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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26. The Beginning

 

 

ACE

 

2 months ago

 

“Where are you going?”, I asked as I saw her walking across the room in this fucking frat house.

“To the prison”, Cec barked. “Didn’t you hear what I just told you? Or do you think that wasn’t true, either?”

She grabbed her purse and tried to make her way past me, yet I blocked the passage.

“You can’t drive. And you certainly won’t get near to your brother in this state.”

“Shut up, that’s none of your business”, she hissed, trying vainly to go past me.

Her voice was raspy, her eyes still swollen from the tears she had shed.

I had never thought I would see Cec in such a state.

So devastated.

Seeing the most cheerful soul I had ever met hit rock bottom somehow turned my blood frozen. And as usual, she was concealing her hurt behind other emotions. Always acting, never breaking her façade. Except a couple minutes ago.

“It is. I’ll drive”, I said, wrapping my fingers around her arm.

She didn’t resist, so I ushered her through the hallway, past drunken students.

“Alex!”, she gasped, remembering her friend.

Oh, she was very busy with Paul’s hands and tongue a couple minutes ago. I mentally rolled my eyes. Couldn’t they just get a room upstairs and fuck there?

“Relax, she’s with Paul. I saw her earlier. They were… busy.”

We got inside my car and I started the engine.

It was quiet. Surely, she must be lost in thoughts but when I caught a glimpse at her I watched her eyelids getting heavier.

“Cec?”, I asked yet didn’t expect an answer.

No, she didn’t hear me anymore. She was already asleep, a single tear running down her cheek. 

So that was her secret. The reason why she had been contemplative when no one was looking at her, why she had been so sad that day on the bench.

Without thinking too much about it, I made a U-turn and headed to my place. She suffered and she was tired. A visit in jail was the least thing she needed right now.

 

Cec was still sound asleep when I arrived at my place. I lifted her up and walked upstairs. “Ace…”, she mumbled but kept her eyes closed.

Her dress lifted the moment I put her on my bed, revealing her underwear. Fuck. I need to get out of here.

I closed my eyes and let the blanket envelop her silky body.

Walking to my closet, I looked for that damn thing in my drawers. After digging almost all of my clothes out of there, I found them.

There. Stuffed in a sock. If Thomas knew I had hidden the cards so recklessly, he would be furious. Whatever.

Shoving the cards and checkbook into my pocket, I looked at Cec one last time. Her chest was rising and falling slowly and frequently, her face finally relaxed. And her lips…

Absent-mindedly, I touched mine the moment my eyes locked on hers.

I knew she was inexperienced, but it was her boldness that surprised me. Even though she wouldn’t have done that if she had been sober and not desperate.

I love you, Ace.

Shaking my head, I reminded myself what people say when they’re drunk. And what they do. I stroked a strand of her hair from her face when she slightly rubbed her cheek against my pillow.

Grabbing my jacket and keys, I carefully closed the door behind me.

 

The prison wasn’t hard to find.

When I entered, I saw a few cops sitting at their desks, some of them almost falling asleep, some watching the repeat of the latest football match and others just drank their coffees while doing some paper work.

Clearing my throat as I arrived at one of the desks, the police officer looked up.

“What can I do for you, boy?”, he asked, straightening his body.

“I’m looking for Noah Martesse. He was brought here because of driving under alcohol influence.”

He looked at his records that were spread on his desk and found the file after a while.

“Ah, yes. Noah Martesse. I’m sorry, but you can’t see him unless you’re a family member or here to pay the–”

Taking out my checkbook and cards, he immediately understood the message.

“So, let’s see… since it’s a repeated crime, the amount compiles from the hours he was here, the–”

“I don’t care about bureaucratic issues”, I interrupted him. I was beyond tired and just wanted to get this fucking shit over with. “Do you want a check or debit it directly? I don’t care how high the sum is.”

He shook his head, clearly annoyed from my harshness but gave me tons of papers I had to sign first.

Silently, he had let me fill the transfer. 

After that, I followed him to the cells, and we walked along the endless hallway. Noah was sleeping on the bench, covered in a blanket that was so small it could’ve only fitted a child. He got up as he heard the noise.

