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For The Fans: Chapter 27

Avi

erthfairyy: Can I just say how beautiful you both are? You’re fucking gorgeous. I’d let you both eat crackers in bed. *And then crack me in half*

Sincerely,

NotYourBabys_Daddy

I picked the absolute worst time to quit smoking.

After Kyran admitted his feelings for me, I decided it was time. I don’t want to dull my senses anymore… I want to experience every single second of being in love with him. Because I’ve never been in love before, and being in it with Kyran Harbor is like going on a tour of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. You want to be fully present so you don’t miss out on any of the wonder…

But you also need to be on your best behavior. Because there’s a mercurial weirdo with you every step of the way, who won’t warn you if you’re about to get zapped into a television set or turn into a giant blueberry.

Over the years, I’ve relied heavily on smoking mass amounts of weed in order to combat my anxiety. Turns out, I was numbing myself so much, I wasn’t even sure if I could feel anything.

But the thing I’ve come to realize is… some anxiety is good. It’s normal. You’re supposed to feel things. We’re made to feel all emotions, good and bad. And I guess it took falling for Kyran to realize I don’t mind feeling the bad sometimes, if it means I get to truly bask in the glory of the good.

I was proud of myself for this revelation. Until right now… sitting in Rose Bowl Stadium with my knee bouncing like Tigger on speed, wondering if there’s any chance the smog I’m inhaling could have trace amounts of THC in it.

Weed’s been legal here for a while… It’s possible.

I think you get the picture. I’m stressed.

This game is fucking huge. I mean… gargantuan. Televised all over the country. NFL scouts are here. Not to mention, I’m sitting in an entire section of our players’ families and friends, next to Kyran’s estranged sister, who I’ve known for less than twenty-four hours.

Bridget is a very sweet girl. Okay, maybe not sweet. But she’s cool as shit, super nice, and it’s clear how much she loves Kyran.

Yet there’s something about being in her presence that triggers something in Kyran… Something I’ve only ever seen happen to him around one other person… his father.

Sure, there are differences in the interactions. Kyran doesn’t get along with his dad at all, but he loves Bridget to death. In fact, it seems to me like they both can’t stand Tom, and I just can’t figure out why.

Tom’s not perfect… We know this. He’s uptight and judgmental, and he’s certainly gotten less fun over the years. But still, I don’t know that this would warrant the kind of obvious disdain Bridget has for him, or the way Kyran has always walked on eggshells around him.

I remember Christmakkah Eve, when Kyran told me he felt like he was the one who broke up their family. He said it with such certainty… as if there’s any possible way a twelve-year-old could be responsible for his parents splitting up. I know it can be common for kids to blame themselves for divorce… But I always thought once you grow up, you figure out that it isn’t true.

Kyran still feels that way. He’s still wearing this burden he’s been carrying around since he was a kid, and it’s the same pressure that’s turned him into an epic control-freak. His need to portray this perfect image… I can only imagine how exhausting it must be.

And then there’s the Bridget factor.

Last night at dinner, she said she was happy that Kyran could finally feel comfortable enough with who he is to be with someone. As if perhaps she’s known for quite some time that Kyran is gay…

And her saying that launched him into this whirl of panic that really freaked me out for a second.

As far as I knew, Kyran was always straight, up until we started hooking up. He’s always dated girls, never so much as mentioned any other experimentation, and even fought me on it for the majority of our sexual encounters.

So what would make Bridget say something like that…?

What is the real reason the Harbor family split up?

Why did she leave, and never come back?

I have so many questions, there are question marks spilling out of my ears. And I know it’s not the time or place, but I really want to get at least a few answers. It would be nice if Kyran would tell me this stuff himself… All I want is for him to feel comfortable enough to confide in me. But I don’t really see that happening, especially after the way he threw up the ropes and closed himself off last night. So even though I know it’s a clear violation of his trust to probe his sister for information, I don’t think I’ll be able to help myself.

The whole thing has me so antsy, I’ve already killed an entire pack of Twizzlers.

And on top of it all… this game.

The first quarter is already winding down, and I feel like we were just watching the coin toss. It’s flying by fast, the nerves and adrenaline of watching the man I love down there on the field making me so jittery I can hardly sit still.

“Avi.” Bridget drops her hand onto my knee, stopping its incessant bouncing. “Relax.” I peek at her, and she chuckles. “Breathe. Jesus, your leg’s gonna fall off.”

