Whispers and Wishes 

Everything changes. Even the things we didn’t ask for. Jake, Archie, Coop, and Ian were my best friends and three of them still are and they’re also now my lovers, my boyfriends, and pretty much the anchors keeping me from getting washed away.

I’ve had great moments and I’ve had horrible ones. One thing is for sure, I’ll never forget my senior year.

It’s the year everything changed.

*Please note this is a reverse harem and the author suggests you always read the forward in her books. This is the fourth in a series and the story will continue through future books.

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Read Chapter One

I want to believe.

Ian

“It’s been a long couple of days for you,” Dr. Diane Miller, the student advocate and counselor stated, or rather, understated. Long didn’t begin to describe it. In fact, it felt like we’d been in one continuous day since I got to her place to get ready for the dance. The dance that was supposed to have been our night, our date, before I blew it. Then that crap with Mitch…

“Bubba,” Diane said, pulling my attention back to her. Neither Jake nor I had really commented on her statement. The only reason we were even in her office was because we had to do the anger management and work on our communication, per the principal and the coach. That meant two sessions a week, and we’d only gotten started the week before.

Fuck, the only reason we were even at school was to get Frankie’s homework and to do this. We were all going to rotate staying with Frankie, or at least the guys were. Hopefully they’d let me pull a shift on Thursday.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” I told Diane when she kept staring at me. I shifted in the seat and tried to ignore the throb in my hand.

“Pretty much,” Jake agreed with me. Granted, our fight was what landed us up in here, but we were united on this topic. It was no one’s business. The kids were all talking about it. I’d heard the gossip everywhere, seen some of the social media posts, and already saved some dumbass sophomore’s life when he straight up asked Jake about it.

Moron.

“Okay,” Diane said, shifting aside a notepad and staring at both of us. “I’m aware of what happened at the dance. All of the teachers were informed.”

Great.

“I also know what happened to your hand Bubba.”

“My hand is fine.” I’d jammed my finger and dislocated two knuckles. It was worth it. Walking in that room… Red hazed my vision all over again. She’d been so out of it. Her dress had been torn. The knuckles on her hand had been bleeding. She’d punched him.

She’d also scratched the shit out of him.

Frankie was no slouch, but the asshole drugged her.

My fists clenched, but Jake sat forward. “Great, then you don’t need to ask us about it.”

“Actually,” Diane said. “I do. Not about the specifics, because clearly neither of you want to discuss that.”

She was right about that. No we didn’t want to discuss it. “We’re not here to discuss that. We’re here to work on our anger or some shit, right?”

Jake and she both gave me a look, and I sighed. Yeah, my temper was showing. I didn’t want to be at school at all. In fact, I wanted to trade places with Archie and be at her place, looking after her. But it had been really fucking hard to be there the last few days. And I kept messing shit up where she was concerned. The last thing she needed was me being an ass.

So, Archie was there and I was here.   

“Sorry,” I said, and blew out a breath. “I’m just mad.”

“You have a right to be angry,” Diane told me.

Jake snorted, but when she looked at him, he shook his head.

“Boys.” Diane exhaled the single syllable and leaned back in her chair. “You’re in an impossible situation, so let me make a few things clear to you. What you’re experiencing right now is tough and traumatic for adults, much less kids—granted you’re eighteen,” she said with a nod to me. “And you’re seventeen, almost eighteen. Someone you care about has been hurt. Badly. Right now, you’re both staring at me and thinking ‘no shit, and she’s the one who is hurt, not me.’ And to a point, I absolutely agree with you. However…”

She paused there, studying us for a long moment, and I found myself trying to figure out how she was going to make this about us. It wasn’t about us…

“You’re blaming yourselves because you didn’t prevent it from happening. You’re blaming yourselves for not seeing something you feel you should have seen. You think there’s something you could have or should have done…”

“I shouldn’t have let her go to the bathroom,” Jake said. “Not by herself. One of us should have been waiting. So you’re right, there’s something we could have done. We didn’t, and now she’s got to deal with it. But we weren’t going to talk about this.”

“I understand not talking about the incident. What I want to talk about is how it makes you both feel.”

