This story in particular will contain underage drinking, violence, sexual situations, recklessness, general teenage stupidity to the max, and of course the site warning applies (ie this is a discipline fic) You have been warned. Enjoy!
It felt wrong, but at the same time, it was so incredibly liberating. As Ethan sat among his friends at lunch, he sent the final confirmation text to a man that knew his grandmother well. A man that the Kingston family had known a long time.
Not James Kingston, of course.
Cordelia Kingston didn’t associate with her ex-son-in-law, James. And anyone who wanted to stay in good relations with her maintained much of the same distance. So much so that many people, over the years, had launched their careers from helping James along. He returned the favors, and all the greedy man kept themselves well known.
Cordelia was always much more subtle. What Royal admired about his grandmother, was the woman’s ability to be so feminine and frail almost, but ultimately so badass.
“All in your posture.” That was one of her favorite sayings. It meant a lot of things, and not just that Ethan squirmed and slouched a lot in his younger days.
Grandmother was correct, of course. It was all in his posture. How he carried himself, how he expected others to respond to him. He controlled that. He controlled all of that.
The man was known as Harold. Royal didn’t know if that was his first name, last name, or code name – though, he suspected the latter.
Agreed. He received a moment later. Royal deleted that message a second later, like he had done with all of the other messages that they had exchanged during the evening.
Royal was thankful. Now he was getting shit on its way out, now Royal was taking point.
“You good man?” Brick asked, frowning at him.
“You got something,” Ross seemingly disinterested, taking a bite from his nachos.
“I might,” Royal shrugged. He didn’t dare talk too much in fear of others hearing him or thinking really bad things.
Casual was something that Royal could play up. Who was it that said life was a stage? That’s how Royal’s every day played out.
Acting right in such a way that no one could complain about him. Acting tough so no one messed with him, or his family, or his team. Acting like he knew what the hell he was doing so his brothers wouldn’t have to worry about the crap he spent his nights awake thinking about.
He was “on” so much, Royal sometimes didn’t even know how to just be himself. He wondered who that person was. When was the last time he had just let himself be?
“You care to share?” Ross added, pouring cheese into his mouth.
“The way you eat?” Royal scoffed, knowing what his friend was actually asking, but playing it off. He pulled his food slightly away from Sean and started in on his lasagna. He tried to get as much actual food into himself, especially since sometimes at home things could get hectic and he could forget to eat.
Ross rolled his eyes but Brick frowned at him. Both knew him well enough not to press the issue.
As much as Royal liked having his friends around, and he knew that they had his back, sometimes he didn’t want to bother them. Especially Brick. The kid had a charmed life, and whenever Royal had to point out bad things about James, he could see it effecting his pal. Brick’s dad was a great guy. It wasn’t the teen’s fault that the idea of a narcissistic jerk for a father wasn’t something he could connect with. Royal truly hoped that there were more kids out there like Brick and his sister, than him and Sean’s family.
He would tell them, eventually.
There would be news. Once Harold was on the case, there was always news. Royal hadn’t ever used him for something like this. Usually, he just called on Harold when he was being brought up in some kind of legal accusation or something. Like his Sophomore year, when a parent had insisted that he had hurt a kid when their teams had met. Harold had found out that the kid wasn’t as hurt as the parent claimed. Or when word got to him that a girl that had moved away from the area was saying things about him. He was able to find her, and get a message to her to stop her spreading rumors.
Another reason not to have a girlfriend.
Lunch went a lot easier for Royal with the knowledge that he had someone reliable on the case. Even if the case this time, was his own father.
Aaron stepped out of his English class with Cory, talking about their upcoming practice. Cory’s dad was all about Cory getting to be first-string.
“He’s actually talking about buying weights now,” Cory shook his head. “Thank God Mom thinks that’ll make the house smell like a gym or something. I don’t think I could handle him setting up like a whole routine thing.”
“Yeah, that would suck,” Aaron rolled his eyes.
“Oh, ri-ight,” Cory shrugged. “Sorry man, I forgot your brother is who my dad wants to be when he grows up.”
Aaron laughed. They reached Cory’s locker and he waited as Cory got his things together. They would be headed to gym together and then Aaron had to head off to Biology, but Cory would be going to French class.
