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When Can I See You Again?

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Raisa did not like Gavan Bayar in the slightest, or his son Micah and especially not his daughter Fiona. She regularly tried avoiding him: staying away from home whenever she knew he was there, making up excuses whenever her mother tried to get her to go out somewhere with them, and even pretending that her phone lost cell service when any of the Bayar siblings tried to get her to go out somewhere.

Unfortunately, he was much harder to avoid at her mother’s latest trend: family dinners.

“It’s nice to sit around one another at least once a week,” Her mother had said after Raisa complained about the idea. “I feel like I hardly get to see you anymore, Raisa. I just want to spend time with you.”

And family dinners had started off nicely, with Raisa, Mellony, and their mother sitting around the table, talking about their week.

But then her mother began inviting Gavan Bayar, Micah, and Fiona along too. It became less of ‘family dinners’ and more so ‘let’s invite our new boyfriend over and talk with him the entire time’.

“Raisa,” Her mother would politely say before the Bayars came over. “Remember to be kind to our guests.”

And then Raisa would spend the rest of the evening trying to avoid small talk with either Micah and Fiona while making sure that she wouldn’t meet Gavan’s gaze, either.

Luckily for her, Gavan was usually too engrossed in conversation with her mother, and Mellony was much better at making small talk. No matter how boring Raisa found the topic, Mellony could somehow create a conversation from it. So she left most of the talking to Mellony.

Micah Bayar didn’t seem to mind much. Although Raisa was certain he definitely looked uncomfortable, he still engaged with Mellony.

Fiona on the other hand, gave seething looks to them all throughout the entire dinner.

Raisa sometimes wondered if she and Fiona could ever bond over their mutual disdain for their parent’s relationship, but then Raisa remembered she hated the idea of sitting in a room with Fiona for more than five minutes.

Family dinners had become the worst night of the week. If only Raisa could skip out on those along with the “family gatherings” that now somehow included the Bayars as well.

But her mother always looked forward to them. Even if her eyes were glued to Gavan the whole time, and she couldn’t even spare a second to give Raisa the time of day...Raisa still couldn’t bring herself to skip out on them. As much as she hates Gavan, as much as her mother had been driving her insane lately...she was still her mother and Raisa obviously wanted to make her happy.

“Hasn’t she been separated from your dad for a while now?” Pearlie asked after Raisa had spent much too long complaining about it.

“Yeah,” Raisa had shrugged. “They’re not legally divorced. But my dad travels all the time and I don’t think either of them ever really got along.”

“So...aren’t you happy for her?”

Raisa frowned. “I want to be, but…” She shook her head, having trouble finding the right words. “There’s just something off about Gavan Bayar.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” Raisa admitted. “But my mom acts so...different whenever he’s around. It’s like she’s a whole other person.”

“It is a little weird how he started coming over out of the blue…”

Before their family dinners, Raisa knew Gavan, Micah, and Fiona Bayar. Gavan and her mother worked closely for as long as Raisa could even remember - probably before Raisa was even born. She’d practically grown up along side Micah, though Fiona was always more distant.

“I really don’t care who she dates,” Raisa eventually sighed. “It’s just that she said family dinners. And the Bayars definitely aren’t family.”

“Then maybe you should invite someone of your own,” Pearlie’s girlfriend, Talia Abbott then quickly suggested.

“Don’t listen to her,” Pearlie had interrupted. “Have you tríes talking to your mother?”

Raisa could’ve laughed at that. Talking to her mother was an impossible task - which she thought was the whole reason of family dinners. To be able to sit down and talk with her mother. No, Marianna was too busy with a company to run to listen to Raisa. Although Raisa knew she was expected to eventually take over one day, she practically had to schedule a meeting with her own mother if there was anything she wanted to talk about.

But Raisa couldn’t exactly tell that to Pearlie. Instead, she had simply shrugged. “I don’t think she’d listen to me,”

“I’m telling you,” Talia continued. “Bring someone your mom wouldn’t like to dinner. That’ll definitely get her attention.”

“Talia!” Pearlie frowned. She turned her soft gaze back to Raisa. “That’ll just stir up trouble. You should just talk to her and try and work things out. Maybe…a dinner once a month where Gavan doesn’t come over and it’s just the three of you.”

Pearlie meant well, but she’s never actually met Raisa’s mother before. Even prior to her engagements with Gavan, she’d never really listened to Raisa, despite her best efforts. Too often would Raisa and Marianna but heads, even over the simplest things.

No, Raisa was much more her father’s daughter than she was her mother’s. She’d let Mellony play that role instead, and Raisa was much more certain that Mellony looked forward to the Bayars visits, specifically so she could see Micah as much as she wanted.

Despite Pearlie’s good advice, Raisa had turned to Talia instead. “What exactly do you mean?”

And Talia offered a devilish grin before explaining.

Which is how Raisa currently wound up in her latest predicament: sitting at her family dinner table with her mother, Mellony, Gavan, Micah, and Fiona Bayar, and Hanson Alister.

Raisa had only met Hanson a few days prior. In fact, she’d never seen him before until one of Talia’s friends introduced them.

Despite living within only a couple of miles of one another, she’d never even heard of Hanson before. They’d gone to completely separate schools all their lives, completely different friend circles, different hobbies and lead completely separate lives.

They first met in the cafeteria in the mall, a place Raisa rarely frequented. He’d looked up from the sticky table he’d chosen to sit at with a grin so mischievous that Raisa expected to hear a police siren for his arrest at any moment.

“Hi,” he’d said without getting up. “I’m Han.”

When Raisa didn’t say anything back, he shared a puzzled look with the friend that had introduced him.

Raisa realized she was waiting for him to stand and shake her hand - wasn’t that the proper way of introducing yourself? That’s what she’s been taught her whole life, but Han didn’t seem to know that, leaving Raisa seem like the rude one.

