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“Adam, let him go. What the fuck’s wrong with you?” Matt drags me back.


“He’s spouting shit!” I shake him off.


“We all know he’s an ass, and you’re usually cool about it. What’s going on?”


I breathe deeply—to clear my head but also get rid of the knot in my gut. It feels like lead and burns molten like lava. The pressure's so bad, I feel like I’m about to explode. I’ve experienced some form of this since I was just a kid, forced to listen to the goings-on in the next room. Then, I responded to those feelings by crying, but I haven’t cried in years.  I’ve managed—mostly—to control my emotions since being adopted. But after learning about Adam Winston, they're back and so much worse.They border on rage and are harder than ever to control.


Alan was acting true to form like Matt said. He wanted us to go on to a coffee shop where a girl he’s chasing after hangs out. I said no; I was expected home, and he called me a mommy’s boy. It wasn’t the first time he made a crack like that or called me a pussy. This time, though, I snapped. I think I shocked them all by shoving Alan against the wall.


“Don’t ever fucking call me that or spout off about my family again!” I warn him, giving him one last shove before loosening my grip on him.


“I was only messin' around,” he mutters as I walk away.


“Adam, hold up,” Matt calls out, but I keep going.


He’s asked me several times since New York if I’m okay, and I’ve said I am. All he knows about the trip is what I told him before leaving— that I'd heard from my biological father. When we got back, I said he’d died and that he had another family I didn’t want to meet. I didn’t reveal Adam Winston’s identity because I don’t want my friends, even Matt, to know the truth. How do you tell people whose families struggled all their lives that you’ve inherited thirty million dollars and don’t want it?


At home, I go straight to my room and shut my door. Dad isn’t home yet, and Mom and Cait are making dinner. Usually, I’d be down there, getting in their way and chatting, but lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time alone, drowning out my thoughts with music.


I open my eyes to find Mom staring at me.  She motions for me to turn the sound down.


“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” I apologize.


“You didn’t, sweetheart, but I’m worried.  What’s up, Adam?  You haven’t been like this in years.”


“Nothing…” I say, but Mom gives me her ‘don’t try to fool me' look, and I cave.


“ I hate him. Why can't we just give the money back?”


Mom perches on my bed. “Adam, I understand you're angry.  Your dad and I both do, but, sweetheart, you need to talk about it— to us, or we can find you someone for you to talk to. It’s unhealthy to hold in so much anger and hurt.”


“I’m not hurt. I’m mad. At him...Winston... and at Eleanor for not telling me the truth. I'm mad at myself for thinking all those good things about him for all those years. I was so stupid!” I confess, the words spilling out like vomit.


“You weren’t stupid. You only wanted what every child wants and needs. You're too hard on yourself, Adam. Come downstairs. Your dad will be home soon, and dinner’s nearly ready,” she suggests, almost pleads, so I do.


After dinner, I'm back in my room when Dad comes to tell me that he and Mom want to talk to me in his office. She's already waiting when I walk in ahead of Dad. “Sit down, sweetheart,” she invites.


“What’s up?” I ask, even though I know the reason for the meeting.


“We want to discuss your inheritance,” Dad informs me.


“I’ve said I don’t want it, Dad. If you won’t give it back, I don’t want to know about it. Spend it on Mom and Cait... on yourself. On anyone or anything, I don’t care!”


“Mind your tone, Son. I’ve told you; it’s not our money. Your mother and I wouldn’t dream of touching a cent. You’re too young and confused right now to think straight, so we’ve made some decisions to safeguard you,” Dad says, his tone warning me not to argue.


I bite down an angry response. “Sweetheart,” Mom placates. “Your dad’s right. You're entitled to your inheritance. You were from the day you were born, and your mother would've wanted you to have it. I know you don’t think it, let alone believe it, but Eleanor wanted what’s best for you. Don’t let her sacrifices be for nothing.”


I snort, and Dad shoots me another warning look. He’s disappointed in me, and I hang my head, feeling somewhat ashamed. Still, I think it’s a joke to even suggest that Eleanor considered me. She wouldn’t have turned to alcohol and drugs or slept with all those men if she had.


“Are you ready to have a rational discussion?” Dad takes his seat behind the desk. I nod, not trusting myself not to say something that totally pisses him off.


“Good. Now I’d like to finish without  youinterrupting.”  He waits until I agree before continuing.


“We've taken financial and legal advice, Adam, and your mom and I have decided that it would be best to set up a trust fund in your name. We also think the trust should pay you a monthly allowance. Put it into a bank account if you don’t want to spend it,” he cuts off my protest.


“I’ll help set up the account. We’ve also made allowances for your college education and a car when you turn eighteen. We suggest the terms be set for you to gain access to your money when you turn twenty-five. You could, of course, take control of it sooner, but we strongly advise that you wait till you have a better understanding of finances. Hopefully, you'll also have a better perspective on things then.


“If you agree, I propose that Mom and I, along with our family solicitor, Mr. Greene, be appointed as trustees. If you’d like for it to be anyone else, we’re happy to consider it. We insist, though, that the person or persons be competent and trustworthy and that we have them thoroughly vetted. What do you think?” Dad asks. He and Mom wait patiently for me to reply, and after several moments, I do.


“It seems reasonable, given that you won’t refuse the money,” I can’t resist adding. “I won’t be spending it, so there’s no need for the allowance. I’m happy with what I get from you and Mom, and I don’t want more than Cait gets.


“Also, I want you to pay for Cait’s college and a car for her from the money.  And what about you and Mom?”