Gym had always been a terror for Aaron. It didn’t help that the teachers constantly pointed out things his older brothers had done, or that Royal Kingston still held school records all the way from 6th grade wrestling and 8th grade swimming. It certainly didn’t help that the high school had mixed grades in the gym classes either. There were girls in there that shared classes with his brothers, and only two days into Chester Prep, they were already giving him strange looks.
A lot of people gave him strange looks, actually. Aaron was kind of used to it; because he was a Kingston and that seemed to make people look at them more than they wanted to look at other people.
Still, it made him uncomfortable, and he was trying to ignore them. He didn’t want to make a big deal about it and he certainly had bigger troubles in his mind.
“Man, you’d think they’d let us off from PE,” Cory groaned. “Don’t they know how hard Coach is on us?”
Aaron shrugged. He didn’t like the attention, but he didn’t mind the class. It probably helped that his older brothers were always making him run or workout, especially that last summer. Something about his going to Prep, and Ethan’s insistence that he join football, meant that they were extra interested in getting him bulked up.
He hated the weights and he looked like a twig in comparison to Ethan and Liam, and Sean and Trent and all of his brothers’ friends.
Even Cory was taller and bulkier, but not by much.
At least he wasn’t tiring out by the end of practice like a lot of the other first years.
“You better suck it up,” Aaron told his friend. “Coach hasn’t even had us in with the JV team.”
“Training with them?” Cory cringed. “I mean, I know they’re not Varsity, but we suck.”
“I probably shouldn’t mention how he’ll have the All-Stars and Captains training us soon, then.”
Cory glanced at him as if he was waiting for Aaron to tell him it was a joke. Aaron just shrugged again. Cory groaned.
“Man! This sucks, your brothers are going to be like –
“Extremely brutal?” Aaron offered back as they entered the gym.
Cory dragged his feet a step behind Aaron, who was feeling only slightly better about the prospect of the upperclassmen led practices. But, it was one of the things that made the Prep’s football team so good. They went at it from all ages, and it was a bit brutal.
And his brothers weren’t likely to cut Aaron any slack. If anything, they’d expect more from him.
Aaron wasn’t looking forward to it either.
Except a little. Not all of the kids had seen Royal Kingston play football, they had heard stories and maybe even read the articles. The local news stations had done pieces on his best plays each year, and even a piece for ESPN last season to single Royal as one of the kids to watch for. Aaron wasn’t above being proud of his brother. He knew how hard his brothers worked for their team, for their skills.
He just didn’t think he’d be able to measure up.
Once in the locker room, Cory and Aaron got lockers further into the room. A lot of the older guys would get the lockers right by the doors, and it was best not to have to argue with them. It was one of the few tips Liam had given him, so Aaron wasn’t going to question it.
But soon enough, the space filled up regardless.
For the most part, the eighth graders ignored the other boys and started undressing and redressing quickly enough, trying to not have to look at anyone else. In their previous school, changing wasn’t a requirement. The kids that wanted to change their clothes were allowed to do more activities, but mostly the kids all played games together, like baseball or soccer, and no one bothered changing.
High school was completely different. They were expected to change, and there was a specific uniform that was given to them. Black short, red shirts with the words Chester Prep High School in black and Cheetahs in large, bold, gold print. On the back of each shirt, the last name of the student was printed in large black letters.
It was how everyone had already figured out he was a Kingston. He had had no escape from that.
Most of the kids got called on by their last name, but Aaron was being called by his full name, since the Coaches already had two other Kingstons in mind when they yelled out “Kingston!”
Though, everyone pretty much only called Ethan “Royal”. Aaron still found it a bit funny, but he wasn’t about to point it out either.
It was as Cody and him were headed towards the door that it finally happened.
Aaron didn’t think he was going to get teased. Too many people knew about Liam’s behavioral problems and Ethan’s, well Royalness to try anything.
Or so he had thought.
A junior walked passed them, shoving them out of the way without a second thought, but he turned back to look at them – probably to laugh – and spotted the big bold letters. KINGSTON.
