Alex woke up earlier than usual the next morning if that was even possible. She had been an early riser for quite some time now. But since Melissa was staying with them, it meant changing her routine up a bit. She changed out of her pajamas and into another baggy T-shirt, ripped leggings, and a pair of black high-top sneakers. She tied her hair up into a low ponytail and slipped on her glasses before heading into the kitchen to make breakfast. Another thing Alex had gotten better at was cooking. She used to hate even the idea of making meals for herself, but now it just came naturally.
Alex was just about done making pancakes when both Max and Melissa entered the living room. They greeted her with smiles on their faces and helped set the table without complaint. She plated the food while the kids were getting drinks, Max was kind enough to pour Alex some iced tea. They sat down at the dining table and chatted a bit while before rushing out the door and into the brunette's car.
Melissa loved it when Alex drove her to school. Her favorite part was being dropped off, and how Alex would bend down on one knee and give her a gentle kiss on the forehead and tell her to be good. Her mother never did these things when she dropped her off. She wouldn't even say goodbye. But with Alex, it was different. She always felt happier when she was around, and knowing that she was loved by someone.
Alex got up from her kneeling position and smiled at Melissa's teacher, Mrs. Hughs. The wizard wrapped her arms around her niece, "Mrs. Hughs! So lovely to see you again."
"You too, Miss Russo." She said with a genuine smile on her face. Everyone loved Alex because she always brought a smile to their faces. "How long do we have you, this time?" A question which meant how long is Melissa staying with you?
Mrs. Hughs nodded, "I see."
"I should really get going or I'm going to be late for school." She said, bending down on one knee and kissing Melissa on the forehead, "Have a good da-" Without warning, the child threw her arms around her Aunt, "I love you, Auntie."
Alex was taken aback for a second, but then she smiled and slowly wrapped her arms around the girl, "I love you too, sweetie. I love you too." She whispered. The brunette than parted from the hug and stood up, much to Melissa's dismay. Her Auntie's hugs were always so warm and inviting. "You be a good girl for Mrs. Hughs, alright?"
"Yes, Auntie." Melissa nodded. Alex smiled and waved goodbye before getting back in the car and driving off to school. She slung an arm around her younger brother as they walked inside together. Max wasn't even embarrassed to say that she did this while his friends were close by. It was just natural, seeing the two acting so friendly with one another. She ruffled his hair a bit then hugged him goodbye.
Alex got perfect grades on her assignments, just as always. It was actually getting boring at how easy all of this was. She placed a hand over her mouth to stifle her chuckle, thinking about how Justin would react if she told him that. He probably wouldn't believe her until she showed him the evidence. But in the end, he would most likely deny it even with the proof.
She hated him.
She hated every single member of her so-called "family." The only person from the Russo family who still mattered was her brother Max. They meant everything to each other. She walked into Larritate's office during lunchtime and greeted him with her usual smile. He gestured for her to sit down, which she did.
"Good afternoon, Miss Russo." He greeted, "I hope you come in good spirits, I must admit I have been quite worried about you ever since I learned that your parents and brother have returned home."
"Things… could be better." She admitted, "Mrs. Collins dumped Melissa on me again, and this time it's for an entire month."
"Sounds like you have a lot on your plate."
"When do I not?" She sighed, "Please don't tell Max I said this, but I'm starting to feel more overwhelmed than ever. I mean… I mean… GAH!" Alex shouted before regaining her composure, "I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to shout."
"It's alright Miss Russo, you have every right to complain."
"That may be true, but that doesn't mean I should. If I do complain, it makes me feel like they're winning somehow."
He nodded in understanding, "Very well. Then, how about we change the subject to something more positive?"
He struggled to find something positive, so the two just sat in awkward silence for the remainder of lunch hour. Her day seemed to go by very slowly, and all she wanted to do was get out of here. So, when the final bell rang, Alex rushed out of her final class and waited for Max by the front entrance. Just think of the positives. Even if she was overwhelmed, she still had a brother who loved her, the sweetest niece she could ask for, and the most amazing best friend in the world.
The brunette looked up and smiled at her little brother, "Oh, hey Maxie." She said, "How was your day?"
He sighed, "Okay, I guess. I mean, I don't think I did too good on my science test today. I'm sorry."
"What? That's weird, we've been studying together, and you knew all the material."
"Yeah, I know… I'm sorry. I let all your help go to waste." He bowed his head in shame, and she just sighed and wrapped him in a side-hug. "It's alright, okay? Look, everyone has off days. You'll bounce back before you know it."
"Yeah, you're probably right." He agreed, "What about you? Are you alright?"
"Me? Yeah, I'm fine. No worries." She lied, "Now, let's go grab Melissa and go home." She walked forward a couple steps but was stopped when he grabbed her arm. "Alex, wait." He said, "You know you can talk to me, right? I'm your brother, and I know you're freaked that Mom and Dad are back."
She reached over and hugged him again, "Thanks Maxie, but I'm fine. Now, let's get outta here." Slinging an arm around her brother's shoulder, she smiled as the two walked away together. He slipped into the passenger's seat while Alex took the wheel, and the two were off to her school. The two had just pulled out front when Alex heard the sound of a very familiar, very loud cry. Melissa.
