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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23. The Things We Do For Love

 

CECILY

 

I wanted to get it all from my chest, so I talked. I told her about the frat party, to how he saved me from that guy after I heard that Noah was in jail, to our first kiss, to his crazy outburst in the hotel room, without mentioning his past. That was still something very private and although he doesn’t trust me completely, neither will I tell anyone nor use that information against him. I’m not like him; that’s not me.

I told her about what happened at the dinner party and our fight after. I told her everything – except his insulting comment about my father.

I still couldn’t tell her about Dad’s affair. After everything I went through with Ace, I felt like keeping this private moment with him. I wanted it to stay between us because that night at the hotel meant more to me than he will ever know.

I saw Alex’s face expression change from frowning to grinning back to frowning, biting her nails and then looking utterly sad.

“Wow… I had no idea…”, she said when I finished.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t tell you earlier. I just – I don’t know.”

“No, it’s okay, Cecy”, she said immediately. “I mean, I had no idea you endured so much without telling anyone.”

She hugged me and caressed my hair while we laid in my bed.

“I don’t know what to do, Alex… I’m just so confused. He’s not the guy I thought he was and I feel so… betrayed.”

On a whole other level than anything I’ve ever experienced before. And Aro’s words were like a dagger stuck into my heart, giving me the rest.

As images of Karen and Ace appeared in my mind, I felt nauseous.

I still couldn’t believe it although it wasn’t impossible. Ace said himself that he used to have one night stands; maybe after breaking up with Victoria he started being that person again.

Alex got up and held her hand in front of my face. “Stand up, Cecily.”

I hesitated a moment, not knowing what she was up to, but took her hand. She pulled me to my mirror and stood behind me, grabbing my lipstick from my table.

“Stay there”, she said and went with my lipstick to my mirror, drawing seven arrows pointing in the mirror at the reflection-me. She started writing words next to each arrow.

 

Beautiful. Strong. Creative. Kind. Worthy. Compassionate. Selfless.

 

And at the bottom, she wrote:

 

I love you, Cecily Martesse

 

I blinked several times and let my eyes rest on each word.

“What–”

“You are Cecily Martesse!”, Alex said and grabbed my hands. “You survived so much. You survived physical pain; remember when Andrew Finch hit you and pulled your hair in kindergarten? You didn’t even cry! You hit him back and he ran like a crybaby to his Mom with his snot hanging around his nose. Or when you broke your leg? Or when Noah accidently hit you with a wooden stick in your eye and you had to get some stiches? You survived emotional pain. When your aunt got sick and you were home alone for weeks, or your brother being in jail and your family indebted! You can survive everything; you can and will survive this pain too. Because you’re strong.” She went to the mirror and pointed to each arrow. “You’re worthy. You’re kind. You’re beautiful. You’re selfless. You’re compassionate.”

She smiled and wiped my tear away.

“Don’t let anyone get under your skin. If he doesn’t see your value, he’s not worth it. I know you’ve been hurt, but you are loved, Cecy. Your family, Ruby, Cassy, Anna, Josh, Eric, me – we all love you so much.”

I nodded and hugged her tightly.

She was right. I experienced so many bad things in my life, a broken heart isn’t going to kill me. Ace isn’t going to destroy me.

“If Ace wasn’t the right guy, it doesn’t mean that your Mr. Right isn’t waiting for you somewhere”, she continued. “Just focus on your studies and yourself and the love of your life will show up in a moment you won’t expect it the bit. Believe me, it’s always like that.”

I laughed while she kept building me up until I felt incredibly better.

“Okay, I don’t know if you’re hungry, but I’m dying to eat some ice cream! Do you have some?”, she asked.

“Yeah, sure.”

We walked to the fridge and made a delicious ice cream medley with almost every flavor we found, whipped cream and hot chocolate sauce.

With every bite, I felt better.

I sensed that Alex avoided talking about Paul, probably to spare me from hearing romantic stuff, but I wanted to be there for my friend the same way she was to me.

“Alex, you can tell me how your date with Paul went, I won’t break out in tears”, I chuckled.

She smiled and finally told me how he waited for her with an orchid, where they had gone and what he had bought for her.

I was so immensely happy for Alex. Although my love life was crappy, I was happy that she has no problems with Paul.

 

After a while, we watched a movie and decided not to go to any lectures tomorrow. She had just one course but it was in the afternoon and Ruby’s patient is going to come in the afternoon, so we had the whole morning to do whatever we wanted.

“Let’s go shopping tomorrow”, she proposed.

I agreed; summer was coming and I needed some new clothes and a bikini.

We talked for a while in my bed until we got too tired and fell asleep. It was like when we were children. Just us in my bed, her arm wrapped around me and for the first time in a while, I had a dreamless and relaxing sleep.

 

Following Alex’ advice, we drove to the Beverly Center.

“I have a surprise for you”, Alex said as we got out of the car.

I glanced at her but didn’t ask further.

First store was Forever 21, and once we were inside, I heard some familiar voices.

My heart warmed up as I saw Ruby, Cassy, and Anna standing between some hallstands and chatting about clothes.

“Guys! What are you doing here?”, I beamed. I hugged each one of them and turned to Alex. “You called them, didn’t you?”

She grinned. “Mh-hm.”

“Of course she did!”, Cassy said and threw her arm around my shoulder. “She told us that you were down – not that we didn’t figure that out, Cecy, I mean, come on! Allergy?! Lamest excuse ever!”

“What Cassy means”, Ruby added and bumped her elbow into her ribs, “is that we sensed that you weren’t very happy lately and Alex told us that it had something to do with Ace.”

Cassy already opened her mouth, but Anna cut in. “We are not here to ask you about what happened between you two; if you don’t want to talk about it or don’t feel ready, it’s okay. We’re here only for support and as shopping advisors.”

I looked at each one them and saw their loving eyes and big smiles. I couldn’t believe that they bailed the lectures for me. And that they were so utterly supportive.

“Thank you”, I said, focusing on shopping and chatting.

We made our way to the stores, looking for some nice summer dresses, shoes, and bikinis. Alex wanted to look for some sexy underwear and we headed to the next lingerie store.

Lingerie that seemed quite uncomfortable at some point hung all over the walls and mannequins but Alex stayed rather with the normal type of sexy lingerie.

I didn’t want to think about how I would have chosen some slinky bras and panties that Ace could have stripped off me with his hands, or his mouth, or whatever he wanted.

I would have been completely his.

Shit. Why did I think about it! I dismissed the thought and focused on Alex’s search for something… uh…black? Red? What did she exactly want to buy?

“Alex, what are you looking for?”

“Oh, nothing specifically. It just has to be a push-up with laces or a nice negligee”, she answered.

