TWENTY-SEVEN

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 When we pulled up in the driveway, we were surprised to see George's car parked with the others. That could only mean my dad was back... but why?

We got out of the car and made our way inside. My dad was in the den again—accompanied by Connor who was doing his best to hold small talk. Upon seeing us, a look of relief crossed his face.

"You're back!" he said, getting to his feet. "That's great—your dad needs to talk to you about the court case."

"Okay, sure," I said, nodding. "But hey," I added, stopping him as he turned to leave. "Will you be here later? I want to talk to you about something too."

"Yeah, I'll be up in my room editing. Just come find me," he replied with a smile. I nodded again, and Connor left the room.

I sat down next to my dad on the sofa. Jade excused herself to go get a drink.

"I was just speaking to Brielle," I said to him. "She... needs time to think."

"That's fine," he replied. "Actually, George and I were talking today... and we came up with another idea. One that might be better for you—so it doesn't matter what Brielle's final decision is, as long as it seems like she's agreed to help."

I frowned.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Dad cleared his throat, and leaned back in his seat a little.

"George was going on the papers—and while LA Beauty took the case directly to court... you're only being sued. And it's not a criminal charge. Which means... you're not obligated to go to court if you and the other party agree to settle outside of court prior to the trial."

My eyes widened.

"Really?" I asked, excitement fluttering through me. The idea of going through court was draining—this would be a much better solution.

"Yes. There are a couple of downsides though."

I bit my lip. Of course.

"With Brielle's testimony on your side, you are almost certain to win against LA Beauty. The anticipated outcome would be a payout of money to you—which could be beneficial, especially while you look for new work. However, it's likely that if we agree to settle outside of court, you won't be able to get a cent of out of that Audrey Bloom... but I believe we can agree to make her drop charges, at least."

I frowned.

That was a tough decision.

"Well, I mean..." I trailed off, thinking. "I'm not in this for the money. I never asked for any of this. And a court case..."

I thought back to the store, and what that girl had said. She had been so nasty... a court case would definitely make things worse, and make it harder to start my career helping YouTubers. Who would want to work with me?

If I could avoid that, I absolute would.

"Wren," my dad said gently. "I think it'll be good for you to put this all behind you."

I nodded, but then I paused as a thought struck me.

"I agree—but if I don't do the court case, LA Beauty will get away with it. They'll get away with everything because we won't be able to bring them undone. They can cover it all up like it never happened and keep their money, keep their business running."

Dread filled my stomach at the thought.

"But Wren, that's not your battle to fight," my dad argued firmly. "Listen to me—what happened to you, and the people caught up with that company... it's horrible. It's not right. But court trials are exhausting, and they're long, and they're expensive. If you can avoid it... your sanity is worth so much more than that."

I let out a long, steady breath.

I didn't want to do it for the money... but if I did get a payout, I knew exactly who could use it. It would be the least I could do if Brielle did decide to get up on the stand with us.

And for me to avoid the court case just because it would be long and difficult...that would be selfish. I would knowingly be letting people fall into LA Beauty's trap once more.

"I know what you're thinking," my dad said, eyeing me carefully. "I know you want to help people. But there are other ways—better ways you can do so. You have a platform now, Wren. You have a voice, and people will listen to you because you have first hand experience. All you need is for a couple of people to back you up, and you can do just as good of a job bringing LA Beauty down that a court case would."

"But people hate me," I said, avoiding his gaze. A pit formed in my stomach.

"You're too hard on yourself. Plus, the media is interesting, Wren," dad replied, rubbing my back soothingly. "First impressions are tough, but views can be changed. And time heals all wounds. I think you can persuade people to come around... in time. Just, promise me you'll think about it. You don't have long to decide, but as your father I truly feel it would be best to settle outside of court."

I sighed, and then nodded.

"Okay, I'll think about it," I promised. He smiled—a rare sight, but it was nice.

I got up from my seat.

"Where's George?" I asked.

"He went to run an errand with Asher. They should be back soon, and then I'll be going," dad replied. They must have taken Asher's car.

"Okay. Well, I need to go talk to Connor..."

I trailed off, wondering if I should tell him my plan. I felt like our relationship was slowly being rebuilt... and I had to let him back in at some point, right?

I relented.

"I'm thinking about going to see mom," I said, and his eyebrows rose in surprise.

"You are?" he asked.

"Yeah—I think I need a break from all the media and stuff. As much as I love it here... well, Connor and Kurt are going on a road trip for their videos. I was going to ask if I could join them, and if we could stop by Princeton along the way."

"I think that's a really good idea, Wren. But how will you afford to go?"

My enthusiasm drained like a sink.

"Oh... right..." I trailed off. Dad sighed, and pulled out his wallet.

"You know what... you've done well on your own so far. I guess it wouldn't hurt to fund your trip... just a little bit. I would have spent the money on a plane ticket to get you home anyway."

He handed me a ten, hundred-dollar bills. My mouth went dry.

"What? No, I couldn't— besides, you said—"

"My stubbornness didn't keep you from pursuing your dreams, Wren," he said. "At least I know you'll be okay with some money behind you. And I think your mother would appreciate the visit, too."

A small smile formed on my lips. I went over and hugged him tightly, and felt his arms enclose around me.

"Thank you," I said happily, and I truly meant it. I took the money and a sense of security fell over me.

"Now, you head on upstairs and ask Connor," dad prompted, straightening his suit once more. I guess that was enough family bonding for one moment. I nearly laughed.

"Thanks dad," I said, as I turned to head upstairs.

***

Sorry for the late update! I promised a double update this week so you can expect another chapter tomorrow. <3 I just wanted to get this one up so you had something to read. 

In case you missed it, I've been struggling a lot lately with my health and I had to take a short break to focus on myself, but I'm back now and I'll have another chapter to you tomorrow. 

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