52. Nick

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"So what'd you guys think?" Nick asks as they are leaving the movie theatre.

"It was awesome!" Olly says excitedly.

"Yeah, it was fucking great!" Simon adds.

Nick stops, eyes wide. "What did you just say?" He's trying to sound serious, but hearing the f-word come from an eight year old is just funny.

Simon covers his mouth. "Sorry."

Nick ruffles his hair, "No biggie."

As he removes his hand, he sees a red mark on the back of Simon's neck. He hadn't noticed it before because the collar of his shirt was partially covering it. He grabs his arm and kneels down to Simon's level. "What's that mark from?"

Simon looks genuinely confused. Nick looks over at Olly who is sharing the same expression, unsure of the sudden mood change.

"On the back of your neck! What's that from?"

Simon shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe my backpack or something?"

Nick isn't sure if he believes him. Nick himself came up with all kinds of excuses to explain the marks on his stomach, and arms, and back.

Nick gently guides Olly over so the two of them are side by side. "You know you can tell me, right? I'll take care of you."

Simon and Olly both nod.

"It wasn't him, I swear." Simon is trying not to cry. Nick pulls them both into his chest.

"I believe you." Now he's trying to reign in his own emotions. "I just worry about you. Okay?"

He feels them both nod again. He takes a deep breath. "Okay then, enough of that." He doesn't want their time with him to be an interrogation. "Who's ready for McDonalds?"

After the two boys have eaten their chicken nuggets and fries, the three of them climb back into Nick's truck. His time with them was up.

"I wish you could come over on Christmas," Olly says, unexpectedly. "I've been really good this year, so I know Santa is going to bring me something awesome!"

Nick smiles. "Me too, buddy. Maybe next year."

It's what he always says: maybe next year, maybe next time, maybe tomorrow. He knows fully well that it's never going to happen, not as long as Ken is there.

He pulls up in front of their house, and they both unbuckle their seat belts to lean into him for a hug. "I'll see ya next month, okay? Merry Christmas, and be good."

"Okay, Nick," they both say at the same time.

He watches them run up the sidewalk onto the porch. Ken is standing in the doorway, looking out at Nick. The boys run past him.

It's the first time he's seen Ken in a year. Nick assumed he found out about his visits with his brothers at some point. They became harder and harder for his mom to hide. Ken must have accepted it, though, because otherwise he knows they would have come to an abrupt halt.

Nick expected to feel hatred, or fear, or disappointment, when he saw him again. But he doesn't. He feels nothing.

It's a good feeling.

He pulls away from the curb to head back to the Rogers'. Ian and Bailey will be gone tonight at their grandma's, so he thinks he'll probably just read until he falls asleep. It's only 6:00, but he's tired. He hasn't gotten a good night's sleep since he kissed Bailey.

Nick didn't know what came over him the other night. One second they were screaming at each other, and the next, he had to have her, if she would let him. He wanted to be with her and touch her everywhere—act out all the scenarios that have played in his head for the last four months.

He is grateful, though, that they were interrupted. He immediately knew what they had done was wrong. She has a boyfriend—who wouldn't keep his fucking hands off of her all night.

But what bothered Nick even more was the fact that despite what they wanted, she could never be his, because of Ian, and her parents, and his fucked-up life. The list could go on and on. If he couldn't have all of her, he needed to have none. He sees that now.

Nick picks up his phone for the first time in four hours. He always silences it when he's with his brothers.

He pulls over when he sees ten missed calls from Ian. That can't be good. He quickly calls him back.

"Nick? Where the fuck have you been?" Ian answers.

"I was with my brothers. What happened?"

"Fuck, dude..." Ian's voice is scratchy, like he's been crying or yelling. Nick's stomach is on the ground. He can't breathe, he opens his truck door and steps outside to the cold air. What if something happened to Bailey?

"It's my grandma. It's her house. The fucking flue." Ian's not making any sense.

"Ian! For fuck's sake, tell me what happened! Is everyone okay?!?"

Ian takes a deep breath. "Yes. Everyone is fine. My grandma's house burned down. It's gone, man. Completely. Bailey was there..." Oh God no. "...and she dragged her out. Grandma forgot to open the chimney flue or something. The house was filled with smoke, and Bailey..."

Ian starts crying again. "She went in there and found my grandma. She was sleeping in her recliner. Bailey woke her up and dragged her out."

"But everyone's okay?"

Ian sniffles. "Yeah. My grandma is staying at the hospital, at least overnight. She inhaled a lot of smoke, but they think she'll be fine. Bailey's already been discharged. She went home about an hour ago."

Nick breathes again. "Are you okay?"

"I just keep thinking about could have happened. You know? If Bailey wasn't there? Or if she would've gotten trapped in there trying to save Grandma?"

"Yeah, I know, man. Try not to think about that, okay? Everyone's fine." Nick attempts to say the same thing to himself. "Do you want me to come to the hospital?"

"No, man. My whole family's here. Mandy just left to get food for all of us. Would you mind checking on Bailey? She was pretty shaken up. I didn't want her to drive, but she basically stole the keys from me."

Nick smiles despite the circumstances. He can picture Bailey doing just that if she had her mind set on it.

"Yeah, I'll go check on her." That's where he wants to be anyway.

"Thanks, man."

*The next few chapters will be short. There is a lot of POVs changing but I'll try to update more often. Please take a quick second to vote if you'd like!*

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