiny in his and when he envelopes it with his strong, warm f!ngers, it practically disappears. “It’s an honor to meet you, Maggie McPherson.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Johan Andersson. Though I must admit, I got used to calling you Korkort Sverige.”
“You can call me anything you want,” he says.
And, oh, dear god, is he flir-ting with me? Maybe. I feel like he’s holding onto my hand for longer than he maybe should, even though I also want him to never let go.
As if he s-en-ses this, he lets go of my hand and brings it back to his l@p, looking almost chagrined as he stares out the window at the town as it pas-ses us by.
I’m about to ask what kind of business he’s in when a text on my phone beeps in. I quic-kly glance at it. It’s Pike. Says: Still no sign of her.
Meaning April.
“What is it?” Sverige–sorry, Johan–says, watching me.
My jaw feels like it’s been clamped together. I wiggle it open and try to give him a smile. “My sister. April. She’s fourteen and she didn’t come home last night.”
“fv¢k,” he swears, his accent seeming to thicken as he does so. “That can’t be good.”
“She’s done this before,” I tell him, just so he doesn’t suggest we go to the police or something. “Once she was at a girlfriend’s house after p@rtying all night, or so she says. I’ve always thought differently though.”
He looks at me expectantly. “Does she have a b©yfri£nd?”
I nod. “Yes,” I say grimly. “And he’s the biggest douchebag on the planet. In fact, he lives just over there.” I nod up ahead at a long dusty road that leads into the hills.
I was planning on dropping off the Sweden and then cruising past the d!¢khead’s house on the way back home, hoping to find April but suddenly I’ve fli-pped on my indicator and I’m ma-king a turn.
This is either going to be a good idea or a very, very bad one.
“Are we paying him a visit?” the Swede asks, brows raised as I bring the van on the bu-mpy road that might lead toward April.
I should feel bad that I’m not only delaying dropping off this guy but now I’m somehow involving him in my problems, but I guess I just feel safer with him in the van.
April’s supposed b©yfri£nd, a guy that everyone calls Tito, isn’t a tall guy, but he’s big and he’s vicious. He’s one over 40 away from getting a face tattoo.
“I just want to see if she’s there,” I tell him. “Won’t take a second.”
A few beats pas-s, and I can tell he’s mulling something over. Finally, he asks, his voice lower, “What do your parents think about all of this?”
I stiffen. This question. This fv¢king question.
And of course, he means no harm by it. No one ever does.
And yet this question always rips me ap@rt at the seams.
“They’re dead,” I tell him bluntly. No use softening the b!ow.
The more you soften it, the more they’ll treat you with kid gloves, like you’re some fragile snowflake moments from melting. Sometimes I am, but not today.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he says.
And that’s all he says.
His voice carries weight and gravity to it, that shows he un-derstands and if he doesn’t un-derstand, he at least cares enough to try. But the simplicity of his response is freeing. I don’t have to explain a thing.
We drive in silence for a few minutes, my br@in jumping from one thing to the next. What I’m going to do when I find the house, if I’m going to get out and knock on the door, if I’m just going to park outside and wait and see.
What I’ll say to April? Will I be quiet and stern, dripping with the disappointment that my father was so good at doling out? Or will I yell and scream, like my mother might have when she lost her temper?
Then it’s focusing on him, this gorgeous specimen of a man who is in my car and filling the space with his quiet energy and his inquisitive eyes and his strong, capable pres£nce. I shouldn’t feel this comfortable with someone I don’t really know, and yet I am.
Or maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. I’m not exactly relaxed by him. My pulse is racing, my cheeks feel h0t, my skin is dancing like electricity is flowing throu-gh the air. There’s tension between us, maybe something that exists only in my head, but it exists all the same. I haven’t felt a push-pu-ll with anyone in…well, ever. Not like this.
You’re a sad, sad girl, I tell myself. This guy is not only pas-sing throu-gh, on vacation, but he’s way out of your league and way too good for you.
fv¢k. The truth hurts.
For a moment there I forgot who I was.
I slow the car down in front of the house without even realizing I’m doing it.
Tito’s house is blue, faded from the sun, two stories high and nestled in a crop of dead pines. Five junk cars and an old station wagon litter the driveway, along with piles of garbage bags. Broken glas-s twi-nkles in the overgrown weeds that flank the gravel path to the house.
“This is it?” the Sweden whispers as I park the car across the street. I can’t bring myself to think of him as Johan, somehow it doesn’t fit. “Doesn’t seem like the right place to raise children.”
I give him a sour smile. “He’s nineteen. Lives here with a bunch of other losers.”
“Isn’t that illegal? Your sister is fourteen, yes?”
