June 15, 2004
Carly and Lorenzo’s House: Sage’s Bedroom
Men–quite simply–were pigs.
All of them. Young and old. Short and tall. Thin and fat. Ugly and handsome.
It had been a full month since that night at the hospital and Lucas was avoiding her. He was eating lunch in the library, didn’t hang around her locker before or after school. He didn’t pick her up, take her home.
She wasn’t sure why it hurt so much to realize how easily he could dispose of her. People had treated her that way all her life – why should some guy be different?
She sighed and stretched out on her bed. She’d decorated this room when they’d moved in two months ago and it looked like any normal teenager’s rooms.
And normal teenagers got to sulk when their boyfriends dropped them without a word after proposing marriage.
Marriage. It still rocked her world knowing he’d brought that up–though it was obvious they never would have made it. Not if Lucas was going to solve all their problems by ignoring her.
Maxie had suggested that she make Kyle beat him up but Sage had shot the idea down. Doing that would let Lucas know he’d hurt her and she wasn’t about to give him that satisfaction.
No, revenge was better served iced cold. Sage’s lips curved into a humorless smile.
And Sage could handle ice.
Elizabeth and Jason’s Apartment: Living Room
“Mom dropped me off,” Michael said solemnly. “I needed to talk to you and she said Sage needs girl time.”
“Okay.” Jason stepped aside and let the redhead enter. Elizabeth was in the nursery with Lila and he knew she’d been trying to get their daughter to sleep all afternoon.
Michael sat down on the couch. “Uncle Jason, I’ve been doing some really serious thinking.”
Jason perched on the coffee table in front of him. “Really.”
Michael nodded. “Mom and Lorenzo are pretty happy together and that’s cool because Sage is my older sister now and it’s neat having a sister.”
Jason nodded. “I like my sister, too.”
“And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not fair Lila’s an only child.”
Jason sat back and swallowed hard. “Michael–”
“Since she and Morgan are kind of the same age, I thought maybe I could be Lila’s brother,” Michael continued hesitantly. “Just until you and Aunt Liz give her one.”
His throat was tight. “Michael…”
“Sage is really awesome and she looks after me and Morgan. I try to look after her too only it’s harder because she’s older and her problems are a lot worse. Like her boyfriend hasn’t called in a month and I feel bad because she cried a lot at first.”
“It’s natural to protect the people you love,” Jason murmured.
“Exactly. I can’t beat up Lucas because he’s older than me and would probably hurt me but Lila needs an older brother, Uncle Jason. She’s too little to take care of herself.”
“And you think you’re the man for the job.”
Michael nodded. “Clearly since I’m the only candidate. So, can I?”
“Well…” Jason sighed. “You know me and Elizabeth, we’re partners. She’s gonna have to have a say, too.” He was teasing Michael now but the boy nodded as though he were serious.
“Definitely, Uncle Jason. I think that’s where my daddy went wrong. He never ever asked my mother what she wanted and Zo always asks so I think if you want to keep Aunt Liz loving you, you always gotta ask.”
Jason nodded and patted Michael’s knee. “Let me go see if she’s put Lila down for her nap and we’ll talk about it.” He stood and went to the nursery.
Elizabeth was sitting by the window, cradling a still very much alert Lila in her arms. She was rocking back and forth, slowly and speaking in low whispers to their daughter.
He’d come across this sight a dozen times at least since they’d brought her home from the hospital and it still amazed him. “Hey.”
She looked up and smiled. “Hey. I don’t think Lila’s up for a nap right now.”
“Well, that’s good then since Michael’s here and he wants to talk to us both. I’m sure he’d like to see Lila.”
Elizabeth frowned. “Is he all right?”
“He’s fine. He just wants to talk to us about something.” He watched as she stood and then readjusted the baby in her arms. “You’re so beautiful,” he murmured as she drew closer to him.
“That’s the third time you’ve said that to me today,” Elizabeth remarked. “I used to have pry stuff like that out of you with a crow bar.”
“Well, you are beautiful,” Jason said simply. “When I see you holding Lila, I’m just amazed that this is my life now.”
Touched, Elizabeth reached up and kissed him softly. “When I hold Lila, I’m amazed that this is my life, too,” she told him.
“Are you guys kissing in there?” Michael called. “Because that’s icky.”
Elizabeth smirked and handed Lila to her father. “Oh, he’s Carly’s all right.”
Jason followed her into the living room and he set Lila in Michael’s arms. “Careful,” he cautioned. “Watch her head.”
“Hi, Lila,” Michael greeted. “You might not remember me from the hospital but I’m Michael.” He looked to Jason. “Did you tell her?”
“I thought you might like to.” Jason sat in the armchair and pulled Elizabeth into his lap.