With his bloodshot eyes and messy hair, added to his unshaved face, he was looking awful. Red blotches covered the collar of his shirt – probably someone else’s blood but that didn’t make his purplish jaw or swollen lip less bad. The only sight of her brother would’ve made Cec cry. Again.

“Mr. Martesse, he’s here to pick you up. We just need some signatures on the discharge papers and then you can go.”

He nodded but kept looking at me. We started to make our way back to his desk, the cop standing behind us. “Who–?”

“Don’t.” Now was not the moment.

We arrived at his desk; he signed an amount of papers before they handed him his personal things back.

As I opened the door, the fresh air brushed my face. It was surprisingly warm tonight yet a shiver rolled down my spine. I was more tired than I thought.

“Who the hell are you, dude?”

I turned my gaze to him and really looked at him for the first time. He wasn’t as tall as me, but I guess everyone in their family has a medium height. Or was small like Cec. His hair had the same light brown color as Cec’s and even the form of his eyes was the same. In fact, he resembled Cec a lot.

“I go to college with your sister.”

“What the fuck? She told you about me being here?!” He was pissed. But not as pissed as I was.

He snorted. “Of course she can’t shut her mouth for once and do what I ask her to! Why did she do that? Couldn’t she keep that a secret for once–”

That was enough.

Grabbing him by the collar of his t-shirt, I shoved him against the car.

“Shut your mouth, you have no idea what she went through”, I hissed. I tried not to speak loud which was really hard. That guy pissed me off.

“Hey! What’s wrong with you, asshole?!”, he said and tried to get out of my grip.

I shook him harder against the car.

“What is wrong with you? You have caused her so much pain and she endured it. She was shattered tonight, therefore she told me. She told no one about her feelings. No one. You almost destroyed her.” I stopped shouting and looked at him sternly. He held my stare but I could see the rising guilt in his eyes.

“I know…”, he said after a while, looking to his side.

I let go of him and opened the passenger’s door. “Get in, I’ll drive you home. Tomorrow, you can pick up your car.”

He didn’t make a fuss. As we drove, my head started to feel heavier than before and now I was really getting tired. I needed coffee but then again, it was past two.

I asked him why he was in jail last time and he told me about his business with that guy.

At the end, we were quiet for almost the whole drive to his place, both of us plunged into their own thoughts.

“Where’s Cecily?”

“She’s staying at Alex’s overnight.”

He nodded, seeming appeased to hear his sister was at a safe place.

“I just don’t know what to do…”, he mumbled, staring at the stoplight.

“For the start, stop being an asshole to your family. From what I heard and saw, they seem to be very nice people who don’t deserve to be treated badly. And the thing with your work… did you try to find an agency?”

Great, the job counselor didn’t do much so far. I rubbed my eyes and parked in their driveway. A thought shot through my mind and left a bitter taste. The chances were small, almost zero but if I wanted to do the right thing, then I had to.

“Give me your phone number and your address in New York”, I said, handing him a piece of paper and a pen I had found in the glove box. He seemed confused but obeyed silently.

“What do you want with my address?”, he asked.

I didn’t know that either but it was some useful information and could be helpful.

“We’ll see”, was all I could say, shrugging my shoulders.

“Here, tomorrow – or rather today – in the morning, call this number and tell the secretary Lucy that Ace Skidmore is your friend and he wants to speak to Thomas. Ask her if he’ll be there.” I scribbled my name, his phone number and mine on a piece of paper and gave it to him. “Text me if he says yes.” He looked confused but didn’t ask any further questions. If only Cec could be like that too, and not so curious. It would make things way simpler.

He nodded. “Thank you… for getting me out of jail. I’ll pay you back, I promise.”

I shook my head, “No, I don’t want any money. I just have a favor.”

Noah’s eyebrows rose. “Sure.”

“Don’t tell Cecily. Ever. That I saw you, talked to you and especially not the name Skidmore. Tell her that you called a friend of yours in New York. He transferred the money and you took a cab home or something.” I hope he could lie more convincingly than his sister.

He agreed and got out of the car. One thing seemed to bother him when he turned around and asked, “Are you her boyfriend?”

“No.”

Confusion was written all over his face but there was no way I would discuss whatever Cec was to me with her brother at two in the morning. Waving goodbye, he made his way to their front porch.

