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Because of Low (Chapter Twenty)

Marcus

I couldn't find Will ow anywhere. She wasn't answering her phone or responding to my texts. Her class was over hours ago. I searched through her things looking for her sister's phone number. Nothing.

My phone dinged and I scrambled to grab it. A text from Amanda. Not what I'd been hoping for.

"Mom needs you. Hurry please."

Shit.

I needed to find Will ow. I didn't have time for family drama.

Dad no doubt had done something new and sent mom into a spiraling mess.

"Where are you Low," I growled in frustration staring down at my phone trying to decide who to call. Who would know where she was?

"I'm here," her voice was so soft I almost didn't hear her over the chaos in my head. I spun around and found her standing in our bedroom doorway. She looked devastated.

"What's wrong?" I asked rushing to her and pulling her into my arms. Red swol en eyes and a tear streaked face were just the beginning of what was wrong with her. Her arms didn't embrace me in return. Instead she stood limp.

"Low, you're scaring me," I said into her hair needing some kind of reaction from her.

She didn't respond.

My phone went off again and I ignored it. Tightening my hold on her I waited hoping she'd say something. Anything.

My phone started ringing. Frustrated I grabbed it and started to decline it when I saw it was Amanda. Something had to really be wrong.

"What Manda, I'm busy at the moment."

"She's taken something Marcus! Help me!" Her screams came through the phone so loud Will ow jerked in my arms.

She'd heard her.

"Who? Mom took something?" My heart was pounding in my chest. Oh God no.

"YES! She won't wake up. I called 911 but I can't find a pulse! Help me!" she wailed.

"I'm coming. Keep her alive Manda. You hear me! Keep her breathing. Do mouth to mouth. Something!" Will ow had stood back from my embrace and her face was chalk white. I needed to deal with what was bothering her but my mother's life hung in the balance right now and I couldn't.

"Low, I gotta go."

She nodded, "Hurry," she said frantically. I could see the horror in her eyes. She'd heard every word Amanda had said. She understood. I wasn't leaving her. She knew that. I bolted for the door. Please God don't let my Mama die.

Five hours later, my mother's stomach had been pumped and she was being given fluids through an IV. My sister hadn't been able to find a pulse because in her panic she wasn't looking in the right place. But she had been right about one thing. Mom had taken a bottle of pain pills. The divorce papers had been signed by my dad and had been clutched against her chest when I'd got there.

Mom's eyes flickered open and she focused on me. I moved from my stance against the wall where I'd stood for over an hour watching her, willing her to open her eyes.

"Marcus," she whispered. I grabbed her hand and nodded.

Suddenly I wasn't a twenty-one year old man. I was a little boy. Scared and in need of his mama to hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay. Seeing them lift her lifeless body onto the gurney and take her from the house was a nightmare I never wanted to relive.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Shh Mama. Don't talk. It's okay just promise you'll never do that to me again. I can't handle that Mama. I can't." I squeezed her hand and she let out a small sob. I didn't want her to cry. Not now. She needed to recover.

"He left me. Took her with him. Moved to Mobile," she said in a hoarse whisper.

I reached and got the glass of water and straw the nurse had left a few minutes ago. She'd said Mom would need it when she woke up.

"Here Mama take a small sip. I don't want to talk about him.

He's gone. We're all still here and we aren't going anywhere."

She obediently took a small sip of water and laid her head back against the pillow.

"I love you," she said staring up at me with sad eyes.

"I love you too. Manda and I need you Mama. You can't try to leave us again. We need you." I spoke gently but forcefully. I needed her to understand that just because our father had cast her off we never would. She was important to us.

"I need you too."

I nodded, "Good. Now take another drink."

"You're awake."

I glanced back as Amanda ran toward the bed and hovered over our broken mother. "Oh Mama, you're okay. You're awake," she gushed.

Mom reached for Amanda's hand with her other hand and grasp hers.

