JARED FELT anything but relaxed as he sat across from the man who just introduced himself as Ananda’s older brother. Typically, he would assume a first meeting with the family of a significant other would include a semi-awkward dinner with the father asking all sorts of probing questions followed by pseudo threats of death by shotgun if a hair on his darling daughter’s head was out of place. Instead Jared sat gingerly on the edge of a raggedy bed, clothes having been hastily pulled on in the wake of their new company, with Ananda sobbing in her big brother’s arms. A big brother who somehow managed to be comforting to his sister while his eyes promised swift and sudden death to Jared if he found she had come to any harm.
Ananda missed the exchange between her brother and Jared as she pulled back, tears in her eyes and a sob stuck in her throat. Truthfully she had thought she would never see Ryan again and was a bit perplexed by his abrupt re-entry into her life. Her gaze was drawn to how close Ryan and Kerrie were as well as the feeling of raw magnetism that almost radiated between them. Slowly, she backed away until Jared guided her down until she was almost perched across his lap, his arm never leaving the place where it was draped across her waist in a possessive and comforting hold.
“I’m…” Ananda, swallowed hard pushing down the lump in her throat. “It’s been months, Ryan. Months! One minute you’re telling me about your exploits in the real world; job, house, car, everything. The next you just up and disappear with no phone calls, no emails, nothing!”
“I know Ana and I’m sorry, I really am but,” Ryan paused, his gaze sliding over to Kerri as if needing her permission to speak the truth. Ananda could feel her fury rising over her brother and best friend’s seemingly unspoken exchange. “We wanted to keep you safe –”
“Keep me safe?!” Ananda exclaimed incredulously. “Were you keeping me safe when you let mom and dad send me to all those shrinks and specialists who made me feel as if I were crazy for hearing voices? Were you keeping me safe when you abandoned me and moved halfway across the country the first chance you got?!” Ananda’s voice rang out shrilly as she stood abruptly, fists balled and barely hanging onto what little sanity she had left after the past few days.
“Ananda I know,” Ryan started only to be cut off again by his sister’s angry voice.
Fighting against Jared’s tightening hold around her waist, Ananda could feel fresh hot tears spilling from her eyes and racing down her flushed cheeks. “No you don’t Ryan. You don’t know shit about anything, especially not how I feel. And you,” Ananda turned to the woman she had loved as a sister sitting stock still and unsurprised by Ananda’s ire. Her unusual calm almost made Ananda want to rage even harder. “I thought you were my friend and now it seems you’d been lying to me too. How long have you two been plotting and spying on me, huh? Did you have a good laugh at my bumbling efforts to figure out who I was? I should have known something wasn’t right when you never invited me to meet your family!”
At the mention of her family, Kerri’s countenance changed and her words rang out with a fury greater than Ananda had ever witnessed from the redhead.
“My family is the reason why our lives are so fucked right now!” Kerri used her hands to say the word family in quotations as if the very idea of family was somehow ridiculous. “The reason I’ve never invited you to meet them is because I washed my hands of them years ago.” The slight woman stood abruptly and began pacing as if unable to speak the words while staying still.
“When I was fifteen, my mother, younger sister and I moved to New York. I thought it was strange that my father and brothers didn’t come with us, but I figured he had a good reason and didn’t dwell on it, instead focusing on school and making friends and trying to be popular.” Kerri stopped, turning slowly to look at Ryan, emotion clear in her eyes. “And then I fell in love.”
Blinking, Jared looked between the two guests. Without even trying, he could feel the love and affection that practically pulsed off of the two in waves and wondered if he and Ananda were exuding similar feelings.
“I’m so confused right now,” Ananda whispered plopping down beside Jared once again. She leaned against him heavily and gladly soaked up the feelings of calm the man was radiating out. She would have had to be a fool to not see the depth of feeling between her brother and Kerri, but it still didn’t explain how they knew each other or why they were here now. And how did they even find them?
“I called Bill, whose real name is apparently Ryan and he is also, apparently, your brother,” Jared answered.
“Wait,” Ananda spoke up. “Didn’t you say your friend Bill was in Canada? Wasn’t he the guy with safe houses?”