Yawning, I rubbed my temples. Man, I’ve sworn to never use that name again, and yet I was telling a stranger about it. I didn’t want to talk to Thomas… for now, but I knew I’d have to, eventually.

No, I had to do it soon. Fuck.

Sighing, I got out of my car. “Hey, wait!”

Noah turned around, walking back to me. “What?”

“Do you have some plans, tomorrow? Or the next couple days?”

He snorted, shaking his head in mere disgust, “I’m jobless, remember? I don’t have any plans for the next years!” His cheeks flushed red as he turned his curious eyes to me.

“Why do you ask?”

“Try to find an excuse tomorrow for your family why you’ll be out of town these next few days.”

“Why?”

I was wrong, he was just as curious as Cec. Rubbing my temples once again and shutting my eyes closed, I said something I had never thought I would say again, the only thought twisting my insides.

“We’re going to Chicago.”

 

~§~

 

Ace… Ace… Ace… Ace…

“Ace!”, someone shook my shoulders.

Noah was pulling my arm while we were sitting in the cab.

“We arrived”, Noah added. As if I didn’t know that we arrived.

That fucking hundred-story building that I’ve sworn to never see again in this fucking city.

We got out, my legs feeling as heavy as lead. I didn’t prepare a speech or had any clue what I was going to say to my father.

Noah already fired some questions at me how I knew the CEO of Skidmore, Orlings & Maril and I couldn’t just lie by saying it was just a coincidence that I happen to know a billionaire. Although he figured it out pretty fast after looking at my last name.

I didn’t tell him the whole truth. But I didn’t lie either.

We entered the glazed front door, the cold, iron-stoned walls and floor already welcoming me with their familiar appearance. A few ambitious-looking business men that surely graduated from college recently rushed from door to door. Such businesslike, wannabe Wall Street snobs… God, I hated them. I hated this building. I hated this city.

I hate Mondays.

Great, I was already pissed.

Not because of these crazy workaholics but rather that I’d have to face Thomas now and swallow my pride to ask him a favor.

Why am even I doing that, I asked myself for the millionth time.

Banishing the question to the back of my head, I pressed the button and waited for the elevator.

“Wow, this place is just amazing! What kind of company is that?” Noah was in awe and I couldn’t blame him. It was ridiculously immense, its height intimidating every visitor that wasn’t familiar with these halls. Unfortunately, it was very familiar to me.

When I would fail literature exams, or after the principal would find out I had smoked some pot in the restroom or when I’d get drunk at the parking lot – basically every time I had fucked up at school, Mom would scold me and drag me to Thomas so he could yell at me, too.

No, I think Mom just hoped he could bring me to reason and talk to me from father to son.

As if I had needed those kinds of talks.

What I needed was to visit my asshole father in jail. I would have loved seeing his face behind bars, his eyes surely pleading me for forgiveness or putting in a good word for him with the judge when they debated whether he could get a year of remission for good conduct or not. Or seeing him pleading me to buy him some liquor, or just see him pleading.

Instead, she wanted me to have a good relationship with my wannabe father.

“It’s an architectural firm”, I replied dryly.

We arrived at the highest story, the bodyguard checking our pockets and bags. The foyer was as I remembered with the white marble floor my mother had chosen when she and Thomas were freshly married, the thousand-Dollar-paintings hung on each wall and Lucy sitting behind her desk, her dark eyes behind her glasses looking concentratedly at the screen.

As she turned her big, round eyes to me, she looked as shocked as I was feeling for even stepping inside this building.

“Oh my… is that you, Ace!?”, she exclaimed, standing up. She was still the same; her dark hair was cut short, accentuating her pointed chin, her features still soft and as young as when she had started working for Thomas.

“Hello, Lucy”, I said stiffly. She was a kind person and I knew I shouldn’t wreck my grumpiness on her.

“Ace, I’m most surprised to see you here! How are you? What… uh… brings you back?”

“I want to speak to Thomas”, I said without preamble. Better get that conversation with him over as soon as possible. “Is he here?”

“Um, yes, he is… Uh, I’ll just call him and tell him you’re waiting for–”

“No, Lucy.” I didn’t want to give him the chance to make excuses or ditch me. “I’ll go and just knock on his door.”

Turning my head to Noah, I said “You better wait here. It may take a little longer.”

And I didn’t want to let things get ugly in front of Cec’s brother.