She quickly cleared her throat. “I’m Raisa.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Han’s wide, toothy grin returned as soon as it had disappeared. She could see his crooked, overlapping teeth as plain as day. Why didn’t he get braces in high school? Raisa ran a tongue over her own perfectly straightened teeth, wondering what kind of life Han had lived. “...what exactly is it you want?” Han asked, leaving Raisa to realize she’d been standing there quietly in her own thoughts.

“If...if you are willing and able,” She began slowly, knowing full well the strange nature of her request. “I’d like you to be my fake boyfriend.”

Han cocked an eyebrow, looking from Raisa, to his friend, then back to Raisa. “What?”

“Do you want me to repea-“

“No, no, I heard what you said,” Han leaned forward in the chair, resting both arms on the table before him. “Why do you need a fake boyfriend? I bet a girlie like yourself could have her pick from any boy she wanted.”

Raisa didn’t quite understand what he meant. In school, she’d been popular - though Raisa always credited that because of her wealth and her mother’s success more than her own. But she’d never properly dated a boy before.

Of course, she’d been out on a couple of dates before, mainly with Micah Bayar and a couple other boys from school. But her relationship with Micah was never official. They’d done nothing more than kissed a few times and gone out to dinner. Micah was fun to kiss, but Raisa never saw it going anything beyond that.

Then...there was also Amon, who she’d had a schoolgirl crush on since forever. She’d always secretly hoped that, one day, Amon would burst through the doors and declare his love for her. Sometimes, Raisa had caught him staring, but he’d always quickly pull away.

Raisa had thought about bringing it up a million times, but never had the guts to do it. Then, a year ago, it became too late because he had started dating Annamaya. Raisa had only met her a handful of times. She and Amon seemed like a good pair, but that didn’t stop Raisa’s heart from fluttering with childhood nostalgia whenever she saw Amon.

“That doesn’t matter,” Raisa school her head in reply. “My mother has a...family dinner once a week. But she’s begun bringing her boyfriend and...I feel completely miserable. It’s turned from ‘family dinner’ to her just talking to him the entire time and expecting me to play nice with his children.”

“So...you want me to bring in some distraction?”

Raisa nodded. “If she can spend the whole time talking to her boyfriend that I don’t like, why can’t I bring a boyfriend that I know she won’t like?”

Han looked at her and nodded. “Seems fair enough,” He crosses his arms against his chest and leaned back in the chair again. “But what’s in it for me?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Why should I get involved?” Han asked. “It’s none of my business, what you and your family do. It’s a waste of my free time, where I could be doing more important things. Why should I do this?”

Raisa supposed she should’ve known he wouldn’t do it for free.

“Fine,” She sighed. “You’ll get a free dinner, first of all,” She paused. Raisa saw Han getting ready to interrupt, and quickly cut him off. “And I’ll pay you. Twenty bucks a night.”

Han stuck out his bottom lip, seeming to take Raisa’s offer into consideration. Just as Raisa was about to offer thirty dollars instead of twenty, Han nodded. “Alright. I’ll do it.”

They exchanged phone numbers and Raisa later sent him her address.

Friday night, she had waited patiently outside for him. Gavan, Micah, and Fiona were already there, meaning her mother wouldn’t notice her absence until it was actually time to eat.

Raisa wasn’t sure what kind of car she was expecting Han to pull up in, but she definitely didn’t expect him to simply walk up to her house.

“Did...you walk here?”

“Why does it matter?” Han asked.

Raisa supposed it didn’t.

“Who all is here?”

Okay. Right to the point. Han was...surprisingly professional. “My mother,” Raisa began, ticking each person off on her finger. “Mellony is my sister. My mother’s boyfriend is Gavan Bayar,” She wrinkled her nose as she said the name. “His two kids are here too: Fiona and Micah.”

“And what exactly do you want me to do?”

“We can act like we’re absolutely in love. That we just might run away with one another,” She instructed. “But you don’t have a job or any savings and...you don’t go to college,” Raisa said, trying to think of more things that would make Raisa’s mother hate a boyfriend. “Talk loudly and with your mouth full. Oh - and flirt with Fiona while I’m in the bathroom.”

“So just...all around douche.”

“Yes,” Raisa nodded. “And feel free to curse as much as you’d like,” She wiped her hands against the front of her skirt as if to flatten any wrinkles. “Okay, let’s go.”

She’d brought Han inside just in time. Everyone had only just sat down at the table.

“Mother...Gavan,” Raisa began. “This is my boyfriend. Hanson Alister.”

“Please,” Han quickly continued with his seemingly signature wicked grin. “Call me Han.”

They sat and the food was served and everyone had been quiet since.

Raisa wondered if this had been a mistake. She and her mother might have never seen eye to eye, but she did her best to listen to her mother. Her rebellions had always been small: staying out a little after curfew, spending more time with her father on days she was supposed to be with her mother, and even choosing to spend a summer with her grandmother rather than taking an internship at her mother’s business. But even with that, Raisa had either been with family members, or her mother knew exactly who she was hanging out with.

Bringing Han here meant that she’d been lying about who and where she was with for...who knows how long. That she’d entered an important relationship without anyone in her family knowing at all.

Raisa could already feel the nasty phone call that her father would get later that night, with her mother accusing him of knowing about Raisa’s secret boyfriend without telling her.

She made a mental note to give him some explanation beforehand.

“So,” Marianna was the first to break the silence. She carefully set her fork down on the table and tightly folded her white hands before continuing. “Hanson-”

“You can call me Han,” He interrupted.

Marianna tightly pushed her lips into a smile. She barely nodded her head before continuing. “Han. How did...how did you and Raisa meet?”

“Well-“ Raisa began, but Han talked over her before she could continue.