“Sorry,” I sigh on an exhale. “I’m just really nervous…”

My eyes stay on Kyran as he bends at the waist and prepares for the snap. We’re much farther away than I’m used to being… Usually I’d be on the sidelines with a clear view of his facial expressions and his subtle movements. Up here, it’s like I’m watching him on TV, only surrounded by ninety thousand cheering fans.

The ball is hiked to him, and Kyran straightens, stepping backward with his arm cocked. Guty is open down the field, so he launches the ball, and it soars, spiraling to our wide receiver. Guty catches it and steps twice before he’s tackled. But still. First down.

Everyone cheers, including me. That’s my man down there…

“See? No need to be nervous,” Bridget says to me with a smile. “Your boyfriend’s got this in the bag.”

A smile curves my lips, though it’s still tense. I just can’t help it… There’s so much going on, and I have no weed to fill my lungs with. Not even a goddamn edible.

Oh, and did I mention we didn’t even get to fuck last night??

Yea, that was fun. After dinner, I went straight back to the hotel, showered, and parked my ass in bed waiting for Kyran to show up so I could give him his good luck dick. Then he texted me that Coach wasn’t letting any of them go anywhere, and it was too risky for him to try to sneak out.

If I’d known that was gonna happen, I would have fucked him in the bathroom of the damn restaurant. I bet the guy who gave us a dirty look for touching each other would’ve really loved that.

The second quarter flies by just like the first, fast and action-packed. Notre Dame is on fire, their defense doing a number on our running game. But no matter how hard they try to stifle the connection between Kyran and his receivers, they can’t stop us from scoring.

Kyran’s already thrown two touchdown passes, sinking balls down the field at every opportunity. By halftime, the score is twenty-four to fourteen, Eagles in the lead. My stomach flutters as I watch Kyran run off the field, knowing he’s probably being all serious and tense, wishing he could control every move made around him.

I hope he finds time to look at his palm… Trace those lines. Calm down and remember to enjoy this.

“You wanna grab a beer?” Bridget asks, standing up and stretching out her arms.

We’re both wearing number nine jerseys, and she even painted a 9 on her cheek with maroon and gold sparkles.

Considering it for a second, I stand by her side. “Sure, why not.”

Beer isn’t weed. It’s fine.

We leave our seats to go find a concession stand, where Bridget orders two beers, waiting until we’re far enough away to hand one to me, since ya know… I’m not twenty-one just yet.

“So are you a football nut like Kyran?” I ask Bridget with a grin while we putter around inside the lower level of the stadium.

She chuckles. “I’ve always loved football. We grew up watching it together… Mainly because Dad was so into it. But you have to admit, there’s nothing quite like it.”

“I don’t know.” I shrug. “There are other exciting sports, I guess… What about hockey?”

“Why is hockey exciting?” She peers at me with a smirk. “They don’t even let the players fight anymore,” she scoffs. “Highly stifles the raging testosterone in the air. Plus, they’re just moving back and forth. Same as basketball, soccer…”

My head tilts, because I guess she has a point.

She grins. “But football… Football is do or die. I read a statistic the other day that said one hundred percent of players in the NFL suffer injuries of some kind. One. Hundred. Percent. That means no matter what, you’re guaranteed to get hurt. How messed up is that?” She breathes a soft laugh, like she’s awed by this staggering fact. “American football is by far the most thrilling of all the big, traditional sports. It’s almost barbaric in a way, but it’s complex and captivating, if you can catch on. Football isn’t just game, it’s a lifestyle. It’s heart-pumping, adrenaline spiking action, from start to finish.”

Smirking, I narrow my gaze at her. “Are you a Patriots fan? Because you sound like one…”

Bridget throws her head back in laughter that has me chuckling. Then she aims a knowing look at me. “You better be prepared, kid. This is just the beginning… If Kyran gets drafted to the NFL, you’re gonna need a sedative.”

Yea, that’s what I’m afraid of.

Taking a large gulp of my beer, I allow the substance to calm me as much as it can. “The thing is, I’m not afraid he won’t win. He is that good. But I just… I worry about how much pressure he puts on himself. To be the best, ya know?”

She nods, her eyes shifting away from mine as she sips from her cup.

I need to know what she knows… I need to know what I’m up against, being with Kyran.

“You know, when he was little, he used to be so chill,” she says, staring off into space. “He was the kid all the other kids wanted to be around. Always smiling and laughing.”

I’m reeling from what I’m hearing right now. Are we talking about Kyran Harbor??

Bridget keeps talking. “And it wasn’t because he was raised that way or anything, because trust me, my dad worked constantly. And as soon as we were old enough to fend for ourselves, my mom backed way off. But that didn’t matter to us, because we had each other. Nothing else mattered…” Her voice trails off a bit before she mumbles, “It was like us against the world.”

