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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9. The Exam Ball

 

 

CECILY

 

I walked between the hallstand where the discounted blue cocktail dresses hung, my mind everywhere but the dresses I flighty touched. Ruby and Anna were already in the changing cabins. Cassy was a little more choosey; she still examined each dress with high concentration.

“Well, they don’t have the dress I have in my mind”, she sighed. “Okay, maybe they have, but I’m not going to pay five hundred Dollars for an exam ball that is not ours yet. Did you find anything?”

I shook my head. And I’m certainly not going to find anything when I’m this down.

But why am I even down? Anna just told me about her feelings and asked me a simple favor: to stay away from Ace. It’s not like we did much together or were even friends. I dismissed the thought about them and focused on Cassy and the dresses.

“You seem a bit off today? Everything okay?”, Cassy asked.

“What? No, I’m fine! I’m just a bit tired and soon having my period…”

“Ahh… that explains it.” Cassy nodded and changed the subject. Phew, the period-lie is always working.

“You and Anna seem good. She’s very excited about the ball.”

“Yeah, everything’s fine with us. I called her this morning and we apologized to each other.”

“Great.” Cassy dropped the topic, her focus back on the dresses. “Do you have a dress or a shape in mind?”

“Uhh… the brown one there seems cute, but way too much décolleté. Also this blue one is sweet, but even S seems so small… and probably too tight.”

Cassy looked as if I had claimed the earth is a disk. “Hello? This is a ball, Cecily! You can’t wear something brown or a sack of potatoes. You are going to look hot. And I mean hot hot, not ‘hot’ like that one dress you wore at the party last year.”

Shaking her head, she remembered my pink dress that – I admit – made me look like a ten-year-old at that party. Unbelievable that she still brought up that old story. Okay, she clearly had an eye for such things, so I let her decide.

Five minutes later, she threw a silver-white one in my arm after she examined me with an intensity that made me feel naked. As if I were a gene-manipulated sheep that had the cure for cancer in its DNA.

I disappeared behind thick curtains and looked at it properly: Tiny silver pearls were plastered all around the upper half, even the straps. The rest was a soft, white material, silky between my fingers. I turned it around and – holy cow – yes, my back would be very revealing in this.

With its built-in bra, my breast looked a lot fuller than usual. But breathing would be nearly impossible.

It fit me perfectly, accentuating my waistline and the side cut gave me the opportunity to walk freely. My back was pretty much revealed to the end of the tips of my hair. But then, I could just hide it with my hair.

Without a doubt, the dress was stunning, even though it would cost every last penny of this month. Taking a deep breath, I got out.

Cassy was beaming with delight the moment I got out, nodding eagerly.

“But it is too long…”, I said weakly. I looked at myself in the mirror across the hall.

“Don’t worry, we have a tailoring section on the third floor. It’ll be only a bit if you wear high heels”, the shop assistant said.

I turned around a few times, looking at each angle and detail. “Is my butt okay?”

“More than okay. Totally eye-catching.” Cassy giggled.

Ruby and Anna came by, showing us the dresses they chose. Ruby decided for a red one which totally brought out her caramel skin and dark brown eyes and Anna a cute blue one.

 “Do you think Ace will like my dress?”, Anna asked once the others were out of earshot.

“Um…” Okay that came out of nowhere. How should I know what he likes or not? He likes oranges I think, maybe orange was his favorite color? But an orange dress… huh, that would be really ugly.

“Yeah, sure. It really suits you.”

Cassy snapped the beige dress I had tried on earlier and slipped in it.

“How do I look?” She spun around a few times, twisting her hair up.

“Hot”, I answered, grinning. She did look hot.

“I’ll take it.” She took the dress off and we paid when she grabbed my arm. “Shoes. Do you have some?”

“Err… yep.” Somewhere in my closet, I guess. She eyed me for a second but nodded.

And then she grinned. A big, fat grin. “Can I do your hair? And your make up?”

“Y-Yeah, sure.” Cassy could do some pretty hairdos but I feared the level of what she was about to do to my hair.

“Trust me. It’s going to be awesome.”

 

As I got home, Mom was dozing on the couch while her favorite show was on TV. Which was odd, normally she didn’t sleep in the evening.

Salut, Maman.” She opened her eyes and greeted me back.

“Whoa… you look tired. Didn’t sleep well last night?”

Rubbing her temples, she yawned.

“No, I didn’t. I had a fight with your father yesterday, so I went early to bed. I couldn’t stand it anymore, but I couldn’t sleep either.” That explains why Dad had been so tense yesterday.

“What was the fight about?” I asked, sitting next to her. I grabbed the other end of the blanket and wrapped it around me.

“It was about Noah. Your father is angry at him and doesn’t want him to stay in New York with strangers and unemployed. He’s right, I don’t want that, either. But we can’t force him to come. He’s an adult and if he wants to stay there then we have to support him. But he doesn’t see it that way. He’s going to see him this weekend and try to bring him to terms.”

“And you don’t want him to go, do you?”

“I want–” She stopped, gathering her thoughts. “I don’t know what I want, but I fear that the situation between the two of them is going to get worse. Your father is right when he says Noah should come home. At least we would save money if he would stay with us. But Noah’s stubborn. He said he’s going to come visit us next week after some job interviews he has this Thursday.” She was right, the situation was already tense with the DA still searching for evidences against him and him being unemployed.