He nodded, still in awe by the luxury of this building.

I headed to the door, ignoring Lucy’s worried look.

Knocking twice at the thick wooden door, I noted for a split-second the contrast to the coldness coming from the stoned walls. Still, it did bring back some memories.

As I dismissed the thought, I heard a familiar voice saying, “Come in.”

He was still the same as last year. Only now I noticed his hair was beginning to gray at the temples and his eyes looked tired underneath his reading glasses. Yet they were growing bigger with every passing millisecond.

“Ace–”, he gasped.

“Hello, Thomas.” My voice was cold. Like I had aimed for, my eyes looking hard at him. I knew he hated it when I call him by his first name instead of Dad. I already had a Dad once and the sound of that word mostly didn’t bring back nice memories. Also, I didn’t see him as my Dad.

He was just my stepfather.

After a passing moment of exchanging stares and a confused look on his face, his eyes snapped as he got up and walked in front of his desk.

“What a surprise, son. What brings you here? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”, he asked.

I flinched at his choice of words, my body moving quicker than he had expected as he lifted his arms, ready to give me a hug but seemed to understand. He didn’t get to be familiar with me. He had no right to do so.

His eyes were still full of affection. Fake affection, I was pretty sure. And the questions he asked me already gave me a headache.

Clenching my jaw, I prepared to say that one thing I never wanted to say again.

“I need your help”, I said breathlessly. “Or rather a favor.”

He was still looking surprised, his features unchanged.

Moments passed till he finally asked, “What do you need?” His tone was callous, his face turning all business.

“Money and–”

“Of course that’s what you need”, he sighed in disgust.

His arrogance alone is enough to make me want to smash my fist against the wall.

“What?”, I snapped, my calm already cracking.

He rubbed his eyes, his body tensing as he made his way back to his chair. “That’s what you always do, Ace. You disappear, you don’t care about other people, your family but the moment you want something, when you need something, you come back to us and ask for help.”

He whipped off his glasses and tossed them onto the desk, showing a stony-faced stare. “What is it this time, Ace? Do you need money for a new car? Or is it the Dean at your college you had punched and now he’s pressing charges against you? Do I need to pay a lawyer? Or are you simply indebted after spending all your money on parties, girls and alcohol?”

“Unbelievable! This is fucking unbelievable!”, I yelled. “You still think of me that way? After I showed you that I’ve changed. That I’m not an irresponsible child anymore who does mistakes. That I could have a real relationship, a fiancée. That I got accepted to college – even without your name!”

He was quiet for a while but he just had to push it.

“Have you visited your mother’s grave?”, he asked in his fucking calm tone that made me even more furious. He was pushing my buttons and I really had to refrain from doing something I would regret.

“No! And this has nothing to do with it”, I shouted yet he seemed utterly indifferent. His voice didn’t rise a decibel, probably to calm me down yet it was doing the opposite.

“I am so sorry I didn’t call you or text you back, Thomas”, I said, the sarcasm in my voice evident. “But it wasn’t like you had given me much of a choice, or should I remind you of the reason why I left Chicago?”

His eyes flickered as I threw his biggest weakness against his face. His guilt was draining him as he remembered what mistake he had done.

“You know I didn’t do it to hurt you, Ace. I tried to talk to Christopher. He should have been the one to tell you but–”

“Spare me your excuses, Thomas. I don’t want to hear about Victoria or Chris and I am not here because of them, they can live their fucking lives. I am here because someone who is… important to me, someone who is suffering right now, someone – and that might quite surprise you – who is not me really needs help. And I know you can help that person therefore I’m here and believe me, if I knew another way of helping her, I wouldn’t be throwing away my dignity and ask you for it!”

Counting to ten wasn’t helping this time. I was seething with rage, my nails already cutting my skin from clenching my fists. I looked at my father’s brown eyes that were staring back at me in sheer astonishment. I didn’t know if he believed me or not but I didn’t care either. He could think of me as the selfish, stubborn boy I used to be, yet I was aiming for his compassion.

His lip thinned. “Her?”

“What?”

“You said helping her. So this is about a girl?” His tone wasn’t judgmental.

“Wha– No. Well, yes, kind of. But not like you’re thinking.”

“And what am I thinking, Ace?”, he asked, his hands folded under his chin, his eyes piercing me.

