Chapter 19: Stupid Girl

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Louisa changed the subject away from herself after that, Xavier's words ringing in her ears. Does he really find that amazing? Lots of people become successful early on. She thought of Evander, her younger brother, and Eloise's twin, who was extremely smart. He had tested out of school early and got drafted to play college ball before he was 18, now that was amazing.

She tried to listen to the conversation that flowed seamlessly between the 4 men, but her mind wandered elsewhere. The memory that surfaced in the car seemed to crack the dam on all the other ones she'd blocked off years ago. Some memories were fuzzy and distorted, others were clear as day. One, in particular, had her tensing up and she could do nothing to stop as it consumed her mind.

Flashback

"Papa, look!" Louisa, only 8 at the time, jumped up and down excitedly in front of her father as she held up her newly graded test. "I got an A! My first A! My teacher said I've improved tons with my math over the past month. Look, Papa, look!" She pushed the paper closer to his face so he could see the big red, A, written on the front. She couldn't believe she had really done it math was something she had struggled with since first being introduced to it. Her papa was the first person she wanted to show, to see the proud look on his face.

However, hers crumbled almost immediately as her father moved his glassy eyes from the T.V. to her and uttered three small words, "I don't care!"

Louisa stepped back slowly, her heart dropping to her toes, "I'm sorry papa, I just wanted to show you."

"You're fucking stupid if you think one measly A is going to impress me! I got straight A's in school, you know that? Could have done something with my life instead of having you children." He spit, his words coming out slurred and making Louisa close in on herself even more.

"I'm sorry," she whispered as tears welled up in her eyes. She felt them spill over, but she made no sound. She wanted to go hide in her room, but she wasn't allowed to leave until she was dismissed.

"Fille stupide," he grumbled, "give me that test."

Louisa flinched when her father called her a stupid girl again, but handed over her test, the smallest glimmer of hope filling her once again. She watched with anticipation as he looked at it, feeling her hands shake as she prepared herself for his praise. But of course, she had fooled herself, and she choked out a sob as she watched her father rip her test in half, again and again, and again.

"You're quite the observer, aren't you?" Xavier whispered in her ear.

She jumped, his smooth voice pulling her out of her haunted memories, and her attention drifted to Xavier who was softly caressing her arm. She realized she had been staring out the window, for how long, she was unsure. She saw a small bird perched on the tree outside. Her aching heart warmed at the sight, and she watched it intently until it flew away, floating on the wind, soaring across the sky.

Clearing her throat, flustered from his close attention and accurate assumption of herself, she stood up abruptly. Shifting away from Xavier she asked anybody if they needed a drink. She heard Jones ask for water and Jay ask for a beer, to which Jones reached over and smacked him on the back of the head making him pout. Louisa forced herself not to react to the violent action and quickly exited the room without another word.

She moved around her kitchen without really thinking about it and took advantage of the moment alone. The kitchen was something she spent extra time on whilst remodeling, she had always loved cooking. She spent countless hours with her mother in the kitchen growing up, and a lot of her good childhood memories came from there.

She grabbed a pitcher of water from her fridge and a tray from a cabinet filling it with enough glasses for everybody. She hesitated and decided against grabbing a beer from her fridge for Jay. Leaning back against the counter, she took a deep breath, trying to organize her thoughts. She hated remembering her father, mostly because she scarcely had any good memories involving him.

He had immediately followed as she went to the kitchen, knowing something wasn't right. He watched her gracefully move around her home and his heartbeat sped up at the sight. He couldn't help but imagine her moving around his home, cooking him food, as at peace in his space as she was here. The thought made his heart beat a little harder and he crossed his arms over his chest as if to protect it.

She seemed to be deep in thought and he didn't want to interrupt her, just be here for her if she needed. When she leaned against the counter and closed her eyes, a pained look on her face. He moved across the room quietly and wrapped his arms around her gently. Once again, she jumped about a foot in the air and he absolutely hated it. It wouldn't have bothered him as much if he thought she just got spooked easily. But there was something in her eyes akin to fear, and it felt like a punch in the gut.

Louisa turned in his arms and rested her hands against his chest, somehow feeling times better just being near him. "Would you want to stay here tonight?" The words were out before she even realized what she said.

"Absolutely," He answered immediately, surprised but elated that he would get to spend more time with her. Reaching up he held on of her hands against his chest, praying she couldn't feel his racing heart. Wanting her to feel comfortable, he quickly added, "but only if you're sure, you can tell me to leave at any time."

"Can you carry this to the living room?" Her face was as red as a tomato while pointing to the tray in front of them. Where in the heck did that come from? Why would I ask him to stay here?

Her thoughts we're already full of worry but she was afraid to backtrack, and his comment reassured her. She didn't really mean to ask him to stay, her subconscious had betrayed her. Being held by him felt so calming, her defenses just seemed to fall away and apparently made her do crazy things. Thinking back to the previous night, and how peaceful he had made her feel she realized that was what she was needed right now. Xavier picked up the tray and walked away grinning from ear to ear and she narrowed her eyes at him, before rolling them playfully.

When Louisa eventually made her way back into the living room, she tried making conversation with the others in the room. Wanting to be a good host and make a better impression then she knew she had been. She watched, listened, asked questions, and made sure she wasn't distracted this time.

Jay told her about his family, about meeting Xavier and having to go through his training, which was 'pure torture' as he put it. He talked about his mom and his brother and his interests outside of work. Louisa noticed that he didn't mention his dad and she knew well enough not to ask.

A.B. told her little but mentioned that he was married to his wife of almost 25 years, Jolene and had a child, Ben, who was 18. She paid extra attention to Jones as he happily told the story of how he met Ashley, his wife. And about his son, Ashton, who was only a few months old. It seemed like maybe half an hour had passed by as she talked with everyone, but it was 3 hours later when the conversation dulled.

"We should probably be heading out," Jones said after checking his phone and everybody nodded in agreement.

"I'm staying here tonight, so just give me a call in the morning and we can figure out what we're doing." Xavier tried to be as casual as possible saying it. But Jay was quick to wiggle his eyebrows and laughed as Xavier lunged for him. Jay dipped out the front door, screaming bye as he ran towards the car. The other two men thanked Louisa for having them over and disappeared through the door a moment later.

Louisa huffed out a breath once the door was closed and turned towards Xavier who was already watching her. They stood there for a few minutes in silence, although it wasn't uncomfortable. She glanced up at the tall man and tilted her head to look at him curiously, "Are you hungry?"

"Are you cooking?" He asked narrowing his eyes at her curious gaze, she nodded in response, "Then I'm starved."

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