☠ Chapter Forty-Eight ☠
➳ ARIELLE'S POV
To say that today's work day was a little awkward at first is a total understatement. Hayes was acting totally normal all day at work, and yeah, that should've made me feel more comfortable, but it totally didn't. Ignoring the situation as if it never happened was making the elephant in the room unbearably large.
Rae's been teasing Hayes about it all day, but he really doesn't seem affected by it. It made me chuckle a few times and eventually the uncomfortable tension was lifted. By the end of the shift I'd already forgotten it had happened.
Hayes had kept me busy all day long, practicing some new recipe that he wanted me to perfect. I thought I'd already perfected it, but maybe not up to Vinum's standards. It was frustrating, but my tenacity helped me pull through. I love cooking, I'm not giving up that easily. I have worked my fingers to the bone, I've given up many things in my life to get here, nothing's going to get in my way. Nothing will stop me from reaching my goal of one day becoming a chef.
By the end of the day I was exhausted, but there was still something on my mind. The kiss with Zayn two days ago has been replaying in my mind over, and over. I was thinking about his arm and his accident. His arm was still in a sling two days ago, and honestly I'd totally forgotten about it. He lifted me up and pressed me against the wall, and I heard the grunt fall from his lips the instant he pulled his arm out of the sling to lift me.
The two of us were so heated that we'd both forgotten that he's injured. I didn't even realize that he was probably injured until today, when I watched a co-worker injure his own arm. And now I'm wanting to do two things–the first of which is checking that he's alright. The second is the more complex, complicated task of finding out who put his arm in the sling in the first place.
I'd almost forgotten about my goal of discovering who Zayn's attacker was. I'd made the choice a while ago to dig into his past, especially with those he works with–or worked with, I'm not really sure anymore. I knew that I had to start with Louis, because they work together, and I'm hoping that he's still willing to help me like he'd agreed to.
And that was the first thing on my agenda when I walked into his house after a long day at work. He was sitting in the living room, enjoying a beer and leftover Chinese food while watching some television show about fast cars. "Hello," he greets when he hears me shuffle inside.
"Hey," I reply, walking over to the couch and collapsing on the soft cushion the instant I'm near it. If taking a hardcore nap was a test right now, I'd ace it. But I know that I have more important things to tend to.
"How was work?" He questions, sipping on his beer while looking at me and chuckling a little.
The food he's eating looks so good, but my legs don't want to cooperate and carry my tired body to the fridge. And so I lie there, back against the couch cushion, staring upside down at the food on his plate.
"That tiring?" He gives me a look, and wraps a noodle from his chow mein onto his fork. "Here, eat." He stuffs the food in my face, and I'm quick to eat it up. "Would you like for me to make you a plate?"
I shake my head, "thanks, but I'm not all that hungry."
"I guess working around food all day ruins your appetite, huh?" He greedily eats more noodles while waiting for my response.
"Nah," I respond. I sit up, folding my hands in my lap. "I'm distracted with other things."
"Mm, what sort of things?" I can tell he knows something's up because he looks at me with a raised eyebrow and a skeptical look. He's on to me. I just hope he gives me what I need, and what he sort of promised me.
I sigh. "Uh–" I stutter, feeling a little nervous. "It's about Zayn."
"Alright," he says, sipping on his beer again.
"Remember how I said I wanted to find his attacker?" I dare to look up at his eyes, and I'm surprised to find that he's just looking at me. There's no disappointment, no irritation, nothing behind his eyes. He's just looking at me like normal, and for that, I'm relieved. He nods his head, and I continue. "Well I wanted to start that tonight. Can you take me to Zayn's boss?"
Louis visibly reacts to my question, jumping back a little and furrowing his eyebrows. "Whoa, slow down. It's not that easy, Ari."
"What the hell kind of people do you work for? Am I about to be whacked for trying to contact this man or what?"
Louis chuckles, but in all seriousness responds, "maybe. I mean, Sullivan's pretty untouchable. I've never even met the guy, but Zayn has."
"Well, why has Zayn met him but you haven't?"
He shrugs his shoulders. "I don't know. Zayn's like a fucking teacher's pet or some shit. Sullivan adores the guy. We all give him a hard time about it, especially Langley."
"Who's Langley?" I ask without hesitation.
He scratches the back of his neck awkwardly. "Well, he–" He seems unsure of how to describe the man. "Look, you want me to be honest, correct?" I nod my head. "You've already met Langley, at my mum's wedding."