Sighing, I threw my hands in the air. “What you usually think about me! That I probably banged some stripper and now she’s pregnant while her jealous ex-boyfriend is threatening to kill her or whatever fucking, ridiculous thing it is that you’re thinking!”

We were silent, my voice still echoing through the walls. He didn’t say anything, he was probably debating whether I had joked or told the truth.

“I didn’t think that, son”, was all he said.

I still flinched at him calling me son. Chris was his son. Not biological, but he was his favorite. The calm, kind, polite, motivated and good son. The one that will inherit this multimillion-Dollar company. The one that didn’t put him through headaches and argues.

Not me, the troublemaker. And yet, he never stopped calling me son. Probably because he felt like owing this to Mom.

His face softened, maybe there was even a hint of a smile on his lips.

“Tell me what’s going on, Ace.” His voice was surprisingly gentle.

I didn’t trust him. I could tell him everything and at the end he could say he didn’t want to help or he couldn’t.

I sighed. I needed to try at least. For Cec.

Yes, that’s it. This whole fucking crap I was going through was for her.

Letting out a snort, I shook my head at this irony.

If I was truly honest to myself, I didn’t do this for her. I did it mostly for myself. She was in pain, true, but I’d messed up so many things in life maybe she was the beginning of me being selfless for once in my life. To prove to myself and Thomas that I have changed. To do something for another person instead of me. Cec just happens to be… there. And in time of need.

Great, Thomas was right, I haven’t changed. I was still the same, selfish person. I guess that’s why Victoria had started the affair with Chris.

I really neglected her.

But I wanted to change.

Banishing those damn thoughts from my head, I turned my gaze to Thomas and told him everything Noah had told me.

As I finished, Thomas rubbed his eyes, his eyes looking suddenly much older than eight months ago.

“Ace, this is not a small thing we’re talking about. He owes money not only to the state but also to private investors. I’m surprised they didn’t take him back to jail. He is really lucky.”

Luck is the least thing Cec’s family has. Well, maybe this time it was really luck.

“I know. Her parents are paying his debts each month”, I mumbled. “Tho-… Dad…”

“I know a hundred thousand Dollars are nothing for you that’s why I’m asking you. Can you give him the money? I don’t know how long her parents can continue paying the debts until they’re going to have to sell their house. I… please… Dad.”

The last words felt like venom coming out of my mouth and as much I tried to say it convincingly, they were just fake and forced.

And Thomas knew it, yet all he said was, “All right. I’ll give them the money–”

“No, not them, not their parents! Her father would never accept it if he knew.”

“And do you have another plan?”, he asked calmly, his finger tapping against his chin.

As much as I had thought during the flight and last night at the hotel when I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t come up with something useful except:

“You give him the money. I’ll make sure he’ll pay the private investors and his taxes.”

“And how is he going to explain to his parents that they suddenly don’t have to pay every month a high amount?”

Sucking air through my teeth, I prepared to crush my dignity a second time. “I have another favor.”

Thomas exhaled deeply, waiting for me to continue. “He needs a job.”

At that, he uttered a short laugh. “Ace, are you out of your mind? I am the CEO of an architectural company and not… some business man in the IT sector. How do you expect me to find a job for him?”

“I don’t know, make some calls! Or ask one of your friends! Surely, one of them must know some IT companies in the States.”

Thomas turned his brown eyes to meet mine. His stare was intense as his mind surely recapping what I just said. I didn’t plan any of this. I didn’t plan what exactly I would say or suggest and now I sounded like a child running to his Dad for help.

I was beyond pathetic.

“Fine. I’ll call Rufus. He just had a project for urban architecture on the West Coast and I think he mentioned working together with some informaticians.”

My face unclenched, I could feel my muscles relaxing.

“But I can’t promise anything”, he added.

Part of me wanted to say that it doesn’t matter because at least he tried. But I didn’t want him to try. I wanted this to work. This had to work.

Nodding, I made my way to the door when Thomas cleared his throat. “Ace.”

I turned around. “Yes?”

His mouth stayed open as he contemplated which words could make me angry and which ones completely lose my calm. Well, lose my semi-calm.

“Who is this girl?”

