I kept a steady eye on the paperclip that was clasped between my two fingers. Tossing it into the air, I followed the paperclip with my eye and waited for it to fall back into my open hands. I repeated this same process over and over again as Isabella’s words rang in my mind.
Those marks are from cooking.
She and I both knew that burn marks did not appear in perfectly aligned circles, yet she still fed me the same excuse she gave a few nights ago. In that moment when I had asked her once again, I had seen something flicker in her eyes. For a brief second, I thought that maybe she would tell me something, even the slightest hint about where those marks had truly came from. But that flicker in her eyes had gone as quickly as it had come, making me think that maybe I had just imagined it.
If Isabella was truly in danger, why hadn’t she taken the chance to escape yet?
Her father hadn’t been seen lurking anywhere near the campus, meaning that she had every opportunity to run from him. The only explanation I could muster was that maybe this was what Isabella wanted.
Maybe she was truly an accomplice to her father’s crimes and I was simply looking for an excuse to feed myself.
Why did I care so much, anyways?
I continued toying with the paperclip in my hand, and had barely heard the footsteps approaching the door, when the door to my door swing open. Fletcher barged in, textbooks in hand along with a large cup of coffee, and trudged over to his side of the room. He was mumbling quietly to himself as he dumped all of his belongings onto his bed whilst kicking off his shoes.
I remained silent and watched him with a raised brow, as he took a large sip of the coffee. I was appalled and a little impressed at how utterly oblivious he was to my presence. He seemed to be in a world of his own, completely unaware that there was somebody else in the room.
It was slightly concerning.
Clearing my throat, I watched as Fletcher’s soul nearly left his body as he did a small jump in the air. His hand was placed over his heart as he quickly turned around to face me. His previously calm face was now splotched red, as he stared at me with wide eyes. I gave him a small wave, and watched as he let out a deep sigh of relief before dropping his hand.
“I thought you were an intruder!” Fletcher finally exclaimed as he rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. Furrowing my eyebrows at his words, I sat up straight on the bed and set the paperclip down on the bedside table.
“It took me having to clear my throat for you to even notice the ‘intruder.’” I deadpanned as I cocked my head to the side.
“I just didn’t expect you to be here. You don’t really spend too much time in here. But I’m not complaining, I get to have a single room, for the price of a double.” Fletcher rambled as he plopped down on his bed.
He wasn’t wrong. I rarely spent the night here, and really only came to the dorm if I needed a quick change of clothes or to freshen up before going to class.
“Touche.” I said to him, hoping that Fletcher wouldn’t ask about my whereabouts. In the first weeks of moving in, Fletcher was particularly nosy and insisted to know every small detail about me. After receiving brief one worded responses, he soon came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to get much out of me, and hadn’t asked much since then.
He was a good kid, but I figured it was for the best if Fletcher remained in the outskirts of my life. The last thing I wanted was for someone innocent to get dragged into this assignment. Besides, my time here was limited and I didn’t see any point in getting too close to him.
We both sat in silence for a few minutes before Fletcher let out a loud sigh and looked over in my direction. It wasn’t long before his mouth opened, and random stories came spilling out. From the latest comic releases, to the new people he had met this past month, Fletcher gave me a full timeline of everything that had happened in his life. Though Fletcher had a tendency to get on my nerves, I couldn’t find it in me to be outright mean to the kid.
A part of it was because I had an obligation to keep my facade up and play roommate with him, but another part of me knew why I was especially tolerable towards Fletcher.
He reminded me of Nick.
Years before Nick had entered his moody teenager phase, he too was just like Fletcher. He was a complete fanatic when it came to comic books, and had a collection nearly as large as Fletcher’s. Their personalities were more alike than I had thought, and I knew for a fact that Fletcher and Nick would have gotten along perfectly.
It was shame that they’d never get to meet, at least not in this lifetime.