“Cecy, you should look for something too.”

“Huh?! Why’s that?”

True, my bras weren’t very fancy or sexy but I don’t need them to be anything but comfy.

I noticed Cassy’s frown from across the room as she made her way to me. “Because your underwear is horrible!”, Cassy shouted.

“Shush!”, I urged when others were staring at us.

“Your breast need to be pushed up and your ass is great but you wear the wrong panties! Also, you need other colors than white or Snoopy panties–”

“Okay, okay, Cassy! I got it!”

She softened her features and dragged me to a changing cabin with a couple of… oh my gosh. This wasn’t underwear, those were equivalent to thin leaves that were plastered on my skin, as if they were painted on me, covering only what needed to be covered.

But the material was really soft. Silky and delicate. And very, very sexy.

My breasts looked even bigger in those push-ups and it was nice to have some panties that matched the bras.

Cassy decided I should buy two in black, two red ones and I insisted on a white one that was very pretty. She rolled her eyes, clearly disapproving my affinity to white underwear but didn’t comment.

That morning ended and Alex said goodbye to us, hugging me tightly. “Don’t forget what I said yesterday, Cecy. And if you feel sad again, call me or grab Marlene and come to me or I’ll come–”

“It’s okay, Alex, really”, I said.

I felt a lot better and I think I’ll be okay… somehow.

She squeezed my hand and waved goodbye before she got into her car while I drove with the others to the clinic – ready to face Ace and not break apart; I hoped.

 

No, I was wrong. The moment I saw Ace, my heart crushed once again.

He looked tired, dark circles under his eyes seemed to be inked on his skin, and his appearance unhealthy.

I guess, it’s easy to say you’re over someone if you aren’t seeing them. The real challenge is to look them in the eye and see their face and hear their voice and still be able to say: This is not what I want anymore.

It would be a lie to say I’m over him, because I still want him. Somewhere in the depths of my stupid, irrational heart, I want him so much that it kills me seeing him suffer. I wanted to end his pain. I wanted to see him smile again and hear his laugh and listen to his comments and feel his warmth on my skin.

But I couldn’t help him if that means it would hurt me. This is not how love is supposed to be. Not that I had much experience in love… no, in fact, I had zero experience. I’ve never been in love and I don’t know any definition for love. Everyone says “I love you” to someone after being in a relationship for a couple months, or after being intimate. How can I even be sure that I love him? Loved him, I had to remind myself.

I shook the idea out of my head and focused on my pharmacology tutorial. This was the last course before the exam this week and we all had a couple of questions.

I need to forget him and focus on my studies. That’s the plan and I must stick to it, otherwise my thoughts of Ace are going to drown me into self-pity and hollow deadness.

The days passed by and with every day I didn’t see him, my heart tried to stitch the wounds Ace left.

 

“Cecily, don’t forget to bring me to the train station on Friday!”, Marlene reminded me when I prepared dinner.

“Yeah, yeah, I didn’t forget, Marlene.”

Truth is, I had totally forgotten. Yesterday, Mom had called and told me that her ballet teacher had planned a weekend trip to Oakland to see a big ballet performance with the girls.

My mind must have been elsewhere as usual but I think I’ve written it somewhere in my calendar.

We packed her things and I drove her to the station on Friday.

 

The microbiology course I had to attend afterward was tiring as hell and most of us just fired a couple of questions at the Professor because that was the last tutorial before the exam.

The other exams were coming.

This week, I passed pharmacology – which was a huge surprise. The results came yesterday and I was most astonished that I passed average.

But we all had no time to celebrate this weekend; the next exam was coming and the atmosphere at the clinic getting tenser and tenser:

Next week microbiology, the week after orthodontics, and then finally clinical chemistry. The most difficult exam at the end, when most of us had no energy to study properly anyway. Great. At least, there was going to be a party at the beach after our last exam.

In addition to the exams, we had to finish our work for the patients because Rayden was driving us crazy with the due dates. From what I heard, some girls had a meltdown this week and started crying during the seminar and lab courses.

We finished the course and I said goodbye to the others.

As I made my way to my car, I noted someone leaning against it.

It was Aro.

He wore a pair of blue jeans that fitted his slender body perfectly, a pair of dark leather boots and his usual denim jacket. His straight, dark hair was combed neatly to a small ponytail which I usually don’t like on guys but it suited him surprisingly well.

He looked very handsome.

He smiled warmly as I made my way to him and unlocked my car.

“Hey, beautiful”, he said, beaming and coming closer to me.

For a moment, I was alarmed that he might want to kiss me but then he just brought my hand up to his mouth, his lips brushing the back of my hand.

My heart nearly jumped out of my rib cage. Beautiful… and hand kisses?

He looked up and as his eyes met mine, I saw him smirking.

“I watched that in a movie once.”

Despite my shock, I let out a brief laugh. “Oh, and that movie doesn’t happen to be Titanic, right?”, I teased.

He chuckled and made me reluctantly join him. “Yep, I think it was Titanic”, he said and opened my front passenger’s door.

“Um, where are we going?”, I asked.

“Grab a bite”, he said casually. “Or have you forgotten about my invitation?”

“Oh… no, I didn’t but I thought…” it was one of his jokes and forgot about it anyway.

“What?”, he asked, tilting his head.

My head debated all the pros and cons of going somewhere with him, especially when I still had some work to do for microbiology and Zazzy needed to be fed…

“Come on, it’ll be fun, I’m sure you must be starving”, he added, giving me a breathtaking smile.

I sighed. We were just friends and this was not a date. Also, he seemed to really look forward and I wanted to repay him for being so nice to me when I cried at the basement.

I got in and handed him the keys.

“You really need another car by the way. This one’s too old-school”, he said as we drove.

Ouch.

I knew my Ford Sierra wasn’t fancy or modern but that didn’t hurt me.

It wasn’t the fact that he said it which made my stomach twitch, but rather that this car was somehow tied to Ace. The way we met, the way all that mess in my head started.

I couldn’t believe how he was able to link his whole appearance into every random, little thing in my life.

“Hey, everything okay?” He put his hand on my thigh.

“Yes, of course”, I lied, cringing from his touch.

My thigh already stiffed under his hand but he settled it back on the wheel before I could overanalyze or explain anything.

He was just being concerned, I thought, enjoying the ride.

He asked me how my day was which was quite a miracle considering he never wants to know anything about others.

I told him and he listened patiently and asked sometimes further or made funny comments.

“So, where are we going?”, I asked again.

Foxy’s. Have you ever been there before?”

