I yawn and stretch as I glance over at my collection of vintage cameras, and a rush of excitement fills my veins. As I slide out of bed, I feel around for my glasses then make my way into my small bathroom to brush my teeth and do my hair before getting ready for class.
We’re getting our final assignments for the newspaper this morning, and I’m eager to know what mine is. I may have joined the paper for Kass, but I actually enjoy it.
Swinging my closet doors wide, I try to decide on an outfit that goes with my mood today. I’m feeling pretty pumped, so I grab my favorite black tutu, a plain white V-neck tee, and I tap my chin as I survey my shoe rack for the right pair of shoes... Bam. My black Docs with purple laces.
Once I’m dressed, I inspect my appearance in the full-length mirror behind my door. I’ve done my long, brown hair in a braid that starts at my right temple and curls around the back of my head, ending below my left ear to hang over my shoulder. The thick, black frames of my glasses actually complement my outfit, so I forgo my contacts today.
After grabbing my satchel from my desk chair, I head downstairs to scarf some breakfast before I pick up Kassidy. As I enter the kitchen, my mother eyes my outfit then sighs heavily. I raise a brow. “Yes, Momma?”
She tries to hide her grimace, but she’s not quick enough, and I see it.
“What? I didn’t say anything. Would you like me to make you some breakfast?” she asks in an overly chipper tone, no doubt trying to cover her disapproval.
“Thanks, but I can make my own. What’s with the frown?”
Chewing her lip for a second, she then drops her gaze to my outfit then answers, “Nothing, really. I mean, I just…”—she blows her bangs out of her eyes—“I don’t understand your clothing choices, Chance. You’re a very beautiful young woman, but the way you dress… It’s so…unusual.”
I shake my head and chuckle. She’s never been a fan of my wardrobe—not since the day I started dressing myself. My mother is a classic beauty who channels Audrey Hepburn even on her worst day.
“Mom, if I looked more like you, I would totally rock that iconic, vintage-60s-goddess style you’ve got going on. But unfortunately for you, I take after Papa and Hux in that department. So, this is how I roll.” I smile and blow her a kiss as I grab an apple out of the fruit basket on the kitchen counter. “See you later,” I call behind me, swinging my keys around my finger.
Sliding into the driver’s seat of my VW Bug, I flick Kass a text, letting him know I’m on my way.
CHANCE: Coming at you.
Then, I back out of the driveway, cranking the music up as I go.
Kass is only two years younger than me. It’s really not that weird that we’re so close. He’s been my best friend and confidant for as long as I can remember. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact that he’s my nephew rarely comes up anymore.
I honk my horn twice when I pull in front of my big brother’s house to let Kass know I’m here. A minute later, Kass strolls out the front door with his dad—and my brother—Hux, on his heels.
“Ladies,” I drawl with a grin on my face and turn down my tunes as they approach my car side by side.
Kass shakes his head as he rounds the car then climbs in, and Hux cocks a brow. “Really? That’s the best you’ve got?” he says, shaking his head in disappointment.
I shrug. “I wasn’t really trying. I bet I could come up with something better if I was.”
Hux rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “Sure you could.” He braces his arms on the roof of my car as he leans down to peer through my window. “So, I’ve been thinking—”
“Uh-oh,” I cut him off. “That could be dangerous.”
He scoffs. “Shut up and listen, smartass. If you’re serious about pursuing your photography, I thought you might want to come work with me after graduation.”
My jaw drops. “Are you serious?” Hux is the one who gave me my first camera—I’ve been addicted ever since. It was his influence that first got me thinking outside the box when it came to my own style. I can only imagine how amazing it would be to work by his side full-time.
Hux holds my gaze, no trace of humor in his features. “Only if you’re sure this is the career you want to pursue. This is a huge opportunity, and attaching your name to mine? It’s going to give you a lot of attention straight up. So, if you’re not absolutely certain that photography is your future, I’d rather give it to someone else.”
I can’t believe he even has to say that. “You know how I feel. This is what I want, Hux.” My heart is pounding so hard. To be mentored by my big brother would be incredible.
The pride that shines in his eyes as he looks at me fills me with confidence. This is the only path for me. I know it, and so does he. He nods then slaps his palms against the roof of my car twice. “Alright then. You better get going, or you two will be late.” Then he steps back and waves as we pull away from the curb.