I think back to the wedding. Memories flood back of the first time Zayn and I slept together in a hurry in the washroom. And then when we exited, we ran into a man that Zayn knew, but he introduced himself as Ryder. "I've only met a man named Ryder." I admit.
"Light brown hair, blue eyes, facial hair, was probably wearing a leather jacket?"
"Yeah, that sounds like him. I remember you pulled me away from him and took me to the dance floor," I explain.
Louis nods his head. "Zayn didn't want you knowing about all of that. If things were different, I'm sure he would've killed me when I told you about what he does."
I bite my lip, deep in thought. "So Ryder's real name is Langley?"
He nods his head again. Taking a quick drink of his beer, he explains, "Langley told you a false name so that you couldn't trace him. I guess he figured if you knew the name he actually goes by, you'd be able to somehow make the connection between him and the car trafficking ring. And obviously they can't have strangers knowing about what the hell's going on."
It's finally beginning to make some sense in my brain. I can see a little more clearly now how Zayn had taken steps to protect me, as well as himself. I should probably be hurt or offended that he wasn't open and honest with me about what he does to earn his money, but I get it. I don't feel betrayed at all. It makes me feel safe, knowing that he took so many steps to ensure that I'd be protected from whomever he works for. I mean, that won't much matter now because I'm about to throw myself into the eye of the storm, but I can deal with that myself. I don't need his help anymore. I want to protect him for a change.
"Can you properly introduce me to Langley?" I question, but for some reason I doubt that Louis is going to allow it. "I'd like to talk with him myself."
Louis shakes his head. "There's no way I'm allowing you to talk to him alone. He's a total prick. I don't trust that you'll be safe with him by yourself."
"Louis, I can handle myself. Besides, if you come with me you'll get in shit with your boss for introducing a stranger to someone who works for your boss, will you not?"
He nods his head a little. "That's true. But if I came with you, I can protect you. They're going to find out how you found them no matter what," he explains.
"No, they won't. If Langley asks how–"
"When," Louis corrects.
"If Langley asks how I found him, I'll remind him of the fact that I dated Zayn. An idiot could see how easily I could've accessed his phone, along with his contacts." There's no guarantee that Langley will ask about how I found him. I mean, the chances of him asking are high, but once he recognizes me, maybe that question will slip his mind. Besides, I could've easily gotten his number.
I can't help but notice how overprotective Louis is being. At this point, I'm not sure if it's because he's trying to protect me from these guys he works for, or if he's being selfish and just trying to protect himself. I'm going to do whatever I can to protect him, and that's one of the many reasons I'd like to meet with Langley by myself. I do worry that if I meet with Sullivan, that it'll be somehow traced back to Louis and he'll end up like Zayn, and that's the last thing I want to happen. But it's a risk that seems to be unavoidable.
I will not meet Langley with Louis by my side.
Louis sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "I don't know, Ari. I'm kind of thinking it's too dangerous. The whole thing's too dangerous. If Sullivan really did call for the attack on Zayn, just look at the damage he's done and what he could do. He could kill you with a snap of his fingers and he wouldn't even blink. I can't just throw you into that."
I can feel my anger building inside because he told me he'd do this for me. And so I tell him just that, "you promised me!" I take a deep breath in an attempt to calm myself. How did I know he'd back out on this? He's letting his feelings for me cloud his promise to me.
I can tell he's getting frustrated too, but I honestly don't think he's going to budge. "Ari, don't put me in this situation . . . please."
I feel a pang of guilt pull at me, but it's not enough to make me back down. I will not give up this easily! I can't believe he made me a promise and now he's going back on it! Why doesn't he want to find Zayn's attacker as badly as I do?
He couldn't possibly . . .
No. There's no way Louis had anything to do with the attack, that's impossible. But why's he being so secretive, and overprotective about it? He seemed all for it a week or two ago, and now it's suddenly the last thing he wants to talk about.
He's got me feeling all suspicious now, but I can't help but think that's just me. This whole situation has caused me to be suspicious of everything and everyone, but that's because it seems like everyone's keeping secrets . . . including me.
I decide to play along, admitting defeat. If he knew me well at all, he'd know that this isn't the end. "Alright, I'm sorry. I just–"
"I get it," he replies quietly.
Suddenly his phone vibrates twice against the coffee table, and he stares at the name that flashes across the screen before picking up his phone to answer the text message. He scoffs when he unlocks his phone, quickly typing a reply before tossing his phone harshly against the wood. I notice that he hasn't locked it as he stands from the couch with his plate in his hand. This is my chance.