“But Papa thinks that’s just an excuse for not coming now, doesn’t he?”

She nodded, her silence leaving us lost in thoughts for a while. I conciliated her as much as I could until I had no more arguments.

Maybe Dad and Noah were going to get along together. Yet, I knew Noah too well to think he was going to listen to Dad.

Though, I chose to believe the lies I was telling myself that it was going to get better.

 

The next day, I picked up my dress after college. The height was perfect now. After finding the right shoes in my closet, I was most surprised to see how I’d gotten unfamiliar wearing high heels. I kept practicing, yet I fell a couple of times until I threw them to the corner of my room.

The walls at the clinic were covered with posters, reminding us of the Exam Ball this Friday and from what I heard, everyone was going to be there. Especially the after show party.

Although the atmosphere at the clinic was joyful with everyone being excited it was the opposite at home: Mom and Dad weren’t talking anymore, to the point that she didn’t even want to drive him to the airport. Before he could call a cab or have another argument, I quickly agreed to drive him.

We didn’t exchange many words on our ride; he was lost in thoughts and looked exhausted, as if the last two months had aged him ten years. He told me he would stay at the hotel till Sunday before he hugged me tightly. I felt a lump in my throat coming up and blinked a couple of times to prevent the tears from falling. The last thing he needed was to calm down his daughter.

 

As I drove back, the lump was still there, making me spiritless. The feeling of betrayal crept up inside me: I was going to have fun while my mother was lonely and sad.

“Maman… I don’t have to go to the ball. If you need me here, I’ll stay with you and we can make some popcorn and watch a movie or something like that.”

Although Cassy would have a heart attack.

 “Mais ça va pas!” She nearly jumped from our couch. “Of course you are going! After all the preparations and the dress, the shoes! Don’t think about me too much, chérie, you already missed the ball last year and I wasn’t happy either. But now I will push you to go there if necessary.” She smiled warmly, caressing my hair. “And besides, Cassy is going to kill you if you cancel.” True.

Once Cassy, Anna and Ruby came by, my room looked like a battlefield of make-up, mascara, curling irons and dresses.

As promised, Cassy made styled my hair. She artfully twisted my long hair atop my head, and attached it with several pins. Sighing, I ignored the fact that my back was that exposed.

 

The Lyan Complex was a very beautiful location for a ball: It was a huge and luxurious hall where many weddings and charity events took places, sometimes even movie scenes were filmed.

It was a long drive, but with the girl’s chat, time passed quickly. Once we arrived in the parking lot, I clutched my shawl. The night was chillier than I thought and I couldn’t wait to get inside.

As I fumbled inside my purse for the invitation card, I felt my heart sinking to my boots. “Oh shit!” I emptied my whole purse and that stupid thing was nowhere to be seen. Pacing back and forth, I tried to remember where it could possibly be.

“I forgot the invitation at home!”

“Seriously?!”, Ruby sighed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t have a clear mind… Can I borrow your car, Cass? I’ll be right back in less than an hour, I promise. Reserve me a seat!”, I said as Cassy threw the keys to me.

I tossed my shoes on the passenger’s seat and drove like an insane, praying that no cop was around.

As soon as I arrived at home, I grabbed my card as expected on the kitchen table and rushed to the door.

Once again, I drove as fast as I could, but the traffic jam had me stuck there for a while. Finally, I arrived and slipped into my shoes.

I guess it was my fate to always be late.

I could hear the loud thud of music from the Complex as I made my way.

The foyer was amazing: the marble floor and the huge lusters that looked like one of the books I’d read about the 19th century were just breathtaking. I felt like stepping out of a time machine that brought me back to Jane Austen’s epoch.

Before the desk clerk could check my invitation, the door opened a second time and someone came in.

The black tux he wore fitted his body in a sheer perfect way, framing his broad shoulders. One hand laid in the pocket of his pants, the other brushed away his silky black hair.

Ace’s eyes rested on me like a pair of thunderbolts. Slowly, they traveled up and down my body as if cherishing every little detail of the sight until they locked with mine. A mild heat slunk up my body and stayed on my cheeks. His look was concentrated, almost pained. I was captivated by his stare and couldn’t look away. An irrational longing to cross the distance, to be nearer to him, to touch him overflowed me. God, what was wrong with me?

I cleared my throat. “Uh… hey.” My voice sounded chirpier than I’d intended. Dammit.

“You look beautiful”, he said, his tone giving nothing away. Unimpressed. As if he was telling me about the weather or what time it was.

But… whoa? Was Ace making me a compliment?

“You’re high, right?”, I blurted out.

His brows rose and I bit my lip. I could see he was fighting a grin, however, the corner of his mouth curled up. “Wish I was”, he mumbled.

He cocked his head to the side. “What makes you think so?”

“Uh… let’s see: you’re being nice to me.”

He shrugged. “I’m always nice.”

Now my brows arched while my mouth practically stayed open. Crazy thing was that I think he really believed it.

He showed the clerk the invitation while I put mine back inside my purse.

