Sand Trails Ch 26: Can of Worms

He’d first heard it from his sister, whom was babbling about it between classes when they’d crossed paths. She had sounded very excited about it, and was scolding herself for never thinking of it. Then he overheard his brother complaining that Sakura had ditched him after school and was in talking to their father about it.

Why Kankuro cared if Sakura ditched him at any point in his life, Gaara neither understood nor asked for clarification for.

But he did want to know why Sakura was talking about enrolling in the early graduation program. Did they even have such a thing?

Regardless, he was waiting when she finally stepped out of the principal’s office. “Sakura.”

“Gaara-kun?” Blinking, she pulled the door closed behind her. “Oh, is Kankuro putting you up to this? Because I already told your brother I was sorry for cancelling the study date.”

He blinked. Oh, so that’s why he was upset. “No,” he replied bluntly.

Pink brows bunched together. Sakura tilted her head. “Are you here to walk me home? Cuz I gotta go.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll walk you home.”

He got a brilliant smile in return.

He frowned faintly. What did that mean? “It’s not far,” he muttered, starting down the hall.

“I know,” she replied, “but it’s nice to have someone to talk to on the way.”

The redhead thought about that for a moment, then jerked his head into something resembling half a nod. “Yeah,” he agreed quietly.

The two of them meandered through the halls, walking in peaceful silence. Eventually, Sakura had gotten used to hanging out with Gaara. After being friends to both Ino and Naruto for so long, it had been a shock to find herself a friend, if not the only friend, of Gaara who barely spoke even when prompted. It was interesting; sometimes restful, sometimes stressful. It was hard to know what he was thinking.

They paused only once, at her locker to pick up a few books and belongings, and then they were out in the Suna sun.

Scrunching up her eyes, she grumbled about forgetting her sunglasses again. She’d never get used to the sun here. Then again, if her plans went through, she wouldn’t have to.

There was the other reason why she wasn’t talking much. As a friend, she had to tell him. However, it didn’t take a genius to know how Gaara would react to her leaving town. Permanently.

Meanwhile, Gaara himself was thinking about what he’d heard from Temari. The early grad program. His eyes slid over, catching the pensive look on her face. What was she thinking about? Her boyfriend? Her friends in Konoha? How much she wanted to be there, and not here?

His expression darkened a little. She was the only real friend he had. Kimimaro didn’t count. The guy mainly only talked to Gaara if they had a class together, or he was with Sakura. Coincidental and mandatory interaction only. He wasn’t hostile like the rest… but he wasn’t overly friendly either.

“You want to leave.” It was the first time in years that he had just blurted something out, but he didn’t bother trying to take it back.

Sakura stumbled. That was… “No! Well, yes…” Oh, perfect. She turned wide eyes towards him. Damage control! “I like Suna. It’s beautiful. But it’s not my home.”

He looked away, at the sandy street they walked on, and the multitude of well-insulated, fortified homes lining it. Like stone barriers standing silently in the mid-afternoon sun. “Konoha is,” he murmured.

“Yeah.” What else was there to say? Konoha was her home. She didn’t leave it on purpose nor willingly. Choice wasn’t an option. But now… Now she had a chance. “I’m going to apply for the early grad program.” She bit her lip and looked at him. “So… If all goes to plan, I’ll be out of here next fall.”

Gaara stopped walking, something tightening in his chest. That was soon. Very soon. “Oh,” he choked out after a beat. He couldn’t really think of anything else to say. What did you say to the only person that had ever tried to be your friend, telling you that they were going away forever?

It was like she kicked the puppy and drowned it. Then brought it back to life… Only to tell it that its littermates had been made into coats and that it was only good enough to be made into a handbag.

“Hey, how about you come over to my house today? Hang out for a bit. You can finally tell me what you think of my friends from… from the picnic. You got to talk to Naruto for a bit right? Did you get a chance to ask about his pets?” When in doubt, ramble? Sakura crossed her fingers.

“No,” he replied, and started walking again. “He told me. Without me asking. He talked a lot.”

That was the blond alright. Sakura breathed a little easier and nodded. “He probably invited you over for ramen too, didn’t he?” Suna didn’t have ramen. It was best Naruto never found that out, he’d drag her home out of pure horror. She could imagine his reaction, ‘No RAMEN?’

“No,” Gaara repeated. He could see her house now; they were almost there. He trailed to a stop on the street corner. “Sakura.”

