Show Me Your Soul

What happens if life throws you off track? What if someone asks you to trust him, even though you know nothing about him? Would you trust him?
Cecily Martesse is a normal student in her second year at college. Just when the next normal semester starts, she meets Ace - a handsome boy that throws her life upside down. Compelled by his words, his voice, his behavior, she finds herself getting dragged into a world full of secrets, unfaithfulness and deceit.
Just when she hears some devastating news about her brother, she has to face things she never knew she could endure.
A story about love, trust and friendship. Rated Mature for adult language and hot love scenes.

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29. Bad Omen

 

 

A/N: So, guys, I'm "back". I hope, I didn't let you wait too long... buuut since today is my birthday (April, 15th... Yaay^.^), I hope you're all a little forgiving ;-)

Love you xx

Mirette C.

 

 

~ Bad Omen ~

 

CECILY

 

“Well, tell us something about your new… boyfriend, Cecily”, Dad said once I sat down on the settee.

Mom’s eyes darted from her reading up to meet my gaze, sparkling like diamonds. “Who?”

I sighed. “He’s talking about Ace.”

Her face lit up instantly. “Oh! That handsome boy who repaired my car?”

That’s him?” Dad looked like he couldn’t believe his ears.

Mom nodded cheerfully. “Yes, he is such a gentleman!”

It was like day and night: The glee in her voice made her face beam as she continued talking about Ace, whereas Dad’s look was just confused.

 “Are we talking about the same person?”, he asked, rubbing his jaw. “Because all I just saw was the rudest boy I’ve ever met. Covered in bruises as if he just had been at a fight club.”

He turned to me, brows raised like he expected a really good explanation for his behavior. And look.

“It’s not what you’re thinking”, I said, rubbing my temples.

Okay, it wasn’t very far from the truth but it wasn’t like Ace was some sort of criminal. I didn’t know what to say to convince him that he was a good guy, despite his… unusual appearance today.

Spitting out what he did for us would sure make him look at Ace with different eyes. But somehow I knew Ace wouldn’t want me to do that. He already freaked out when Thomas told me; I don’t think he would like anyone else to know.

“He’s not usually like… that. He just had a fight with someone.”

“That’s not very appeasing, chérie.” His eyes looked tiredly at me. “Even the way he kissed you was… feral.”

Heat swept over my cheeks. Surely, that wasn’t something any father would’ve wanted to witness.

He sighed. “I don’t understand this, Cecily. That’s… just not you.”

I suspected a lecture coming from my Dad, because… that was just Dad. But this sounded like more. Ignoring the rising anger within me, I managed to say, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re a smart girl”, he said. “And you were always a good example for your sister.”

“I still am!”, I snapped. “Are you really judging me right now based on those two minutes you got to talk to him?”

He shook his head. “I’m not. I’m just surprised. I never expected you to be drawn to that type of men. You shouldn’t like him just because he’s dangerous–”

“I do not like him”, I snapped, a hot burn boiling in me. I was not going to listen to his prejudges, especially when he didn’t know him the bit.

“I love him.”

Their eyes went wide. Clearly, my parents weren’t expecting me to blurt out my feelings for Ace but I wished my father could understand me––this. Hearing his opinion about me making bad decisions was pinching my insides. I knew I had certain responsibilities toward my sister and I’d never do something that would mislead her to become a bad person. 

Je l’aime.”

His features softened a little. “Tu l’aimes?”, he repeated and I realized it was the first time he ever heard me say that about a guy.

I nodded as he took a deep breath. “Well, I don’t see how you could love a rude, ill-bred boy that has no respect toward you, but––”

“He has a lot of respect toward me.” If you only knew how much.

“Please, just give him a chance. He’s a good guy.”

Mom’s eyes shifted to Dad, a warm smile around her lips when she took his hand. “Well, why don’t you invite him for dinner next week? It would be a nice opportunity to finally get to know him.”

She winked and I watched my father’s sigh turning into a nod.

“Great idea”, I said and put my hand on my father’s shoulder. “You’ll see, Papa. You will like him once you get to know him.”

I hope so, at least.

He arched his eyebrow, clearly as skeptical as me, but didn’t comment further.

I rushed to my room, hearing my Dad’s sigh one last time before I shut my door.

Being in my room felt awkward. And silent.

I let my mind wander to next week and how that dinner could possibly go. Worst scenario: Dad will hate him for real.

But I just had to make sure Ace wouldn’t say anything stupid. Or anything at all. I just shove a forkful of food in his mouth every time he talks.

The idea amused me, even though I knew it was impossible.

I sighed, slipping into my t-shirt and sleeping shorts when a knock on my door snatched me out of my thoughts.

“Can I come in?”, Marlene asked.

“Yeah, sure.” I patted the spot next to me on my bed when she made her way to me. “Oh sorry, Marlene. For not calling you back earlier”, I remembered.

She looked kind of sad, which surprised me. I knew she was a little sensitive but I never thought that me not calling her would make her that unhappy.

“Is everything okay? You look kind of sad.”

“No, I’m fine”, she shrieked, looking away. I could tell something was bugging her.

Yet her question caught me off guard when she cracked a grin.

“Cecily, do you have some trouble with Mom and Dad?” She giggled, her eyes glowing under her glasses. “About that boy?”

I sighed, laying on my bed. “Kind of. Dad doesn’t seem to like my boyfriend.”

She giggled. “Why?”

“Uhh… maybe because he saw me kissing him”, I half-lied.

“Why was that a problem? He kisses Maman, too.”

I laughed at her cluelessness. “Uh… well, because… I’ll explain it to you when you get older.”

She made a grimace. Knowing that she hated me saying that, I ruffled her hair.

“So, who is this boy? Is it the one that was here at the party?”

