Chapter 26: Beekeeper's Daughter - All-American Rejects
I tried to remain calm as she held me, trusting me with her life. I focused all of my attention on driving to earn more of it.
“Do you know where the pier is?” She had to speak directly into my ear to be heard over the wind.
“Yeah. We went there the last time I was here.” I made the appropriate turn.
“Would you tell me if you were lost?”
I grinned. “What do you think?”
“Maybe we should pull-“ She turned her head around at the others as she continued to hold me.
“Ellie, relax and trust me.” I made another turn.
“You make it hard to do that. You need to let Iz pass us.”
“Look ahead and tell me what you see.”
“A Ferris wheel and what appears to be a pier.” She obliged reluctantly.
“I think I can manage without her.”
I could feel her smiling into my shoulder. It brought a smile to my face as well.
The pier was flooded with people. Not having the slightest clue about where to park, I allowed Izzie to take command. She found us an acceptable spot to convene.
“Milo will be longer than expected. His dad insisted that they all sit down and have a long discussion as a family. There’s plenty to do here; I’m sure we’ll be fine. I told him that.” Izzie was typing on her phone for the majority of her announcement.
None of us were particularly hungry, so we moseyed down the cobblestone streets, enjoying the local music. We received an unusual amount of attention. It was hard to gauge if it was because of Sam’s vibrant hair or Izzie’s affiliation with Milo. There were venders selling miscellaneous items.
“You look so uncomfortable.” Elle examined herself in a mirror, holding up a dress.
“I hate shopping. I might as well be holding your purse.” I stood nearby with my hands in my pockets, looking around.
A group of teenage girls walked by; one of them held my gaze, smirked with seduction, and daintily wiggled her fingers.
“No one asked you to stay with me.”
I shot my eyes back to her, feeling guilty about looking at another girl in her presence. “I am where I want to be.”
“She was cute.” She draped the dress over her arm and started looking at jewelry.
“I’m sure if you jog you can catch up to her.” She tried on a long necklace.
“That’s doing the most. Besides, I’m honestly not interested.”
She removed it from her neck and added it to the pile on her arm. “Gotta be Mr. Cool at all times.”
“I didn’t know you do beauty pageants.” I needed to get away from the subject of my past exploits.
“Did. My mom’s from the south. They were a staple of her upbringing. I started young and I was good at it. I needed to quit when it became an obsession.” She slid a ring onto her right ring finger.
“When was that?”
“What was your talent – baton twirling? ” I stifled laughter as I attempted to lighten the mood.
“Shut up.” She pushed me with a smile. “I played the violin.”
“What can’t you do?”
“Plenty of things – controlling my mind is the main one.” She decided against the ring and selected a different one.
“What’s going on? You were doing well earlier.”
“I talked to Anna. She said what I do is crazy. She didn’t say it to be mean; we were having a decent conversation actually. That’s genuinely the way she perceives my behavior. I know others do the same.” She fixated on shopping to give herself a reason not to look at me.
“You try so hard. ‘Wow’ comes to my mind when I think of you, not ‘yikes’.”
She smiled. “You’re really sweet when you want to be.”
“I am just full of secrets.”
“I will never understand that. Everyone thinks you’re so open, fearless and bold. No one truly knows you. Doesn’t it get lonely? I don’t mean to pry. That’s just how it was for me before Iz.” She glanced in my direction.
“I am closed off when it comes to girls, but I can turn to the guys for everything else. Miles has my back no matter what. I confide in him more than anyone knows.”
“About what?” She paid for the items she settled on.
“They wouldn’t be secrets if I told everyone.”
She folded her purchases neatly and put them into her purse. “I think we both know I’m not just anyone.” She walked off in pursuit of another table.
I followed her. “What do you mean by that?”
“You know what I mean.” She scanned the pairs of sunglasses.
“Why must we make everything so complicated?”
“It’s how we like it. Come here.”
I moved where she wanted me to be. She put a pair of sunglasses on my face. “I knew these would look good on you.” She posed with me and snapped a picture.
“I feel obligated to buy them now.” I removed them.
“As you should.” She resumed browsing.
“My mom loves our prom pictures. She has them on her desk at work.”