“Hey, your old man sure knows how to pick them,” the older teen laughed. He nudged at a kid beside him and pointed towards Aaron.
“Shit, man,” his friend shook his head. “I’m not messing with Royal’s brother.”
The first guy rolled his eyes.
“What’d you say about my dad?” Aaron frowned. He wondered if this had anything to do with the fact that Ethan had told them all that their father had been with another woman.
But how would this kid know that? Could people be so obsessed with Royal Kingston that they actually went out of their way to find out things like that?
“Nah, nothing,” the teen shrugged. “Just, giving out my compliments, man. My old man’s girlfriends are ugly old bitches. Your dad’s got class!”
“Money more like it,” his friend had added with a mutter.
Aaron noticed a few of the other guys watching them now, and no one seemed to be heading out the door anymore.
Cory was still beside him, and he was glancing from one face to another, completely unsure of what was going on. Aaron was staring at the first guy.
“I think you shouldn’t talk about what you don’t know,” Aaron stated with a frown.
Opposite effect of what he wanted. The oohs and laughter alone clued Aaron in on the fact that the guys around them were not interested in leaving this alone.
“You going to be stealing all our girls next?” someone else called out from the onlookers.
Aaron turned to see who it was, but it could’ve been anyone of the dozen or so who were groaning or laughing.
“Fuck, he’s barely got his balls grown, what girl’s gonna want him?” another laughed.
He wanted to tell them to fuck off, but he just glared in their direction. Others were already laughing, muttering a few things he couldn’t hear.
“You gotta tell me where he finds them,” the junior in front of him groaned. His friend laughed.
Aaron glared at him. Cory beside him tried to grab his arm and pull him, but they were pretty much surrounded. Not that anyone had laid a hand on him, he doubted anyone would.
“Hey!” a new voice called out. Aaron turned to see a tall senior headed their way. Daniel Parker. He was in Ethan’s football team and one of the few guys that could actually call Royal a friend. Aaron had seen him around the house a few times too, if Ethan was throwing a party that was open to “all ages”.
A few of the kids dispersed then, but Daniel and another guy beside him stared the two juniors down.
“Parker,” the junior gave him a nod.
“Don’t,” Daniel Parker walked up until he was crowding the junior’s face, making the kids incredibly uncomfortable. Aaron just watched them. “You got some jokes to say, Kimball? Huh? I heard plenty of laughter. You want to tell me what’s so funny you got two Frosh cornered here?”
“Man,” the junior, Kimball, started to talk.
Dan Parker got on him then; one of his hands coming across Kimball’s mouth and the other leaning against the wall beside Kimball’s face.
“I’m not going to say this again, so I hope your memory is as good as your jokes. I better not hear another word on that matter, you get me? You leave those kids alone.”
Parker let go of the junior without another word. He glared at Kimball’s friend and ignored the few other guys who had stuck around to see Parker in action. Then, he turned and tugged Aaron forward by his shirt from his shoulder.
Aaron let himself be manhandled enough that Parker had him in front and headed towards the doors, Cory just behind them in front of Parker’s friend.
As they entered the general gym space, filled with guys that were glancing over at them knowingly, girls that were oogling them (Aaron hoped more because of Parker than him), and teachers that seemed disinterested in their general presence, Aaron turned to thank the senior.
“You alright?” Parker started instead.
“I’m good,” Aaron nodded. Cory stopped beside him, looking at Parker in a kind of awe. Aaron wanted to step on him, but his friend still looked at his brothers with the same gaze, so Aaron wasn’t going to hold his breath for any kind of improvement any time soon.
“You just keep your head in the game, ignore those idiots right now, alright?” Parker was frowning at him, looking intense. It bothered Aaron a bit, since it seemed that everyone was talking about something else that he didn’t quite register.
“I will,” Aaron nodded again. “I’m fine. Thanks though.”
One of the teacher’s started blowing their whistle loudly, another two followed. They were expected to head to their teacher on the bleachers so that attendance could be taken and then they would be led outside.
“Listen,” Parker stopped Aaron with a hand on his shoulder. Parker’s friend kept walking, and he motioned for Cory to follow. The eighth graders shared a frown, but Cory started walking away. “I get that Royal is probably keeping everything real close to chest now, but you should know enough to keep your head down. Royal will get all this shit under control, but you just keep out of those idiots’ way. If you get hassled around, you tell one of the guys, alright? We’ll get word back to your brother.”