Curiosity burst out with every question she asked about Ace and I answered her most of them as best as I could.

She looked dreamy, rubbing her sleepy eyes from time to time.

“You’re tired, aren’t you.”

“No, not the bit”, she lied. I chuckled, squeezing her cheek between my fingers.

“It’s getting late, Marlene.” I yawned. “I’m also tired.”

“Oh… Can I sleep here with you?”

“Uh, sure”, I said, scooting to make room for her pillow. “Did you brush your teeth?”, I asked once she snuggled against her pillow.

“Mh-hm.”

“Really?”

“Yes… doctor”, she giggled, hugging me.

Okay, she was unusually clingy today. Feeling guilty for neglecting her those past weeks, I hugged her back. She was too young to understand what had happened but I didn’t want to exclude her from my life.

“Cecily, can we do something tomorrow?”

“Yeah, sure. What would you like to do?”

She didn’t need a minute to think. “MacArthur’s Park.”

MacArthur’s Park? Why’s that?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “I’d like to go there again.”

I arched my eyebrow, looking down at my sister. We used to go there almost every weekend when she was a little child. Stefan mostly had ‘grown-up-talks’ with Dad while Noah and I were running through the whole park, climbing on trees or playing with dogs.

She fisted my t-shirt and I began to get uneasy. Something was really bugging her.

“Marlene, is everything okay? You know you could tell me if something’s–”

“No, I told you everything’s fine. I just want to see that place again.”

She smiled at me before turning around, her back facing me. I had no clue what was going on with her but I knew I wasn’t going to get anything out of her.

I wrapped my arm around her waist. Thinking about what could possibly have happened those past days that made her that sad, my eyelids closed and I drifted to sleep––not noticing that a muffled cry escaped her lips.

 

Sunday was the first day I had woken up and felt great. Not the everyday I-feel-kind-of-good-great. No, the real I feel great-great.

Endorphin was running through my body the moment I had felt the sunshine on my face and I was ready to go through my weekend routine.

Jogging, breakfast and painting.

I had missed the familiar smell of the paint tubes, to see the blank frames that were challenging me to turn them into something else. A work of art.

I wonder sometimes why painting was so comforting and exciting to me.

I think it was the colors, the fluidity of the paint, just the experience of creating something on a flat surface. And then it became alive and has a story to tell you.

It was as if the paint has a personality. A memory of something you want to say or something that happened.

Yeah, I was a weirdo…

My worries about Marlene’s weird behavior vanished when she tugged my arm and basically had to drag me to my room to get dressed.

As promised, we went to the park at the other side of the city.

Even though the weather forecast predicted a rainy day, it was wonderful without a single cloud hanging in the blue sky.

As we ambled along the pathways, I wondered what was wrong with Marlene. My guess was that she was getting her period, so I mentioned the ‘How-to-use-tampon’-thing – which was both kind of embarrassing, and a total fail.

“I’m not on my period!”, she snapped, rolling her eyes.

I laughed. “Oh. Sorry. You were just weird yesterday. And kind of edgy.”

She folded her arms, sitting on a bench.

“That had nothing to do with that. And please, don’t ask those things. We’re not in Carrie. I know what to do when the time comes.”

“Okay, okay… Gee, I’m sorry that I was concerned about my sis––whoa… Carrie?! Don’t tell me you watched that horror movie!”

Her cheeks turned pink when she shrugged one shoulder. “It wasn’t even scary.”

“I don’t care! That movie is nothing for twelve-year old girls.”
“Soon thirteen”, she mumbled.

“Whatever. When did you see that? Oh God, don’t tell me you watched other horror movies.”

Her feet dangled over the edge of the bench. “When… you were at college and Mom and Dad weren’t at home.”

Lord. I grabbed her cheeks between my fingers. “You’ll never tell that Mom and Dad.” They would freak out if they knew I didn’t pay attention to what she watched.

She smiled. “I wouldn’t tattle on you, Cecy. You know that.”

I stared at my little sister who suddenly didn’t seem that little to me anymore. She grew up way too fast.

“I know. I forget how much you’ve grown up, Marlene”, I said as she cast me a sweet smile. “But not old enough to watch Carrie”, I added.

Clapping her thigh, we got up. We walked, we talked and we laughed. Whatever gloomy things she had been thinking, they were gone by the end of the day.

 

***

 

ACE

 

A date.

I’d been thinking about nothing but that date over the weekend. As I wondered what her favorite food was or what she liked to do the most, I found myself clueless. To the point I even considered asking one of her friends.

Yet admitting to myself and others that I knew very little about her was out of option. Sighing I dismissed the idea of finding the right place for our date now. I still had another appointment.

They said he was the best in Los Angeles and from what I’ve seen last time, he seemed to do some good work.

I was thinking about it for a long time but I hadn’t been in the mood those past weeks.

The doorbell rang above my head as soon as I walked inside the shop. 

A girl around my age was sitting on the couch, her body covered in tattoos and piercings. She popped the bubblegum in her mouth, turning her eyes to me.

“Is Matt here?”, I asked.

She kept popping her bubblegum, making me wish I could just stick my hand into her mouth and pull out that damn gum.

“Yeah, he just finished with my friend.”

Walking around the studio, I glanced at my arms. I could easily picture the tattoos that used to be inked on my skin. Each one.

Removing them was painful as shit. Physically. Emotionally… well, they never meant something to me.

When I told Cec about my previous tattoos, I considered talking about this but I refrained. She said she wouldn’t mind yet I wanted to keep that decision to myself. Last time, I did it out of rebellion. Hate and anger. The tattoos had been morbid: gloomy texts and skulls.

Not this time.

Another girl came out, a white bandage covering her left arm, behind her, Matt. Giggling, she and her friend left the place as I turned to the owner.

