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Strung

By:Victoria Ashley


Arlington, Wisconsin

WHEN MY PHONE DECIDES TO vibrate across the bedside table for a fourth time within two minutes, I roll over and scowl at it, seriously considering breaking the darn thing against the wall.

I can barely even keep my eyes open this early in the morning, let alone manage to muster up the energy to reach over and read any stupid messages.

I wish my phone would get the damn memo, but apparently it doesn’t, because it vibrates for a fifth time.

Annoyed, I growl out and reach for it.

There’s only one person crazy enough to bother me this early in the morning.

One person, and that jerk is lucky he happens to be my brother. If I didn’t love him so much I’d kill him. Especially since he knows how much my sleep means to me.

Alexander Tyler . . . I will break your pretty face!

I don’t even bother reading his five messages before replying with an angry response. It’s too early for me to give a damn right now.

After the party my friends threw for me last night, I needed every second of sleep I could get this morning to recover from my hangover, and he just ruined that for me.

My head hurts like hell and a wave of nausea hits as I press the send button.

Me: Piss off, Xan! I’m sleeping. STOP texting me!

Xan: Morning, Sunshine. And what the fuck did I tell you about calling me Xan?

Me: You told me not to do it. Now what the hell do you want, Xan?

I grunt as I look over at my alarm clock to see it’s only ten past five. I want to reach through the phone and choke his annoying butt even more now.

With the way every little part of my body aches, I knew it was early, but I didn’t realize it was the ass-crack of dawn.

“He is so fucking unreal,” I grunt, while reading his next message as it pops up.

Xan: If you would read my messages then you would know why the hell I’m texting and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Scroll up, genius.

Trying my best to focus on the blurred words, I run my hand over my face and scroll up to the first message, before quickly replying.

I should’ve known.

That bar is his damn life now. I’m not sure anything else matters to him more than Vortex.

Me: Seriously? You won’t be home when I arrive? You have a serious work problem, Xan. You couldn’t even take the day off for your little sister’s arrival?

Xan: Go back to sleep. You shouldn’t be awake so damn early anyway. You don’t have to be at the airport for another three hours.

Me: Asshole! It’s your fault I’m awake. So how am I getting into the house?

Xan: The back. In the rock by the sliding door. See you tonight, baby sis. Oh . . . and enter the house with caution.

Me: Yeah . . . sure. Thanks for the warning. NOW BYE.

“Ugh!”

After I toss my phone aside, I close my eyes and try to force myself back to sleep, but all I can think about is the fact that in less than nine hours I’ll be in California, chilling by the ocean and working on my new book, away from this small town and my overbearing parents.

My brother left as soon as he turned twenty-one and I’ve been waiting very impatiently to do the same. It’s the only request that our parents had since they didn’t want us running away on them so early.

They knew we’d both want out of this town eventually and they were right; although, I had to promise them I’d come back after the summer.

They still don’t believe that I will, but I’ve decided to at least give it a few more years before I make the big decision of leaving Arlington for good.

I’m hoping this visit to California doesn’t make me break my promise, because that’s the one thing I hate doing the most.

The next hour is spent tossing and turning before I finally make the decision to crawl out of bed to shower and finish packing.

My roommate won’t be awake for at least another five hours, so we said our goodbyes last night over two cases of beer between us and three other friends, which feels like a huge mistake now. Literally.

On another note, it sucks that my parents are waiting outside to drive me to the airport in Madison, which is at least a thirty-minute drive.

Once I hear the Acadia pull into the driveway, I pick up my two bags—being extra careful with the one my laptop is tucked inside of—and begin making my way through the small house.

I’m surprised when Whitney mumbles something from behind me and throws her arms around my waist before I can make it to the front door.

“Whoa. I didn’t expect to see you again for the next three months. What are you doing up?”

“You didn’t really think I’d let you walk out that door without me being up to say goodbye, did you? I may feel like total shit, but I’m going to miss you like crazy and wanted to see you one last time before you leave. I also wanted to remind you to have fun, but not too much fun, got it?”