“Yeah… I don’t know your definition of being nice, but if to you ‘nice’ means a controlling smartass who’s in love with himself, then yes: you’re very nice.”

Ace chuckled deeply. “Someone seems to be in a good mood for insulting me. Even though I just made you a compliment.”

I opened my mouth again but a flash of guilt passed me by. I’d rather bite my tongue off than admit that he was right. He did make me a compliment. Still, there was no way I’d apologize to that dickhead.

“I really–”

“There you are!” A shrill voice echoed through the foyer that had my hair all stand up. Karen McBitch was headed to us, in a skintight crimson dress with a low V neck. Very low.

Teetering toward us, she wrapped her fingers around his arm and leeched on to him. “You rushed off so fast, I couldn’t keep up.”

Holding my stare, she smiled sweetly at me. “Cecily. Good to see you”, she said and turned her attention back to him.

Although I could see Ace stiffen, he didn’t budge.

This was just a perfect sight. If she was going to stick her tongue into his mouth, I think I’d puke.

Before I could see more of that skank’s attempt to dig her claws into him, I turned around. A dull feeling washed over me and settled low on my stomach. I couldn’t quite figure out what kind of emotion it was, but I was most certain that it was not jealousy. There was no way I’d feel jealous. It was rather loyalty toward my friend Anna who seemed to hope for something that was unlikely to happen.

“Cec–”

“My friends are waiting for me”, I said and headed to the door. Karen’s high-pitched chuckle followed me but was muted once I entered the ballroom.

As soon as I stepped inside, I was surrounded by crowds of people.

I scanned the room for Cassy and the others and spotted them at the other end. I crossed the dance floor and headed off to them.

“Hey girls”, I said, sitting between them.

“What took you so long?”

“There was a jam”, I explained. “Wow, this place is breathtaking!” I basically had to shout to be heard over the music.

“Told you!” Cassy winked.

I watched the others shaking their hips on the dance floor, among them Ruby. She was a natural; her moves in absolute sync to the rhythm. A few guys already encircled her but she didn’t seem to mind their company.

The next song played, and neon colors flickered through the room. The beat sped up, as well as the dancing crowd – some of them to the rhythm, some just pushing their bodies against their partner.

I tugged the girls onto the dance floor; Anna was a little hesitant but tipsy enough to join us. We danced with each other, giggling and just let ourselves get lost to the music.

Soon Eric and Josh joined us, their robot-like moves almost making me burst into a laughter. I was panting, my back was wet yet I just couldn’t stop. I could do this all night long.

I caught a glimpse of the other students sitting at their tables, among them a mass of black hair. There were candles on each table, flickering in the dim room. A warm glow danced around his cheekbones as his eyes kept staring… at my direction.

Other guys were sitting next to him but I recognized no one of them. Yet I was surprised to see no Karen around him. Honestly, I didn’t care about her. I just didn’t want to witness any disgusting make-out sessions.  

“Where’s Anna?”, Cassy half-yelled into my ear. I turned around and looked for her.

“Don’t know. She was just next to me.”

Bodies around us were slick with sweat and the smell of alcohol hung in the air as I searched for Anna.

I found her walking straight to Ace’s table and talking to him. She settled on the chair next to him.

“She’s talking to Ace”, I mumbled, focusing back on dancing. My eyes settled on a drunken guy… Marc, I recognized.

His face was disturbingly red, his moves slow, like a high tower wobbling. He seemed unsteady on his feet yet grabbed the next glass filled with liquor.

The song changed and it was getting quieter when he teetered away yet my worries about him faded when Eric placed his hand around my waist. Hesitantly, but respectably far away from my butt.

“You’re a great dancer”, he said, his lips brushing my ear.

“Err… thanks.” I listened to the song and figured it was lambada. I’d loved the song since I was four years old. Unfortunately, it was very difficult and the only rhythm I was always nonsynchronous to. I spotted Cassy dancing with Josh, Ruby with another one. “But I don’t think I will be much of a help with lambada”, I said, already apologizing. 

He didn’t seem to hear what I just said. He tried to close the space between by taking a step forward, just the same time as I wanted to take one to him.

“Ouch”, I mumbled as he stepped on my foot.

“Sorry!”, he apologized yet his eyes never left the floor as he took the lead.

Trying to move his hips according to the rhythm, he swayed his body from the left to the right.

Apart from stepping a few times on my feet, he was not that bad at dancing with me.

“So… you’re staying for the after party?”, he said, his hand slowly lowering. I froze but he just placed it back where it was.

“I thought this was the after party.”

He chuckled. “No, there’s going to be a bonfire at the beach or something. The others are going, too. I could take you there later if you want–”

“Ouch.”

“I’m sorry!”, he apologized for the tenth time.

I smiled. “It’s okay”, I assured. “Told you, I can’t dance lambada anyway.”

As I let go of his shoulder, a strong hand wrapped around my wrist and spun me around. My face almost crashed into a hard chest but it was rather his deep voice that made me all downy.

“May I?”, Ace asked, his eyes stabbing Eric. As if he had a chance to say no.

“Err… sure. I’ll get a drink. You need something, Cecily?”

Air. Space. Cold water.

“No, thanks.”

