After I’ve finished with Lilith’s makeup and hair, it was her turn. We had so much fun and I wondered when was the last time I had laughed so much. Lilith let me see little parts of her I knew she kept hidden from a lot of people. A part of me wanted to know if she craved having a real friend just as much as I did.
I also found out she was incredibly bad at applying makeup on anyone other than herself. The eyeliner she drew on me was curved and thick, the mascara smudged all over my face and the eyeshadow she put on had too much fallout. With bad false lashes, I resembled an amateur drag queen ready to slay.
Apparently, when she said that she was trying to outdo everybody else, that meant I would have to work so hard to make everybody else forget her work. Still, I found I enjoyed myself quite a lot and had actually learned a few things before I proceeded to take off my makeup.
When the class was over, I was able to finally breathe because the next class we had was one I was familiar with. Math. It was the one thing in today’s schedule I knew I would excel at. Lilith waited for me at the door as I collected my things and joined her.
She led me through a series of hallways to the other side of the school, passing by students who were excited for the day to soon be over. Everybody looked so different here. Each student had their own unique style and they didn’t seem to be looked down upon. I had never seen anything like that; it was absolutely refreshing to be able to be yourself.
When we took our seats in the bright, sunny classroom full of windows, I saw Abbott and his friends walk up to us and sit down at their desks.
“You alright?” Abbott asked as he took in the smile on my face. “Usually people would be frowning before Math class.”
“I love Math. It’s the one thing this place and home have in common and the one thing I seem to understand,” I laughed lightheartedly.
“Good to know. All of us need help with it,” Lilith stated, motioning to Abbott and his friends.
“What were you like back home?” Riley asked out of nowhere, surprising me with his question.
“I... I guess I was quite shy at times and stayed away from a lot of people. I tended to focus on my grades and tried staying out of trouble. At the end of the day, people didn’t focus on me as much as they focused on my brother.”
“You have a brother?” Ford asked, surprised.
“Yeah, his name is Connor. He’s my twin,” I said sadly as I felt a twinge of pain in my heart.
Before anyone could ask any more questions, the teacher walked in and began the lesson.
When the lesson was over, I watched Lilith and Skye walk to the door, deep in conversation before Skye nodded and headed off somewhere. In the meantime, Abbott tried to convince me to come to Sierra’s party until he realized it was a lost cause.
Lilith waited for me by the door with her expression slightly guarded. We decided to go out and enjoy the outside activities which were something so out of this world. I had never seen anything like it. The whole campus seemed to be a mix of a beach party/festival. There were people playing volleyball, others swimming in the pool, there was a group singing a mashup of songs, others accompanying them on the instruments. The whole atmosphere was really electrifying.
Lilith pushed me to go sit with her next to a fountain that was built at the far end of the backyard. Abbott, Riley, Ford and I sat down before some girls dragged Lilith on stage, demanding for her to sing something. Her response to their request was a wicked smile.
She whispered something to the guy in charge of the music and I took a look around seeing how the noise started to die down in anticipation of my friend’s show. She straightened and then it started.
Her voice was unique and really breathy. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it but I could say that she was an outstanding singer who caught people’s attention. Everybody enjoyed the music as the melodies flowed in the air. All I could do was stare at her with my mouth half open as she gave one of the most captivating performances.
When she finished the song, she gave a little mocking bow and then headed over to me.
“Close your mouth before you eat a bug,” she said to me. I just shook my head in amazement.
“Marvelous? Fabulous? Sexy? Breathtaking? Feel free to add.” Lilith smiled with self-satisfaction. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes but I ended up complimenting her in the end.
“You were great,” I said to her. There were other people stopping by and complimented her too. As each one passed us, Lilith introduced him or her to me and after half an hour, my head was filled with names I was certain I would forget.