He was the same as a month ago: a broad-shouldered man in his thirties with a load of awesome tattoos on his arms and calves. He gave me a smile through his goatee.

“Long time no see”, he said, shaking my hand.

“Yeah. I was busy.”

“With fighting?” He tapped his cheek and grinned. He walked to the till, pushing the money in the shelves.

“Something like that”, I mumbled.

He cleared his throat. “So, did you find a motive you like? Or do you still want some Maori tattoos?”

I let my eyes wander around the room, examining the pictures. Skulls, slogans, naked bodies and ornaments. Nothing spectacular.

“Nah. They’re lame.”

Matt pointed to a poster near the front door. “That came this week. From an artist in China.” I took a step toward it.

There were several motives, all of them animals. A tiger, a snake, a horse and others. The lines were delicate. Precise. The tendrils in all shape and size moving to swirling stripes.

“When’s your birthday?”, Matt asked me, his nose stuck in a brochure.

My damn birthday.

I managed to banish the thought and the fact that Cec didn’t ask about it was convenient, too. I didn’t do birthdays and I didn’t want her to buy me anything or organize a damn surprise party or stuff.

“I’ll be twenty-two next week.” I arched an eyebrow. “Why you ask?”

He looked up, waggling the brochure. “These are Chinese zodiac. It depends in which year you’re born.”

He muttered something under his breath and frowned at the brochure. “Apparently, you’re born in the Year of the Dragon.”

I glanced at the matching painting. The black ink contoured the shape of the dragon in a plain way yet the onyx flames mingled all around him with a certain swiftness to a perfect combination.

Matt uttered a brief laugh and read, “Among Chinese zodiac animals, the Dragon is the most vital and powerful beast, although with an infamous reputation for being a hothead and possessing a sharp tongue.”

He cast me a sly smirk before he laughed, “They don't consider themselves irritating and arrogant. Instead of following tradition, they strive for a smooth future… blah blah… stubborn and over-proud. Even tyrannical–”

“Is there anything positive about that bullshit?”

That didn’t suit my character at all, but then zodiac was bullshit.

“They are not afraid of challenges and willing to take risks.” Matt folded the brochure, his narrow, brown eyes rested on my face. “Apparently, they’re never disappointed in love. There you got something positive.”

He scratched his head, walking back to the aisle. “Look, you don’t have to take it, it was just a proposition. Although the dragon looks awesome.”

I peered at the dragon. Taking my time to see the form, the writhing lines and the flames surrounding it, I pictured it on my skin.

Yeah, it did look awesome.

 “Let’s get started”, I said, walking to the other room. Matt followed with some papers I had to sign first and prepared the gun. 

“Where do you want it?”, he said, sitting on his chair. I took off my t-shirt, turning my back to him.

“Somewhere in the middle and then up till the shoulders.”
He examined my back, pushing his fingers on some of the bruises. “You sure you want this? Your back looks pretty rough.”

“It’s nothing. Just get started.” The wounds were healing faster than I had expected and the bruises were fainter than those past days. Only that broken rib still hurt. That son of a bitch had thrown a few good punches. Whatever. It would heal completely in a few weeks.

He sighed. “Charming as usual.”

“Kiss my ass.”

He laughed deeply, his fingers tracing the line of my scars. “Do you want me to cover those scars?”

“No”, I said without a moment of hesitation. They were a part of me and I didn’t want to ever be ashamed of them. They stayed. I was not going to hide them. “Make the tattoo around them.”

I was thankful that he didn’t ask where I got them.

The familiar, buzzing noise filled my ears and I tried to relax under the weight of his hand.

“It will take more than this session. Next time, it’ll be finished.”

I nodded, feeling the stinging pain on my back.

They’re never disappointed in love.

That was something suitable. And something I wanted to believe.

The pain started spreading through my back but I didn’t mind it. I was too distracted by the thought of Cec when she sees it.

I knew she would like it.

 

***

 

CECILY

 

Days went by like the other. And all I did was laying on the couch and relaxing after this horror-trip of exams. Except finishing several series on Netflix and spending time with my friends, I was totally in pre-vacation mode.

And then I remembered that one damn lecture.

I groaned on the inside. I couldn’t believe they were making us attend to this. Most of us already played hooky during the semester and now we couldn’t afford missing this one, otherwise ‘there would be consequences’, Rayden had told us. Honestly, I couldn’t care less and they just wanted us there because of the famous professors that were coming from across the country.

Okay, true, it was a pretty important lecture. Even students of the exam semester had to present a patient in front of the whole facility. Actually, it was a nice opportunity to get to know different cases, different diseases and different ways of treatments. In a way, it was like being a detective and searching for causes of the patient’s pain or disease.

Well, that thought comforted me.

But what comforted me more was when I noted a message from Ace on my phone.

Wait. What? Ace texted me?

I almost jumped off the couch, heart pounding in my chest.

Unusual for him to text me. He normally just appears at my door.

Get ready for our date. I’ll pick you up at seven.

My heart did a funny flip as I kept re-reading it. Followed by a rising panic as I realized that I was anything but date-ready.

As I kept running in my room, looking for the right thing to wear, the words he had said to me dashed through my mind.

I want to take you on date, first… and then, I will have a quiet consciousness doing some wild things with you.

Holy… shit.

Nervous little knots traveled up my stomach. Part of me was overwhelmed with joy and the other half was jumpy as hell.

After my room looked like a bomb detonated in there, I called Alex for support.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me anything that happened between the two of you”, she huffed once she arrived.

I kept pacing back and forth, looking for my pumps. “I know, but––” I picked up a short black dress I hadn’t worn in a while. “What about this one?”

“Uh… no, too formal. You need something sexier.” She basically disappeared inside my closet, and came out a few moments later. “That one is perfect”, she mumbled and held a white-blue dress.