I stiffened as Ace moved closer to me, placing his hand around my waist. Lower than Eric. But not too low to assume anything. My heart picked up its pace, to the point I feared he’d notice.

He moved closer, until there was hardly space between us. My fingers tightened around his shoulder, as if I was about to crash on the floor if he’d let go now.

He swayed to the music, putting just the right pressure of his body against mine to join him.

“Shouldn’t you dance with your date?”, I asked.

“Karen’s not my date”, he said. “She came with Conner and Paul.”

“Whatever”, I mumbled, focusing on the way my body was whirling. He was swift, and his touches bore a tenderness I didn’t know he could be capable of creating.

“It’s actually none of my business what kind of friends you two are”, I said, realizing how true it was. 

He spun me around and I could feel his grip tensing. The song changed into a slower one but I barely took notice of it.

“We’re not that kind of friends”, he said, his jaw brushing my cheek. A shiver rolled through me, and even doubled when I smelled his soap. The others became a blur when his hand moved up to my bare back. Like electricity, his hand had a force over me and ignited foreign sensations within my body.

“How’s your foot by the way?”

“Fine.”

He tilted his head and chuckled in my ear. “You’re welcome.”

I looked up and found a smirk on his lips, as expected. “For what?”

“Saving you from hobbling back home. Seriously, I’ve never seen such a klutz. Not even you are–”

“Thank you”, I cut in, closing my eyes. This moment was beautiful. Peaceful. And he should just shut up before keeping insulting my friends.

The stiffness vanished the longer I was in his arms. His chin rested briefly on the top of my hair when a soft vibration hummed through my mind.

It had to stop. Somewhere deep down, I knew this was wrong. It felt nice. But it was wrong.

I opened my eyes and stopped moving. Questioning eyes rested on me, but my voice died on my lips when we heard a loud thud.

A few dancing couples landed on the floor, one even facedown, the other with half of his drink on his shirt.

A familiar voice caught my attention before I could see his face: Marc was stumbling to get up.

Apparently, he caused the crash. But he brushed off his jacket and headed to the door. His face had taken an unhealthy shade of red and his unsteady feet didn’t look assuring, either.

“You think he’s alright?”, I asked.

Ace shrugged. “Who cares?”

I was aghast. His look was as stone-cold as his voice. “Seriously, Ace? He could be really sick right now.”

“He’s old enough to look out for himself. You don’t have to play his babysitter.”

Disbelief rushed through me as I heard how little he cared for him. His cruel attitude seemed to have no boundaries. I frowned.

“So much for you being nice”, I snapped before heading to the door. He called my name but it was lost in the crowd and noise.

The night was chilly as I searched for him at the parking lot. It wasn’t successful. Sighing, I made my way to the garden.

It was a lovely spot: there were so many flowers and bushes planted around a big fountain made out of marble.

The broad figure of Marc was leaning against a tree next to that fountain. One hand steadied him the other splayed across his forehead.

“Marc, is everything okay?”

“Hm?” Bloodshot eyes focused on me when he took an unsteady step to me. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, don’t worry!” His hiccup got hidden behind a chuckle.

“Woooow, Cecily. You were so hot in there. Didn’t know y-you could dance like thaat!”

He was close enough to me to smell the stinging scent of liquor from his mouth.

I took a step back, mostly to breathe again.

“I think you should sit down”, I said, carefully grabbing his shoulder.

“Nah… I’m totally fine!” He jerked back his hand too fast, it made me almost stumble.

“I’m j’st a litt’e dizzy...” He turned his bloodshot eyes to me when he reached out his hand to grab my arm.

He smelled foul, sweat mixed with the scent of the liquor. “Ugh Marc, just how many drinks did you have?”

As he leaned forward, I froze. For a second I considered shoving him away in case he was about to do something inappropriate. But my debate on what I should do next got interrupted when his eyes rolled back.

“Marc–” Heavy weight crashed against me as he collapsed. It happened too fast, and I lost completely my balance. My ankles twisted and my legs got caught under him. My attempts to stay on my feet were futile; my back crashed with full impact against the marble fountain.

Holy… cow… oh, that hurt! The pain was stabbing my back, making me gasp and knocked the breath out of my rib cage. The ache increased and I couldn’t breathe for a second. Within an instant, heat spread around the whole area where my bra would have ended. Oh, this was going to leave a big bruise.

I rolled Marc onto his back and stumbled to get up which caused only more pain on my back.

“Marc! Wake up! Marc!”, I shouted. No reaction.

“What happened?” Ace stood in front of me, tense and unsmiling.

“What are… you doing here?”, I panted, trying to hide my back. No one could see my back, it surely must be red already.

He muttered something under his breath.

“He passed out. Can you stay here? I’m going to get David.” A thought came through my mind. “Uh, Ace… can I borrow your jacket? I’m shivering.” I bit my lower lip. Hopefully he was a gentleman in times like this.

He removed his jacket without saying a word and gave it to me silently. I put it on, trying not to contort my face in pain.

I walked past Ace when he grabbed my arm firmly. His face was still tense, lips as thin as a line. “He didn’t do anything stupid, didn’t he?”

“No, of course not!” The last thing we needed right now was an angry Ace to go berserk. “No”, I said again, calmly. “He didn’t, he just grabbed his forehead and then he stumbled.” Over me.

