Everyone was starting their Senior Year with a huge celebration. One last mischievous year with your friends. One last time spending endless hours together before everyone headed off in different directions and started a new life.
There were different reasons you could start with excitement and happiness. Giddiness for spending one last year with your best friends, or even relief that torturous years of high school were coming soon to an end.
I sure was starting my Senior Year at a party. Sitting right there on a couch, all by myself in complete desolation and wanting to cry my eyes out. Literally.
Which is fantastic, right?
It had been a week since classes had started, and I had managed to get my heart broken and be miserable enough that no drunk person at this party wanted to talk to me, get anywhere me, or cross stares at me. Basically, I had the plague. The broken-hearted, when-life-gives-you-lemons-you-turn-bitter, the-sun-will-rise-again-but-I-won’t plague.
I got them, no one wanted to be down like me. Frankly, I didn’t want to be either. I wanted to fall asleep for the entire year and hopefully wake up recovered. Or forget it. Whatever worked best and faster.
Not even my friend Melissa felt pitiful enough to hang with me.
The second we stepped into the house party, she grabbed a red cup (from mysterious and therefore, dubious precedence) and shoved it in my hand. Then, she yelled into my ear to relax, get drunk and find someone to hook up with. And finally, she disappeared to do God knew what. Whatever one did at parties when one wasn’t miserable and with alleged contagious plague.
Even though I eyed and discriminated the red cup for a total of five minutes, I started to feel lonely enough and gave Melissa’s tip a shot (not the latter, of course. I wasn’t looking for any hookup). I could relax. I could lose myself in the alcohol and forget everything about this regretful day. I could totally do that. Sleeping didn’t seem to be in the plan tonight anyway, so forgetfulness was.
I tried the red cup.
It was water.
Destiny (and most likely God) didn’t want me drinking, and I was not about to push that. So, I sat with a sad face, scowling at the dancing people and praying for the night to end. It was a matter of time until Melissa was ready to head home. She wasn’t planning on crashing tonight here, right? Mrs. Hale wouldn’t allow it, I was sure.
However, the illusion terrified me for a fraction of a second, even the plague wasn’t bothering me as much. The night was turning into a nightmare.
At that moment, I promised myself I was never ever again driving to a party with Melissa. She tended to disappear, and I was stuck in the place until she was ready to leave. Probably after chunking down a few shots (which, bad, really bad; she was our DD for the night) and being done with the guy of the night.
Seriously? What was I thinking when I accepted coming to this party? Of course. I wasn’t given any choice or vote.
I exhaled and eyed my cup of water.
Nothing was going according to plan.
I should be crying at home, in bed with a nice book or a romantic movie. Pride and Prejudice, I was fancying some old setting and amazing accents. Probably eating my weight in white chocolate too.
But no. I was stuck at a party, trying to hold back the tears since I hated gossip and nothing was juicier than a girl crying on a sofa, all alone. Sober.
“Fuck yeah! Now the party is officially on!”
I was pulled out of my spiraling thought when a few guys yelled and whistled from the main entrance, hooting like savages. I turned my attention to them, frowning at the commotion. They were huddling around the door and cheering on. Cheering someone on to do something stupid, my guess. Then, someone hollered (how they managed to hear anything through the loud music was beyond me) and the crowd clapped. I shot glares at the overexcited party-goers.
Really, what the eff?
Was it perhaps someone with free alcohol? Was everyone stuck with depressing water cups too? Either way, no one should be received this way.
Finally, the person was revealed, extremely tall, I didn’t know why I hadn’t noticed him before. His wavy dark hair shimmered against the only light in the place. And his muscles were chiseled and defined, contoured under the shirt. His eyes sparkled even from here.
Graham St. Claire.
Of course, it was him.
The school’s QB.
I rolled my eyes away because I couldn’t care less about him or his entrance, not even if he carried free alcohol and made me forget for an entire year. In fact, I didn’t like him much for several reasons, just the thought of him made my teeth grit. So, I took a sip of my disappointing water to quench the bitter taste in my throat and scowl. More reasons to make the night more anticlimactic.
