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The Grump Who Stole Summer
Author: Ella Fields

 


For those who find safety in solitude

 

 

Alice

 

“Billion-dollar heiress unveils priceless assets.” My mother’s voice, smooth yet roughened by too many cigarettes, was apathetic at best.

She was pissed.

“Look,” I said, re-crossing my legs for what might have been the tenth time since she’d called me in here. Of course, that was after she’d kept me waiting in the hall for thirty minutes as though I were one of her many employees. “It’s totally not as bad as it sounds.” I released a forced laugh, then tried not to curse when it died beneath the suffocating tension in the overlarge study. “You know how these assholes like to twist things.”

Valencia Corvall lowered the magazine, revealing her new nose and poison-filled brown eyes. “Really,” she drawled, her eyes never leaving mine as she reached for the six others stacked beside her. I withheld a wince with every thwunk as, one by one, she slapped them all onto the center of her dining table–sized desk. “A set of bare tits on the front page of every gossip magazine in the country doesn’t lie.”

Though I was tempted to ask how she even had so many so soon, I didn’t. I shut my mouth and scrunched my nose upon catching a glimpse of the image. I’d been an idiot to believe that the night would conceal me. The dark was no match for modern technology and a little help from Photoshop.

An idiot and also drunk. Lost-a-whole-night type of trashed.

Her intentional pause ended. “Shall we tally how many places we can find them online?”

“They’re blurred,” I felt the need to point out.

A mistake. Her high cheekbones barely moved, but her eyes caught fire.

I made another by rambling, “They are, but even so, we can totally sue them.” Silence. My mouth opened again. “I mean, who hasn’t gone skinny-dipping at midnight with their friends at some point in their lives?” I rolled my eyes, flicked my freshly highlighted hair over my shoulder, and released another awkward laugh. “I think we’re lucky I decided to be a little adventurous now and not a few years ago.”

The scent of fresh lavender, something I typically loved, smothered me like a heated blanket in the middle of summer. The fireplace below the giant oriental vase remained empty. The ducted air flowed.

Still, I began to sweat.

I knew that look in her eyes—had seen her hand it to my father one too many times over dinner when she was about to hand him his ass on a shiny fucking platter. It was often accompanied by a knot of parsley to dress up Christopher Corvall’s serious lack of balls.

It was like watching a storm slowly roll in. The lack of emotion on her face and the growing venom in her eyes. The utter stillness of her entire body.

The storm arrived with one terrifyingly gentle word. “Adventurous.”

I swallowed, choosing silence out of fear and a late sense of self-preservation.

“So flashing your tits for the entire world to see is adventurous,” she said coolly, a long black-coated nail tapping at the mahogany of her desk. “I suppose you think a threesome with a strange boy and his girlfriend in the bed of his father’s farming truck is adventurous, too?”

Well, I wouldn’t exactly call that adventurous. Exhilarating and unexpected, sure. Again, trashed, but I held no regrets.

It was fun, and they’d lived out of town, so it wasn’t as though I had to see either of them around campus. It was just too bad the girlfriend had put the dashcam on. The quality was shit, and we weren’t always in view, but there was a little footage of me fucking her boyfriend while she sat on his face and kissed me.

I kept my mouth shut.

“What about last summer, hmm?” Her finger tapped faster. Shit.

Triple fucking shit.

No, I silently begged.

Her lips twitched as if she could hear my internal screaming. She’d promised to stop bringing it up. I’d lost my car for three months as punishment, and I’d volunteered at a homeless shelter. I’d done the time. I’d lived through the humiliation of being slandered online and smirked at on campus.

“The Dervents.”

My entire face burned. “You know I didn’t mean to do that.”

Her eyes lost a little fire, but I didn’t let that trick me into thinking this would end well. “While that may be so, it still happened, and it cost me a fucking fortune to fix that royal mess.”

“I didn’t know he was married to a politician.” And I’d actually been a little upset to discover the guy I’d gone on three whole dates with was married. I wasn’t a dater. I never even got the chance to screw him before we’d made the tabloids after being photographed at a restaurant.

A damn shame, even if I did feel guilty for the fooling around we’d done under the table on dates two and three. He’d had a darkness in his eyes and a confident set to his clean-shaven jaw that’d promised a good time.

He stopped contacting me a full month after the pictures were released. Up until that point, he’d sent me pleading texts daily before resorting to saying he was leaving his wife.

I’d then finally texted back with as much grace as possible, I’m twenty, you fucking asshole. Leave your wife for someone who actually wants more than sex.

Because that sure as shit wasn’t me.

Sure, I’d liked the guy—the Cheshire cat grin that made his dark eyes sparkle and the dry scratch to his deep voice—but I refused to allow myself to like someone so much that I might fall down the darkest of rabbit holes into certain doom ever again.

Love was for those who enjoyed pain. Not me. No, thank you. I liked to wake up without an instant ache in my chest that no amount of self-medicating could alleviate. I loved to breathe without feeling the burn of missing something vital.

I needed to live without feeling as though I was dying.

My mother sighed, some of the stiffness leaving her shoulders. “Alice, I think it’s time we look into therapy.”

“Therapy?” My mind began to whirl with images of me sitting on a couch, pricked by a thousand needle-like questions. I couldn’t do that. Not because I thought there was anything wrong with it, but because I just couldn’t. It would take me back. That was the whole point.

And I wouldn’t go back there. Not for my mother. Not for my meager friends. Not even for my inheritance.

Not for anything.

“Drug and alcohol rehabilitation.”

I gasped. “I haven’t touched coke since the last incident,” I declared far louder than necessary, and my mother blinked slowly—her version of a wince. “And it’s not the alcohol.” Okay, so it definitely didn’t help matters, but still. “Want me to stop drinking? Fine.” I threw my hands up. “Consider it done.” I sat back, stretched and crossed my legs again. “No problem.”

“No,” she said, sounding more resigned than pissed now. “It’s not the drugs or the alcohol. It’s you.”

She let that statement hang in the stifling air for a heavy moment. I could feel its weight pressing into my skin, the words threatening to seep into my pores and reopen wounds I’d spent a long time healing. Ignoring.

It was all the same, really.

She leaned over the desk, those dark eyes upon me as her head tilted. “I’ve asked you the same question nearly every visit since you left for college, but I will ask it one more time. Tell me what happened to you before you left.”

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