Clearly, he wondered if I was telling the truth, but nodded.

I walked as fast as I could, my back bursting in flames with every step I took.

Marc still didn’t wake up although Ace and David shook him a little – uh – wildly.

“Okay, I’ll take him home. It wasn’t a good idea to bring him to the Ball, after all. I thought he’ll maybe forget about his breakup but obviously, I was wrong.”

That explains why he was so drunk. I looked at the unconscious Marc laying on the ground and felt sorry for him.

Ace, however, just looked disgusted. Snorting, he just went back inside without another word.

I stayed until David and another friend brought Marc in his car and made my way to the girl’s restroom, examining my back. Oh my God, that wasn’t a bruise, it was a giant hematoma. It already changed the color from red to purple with a surface as big as a handball. Yup, I definitively couldn’t take this jacket off. I sighed, rubbing my temples. I needed aspirin. No, rather sleep.

I headed back to our table and found Cassy chatting with someone and Anna sitting rather sadly at the other end. God, I just hope she didn’t see me dancing with Ace. “Cassy, I’m going home.”

“Hm? Is everything okay? There’s this bonfire soon, you don’t wanna go there?”

Uh… nope. “Yeah, everything’s fine. I’m just really tired.”

“I’ll drive you home”, Ace said behind me. God, he was just like a shadow. And as silent.

His voice was low, his offer didn’t seem optional. It was a simple statement and his tone made it clear that there would be a long argument. My head started throbbing in sync with my back as if they were competing whose pain was greater.

I was tired and calling a cab would take too long. Turning my eyes to Anna, I mutely asked her if it was okay but she just nodded shyly.

I grabbed my purse and silently followed Ace who was walking fast. Or was I walking slowly?

As we arrived at his car, I was panting. Okay, I so needed an ointment for this bruise at home.

“Is everything okay?”, Ace asked and came next to me.

I smiled – or tried to. “U-huh”, I said unable to from any other words. I turned around to get inside when he placed his hand with some pressure around my back. “Really?”

A whimper escaped my mouth as my hand clenched into a fist.

“Nothing’s okay – what is there?”

“Just a small bruise”, I mumbled as he took it off me. “It’s not a big deal. Really.” I heard no sound for a couple of seconds.

“Did he do that to you?” His voice was hoarse, his fingers brushing my bruise carefully.

“What? No, it wasn’t Marc’s fault. Told you, he stumbled and collapsed. I was jerked back and hit that fountain with my back.”

I spun around, clenching the jacket around my shoulders. I forced my gaze to his eyes. An ice blue hue settled on me and I could guess he was debating whether I was telling the truth or not.

He sighed, walking to the driver’s seat. “Clumsy as usual, aren’t you?”

“It could’ve happened to anyone”, I mumbled, annoyed by my affinity to get myself into such situations.

He pulled to the highway and turned on the heater. I always thought I drove like an insane, but Ace was ten times worse. Great, if my back was not going to kill me then his driving style.

“How come that you’re often late when you drive like this”, I asked.

He grinned. “That isn’t even me being fast.” Oh God. I didn’t think I ever wanted to see him driving fast.

“Um, can I ask you something?” Okay there was one thing I needed to know.

“Since when do you ask before asking?” Yeah, my curiosity was killing me.

I said nothing, so he added “Go ahead.”

“Did you take dancing classes? Or are you a professional dancer? Because that was way too… uh…” Damn hot.

He arched his eyebrows “Too what?”

“Too good.”

He didn’t respond for a while, so I thought that I had crossed a line again and that this topic was one of the thousand ones he didn’t want to talk about.

“My parents forced me to take some fucking dancing classes when I was a teenager. I hated it and after I turned sixteen, I stopped going there. They weren’t very pleased but after a year of torture they thought it was okay for me to quit.”

“And why did you dance with… me?”

Huh, what was that question about? I was prepared to hear something bitchy or even cruel but he just kept focusing on the road and answered after a while.

“Don’t know… I just wanted to.”

“Do you always do things just because you want to?” Surely, he must’ve had other reasons. Or I wanted him to have other reasons. Yet, I know I shouldn’t.

“Yes, I do.” He was still clenching his wheel, his knuckles turning white. I gulped. I didn’t believe him but better not push him.

“Besides, Eric’s dance was giving me a headache.”

He drove to our driveway; lights flickered through our window… Mom must be still awake.

He just mustered me with his unreadable eyes as he switched off the engine, his fingers slipping between a strand of my hair.

“T-Thanks for the drive. Um, good night!” As I wanted to get out of his car, his arm grabbed mine.

“Your bruise is giant. You still have the ointment?” 

I nodded and he got out.

“W-What are you doing?”

“Repaying you for what you did for me in San Diego”, he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Oh. OH!

“You don’t have to”, I mumbled, my legs already moving to our front porch.

“I know.” He put his hands into his pockets. “But I don’t like being indebted to someone.”

I was too exhausted to give a badass answer. “No! Really, you don’t have to!”, I yelped as I fumbled for the keys. Hopefully, I could just slip through the door and close it before he could come, too.

“Why are you acting all coy?”, he smirked, coming closer to me.

