As the days of the week flew past, Justin and I became increasingly closer. I suspected it had something to do with our training every morning. If someone could wake me up at 5am and keep me in a good mood then they’re pretty special. We had our occasional arguments because we didn’t change to fit the other person. He was still an asshole to me and I was still a bitch to him but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t be friends. Besides, his talk in the library really helped me. I let go of all my other problems and just focused on school and training. So far, I had only trained with Justin and we were only running, though each day we got faster and stronger and managed to get further and further from our building. I hadn’t seen Noah or Ashton (or Nate) since that day in the woods, but Justin told me if I wanted I could see them tomorrow. I needed to be fast to be able to train with Ashton and Noah, which is why Justin made me run every day.
“You ready, cutie?” Justin asked as we arrived at the park where we would wait for Ashton.
“Sure. I guess. How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?” I snapped, but I wasn’t truly mad. I had changed since we first met.
“As many as you can, cutie.”
I rolled my eyes but bit back a laugh. I felt a small smile creep onto my face but I stayed silent. We may be friends now, but that didn’t mean I would fall into his arms.
“Hey bro.” Ashton greeted, bumping fists with Justin. “Hey…Cassie.”
“Forget my name, did you?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“Nah, I was trying to think of a nickname for you. Anyway, we haven’t got all afternoon so lets go. It’s Saturday, I want to party.”
Justin rolled his eyes and muttered something that sounded a lot like ‘douche’.
“Okay, so we’re going to start off with seeing how fast you can run-“
“But that's all I’ve been doing all week!”
Ashton raised his hand to shut me up. “Not long distance. I want to see how fast you can run in a short distance. I’ll time you. Then we’re going to see your stamina and fitness. Sit ups, push ups, that sort of thing.”
To me, this didn’t sound like training to get away. This sounded like a weight losing program. “Then, we’ll try your reflexes. Go warm up.”
Justin sniggered next to me as I stretched, doing as Ashton said.
“He doesn’t sound like him anymore. He sounds like a Sargent or some shit.”
I rolled my eyes and kept warming up. I put my leg out, stretching my thigh muscles like Justin had shown me.
“Go further. I know you can.” shouted Ashton. I exchanged glances with a chuckling Justin.
“Go on, do what he says.” I rolled my eyes and pushed further, praying I didn’t pull something.
“Okay, I’m done. Ashton, are you ready?”
Ashton came back holding a stopwatch and a water bottle. “Lets go, to the tree and back.”
I sped off, running as fast as I could. The wind whipped my face harshly as I ran, but it relaxed me more than anything else. When I made it back to Ashton, he was clapping.
“Well done. That was fast.”
I smiled slightly. “Thanks.”
“I’m going to set the timer for 30 seconds, see how many sit ups you can do in that time, ready?” I nodded and got into position. “Justin, don’t hold her feet, don’t help her at all. Just make sure she comes up all the way.”
“Yes sir!” Justin laughed, but shut up with a glare from Ashton.
“Okay, go.” He said, starting the timer.
“I better have abs after this.” I said to Justin, who only snickered.
“Talking is wasted energy! Come on, 20 seconds left! You’ve only done 5!”
I pushed myself further, going harder than I had been before.
“There you go! 25 sit ups, not bad.” He tossed me the water bottle. “Push ups. Lets go.”
I groaned. Push ups were my enemy, it was literally physically impossible for me to do it.
I flipped onto my stomach and put weight on my knees instead of my feet. It was really hard for me to do normal push ups.
“Not girl push ups you wimp.” Ashton laughed.
I turned to glare at him “Girl push ups? Are you trying to say girls are weak? So we need to cheat?”
He held his hands up in defense. “I didn’t say shit. But on your feet, do it properly.” I glared but put weight on my feet instead. I tried as hard as I could to do those freaking push ups, but by the end of 30 seconds, I had barely done 7.
“The hell? No killer is going to ask me to do push ups.” I spat.
“No, but you’re going to need strength in your arms. Look at the other day, Justin had you so you couldn’t move.”
“How could I forget.” I mumbled as Justin shot me an apologetic look.
“Don’t worry. You’ll probably do better with Noah, its more like karate than fitness camp.”
By the end of the session, I wanted to pass out. Ashton made me do continuous running and escaping from things, wasting all my energy.
“Come on, cutie. You’ll be fine.” Justin laughed. Sweat rolled down my thighs as I trudged home. My hair stuck to my face and my back, I undoubtedly looked like death. The wind did nothing to cool me down, nor did the water that I was continuously drinking. I checked my phone to distract myself from the heat to find a message from Nate. My heart skipped a beat as I grew excited. I opened the message,
I miss you so much. I love you.
