Fortune favors the prepared mind.

For as long as I could remember, my mother quoted those five words like they were the only thing that kept her going in life. Well…that, and me and my two younger brothers. My mother was a good woman, devoted to her family and loyal, but good intentions paved the road to hell and my mother didn make the best choices.

I was twelve, my brothers, twins, only five, when my mother made the worst decision of her life and ended it. My grandmother, a woman with her own shares of health problems, took us in. That was the spring I moved into a small town in north-east Texas, just a short drive from the Oklahoma state line.

Five years have passed since, but still my mothers words ring in my ears as if I had just heard them. I had long ago taken those words to heart, studying and taking care of my brothers. If there was one thing my mother passed on to me, it was that family came first and mental health was no joke. Almost every free second of my life saw me with my nose in a book or playing some kind of game with my brothers. It was how I found myself newly turned seventeen and with a high school degree already in hand.

Unfortunately, the fact that I had graduated two years early in a Texas countryside school, wasn as impressive to those handing out scholarships as I had hoped it would be. A few out-of-state schools had offered me full scholarships, but that wasn an option given my grandmothers health and how much of a hand full it was to look after my ten-year-old brothers. So, to put it simply…I was up a creek without a paddle, grade A, royally screwed.

And not in any kind of good way.

”Rory! ”

The sound of twin footsteps thundering on hardwood floors pulled me out of my gloom just before my door flew inward on its hinges and my chaotic whirlwind of brother came through, matching grins on their faces.

That was about all that matched between them other than height. One twin was willowy, blonde with pretty, hazel eyes more gold than brown or green and had a grin and freckles to charm anyone while the other was broader with copper-red hair, blue eyes and a smile that was always boarding on mischievous. The former, Hunter, took after our mother with his fathers eyes, while the latter, Gabe, took after his father with our mothers eyes.

I saw ”his dad ” because we don share fathers. Not that my dad or theirs was in the picture. Mine had died before my birth and theirs was currently rotting in prison after I broke his toes with a cast iron skillet after he decided my mother was a good punching bag.

What can I say…Im protective?

”Why are you two being so loud? ” I demanded, closing my old laptop that had, like most things I owned, seen better days. I never knew when I wouldn be able to get the thing to turn on again. I really needed a new one, but I had made a choice between myself and my brothers and, needless to say…those adorable rascals had won out.

”Granny told us to come get you. She said she had something to tell you! ” Hunter exclaimed.

”And she had white chip macadamia nut cookies, too! ” Gabe added.

”My favorite. ” Warning bells went off in my head. We didn splurge for sweets often, our grandmother preferring to beat it into our heads to eat healthy than to spend money we didn really have to spend in the first place. When she did buy sweets, it usually meant something was wrong and she had bad news to share that she wanted to sugar coat. That it was my favorite cookie meant I was in for news that I didn want to hear.

That being said, I couldn ruin my brothers excitement over the cookies when we so rarely got them. I plastered a smile on my face and got up to follow my brothers through our old house in much needed repair, to the kitchen where my grandmother, Agatha, was sitting out four glasses of milk at the tiny card table that served as our kitchen table. She looked up when my brothers ran in ahead of me.

Agatha Swayer was a stern woman of eighty-six years. Her hair, which had, at one time, been blonde like her daughters and my own, had long since turned silver and was won in a tightly woven braid down her back. Despite persisting heart problems, she looked younger than she was with wrinkles only just beginning to show at the corners of robins egg blue eyes, around her mouth and over work-calloused hands. She still stood tall at five foot, eleven inches, a height neither me nor my mother had inherited. At the moment, there was a smile on her tanned face and that only made me more suspicious.

”Granny? ” I swallowed as I took my seat at the table. ”Whats wrong? ”

”Why must something always be wrong with you? ” she demanded as my brothers hopped into their own chairs.

”You bought sweets. ” I was sure the statement was self-explanatory.

”And? ”

”You only buy those when you have bad news to break to us. ” My reasoning was sound, I knew my grandmother.

And she was aware that I was right.

Her smile vanished and she heaved a sigh. ”You
e too clever and preceptive. ”

”Not a bad thing to be called in my book. ” My grandmother frowned at me. I had always been an uncanny kid as far as she was concerned, and she had complained often that I had the mind and eyes of a state prosecutor. ”Granny, just tell me whats wrong. Is it your heart again? ”

The chair creaked as my grandmother lowered herself into the seat. ”No, no. Im fit as a fiddle. ”

”Yeah, Ive heard that before. ”

My grandmother met my eyes, and I knew she could see the weariness into them. There had been too many times in which my grandmother had told me she was fine, that everything was okay, only for me to get called out of work or school because she had another issue with her heart. I had come to be weary of any phrase like ”fit as a fiddle ”. More often than not…it wasn true.

