Chapter Sixteen - Beach Dinner
“Cole, can you at least try to focus?” I asked wearily, looking back down at my English materials and pinching the bridge of my nose to stem the throbbing headache that always accompanied tutoring Cole.
“I will focus the minute you start actually teaching me something notable,” he retorted, not looking up from where he was throwing around a neon green tennis ball.
“I am!” I cried. God, he made me want to tear my hair out! “This is one of the most important things you need to learn in English.”
He looked at me doubtfully. “I don’t see it.”
I looked up at the clock. “Okay. I think we’re done for the day,” I told him. I swear if I got into one more argument with him, I was not liable for what I would do next.
“But you didn’t teach me anything!” he objected.
“And whose fault is that?” I snapped.
He had the good grace to look sheepish, and said, “Alright, fine. Maybe I wasn’t at my best today—”
“Just today?” I cut in, pinning him with a glare.
He ignored me. “—But I actually had something I wanted to ask you.”
“What?” I asked worriedly, bad scenarios running through my head.
“Would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?”
My jaw dropped, and I stared at him, astounded. “Wait, what?!”
“As a way of saying thank you for putting up with everything I put you through and not running out on me when my other tutors did—”
“Gosh, I wonder why,” I cut in sarcastically, not being able to resist the tempting comeback.
He paused briefly to give me a glare, before continuing. “And as a way of paying you back, since you won’t take any money. Dinner’s on me. It’ll be two friends going out and eating. I can make reservations within the hour.”
I got the feeling that there was something else I was meant to be doing, but I was too astounded to think clearly. Plus, the idea of going out to dinner with Cole did sound very appetizing. Get the pun there? Okay, okay, I’ll stop.
“I… I mean, I guess,” I said, waiting for cameras to jump out and for him to say, Haha, just kidding. I wouldn’t go out with you in a million years. But nobody entered my living room, and Cole was still looking at me earnestly. “Yeah, I’ll go out with you.”
He looked mildly surprised. “Really?”
“Unless you want me to say no…”
“No!” he said quickly, jumping up and blotting his hands on his jeans, before running a hand through his tousled dark hair and scrubbing his jaw. “No, I wanted you to say yes.”
I laughed. “Okay. Cool.”
“So I’ll quickly go home and change and get ready and pick you up at six?” he asked, and I stood up to face him as he began collecting all of his books, which were yet to actually be used or written in.
“Yeah, sounds really good,” I said, unable to stop the smile creeping onto my face. Why was I having these feelings over Cole? It was just a friendly dinner, nothing more, nothing less. I doubt he was getting all these butterflies like I was.
He grinned one last time, told me he’d pick me up in forty-five minutes and then quickly left.
I spun around and dashed upstairs, showering quickly and blow-drying my hair. I did it back in cute little butterfly clips and even painted my nails salmon-pink. I dressed in a cute sky-blue summer dress, and put on some light make-up.
For some reason, I felt like this was a date. I dressed and prepared like it was a date, and I kept getting the excited feelings like there were butterflies in my stomach. My palms were even sweating and my hands were trembling slightly at the thought of going to dinner with Cole Adams.
I couldn’t get his beautiful brown eyes out of my head. I hadn’t realised I even felt this way about him, but in hindsight I realised that these feelings had been coming on thick and fast since we first started meeting together. Every time I saw him my heart would beat quicker. Maybe I should stop putting my feelings to the back of my mind and accept them. Maybe Cole wasn’t thinking of this like a friendly dinner. Maybe he wanted it to be a date, just like I kinda did as well.
As the doorbell rang, I took a deep breath and checked myself one last time in the mirror. Time to find out.
I don’t know what kind of dinner Cole would take me to. A diner? A fancy high-class restaurant? A nightclub?
It turned out to be none of those.
It was a picnic on the beach.
Yes, that’s right. Cole Adams, Bad Boy of Alderidge High and my ex (maybe; jury’s still out on that one) tormentor was making me a picnic on the beach.
Since it was late November, the wind was normally fairly nippy, but tonight it was actually pretty warm. The sky was a pretty orange-violet colour, and he had set up a checked blanket with a picnic hamper. He gestured for me to sit down, and I smoothed out my skirts, taking a seat on the blanket and looking out at the midnight-blue waves crashing on the marble sand towards us.
