“It’s official. I am obsessed with Belgian chocolate.”
Grayson laughs at me from across the kitchen island, as I pick my way through a box of Belgian truffles.
Studying isn’t half bad when you have a huge mansion to keep you occupied and chocolate.
“I can’t believe you’ve never tasted Belgian chocolate before,” Grayson says, shaking his head in disbelief.
I grab another Belgian seashell and pop it in my mouth, chewing slowly to savour the taste. It melts on my tongue. “Well now that I have, I’m not sure I ever want to part with them.”
I twirl around on the bar stool. Grayson watches me, in case I end up breaking the piece of furniture no doubt. “I can’t help but wonder… you know, about your mother,” he says, making me stop what I’m doing to look at him. “I believe that people can change. But, they’ve got to want that change for themselves. Do you think she can turn things around?”
I’ve wondered the same thing. Every time she breaks down and things get really bad, she seems to want help and for a short time, it works. Then she gets lost again, overwhelmed by her thoughts and emotions and ends up taking five steps back from all the progress she’s already made.
“I don’t know,” I answer him truthfully. “I’d like to think so, but I don’t want to get my hopes up again. One minute she appears to be getting better and then the next she’s at rock bottom.”
He nods slowly and I instantly feel my throat tighten. “How’s everything going between you now?”
“Well, for once in my life I actually feel like we’re starting over. She told me about my dad last night and I learned a few things about him. As much as I wish I knew more about the situation, I’ve realised that I’m ready to leave the past behind. It’s the only way forward.”
Grayson is studying me. Then he smiles. “Has there ever been a time in your life, where you’ve felt abandoned?” I ask him, now that we’re getting deep into conversation.
He seems to think it over for a couple of seconds, and then says, “Um, yeah. I’m sure everyone has at some point.” He pauses to take a breath. “Rejection can be a brutal human interaction. Nobody wants to feel like they’re the last person to get the joke or the last person to get picked for the sports team. Every single human being on the planet wants to feel loved, accepted and secure. But when we don’t receive this, we automatically start to believe the opposite - that we’re unlovable, unwanted and rejected.”
“I remember when I failed my first test at school. I’d never failed anything, and at the time I was getting bullied by this older kid. I had cried so much about it, and seeing a big F on my paper was the tipping point. I didn’t feel good enough, or that I could measure up to anyone else because I felt so different to them.”
“After that, I switched schools and it made a difference. But, I still felt like I was a ticking time bomb, about to go off on one. I was constantly striving for perfection and achievements… and maybe that’s why nobody liked me, because I only seemed to be looking out for myself. And that wasn’t what was really going on. I just needed to prove to myself and other people that I could succeed, that I could be somebody.”
I sit there and listen to everything he just told me. This is coming from the boy I had no intention of getting to know, until I started to discover that he’s just like me - misunderstood.
“We’re really not that different,” I say, watching his eyes lift to mine. “When you first arrived at the college, I was scared that I was going to be left behind because I’ve always been fearful of people in higher authority. I didn’t think that I stood a chance at competing, not with some of the top students at Lakeside anyway.”
“That makes sense. But, I think you’re one of Ricky’s favourite students. You didn’t have anything to worry about. You’re talented, start believing that.”
A blush creeps up my neck. “Thanks. You are too.”
Suddenly, we hear the front door click shut and two footsteps approaching fast. “His car is here, so he must be home,” a woman’s voice echoes. It’s Grayson’s mother and where the mother usually is, the father isn’t that far behind.
Grayson is frozen and when I look to him for some reassurance, he doesn’t provide me with any. The footsteps stop when two figures appear in the archway of the kitchen, eyes darting to the person eating their prized truffles. I’ve currently got one in my mouth and it takes me a long moment to swallow it because my throat has gone dry.
Mrs Swain has got a large fur coat on, dark sunglasses and a lengthy white skirt that compliments her figure. She’s also rocking a bright red lipstick, which makes her appear even more serious and tight lipped.
Then it’s Michael Swain’s turn to get stared at. He’s suppressing a smile, like he looks happy to see me, but doesn’t quite know what to do or say.
Linda is trying to suss me out, especially because I’ve invaded her house and fridge. Her eyes snap to Grayson, who has crawled back into himself and hasn’t uttered a word.
“Aren’t you the same girl who was cleaning our pool a couple of weeks ago?” she says.
I’m surprised she remembered me.
Grayson looks at me sharply. “What do you mean? Skye has never been here before.”
“I have actually. I helped to clean the pool with my friend Rory. It was only a one-time thing.”
Linda glances me up and down, pulling a face at my choice of clothing. I regret not wearing a pair of jeans. I didn’t know I had to dress up to be considered worthy as their guest.
“Remember that project I told you about, where we have to work with—”
She cuts her son off abruptly. “You didn’t tell me you were having company today and you know how I feel about strangers coming into our house,” Her voice is sour, just like her expression.
What did she think I was going to do, raid the place? The fridge maybe…
Shame rushes to Grayson’s cheeks. “Sorry. I forgot to mention Skye was coming over.”
Mr Swain steps forward. “No harm has been done here. I think it’s nice Grayson has a friend over from Barnett. It shows that he’s making new friendships there.”
Linda takes off her shades, exposing dark brown eyes. They fix themselves on me and I squirm. “You’ll have to get going soon Skye, because we’ll be having dinner.”
Michael shoots her a look of disapproval as I jump off the stool and swing my bag over my shoulder. “I should probably be heading home now anyway. It’s getting late.”
“Is somebody picking you up Skye?” Mr. Swain queries, eyes narrowed.
“Then how are you planning to get back?”
“I’ve got a bike.”
Linda Swain stares at me, rolling her eyes. “That explains who the dirty bicycle belongs to outside.”
I grind my teeth together. “Yes. It’s mine.”
“It must’ve taken you ages to travel here,” Michael says with genuine concern.
“I’m used to pedalling around.”
Linda has already turned her back to us, engrossed with something on her phone.
Michael makes a grab for his car keys and swings them around his finger. “Grayson will give you a ride home.” He throws the keys at him. “You can take her in my car.”
I wave my hands at Mr. Swain. “Oh no, you don’t have to do that. Honestly, it’s fine.”
“I’m not going to let a young girl travel through the streets alone at this hour. It’s not safe.”
Well, there’s no point trying to win this argument. Mr. Swain has no intention of losing this game and I suppose I should be thankful that I don’t have to pedal the full one hour journey back to Barnett. Mr. Swain has saved me from passing out over the handlebars.