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Never Let Me Go by McAvoy, J.J. (12)

12

The Infinite Moment of Us

LUELLA

“AH!”

I screamed as they shot me down with water, trying to make a run for it. I pointed the water gun behind me, blindly shooting at them. However, they caught up and surrounded me, circling and spraying. I stood still, closing my eyes laughing. When the liquid barrage finally stopped, I took a look.

“Do you give up?” Alaric signed.

I smiled evilly, lifting my water gun. “You guys are empty, right?”

“Crap.” Dorian took Alaric’s hand, and they made a run for it.

“Revenge,” I yelled, spraying at their backsides, chasing them off the beach and back to the house.

Alaric laughed loudly when Dorian used him as a shield. “You win.” He signed, and I finally stopped blowing the top off my gun.

Dorian put him down. “Did. You. Give. In?”

He wasn’t perfect at signing, but how could he be in such a short time? But he put a lot of effort into learning. He’d asked for the signs for as many common words and phrases and now put them together.

He shrugged. “You can’t beat Mommy.”

“Listen to him. I have made him wise.” I smiled proudly, running up and kissing him on the cheek.

“Yeah, but you have to put up a—”

“Mr. Rhys-Gallagher,” Russell interrupted, standing at the back of the house.

Next to him was a bulky man with short black hair and brown eyes, dressed only slightly less formally than Russell. Dorian, Alaric, and I were in beach-wear. The comparison was amusing. I'd been trying to focus on things other than Dorian’s bare chest and the water that dripped down his sculpted abs.

Dorian grabbed a towel from one of the maids and placed it on Alaric’s head. “Luella, this is Finnick Washington, he will be looking out for us from now on.”

“Looking out for us?” I asked slowly. “Like a bodyguard?”

“Yes, Ms. Thorne.” He signed to Alaric. “It is nice to meet you, little boss.”

Alaric grinned. “Little boss? Mommy, I’m a boss.”

“That you are,” I replied. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Finnick. I’m Luella.”

“Likewise, ma’am, and just call me Finnick.”

“Luella is fine, no ‘ma’am'.”

“It seems everyone is ahead of me in sign language.” Dorian frowned. He was frustrated, despite how great he was doing. He wasn’t used to being the only one not able to do something perfectly. He was already forgoing sleep to learn, on top of memorizing every sign I did. At this rate, he really could learn by the end of the week. But then again, Alaric learned quickly too.

When Dorian went over to speak with Finnick, Alaric drew my attention.

“Mommy, what happened to Bronwyn?” he asked when Hercules wandered over. He sat down, rubbing the dog’s head.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I hadn’t talked to him about death yet.

“Well, Bronwyn was sick, and she wanted to go, so Dad and I let her go yesterday.”

“Will she come back?”

“No, sweetheart.”

He got up and joined Dorian.

“Alaric…”

Ignoring me, he pulled on Dorian’s shorts.

“What is wrong?” he asked him slowly, allowing him to read his lips.

Alaric wrapped his arms around him tightly. “Don’t get sick.”

Dorian glanced at me, confused.

“I told him about Bronwyn.”

He picked him up, holding him tightly. Alaric looked so hurt, and it hurt me to see him so upset. He was terrified.

“Why don’t we go play tennis?” Dorian signed.

“Really?”

“I’m pretty good.” He smiled proudly. “Can you handle it?”

“But Mom, I don’t have tennis clothes.” He panicked. I repeated out loud for Dorian.

“Why don’t we eat lunch first, and Russell will get you everything you need?” he said.

Alaric thought this over. “I need to be full to beat you.”

Dorian grinned, placing him on his feet. “What do you want to eat?”

“Mommy’s spinach soup.”

“Done.”

Alaric picked up Hercules and went inside.

“Do you think your cook will mind if I steal your kitchen?” I asked Dorian.

He smirked. I wished he hadn’t because it made me take a breath.

“I’m sure he will enjoy his time off. He gets paid either way.” He dusted the sand off his shorts and out his hair. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, watching him in what felt like slow motion. “I’m going to need a shower.”

For the love of God, Luella, stop staring at him. He’s hot. Move on.

He paused at the door. “You coming?”

“Sorry, yeah.”

I’m a mess.

DORIAN

“Make sure he puts it in when he’s done.” Luella handed me Alaric’s hearing aid in a waterproof case. “Be good,” she said to Alaric, who said something back, already pulling off his shirt and moving into his room. He wanted me to help him get ready, instead of her.

