Chapter Twenty - Revelations & Misunderstandings
Before you ask, yes, I’m aware that not only was I proving Matt right, but I was also breaking several laws.
Breaking into Cole’s house was one thing, but breaking into a school? Yep, I’m pretty sure that’d land me in the slammer.
But, hey, I was taking the risk, so it was all on me. I would only have myself - well, and Amber - to blame for whatever happened to me.
Not that I really planned on getting caught, that is.
Now, I feel the need to clarify that, no, breaking into your school is not a good thing to do. I do not endorse it, nor do I find it beneficial or entertaining. There is nothing humorous or comical about jumping into alcoves every five seconds and flinching in fear at every little sound.
But, seriously, don’t do it. You could go to jail.
I made my way down the quiet halls, ducking into the occasional gap when a few teachers came past. My heart was beating wildly in my ribcage.
I could go to jail for this. I wasn’t planning to, though.
Luckily for me, I knew exactly where they kept results for tests, so I quickly made my way down to the ‘File Room.’
It was deserted and silent, and I quickly scuffled over to this year’s section and pulled out the first box, which held the last names starting with ‘A’.
Cole’s was one of the first in there, right after Karla Abel and Faith Abercrombie. I pulled out his file and pulled out all the necessary documents.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Wasn’t I going a little overboard? Breaking into a school just to get some English test results? My answer to that understandable question is this: My head is just such a jumbled up mess of emotions and feelings I was liable to have a breakdown any minute now. So I desperately needed some answers.
You’re also probably wondering this: What kind of friend is Amber to encourage me to break into a school? Well, she actually offered to do this for me, so that if one of us were to be caught, she would be able to take the blame. But I insisted that it was up to me, not her, to do this.
Which was how I ended up here, standing by an ancient, dusty photocopier as test result after test result was copied so that I wouldn’t have to steal any of the test results. I had no problems breaking into my high school, but stealing some dusty old pieces of paper that would probably never see the light of day ever again? I refuse.
I was shaking like a leaf while my stuff copied over. I was convinced the photocopier was too loud and was taking too long.
But, as luck would have it, no-one ventured down into the dark abyss of the File Room. Which was probably better for their health anyway. I had probably swallowed enough dust to fill up three vacuum bags as it were.
When it was finished, I shut off the photocopier and replaced the old papers back into the box, folding the crisp new ones and popping them in my pocket.
Then I cautiously made my way to the top of the stairs.
I slipped into the corridor, and was about twenty feet away from the exit when a voice stopped me. “Miss Holland.”
My blood ran cold and I slowly turned around to see Miss Cartwright, a strict, twenty-something biology teacher who was probably the meanest lady Alderidge High had ever had wander the halls.
“Yes, Miss Cartwright?” I asked politely, blinking innocently at her.
“What are you doing here after school?” she asked, scowling at me.
“Um, I had to see a teacher about the essay we were handing in Friday.” I forced a laugh. “You know how it is. Trying to keep up with studies and work and chores…”
“Which teacher was it?”
I gulped. “Mr… Tanner. Mr Tanner! Great guy, really understanding. He’s giving me a little extra time, so I’m really grateful and I was just planning on leaving now…” I gestured to the door nervously.
Mr Tanner was this really old, really creepy teacher. I don’t know why he hadn’t retired yet, but now I was super grateful that he was old and forgetful. If Miss Cartwright asked, he probably would say yes just so he wouldn’t look bad for forgetting. It was perfect.
She narrowed her eyes at me, but nodded. I scurried to the exit, my heart palpitating wildly from my lie.
I opened up the front door and stepped outside, glancing around and muttering under my breath, “Close call.”
I jumped as I remembered my reason for being stuck in this position. I pulled out the papers and picked up the first one, gasping as I looked at it in shock.
My left hand fisted at my side as my right hand tightened around the wad of papers. I stalked down the sloping green grass of the park, where I spotted Cole sitting innocently at a picnic table, texting on his phone.
I was glad we had decided to meet in a public park for a change. It was probably the only thing keeping me from wringing Cole’s neck out like a washrag.
I stopped behind him, and, after locking his phone and pocketing the device, he spun around to face me. A small, heart-stopping smile played around his mouth, and he shielded his eyes from the sun with his hand. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it abruptly when he spotted the wadded-up bits of paper. He let out a nervous chuckle. “What’s… what’s that?”
“This,” I said, shaking it angrily in his direction, “are your PSAT and English test results in the last year.”
“Where did you get those?” he murmured quietly, looking shocked.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. There was no way on God’s Earth I was telling him I broke into the school looking for them.
He gulped. “Um… Um, I can explain.”
“You know what, Cole? Don’t bother. I am so mad I don’t even wanna hear it from you.”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
I don’t know about you, but when I’m very mad and someone tells me ‘It’s not that big of a deal’, all it does is infuriate me ten-fold.
“Not that big of a deal?” I spluttered in exasperation. “Not that big of a deal? Cole, I wasted hours trying to tutor you! When you didn’t even need it! You have the second highest grade in the whole school for English. And I’m only beating you by seven points! That’s only one well-written essay ahead of you! Why would you pretend you needed tutoring?”
He opened his mouth to answer, but I put up a hand, silencing him. “You know what? Never mind. I don’t even wanna hear your excuses.” I turned on my heel and started stalking off, rage coursing through my veins.
“Grace… wait!” he called. I heard a bang and a muttered curse as if he had run into the bench, but it didn’t deter him. By the time he reached me, I had begun to pass the high-school’s football field. “Grace, would you just stop being such a royal bitch for a second and let me explain?”