“Ethan doesn’t need to know,” Aaron muttered instead. Second day of school, he didn’t need his brother to think that he couldn’t handle things. He was fourteen. He didn’t need any hand holding.
Parker frowned. “I’m not going to keep things from him kid, but you tell him what you want. I’m not too sure what that idiot said anyway. But you keep doing your thing. You know who’s in with Royal?”
Aaron gave a small shrug. He had seen plenty of his brother’s games to point out most of the Varsity team, and Liam’s teammates, but he didn’t always pay all that great of attention.
“Well, you can get me or Reid over there.”
“Coach!” Parker called back. He gave Aaron a look until the younger teen nodded.
“Alright then,” Parker patted Aaron’s shoulder and then turned, running to catch up with the rest of his class as they headed out to the field.
Aaron followed, catching up with his own class. He went to his teacher, thinking about apologizing, but the man just pointed to the door and looked back down at his clipboard.
Rachel Martin. Royal stared at the picture that was in front of him and actually felt kind of sick.
Rachel Martin. He stared at the smiling woman’s face. This time she was clothed. It was a newspaper article. Rachel sat beside a man and two young girls, aged ten and thirteen. All four were smiling.
LOCAL BUSINESSMAN SAVED, it read. How One Man Survived a Weekend On a Collapsed Boat Before Being Rescued.
It was one of those feel good posts, a few years old, and barely mentioned the woman. But it made one thing clear, Rachel Martin was married, with two kids of her own. If Royal did his math correctly, the girls would be fourteen and seventeen years old now.
Stuart Martin. Hilary Martin. Denise Martin.
She had kids. She was local. And she had to know about James Kingston. Had to know that he was married with a handful of kids himself. It was local knowledge. Just at the end of May, Kingston Firm had held a very public fundraiser benefitting local single mothers that had been all over the news. That was only four months back.
Royal crumbled up the printout copy of the article and tossed it towards the passenger window, where it hit and fell to the ground.
Shit. What was his father thinking!
As if it wasn’t bad enough that their lives were going to go to shit, now there were other kids involved too. And this other guy, Stuart, would he be as helpless and hurt as Steph had been?
Maybe he was a shit husband.
But if the information that Harold had given him stated that the four Martins were still residing together, still married and no divorce decrees had been filed. There was little information on the daughters, and Royal wondered if he should look into them.
He didn’t know what he would do with that knowledge. He owed them nothing. He had enough kids on his hands to juggle.
Royal’s phone vibrated in his pocket. Royal was still in the parking lot of Kingston Firm, and was debating going in to talk to his father, but he hadn’t seen the man’s car in his designated parking spot.
He thought about giving his grandmother a call.
He had a few missed calls or messages, but he was ignoring them all for a moment. But Ross had sent him an image. Royal frowned.
Clicking it open, he saw that the image was of his father and the Rachel woman. This time, they were clothed and seemed to be having a civil enough luncheon. No one else was with them, but they were out in the open.
Then Ross sent him another message. This time, it was a video. It took Royal a moment to realize it was practically real time.
That son of a bitch!
Royal pulled his car into gear. He pulled out of the lot with screeching tires and his blind rage.
That fucking asshole! He was with her that very second! He was just in town, eating out with the woman like he hadn’t shattered his children’s lives apart. As if it hadn’t been four days since Steph had moved out. Since they’d seen Cole.
Royal pressed to call Sean.
“Where are you?” he asked as soon as the call picked up.
“Don’t bother,” Ross groaned. “He just left.”
“Follow him!” Royal cursed. “That son of a bitch has some nerve!”
“I would man, but I can’t right now,” sighed Ross. “Mom’s in for the night and we’re out. She’s already been on her phone like four times.”
Royal groaned. He could understand what Sean wasn’t telling him. If Ross left the table now, his mother would probably take that as invitation for her to fly back off again. And who only knew when she would be back again.
“Shit man,” Royal slapped his steering wheel. He took another street much slower and pulled over as soon as he could. He had no idea where to go now.