“Yes?” She turned to face him.

For a moment, he didn’t actually say anything. Then he shook his head. “It’s nothing. Never mind.” He sighed. “I should get going.”

“You’re not coming in?” she asked with a sinking heart. They were going to talk, hang out, eat food…

The redhead frowned at her. She was giving him those eyes, the puppy dog ones that seemed to make him do whatever it was she wanted. And they were working. He sighed. “Alright, for a little while,” he conceded grumpily.

Okay, she knew this. It was common knowledge. It was Gaara after all. He didn’t do well with physical contact. Especially out in the public. She didn’t care. Sakura squealed and half tackled him in order to give him the hug that he deserved.

He stiffened at first (random bright female hugging me!) but then relaxed a little. Just a little. And then he grabbed her by the waist and tugged her back, scowling. “Women,” he muttered, and huffily walked past her.

Grinning ear to ear, Sakura trailed along after him. “Men,” she called back, giggling when he didn’t respond.

The march up to the door was otherwise silent, though Sakura was exuding happiness like a miniature sun, so much so that Gaara could feel it despite her walking behind him. Women, he repeated mentally, and stopped by the door. Naiyuri-san wouldn’t be back from work yet, so Sakura had to open the door.

The pink-haired girl behind him chuckled and she stepped up beside him, slotting the key into the lock. “What would you like to eat?” she asked as she opened the door.

“Pickled radishes,” he replied, knowing exactly what sort of face she’d make.

Not to disappoint, Sakura gave him an incredulous look and eloquently stated her opinion. “Ugh.”

Still, she led the way into the house, leaving her shoes in the hall. “You are the only reason my mother buys that,” she declared loudly. “Just. Ew.”

Directing a tiny smirk at her back, he toed off his sneakers and made sure there was no sand on his pants before going further into the house. “Temari is of the same opinion,” he replied. “Kankuro and I like them.”

“Then you and Kankuro are the sole reason there is any of that in the whole of… of Suna!”

“So does Tosan,” he remarked. “And I’ve seen Kimimaro with some before.”

Groaning, Sakura marched into the kitchen and grumbled as she snatched the jar from the front the fridge. “Maybe it’s a genetic thing then. Only the men pick it up. And in the case of Kimi, there’s liking it and eating it because it’s good for you.”

He shrugged. “Right. We’ll go with that.” He walked over to the table and prodded a chair as if it would bite him, then sat down in it.

Pointedly.

Giving him a flat glare was like looking at his spider. He saw her. He saw the expression. It just didn’t trigger any of the flight or fight responses so many of her friends experienced.

Sakura narrowed her eyes at him and huffed. The quick grin that appeared threw him off a little bit at least. With a sigh and a rueful shake of the head, she went about grabbing a dish and serving her friend. He could throw all the attitude he wanted, at least he wasn’t running.

The redhead eyed her as she moved about the kitchen. “Psychotic.”

“Uh huh,” she murmured absently.

“Your friends,” he clarified. “You said I should tell you what I thought. You fit in well.”

Stilling with her hands hovering over the pickled bits of grossness, Sakura let that sink in. “‘Scuse me?”

“Your friends are psychotic,” he repeated, nonplussed when her face fell into a dark scowl. “As in crazy. Insane. Slightly off the wall.”

She stalked up to him. “Where do you get off making fun of my friends?!” she demanded irately.

He blinked slowly at her. “They’re the ones that are crazy.”

Temper snapping, Sakura reverted to a habitual practice borne of years of knowing Naruto and Sasuke. She punched Gaara in the jaw. And then froze, feeling a similar shock akin to the one she’d had the first time she hit Itachi. Only she was pretty certain Gaara wasn’t going to like it.

Gaara, who had never had anyone try to hit him before, hadn’t dodged. Or even tried. Thus, his entire upper body jerked back with the blow. Silence. Then, a slow, wide, teeth-baring grin.

“Oh fuck.” That seemed to sum it up. “Gaara?” Maybe running would be a good idea about now… Sakura fell back into a defensive stance… and waited.

“You hit me,” he said, still grinning. His eyes were locked on her wide ones, body tense and ready to pounce. He stood slowly. “No one’s done that before.”

Taking a quick moment to mull over her responses, Sakura went with, “Do you want an apology?” Cuz, she wasn’t going to give one.

Brutal, manic honesty was the way of the day. “No.”