Glancing at Kass in my passenger seat, I can’t wipe the smile off my face. “Did you know he was going to do that?”
He shrugs his broad shoulders. “Maybe,” he says without looking in my direction. He’s flicking through his notebook. Kass has more notebooks than I have cameras. And that’s saying something.
I shove his shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Finally, he lifts his gaze. “He asked if I thought you’d be interested. I said something along the lines of, ‘She’ll be all over it like Mom on a pint of ice cream.’”
“Good analogy,” I say, laughing. Nobody loves ice cream like El.
“I thought so,” Kass murmurs as he turns his attention back to his notebook. He’s a journalism major and works as a reporter at the Shiloh Springs University newspaper. He writes the articles, and I take the pictures.
I’m studying business—the end game being that it will help me set up my own successful gallery like my brother’s one day. Working together alongside Hux is a dream, but I want to be capable of doing it on my own too.
Photography, to me, is like being given the opportunity to see the world with a whole new perspective. Like when you have a problem and you ask a friend for their opinion because sometimes you need an outside view to get a better handle on the situation. I want to show others how I see life through my lens.
I’m so sick of being torn in two different directions.
If I don’t stand up for what I want—what I need—now, will I ever?
“Are you listening to me, Carter?” My father’s angry voice grates against my nerves.
I nod. “Yes, sir,” I reply without making eye contact.
“This is what you’re good at. No, you’re great, Carter—a natural. I don’t understand why you’re being like this. Ungrateful—that’s what you are. An ungrateful little shit. You don’t appreciate your God-given gifts. How many teams are you going to blow off before you realize this is the only future for you?” His eyes narrow, and his hands dig into his hips, letting me know that my resistance better be over.
But I can’t let it go. I don’t want to play football forever. Yeah, I like it, but it doesn’t satisfy me the way fighting does. My blood doesn’t heat with exhilaration when I’m on the field. I need to fight. I’m actually afraid of who I’ll become if I don’t. It releases the tension, the repressed anger and resentment constantly building inside of me like a force of darkness, consuming me in a way that I can’t explain. But I need it. I need to get it out of me before it takes over.
Right as I’m about to lay it out for my father, Bella walks into the kitchen, her huge smile filling me with warmth. Meeting my father’s eyes briefly, I shake my head, silently telling him this isn’t over. But I won’t get into it with Bells in the room. His eyes narrow farther—I didn’t think that was even possible, but I stand corrected—then he stalks out of the kitchen, down the hall, and slams his office door behind him.
I turn to my sister and paste on a fake smile. “Hey, beautiful, you sleep good?” I ask as she steps into my arms, wrapping hers around my waist.
She nods. “I had a dream about unicorns. It was amazing.”
Chuckling, I squeeze her quickly before releasing her. “Pink ones?”
“Did you read my mind?” she asks, looking at me with wonder in her big, brown eyes.
I make my expression serious as I say, “I only use my mind-reading powers when I have to. But you don’t keep secrets from me, so I don’t need to.”
“I wish I could read minds,” she says wistfully before looking into my eyes. “Why are you sad?”
She doesn’t need to be able to read minds; she already sees too much. I can never hide anything from her. People constantly underestimate her. They think she’s stupid, but they have no idea. She’s brilliant and so perceptive. I wish I could shield her from all the bad shit in the world. She feels everything a thousand times more deeply than anyone else. “I’m fine. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Okay?”
Her face scrunches in a frown. “I don’t like it when you’re sad. It makes me sad.”
“I know. That’s why I don’t want you to worry about it. You make me happy, Bells,” I say, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “I like your dress,” I tell her as I start making her a bowl of Fruity Puffs.
“I’m a princess today,” she says then does a twirl, her skirts floating out around her.
Shaking my head, I tell her, “You’re a princess every day,” then slide her bowl of cereal across the counter to her. “You need anything before I go?”
She carefully scoops up a spoonful of Fruity Puffs and raises it to her mouth. “I’m okay. Have a good day,” she says then keeps eating her breakfast.
“Alright, I’m out. I’ll see you this afternoon. Behave,” I say with a wink then grab my keys off the counter and head out to my car, the sound of Bella’s giggles fading behind me.
I’ve got an early practice this morning that I’d really like to blow off, but I don’t need another reason to argue with my father today.
One day, my future will be my own, but today is not that day.
❥ Broken Boys Fight Harder ❥