I watch him walk to the kitchen, his back facing me as he rinses off his plate. I'm tempted to grab his cell phone right now and get the numbers I need, but I know it's too risky right now. When I notice his screen darken, I panic. I don't know his password if he has one, and so I quickly lean over and tap the screen to avoid it from locking for another minute or two.
When I look over my shoulder to see if he's spotted me, I find him placing his soiled plate into the dishwasher. He carelessly wipes his hands on his sweatpants and then heads down the hallway. When I hear the door to the bathroom close, I greedily grasp his phone, having to quickly tap the screen again before it locks.
In a hurry I find his contacts, entering the two I need into my own phone. I'm able to put his phone back exactly how I found it, sit back in my seat, and change the channel on him before he opens the door to the washroom and reenters the living room.
"I see you've found the remote," he comments as he sits down. His phone vibrates again and he sighs heavily before deleting the notification off his phone and ignoring whomever sent him a message.
"Sorry, your show ended."
His phone vibrates again, and again, and again.
"Uh, aren't you going to get that?" I ask, a little annoyed with the many text messages.
He sighs, "no." His phone starts constantly vibrating and I notice the name Zoe flashing across the screen. "I broke up with her," he explains.
Oh. So he was the one who did it. "Shit. I'm sorry."
He shrugs his shoulders, seemingly unaffected by it. "S'alright, it's been coming for a while now."
I purse my lips, unsure of what to say because it's true. They've both been talking about breaking up and it was only a matter of time. It's just, I thought Zoe was going to get the upper hand and break up with him. She said she was going to do it tonight, but it seems as though Louis beat her. She's probably pissed that she couldn't do it first. But all of the text messages and calls make it seem like she's fighting pretty hard for him, when she told me that she's into someone else.
I ignore the whole situation, bringing up Zayn's new number in my phone.
Arielle: are you alright? This is Arielle btw
The response is almost immediate.
Zayn: why wouldn't I be babygirl?
I hide the smile that tugs at my lips at reading the familiar nickname that I love so much.
Arielle: yesterday . . . I was worried you hurt your arm
Zayn: no, I'm alright
Arielle: you're not lying, are you?
I wait for a response, but it seems to take longer than normal, and so I type another message.
Arielle: Zayn . . .
Zayn: maybe a little, but it was worth it
I blush furiously, remembering the kiss. I end up touching my lips as I stare at the television screen. I can't believe he reinjured his arm just to kiss me like he did.
My phone vibrates in my hands, and I bring up the photo he sent me. It's a view of his legs which are crossed at the ankles where he sits on his deck, staring at the sun setting in the sky. I can't help but notice the tiny amount of his abs that are showing above his low slung sweatpants.
This isn't helping my hormones.
Zayn: what are you doing, babygirl?
Arielle: watching TV
Zayn: you should come over
Zayn: I can teach you to drive stick, among other things
He sends me another photo, but this time it's a selfie of himself on one of the loungers on his deck. He's smoking a cigarette, shirtless, his hair a ruffled mess. I notice the ring I gave him on his one hand and it instantly makes my heart race. Why is he like this? Why is he such a fucking tease?
Zayn: come over
I wish I could, but I'm so tired that I honestly think I'd pass out the moment I got there. I'm mentally kicking my own ass for working so hard all day that it's caused me to be exhausted. I love this whole flirty thing we've got going on, but I can't lose sight of my goal.
I ignore Zayn's text for a moment, pulling up Langley's contact.
Arielle to Langley: we need to meet
I wait very impatiently for a response, but instead receive one from Zayn.
Zayn: babygirl . . .
Arielle: I can't Zayn, I'm exhausted
Zayn: I own a very large, very comfortable bed
Arielle: go sleep on it. You're injured, you need the sleep to get better
Zayn: what if I said I needed something else to help get better :)
Zayn: ;) *
Arielle: Zaaaayn, go to sleep
Zayn: not sleepy
I decide to tease him, just like he's teasing me. He's been teasing me like mad lately, and I have to repay it in some way.
Arielle: have a wank then
I have to bite my lip to stifle the laugh that's threatening to spill over. I hope he sees the humour in that text message, but knowing him, he probably won't.
Zayn: mm, send me a photo then
I instantly feel myself beginning to flush. Louis takes notice because he asks, "are you alright? You're really red."
"Oh, yeah," I say very awkwardly. "I'm just really hot," I strip the sweater I was wearing off my body, fanning myself with my hands.