“Yeah?” She ran her hand over a piece of fabric.
“She thinks you’re beautiful.”
“And you don’t?” She reached across me to retrieve an item she wanted to get a better look at.
“I was just saying –“ I huffed in frustration.
“You are so riled up. Relax. We do this all the time.”
“And you say I’m the only one that plays games.”
“I never said that. I said something along the lines of ‘you play too much’. No girl has ever held your attention for more than an hour. You have no clue what you’re in for when it comes to messing around with me.” She put down what she was holding.
“Can I have a hint?”
She moved her sunglasses to the top of her head. Her eyes bore into mine with confident intensity. “You need to know exactly what you are fighting for in order to succeed. You will not be hitting this and quitting it for an ego boost. There’s no going back to being just friends if we do it. If you manage to break my heart, you should know that I am a brutal enemy.”
“What would be an appropriate answer to all of that?” I held her gaze.
“Figure it out.” She walked away to shop with Izzie and Morgan.
I stood there with confusion written all over my face. “Nicky!” I called to him once I snapped out of it. He was at the next table shuffling through vinyl records.
“Yes?” He walked over.
“Elle just gave me an ultimatum.” I paid the vendor for the sunglasses Elle picked out for me.
“She wants me to play for keeps. She’s a hurricane and I’m used to light drizzles.”
“I don’t know what you just said.”
“She wants a real relationship, not a hook up. She’s a complicated person. I’m used to dealing with much less.”
“Well, if you are not completely prepared to handle what she has to offer, do not taint your relationship by messing with her. We can’t always get what we want.” We watched her together.
She was smiling with the girls, holding out her phone to take a picture of the three of them together. Izzie was kissing her on the cheek as Morgan made a silly face.
“That’s a Beatles song.”
“Rolling Stones.” He immediately corrected. “And it’s a vital life lesson, one you have been lucky enough to avoid until this very moment.”
“She means too much to me to play around. I would hate to hurt her.”
“There you go.”
“I guess.” I masked my glum expression with my newly purchased shades.
Nick went back to the music table. I posted up beside him and checked out the girls that walked by.
I turned my head and discovered Milo’s cousin Sal. He approached us with two beautiful girls on his arms.
His resemblance to Milo was uncanny. I would get them confused if his hair wasn’t significantly longer.
“Hey.” I played it cool and flashed a smile for the girls’ benefit.
“Where is my cousin?” He scanned the area.
“The palace. A thing with his parents.”
“I am sure he is disappointed. We have always had a good time at the festival.”
“Did you bring him a date?” I smirked.
“No, both of them are with me.”
They grinned and remained plastered to his sides. “It took a while, but I am thoroughly convinced he is in love with Isabella. He answered the questions correctly.”
“Favorite color, birthday, favorite book, and favorite place. They are basics, but you have to be able to answer baseline questions with ease in order to truly know someone. He did it. And now that she is here, it all makes sense. Lei è quella che ha atteso.”
“What does that mean?” Nick turned around to express he was tuned into our conversation.
“She is the one he has been waiting for. She is a good girl -- un po ’strano, ma bella e molto umile .”
“A little strange, but beautiful and very humble.” One of the ladies translated on his behalf.
“I wish them the best of luck, but I could never bog myself down like that. They are talking about forever. Guys like us live in the moment. We understand that there is plenty of fun to be had. Those that partake in it with us make us happiest. Right, donne?”
The girls giggled and fawned over him.
“You couldn’t be more right.” Elle moved to the back of my mind. “Did either of you come with a friend?”
“I have one.” Sal gestured for me to follow them.
“Later, Nicky.” I tapped my fist to his.
We ended up at a concert on the beach. The singer on stage was too pop-oriented for my taste, but her music was danceable. We halted at a group of teenagers in the back. Most of them – two girls and three guys were day drinking as they danced. Another girl was lounging on a cooler, scrolling through her phone with disinterest as she sipped a glass of wine.
The one on the cooler turned her head in our direction. Her oversized sunglasses occupied the majority of her face. From what I could see, she was attractive – long dark hair, olive skin, a nose that was suspiciously perfect, and glossy pink lips.