Michael grimaced–girls were still icky in his point of view. “Lila’s really little and she doesn’t have any brothers of her own to take care of her so I thought maybe I could be her brother,” he blurted out.
Elizabeth blinked. “Oh, Michael.”
“I already talked to Mom and Zo and they said it would be okay,” Michael hurried to explain.
Elizabeth stood up and kneeled in front of him. “I’ve known you most of your life,” she began with a smile. “Jason always had you at the garage when you were a baby. Did you know that?”
“Jason took care of me for a whole year,” Michael said with a look towards his uncle that was so full of love and respect, Elizabeth could feel a lump begin to form in her throat.
“He loves you so much, Michael, that it spills over sometimes and I know that I love you just as much but I want you to know that you never had to ask,” she told him. “Lila would be so lucky to call you her brother.”
“Really?” Michael’s eyes lit up. “Even though I’m not blood?”
“Blood doesn’t make a family. Love does. It makes Jason Carly’s family. It makes Emily my sister. It makes Sage your sister and Morgan her brother. Of course you can be Lila’s brother and you can count on that even if we have a boy of our own. You can be his brother too.” She kissed his forehead. “My family is your family, Michael.”
Jason knew she’d find a way to put it better than he could but she’d blown even his expectations out of the water. That she welcomed Michael as part of her family, letting him play brother to their daughter–he wasn’t sure if he could ever love her more than he did right now.
And then she proved him wrong.
“Are you going to have more kids?” Michael asked curiously.
“As many as possible.” She squeezed his hands. “Especially now that I’ve got Jason to share my life with. He’s the best isn’t he?”
“Definitely,” Michael agreed, grinning widely–showing off his missing front tooth. “He’s better than ice cream.”
Elizabeth laughed and leaned in as if sharing a secret though her hushed voice was still clearly heard to him. “He’s better than painting and ice cream rolled into one.”
Lucas sipped his soda and scowled as Dillon danced with a girl they knew from school. “He has no business dancing with that girl.”
“Oh, be quiet. They’re friends.” Kyle leaned forward. “Look, I got a confession to make.”
Lucas looked at him warily. “What?”
“I said Sage wouldn’t be here tonight but there’s a possibility that she might.”
Lucas scowled. “What the hell?”
Kyle dragged a hand through his hair and made an attempt to look apologetic. He wasn’t fond of sandbagging one of his friends like this–even if that friend was Lucas. But he loved his girlfriend and he agreed with the general plan. Make Lucas realize that Sage was not going to come crawling back.
And she shouldn’t have to. Lucas had sprung marriage on her too quick–he should have given her time to adjust. Marriage at seventeen wasn’t common anymore and Lucas needed to emerge from the dark ages. The man was miserable without Sage and if tonight helped him to see what he was missing, Kyle could deal with that.
Maxie had made him promise not to breathe a word of any of this to anyone else but he knew that Sage had spent the first two weeks of Lucas’s absence crying herself to sleep and the second two weeks, she’d been stonily silent. He liked Sage–thought she was funny and had a lot of backbone. She’d been good to Maxie and Maxie wanted to help her.
Which meant Kyle wanted to help her.
“I know you’re still a little sore after the break-up,” Kyle began, choosing his words carefully. He knew Lucas liked to think that they had just out of touch for a while and the thinking of it as a break up was sure to put him in a foul mood.
“We didn’t break up,” Lucas muttered.
“But Sage is a very pretty girl and she’s ready to move on–”
“The hell she is,” Lucas declared.
“Maxie wanted me to set her up with a friend,” Kyle continued. “So I did.” At Lucas’s glare, he held up his hands in mock surrender. “Hey, when the girlfriend makes a command, the boyfriend listens.”
“You set my girlfriend up on a date with a college guy?” Lucas demanded, rising to his feet. Seeing that plan had been set in motion, Dillon abandoned Holly Jackson and joined them.
“I knew you were a jackass,” Lucas remarked angrily. “But–”
“But what?” Kyle tossed back. “You had a great girlfriend but you tossed her aside because she wasn’t ready to do things your way. You’ve ignored her for the past month. Did you think she was going to sit around and wait while you realized what a idiot you were?”
“I didn’t think my own best friend was going to sell me up the river,” Lucas retorted.
Dillon frowned. “Well, you were pretty hard on her,” he began to recite the speech Georgie had written for him.
“Stay out of this, Dillon,” Kyle said surprisingly. Dillon frowned. This wasn’t in the plan.
