Bought: Highest Bidder(7)

By: Lauren Landish

My expression hardens, remembering how proud I was to give my parents a car. A brand new car. I forget what model, and it doesn’t matter at this point. It wasn’t good enough for them, and they wanted more. I couldn’t though. I needed the cash flow for the business, it was growing so rapidly, and I could hardly maintain the expenses.

The day my bank account was drained and checks were bouncing was the day I cut those money-hungry assholes out of my life.

They stole thousands from me. I wasn’t even going to sue them until they tried to do it again and then tried to sue me. I couldn’t believe it. My own parents. We’d never been close, but they were still family. I don’t understand it, even to this day. Had they given me time and believed in me, I would have been able to give them everything they ever wanted.

And I would have.

But that’s not how it happened, because that’s not how the world works.

Years have passed and time after time, I’ve learned it’s better simply not to trust a damn soul. I have Zander and a few friends, and of course my sister. But no one else. It’s better that way.

The waitress brings us our coffee and Anna’s quick to bring hers to her lips, not caring that it’s probably kissed-the-sun-scalding-fucking-hot.

She winces, putting the coffee down and bringing her fingers to her lips. I shake my head slightly, a grin slipping into place. I hide it by blowing on my coffee, my eyes on hers, but my amusement goes over her head and she takes another sip.

She’ll never learn.

“So,” my sister says as she starts trying to look me in the eye, “I’m going to have a holiday party.” My spine stiffens, and the answer is on the tip of my tongue. She’s been trying to include me in family events and work me back into our family. It’s not happening. I was never close with any of them. I don’t have a need for family. I don’t need relationships in general. I’ll do anything for my sister, but I’m not going anywhere near my parents.

She holds up her hands defensively and says, “They won’t be there.”

I’m taken aback and shocked; my brows draw in, and I consider what she’s saying. “Did something happen?” I ask.

A sadness crosses her eyes quickly. But I see it there, and her lack of a response tells me that something did happen.

My voice is cold and hard, but not toward her, and she knows that. “What’d they do?”

“Nothing,” she says softly, her shoulders folding inward. She looks down at the lattice table.

Usually I’d snap at whoever was sitting in front of me lying, saying nothing’s wrong when there’s obviously an issue, but I wait patiently for Anna to continue. She’s hurt, and it’s showing. I know she’ll tell me what the deal is, but she just needs a moment. She traces the metal openwork design of the table absently. “They were just upset that I accepted your offer to pay for my classes,” she tells me slowly, her eyes finally reaching mine as she visibly swallows.

My fists clench at my side, and my jaw tenses. Those fucking bastards. Why hurt her? All they care about are themselves.

“They just don’t understand,” she continues, picking up her coffee cup with both hands. She takes a hesitant sip and then says, “They just need a little time. You know how they...” she shrugs, “lash out.”

My heart thuds in my chest as I calm my rage. Hothead. I used to be a hothead. But I’m wiser now, and she doesn’t need my anger.

“Are you alright?” I finally ask.

She gives me a sad smile and says, “I am.” Her hand reaches for mine on the table and I take it. “I promise I’m okay. But they won’t be coming to the party.”

She clears her throat, and I give her hand a quick squeeze before letting go. I knew they’d make her choose between me and them. Cowards.

“So...” she draws out the word, “are you coming?” I can hear the vulnerability in her voice, and it shreds me. I can’t leave her with no family at her event. But a fucking holiday party?

“Please say you’ll come,” she implores.

I suck in a breath and concede. “I’ll go.” Five fucking minutes is all she’ll need. Knowing her, she’ll be busy socializing and won’t even notice once I’m gone. I’ll just make an appearance to make her happy.

She jumps in her seat and reaches across the small circular table, giving me a tight hug. It forces a smile to my lips, and I pat her back in return.

She finally sits and all seems right with her world again.

“You need a date,” she says confidently. No doubt she already has some friend from school lined up who she thinks is perfect for me.