August Michael had seen the whole thing.
He had just gotten out of the car he rented – vexed as he was because the driver's seat was situated on the left instead of right – to get some shaving razors at the convenience store.
That was when he heard a commotion.
With his break prolonged until the end of the month, and he had gotten bored with the London scene, Michael thought flying to where his parents are would be ideal since he hadn't visited before.
But who was he kidding? While that was partially true, he knew they would often fly out, and the other main reason why he came was because he wanted to see how his younger sister was doing. If she was still the same pathetic girl she was six years ago.
Nothing seemed to change, and he felt two things; pleased that she was still affected by his presence, but also irked – because she seemed to be doing well too.
Michael wanted to laugh. How long could she keep hiding in that fancy school of hers, thinking she could avoid him?
The thought of her made his blood boil. She had no idea of the secret her parents kept from her, and in turn forced him to do the same. They didn't ever want her to know, but Michael wanted to change that.
Michael had resented her for so long, he couldn't remember the time when he didn't. How did it started? When did it started? The lines blurred and he couldn't tell anymore.
Having transferred to a different school farther away from home because he couldn't deal with the guilt and hatred gnawing at him, he hadn't seen her since he left. It was sickening him. He grew to feel such hatred every time she speaks, breathed, and behaved as though she was a fucking fairy who lived in her own world, smiling without a clue while he struggled to live with the knowledge he knew.
Their good ol' parents never changed; so wrapped up in their own business, they didn't see the animosity that grew within him. It was easy to pretend everything was okay. He didn't have to worry about her telling them either – she was already afraid of him by then.
Because he couldn't believe it, live with it, he did what he could to make her suffer then, just as he was.
Yet, with the years that passed, Michael wondered if he still felt resentment towards her, or if he was just acting out of habit. The need to see her fall apart.
He never touched her, though. Sure, he acted as though he wanted to strike her – but as evil as he was, he wouldn't fall that low – words were the only thing he needed. They would get to her, he knew, because the thing about December was that she crumbled easily at the very thought of her safe cocoon being threatened.
Crushed candies, being reprimanded for losing her things, tripping over her own feet. Guilt overwhelmed her and she cried, and cried, and cried, and the ugly monster that took place and grew within him saw her as an easy target.
Michael wondered if he was mental to treat her so horribly. Yet, each time he tried to resist, his anger reminded him why he was doing it.
It was an endless cycle that couldn't be broken; it crawled all over him, wanting to be projected to the only person who didn't know what suffering was.
He had already lost himself to the pain he tried to rid of.
And then another thought occurred. His nose flared, thinking of the call he made earlier that week.
That insolent little bitch actually dared to say no to him! She even hung up on him.
Michael gripped the plastic-packed razors in his hands, tightly that he felt the tool digging into his palm. He was going to break the thing if he continued gripping it.
The thought of the past served nothing but only made his skin itched in irritation, and he felt his mood blackened.
Wanting to just rest at the empty place his parents called home, he strode to the car when the commotion rose. Some noises, and then:
"…thinking that you own the world and every living being that has legs and a vagina? This is harassment. Can't you tell that we were highly uncomfortable and disgusted by your…"
Michael looked up and then furrowed his brows, thinking the girl shouting not far away seemed familiar.
That voice...and the mild accent.
And then his eyes grew wide, and a smile stretched his lips, disbelief but victorious.
To think she would be in town outside of her confines. Who would have thought, after that stunt she pulled…So you're busy, huh?
He would confess this to himself, that he was a bit rattled, but also very much impressed with her outburst.
To think that she had been timid and subservient with him but throwing a shouting match in public?
Michael was taken aback, pleased to see an undeniable development. In Michael's terms, however, it meant that he saw it as a challenge which was unfortunate for December.
"What an interesting turnabout." He muttered to himself, thinking it would be fun to break that spirit of hers again. The guilt of his consciousness crept up at him, but as always, he pushed it aside.
When his eyes strayed to the reason why she was worked up, his jaw ticked in anger. Aggravated because a part of him, the older brother who was supposed to protect her from harm surfaced when he saw her being targeted by a group of assholes, and livid because they were the one who dared to make her furious.
Michael was fucked up, yes, but he believed no one else but him could make her cry or exasperated. It was his right alone.
He watched for a little bit more, amazed at December's bravery, and wanting to see until the entire tirade was over. Mostly though, he watched the group of males leaving the vicinity, like a hawk locking on its prey, ire seeping through his veins.
Michael made a mental note to pay them a visit later, but first, his dear sister.