I laughed, and it came out a hollow, empty sound as I stared up at the ceiling. “What does it matter how we feel? It isn’t about us.” Or the fact that it was the date I asked her out on and ultimately fucked up. If we’d been there as a date date, maybe it would have been different. Maybe…

Shit. If I hadn’t pushed her away. If I’d not listened to my dad…and now… If I’d seen what the hell Mitch was doing…

How the hell had we missed that?

Why would he target Frankie like that? I wanted to ask him, and I wanted to beat him all over again. Not that he could answer at the moment. The last I heard, his jaw was wired shut.

Good.

I was pretty sure he was under arrest, or at least, I hoped he was. No one was talking to us, and after all the interviews with the cops, Archie got his attorney to take over running interference. They said she’d have to talk to them again and…

“Jake—are you angry?”

“Is water wet?” Jake demanded. “What kind of effed up question is that? Of course, I’m angry. He hurt her. I want to…” He clenched his fists until his knuckles went white.

If Jake’s harsh answer bothered her, she didn’t let it show. Instead, she focused on me. “What about you, Bubba? Are you angry?”

I just stared at her. What could I say? I was angry. At Mitch. At myself. At the guys. At Cheryl for giving her the damn water in the first place.

“What about this, are you angry with her?”

“No.” Jake’s answer pounded so closely on the heels of my own, it might as well have been one voice. Then I added, “It wasn’t Frankie’s fault.”

“But you’re angry that this happened to her.”

“Yes.” Was that what she wanted to hear? “I’m pissed off that it happened to her. I’m furious it happened while we were right there, and if we hadn’t been looking for her…” I couldn’t finish that thought,

When she didn’t come back from the bathroom, it had made all of us a little twitchy. Be great if we could have said it had been some kind of sixth sense warning us, but really? I wanted a chance to dance with her, and I kept looking for her to come back and so had they.

“We noticed because we were being selfish,” I admitted. Was that what she wanted to hear? If Coach wanted to kick me off the team if I wouldn’t go through with this, I’d walk. But I couldn’t do that to Jake. I’d already caused enough trouble when he was on uneven ground in the first place. That scholarship of his seemed locked in, and I wasn’t going to jeopardize it anymore than I had.

“Why do you say that?” Diane pinned me with a look.

I didn’t want to explain it, but Jake said, “Because we wanted to dance with her. We’d been having a great time, and she took off to pee real quick and we kept looking to see if she was back.” He verbalized every thought. “One song made sense. But two? When the third song came on, we went looking.”

“Sometimes, it can take a girl a while in the bathroom,” she suggested.

“Not Frankie,” both of us said in one voice again, and Diane almost smiled.

“No,” I continued. “Frankie’s low maintenance, she really isn’t that girl who stands in a bathroom and preens.”

“Well, there’s always a line, too,” Diane pointed out. “It can take girls a while.”

“There was no line at the bathroom,” Jake interjected. “It doesn’t matter why we went looking. Things have been weird for her, she’s taken a lot of crap from some of the assholes at this school.”

“Ah, so maybe you weren’t selfish so much as protective.” It wasn’t Jake she was looking at, and I sighed.

One glance at my watch, and I wanted to sigh again. We’d barely been in here ten minutes, and we had an hour of this to get through?

“Yeah,” Jake said, and I glanced at him. He pinned me with a look that said pay attention. “We are protective. All of us are. Sometimes, we’re too protective and try to protect her from ourselves. But we weren’t too protective on Saturday.”

“Okay,” Diane said, just like that. “So let’s talk about the anger you still have, and what you can do with it…”

“The only thing I want to do is try and make this better for her,” I stated bluntly. “How do we do that?”

“Well,” Diane mused, spreading her hands. “You start by not denying that you feel something. Those frustrations and that anger, it’s not going to just magically disappear. You need a way to work through those feelings, to take ownership of them and give them a positive place to go. Even if that positive place is—tearing down a fence or building something.”

“Physical activity?” Jake guessed.