“Adam, we’ll provide for Cait’s education just like we planned to do for yours. We’re aware, however, that we can't afford the best colleges, and we think, given this inheritance, that it would be a travesty to rob you of that opportunity. As for Cait, I’m sure she can wait until we're able to buy her a car. Your Mom and I don’t need anything. If and when we do, we’ll wait until we have the money, just like we’ve always done, Son. But thank you for your generosity.”


“Then I want the same. I don’t want to live like a Winston. I’m a Thorne! At least, that’s what you said." I know I’m getting riled again, but I can’t help feeling insecure.  Mom's tearful, while Dad stands to grasp my shoulder.


“Adam, you’re our child in every way that counts, but we can't change the fact that Adam Winston was your biological father. You’re entitled to that money, Son, don’t let pride rob you of what’s rightfully yours. But I respect what you’ve just said. So, no allowance from the trust, and when Cait turns eighteen, and if you still want to, we’ll let you buy her a car. The arrangements for your education stand and, when the time comes for Cait to go to college, we’ll take care of it. We'll add the money we saved for yours to hers. Does that make you happy?”


I nod, swallowing the lump in my throat when Mom hugs me. "You are a Thorne, never doubt that,” she whispers and then kisses my cheek before turning to leave.


“Finish up in here, you two, then come and join Cait and me. I baked cookies,” she says before shutting the door behind her.


That night, I go to bed, thankful that the matter's settled. I don’t have to talk or think about the money again, and I don’t want people outside of our family to know about it. Dad, Mom, and Cait promised me that, apart from them, only our solicitor would know. Also, I haven’t said anything, but I’ve decided that if I have to accept Adam Winston’s guilt money, then, when I get my hands on it, I’m going to do whatever I can to help my real family.


I’m still angry as hell, but I’m going to do my best to forget Adam Winston.

                                                                    * * * * *

Two weeks later, we’re invited to a party. Well, Matt's been; by Susie, a girl who has a massive crush on him. The rest of us are tagging along. I’m younger than the others, so I’ll probably be the youngest at the party. I hope I won't be the odd man out. When I mention this to Matt, he laughs. “You have no idea, do you?”


“What?” I ask.


“Girls love you, man!” Alan chimes in.


“Who?” I demand, sure they’re messing with me.


“You’ll have your pick tonight!” Matt claps me on the back.


“Yeah, you may even lose your cherry!” Ian sniggers. and I glare at him because he’s still pissing me off.  “Don’t worry; I won’t tell Mommy,” he goads, and I lunge, landing a solid punch to his nose.


He doubles over, blood dripping through cupped fingers. “You broke my fucking nose,” he yells, his muffled voice making it sound like 'dose.'


“I warned you to stop dragging my family into shit.”


“Come on, let’s clean you up.” Alan throws me a wink as he leads Ian away.  “Nice!” he silently mouths.


Later that evening, we’re back at The Hangout, where Lana and Tess join us. Ian's sporting a swollen nose, which I doubt was broken, but Alan claims it was and that he straightened it.  According to him, he suffered a broken nose twice while playing football and says he straightened it himself the second time. That, he insists, is how he's sure I broke Ian's nose and how he knew exactly what to do.


I apologize to Ian for the break, but make it clear I'm not sorry for punching him. I add that if he doesn’t stop his bullshit, I’d be happy to break his ugly nose again. He apologizes too, and we agree to forget the incident.


We leave for the party in two cars. I ride with Matt, while Tess and Ian, who’re supposedly dating, and Lana travel with Alan. We all pile out at Susie’s house, where the music's already at full blast. An hour or so later, the basement's jam-packed. Luckily, we were among the first to arrive and managed to snag a sofa and some upturned crates in a corner. Matt brought beer that his cousin bought, and the guys are really getting into it. The girls are drinking some kind of sweet, alcoholic punch that looks and smells disgusting. I’ve had two beers, but I’ve refused another for now because I don’t want to get home too obviously drunk.


“Dance with me." Tess tugs Ian’s arm. “I’m busy,” he says, breaking off from his discussion about cars with a guy who joined us a while ago.


“Matt?” she invites, but he shakes his head. “Sorry, my date's here." He grins at Susie making her way through the crowd.


“Adam?” she turns to me.


 “I don’t dance, Tess."


“Come on, I watched you and Cait on her birthday. You've got moves." She grabs my hand.


“One dance,” I say, letting her pull me up. Tess winds her arm around my waist as we fight our way to the dance floor.


I try to space between us, but she clings to me like a vine. Each time I step back, she tightens her hold. “Relax. It's just a dance,” she whispers in my ear after my third attempt. It may well be, but I don’t want to be this close to Tess. It feels wrong. She grinds against my crotch, and, despite my objection, my body reacts. "Mmm," she murmurs approvingly, and I loosen her arms from my around neck and firmly set her aside.


“What’s wrong?” she pouts.


“The song ended,” I say and walk away.

“Come on, Adam," she protests, sounding too sexy for my liking.


“I’ve had enough,” I tell her and return to our friends. Susie’s sitting on Matt’s lap, and he’s gripping her hips while sucking on her neck. I note that under her spread skirt, she’s grinding on him. Lana and Alan, in a new yet hardly surprising development, are lip-locked. A pretty blonde, on the other side of Susie and Matt, smiles at me and shrugs her shoulders. I guess she  also feels awkward being a spectator to my friends' antics. Tess comes to sit next to me just as the guy speaking to Ian leaves. He motions her over, and she takes her time, giving first me and then the girl a searching look before straddling Ian’s lap like he tells her to.


“Hi, I’m Adam,” I greet the stranger.


“I’m Megan, Susie’s cousin,” she answers with a soft drawl.


“Would you like to dance?” I ask.


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