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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22. Healing

 

 

Side story: Koreatown

 

Alex was sitting in the seminar room waiting for Miss Hye-Mi Kwon to come. At the beginning of the week, they got a message that the course was cancelled.

Which was great, Alex thought. After the dinner party at Cecily’s house, she was so tired that she slept during half of the day.

But unfortunately, the course was shifted. Great, today was her only day in the week she had no courses, yet she had to attend this tutorial until 7 p.m.

It was her first seminar in Korean Culture with this lecturer since Mr. Knobs was hospitalized last week. Now, they’re getting a substitute from Korea and Alex was pretty nervous. Mr. Knobs wasn’t very strict and when they made a mistake, he corrected them calmly.

“Sheesh, I’m pretty nervous”, the girl next to her said.

“Why?”, Alex asked.

“I heard some stuff about this lecturer. She’s pretty famous at Chung-Ang University.”

She gulped, already anxious. What if my Korean didn’t improve? What if my accent is still the same? What if I make the same grammar mistakes and that Hye-Mi Kwon is going to humiliate me? A million questions crossed her mind and she was slipping nervously from side to side. No, I’m well prepared for this tutorial and I’m still at the beginning, no one can expect me to be a pro, she thought.

While chewing on her nail, she heard a squeaky noise from her phone. It was a message from Paul.

“Hey, gorgeous! Hope you’ll have a nice day. Can’t wait to see you later.”

He just knew how to increase her heartbeat. Quickly, she typed back: “Thank you, baby. I can’t wait to see you, too!”

 

The course wasn’t as bad as she thought. Hye-Mi Kwon was strict but not awful or beastly like she feared. When they finished, she rushed outside to her car, just to find Paul already leaning against it.

She chuckled and was left speechless. “But…? How…?”, she laughed.

His left cheek showed a little dimple as he grinned, making her heartbeat race. “I wanted to surprise you”, he said and put his hand forth, a flower spinning between his fingers.

It was a beautiful, white orchid – her favorite flower.

She narrowed her eyes, examining the delicate orchid, “Who told you that orchids were my favorite flowers? Most guys bring roses.”

He suppressed a grin and opened the door to her car, “Oh, I have my sources.”

She shook her head and sighed, “Cecily…” Of course it was her. Only she knows those kinds of things. Paul sat on the driver’s seat, gently touching her thigh. “Yeah, I kind of questioned her about everything you like or not”, he confessed apologetically.

“Paul!” Alex hit him jokingly on his thick arm as he started the engine.

“I know, I know, but you’re so… so…”

She arched her eyebrow. “Yes? I’m what?”

“So freaking complicated.”

“What?!”

“In a good way! You’re not like every other girl. You don’t like romantic stuff – from what Cecily has told me, so I needed to plan things more… thoughtfully.” He bit his lip as he finished, making Alex’ heart skip a beat. He knows exactly that this little gesture drives her crazy and makes her forgive him.

“I like complicated. That’s sexy.”

She grinned. “Uh-huh”, she said, leaning forward to give him a sweet kiss. Indeed, it was very thoughtful of him to get some information about her before their date. The last dates were fine – not exactly what Alex likes but she’d seen worse.

He started driving and kept the radio in a low tone, her favorite Korean band playing in the background.

“So… where are we going? Oh, where’s your car?”

Alex doesn’t like surprises. At all. When there is a group trip, she was the one who planned everything meticulously – since high school. And the last dates with Paul were at the cinema where they had made out and didn’t take notice of the movie at all and a picnic which ended in make-out sessions and little insects all around them and a long walk along the beach last week which ended, well, in make-out sessions, too.

“At the dorms. I took the subway”, he explained.

“And where are we going?”, she asked again, “You know I hate surprises.”

He shrugged. “I know.”

She glared at him. “You’re still not going to tell me, right?”

“Nope”, he grinned.

She folded her arms across her chest. “Well, then guess who’s not going to have sex tonight.”

Paul chuckled, turning his gaze to her. “What? You’re punishing me because I want to surprise you?”

