“Gunner, Rae, I’m sorry to interrupt your session, but Rae, your grandmother’s on the phone.”
Gunner and I stopped our sparring session and I turned around to see Maddox at the door with a phone in his hand. I came over to him and took the phone from his hand. “Gran?” I asked, almost disbelieving I got to talk to her again.
“Rae,” Gran said back, and I felt my eyes tearing up. I turned away from Maddox and Gunner and sat down on the bench, feeling a little disoriented. “Talk in Gaelic again, child,” she ordered me in Gaelic.
“Okay, Granny,” I replied in the same language. “I love you and miss you so much.” I told her, covering my face in my hand.
“I love you too, sweetie,” Gran sounded on the brink of crying, too. “But from what I hear, you’re doing okay.”
“I am,” I reassured her, “despite them being the so-called ‘bad guys’ here, they take care of me.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Gran said. “How’re you doing at school? Does that Torres girl still being a bully?”
I chuckled slightly “No, I’ve got a protector on my side who keeps her away from me.” I said, thinking of Jez.
“I see,” Gran muttered. “Well then, that’s good.”
We talked a bit more in Gaelic about what happened in our lives, and then our time was up. I gave back the phone to Maddox after I told her goodbye and then was told that I was dismissed for today. Gunner was already gone by the time I was ready to go back to my room.
It started being bearable to miss Gran. I had so many things on my mind that I didn’t think about her all the time. I was confused about Chase’s behavior from earlier that day, and still a little hurt that Gunner was ignoring me. Also, I had mountains upon mountains of homework to be done, and I itched to go out of the mansion, just to breathe a new air.
When dinner time arrived, I had another surprise waiting for me: Taryn Torres joined us to dinner by none other than Ryder, who apparently was still crushing on her ever since they danced together at the restaurant almost a week ago.
Taryn, wearing her best dress and looking smoking hot, sat next to Ryder and flirted endlessly with him openly. Jez looked pissed, and Gunner, who sat next to her, tried to calm her down. I sat next to Danger in my usual seat and couldn’t help but whisper to him, “Doesn’t your family really strict about who’s coming into the mansion?”
Danger chuckled. “They’re not that picky,” he explained. “Besides, Taryn is part of the Torres family, which means the Torres industry. Henry and Mad want a good relationship with them for business, so if Ryd and Taryn started going out, it would be a very good accomplishment.”
“That’s so stupid,” I scowled. “She’s a devil in disguise.”
“You girls don’t like her because she’s a hot babe,” Danger pointed out. “We guys don’t really care about shit like that. As long as she has a hot bod, I couldn’t care less.”
I glared at him. “Aren’t you in love with Jezebel or something?” I asked, irritated.
Danger grinned, but said nothing. I fought the urge to scream in frustration. Yeah, Taryn being here didn’t make me feel so good.
Henry and Maddox seemed to like Taryn’s presence, though, and asked her a lot of questions. Taryn, who wasn’t stupid, probably knew why they’d done it, and replied politely and sophisticatedly and reminded me more of a politician than a supermodel. Ryder seemed completely absorbed in her, and I couldn’t cover my disgust. Danger found it hilarious and seemed amused most of the meal.
But what really sat on my nerves, even more than Taryn being here, in this mansion, was Gunner’s distance. He didn’t spare me a look, seemed concentrated when Taryn talked or answered some questions, and I found myself feeling angry at him for not paying attention to me, like I was some jealous girlfriend or something.
I wasn’t a jealous person. But right now, I was about to blow up with envy. The worst thing was, I knew it was for the best. Being attracted to Gunner was bearable, somehow, when he was so distant. If he started getting closer and closer to me, I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk away and probably fall for him eventually. I would’ve preferred us to be as apart as we could.
Yet my body didn’t like it at all. And, I found with dismay, neither did my mind. I wanted to talk to him again. I wanted him to tease me like the jerk he was. I wanted to see him smirk or grin for me. I wanted to hear his chuckles.
Had I already fallen for him? I don’t think so. But one thing was sure: I had a huge crush on him – and I barely knew anything about him.
When the endless dinner ended, Taryn and Ryder kissed goodbye – and by “kissed” I meant made-out. Ryder looked like a lovesick puppy after she was gone, and Danger teased him about it.
But Jez had another idea in mind. “Why did you bring her?!” She yelled at Ryder. “I hate her, yet you bring her over?! What is wrong with you?!”
We all sensed the coming drama in the entrance hall, and Gunner was already right next to Jez, trying to put a calming hand on her shoulder. But she was too pissed for that. “I’m supposed to be your sister, Ryder Wayne! My preferences are supposed to be coming first! She’s a self-centered bitch who only wants to use you for getting near Gunner!”
