Orange slices of sunlight shot through her blinds and caused her eyes to shut. That gross dusty water she had been avoiding for a week guzzled down her throat to cover that nauseated feeling the night prior gifted her. The thin faded pajama pants herr father gave to her too many years ago collected dust on the hardwood of her floor as she tried to swallow down the vodka that still ran rampant in her veins. Then she tossed the plastic cup.
Jade stretched the kink in her neck but to no avail. Of course she promised to never do it again, yet here she was trying to find her bearings. Disorienting feelings sent goosebumps across her arms. Why couldn't she remember how she got home? At least the sun woke her up. That meant she had to put no thought into her appearance and skid out the door before the clock chimed. Figuratively.. Jade hated mornings like this. She hated to be the last student on campus grounds.
She also hated the fact that it was nine fifteen on a Wednesday. Mrs. Bereth's class was probably her least favorite hour spent in her entire life. Give or take a couple memories.
After she found the nearest not-gross-smelling clothes on the floor, Jade slid across the tile floor and burst into the living room where her mother was curled up on the side of the sofa. Her piercing green eyes stared into her soul as she took a demeaning sip of steaming coffee. It was cold outside; her mother's coffee cup left the window near to her side of the sofa foggy. Not like Jade didn't expect cold weather in January, it's just that she was absolutely sick of it.
"Chaotic morning I suppose?"
"Oh, please," Jade whined as she fixed her peanut butter toast in the tiny kitchen. The stained glass panels around the entry to the white kitchen left colorful beams around Jade. She wasn't in the mood to make her miserable breakfast in glorious light. It burned her.
"Didn't you just promise to not sneak out?" Jade choked on her own tongue.
"Damn," was all she responded with. Maybe her mother's intuition was like eyes on every side of her body. Perhaps she was the reason Jade made it safely into her pajamas and bed last night. With the sticky toast in her mouth, Jade jeered around the corner of the living room to the descending stairs without giving her mother a second look.
"Class is in ten, gotta go."
"Be sure to take a shower tonight, you stink of vodka."
The pressure from the city was thankfully light. Her heavy footsteps murdered the tranquil morning in cold blood and she huffed when she heard birds spike away from her bustling body. The morning oaks trees dropped orange leaves across the cracked road and she took a glimpse at the scenery around her townhome neighborhood and thought 'wow, at least it's pretty today,' but she only thought for a split second.
Once on metro, Jade caught her breath and tried to subtly choke the last remaining bits of her toast out of her throat. Water sounded nice. It was only a seven minute bus ride to campus. But a three minute sprint to the English building. Why did it have to be on the opposite end of the campus?
The best thing to happen to Jade that morning was that the wind was cool enough to prohibit sweat from ruining her already ratty clothes. God, the embarrassment. This was not high school anymore. She was three years out of high school, nearly four now. Why did her choices crumble her life around her?
"Why, welcome Miss Lassiter! Thought you'd never make it!" Mrs. Bereth shook her head in dismay as she checked Jade's name off of the role. Jade couldn't hold back the grimace and she caught eyes with many smirking students.
"Hi sleeping beauty."
"Aw, did it go a little too hard last night at the dump house last night?"
"I swear to god I will rip your bitch ass face off and shove it so far up your ass your stomach will be confused why this caked bitch isn't sweet." Valeria gasped.
"Goddamn that's a good one. Did Ashton ask you to say that to me so I wouldn't pummel his ass?" Jade smirked and turned to look her best friend in the face.
"I came up with it myself but let's say he did so that you have an excuse to beat him. I'll have my camera ready." Valeria only giggled and turned back to her notes.
Best friends from junior high didn't often go to the same college, but Jade figured that when they did, they were destined soulmates. That was the only word to describe her relationship with Valeria. Soulmates.
Ashton was her best friend and somehow tolerated her vulgar banter with Valeria. He was accepted into the trifecta during freshman year of high school. He and Jade were inseparable. Often Jade couldn't imagine a world without Ashton in it. It made their union official when they all accepted enrollment into the same state school.
"On graduation day, Rob's going to purpose," she whispered close to Jade's ear. It had been a couple minutes later and it felt like it took Jade just as long to process the gravity of Valeria;s words. Jade widened her eyes.
"Val! That's–" she quieted her voice, "that's amazing. Why then?" Valerie licked her lips and looked down to her lap. She played with her fingers.
"That was the other thing." Jade didn't blink; she didn't lose eyesight of Valeria.
"He was accepted."