“Yes, I am”, she snapped playfully, adding, “What a pity, Paul. I just bought some new Victoria’s secret lingerie… you sure would have liked them.”

She could hear him gulp, longing to hear some details… or just rip her clothes off her to see the lingerie right now.

He sighed. “Jeez, just be patient. We almost arrived.”

She leaned back, giving up to get some information. “I hate surprises”, she mumbled for the millionth time.

Paul grinned and held her hand, his thumbs circling her knuckles. “I know. Cecily already warned me.”

She rolled her eyes but kept her mouth shut. It was actually a good thing that Cecily told him a lot about her likes and dislikes. And it was even more flattering to hear that he’s making some attempts to get to know her better.

She closed her eyes and enjoyed the ride. She asked him about his day and he explained the treatments with some patients while she tried to focus on what he said. Alex was never the dentist-loving type, who is that even? Everyone fears dentists.

But meeting Paul, Cassy and Ruby had proved that dentists are just normal students like everyone else. And listening to Paul, how he explained treatments or how to make artificial dentition was really interesting. It was an alternation to her usual talk about literature, history or Korean grammar.  

“Wait… this is the direction to… oh my gosh! Koreatown?!”, she yelped and couldn’t conceal her excitement.

He grinned and parked her car at the lot of Gwang Yang.

“Um… I know that you’ve been to Seoul last year and… I thought maybe you missed being there. I can’t take you to Seoul right now, but I thought Koreatown would show you a piece of Korea again”, he said while she got out.

If any other guy had said those words, she would’ve laughed at him for saying such cheesy things. But not Paul. He was saying exactly what she felt. She missed Seoul and it was a sweet idea.

She arched her eyebrow and looked at him from the corner of her eyes.

“Don’t tell me Cecily told you that, too, because then–”

“No, it wasn’t her”, he laughed. “Really. She just…”

“Yes?”

He sighed, clearly giving up when they entered the restaurant. “She just showed me a picture of you in Seoul and your face was beaming with joy. So, I wanted to see that face again… but in real life.”

I’m going to kill Cecily, she thought. But then, she was an angel for inspiring him to do that for her. It wasn’t the fanciest restaurant or prettiest. But it had its charm and own character. As soon as she entered the room, the scent of Korean chili, Ground black pepper and other spice filled her nostrils. She already had the feeling she was in Seoul and not in Los Angeles when the waitress greeted her politely in Korean.

Joneun du in teibeul-eul yeyag haesseoyo”, he said without accent. The waitress nodded and ushered them to their table.

“Wow, your accent is great”, Alex said, a little envious.

“Thanks. I could teach you some Korean words that you surely don’t learn at college”, he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

She burst out into a laughter and he joined her.

They ordered some Sundubu jjigae, Ddeok mandu guk and deolseotbibimbab – a rice cake soup, stewed vegetables with fish cakes and other Korean delicatessens.

The food was delicious. Utterly delicious.

They kept talking about college, some Korean movies, or concerts that she had seen recently and about their families.

“My parents are divorced”, he explained.

“Oh…”, Alex said but he just shrugged.

“It’s okay, I’ve gotten used to it. I guess it’s better this way. My mom’s really happy here in California, and Dad is doing fine in Incheon. I visit him once or twice a year.”

“That’s great”, she said, reaching out her hand.

He took it and drew slow circles with his thumb. “Yes, she also encourages me to visit him often since he’s my father and I shouldn’t let their marriage problems affect our relationship.”

She smiled. His mom sounded like a reasonable person.

They finished their dinner and walked along the narrow street full with lights, that flickered between the little stands and laughing people.

They paused at some shops that sell Korean ornaments, scarfs or fans. They were all beautiful.

“This scarf is so beautiful…”, Alex mumbled before Paul disappeared in the store.

“Wai–Stop it, Paul!”, she yelled, but it was too late. He already bought the ones she liked the most.

“They’re expensive and I don’t want you to spend all your money!” Alex sighed.