“Through friends, actually,” Han took a bite of his chicken, chewing loudly as he continued. “Or friend of a friend. One of my friends is good friends with Talia, who’s good friends with Raisa.” Grinning, Han rested his arm around Raisa’s shoulder. “Talia was having a party and my friend didn’t want to go alone, so I hitched along with them.”

Han swallows his food, then reached for his glass of water, drinking nearly half of it before slamming the glass back on the dark wood table. “ Then , my friend fuckin’ ditched me -“ Raisa could see her mother’s face tighten at Han’s use of the word. “And Raisa’s friends had ditched her, so we were left sitting next to one another. We got to talking and all I could think was how hot this girlie was.”

With water still on his lips, Han reached over and lightly pecked a kiss on Raisa’s cheek.

“One thing lead to another. Next thing I know, we’re going out to dinner and watching movies. I can’t get her out of my head and apparently she can’t either. I call her up one night, get her to sneak out. We go to my favorite diner, and I decide to ask her out,” Finally done with history, Han turned to face Raisa. “How long ago was that, now? You’re better at keeping up with dates than me.”

Raisa had to admit it. Han was good. He knew exactly what he was doing, exactly how to get under his mother’s skin. Although Mellony had her head turned towards Han to listen, she was still looking down, seemingly engrossed in her food. Micah seemed to be completely disinterested in the story as his plate was nearly clear while Raisa had barely taken two bites. A deep frown was etched into Gavan’s face as he seeped with disapproval.

The only one who seemed interested was Fiona, surprisingly. Her hands were clasped before her with her chin resting on top.

“Oh, you know…” Raisa cleared her throat, trying to come up with a time frame that she would not only remember, but one that seemed appropriate. “A few months ago. Back in early May,” She suggested, looking to Han. “Right before final exams.”

“Do you attend a college or university as well?” Gavan asked.

“Nope.”

“And why not?” Said Marianna. “Is it because of money?”

Han shrugged. “A little. Plus I was never all that interested. I already did years of school. Why would I want to pay money for even more school?”

Marianna offered him a sweet smile, but Raisa had seen that look before. It was her ‘I think you’re stupid but I’m too polite to say so in front of my family’ look.

“What about work?” Gavan continued to question.

Raisa had to hide her frown. Why was Gavan asking all the questions and not her mother? Shouldn’t she be more interested in the boy her daughter was dating than her own boyfriend? Raisa didn’t care about Gavan’s attention. She was trying to get her mother’s.

“Nah,” Han shook his head. “Not right now, anyway. I’m still living with my Mam and my sister, so I’ll be okay. You know, my sister loves Raisa. She’s like the big sister that my own sister doesn’t have.”

Rather than saying anything, Raisa was given another disapproving look from Gavan.

“I’m...glad that we finally get to meet you, Han,” Her mother practically forced herself to say.

“Me too,” Han took another bite of his dinner. “I’ve heard so much about you guys.”

“Well we haven’t heard anything about you,” Fiona said, taking Raisa by surprise. Since when has Fiona taken an interest in her life?

“No?” Han feinted surprise between bites. “Well, you know Raisa.”

“No. Apparently we don’t,” Gavan’s voice was low and rough, a tone which Raisa had never heard of before.

If she was Gavan’s own daughter, she knew that tone would have meant that she was in major trouble.

But Gavan wasn’t her father, and she’d never thought of him as such. Although undoubtedly a scary man, Raisa was comforted knowing that he would be going home at the end of dinner, far away from her.

“Excuse me,” Raisa said. She pulled Han’s arm off of her. “I have to use the bathroom.”

She could feel everyone’s gaze burning her skin as she left the dining room and quietly went down the hall until the bathroom door was closed and locked behind her.

Maybe Han was too good at this. She didn’t want to cause this much trouble, just get some of her mother’s attention back. Maybe she should just call this all off, tell her mother it was a joke.

Raisa didn’t think her mother would find that funny.

No, she’d have to finish this through. Pretend to date Han for a few weeks in front of her mother, then silently break up with him. Her mother would pay her more attention and Han would have more money in his wallet. It was a win-win.

Well. Except for Gavan Bayar, maybe, but Raisa found she didn’t care much about that.

She used the bathroom and washed her hands, then proceeded to splash some cold water on her face.

Before Raisa could even return to the dining room, she heard Han’s flirting with Fiona.

“I’ve never seen eyes like yours before,” He said. “They just keep drawing me back in. I can’t look away!”

When she came back in, all eyes were on her again, save for Han and Fiona, who were looking at one another from across the table, and Mellony, who was much more interested in her food then the conversation.

Once Han realized that Raisa had returned, he offered Fiona one last smile before returning his arm to its position around Raisa’s shoulders.

She gave him a faint smile, then copied her sister’s stance. Dinner was much more interesting, and hopefully this night would be over fast.

“Tell me, Han, what is it that you like to do?” Gavan asked.

Han came up with another long winded story about his hobbies. He enjoyed gardening (though he seemed careful to avoid just what he liked to grow) and fast cars, dogs, tattoos, and, oddly enough, painting.

Raisa wasn’t sure whether or not to be relieved that most of the questions weren’t directed at her. At least she could eat her dinner in peace.

Han talked about what his mother did - she worked at a dry cleaners and was the lead manager at a retail store. His younger sister was still in school, and the three of them lived in Ragmarket, a shady part of the Fells that Raisa had been forbidden from traveling to. He’d graduated high school the year after Raisa because he’d been held back once. He’d spent a few summers with friends at Marissa Pines, a small town a few hours away.

Raisa had no idea how much of that was true, if any of it, or if it even mattered.

But before too long, Han had answered all of Gavan’s questions and Gavan had run out of questions to ask. All of their plates were clear, their bellies full, and the hour late.

“Well, I think I have to get going!” Han said with a slap of his leg.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Han.” Marianna added as Han stood.