“Sorry bro,” Sean muttered.
“Nah, don’t worry about it. You gave me more than enough. You just enjoy yourself, aright?”
“You sure, Eth?”
“Yeah,” Royal turned off his engine. “Tell Corrine “hi”.”
Royal couldn’t blame Sean. The guy loved his parents, and it wasn’t that they didn’t love him back. It wasn’t even that they were mean to him. For all accounts, he was very well cared for, but he still missed the day to day of having his family there, at his home, instead of globetrotting and ignoring him for weeks on end.
No, Royal had plenty of problems without adding them to Sean’s mess.
That whole day had sucked for Liam. He missed his friends, his phone, and he hated that Ethan was clearly keeping things from him.
He was still grounded.
Getting home, the kids had all been quiet and neither Sean nor Ethan came home. Liam and Aaron stayed after school for football practice, but Liam hadn’t seen either of the older boys.
With Owen and Bear at soccer, they would then have their piano lessons for an hour, before getting home just after six. Cole hadn’t shown up for his lessons, and the younger two were even more sad by that.
Liam sat in the library. He had been able to recall Fern’s number and called him from the phone in the library, but his friend hadn’t been able to talk long.
Something had been abuzz all day, and Liam had a pretty good idea that his friends had heard something. If only he could talk to them.
No one had wanted to talk in school, Coach wasn’t laying off at practice to give them a chance to breath let alone talk, and now he had no way to call anyone.
When Ethan did get home, Liam was determined to make his brother as miserable as he felt. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be getting his ass handed to him.
He still couldn’t believe his brother had swatted him that morning!
Granted, even without the reaming that Sean had given him on the drive to school, he knew he had pushed it. Cursing and arguing like that? In front of the little kids no less!
Liam wanted to call and see where Ethan was. He hadn’t managed to apologize all day, and now that Ethan wasn’t home he was getting worried. Without him or Sean there, that left Liam in charge, and he wasn’t in the mood to be in charge.
Presently, he was pretty sure that the last hour had seen Lion and Bear generally running around nuts. He doubted that anyone but Aaron had bothered doing their homework, and he had all but given them each a box of cereal for dinner.
It was coming up on the younger kids’ bedtime, but Liam couldn’t bring himself to care.
There was a knock on the door and Aaron walked in without invite, but it wasn’t like the library was Liam’s room or anything. The kid was just damn polite.
“You’re still in here then,” Aaron stated, taking a few steps in.
“Did Ethan get home?” he asked instead.
Aaron shook his head.
“Are you going to send those two to bed?”
Liam rolled his eyes.
“Let them be,” he shrugged.
“You know Eth won’t like that,” the fourteen year old tried to reason.
Liam scoffed. “Then he can come home and do it!”
Aaron sighed. “He’s probably really busy right now, Liam. We’re all having a rough time. Can’t you just cut him some slack?”
Liam leaned back in the chair and glared at Aaron.
“You want them to go to bed, you’re more than welcome to do that. Otherwise, leave me the hell alone.”
Aaron’s shoulders slumped and he shuffled his feet. He opened his mouth to talk, but Liam wasn’t in the mood to listen to him.
He didn’t need his little brother lecturing him now; he had more than enough with his older brother and Sean.
“Fuck off already!”
Aaron looked defeated and turned, leaving quickly enough. He probably wasn’t any happier with Liam at the moment either.
Oh well, Liam was plenty used to disappointing people as of late.
It wasn’t until a while later, maybe two hours, when Liam finally left the library. The house was mostly quiet. Aaron had probably gotten the younger two to get ready for bed.
And like the good kids they were, Bear and Lion actually listened.
They hadn’t yelled that their big brother wasn’t their father and couldn’t boss them around. Heck, with that mentality, none of the Kingston kids would ever have to listen to anyone. Parents weren’t exactly around much. Steph had been around the most, but now she too was gone.
Liam dragged his feet towards the kitchen. He was still dressed in his school uniform, having changed into it after showering from practice. He hadn’t wanted to stick around after practice too long, not with the looks that a lot of the others were giving him. Seniors and Juniors both.