Her expression grows less nostalgic and more remorseful as she sips her drink. “But then we grew apart a little… I started paying more attention to my friends. I mean, I was fourteen, it’s just what you did. It’s the most selfish time in any kid’s life. Kyran lost his carefree side, and started following the rules more… The only place he always felt comfortable was the football field.”

She smiles whimsically, and my lips curve, a warmth of pride for how far he’s come filling my chest.

But then Bridget’s smile falls away and she murmurs, “I should have paid more attention… to why he was becoming so nervous. I should have been there more… told my father to fuck off with that—” Her voice cuts out, and she peeks at me. But she doesn’t finish her sentence. She just gulps her drink back fast.

I’m just staring at her, confused and uneasy, because this isn’t about a divorce. There’s something else going on here.

“Bridget…” I speak her name firmly, and her eyes flit to mine again. “Why did your parents split up?” She stares at me, chewing on her bottom lip. “What happened that made you both want to escape so badly…?”

Her jaw drops as she gapes up at me, so much guilt and anguish in her eyes, I can almost feel it hitting me in waves. She looks like she’s about to say something… Like it’s on the tip of her tongue and she wants to unburden herself so badly, it’s killing her not to.

But then people start filing by us, back to their seats, a commotion likely indicating that halftime is almost over.

And she clears her throat, giving her chin a little shake. “I’m gonna grab another drink before we head back.”

I watch her wandering away with her head down, my mind sifting through her words. If Kyran used to be so free-spirited… what clipped his wings?


That’s it. I’m gonna puke.

My heart is officially lodged in my throat, and I can barely breathe.

This game is driving me to drink. I’m not sure what happened at halftime, but Notre Dame came back with a fire under their asses.

They scored two touchdowns on back-to-back drives, and their defense pulled out all the stops. I’m guessing they realized Kyran is a force to be reckoned with, because they’ve been all over our receivers, forcing us to run the ball, which can only take us so far. To top things off, Theo missed a field goal… His first miss of the season.

I feel awful. Theo is a crazy talented kicker, and I just know the pressure probably got to him.

I remember him storming off the field, whipping his helmet at the bench so hard it scuffed the paint. Kyran was trying to talk to him, grabbing him by the arm like he wanted to calm his friend down. But Theo was visibly pissed, and I get it.

The Eagles needed the points. And we still do now.

We’re down by fourteen, with only five minutes left in the game. Coach Matthews is visibly screaming at the huddle of our offense. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but I have to assume he’s not happy, and that he’s putting the fear of God in these players right now.

That man has always sort of terrified me. He’s so quiet… Until he isn’t.

“Kyran’s gonna do something,” I mumble, pushing past the doubt in my voice. “He has to.”

“These fighting fucking Irish…” Bridget scoffs, then hollers, “Show ’em how Irish really fight, Ky!”

Everyone around us cheers, but I can’t even move. My hands are clasped together so tightly I think I might break my own fingers.

Kyran and our offensive line jog back onto the field, and I know I can’t see his face, but somehow, I can feel how tense he is. It’s like we’re both down there, and I’m sitting inside his body with him, sharing his nervous frustration.

The ball is punted to Guty, and he catches it. Then he takes off running, weaving in between Notre Dame defense for a return. The crowd around me is screaming and hollering. I think Guty’s family is sitting right behind us because my eardrums have officially blown out.

Someone finally gets him down, but he managed to gain twenty-six yards. Kyran says something to him when they’re all gathered around setting up for the next drive. Guty nods and they smash their helmets together.

“Come on, baby…” I whisper. “You’ve got this on lock.”

There’s the snap. Kyran hands off the ball to Benito to run it. But then he steps back and whips the ball in Guty’s direction. They faked the hand-off, and seamlessly, I might add.

Notre Dame is unprepared, and Guty is a fucking madman. He catches the ball and runs faster than I’ve ever seen any human move before. He gets all the way to the fifteen-yard line before he’s knocked out of bounds. But no matter. We’re in scoring position now.

“Fuck yea!” I shout while Bridget woos and we high-five. “That’s what I’m talkin about!”

“Number eighty-one is a beast!” Bridget cheers.

“That’s my son!” a lady with tanned skin and short spiky hair says from behind us, clear excitement shaking her voice.

“You’re Guty’s mom?” I ask her, and she nods enthusiastically. “He’s a great guy.”

“Are you from BC?” she asks, and I nod.