“Yeah. It’s illegal if…I don’t want to think about it.” I sigh, closing my eyes for a moment because there is a well of emotions inside me that are bubbling up and I know I’m about to unload on him.
I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t. This guy just wants to go back to the h0tel, back to his car, back to his country.
And yet…
“Honestly, I just don’t know what to do anymore,” I tell him, shaking my head and then it all spills out. “And I feel like so much of it is my fault. The moment I was done high school and I saved up enough to leave this $h!thole, I was out of here. I just left, and I didn’t look back. For those years I was in New York…I was in New York, by the way, studying at NYU, I just kind of forgot where I c@m£ from. I was a bad sister. A bad daughter.”
Oh $h!t. Am I going to cry? I look up at the roof of the van and blink back any tears. “I didn’t check in with the family much, not as much as I should have, I was just so immersed with living this new life, trying to be the person I always dreamed I could be. I had no idea what was going on at home. The wedge between April and I grew stronger. I st©pped knowing who she was, knowing the person she was growing into. Then, then my parents died, and I was back here, and I was thrû-st into the middle of this…this family that was mine and wasn’t mine at the same time. And we’re hurting, you know? We’re all hurting and we’re sad and we’re picking up the pieces and yet we’re also drifting even further ap@rt. Now I look at April and I don’t just see my sister, I see a stranger. And she hates me.”
I take a moment to catch my breath, my heart is racing even fas-ter than before. There’s silence in the van except for the sound of the engine ticking. I sneak a glance at the Sweden.
He’s watching me with this quiet intensity in his eyes and sympathy etched in his brow.
“It sounds like you’re doing the best you can,” he says and though his voice is soft, it emits a low, de-ep rumble I feel in my bones. “You shouldn’t be so ha-rd on yourself.”
He might be right. But if I’m not ha-rd on myself then how will I ever get better? Be better? I have to be ha-rd on myself in order to grow. I’m in charge of this family now and to fail is…not an option.
I open my mouth to tell him this but a movement by the house catches my eye.
I crane my n£¢k past him to see the front door opening and April stepping out, walking toward the station wagon in the driveway.
Her dark hair is hanging in her face, she’s wearing the same jeans and cardigan I saw her in yesterday, dirt canvas on her feet.
“There she is,” I say, and before I know it, I’m getting out of the van and storming across the street toward her. I hope the Swede has enough pres£nce of mind to stay in the car while I deal with this.
“April,” I bark and in seconds I know I’m not taking my dad’s role of quiet disappointment, but my mom’s volcanic one.
She j£rks back in surprise, st©pping in her tracks by broken beer bottles. “What are you doing here?” she says, and I watch as her eyes go from shocked to anger.
Anger that I’ve intruded into this p@rt of her life, anger that I have the nerve to act like her parent.
“You didn’t come home last night,” I tell her, doing my best to keep my voice steady, to keep my emotions in check.
Think like dad, think like dad.
“So?” she answers defiantly. Hands go to her h!ps, hair gets fli-pped over her shoulder.
This is not going to be easy.
“So we were worried first of all,” I tell her, “and second of all, what are you doing here? You know you can’t spend the night anywhere without telling me first, especially not here!”
“If I told you, you wouldn’t have let me come.”
“I know, no one in their right mind would have,” I tell her and reach out, gr-abbing her arm. “But now you’re coming back home with me.”
“Whatever,” she says, ripping herself out of my grasp and fixing the most bitter, damaging eyes on me, the kind that really tells me how much she hates me. “You can’t make me.”
The front door to the house opens and Tito steps outside, immediately walking toward me with enough posturing and br@vado to make me think he’s going to fv¢k me up. “What the fv¢k is going on? fv¢king, Maggie McPherson. You’re looking good.”
“Yeah hi, Tito, just claiming my fourteen-year-old sister here,” I tell him, reaching for her again.
“fv¢k off,” April swears, immediately going behind the wall of Tito. “We’re going to the mall.”
“The mall?” I repeat. “The mall? There is no damn mall in this town.”
“There is in Bako,” Tito says, taking a step toward me. “She’d like some new clothes for school. Do you know how she gets bullied for wearing that $h!t you dress her in?”
“I don’t dress her!” What the fv¢k. I look at April. “Bullied?”
She shrugs. “I’m tired of wearing second-hand $h!t. Tito is going to buy me a whole new wardrobe.”
“Oh yeah, and what are you giving him in return?”
“fv¢k you,” April says.
Oh, I am seconds away from saying “fv¢k you too” but I can’t, I can’t. I have to push throu-gh this, be the better person, the older person, the guardian, the parent. fv¢k, even the wise older sister will do.
I j£rk my head to the van. “plea-se, April. Now.”
“She’s not going,” Tito says putting his hand on my shoulder and pushing me until I have to take a step back. “You’re not her fv¢king mother.”