She smiled widely. “Try it on. Oh, with that denim jacket.”

I eyed my dress that I had forgotten I even possessed. It hung tightly around my curves and fell to the middle of my thighs. Looking at myself in the mirror, I tugged at the short sleeves and examined every angle.

“Smart and sexy”, Alex approved, and I nodded. She was right, it was the better one.

“So, you have no clue where you’re going?”

“Nope.”

I guess he wanted to surprise me by keeping it a secret.

Honestly, what kind of human being does even like being surprised?! I hated surprises.

Twisting my hair to the side, she tucked some pins into it, each one holding a strand of my hair in its place.

She grinned at my reflection. “So, you need condoms?”, she asked.  

My eyes widened. “Err…” I stammered. “I don’t––I mean, he surely has… I don’t know if…”

True, he said he wanted to take me out on a date first but he didn’t make any allusions. Or maybe it was so evident to him that he didn’t mention it? Thoughts stumbled inside my head as I tried to cool down and keep a clear mind.

She laughed. “Well, I already put some in your purse.”

“Alex! You––What?” I laughed, shaking my head.

She shrugged one shoulder. “Just in case.”

“And how do you know if it’s even the right size?”, I chuckled.

She raised her eyebrows, tapping her chin. “Mm… I guessed it must be the biggest size.”

She winked and we burst out laughing. Between my blurred vision and hiccup, I said, “You are unbelievable.”

With a light make up, the green hue in my iris glowed. She did a great work.

Locks of my hair fell over my shoulder as I got up, taking a deep breath.

“God, it’s just… I’m so nervous…”, I admitted.

She smiled, clasping my shoulders. “Don’t be. You’ll know when the moment’s right.”

“Mm…”

I looked at the mirror, yet examined rather the words Alex had written on there than my face. Although I had been sad when she wrote them, they were giving me strength each time I looked at them.

I glanced at Alex. “So, enough about me. How are things with Paul?”

Her face beamed instantly. “Good. Really good. We’re going to Incheon next week.”

“Oh, wow. That’s great.”

She nodded, sitting on my bed. “Yeah, it is. It’s a small town, though. But close to Seoul.” She laughed. “Like his family would let him have a free minute, though.”

“Why?”, I asked.

“They haven’t seen him for quite a while and Paul wants me to meet his sister and father and… basically his entire family.”

I smiled at her annoyed look. Maybe because Alex was the only child, she didn’t understand what it was like being away from a sibling. Or your family.

But then, maybe because my parents emigrated a family bond meant more to me than to anyone else.

I listened to Alex’s complains, feeling a slight twitch in my chest. Paul really looked forward to seeing his family––with Alex.

“Isn’t it wonderful that he wants you to meet everyone there?”, I said, slipping inside my pumps.

“No. Korean families are very… clingy. They wouldn’t give us a minute to breathe.”

Grinning, I let myself fall next to her, carefully not to ruin her work. “You’re exaggerating. Surely, it’s going to be fun there.”

“Uh-huh.”

She didn’t look convinced, but I could see a hidden smile on her face. She was happy to go back to Korea together with Paul.

I sighed, trying not to let my mind go there but failed: I wished Ace would think about Chicago and overcome his hatred. I don’t care what he said, but everyone needed their family.

We kept talking until I heard a car at the driveway. My heart did a small backflip as I took a deep breath. Alex hugged me goodbye and I rushed downstairs, passing my parents who glanced at me.

Huh… better not risk an encounter between Ace and my father.

 

The drive was long––much longer than expected, to the point I realized that we weren’t in L.A. anymore. But I took the time to let my eyes drink in the view from the corner of my eyes.

It never failed to amaze me how forbiddingly gorgeous he was. A drool-worthy view.

Warmth blossomed in my chest as I saw his face resting on mine at the next stoplight.

“Where are we actually going?”, I asked when I couldn’t hold it anymore.

He grinned. “You’ll see.”

I groaned, yet already expected this kind of answer.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he pulled into the parking lot and I glanced at the Italian restaurant at the other side of the street. Tiny, beige lights flickered around the huge windows and I could already see a few customers in there. Dressed up in fancy suits and elegant dresses.

I started to feel slightly underdressed for this kind of restaurant but I shook it off.

We got inside and I scanned the room, my gaze dripping over the refined restaurant with the smell of parmesan and basil hanging in the air. The few couples that were sitting there enjoyed exactly the type of intimate, quality time I was hoping for.

The server seated us at a small table in the back lit by flickering candles, and away from the other guests.

The tables were covered with linen red-and-white checkered tablecloths as I examined the sweet decoration and even my napkin looked like real linen.

“Why did you…?”

He propped his elbow on the table, leaning forward. Soft shadows danced over his face, highlighting the arch of his cheekbones and the curve of his lips. His cheekbone was still slightly bruised, and a rosy, faint scar ran above his eye, yet I was glad to see how good and fast it healed.

“Why did I what?”

“Choose this restaurant”, I finished. “It’s quite far.”

“Well, at first I considered dragging you to McDonalds for being so stubborn about Chicago.”

He shrugged. “But as awesome and forgiving as I am, I decided to go somewhere you’ve probably never been to.”

I tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. “Thank you, that is so sweet. And romantic.”

He rolled his eyes, his face twisting as if he tasted something bitter. “Stop saying such things or I’ll carry you to the next McDonalds right now.”

My giggle got interrupted by a skinny redheaded waitress that appeared, her face beaming.

“Ace? Is that you?”

Ace turned to her. “Huh…”

That girl showed a perfect smile. “Nicole”, she said. “Nicole Drew.”

“Uh…”, he said before his eyes snapped. “Oh, right, Nicole. I remember. How are you?”

“Great”, she said, her eyes sparkling at him. She was beautiful––unearthly gorgeous with her tiny freckles on her cheeks and her full lips. And their familiarity was ridiculously starting to make me nervous.