December watched in growing apprehension as her brother made his way towards them, a self-satisfying smile on his face.
December also realized her friends' voices had dwindled down, as they were made aware of her stiffened posture. They followed her gaze. December ignored their questioning and confusing looks and tried to focus on being amiable. Because one thing stood out, along with the fact that Michael had seen her and she was even more anxious.
They didn't know she had a brother.
"December, I didn't think I'd see you in town." Michael switched to the charm people often see of him and December wanted to gag.
Trying to impress her friends? She couldn't even give a scathing look because then they would know something was amiss. No, she didn't want to risk them finding out that besides Karen, the only other devil beside her was Michael – her own brother.
Everything was wrong; the timing, the place. Why did she have to see him then?
Today was supposed to be a fun day, didn't it? Even if it killed her, it was going to remain exactly that.
"I didn't think I'd see you here." She mustered a pleasant smile, a bright one which belied her anxiety upon seeing him. Please, just don't make a fuss, Michael, she prayed in her mind. I really think I will lose myself.
She was getting better at standing up for herself, yet the biggest threat was Michael, and her courage to deal with him hadn't reach its full capacity yet. She had also bled out her courage during that confrontation with the hooligans and for them to see another one with Michael…
God, please have mercy on me.
She didn't know if it was a necessary plea because she doubt that Michael, being someone who doesn't let others see his ugly side and was only superficial at most would do that. But she couldn't take the risk – so she could only fervently hope things would go her way.
Michael read her intention, and, he thought, a silent plea in it. He wanted to laugh again. She was terrified he would humiliate her – his eyes glanced warmly at his right – in front of them.
As much as that was tempting, this was a war between the two of them. Let her live in it for a moment longer.
"I was buying some things. Who are your friends?" He diverted the attention briefly from her. He glanced curiously at her, the smile still present.
Surprised, she only allowed a fraction of that vulnerability to him before a flicker of remembrance passed her features.
"Ah, this is Brooke, Serena, and Raven." And that was all he needed to know, she thought.
"Hello." He nodded in acknowledgement, the polite smile widened a little.
While they greeted him in half stupor, Brooke shook her head slightly and said.
"Who are you?"
Her tone of voice, despite the look of awe earlier, was enough to make December kept what's left of her composure. She had skepticism in them which means that she wasn't easily fooled by a charming persona.
"I'm her brother. Michael."
December didn't miss the looks of surprise on their faces. She didn't even missed the gleeful look from Michael - another thing which he would hold against her. They all murmured his name but December heard the question in them, the thing she worried a lot but often forget when they were there.
When Brooke glanced at her, she nodded with a convincing smile. "Yeah, he's lived in London all his life. So this was a surprise. A big surprise indeed." Then she cast her gaze at him, who looked amused, before adding, "Are you going back to London soon? Since you have that thesis."
If she could see herself from another point of view, she would be terrified at how composed and casual she was being with him. She didn't think she would even recognize herself, saved for the trepidation fluttering in her stomach.
He chuckled and it sounded like music to other's ears. Not December – she wanted to grit her teeth in vexation.
"You remembered. Unfortunately, or fortunately," He laughed as though someone told a hilarious joke. "I'm on break right now which is a relief to me. You girls would know, right?" He turned towards December's friends.
Well, that is very unfortunate. Just leave already!
They let out a laugh.
"Yeah, school breaks are what I look forward to." Brooke nodded, still skeptical but she seemed to warm up to him.
"We, you mean." Raven glanced at Brooke with a raised brow, grinning.
December felt irritated beyond belief. She didn't want them anywhere near her bully – a two faced demon whom, she realized belatedly, was trying to gather some intel on her especially when he asked:
"So, you seemed like you're close friends with December. How is she at – "
Nope. I am not having this today. He has no right!
"Uh, we have to go right now or we're going to be late for it."
She gave her friends a stare that meant they really need to go. Luckily for her, they didn't ponder on the meaning behind that because they were racing against time for their agenda.
They nodded as if finally remembering their purpose for the day.
"Oh, yes! The shops." Serena blurted out apologetically. "We really should go. It's nice meeting you."
"Uh huh, so…I'll see you around, Michael." She gave one last smile, brighter than the first because she was finally steering them away from him.
Michael waved back and watched as his sister hurriedly rushed them down the street, until they disappeared in the growing crowd.
His smile gradually dimmed, until he wore a look of pure distaste.
"Likewise. Because I am not leaving until you know what they're hiding from you." He grinned humourlessly.
He wouldn't rest until then. Michael had made up his mind on that, and that was what he was going to do. At this point, he could really care less what their parents think deep down.