His face was frozen, void of emotion. His eyes bore into me, giving nothing away. His look was so damn unreadable. Not being able to read someone’s face expression was always something I hated. And Thomas rarely surfaces his true feelings toward me.

I don’t know who this girl is, Thomas. She just came crashing into my world and made me second-guess everything I do, everything I think.

“Just a girl from college”, I dodged.

“Then this ‘girl from college’ must be a really special one if she made you come all the way to see me”, he said, forming quotation marks with his fingers.

I didn’t owe him any explanation. And there was no explanation.

I said nothing.

“She doesn’t know anything about that. And I don’t want her to know.”

I had good reasons not to tell her, and I was glad that Thomas didn’t dig further.

“He’ll pay you back”, I added. “I’ll make sure Noah pays you back.” 

Once again, Thomas fell into silence, his eyes piercing me which annoyed me to the infinity.

“No, Ace. He’s going to pay you back”, he said and got up from his chair. Fluidly, he crossed the distance to the safe behind the portrait of Mom.

“Here”, he said and handed me a bank passbook, my name written neatly on the cover.

“I kept it although Victoria said you threw it in the trash. The amount didn’t change, I didn’t disburse or deposit a Dollar. It should be more than enough to pay for Noah’s debts.”

I was astonished.

That thing was still here? My money was still here? No, it was Thomas’s money, he just gave it to me when Mom was dying.

Involuntarily, I took it. I didn’t know if I should be angry at Victoria or grateful, but I chose neither of those.

The thing was not finished yet and I didn’t want to get Noah’s hopes up. Mine, neither.

“Thank you… Dad”, I managed to say and opened the door.

“Ace”, he repeated, waiting for me to turn around. “Can I give you some piece of advice?”

It was a rhetoric question. He was giving me some advice – whether I like it or not. That was just… Thomas.

“Dad, if you remind me that Mom’s death day is this Thursday I’m going to lose it, I swear. You know I won’t go there–”

“Yes, I know and I won’t force you”, he snapped. “You’re stubborn and I know better than trying to convince you to do something you don’t want to. I know I won’t achieve anything.”

Taking my silence as a consent, he continued, “I don’t try to be prying or meddle in your affairs since I know that you don’t want to talk about that with me. But this girl changed you quite a lot. You stood up for someone in a way I have never seen you before.” He paused and I had to admit I was wondering what he was thinking right now.

“What’s her name?”, he asked.

“Cecily”, I mumbled after debating on whether I should tell him or not. Or rather why I should tell him.

“Don’t ruin it”, he finished, turning to his chair and giving me one last look that I couldn’t misread. One look that was as pervasive as the ray of sunlight in the desert.

His look, that was saying:

Really, Ace, don’t ruin it.

 

Thomas called Rufus as promised, who called us back and confirmed what Thomas had said about him working with an IT office on the West Coast. In San Francisco, to be precise.

They wanted to see Noah as soon as possible so I had to book the next flight.

As we arrived at the entrance of our hotel in Chicago, Thomas’s driver waited for us.

Noah’s eyes widened at the view of the Audi A 8.

I rolled my eyes. “What is that supposed to mean, Spencer?”, I asked as he opened the door.

“Mr. Skidmore prepared his private jet at the air field and asked me to drive you there”, he answered. Noah didn’t have to reconsider: He basically jumped inside the car and examined the interior.

“You have got to be kidding me”, I growled.

Spencer shrugged his shoulders. Just as I wanted to call Thomas to ask him what the fuck he was thinking, Noah already opened the minibar.

“Jeez, would you just get in, Ace? The faster we get to San Francisco, the faster you’ll be back home and me, too.”

He was right, damn. Arguing with Thomas or Spencer wouldn’t bring us any closer to San Francisco.

“Fuck, fine.”

Five hours, two coffees and three aspirins later, we arrived in the afternoon, the San Francisco air humid and thick.

I hated that city already.

 

Electronic Foundation was at the other end of the city, but before we got there, Noah and I headed with our cab to the next insultingly expensive store to buy a suit for him.

Whether it was an Armani or Boss suit, I didn’t know. And I didn’t care.

He just has to look like one of these snobbish pricks that work at the Wall Street. Great, now I had to look like the best friend of some snobbish prick that works at the Wall Street. I tried a couple suits until one fitted acceptably. Next stop was a barber. Noah was still looking like a caveman. Definitively not good at a job interview.