Typical Gaara. She narrowed her eyes and waited some more. Twenty questions was annoying.

The redhead moved, walking around her. But rather than his normal, light, quick strides, these were slow, languid and cat-like. The predator and the prey. He paced once around her, eying her. “You’re interesting,” he finally said, grinning all the more. “Kankuro usually runs and hides when I get like this. You’re fearless. Unrepentant.”

Her eyebrow had twitched once as he stepped out of her field of vision at her back, but this was Gaara. If he did turn aggressive, it would be to her front. When he came back around to her side talking, her eyes rolled to watch him.

“We’ve already agreed that Kankuro can be a little bitch sometimes,” Sakura muttered. “I prefer to be… a little more resilient.”

He took a sudden, quick step forward, foot landing a little more heavily. He watched her arms flinch upward. Not I-am-about-to-run. I-am-about-to-defend-myself. Wonderful. His grin widened, and he started circling again. “Yes,” he agreed.

“Uh huh.” And off he went again, in that goddamn circle. What was he? Kisame’s long lost cousin? “We gonna do this all afternoon?”

“Maybe,” he shot back. “Stay in Suna.”

What? “No.”

A moment passed before he finally stopped in front of her again. Still edgy, but grin somewhat dampened by disappointment. “Yes.”

If she asked ‘why’, her friend would only say she was interesting to him. If she repeated ‘no’, he would just say ‘yes’.

“Being your entertainment is not my life’s priority, Gaara,” she snapped at him.

He shook his head. “Don’t you get it? That’s not the point.”

“Then what?”

He opened his mouth, then stopped as they both heard the scrape of a key in the lock. He looked at Sakura, and grinned again. “You’re interesting. You don’t fear me.” He reached out, grabbing his bag from the floor where he’d dropped it. “You’re… special. You’re not weak.”

The front door opened, and he turned away, toward it.

“Fan-fucking-tastic.” Sakura lowered her arms, pivoting to watch his back. What the hell just happened?

Gaara stopped in the entrance, bowing slightly like usual as Naiyuri greeted him enthusiastically. “Gaara-kun! I didn’t know you’d be over today! Did you get a chance to have some of the food in the fridge? I made it for the snack…”

“My brother needs my help with a few things,” the redhead replied. “So I can’t stay. But thank you for the thought, Naiyuri-san.”

This is surreal. Gaara just walked out the door. Her mom waved at her from the hall and she smiled automatically, but her brain was running in circles and slamming into random walls.

What did it mean? To be special to Gaara?

xXx

The next morning, Gaara was waiting beside her locker, leaning against the one beside it (which happened to belong to Ukon, but he appeared to be keeping very far away). Grinning. Though not nearly as wide as the day before, or even really flashing teeth. Still, there was a nice little clearing around her locker, and him.

Feeling the attention of several dozen students and a specific pair of glittering jade eyes, Sakura huffed once and walked right up to her locker. Ignoring the whispers of the general student body should come with its own scholarship award.

She spun the dial on the lock and yanked open the aluminum, stopping it an inch from Gaara’s pale nose. “You’re in a fine mood this morning,” she ground out.

“You’re in a bad one,” he shot back. “Odd. You usually light right up when you see me, according to Temari.”

The books from her bag made a few sharp bangs as she shoved them into the compartments. “I think we can both agree, things are a little different today.”

He put her edge now. Before he was a friend that was a little stand-offish, much like Sasuke. Maybe too much so and thus her instant acceptance of him and his eccentrics. However, this part of Gaara was not like Sasuke. Actually, it was more like Hidan.

Oh shit. Following that logic…

“What does ‘special’ mean?” She blurted out, finally meeting his eyes. “Explain that. Please.”

The grin on his face inched wider, and just down the hall, there was the clatter of books falling. The redhead’s grin slipped slightly, and he leveled a glower on his suddenly frozen brother about twenty feet away. The poor guy looked like he was about to piss himself.

“Idiot,” the redhead grunted, and returned his attention to Sakura. His smile returned faintly. “Special? What does special usually mean, when pertaining to two people that aren’t related by blood?”

You have got to be kidding. “No.” Didn’t matter if that wasn’t the question he was asking. She wasn’t going there.

She swung her bag on her shoulder and snapped the locker shut.

He followed, predictably, as she started to walk away. The people around them gave the duo a wide, nervous berth. He was doing the cat-stalking thing again. “That wasn’t a yes or no question,” he pointed out needlessly. “Are you afraid of me now?”

