All right, I want to give my deepest apologies for my lack of updating. As some of you have read, I was enjoying my summer and suffering from writer's block. I will try to write more but I don't want to promise anything. I'd rather take longer to get the chapter right then rush and put out something that's not up to par. So my deepest apologies again and biggest thanks to those of you that read and review. I'm glad that this story is entertaining and that so many of you like it. Okay, speech over now, here's the chapter.

A tapping at the door stirred Erin out of her slumber and her surroundings slowly came swimming into focus. Her body ached and she cursed herself for not taking something before she had slept.

"Erin?" Fiona called from the other side of the door. Erin got up with a groan, her battered body protesting at the movements.

"Yeah?" she called out as she walked towards the door and opened it. Fiona stood with a curious expression on her face.

"Oh, sorry," she offered contritely. "I didn't mean to wake you, but I'm just about done with dinner and was wondering if you wanted to eat."

"Yeah. Um, would it be all right if I made a phone call first?" Erin fidgeted on her feet.

"Sure honey, you're more than welcomed to use the phone. We'll be waiting in the kitchen for you." Fiona gave her a smile before departing down the hall.

Erin closed the door and flipped on the lights, blinking against their brightness. When she could see again, she saw that the clock on the nightstand read six o'clock. She dug into her pocket and pulled out Leon's phone number. She'd feel terrible if he showed up at the hotel looking for her when she wasn't there. She could be mean and leave him hanging, but she couldn't, there was already enough bad stuff in her life that she couldn't cause any in someone else's. Sitting on the bed, she picked up the receiver and dialed the number. The phone rang twice before it was picked up.


"Leon?" Erin asked timidly, afraid she'd dialed the number wrong.

"Yeah, that'd be me. Who's this?"

"It's Erin, you know, the girl that took you to breakfast this morning," she reminded him. She could hear a couple other people in the background and wondered where he was, who he was with, and then frowned as she fought down the pang of jealousy that the thought brought.

"Hold up a sec," he said before his voice became muffled. "Will you guys shut up? I'm on the phone." Erin heard someone mumble something at him before Leon mumbled 'whatever' and the background people seemed to fade away.

"Sorry about that. So what's up?" he asked, his voice sensuous even over the phone.

"About tonight. I can't go." Erin was surprised to hear the regret in her voice.

"Oh…well…" he trailed off, not sure what to say in his disappointment.

"It's not that I don't want to," Erin hurried on. "But I caught up with my uncle, or more he did with me, and now I'm at his house. Some family stuff is going down and I can't go. I really am sorry," she said apologetically.

"It's okay, I understand. You know, family is kind of obligatory. Um…what are you doing this Friday?" His voice was hesitant, almost leery of her turning him down again. Erin felt bad for putting that feeling in his voice, but then her brain started functioning again. Remember, you don't want anything to do with him? The mistake named Jay ring any bells?

"I don't know yet," she answered, unsure how to answer him. She didn't want to totally shoot him down but she didn't want him to think she was eager to go out with him either.

"Well, why don't you keep me in mind and I'll call you on Thursday?" Leon's voice was back to its smooth, confident tone.

"Sure," she replied. They exchanged goodbyes and it wasn't until she began walking out towards the kitchen that she realized she'd never given him the number to the house. She paused, thinking of calling him back, but continued on with a shrug; if he really wanted to go out with her he'd find a way to call. She wasn't going to make this easy for him, not when she knew she could be hurt too easily.

Her uncle looked up as she entered the kitchen, Olivia screaming her name beside him.

"ERIN!" she yelled out as she practically bounced in her seat.

"Hey Olive," Erin greeted as she slowly took a seat across the table from her, her delicate movements not going unnoticed by either of the adults.

"I almost thought I imagined you, but I'm really glad you're here," Olivia said eagerly, her pigtails flapping around her face as she talked. Erin gave her a smile and thanked Fiona as she set down a plate of food in front of her.

"How you feeling?" Ray asked, his eyes reflecting the concern he felt.

"I'm sore and hurting, but I'm okay." She glanced down at her plate before looking back up at him. "I just wanted to say thank you too, for letting me stay," she added, Ray's face breaking out in a grim smile.

"You're welcome. Now eat, I'll get you some pain killers." Ray got up and set two pills in her hand seconds later.

"Thanks." Erin took them as Olivia stared at her confused.

"Mommy? Is Erin sick?" she asked, worry marring her face.

