Beneath Layers

By: TL Alexander

Prologue

The Fairytale

Alexia Grant

I was that kind of girl. You know, the one. I used my imagination to escape, not to create. I dreamt in black, lived in white. I wore days-of-the-week undies, changing them precisely at one minute past midnight. I read Exploring Microbiology and The Fundamentals of Finance, for fun.

Everyday things captivated me. Like adding, multiplying, and dividing the polka dots on my tights.

No one saw that girl, the real me. Never went past the façade, under the layers. I wasn’t the princess they’d made me out to be. Peas under my mattress—bring them on. Sure, I had the things, the fluff, and the stuff. None of it mattered. None of it was real.

I craved the real—the truth. I searched, I waited, but it never came. Sad and angry came; leaving this life I called bitch. She was a hard one; we didn’t get along, at first. She set countless rules, limitations, and boundaries. But I learned them well; we made progress, then peace.

We were good; I had a plan, a direction. I was surviving, making my way, minding my own business. But she wasn’t satisfied—blowing it all to hell. She wanted more, the whole chimichanga. Greedy, interfering bitch!

Bitch had a new plan, a new game for me to play. It had no rules, no directions, no board with lined or checkered paths. I was playing blind, but the more I played, the better I got. It was setting me free, loosening my tethered mind, waking me up to colored dreams, and the possibilities of a happily-ever-after. All I had to do was reach out and grab it…





Chapter One

The Prince

Jaxson Ryan

I pick up my newborn daughter. She’s small and wrinkled, looking a little like Yoda, but in a good way. Cradling her, I count ten fingers, ten toes, and one half-button nose. I run my finger down her cheek; lids flutter open, big blue eyes look at me. I whisper, “Hey, little Yoda, it’s Daddy.” She smiles as five tiny fingers wrap around my thumb.

“She looks like you.”

She yawns, her nose crinkling up as if getting a whiff of foul air. I study her face. I see nothing of me in her.

Looking at her mother, I debate voicing my opinion. Decide on neutrality and silence.

“She has your mouth and nose.”

I don’t see it. Does it matter? No. She’s whole and healthy; that’s what matters.

Hearing soft knocking on the opened door, I look up.

Nick peeks in. “Am I interrupting?”

“This is family time,” she says. “We’ve asked for no visitors.”

Family time? Who’s she kidding?

He looks between us. “I can come back.”

I wave him in.

“Are you sure?”

I look at Mia, propped up on pillows, lying on her side. The Cleopatra of new mothers—bring on the palm fronds.

“I’m sure.”

Stepping into the room, he speed-walks past the Egyptian. Reaching my window perch, he impersonates a smile. He’s lost, as we all are. Looking at my daughter, his mouth opens then shuts. What does he want to say, but can’t? Congratulations would be the normal greeting to a new dad. But nothing is normal. Nothing is…right.

He looks beyond me, out the window, speaking in a near whisper. “Lizbet asked everyone to leave the hospital for a while. I’m taking Jules home. She needs a shower and sleep. If I’m lucky, maybe I can get her to eat something. She’s…a mess, and Marco… I’ve never seen a man cry like that.”

I nod, words failing me.

“Sam said she would stay with the boys tonight. She’d like you to check in, when you can.”

“I don’t…know what to say to them. They’re confused—lost. They can’t process any of this. Hell, I can’t process it. They want to see her; Sam and Lizbet think I should let them. I disagree, but if she never…?” Closing my eyes, I force that thought out of my head.

“You can’t go there.”

“I know. Remember how messed up I was, when my mom was in a coma?”

He nods.

“I was twenty-two, and seeing her… It’s not something I want my three-year-old sons to experience. Every day, they ask me, ‘why doesn’t Mom wake up?’ ‘Will Mom live in heaven, with Grandma and Grandpa Ryan?’ God, Nick, what do I tell them?”