”There is no issue, right now, with my heart. What I have to tell you isn a bad thing, just…I no longer have the funds to send you to college. ”

No surprise. I knew she didn , though, honestly…I had hoped she would be able to help a little. I tried not to let my disappointment show as I shrugged my shoulders. I had perfected the unaffected look over years of disappointed dreams. ”I figured you wouldn . It wasn up to you to help me anyway, Granny. Your medical bills come first. ”

I saw the way her mouth twisted while my brothers dug into the cookies with joy. I knew an argument was brewing. ”Now you listen here, young lady…You have spent your whole life putting others first. Your mom, me, your brothers…you need to think about yourself now. ”

”Do I? ” I really couldn see a reason why I had to. I had always been told that to be a good girl was to be selfless and now she was telling me differently. Besides, I took care of my business…it just wasn my first, or even second, priority.

The wilting look on my grannys face told me how completely idiotic she believed me to be acting. ”Child, some days I just want to knock you over the head. ”

Valid response. I could try even the most patient of people and had yet to meet a person who didn , at one point in time, consider throttling me for how impossible I was acting. That didn change the fact that I was still in the right. ”My reasoning is sound; your health comes first. ”

”There you go with your lawyer talk again. ” Granny shook her head.

”Its not lawyer talk, Granny. Its common sense. ” Here she actually did cuff me lightly over the head.

”Don sass me girl. ”

I felt my lips tug into a frown. ”We already lost Mom, we don have dads, and you
e the only family we have left. I don want to lose you. ”

Her lips twitched, but her stubbornness remained. ”I don need a child to take care of me. ”

”Yes, maam. ” There was no use arguing with a woman more stubborn than a bull.

”Good, now eat a cookie so I can get on with this. ” I did as told, snagging cookie and take a bite before she began to speak again. ”I can afford to send you to college, but I did submit you for a special program at a college that is supposed to produce only the brightest minds. They seemed quite interested in you. Contacted me and asked for an application submission. ”

”That sounds, as Millie would say, ”fishy AF ”. ” Millie was the neighbors daughter. Since taking me and my brothers in, my grandmother had pushed me to befriend her. Millie was a sweet, simple girl, but we didn have much in common. We hung out at school or when our families got together, but that was about it.

My grandmother rolled her eyes at the lingo. ”Its the Alpha University in Colorado Springs. ”

”AU? ” I couldn keep my nose from wrinkling like I had smelled something awful. Alpha University was a school filled to the brim with the most elite of elitists. The majority, and by that, I mean all of them, were the perfectly groomed children of some of the worlds richest people; politicians, dignitaries, and all sorts of people from the high and mighty one percent. To say I was biased against them was an understatement. I had enough people to look down on me because of my circumstances. I didn need any more. ”Id rather sell myself for five dollars a pop than go there. ”

”Aurora Noelle Sawyer! ” I know I shouldn have said such a thing in front of my brothers, but they were too engrossed in the cookies to pay attention to their sisters sour attitude. ”This is a great opportunity.

”Pfft! ” I snorted in a very decidedly unladylike way. ”Sure. ”

Granny heaved a sigh. ”You
e an exceedingly bright and intelligent girl, Rory. Far more talented than me or your mother ever hoped to be. Id hate to see you squander all that potential just because you don like the school. ”

I could see her point, really, but… ”Granny, I love and respect you, but ” I stood and snagged a few more cookies. ”Ill figure something else out. I doubt they would pick me anyhow. Thanks for trying, though. ”

I gave my grandmother a kiss on the cheek, ruffled my brothers hair and went back to my room to continue my search for a better alternative. Though, if I was being honest, I knew I would never find anything better than Alpha University. Not in the United States, at least. Sitting back down in my desk chair, I shook the thoughts from my brain before I could betray myself with daydreams of AU.

”Its not like they would pick a poor, little nobody like me, anyway. Id ruin their perfect image. ”

With a snort at my own self-deprecation, I opened my laptop and continued my search for higher education that didn make me feel like I was about to sell my soul to the devil.

Snobby elitists could kiss my broke backside.

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