“I’ll walk you out,” Raisa offered. Before anyone (especially Gavan Bayar) could protest, Raisa stood and followed Han outside.

“I didn’t know I was going to get fifty million questions from that guy,” Han sighed the moment they were outside and the door was securely closed behind them.

“Sorry. I...didn’t realize he was going to be like that either,” Raisa admitted. “I’ve never brought a guy home before. Especially not someone my mother’s never met before.

“Really?”

Raisa shook her head.

She reached into her pocket and procured the crisp twenty that she’d stuffed in there earlier that day. Han happily took the bill, sliding it into his own pocket.

“Same time next week?”

“I, um…” She knew they had to keep the charade up now, at least for a few weeks, but didn’t know if Han showing up to dinner should become a weekly thing.

But then again, her mother had never asked her or Mellony if it was fine for Gavan to show up weekly. And if he could, then why couldn’t her own boyfriend? Even if he was just a fake one?

“Yes,” She ultimately decided. “Same time next week.”

“Sounds good to me,” Han shrugged. Without another word, or even as much as a second glance, Han jogged down the steps of her porch towards the sidewalk and then down the road, leaving Raisa alone to watch him go.

Chapter Text

The northern mountains didn’t spare Raisa from the summer heat. Winters in Fellsmarch were indeed brutal. Blankets of snow would pile on top of one another for weeks on end. It wouldn’t be until late spring when the snow and ice would finally melt and Raisa could trade her thick sweaters and wool socks for much cooler clothes.

But summer time brought bugs and humidity and a constant threat of thunderstorms as the cool air from the top of the mountain battled with the warm air in the valleys.

Night time came with a slight relief from the sun and humidity. Raisa could have stood on her porch for hours in the cooling night air if it meant she wouldn’t have to go inside and face her mother and Gavan

Part of Raisa wished that her mother would come and sit outside with her, pat her head and hold her close and listen to her problems.

But her mother wasn’t that kind of person. And Raisa wasn’t the kind of person that was going to keep putting off her problems.

Hoping to make herself feel more confident, Raisa took a deep breath in through her nose and slowly let it out through her lightly pursed lips.

With nothing else to do, she opened the door and returned to the dining room. Had anyone been talking, they stopped the moment Raisa had opened the door. It didn’t seem like anyone had moved from their spot on the table. Sensing the tone of the room, even the housekeeper hadn’t come in to clean up the plates.

“Raisa,” Gavan Bayar spike first. “What were you thinking, bringing a stranger into your home? How could you have been lying to your mother for so long? She just wants what’s best for you, and that...that boy certainly isn’t.”

“He’s-“

“I’m not finished,” Gavan interrupted. “It’s one thing to not tell your mother about a new romantic relationship, but it’s another thing to blatantly lie to her about what you’ve been doing! What if he brought you to his home and you were never seen again, but we’re here innocently thinking you’re spending the night with friends? How would you ever be found?”

“I-“

“I mean, seriously, Raisa,” Gavan continued regardless. “Did you think about your mother? Or were you too interested in that boy? I saw that look in his eye. He’s nothing but trouble. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he’s been in trouble with the law! Did you even consider your own safety?”

Gavan looked like he could’ve gone on for another five minutes, but Marianna rested her pearly white hand atop his. “Gavan,” she softly said. “It’s getting late. Why don’t you take Micah and Fiona home?”

Although phrases like a suggestion, Raisa knew it wasn’t. It seemed like Gavan knew as well because he pushed himself from the table and instructed Micah and Fiona to follow suit.

“Bye, Rai,” Fiona sickly smiled. “See you next week.”

The Bayars soon left once Marianna promised she would talk to Gavan before bed.

The house then grew quiet as Marianna, Raisa, and Mellony became the only three left inside.

Three became two when Marianna politely suggested that Mellony should leave the table as well.

“Raisa,” Marianna said plainly.

Although her heart practically jumped into her throat, she tried to remain as calm, cool, and collected as possible.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“When would I have told you?” She quickly replied without thinking. “You’re at work all the time, and I’ve got school. When we are home, for family dinners, you’re too busy looking at Gavan Bayar.”

She looked disappeared, though Raisa couldn’t tell if it was in herself or in Raisa.

“You’re my daughter,” Marianna replied. “I can and will make time for you. But you have to let me know that you need it first. I can’t read your mind. I can’t know what’s going on in your life unless you tell me.”

But that was the catch twenty-two, wasn’t it? If Raisa wanted to talk to her mother, she’d have to let her know - but how was Raisa even supposed to let her know if the only time they were home together was when they were sleeping or during family dinners, which Marianna spent the entire time avoiding conversation with Raisa to begin with?

This had to be the longest conversation she’d had with her own mother in a while.

“I try to, but you don’t listen!” She complained. “Are you even listening now?”

“Of course I’m listening! I want to listen to you. I just wish you’d told me about...about Han. But instead you lied. For months.”

“You’re still not listening! Han is the last thing on my mind!”

“Then what do you want to tell me, Raisa? I am listening. Right now.”

Raisa shook her head. “You still don’t get it.”

“What don’t I get?” Marianna asked. “The fact that you hadn’t been telling me where you were for the past few weeks? That you’ve been to Ragmarket - where you’re specifically not supposed to go to. That I’ve given you my trust only for you to break it?”

“I don’t care about any of that!”

“Well I do.”

Didn’t she understand? In the slightest ? That this wasn’t about Raisa bringing Han home, it was about her sudden interest in Gavan Bayar. So much to the point where she was no longer listening to her daughters?

Defeated, Raisa looked away from her mother. She didn’t understand. She wasn’t even trying to understand. She was fixated on Raisa bringing Han home - not over Raisa’s reasoning for it.

“You still don’t get it,” She scowled. Before Marianna could even reply, Raisa turned on her heel to storm out of the house. She could barely hear her mother calling after her, but Raisa didn’t care. She needed to get as far away from there as possible.