Something was going on, but no one was going to tell him.
It made Liam so goddamn mad.
With Ethan gone and Steph never coming back home and James God only knew where, Liam wasn’t exactly in a good mindset.
He wanted to look into that Rachel lady – Rachel Morgan? Rachel Morris? Rachel Martin! He knew she was the key to something, a piece of a puzzle he wasn’t anywhere close to solving.
Of course, he had his theories.
Ethan had told them, briefly, why Steph had left. Liam and Aaron had lived through his previous cheating scandals. But, each time had been bittersweet. Divorces and new marriages and new commitments. And new little brothers.
It was hard not to think that they were on their way to a new Mrs. Kingston – even if that was a name that their father had taken from his first wife.
Karen Kingston. Liam and Aaron and Ethan’s mother. She was high society and poise and everything spoke highly about her.
And then, as he almost made his slow trek into the kitchen, he heard something coming from the study.
It wasn’t often that someone would take it upon themselves to venture into the study. But, if the sounds were any indication that someone was there, Liam’s curiosity took over and he walked towards the source.
Of course, that’s when the door leading into the private space opened.
Owen Kingston woke up with a start. He sat up, looking instinctively over to the other bed in his room. Even though he knew that it would be empty, it still struck him hard.
He wondered how his baby brother was doing.
The clock on the wall stated 11:19, quite late into the night. Owen doubted that he was going to be able to go back to sleep. He wasn’t used to having trouble sleep. Sometimes, Cole would wake up in the night. Sometimes it would just be to go to the bathroom, but there were plenty of times that his little boy worries had gotten the best of him.
Those were the times that Owen got to be the big brother. It was kind of difficult to be “big brother” with Bethany. She was a tough girl, and she was smart. Being only a year apart, Owen and Bear were kind of equals. But Cole was so much younger, and smaller, it was easy to see how he needed protecting.
Now, he was alone and Owen didn’t know how to be a big brother when his little brother wasn’t around.
He wiped at his face. He wasn’t crying, but he was finding it hard to keep his eyes from watering. Especially late at night.
With an empty bed.
Owen got up and walked over to the bed. He plucked the little old rabbit that had seen better years. It wasn’t Cole’s favorite – no, that was a stuffed dog that Liam had made five years ago at a home ec. class. Cole had taken that one with him when he had left with Steph to surprise their Dad.
Owen wished they had never left.
With the rabbit still in his hands, Owen went to the bathroom and used the adjoining door into his sister’s room.
Bethany was sleeping, and he probably should have let her, but he wanted to talk with someone that would understand. He loved his big brothers, but they didn’t always get things. They were too big, and this was a kid problem.
Besides, they would just send him back to bed probably.
Owen climbed onto the bed, reached forward and shook Bear’s shoulder until she groaned and blinked awake.
“I wanna talk,” he sat back, rabbit on his lap.
“No,” she replied, turning her back to him. “I’m sleeping.”
“Come on,” Owen poked her back. “I always thought sharing a room sucked, but now Cole’s not there and it sucks more than anything.”
Bethany laid back flat, blinking at her brother. She couldn’t fault him. She missed Cole too.
Reaching out, she patted the rabbit’s head with two fingers.
“I thought maybe we’d see him today,” she admitted.
“Me too,” Owen’s shoulders slumped. “Steph was always pretty interested in getting us to the lessons. Think maybe she forgot?”
“I think she doesn’t care about that anymore,” Bear rubbed at her face and yawned.
“Because she hates Dad now.”
Owen stayed quiet. Hating his father was a tall order. He wasn’t happy with the man, and he had no idea how he was going to talk to him when he saw him again. But did he hate him?
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
“I hope he never comes home,” Bethany crossed her arms. “He ruins everything!”
“He’s not home a lot anyway,” Owen said. “Maybe we can just convince Steph to come back, and Dad can leave instead?”
But Bear shook her head. Owen didn’t really think it would be a possibility anyway.
“It’s not fair. Steph shouldn’t get to keep Cole just because she’s his mom. What about us?”
Owen shook his head. “She’s not our mother. We can’t go with her.”
“But he’s our brother. And our mother trust Ethan to take care of us, why can’t Steph? He’s eighteen.”