“What’s the matter, babygirl? Let me spoil you once in a while.”

“Once in a while? That’s the third time!”

He was too generous which left her uncomfortable. They have been seeing each other for a month, he can’t just buy her everything she likes, she thought.

But arguing with Paul about this was pointless.

He just grabbed the scarf and wrapped it around her neck.

“The color suits you”, he said and examined her face.

She blushed and mumbled, “Thanks.”

“So, when’s your birthday, by the way?”, he asked and took her hand while continuing their walk. His hand was so strong and fit perfectly into hers.

“Fifth September.”

“Great, yours comes before mine”, he muttered to himself.

“Oh no, Paul, please don’t do something extravagant. It’s really not a big deal!”

He kissed her palm and laughed lightly. A light laugh that was so carefree and bright it made her neck prickle.

“We’ll see, baby.”

“I hate you, you know that”, she said as they made their way back to the car.

“Yes, I know”, he said and put his lips softly on hers. His lips tasted sweet and the scent of Patbingsu that he just had eaten filled her mouth. She grabbed his cheeks and deepened the kiss, not caring about some staring passengers.

She freed her lips from the softness of his mouth when she heard her phone buzz.

They headed to the car, Alex fumbling for her phone.  

He opened the door for her and gave her a warm smile. “It was really worth coming.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve never seen your face this glowing before.”

“Shut up”, she mumbled, grinning across her face.

He got in and they drove quietly. It was a good quiet, not an awkward silence, so she enjoyed the ride and low music, her mind replaying the night.

“You would like it in Incheon. It’s not as big as Seoul, but it’s a pretty city”, he said suddenly.

“Paul, don’t you dare…”, she began chuckling. “I mean, that’s crazy, we can’t just… I mean…”

He laughed at her loss for words and grabbed her thigh, caressing her skin. “Just think about it, okay?”

She shook her head in bafflement but kept her eyes locked on the screen of her phone.

“Make a U-turn”, she mumbled.

“What?”

“Make a U-turn, please”, she urged, her voice alarming.

“Did something happen? I didn’t mean to freak you out–”

“No, it’s not because of that. I just got a message from Cecily. I need to go to her place.”

“Okay.”

At the next crossroads, he turned left and headed to the highway that brought them as fast as possible to the Redondo Beach.

“Is everything okay with her?”, he asked carefully.

“No, I don’t think so. She said she needs me urgently. She never writes that.” Alex was alarmed and started biting her nails, a bad habit of hers.

“Stop, don’t worry about her. I’m sure she’s fine”, he said, trying to sound convincingly.

“I don’t think so, baby.”

 

~§~

 

CECILY

 

My eyelids felt heavy when the morning light flickered around my face. I went to the bathroom with heavy limbs and a dry throat. My eyes were still bloodshot and rimmed with dark circles. I looked beyond exhausted. As if my mind hadn’t shut down the whole night.

I decided to take a long shower; afterwards, I looked half as bad as before. Putting on my comfy yoga pants and my favorite t-shirt, I didn’t want to do anything but paint.

But as soon as my fingers wrapped around the pencil, I just kept staring at the blank canvas. My mind was just as blank as the white sheet.

I had no idea what I wanted to paint. No image crossed my mind, no colors, no views. Nothing.

Minutes or hours passed, I barely noticed. Marlene knocked at my door and asked if everything was okay. I nodded, finally turning my eyes away from the canvas.

“I’m hungry”, she said, trying to drag me to the kitchen.

“Me, too”, I lied while opening the fridge.

“Did someone come last night, by the way?”, Marlene asked, taking a spoonful of cereals to her mouth. “I think I heard some noises.”

I chewed my toast and swallowed my bite although my spittle was fading.

“Um… yep, my– a frie–… I mean, someone from college came by and needed my notes. Did… did we wake you up?”

She shook her head and kept eating her cereals while I released the breath I was holding.

I emptied my orange juice in one gulp and gave my other toast to Marlene. My appetite was gone the moment I remembered.