“I’m Kyran’s…” The words come to a fast bottleneck in my mouth. Stepbrother? Friend? Boyfriend? Why the hell do I not know what to say right now?! I clear my throat. “I’m the Eagles’s mascot.”

Bridget shoots me a look, to which I shrug.

You’re the Eagle?!” Guty’s mom gasps. “We love you!” I grin humbly, mimicking a bow. “You should be down there with them, cheering them on!”

“I wish…” I mumble. And the conversation stops because the ball is in the air.

Fellows catches it in the end zone, and we all jump out of our seats.

“Yea, bitch!” I scream while everyone goes wild.

“Hold up,” a guy sitting next to Guty’s mom calls out. “There’s a flag down.”

“Who threw it??”

The ref announces over the speaker. “Holding. Offense, number seven. Ten-yard penalty. First and goal.”

“That’s bullshit!” Bridget squawks.

“Holding my ass!” Guty’s mom screams, and she and Bridget tap their cups together in a cheers.

“Hey, ref! I’ve got something you can hold!” the guy next to Guty’s mom roars, grabbing his crotch.

“Mijo…” she scolds, shaking her head at him.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” I mumble, mostly to myself. “They’ve got this.”

I can tell Kyran is pissed, but not once do you see him react to it. He pats number seven, Sean Cameron, on the back, and they get ready to try again.

The play is live and I’m sweating. Notre Dame’s defense is covering the crap out of everyone in the end zone. Kyran has nowhere to send the ball, so he starts to run, doing his best to dodge the guards and tackles. He gets within a step of the end zone, and some big asshole knocks the ball out of his hands.

“Fuck!” Bridget and I both gasp at the same time, everyone’s eyes locked in suspense on the field.

The ball flings up into the air. A Notre Dame guy lunges for it.

But then Kyran reaches up and grabs it, securing it back into his arms as he falls into the end zone.

There’s a split second of silence when we’re all just staring. Collectively breathless.

The ref’s hands shoot up, and we all go wild.

Touchdown!

Bridget and I are hugging onto each other, screaming like total freaks.

“Oh my God, that was so close,” she squeals, pounding the rest of her drink.

“They’re going for the two-point conversion,” Guty’s mom says, gripping onto the arm of the guy who’s sitting next to her. Based on how much he looks like Guty, I’d be willing to bet it’s his brother.

“Escúchame, hermano…” the guy murmurs to himself, as if he’s talking to Guty. So definitely his brother. “Get us those two points.”

Kyran is shouting to his offensive line so loudly I can hear his voice up here. He’s pointing and gesturing to them, nodding to the guys at his side as they take position.

The snap brings immediate chaos. It’s hard to even tell what’s happening, but I think I see the ball being passed left. But then it looks like it’s on the right. And then Kyran is shooting the ball over everyone’s heads to Guty, who somehow ducks himself out of the hold of two guys and catches it.

The crowd erupts in cheers and howls while we watch Guty do his celebratory dance in the end zone.

“That’s my brother right there!” the guy behind us shouts.

My eyes follow Kyran off the field as I send him as many good vibes as possible. We still need to keep Notre Dame from scoring, and then score once more to win.

Almighty Tom Brady… We need a miracle.

Notre Dame’s quarterback, Connor Devlin, takes the field with his guys, and I can tell they mean business. Our defense is working hard at choking them up, but they’re moving slowly up the field.

Gazing down at Kyran on the bench, I can see his knee bouncing the way mine was earlier. I wish I could be down there…

“It’s not over until it’s over, baby…” I whisper.

Devlin throws an incomplete, and two more attempts at running get them nowhere. So they go for a field goal.

“I don’t want to pray for anyone to fail, but Father, make this boy miss,” Guty’s mom whimpers. Bridget and I can’t help but laugh.

Notre Dame’s kicker kicks. The ball soars.

I hold my breath.

And the ref’s arms go out at his sides. No good.

“Yes!” We all jump up screaming, hugging onto each other in a huddle while we bounce around.

“Oh my God, they’re gonna do it!” Bridget cries.

“Shut up! Don’t jinx them.” I yank her back down into her seat.

We’re clutching one another, watching as Theo punts the ball. Two minutes left in the game. And Kyran is preparing to take the field one last time.

This is the moment of truth… The make or break.

If we can score one more touchdown, we’ll be NCAA Champions.

I’m not breathing. The noise around me has faded into the background, and all I can hear is the thump of my heart… As if it’s mirroring the thump in Kyran’s chest.