I shook my head but I heard from Ruby that it was very nice there. He parked my car and as we entered, I mutely agreed with Ruby:

Foxy’s had a wooden A-frame, that I must say, set it apart from most other retro diners I’ve been to in Los Angeles. This restaurant’s dark wooden planks, including a dropped “V” rafted along the center of the ceiling kept the interior cozily dim, so my eyes had to adjust from the brightness of the sunset.

“Come, I’ve made a reservation”, he said and took my hand.

“Really? Wait a sec, how did you know I would say yes?”

Aro shrugged his shoulders as we walked to our table. “Who could resist my charm?”, he said and wiggled his eyebrows.

I laughed. “Stop it, Ac–… Aro.”

Oh, shit.

“You thought about Ace, huh?” His voice wasn’t annoyed or angry, just matter-of-fact.

I nodded. “Sorry…”, I mumbled, closing my eyes at my stupidity.

How could I’ve thought of Ace right now!? Just because he said something charming and so typical… Ace-like.

“It’s okay”, Aro said and smiled sweetly.

Maybe he wasn’t offended. Or didn’t want to drag me down by talking about Ace or digging further.

Speaking of names, I’d always wonder but never had the chance to ask him that.

“Aro, is your name an abbreviation by the way?”

“Yup. It’s Aaron, but I don’t like it. Aro’s better.”

“Both are fine”, I answered, watching him smile.

I was still nervous but Aro’s calmness and nice words made it easy to relax.

After ordering our meals, we continued chatting about random things.

I asked about his family and he told me they were doing fine and that he’s soon going to visit them. He answered every question I had asked him and talked so freely and passionately about everything – his hobbies, his friends, our studies.

It was nice. I laughed so much I had forgotten my own laugh sounded like this. And it was a relief to listen to someone as honest about himself as Aro.

We finished our meal and ordered some divine cheesecake before I realized how late it had gotten. And I still needed to learn microbiology, reality reminded me.

After he insisted paying for the meal, we headed to my car.

“Aro, let me take you home at least. You don’t have to take the subway this late”, I proposed and he agreed.

“It’s the Garden Grove Street”, he said when I got in. “Hundred sixteenth.”

“Huh, it sounds familiar. I think I know that address…”

“Sure, it’s the frat house. I live there”, he said and leaned back, feet on my dashboard.

I frowned, clapping his thigh. “Feet off the board.”

He rolled his eyes but obliged. Quite an improvement. He used to do it all the time, no matter how much I’d yell at him.

“Why do you live there?”, I asked, my eyes focused on the road.

“I can’t afford the dorms and that was a good opportunity”, he said, keeping his eyes away from me.

“Oh.”

We fell in an awkward silence, a guilty feeling rising my chest during the whole drive.

I pulled right and drove into the street where the frat house was. It was like last time, drunk people shouting in the yard, loud music pouring out of the door and windows.

Aro sighed. “Every weekend the same shitty guys. Man, I hate that.”

“I’m sorry that you have to live here”, I said quietly. Although this house was big and had many rooms, it couldn’t be calm in there.

He smiled sadly and nodded. “Yeah…”

“Thank you for dinner”, I said as we got out. The air was warm as I stepped out onto the street.

“No need to. It had been a pleasure”, he said. With a smile on his face, he came closer to me.

And closer.

“I had a great time with you tonight, Cecily.” His voice was low when he lifted my chin. “Me too–”

Without hesitation, he leaned forward and pressed an unexpected kiss to my lips.

I froze when he placed his hand on my back, reducing the tiny space between us. His lips felt warm against mine and I was taken aback but didn’t push him away.

Heat was rising inside my stomach but it felt different. It wasn’t the same… the warmth didn’t feel nearly as hot as with…

Ace.

I broke away, sucking air between my teeth. “I’m sorry… it’s just–”

“It’s okay”, he said as if he just read my mind.

“I’m not ready”, I whispered, almost inaudibly.

“We can take it slow.” His tone was kind, gentle.

I nodded, lifting my eyes to meet his. His eyes glowed, his tongue tracing his bottom lip.

“Good night, Cecily”, he said before he headed to the door and disappeared inside the house.

I started the engine and found myself touching my lips from time to time, trying vainly not to picture a pair of ice blue eyes.

 

As I put my pajamas on, I walked to my desk and reviewed the last tutorials and read in my textbook.

Ace.

I managed to banish every thought of him during dinner with Aro but now that I’m alone, the thoughts of him kept clouding my mind until I gave up and grabbed a book from my night stand.

I sighed and focused once again on the chapter I was reading for the hundredth time – in vain. Maybe I should just go to sleep.

One last time, I went downstairs to check if I had locked the garage door, the terrace to our garden, and the front door when I heard a thud against the door.

“Cecily!”, someone shouted.

My heart sank to my boots as the bang intensified.

“Ceeeeecily!”

It was a familiar voice and I immediately knew who it was before he started yelling, “CEC!

I reached for the knob and as soon as the door flung open, I saw Ace leaning against the frame, a bag with a bottle of liquor in his hand. He looked awful; bloodshot eyes, dark red cheeks and the smell of alcohol hanging in the air.

“Cec”, he repeated and touched my cheek – as if he wasn’t sure if I was really standing in front of him or not.

“Ace, what–?”

I couldn’t finish the sentence when he stepped in and threw his arms around me. He buried his head into the crook of my neck, his cold breath tickling me.

“I missed you, baby. God, I missed you so much. I missed you… I missed you…”, he mumbled over and over again. I pushed him off by his shoulders and forced him to look me in the eyes.

He grinned dreamily and by the look of his eyes he sure had more than just this bottle. “What are you–”

Again, I couldn’t finish the sentence because he leaned forward and placed his lips on mine.

It was like an explosion.

His lips the dynamite and mine the match that caused the blast.

My body was mesmerized and it was at this moment I realized that during those past weeks, my body, my heart, my soul – everything had been dead.

I had been dead.

Because the second I tasted Ace’s lips, the second I felt his nose brush mine, the second his strong hand wrapped around my waist and the other cupping my cheek, I knew this was the feeling of being alive.

He brought me back to life.

His lips were cold from the liquor and the taste stinging, but I didn’t mind. The sky could crumble and the world end right now, and I wouldn’t mind.

I missed him too, I realized. Because I love him.

The thought struck my mind like a flash but I had never been that sure. I don’t care about definitions or rationality, I knew this was love.

I love him. I love him. I love him.

His hand wandered to my neck, minimizing the space between us and trying to get closer to me – if that was even possible. My arms moved to his shoulder, feeling every square inch of his muscles contracting.

I could feel all of his frustration and pain being transferred into affection and need. His mouth was hungry and kisses thirsty as he walked backward with our lips still attached. With one hand still on my waist and the other on my back, Ace guided me to our living room where he stumbled over my feet, making me fall backwards on the couch.