“Sometimes,” Diane said. “Boys—gentlemen, sorry, you’re not boys. The worst feeling in the world is to be helpless. You’re experiencing some of that right now, and while you’re both really annoyed with me for sticking here on this subject, I want you to consider for a moment that if you feel this helpless and out of control—that other people, who are just as close to the situation if not closer, are also feeling this way. You want to help them, which is great, but to help them, you have to be able to help yourselves.”

To help Frankie she meant. All at once, I straightened in my chair and studied her. I’d avoided discussing all of this with my parents. I’d avoided going home if I could help it. Dad meant well, but this was one more example of where Frankie’s mom let her down, and we kind of felt like we had—you know, screw it, I had let her down.

I didn’t want to anymore.

I wanted to fix this.

Fix us. But I wasn’t putting that on her right now.

I glanced at Jake and raised my brows. This wasn’t just me talking here, but us. He nodded once, and then we both looked at her. “How do we do that?” Jake asked. “Because she’s the important one.”

“Well, you start with acknowledging aloud what you’re feeling, even if you think it’s selfish. We all have a right to our feelings, and if you bury them, you run the risk of letting them become insecurities, and those will bite you in the ass.”

I almost laughed. She just wanted us to say what we were feeling.

“I love her,” Jake said without missing a beat. “And I want to give her back the fun we were having that night, and I can’t. I want to kill Mitch, because while he might not have been a close friend, he was still someone I thought of as a friend and he tried to hurt her. He did hurt her. I hate that I wasn’t the one who broke his damn jaw.”

Fuck, Jake made it sound so easy.

“But I’m damn glad you got there,” he continued, and I jerked my glance to him and met his gaze. “I’m damn glad you were there. I’m glad you’re not running away. We need you.”

The silence stretched out as he finished, and my breath came out in almost too loud rasps. “I’m…” I clenched my jaw. “I love her, too. And I hate that I’m saying this to you and not her, but I don’t want her to have to fix this for me. She already…she always carries so much. This is just one more thing. Homecoming was supposed to be special, and I fucked up before we even got there and then this happened.”

I lifted my bruised and battered hand. They’d taped it up at the hospital after they’d set the knuckles. Said there wasn’t much more they could do with it. Honestly, I liked the fact that it hurt. It reminded me I had hit the son of a bitch.

“I wanted to kill him when I saw him. Everything just… I get pissed just thinking about it now. I hate everything about it. My part in it. And I don’t know how to fix it. How to make it right. It’s not fair.”

Jake nodded slowly.

“Well, you’ve taken the first step. The next is asking yourselves, and each other, what can you do right now?”

Right now?

We glanced at each other and then at her. We were stuck at school, stuck going to this session. What could we be doing?

We could be at home with her.

The session just seemed to drag after that. I wanted to talk to Jake, but not with Diane moderating it or whatever it was she was doing. As aware of the time as I was, Jake still beat me to the punch when our time was up. He was already standing, backpack in hand and halfway to the door, when she said, “Guys, you made good progress today. Spend some time thinking about what I asked and talking to each other. Friday, we’ll meet again, all right?”

I wanted to say no and from the look on Jake’s face, he wanted to say no too, but we didn’t.

Coop was sound asleep on the couch out in the waiting area. Jake nudged him as we headed out, and he jerked his head up at us blearily. Raking a hand through his hair, he rolled to his feet without complaint and shuffled out with us. We had maybe five minutes before the bell rang. The fact the sessions took our entire lunch period sucked. But I didn’t have study hall in fifth, so lunch it was.

“Archie texted,” Coop said after sweeping a glance around. “She’s slept most of the morning. He just ordered food in and coffee. Said we should pick up dinner on our way home.”

“Sounds good.” We’d ridden in with Jake. Like the guys, I’d crashed at Frankie’s the last couple of nights. It might have taken me time to get my ass over there, but once I was there, I didn’t want to leave. We’d already told Coach we wouldn’t be at practice this week, I was benched because of the hand regardless, and Jake told him family emergency. Right now, we were going to be where we were needed. With that, we split up and headed in different directions. I was almost to my class when my phone buzzed.

Jake: I meant what I said in there. You did something, B. You knocked that asshole out and stopped him. We’ll figure this shit out, okay?

Me: I wish it was more.

Jake: Me too.