My goal to finally gain my strength during the weekend failed.

I was feeling nothing but mere exhaustion. And nothing worked. Yoga, painting, reading – I couldn’t clear my head. I couldn’t enjoy any of them.

My mind kept replaying our conversation, each word he said cutting my throat once more.

Even if he’d apologize to me, it wouldn’t fix the deeper problems we have than just the insult he hurled at me. Maybe he was right.

Maybe I have trust issues… so what?

After all, my trust had been betrayed badly. By the man I had loved the most… my father. He didn’t have to open old wounds again… to insult my family… my feelings. I know he had been betrayed, too. His brother slept with his fiancée. But I didn’t use his painful past against him like he did to me.

How could he ask me to trust him when all he did was being so damn mysterious?

If you want to be together with me, then you have to accept the fact that there are things I won’t tell you.

No, I could not accept that. And he wouldn’t, either.

How could I even expect this could work? A relationship with no trust? With him keeping secrets from me… for whatever reason he had. This was never going to work.

You should know better than that, Cecily Martesse.

And yet, I let him crawl into my heart; slowly and entirely. I don’t know when exactly I had fallen for him. But I’ve fallen hard. And now my heart is laying in his palms and he’s digging his nails into it; slowly put painful.

He didn’t text me. The whole weekend.

I hated myself for my weakness but somehow I hoped he would apologize. Or say something. Anything.

I wish I could forget him as easily as he seemed to be getting over me.

 

My alarm rang and I mechanically got ready for college. I woke Marlene and prepared her breakfast before I grabbed my bag in the living room. Suddenly, I noticed some glasses on the table. Ace’s glasses.  

I had forgotten that he left them here before he rushed to his car. Reluctantly, I touched them and quickly put them in my bag. The mere fact that I was holding something as casual as his glasses ached my heart. A part of his belonging was in my bag and I couldn’t wait to get rid of it.

I locked our front door when Marlene said, “Cecily, I think there’s someone waiting for you.”

I turned around, following her gaze. A familiar car was at the other side of the street, but I was focused on him as he made his way to me.

He had got to be kidding me.

I wanted to run but my brain had lost control over my legs, I wanted to scream, but my throat was dried out, I wanted to cry, but I think I have no tears left in me anymore.

“Cec–”

The moment he opened his mouth, my brain gathered its function. I grabbed Marlene’s hand and made my way to the garage. Of course, Ace followed me. “Cec, wait!”

“Marlene, get in the car”, I said and gave her the keys.

Normally, she would ask why and make a sullen comment, but I guess my tone made it clear that there was no room for a discussion.

“Cec, I want to–”

“How dare you?”, I snapped as soon as Marlene walked to the garage and got inside. “How dare you speak to me? How dare you stand here and talk to me? How dare you call me Cec?

I need to calm down, my voice was already on the edge and I didn’t want to yell in front of Marlene.

He was quiet. Words failed him, it seemed, but “Cecily, hear me out”, was all I heard coming from his mouth.

He had no right to say that. But the look on his tortured face was giving me an odd satisfaction.

I wanted to punch him. Again. Repeatedly. Until his face, his look and his voice wouldn’t ache my heart, my soul.

“You have some nerves, Ace–”

“Sorry”, he cut in, the words heavy on his lips.

“I am sorry that I said those things about your father. I don’t know what had come over me. I was just… so mad. I really shouldn’t have said that and I know that doesn’t change anything.”

Damn right, Ace.

His eyes that were always looking as if nothing could impress them were now wild, desperately trying to convince me.

This has to be a bad joke.

“You have got to be kidding me, Ace”, I said and laughed humorlessly. “Wow, Ace, I’m impressed that you came all the way to apologize.” I stopped laughing and saw his face twisting for a second, hopefully in pain.

My lips were a hard line when I took a step closer to him “Where were you when I stood here on the driveway until I broke down?”

His face got pale at my words yet I couldn’t care less.

“Where was your apology the day after? Or yesterday? Or a message that your sorry? Or a phone call?”