“No… we can’t…”, I moaned but my lips betrayed me when they found their way back on his.

He groaned my name, over and over. The sound of my name had never been that beautiful to my ears.

I wish I could just stop time. To be here in his arms and touching him meant more to me than anything else in the world right now.

“Cec… baby…”, he said and looked me in the eyes. Eyes that were pleading me, eyes that were looking at me so affectionately it made me almost think he loves me.

It’s not real. My mind was getting clearer and my reasonable voice louder.

He leaned forward to kiss me again but I placed my fingers on his mouth, forcing myself to sit.

“Ace, what are you doing here? How did you get here?”

If he tells me he drove while being this drunk, I think I might kill him.

“I took the subway”, he mumbled.

That wasn’t much better but at least he didn’t endanger someone else too. I couldn’t believe he even managed to walk from the subway station to our house.

He screwed his eyes shut, his fingers massaging his temples. He wanted to get up but lost his balance and fell on the floor, his eyes slowly getting heavier.

“Ace!” I tried to lift him up but he was heavy as hell.

I’d never seen Ace moving ungracefully. A sign that he clearly wasn’t in a healthy state right now.

“Ace, wake up! Ace! Ace!”

“Don’t yell… I’m awake…”, he muttered.

Yeah, I can see that. I sighed. He can’t go anywhere right now. I could drive him with my car to his place but I feared he would just take the subway and come back. If something would happen to him in this state I would never forgive myself.

“Come on, you can sleep in the guest room”, I said and tried to get him up.

He mumbled something I didn’t understand but luckily, he leaned only half of his weight on me.

We arrived upstairs and I ushered him to the room in the middle of the hallway. I helped him laying down on the bed and took off his shoes while his eyelids shut.

I watched his breathings slow down and features soften until he seemed completely relaxed.  

As I arrived at the door, I turned around one last time to look at his peaceful face. “Cec?”, he mumbled and opened his bloodshot eyes.

“Yes?”

He blinked once, his face in a deep frown, before opening his mouth and I wished I hadn’t replied.

“I hate you.”

With that he turned around and continued sleeping.

 

I laid in my bed and stared at the ceiling.

A million questions ran through my mind and I cursed myself for not asking him one of them.

Why was he here? Why was he drunk? Was he at one of that frat parties? Did he really miss me or was that just the alcohol talking? Did he really sleep with Karen?

Does he really… hate… me?

I buried my face into my pillow and prayed for some sleep. Of course, my mind didn’t want to shut down. No matter how hard I tried to avoid him those past days, he ended up coming to my house. As if we were two magnets, calling out to each other even from the farthest distance.

Shoving the blanket away from me, I got up and opened the door. If I’m not going to sleep now, then maybe a movie or a TV show was going to make me feel tired.

As I passed the guest room, I heard a noise. It was a voice. A deep voice.

I opened the door and saw Ace moving restlessly in his bed.

“Please… no… no…”, he mumbled.

“Ace, wake up”, I whispered but he didn’t seem to hear me.

Climbing on the bed, I stretched my arm to reach him on the other end.

“Ace! Wake up!” I shook his shoulders until his eyes flew open.

“Cec…”, he gasped, terror flashing in his eyes. He sat upright, rubbing his moistened face.

“It was a nightmare, Ace.” My voice was calm when my hand ran up and down his soaked back. Even though I didn’t believe it was because of my hand, I was glad to see his breathing getting slower, his body relaxing bit by bit.

“Do you want to talk about it?”, I asked carefully.

He shook his head. “No.”

His voice was raspy from sleep, his hand tugging at his hair. His muscles tensed under my hand, and he flipped his legs over the edge of the bed, his back facing me.

“Sorry, I woke you”, he mumbled.

I shook my head, but then I remembered that he couldn’t see me.

“No, you didn’t.”

I sat down, looking at his soaked t-shirt. Although we were sitting closer than those past weeks, I have never felt so distant toward him.

He built up his walls, and I mine.

“Do you want me to stay?”, I managed to say.

He snorted. “I don’t want or need your pity”, he spat over his shoulder, his muscles clenching more than before.

“You can go, I’m fine.”

I wanted to believe it was his pride that was speaking in this hateful way to me. His pride knows no limit and the feminist voice inside my head was basically shouting at me to make a snappish comment and leave him alone, just like he’d wanted.

But maybe I am crazy, maybe I am pathetic or maybe I was willing to swallow my pride if that meant it would take away some of his pain and get him some sleep.

“You should know me better”, I snapped, putting my head on the soft pillow. “I do not pity you. I’ve never pitied you.”

I closed my eyes, praying that he would just put his big ego aside for once and be rational. It was quiet for a while and I wondered if he was still in this room or magically disappeared somehow, yet I didn’t want to open my eyes.

He moved; the mattress sank under the weight of his body.

I had expected him to say something mean to me, to mock me even for being this pathetic, but he was silent.

I don’t know how much time passed, but I wasn’t aware of it. Because the moment his arms wrapped around my body, the moment he buried his face between my neck and shoulder, time stopped.

“Stay”, he whispered in my ear, rubbing the tip of his nose against my skin.  

Just for a split second I wanted to believe that he wants me near to him because he loved me. Because he can’t stand being away from me, because he feels at ease with me just as much as I do with him, because I am me.

I wondered what he must have dreamed about that caused that horrified look in his eyes. His arm was getting heavier, his breathing deeper, rhythmic. I watched him fall asleep within a couple of minutes, his body relaxed.

I wanted to fall asleep too, but the desire to enjoy this moment a bit longer was too great.

I knew, this wasn’t real and tomorrow when I wake up I’ll have to deal with the consequences. The heartache, the truth, the pain.

As my eyelids got heavier and my sleepiness overwhelmed me, I felt his hand wandering to mine and our fingers interlaced – as if nothing could ever separate them.

 

I woke up and found our bodies almost in the same position as when we fell asleep. Except that I wasn’t on my side of the bed anymore. In fact I wasn’t on the bed.

My head was laying across his chest, and I could feel his steady heartbeat under my cheek. Our fingers were still intertwined which surprised me. I looked up to his face and was relieved to see it peaceful and him still being asleep. His hand was around my waist, holding me tight to his body, but at least I was wearing a long-sleeved pajama with jogging pants so his touch wouldn’t set my skin on fire.

However, a sweet, hot fire washed over my skin and I squeezed my eyes shut, enjoying this for a moment. There was something intimate about being this entangled.

As if we were lovers.

But we weren’t, I had to remind myself.

Carefully, I slipped out of his grip, my breath in my throat not to wake him up, and closed the door behind me.