“Hey Bubba.” The absolute last person I wanted to talk to was waiting for me outside of my last class of the day. What little peace I’d put together over the last couple of hours fractured. I didn’t look at her, I just walked.

Unsurprisingly, she hurried after me, and I kept my gaze pinned over the heads of the other students. All I had to do was hit the parking lot and head out to Jake’s SUV. Then we’d go get food. I’d texted Frankie before seventh, and she’d answered that she’d kill for an ice cream shake.

Her throat really hurt, so I was down for making sure that happened.

“Bubba,” Sharon said again as she grabbed my arm, and I made it three more steps half-dragging her before I turned and glared at her. I did not want to talk to her. I didn’t give a damn what she had to say. She’d been a total fucking bitch to Frankie, and I was sorry I’d ever given her the time of day.

“What?”

Paling, she pulled her hand back like I’d bitten her. “I wanted to ask about Frankie.”

I stared at her a beat. Was she for real right now? Shaking my head once, I turned and walked away.

“C’mon,” Sharon said, jogging after me. “We all know what happened. I just want to know…”

I kept moving.

“She was my friend, too, you know.” Her voice took on a shrill note, and it carried. I wasn’t the only one who stopped. Because really, she was Frankie’s friend?

“Is that a joke?” I rounded on her. “Really? You’re making jokes?”

“It’s not a joke…it’s—” She broke off whatever she was going to say and paled further as she took a step back. “I’m not the one who did it, Bubba. Why are you so pissed at me?”

“I don’t give a damn about you.” Harsh but true. “I thought about apologizing to you once. You don’t deserve it. The only thing I’m sorry about is I ever asked you out. Forget my name. Forget hers. Go away. I don’t care what you do, but leave us alone. You’re like a bad rash, and they make antibiotics for those these days.”

“Nice.” Coop slung an arm around my shoulders. I had no idea where he came from, but he looked right at Sharon and then through her before he glanced at me. “Just wave off the plague flies and keep walking. They eventually run themselves into doors.”

Yeah. Fine. That fit.

I nodded and turned away.

“Really? You treat me like I’m some kind disease? What does it matter what he did or didn’t do? She’s already putting out for all of you. What’s one more?”

Silence seemed to rock across the quad, and for the first time in my life, I wanted to punch a woman. Her yelp, however, had me spinning.

“Holy shit,” Coop said with a snort, and there was Sharon on the ground, nose bleeding and Rachel stepping over her. “Problem, Rach?”

“Just tripped. Nothing to see here,” she said with a smirk. “Rodent problems. This school is really going downhill.”

We were far from alone though, and a lot of people were staring, so I stared back. One perk of being on the football team, most of them didn’t know what to do when I glared at them, so they hurried away.

“C’mon,” Coop said. “Jake’s waiting.”

I didn’t bother to see if Sharon was all right, and honestly, I found it hard to care. Why had I ever dated her?

“What the hell is wrong with me?” I muttered as we reached the first row of cars.

“You want the list alphabetically or in order of highest to lowest?” Rachel. Shit, I forgot she was there.

“Not helpful, Rach.” Coop’s easygoing demeanor was enviable, even if I knew he was as worried as I was, if not more.

“I don’t know, I think if it saves shit for brains a trip to the proctologist, I can be very helpful. How is my girl?”

“She’s fine,” Jake said from behind as he swept past. “I’ll tell her you asked about her.”

Undeterred, Rachel stuck with us all the way to Jake’s car. “I’ve texted her but she hasn’t answered, and I’m not pressing because I know she’s got a lot on her mind.”

“Thanks for that,” Coop said as he dragged open the back door and tossed his stuff inside.

“I know she’s not fine.” The last she spat out with a glare at Jake. “So do me a favor, tell her I’m here if she needs someone else to talk to.”

I could argue she had us, but… “She’ll probably text you when she’s ready,” I offered her instead, and Rachel swung her dark-eyed gaze in my direction and stared at me. “It’s been a long week, and her wrist hurts.” Not to mention her other bruises. Bruises that made all of us livid, and she knew it. So I was trying not to react to them, but that just seemed to backfire, too.