I didn’t realize that I started punching him with every question. He didn’t flinch or grabbed my wrist. At least he had the decency to just stand there like a punching bag.

He reached out his hand but I held out my arm defensively. He has no right to touch me. Ever again.

“I wanted to drive back to your house, really I did. But I wasn’t sure you would want to speak to me. I knew you wouldn’t want to listen to me. I was mad at myself, too, Cec and I… had no idea how to face you!”

“I wanted you to trust me, Ace!”, I yelled, words pouring uncontrollably from my mouth. Emotion after emotion stumbled in my mind and everything came out; unchained and fierce.

“I wanted you to tell me the truth! I wanted you to say you’re truly sorry, not only for insulting my family! I wanted you to apologize for keeping secrets from me! But you don’t understand that, because you don’t understand anything about me, Ace!”

He raked his hair in frustration and moments needed to pass before he could explain himself further.

“I am not a mind reader, Cecily! How am I supposed to–” He stopped, gathering his thoughts.

“I… am stubborn, I know. And I know I said I was done, but I’m not. I could never be. I was just… angry, but please forgive me.”

I felt my heart starting to melt as I heard his words.

“Please”, he added.

No.

This time I won’t become putty in his hands.

He breathed heavily, waiting for me to say something. I don’t even know what to reply. Part of me wanted to say “It’s okay” and bury my face into his neck, but I knew it’d be only a matter of time until we fight again about this trust issues or my urge to have a normal relationship instead of this… well, whatever it is what he wants. But another part in me, and that was the biggest, wanted peace.

I wanted my old life back, before he came like a tornado and spun my world upside down. I want to be my old me. My old, happy self who stuck her nose into books, or painted for hours and didn’t care about alcohol, frat parties or questions like how long does a hickey last or does Ace really love my soul or my body. The one who laughs, paints, jogs, goes to the cinema, shopping or traveling with the girls and have a carefree life. Not this roller-coaster of emotions I’m stuck in.

“I forgive you.”

He sucked in a sharp breath, relief washing over his face. He took a step closer to me saying, “Cec, I am–”

I held out my hand, signalizing him he can’t come one step closer.
“I said I forgive you, but I won’t spend time with you anymore.” My voice was dead. As dead as I felt on the inside.

“You’re not healthy for me and I’m not the right one for you, either. You keep hurting me and I won’t let my heart endure more pain than it already has. I need to heal.” I looked at his eyes and held my stare. I don’t know if it was this hollow feeling inside me or simply my deep fatigue that’s giving me this calmness. I was feeling much more confident than on the inside but my voice was firm and steady. And that’s exactly what I need.

“And I won’t get any healing if you are around me.”

“That’s bullshit, Cecily! What the hell are you talking about!?” His voice was louder than mine, echoing through the deserted street, though his eyes were lost.

“Cec, please–”

“No, Ace! You’ve already done enough! You want to see me beg? Fine! I am begging you, begging you: Leave me alone! If you have just a grain of respect toward me, you’d leave me alone and let my goddamn soul heal after all the pain you put me through!”

He looked shocked but didn’t say anything anymore, thankfully.

I wasn’t able to keep to keep myself together any longer. I had to get away from him.

I turned around, heading to the car, and started the engine. My hands were shaking when I drove past him. I caught a look at him and he seemed as devastated as I was feeling on the inside. I swallowed the big lump that started to build up inside my throat and dug my nails into my skin so the pain would prevent me from crying.

Just concentrate on driving, Cecily.

“Is he your boyfriend?”, she asked as I headed to her school.

I wanted to laugh. Despite this crappy situation and my aching soul, I wanted to laugh at this irony. He wasn’t my boyfriend and probably never will, yet we were acting like a couple. We joked, we fought, we were passionate – but we weren’t in a relationship.

“No, he’s not my boyfriend.”, I said firmly and she was quiet. I know, I’m being harsh to her, she’s only twelve. She doesn’t understand what I’m going through but I just couldn’t talk about it.

