Chapter 1 - The Adopted Brother

*Five years ago*

Eyes closed, I can smell the familiar scent of sandalwood from the Clive Christian collection. I know that scent, but why am I waking up to it?

Jumping out of bed, I realized I was in a hotel room, and lying next to me was no other than Jaylen. I had so many questions, but looking at his tousled curly hair, I gazed at the wonder who was soundly asleep. It wasn’t the first time I found myself staring at his perfection. He had a heart-shaped face, a strong angular jawline, and a set of dimples. Tan beach skin, hard muscular six-pack with a deep V cut, Jaylen was made by the gods.

However, due to our relationship, I had no business gawking at him like that and had no business being in the same bed as him with only his shirt and nothing underneath. What exactly happened last night?

Creeping off the bed, I found my clothes and headed for the shower. Since the hotel had no shampoo or conditioner that could be used on my 4C mane, I settled for water coming through my thick afro. My silk press was no more. From its condition, I can tell it was already washed.

Not realization only made my head spin. The last thing I remember was going out with Jay and a bunch of friends for my twenty-first birthday last night and drinking the night away. So, what could have happened for me to need my hair washed and change into Jay’s shirt and more to share a bed with him?

Lord, please tell me I didn’t do or say anything that could ruin me or our family.

I stayed in the shower longer than needed. I had to think. However, the headache from the hangover wasn’t letting up. As soon as I get an inkling of what occurred last night, the headache triples. To ease the tension of the headache, I leaned into the shower and let the cool water hit my head. I’ll deal with my hair once I get home.

Couldn’t tell you how long I was in there, but it was long enough to know that I had royally fucked up. Not only had I gotten stupid drunk, but I threw myself at the one person I shouldn’t have. I just hoped my big mouth didn’t say anything more damaging than my actions. I can always blame it on the alcohol but damn it.

Dressed in the same backless red, strapped dress, I made my way out of the bathroom. I was praying he was still sleeping and thank heavens he was. I found my clutch, double-checked my phone was still in there, got my leather jacket and heels, and dashed out of the door.

I heard him calling after me, but I couldn't stop or look back. With a walk of shame, I called my friend Alicia to pick me up. Unfortunately, it went straight to voicemail. Thinking that she probably was still sleeping with her hangover, I called a cab.

Luckily for me, I was in the cab before Jay came running out of the hotel looking for me. Ducking my head down, I informed the cab where to drop me off at. I knew I had to face him. After all, we lived in the same house and our bedrooms were across the other. There was no hiding but, at least for now, there was distance.

The quietness of the drive home hit me like a brick wall. Memories of last night came flushing in and each one was worse than the other. To confirm my thoughts, I scanned through social media and dug through our campus group page. I shouldn’t have done that. There were pictures and videos of me with a bottle sinking at the top of my lungs, of me dancing on the bar, and of me dancing with other guys. None of those compared to the last few ones of me wrapped up in Jaylen’s arms, smiling at him, and attempting to kiss him.

The group page was in a frenzy. Many were praising the party of the century, some complimenting me, while a few were criticizing me.

“So, she never comes to any of our events and when she finally has one of her own, she acts like that? What a shameless b*tch?”

“Isn’t that Jaylen, her adopted brother?”

“Yeah, that was Jaylen. Should have seen how she was throwing herself at him. What a tramp?”

“Aren’t they technically brothers and sisters? WTF?”

“No wonder she never dated anyone, she’s too busy jumping on her brother's D***. Damn”

“Hold up, I thought Alicia and Jaylen were a thing?”

“That’s what I thought, and she and Alicia are supposed to be best friends.”

“I don’t know about best friends. From what I can tell, she and Jaylen have been closer to each other than anyone else.”

“There was a rumor throughout our high school years of them being a thing”

“Damn, no wonder she wouldn’t give me the time of day. I’m not her brother.”

“Ha, homie, you ain’t the only one. She turned me down for senior prom and went with him instead. Talk about an ego bruiser?”

“Sh*t, my parents are banking, but for her fine a** I’ll put myself up for adoption and have the St. Claire’s take me in”

“I’ll second that. I’ll be her adopted brother in a heartbeat”

The comments were endless and relentless. Many associates defended me and went against the comments, but that wasn’t enough. The rumors spread further. What have I done?

For the first time in twelve years, I cried. I never cared what people said about me, but having Jay get dragged into the narrative due to my stupidity was a problem. The feelings and secret I'd held on to for this long had shown their faces and the outcome was as ugly as I expected. It can only get worse. What if my parents find out? What if Jay doesn’t feel the same?

Not wanting to know that answer, I made up my mind. Never again will I let my guard down and show any true feelings towards Jay. Even if that means I need to escape. Even if it means leaving the one I love behind.