Time for dinner rolled around very quickly. Lilith and I walked to the Great Hall where everybody was getting seated. We sat down by the table that seemed closest to the exit and our dorm. Feeling happy with my day, I ate and then talked to Abbott who sat with us.
When we got back to the dorms, I had about an hour before it was lights out. I wasn’t going to check my social networks, but I was going to contact Delilah and Kai, like I said I would.
First, I texted Delilah on the whole Kai situation, just trying to make sense of it. I had to know if he moved on or what was going on and if it was even worth calling him.
Delilah’s reply came minutes later saying that he wasn’t in school much and when he finally came, he started a fight with one of Mason’s minions, he backed Connor up when they kicked him off the football team and got Connor his spot as the football captain back. Mason was apparently going under some police investigation because there was something about him selling drugs and his father was selling weapons.
I didn’t know what to make of this but Delilah also texted me that I should really talk to him instead of asking her about this. She said it would be better if it all came from him. So I took Delilah’s advice and pressed the green call button.
It rang... and rang... and rang... and rang...
I was about to give up when a very sleepy Kai answered the call.
“Hello?” He said over the phone. It was clear he was asleep and I assumed he didn’t even look who was calling him. “Hello?” He said again, this time with a little louder and I realized that I was quiet for a few long moments.
“Kai?” I asked, barely able to find my voice. Hearing his voice again made my heart ache. I missed him. I missed him so much yet I knew I had to go.
Gosh, I missed his obsessions with books, sexual innuendos, Oreos - an obsession which he got from me, - how he sucked at Biology and our time when I tutored him... I missed him as a person. I miss the guy who knew little bits about me. My quirks, my flaws and could read my emotions and like me for them.
“Astrid?” He said, unable to believe he was hearing my voice.
“Yeah,” I replied back, my voice barely a whisper. “It’s me.”
“Oh thank the gods. Astrid, I’ve been worried sick. I’m so sorry. I am, I really wish-” Before he could go on, I interrupted him.
“Kai, don’t apologize. What’s done is done. There’s no way to change the past.”
“I know but-”
“No, it happened. Just like I just so happened to read your message on Facebook today. You told me to hear you out so I’m listening.” I had a feeling I sounded rather cold and I had no idea why that was. The pain came back. The pain of getting hurt by Matt and my brother. My own best friends lying to me and my boyfriend hiding the truth. “I want you to tell me everything. From the beginning, no lies.”
“Okay,” he said. “It started one day, before that Friday’s game. Connor was just talking to Matt about you and how he didn’t even recognize you after you returned from California. And you have to know, Connor talks about you a lot. He loves you. A lot. He might not show it but whenever somebody mentions you, he just can’t shut up. So that day, he mentioned California and how seemed to come back changed but you still pushed him away. Then Matt said he bet he’d have no trouble making you fall in love with him and tell him all your embarrassing secrets. He was trying to rile Connor up but Mason overheard him.”
Kai paused to catch some breath. Meanwhile, my brain was busy taking it all in. Connor loved me? He talked about me? His interactions towards me were always so cold that I had no idea what to make of this new situation. As Kai continued, I had a feeling what that was going to be about.
“Mason started talking about how everybody should have a competition. Whoever gets to bang and ditch you first wins the bet. But then Connor got pissed off and I have never, ever seen him so terrifyingly furious. To make matters worse, Matt was the only one brave to agree. He said that making you fall in love with him would be the easiest because you’ve known him for a long time and said had a crush on him.”
“I did not!” I spoke involuntarily, yelling out a complete lie. It was true, I had gone trough a phase of let’s-crush-on-Matt-Jackson and my-brother’s-best-friend-is-so-hot but at the time when this bet was placed, I did not have a crush on him anymore... that much... I don’t know.
Kai ignored my interruption and only continued. “He accepted the bet and Mason made sure people would stay quiet about it. His parents were rich and everybody knew they were swimming in dark waters so you can understand why people were scared.”
“But I don’t understand what that had anything to do with you,” I confessed.