“No, you listen,” Kyle interrupted “I’ve watched Maxie tear herself in two because she loves you both and I’ve had to watch Sage be so miserable she barely leaves the house. She’s seventeen years old, she’s had a crappy life and one of the few people she counted on not to abandon her did exactly what everyone else in her life has done. You stopped calling, Lucas. You stopped going to her locker, eating with them at lunch, picking her up. You dropped her cold, you son of a bitch, and I can’t think of anyone who deserved it less than Sage.”
Lucas glared at him. “You think I haven’t been miserable? She hasn’t exactly called me either–”
He stopped abruptly at the sight of Sage being lead into the club by someone he’d never seen before. He was taller than Lucas with skin the color of rich dark chocolate and eyes to match. He was laughing at something Sage had said and her own expression was amused.
She was wearing a white tank top with lace straps and a black miniskirt. Her heels were the spiked kind that she loved because they put her at an even height with him.
She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. He narrowed his eyes and started across the room.
When Lucas was out of earshot, Dillon looked at Kyle oddly. “That wasn’t the script.”
“No, that was one friend giving another a firm kick in the ass.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Lucas demanded when he’d reached the other couple.
Sage froze for a second before finding her voice. She smiled warmly and kissed him on the cheek. “Lucas, I feel like it’s been forever. This is Jamie, one of Kyle’s friends from Yale.” Sage looked up at Jamie. “Jamie, this is a friend of mine–Lucas Jones.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jamie said, extending a hand. He was not surprised when Lucas gave him a scathing glare before turning his full attention on Sage.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Lucas repeated.
Sage blinked innocently. “Lucas, you’re acting awfully strange. We broke up.” She sighed heavily. “I was hoping we could still be friends.”
“Friends?” Lucas repeated incensed. “And we did not break up!”
She bit her lip and struggled to keep it together. “Lucas,” she said softly. “Don’t make a scene.”
His face was beat red and he was sure his heart was going to explode at any minute. A scene? The love of his life had waltzed into the club with another man and she didn’t want him to cause a scene? The hell with that.
He grabbed her arm and started to pull her towards the entrance. Somewhat concerned, Jamie followed but stopped when Kyle shook his head. This was supposed to happen.
He had her on the steps before she managed to claw her way out of his iron grip. “Get your damn hands off me,” she hissed, smacking him hard across the face.
Her ring cut into his cheek and opened a small river of blood. “Watch it!”
“I don’t want you to touch me!” Sage cried.
“Sage, damn it, you proved your point.” He gripped her shoulders and shook her a little. “I’m sorry, okay? I know I’ve been ass–”
“You think that makes it okay?” Sage nearly popped a blood vessel. Whenever her temper really let go, she’d start swearing in a few different languages, most notably Spanish and French. She let out a long string of many colorful words and he was sure she’d cursed every part of his anatomy. “You break my heart, you throw me away and you think an apology makes it better?”
“I did not throw you away,” Lucas retorted. “We had a fight.”
“I lived my whole life hoping to win my father’s love,” Sage said testily. “I will not live the rest of it doing what you say when you say. I marry when I am ready. And I get engaged when I damn well feel like it. And I will never marry someone who throws away six months when I don’t do what they want.”
“We are over, Lucas. Over,” Sage slashed her arms in the air to emphasize her point. “I came here tonight thinking that I would make you jealous–so you would see what you’ve been throwing away but now I realize I don’t want you back at all.”
Lucas paled. “You don’t mean that.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Oh, I do mean that. I hope you choke on your own pride, you son of a bitch. I have a date to get back to.”
Before she could get two steps away, Lucas grabbed her arm to pull her back. She whirled around and slugged him in the nose. “Son of–” Lucas yelped.
“Keep your hands off me,” Sage warned.
Maxie and Georgie had joined Kyle, Jamie and Dillon when Sage stormed back in. She sat next to Jamie and glared at the three men at the table. “Men are pigs.”
“Where’s Lucas?” Georgie asked, her face falling. “Didn’t it work?”
“It worked.” Sage cursed again in Spanish, leading Dillon–who spoke the language–to cross his legs protectively.
“Um…” Maxie traded looks with her sister. “I’m confused. Then where is he?”
“Outside bleeding to death I hope.”
Jamie shifted in his seat. “You’ve got some temper on you, huh?”
Sage smiled at him, the murderous look in her eyes contrasting with the expression. “Just a little. Glad you have a girlfriend?”
“Immensely,” Jamie nodded. “Kara’s never gonna believe all the new Spanish I’ve learned.”
Dillon coughed. “We’re off target here. I thought this was supposed to get them back together,” he told Georgie.
“It was,” she murmured. “Sage, what’s wrong?”
“I got what I wanted and realized I didn’t want it anymore.” Sage took Kyle’s soda and sipped it. “If he can ignore me for a month and treat me like I’m the one who was wrong, then maybe I never knew him at all.”