“‘Host family’?” I grimaced. “You make me sound like a parasite.”
Then I realized that I probably was. They had dropped me off with the Everlys so I would use their resources, their money, their opportunities, and bring them back here. That’s exactly what a parasite did.
“You’re not a parasite,” Finn said. “They loved you, and you genuinely loved them in return. It is unusual, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Maybe it’s given you a compassion that Trylle leaders have been lacking for a very long time.”
“I don’t think I’m very compassionate.” I shook my head.
“I see how it bothers you the way Elora talks to people. Elora thinks the only way to command respect is to command fear, but I have a feeling that you will have an entirely different way of ruling.”
“And how will I rule?” I arched my eyebrow at him.
“That is for you to decide,” Finn said simply.
He ended our lesson after that, saying I needed to rest up for tomorrow. The day had exhausted me, and I was eager to curl up in my blankets and sleep until Sunday, straight through the ball and all the angst that accompanied it.
Sleep didn’t come easy, though. I found myself tossing and turning, thinking about the way it felt dancing with Finn, and his hand resting warmly on my stomach.
But I would always end up thinking of Matt and how much I still missed him. I had expected that to lessen the longer I was here, but it only seemed to get worse. After all this, I really needed to know that someone had my back and cared about me unconditionally.
I woke up early the next morning. Actually, I’d been waking up all night long, and at six I finally just gave up. I got up with the intention of sneaking downstairs to grab a bite to eat, but when I hit the top of the stairs, Rhys came barreling up them to meet me, chomping on a bagel.
“Hey, what are you doing up?” He grinned, swallowing down his bite.
“Couldn’t sleep.” I shrugged. “You?”
“Same. I have to get ready for school soon anyway.” He pushed his hair out of his eyes and leaned back against the stair railing. “Are you worrying about this Saturday?”
“Kind of,” I admitted.
“It is pretty intense,” Rhys said, his eyes wide. I nodded noncommittally. “Is something else bothering you? You look pretty . . . upset, I guess.”
“No.” I shook my head and sighed, then sat down on the top step. I didn’t feel much like standing anymore, and I wanted to cry. “I was just thinking about my brother.”
“Your brother?” Something flashed across Rhys’s face, and slowly he sat down next to me. He seemed almost breathless. At first I didn’t understand, but then it dawned on me.
This must be so weird for Rhys. His whole life he had known that this wasn’t his real family, and it wasn’t even the same as being adopted. His family hadn’t wanted to give him up. He had been stolen, and not even by a family that had wanted him. They had just wanted me to have his life.
“Yeah. I mean . . . your brother, actually,” I corrected myself, and it felt painful saying that. Matt would always be my brother, no matter what our genetics were.
“What’s his name?” Rhys asked quietly.
“Matt. He’s pretty much the nicest guy in the whole world.”
“Matt?” Rhys repeated in an awed tone.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “He’s the bravest guy ever. He would do anything to protect the people he cares about, and he’s completely selfless. He always puts everybody else first. And he’s really, really strong. He’s . . .” I swallowed and decided that I couldn’t talk about him anymore. I shook my head and looked away.
“What about my mom and dad?” Rhys pressed, and I didn’t know how to answer that.
“Dad died when I was five,” I said carefully. “My mother took it pretty hard, and, um . . . she’s been in the hospital ever since. For psychiatric problems. Matt and my dad’s sister, Maggie, they raised me.”
“Oh.” His face contorted with concern.
I suddenly hated Kim even more. I knew that she had done everything because she loved Rhys, but that didn’t make her actions any less inexcusable. I didn’t have it in me to tell him what she’d done or that she’d never be able to have a life with him because she’d always be locked up.
“I’m sorry.” I placed my hand gently on his, to comfort him. “It’s hard to explain how I know it, but your mom really loved you. She really wanted you. And I think she always hated me because she knew I wasn’t you.”
“Really?” There was something hopeful and sad in his eyes when he looked at me.
“Yeah. It kind of sucked for me, actually.” I smiled wanly at him, and he laughed.
“Sorry about that.” Rhys smiled back at me. “I guess I’m too hard to forget.”
“Yeah, I guess you are,” I agreed. Rhys moved his hand so it was actually holding mine.
“So what about this Maggie? What’s she like?” Rhys asked.
“She’s pretty cool. A little overly attentive sometimes, but cool,” I said. “She put up with a lot of crap from me. They both did, really.” I thought about how strange this all was, that they weren’t my family anymore. “This is so weird. They’re your brother and your aunt.”
“No, I understand. They’re your family too,” Rhys said. “They loved you and raised you. That’s what family is, right?”
I had needed someone to say that to me for so long, and I squeezed his hand gratefully. I still loved them and always would, and I just needed that to be okay.
“Wendy!” Finn came down the hall, still dressed in his pajamas. Instinctively I pulled my hand back, and Rhys stood up. “What are you doing?”
“I just woke up. We were just talking.” I looked up at Rhys, who nodded in agreement.
Finn glared at us both, and I felt like we’d just been caught robbing a bank.
“I suggest you get ready for school,” he said icily.
“Yeah, that’s what I was doing anyway,” Rhys said, then smiled down at me. “I’ll see you later, Wendy.”
“Yeah, okay.” I smiled back at him.
“What are you doing?” Finn hissed, glowering down at me.
“I already told you,” I insisted and stood up. “We were just talking.”