“Who’s he?” Her bored expression remained.
“Ryan, one of Milo’s friends from America.” Sal answered as I kept my eyes on hers.
She rattled off something in Italian. He answered in what sounded like the affirmative.
She stood up and approached me slowly, giving me time to observe her trim figure.
“Dafne.” She offered me her hand, palm down.
“Pleasure to meet you.” I lifted it to my lips and kissed it, observing the local custom.
“How well do you know Prince Milo?” She leaned in closer to me, starting a private conversation.
“Very. We have been best friends for two years.”
“Salvatore promised me a date with him this summer, not knowing he decided to become monogamous months prior. Is his best friend taken too?”
“No, I could not be more available.”
“That is what I like to hear. Would you like a drink?”
“Is wine all that you have?”
“No, we also have beer. Sal insists. The wine is quite good. It is from my family’s vineyard.”
“I will stick to beer for now. I associate wine with night time.”
“You are clearly not from here.” She took my hand and led me to the cooler.
I picked up a bottle of beer. I twisted off the cap and put it into my pocket. She replenished her wine glass. I closed the lid and the two of went to her cooler perch.
“How old are you?” Her shoulder was pushed against mine.
“Seventeen. You?” I swallowed beer.
“How did you become friends with Sal?”
“We used to attend the same boarding school. I started university last fall.” She swirled the wine in her glass.
“And you two never…”
“A girl and a boy can be just friends, you know. He tries too hard to be Milo. I was only interested in the real deal.”
“Did he ever go to school with you?”
“For a moment. He was dismissed before I was able to see him in person.” She sipped her drink.
“And you still wanted to go out with him?”
“I cannot resist a ragazzaccio. Good boys bore me. Isabella, does she misbehave enough to keep him entertained?”
I breathed a laugh as I tried to imagine Izzie fitting that description. “She allows him to slow down and enjoy himself more. The desire to do that is what attracted him to drugs and booze in the first place.”
“He has been away too long to know what he is missing.” She derided.
“You will have to take that up with him.”
“For now, I am content exploring other options that fit that criteria.” She took her sunglasses off to allow me to get a better look at her.
I did the same.
She had a look of approval when she returned to her wine. “I have never been with an American before. Is it worth it?”
“I cannot vouch for all of us, but I can show you a good time and be as bad as you need me to be.”
“Good.” She polished off the remainder of her wine.
I spent the afternoon with Sal and his friends. His young and reckless lifestyle was compatible with mine. A few hours had me questioning if my newfound interest in pursuing a relationship with Elle was rooted in everyone around me coupling off. Being left out was not something I tolerated. Being on my own was the clear choice logistically.
Daf and I watched sunset from the ferris wheel. Fireworks blazed in the sky after it faded to black. Elle would have viewed it as the perfect backdrop for a romantic moment. The thought of her anticipating something like that from me, and being disappointed by the reality made me uncomfortable. Instead of trying to hold my hand or resting her head on my shoulder, Dafne shifted in her seat and initiated a make out session when we were at the highest peak. We were at the halfway point between second and third base when the ride ended. We sneaked into a nearby supply shed. Both of us were sober by that point, giddy from the night itself. She dropped her purse on the floor composed of wooden planks. I did the same with my sunglasses. We resumed kissing. She was walking backward as I moved us further inside. Her back eventually collided with a wall and we remained there, all over each other. Aggravation coursed through me when my phone started ringing.
“Give me a second.” I groaned and pried myself off of her.
“Just a second. You’re not allowed to leave until you give me what you promised.” She remained on the wall, holding her hands behind her back.
I quickly answered the phone, anxious to get back to her. “’Sup, Miles?”
“Where are you?”
I could hardly hear him over the music. “Around. Sal introduced me to one of his friends.”
“Have you been with him all day?”
“For the most part.”
“What is her name?”
I glanced back at her. “Dafne.”
“Constantini. You know my rule.”
“Do you need an umbrella?”
“Izzie’s standing right beside you, isn’t she?” I smirked.
“Yes, you are right. It does not look like it is going to rain.”
“I’ve got it covered. Thank you for not pushing me.”