“What did he say?”

“That he’s always good.” She rolled her eyes through the smile that never left her beautiful face. “I’m going to get cleaned up before heading down. I’ll most likely be done before you two.”

“Why?”

“He likes bubble baths. Actually, just baths, bubbles are not a requirement.” She laughed, brushing her hair behind her ear.

Staring into her hazel eyes, I felt this need to touch her, and I might have if Alaric hadn’t come out…naked.

She wasn’t even surprised. “Alaric, what did I say?”

“Only bathroom,” he spoke, pulling me into the bathroom and hopping into the clawfoot tub.

“Water first.” I signed.

He shook his head.

I stared. “No water?”

He pointed to my hands and said with his voice. “No sign and talk.”

He plugged the tub and turned on the water. I poured the bubbles, mountains of foam rising up around him. Checking the water temp, I sat beside the tub, then tapped his shoulder. Our eyes met.

“Why don’t you want me to sign?” I asked slowly so he could read my lips.

“No,” he replied with his hands. “Not all the time.”

“Why?”

“Teach me to talk better…please.”

I was surprised he was speaking so well already, considering he couldn’t hear himself.

“Why, Alaric? You don’t like signing?” I said slowly so he could see me.

“Do not tell Mommy?” He turned off the water.

I waited for him to look at me. “Okay.”

I don’t wanna to be teased,” he said and signed before he piled bubbles on his head, smiling, but I could tell he was doing what she did—hiding his pain by smiling.

“Who teases you, Alaric?”

He shrugged. “Kids at school.”

“Aren’t there other kids just like you?”

“Yes.” He did his best to speak, and I did my best to listen. “They laugh at my voice. Their mommies and daddies give them talk teachers.”

Speech therapists. Now that I thought about it, Luella had put him in the best school in New York for deaf students. There were a total of sixty students, and all of them were from well-off families. Finnick had given me a full report of everything relative to either of them. Any money Luella earned was spent paying off debts or taking care of Alaric. His voice wasn’t even bad, it was loud, and he slurred some of the words, but with practice, that would go away.

“I don’t tell Mommy because I don’t want her to work more.”

I panicked, sitting up.

“Do you know what she does?” He wasn’t sure what I’d said, so I repeated it.

“She cooks, but she sometimes has to go away for a long time.”

I heard the door behind me close. I poked my head out the bathroom door and saw fresh clothes were laid on the bed for him.

She’d heard.

I sat back down next to the tub.

He stared at me, confused. “What?”

“Nothing. You and I will talk every night, with our mouths and hands.”

He held out a hand, and we shook.

“When you start school, they will regret messing with my kid. But don’t be sad about signing.”

He grinned, flexing to show me his muscles, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Those are good but”—I tapped his forehead—“that’s how you get people not to mess with you. Always be smart.”

I should talk. My hands still ached from beating the shit out of Hugh, but it was a pain well worth it.

He stayed in for another five minutes before I wrapped a towel around him and helped him dress. When he put his hearing aid back in, I thought he would go downstairs, but he followed me into my room, Hercules trotting behind him. They both climbed on my bed, where he said he would wait for me.

I’d never taken a shower so quickly in my life. It was odd having people—family—waiting for you. When I came out, he was in my closet with his feet inside my shoes. He was amused by the size difference. I could watch him in awe all day. I grabbed a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt to wear before moving so he could see me.

“Come on, little man,” I said and signed.

He showed me how to sign it correctly. “Little boss.”

“Well, excuse me.”

He moved down the stairs with Hercules, holding onto the railing as he went. He waved to the maids cleaning the front of the house before running to the kitchen, Hercules now running beside him.

“Wow,” I muttered to myself when I entered what had once been my spotless kitchen.

For the most part, it was for show, the cook used a secondary kitchen. I’d never seen anyone slice onions so quickly, sliding them into the pot before spinning and pouring mix into cupcake trays.

“Soup and cupcakes?” Alaric signed, his mouth dropping open.

She put down the mixing bowl. “Yep. Vanilla cupcakes for dessert. Go play. I’ll fetch you when it’s done.”

He hugged her legs. Food really was the key to his heart. He ran off with Hercules.

The moment he was gone, she turned and placed a tray in the oven then grabbed carrots and chopped them as fast as she had the onions. I couldn’t deny she looked stunning. She had mix on her face, apron, and hands, but she looked like a mother. A panicking mother.