“This looks awesome,” I said, as Cole began to methodically take out containers of food. There were macaroons, pasta salad, fruit salad, dinner rolls and a combination of other foods that all looked delicious and tempting. “Did you make this?” I asked, a little awed at the variety.
He grinned widely. “Nah. I couldn’t cook to save my life. Juanita made it.”
“It looks amazing,” I said breathlessly.
He looked proud of himself. “And not a single piece of meat anywhere.”
I was a little touched he remembered that I was a vegetarian. “Thank you. How did you get this prepared in time?”
“I’ve had this ready since this morning,” he admitted sheepishly, blushing a little.
“So, you just assumed I would say yes?”
He looked amused. “Well, you did, didn’t you?”
“I could’ve said no.”
He rested his hands behind his head and leant back, completely at ease. “Yeah, but you didn’t.”
I glared at him and smacked his shoulder playfully, but I couldn’t help blushing. I averted my eyes and pretended to be mesmerised by something in the distance. We ate in silence and I couldn’t help but appreciate the goodness of the food. If I ever saw Juanita again, I would have to thank her for the feast - and tell her how much I admired her for putting up with Cole all these years. If my tutoring was anything to go by, it was definitely not an easy job to do.
“So, Grace, I never got to ask you before, what are you planning to major in college?” Cole asked, spearing a peace of cucumber from the tossed salad and popping it into his mouth.
“Um, I plan to major in Musical Performance and minor in English Literature,” I replied, looking down. It felt weird, telling him what I was majoring in. I didn’t think he’d really cared all that much up until now.
He looked surprised. “Musical performance? I didn’t know you were a musician.”
I blushed and picked at the hem of the blanket. “I don’t… I don’t tell a lot of people. It’s kind of a secret.”
He paused for a minute, thinking that over. “Well, thank you for trusting me. What do you play?”
“I sing, song-write, play drums, guitar, and piano.”
“Wow, that’s amazing,” he said. He looked down at his long, slender fingers, calloused from plucking strings. “Well, you know what I play.”
I looked down, my cheeks flaming. I did. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
He shrugged. “I deserved it. I probably deserved more.”
“I’d love to hear you play sometime,” I told him honestly. Honestly, I would pay to see Cole play violin. It really was a beautiful instrument.
“Oh.” He looked taken aback. “I haven’t played in years. Ever since my mother—” He stopped abruptly and cleared his throat. “Well, you know.”
I had a difficult decision here. Did I tell him I knew and risk making myself look heartless for all the pranks I put him through even with the knowledge of his mother’s condition, or did I lie and say I didn’t know and see if he was willing to open up to me. In the end I decided to go with the truth. “I found out the day I started tutoring you,” I admitted finally.
“What did you find out?”
“About the accident and your mom.”
“Why havent you ever asked me about it or mentioned it?” He seemed genuinely confused, his dark eyebrows pulling together.
I raised my eyebrows questioningly. “I didn’t really think it was my place to pry.”
“Thats what I like about you, Grace. You’re caring and selfless,” he said honestly, his eyes dark and fathomless.
“I…” I trailed off, uncertain as to what to say. Was Cole Adams actually complimenting me?!
“How much do you know of the story?” Cole asked, saving me from completing that sentence. I have no idea what I would’ve said, anyway.
“Not much,” I whispered, eyes downcast. “The basics. Mostly just the details of the accident.”
“I was with my dad when we get the call about my mom and Addi—that’s my sister. The doctor said there was an accident, but I just… refused to believe it. We went to the hospital, and dad kept telling me that Mom was alright, but I knew he was lying. They wouldn’t let me see her. Addi was seventeen. She got out okay.
“Eventually everyone just came to this unanimous decision that it was time to tell me the truth about my mother and about how they weren’t sure if she was going to make it.” He sniffed back tears, and I was almost on the verge of crying myself. He looked so raw and vulnerable. I’d never imagined I’d ever see a boy like Cole Adams so open and innocent.
“It’s okay,” I murmured soothingly, my hand rubbing his upper arms as comfortingly as I could. “You don’t have to talk about it.”