"And a week after graduation we're moving."
"Oh my god."
"They said that the market over this is so promising."
"Wait, he already has the job?" Valeria nodded.
"He's doing some pre training and extra online stuff."
"Really trying to build a repertoire, huh?"
"Not really," Valeria laughed, "it just takes a lot of work to sell multi million dollar homes." Jade's eyebrows shot up.
"No kidding," she mumbled and looked at her messy notes.
Besides Rob, no one really knew what their futures looked like. Of course Jade could picture Valeria as the model pregnant housewife to a rich successful man. It wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but someone had to be the good mother in society. And Valeria was perfect for the job. It made Jade feel inappropriate. She would never amount to that. Jade's best shot at making her mother a grandma would be becoming the vodka aunt to Valeria's beautiful babies.
"Hey, what's up?" Jade looked to her right. Ashton walked next to her just looking forward. They exited the building doors.
"Hey," she responded flatly.
"Wow rough night?"
"Mother of god.." Ashton chuckled at her. "Don't be surprised if Valeria has an attitude with you today."
"Great, what does she think I did now?" Jade smirked. "Never mind. Clearly you don't do well on the mornings after parties."
"And where were you?" Jade asked as they sat in their regular spot in the student center. Colorful Sunday's shot down from the ceiling windows three stories up above the winding staircase. The broad winding staircase perimetered the next two stories consisting of faculty offices and the mailboxes. In front of the staircase were large mesh signs and collapsible tables dressed in registry paraphernalia. A second but smaller move in date for freshmen and transfers occurred during January. It felt so distant, registration days.
"Out?" Jade snickered.
"You said you would be there."
"Yeah I forgot." Jade huffed and her lips pressed in a flat line.
"It was kind of scary." Ashton's eyes widened as he heard her tone. Her quite voice stilled his heart and he moved a little closer to her.
"I'm sorry, I really am. I won't do that again."
"Okay," Jade sighed. And he pulled his hand out of hers when the rest of their friends straggled up to the circle of couches.
On the way to their last class of the day, Ashton's grip on Jade's hand tightened. It was evening and the path lined with small blurb lights led their way to the science building. Her bright eyes looked up to him in wonder as his jaw locked.
"What is it?" She asked. But Ashton only licked his lips and continued to walk. "What's wrong, Ash? Why did you—"
"It was nothing, Jade. You're good."
"Alright," she mumbled. And then the silence was thick and awkward. Despite looking completely restful now, Ashton confused her and Jade nearly had whiplash. The look on Ashton's face scared her. She hadn't seen him appear so... on guard before. "Ashton, no. What's wrong? I don't take that as an—ahh!" Jade was pushed to the ground behind Ashton and from the brick she watched the back of her best friend race into someone else.
"What the fuck..." Jade whispered in horror as the familiar light brunet curls veiled his face when he pinned the other person to a nearby tree.
"Who the fuck do you think you are? Showing your face again when we had a deal?"
Jade swore she heard a cracking sound.
"What–What? Ash, wait—holy fuck—I'll go–I'll go. I can't–" Jade gasped.
"Let go of me!" Jade's eyes were wide and for the first time in a long time, she could admit to being truly scared. The noises of the undertone in the boy's voice weren't normal, and she hoped it was the vodka still deteriorating her senses.
"Hemmings, get the fuck out off of this university campus right now or else I swear Emil will find you and your nest of Made siblings."
"Irwin–Irwin wait!" The boy choked against Ashton's firm grasp. Jade swallowed hard and suddenly saw people gathering to record the fight. She heard their voices but missed what they said.
"Jade!" Jade gasped out as she felt Valeria come from behind her and help her to her feet. She knew her best friend's touch, but she never took her eyes off of the two boys ahead of her.
"Holy shit! Ashton please stop!" She saw tears form in the boy's eyes and when Ashton let go of him, he had purple bruises and red hand prints across his throat. When he turned away from Jade—quite dramatically she thought—she swore she saw the bruises immediately fade and he walked off quickly before he disappeared around the corner. He escaped toward the building they were headed for.
Suddenly, her eyes being ripped from the hallway Hemmings took, she felt a strong grip on the sides of her upper arms. She looked up to see Ashton dragging her.
"Ashton!" She heard Valeria yell. "Go away!"
As Ashton dragged her to the end of the path, she stared at the human sized imprint against the tree.