“We stand together. Do what you need to do. We will be at the final show. Meet up with us when you are done.”
“Got it. Later.” I switched off my phone and placed it on top of her purse.
“Was that Prince Milo?” Daf put her arms around my neck when I returned to where she was standing.
“Will you introduce me?” She requested between kisses.
Her obvious obsession with Milo made it that much easier to detach and focus on myself. Her display of pleasure was a self-satisfying afterthought. The time we spent together was empty and meaningless, but it was exactly what I needed to clear my mind.
I let go and allowed her to place her feet on the floor. “You know what you are doing.” She hiked up her thong.
“So I’ve been told.” My shorts were buttoned.
“You must do this all the time.” She shook her hair out.
I pulled my shirt over my head. “Games are what I am good at.” I was cold and aloof.
She walked up to me and ran her hands down my chest. “I like that.”
“One and done, Babe. We were both very clear about that.” I thwarted her repeat seduction attempt by picking up my phone. I noticed my sunglasses were crushed during our activity.
“I am not used to boys being able to resist once they’ve had a taste.” She pressed her chest against mine.
“They aren’t me.” I guided her face up with my index finger and granted her a final kiss.
We walked to the restrooms. I had a disposal to make and hands to wash. She wanted to freshen up before meeting Milo. I rested my back on the wall outside the women’s room and meddled with my phone as I waited for her.
I looked up expecting to see Dafne when the door opened, but it was Elle. Her green eyes caught mine. My eyes fell to the concrete, ashamed of what I had done.
“It’s not because –“ I started the sentence without an idea of where I was going.
“I swear if you say ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, I will hit you. It is honestly better this way. I cannot afford to get distracted in the final stretch.” Her words were sincere.
“Friends?” My approach was gentle.
“Best ones.” She kissed me on the cheek. “Your fly’s still down.” She whispered in my ear prior to walking away.
“Anything else I should know?” I called after her.
She turned around and walked backwards. “She marked you.” She pointed to her neck. She strode off with her pride intact.
She has the world in the palm of her hand. I’d find someway to sully everything she set out to achieve. I’m not ready to slow down, but at least I am smart enough to recognize a high caliber woman. That is what she is – someone too busy and focused to entertain lost boys.
I subtly corrected my fly problem when she was gone. I used the front facing camera on my phone to check out the hickey Dafne left behind. I scrubbed the splotch on my skin, hoping it would go away if I tried hard enough.
“A hickey?!” I motioned to it when she walked out of the restroom.
“Something to remember me by. Ada is leaving soon and she is my ride home. We need to make this quick.” Her tone was blasé and her phone once again occupied her complete attention.
“That will be no problem at all.” I did not waste my breath trying to mask my irritation.
She texted as I scanned the beach. A folk band was playing on the beach stage. My friends were sharing snacks on a blanket. Izzie was lying within Milo’s arms, eating cotton candy and sharing the occasional clump with him.
“Prince Milo, I have waited so long to finally meet you.” She knelt down beside him and offered him her hand, completely ignoring Izzie.
He shook it instead of kissing it, bucking from tradition to keep his girlfriend happy. “It is a pleasure.”
I left in pursuit of my own food in a matter of seconds. I had fulfilled the other portion of our deal. She was gone by the time I came back. I popped a squat near Nick.
“Have you been with Sal all day?”
“The majority of it. How did Milo get here?”
“He drove. Elle is driving his car to the beach house. She asked. I think she wants to practice before taking us to the palace.”
“I don’t think that’s the case.” I bit into my hot dog.
Sami threw popcorn at me to get my attention.
I dusted it off before the butter stained my white shirt. “What?”
“True or false: did you really do the hanky panky with one of Miles’ groupies?”
“True. She freaking stamped me. Does anyone know how to get rid of a hickey?” I opened the topic for group discussion.
“Yes, I had to figure it out because someone thinks it is funny to give them to me.” Milo looked down at Iz.
She smiled cheekily and pecked him on the lips.
“I can help you later.”
“I am hardcore judging you right now. She basically stalks him.” Sami pointed to Milo.
Finn simpered at her jab.
I rolled my eyes. “Not all of us are in a relationship that can best be described as a mutual hatred of the world.”