"I'm sorry. I won't do this ever again. I had a weak moment." She explained slowly looking up at my sister. Amanda sniffed back tears before crawling up on the bed and curling up beside mom.

"My baby girl," Mom cooed and kissed Amanda's forehead.

They were here and they were safe. It was going to be okay. I could do this. I could hold this family together. I'd do whatever I had to do. Low would help me. Mom loved her.

We'd make it through this.

Willow

Cage saw me the minute he exited the dugout. Frowning, he made his way over to me. I'd never come to his practice before. I could see the question and concern on his face.

"Low, what's wrong?" He asked when he reached me. I felt the sob inside me well up and I covered my mouth to silence it. His eyes widened and he reached for my hand.

"Come on," he said pulling me with him. Away from the curious eyes of his teammates. He led us straight to his car and opened the passenger side door.

"Get in."

I didn't argue. I climbed in. the familiar smell of safety surrounded me and my eyes filled with tears. Cage would always be my safe place. Because once Marcus knew the truth, I was going to lose him. He was going to leave me too. And I didn't blame him.

Cage climbed into the driver's seat then turned to look at me.

"What happened and whose ass do I need to beat?" I shook my head, "No ones. Oh Cage it's awful. It's worse than I could've ever even imagined."

"Nothing's that bad baby. Ever. And if it is I'll fix it."

"You can't fix this Cage. This is unfixable."

"Nothing's unfixable"

"Larissa and Marcus have the same father," I yelled fisting my hands over my eyes as another sob rattled my chest.

Silence.

I'd rendered him speechless.

"The married man Tawny's been screwing is Marcus's father. Jefferson HARDY just left his wife for my sister."

"Fuck."

I dropped my hands in my lap and looked at Cage's horrified expression. "How do you know? I mean how did you find out? Does Marcus know?"

"She met me outside my class today. Driving a brand new Mercedes SUV. Told me that Larissa's daddy had left his wife and they were moving to Mobile. He'd bought them a fancy new house and he was moving in with them. Then she handed me a check for what she called debt she owed me and left." I reached into my pocket and pulled out the check and handed it to Cage.

"Holy Mother."

"Look who wrote me the check Cage. Not the amount." He lifted his blue eyes to me, "Low, baby, I'm so sorry. She just keeps fucking your life up."

"I knew he had family problems and I knew he hated his dad and he was worried about his mother. But God, Cage I'd have never in a million years have guessed this." Cage reached over and grasped my hand in his, "I'm here.

You got me. You know that."

I knew that. But it wasn't my losing Cage I was worried about.

"I need to talk to her, him, both of them. I need to go see Tawny and Jefferson, Marcus's dad. I have to find a way to tell Marcus and not lose him. I can't lose him Cage." Cage cranked up the car, "Buckle up and type their address into my GPS." I quickly did as I was told then lay my head back on the seat, closed my eyes and prayed I'd find a way to make this okay.

It was dark when we pulled up to the large two story brick home inside the gated golf course community that my sister and niece now lived. Cage pulled into their driveway and I sat staring up at the home in front of me. Lights were on in almost every room in the house. They were here. It was time to find some answers. To understand what had happened. I just needed some way to keep Marcus. I glanced down at my phone again. Marcus hadn't texted me since his last text two hours ago telling me his mother was doing fine. He hadn't explained what happened. I thought I'd heard his sister say something about calling 911 but apparently that hadn't happened. Amanda must've overreacted. If his mother had gone to the hospital he'd have told me. He'd have wanted me there.

"Come on. Let's go do this," Cage said opening my car door. I'd been so lost in thought I hadn't even noticed he'd gotten out of the car. I stood up and we walked to the front double doors together. Seeing those two large double doors reminded me of the other house this man owned.

The one where he'd raised Amanda and Marcus. The one he'd abandoned.

I reached out and pressed the doorbel then waited.

Jefferson Hardy opened the door. A surprised expression lit his eyes as he stood back .