Since Freshman Year, Graham St. Claire had walked down the halls with a giant smile on his face, swoon dimples, and incomparable charm. Or that’s what had been said. I’d never seen him smile or talk to me. Which was fine. I didn’t mind being ignored by him. I didn’t idolize him.
Graham St. Claire, however, didn’t ignore my boyfriend (or more like my ex-boyfriend now). He liked to torment Jacob’s life by throwing his books away, stealing his food, being rough, and pushing Jacob against walls, lockers, and floors until he bled. The options were endless. St. Claire wasn’t very creative in the bullying department, though he had an evil mind that allowed him to torture with old-school tricks.
And he laughed every single time like it was actually funny. Really sick sense of humor if anyone asked me. Also, nothing ingenious.
Even though the pranks were lame, I was always too afraid and shy not to do something about it. Which I regretted. No one liked seeing their friends or loved ones punished for something they didn’t deserve. And Jacob Scott was a saint. He seriously deserved to go to heaven. Even if he had broken my heart.
Maybe that was why Jacob decided to end things with me. Because I didn’t have a backbone. Because I didn’t defend him.
My eyes watered at the thought.
I looked around, hoping Melissa was somewhere. She would be one of the girls that were standing in the front to greet St. Claire like he was a savior. Everybody thought that. The whole town thought that. I wasn’t fooled, though.
My eyes glided around the crowd that continued partying harder now that St. Claire had arrived, but I never spotted Melissa anywhere. Maybe I should stand up and look for her. Plead her to give me the car keys so I could cry in privacy and dignity in the car.
I was about to stand up when I felt someone sitting on the couch, next to me. The cushion shifted by the heavyweight.
I removed the tears sliding down my cheek and turned to the person with furrowed eyebrows. One sight of me and the person would be running.
Bad juju here.
My mouth opened but no words escaped when my gaze flickered to the person. A scowl marred my face instead.
“Are you okay?” He asked with a concerned look on his face. Like he actually cared. His voice was low and soothing. And something coiled inside my stomach. It was a mingle of resentment and fear.
The question made my scowl deepen.
I blinked back at St. Claire and removed the tears again. I was removing any signs of weakness. Who knew what he would do with it.
“Yes,” I brushed off, more than ready to leave. Was he going to mock me for crying? After being ignored for the past three years, I wasn’t glad this was the moment St. Claire had decided to pay attention to me.
First the party, then the water, and now this?
“So, you like to sit in the corner of each party house to cry and drink?” He asked. Though anyone could misunderstand his question as being cocky or arrogant, or downright annoying; his tone expressed otherwise. It was soft, like a small whisper or caress (a miracle I could hear it since it was incredibly loud). Like he was ingesting concern and light humor instead of mockery. And then, he tilted his head and gave me a hesitant smile. A sign of the famous swoony dimples popping up.“Sounds like fun. Is it only pa arty for one or can I join?” The corner of his lip twitched.
I didn’t know if he was being serious or not. He didn’t sound stern. He sounded concerned but wanted to light up the mood around us. However, I was still reeling at the fact that he had noticed me and had decided to talk to me, even though there was a party going on. Even though about fifty people were dying for his attention. Why couldn’t he ignore the person who was resigned on a sofa and didn’t care about his arrival? The one with the bad juju?
Please, just go.
Graham St. Claire was being nice to me, and I didn’t know what to do about it. This was the first time.
I remained quiet. He inched his head closer to me, his eyes darkening. “What is it?” He pressed on. His voice was low but clear. He had moved closer toward me, to talk privately. I had a feeling he was asking about what was wrong with me instead of what was my answer to his previous question. My head turned dizzy at the close proximity. I felt a bit nervous, unknowing of his intentions. However, from what he was showing, his warm eyes and unjudgmental expression, his intentions inclined more toward compassion.