Thinking of Nick caused my mind to drift back to Isabella and our encounter earlier today. I couldn’t explain what exactly had come over me in that moment, but every emotion in my body seized control and took over. I would lying if I said I didn’t have some sort of attraction towards Isabella. There was something different about her that drew me in. Her mysterious aura was like a drug to me, and the more time I spent around her, I was getting pulled into a deeper hole. Her presence in my life had rendered me to do things I had never done before. I didn’t know why I had decided to reveal Nick’s death to Isabella, but in that moment I actually wanted to tell Isabella.
I had never expected myself of all people to fall astray during an assignment, but I knew I couldn’t lose sight of what I had come here to do.
I needed to put Rick Wright and his men behind bars, but there was something in the back of my my mind preventing me from taking that final step. I knew that I wanted Isabella to reveal more about her father so I could gather enough evidence to make a strong case, but there was a small voice in my head that knew there was another reason why I had wanted so badly for Isabella to confess earlier today.
Was it truly because I wanted enough evidence to arrest of Rick Wright, or to justify my rapidly developing feelings towards her?
A part of me wanted to give up on trying to get more out of Isabella and focus on the plan that had already been established, but there was a small voice in my head that told me to keep pushing, with the hope that maybe if I pushed hard enough, Isabella would drop her shield.
I didn’t know what possessed me in that moment, but before I could stop myself, I decided to text Isabella. My mother had called me earlier in the day to inform me of my sister’s early acceptance into a prestigious dance academy. She had invited me to a dinner party she was hosting this weekend, and had extended the invitation towards any friends I wanted to bring.
I hoped that maybe if I allowed Isabella more into my life, she would begin to let me into hers.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I decided to extend the invite to Isabella, hoping that the events from earlier today hadn’t scared her off. Ten minutes slowly passed without any response, before a small ding sounded from my phone. Flipping the phone over, I let out a small sigh of relief as my eyes scanned over her response.
I’d love to
I let out a small chuckle as Brielle huffed and pushed me away from her. Despite the crease in her eyebrows, I could see a hint of a smile on her face as she took a seat on her bed. Brielle had just attempted to teach me one of the dances she had just learned, and we had both miserably failed. Her at being the teacher, and me as the student. It was clear that there was only one person who had been given the gift of graceful movement, and it wasn’t me.
Taking a seat on her desk chair, I watched as she sniffed the bouquet of roses I had brought her. Before Nick’s death, all Brielle would pester him and I was about how much she had wanted to attend this dance academy in upstate New York. They only accepted ten to fifteen students each school year, all of which were on the track to finishing high school and pursuing a career in dance. Brielle was a talented dancer, she always had been, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
“I’m so proud of you for getting into that school.” I took a brief pause and I collected my thoughts before speaking up again, this time in a smaller voice. “Nick would have been proud too.”
I watched as Brielle’s head shot up, before a sad smile grew on her face. She pushed her hair to the side, before glancing over at a photo of the two of them that sat on her nightstand.
“He always said I could do it.” She whispered as I bowed my head down to look at my shoes. It was rare for me to ever mention Nick, but lately, I had started to become more open to speaking about him. If there was one thing both my mother, Brielle, and I had shared, it was the loss of someone dear to us. It was easier to speak of him around them because they too understand my pain.
Standing up from where I was seated, I made my way over to Brielle before taking a seat beside her and pulling her into a hug. I felt her arms envelope around me as she buried her head into my chest. When I had walked into her room earlier, there was no denying the surprise expression on her face. She was ecstatic to see me, and I knew she was fearful that I wouldn’t show up tonight. I had kept my distance from my mother and Brielle these past few years, despite their pleads for me to return home and spend time with them. I couldn’t help but feel guilt for turning them down countless times, but I had begun to make progress with them, and I was genuinely happy to be back around them again. It was little steps, but I was getting somewhere.
Pulling back from the hug, I placed a soft kiss on her forehead, before leaving her to get ready for the dinner tonight. Making my way down the stairs, I following the sound of clanking dishes as I entered the kitchen.