“How are you? You look…. good”, she said, twisting a strand of her hair between her fingers. Her eyes traveled up and down his defined body, resting briefly on his lips.

“Never felt better”, he said, smiling at me. “What brings you here?”

“I live here now. After graduating, I went to drama school in L.A.”

That explained her Hollywood-beauty.

“This is just my part-time job”, she continued, waving her hand.

“And how’s it going?”

One side of her lips tipped up. “Good, actually. I got a few small roles and some auditions next week.” Proudly, she batted her eyelids and I was on the verge of puking. Preferably into her face.

“Good luck, then”, he said, his tone matter-of-fact.

“Oh, thanks!”

She giggled, touching his shoulder at the same time. And by now, I was back in my fantasy of wildly tugging her hair.

Ace glimpsed at me and winked slyly. “By the way, Nicole, this is Cecily, my girlfriend.”
She turned her face to me as if she just noticed someone sitting next to him. Her smile froze and man, I could see the disappointment written all over her face. I gave her a sweet, poisonous smile as I extended my hand. “Hi.”

“Your girlfriend?”

The undertone in her voice annoyed me almost more than the looks she gave Ace. But I needed to behave. For once we were doing a normal couple-thing and I didn’t want to cause a scene right now.

“My girlfriend”, Ace repeated.

Bitch, I added in my mind. Oh my God, I just insulted someone after sixty seconds of conversation. Congrats, Cecily, a new record.

Her eyes snapped when she gave me an equal smile and shook my hand.

“Oh… uh… hi.” She cleared her throat. “So, what can I get you two.”

Before I opened my mouth, Ace answered quickly. “Two Cokes.”

“Please”, I added, glaring at him for having no manners, even though she was a bitch. Probably.

God, I was being bitchy.

She teetered away, and I raised my brows at Ace. “Nicole…?”

“Jealous, you baby?”

“Pfft. Certainly not.” He brought his hand to mine that I realized was clenching the napkin into a tiny ball. I sighed. “Okay, a little. But did you see the way she was looking at you?”

Jealousy was an ugly feeling and so not me, but dammit, I didn’t expect to encounter model-like waitresses on my first date with Ace.

He uttered a faint laugh. “She’s a former classmate”, he explained. “I didn’t sleep with her if that’s what you’re worried about.”

My brows raised. “Good to know”, I mumbled. “So, that was just a typical reaction from staff members when they see you?”

The corner of my mouth curled up to a half-grin just as he gave me a lopsided smirk. “Well, it’s harder than you imagine being that handsome.”

I dropped my head into my palm. He was never going to stop being so full of himself.

When I looked up, I saw Ace’s features harden. “And who cares how she looks at me?”, he said stretching his long legs. “That was nothing in comparison to Eric’s pathetic attempts.”

What?!” I sure must have misheard him.

He put his palms behind his head, looking anything but amused. “Don’t tell me you never noticed. He’s always looking at you like some fucking lost puppy. Every single day.”

He snorted. “Why do you think did he even dance with you at the Exam Ball?”
I couldn’t help it but laugh at this misunderstanding. “That’s insane, Ace. We are just friends, that’s all. He never gave a single hint on wanting more.”

His laugh was void of humor as he shook his head in disbelief. “Don’t be so naïve, Cec. He’s in love with you and just doesn’t have the balls to tell you that.”

I don’t know what shocked me more; the way he was insulting a friend of mine or the way it was leaving him cold if someone might be interested in me.

“And… and that doesn’t make you jealous?” I felt stupid for even asking but I needed to know.

Nicole came back with our cokes and asked what we wanted to eat. I was too distracted by the conversation with Ace that I didn’t even take a look at the menu. Being the weird and choosy person, I decided to go safe and went for a classic portion of spaghetti with meat sauce. Ace raised his eyebrows, surprised by my boring choice. I shrugged one shoulder and watched him order cannelloni.

She walked away, glancing one last time at Ace but he just focused on me for which I was grateful.

Ace dropped his arms, his eyes like X-rays piercing me. “I don’t have to be jealous. I know that kid has absolutely no chance with you. He couldn’t handle you.”

Not exactly the answer I wanted to hear.

“Handle me?” My eyes widened.

He shrugged. “Hey, I did mean it as a compliment. You’re way too…”

I leaned forward just as he was nearly stripping me with his gaze.

“Way too what?”, I asked, my tone implying that he should be really careful with what he was about to say to me.

He propped his elbows on the table, his face a few inches away from mine.

“Badass. You’re way too badass for him. Still, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t kick his ass if he ever touched you. Or looked at you more than three seconds.”

Some primal instinct-me was flattered by this weird compliment but at the same time I was worried about his aggressive behavior.

“He’s a good guy, though”, I said, scowling. And I didn’t believe he was into me or whatsoever. He was rather the shy type of guy.

Ace rolled his eyes. “Whatever”, he growled.

“Anyway, there are some rules about tonight.”

My brows rose. “There are?”

“Yup. So, rule number one: we don’t talk about anything that has to do with problems. Aro or Jax, or anything else related to problems.”

“Okay…” I brought my bottom lip between my teeth, waiting for the rest but the waitress came back with our orders and I was too distracted from the delicious smell. I looked from my portion to his and frowned. “I see your charms gained you an extra portion.”

He laughed. “I’m sorry, I can’t switch off my awesomeness. Here, I can give you a few.”

I shook my head, digging my fork into my spaghetti. “No, I’m good.”

Good God… this food was divine. “So, what’s rule number two?”, I asked.

“You don’t ask questions about Thomas or talk about Chicago.”
I frowned. “But–”

“Uh-uh. Those are the rules, babe.”