“He wasn’t even ten when Mom left us. Maybe Steph thinks that’s too many kids for him?” Owen offered.
Bethany shook her head. She just didn’t like the thought of not having her baby brother around. Who was she supposed to tell silly jokes to? Who would she team up against Owen with? Who would crawl into her bed just so she could read through his books with all the voices?
“I miss him so much,” she sniffed back tears.
Owen laid beside her, dropping one arm around her as she pulled herself together, a few of his own tears silently escaping.
“We’ve got to find him,” he sighed.
“He’s not lost, he’s with her.”
Owen glanced up at her. “Don’t blame Steph, or Mom, okay? It’s hard for them too. Mom’s away all of the time, and she’s living in hotels and all over the world. She had no one to come home to, or even a real home. And now Steph’s all alone.”
“It feels like all grownups do is fuck things up,” the eight year old growled.
Instinctively, Owen glanced towards the door.
“Don’t let the guys hear you talking like that,” he shook his head. “You’ll just be miserable and sore.”
“I don’t care,” she sniffed. “I’m already miserable.”
“But at least you’re not nursing a red butt!” Owen shook his head. “You saw Ethan with Liam this morning. I don’t think he’s in any kind of mood to deal with bullshit from any of us.”
Bethany turned an amused glare at him.
Both of the younger Kingstons were more than aware of certain “adult” habits, like cursing. They were just careful not to use them. Ethan especially would make them regret it.
But none of that felt terribly important when there was a little brother out there, somewhere, practically missing off the face of the Earth!
Bethany looked at her brother for a long moment thinking. When she finally spoke, Owen didn’t know what to think, but he gave a nod, all the same.
“We have to find him. We have to bring Cole home.”
Owen wished he could believe that his brother was safe. He wished that he could trust that his father, and Steph, would do the right thing. But he didn’t think that they even knew what the right thing was.
No, his sister was right. Grownups always messed things up for them. Now, Cole was alone and Owen just knew his brother was miserable. He had left his home, his things, and he hadn’t even gone to school or his lessons!
If no one was going to bring Cole to them, they had to go and find him themselves.
Liam couldn’t believe what was in front of him. As far as he had known, James Kingston, his father, hadn’t been home in days.
And when he had last been home, Liam had been too drunk to notice him.
James had left the house without a word to his teen. To any of his kids really.
Well, Ethan had probably spoken to him. Not that that would have ended well.
Seeing the man standing there, walking out of the study and moving about the space, seemingly without a care in the world – well, it stroke an ire Liam usually didn’t fuel.
Luckily, no one was around just then to stop him.
James turned and spotted him a moment later. Liam wasn’t exactly hiding, but the space was large and it was easy to blend into the shadows, much like James himself was doing.
“Liam,” James smiled. “What are you doing up, son?”
Liam glared at him.
“Dad,” he scoffed instead. “Fancy you here. Get lost along the way or something? I mean, I live here. I walk around here all of the time.” Liam walked forward, taking steps closer to the man.
James smile left his face almost instantly. He looked bothered, but not quite angry.
Which was kind of odd. Liam felt angry. The more he stared at the man, the angrier he felt.
But James, just wasn’t.
“You really should be in bed,” James tried again. “It’s a school night.”
“Ha!” Liam shook his head. “Really? You’re aware that schools back in session? You’re aware what day of the week it is, too!”
James glanced towards the stairs. Liam realized he was being loud. He too glanced at the stairway behind him, but he knew that the other kids wouldn’t hear him. Bear and Lion slept pretty heavy, and unless Aaron was waiting up, he was a pretty decent sleeper too.
No, it was just Liam with his troubled thoughts and his irritation towards his big brother that was up at all hours.
But then, of course, that’s when all the best stuff happened.
“You need to keep your voice down, son,” James said instead.
“You need to not tell me what to do,” Liam glared. “If ever I need random advice, I’ll crack open a fortune cookie.” Liam crossed his arms. “You’re heading out, aren’t you?”
“I’m meeting someone. I needed some papers.”
“Business meeting?” the teen was skeptical. “At this hour?”
“Adults are allowed to set their own schedules, son,” his father teased.