He moves gracefully, stepping like it’s a delicate dance, launching the ball in a way that feels almost godlike. He’s truly incredible to watch. The strength and the focus, the way he breathes the game in and out of his lungs.

Kyran Harbor was meant to do this. Plain and simple. Right now, it’s as clear as crystal.

He’s going to the NFL. There’s no way he isn’t.

And for the first time, that thought doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t fill me with worry or doubt, about him leaving Boston. This is bigger than any of that…

Football is his destiny.

And cards on the table, I will gladly follow him wherever he goes. If he wants me to…

First down after first down, they drive, and it’s tense. It’s fucking suffocating, but they do it. And when he finally finds his shot, Kyran takes it.

His arm flies up. The ball soars.

Guty catches it.

Touchdown.

The Eagles just won the fucking Rose Bowl, baby.

I’m not sure I’ve ever spazzed so hard in my life. We’re all jumping and screaming. I’m hugging Bridget and she’s crying. Guty’s family is alerting nearby dogs with their high-pitched squeals of delight.

It’s fucking epic. I can’t believe it… Except that I can, because my man is that good.

I’ve literally never been so proud.

“Your boyfriend is gonna get drafted,” Bridget sobs in my ear, and I chuckle while she shakes me around. “Where do you think he’s gonna go?!”

“Hopefully somewhere nice,” I sigh, my mind spinning through thoughts of various places in this great big country.

And hopefully he’d want me to come, too.

Biting my lip, I watch as Theo nails the extra point, and we all cheer for him because really, he’s the one who just solidified the whole thing. I never thought about it before… how much the team relies on their kicker. Theo is amazing at what he does. I hope he doesn’t give himself too much grief for missing one field goal in an entire season.

But if he’s anything like Kyran, I’m sure he’ll be beating himself up.

Kyran is just so fucking adorable right now, I can’t stand it. He and Guty are hanging all over each other, their teammates crowding around them in widespread celebration. Notre Dame’s offense lingers, with only fifteen seconds on the clock, the game is deemed over.

What a rush. A spectacular end to a wild season.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get either of your names,” Guty’s mom says to us over the noise, and “All I Do Is Win” bumping over the speakers.

“I’m Avi,” I tell her. “This is Bridget. Kyran’s sister.”

“Liz Gutierrez.” She grins. “This is my son, Marco.” Guty’s brother nods at us as Liz asks, “Are you two coming to the party?”

I glance at Bridget, anxiety weaseling its way up again. I hadn’t really planned on going to the party… I know Kyran will be the star of the show, and the idea of tagging along makes me feel a little awkward.

But Bridget nudges me. “You know he’s gonna want you there.”

Gulping, I nod hesitantly.

Guty’s mom and brother wave at us as they disappear into the crowd. And I’m even more nervous now… We all know parties full of football players aren’t my scene.

Buck up. You’ll have to get used to it if he goes to the NFL…

I just wish I could see Kyran right now. It’s so different when we’re alone. But every second we’re not together is spent with mountains of doubt rising between us.

My eyes fall back down to the field, where a reporter is interviewing Kyran. He looks so happy. And I’m happy that he’s happy. So I guess that’s all that matters.

“So, what’s up?” Bridget asks. “You wanna go wait for him?”

Watching Kyran, I shake my head. “Nah, he’s doing his thing right now. We can go back to the hotel. That’s where the party is happening, anyway.”

Bridget nods, and we fight the psychotic body traffic out of the stadium until we reach the even more ridiculous car traffic. It takes us a bazillion years to get back to the hotel, and by the time we’re there, I really need a freaking drink.

“Let’s go to the bar,” Bridget says as we walk inside.

“I’m only twenty,” I mumble.

“Ugh, God. I forgot you’re both fetuses,” she scoffs.

I laugh and shake my head. “There’s a minibar in my room.”

Up in my hotel room, we crack open a bottle of tequila and pour two shots to celebrate the BC Eagles being big, fancy NCAA Division I Champions.

“I’m so fucking proud of him…” I breathe as the liquor burns its way down my throat.

“I can see that.” Bridget grins. “You looked like you were gonna die when the ball was in the air that last time.”

I chuckle. “It’s just… I don’t know. Watching him play this entire season, while everything else has been going on between us… I feel like I’ve been a part of it, ya know?” I shake my head, fiddling with my chipped nail polish. “I’ve never felt like that before.”

“You are a part of it, Avi,” she says, and I glance up. “You’re the mascot.” I huff, but she pins me with a look. “I’m serious. I know it seems like a goofy thing, but you were there pumping them up, rooting for them. Rooting for him.”