Ryder was now pissed too. “Stop being such a jealous, possessive bitch yourself, Jezebel!” he yelled back, his face reddening, gold eyes almost luminous with anger. “Not every girl in the entire fucking world wants to steal Gunner! Taryn is not like that!”
“You are so blind!” She screamed and would’ve thrashed him if Gunner wouldn’t have held her. “She doesn’t want you! She stared at Gunner the whole evening!”
“Jez!” Maddox interfered, looking warningly at the dark-haired-blue-eyes beauty who now looked like a pissed-off princess. “Stop talking shit right now.”
“I won’t!” she suddenly looked at me. “You tell them, Rae, what a witch this whorish girl is!”
All eyes on me, I forced myself to say, “Don’t involve me in this, Jez.”
“But I heard the stories in school!” she looked angrily at me. “I heard what she’s done to you! What about the Jimmy incident? Was that something a stable, cute, normal girl would’ve done?!”
Silence stretched in the room, and I felt cold all of a sudden. I hugged myself, planting my eyes on the floor, and recalled the incident of Taryn ruining any chance I would’ve had with Jimmy last year, before he became a gangster bastard. “She’s awful,” I finally said, wincing. “But Jez, you can’t dictate everyone’s life. Let Ryder make his own mistakes. Eventually, he’ll understand.”
Jez looked shocked. “You’re not going to help me out? After everything she has done to you? After everything I’ve done for you?!”
Now that was interesting. I arched an eyebrow at her and folded my arms. “What exactly have you done for me, Jez?” I asked her truthfully, because I really wanted to know.
“I’ve stood up for you when Taryn tried to make you the school’s joke more than once!” she snarled. “I agreed to go through fucking high school again for your ‘educational’ sake!” she grew angrier and angrier. “So don’t you tell me I haven’t done anything for you!”
Actually, she was right about this stuff. I sighed, and realized I owed her at least one. So I turned to Ryder, who still looked pissed and shocked and hurt, and told him in my softest of voices, “She’s right, Ryder. Taryn is a snake, and she’ll break your heart. I’ve seen her doing it for a long time; you’re just the perfect prey for her. I’m sorry,” I added when he opened his mouth to argue. “I know I have no right to decide for you anything. In the end, it’s all your decisions. But I’m just pointing out the truth. Do what you want, but keep in mind that you’ve been warned.”
Ryder cursed and without saying another word walked to the elevators and disappeared behind its doors. I sighed and looked at calmer-Jez. “Happy?” I asked a bit bitterly.
She nodded mutely, and I took my leave for the night.
The next day, Danger was the one to drive me to school. He told me Ryder was still upset at the evening before, and he needed some time alone.
“Tell him I’m sorry for being so straightforward,” I told him when he dropped me off at school.
“I will,” he promised and drove away.
Jez was silent throughout the morning classes, and when lunch time came, we walked quietly to the cafeteria. We took our now usual seats at the corner – we stopped sitting with Isy, Marcus, Chase, Taryn and their friends (or minions, in Taryn’s case) when it became unbearable, so we took our own seat. I didn’t really care; Isy and I couldn’t be called friends anymore, only acquaintances. She stopped almost totally talking to me, and frankly, I was relived. Keeping so many secrets from her – about Echo and the Moores, or the Prestons – was making me upset, and now when we weren’t really friends, it was easier. Didn’t mean I didn’t miss her, though.
Out of boredom, I tried to talk to Jez, but she didn’t cooperate. She was lost in her own little world, too absorbed in her thoughts to really pay any attention to me.
Just when I gave up on trying to induce her to speak, murmurs filled the cafeteria. I looked up to see Chase Montgomery, the one and the only, entering the room with Jayden and Leo, his best friends. They bought themselves food and Chase scanned the room, probably to decide whether he wanted to sit with Marcus, Isobel, Taryn and her minions, or with some of his teammates instead. I heard a few girls murmuring that they hoped he would pick their table. It was so pathetic how they all adored him this much. I felt foolish that I’d also been like them once.
Until I saw Gunner, who seriously messed with my systems.
Chase’s deep-blue eyes were suddenly on Jez’s and my table, and he said something to his friends. They all nodded, surprised, and looked after Chase, with the rest of the cafeteria, as he made his way toward us.
I couldn’t believe it myself, too, that Chase actually came over here, to this Godforsaken table.
But he did and he slid into the only empty seat in the table, making Jez to jerk from her daydreaming and me fighting myself not to gape in astonishment. “Hey,” Chase said naturally, like he always came to sit with us. “What’s up?” He looked at me with a friendly smile.
It was one of those moment when Jez and I actually felt the same and understood each other. We exchange baffled looks and then returned to Chase. “Fine,” I answered for both of us. “What about you?”
