Stay Close(10)

By: Alexa Riley

My parents run the security and protection division at Osbourne Corporation. It’s my uncle Miles’s business, but I’m not sure what they do. Something about investments and buying things. Whatever it is, he’s made a lot of international purchases, and that can sometimes make people angry. My mom and dad might be overly cautious, but they think it’s better to be safe. We’re all family, which means any of us could be a target. That includes Pandora and our cousin, Henry. No one ever goes into details about why they are so protective, but I think there must be a story behind it.

As much as I hated my guards, I knew they were a necessity. Even when I was busy trying to give them the slip, I wasn’t being reckless. Most of the time I just went home. But the thought of running from Ivan is almost ridiculous. In fact, here I sit, hoping he will be there when I go outside to have my lunch. I like his eyes on me. They look at me with heated curiosity, as if he isn’t sure what to do with me.

When the teacher finally dismisses us I almost trip over my own feet trying to get out of the classroom as quick as possible. When I hit the hallway I see Pandora standing like she’s waiting for me. She likely wants to have lunch together, something we do a few times a week. The other times she spends it in the library doing her homework so she doesn’t have to do it when she gets home.

“Hey,” I say, trying to play it cool, but she shakes her head and her ponytail bounces back and forth. At school it’s easier for people to tell us apart. We have to wear uniforms, and girls have the option of slacks or a skirt. I wear a skirt, but Pandora always wears slacks. She plays down her looks whereas I’ve always been the one to dress up. I almost cried the day I could finally fit into our mom’s shoes. I could shamelessly do a wardrobe change four times a day.

“New guy bring you to school today?”

“Yep” is all I give her. Because she knew the answer to the question before she even asked. Pandora and I both have had our driver’s licenses since we were sixteen, but our parents still insist on us being driven around.

“Where we eating?” she asks.

“I’m guessing you’re eating in the library to finish your art history paper.” I have a feeling she still isn’t done with it. She could have put it off until the last second, but Pandora can be a perfectionist, too. So whatever she did this morning, she’ll still want to go over.

She growls in the same way Mom does when Dad makes her mad.

“I’m still watching you,” she warns, putting two fingers to her eyes and then pointing them back and forth between us. I roll my eyes.

“Watch my backside.” I wink at her before turning around and moving towards where I hope Ivan will be.

“Penny, I’m serious with this one. He’s not a boy you can toy with like here at school.”

I turn around and glare at her because people likely heard her in the hallway. “Love you, Pan, but I’m eighteen. You’re not always going to be around to watch my every step.”

“I love you, too,” is all she says, shaking her head and walking away.

I know her words were more than love and affection. They’re also a reminder that she does what she does because she loves me. I feel the same, but I have to be able to break away and make my own choices. I can’t stay in the Bubble Wrap they want to keep me in forever.

Pulling my phone out of my bag, I see I have a text from my dad telling me to have a great day, followed by a bunch of emojis. I smile down at my phone and send one back.

I stop when I run into a wall. Not a wall, actually, just a very big man. My eyes travel up to Ivan’s face. His hands are locked on my shoulders, keeping me from falling on my ass. I smile even bigger now that he’s here.

“Hi,” I say, and try to move in a little closer to him. His dark eyes travel down my face to the phone in my hand.

“What was making you smile,” he finally says, nodding towards the phone. “Was it a boyfriend?” he asks as his eyes narrow. Then he begins to glance around us. “Does he go here?” That question sounds like a threat, like if there were a boyfriend, he’d take care of it.

My smile widens further. I like his jealousy so much more than I should. Now I know what it means. He likes me. I can tell from the spark in his eyes that his comment isn’t about protecting me.

“I’m smiling now because you came to have lunch with me.” He fixes his gaze on me again, no longer looking for my nonexistent boyfriend. “Before, it was my dad. He likes to send goofy messages to Pandora and me throughout the day.”

The lines around his mouth ease, and I see tension leave his body. He nods then reaches out, taking my bag from off my shoulder and my phone from my hand.

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