“Gaston? Are you still in here?” I call as I walk into the kitchen, Vivian a few steps behind me.

                “Trace? What are you doing here?” Gaston asks as he steps around the giant sink. “Is this the girl you were talking about at dinner?” he asks when he sees Vivian standing behind me.

                I nod. “Gaston, this is Vivian. Vivian, Gaston.”

                “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Gaston,” she says softly as she steps around me.

                Gaston hugs her tightly. “It is just Gaston, Vivian, and it is very nice to meet you, too.”

                “I’m sorry for Trace bringing home the ‘deep fried trash’ last night, that was my fault. He offered to take me out to dinner, and it was on the way home from work.”

                “If you keep making him eat that garbage, then we shall not get along, Miss Vivian!” he says with mock anger as he jabs the air with his finger for emphasis.

                Vivian laughs.

                “I just thought that she should get to know the person I’m closest to in the house,” I say.

                Gaston nods. “I’m honored you came to me instead of your parents first.”

                “Like I’d tell them anything,” I mutter beneath my breath.

                Gaston ignores my comment and turns back to Vivian. “You’re too thin, Vivian. Come, sit down and I will make you a feast to put some meat on your bones. When was the last time you had a decent meal?”

                “Define ‘decent,’” she says as she sits down at the table while Gaston turns to the stove.

                “A full meal where you left the table feeling full,” Gaston answers, watching her from the corner of his eye.

                “The day before my mom left, when I was five.”

                “Then this meal will make up for all of those meals that you missed,” Gaston says decisively as he begins chopping vegetables to put in a pot of water that’s just beginning to boil.

                “Thank you,” she says with a smile.

                “Gaston, I’m going to go check on something really quick, I’ll be right back.”

                Gaston nods and I turn to walk out of the kitchen.

                “I’ll be back in a minute,” I whisper to Vivian as I lean down and brush my lips across her cheek, then walk out of the warm kitchen into the rest of the house. This house is too big to feel like a home, there are too many empty rooms that smack of loneliness. When I was little, my brother and I would play in all of the empty rooms together, like we were kings or knights saving the princess from a ferocious dragon. But those days are gone, and now this mansion is just like my parents’ hearts, empty.

                I knock on the door to my dad’s ‘study,’ waiting for an answer from within. He calls it a study, but it’s really just a shrine to his baseball history.

                “There you are, Trace,” he says in a slightly bored tone when he opens the door for me. “Your mother and I were beginning to wonder where you were.”

                “You mean she was,” I say just loud enough for him to hear me.

                He smiles, but quickly hides it in a cough as he turn to my mom, who’s sitting in one of my dad’s large leather armchairs.

                “Trace, you disappeared after school, where have you been?” she asks, her voice laved with over-concern and not caring. It always amazes me how she can do that.

                “I’ve been out helping a friend today,” I answer.

                My dad nods. “Good reason for not being home today. Is this friend in a better position now?”

                I nod. “It’s just going to be a little while for her to get completely back on her feet.”

                “Her?” my mom says with interest. “You never said your friend was a girl. What exactly did you have to help her with?”

                I can tell by her tone and the look in her eyes that she’s expecting me to say we made a mistake and I took her to take care of that today. “I met her at school, and she was living with an abusive father, and I got her out. She’s better now, but I want to stick around and make sure that she stays okay and that he doesn’t bother her anymore.”

                My mom looks like she’s about to say something, then stands and quickly walks out in a cloud of too expensive perfume that she only wears because it’s the ‘hottest trend of the season.’

                “What’s her name, Trace?” my dad asks as he closes the door behind her.

                “Vivian. Vivian Blake.”

                He nods and steps around the only piece of furniture in here that warrants this room to be called a study, his large oak desk. “Where is she staying now?”

                “At the Plaza Apartments.”

                “Is she going to be okay?”

                I nod. “I’ve already talked to security and if her dad comes near the building, they know to keep him away. He’s not allowed near her again.”

                “It seems like you really care for this girl,” he begins. “Just don’t do anything rash or anything that will ruin your future.”

                “I won’t, I promise dad. I just need to make sure she’s okay, and she stays that way.”

                He nods. “Can I meet her?”

                “She’s down in the kitchen with Gaston right now.”

                “Lead the way,” he says, a slight smile on his face.

The End

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