Cutting her eyes at him, Sakura frowned at him. “It was a denial, Gaara,” she said flatly after a hallway and many students shuffling out of their way. “And I’m not afraid of you, but you are going to be disappointed if you push this.”

“Why?” he asked, picking up his pace and finally blocked her path. “You aren’t afraid of me, to the point where you don’t care about my reaction to punishment for transgressions. In fact, before today, you have actively sought me out on several occasions. Is it Uchiha, the one that’s holding you back?”

Scowling now, she brought up a finger and jabbed him in the sternum. “Me hanging out with you is what friends do! And Itachi has nothing to do with this. There’s no ‘holding me back’ shit. This is me telling you that I am not interested in more than a friendship.”

Impossible. That’s what this boy was. The same went for that widening grin. Impossible. “He has everything to do with it, Sakura. He’s your lover. You care for him, more than I’ve seen you care for anyone else, except perhaps Naruto. But where is he? Hours away. How often do you talk? Emails. Texts. The occasional phone call. Right? He’s eighteen, isn’t he? A legal adult. Could just transfer here himself. So where is he?”

“At home,” she snarled at him. “Where I will be soon as well. You know this isn’t my home. That’s why I’m leaving.”

You’re leaving. You. Why not him,” he insisted.

“Because Gaara,” Sakura shook her head, “it doesn’t make sense for him to leave everything behind. Not when I can go back. Even if we weren’t involved, I would want to go back to the city where I spent my entire life. I didn’t have a choice to come here, so of course I’d want to go back.” There was a tiny doubt though.

Would she have gone back without Itachi bringing her home? Over the last few months, she had started to accept Suna. Make new friends…

Green eyes paler and murkier than her own flickered back and forth over her face. His smile was gone. “But we like you here. I like you here. I have my sister, my brother. And you.” His tone said ‘that’s it’.

The change was too abrupt and Sakura was left blinking. “Well, yeah. I like you guys too,” she replied. “But that just shows that you can make friends. Not that I’m special.”

“No, you are special,” he said, frowning. “You’re—”

“Gaara!” Temari rounded the corner and nearly ran into them. She skidded to a stop, looking between them, and then settling her gaze on the redhead. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “Are you bothering her, Gaara?”

Waving a hand, Sakura shook her head. “No, he’s not bothering—”

BING BONG! Through the halls the two tones of the late bell sounded and Sakura sucked in a breath.

“Shit! I gotta go!”

Gaara opened his mouth, looking irritable, but his sister grabbed his shoulder and dragged him off in the opposite direction.

xXx

She managed to avoid him during lunch, simply by setting Ukon and Sakon off in his direction, saying he wanted them. Then she hid for the rest of the period. Avoiding him was impossible in Geometry, though. They had the same class.

He sat down in the seat beside hers and pulled out his homework, even as the tardy bell jangled above them. The teacher launched into the lesson, but Gaara didn’t appear to really be paying attention. He was too busy watching Sakura. Pointedly.

“No.” Would that deter him? Definitely not, but she could at least say that she had told him that. Repeatedly. She took down notes. Didn’t look at him. Unbelievable.

He just smiled at her and followed her example. Eventually, the teacher announced groups, and because the teacher was all too aware of Gaara’s tolerance level—and that of the other students—he assigned Sakura and Gaara. Gaara did not say a word about anything but the project. Though he did have a lot to say on that. More than was normal, anyway. Usually, he’d just grunt and mutter. Now he was speaking up and using two or three sentences at a time.

While she would normally encourage such a change in communication, they were well past normal, if they had ever been there in the first place. From what she knew of it, apparently there were times where one could actually relax.

Even so, Gaara seemed to be focused, helpful, and communicative. Gaara. Communicative. Profusely.

Ow, my brain. Sakura smiled. Nodded. Chatted back. And then when her nerve broke, she quietly excused herself out to the hall to think on the way to the bathroom.

He didn’t follow her.

Moody, tight-lipped, socially awkward, physically shy, and–above all–nearly mute Gaara was being a good lab partner. He wasn’t crowding her. No, he took initiative to offer answers and prodded at her to keep up with his example.

Gaara was smart. She knew that. There was depth to him, shown to her on the very first trip out into the desert where they had talked in the cave. Intellectually, she knew that if he applied himself, he would be a model student. In reality, when he was actually doing so, she was in awe.