Louis gives me a very strange look, but nonetheless doesn't question it for which I'm thankful. I sit back down on the couch, adjusting myself because hell, Zayn's gotten me turned on and we're not even in the same building. I debate whether or not to send him a photo, but I don't exactly have any "sexy" photos of myself, and I'm not just suddenly going to take one. Especially not with my roommate in the house.
Arielle: I can't, I'm not alone
Zayn: fuck, now what am I supposed to do?
Arielle: idk, but you're going to have to handle it yourself
Zayn: don't you worry about me. You be sure to handle yourself
Arielle: I'm going to bed
I stand up from the couch. "I think I'm going to go to bed."
Louis nods his head, barely turning his head away from the television. "Alright. You sure you don't want to eat something before bed?"
I shrug my shoulders. "I'll grab a granola bar or something, thanks."
I grab my sweater, my phone and a granola bar from the kitchen before walking down the hallway and entering my bedroom. I toss my phone on my bed before changing into my pyjamas. When I'm about to crawl under the sheets, Zayn flashes across the screen and I realize that he's calling me.
With hesitation, I press answer and put the phone up to my ear. "Hi," I squeak out, mostly scared to hear his raspy, sexy voice over the phone.
"Hello babygirl." And just like I was worried about, his voice is sexy as hell, and I'm almost whimpering beneath my bed sheets.
"I thought you were having a wank," I joke.
"Already done." I swear that I can hear the smirk that's dancing across his lips. Fucker.
"That was quick."
"Well, you're beautiful, what can I say?"
My breath hitches in my throat at his admission. Why is he being such a tease today?
"Did you handle yourself?" He breathes out.
"No," I admit, resting my head against my pillow.
"Are you alone?"
"Zayn," I scold.
"I don't mean it like that," he says. "It was just a question."
"Yes, I'm in my bed." I reply.
"In your jammies?"
"Yes, Zayn." I shuffle on my bed, wondering where exactly this conversation is going.
"What do those consist of?"
I close my eyes and take a heavy sigh. He's obviously still horny, and now he's made me horny and this isn't exactly a good combination. My eyes are nearly drooping shut with sleep.
"Tonight it's just a shirt. Y'know, you sound like you need a wank again."
"Maybe I do, but you sound like you need to handle yourself as well." I hear him blow air past his lips, which I assume is him smoking another cigarette.
I don't answer him. He's right, but not that I'll admit it to him. I feel the need to yawn, so I pull the phone away as it happens. My eyes are so tired that I'm having trouble keeping them open by now. I nearly fall asleep until I hear his voice again.
"Babygirl, you've gone quiet on me." He says after my silence. "Are you touching yourself?" His voice comes out raspier than before, accent thick on his tongue.
I'm tempted to do it. But before he can tease me anymore, there's a chiming sound in my ear. I lift my phone away from my face to see that Langley has responded to my text message.
"Zayn, I'm sleepy, I've got to go."
He sighs on the other end of the line. "Alright. Goodnight, babygirl. Have sweet dreams." He says the last part as a sexual innuendo. Still a fucking tease.
"You too babyboy," I tease.
He chuckles on the other end of the line before I end the call. A smile has broken out across my face, wider than ever and it'll be hard to remove it. I clutch my phone to my chest in happiness.
I'm not entirely sure how to feel about the whole situation with Zayn and I right now. It's a bit confusing, to say the least, but overall, I'm happy. I'm happy that the two of us are getting along, and that things almost seem to be progressing in the direction of a relationship again. I'm hopeful that spending time around me might spark some long lost memories, but I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much.
I'm just happy that he seems to be interested in me, and of course, I'm always interested in him. Although, I'm not entirely sure where his interest in me peaks. Does he just want to sleep with me? Is he just attracted to me? I don't really know because he doesn't seem to say much about it.
The problem right now is that I can't tell what exactly's going on in his brain. Is he the Zayn that I remember before the accident? The sweet, thoughtful, loving man? Or is he the Zayn from long ago? The Zayn that was only interested in partying, and women?
I honestly can't tell.
I just hope that he's not using me for some unknown reason. I hope he's not leading me on, and that he actually wants me, for me, not a one-time fuck.
My phone vibrates twice, reminding me that I have an unanswered text message.
Langley: who is this
Arielle: Arielle. We met at Louis' mum's wedding
Langley: Zayn's girl?
Arielle: not really anymore. We need to meet
Much to my surprise, he responds:
Langley: alright, when and where