Which, so weird and not trustworthy.
It smelled fishy here.
Alarms went inside me. There was something going on here. Something else, I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I had to proceed with caution. Was he acting kind, but later would he laugh behind my back? I meant, even I knew I looked pathetic here all along with a scowl on my face.
I swallowed. “Nothing.” I was hoping my remarkable talking skills would deter him. Perhaps he would get bored and drop the worrying act. That didn’t happen. His features turned sympathetic somehow. His brows lowered and his gaze never moved away from me, like he could read my mind.
He clearly didn’t believe me and wasn’t stopped by it. Deep, but very deep down, I liked the fact that he didn’t brush it off like Melissa. It was nice someone was noticing my low mood, even though that someone was St. Claire and far from optimal. Right then, he didn’t look like the bully with cold glares and smirks. He sounded like a nice person, and it was confusing the living day out of me. How long was this act going to remain? “Come on, is there any way I can help…”
I exhaled. I didn’t have an answer because I didn’t know what was wrong either. One second I was happy and in love with Jacob, and the next, he was breaking up with me without a concrete reason. I didn’t understand what I did wrong or what had changed.
My jaw clenched and I looked down. My fingers fidgeted around the red cup. “I don’t think there’s anything you can do,” I muttered.
“Want to talk about it? Whatever it is that’s bothering you,” He clarified.
I wanted to talk about it. Melissa barely heard my words before she was cursing Jacob and saying I was better off without him. I needed to talk to someone, so they could explain to me what went wrong. Because I didn’t see it.
But I didn’t want that person to be Graham St. Claire.
I didn’t trust him. I was acquainted with his bully version, not his charming one. Besides, he was biased. He hated Jacob for an unknown reason.
Maybe I don’t have to say a name...No, very bad idea. I don’t like St. Claire. I don’t trust him.
I shook my head. Hopefully, he’d give up and leave me alone.
However, he didn’t move.
“Okay,” He didn’t push. “Want me to stay here with you then?”
I frowned at him. Why was he so concerned? He didn’t know me. I bet he didn’t know my name or the fact that we had been going to the same high school since Freshman Year.
“Why do you care?” I asked, swallowing hard. I was surprised by my rude remark. This was the first time I was questioning him on anything. The first time I was directing a word to him, and it was far from the flatter.
Graham raised his eyebrows. “Because you look miserable, and no one should start Senior Year like that,” He said. So, he knew I was a Senior at least. “How about this? Let me go and grab a few more drinks. I can prepare you something nice, I’m sort of an expert.”
He winked at me I remained wary of his intentions, and my brows furrowed in hesitation.
“It’s okay. I’m fine,” I insisted.
“You’re not. I know plenty of amazing cocktails to cheer you up. It can help you loosen up and enjoy the night at least.”
I shook my head and raised the red solo cup with devious water. “I already have my drink for the night. You can join the party, I’ll be fine.”
He frowned and looked at it like it had offended him somehow. “It doesn’t seem to be helping you in any way.”
Why was he insisting?
Pushing him away didn’t seem to be working.
“I promise you I can prepare you anything ten times better than whatever insipid thing you’re drinking there.” He nodded at the cup. He had no idea how close his remark landed. “I have magic recipes; since you don’t want to talk about it, this drink will help you forget for the night.”
The last part rang a bell inside me. A placid bell.
I very much wanted to forget this day. Erase it from the calendar as the worst day of my life.
I could still push him away, though it hadn’t worked so far. Yet my mind begged me to heed a bit of attention to what he was saying. I could get him to prepare me something nice and then I could go and find Melissa and join the party.
I wasn’t stupid enough to get drunk around Graham St. Claire. I didn’t trust him.
My face was stoic as I thought things through. I contemplated the idea of his getting those drinks for us. As time passed, I started to get a feeling his nice act had more to do with the fact that I was killing the mood of the awesome (roll-eyes) party and he couldn’t bear it, rather than something diabolic. After he got me a drink, he would probably bounce back to his friends and forget all about the emo girl in the corner.
