Run, Girl (If You Can) - Chapter 528 - First Impressions[Updated at: 2021-01-11 19:18:03]
Gray continued to let Mandy\'s words sink in. Would it have made a difference if he had been more sincere with Aaron from the start?
Probably. He had been too amused by watching Aaron\'s plans to destroy their father to think of him as anything outside of the context of the game they were playing. He had cared about his brother—enough to commit murder for him—but he hadn\'t even considered how Aaron felt.
First impressions were difficult to change and Gray had not made a good one on Aaron. After all, when they first met he was investigating him for being involved with Lacy. Ever trying to get information out of her was a horrible mistake that had cost him twenty-five years of his life.
He tried to imagine what things might have been like if he had gone about meeting Aaron differently. He knew about the kid\'s existence when he was thirteen years old. Thinking he was a worthless clone of Alistair, Gray never revealed himself.
But once Aaron was eighteen and started obviously planning his hostile takeover…if he had introduced himself then and offered his help…
Cameron Singleton and Aiden Quinn were Aaron\'s most valued friends and they had originally been nothing but his tools to overthrow their father. If Gray had gotten involved earlier he might have ended up as one of the people his brother cared about too.
The thought never would have crossed his mind back then because he was young, twisted by thoughts of revenge, and thought of everything as a game. Even if he hadn\'t offered help sooner, if he had only managed to kill Lacy in a less conspicuous manner…
Gray wouldn\'t have gone to prison. He would have been involved in his niece and nephews\' lives and with time he could have won Aaron over by showing his sincerity.
It all boiled down to sincerity in the end. Here he was wishing his brother had been sincere with him when he hadn\'t been sincere either. Was it even possible to fix more than two decades\' worth of false interactions?
"I don\'t know how to act like my real self around him," Gray said quietly.
The only person who had brought out that long-dormant part of him was Mandy because she accepted him as he was, darkness and all. He already knew Aaron didn\'t accept his dark side because of his deep love for his wife.
Aaron had gone as far as admitting that he would have been tempted to kill Lacy himself if not for Keeley. She would never love a murderer, which was perfectly understandable. That was why they didn\'t want a murderer around their children either.
What Gray found interesting was that Aaron had his own share of darkness that he worked hard to suppress. Well, they were both the sons of a murderer. One had given into the darkness while the other fought to live in the light.
Mandy reached out to squeeze his arm and smiled at him sunnily. "Well, why don\'t you practice on Britt\'s family? You need to meet them anyway."
His eyes widened. It was to be expected that he meet her family now that she had met his but he didn\'t know the first thing about getting people to like him without laying on a thick layer of false charm.
"You\'ll be fine," she said, reading his expression. "Britt is pretty easygoing."
Brittany was not as easygoing as her mother claimed. The first thing she did after answering the door a week later was run her eyes up and down Gray with an appraising frown after giving her mother a bone-crushing hug.
"So you\'re my mom\'s boyfriend."
He cleared his throat and did his best to put on a real smile as he corrected her. "Fiancé, actually. I\'m Michael Gray. Nice to meet you."
She reluctantly shook his hand. "Brittany Holt, as you probably already know. Mom told me about that. We\'ll be having a long conversation about it later. Come on in."
The Holts\' three-bedroom apartment had an open, spacious feel to it despite nearly every inch of wall space being taken up by picture frames or other decorations. It was a bit much for Gray\'s taste but the overall effect was undeniably homey.
The smell of chocolate chip cookies filled the air and toy trucks, cars, and trains were scattered all over the floor. This was the home of a happy, well-adjusted family. The kind Gray used to dream about having when he first ended up in foster care.
All signs pointed to Brittany and Jason being solid, upright people. That type usually didn\'t like him. He could already tell he was in for the first of many long and difficult visits but tried to think positive anyway.
"Your home is charming," Gray said truthfully in his real voice. That kind of comment would most likely come off as insincere if he used his more affected tone.
She eyed him shrewdly, trying to gauge his sincerity before softening a tad. "Thank you."
A small blur came out of nowhere and launched itself at Mandy\'s leg and began chattering about showing her his new firetruck. Her grandson, Eli. He was a chubby cheeked toddler with big blue eyes and curly light brown hair.
Gray never had much interest in children until he wanted one of his own but he knew how much Mandy doted on her only grandchild. It was important to make a good impression on the kid. He also suspected that Eli was the key to getting Brittany to like him.
He bent down to get on the child\'s level and smiled at him. "I would love to see your firetruck too. Can you show me?"
Eli tilted his head quizzically. "Grammy, who\'s this?"
Mandy petted his head affectionately. "This is Michael. He\'s going to be your new grandpa."
He grinned up at Gray, accepting this without question, and ran off to get his firetruck. That was easy. The trust of a child was so simple. Normal, healthy children in good environments accepted a.d.u.l.ts\' words at face value.
He and Mandy hadn\'t enjoyed that luxury. A.d.u.l.ts were not trustworthy and only had their own interests in mind when they grew up in the system and even before then. Uncle Louie had used his own hatred of the Hales to turn his young nephew into a weapon poised at the people he thought ruined his sister\'s life.
Alistair had certainly done that by ever getting involved with Mary and later by killing her but his wife and child hadn\'t been involved. Not really. Uncle Louie was the primary reason Gray had spent so many years hating Aaron unnecessarily.
He thought that Aaron had taken away everything that was supposed to be his. Looking back, he was grateful not to have been the one forced to become Alistair\'s little business bot. If he and Aaron had grown up together, they would have been forced to compete for nonexistent affection from their father.
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