It was early and I didn’t know what to do today except studying, and now waiting for Ace to wake up and get out.

I didn’t know if it would have been better if he had just left before I woke or if the heartache of him leaving me without seeing his face in the morning would have crushed me. Either way, my fairytale had ended. Last night was like a blur and I still couldn’t believe he was standing at my front porch.

I decided to go jogging along the beach, so I slipped in my sportswear and left the house. Maybe when I’ll come back, he’d be gone.

And once again, I didn’t know if this thought was making me happy or sad.

Air filled the depths of my lungs as I started running along the beach. Normally, I would have plugged my earphones and plunged into my music, but this time I wanted to hear the waves. The sound of the wide and vast ocean that made those rhythmic splaashhh was calming me in a way no music could do.

After a while, I didn’t feel like walking anymore, so I headed to our house, my muscles aching and stomach growling.

I opened the door and saw with a mixed feeling of relief, fear, and sadness that Ace was sitting at our kitchen table.

No dark circles, no bloodshot eyes plastered his face, he looked well-rested.

“Cec… ily”, he corrected himself and stood up.

“Ace – please don’t. I just–”

“No, please, Cecily. Let me ask you something first”, he cut in. He ran his hands nervously through his hair and seemed at a loss for words.

“I–… Did something happen last night?”

He paused and waited impatiently for my answer.

“What do you mean?”

He paced nervously back and forth, his eyes screwed shut. Apparently, he couldn’t bear looking at me in the morning without feeling sick or guilty or disgusted.

“I mean, did I say something last night? Did I do something… to you?”, he sighed and finally looked at me. “I just remember waking up in the night and you… you were there.”

Seeing his worried look and hearing that our conversation and kiss seemed to have fallen in oblivion made me want to jog until I couldn’t feel my legs anymore.

“No, nothing happened”, I lied.

“You came and knocked on my door and then passed out. I helped you to the guest room and you fell asleep. You didn’t say anything.”

Except that you miss me and that you hate me.

He considered my lie but seemed to believe it.

He nodded slowly. “I didn’t want to show up in the middle of the night at your house and you seeing me like that…”, he began and stopped.

“You should go now, Ace.”

His features hardened as he turned his typical poker-face to me.

“You were on a date with Aro yesterday, right?”

“Wha–… that… how…”, I stuttered. “What does that got to do with anything I just said, Ace?”

“You didn’t answer. Were you?” He narrowed his eyes.

“Not that it regards you, but it wasn’t a date.”

For a moment, I thought, he would go berserk or start yelling or throwing insults at me but he just stood motionless there, his lips a hard line.

“Cec, please listen to me for once when I tell you to stay away from Aro.”

What?

“What?”

“That asshole is not good for you.”

“Oh, of course he’s not”, I snapped, not quietly. “But you, Ace, aren’t you? You are good for me, right? Is that what you want to say?”

His face turned darker when he walked past me and reached the door knob.

“Where are you going?”, I shouted.

He didn’t reply and shut the door without giving me a second glance.

 

I didn’t bother following him; surely, he had some plans or didn’t want to argue with me any further or whatsoever.

Grabbing my textbooks and notes, I plunged into microbiology and the other courses, gathering all my self-control not to drift into unnecessary thoughts.

Aro sometimes texted me which was quite a change and asked me how I’m doing or if I needed any help. How could he insult him like that? Obviously Aro has changed and everyone deserves a second chance.

Mom, Dad and Marlene arrived on Sunday, all of them exhausted and my parents beautifully tanned that it made me jealous.

I was happy when they came back, the house was too empty without them and it was nice hearing stories about what they saw in Inagua or look at the pretty pictures they had taken.

 

I met Cassy, Ruby and Anna as usual during the lectures and we chatted about the upcoming exams and the patients. I contemplated telling them or at least Alex about Ace and what happened but I feared their judgmental comments. Not that I didn’t deserve them, but it would feel like insulting them. After all the encouraging words they had told me, I had just crawled back to him – literally. I hated myself for my weakness but I promised myself to let go of him and my feelings for him. That night was just a relapse.

As we passed the hallways to the laboratory rooms, I heard some students murmur in the corner of the halls and on the benches. Gossiping wasn’t something unusual here, but it seemed like everyone was secretively talking in some corners.

Or am I paranoid?

I walked past them and caught pieces of their conversation but didn’t understand what they had meant with “Did you see his face? I wonder who did that…”

Were they talking about a patient?

And at lunch, I knew who they were talking about.

Aro’s left cheek and jaw were dark purple and his bottom lip swollen.

“Aro! Oh my God, what happened to your face?!”, I said as soon as I sat down at the table next to him.

He looked up and managed to give me a half-smile without twisting his face much.

“Oh, I had a fight with someone”, he said casually.

“Oh God”, I gasped, grabbing his chin to examine the rest of his face.

“It’s not as bad as it looks, really.”

What is it with guys that don’t want to say if something’s painful?

“It doesn’t look like that, though. Did you press charges against… your attacker?”

He shook his head. “Nah, it was… personal.”

Personal. Oh my…

No, he wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t. No. No.

I nodded and didn’t want to ask further, maybe I was being paranoid and it was a coincidence or something.

“I need to go now”, he said and left his food almost untouched.

“Okay”, I answered thinly, noting the change of his expression.  

“But Cecily”, he started and placed a quick kiss on my cheek. Such a small little gesture that left me completely dumbfounded.

“It was nice seeing you again. I hope we can have our next date after the exams”, he said when I stared at his wide grin.

I got up, ready to leave when someone grabbed my arm. Ace’s face was crimson red, his hand firmly wrapped around my arm.

“What the–”

“Come”, he said.

Not too gently he dragged me to the hallway, all my protest muffled to his ears. His tense appearance was alarming me.

He ushered me to an empty room and spun me around, my back against the wall and his arms placed around my shoulders – his favorite position to corner me. But this time I wouldn’t let him. I pushed off his hands and put some space between us.

His eyes narrowed but he didn’t resist.

“Stay away from Aro, Cec. I mean it”, he said without preamble. I blinked a couple times, realizing what a ridiculous thing he just said.

“What?! Why–”, I snapped.

“He is really not good for you”, he added quickly before I could speak further, “Believe me, he’s dangerous and doesn’t have good intentions.”

Now my confusion turned into anger.

“You’re being crazy here, Ace. He didn’t do anything wrong and you’re acting like a jealous ex-boyfriend”, I snapped. “Oh sorry, but without the boyfriend-thing”, I added and watched him take a step toward me.

“This is not about me being jealous or possessive or whatever it is that you’re thinking. He’s scum, don’t you see it, Cecily?”
“That’s enough!”, I yelled. “Why am I even talking to you?”