The brunette got out of the car and slammed the door behind herself, Max following suit. As soon as the little girl saw her, she ran over to the wizard, crying her eyes out. Alex kneeled down on the ground and examined her. She didn't look all that hurt, but she was a mess. Her dress was stained with mud, and her shoes were filthy, and her hair was all matted and nasty. "Sweetie, what's wrong?" She whispered, brushing back a strand of the kid's hair, "What happened? Who did this to you?"
"Oh, so that little brat is yours?"
Alex stood up and moved in front of her niece, hiding her from the tall, very rounded woman that was now standing in front of them. "Excuse me Ma'am, but is there a problem?"
"Uh, yeah! That thing just attacked my son out of nowhere. Now, get over here so I can punish you for your stupidity."
"I beg your pardon?" Alex said, stepping forward a bit. She was already pissed, but she refused to start anything. The woman crossed her arms, "You heard what I said, now get over here you dumb brat!"
"I appreciate how concerned you are for your son, but there is no reason for name-calling. Now, would you care to explain what happened so that we can settle this issue calmly? Please?"
"Oh, she knows what she did." The woman repeated, making a move for Melissa. Alex held her hand out in front of the child to block the woman from reaching her. "Ma'am, I would very much like it if you told me what was wrong. I am her guardian and you have no right to scare her like that."
"Alex…" Max warned, noticing how angry she was getting. He hadn't seen her get angry in many years, but he prided in trying to keep it inside. In fact, she would probably be even scarier than before since she had people to protect.
The brunette took a few deep breaths before she plastered on the fakest smile he's ever seen. "Well, since this appears to be going nowhere and your son isn't hurt or covered in mud, I will be leaving. I refuse to stand here and let you bully her." Alex bent down and picked Melissa up, "And I expect an apology from your son next Monday."
The wizard kissed her niece over and over, hugging her so tight she might've popped. "Alright, sweetie. Let's head home, come on. Max? Load her into the car, please."
He nodded and helped her inside the car, giving her a hug before he got into the passenger's seat himself. Alex got into the car moments after and the three sat in awkward silence as the brunette drove them home.
"Melissa." She said after a long period of silence, "What exactly did that woman claim you did to her son?"
"That I got his pants dirty with mud."
"And did you?"
"No. He wiped his hands on them."
The rest of the ride was one hundred percent silent. When they got back, Alex walked inside holding Melissa's hand and her arm around Max's shoulder. "Sweetie?" She whispered, "Follow me back into the kitchen so I can get that off you." The two walked into the kitchen and after looking both ways, Alex took out her wand and wordlessly cast a spell that cleaned Melissa up in no time. Yes, the kid knew about magic. Although the brunette barely even used it anymore, Melissa had once stumbled into the lair when Alex had been teaching magic lessons. Although they had searched, they could find no record of a mind erasing spell, so they just made Melissa promise not to tell anyone.
"There you go." Alex said, "Now why don't you go up to your room and rest for a bit? There are also some snacks in the fridge if you're hungry, just make sure not to eat too much."
The little girl nodded and did as she was told, making an unintentional clanking sound as her feet contacted the metal staircase. Alex sighed and placed a hand against her forehead, trying to calm herself down. She had been fighting back so much anger and sadness lately, but this? This was the final straw. She just couldn't do this anymore. A single tear fell down the side of her cheek and she somehow found the strength to not scream right now. She was about to open the door to the lair so that she could cry in peace when someone came up behind her.
Alex jumped in fright and quickly wiped her tears away, staring at Justin. He looked angry at first, but when he saw her crying his eyes softened, "Alex?" He whispered cautiously, reaching over and taking hold of her wrist. Eyes narrowing, she smacked it away, "Don't touch me." She growled, "Don't you ever touch me."
"Why are you so mad? What did I ever do to you?"
Wrong words. Those were the wrong words.
She scoffed at him and shook her head in disbelief. He made a grab for her again, but she just glared at him harder this time. Alex wasn't just mad, she was seething. "I told you not to touch me." She hissed.
"Okay Alex, what's going on with you? Why are you acting so differently?"
Alex laughed like a madwoman, which caught Harper's attention. She ran over to her best friend as quickly as she could, because an angry Alex was not someone you wanted to be around. Wrapping an arm around the brunette, she looked at Alex's face. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she was still crying. Though from anger or sadness, Harper wasn't sure.
"Justin…" Harper said, "What did you say to her?"
"Nothing, she's the one who's overreacting."
Alex laughed again, "Overreacting? Me? Oh, Harper, just listen to this guy." She shook her head, "He thinks he's so smart, acting as if he doesn't know what he did to me." She wiped her face off, "Now get away from me, I have to get back to work." She spat, shoving her brother out of the way.
"Honey, no. Why don't you just take a break for today?"
"No way." Alex shook her head, "I don't have time to take any breaks, you know that and what is he still doing in here? Get out!" She ushered him out of the backroom and shoved him towards the exit. Max, who was standing nearby, caught a small glimpse of his sister's face and knew that she had been crying. Yet there she was, taking orders and pretending that nothing was wrong. So, he continued as well, only stopping her once to give her a hug and tell her that he loved her because it looked like she needed it. Alex smiled and kissed his head, thanking him.
Max knew his sister and letting her know that she was appreciated was always one of the sure-fire ways to make her feel better. He worked extra-hard today so he could at least take some of the weight off Alex. She was such a good person and she deserved so much more than what she had. If he could give it to her, he would.