What the hell? What can I even say to that? I sent back a smile, with I miss you too. It was so awkward and uncomfortable when he said the L word. For starters, I didn’t even know if love existed, much less if I loved him. Actually, scratch that. I could probably love him…I just didn’t know if I was in love with him. It was so obvious he wanted me to say it back, but hinting at me all the time would do nothing to change that.
“It was just some exercise. You’ll do better on Monday with Noah, I promise.” Justin snapped me out of my thoughts and laughed as I glared up at him.
“That's because there’s no way Noah will beat me in karate. He doesn’t scare me, he’s like 12.”
Justin let out a bark of laughter. “You’re joking right? He’s 17, just like you.”
“What? No way!” I hit Justin on the arm.
“I’m serious! He goes to school with us!”
“I’ve never seen him before…” I trail off, trying to remember.
“Well, he lives in the music rooms, stupid music geek. And he’s in the year below us.”
I felt guilty that I’d never noticed him before. He was sweet toward me and seemed like a really cute person to know.
“Chill out. He probably never noticed you either.”
“Why is he with you guys?”
“Well…he’s a close friend of ours. Yeah. A close friend-“
“Ok, cut the shit Justin. I heard you talking about your dumb ass gang the first day I met you so I know there’s something else going on besides ‘bad people’ and ‘close friends’. Noah is a part of your gang, yeah?”
He looked at me, his face pale, “Yeah. And Ashton too.” Justin sat down on a park bench, so I guessed he wanted to say more. I followed, sitting down next to him. “Ashton, Nate and I were like, the best of friends. Ashton has always been like my older brother, I’ve known him forever. When Nate and I fought, Ashton didn’t pick a side, but he didn’t exactly agree with Nate. They’re still friends and that's why Nate trusts him with you. Noah joined us when he was 15, he had a lot of shit with his parents and he needed an escape. I was 16 at the time and Ashton was 17 or 18. Nate had just gotten with Emily and I wanted to kill him for it. When we fought, Nate took a bunch of people from the gang and convinced them to stay with him, and the rest stayed with us. Noah became our right hand guy, he was entirely loyal to us.”
“So…Nate has a gang too?”
Justin looked around the park, not at me when he spoke. If possible, he looked even paler than before. “Yeah, but he doesn’t want you to know. He tells me we better get lost because its ‘his territory’ and I’m pretty sure that his territory includes you as well. He’s just using us because he knows he can’t help you himself. But those people that are after you, they’re from my side. Because of what Nate did to Emily. The want revenge. Everyone loved Emily, she was just that type of person. They’re pissed. We need only people we trust to know we're helping you. That night you met Ashton, those were our people going in to hurt the others. You can’t think of me any differently because I promise you if it was up to me I would never let them-“
“Justin, its okay. I trust you, remember?” I swallowed, only upset by one thing. “I just hate being compared to Emily all the time. Or remembered as her. Whatever. Ashton called me Emily, you always talk about her like she was a goddess, and she was obviously pretty special for everyone to be this mad about her death. I know she was important to a lot of people but I really can’t cope with being someone’s replacement. I feel like Nate only ‘loves’ me because he thinks I’m her.”
Justin watched me, gazing into my eyes. “Look, I know you’re stubborn and all but listen to me about this. You’re remembered and known or whatever for you. Sure, you’re similar to her. But you’re not her replacement. You’re Cassidy, not Emily. Okay?”
“Okay.” I replied softly, hoping he was right.
“Eat your heart out, Hazel Grace.” Justin smirked, looking down at me.
I gasped in surprise, just about ready to fall off the bench.
“You’ve read The Fault in Our Stars? How? You’re like, badass.” I paused, a smile growing on my face. “Did you cry?”
“I wanted to see what all the hype was about.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “But no, I didn’t cry. You should be the last person to believe in stereotypes, cutie.”
I blushed furiously. “Shut up. You just don’t seem like much of a reading guy.”
“And you seem like a math geek but we both know that's not true.”
“You’re such a loser.” I told him, hitting him on the arm. “In fact, I’ll prove it to you by winning the race home.”
I took off, barely waiting for him.
“That's what you get for making fun of me, bookworm!” I screamed behind me, earning a chuckle in return.
Maybe things would be okay. Maybe.
A/N: I love you guys! seriously, i do. I hope you're enjoying the story so far. This was a filler, but comment your feedback! stay strong x