"Will ow, please come in. Larissa was just talking about you."

He remembered my name.

I stepped inside and Cage was right behind me.

"Who is it?" Tawny asked as she appeared at the top of the large elegant wooden staircase. She froze and her gaze shifted from me to Cage and back.

"Low what're you doing here?"

She was annoyed. Good. I was devastated.

"I need to talk to you," I turned to look back at Jefferson,

"and him."

Jefferson and Tawny exchanged looks while I waited.

"Okay, well Tawny why don't you get Larissa and come on down here. She'll be thrilled to see Will ow." This man was playing house so easily. As if he hadn't just abandoned another family. The one he'd had for more years than Tawny had been alive.

"follow me," Jefferson said smiling at me and then turned to lead us down a hallway and then into a large living room already furnished with several large leather chairs big enough for two and a huge sectional sofa. The largest flatscreen I'd ever seen hung on the wall and a gas fire crackled in the fire place. Wasn't this just cozy.

"Can I offer you something to drink?" Jefferson asked.

I shook my head.

"No," was Cage's only reply. I felt like he was my silent bodyguard. It helped knowing he was here.

"My Lowlow," Larissa squealed in obvious delight when Tawny walked into the room carrying Larissa on her hip.

Her hair was damp from a bath and she was in a pair of pajamas I'd never seen before. They looked soft, frilly and expensive. Seeing Larissa in something so nice just added to the mass of emotions swirling around inside me. I wanted the best for Larissa. I wanted her to have a daddy who loved her and was there for her. But what about the other little girl this man had. The teenage one who was falling apart from his betrayal. I wanted to scream in frustration.

Tawny put Larissa down and she ran to me her arms up in the air. I bent down and picked her up and nuzzled her sweet neck. She smelled so good. Like a baby should smell. A healthy, loved baby.

"Hey my favorite princess," I whispered in her ear.

"Lowlow," she smiled up at me.

"I missed you," I told her and she clapped happily and then planted a wet kiss on my cheek.

"CAY!" she squealed when her eyes found Cage and she wiggled in my arms to get to him.

"Hey gorgeous," he replied taking her from my arms.

I turned to look back at my sister and Jefferson.

"I didn't know until today who you were, exactly." I said, staring straight at Jefferson.

"It wasn't your business Low," Tawny snapped coming to stand beside him wrapping her arm around his.

"That's where you're wrong. It unfortunately is my business"

"Larissa is mine and Jefferson's. Just because we—"

"Tawny shut up. You have no idea what I came here to say.

So just let me talk. For once." I watched as my sister's eyes glowed with anger. Jefferson patted her hand soothingly.

"Let's hear her out sweetheart."

I closed my eyes wishing with everything I had that I could reverse this. I could stop this. That Larissa could belong to another man. An unmarried man who would love her and take care of her. Not this one.

"Cage, can you and Larissa go exploring please?" I asked not looking back at him.

"Yep."

I saw Jefferson's displeasure.

"He's taken care of your daughter more times than you have, I can assure you. She's in very good hands." I hadn't won a fan with that comment but it was a fact.

"Today when I got that check, I saw Jefferson's last name for the first time. You had never mentioned it to me before.

And you always refused to tell me where you worked. I figured it was because the affair you were having was with someone at work."

"I didn't tell you because it wasn't your business," Tawny snarled.

"Again, that's where you're wrong. You see something has happened that makes this a very real issue for me. I hated knowing you were tearing a family apart. I hated knowing you were destroying another marriage."

"My marriage has been over a long time Will ow," Jefferson began and I glared up at him.

"Really? Because when you didn't show up to the family dinner your wife had so lovingly prepared and your daughter and son had shown up expecting to see their father it destroyed them. I watched it. I witnessed your wife put on a smile that didn't match the heartbreak in her eyes. I watched your son's hatred for you grow even stronger and I watched your daughter, the other one who still needs her daddy especially right now, while her world is falling apart, do everything she could to make her mother and brother smile. I had a front row seat, Mr. Hardy."

