Chapter Twelve - Honey, I’m Home!
That night, I sat on my bed cross-legged, once again dialling Annie’s number. I thought she was the most likely of the two to answer my call. Matt was stubbornly freezing me out, not replying to my feeble attempts at apologising. Not that I could really blame him. I would’ve done the exact same in his position.
It seemed that Annie was also resolutely freezing me out. I felt terrible about what had happened, and their faces were stuck in my mind, making my stomach twist. What if I lost my two best friends over this… this stupid rivalry?
I sent a text to Cole (bold move, I know) asking for another truce, no more pranks. Just trying to have a somewhat civil relationship with each other. I was yet to receive a reply.
“Dinner, Grace!” my mother called from downstairs, and I sighed. I placed the phone on my bed, brushed my hair back into a neat side plait and made my way down the stairs.
I froze around the corner of the kitchen as the sounds of a masculine voice floated towards me. My mother would’ve warned me if someone was coming over, and the voice was familiar.
Slowly I made my way into the kitchen, and froze as the guest swivelled around to face me. A pleased expression lit his face as he said, ‘Grace! You’re mother and I were just talking about you.’
What the hell was Cole Adams doing in my kitchen?
“Mrs Holland, this pasta salad is just delicious! My mother would love to have this recipe. You’re an awesome cook,” Cole said ten minutes later, spooning even more food onto his plate.
How is it possible for a boy to eat this much and stay so thin?!
My mother smiled in response. “Why, thank you, Cole. It’s lovely for someone else to have dinner with us. We don’t have guests over very often.”
“What are you doing here, Cole?” I cut in. After observing Cole and my mother chatting and him seeming cheery and amiable towards me,I was beyond suspicious about Cole’s intentions here.
“Oh, Grace don’t be so rude to our guest,” my mother admonished.
“Are you Grace’s boyfriend?” my little sister Angel asked, and in that moment she really didn’t seem very angelic. I wanted to hit her upside the head.
“Angel!” I cried. “No, of course not.”
Cole chuckled. “No, Angel. Grace and I are just really good friends. Aren’t we, Grace?”
He looked at me, and the look in his chocolate-brown eyes was saying, Agree with me, Grace, or your family knows about every bad thing you’ve ever done in your life, right here, right now.
“Right,” I said, my voice sounding strained. “We’re just friends. But I am a little confused about what you’re doing here, Cole.”
“Grace—” my mother started again, but Cole held up a hand.
“It’s alright, Mrs Holland. I completely understand your daughter’s confusion. I actually came over just to ask you a favour, and then your wonderful mother invited me to stay for dinner. I couldn’t refuse.”
“What was the favour?” I asked tightly, already knowing I wasn’t going to like the answer.
“Well, lately I’ve been having a little trouble in English class, and I might need some help preparing, since our SATs are coming up. I was wondering if maybe, since it is one of your specialised areas, you would perhaps consider helping me out and maybe tutoring me. I would be willing to pay you for your help, and I would be so grateful.”
I eyed him suspiciously. I knew that this was his payback towards me. His face was too honest. He had something planned.
“Well, if you’re having trouble, maybe you could go through the Homework Centre. I don’t know if it would really be beneficial for you to have me as your tutor.”
“You have the highest grade in our year for English. If anything, Grace, you’re the most qualified to help me out. Please.”
Well, there was that.
I looked out at my mother, who said to me, “Cole is a very sweet boy. I think it would be wise to help him. You can’t say no, Grace. He’s asking for your help and I think it would be good for you.”
Gee, thanks mom. Where is your maternal protection when I need it?
I gulped. “I don’t know about this…”
“Grace, help the boy out,” my mother said.
I sighed. “Fine.”
“Now, like I said before, I would be willing to pay you. Just name the price.”
I was about to name a sum of money that would’ve made the richest man in the world cringe (and make Cole regret his decision), when my mother ruined it all and said, “No, Cole. No money is necessary. We thank you for the offer, but you don’t need to do that. Grace is happy to do that for free.”
Oh, am I now? Of course I didn’t say anything, just nodded glumly.
“Thank you so much, ma’am. And you too, Grace.”
“Don’t mention it,” I said nonchalantly, though inside I was fuming.
After that my mother even pulled out the special apple crumble pie we saved for special occasions, and Cole and my mother continued to make polite conversation while Angel looked between Cole and I suspiciously.
Finally the dinner wound up and while I cleared the table, Cole insisted on helping my mother wash up—the lovely, polite saint he was—and they chatted more on everything from politics to my mother’s rounds at the hospital, and the hours she worked being a nurse.
I rolled my eyes at him as I wrapped the salad and put it in the fridge. Now they were onto the topic of the state of hospitals and their hygiene. Angel had long ago disappeared since Cole had offered to do her job, which also put him in the good books with Angel. Fantastic.
”’Mrs Holland, thank you for the lovely dinner and I had a really great time, but unfortunately I have to get back to my father. Unless there’s anything else you need doing…”
She shook her head. “Thank you for the offer but I think Grace and I have the rest covered.”