"No honey, she's just hurt so Daddy gave her something to feel better," Fiona replied.

"How'd she get hurt?" The three of them glances between each other, trying to figure out how to explain the situation to her.

"She got hurt by a bad man," Ray finally said.

"Is the bad man gone?" Olivia asked, her hands set on her hips.

"He will be soon," Erin answered. Olivia opened her mouth as if to ask another question and Erin held her breath. Finally, Olivia nodded, satisfied with her answer and began eating her dinner.

Dinner was quiet, both Fiona and Ray asking her about school and what she planned to do. She fiddled with her fork as she mumbled out her responses.

"Wait, where's your brother?" Ray asked as Fiona was picking up the dishes.

"He's in Florida as far as I know, he called me on my graduations but that was the last time I heard from him. I don't even have a way to reach him," she answered, feeling tears prickle at the corners of her eyes.

"Don't worry," Ray replied as he rubbed her shoulder, "I'll see what I can find on him tomorrow."


"All right, that's enough thanks missy. I don't want to hear another one out of your mouth," he teased but Erin knew he was serious. She nodded and took a sip from her water.

"I think I'm going to turn in," she commented as she stood up.

"Oh! Can I sleep with Erin? Please, please, please?" Olivia begged.

"I don't think so baby," Friona said. "Erin needs her rest."

"But Mom," Olivia stared to whine.

"It's fine, she can sleep with me," Erin interrupted and Olivia broke out into squeals. "Why don't you go get into your pajamas and pick out a couple books for me to read you," Erin suggested and Olivia was bouncing out of her seat and racing down the hall.

"You sure you want to deal with that?" Fiona asked with a raised eyebrow and Erin gave a small laugh.

"I think I can manage. Good night."

Fiona and Ray said good night and Erin walked down the hall back into the guestroom. She quickly changed into an oversized shirt and a pair of shorts. She smirked as Olivia came bounding in with her pretty pink princess pajamas and pink bunny slippers on, a couple of book clutched tightly underneath her small arms.

"Don't forget to brush your teeth!" Fiona called from the kitchen.

"Race ya!" Olivia yelled as she dropped the books and dashed out the door. Erin followed after her at a much slower pace, not wanting to push her battered body.

Once the nightly rituals were done, Erin found herself snuggled up in bed, Olivia bunched up at her side, as she read the books to her. Half way through the third book, Erin looked down to see Olivia fast asleep. She carefully put the books on the side table and turned off the side lamp.

It felt nice to let go for a bit, even if it was with a little kid. She smirked and smoothed down he cousin's hair. Olivia was so innocent and fun, it made Erin's troubles feel lighter for a bit. The same way Leon makes you feel…no he doesn't. Yes he does, her heart argued back.

She gave a mental growl of frustration and tired to force her head to shut up to no anvil. The internal argument on went on for a while before Erin finally fell to sleep a few hours later.

The doorbell, along with pounding on the door, woke her up the next morning. She sat up to find herself alone in the room. A note on the nightstand told her to make herself at home and that there was plenty of food in the fridge. On the bottom Fiona and Ray's cell and work numbers were written.

Erin slowly eased out of bed and walked towards the front door. She checked through the eyehole to see who it was and felt herself begin to hyperventilate, a light sheen of sweat breaking out on her body.

"Erin! Open this goddamn door. I know you're in there!" her father yelled from the other side of the door, his pounding making the door rattle. Rather than say something, she ran to the living room and hid behind one of the couches. The pounding on the living room windows startled her and she curled into a tight ball, ignoring the vulgar words he was yelling.

She slipped into a catatonic state as his words and pounding began to fade. She closed herself in and fell into a dark abyss, where nothing could touch her.

It was a few hours later, when Ray came home for lunch, that he found Erin curled up behind the couch. He slowly made his way towards her, calling her name softly, and knelt beside her.

"Erin…Erin," he whispered as his hand barely brushed her shoulder. She let out a strangled cry and flew back, hands up to protect her self. Her brown eyes were wild until they focused on Ray and she lowered her hands, wrapping them around her bent knees. Subconsciously rocking herself as she began to talk.

"He was here." There was no question about who 'he' was. Ray looked around the room and then turned back to Erin.

"Did he get in?" Erin shook her head in negative and glanced around to make sure he wasn't there. "Okay, you wait here while I go make a quick sweep of the house, all right?" Erin couldn't do anything but shake her head yes. She more felt than saw Ray leave her side.