Without looking back, Raisa climbed into her car and drove away.

She didn’t think about where she was going, only followed her instincts. Turn right. Stop at the traffic light. Take the second left. Drive straight until she passed the weather-worn statue, then take another left.

Raisa was in tears by the time she reached Pearlie and Talia’s apartment.

It was Pearlie who answered the door. She ushered Raisa inside without saying anything. Only after they reached the couch did she call for Talia to grab some food and tissues. Pearlie wiped the tears away while offering Raisa something to eat: ice cream, a slice of cake, the chocolate granola bars that she liked. But Raisa simply shook her head. She wasn’t in the mood to eat.

“Was it Han?” Talia asked, sitting on the other side of Raisa. “Did he try something? I’ll gut him, if he did.

Pearlie shot a frown in her direction, but her face immediately softened once she turned back to Raisa. “No...no, it wasn’t Han. It was Marianna, wasn’t it?” Raisa didn’t reply, but Pearlie could see exactly what was wrong. “Oh, sweetie --” She wrapped one arm around Raisa’s shoulder and rested her other hand against her head to pull Raisa close. Even Talia began rubbing Raisa’s back.

The three of them sat there, rocking and hugging one another, until Raisa’s tears dried and the cake that was inevitably eaten disappeared from the plate.

For as long as Raisa could remember, she had never been much of a crier. Even as a child, when she would play outside and scrape her knee, the cuts and bruises never seemed to phase her. She was always ready for the next task at hand - a simple cut wouldn’t put a damper on her day!

But on the occasion that she did cry, she always felt so exhausted. Added that she’d eaten an entire dinner and now her fair share of cake, she nearly fell asleep in Pearlie’s arms.

“She’s never going to listen to me,” Raisa mumbled into Pearlie’s shoulder.

Pearlie shared another look with Talia. “You’re mom, she’s…”

Obsessed with the Bayars.”

“Well...yes,” Pearlie nodded. “But she still loves you.”

“That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with her,” Raisa groaned.

Talia laughed. “You’re right on that. In fact, that usually makes it a lot more difficult.”

“And if she doesn’t listen to you?” Pearlie continued. “Then that’s her loss because you’re fantastic.

“Yeah,” Talia nodded. “She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

“Why don’t you tell us instead?”

“How did your dinner go?”

“How did your mom react?”

“Did Mellony say anything?”

“Are you and Han going to see one another again?”

So Raisa told them. About how Gavan Bayar was the one who asked more questions than her mom - that earned an eye roll from Talia. Neither Mellony or Micah had anything to say, though Fiona was perhaps a little too interested.

“I mean he is attractive. I might be gay but I can see it,” Talia replied.

She explained that he’d purposely flirted with Fiona while she used the bathroom, and that once Han left (“He just walked away! It was pretty strange…”), Gavan wanted to lecture her, which was when her mother oh-so-politely suggested that he, Micah, and Fiona return home.

“It was the longest conversation I’d had with my mom in weeks,” Raisa sighed.

“Okay, but are you going to bring him to dinner next week?” Pearlie asked. “I still don’t think it’s all that great of an idea, but...Talia never has any good gossip for me so this is all I’ve got.”

“What? I always have good gossip.”

“Finding out that your cousin’s dating someone new isn’t good gossip.”

Raisa smiled fondly at them both. “I told him to come back next week. I...don’t think it really worked that well, but...I did talk to my mom, even if we just yelled at one another.”

“But it’s a start!” Pearlie pointed out.

“Yeah,” Raisa agreed. “It is better than nothing.”

She thanked Pearlie and Talia. Her situation with her mother was still roughly the same, but they had made her feel better. And Pearlie was on to something...even if she and her mother were yelling at one another, that was better than nothing, right? It was a start.

Before Raisa climbed back into her car, she pulled her phone out of her back pocket. There were no messages from Marianna asking about where she was, demanding that she come back home, or forbidding her from ever seeing Han ever again. No notifications, no missed phone calls, no emails, no messages.

She tried to pretend that didn’t bother her.

Instead Raisa opened up her texts and typed out a new message to Han.

Raisa: How busy are you this week? If we’re gonna pretend to date for my mom we should get our stories straight.

Han: got work tomorrow

Han: but u can come by

Raisa: Where do you work?

Han: just a little convenience store

Han: its in south bridge

Raisa: If you’re busy with work, I can come...before your shift? Or stop by after?

Han: nah ur good

Han: we’re never busy so

Han: u can come by w/e

Once Raisa had the address, she started the car. So he was lying about not having a job. What else had he been lying about?

As she turned around to back up, Raisa shook her head. It didn’t really matter what he lied about and what he didn’t. So long as they could get their stories straight...her mom wouldn’t be able to tell that the whole thing was a fake.

She made it back to her house within minutes, but by then the sky had already darkened. From the windows, Raisa could tell that all the lights on the first floor were off. She could see the light on her mother’s bedroom was on, as was Mellony’s room. But the housekeeper’s car was gone, so it was just the three of them.

Part of Raisa wished that Mellony was waiting on the front porch for her. That they could sit together under the glowing porch light and talk like sisters were supposed to. About Han, about their mother, about Gavan Bayar.

But Mellony was in her bedroom. And Raisa entered a dark, silent house. Her footsteps echoed against the wooden floor. She stumbled to find the railing to take one stair at a time.

As soon as Raisa got to her room, she stripped off her clothes. To lazy to put on proper pajamas, she crawled under the blankets in just her bra and undies, the silken sheets feeling smooth and soft under her bare skin.

That night, she fell asleep wishing that everything would be easier in the morning.

But, of course, when morning came, nothing had actually changed.

She dreaded the idea of getting out of the comfort of her bed. Why couldn’t blankets protect her from everything wrong in the world?