“I’ll show Cole out,” I said, and saw something flicker across his expression, before he nodded, said goodbye to my family and led the way to the front door.
Chilly night air greeted us as we stepped out onto the porch, and I closed the sunny yellow front door behind us so we wouldn’t be overheard.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Walking home,” he said innocently.
I crossed my arms over my chest and pinned him with a glare. “You know that’s not what I mean.”
“About the tutoring? I’m not doing anything. I just asked if it would be alright and I needed the help.”
“So go through the Homework Center. I know you have something planned, Cole. I’m not as naïve as you think I am.”
“I know that,” he said stonily. “Is it that hard to believe I really just need help with Biology?”
“You asked me to help you out with English, dumbass!” I hissed.
He paled. “That’s what I meant.”
“If you’re going to lie to me, make sure you stick to the story and get your facts straight. What do you really have planned?”
“Maybe I just wanna spend time with you.”
I took a step back in surprise. “Wait… what?!”
He smirked. “Maybe I enjoy your company, Gracie.”
Was this really happening? Had I heard him wrong? I shook my head and gulped. “You’re lying again.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I guess you’ll never know, will you?”
And with that he turned around and started trudging away, hands in his pocket and head bent against the cold night air.
“Oh, no you don’t,” I said, stalking forward and grabbing his wrist, spinning him to face me.
“Just can’t get enough of me and my rugged good looks, can you?” he said, amusement making his eyes a few shades lighter.
My stomach flipped at the proximity—I could feel the body heat rolling off of him in waves. Why was my stomach flipping? It was not meant to do that. I pushed it back and put on my best venomous expression.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Adams. Whatever you’re planning, don’t, OK? Let’s call a truce. I’m done with this game.”
He leant forward so that his lips rested against my ear, and I shivered at the contact. Why was my body reacting to his proximity like this? His cool breath fanned my face and stirred my hair, and I swallowed nervously.
“Oh, Grace,” he sighed. “Babe, I’m only just beginning.”
And then he jerked back, leaving me standing there, dumbfounded, as he chuckled menacingly and saluted. Then he turned around and walked briskly down the street before I even had the chance to call after him.
“Bright and sunny Tuesday morning here today. I’m Ross Walkman with the latest news, traffic and weather…”
I jerked upright and stared at the numbers on my clock. Great. Six-thirty. Time to rise and shine for school.
I rolled out of bed and took a quick hot shower, waking myself up. I tied my naturally wavy hair back in a middle ponytail and pulled on a vintage tanned dress. I wandered downstairs and had a cup of chai tea and buttered toast.
”’Hey, hon, is Cole coming over this afternoon for tutoring?” my mother asked innocently, though I could hear the under-current to her words.
“Yeah, he texted me last night asking if it was OK to come over,” I said glumly, thinking back to the text Cole had sent me at eleven last night.
“And you said yes, right?”
“Yeah,” I said breathlessly, putting an apple in my satchel. “I hope that was OK…”
She grinned, pleased. “That’s perfectly alright. But Ange and I are going to Miranda and Stacy’s this afternoon for coffee, so you’ll be all alone. That’s not a problem, right?”
Part of the reason I had agreed to let Cole come over was because I thought my mother would be here to protect me in case he tried something. Today was my mother’s day off, so I had immediately assumed I was safe.
“Mom…” I trailed off. Surely no mother would trust her daughter alone with a boy like Cole Adams, right? Apparently not…
“Cole is a sweet boy. His mother and I used to be good friends.”
I paused and frowned, thinking back to the photo I found in Cole’s drawer that I had pushed to the back of my mind.
“What do you mean, “used to be”?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “You mean you haven’t heard about Aurora Adams?” she asked.
“No. Is that Cole’s mother? What happened to her?”
“Honey, Cole’s mother and I were good friends, but three years ago, Aurora was in a car accident with Cole’s sister, Addison. They both survived, and Addi’s unharmed, but after about three weeks, she went into a medically-induced coma, otherwise her heart would have failed her. She hasn’t come out of it yet, and the doctors are worried that if they do, she may very well die.”
My jaw dropped. That was awful. I felt guilty over what I had done to Cole. Had his mother’s accident pushed him to be the way he was now? He must think of me as being so heartless. He probably thought I knew about his mother and still chose to do these things to him. OK, so maybe I did owe him the tutoring.
And a lengthy apology.
“She’ll be OK, right?” I asked. “She’ll come out of it.”
“Probably. They’re just waiting for a heart donor to come through. It seems that Cole’s mother has a rare blood type. There’s only a 3-5% chance they’ll find a matching heart. Until then, she has to stay in the coma.”
“How long could finding the heart take?”
“She’s very high on the list. You can’t tell that kind of thing; it’s all chance, but maybe soon.”
“I can’t believe Cole never mentioned it.”
“It might be a sore subject. You can’t blame him.”
I nodded, blowing my hair out of my face. “Thanks for telling me, mom.”
“Go easy on the boy, Grace. He’s been through a lot and I’ve known him for a long time. He really is a sweet boy.”