The smell of various fresh cooked dishes wafted towards my nose as I joined my mother in the kitchen. I had messaged Isabella earlier about whether she needed me to come pick her up from campus, but she had informed that she didn’t need a ride, and would be getting dropped off by her roommate. I felt bad that Isabella’s roommate had to drive her and tried to convince her to let me come and pick her up, but she refused and insisted that she would be fine. I had decided to head home early to help my mom and Brielle set up for the celebration before the guests began to arrive. The party itself was going to be relativity small, with just a few family friends, Brielle’s friends, and a couple of my mother’s coworkers. Tyler and his little sister were also planning on attending, and I had yet to let him know that Isabella would be joining us today.
I had decided that any new revelations or theories about Isabella would be kept to myself until I was sure about them. I didn’t want to keep anything from Tyler, but a lot had changed since the last time we spoke, and I wanted to keep that part of my life private. I knew that everyone would have their reservations about how I was going about things, but I had hope that my plan would come along slowly.
“Need any help in here?” I asked my mom as I watched her grab a wooden spoon from the counter and stir the pot that was perched on the stove. According to Brielle, she had been in the kitchen all day preparing dishes. The reason why my mother was putting so much effort for the dinner party was because Brielle’s acceptance wasn’t just to any dance academy, but it was the academy she had dreamt of attending for years. Nick’s death had affected us all deeply, but it had sent Brielle into a state of depression. It led to her quitting dance for nearly two years, and it was only recently that she had decided to return back to it.
My heart felt more at ease knowing that at least my sister and mother had been able to heal from Nick’s death. Although his death was still something I was working through, I was happy that my relationship with my mother and Brielle had improved. Boss had told me that working through this case would help me find the closure I needed, and as the days progressed, I found myself making more progress than I had ever made in years.
“Yes, could you please set up all of the plasticware and place the completed dishes on the island.” She answered as she tossed salt into the pot. Nodding my head in response, I grabbed plastic utensils and plates and began stacking them on the corner of the counter.
“So, Brielle tells me you’ve invited a new friend tonight.” My mother excitedly asked me as I moved the food over to their designated spots. I couldn’t help but let out a small sigh at my mother’s words. I was hoping that Brielle hadn’t revealed that bit of information to my mom, because knowing her, she was going to ask every possible question about her.
“She’s just a friend I met at college.” I casually said, making sure to avoid revealing anything about my reasoning for being back at school. My mother knew that I wasn’t able to reveal much about my job, and she typically respected those boundaries. I was thankful that I wouldn’t have to explain who Isabella actually was, because it would only lead to her being on edge.
“Tell me about her.” She coaxed as I kept my eyes focused on the counter. I paused, not really knowing where to begin. There wasn’t much I could tell her about Isabella without revealing her true identity and the reason behind our meeting. In that moment, luckily my mouth took over, and the words stumbled out.
“She’s..great, honestly. She has a soft heart, more gentle than most. She doesn’t speak much, but her eyes. They tell you everything you need to know. They’re the window to her every emotion and hold so much about her. She’s reserved, but will come out of her shell at the perfect moments. I’m just hoping she lets me see more of who she is” I revealed to my mom. I was surprised at my willingness to actually open up to my mother about Isabella. It had been so long since I had talked to her about my personal life, let alone a girl, yet for some reason I was fine with doing so today.
I met my mother’s gaze with mine, only to see a knowing smile resting on her face. Her eyes were twinkling with joy, and I knew she was over the moon, but she kept a calm face as she turned back around to the stir the pot.
“She sounds like an amazing girl. I can’t wait to meet her.” She finally commented as I finished setting up the rest of the table. I let out a small hum in response, before deciding to head up to the bathroom to freshen up before everyone began to arrive.
Just as I stepped out of the kitchen, I heard my mother’s voice calling for me, causing me to pause halfway through the doorway. Glancing back over my shoulder, I met gazes with my mother, whose eyes were now lining with water.
In a shaky voice, she said, “I’m happy you’re coming back to us, Mason.”
Returning her smile with one of my own, I nodded my head,
“Me too, mom.”
Here’s the next update for you all. I’m happy to be back into the groove of writing, and since I’m on winter break, I hope to get out as many updates as I can before my schedule begins to fill up once again!
I hope you all had a great holiday weekend!
See you all at the next update!