Raisa almost turned over to bury her face in her pillow, but light began sneaking its way through the light curtains, she blearily opened her eyes.

The clock on her wall read ten minutes to eleven.

Immediately, Raisa threw the heavy blankets off of her bed. Her body was drenched in sweat and the soft sheets felt slick.

How long had she been sleeping for?

She definitely felt hot, from the sun slowly heating up he room all morning, and in desperate need of food and a shower.

Raisa climbed out of her bed, grabbed a robe from her closet, and slid down the stairs.

She planned on getting a slice of toast, but was pleasantly surprised to run into Margaret Gray: one of the housekeepers her mother had hired to come by a few times a week to clean, do laundry, and occasionally cook. But out of all of them, Margaret was her favorite. She’d worked for her mother even before Raisa was born.

But she had always paid Raisa attention. Of course, Raisa knew her mother payed Margaret to do that and help around the house, but it was nice to just have someone else that would listen.

“I was wondering when you’d get up,” Margaret chuckled.

“I didn’t know you’d be here today!” Raisa beamed.

“I won’t be here much longer. Just a couple things your mom wants me to do. Want me to make you some lunch?”

Raisa sat on one of the barstools at the island in the kitchen and tapped her nails on top of the counter.

“It seems like it’s been ages since we’ve last had a chat,” Margaret said. Her back was to Raisa and she stood in front of the sink.

“I’ve been so busy with school,” She admitted.

“How’s that been going?”

“I took a summer class a few weeks ago, but I’ve finished that now. The fall semester’s still a few weeks away.”

“Looking forward to it?”

She nodded. As much as Raisa didn’t like sitting in long lectures, she did feel like she was learning a lot. “I just wish there was more hands-on stuff.”

“So long as you keep your grades up, you’ll get hands on once you graduate.”

Of course. Graduation. She knew her mother wanted her to take over the business, but was that something Raisa wanted?

Instead of telling Margaret that, she purses her lips and nodded her head. That was a problem for another day.

“Could you make that to go?” Raisa asked as she tried to peer around Margaret to try and see what she was making.

“And why’s that?”

“I...I’ve got a date.”

“A date?” Margaret immediately turned with wide eyes. “With who?”

Raisa shook her head. “No one you know. A Han Alister.”

She let out a breath. “Glad it’s not that Micah Bayar.” When she noticed Raisa’s raised eyebrow, she continued. “He gives me some bad vibes. And tell that to your sister, too -“ She jabbed a finger towards Raisa. “She should stay away from him.”

“I’ll let her know, if she’ll listen to me.”

Margaret soon finished whatever it was that she was making. Raisa couldn’t tell what - She’d already placed it in an opaque container before handing it to Raisa.

“You have fun on that date now, but not too fun. There should be enough in there for the both of you.”

Raisa grinned. “Thank you, Margaret. For everything. Really.”

She placed the container on the counter so she could run upstairs to shower and change. “If my mother asks where I am,” Raisa called from the stairs. “Tell her I’ve gone out with Han.”

Chapter Text

Han: idk if this’ll mess with ur plan but my sister mari has to come with me to work today

Raisa stared at the text as she sat in her car in front of of a red light.

Her attention was jolted back to reality when the driver behind her honked their horn. She hadn’t realized that the light turned green.

She quickly pressed the gas and lurched forward.

South Bridge was a bit of a drive from her house, but was nearby Raggsmarket, which made sense since Han said he lived there.

Unless that was something he’d made up.

Even though Raisa felt safe in her car, she still made sure to keep her doors locked as she drove through Raggsmarket. Her mother told her to stay away from that part of town for a reason. With gang activity, robberies, and general violence, it wasn’t the kind of area Raisa should’ve spent much time.

But she’d also be lying if she said she’d never ventured through it before.

Once, she made Amon bring her through the town. Despite his protests, she had gotten him to reluctantly agree. They had parked a few blocks on the outskirts of town and walked the rest of the way. But the entire time she felt like she stood out. That all eyes were on her. She’d kept a tight grip on her wallet, fearful that someone would try and swipe it without her looking.

But most of all, Raisa felt sad. There were so many people that she wanted to help. They shouldn’t have had to resort to violence or gangs or thievery to feed their families.

One day , Raisa had told herself as Amon guided her back to the car. One day I’ll find a way to make this all right.

Even today, Raisa’s heart hurt for the people of Raggsmarket. A man stood in the median as she waited to turn left holding a sign asking for a ride.

But as much as her heart told her to pull over and let him in, her logical mind told her otherwise. He could be a rapist, a murderer, or...just a creepy guy. She was alone in her car without a way to defend herself.

She tried to not make eye contact as she drove.

The convenience store Han worked at was on the right side of the road. A small store attached to a gas station. A fast food restaurant was stuck next to it.

All of the spots at the front of the store were taken, so Raisa pulled in at the side before turning off her car and leaping onto the asphalt.

She took a moment to look at the other cars, trying to find one that might belong to Han. But they all seemed like regular, generic cars.

She frowned a little, thinking that maybe Han didn’t own a car at all. She’d have to offer him a ride home. But she shook it off before Han, or anyone else for that matter, could see, and instead followed the sidewalk littered with styrofoam cups and dried up gum.

It took Raisa a moment longer to find Han in the store. He looked completely different in his company issued top and standing behind a counter.

There were a couple people already in line. Han’s head was down as he scanned someone’s items. Most people seemed to only have a couple: a bottle of soda and some snacks. Though, Raisa spied one woman with a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, two tubs of ice cream, and more snacks than Raisa thought could be possible to hold.

She tried to wave at Han, but if he noticed her, he didn’t do anything to acknowledge it.

Instead of trying to butt into the front of the line, Raisa hung back, taking peculiar interest in the various snacks and trinkets that the gas station store had to offer.