It wasn’t until she was on her way back that it hit her. Blinking down at the smudged and scraped tiles of the hall, Sakura raked a hand through her hair. Gaara had a brain. A very agile mind that easily found applicable theories.

And he wants me to stay in Suna.

There was a clang down the hall that had her jumping and spinning, but it was only a random girl exiting a classroom for the same bathroom she had come from.

Sakura took a deep breath and marched down the hall towards class. She wasn’t afraid of him.

When she stepped through the door, Gaara was watching. Brow furrowed slightly, the blonde hairs of it all but invisible. His eyes were on her, focused. His hand held a pencil. A student nearby kept looking nervously his way, as if expecting to find that glare directed on him.

The redhead was silent until she sat down. “We won’t finish before class is over.” Though that had been obvious from the beginning.

“Yeah, I know,” she replied neutrally. Looking over the parameters of the project, it would take an hour or more.

He jerked his jaw toward the front, indicating the teacher. “He says what we don’t finish is homework.” He paused to let that sink in. “Let me come over and finish with you.”

Lifting a brow, she cast her eyes over all the work that had already been done. Light notations in Gaara’s hand littered the problems in her half of the project; she would have an easier time working off what he had started. However, that also meant that his own work was incomplete.

It made sense and he was being… reasonable. “Sure.”

He nodded and went back to what he was doing. “Your phone was buzzing.”

“Oh! Sorry.” Sakura was about to grab her bag when the teacher looked over. “Er, I’ll check later. Thanks.”

A noncommittal hum was the response she got, as he continued working. A few minutes later, the bell rang, and he got up and left without a word.

He wasn’t present for gym class, and eventually the coach got a note saying he spent the period with his father, of all people.

But after school, after most people had cleared out, and Sakura was leaving too… he was waiting at the doors.

“Gaara!” She had missed him at gym. In a weird wary-then-disappointed kind of way. It had also dissolved some of her worries about them by adding more to her worries about him. “Is everything alright?”

He shrugged. “My father wanted to know if I was harassing fellow students. Temari tattled.”

“But you weren’t. I told her that.” Maybe she needed to call Temari and explain… well, just the part that he wasn’t…. but he had been… only now he wasn’t. That’s what mattered.

An exhale was followed by the shifting of his feet as he turned around and walked out the door. However, rather than just leaving, he stopped… and held it for her. “She was worried about you.”

Startled, Sakura paused as she was about to go through, stopping just at his shoulder. “She doesn’t have to. I’m fine.” She met his gaze firmly. “You’re not harassing me.”

That smile was back, but unlike the first time, there wasn’t a trace of anything pleasant. He didn’t say another word until she’d cleared the door, and he let it swing shut. “People get nervous when I’m interested in someone,” he said as they started toward her house.

No really? “What happened to the last person you were ‘interested’ in?”

“I don’t know,” Gaara said. “They won’t let me see him.” His mood soured even further, mouth pulling into something between a grimace and a sneer. “It’s his fault.”

Eyes cutting his way, Sakura debated whether to ask. In the end, because their friendship was based on being able to say what they wanted, she asked anyway. “Was he special too?”

“Until he tried to kill me.”

She stopped in her tracks. “He what?!” Somehow, Sakura doubted Gaara was using the word ‘kill’ lightly. Not like the way Itachi’s group did. “Why?”

He lifted one shoulder in a shrug, only stopping when it was clear she wasn’t about to start walking again. “Because I killed my mother,” he replied. “When I was born. He hated me. Pretended to love me. Said–” He stopped. “Can we go?”

Frowning, Sakura nodded sharply and walked up to and past him. That was so messed up. You couldn’t blame a baby for a death during childbirth… Oh. Knowing he would sneer at any pity, she kept her eyes on the road. So that’s what happened to their mother.

The redhead’s shoulders relaxed slightly as they continued walking. After a block and a half, he stopped abruptly. “I don’t… mind telling you. Just… Not out here,” he muttered, almost too softly for her to hear.

“That’s okay,” she answered as she turned around ahead of him. “I didn’t mean to demand. It just came out that way.” Sakura gave him a small smile. “You don’t have to.”

Light eyes shifted away from her face, and he continued past her without another word. Remained silent until they stood on her doorstep, she pulling out the key. “I want to.”

The key slid in, the lock tumbled, the door opened. Then she turned to regard her friend. “Then come inside.”