"What–What? Ash, okay." Her voice was weak. He held her hand and yanked her towards the building ahead of them. Her jaw quivered. Maybe it was the fear. Maybe it was the fact Ashton's hand felt like it would literally rip hers off her arm.
"Ashton!" She screamed. Once they made it to a quiet hallway inside the science building, he stopped dead in his tracks. He turned to look at her hand. It was badly bruised. Her face twisted in fear and confusion. Ashton pulled her into his abdomen and hugged her.
"It's okay, Jade. I'm so sorry. I didn't;t mean to hurt your hand." He held it and looked at the fragile skin. Jade could tell that he was guilty and sorry for hurting her.
"It's–It's alright." She held her hand and examined it carefully. "Who was that–was that? And why were you so–so mad at him?" Ashton licked his lips. Jade looked up at him with gleaming eyes.
"He's an old friend. He's dangerous and into... a lot of things." Jade looked down to her hand. A pain ripped through her stomach.
"Some friend." Ashton sighed and ran an exasperated hand through his hair.
"Come on, let me take you to your class." Jade didn't put up a fight.
Her heart raced though. Had that really just happened? She felt like the world stopped spinning and everyone stared at her like she had the biggest scandal on earth. Her paranoia ran rampant. Just as she turned into the classroom, she looked up and was greeted by Mr. Calais. Nothing else mattered than the pair of eyes she stared into. Hemmings sat on the left side of the class in the middle. He licked his lips, his gold eyes were wide, and he seemed to be struggling. He looked like he were about to cry.
"Miss Lassiter?" Jade flinched and looked at Mr. Calais.
"Are you alright?"
"Take your seat then." Jade licked her lips.
He's in my seat!
Jade sat in the seat in front of him. Of course the latest class on a triple day would be so full that only a few spare chairs in the auditorium fashioned classroom would be empty. And of course the nearest one was in front of him. To be truthful, she was scared of him. His eyes weren't trustworthy. Unless he—like many others at the school—got absolutely blickity blacked out last night. But he didn't completely look like he was intoxicated with alcohol. Jade knew most students were on drugs, however, none of them looked like him. All of Jade's senses were directed toward him. She heard nothing of the lecture. Everything about the day suddenly revolved around Hemmings who sat behind her. She constantly saw him watching her. He didn't try to conceal it.
Just as the bell rang, students began to stand up and he blended in with them and left quickly. With a huff, Jade scrambled to her feet and tried to find him even though she was one of the last to leave. Jade couldn't keep up. It wasn't that he moved too fast; she didn't want to catch up anyway. In the back of her mind Ashton's words resonated but somehow she convinced herself that she needed to be proven Hemmings' badness. She swerved in between students and teachers trying to not be noticed. They cut through the student center, passed the library, and towards the faculty hallway until she plowed straight into someone.
"Jade!" Ashton hissed. Jade gasped. He held her firmly.
"What the fuck are you doing?" He whispered loudly. Jade opened her mouth but was lost for words. She saw Hemmings turn the corner. He was gone. Toward the faculty parking lot. Yet like a magnet she was attracted to the direction he walked.
"Jade. What are you doing? I said not to associate with him." Suddenly her chest boiled and her fists tightened.
"Who are you to tell me what to do, Ashton? You're not my boyfriend. And you also never said that." Ashton was taken back by her sudden aggravation. Jade was never aggressive toward anyone.
"What–What? No, Jade. Seriously, stop following him. I thought I told you to not to—"
"Stop it, Ashton," she hissed his name, "you can't tell me what I can and cannot do. And stop touching me and holding me and pulling me; I don't like it." Jade turned on her heel and left in search of Valeria. Ashton groaned and turned to the parking lot.
"Wow okay, bye," Jade mumbled quietly.
"Bye," Ashton said without a sprinkle of emotion in his voice.
Jade leaned against the wall where she and the few friends left on campus met at by the end of their classes. Thoughts swarmed her head a million miles an hour and they felt like a spooked flock of crows rather than a civil thought train. God, those blue eyes stained her brain. Who was he? Why was Ashton so badly triggered? Finally she heard Valeria's giggle and before she had a chance to say something, she watched as Rob quickly kissed her.
"See you in a little bit," Rob suggestively whispered and kissed her cheek. He walked away and Valeria turned to Jade with a smile plastered to her face.
"What?" Jade realized she had a look of disgust.
"Noth–Nothing, I'm just," Jade paused and groaned, "I'm mad at Ashton." Valeria's eyes went wide.
"He keeps touching me, ordering me around, and tries to be with me to like Lord over me or something." Valeria smirked.