What about what I think? A small, faraway voice echoed. The voice of a young boy, a shell, really of who he was, cried. Michael pushed that memory in the far recesses of his mind.
He would wait, because she seemed happy, but he wanted her to be at her happiest.
And that's when he would strike.
"December, slow down a little." Raven caught up to her, panting. Brooke and Serena were not far from behind.
December blinked and stopped, unaware of her pace. It felt like a moment of slow motion, or floating in the air so slow she could fall asleep in waiting for time to pass.
She turned, heaving a weary sigh. "Sorry, I was just worried if we couldn't make it in time." It was a partial truth.
She was still shaken up by his presence. December didn't think she would bump into him in town today – if she had, she would have found a way to do this another time. And she had never wanted them to meet him, too, yet they already had. December couldn't tell them what he did to her; the emotional abuse, manipulation – she hadn't plan to. She was slowly trying to be better but she knew telling them about Michael would destroy her composure for good.
The humiliation was something she couldn't bear to think about.
No, she would deal with him by herself – she vowed so – but for now, he wasn't worth confronting.
Today was as far as they would know about him, and him, them. Now that Michael met her friends, there was no telling what he might plan.
He would be the biggest obstacle to overcome, if I ever did, she thought in angry frustration.
She shook her head to clear these thoughts. This was supposed to be a fun day out, and she thanked the higher power above for not letting him make her a pathetic fool in front of them.
Desperate for a change of thought, she wanted to put the thought of her brother behind, but her friends had other ideas.
"I didn't know you have a brother, December." Serena inquire politely when she caught up with them.
"Yeah, that's what I was going to say too." Raven glanced at Serena and nodded.
She took a moment to gather her thoughts, swallowed inaudibly, then tried to joke, "You're not the only one. Sometimes even I didn't realize I have one." She laughed, but it sounded a bit forced. "He came back during our break to visit my parents, but I thought he already went back."
Brooke seemed to ponder in thought, before saying, "So you're not that close to him? Well, I don't believe you're the only sister who feels like that." Brooke then added almost wistfully, "Although, it does sound nice to have an older brother like him."
Trust me, Brooke, you do not want this one as your brother.
Brooke went on, unaware of December's stricken thoughts. "He's nice and very mannered, and can I just say that your brother is very handsome? He could be a model!" Her boy crazy mode was on and December stilled. "You Scarborough siblings do get the best of the DNA, huh?"
Where December would usually laugh it off, hearing the friend she adore praising her evil brother for the front he put on made her irritable beyond belief.
Michael didn't deserve any compliments from her wonderful friends.
"Brooke, stop it," She snapped, a slight anger and irritation laced her voice. "He's not all that great."
They were taken aback.
She was usually mild in temperament but even that was rare – none of it being directed at them mostly – and so seeing her snap with vehemence in her voice made them speechless.
Brooke, especially looked more hurt than offended. "Whoa, okay, D. I was just… saying. Are you mad about the handsome part? Because I am not going to go after him, if that's what you're worried about."
The aftermath of what she had just done stunned her. December felt like crying – she hadn't mean to snap at them, at Brooke.
This was unfair to them, because they didn't even know him like she did.
She bit her lip in agitation. "No! I know…I'm just. I'm so sorry, Brooke. I really didn't mean to yell at you." She blubbered profusely. "Like you said, we're not that close so he's practically a stranger to me." She marveled painfully at how true this was before adding, albeit the attempt to soften the blow, "And well, it's just awkward talking about my own brother this way." December tried to smile, an awkward one nonetheless.
Raven showed a pearly set teeth, gritting in a grimace. "I can imagine that. Maybe we should really just not talk about boys."
"Brothers definitely included." Serena supplied quietly, having read the situation.
December agreed with a nod but was still looking at Brooke, having registered the hurt on her face, however brief it was. The guilt of offending her friend laid heavy in her chest, and so she took hold of Brooke's hands.
"I'm really sorry. You know how much I hate offending people that matter to me. Forgive me?" She asked, hopeful.
Brooke was scrutinizing her features – December's tight expression, tired face, and the fervent need to make everything right.
It was there on her face, and when she came to think of it, December always had that look of trying to stitch things up before they were torn apart completely. The fixer amongst them. Something didn't feel right, but she couldn't ask what especially since she could tell now that December didn't want to talk about this anymore.
She nodded and smiled softly at December. Brooke had been hurt by that barb, but she was understanding enough to know that the girl didn't mean to do it on purpose.
Still, with a firm nod, she said, "Apology accepted."