I purse my lips. “It was just fun to be included.”

“I wasn’t kidding when I said your name came up every time we talked.” She smirks. “Any time I’d call him after a game, he’d be like, ‘And Avi was over there doing the Gangnam Style dance…’

I laugh out loud while she snickers.

“Dead ass. I didn’t want to piss him off by saying anything, but it was super obvious he never stopped paying attention to you.”

“It was impossible for me to hate him…” I murmur truthfully while she pours two more shots. “Believe me, I tried. He was a real jerk to me at times…”

“I believe it.”

“But underneath it, I always just wanted him to like me. And the high of getting someone like him interested in someone like me was unlike anything…”

“Avi, who are you kidding? You know you’re perfect for him,” she says.

“I don’t know that…”

“Yes, you do. Trust me. I’ve only known you for a day, and I can see it. I saw it last night the second you two walked in and sat down next to each other, like there was no possible way you could be apart. You’re exactly what my brother needs. Someone supportive and patient, who’s gonna love him no matter what. Someone who calls him on his bullshit and loves the stubborn out of him.”

We take our shots, and she breathes out slowly. “But mostly, someone who will stay by his side. He doesn’t need to be abandoned any more…”

“Bridget, he doesn’t hold that against you,” I tell her, and her deep amber eyes slink to mine. In this light, you can see so much of Tom in her.

“But you do…” she whispers.

My jaw tightens, but I shake my head. “It’s not my place.”

“Bullshit. You’re family. And now, you’re also Kyran’s partner. It is your place to be pissed off on his behalf.”

I slump back in my chair and sigh. “I guess it’s just that I don’t understand why you left. I don’t get the whole thing… I don’t understand why Kyran is so convinced your family split up because of him.”

Bridget’s eyes set on the marble island between us as she mumbles, “It wasn’t his fault…”

“No shit,” I grunt. “But why does he feel like that?? It makes no fucking sense.”

She pours more booze into her cup, whipping it back. “Because our asshole father made him feel like it was.”

What…?

My gaze at her narrows. “Why? Why would Tom do that to a twelve-year-old kid?”

Bridget goes quiet for a moment, the suspense and angst building a thickness in the air. “It’s not my place to tell you about it… You should hear it from Kyran.”

Raking my fingers through my hair, I yank it. “You and I both know he won’t. And I need to know. Bridget, I’m really starting to freak out here. You’re making me think it’s like… something bad.”

When her gaze slides back up to mine, there are tears glistening her eyes. “It is bad, Avi. It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone I know… And it happened to my baby brother.”

Oh God… This is too much. Jesus, I’m freaking the fuck out.

My gut is churning so hard I feel nauseous. I know it’s not right for me to demand answers… I know that. I should wait for Kyran to confide in me when he’s ready.

But I also know that if he’s suffering, stuffing down something awful from his past and pretending it doesn’t exist, that’s really not healthy. I want to be able to help him. To love him, no matter what.

“Just promise you won’t leave him…” Bridget whispers.

“I won’t fucking leave him unless he wants me to…” I shiver out the words. “Because I’ll do anything for him, even if it kills me,” I tell her with my fullest sincerity.

After all, it’s true. Kyran Harbor is the love of my life. That’s it.

I’ve fallen. Hook, line, and sinker, he has my whole heart.

Bridget slinks off her chair, padding across the room to her purse. She plucks her phone out of it, tapping away while I’m just staring at her, my heart beating its way up my esophagus.

She glares at something on the screen before sighing and sliding her phone over to me.

Picking it up, my eyes travel, reading the words. At first, I have no idea what I’m looking at… A legal document, or a settlement of some kind?

But the more I read, my heart proceeds to snap in half in my chest.

And with each word that follows, it cracks and slits and crumbles, my fingers shaking with rage and despair as I scroll down to the end.

There’s a picture.

“Is…” My voice will barely creep from my throat, I’m so shocked and appalled. So disgusted and angry and horrified. “Is this real? This is… him?”

Bridget sniffles, and I know she’s crying. But I can’t pry my eyes away from the phone in front of me. Every single fiber of my being is thrumming with wrath, woven around strands of aching empathy for my stepbrother.

The man I love. My family.

No matter what he is to me, even if he was a stranger, this would make me sick to my stomach. I feel myself retch as I shove the phone away, covering my face with my hands.

“Oh my God…” I’m quaking.

Sick and sad and more enraged than I’ve ever felt before.

“That’s Father McAdams,” Bridget whimpers, then snarls with the same fury I’m feeling in my veins. “The fucking monster who raped my brother when he was twelve.”