That shouldn’t sting but it does. It does enough that I forget to be afraid that he just fv¢king t©uçhed me.
“I’m her legal guardian,” I eke out the words, trying to hold back tears. “She’s coming with me.”
“Go home, Maggie,” April says but now her tone is quiet and unsure. She actually looks a little scared until she pushes her hair into her face and hides behind him again.
“Yeah go fv¢king home you little bit-ch,” Tito says, getting in my face. He reeks like pot, his eyes are bloodsh0t, his forehead pale and sweating. I don’t care if I have to call the cops, but I am not leaving my sister here with him. She can hate me for the rest of my life, but I’m not backing down.
“Are you okay, Maggie?” I hear a voice from behind me and my stomach ti-ght£ñs. I look over my shoulder to see the Sweden stri-ding over to us. And while the sight of his gloriously tall and commanding frame coming this way feels something like a knight in shining armor, I know this isn’t going to go well.
“What the fv¢k?” Tito snarls as he takes in the stranger. “Who the fv¢k is this?”
“A friend.” The Sweden c0cks his head, st©pping right beside me, observing Tito like an animal at the zoo. “And who might you be?”
“fv¢k off,” Tito says though I pick up slight hesitation in his voice. The Sweden towers over him and though Tito is packed with muscle, I know, personally, the Swede is too.
“Not the best manners,” the Sweden says, pretending to wipe spit off his face.
“Who is this?” hisses April as she looks him up and down.
“This is Mr. Sverige,” I tell them because, $h!t, in my panic I’ve forgotten his real name. “A friend of mine.”
Having him here now gives me the courage to step around Tito and reach for April again.
She shrinks back but I see the fear in her face again, like she’s acting out of her own control and now Tito is stepping to the side, his che-st blocking my view, his meaty, dirty hand on my shoulder and shoving me back.
“She doesn’t want to—”
Before Tito can finish his s£ntence, the Sweden is placing his hands on Tito’s shoulder and shoving him back. He shoves him back so ha-rd that he stumbles and almost goes down on the ground.
“fv¢k!” Tito yells, throwing his arms out, one of his arms colliding with April on her che-st and knocking her over.
She yelps as she falls and I scamper over to her just as Tito lunges himself at the Sweden.
“You fv¢k!” Tito roars, trying to tackle him, arms out, head first, but the Swede is quic-k and steps out of the way rather effortlessly.
But instead of just avoiding contact, he then brings his elbow down on the back of Tito’s head and the guy goes down in a second, sprawled out on the gravel.
“Oh my god,” I say, and the Sweden meets my eyes, breathing ha-rd and looking somewhat ashamed. “Is he–?”
But my question is answered before I can finish my s£ntence.
Like the T-1000, Tito is suddenly up on his feet, coming to life again before my very eyes. The Sweden ba-rely has the time to turn around before Tito is throwing a punch, getting him in the corner of his jaw.
I yell something.
April yells something.
The Sweden ba-rely reacts except for the look of pure fire in his eyes.
With one ha-rd , smooth swing he punches Tito square in the face, ma-king him spin and tumble to the ground yet again. He lands with a gro-an , head in his hands, trying feebly to get to his feet and failing.
The Swede shakes his hand out, wincing, and then looks around with a wild look in his eyes. “We should go, yes?”
I stare down at Tito. He seems okay but…
“Tito,” April cries out pitifully, re-ady to fall to her knees by him like Broken Juliet over Thvg Romeo but I gr-ab her by the arm and yank her toward the van.
“He’ll be fine,” I tell her, my nails desperately digging into her cardigan.
“We nee-d to go,” the Sweden says again and I’m wondering why he looks so cagey. Maybe getting busted for fighting when you’re a foreigner means him getting deported, who knows. But I don’t want to stick around here either.
“I don’t want to go with you!” April yells at me, tears in her eyes, and for a second, I am struck with the de-epest fear; what if she runs off? What if she physically won’t go? I’m only five-foot-four, she’s an inch shorter, I have more muscle, but she can fight like a wild, cornered animal.
If she’s not scared of me, of my discipline, if she doesn’t care and hates me and is full of spite, how will I survive this? How will I survive the next four years?
But for some reason—praise the Lord—she relents. She lets me take her over to the van and I watch with my breath in my mouth as she clim-bs in the backseat, worried that at the last minute she’s going to bail.
She doesn’t. The door slides to a close with a punctuated cli-ck.
I let out a long, shaking breath and look up at the Sweden who is standing right at my side.
“I am so sorry you had to see that,” I tell him, my voice small.
“That you had to witness that and do that.”
I glance at his knuckles that are raw and bleeding. “$h!t.”
He quic-kly glances at his hand and
🌸T. B. C 🌸