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Strange Love

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A groan barrels past my lips as the sound of my father and brother's voices float up the stairs and into my room from underneath my closed door. I roll over and face away from my door as I pull my blanket up over my head and try to fall back into slumber.

Footsteps fall on the stairs and I pretend to be asleep as the sound of the footsteps stop and a few seconds later, the sound of my door opening fills the air. "I know you're awake." My brother tells me as he enters my room and moves to sit in my desk chair.

I sigh softly and I open my eyes as I push the blanket away from my body. "What do you want? It's way too early."

A chuckle barrels past his lips. "Aalyah, it's almost noon."

My eyes snap to his face for a few seconds before they travel to the alarm clock on my nightstand. "Shit." I mumble as I sit up and run my hand down my face, willing the sleep away. "I didn't mean to sleep so late. I was doing assignments that aren't due until next week since you know how much of a procrastinator I am."

He nods as he leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. "Listen, I need you to do something for me. And I think you and I are both in positions to help each other out."

I narrow my eyes at him as I tilt my head to the side slightly. "What are you talking about, Dominik?"

He smirks slightly before making his face neutral. "Let's just say I know that you had plans to go have dinner with that guy from the bar. . . What was his name?"

"Murphy." I tell him.

"Yes, Murphy. You had dinner plans with him. And I actually have a secret of my own that involves that bar." I gesture for him to continue with my hands as I stay silent. "There's this girl I've been talking to---"

I cut him off as a laugh barrels past my lips before I could stop it. "Wait," I ask as I pause to catch my breath from laughing. "you're actually talking to a girl. you mean there's a girl that you have hooked up with then immediately ghosted?"

He narrows his eyes at me as he runs his hand through his hair. "Shut it. And yes, there is. Her and I hooked up about four months back, we had so much chemistry so we decided to try our hand at dating."

I nod slowly as I comprehend his words. "So what does that have to do with helping each other."

He smiles. "I'm glad you asked. I figured since we both are talking to people we shouldn't be, we could cover for each other with dad if the occasion ever arises."

I nod. "There's more to the story and that's the real reason you came in here."

"She texted me earlier, asking if I wanted to go grab a late lunch, early dinner, with her since she doesn't have to work today as someone offered to take her shift. She mentioned something about bringing Murphy, and I could tell you really wanted to have dinner with him so I was wondering if you'd like to come along?" He tells me and stares at me.

"You're inviting me on a date with your girlfriend?"

"She's not my girlfriend. And it's not like you'll be a third wheel, I already told you Murphy will be there."

I roll my eyes as I throw my legs over the side of my bed and rise to my feet, pulling the t-shirt down from where it bunched up under my sports bra in the night. "Yes, I heard you say that. But from what I understand, you haven't been on a date with her in a while and I know you well enough that you don't want your first date in a while to be a double date."

He stands and begins to walk over to my door. "Which is why when we get to the place where we are having lunch, you and Murphy will get your own table; and Rhea and I will get our own table."

I run my hand through my hair as I pad over to my closet and pull open the door. "Where are we going? I need to know if I need to dress causal or fancy."

"We're going to Texas Roadhouse, so causal." He replies before walking out of my room, leaving the door wide open.

I narrow my eyes and groan as I cross my room and slam it shut before going back over to my closet and pulling out a pair of ripped blue skinny jeans, a cardigan and a pair of nude pumps. Setting them at the foot of my bed, I grab a tank top from my dresser and set it with the others before taking off my pajama's and putting on the outfit I picked out. Checking my outfit in my floor length mirror, I smile to myself before I exit my room and walk down the hallway to my brother's room.

I knock on the frame of the semi-shut door and give it a few seconds before pushing it open. I spot him standing in front of his closet as he tries to find an outfit to wear. "I'm almost ready, I just need to fix my hair and do my make up. Do you think I should curl my hair or straighten it?"

"Wear it natural, it looks better that way." He replies without looking at me.