"What in the hell are you ranting about Low?" Tawny yelled over me.

"I met a guy. For the first time in my life I fell in love. I let down my walls. I found someone who makes me laugh.

Who gives me hope. I love him with everything I have in me.

But he's dealing with a mother who's completely shattered.

A little sister who is scared and he's doing all he can to fix it for them. While his father is off playing house with you."

"Marcus," Jefferson said with a heavy sigh. He understood.

He got it.

"Yes, Marcus," I replied still glaring at my sister.

"So you see the predicament I'm in. I love Marcus Hardy so much that I'd give up anything for him. Anything. Anything but Larissa. I can't see a way out of this. He won't have anything to do with me when he finds this out. My sister is the reason his family is destroyed. The reason he got a call today from his frantic sister because something was wrong with his mother."

I let out a hard laugh and then screamed throwing my hands up in the air.

"You're in love with Jeff's son?"

I swung around and shot daggers at Tawny.

"Yes."

"Just leave Low. Your dramatic performance has ruined my evening. I'm sorry you're so worked up about this but it isn't our problem."

"Tawny, don't be so call ous," Jefferson said looking down at her.

"Call ous? Jeff this is utterly ridiculous. She thinks she loves your son and she thinks coming over her and ranting about us is going to make a difference she's sadly mistaken." A chime went through the house and I paused.

"Who else is here? My God we just moved in." Tawny stormed off to answer the door and I stood staring blankly into the fire. She was right. What good was this doing? I wasn't going to get an answer by sharing with them how royally they'd screwed up so many lives. They simply didn't care. And even if they did what did I expect them to do about it?

"Low," Marcus voice broke into my thoughts and I jerked my gaze from the fire to find Tawny standing in the living room entrance with her arms crossed over her chest scowling.

"Look who else is here," Tawny spat walking back to Jefferson and staking her claim by slipping her arm around his.

"Marcus." I didn't know what else to say. I just stood there and watched the whole awful scene unfold. His eyes shifted from Tawny to me. I knew the moment he saw it. The resemblance. It was unmistakable. Especially with us standing in the same room. The emotions on his face went from shock to pain to despair to fury within seconds.

"You're her sister. This is," he stopped and looked at his dad.

"Oh god no," he started shaking his head.

"Larissa. She's not. She can't be."

He was shattered. I could see the moment it happened. I knew the feeling. I'd just experienced it myself.

"Martus pay," Larissa squealed when Cage walked into the room holding her.

Marcus looked back at Larissa with horror in his eyes. Then he looked at me and I could see the betrayal there. He thought I'd known all along. I could see it as he just stared at me. Larissa continued to try and get his attention by chanting his name and demanding he play.

Marcus stared at me as his anger turned to numbness. The tick in his jaw and his rigid stance only grew more severe the longer we stood there staring at each other. I could feel him slipping away with each second but there was nothing I could say. I didn't know how to stop this. How to explain.

"You. Are. Dead. To. Me." He said in a hard emotionless voice. Then he turned and left. Those short clipped words woke me up from my trance. I ran after him.

"Marcus, wait! Please wait!" I called out and he didn't stop.

He didn't look back.

"MARCUS PLEASE," I screamed as he opened the front door. This time he paused and turned slowly around. The hatred in his eyes directed at me was crippling.

"Do you know where I've been Will ow? Of course you don't.

You've been here with your sister and my father playing house. While I've been by my mother's hospital bed. As she recovered from an overdose of painkil ers that she took after receiving the divorce papers my father so thoughtfully brought to the house today to inform her he was leaving her for another woman. That's where I've been all day. So please don't say one more word. I never want to see you or even hear your name again. I'll be completely moved out of the apartment in a matter of hours. Stay away until I'm gone.

If you ever felt anything for me at all. Stay. Away. From. Me."

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