No… No, no, no, this isn’t true.

It can’t be.

Kyran… A soft sound escapes me as I rip my hair out of my head.

The words are spinning in my mind, being read aloud in my own voice.

The archdiocese has agreed to dismiss and laicize Father James McAdams of Cathedral of the Holy Cross in South Boston, per out of court settlement with the family of Kyran Thomas Harbor, Somerville, MA.

The Church will pay out a sum of one-point-four million dollars to the family. Settlement professes nondisclosure…

“Bridget… I’m gonna be sick…” I cough, barely even recognizing my own voice as I stand up and sprint to the bathroom.

Heaving with my face on fire, I throw up the booze I just consumed. But I’m numb… I don’t feel the burn and the wrenching pain in my gut. All I feel is excruciating, throbbing anger.

Falling back on my knees, I force myself to breathe, steadying enough to stand up on wobbly legs. I rinse my mouth out and splash water on my face, eyes traveling up to my reflection in the mirror. And I remember…

I remember the times I’ve seen Kyran do this.

Staring at himself in the mirror, like he’s desperately trying to recognize himself.

Stumbling back into the room, I find Bridget shakily pouring herself another drink.

“A s-settlement??” I stammer, shaking my head.

This is fucking insane. I can’t even process it. It’s like my mind has completely shut down. I think I’m in shock.

She sips her drink, wincing before pushing out a long, hopeless breath. “It was the end of summer before my senior year of high school… Kyran had just come home from church camp, this dumb bullshit our parents used to make us do. I hadn’t gone in a few years, because I’d whined and begged to go to camp with my friends instead. But Kyran was still going. We were supposed to go to the Cape in the morning… I was packing my… swimsuit.” She chokes on the word and releases a quiet sob of a noise before roughly rubbing at her face, like she’s trying to force away the terror of an awful memory.

“I heard a noise. Like a… thud. Coming from the upstairs bathroom,” she speaks quietly, her wide gaze stuck on the marble countertop. “I rushed to the door and knocked, calling out to Kyran to see if it was him. If he was okay…” She stops again to breathe. “He wasn’t answering me, and the door was locked, so I used a credit card to break in. He was… he was lying on the floor of the tub with the shower running and half the shower curtain ripped down.”

My chest is somehow hollow and pulsing at the same time as she struggles out more words. “I thought he’d fallen, so I rushed over to him. He didn’t look hurt, but he was… staring. Not blinking, just staring. I thought he was dead for a second, and I swear to God, I’ve never been so scared in my life. But then I realized he was breathing… trembling from head to toe.

“I wrapped him in a towel and got him out of the tub… He could barely walk, and I was screaming at him to tell me what was wrong, but he wouldn’t speak.”

I can somehow see everything she’s describing… Young Kyran, frozen in shock.

Broken.

My legs give out and I come crashing to the floor, sitting with my knees bent and my fingers threaded in my hair, gripping my skull.

“When I… mentioned that I was going to call an ambulance, he suddenly snapped out of it and his head started flinging back and forth while he cried no… over and over.” Bridget stops with tears tumbling down her cheeks and she swallows more liquor. “I took him into my room, got him dressed, and put him in my bed… And he was crying and crying. And I was crying because I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was bad, you know? When he finally calmed down enough to breathe and speak, he said, ‘Something happened.’” She wipes her nose with her hand, the sorrow on her face palpable. “That’s when I knew… I mean, I didn’t know the details. I didn’t need to… But I knew something terrible had happened to him, and fuck, I just wanted to rip myself open and give him whatever he needed to feel better. But there was nothing I could do… I’d already failed him. Because I didn’t protect him.”

She drops her head to the counter. “I was supposed to protect him.”

Without even realizing it, I’m crying. Silently whimpering grief for the love of my life.

And this brokenness he’s been holding inside for so long.

The room is silent for a while before Bridget continues. “Eventually, he told me what Father McAdams had done… And Avi… I’m telling you that I’ve never wanted so badly to hurt someone in my whole life. That night, I went to the asshole’s house. I took the bus, and I went to his fucking house… and I stood outside, thinking about if I could actually do it. If I could kill him…”

Her head lifts, and our eyes lock. I feel the hatred, the wrath, and the pain, moving between her and me, like a tangible force of energy.

My muscles stiffen and my teeth grind together. I want that, too. I don’t even know this person, but I want him to burn alive in an inferno for all eternity. I want him to know exactly why he’s being punished. I need him to get it.