“I-I’m not!” He came closer, his face inches away from mine. He stopped smirking and looked at me intensely. He came even closer. And closer until there was hardly space between us. I wanted to scream what the hell he was doing, but my mouth was numbed. No, Cecily!, my subconsciousness screamed, but I was already shutting off my rationality. My body became more tense and I could feel every muscle in my body freezing.

He touched my ear and–

Pulled something out. “Huh, I thought I saw something. There was a little insect in your hair.” He removed his hand and took a step back, all of the intense atmosphere vanishing at once. An insect?! I nearly jumped and screamed at the same time.

“What?! An insect?! Are there any other things in there?!”

“Yeah, you have a whole insect family in your hair” The sarcasm in his voice wasn’t relaxing at all. “Relax, it was just a little – I don’t even know what that was.”

“This. Is. Not. Funny!” With every single word, I hit his chest – not that it made any difference. He just chuckled.

Just when I hit him for the fifth time, his fingers wrapped around my wrist, his smirk dissipated. There was sheen in his eyes but it faded when our front door burst open, giving me nearly a heart attack.

Mom stood there in her jogging pants and t-shirt.

“Maman, you’re still up?” I spoke so fast, my French was incomprehensible even to my ears. I removed my hand from Ace’s grip, smiling at her. Her eyes gleamed instantly and her eyes switched position between me and Ace a couple times.

“Salut chérie. You know it’s rude to talk in another language in front of… uh guests. Oh my, you’re that friend who helped Cecily at the hospital!”

Oh no, I’d totally forgotten that she already met him once. But the moment I opened my mouth, Ace extended his arm and introduced himself. “Yes, Mrs. Martesse. I’m Ace. Nice to see you again and under better circumstances.”

Now, he must’ve had also taken acting classes because that also was way too professional. He showed his innocent and perfect smile and Mom was already bowled over by his charms.

“Yes, that’s right. Didn’t Cassy want to bring you home, chérie?”

“Yes, but she wanted to stay a little longer, so Ace…”, he smiled again and it took me every bit of self-control to not roll my eyes. “…he agreed to drive me home.”

“Oh, that is really nice of you! Thank you very much. Do you want to come in and drink something or eat–?”

“NO!”

“Yes, please.” Okay this was an even bigger nightmare. What was she thinking? She looked at me appalled. “Cecily, that was very rude. You could be a bit more grateful.” She opened the door and let us in. I’d never entered our house so reluctantly like this time.

“Yeah, Cec. Be a little more grateful”, he whispered in my ear, sending me a million shivers.

Just as he entered our front door, his smile was victorious, his smirk shaking me to the core.

Whatever his devilish grin meant, it surely wasn’t something good.

 

~ § ~

 

 

Okay, this was a really weird and uncomfortable situation. Mom, who sat in front of us, offered Ace a cup of coffee and beamed with delight.

Ace told her that we met at the parking lot when he “didn’t pay attention” and scratched my car. Well, Mom’s car.

At that she arched an eyebrow. “So, you’re the one who caused that scratch.”

Yes, Mom, now can you scold him and get him out of the house?!

But it was Ace who we’re talking about, so he immediately had a perfect answer. “Yes, Mrs. Martesse and I am so sorry. If you want, I could take your car to the repair shop. I work there part-time. It’s cost-free of course.” What? He works at a repair shop?

My face radiated pure astonishment, but he just gave me his fake, innocent smile.

“You never told me”, I spluttered.

“You never asked” He shrugged his shoulders.

Seriously?!

I rolled my eyes and took a sip of my water.

“That would be great! I want to sell this old car soon, therefore it should be in a good condition. When do you have time?”, Mom asked and checked our calendar on the wall.

“Uh… this Sunday?”

“Of course, Sunday’s perfect! Where’s the repair shop?” He scribbled the address on a piece of paper.

“Perfect! Cecily, you were lucky that a repairman bumped into you.”

I was everything but lucky, Mom.

I forced a smile, taking another sip before saying something about how “lucky” I was.

“I can also fix your computer or laptop if you want”, he added while taking another gulp of his coffee.

Okay, did he study mechanics or something like that?!

“Oh, you can do that, too?”, Mom asked, astounded.

He nodded briefly. “Yeah, I also work at a computer repair shop.”

Well, that would explain why he had so many wires and hardwares on his desk at his place. Why does he give my mother in those five minutes more information about himself than when I pepper him with questions he hardly gives clear answers to!?

“Thank you, but our electronics are all intact”, Mom said smiling.

I realized that I was still wearing my dress and his jacket which was now getting uncomfortable. I need to get changed, but with him being here with my mother would be beyond awkward. Who knows what she is going to tell him about me!

The moment I opened my mouth, Ace cleared his throat and turned his gaze to me. “Oh Cec, I remember, didn’t you want to give me those notes about orthodontics? The ones you wrote back then.” He arched his eyebrows, widening his eyes… huh? What the hell is he talking–

OH! “Oh… uh… yes! Yes, you’re right. Um, it’s pretty much actually. Do you want to come and look what you need or don’t?”

He nodded and I glanced briefly at Mom. “Okay, I’ll wait for you here. Don’t be loud, Marlene’s already asleep. And hurry up, chérie. Ace surely wants to go home, too.” Surely, she wasn’t too happy about me taking a guy in my room at midnight.