Whatever they did at the barber and the shop, afterward he really looked like one of those snobbish pricks at the Wall Street. Now that his forehead and cheeks were freed from all the hair and beard, he resembled Cec more than before.

Images of her face flashed inside my mind, but I ignored them – together with the memory of her lips.

Noah and I headed to the foyer and announced that we were waiting for Mr. Barlow.

He was more nervous than I’d thought; his leg kept bouncing until a skinny secretary greeted us and ushered us to the CEO’s office after a short while.

Different building, same decorated style on the inside.

Well, Thomas’s office was… cozier, somehow. He liked a down-home lifestyle whereas other CEOs want the most expensive stuff and the most needless bullshit, too.

Putting on a fake smile, I extended my arm. “Hello, Mr. Barlow, nice to meet you, finally.”

He rose to greet us and motioned me to the chairs in front of his desk with a pleasant smile.

“Hello, Mr. Skidmore. Please have a seat”, the short man in his fifties said to me, his eyes sparkling as he mentioned my fucking last name. No, Thomas’s last name. I flinched for a split-second at the mention of it but just widened my smile and shook his hand.

Now was not the time to tell him my last name was Aurenglade. Like my mother’s.

“So, you must be Mr. Noah Martesse”, Mr. Barlow said and shook Noah’s hand.

“Y-Yes, I’m Noah Martesse. Nice to meet you, Sir. And thank you for taking up so much of your time. Surely you must be busy!”

Slow. The. Fuck. Down. Noah.

God, why is he so nervous? We talked about it, we prepared the interview and I warned him not to exaggerate.

But then, it was typical snobbish-Wall-Street-prick-style to always exaggerate.

The interview was tiring.

In every tiring way.

Noah was still nervous for the first ten minutes, although I kept making jokes about Rufus, Thomas and even my studies. Finally, he could show some of his IT skills by coping with a new software they had developed. Silently, I noted the new server program that could set up an IP blocker within seconds. Quite impressive.

It was also very interesting to see on which field they had expanded and that their focus seemed to be on the Nano technology and robot construction. Surely very exciting; and lucrative.

I liked this company.

And then Mr. Barlow dropped the bomb about Noah being in jail. Shutting my eyes, I prayed Thomas’s idea to tell the CEO from the beginning about Noah’s former stay in jail proved to be good because I had absolutely no Plan B.

But Mr. Barlow didn’t seem startled or curious. He was just interested if there had been a trial and if he was on probation, which both did not happen and weren’t the case.

Noah was skillful, the CEO sensed that, too.

“Thank you, Mr. Martesse for coming all the way to us”, Mr. Barlow said as he rearranged some papers on his desk. “I am most impressed by your knowledge about collaborative modeling and cyber-toolbox, Mr. Martesse. Also, with your experience at DBI Staffing, you are at advantage than most other applicants.”

Mr. Barlow rose and shook Noah’s hand. “So, I just have one question, Mr. Martesse.”

“Yes?”, he nodded.

“Can you start next month?”

A wide grin was on the CEO’s face as he saw Noah’s face lighten up. I knew, on the inside Noah’s stomach was making a loop. Hell, my stomach was making a loop.

“Yes, of course, Sir!”, Noah beamed.

“Excellent”, he said, walking to the small table at the other end of the room. He grabbed one of the delicate glass bottles and poured some liquor.

“Well gentlemen”, Mr. Barlow said and handed us the glasses. Immediately, I recognized the smell of brandy. “Cheers”, he said, turning to his desk to prepare the papers.

I nipped to celebrate but dumped most of it over a plant the moment he and Noah discussed the contract.

 

“That is so great, Ace!”, Noah shouted as soon as we arrived at the cab.

“Yeah, yeah…”, I mumbled. I couldn’t help but grinning. It was great. I never thought it would work out so well.

I began to imagine how Cec’s face would beam once she’d hear the good news.

Noah opened the door but stopped.

“I’ll pay you back”, he said, his face turning serious again. “Just wait until I gather some money and I’ll pay every month–”

“No, I don’t want that.”

He blinked several times, his mouth still open. And then he laughed. “Quit the jokes, Ace.”

“I’m not joking. I don’t want the money back.”