A jerky nod was his response, and he followed her in. The door clicked shut, he took off his shoes and dusted some sand off his pants so he wouldn’t track it in. He followed her into the kitchen; they could eat and use the table to do their homework.

The crazy strong feeling of déjà vu was distracting, but manageable. Sakura dropped her bag into one of the chairs and turned to survey the cupboards. “Do you want tea? Snacks?” Weirdness or not, she was going to be a proper host.

Another nod, and he watched her set about putting on the kettle and searching the fridge for the snacks her mother had started to make large enough for two. He finally sat down in the chair next to the one with her bag. And watched her some more.

After a while, the silence put her at ease. It shouldn’t have, but this was still Gaara. Silence was his normal. She set the hot water down on the table as well as a pair of cups and a selection of tea packets. A minute later, the snackfood was laid out.

Sneaking a few glances at him, Sakura began to pull out the homework assignment as well. “Homework first and then we talk?” she offered.

“… Yeah.” He sighed slowly, and they set to the homework.

About halfway through, he set down his pencil, staring at his now empty tea cup. “He said I was special. That I had been special to my mother. He said she had loved me, that her death wasn’t my fault. That I…” He stopped again. “He was my uncle. Yashamaru.”

Reaching out, Sakura placed a hand half on top of his own. And she waited for his reaction.

Those eyes slid downward, focused on her hand. He didn’t move his, and didn’t tell her to move hers. Just stared at it, as if it were unnatural. Bizarre. “My mother’s twin. Then, when I was nine, Yashamaru tried to strangle me.”

Her hand squeezed down on his fingers, her green gaze concerned. “But you’re okay.” Oh, that was a banal thing to say, but she couldn’t think of anything else.

“I’m alive,” he corrected. He pulled his hand out from beneath hers, but when she started to pull back, he snatched it up and held it. Her fingers were unmarred by any sort of scars, and didn’t appear to have ever been broken. But they were rough with callouses; she had worked hard in her life. He released her hand as abruptly as he’d grabbed it. “I defended myself. Everyone still blames me. Last I heard, he’s still in a coma.”

Tapping those same fingers on the table, Sakura shook her head. “They blame you?” After a moment of more tapping, she grumbled, “And you said my friends were psychotic. Better psychotic than imbecilic.”

That unpleasant smile returned. “I agree.”

“Er… Huh?”

“Yesterday, I said they were psychotic. I didn’t say that was a bad thing,” he told her, and shrugged. The smile pulled wider. “Though I can’t say I dislike the outcome.”

Pink brows pulled into a frown and the tapping stopped. “You… Gaara. I punched you.”

Gaara shook his head. “Not that. You defended them, your friends. They couldn’t defend themselves, but you did it for them.”

“Well, yeah. They’re my friends and you were being a dick. I mean, you’re entitled your opinion, of course. But then so am I.”

“Stay in Suna,” he said abruptly, and when her expression started to darken, he shook his head. “No. At least… until regular graduation.”

“Two years.” She frowned at him. “That’s going to be two years, Gaara. You want me, to stay away from my home, my friends, my boyfriend, for two years.”

Well, of course he did. That’s what he was asking, but did he hear what he was asking?

He frowned back. “I want you to stay here, with the friends you have made here, and your mother. For two years.”

She flinched. “Ouch.” Her green eyes slid down to the papers on the table and the barely-touched food. Then she sighed. “Itachi is going to kill me,” she muttered morosely before she rallied. “Look, I’m going to apply for the early grad. Shut up. Listen. It’s not for certain that I will get accepted. I still have to study like a crazy person and I only have a few months to raise my grades enough. I pass, I go. I don’t, well, obviously I’ll stay.”

By staying, it might mean through college and beyond as well, because in two years, Itachi may just move on.

Lowering her head down into her hands, Sakura closed her eyes. “I like my friends. Here or there, it doesn’t matter. And you are right, mom is here.”

He stared at her, pink hair falling to cover most of her face. “But you love him.” It wasn’t a question. Just a quiet statement of fact.

“Yep.” No doubt. No hesitation. Just slightly muffled.

The soft creak of the chair beneath him signaled that he’d sat back. He was frowning. “We have to finish this,” he muttered, tapping the homework with a finger.

Giving a soft sigh, the girl raised her head and nodded. “Sounds like a grand idea. More tea?”

xXx

Chapter 25 | Table of Contents | Chapter 27

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