thirty-one: beginning*

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My eyes fluttered open to the sound of my phone ringing.

It took me a while to get out of the state of disorientation as I slowly woke up from my mid-day nap. I leaned over the couch and picked my phone lying on the table. I glanced at the name once before placing it against my ear and speaking into it, "Hey, Scarlett."

"Make yourself free day after. We have a launch party for Atkinpaw."

I scoffed at the name and turned to my side. "That's a horrendous name, Scar."

She sighed, "I know but I trademarked it. Also..." she sighed, "I met my mom today. She..."

I bit my lip. "How is she?"

"She's... hanging on." She was quiet for a while. "She says she'll go somewhere obscure after she's released."

"That sounds nice," I responded.

Silence fell. I stretched out the arm where Rosalie had shot a bullet three months ago. Due to the covert nature of my work, her assault on me hadn't been filed. Something that had finally pushed Gray to his limits and made him quit the job. He initially planned to get a transfer, but we weren't sure where my university would be, and I wanted to be close to him. The transfer, if it were to happen, would have to wait.

"How are you guys holding up?" she asked. 

I gazed at the clock in Grayson's living room and turned so I was lying on my back. "It's okay. We have some savings that should pull us through for some time. He'll find a job. He has a pretty strong resume."

"You applied for your majors?"

I bit my lip again. I hadn't wanted to go through with my dream of getting a legitimate degree one day. But Grayson said he wanted me to do what I desired. I had enough money to pull me through, but the onus of our entire household came crashing onto him.

"Yeah. I have a test next week."

"You'll ace it."

I chuckled at how confident she sounded. "Thanks, Scar."

I listened in silence as she told me about the new range of pet supplies that she had launched. A subsidiary of Atkinson's Corporation. Atkinpaw's goal was to provide high quality and affordable food for pets. They also provided medical supplies and treatments in exceptional cases. Scarlett had said that the cause was close to her heart as she was an avid animal lover herself.

She hung up the phone after I promised to attend her opening event. It had been hard for her to come to terms with my true identity. But with her mom getting a relatively softer sentence and her realising what she had truly been up to, she had decided to forgive me. The government wasn't willing to expose Rosalie Atkinson's dealings for fear of being mocked and seen as weak. As a result, they had twisted the accusation on her to tax fraud which reduced her sentence considerably, since the proof provided was considered circumstantial.

I heard the sound of the door and glanced at the entrance to the hallway. Grayson appeared a while later, giving me a soft smile as he spoke, "Hey, baby."

I sat on the couch and gazed at him, my heart fluttering as he placed the brown grocery bag on the table and walked over to me. He leaned lower and planted a kiss on the top of my head before taking a seat beside me. I snuggled into his chest, wrapping my arms around him. "Scar invited me for the Atkinpaw thing."

He chuckled softly. "I don't think I'll ever get over that name."

I nuzzled his neck, smiling against his skin. It still felt surreal that we were living together. It had been over a month and I felt like I was on an extended high. I loved every second of waking up to him. Loved every minute of falling asleep in his arms. Loved going out with him. Kissing him whenever I wanted. Touching him. Loving him with everything I had. It was a dream.

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