“Obviously, I didn’t,” she huffs weakly. “He killed himself, by the way. They found him hanging from a light fixture in his study four years ago… With a piece of paper gripped in his fist that said I’m sorry.” She cackles a furiously unamused laugh. “Sorry?! Fuck!” she screams, and I flinch as she jumps up and starts pacing around. She looks so much like Kyran right now, it’s making me feel sick again. “Whatever, that’s not the point. He got off way too easily, as far as I’m concerned. But that night when I came home, it turns out Kyran had told Dad. And do you wanna know what our father said…?”

I’m exhausted as I breathe, “I’m guessing he didn’t believe him…”

“I’m sure he knew it was true,” she grunts. “But he told him he was overreacting. That he was just making up stories that could destroy people’s lives.”

My eyes fall shut, jaw straining, as I slowly recline onto my back on the floor.

This is so completely fucking fucked.

I feel like I’m outside of myself, outside of reality. Watching some fucked-up movie…

This is what Kyran has been walking around with for eight years??

Jesus… Kyran.

Kyran… I whimper his name again and again in my mind.

“It smacked Tom in the face real hard when a few other kids came forward,” Bridget whispers, staggering over for more booze. I think she’s going to black out if she keeps up the way she’s going. But then I don’t exactly blame her. “But he still didn’t want to believe it. He didn’t want to accept it, because he’s a coward. His goddamn faith meant more to him than his own son. His reputation, his place in the church… all that fucking bullshit… he chose it over Kyran. They settled in court, as long as everyone agreed never to speak of it. The money went into a trust in Kyran’s name, but he said he’d rather die than touch a dime of it. He was fucking thirteen years old… dealing with this… This horror.

“So yea… I guess it did tear our family apart. Mom and Dad fought nonstop, and they filed for divorce three months later. But no one ever stopped to check on Kyran. No counseling, no therapy. Nothing. Denial… That’s it.”

Bridget slumps down onto the floor by my feet. “I couldn’t take it. That’s why I left. I tried to get Kyran to talk to someone, but he was convinced all he needed to do was forget it ever happened. He wouldn’t talk about it… wouldn’t even acknowledge it. Because that’s what Dad told him to do. So I applied to school out here… And I fucking left. Because I couldn’t spend one more second near that man. I wanted to forget my father even existed for the way he treated Kyran. I was a coward too…”

She whispers, curling up into a ball on the floor, “Because I left him. I should’ve stayed… Just to be there for him. But I was too angry. I still am. It burns inside me every day, like another piece of myself made of rage. I’m not satisfied with that monster copping out and hanging himself. And I’m so proud of Kyran, and how incredible he turned out, despite everything, but… god-fuckin-damnit, I just hate my father so fucking much.”

Blinking, my eyes follow the lines of the ceiling, mind expanding and contracting through this information like weak lungs struggling to breathe. The helplessness inside me… it reminds me of when I was six. When I found out I would never see my father again.

It’s a misery that swallows you whole… A suffering at knowing there’s nothing you can do to change it.

Life… This is the pain of life, and it’s just so motherfucking bleak.

The endless void of silence is broken when my phone pings in my pocket. Pulling it out, I focus my blurred vision on the screen.

Kyran: BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!

A choked sob leaves my lips, tears welling in my eyes and a happy-sad grin curving my mouth. Two more quick texts pop up, radiating his excitement.

Kyran: We did it! We did it Avi…

Kyran: God I can’t wait to see you baby.

My heart is trying to pump itself back to life, seal together all the wounds from uncovering the horrible the truth and just love him. Be happy for him, because damnit, he seems so happy.

I can’t believe he can be so happy, even with this stuff living inside him.

He’s truly amazing.

My trembling fingers are struggling to type out a message as he keeps texting me.

Kyran: Are you coming to the party??? We’re on our way back to the hotel now. I just have to change and then we’ll be down there.

Kyran: I hope you’re not mad that I couldn’t see you right away after the game… It was such a whirlwind. I just got done showering after all the interviews and everything. Plus Coach popped a bottle of Dom in the locker room, so I’m a lil tipsy lol

Kyran: I wanna kiss you so bad babe. I’m gonna kiss you in front of EVERYONE 🙂

Jesus, my fucking heart. I can’t even breathe…

Me: I love you, Kyran. I am so fucking proud of you.

He must really be tipsy because he sends me a bunch of emojis. An eggplant, a peach, and five water-squirts.

My chest shakes with a laugh as I wipe tears from my eyes.

Kyran: Come to the party… please. I need you Avi.

Me: I wouldn’t miss it for the world gorgeous.


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