Either way, in case he was planning something evil, I was planning on ditching my disappointing water cup, getting something to drink, finding Melissa, and forgetting the night. He was not in the plans for the night, only a means to an end to get some booze.
He took my lack of response as an approval and his famous dimples showed up. My throat clutched. The smile was dazzling, to say the least; especially if it was directed toward you. “That’s more like it.”
I pressed my lips together harder as he moved to stand up. Even though I’d decided the course of the night, I gave one final push. “Don’t you have something better to do? Or do you like to console girls crying at parties? Because that’s a full-time job,” I announced in a lighter tone. This was his last call to ditch me, and he refused to take it.
He was the star of the night. I bet he’d rather be dancing and drinking and making out with one of the cheerleaders. Or playing beer-pong. Or God forbade it, smoking weed on the patio.
Graham chuckled and it ran down my spine. It was low and deep like a caress.
“I like consoling girls,” He teased back. “I’ll be back in a sec.”
I believed him for some reason as he disappeared into the crowd. I remained frowning, not because I was wary of him, but because his attention felt nice. Despite it lasting for an approximation of ten minutes.
Graham moved to the kitchen but was stopped a few times by guys from the football team. He stopped to talk shortly but excused himself after a few seconds. It took him a while to return. The guy was in high demand tonight.
After a few minutes, he was walking back to the miserable sofa, party for two now.
He sat down next to me again. An eager expression on his face. He had a few cups filled with booze and empty ones to prepare and mix. He showed me as he served the first one and handed it to me.
I eyed the different drinks. “Are we drinking all of these?” It was a lot. But seeing how Graham was part of the football team and weighed twice as much as me, he must need twice as much alcohol to get tipsy than I did.
“No, we’re not,” He announced. “You are. I’ve already prepared my drink for the night.” He raised his beer and nodded at me to drink.
“Are you trying to kill me?” I half-joked, though I was a bit concerned. It was a lot of alcohol.
“I’m trying to get you to forget whatever is bothering you. Trust me here, I’m the expert.”
I couldn’t help but snort in disbelief at my behavior. I was really doing this.
“Try this, it is fruity and soft.”
I tried the drink the first served and tasted it. It was good. I nodded my approval. “Really good. What else do you have there, expert?”
Graham turned to me with a mischievous glint in his eye as he started to explain and prepare another drink. “After attending lots of parties since Freshman Year, you get to experiment a lot in the drinking department. I refer to it as Coming Up with Good Taste and Better Hangovers Course—which I’ve mastered in case you’re asking.”
I chuckled softly. It was a bit reluctant.
“Some are my personal concoctions. Others are from a few friends. Jenkins is our best mixer.”
I hummed in interest. “Interesting.”
Graham glided the other drink toward me and waited for me to pick it up and taste it. “Here. It’s stronger but good when you want to get tipsy fast.”
“Do you have special names for your concoctions?” I tasted it and cringed at the strong burn.
“Of course. That’s Vomatron 7.0 by St. Claire.”
I snorted at his tone. He sounded like someone from a fancy cologne TV commercial. "7.0?”
“It took me seven tries to master it. Three of them and you are in the bathroom.”
I made a move to put it back on the table like it was on fire. Imagine, it took him three of them to throw up, with the mere scent I was ready to puke.
“How was it?”
“Good, though a bit too strong for me. I rather drink the fruity one. Novice here.”
Graham smiled. “Careful with Summer Nights by Jenkins. It is fruity and soft but you don’t realize you are drunk until it’s too late.”
My lips twitched with reluctance. The names were funny. Summer Nights? It sounded mysterious and delectable.
“You don’t normally come to parties,” Graham noted.
“How did you figure it out?” I teased. Anyone could see I didn’t belong in this place. I was trying to pass the party alone and with water, I mean.
