All three men and one young woman stood outside the Dean’s office. Aubrey, Luka, Jaeson, and Riot. Aubrey looked calm, and oddly optimistic, after everything she had been through. The other three were less than composed.
“I must insist you allow me to speak to that buffoon,” Luka said. He was barely able to contain his rage at the situation, though managed to get the words out with only the barest trace of irritation. He didn’t want to put that impression of himself in Aubrey’s head. She didn’t deserve to see him at his worst.
“We can all go in there and give him a piece of our minds,” Jaeson said, arms folded across his chest. He still felt as though he owed Aubrey a debt after the thoughtless things he had said about her economic status and upbringing. She had forgiven him, but it still chaffed Jaeson to know that he hurt her at all, regardless of the apology. He would never do it again, and was determined to be there for her at every turn.
“Offer’s still on the table,” Riot added. “We’re here for you.” Riot thought about the four of them together, intertwined, breathless and content. It was the first time in a long time he had felt as though things were going to be okay. Aubrey was worth telling his real name to. She was worth every single bit of it.
Aubrey smiled between the three men, and shook her head, confident and calm. “I’ll take care this. I know how to handle him, and I know what I’m going to tell him.”
“Are you absolutely positive?” Luka asked.
“Trust me,” she said.
The office door opened, and the Dean’s secretary popped out. “He’ll see you now, Aubrey,” he said.
“Thanks,” she replied, looking back to the boys for a lingering moment before walking into the office, the door closing behind her.
The moment she was gone, all three of them turned to each other, sharing their silent worry together. None of them said anything. None of them needed to. It was thick in the air between them, the fact that Aubrey was no longer being blackmailed and yet was still threatened.
They all sat down in the chairs beside the office door, the silence lingering on.
Jaeson was the first to speak. “I swear, if that bastard does anything to sabotage her education or her career, he’s going to regret the moment he crossed me.”
“You are not alone,” Luka added, allowing the anger to come through clearly in his voice. “We may not have been able to uncover the blackmailer’s identity ourselves, but we all certainly know a thing or two about how to deal with bureaucracy, yes?”
“Money,” Riot said. “The only language they understand.”
“I’ll pull my family’s donations to this school so fast his head will spin right off of his asshole neck,” Jaeson said.
“Agreed,” Luka added. “This university may not understand the value Aubrey brings to it by her mere presence, but they will understand when they are no longer supported by my family’s contributions.”
“Cut them off where it hurts the most,” Riot growled. “I won’t sit here as they kick her out.”
“We can all just pick up and go,” Jaeson said. “I don’t care. I know what I want, and I know that it’s her. Everything else, I’ll figure out on the way. It’s not as though I needed this school to begin with. I’m only here because my father insisted it’s important to make connections.”
“There are plenty of outstanding institutions of higher learning in this country,” Luka said. “Any of them would be proud to take on a trio of high value transfers.”
“Those girls,” Riot added. “Her friends.”
“You’re right,” Jaeson mused. “They might pull out, too. Maybe even some others. That loss of funding, not to mention status, would be a huge blow to the school.”
“Perhaps that would make the dean think twice about how dangerously close he is coming to crossing us,” Luka said.
“He wouldn’t recover,” Riot said.
“The school will go on, but the board’ll replace him,” Jaeson agreed. “They won’t have any other choice.”
They all sat, upset, doing anything they could to replace their worry with action, but as they all shared uncertain looks between each other, they all knew nothing would quell their worry until they knew for certain that Aubrey was taken care of.
Soon, almost too soon, Aubrey walked out of the office.
Luka stood up abruptly. “That was… rather timely.” His heart beat faster in his chest, a flicker of hope that began to make his worst fears subside. She was smiling. Was everything okay after all?
The other two stood up as well, forming a protective semicircle around Aubrey.
“They didn’t expel you or anything, right?” Jaeson asked. His prior rage gave way to worry and concern. Jaeson was intimately aware of how much an unkind and inconsiderate word could affect Aubrey, and remained concerned about her well-being before anything else.
“They’ll regret it,” Riot finished, not having any trouble letting his rage come through in his voice. It was simple for him. Black and white. Without Aubrey, there would be no Riot at this school. He wouldn’t think twice about burning it all down behind him to whatever degree he could manage.
“Ryan,” Aubrey said, placing her hand on his cheek and drawing it down the hard line of his jaw. “It’s handled.”
And just like that, Riot could barely remember the rage he once felt. She was so easily able to put him at peace with a single touch. It was more affection than he had ever received before. He accepted it like a drug, allowing it to course through his body and make him feel lightheaded. She was okay. He knew it for sure, now.
“So what did you tell them?” Jaeson asked.
“I told them if they didn’t stop being creeps about my sexuality, I’d sue them into dust,” she said.
All three of the men visibly relaxed. They all looked at each other for a brief moment before focusing on Aubrey, but the shared moment had conveyed the same thing between these three men who knew each other better than anyone else in the entire world.
Their Aubrey was strong, and incredible, and would make it just fine in this world. And they would always be there, waiting for the moment she needed help to get through.
“If you need backup, you know who to call,” Jaeson replied.
“We’re here,” Ryan said.
“Every step of the way,” Luka added.
The four of them walked out of the building and into the cool, fresh air that awaited them. It was done. She was safe. Maybe not forever, but for now, and that was good enough for all of them.
“I’m done being a pushover,” she said. “And I’m done caring what people say about this. About us.”
She looked between all three of the men, smiled, and then opened her mouth to say the words that would sear into their minds and their hearts forever.
“I love you. I love all of you. I’m not going to choose between you.”
As Aubrey continued, the three of them couldn’t help but share another look, another brief moment to each other, before putting their eyes back on Aubrey to listen. She was incredible, and they were lucky to share her. There was nothing in any of their eyes to suggest they wanted this any other way.
Luka thought of his family, his obligations, and he knew it would be difficult to explain the situation. Maybe even impossible. But he would do it. He was a man of his word, and he intended to follow through.
“I can’t speak for Jaeson or Riot, but I accept that. My love for you doesn’t change because of it.”
“Neither does mine,” Jaeson said. He was flooded with relief, mostly due to her safety and her continued presence at the school, but also that she loved him back. That she said it out loud. He knew better than most people in his position that he could be too cold, too callous, too flippant with his words. He didn’t lack self-awareness. He was simply relieved, and amazed, at her ability to accept his apology and forgive him. It wasn’t something he was used to in his life. Not with his family, anyway, and their focus on the family legacy, that much was certain. “You’re it for me. You’re my girl. You’re the one I want by my side. I might get jealous from time to time, but that’s for me to work on.”
Riot found himself lost in thought. Like Jaeson, he was taken aback by Aubrey saying the words out loud, but it wasn’t relief that flooded him. It was surprise, followed by a rush he couldn’t remember feeling in a long time. He could perform a hundred concerts at a hundred sold out venues, trying to get a tenth of that spark, and it would never measure up to this.
“Ryan?” Aubrey asked, concerned. “Are you alright?”
“I didn’t expect you to say it,” Riot finally said.
“Say what?” she asked.
“That you love me,” he replied.
Aubrey laughed, and took all three of them in for a hug. “I won’t have this any other way,” she said, leaning in to give each of them a kiss.
All three of them took her lips with theirs, one at a time. Luka, then Jaeson, then Riot. And when each of them did, they all truly knew the commitment they were making to her, and to each other. It would be hard in a lot of ways, managing one woman amongst three men, and they all knew the potential for jealousy was there. But they also knew they would rather die than hurt her.
Aubrey came first. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever.
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