I roll my eyes at the back of his head before turning on my heel and walking out of the room. I head back down the hallway and into the bathroom. After flipping the light on, I waste no time in starting to get ready; putting on light eyeshadow, very little blush, simple eyeliner, some nude lip gloss and lastly, I spray some setting spray to keep it all in place.

"You ready, little sister?" Dom asks as he walks by the bathroom. He drops his voice lower as he says his next words. "If dad asks, which he will because that's who he is, say I'm taking you out on a little brother-sister lunch date. He won't question it as he knows we have not had much time to spend together."

"Yeah, okay. Brother-sister lunch date, got it." I mumble as I shut the light off and follow him down the stairs.

"Where are you two going?" Our father asks as he catches sight of us walking downstairs.

"I'm taking Aalyah on a little brother-sister lunch date as we really haven't gotten to spend much time together since you and I have been caught up in the case." Dominik replies as he walks over to the coat rack and pulls his sweat-shirt off of it.

I stare at our father and watch as he nods before turning his attention back to the television. "Okay. Be back at a reasonable time. We have to re-interview the owner of that bar again."

"Okay, we won't be out late. Plus Aalyah said she wanted to work on her homework at some point today."

We say our goodbyes to our father and exit the house, going down the front steps and heading down the sidewalk. We walk down the block to the small parking lot of an abandoned building where Dom parks his car every time he uses it instead of parking it behind dad's.

"Why do you have to park so far away from the house?" I ask as we reach the edge of the parking lot.

"You know why." He replies lowly as he pulls the key fob from his pocket and unlocks the doors.

It's true, I do know why. Having a car like Dom's in the neighborhood we live in is very rare and the risk of people trying to break in and hotwire it is very, very high. I sigh softly as I open the door and slip into the passenger seat, pulling off my pumps as I rub the back of my ankles. "It still never registers in my brain to wear tennis shoes to walk to your car and carry my heels."

A chuckle falls past his lips as he slides into the driver seat and starts the car. He jokes, "Yeah, you do that every time. You think you would learn."

I reach over and playfully punch him in the arm before turning the radio on and looking out the window as he pulls out of his parking spot and slowly drives out of the small parking lot. "What am I going to do if you want to spend the night at. . . What did you say her name was? Rhea?" I ask and he nods. "What am I going to tell dad if Murphy ends up driving me home after you decide that you want to spend the night at Rhea's?"

"Look in the backseat."

My eyebrows knit together in confusion as I do what he tells me and look in the backseat. Confusion continues to roll over my body in waves as I spot two bags. "Why are there two bags in the back?"

"They're overnight bags, one's for me as I am most definitely staying at Rhea's tonight and the other one is the one you left in here from the last time you went to a sleepover at your friend's."

"Ah." I reply as I turn around and face out the windshield as I watch him turn on to the main road that leads to the restaurant. "So you planned to go to Rhea's tonight?" He nods. "And you're okay with me staying at Murphy's tonight?"

He nods once again. "Yes, I am."

"Why? You could easily be an over-protective big brother and say no."

"Because, Aalyah, you're nineteen and I know you aren't a child. You're old enough to make your own decisions and from what I heard from Rhea, he seems to be a good guy so I don't have any worries." He replies as he pulls into the parking lot of Texas Roadhouse and pulls into a parking spot next to a black Ford Focus hatchback. I slip my heels back on and unbuckle my seatbelt as he turns off the car, opens his door and climbs out.

I climb out of the car and shut the door as I watch him embrace a girl with very short blonde hair, the sides shaved, gauged ears, black clothing and dark make up upon her pale face. I smile and wave at Murphy who stands on the other side of the girl's car before walking over to him.

As I pass my brother and the girl, in a deep Australian accent like Murphy's I hear her whisper, "I missed you, I didn't know when we would get to see each other again."

"Hey." I greet Murphy as I stop walking in front of him.