“Yeah, I will,” I said.
“You should go now. You’ll be late.”
And just like that, the sombre air dissipated.
I kissed Angel and my mother goodbye, ruffling Angel’s hair affectionately. “Have a great day, Ange,” I said as I left the front door and got into my car.
I couldn’t believe what had happened to Cole’s mother and sister. I felt awful for all the pranks I had pulled. Maybe the tragedy in his family had been enough to send him over the edge.
I shook it out of my head, beginning to feel sick and upset, and focused on the pounding music blasting out of the speakers and the black asphalt beneath my wheels.
I was so glad last year when my mother conceded and got me this car, on the terms that I could get my license and pay half of my insurance, which wasn’t that hard since I worked at the local café, Gypsy Rose. It was closed down for restorations this past week and a half, but tomorrow I was due back there.
I had been so lucky to score a job there. It was a beautiful, unique café with one-of-a-kind cupcakes and teas in flavors like fennel, chai and honey-lemon, each one for things like calmness, energy and peace of mind. It had a stage near the front for up-and-coming artists and poetry readings, as well as an adjoining store for home-made and unique gifts like earrings, bookmarks and tote bags. There was a large magnetic chalkboard spanning the whole of one side of the store, where you could write poetry, and since I had started working there when it opened eight months ago, there had also been two engagements written on that board. At the end of the week, I would wipe it all off and people would write over it again. It was a fun job, more of a hippie café and there were so many nice people there. The owner, Maggie—who also claimed to be a soothsayer—was sweet and often let me do whatever I wanted, including experimenting new recipes and bringing in my own home-made gifts to sell. I couldn’t have asked for a better job.
I pulled into the school parking lot and arranged my bag, stepping out of the car and locking it behind me. The car was a red convertible VW Bug, with seats with frangipanis sewn into the covers. It was my baby. It had been a little beat-up when we got it, with cracked red paint, but I had saved up for a clear red paint job. Now it was shiny and beautiful. I patted the hood with affection and started towards the school grounds.
I took a deep breath as I caught sight of Matt and Annie.
Here we go, I thought. Please let this blow over well.
By the time they caught sight of me it was too late to run, so they stood still and watched my every move until I came up them. I took a deep breath.
I gulped for air and stared at them. Somewhere in that big sentence their mouths had dropped open, and now they stared at me, dumbfounded.
“Please say something,” I pleaded, looking them over.
Annie and Matt burst out laughing, so hard they doubled over and tears formed in their eyes.
“What?” I breathed, flicking a stray bit of hair out of my face impatiently.
“I… have…” Annie said, trying to push out words in her laughing fit. “No… idea…what you… just said.”
I waited a few more minutes, ignoring the glances we got from passing students. Finally the laughing fit died down and I was able to talk.
“Do you forgive me?”
Annie and Matt exchanged a look, before they turned back and Annie flung her arms around me. “Of course we forgive you. It was so hard being angry at you and ignoring your calls. But what were you saying about Cole?”
I explained the events of last night and the conversation with my mother this morning, while they stared saucer-eyed at me.
“You didn’t know about Mrs Adams?” Annie asked doubtfully.
I shook my head, feeling a new wave of awful wash over me. “No, I had no clue. I feel awful about what I did. Cole must think I’m so shallow.”
“Cole doesn’t think that,” Matt reassured me.”I don’t think he thinks you know. Mrs Adams’s case is just common knowledge. It affected Cole, sure, but I don’t think he even took his mother’s case into consideration during this whole rivalry.”
I sat down and stared at the ground. “I just feel really awful,” I whispered. “I wish I knew.”
“Her case was quite unique,” Annie said. Considering she planned on being a doctor when she graduated, she would most likely know a lot about the case. “It was strange that Addison escaped with only a few bruises, and it affected Mrs Adams so greatly.”
“What happened to Addison?”
“She went off to college. She’s two years older than Cole. They were on their way for a spa day. Then another car accidently basically pit-manoeuvred them and their car was flung into the barrier. Mrs Adams already had an apparently dormant heart condition that hadn’t affected her in her life before until the shock of the accident got to her. She had a heart attack whilst unconscious and still in the car. It was lucky she was even saved. For three weeks she went in and out of surgery and had lots of tests. She was conscious for about seven hours a day, but eventually she needed life support and they had to put her into a coma. Now it’s just the waiting game. Waiting until a heart becomes available.”
I shook my head. “Poor woman. Poor Cole.”
“What’s so poor about me?”
I jumped sky-high and whirled around, to see Cole looking at us with a smirk on his face; it was obvious he hadn’t heard the beginning of our conversation, thankfully.
“Nothing,” I said breezily, praying my face looked normal.
“OK then,” he replied, glancing suspiciously between us. “We still on at your place for this afternoon?”
I nodded. “Yep.”
He nodded his thanks and then went to walk away, until I called out, “Hey, Cole?”
He turned around and smiled at me. “Yeah, Grace?”
“Remember, we’re studying English,” I told him. “Not Biology.”