“Got it.” I turn around and give her a tight hug. “I’m going to miss you too. Try not to have too much fun while I’m away. I’m sure Ethan will be living here the whole time I’m gone anyways, so you’ll have plenty of fun to pass the time.”

“Ha Ha. Aren’t we funny,” she mumbles. “Tell your brother hi for me, and I better have a damn good book to read about from your adventures once you return. You hear me?”

I nod and look over toward the door as it opens.

“Ready, Sweetheart?” My dad doesn’t waste any time before walking over and grabbing my bags from me. “We’re cutting it close already, and as much as we don’t want you to leave, we don’t want you missing your flight either.”

I quickly tie my hair back and follow my dad to the door, stopping before I can walk outside. As boring as this place is, I really am going to miss Whitney over the next three months, and possibly even this crappy little house that I’ve finally gotten used to. “Alright. I’ll message you tonight sometime. Don’t miss me too much.”

She laughs. “Just get out of here before I make my roomie stay or either squeeze my way into one of your bags and tag along for the summer.”

“Yeah, I don’t think Ethan would appreciate that or else I’d shove you inside myself. Later, babe.” I smile and shut the door behind me, quickly jumping into the back of the red SUV.

Even though my dad looks as tired as I feel, my mother somehow looks upbeat and energetic, as if she’s been awake for hours.

“We better be picking you back up from an airport in three months or you’ll be breaking your father’s heart. We already have one child living too far away. We don’t need our baby girl running away on us too.”

I lean back in the seat and get comfortable. “I know. I said I’d be back and I meant it, Mom.” I yawn and close my eyes, wishing I was already on the plane, because I plan to sleep the entire way there. “Can you wake me up when we get there? I just need to keep my eyes closed.”

“Is your brother picking you up from the airport?”

I shake my head.

“Why not?”

“Vortex.”

She huffs. “I hope he plans on taking a break while you’re there. He works too hard.”

“I’m sure he will, Mom. And besides, I’m a big girl now and I can take care of myself. I’ll figure it out.”

“I know, I know . . . I’ll be quiet now so you can rest, seeing as you must have had a rough night last night.”

I open one eye to see her shaking her head in disapproval, but she doesn’t say anything else.

I take this as an opportunity to end the conversation and get some peace and quiet while I can . . .



Oceanside, California

Excitement courses through me as I toss my two bags into the first available taxi, before jumping inside and slamming the door shut behind me. The driver cusses under his breath, clearly not expecting me.

“Sorry,” I say out of breath. “Take me here, please.” I hold the small folded piece of paper over the front seat for the driver to grab.

He pulls it from my grip and opens it with a small, knowing smile. “Visiting Micah, I take it?”

I toss my bags beside me in the seat and crinkle my forehead in confusion. “Micah?” I question. “I have no idea who that is. I’m staying with my brother for the summer. This is the address he gave me, so I’m crossing my fingers that he wasn’t dumb enough to give me the wrong one.”

The man looks at me through the rearview mirror, before changing his tone and becoming a bit more professional. “My mistake, ma’am.”

He pulls out into traffic, before speaking again. “So, you’re Alexander’s sister?” he questions, while glancing at me in the mirror.

I smile. “His baby sister.”

With Alexander owning a bar on the beach, the taxi driver knowing his name doesn’t surprise me too much, but him knowing him by address . . . Yeah, a little weird.

“Is my brother a man-whore or something? Is that how you know his address? I know he doesn’t go anywhere without his precious motorcycle, so I’m sure he has no need for a taxi himself,” I say.

“Let’s just say I’ve made a lot of early morning trips to his address.”

“Gotcha,” I say, grossed out. “No wonder he told me to enter with caution,” I whisper under my breath.

A huge smile takes over my face when we finally pull up at my brother’s beach house about twenty minutes later. I’ve wanted to visit him ever since he first moved here five years ago, but my parents wouldn’t allow it, afraid that I wouldn’t come back home. Xan had to come back to Wisconsin once every three months so we could see him and have family time.

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