Rachel compressed her mouth into a thin line and nodded. “Thanks. Just…tell her I’m here. I don’t want to bug her, but I also don’t want her to think she’s alone.”

I felt every word of that statement. “I will.”

“Let’s go, Bubba,” Jake said. He already had the SUV started, and Coop leaned between the seats from the back.

“Hey, Rach…”

She spared him a look.

“Nice trip.”

For a split-second, the corners of her lips curled, then she pivoted on her heel and walked away. As Jake headed for take-out, we didn’t talk. Not really. At the same time, the air in the car was thick with all the things we weren’t saying.

“Don’t forget to get her—”

“A double chocolate chip chocolate shake,” Jake finished. “I know.”

When my phone rang, I sighed.

Mom.

Holding up a finger, I hit answer and said, “Hey, Mom, what’s up?”

“I thought I would call and ask you that.” There was no admonition in her voice, which was a bad sign. She was almost too calm. “I talked to Alicia today.”

Shit.

“She told me about what happened at Homecoming.” There was the reproach. “Why didn’t you tell me what happened to Frankie? Sweetheart, I could be over there helping.”

I blew out a breath, Jake and Coop were dead silent, no way they hadn’t heard my mom so, I manned the fuck up. “Because I didn’t want Dad to know. He’s already talked about going to CPS about things, and while I appreciate that he cares and wants the best for Frankie, trying to send her away with strangers isn’t what she needs. We’re taking care of her.”

Mom was quiet for a moment. “Tell me the truth, Ian. Is she all right?”

“Not really,” I said. “She’s Frankie. She’s strong. But I don’t know if we know what we’re doing.” I ignored the dark look Jake sent me. “But I know we’re the right ones to do it.” Jake’s expression shifted. “I know we’re the people she needs. We’re kind of figuring this out as we go.”

She sighed. “All right, where is Maddy?”

“Europe, I think.” Yeah, I wasn’t lying to Mom. Not telling her stuff was one thing, but directly lying? Not happening. “Can you not bring this up with Dad?”

“I’ll deal with your father. That girl doesn’t need more trouble, but at least I know why he pushed to get us certified as foster parents so much the last few weeks.”

What?

Even Coop jerked.

“Tell me if she needs anything. Some things you boys can’t do. I know Alicia’s probably told Jake the same things.” I shot him a look, and he shrugged, then nodded. “And I’ll call Carly.” That was Coop’s mom. “We’ll figure this out. In the meanwhile, do you want me to bring you clean clothes? I’m assuming you’re staying over at the apartment.”

I had been. “I’m good, Mom. I can come and get stuff.” Honestly, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get her to leave Frankie alone if she came over. I wasn’t sure what the right move was. “Sorry, I cut you out of the loop.”

“You were protecting her,” Mom said. She sounded almost proud. “Just remember we’re not the enemy and don’t worry about Dad, okay?”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Love you, baby.”

I grimaced but said it anyway, “Love you, too.” After she hung up, I stared at my phone.

“I love your mom, too,” Coop said without an ounce of sarcasm.

“Me, three,” Jake told me with a grin, and then it was our turn at the pick-up window and he paid for the food. I had no idea they’d applied to be foster parents. I suppose that helped if they really pushed it where Frankie was concerned, but she didn’t need any more major changes.

While I might not know what she needed, I definitely knew what she didn’t.

“Hey,” I said as we pulled out of the drive-thru. “Stop by the grocery store real quick.”

“What do you need?”

“Not for me,” I told him. “I want to pick up some roses.”

She needed something pretty, and roses had made her smile before.

“Well, well,” Coop said with an almost satisfied sigh. “It’s about time.”

“Shut up,” I told him over my shoulder, but Jake chuckled.

“Not gonna happen. You gonna write her a poem, too?”

“Nope,” I answered as he pulled up to the front of the store. “Don’t have to. I wrote her a song.” Then I was out of the SUV before they could say anything else.

Let them give me shit.

If roses could make her smile, then I’d get her roses, and if those didn’t work…well, I’d come up with a plan B.

Then a plan C.

And I’d go all the way down the damn alphabet until I found one that did.