Liam glared at him.
“You’re a shit liar,” he shook his head. “You’re barely even trying now!”
“Excuse me?” James irritation came out clearer in his tone.
“I said, you’re a shit liar!” Liam took a few more steps forward. He was now about five feet away from the man.
He wanted to be close enough to punch him in the face. He wanted to see the smug grin off of that face forever.
There was a quality to James face. Something that drew people in and made them like him. His smile was perfect and his eyes were almost mystical. James Kingston was about as photogenic as a person could be, and the cameras loved him.
But Liam couldn’t help but hate that face.
They had the same eye structure, different colors. Ethan had James’ green eyes. Liam had Karen’s brown ones. They shared the same nose. Liam’s jawline was becoming defined like Ethan’s more. Angled in such ways that they looked more and more like the spitting images of their father.
It was almost like his mother didn’t even exist in him anymore.
Liam hated that face.
“You’re clearly over-tired,” James told him. “Get to bed, and I’ll forget this whole conversation.”
“You forget all kinds of things,” scoffed Liam. “Your children, your vows-
“That’s enough,” James finally growled. “You have no business talking to me like that!”
The few feet between them were soon nonexistent.
“What don’t like hearing the truth?” Liam smirked. “Pretending like you didn’t cheat on Steph. And Heather. And Mom?”
“Your mother and I were already divorcing when I met Heather,” James growled. “You can tell yourself whatever you want, but your mother wanted out of the marriage.”
“Who wouldn’t? After the ridicule you put her through.” Liam shook his head. “You really don’t like to think, do you? You just jerk out your dick and see where it lands!”
He shouldn’t have been so surprised when James reached out and grabbed at his shirt front. Liam’s hands came up to grab at James’ arms and he squeezed at the man’s wrists, twisting in such a way that he knew it would hurt enough to bruise. Maybe even sprain them.
Liam had learned long ago how to fight dirty.
He was surprised by his father’s strength. Liam couldn’t recall the man ever so much as mentioning lifting a weight.
Sure, there was the house gym, but Ethan, Sean, Brick, and some of the others in the Court were the most likely to use them. Liam had been too for the last two years. But he couldn’t ever recall his father having had any interest in the space.
But the strength that James put into breaking his hold surprised and hurt Liam.
Which, in turn, further infuriated the teen.
Liam took this all as the universe agreeing that he had to kick the man’s ass.
A kick at the man’s knee, elbow to the middle of his chest, and a hard shove had James stumbling backwards from him, but not quite out.
Liam tried to reground his stance, wanting not just the upper hand, but to cause some damage.
He wanted to see blood.
Liam launched forward. James tried to brace himself. He sidestepped slightly, in an effort to grab Liam instead of being in his path. It almost worked, but the two instead managed to unbalance each other and landed with a force against the hard marble of the foyer floor.
Liam’s head missed hitting the edge of the stairs by mere inches.
James recovered faster than his son.
Getting to his knees, James hovered for an instance, looking down at Liam as he regained his bearings.
Liam blinked back a few black spots. The moment he spotted James clearly in front of him, he sat up, lurching this time for the man’s center.
But his movements were slightly delayed. As Liam rose, James saw his intent. Instead of moving out of the way, however, his fists moved upward from his waist to catch Liam at the chin.
“What the fuck!”
Liam was knocked back once more, his head bouncing down on the ground.
Another cry of “Dad!” came from the landing above them.
Liam heard hurried footsteps, crossing the foyer and rushing down the stairs. He felt the weight of James’ presence leaving him. He could feel small hands clasping his and barely noted his brother’s face inches from his own.
His big brother was finally there, and all Liam wanted to do was apologize. He had been such a shit that morning, and he really did just want to talk. He might hate that Eth was always bossing him around, but the alternative being that he didn’t know what to do on his own.
Ethan’s presence let him be a kid – sort of. In whatever aspect he had left of being a kid. He had lost his mother and was being raised by his brother two years his senior. Nothing was ideal.
But Liam didn’t get to say anything. He barely managed to open his mouth and let out a kind of low groan before his hand slipped from Owen’s grasp and his eyes rolled back into darkness.