I tried to walk past him, but he held my hand. His touch was burning me; on the inside and outside.

He let my hand go as if he’d read my thoughts but too slowly to hide his bruised knuckles. I kept staring his dried-blood skin and it struck me like a bolt of lightning.

“You”, I said. “You did that to Aro, didn’t you!? Oh my God…”

I walked away but being the obnoxious person that he is, Ace followed me.

“I did it for you”, he shouted.

Me?”, I hissed. “You don’t do anything for me, Ace! You did it for yourself!”

Thank God, we were in this room and far away from uninvited spectators.

“Cec, you have to believe me! You don’t know–”

“Yes, you’re right, I don’t know! I don’t know anything about you. I thought I knew you but now I know I don’t! For once there is a chance that I could be happy with another guy than you and you just want to destroy my happiness because, because–” I stopped.

“Because what? Finish that sentence”, he said, his face in a deep frown.

“Because you’re a broken man.”

His jaw clenched, the veins on his forehead visible.

“God, Cec, he just wants to fuck you!”, he yelled.

A fresh breeze coming out of the open window danced around my face and left the room deadly silent.

I felt like fragile glass. Lightly touched, I might break. And Ace was not touching me, he was shaking me, he was squeezing me, he was shredding me.

I wanted to yell back at him but I’ve used up all my force to yell at him.

As fast as my legs could carry me, I opened the door and ran until I disappeared into the crowded hallway.

Maybe he realized he had done enough damage or he had a spark of decency or he was satisfied enough after picking a fight with me, either way, I was grateful that he didn’t follow me.

 

I wanted to talk to Aro and apologize for Ace’s behavior. I felt incredibly guilty for what happened to him since it was all my fault.

But Aro was either too busy or too intimidated by Ace because he didn’t text me anymore and didn’t make any nice gestures except a polite “Hi” and “Bye”.

My anger toward Ace increased with every passing day. How could I have been so blind? Loving someone can blind you, just as easily as losing them can open your eyes. And my eyes were wide open now.

 

The next two weeks passed quickly. Too quickly. Maybe because we had so much to do we could barely enjoy our lunch break, free time or simply anything.

If I wasn’t sticking my nose into textbooks, then the reports I had to write or hurrying after some professors to assist them during surgery.

Every day was hard and exhausting, the exams and treatments sucking my energy.

Finally, it was the end of May.

My head was spinning after clinical chemistry. The exam had taken about three hours, the air in the room gotten thicker and the concentration fading the longer it lasted.

But it was the last exam.

The other exams went well too – even orthodontics, although it was all thanks to Ruby. But with clinical chemistry I feared I wasn’t prepared enough.

Ugh, who cares.

“What did you write at the Diabetes question? It was answer C, isn’t it? With Type Two, the disease pattern is subtle because the intramolecular structure of Insulin prevents the cell from–”

“No, no, no, please Anna! I don’t want to hear any of it”, I half-shouted, half-pleaded.

Hearing the others talk about that damn exam too, I decided to say goodbye to them and walked away until I found myself at the parking lot.

For a minute, I forgot where I parked my car, the exam was just too tiring and I needed sugar to regain my strength, I realized. I wandered between the rows until I heard some familiar voices.

A deep voice that I could always recognize. Yet his tone was different. Harsher than ever. Colder. And not the Ace I had fallen in love with.

“We had a deal”, Ace said.

“Yeah, and I didn’t come near her. But now I need more”, Aro grinned. “Or do you want me to tell her? I think you can’t afford any more mistakes; she already hates your guts from what I heard.”

My heart stopped the moment he and Lucas started laughing. “Although you did pretty well on screwing up everything on your own, man.”

I hid behind a car and perked up my ears. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be eavesdropping. My conscious-voice was fading as I was too curious to know what they were talking about.

“Screw you, Aro. This game has lasted way too long. I’ll tell her.”

My heart was speeding in a blink of an eye. Talk, Ace!

But Lucas kept laughing until Aro replied, his voice so loathing and horrible that it made me want to throw up.

“I wouldn’t risk that, dude. She would be devastated if everyone knew about her brother being in jail. Twice.”

I didn’t know how I got there. I didn’t remember how I walked to them. I couldn’t think of anything, I didn’t see anything or anyone but Aro.

Time stood still. And everything around me felt muffled. The honking cars on the other side of the street, some people’s voices in the distance, the sound of doves, Lucas’ laughs – I didn’t hear any of them.

“Cec…”, Ace gasped and I was brought back to planet Earth. “I–”

“How do you know?” I was entirely focused on Aro. “How do you know about my brother?” My voice was hoarse and more of a whisper.

Aro shrugged his shoulders, nodding toward Ace. “He told me.”

Slowly, my head turned to face a pair of pale blue eyes.

“You told him”, I repeated, realizing what those words meant.

“Yeah, he told me”, Aro continued, a poisonous tone in his voice. “I really didn’t think your family was that criminal. No wonder he was in jail, even twice.” He kept laughing, Lucas joining him.

 “Oh, isn’t your mom a lecturer at college? What a scandal”, Aro continued. “Wow, having a criminal son must be hard, huh? Maybe that’s in your family. Watch out Cecily, maybe you’ll find yourself in jail one day too.” He couldn’t suppress his laughter anymore.

Ace took a step to me, grabbing my shoulders. I think, he said something but his voice seemed too far away. My gaze was on Aro as he kept laughing with Lucas about Noah, about my parents being too dumb to pay more attention in his education, about asking me how it had been in jail.

“You told him… that”, I whispered, my gaze wandering higher to meet Ace’s.

Tiny drips dropped from my chin. Tears? I was crying, I noticed by now.

“Cec, listen to me. I did not tell him.”

“Oh, come on, Ace! You told me a lot more than that”, Aro’s mouth twisted to a sardonic smile. “Did you tell her about Skid–”

I never had the chance to hear what Aro was about to say because Ace was jumping at him.

I didn’t even know what he was saying, and I didn’t care. In an attempt to take the opportunity of Ace being occupied, I started running.

I ran along the sidewalk, bumping into a few passengers but didn’t bother to apologize. I was running like crazy. My body was pumped with adrenaline and the fresh air dancing around my face wiped away the tears at the corner of my eyes.

CEC!” I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.

He caught up with me and grabbed my arm, whirling me around.

Cecily!”

I wanted to slap him, once again. I’ve never, never felt the urge to slap, to punch, to hurt someone like Ace right now. But my upper body was numb. And I had no idea when I was going to feel anything. Ever.

“You told him!?”, I screamed. I didn’t care that some passengers were looking at us, I didn’t care that I was humiliating myself – I was already humiliated to the infinity that I didn’t care if it rose.