"Hi Aalyah." He replies. "I wasn't sure if I would be a third-wheel to them," He gestures to my brother and Rhea with his head before continuing. "but I'm glad you're here so we can get to know each other over dinner like we had originally planned."

I smile and nod as I glance over at my brother just in time to see them break apart and turn to us. "Ready to go in now?" I ask him in a teasing tone.

He rolls his eyes playfully at me before nodding and gesturing with his right hand, the one that's not interlocked with Rhea's, to the front of the restaurant. "Let's go."

The four of us walk together as a group across the parking lot, towards the building. "Wait," Rhea asks as we get closer to the entrance. "is this a double date?"

"No," My brother replies as we climb on to the sidewalk. "you and I are getting our own table and they are also getting their own table."

She glances over at as and nods. "What about later tonight?"

"What's later tonight?" Murphy speaks up from beside me and I look over at him.

"Dom's going to Rhea's tonight and he's hoping I stay over at your place so he doesn't have to explain it to our father why him and I left together and I came back before he did." I explain as I flash him a smile.

"Is that true?" Rhea asks Dominik.

"Yeah, and before you ask, no I don't care that he is thirteen years older than her. She is old enough to make her own decisions and I won't get involved." He replies to her before turning his attention to Murphy. "But if she comes to me and tells you did something to her, all bets are off."

We enter the restaurant and two waiters take us to our respective tables. "So," Murphy says as we look over the menus to figure out what we want. "your brother seems nice. Which is not what I would describe him as if I had never met him."

I shrug as I take a sip of the water I ordered. "He has his moments. My father, on the other hand, is a whole other story."

"In what way?" He asks after we order our food and the waiter takes our menus.

"He is very, very, very over-protective. He wasn't always like that though. Only after mom died did he become like this."

"You don't have to answer if you don't want to but can I ask how she died?"

"It's fine, I'll answer. She, uh, died when I was young so I really don't remember. My father never told me the details of how she died but a few years ago, when my brother joined the police force, Dominik found the file that they had on her death. She was murdered in a mall robbery when she was buying Christmas presents for my brother and I." I murmur.

He reaches over and rests his hand on mine, like he had done in the bar. "I'm so sorry, Aalyah."

A small smile tugs at the corners of my lips. "It's fine, like I said I was young. But enough about me, tell me about you."

"Well, my parents died in a car crash when I was 18 years old and I decided to move to America a few months later. I landed a job as a bouncer for a few months after I moved here, then I lost that job a few months later. I met Rollins about three years after I moved here and I've worked for him ever since."

"I'm sorry Murphy. Were you close to them?" He shakes his head as the waiter brings our food to our table. We make small talk as we eat, sharing random facts about ourselves, hobbies and what our childhood's were like.

When we finish eating the waiter comes and takes our plates while bringing us the check. I go to reach for it so that I could figure out how much each of us needed to pay, if we were going to split it, but he grabbed it before I could.

"No, I'll pay." He tells me as he pulls out his wallet and his card, putting the card in the check and putting some cash on the table for the tip.

"You didn't have to pay."

"Well, I wanted to." He flashes me a smile as he reaches over and places his hand on top of mine. "How about this? There's this one night music festival I wanted to go to and I've already bought two tickets as Rhea said she really wanted to go with me but now I can definitely see she's not coming. And I don't want to go alone, will you come with me?"

"Will you let me pay for the drinks and dinner since you payed for lunch?"

"Yes I will. Then we can go hang out at my house or get a hotel room for the night as the festival is a few hours away." He replies as the waiter comes by to take the check.

"Wait, are you talking about the music festival in Hershey?" I ask. "The one with all of those punk rock bands?"

A smile invades his face as he nods. "Yeah. How did you know?"

I reach up with my right hand and tuck a piece of my hair behind my ear as the waiter brings the check back and he puts his card back into his wallet. "My roommate in college, back before they sent everyone home for the rest of the school year, said she really wanted to go to it but her parent's don't really approve of her listening to that type of music."