Graham licked his lips before speaking again. “Haven’t seen you at any party before.”
I didn’t believe he would notice me if I had come to other parties, got naked, and danced on top of a table. Tonight was the exception, seeing as I was the only girl crying before midnight. No one was drunk yet to weep. That time came after 12 or so Melissa confirmed the next day when she gossiped about the incidents of the previous night.
“Not my scene,” I confessed, getting more comfortable on the sofa.
He leaned forward, seeming interested. “What do you like to do instead?”
“Snuggle in bed and read. Watch Netflix. Or…hang out with my boyfriend,” I said, tensing at the last part. “Ex, actually. He…he broke up with me. Today.”
I took a deep breath, fighting back the tears and looking away. I took more of my drink. The fruity flavor was a comfort. I didn’t know how I had managed to choke the words out.
“Ah,” Graham nodded in understanding as he finally realized why I’d been crying earlier. “Stupid Motherfucker. Want me to punch him?”
My eyes bugged in alarm at the thought. He had done more than his fair share of punching Jacob. Multiple times. He didn’t need another reason to do it. Also, I didn’t hate Jacob. I didn’t think I could hate him and didn’t wish him bad.
“No.” I shook my head. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Graham scowled at my words, waiting for an explanation.
With a deep inhale, I started to narrate the events for some reason. I was blaming my lax mouth on Fruity Night (or whatever it was called). My desire to talk about my rupture winning over logic reason. Besides, I didn’t have to mention Jacob’s name. St. Claire wouldn’t have to know I was talking about his archenemy. Just a random guy breaking some other random’s girl heart. Your every High School day. “He broke up with me for no reason.” I averted my gaze. It was hard to keep eye contact with Graham in a moment of vulnerability. There was something intense behind his stare. It sucked you right in. “Well…he didn’t give me one that seemed logical. We’ve been dating since Freshman Year, and he decided out of nowhere to end things. I thought everything was fine, but I guess I was wrong.” I scowled as I thought about earlier when Jacob had broken my heart.
I continued asking him to explain to me. Where did we go wrong? Why didn’t he tell me something was off earlier? Why didn’t I see it?
Jacob had only shaken his head and told me it was over. That it was better that way anyway. That there was nothing else I could do.
It had gutted me. I felt confused and hopeless and impotent. I didn’t know what to do.
“The fucker deserves to get his ass handed to him,” Graham concluded.
“No,” I defended. “It’s okay.” It wasn’t but Graham didn’t need an incentive to fight Jacob. “I’m trying to forget about him and move on. He said it was time to move to different things since our paths have diverged. I don’t see how they have changed but…” I shrugged because I didn’t have an explanation.
Graham pressed his lips and nodded. “Time to move on.”
He served another drink, the strong one, and raised it toward me, gesturing a toast.
“To moving on then,” He announced and we clinked cups.
He took one of his drinks and winced.
Watching his reaction caused amusement within me, though I pushed it down.
“Fuck, it is strong,” He muttered, taking a sip of his beer to eclipse the strong taste of rum. “I haven’t had one of these in a while. My taste buds got unused.”
“Told you it was way too strong.”
He narrowed his eyes at me and then smiled. “Okay, I better serve something better. Vomatron 7.0 is too advanced for this hour.”
”What else do you have there?” I gestured to the bottles on the table.
Graham hummed and perked up at one thought. He moved to prepare another drink and gave it to me.
“That’s my favorite one,” He announced as I tasted it.
It was great. A bit too strong but not as bad as Vomatron 7.0. Good enough to spend the night with it.
“So, St. Claire,” I started, and he lifted his head. “How many times have you been intoxicated by trying all of this?”
“You know who I am.” He seemed surprised by the notion.
I wanted to laugh at the ridicule of his comment. Everyone knew him. He was a legend. His father was a football legend, too. I narrowed my eyes at him. “Well, not to boost your ego, but everybody does,” I said. “The school is about to build a shrine in your name.” After winning so many games and giving hope to the football team, it didn’t sound ridiculous.