A breath of relief rushed out of her and she hugged Brooke tightly. "Thanks, Brooke."
As they were walking down the street to find the shops Raven and Serena had searched, Brooke sidled up beside December.
"You know December," Brooke started, as they walked beside each other. "If there's anything you want to talk about, you can always rely on us."
December glanced at Brooke's earnest but also concerned look, masked by her gorgeous smile.
She tried to mirror the look of easy going smile, or at least muster some elation into them. But while December was touched, she was also weighed down by a heavy feeling.
"I know, Brooke."
Because perhaps the thing that made it worst of all, was that she didn't want to.
This door to her past was something she wanted to hide from them, fearing their perception of her being altered terribly.
She would risk losing the only friends she really loved and cared for too much.
They were trying the fourth dress for Raven in the sixth store, when Katya surprised them.
The earlier atmosphere frizzled with slight tension dissipated when the girls focused on their purpose for the day. But after trying on countless dresses – most of it just for fun – of chiffon, sequins, taffeta, lace, tulle, short dress, long dress, flowy and flaring in many cuts and designs, exhaustion took on a different level for them.
Still, they wouldn't give up.
December and Brooke were pulling out two more dresses for Raven to wear, with Serena checking in on her progress.
"Ugh! It's…so…tight." Raven gritted out before grumbling that she shouldn't have eaten the creamy pasta. Serena chided her before coming in to check on any fixing.
"Please don't ever let Jethro hear that. I just know he's going to make some dirty joke out of it." Brooke moaned in distress.
"Good thing he's not here with us then." December laughed, pulling a pretty velvet dress out from the lessening pile. "Raven, let's have you try the first one again."
With each shops that boast they have the dresses the girls wanted, which only a couple – for both Brooke and Serena – actually did, that left Raven and December to find theirs. Raven did find hers but like her friends did, they proposed that she scoured for other stores in case she might like them better, before purchasing it.
"I can't believe both you and Serena actually found your dresses. Who would have thought that there are stores out there that sells them? It's sort of mind blowing to me. I really thought we'd need to do this again another time." December marveled at how their search had gone.
The moment they showed December and Raven their dresses, with the way they reacted to it – star struck and speechless – she knew they had found the one. It suited them inexplicably and if there were ever a dress that spelt their names, then those were it.
December was thrilled for them, and at the same time feeling anticipated if she would also feel those things when she found hers.
Brooke let out a laugh. "Yeah. I thought I'd be set to get the one in the pictures but this is even better than I thought. I believe like unicorns, these things do happen." She beamed before continuing, "Unicorns are magical, and didn't I say that today was special?" December nodded even though it was a rhetorical question. "So anything can happen, even when it seemed impossible."
December pondered on her friend's words. There had been something wonderful in the air in the beginning of their day, and despite some incidents that left an unpleasant taste in her mouth, the feel of it hadn't disintegrated. They found their dress – a very beautiful one that begs a person to think it was made by magical creatures, and, certainly one that could have taken months – but they did it.
Nothing is impossible.
All she said was, "That sums up this search perfectly, Brooke. I just hope I'll find mine too."
Brooke's pearly white teeth flashed. "You will, D."
Despite knowing Brooke's option was final and she wouldn't change her mind on it, December still wanted to tease her. "How do you know you won't want another dress, though? I mean, that one's hella gorgeous, but what if there's a much more gorgeous-er dress?"
Brooke laughed. "I don't think gorgeous-er is a term but I think I'll start using that too. And...hmm, if there is a better one, which I doubt because hello? Have you seen the dress?" Brooke widened eyes in incredulity at each word before smiling proudly. "I'll still stick with that beauty. I mean, come on. How would my dress feel? I feel bad thinking about it."
December laughed. "Ever the thoughtful one. But that's something that I can stand by." They sat in comfortable silence before a thought occurred. She continued, "Do you think Katya will join us?"
Brooke shrugged after a moment. "I'm not sure. You texted her the address hours ago, and if she's really busy, then I doubt –"
The sound of the bells jingled, and they heard the usual, polite and automatic greeting on the employees' lips. It wasn't until they looked up that their eyes widened in surprise.
Brooke was the first to compose herself, then said, "I almost spoke too soon."
"Katya! You came." December got up to her feet, her eyes bright and lips pulled into a toothy grin.
Wearing a pair of blue jeans and a cream-coloured velvet t-shirt, Katya looked beautiful and elegant as always – an effortless pull from her.
She looked mildly surprised but otherwise unaffected.
"Thank you for inviting me out."