“Lulu, I know you heard what he said upstairs.”

She went still, holding the cutting knife tightly.

Maybe I shouldn’t distract her.

“I was made fun of for being a slow reader. They called me retarded and pushed me around, and to this day, I can still remember every one of their faces.” She chopped angrily. The poor carrots never had a chance. “When it came time to send him to school, I told myself I didn’t care how much it cost or what I had to do, my son was going to get the best damn education possible. At Ford Academy, every teacher there caters to deaf children. Hell, half the teachers are deaf. They are a bit snobbish, I’m the single working mother while most of them come from rich families and have private drivers. But they help their students feel like they’re just as much a part of society as others. But now I hear he’s being bullied. I shouldn’t have put him there.”

She stabbed the chopping board. Rounding the kitchen island, I grabbed her hand.

“Lulu, kids get bullied, even the bullies get bullied. Alaric cared more about you than he did them—”

“Dorian, he has never said more than a few words to me about this, and I’ve never once pushed him. Then I go into his room, and I hear his voice, it’s glorious to me. He sounds so amazing, and the fact that some rich little brats make him ashamed of himself is driving me insane. You heard him. He was so good. My baby was talking.”

“He was.” I placed my hands on her shoulders. “He blew my mind. Alaric is smart and kind and everything you want in a little boy. Don’t worry. You’ve raised an amazing human being. So, breathe.”

She took a big intake of air, and I couldn’t help but smile.

“Exhale.”

She released slowly.

“Good, now what smells so good?”

She pointed to her soup and opened the lid. She poured the carrots in, stirring them around. Using the spoon, she offered me a taste, she blew on it before lifting it to my lips. I opened my mouth, grinned, and nodded my head ‘yes.’

“That’s so good. That’s spinach soup?” I licked my lips. Along with the spinach was rice and tomatoes. I moved around her to get more, but she smacked my hand.

“Italian orzo spinach soup to be exact, and it’s not done yet.”

“Fine, tempt me with your food and then let me starve.”

“Drama queen.”

“Says the woman who took out her frustration on carrots and my chopping board.” I gestured to a knife mark.

“Hey!” She quickly put a hand over it. “I was having a mother bear moment. I’m fine now.”

“A mother bear moment?”

“When you feel like your child is in danger, you become a little—”

“Scary?”

“You’re going to have them too. The moment you feel he’s being hurt, you will jump in right away, like you did with—”

“Don’t say his name.” I didn’t want to think about it.

“I want to thank you.”

“You say thank you too much.”

“Not possible.”

I stared at her for the longest time before brushing cake mix off her face. But even when it was all off, I couldn’t let go of her. Her skin was so soft. Her eyes stared into my mine, and I brushed her lip with my thumb.

Beep.

A timer went off, and I dropped my hand and stepped back.

“Who taught you to cook?”

“One of my foster mothers loved the Food Network. She fell asleep in front of it all the time.” She turned off the stove and moved the pot to another burner.

“How many foster parents did you have?”

“Quite a few. I moved from group home to group home. I don’t know what happened to my real parents. My mother left me at a fire station with my first name pinned to a sweater. I think it must have been really hard for her. She cared enough to give me a name, but she couldn’t keep me. Thinking of how hard it would be for me to let go of Alaric, I can’t imagine what she went through. If I ever met her, I would tell her I was fine, then and now.” She reached for the plates in the cabinet, but I got them for her.

“Thanks.”

“No problem. It must have been hard being moved around as a child.”

She dished out the food. “It was difficult, but I was never treated badly. My foster parents kept us safe, warm, and fed. I was moved only when the house got too full or one of my foster parents couldn’t watch so many kids anymore. One of them even gave me permission to work in a restaurant when I was fourteen. You’re looking at the best dishwasher Flounder’s has ever seen.”

“You’ve been working since you were fourteen?”

“Yes, every day after school.”

When I was fourteen, I was lounging on yachts or going to basketball games. I don’t remember working until after my father passed away.

“You okay? I promise my childhood isn’t some sad, depressing story. I have a lot of good memories and grew up with a lot of good kids. It’s also why I love cooking. No matter what our backstory was, no matter our issue, we could all get together and eat happily.”

“I’m sort of jealous.” I took the filled plates from her hands. “Are we eating in the dining room?”