Any day from now.
He raised his eyebrows with a teasing smile. “Are you going to pray for me then?” He shifted closer.
I snorted. “Of course not.” I didn’t like him. Well. He was being nice to me for the time being, sharing his cocktail expertise. However…Jacob. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling toward St. Claire at the moment. I was sure; however, I wasn’t one of his many fans. “And I told you this not to boost your ego. God knows you don’t need it.”
“How would you know that?” He eyed me suspiciously. I raised my eyebrows. “I feel like you know a lot about me. Are you a fan?”
“For knowing your name?”
He held his hand up, stopping me. “That’s not a denial.” I rolled my eyes. He was being ridiculous but charming. “Is the school building the shrine or is it you?” He hummed. When I didn’t answer, his eyes brimmed with mirth. “Have you started it? I can give you my sweaty socks for the collection. Unless you want to do dark shit to them. Then, I’ll have to decline.”
Everything out of his mouth was garbage, I couldn’t help but laugh. Ridiculous, that’s what he was. My stomach felt warm after taking another sip of the drink.
“I bet you don’t miss any of my games, always in the first line,” He went on, egged on by my laugh.
I continued chuckling.
“So, what is it, Miller?” He leaned forward until we were close enough. My laugh died as my stomach twisted. But it wasn’t an unpleasing twist.
I was surprised he knew my name. He saw my shock.
“I know who you are, too. The school is not that big.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, playful but cautious. “That’s what he says.”
Graham’s eyes widened as he laughed in surprise. I was surprised by my answer too. It had to be the alcohol. “I can show you if you want.” He licked his lips and my eyes moved to them for a brief second before averting my gaze. I blushed at the thought of seeing Graham naked and took a sip of the drink to distract myself. It went down my throat like water.
What am I even thinking? God no. Ew.
The guy was objectively hot, but, no. Just no.
“Am I making you nervous, Miller?” Graham asked. I felt his hot breath near me. I couldn’t answer. He was making me nervous for the wrong reasons. He knew my existence and knew I was dating Jacob. This made me wary of his intentions all over again. I had to be extra careful around him until he decided to ditch me. Which could be any second now.
I inhaled. “No,” I lied and cleared my throat.
Graham smirked as I felt his gaze burning me.
“Oi!” Someone yelled and I was grateful (a bit) for the distraction. “St. Claire, the next round of BP is about to start. Wanna join?”
“Start without me,” Graham hollered. “I’m busy.”
My stomach clenched. I felt sensitive to everything around us. The music, the heat radiating off Graham, the sofa underneath my bare thighs. The beat of my heart. The flush in my cheeks. The warmth in my throat and stomach.
“You sure?” I managed to ask Graham once I cooled a bit down.
“Absolutely,” Graham said to me. His stare was unwavering like he was saying something else. “I’m pretty sure you haven’t been able to rip a hair off my head yet. For your shrine. Want me to give it to you now or later?”
I liked the fact that he changed to funnier subjects when he sensed my discomfort. I shook my head and swatted his pec.
He grabbed my hand and I jumped at the touch. My fingers tingled as he brushed one of his fingers over my open palm. The other hand was gripping my wrist. The blood rushed out of my head, down to my hands and stomach.
“Now trying to cop a feeling?”
“I wasn’t trying…” I flustered. “Never mind.”
“Right, though you can say the word and we are out of here.” Though the statement was playful, his tone was deep and husky. My arm was electrified as his strokes moved down to my hand.
We were pressed together, our thighs against each other. I scooted to the other side when I began feeling breathless. I needed the space.
Graham picked up his drink and moved it in front of me like nothing was amiss. “Bottoms up, Miller. To forgetting and new beginnings.”
I raised my cup to him again.
As entertaining as the conversation had been, I bet he wanted to join his friends without sounding rude. Besides, I needed to find Melissa.
Just a few more minutes and I would be gone.