It definitely wasn’t anything special. There were cheap movies and old CDs. Off-brand chips, cheap chocolates, t-shirts, and uncomfortable looking shoes.

Raisa wasn’t really a coffee person, but she did decide to pull an iced coffee out of the refrigerator section before getting back in line. Coffee was just okay - she never got the hype of it. But after sleeping in, she needed a little pick-me-up to get through the rest of the day.

Although she stood in the back of the line, it surprisingly moved fast. Within moments, the only thing separating her and Han was the counter and the cash register.

As she slid the glass jar of iced coffee onto the counter, Raisa flashed Han a small smile and an even smaller wave. So when he didn’t even look up at her as he scanned the coffee and rambled off the price, she had to admit that she was a little disappointed. Her smile turned into a slight frown as she held out a five dollar bill.

Only when Han handed her back the change that he finally looked up and seemed to notice her.

“I wasn’t expecting you for a little while,” He simply said.

“Well I’m here now. If you’re not busy we can go over some stuff.”

“Nah,” Han waved his hand. “I’m never busy.”

Raisa wanted to point out that there had just been a long line, but figured that that wasn’t really the point.

“I made a list,” She explained. Raisa moved to the side of the counter, so that whenever another customer came up, she wouldn’t have to worry about being in their way. She then procured the square notebook from her bag.

It was one of the few suggestions from her mother that Raisa had liked. She’d been keeping a notebooks in her bags and around her bedroom ever since middle school. Every time Raisa thought of something important, she’d write it down. If she was bored, she’d doodle on the corner. Important dates, names, phone numbers, and addresses littered the pages. But she’d never filled an entire notebook before, always finding a newer one to write in instead. She had a whole shelf dedicated to them.

This was a brand new bound book - one her father had given to her on her last birthday. A simple blue background with large, light pink roses scattered around. It was a little too girly for her taste, but Raisa had appreciated the sentiment.

Laying the notebook on the counter, Raisa then flipped the first page open with one hand as she rummaged for a pen with the other. On the page, she had written a bulleted list of ideas that she’d written down. The stories that Han had told the previous night at dinner - how he and Raisa had apparently met, the fact that he didn’t have a job, and where he lived. But she’d added on to that list, too. Mainly questions for them to both discuss - though Raisa would be lying if she said she didn’t already have ideas about each of them. Had they met one another before? What were their favorite things to do together? When was their anniversary?

Perhaps she was thinking too in depth about this, but knowing Gavan’s behavior, and her mother’s tendency to see through things, Raisa wanted to be prepared.

“We like listening to buskers in the park because it’s good music and it’s cheap,” Han offered. “And we drive around. A lot.”

“Do you like to listen to people play music in the park?”

“When I’ve got time. It’s good music. And it’s cheap.”

Han definitely didn’t strike Raisa as the type of person who liked to listen to people play music like that.

“When I was younger, my mother hired someone to teach me how to play the viola. It was...definitely an experience.”

“That doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Raisa raised her brow. “What does that mean?”

Han frowned. “You say that like you don’t know.”

“I...don’t know.”

“Rich parents love it when their kids play an instrument. Makes them...I dunno, ‘well rounded’ I guess,” He added, making sure to use air quotes.

Raisa wanted to say something back, but Han wasn’t entirely wrong . “I royally sucked at the viola, if that makes you feel better. Then there was the cello, and the piano. Even guitar --”

“Woah,” Han laughed. “The guitar? Scandalous.”

“She kept trying to get me to play something, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to do any of it. All I wanted was to go outside and run around, not sit next to some prestigious tutor that was a million years old and insisted on only teaching Bach and Mozart.”

Han hung his head low, stuck out his bottom lip, and tried to look up at Raisa - a decent attempt at a puppy dog face, but Raisa’s short height made pulling the look off much more difficult. Still he added a “Poor you,” before rolling his eyes.

She wanted to protest - just because her family had money didn’t mean that her life had been easy! She barely saw her mother growing up, and the growing gap between her mother and her father had always felt like Raisa’s fault. Raisa was never as prim and proper as her mother and couldn’t stand to sit in stuffy rooms or long meetings that her mother had expected her to. Except her father was too busy traveling to take Raisa out exploring either. And Raisa couldn’t go off on her own unless she wanted to experience Amon’s deep frown or Margaret’s disappointed look.

She’d been stuck all her life, other people pulling the strings for her. Suggesting what college to go to. Insisting what major she was. Even what car she drove had been decided for her, with a simple dismissal of her own input.

Before Raisa could even get a word out, an older woman came into the stoor to pay for her gas, leaving Rasia to cross her arm and sigh until the transaction was complete.

“Just because we have money,” She said once the older woman had left. “Doesn’t mean I haven’t had my own troubles.”

“True,” Han agreed, getting Raisa’s hopes up for a single second. “But you do have money. And your life has been easier because of it. Even if you can’t see it.”

Of course! Of course Raisa knew that! But Han had a good point. And Raisa didn’t have a good reply. So she simply stood with her arms still crossed, trying her best to not make eye contact with him.

“You should go to the park sometime,” Han seemed to suggest. Raisa slightly turned her head, managing to look at him from between her curls. “The music’s a lot better than whatever some lame tutor could teach you.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Raisa curtly nodded. “Fine. We’ll go and listen.”

“What?” Han suddenly said, seeming to be taken aback. “I never said we had to go.”

“I know,” Raisa acknowledged. “But the best lies have truth in them. You can talk all about going and listening to music in the park that you want, but if I’ve never been, I can’t say the same.”

“I could tell you about it,” Han shrugged. “Save you the trip.”

“No,” Raisa shook her head. Her mind was already set in stone. “It wouldn’t be the same. When are you off?” She asked, clicking her pen and pulling the notebook back towards her.

“Why do I have to be there?”

“So you can point out the best musicians.”