Sighing, I nodded. I wasn’t planning on asking him anything, in fact. Or talk about Chicago. This whole date thing was a way too brief moment of normalcy and a couple-thing both of us had been sorely lacking.

“Rule three?” I shoved another forkful of spaghetti in my mouth, nipping at my Coke.

He put down his glass and propped his elbow on the table, intensely looking at me.

“No regrets.”

I put down my fork and matched his gaze. “What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “I just don’t want you to regret anything. Being here. Or everything else.”

Now my curiosity got the upper hand. “You’re being cryptic. Is there anything I need to know?” Anything that you didn’t tell me, my eyes said.

He matched the intensity of my stare and shook his head. “No, you know everything that matters.”

Leaning back, I thought about Rule Three.

I didn’t regret anything. Not that I met him, not that I was here with him. The only thing I regretted was not having trusted him with Aro from the beginning.  

“I don’t regret anything, Ace. And that won’t change.”

A weak smile formed on his lips when he focused back on his meal.

I grinned. “What will happen if I break one of the rules?”

“You’ll get punished.”

I chuckled. “And what kind of punishment?”

He leaned forward, smirking. “The sort of punishment where I would make you come until you couldn’t breathe anymore.”

Warmth infused my cheeks and veins, my legs already tightening under the compulsion of his words. I chose not to respond to that statement although I would have liked to break one rule just to feel the punishment.

God, I was perverted.

“Can I ask you something?”, he said.

Roles reversed when he startled me for a second with that question. “Sure.”

“What are your plans after college?”

I put down my glass, thinking about the answer to his question. “Oh… well, first I want to work in a hospital. And then…”

I thought about a lot of possibilities. There were many fields I could get specialized, but surgery always caught my attention. I have wanted to become a surgeon from the beginning of my studies, so I would have to spend a few years in a hospital or in a clinic of an oral surgeon. Also, the question where I would start working also bugged me.

L.A. was home. My family was here. But I didn’t want to stay here for the rest of my life. It’s a big country and although I love big cities, sometimes I toyed with the idea of having a practice of my own in a small town and living there. But then, there were also a lot of other places all over the world I could go. At least for a while…

Out of nowhere, a breadstick tapped the tip of my nose. My head jerked up and I saw Ace holding the stick between two fingers, brows arched.

“And then?”

I brushed off the crumbs. “Promise you won’t laugh at me.”

“Why would I laugh at you?”

“Because I have like a hundred crazy ideas swirling in my head”, I mumbled.

He smiled. “Tell me.”

I took a deep breath, poking the meatball with my fork. “I thought about becoming a surgeon. And after finishing my specialization, I want to go overseas for a few months, maybe a year. I want to help people that are really in need of surgical intervention and don’t have the means.”

He was quiet, lost in thoughts it seemed.

“What do you think?”, I wanted to know, preparing to hear the worst.

“I think it’s great. I never thought your compassion for other people would be that immense, though.”

I smiled, not knowing what to reply to that statement. I wouldn’t do it entirely out of compassion. True, it was a beautiful thing helping poor people and cure them, but I would learn something, too. I would probably see diseases that I’ve just read about, I would improve my skills immensely. And it would be a good thing.

“And you?”

He took a sip of his Coke. “I’m still indecisive. Orthodontics or surgery. Both are very interesting and challenging fields…”, he said. “But I definitively want my own practice where I can be my own boss. I’m not made to have a superior. That bullshit I had to go through with Rayden this semester…”

I giggled. “Yeah, he’s awful, you’re right.”

With Ace’s light teasing and funny stories about his patience, about stressful and critical situations during treatments this semester and with Rayden, I was actually having fun.

He could have talked the whole night about our studies and I would have listened. He didn’t give me stupid pieces of advice, he didn’t study every day or knew every textbook by heart.

And what surprised me the most: even though he had a high but charming amount of arrogance, he didn’t use it against me which made me happier than the spaghetti I was eating.

I would not want to spend my time with someone who would constantly feel the urge to teach me how to do my work or had doubts in my abilities.

“What did you do after the file got stuck in the canal?”, I asked.

“I fished it out.”

My eyes went wide. “How?” Endodontia files that got stuck inside a dent is one of the horror scenarios for all dentists. You simply need to pray that it doesn’t get inflamed, otherwise… well, you’re screwed. The patient even more.

“With a Hedstroem. It happened to me once in Chicago and my former resident showed me that trick. You need a steady hand and very, very skillful fingers.”

Still, to get that thing out of that tiny canal was like fishing a ring out of the pipe of a sink with a knife. Nearly impossible.

“You need to show me that trick sometime. It never happened to me, thank God, but I’d like to be prepared.”

“Sure. Though, it doesn’t always work. It depends on the location and the length of the needle. It’s useless if it’s too short. But in general–”

The buzzing noise of his phone interrupted him. Scowling, he looked at the screen. “Sorry”, he said, disbelief in his voice. “It’s… the clinic?”

I nodded as he picked up the phone. I was surprised they called this late. I watched him listening and frowning more with every second.
“Yes”, he said, sighing. “And since when?”

Rubbing his jaw, he added, “And where is Doctor Perillo…” He sighed again. “What about Doctor… of course he is”, he mumbled, rolling his eyes.

“Fine, I’ll be right there. Prepare everything.”

He hung up and shook his head. “I can’t believe that this had to happen today. And now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“My patient just arrived at the ER. He has an abscess. A quite big one.” He sighed.

“Whoa… how did that happen?”, I asked, hoping it wasn’t caused by his treatment.

“Because he’s stubborn and refused to extract his tooth.” He scowled, shaking his head. “I warned him this would happen.”

I sighed, knowing what this meant. “You need to go, right?”

He thrusted his fingers through his hair, looking obviously pissed. “I’m sorry, Cec”, he muttered.