“We prefer the term ‘partnership’. ‘Relationship’ is just –“ She stuck out her tongue and made a gagging noise.
“Hey, offense taken.” Iz interrupted.
“I can’t do all of that.” She waved her hands in their direction. “You can. More power to you.”
“Your apology didn’t fix anything.” Elle snickered.
“You know I am bad at them.” Sami popped a piece of popcorn into her mouth.
We packed up and left after the final song. The nights were bright in Listonenia. The lack of pollution and ample water made the moon and stars bounce in ways they didn’t where I was from. It made it easy for Milo to be recognized. He was not ambushed with too many questions, but plenty of pictures were taken of him and Izzie.
“Give me your keys. I’ll get them to Elle and take care of everything else.”
“Have you been drinking? I know how Sal gets.”
“I had one beer four hours ago. I am fine.”
“You better be.” He chucked me his car keys.
“I don’t lie to you.” I caught them with ease and twirled them on my finger.
I told Nick and Finn what was going on. They promised to wait for me as I gave Elle the car keys. Milo sped off on his bike after Izzie had latched on. Elle was leaning on Milo’s car with her arms crossed and jiggling one of her legs.
“Are you cold?”
“A little, but it is not like I can do anything about it. Keys.” She was short with me as she held out her hand.
“Give me a second.” I went to the trunk.
I located the sweatshirt I suspected had fallen out of my bag during our impromptu palace escape.
“Here.” I closed the lid and walked back to the driver’s side.
“Thanks.” She held it in her hands, looking down at the fabric.
“I know it doesn’t match your outfit, but it –“
“You can hook up with whomever you want and act like a complete jackass with everyone else, but please don’t put the mask back on now that you’ve realized I’m not what you want.” She cut me off, keeping her head down.
“Ellie, that’s not why –“
“Please.” When she finally did look up, the look she gave haunted me.
I nodded feebly, knowing there were no words I could string together to make the situation any easier.
“You need this more than I do.” She pushed the jacket at my chest.
“The keys.” I dropped them in her hand.
She turned her back to me and unlocked the car. It pained me to acknowledge that I hurt her. I had just promised her that I would not run away.
“I don’t know what I want. You won’t settle for a maybe and I’m not selfish enough to ask you to.” I walked away after my admission, worried about the fall out.
“Are you okay?” Morgan was holding onto Nick’s back.
“Are you kidding me? Today was a great success. Sal has the right idea.” My confident bravado was back with full intensity.
I warmed myself with my jacket and strapped on my helmet. “Is everyone good to go?”
I kicked off when they answered in the affirmative. We served as Elle’s guides. The transition back to the palace was a smooth, but uncomfortable one. I looked out the window as Elle drove. I turned on the radio to buffer out the silence. I was out of the car as soon as we were there.
“Wait for me.” Elle flagged me down.
I ground my teeth and did it, my bag in hand.
“Don’t do that.” She stood before me with her own bag.
“Are we fighting as friends or fighting because you genuinely hate me?”
She hugged me instead of answering.
“What are you –“ I failed to know what to do with my hands.
“You’re like a brother to me. You look out for and take care of me. That is what I was afraid of losing because you thought we should be more. “
“I’m sorry I misconstrued everything.” I said under my breath.
“I will hold you accountable for who you bring home, just like I am with Malcolm. Dafne was not cutting it.” She patted me on the chest.
“I didn’t take her home. It started on a ferris wheel and migrated into a shed.”
“My new project for the year is raising your standards. You are better than that.” We walked inside together.
“I have some standards.”
“Like bare minimum. Answer me this, did she talk about Miles while you had your shirt off?”
“Yeah…” I unenthusiastically admitted.
“Hon, that should never happen. If we’re going strictly face value, it is very hard to score higher than you. You’re not desperate. So don’t act like it. And always leave them wanting more.”
I grinned. “I did the last part. You think I look good?” I picked with her, adding a little bounce in my step.
“I’m not blind. Bigger news is that you and your mommy think I’m beautiful.” She shoved me lightly and ran away laughing.
I followed her with determination. She squealed when she realized I was on her tail.