“You fucking told him!?”, I cried. “Tell me Ace, how was it? Telling secrets about me, about my family, laughing at me behind my back, how was it? Do you hate me that much? Couldn’t you just have given me a slap in my face instead of humiliating me like that?!”

“I would never do that to you, Cec! Yes, I know how that must sound but I swear all I did was protecting you from that asshole!” His voice was scratchy and his hands trembling when he grabbed his hair in frustration.

“Protect me?”, I laughed. This was so ridiculously funny.

“Yes, I wanted to protect you!”, he shouted, his hands trembling.

“Because I love you, you stupid baby!”

He breathed heavily, the weight of those words lifted from him the moment he said them.

“I love you, Cec!”, he repeated, his voice steady.

“No, you don’t!”, I screamed. “I loved you! I loved in a way I had never thought I would be able to and you didn’t care! You kept hurting me and never trusted me completely! And now after you had seen me walk away you declare your sudden love for me!?”

“Oh my God, you are making me nuts, Cecily!”, he growled and turned around in frustration.

“I’ve fallen in love with you in a goddamn, fucking head-over-heels and entirely crazy way I can’t even begin to describe!”, he yelled as he turned around.

“For a damn long time! I didn’t know how I felt until you rejected me! Those past weeks were like a living hell.”

He uttered a humorless laugh. “I even watched an episode of your stupid telenovela just to bring back the memory of your smile, your laugh, or your face but nothing helped. I swear, I never wanted to hurt you, I was just… just… I didn’t want to fall in love! I didn’t want to admit it to myself but here I am – standing in the middle of the street and telling you that I’ve fallen for you! Completely and irrevocably and every other bullshit one can say about how they fall in love! You know about my past, so you can believe me when I say I love you more than anything in the world, because there is literally no one I could love more than you!”

He stopped and seemed to run out of air.

I didn’t know what to say. Or what to think. Or anything. I don’t know this man, no matter how much he claims to love me. What if he’s just saying that to trick me?

“I don’t trust you, Ace”, I sobbed as the next tear ran down my cheek. “I can’t trust you. You and Alex were the only ones who knew! How did he find out unless you’ve told him?!”

“I-I can’t tell you, Cec, but you have to believe me–”

“I don’t!”, I shouted, fury mixed with despair rising in me. “I gave you a chance and you abused my trust! I told you things I didn’t tell anyone and yet you were laughing behind my back at me and my family! You’re probably just saying all of those things now because you’re playing a sick competing game with Aro!” I was more talking to myself than to him.

“No, I’m not!” Ace seemed desperate.

But I couldn’t trust him. This could all be a show.

“Please, I need to be alone”, I said and took a step back.

“No, Cec, please, I am begging you, believe me–”

“No”, I shouted. “Please, Ace, please, just leave me alone.” I started to run once again until my lungs wanted to burst out.

In an odd way, the running was helpful. My anger, my sadness, the feeling of betray seemed to reach the sky. I never knew that my soul could be capable of even feeling that way but I also never wanted to test it.

I almost ran until I arrived at home, scared that he followed me but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. My feet were covered with blisters, my lungs aching and my dress soaked with sweat, but I didn’t mind.

Ace didn’t follow me.

He was gone.

 

 

~§~

 

ACE

 

Two months ago.

 

The weather was sticky tonight when I arrived at the frat house; my t-shirt was already starting to plaster around my neck when I parked my car. Even if I hadn’t been here once before, the house wouldn’t be hard to miss – you just had to drive to the street and follow the drunken people stumbling at the sidewalk or the loud music playing in the distant.

I let my eyes wander around the front yard where some people were laying wasted. This electro music was ear-piercing and already getting on my nerves.

As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dimness in the hallway, I grabbed an empty cup and filled it with water.

Some people laughed, others I didn’t know played a drinking game and some girls danced half-naked on the table. I didn’t know almost anyone. From what I heard, there were some people from other fraternities here too, so it was a medley of students from all branches.

I didn’t care about any of them. I just wanted to find him. The asshole that forced himself on Cec. I’ll come to every fucking frat party if that’s necessary to find him and beat the shit out of him.

I don’t know why I feel the urge to do so; but the thought of what could have happened if I hadn’t found her terrified me. And made me furious again.

Remembering what he had looked like, I searched in every room on the first floor. He was tall, almost taller than me. He had ash blond hair that was dyed blue in the middle and a tattooed neck. His appearance was unique; he shouldn’t be hard to recognize.

Yet, I kept looking everywhere and waited an hour for him to show up, eventually. I asked a few people if they knew him but most of them either didn’t understand what I was talking about or didn’t know him.

I went upstairs and checked the rooms once again, until I heard some familiar voices from another room.

I went inside and found Aro, Lucas and other people sitting at a table in the middle of the room. The fumy air filled my nose and I recognized the smell of pot before I saw them smoking it. The lights were dimmed but I heard Karen giggling on the couch when one of the guys leaned forward and inhaled the drugs from her naked belly.

My eyes wandered to Aro and Lucas who stared at me.

“Ace! What a surprise, what an honor”, Aro said and got up. With every step he came closer, his grin widened until he slapped his hand on my back, the foul scent of alcohol and marihuana mixed in his breath.

“Come, sit with us and play poker! Grant just wanted to go.” Aro nodded to that Grant who immediately got up, grabbed his cup and stumbled past me.

I had no desire to be any longer in this room, not just because of these fucked up people sitting here but also because that blond-blue haired asshole wasn’t here too, and I didn’t want to waste more time. There was something in the look of Aro and the way he bossed that dude around that was off.

“Have you seen a blond guy, half or his hair dyed blue? Tattooed on his neck.”

Some of them shook their heads, but Aro’s mischievous grin caught my attention.

“Come and sit down, maybe I remember having seen that guy.”

Asshole. But he knew how to get my attention.

I sat down, declining to take a drag on the joint he offered me. He was challenging me, I could sense that. But I’m not going to fall for his stupid attempts at intimidation.

We started playing and there is no other card game I despised more than poker. Dad used to play it all the time with his friends and usually ended up in losing and getting angry when he came home. The outcome was that he started drinking and then throwing things across the living room or hitting me.

Also, poker is not only about strategy; it depends on how much luck you have too. Great premises.

We started playing while Karen was giggling with this guy until she fell asleep or passed out, I didn’t know.

Lucas and Aro were talking most of the time – or laughing with every drag they took on the joint.

“Ace, why are you being so quiet, man?”, Lucas yelled after a while.

I took another sip of my water and shrugged my shoulders. “Talk about something interesting.”

“Huh… I see”, Aro replied and emptied his cup in one gulp.