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. Do you need assistance?”

If he’s unlucky, it’ll take time. Especially when he has to do all the paper work afterward.

“No, thanks. You don’t need to suffer, too.” He smiled.

Nicole appeared with our check, and Ace snatched it out of her hand before she could put it on the table.

I accepted his gallantry without making a fuss this time. It had been a bad omen that we talked about college. Maybe that was why I avoid talking about it too much.

Irony was such a bitch.

Back inside his car, I could basically see the negative energy rolling off him. His mood was somewhere between boiling and fury and I really wouldn’t want to switch places with his patient. There was something bloodthirsty in his look…

Still, I loved him even more for setting his priorities correctly.

My eyes snapped as a thought ran like a current through my mind.

“There is something you need to tell me about”, I said, watching him from the corner of my eyes. “Something I asked myself over and over again those past days. And still, I can't find a logical answer to it.”

His brows raised. “And what is it?” 

"Why didn’t you tell me anything about the things you did for my family? For Noah? And about the money you gave Aro?” 

Several moments passed. He didn’t respond, just stared at the street. 

"Why did you want to keep all of that a secret?”, I asked again, longing for an explanation for his behavior that didn't make any sense to me.
I remembered how he got angry at the hospital when he found out that his father told me everything.

Which was still a mystery to me. Ace was still a mystery.

He helped me in so many ways, but why wouldn't he want me to know about it?

I thought of how much I got pissed when he didn't want to tell me what he was talking about with Aro. Or who called him on his phone. Why push me away? Why insisting on being so damn secretive?

Ace sighed. His voice was low when he whispered, “Do you think that it would’ve changed anything?”

“Well, yeah…”, I said carefully. “For starters, I would have broken Aro’s nose months ago.” 

He chuckled. “And then?”

He glanced at me and I gulped. “I-I… I don’t know.”

I would have thought differently about you, Ace… I would’ve never trusted Aro.

Somehow, I couldn't manage to say these words out loud. I was still mortified because of my stupid behavior and how I had misjudged Ace terribly. He had done so much for me and my irresponsible brother that I felt ashamed. I looked down on my hands, resting on my knees.

"See? That's why I didn't want you to know about it."

Surprised I looked at him.

"I didn't want you to see you like that. Sad and guilty", he said, clenching the steering wheel.

“Of course, Ace! I should feel guilty! I should––!”

“Cec, believe me, what I did was wasn’t as selfless as you might think. After you told me about the problems that had been bugging you for months I wanted to do something right. And helping you this evening seemed the right thing to me."

I was awestruck and didn't know what to say. 

"I told you I’ve done things I wish I didn’t. Mistakes that I regret. And believe me, you don’t want to know the feeling to wish you could take back terrible things you said. Or done. Or to know that it’s too late to change anything.”

He looked at me and the intensity of his gaze melted something within the depths of my chest.

“So, I guess I just wanted to prove to myself that sometimes I do the right things, too."

I knew that he was thinking about his mother. And how they parted. I couldn’t believe how much he still must blame himself for doing that back then. I wished I could take away this kind of guilt from him. He had been a teenager––a kid. And we all had done some stupid things in our lives, things we wished we could just erase.

He was a good person, even though he didn’t see it. And his reasons were anything else but selfish. Still, I knew better than to argue with him about that.

I felt a sudden warmth inside my chest as I realized that I was touched by him. Touched by his words and desire to make it up for his past.

I smiled at him. He returned my smile with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"The main reason why I didn't want you to know was another one though."

"Really? What was it?", I asked him, fighting to keep my curiosity at bay.

“I didn’t want you to make decisions based on what I did for you.”

I frowned, slowly realizing what he was implying. “Decisions?”, I repeated. “As in being together with you?” 

Ace pulled the car into our drive yard, shutting off the motor. He cocked his head to his side and mustered me for a second. 

"I mean, you wouldn’t have been able to resist my charms anyway.” The smug grin on his lips spread. “Nobody can. Still, I didn’t want to tempt the universe."

I shut my eyes closed and fought a grin. When I opened them, I shook my head.

“That’s insane. You’re insane.”

He blinked several times, tasting the sound of the words. “I’m insane because I didn’t want you to feel obligated to me?” 

I nodded. I wouldn’t have felt obligated to be with him together. If he had been a real asshole but still done that, I would’ve said thank you and given him his money back. And that would be it.

But he wasn't an asshole. He was the person I had fallen in love with. So hard like I never had before and he probably knew that.

“You are crazy”, I decided.

“Maybe”, he said, to my surprise. 

He cracked a half-smile and his eyes seemed to sparkle. “You broke one rule.” 

“Wha––?”

“No talking about Aro or any kind of problems.” 

Crap… he was right.

I felt my face get heated and blush colored my cheeks. I was thankful it was too dark inside his car to notice that. 

“Well, rules are meant to be broken.” I smiled innocently but his look froze me. Some fierce desire flickered in his eyes. As they narrowed on me, his grin vanished and whatever had been flashing in his eyes was gone. Or did I imagine that?

“Bummer I can’t punish you now”, he murmured and the deep tone in his voice made my stomach do some weird flip moves.

Before he could say or do more things, that turned me into a puddle of emotions, I opened the car door, bringing in some cold air from outside. My heart beat was racing so bad, I feared he might hear. How much I wished he could stay with me. Parting from Ace had never felt that hard before.

Get yourself together, I thought, pissed at myself. I knew he wouldn't leave me now, if he hadn't to.

“Well, try not to kill your patient”, I teased, stepping outside.

“And if my hand accidently slips and I stab him?”

His serious tone made my eyes widen. Worriedly, I looked back at him. He had to be kidding, right?

“I thought you had skillful hands.” I joked, reminding him of his own words.