U-huh. If I’d had it my way, he wouldn’t be even here in our house in the first place.

I showed him the way to our stairway. We walked silently upstairs, each step still hurting my back, but at least it wasn’t throbbing anymore.

My room was the last one on the upper hallway, so we walked the corridor along.

When he reached out for my door knob, I quickly pulled his arm and jumped between him and my door.

“Wait here a second, I’m going to get changed”, I whispered as he looked at me confused. “And… uh… see if everything’s in its right place…”

Leaning forward, he smirked devilish. “You sure, you don’t need help with changing your clothes?”

My eyes widened as the tiny hair on my neck stood up.

“No, thanks!”, I hissed.

I slightly opened the door and flitted through it, closing it behind me. Oh Lord.

My room was a disaster! Thanks to Cassy and Ruby who still had their makeup, perfumes and other things on my desk, chair and bed, my room was looking like a mess. I quickly tossed the clothes that were on the ground in my closet, put the makeup things in the bottom drawer of my desk in one move and looked around to see if things like my panties, bras or anything else that might turn my face into a tomato if he’d find them was laying somewhere.

Okay, everything seemed fine, the books that were scattered next to my bed would be too much for my back to lift, so I just let them there.

I unzipped my dress and slid out of it. Examining my back in my mirror, I saw the purplish color spreading at the area. Good thing that the bikini season starts in May. I quickly slipped into my jogging pants and a loose t-shirt. I considered putting my bra on, too, but the bruise was also in that area, so no, that would only hurt. And be in the way.

“Ace!”, I whispered as I opened the door. He was staring at some family pictures in the hallway. As he walked through the door, Zazzy came out of nowhere into my room, too.

“What is that?”

“A cat as you can see. Her name’s Zazzy.”

Zazzy meowed and started licking her paw.

“Zazzy?” He snorted, bending down to caress her but she just hissed and ran back to the hallway.

“She doesn’t like strangers.” I closed the door.

“Huh.”

I turned around and felt suddenly my heart racing. I never had any guy – at midnight – in my room, this was just a too private place.

He looked around without saying a word for a couple seconds. Then he turned to me, poker-faced as usual, and scanned me with his piercing eyes. “Where’s the ointment?” Huh?

Oh, yes! I remembered having placed it in the top drawer of my nightstand…and there it was, together with some bandages. Is he really going to–?

I gave them to him, unable to even look him in the eyes, so I just focused on his hands. After wheeling my desk chair next to my bed, he sat down.

“Do you need an invitation, you baby? Sit down.”

Great, now I’m being bossed around in my own bedroom.

I rolled my eyes and sat on the edge of my bed, my back toward him. Slowly, he lifted my t-shirt. Dammit, the bruise reached even over the area of my bra so he had to lift the shirt further up, revealing my belly.

 “I can hold it from here”, I said as I crossed my arms over my shoulders, carefully not to expose my breasts.

Luckily, he couldn’t see my face because it felt as hot as a burner.

He examined my back for several moments, his fingertips brushing lightly my bruise.

His fingers were soft and strong at the same time – a typical dentist hand: steady and not trembling the bit.

“Stop it, you’re tickling me.” I flinched. He chuckled as he opened the ointment tube and put some of it on my back, the smell of alcohol and perfume oil filling my nose.

“Why are you always so reckless”, he sighed.

“I wasn’t reckless. It was an accident.” And that was the truth. It could’ve happened to anybody. Okay, the fact that I couldn’t walk pretty well in those high heels may had something to do with it, too…

“Yeah, and you’re like a magnet to accidents.”

Wrapping the bandages around it, he came closer every time he turned it around my belly.

“Since when do you work in a repair shop?” I didn’t want to talk about my affinity to accidents anymore, also this question has been crossing my mind since he mentioned it at the table.

“When I came to LA, I started at ‘Eddy’s Auto Repair’.”

Okay, now he came to the very-near-to-my-boobs-limit. “Uh, you can give me the bandage so I can wrap it on the… uh… front.” What is wrong with my vocabulary?

I quickly wrapped the bandage around my breasts that were covered underneath my shirt and gave him the roll back on the other side. Fixating it with a clip, he let go of my t-shirt.

“Who taught you how to repair cars?” Okay now my vocabulary was back to being normal. I turned around, dangling my feet over the edge of my bed.

He stared at me for a while and exhaled deeply. “My father.”

A sudden sadness flickered through his eyes, or am I just imagining things?

“And the computer skills…?”

“Myself.” I nodded since I don’t want to tax his patience anymore.

Smiling, he looked at his watch. “We better get down; your Mom surely won’t be pleased when we stay too long alone in your room.” He grinned widely. “Although I could certainly persuade her to stay for the night.”

“Ha! Nice joke, Ace. Over my dead body. Let’s go downstairs.” Shoving him toward the door, he swiftly turned around and grabbed some notes from my desk. As he saw my perplexed look, he rolled his eyes.

“I told your Mom that I needed your notes. When we go downstairs empty-handed, she certainly will think that we did anything but exchanging notes.”

Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind and I grabbed his arm. “Wait, um. Then, you go ahead and tell her that I’m changing my clothes and I’ll be right back.” Man, I felt like in some agent movie where every step needs to be calculated and well-thought-out.

He nodded. “Yeah, even I couldn’t come up with a good excuse for that.”

I rolled my eyes and closed the door behind him, wondering what he was thinking when he looked at all my pictures and paintings on the wall.

 

***

ACE

 

I went downstairs and found Mrs. Martesse sitting at the table, looking absent-mindedly. One thing that Cec clearly inherited from her mother, added to her big, almond-shaped eye form and the smile they have in common as well. Her hair was shorter than Cec’s, combed neatly to a low ponytail; even the light brown hair color was the same, framing her delicate features.

“Oh, did she give you her notes?”, she asked cheerfully as I sat down opposite her. Her French accent was evident. So different from Cec; her English was perfect and her French always sounds melodious to my ear.

But then, French always sounds melodious.

I put her notes on the table, saying “Yes, she did. She’s now changing her clothes.”

She nodded while suppressing a yawn.

I let my eyes wander around the kitchen; sea shells where spread over the shelf next to the fridge. Surely, she must have collected them when she was little.

“You have a very lovely home.”

“Thank you, but unfortunately you didn’t see much of it.”

I kept looking around the big kitchen, even some family pictures hung on the fridge. How many pictures do they have in this house?

“You have really many family photos and paintings.”

She chuckled, “Yes, you’re right. Every time we go on a vacation or my husband on a trip overseas, we hang some pictures or souvenirs on the walls and shelves. Cecily also paints a lot, so we put them all over the house, too. You should see the garage where her painting utensils are! She has so many pictures there, we could never hang them all up.”

Now that’s something I really would like to see. “Is Mr. Martesse overseas now?”

“Uh, no… he’s in New York visiting our son Noah.”

Her voice seemed troubled. Better not ask any further questions.

Cec came down in her jogging pants and with her hair tied up. Her makeup was gone, making her look younger than a couple hours ago. I had never thought she could dance like that.

“Okay, I should go now. Mrs. Martesse, thank you for the coffee.” I shook her hand while she smiled gently. “Oh please, Ace. That was nothing. Cecily, you can accompany him to the door.”

I looked at her wide-eyed face and grinned wickedly. Yeah, she must really want to kill her mother right now.

“Um… thank you…”, she said as she opened the door. I stared at her, but she just kept looking at the ground.

“For what?” Now she looked up and held my stare with her green eyes.

“Don’t play dumb, you know what I’m talking about.”

Yeah I know, I just wanted you to look up. I grinned, “No need to thank me. Bring the car at three in the afternoon.”

She put her lower lip between her teeth. A gesture she always does when she’s concentrated or nervous. Tempting, you baby.

“So… bye.”

“Bye”, I said as I turned around and walked through the front porch.

“Drive safe and not like you did earlier!”, she shouted as I walked through the garden. I didn’t turn around to see her face so I just lifted my hand.

She’s cute when she’s concerned although it is exactly her big compassion toward other people that brings her in troublesome situations.

Just remembering the purplish bruise on her back and I feel the urge to punch Marc’s face all over again. It brought back all the memories of him.

As I went to my car, I stuck my hand into my pocket and looked at my phone.

A missed call.

From Thomas.

I stopped walking, my phone nearly falling off my hand. What the hell does he want?

He left a voicemail. Reluctantly, I put the phone on my ear.

“Ace – it’s me. I don’t know if you didn’t want to talk to me… or you were busy – either way, I can understand that, but please hear me out. I wanted to remind you that soon it will be the 29th March… and…I would be happy if you would be there, too. Your mother–”

I hung up. I so need to change my fucking phone number.

Getting into the car, I tossed the phone, together with Cec’s notes on the passenger’s seat. Okay, now I’m really going to drive like an insane. Sorry Cec, but that just made me furious. Why is he reminding me? As if I had forgotten about that! As if I’m coming back to Chicago for that!

As I drove through the avenues, I tried to focus my mind on the road or on the main stream music playing on the radio.

I tossed the things on my bed as soon as I arrived and finally got out from the tuxedo. Man, I haven’t worn one for ages. I’ve totally forgotten how uncomfortable these things are.

Laying on my bed, I felt the paper sheets between my fingers. What kind of notes did I even grab from her desk?

Microbiology.

The most boring lectures of Professor Lowman.

I started to turn the pages and looked at her neat handwriting. Sometimes – and recently very often – she draws instead of taking notes.

There were drawings of flowers, landscapes, beaches, a child’s laughing face – she even drew Cassy and Ruby sitting on the bench. She was really skilled. Her art was good.

And then I saw a pair of eyes looking at me. The iris was nearly left white, so it must be a light eye color, the eyelid was slightly down – as if they were bored – and each lash individual in its shape and drawn with such a rigor, it almost gave me the feeling a pair of real eyes were staring at me. My eyes.

That drawing caught me off guard. I kept looking at it until I tossed them on the floor, turning the lights off.

I can’t sleep. I am tired but I can’t sleep. Because one fucking thought kept crossing my mind, reminding me like an annoying alarm: I need to keep that drawing before giving the notebook back.

 

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