We rise to our feet and make our way toward the exit of the building. I glance over at my brother as we pass by their table and I watch him pull out his keys so that he could unlock it for me. I mouth a quick 'thank you' in his direction before we exit and make our way through the parking lot.

"Do we have to wait for them to be done?"

He shakes his head. "No. The car is mine, I just let Rhea drive it whenever her and I go anywhere together because she always complains that she hates my driving."

"Why would she hate your driving?"

He shrugs as we reach the cars and I open the passenger door, reaching into the back to grab my bag, before I shut the door and turn to him. "So do we need to stop by your house so that you can get anything in case we decide to stay in a hotel for the night?"

"Yeah, plus I want to walk my dog before we go. That way he gets his exercise for the day and will be good until we get back either tonight or tomorrow."

Dominik's car chirps beside us and both of us jump slightly at the sound. I roll my eyes as I look past Murphy to the restaurant window where Dom and Rhea's table is. My brother gives a small wave with a smirk on his face and I narrow my eyes at him, glaring as I flip him off before focusing back in on Murphy.

"Sorry about that, my brother can be an asshole sometimes." I apologize and he waves it off. "Shall we go?"

He nods and gestures for me to walk on. "I'm really surprised that agreed to come with me."

We climb into his car and I set my bag in the back seat as I catch the unsaid because you don't really know me part of what he said. "Yeah, well, everyone says I'm way too trusting of people and that I'm going to end up getting hurt one day. Which I might, but I don't think you're going to be the one to hurt me. I think it's going to be someone else. As for agreeing to come with you, well I have lived in this town long enough to know there is absolutely nothing to do and that is very boring."

A chuckle falls from his lips as he nods and turns on the car before pulling out of the parking lot. "Yeah, that's true."

I wonder how old he is, I've never actually asked him. "So I never actually asked, and I guess that's because my brother basically said your age earlier. He said your thirteen years older than me, so that makes you thirty-two, right?"

He nods as he pulls out on to the main road and begins driving. "Yes, I am. I didn't want to tell you in the beginning because I didn't know how you'd react."

"Age, to me, is just a word. What relates to the numbers is a just a concept. If you truly love someone, age shouldn't matter."

A silence falls over us for a few short minutes as he drives and I look out the window. "Wow, that's a great way of looking at it. I never thought of it that way." He replies. "Why do you think of it that way?"

"When I was fourteen years old, I was dating this seventeen year old. We kept it a secret because of my father and just after both of our birthdays, my fifteenth and his eighteenth, he found out. He told the guy that if he ever saw him again, he have him thrown in jail, and he grounded me for a year."

"Why?"

"Like I said, he's very over-protective."

He doesn't reply as he turns down a back alley and drives for a little while. Then he turns into a parking lot and pulls into a parking spot. "Fair warning," He starts to say as he cuts the engine and opens his door. "I have a bulldog and he loves to jump on people."

A small chuckle falls from my lips. "I love dogs so it'll be fine."

We exit the car and walk through the parking lot. Once we get to the door, he moves to hold the door open for me. I smile and mumble a quick 'thank you' as I enter the building. He follows behind me and laces our hands together causing me to jump slightly at the feeling of his soft, yet semi-rough, hand in mine. I look over at him and go to open my mouth to ask him but he quickly cuts me off.

"The owner of of the building really doesn't like when the tannates have visitors so it's just going to be easier to pretend that you're my girlfriend." He explains it to me as we walk over to the elevator and he uses his right hand to call the elevator.

"Did you just make up an excuse to hold my hand?" I ask, with a smile on my face, as the elevator doors open and we enter it.

His smile matches mine as he presses the top floor button and then leans back against the wall. "Maybe."

As we ascend to the top, I use that time to study him; really study him. The way his smile is almost completely hidden by his beard, the feeling of his rough and calloused yet soft hand pressed up against my soft one. The way his dark eyes shine when he looks at me.