Slowly, his laugh vanished as he realized that I was dead serious.

“You’re kidding, right? That’s crazy, Ace. I need to give you your money back! Those are one hundred thousand Dollars we’re talking about!”

I couldn’t begin to explain that this money meant nothing to me. That Thomas’s money meant nothing to me. It never had. When he’d told me about the bank account, I did nothing benevolent with the first ten thousand Dollars. Nothing good.

But this time it felt good, truly good to spend money. To give money to someone who was in need.

“Believe me, I don’t need it. I have enough. Just take it as a gift or something.”

He contemplated whether I was serious or completely out of my mind. I guessed it was the latter but I was glad he didn’t argue with me on it. As insane as it might sound, but hundred grands w nothing compared to what was still left on my bank account.

I watched him laugh hard, squeezing my rib cage when he hugged me.

“Noah, listen”, I said once he calmed down.

“I’m going back to Los Angeles today, but you need to stay. Look for an apartment in the meantime and make sure the finance office gets their money from next month on – together with the investors, like we discussed. Also, you need to visit your parents soon and tell them that you will have a job interview next week. After that, you can tell them that it was great, the CEO was interested and so on. A few days later, your family can know that Mr. Barlow hired you. Got it?”

Trying to remember what I had told him, he nodded slowly. I thought about it the whole day and this option seemed to be the most logic one.

“Thank you so much, Ace”, he said for the millionth time and got in the car. I watched him drive away while I looked for another one to drive me to the airport. There was no way I’d take Thomas’s jet again, so I booked a regular, economy flight to L.A.

I’d arrive at five in the afternoon which was great. I think I’ll go to sleep as soon as I’ll be in my apartment. Those past few days… I couldn’t believe I flew across the country just because–

My phone started buzzing.

It was Paul’s number.

“Hey, Paul. What’s up?”, I answered.

“‘Hey Paul, what’s up?’ Are you kidding me, Ace? I’ve tried to call you the whole day and you didn’t pick up, man.” He sounded upset. And in total drama-queen-mode.

“I was busy. So, what’s up?”, I asked again, trying to sound not annoyed or tired.

Sighing, his voice was back to normal. “Nothing special, actually. Dude, where were you these couple days?”

“I had some things to do out of town.”

“Huh…”

He gave me a brief summary of all the things I had missed. Nothing new, and I listened half-heartedly.

“You wanna hang out tonight?”, he asked.

Hell no, I need a break from those past days.

Before I could say no, he continued, “Dexter and I wanted to grab a bite later. Alex is coming with us and probably Karen, too. Well, she explicitly asked if you would come.”

I could hear the muffled chuckle on the phone and hoped he could sense me flipping him off right now.

“Sorry Paul, there is no way I’m going to spend the evening listening to that prick’s babbling about college”, I grumped.

Paul sighed. “Charming as usual. Is there any person on this planet that you don’t hate?”

I opened my mouth, but he was quicker. “No, wait. Don’t answer. Anyway, Aro’s coming too, probably. Oh, and Cecily”, he added casually, not knowing that just the mention of her name was doing some fucking moves in my belly.

“Are you now interested, Ace?”, he added and I could have sworn he was smirking right now. 

Actually, I wasn’t. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to relax. I wanted to… Cec.

She was going. And I didn’t see her since Sunday when I yelled at her and the last thing I had said was Get out.

I felt guilty for yelling at her. But mentioning Victoria and the fact she knew she had an affair with Chris somehow made me see red.

And although my mind was telling me no, reminding me that Karen would be there and endlessly annoying me, although my reason was telling me to rest once I’d arrive at L.A., although everything in my body was screaming at me that I was making a mistake, I heard myself saying, “Of course. I’ll be there.”

I was not interested in going.

I was interested in seeing Cec again. And keep an eye on that dickhead Aro. I could sense he was somehow eyeing Cec.

And for some reason that I really didn’t understand, this weird jealousy was awakening something inside of me.

A feeling of sheer protection and craving for her, stronger than anything I have ever felt.

 

A/N: Hey there!! I'm sorry that it's probably not the chapter you had hoped for (hehe... I'm a meanie, I know) but I figured it was important to see Ace's selfless act ;) But don't worry, the next chapter is coming soon and will be... let's say: exciting =)

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