Han rolled his eyes. “I have to check the schedule. Keep an eye on everyone, will you?” He returned seconds later. “I’m not off again until Wednesday.”

Raisa frowned deeply. “That’s four days away.”

He shrugged. “Some of us have to work for a living, princess. Unless you wanna go alone?”

“No. No,” She shook her head. “No, I can wait.”

“It’ll cost you extra.”

“What?”

“Extra,” He repeated, as if Raisa didn’t hear him the first time.

“Fine,” She relented. “I’ll give you an extra ten bucks.”

“Although money would be nice,” Han grinned. That infamous grin that Raisa was really beginning to hate. “That’s not what I’m after this time.”

Raisa rested the pen on the counter and leaned forward. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll text you the details.”

“What? You’re not even going to tell me right now?”

He shrugged. “I like surprises.”

“I don’t.”

“Well. You could help me out with something tomorrow afternoon and then go see some people play music in the park on Wednesday. Or you could not help me tomorrow and not see people play music in the park.”

Raisa tapped her pen as she thought it over. Whatever Han was asking...it couldn’t be that bad, could it? Maybe he needed her to help with something around his house. Or maybe settle a bet? Han seemed like the type to bet on things.

It was probably harmless. But maybe she should bring a friend along. Just in case.

“Can I bring someone with me?” She asked. “To help you with this favor.”

Han shrugged again. “Sure. Whatever.”

“Okay, then,” She decided. “I’ll do it.”

“Great,” His grin practically covered his whole face.

Raisa couldn’t tell if that smile was genuine or not. Was he trying to be charming, or mischievous...or both? There was no way it could be his real smile. Who smiled naturally like that? It was like he had something up his sleeve...like everyone was in on something except you. Like he had all of the cards up his sleeve and no matter what you did - even if you were cheating - he would win.

No. That was definitely not his real smile. Which only made Raisa wonder: what was?

She shook the thought from her mind, bringing her attention back to the problem at hand: the notebook. What else would they have done as a couple in the time they’d been together?

“I took you to a nice dinner one night - on a night I told my mom I was busy with homework,” She began to explain. “But you were drunk and got us kicked out.”

“Did I get drunk before or after we were there?”

She thought for a moment. “Before.”

“Sounds good.”

“And you got me to sneak out of the house a couple times.”

“What’d we do?”

She tapped the pen against her lip. “Uh. Just walked around?”

“Sounds exciting.”

Raisa frowned. “Well, what do you do for fun?”

“Does that matter? Isn’t this to just make your mom mad?”

“Did you forget where I said that it needs to be believable? The best lies have truth mixed in.”

Han quickly rolled his eyes, but did seem to take time to think about it. “Hiking. Hunting can be fun. Uh…” He held out two finger, then furrowed his brows.

“What, can’t think of anything else?”

“I work a lot,” He explained. “There’s not a lot of time for anything else.”

“You spend a lot of time in the mountains!” A voice suddenly piped up. Raisa could practically feel the groan that Han let out.

She turned around to see a small girl standing at the edge of the aisle. Han’s little sister, she realized. Raisa had forgotten that she was even here - had she entertained herself between the shelves of snacks and drinks for that long? Raisa would’ve gotten bored quick if her mother had left her in a store like this.

But that would also mean that her mother would have to step foot in a store like this, and Raisa couldn’t imagine that happening in a million years.

“Mari, spending time in the mountains isn’t a hobby.”

“But you do spend a lot of time up there.”

“It’s ‘cause Dancer ‘n Cat are there.”

“So. Mam and I are here.”

“Yeah. And when I’m here and not working, I’m with you and Mam.”

Crossing her arms, Mari turned to Raisa. “You should list one of his hobbies as spending time in the mountains.”

“How about I write down camping?” Raisa asked, looking from Mari to Han and back again.

If that’s what he’s doing there.”

“Mari, c’mon. What else would I be doing up there?”

“How would I know?” She questioned. Her blue eyes darted towards Raisa. “Maybe you’re keeping her there. She looks like someone from the mountains.”

“She’s not-”

“My dad’s actually from the mountains,” Raisa interrupted. “Though, he doesn’t spend much time there anymore.”

“Wait...really?”

“Who is she?” Mari demanded before Raisa had another chance to respond.

“I’m -”

“She’s my girlfriend.”

Raisa quickly turned to Han, but his eyes were still on Mari.

“Your girlfriend ?” She wrinkled her nose at the thought. “I knew there was something you were doing in the mountains.”

“I didn’t find Raisa in the mountains, Mari. Jeez.”

Mari then brought her attention back to Raisa, who felt like she was being given the once-over by a ten-year-old. But if Mari found something wrong with her, she didn’t say anything. Instead, Mari simply turned on her heel and marched back down the row of snacks, out of Raisa’s eyesight.

“She seems...pleasant.”

“That’s what you get when you have an ten-year-old sister.”

Raisa tried to recall what Mellony was like when she was ten. She’d always seemed much younger than she really was. There was one instance, Raisa could remember, that their father had taken them to the zoo. It was a rare occasion that he was home - and an even rarer occasion that they were able to spend time with him. Mellony must have gotten too close to the fence or something, and the animal - maybe a goat? They could have been at the petting zoo. The animal came and licked her hand, which lead to Mellony crying for the next five minutes, fearful that some of the ‘icky germs’ were going to get to her.

But Mari definitely seemed a lot different that Mellony.

“Okay,” Raisa sighed once she figured that Mari was out of earshot. “I think what we’ve got for now is good.”

“Yeah? You’ll let me get back to work now?”

Ignoring him, Raisa closed her notebook, placing it and her pen back into her bag. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow with...whatever it is that you need my help with.”

His devilish grin reappeared on his face. “Have a good day, Raisa.”

“Yeah…” She nodded slightly as she headed back out towards the door. “You too.”