The elevator door winds open and he gestures for me to exit first, which I do. We walk down the hallway and stop more than half-way down. He pulls his keys out and quickly unlocks the door, stepping in, before holding it open for me. I step inside quickly and he shuts the door just in time for the sound of paws hitting the hardwood floor to fill the air.

I crouch down as Murphy's dog comes barreling toward us and I let him sniff my hand before I begin to pet his black and white fur and look back upwards at Murphy. "He's so cute, what's his name?"

"He's not always like that," He replies as we watch him flop down on the ground and roll over on to his back, exposing his stomach to me. "and his name is Thor."

"Thor like the Norse God of Thunder Thor?"

He nods as he bends over to scratch his chest a few times before straightening back up. "Yeah, I was walking home one night from working a late shift at the bar and it was thundering. Hence the name Thor. I found him in a box cuddled up to himself to keep warm, I brought him home that night and fed him, gave him water, got him warm and then the next morning I drove him to the vet. They told me he was ten weeks old and not microchipped. So, I had him microchipped and brought him home to his forever home."

I scratch his chest a few more times then I stop but he grumbles and I chuckle, resuming the scratches. "Poor guy. No animal at all should ever have to go through something like that."

"I'm going to go pack a bag while you have him distracted." He tells me and I nod before he turns on his heel and walks down the hallway.

I give Thor attention and keep him occupied while Murphy packs an overnight bag. His cheeks smushing together as I scratch his chin and cheeks. Rising to a standing position at the sound of footsteps in the hall, I brush the dog fur off of me as Murphy reappears in the entry way. "Ready to walk this one so we can head out?"

He nods and slings the bag over his shoulder as he walks towards the door where there is a set of hooks and hanging on one of them was a dog leash. "Come here boy." He calls Thor as he kneels down to clip the leash on to his collar.

We exit the apartment after getting the dog hooked up and head back to the elevator, going back downstairs. I hold Thor's leash as Murphy puts his bag in the back-seat of the car and hand to him once he's done. We make small talk as we walk around the neighborhood and Murphy points out various things to me, like how there is two parks within a two minute walk from each other and how there is two pizza places within less than a half a mile away from each other.

 

"So, I was thinking that it'll be easier for me to get him back into the apartment and back down here than it will be if both of us go up." He explains to me as we loop back around his apartment building.

"Okay, I'll wait in the car then."

He unlocks the car as I bend down and scratch Thor one last time before the two of them enter the building. I pull my phone out of my back pocket as I step off the sidewalk and start to cross the parking lot. Opening my phone I check my messages and find that I have one from Dom.

Hey, haven't heard from you in a while. You okay?

A small smile invades my face as I reach Murphy's car and begin to reply before I climb into the passenger seat. Yeah, I'm okay. Murphy is going up to Hershey for a music festival and he invited me along so we getting ready to drive up there. We might be back tonight or we might get a hotel room to sleep in and then come back in the morning but we haven't decided yet. I'll let you know what we decide. Also I love the fact that even though you're spending quality and precious time with your girlfriend, you still find time to check up on me.

I send the message and lock my phone before I open the passenger door of Murphy's car and climb in. I jump slightly as footsteps get closer to the car and I look up to see Murphy walking towards me. "You startled me."

"I'm sorry I startled you but why haven't you gotten into the car yet? You're not rethinking going with me, are you?" He asks as he opens the drive door and climbs in.

"No, I'm not rethinking going with you. I was actually just texting my brother, he was asking if I was okay since he hadn't heard from me in a while. So I let him know our plans and I told him I'd let him know what we decided to do in regards to if we were coming back tonight or if we were coming back tomorrow." I reply as I climb into the passenger seat and shut the door.

"How do you think he'll react when he reads your message?"

I shrug as he turns on the car and begins driving. "He'll most likely tell me to be careful before telling me to have fun and call him if I need anything."

"I've got to stop for gas before we begin our drive, do you want to grab drinks now or stop when we want them?"

"I think we should get them when we stop for gas because if we stop when we want them, we're adding more time to the drive and the festival starts at five."