Why was she being like this? That last confrontation, she'd been so strong and now here she was, crouching behind a couch like a little lost kitten. Her grandparent's disowning her had broken her more than she'd like to admit. Even though she had Ray now, she was still broken, the parts of her all shattered. This man, her father, had taken everything she held dear and ripped them away. And it wasn't fair but what could she do?

Erin tried to push down the wave of hopelessness that threatened to consume her and if it wasn't for her uncle reappearing at her side, she feared it would have swallowed her. His paternal touch on her arm brought her further out of her shell and she sat, ashamed at how she had behaved. Why did she let her father have such a hold over her? She shook her head to shake the last of her fear off and stared up at Ray, his eyes searching hers.

"I'm okay," she reassured him, slowly getting to her feet and wrapping her arms around herself.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, just shaken. I didn't really expect him to come back so soon. I'm more ashamed of my reaction than anything," she confessed with a blush.

"Erin, it's okay. I promise not to hold it against you," he replied, winking at her, as he wrapped an arm around her. "Why don't you go take a shower and I'll whip something together for lunch?"

"Okay," Erin answered and headed towards the guestroom. After grabbing some clothes she headed towards the bathroom. Once inside the shower, she turned it as hot as she could stand, letting the water soak into her skin and wash away the events of the morning, letting the heat loosen her tightened muscles.

As the water coursed down her face, she let the tears that felt hotter than the water fall, scorching a trail down her cheeks. She chocked back a sob, hitting her fisted hands against the tile wall in an effort to stop her crying. Feeling in control again, she shut off the water and got dressed.

She stood looking at herself in the mirror over the sink. Her hair had grown a bit and now brushed below her shoulders. Her hair, the same color as her fathers'. With reckless abandonment, she opened the drawer searching for a pair of scissors. She found them and began hacking away at her hair. She dropped the hair into the garbage and then looked back into the mirror. She took a deep breath as she swept a hand through her shorn locks.

The cuts were jagged, her hair now only a couple inches long. It was ragged, but she like it, a lot. It was different and exactly what she was looking for, anything to make her feel different. Shaking her head, she let out a giggle, enjoying the weightless feeling her head had now that most of her hair had been cut off. She ran a hand through her hair one more time before leaving the bathroom.

Ray instantly looked up at her as she entered the kitchen, shock apparent on his face.

"Your aunt is so going to kill you," he remarked, laughing a bit.

"Does it look okay?" she asked, self conscious for a moment, her hand flying towards her hair.

"It does. Actually, I think I might like it better than the way you had it before," he said with a smirk.

"Thanks," she replied sarcastically.

"No, I really do like it. It seems to suit you." He came over to her, ruffling her hair and she swatted him away. "Your aunt's still going to kill you," he said over his shoulder as he headed back over to the counter to finish fixing their sandwiches.

"You think?" she asked with a cringe as she sat down on a stool at the counter.

"Well, to say she's going to be shocked might be an understatement," he replied before laughing again. "Oh boy, I can't wait till Olivia sees you and starts begging for hair like yours. Fiona is going to throw a fit."

"You'd let Olivia cut her hair like mine?" she asked surprised.

"Yeah, it's just hair, not like it doesn't grow back, right? Although, I'd be more inclined for her to go get it done somewhere rather than finding a pair of scissors and doing it herself," he jibed at her, handing her a sandwich. She rolled her eyes, feeling much more like herself.

They ate in relative silence, talking when they had something to say, but the silences in between were comfortable.

"Oh Erin, I forgot to tell you, I found some info on your brother this morning," Ray said as he washed up their dishes.

"You did?" she asked excitedly. God, she missed her brother so much and longed to talk to him.

"I, well, I called him this morning and talked to him," he admitted as he sat down next to her and Erin's smile vanished.

"What did he say?" she managed to choke out.

"He wasn't very happy. He's still waiting for you to call and explain everything to him. Said he wants to hear from you, so I told him you'd call him later. Here's the phone number." Ray handed her a piece of paper and Erin clutched onto it. "Feel free to talk to him as long as you need to."

"I will, thank you."

"All right, kiddo, I have to get going. Just be careful the rest of the day and if your dad ends up showing up again, call me, okay?" Erin nodded her head and watched as Ray gathered his jacket again and headed towards the front door. "And remember to call your brother, he's really worried about you."