Darkened eyes narrowed slyly as his gaze traveled along my body. “I do. But I wanted to use them for other things tonight.” 

I gulped as a scorching heat crept up my spine.

“Well, you know what they say: the best things are worth waiting for.”

He snorted. “Whoever said that was clearly an idiot.”

I smirked at him and closed the door, watching him drive away.

 

 

~ § ~

 

Despite the fact that I managed to wake up early the day before, I failed today. Today! The day of this damn lecture!

I knew I overslept even before looking at my alarm. Even though I come usually late to courses or in general to appointments, I developed an inner feeling that was telling me how severe my lateness would be.

Today was such a day.

The only explanation was that I need some vacations.

Lucky for me, I found Cassy and Ruby at the door to the biggest auditorium at the clinic, waiting for the policlinic lecture.

“There you are!”

“Hey, guys. Sorry, I overslept.”

I hugged them tightly. Even though I had seen her and Cassy last week, it felt like an eternity.

“I really missed you”, I confessed, smiling at her confused look.

“Uh… we saw each other on Friday, Cecily”, Cassy said.

“Yeah, I know…” Still, it felt too long. I couldn’t help but laugh at their confused looks.

Summer break was coming and I was pretty sure we wouldn’t see each other often. Or at all.

“Bummer you didn’t feel well on Friday, Cecy. I almost won the dancing contest”, Ruby said, chewing on her lip. “But I’m going to there either way this summer.”

I had totally forgotten about the contest. It seemed so far away, the whole event was pushed away by Aro and Jax’s appearance.

“Really?”

“Yeah, my relatives want to see me and I really missed them, too.”

Smiling, I nodded. Maybe I should think about going to Paris with Ace. I could introduce him to my relatives and show him the most beautiful sights. Although, my family here should like him first before I bring him to Paris.

Besides, it was too early. I was rushing things, as usual. I think.

The amphitheater was full, there were hardly some seats unoccupied. The students who had to present the patients seated in the front row, among them Dexter.

We were still staying at the door, trying to spot some empty seats when a tall figure standing in the middle of the room caught my attention.

By the look on his face, I knew he had a lot of work to do overnight. Still, I was glad he did it. My heart fluttered when I saw his boyish grin that was only reserved for me. “Cecily, did you hear what I just said?” Cassy bumped her elbow into my rib.

“What?” My gaze locked with hers. She seemed tense while Ruby was staring at her phone. “What is going on?”

“The results of clinical chemistry are online.”

My heart sank to my boots as I fumbled for my phone, hearing Ruby’s sigh when she said she passed.

“Did you see the results?” The voice of Josh and Eric seemed too far away.

“My stupid phone isn’t loading the site”, I groaned, staring at the screen. That stupid exam was the most difficult one this semester and the one I didn’t study very much for thanks to the rollercoaster of emotions I was stuck in.

I was pacing back and forth, barely noticing Ace making his way to me.

“What’s going on?”, Ace called out a few feet away.

“I’m looking for my…”

I passed! Oh my gosh, I passed!

Relief washed over my body. Like an idiot, I grinned at Ace as I yelled “I passed!”

Before overthinking what I was doing or where I am, my feet carried me to Ace as fastest as possible. My legs looped around his waist, almost knocking us both on the floor.

There wasn’t a moment of hesitation.

My mouth was on his and my breathing stopped.

He gasped, surprised by the impulse of my lips. His steely arms held me as shivers of pleasure shot through my body. I couldn’t believe I passed that horror-exam.

Everything around me was a blur. Someone whistled, some students cleared their throats but I scarcely took notice of anyone. He cringed before I heard a deep sound coming from the back of his throat; half-moan, half-growl.

I opened my eyes and noted his tense face. His lips contorted as he sucked in a sharp breath.

Shit, he was in pain.

“Oh God, I am so sorry, Ace. I have totally forgotten about your bruises.” I got down, feeling guilty for causing him pain. Again.

Yet he was melting my guilt when he shared the most captivating smile. “It’s okay, Cec. But I didn’t think you would do that in public.”

He cast me a killing smirk, my face turning red as I reminded myself that we were in the middle of the auditorium. In front of the whole clinic.

We didn’t discuss if we should keep it private for now or just tell our friends or anything at all.

“Are you… is it okay for you?”, I asked, chewing my bottom lip.

Tapping his chin, he grinned. “I could get used to this every time you pass an exam.” He winked, turning his head to the side. “And just to see that dickhead Aro’s face makes me want to kiss you all over again.”

I followed his gaze, spotting Aro’s cold eyes. He was sitting in the middle rows, his purplish jaw clenched when he gave us a disdainful glance. He turned to Lucas and snorted.

I could care less about his opinion. He could go to hell, I wouldn’t waste my time with him.

Instead, I turned my face away from his gaze just to spot my friends’ jaws dropped on the floor. Astonishment written on their faces when I headed to them, Ace’s hand in mine.

Involuntarily, my gaze sprung to Eric whose face paled. He seemed aloof, shocked just like the others but there was something else. And suddenly, the words Ace had said during our date tiptoed my mind. I swallowed a mounting lump as our eyes met.

Yet I saw with relief a typical smile on his face. Brief, but neither unfriendly nor cold.

My uneasiness faded and I felt stupid to believe I’d seen something that certainly wasn’t there.  

“Ladies.” Ace gave the girls a warm smile.

“Well, well… uh… Cecily, do you want to tell us something?”

Ruby tried to hide her chuckle. Vainly. Cassy grabbed my hand, her sparkling eyes fixing Ace. “We need to borrow her for the next… let’s say during the lecture. We need some details.”

The last thing I heard was Ace’s chuckle before we headed to three empty seats in the back of the room.

“Tell us everything”, Cassy sputtered.

I sighed, trying to come up with the truth but without mentioning Ace’s father.

 

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