“Sure, can you get Alaric? I’ll put the cupcakes in the freezer to cool down.”

Part of me was still in awe at how happy and warm she was after everything she’d been through in her life.

Luella was a special type of woman.

LUELLA

“So good.” Alaric gave me his famous thumbs-up before stuffing his face. Dorian wasn’t any better, he ate just as fast.

“I’m so glad you all like it,” I signed.

“The cook may have reason to worry.” Dorian looked at me—he kept looking at me, and I wished he would stop because he had no idea how it made me feel. When he touched my face, I fought the urge to kiss him, to touch him back.

“Why aren’t you eating?” Alaric asked.

“I’m eating, I’m eating,” I grabbed my spoon.

Alaric and Dorian talked about everything and I mostly listened, only joining in every once in a while. Alaric wanted to do it all. Golf, tennis, video games, and movies. Dorian said yes to them all. He didn’t seem bored or bothered by how fast Alaric was signing. He only looked to me when he needed translation.

After dinner, I stood to clear the plates and stopped Dorian when he got up to help me. “Sit. You guys finish talking. I’m going to get the cupcakes.”

“Yes.” Alaric grinned.

In the kitchen, Russell, sleeves rolled up, was already cleaning up.

“Russell, I’ve got it, you don’t have to—”

“Please, I’m the help, after all.” He took the plates from me.

“You are more than the help to Dorian. You’re the Alfred to his Batman.”

“How did you know?”

We both laughed.

“What were Dorian and Donovan like as children?” If anyone knew, it was him.

“Troublemakers. Actually, Dorian was more of a troublemaker, and Donovan followed along.”

“No way.”

He nodded, and I took the cup he’d finished washing to dry it. “Dorian wanted attention, and he would do anything to get it. It was only after their mother passed that Dorian became more somber and Donovan the opposite. Dorian is now serious about family and the company. Donovan decided this life was too suffocating. I think it was the first time they ever felt estranged from each other.”

“It must be hard not to have each other anymore.” And their relationship didn’t get better until it was too late.

“I stayed in touch with Donovan after he left. He was really excited when he told me he’d met someone with pretty hazel eyes.” He carefully avoided looking at me as he said that.

“You know?”

He nodded.

“And you’re okay with Dorian claiming Alaric?”

“Why wouldn’t I be? Alaric needs a father, and like I said, it’s good to hear laughter in this house again. Dorian—”

Dorian stepped into the kitchen. “I think that’s enough, Russell.”

“It’s my fault. I kept asking him questions,” I said, hoping not to get Russell in trouble.

The old man snickered. “Don’t worry. I didn’t show her the Batcave.”

I grinned, and Dorian looked at us, puzzled. “The Batcave?”

“Nothing, don’t worry about it.” I changed the subject. “Is Alaric okay?”

“No, because someone forgot the cupcakes to gossip about me.” He moved to the fridge.

“Oh yeah… Hey!” I said as he ate one whole, the icing on his lips.

“Yep, definitely don’t need a chef.” He took another bite. “Russell, tell—”

I put a hand over his mouth. “Russell, please tell the chef thank you for allowing me the use of his kitchen.”

“It’s my kitchen,” Dorian said, reaching for another cupcake. I took the tray from him.

“The kitchen belongs to whoever cooks in it.”

He reached around me for the cupcakes, a grin on his face. Laughing, I pushed him back slightly but one of his arms wrapped around me and held me close.

Alaric came in. “Hey.”

“Grab the cupcakes,” Dorian said, holding me prisoner. Alaric jumped up and grabbed the tray from me and made a run for it. Dorian spun me around a few times.

“He’s going to have a cavity by the end of the week.”

“Cavities are proof of a well-spent childhood. Plus, one week of indulgence never hurt anyone. Come on, it’s only right you get to eat some too.”

He took my hand, and we ran after Alaric. This moment was so simple, and yet I never wanted it to end.

DORIAN

Luella, Alaric, and Hercules curled up on the blanket on the beach. I brushed the hair from his eyes and placed a hand on her cheek.

She laid back down, raising her arms and pretending to hold a gun.

“What are you doing?”

“I want a shooting star to make a wish on, and since none are out tonight, I’m taking matters into my own hands.” She closed one eye and fired. Dropping her hands, she made a wish.

I snickered. “Does that really work?”

“It takes time, but yes. My son is happy, and I’m happy. It works.”

Lying down beside her, I raised my hands and made a wish.

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