 

The next days, he didn’t come to the lectures or seminars or courses. He just came when he treated a patient and then left without saying a word to anyone. Every time I was in the lab rooms, he wasn’t there. Not in the cafeteria or basement or anywhere else, either. He just wasn’t there whenever I was at college, which was fine by me.

Ruby and Cassy exchanged worried glances at me when they saw my horror-movie like face but I dismissed them with lying about my allergy and tiredness.

I should tell them. I knew I should tell someone, but I couldn’t right now. I wouldn’t even know what to say. We didn’t even break up. I couldn’t even say that we weren’t dating anymore.

Every time, I saw my car in the driveway, I had to think about how I met Ace and the way he repaired my car. Who would have known that the way we met would be a bad omen. He crushed me – on the inside and outside. I couldn’t eat anymore, I couldn’t sleep well, I couldn’t laugh from my heart.

I didn’t understand how could I have let my guard down to the point that I’ve become so tied to him.

I decided to go with the subway for now, at least. I couldn’t bear looking at my car anymore.

The day passed by like every other day, the lectures boring as hell, the seminars tiring my nerves.

At the end of the day, I headed to the changing rooms, when I spotted Aro. He turned his dark eyes to me and gave me a warm smile.

A warm smile? Subtly, I looked to my side to check if he was really looking at me.

“Hey”, he greeted, taking a few steps to me. He looked as usual in his denim jacket and neatly combed hair.

“Hi”, I answered, feeling a little uncomfortable with his stare.

“Jeez… you look awful”, he said, tilting his head. So much to having a polite conversation with Aro.

“Thanks”, I mumbled, already annoyed.

“Had a rough day?”

“Err, I didn’t sleep very much”, I replied and rubbed my eyes, pretending to feel tired.

Scary, that he noticed that and even looked… concerned?

He put his hand on my shoulder, a tender warmth coming from his hand. His look was intense, different from all his cockiness.

“No, really. Everything okay? You look a little gloomy these past days.”

I smiled. “What? No, everything’s fine with me”, I chirped, my voice betraying me. My hand slipped into my purse and I fumbled for my keys to my locker. But my fingers touched something else.

Ace’s glasses.

I had totally forgotten to give him these back. If I wasn’t so damn pathetic right now, I would’ve wondered why he didn’t ask me to give them back to him. Oh right, because I begged him to stay away from me. I pulled them out of my purse.

My mouth moved but my mind was elsewhere, “Aro, can you give that to Ace?” I handed them to him and felt the burn stinging my eyes.

Dammit, those are just his glasses and not his kidneys, why am I getting so sentimental!?

He looked surprised but took them without a comment. “Sure.”

I nodded and tried to walk past him as I felt the tears rising to the corner of my eyes, but Aro blocked my way. “What’s going on, Cecily?”

I couldn’t hold it anymore.

I started crying. I tried to stop, but the pain and feeling overwhelmed me and were too great. I’ve never ever cried inside the clinic. Never. Not when an assistant had yelled at me last year when I had made a mistake during a treatment, not when a little kid bit my hand while I was taking alginate impressions, not when I failed a couple of exams, not when Victoria insulted me. I have never cried inside these halls.

And yet I am standing here, crying like a stupid, little child over a guy in front of another guy that probably hates me and couldn’t care less if I cried or not.

But then he did something I’ve never imagined Aro would do: He grabbed my shoulders and hugged me tightly, caressing my back.

I buried my face in his t-shirt and let the tears run down my face. I let go and cried mostly for myself. For my dependence, my weakness, my decisions or simply, how things turned out with Ace.

I sobbed and mumbled some apologies when I saw some wet spots on his t-shirt.

“Don’t worry, it will dry”, he said and wiped my tears with his thumbs. I was probably looking hideous but I was grateful that Aro didn’t mock me.

I forced a smile and rubbed my eyes before disentangling myself from this awkward hug.

“Thanks”, I sniffed and wished the ground would open and swallow me up.