“So, have you fucked Cecily?”

My eyes sprang from my cards to meet his face in a hell of speed. Oh, that bastard really knew how to get my attention.

He held my stare and then burst out into a foul laughter. “I guess that’s a no.”

He calmed down and continued, “Don’t take it personal, she’s probably still into me. Did you know that we used to date?”

My fist was clenched until my nails cut my skin. I had no right to feel jealous; I didn’t stop her from going to that date with that Dexter. She had begged me to say that I wanted her to stay but I was stubborn, I knew. The moment a person corners me and forces me to say what they want to hear, I get defiant. It’s a bad habit that used to bring me in many troublesome situations but I couldn’t help it.

“Then you must have screwed up if she still didn’t let you into her pants”, I heard myself saying.

His face twisted; his grin vanished, replaced by a predatory look in his eyes. I’d rather have flipped the table and smacked his face but I was too tired to start a fight now. And I’m not sixteen anymore. Now, I can control my anger. And temper. At least that’s what I’m trying.

“Oh, that can be fixed quickly”, he answered and wetted his lips, raising his ante.

Lucas giggled, “Yeah, she’s gotten a lot hotter than as a freshman.” He looked at his cards and sighed.

“I’m out guys. Aro, I’ll be downstairs. We need more drinks.”

Having said that, he got up and went downstairs, leaving Aro alone with me, Karen and the other guys whose names I still didn’t know.

Aro seemed to consider what his friend just said, when Karen mumbled something from couch, “She’s still a virgin…”

 “Who?”

“Cecily”, she snorted. “She’s still a virgin.”

Aro’s eyes widened, his grin spread all over his face. “Oh, really!? Now this could be very interesting.”

Karen just had to open her damn mouth. My head started pounding and I debated whether I should start drinking or not – this conversation was too tiring.

“Someone should give it to her”, Aro said after the others had lost too. “Maybe when I learn some clinical chemistry with her she’ll spread her legs for me.” He laughed, the others joining in.

“She won’t.”

He arched his eyebrow, his tone vicious. “Oh, do you want to fuck her?”

I didn’t bother to reply.

“Interesting”, he smirked and clicked his tongue. “Sorry, man. But I need a teacher in clinical chemistry.”

“I’ll help you.”

He scratched the back of his head, debating whether I had joked or not.

I shrugged. “I already had this course in Chicago. Easy.”

He laughed harder than before.

“You really want to fuck her that badly?”

It took all my patience and self-control to ignore the images in my head of smashing his head against the wall or jump at him right now. Clenching my jaw, I waited for him and the others to stop laughing.

“What are you ready to do?”, he said quietly.

“What do you want?”, I asked, wishing I could just choke him right here, right now.

Of course he wanted something. He was aiming for this since the beginning.

He cleared his throat, his eyes resting on my face.

“Everyone, get the fuck out.”

Being too wasted to process what Aro just said, the others didn’t budge.

“Everyone, OUT!”, he shouted. “Karen, wake up and get out! Pete, Shawn, Mike, out!”

Karen buttoned up her blouse and considered saying something to Aro, but he just gave her a firm glance and she disappeared without a word.

“I saw you”, he said as soon as we were alone. “And I heard your little chat with that Skidmore. Quite an interesting acquaintance that you have, Ace, I must say.”

Blood vanished from my face as I held his firm gaze.

My brows knitted.

“What do you know?”

He leaned back against his chair, palms behind his head.

“Enough to say that he was in jail. And from what I heard through your phone call, it wasn’t the first time. He’s rather a criminal, I didn’t think that.” His chuckle was just as dull as the rest of him.

“Her mother lectures at the university, right? What a shame if the dean knew about that. Scandalous, right?”

“Is that a threat?”

His smirk was plastered all over his face. “It depends.”

“What do you want?”, I asked again, sick of his game.

“I want money”, he admitted.

There was a dead silence in this room although the music was playing from downstairs. He paused, sensing that I wouldn’t comment any further, so he kept talking.

“I owe some money to my dealer and to a few guys I had lost to in poker. Also, for my–”

“How much?”

“Thousand bucks.”

He waited and his eyes were nervously shifting from my left to my right eye. He was wondering if she was worth it. If he only knew how much she’s worth, he wouldn’t insult her with this low amount.

I closed my eyes and never felt the urge to drink like this time – or on the day of Mom’s death.

“I’ll give you half of it next week, the other half after the exam.”

He contemplated for a moment, a flash of fear in his eyes. “Deal.”

He looked at me with a triumphant smile on his face.

“Don’t worry, you give me the money and help me with the course, and she won’t know that I know all her dirty secrets. Poor thing, how will she feel if she knew…”

I got up, and flipped the table on my way to him. I heard the chips hit the wooden floor with a clangor when he jumped from his chair, whirling to reach the door.

His hand almost reached the door knob, when I grabbed him by his shirt, ready to punch him in his damn face.

“Hey, hey, hey, chill, man!”, he shouted and threw his hands in the air.

“If you give me the money and keep your part of the deal, then I’ll keep mine and won’t tell her anything. I won’t even touch her!”

“Yeah, you’d better keep your hands off her, otherwise I’ll break each one of your fingers.”

I lowered my voice, my grip tightening. “If I see you talking to her about clinical chemistry or the weather or your grandma, I’ll destroy you. You don’t get near her, you don’t talk to her, you don’t even look at her. And pray to whatever it is you believe in if I find out that you told her about Skidmore or talked about her brother to anyone. Got it?”

He nodded and I loosened my grip, giving him the opportunity to open the door and slip to the hallway.

I was tired. That whole game, whole week were just tiring and left me powerless.

“I’ll keep my part of the deal if you keep yours. And don’t worry”, he added.

“She’s not even my type.”

He grinned, his eyes glowing when he went downstairs and disappeared in the crowd.

I stayed in the room for a while, my thoughts spinning in my mind.

Maybe I should have just beaten him up until he begs me to stop and leaves Cec alone. But there was something in his eyes that told me, it would have only increased his hunting instinct to chase after Cec as if she were a piece of meat.

I don’t know if she would believe me if I just tell her what he was up to. It would be much easier.

No, I don’t think she would – Aro is a good actor; he wanted her for a long time, I already sensed that in San Diego. He would deny it. And I don’t know if Cec believes me or him; she’s too naïve.

I sighed and rubbed my temples.

No, I couldn’t blame her naivety. It’s my fault if she doesn’t trust me – we’re not on good terms right now.

One last time, I made my rounds through the hallways and rooms in case that blue-haired guy showed up.

He didn’t. What a pity, I would’ve loved to fight him now. To channel all my anger and this strange feeling of defeat into a fight with him.

Because I felt defeated.

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