Erin nodded her head, afraid what would happen if she opened her mouth. She was just a whirl of emotions. Ray left with a wink, tell her to lock the door behind him. As soon as she had done as she had been told, she headed back to the guestroom and sat on the bed, staring at the phone. With shaking hands she picked it up and dialed the number on the piece of paper. She closed her eyes as she waited for someone to pick up, the rings seeming to last an eternity.

"Hello?" An anxious voice answered.

"Hey bro," Erin said quietly.

"Erin, tell me everything, and I mean everything," Kyle ordered.

Erin spent the next hour or so explaining all the events since his departure. "Uncle Ray found me yesterday, and I've been here since," she finished with a loud sigh. Kyle was silent, letting everything sink in.

"Oh god Erin, why didn't you tell me?" Kyle asked, his voice cracking and Erin could hear the tears in his voice, making her own eyes water.

"I didn't want to trouble you, you know me, always worrying about everybody else. Kyle, I didn't know what to do. Jay was there and then…"

"I'll kill that bastard," he growled.

"No Kyle, he's not even worth your time. I was willingly with him, he didn't take advantage of me."

"Still, I'll give him the beating of his life if I see him," he vowed.

"Get in line after me bud, I get first shots at him," she shot back and was relieved to hear Kyle chuckle.

"I'm coming out Erin," he stated once their laughter had quieted.

"No Kyle, I don't want you to drop everything just because of me. It sounded like you were doing good down there," Erin argued.

"And I can do good out in LA too. I already made plans and am packing up my stuff. I already got an apartment set up and a friend of a friend who's going to get all my stuff there, since I can't put everything in my baby."

"Your baby?"

"Yeah. I got me a nice car now. I'd tell you about it but I want it to be a surprise. Erin," he started, growing serious again. "I want you to move in with me."

"Okay," she agreed with a sigh.

"Erin, there are several reasons why I want you to…wait, did you just say okay? That was surprisingly easy," he commented with a laugh.

"Well if you want, I can start arguing," she challenged.

"Oh no, you already agreed, to late to argue now. I just want to make sure you're safe and have you around until everything gets settled. I need to make sure you're okay."

"I know. But I'm not living with you forever!"

"Hey, I think I'm very pleasant to live with," he exclaimed indignantly.

"Sure," she replied sarcastically.

"No, but seriously, it'd only be temporary. After a while, I wouldn't object to you moving out on your own. But let me try to fix my guilt by having you live with me for a while, okay?"

"Kyle, I don't want you to feel guilty. I didn't tell you and that's my fault. How were you supposed to know?" she countered back.

"Doesn't matter. I shouldn't have left you there, I should have found a way to take you, or waited till you could," he answered back with a mix of anger and remorse.

"Kyle, it's done and over with," she declared and then took a breath before continuing on. "I don't want to dwell on it more than I need to. I love you, you're my brother, but you're also your own man and needed to do what you needed to do for yourself, okay? I understand that. I did the best I could on my own and it didn't work out so well, so now we just pick up the pieces and start all over, that's life," she said through her tears that had started to fall halfway through her little speech.

"God, sometime I wonder how old you are, sprouting all this wisdom. Sometimes you sound like…" he trailed off.

"I sound like her sometimes, don't I?" Erin asked, knowing that her brother was talking about their mom.

"Yeah, you do sometimes," he replied with a quiet sniffle. He gave a cough before speaking up again. "We really need to completely talk when I get there, but I should get going so I can finish packing. I'll be there soon, okay?"

"Okay. I'll see you soon then."

"Bye," he said quietly before hanging up. Erin placed down the phone and took another deep breath. Man, maybe I should invest in taking up yoga or something with all the deep breathing I'm doing, she thought with a wry smile. She flopped back and thought back over the conversation.

She got a big grin at the fact that her brother was going to be around in a few days. She did feel slightly guilty that he was picking up everything and coming, but her happiness at having him around again won out. His car might be a surprise for her, but her new hair was going to be a shock for him. She briefly wondered what Jay's reaction would have been but quickly dismissed it. Like she had said before, it didn't matter. Jay was done, over with, of the past. Sure, she still had a lot to deal with and events, like the one this morning, threatened to break her, but with Kyle on his way, she found a new resolve. Maybe things could be better. Maybe she just needed to start fresh and start all over, and her hair was just the beginning.

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