He scratched his head, clearly not knowing how to handle this weird situation, too. “Do you… do you want to talk about it?”

I shook my head. Talking about it wouldn’t help me the bit. In fact, it would only worsen my mood and probably make me cry again.

He nodded briefly and didn’t dig further for which I was grateful, too. “Um, you have some plans? We could grab a bite if you want.”

He gave me his typical askew smile and I was left speechless.

“I-I… I don’t know if that’s–”

“Okay, then let me take you home at least. I won’t ask any questions, I promise.”

And I actually believe him. Aro is mostly interested in… himself, so he wouldn’t dig deeper because he simply doesn’t care.

“Okay.” I need a distraction. Even if it’ll be half an hour with listening to some Aro-madness.

 

He waited for me in front of his car when I came back from the changing rooms. Politely, he opened the front passenger’s door and closed it after I climbed in. Probably, it wasn’t out of politeness but more out of pity. Knowing that he saw me in one of my most devastated moment only increased my feeling of shame and humiliation.

He started the engine and we drove while his usually loud, rap music was playing quietly in the background.

We were quiet for a while, until he broke the silence. “You still don’t wanna grab a bite?”, he asked again.

I blinked at him several times, but decided to shake my head. I wasn’t feeling hungry.

“Okay, then some other day? When you’re feeling… err… better?”

The careful and serious tone in his voice was startling me. As if this person wasn’t Aro.

This was just too funny. I managed to conceal my laugh as a gulp.

“Aro, you don’t have to be nice to me. In fact, it’s creeping me out. I know you hate me, so you can continue your usual lines of mocking me.”

He looked at me as the stoplight turned red. “I don’t hate you”, he said quietly. His tone was still serious; he didn’t joke or smirk. After closing my jaw that popped open, he continued, “Really, I don’t hate you. In fact, I like you.”

Okay, now my jaw was back on the floor. I couldn’t help myself from laughing. I burst out into a laughter until tears came up which was quite a change to my usual crying over Ace. I wiped away that tear and looked at a grinning Aro.

“Stop it, Aro. I’m going to have a hiccup if you continue saying such funny things.”

“Why do you think I was joking? I’m serious. I like you. You’re funny. Your clumsiness and smartass answers are funny, and I mean really funny. Not forced funny or wannabe funny. Just because I used to tease you sometimes doesn’t mean I hate you.”

That was literally the nicest thing Aro has ever said to me and I hadn’t a proper answer, except “Okay…”

“I’m serious, Jeez…”, he continued and drove to our street. “Remember when we first met? You had mistaken me for another person and started talking to me as if we’d known each other for a long time. That was funny. Of course, I had thought you were completely insane but once I noticed your clumsiness, I knew that was just… you.”

I was dumbfounded.

He remembered the first time we met? And so detailed?

“It’s that house there”, I mumbled when he drove into our driveway. He switched off the engine and turned his gaze to me.

“So, is that a yes?”, he asked out of nowhere.

“Huh?”

He rolled his eyes, “My offer. To grab a bite someday.”

Oh… True, he was being kind to me but I know his real character. He can be mean, cruel even, and I already made the mistake once, I didn’t want to repeat it.

“Um… thanks for the offer Aro, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

He frowned. “Is it because of Ace? You guys have broken up, right?”

“W-What? No, we haven’t… we were never a couple.” I was shocked that he assumed that; what makes him think so? We weren’t making out in front of anyone and the only two persons that know about Ace and me having kissed are Cassy and Ruby – and they would never tell Aro.

“Did Ace tell you that? That we were a couple?”

But Aro shook his head, “No, I just assumed. Since you two hang out together a lot.”

“We used to hang out. We were just friends… but now we’re… I don’t know, colleagues, I guess.”

We weren’t friends, we never were. But I don’t think there is a definition for what we were. And I sure didn’t want to discuss it here with Aro.

“I see”, he mumbled and I didn’t know if he was talking to me or to himself.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, he’s an ass”, he said and shrugged.