Neither expected to hear that from her, and so they were speechless for a moment. But very pleased.
"No problem." December smiled. "I didn't think you'd make it but you're here now, and that's a relief."
Katya mustered a polite smile. They were flabbergasted again.
"You know," Brooke started in that mock stern voice. "It's unfair how you're still very pretty even with that thin smile. You know what I'm talking about. What is with you and your cousins being so attractive? It's unfair, I tell you." She demanded in a way people were unsatisfied with an outcome.
It was all fun and games, of course, but for a moment December worried if Katya thought Brooke was serious.
Then the girl took them on a whole other surprise. December thought they really shouldn't be taken aback because at this point, it would be plain ridiculous.
But they were, because this was the first time they had seen her in an expression other than her stony façade. They had just seen Katya elicit a laugh. A small one, but a laugh nonetheless.
"You are so weird." Katya spoke, the corner of her lips pulled which revealed a small cleft of dimple.
December and Brooke glanced at each other in amazement, before muttering in unison.
As Brooke found a new thing to comment on – where did you get that beautiful shirt? It's so soft and shiny! – she sought to observe them. She really thought Katya would still be brooding, but here she was, indulging Brooke in her fashion trends. It was barely a few minutes, and she was already smiling and laughing.
Could it only be a front that she put on at school? Maybe getting her to warm up towards them wouldn't be a hard thing.
They checked up on Raven, and after Serena gave the 'ok' sign from inside, she parted the curtain to reveal Raven.
Their jaws dropped.
"Raven, you look gorgeous!" Brooke clasped her hands together, awestruck by her.
"The top is laced in the back," Serena turned Raven around and showed the intricate lacing before turning her to the front. Raven was a mannequin on display at that moment. "And the front is tightened with this brooch." Serena tapped at the shiny flower brooch pinned at her waist.
December put her knuckle under her chin, analyzing the dress.
It looked pretty on the rack, and made more beautiful when Raven wore it. The length covered her ankles, flaring from the waist. It had little swirls of designs in beaded sequins, and one that reminded December of nature – green and thriving. But her favourite was the top; a small V-cut just enough to shape the bust which boast of being classy yet demure; dangerous but also pure, and it was all made of velvet.
"I second Brooke. It's a really beautiful dress, Raven. But," December took note of the way Raven tried to look enthusiastic but something was holding her back. "You don't think this is the one?"
Raven looked apologetic. She held a handful of fabric and twirled, checking herself in the huge mirror beside her. Raven was admiring it, yet her heart was already yearning for something farther from their reach.
She looked at Serena and said, "Thanks for helping me put this on, Serena," before turning to face the rest of them. "It's stunning, I know. But I just can't forget about that one dress I tried at Kassy Quinn's. "
December shared a look with all of them, including Katya who was watching the scene quietly.
After a moment of pause, she said, "You're sure?"
"Absolutely." Raven was resolute. "The more I tried on these dresses, the more I'm certain of it."
"Then, let's get it." December said, smiling. She helped Serena piled up the dresses they took and hand them to an employee.
Remembering Katya's presence, she turned to the girl. "Ah, Katya! Do you wanna try on some?"
Katya spoke, her eyebrow raised which reminded December of Pierre. It was still Katya but that gesture was uncanny when she thought of how Pierre did it.
Well, they are cousins, what do you expect?
December inwardly shook her head to clear the thoughts.
"I don't really care for this." She said with an elegant shrug, her hand poised to lift her hair away from her shoulders.
Katya looked as though she was trying hard to hold her composure. She had seen Katya eyeing some dresses and clothes just briefly – but her interest had been noted. If anything, December thought the girl had told a lie. She didn't know whether to laugh or be amazed that Katya could do it with a straight face.
Brooke spoke quietly – a feat – under her breath. "I doubt that."
Katya must have had a supersonic hearing because her eyebrow twitched slightly. She made a sound of irritation, and then, "Alright, I already bought it."
"Any chance you could show us?" Raven spoke, eager mixed with some nervousness in it. Despite her initial notion of being intimidated by her, she tried her best to be conversational.
Katya looked at all of them, a hint of victorious smirk painted across her lips as she said, "Where's the fun if I do that now?"
December could have sworn she heard something familiar from her a long while back, and that invited a wave of irritation coursing through her. It quickly disappeared into amusement, however.
Katya was still reserved and a bit difficult, but she understood that it would take a while to fully warm up to them. And, she wouldn't mind it either, because the Katya before them was slowly letting them in, even if she hadn't realize it yet.442Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ0Zq3kMTtlW