I spun around and pinned him with an icy glare. “I’m the bitch? Says the one who lied about tutoring, made me waste hours in trying to teach you something, and made me lose my two best friends.”
“Hey,” he defended himself. “I didn’t know you had other plans. That one’s on you.”
“If it weren’t for you, this never would’ve happened in the first place!” I yelled.
“Well, excuse me for making you forget you already had plans with someone else!” he screamed right back. “What, next are you gonna yell at me for swatting at a fly with too much force?”
I gritted my teeth. “That depends, did the fly deserve it? Did the fly humiliate you in front of the student body in some stupid pranking rivalry?”
“Oh, for the love of…. Are you still bitter about that?”
“Of course I’m still bitter about that!” I cried. “You uploaded a picture of me wet dressed in only a towel to the Internet.”
“You deserved that!”
“Did Aly deserve what you did to her, too?”
He sucked in a hurt and shocked gasp. As soon as the words slipped out of my mouth, I regretted it. That was a low blow, even I could admit. I couldn’t even say that I didn’t mean it, because, like I told Matt during our first fight, your endorphin levels raise and you do things you wouldn’t normally do - or, in this case, say. Kudos to Annie for teaching me that.
“It wasn’t like that,” he murmured.
“Look, it doesn’t even matter,” I told him. “My point is that you wasted my time. Was this your prank? Was this the reason you did it?”
“No!” he cried, making me jump. “I did it because…” He swallowed, running a frustrated hand through his hair. “I did it because I wanted to spend more time with you.”
“What?!” I exclaimed.
“I care about you… a lot. There’s something about you that makes me feel like I can tell you anything. Maybe I didn’t go about it the right way, but it was the only way I could think of. I wanted to get to know you better, Grace.”
He looked up at me through his lashes. I let out a short, bitter, humorless laugh. “Wow, Cole. I really didn’t know you’d drop that low.”
“This is your prank, isn’t it? It makes perfect sense. I must say… I underestimated you. This is the grand finale, right? You’d waste my time with tutoring, make me lose my friends, and then pretend you had feelings for me. I bet there’s cameras hidden around here, too, isn’t there? Just waiting to capture my embarrassment. Is that what you did to Emilie’s sister, Alyra Robinson? And all the other girls you’ve left heartbroken? Pretend you have feelings for them and then, once you got what you wanted, leave them?” I clapped my hands together. “Well done, Cole. You won this stupid game. Happy now?” I stepped closer to him, until our noses were practically touching, and tried to ignore the tears pricking the corners of my eyes. I felt completely broken, like I had lost everything. All because of Cole. Maybe that was why my voice cracked when I whispered, “You. Won.”
He opened his mouth and closed it, resembling a fish. He looked flabbergasted at my callous words. I hoped they hurt as much as his prank hurt me. I turned around to walk away, but his strong hand wrapped around my wrist, dragging me back. I turned around to glare at him. He didn’t look angry, like I expected. He just looked hurt and sad. “Grace…” he whispered. “This isn’t a stupid prank, or whatever. Is that really what you think of me? That I’d do something like that?”
I swallowed and tried to rip my hand out of his grip. “Let go, Cole.”
“You heard her.” We both jumped at the sound of the new voice, and we both turned to look at Matt. He was glaring at Cole, not paying me the slightest bit of attention, and I felt stung at his coldness.
“This is none of your business, Fordman,” Cole snarled back.
“I’m making it my business. Now let go of her arm and leave her alone.”
“Or what? What will you do?” Despite his cold words, he did let go of my wrist, probably realising he was hurting me.
“Just leave her alone. You’ve done enough damage,” Matt said, his voice dripping with venom.
”I’ve done enough damage? You have got to be kidding me! What about you, huh, hotshot? Telling her how much you loved her, kissing her and then leaving her. Real suave, Fordman.”
Matt pushed his shoulders and my jaw dropped. This could escalate very quickly if I didn’t intervene.
“Guys, let’s not do this,” I said, but neither boy paid me the slightest attention.
“As opposed to you?” Matt chuckled. “The guy who tried - and succeeded - to embarrass her in front of the whole school? She only helped you in the end because she felt sorry for you.”
I cringed, remembering how much Cole hated anyone pitying him. That must’ve hit a sore spot. And indeed it did, because Cole pushed him back, hard, and Matt staggered a step or two.
“Hit a nerve, did I?” Matt asked between gritted teeth.
“She rejected you, Matt,” Cole seethed. “You told her how you felt, and what did she do? Nothing. You lost your chance with her. She doesn’t love you. So why don’t you get a life and let somebody else have a shot?”
Matt stepped forward and glared sharply. “She deserves better than scum like you.”
Cole laughed mockingly. “Who do you think’s good enough for her? You? I think she’s already proven she doesn’t love you back. In fact, I’ll probably bet she probably thinks you’re a desperate, pathetic - “
But I never got to find out what else I probably thought Matt was, because finally, Matt growled low in his throat and stepped forward, punching Cole so hard I swear I heard bones break.
Cole fell to the ground, and he grinned up at Matt, his nose dripping with blood, who was breathing heavily. “You really shouldn’t have done that, Fordman,” he said, amusement lacing his tone. “You should really know better than to pick a fight with a… what’s it called again?” He tapped his chin and then smirked. “Oh, yeah, that’s right. A bad boy.”
And with that he stood up, fisting his hands at his sides. I didn’t even have time to call out or jump between them before Cole snickered and started towards Matt.