It didn’t make me feel better; it just left a pang in my stomach hearing someone insult him. I don’t know why I still felt the urge to defend him – even though he was right, he is an ass.

“Don’t say that”, I whispered.

I guess, he didn’t hear me, because he continued, “Really, he’s often at those frat parties, almost every weekend, always wasted and sitting with creepy, fucked up guys there. Oh, and he fucked Karen.”

What?

“Yeah, she told us. Poor thing, he just used her to get what he wanted and then!” He snapped his fingers, shaking his head in disgust. “He didn’t even talk to her afterwards and ignored her completely.”

I didn’t realize that I was cutting the blood flow in my fingers from clenching them. My heart stopped. It just stopped. I didn’t feel it skip or race or sink to my boots. I just couldn’t feel any heartbeat anymore.

“When…”, I whispered, my voice disembodied. “When was that?”

He rubbed his jaw, contemplating. “Don’t know. Recently.”

Why did I even ask? Why did I bother asking? Oh yes, because I’m an insanely nosy person that asks until getting hurt.

I don’t want to believe it.

He can’t… he didn’t… that wasn’t my Ace.

But he was never mine. And I never knew him. I thought I did when he told me about his past or when he showed up at my house at the dinner party, but now I’m not even sure if that wasn’t a lie just to have sex with me. And what horrifies me the most is that he almost did. I almost let him have me – twice.

I felt sick. This car was getting smaller and smaller and I needed to get out of here.

I shrugged. “Who cares. He can do whatever he wants – I’m just happy that I don’t spend more time with him than necessary.”

When did I become such a great liar? I almost believed my own words.

“So that’s a yes.” He grinned.

I didn’t even know what he was talking about and I didn’t want to ask. I considered asking him what he and Ace did those past days, but suddenly I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to get under my blanket and stay there for the rest of my life.

I nodded and got out, waving goodbye before watching him leave our yard.

 

I walked across the hallway with my thoughts hammering against my brain. It was silent – Marlene went to her ballet class and later I picked her up with Dad’s car. I still couldn’t bring myself up to drive mine.

She was happily babbling about her classes, school and her friends and I tried to listen to what she said until she went to sleep.

And then the feeling of loneliness overcame me, slinking from every corner of my room.

I couldn’t cry anymore. I’ve cried those last weeks more than in a year. I was tired of crying. I was fed up and my reason telling me that crying was simply pointless.

But I wanted to talk. I grabbed my phone and typed a message to Alex. I was having a bad conscious for disturbing her during her date with Paul. He was so excited and kept asking me questions about Alex’s favorite things and now I’m ruining their romantic date.

I considered putting the phone aside and watch Titanic or Bridget Jones until I really had no water in my system to cry, but I decided to text her anyway. I needed my best friend, I needed the one who understands me the most, I needed my family; I needed her.

 

Alex – I know you’re on a date with Paul and I am sorry for asking you this, but can you come to my place? It’s urgent and I need you. Love you.

 

I pressed “send” and waited a bit before she replied, I’m on my way.

 

She arrived and I threw my arms around her the moment I opened the door. Her familiar scent filled my nose and gave me the feeling of home. I didn’t know when I started crying – probably when I saw her. My vision was blurring but I could see Paul’s silhouette coming to me.

I wiped away my tears and managed a half-smile when I greeted him. I couldn’t afford to lose my self-control, I was already humiliated enough.

“Okay, I’ll leave you two alone”, Paul said and caressed amicably my shoulder. I smiled and wanted to thank him but I didn’t trust my brittle voice.

He kissed Alex briefly on her forehead and went to the next subway station.

“Cecy, what is going on?”, Alex asked when I closed the door in my room.

“Alex… I’m sorry for ruining your date, I’m so sorry, but I-I don’t know who else…”

“Cecily, stop it!”, she said and hugged me. “You know I’m always there for you! Tell me, what’s going on?”

I looked in her big, brown eyes that were full of love and compassion. I nodded and took a deep breath.

“We better sit down, Alex. It’s a long story.”

 

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