"What, Val? What's so funny?"
"He likes you."
"Not–Not like that, boys don't like me like that."
"Except every one of your smash and dashes." Jade blushed extremely hard when she heard the two worst words forced together like sticky gum in clean hair.
"Val, that isn't funny. It's annoying. I don't need him treating me like that." Valeria shrugged.
"Kiss him. See what happens." She nonchalantly suggested. Jade choked.
"What the hell? No way! That's so weird."
"You'll like it; he's a great kisser." Valeria smirked and turned to the rest of their group who walked up before Jade had the chance to respond.
"Excuse–Val, what?" Her eyes were so wide she felt like she'd explode.
"Ew! Ew! Ew!" Her hands covered her eyes in an attempt to erase the mental image but to no avail.
"We're going to Stevenson if you wanna join later." Jade still had her hands over her throbbing eyes.
"Okay," she mumbled. Then someone grabbed her forearms and pulled her hands down. Michael's green eyes stared at her.
"Were you the last to find out about Ashton and Valeria?" She grumbled and shoved him away from her. Michael laughed and grabbed Calum's hand before he followed Valeria out of the student center back door. Emory and Ethan followed them as well. Jade rolled her eyes. Her stomach twisted in a strange feeling she never experienced before. Anger? No. Pain? No. Jealousy...? Surely not...
Jade walked away from the door that led to the rows of co-ed dorms. She didn't feel well enough to hang out with people tonight. She had enough thoughts to sort out before any sort of human interaction again. Why would she be jealous of her best friend kissing her other best friend? Obviously it had to be because everyone seemed to know except for her. But her stomach fluttered as she thought of Ashton's lips curving into a smile—
She felt something at her side. Jade sucked in a breath and turned to the presence. She gasped and looked up to see Hemmings's eyes right on hers.
"Hi," his voice was soft. Jade licked her lips.
"Hey." Neither of them blinked yet.
"I'm going home," Jade mumbled. She couldn't understand why she told him this. Just his eyes alone made her forget everything about people, school, work, and life and they seemed to demand her to tell him the truth. She scurried and passed him toward the front entry. He followed her closely behind then reached out and opened the door for her before she could reach it herself. Jade only gave him a paused look that was maybe a bit too long. Then she walked out.
"Sorry for startling you and your friend."
"Oh, um... yeah." Jade looked to her feet. "You know Ashton?" It seemed like his face harden for a second.
"I guess so."
"You guess so?"
"I'm Luke." Jade blinked. Yeah, her brain couldn't process anything—
"Jade." Luke smiled.
"Do you live on campus?"
"No." And Jade's heart rate began to pick up. Get out of here. Get out of here. Get out of here, now.
"We can walk to your car?"
"Actually, Luke, I'm good. Thanks um—" Damnit, she was overwhelmed and took the wrong exit; the metro stop was down Richmond which was on the other side of campus. She watched as he dryly swallowed with difficulty and he seemed to avert his gaze to something else. Jade bit the inside of her cheek as she watched Luke take a step away. "—I don't have a car." Why was her heart skipping so many beats?
"Okay, see you tomorrow." Luke smiled and walked away with his hand curled into tight fists in his hoodie pouch.
"See you," Jade whined breathlessly. As she slowly walked down the pavement towards the largest pavement that ran through the entire campus, her brain couldn't formulate thoughts. The wind carried her hair and it kept blowing it in front of her eyes and sticking it to her wet lips. Nothing made sense. Ashton and Luke's fight, Ashton and Valeria's kiss, the impossible urge to not only kiss Ashton but also look at Luke's beautiful eyes all day— god, this day brought more drama upon Jade than she had experienced during her entire college career combined. Perhaps it was all accumulating to hit her during her senior year, that seemed about right.
Jade hurriedly unlocked the front door and stepped into the small three by three foot room. She locked the door and exhaled in hopes of locking the obscene thoughts outside as well. After sliding out of her shoes, Jade turned to the left and practically crawled up the wood stairs to the flat of her townhome. Her mother was at the desktop.
"Hi baby face," Victoria didn't look away from the screen. Her readers/blue light glasses framed her thin face.
"Hey mom," she sighed. From her exasperated tone, Victoria swiveled the chair quickly to examine her burned out child.
"I knew it would be a long day." Jade dropped her backpack to the floor where her phone buzzed out of the pocket. Messages from Ashton, Valeria, and Michael teased the screen awake.
"You don't know half of it."
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