He waved away my concern. “I’m fine. I’m okay. I… They moved her in and out of hospital, looking for blood transfusions. She’s the rarest type, so it was a struggle. Eventually they had to put her into a coma before… before her heart gave out.” He swallowed thickly and looked into my eyes.
“I’m –” I started, but he cut me off.
“Please don’t say you’re sorry,” he begged, eyes wide. “I can’t bear to hear that again. Dont pity me or anything. Everything happens for a reason. You of all people should believe that.”
“And I do believe that.” I nodded. “But sometimes I wonder if those reasons are completely justified.”
“That’s something we’ll never get to decide, I guess. But the doctors say she’s high on the list of heart donors. We’re only a few patients away from getting a donor. I just wish it wasn’t all up to chance, you know?”
I looked down and nodded. “You’ll get a heart though, Cole. I’m sure of it.”
“I just wonder if my mother woke up whether she’d recognise the person I’ve turned into.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Would she be proud of the person I’ve turned into? Disappointed in me? Would she be proud of my decisions? I just… I don’t know if she’d like me for who I am now. Would she be happy with what I’ve become?”
“I think she would,” I told him honestly. “I think she’d be proud of you. And I think when she wakes up soon and takes a look at you; she’ll be the proudest mother in the world.”
He smiled and twisted one of my blond curls around his finger absentmindedly. My breath hitched in my throat as he leant forward, his lips mere inches away from mine. I swallowed nervously, mesmerised by the intensity of his brown eyes. I wanted so much to close the gap between us. But I was too shy and nervous.
Just then I felt an icy drop, then another. We pulled apart abruptly and I lifted my face to stare at the dark sky, just as the heavens opened and rain poured down. I squealed loudly and girlishly as Cole packed everything away with lightning speed and grabbed my hand. We were both laughing our heads off as I dove, sopping wet, into his car.
That’s right, Cole not only had a shiny black motorbike, but also car I had a sneaking suspicion was some kind of Italian sports car - not that I knew the slightest thing about cars, anyway…
I laughed breathlessly and struggled to fill my lungs with the cool air as Cole started the car and began driving back to my place. I shivered and he immediately pulled off his warm leather jacket, draping it around my shoulders. I have no idea how he managed to do that whilst keeping his eyes on the road and steering properly, but somehow he did. I breathed in the scent of the leather jacket. It smelled of cinnamon, mint and strawberries, as well as something woodsy and musky.
He navigated the streets with ease, and I watched the lights flash past us. We kept our conversation light and teasing, avoiding the subject of his mother altogether - and also the near kiss.
“Hey, Cole?” I asked quietly. He stiffened and his knuckles whitened on the steering wheel. He thought I was going to ask about his mother, I could tell.
“Yeah?” he asked wearily.
“How did this happen?”
He glanced over at me quizzically. “How did what happen?”
“Two years ago I detested you for the prank you pulled on my first day. Then suddenly this rivalry is happening, and then you’re asking for tutoring. And now we’re coming back from dinner together? How did this even happen?”
“Maybe people change,” he answered. “Maybe one of them was sick of hurting the other.”
I swallowed nervously and twisted my hands. Could he possibly mean what I thought he meant? “Maybe,” I said quietly.
We pulled up across from my house, and I went to take my jacket off. “It’s freezing and raining out there,” Cole told me, putting a hand on my sleeve so that I couldn’t take the jacket off. “Keep it. You’ll need it to stay warm.”
I nodded at Cole, feeling flattered at his worry over me. I braced myself, took a deep breath and opened the car door, trying not to feel the chill seeping into my bones and the icy pinpricks assaulting my skin and dampening my hair. I turned and went to cross the street when a voice said, “Hey, Grace.”
I turned around expectantly to look at Cole, who had rolled the window down and was now grinning from ear to ear. “Who’s the one that’s wet now?” he asked in a teasing tone, an arrogant smirk taking up residence on his face.
Before I could reply, he gave me a mock-salute and drove off, leaving me laughing on the street. I was still giggling to myself when I reached the gate and let myself in. My smile vanished, however, when I saw who was sitting on my front steps of my porch, with the most hurt and heartbroken expression on his face that I had ever seen in my life.
I felt my heart shatter into a million pieces as I stared into that familiar face. My jaw dropped as I realised exactly what he just saw and exactly what I had done.
“Matt,” I gasped.