“It didn’t, though. Or it shouldn’t. But when I heard your name and what Matt was trying to do, I knew that I should intervene. I knew that I couldn’t let you fall for him because then you’d have to face the whole disappointment and gods know what else. I liked you back then. I liked you because I knew you as Ella, the gorgeous girl from the beach and the bookworm behind her hipster glasses.”
“I don’t wear glasses.” I corrected him, smiling a little bit.
“I know.” I could sense Kai smiled back. “I knew it was a stupid idea and that I was doing it for all the wrong reasons,” Kai said over the phone. “But it was the only idea I had. And it was to make you fall in love with me before you fell in love with Matt. It became a competition and Matt was clearly not happy with losing. That night when you and Matt caught me with Cindy, I knew I screwed up. I saw the look in your eyes and it broke my heart, Astrid. I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t think about anything other than the way you looked at me that night.”
“I was pissed off at Matt because my actions made you pity him which was what he wanted. And yes, I know I was not innocent and I could see that you immediately put your guard up. It was heartbreaking because it was at that time when I realized how hard I fell for you.”
My heart skipped a beat. Or two.
“Kai...” I said softly.
“I do realize that I should’ve come clean and tell you about the bet, but there was so much on the line. And I can’t lose it all, Astrid. If I fail Biology, they’ll kick me off the football team and then I won’t get the scholarship for College. If I don’t get the scholarship then I won’t go to College and I just can’t afford disappointing Hannah. My parents I could handle, but not my little sister.”
Kai’s voice was weak and there was nothing more I wished than seeing him.
“Telling you about the bet meant that I was going to lose all that.”
“I understand.” I meant it. Kai’s little sister meant the world to him. She was fighting cancer and was getting weaker and weaker by the day. There wasn’t much time for her anymore and while I still haven’t met her, I knew that she wanted Kai to finish school and get into some fancy College where he could major in something else that was fancy, then continue to build his career and support his family.
“I tried to protect you, though. I did my best even under those difficult circumstances.”
“I know, Kai. I get it now,” I sighed. We had about twenty minutes to finish talking before lights were out and I still had to brush my teeth and change. “And as mad as I was at you for not telling me, I’m not anymore.”
“So you forgive me?” He asked.
“I do,” I said but then quickly rushed on. “But that doesn’t mean I forgive Connor, Diana, Adelaide or anyone else. For you, I get it because you’ve tried to help in your own weird way.”
“I know it would be right for me to try and defend Connor because he was really the one who tried the hardest for this bet to stop, but I’m just happy that I get to hear your voice.”
“I know. I missed you too,” I said to Kai, glad that we didn’t go into that discussion.
“Will you come back?” He asked me with a glint of hope in his voice.
“Yes but not anytime soon,” I said. “You have to understand that New York is really helping me move on. I’m really happy here. I was so lost in that toxic environment that I didn’t think I’d be able to find myself but I was wrong.”
“How will I get to see you, then?” He asked. “Are we... still...” His voice trailed off.
“Yes, we’re still together. But of course, if you have any other girls to attend to-”
“No, you’re the only one I want.” Hearing that made me feel satisfied and happy.
I smiled. “I feel the same way about you,” I wondered if it was too soon to say it though. After I found out about the bet, I thought I didn’t trust Kai anymore. But now, I noticed that I still did, especially after hearing his side of the story. I just hoped that it wasn’t going to bite me in the ass sometime later. Although, if Kai did anything that would make me lose my trust in him, I was sure Delilah would tell me. Still, there was a level of cautiousness I felt when talking to him. I suppose that was natural after the things I’ve been through.
“Astrid?” Kai said in his deep voice. It was sexy and it made the butterflies in my stomach flutter to life.
“Huh?” I asked.
“I love you.”
He said it. He said the L word. My breath caught in my throat and I almost didn’t reply.
“I love you too, Kai.”
I meant every word.