“Right as rain,” Chase beamed at me.
“I can see that,” Jez mumbled dryly.
Chase laughed as if she told a joke. “Yeah, I’m pretty happy today,” he looked at me, eyes suddenly softening. “I want to thank you again for yesterday, O’Reilly. I took your advice, and I feel much better.”
“Advice?” I cocked my head in confusion.
“When you said it wasn’t my fault,” his smile became true and real, and made him all of a sudden a whole lot handsome than he already was. My heart skipped a beat at the sight. “It helped me a lot, because you were right.”
I found myself grinning a little in return. “Glad I could help.”
He chuckled. “So I feel like I owe you one,” he grinned. “How can I repay the favor?”
That surprised me. “Oh,” I blurted. “You don’t really have to, you know... I did it just because you asked.”
“I know, I know,” he said, “but I really want to do this. Maybe I can take you to Starbucks some time? My treat.”
There were suddenly a few intakes of breaths and that was when I realized everyone was listening to us. Taryn looked furious on the other side of the room, with baby-blue eyes full with fury, while Marcus and Isy just looked shocked. I averted my eyes to Jez, who smirked a little at me, and when she caught my eyes, her smirk deepened. For some reason, smirking Jez was better than quiet Jez, so I let it pass.
I turned to Chase, who looked expectantly at me. “It’s not a date or something, right?” I asked, just to get it right. Because I knew it couldn’t be a date; Chase dated only College girls, not high-school girls. But I needed to hear the clarification, just to be at ease.
He arched an eyebrow, and instead of saying what I’d expected to hear, he astonished the hell out of me and everyone in the the cafeteria. “It can be, if you want to.” He was dead-serious, not smirking or grinning, his eyes steel-blue. He was also leaning slightly toward me, as though he was truly interested.
All I could think was, ha? Could this really happen to me? Why did he say that? Did he want to go out with me? Did he like me? Did he have a crush on me? Is that even possible?
Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God. What should I say? How do I respond to this?
Shit. I was taking too long to answer, and everyone started murmuring again, wondering what was taking me so long. I gulped and felt my face heating. Then I took a deep breath and knew what was the right answer to give. “Let it not be a date,” I said, to everyone’s shock. Even Chase looked surprise at my reply.
Oh, God. I had just friend-zoned the school’s hottest guy... or was it really friend-zoning? Could I even call us friends? Shit, I was going nuts.
I was nibbling my lip without realizing it and was surprised when Chase laughed, all of a sudden. “Sure, as you wish, Rae... I can call you that, right?” He smiled.
“S-Sure,” I stuttered stupidly.
Jez cleared her throat in emphasize and we both looked at her. She smirked and said, “You do realize you’re under house-arrest, right, O’Reilly?”
Oh, shit. I completely forgot about me being unable to be out of the mansion for longer than school. “Yeah, I do,” I said and sighed. “Sorry, Montgomery. I can’t let you pay me back the favor after all.” I smiled apologetically.
“Oh,” he seemed disappointed. “Why?”
Before I could answer him, Jez chuckled. “Hey, I didn’t say I couldn’t help you get away for one afternoon,” she winked, too helpful that it made me suspicious. “I can cover-up for you with Henry and Mad.”
“You can?” I asked, narrowing my eyes a little. Oh yeah. She was onto something. She wouldn’t have been so helpful otherwise.
At her nod, Chase brightened up. “Then it’s settled. Meet me after school at the football field and we’ll go, okay?” he grinned at me.
My suspicious eyes still on smirking Jez, I said, “Sure.”
Before the next class, Jez called Henry and told him to give me a pass for today. They argued for a few minutes but then Jez made him in a mysterious way to agree. When we were in the last class for today, I asked her, “Why’re you doing this for me?”
She widened her eyes in feigned innocence. “Because I’m nice?” She suggested.
“Bullshit,” I folded my hands. “You have an ulterior motive. I’m sure of it.”
“Oh, come on, O’Reilly,” she rolled her eyes dramatically, “I’m not that bad. Maybe I just want to do it for your own good?”
I was not convinced but I dropped it, because Jez wouldn’t tell me anything else, the weirdo. I still didn’t trust her about it at all.
School couldn’t end faster. I was at the football’s field, sitting in the stands with a few admirers of the football teammates and looking at Taryn and her cheerleading squad doing exercises. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to notice me. I had enough troubles without her to add to it
When the football training was over, Chase and his friends went to the wardrobes to change. I waited from him at the exit from the field and when he came back, showered with still-wet hair, clean jeans and sweatshirt, I couldn’t help but appreciate his handsomeness. He held the title of the school’s hottest boy for a reason. “Hey,” he said with a grin when he saw me waiting. “Sorry for making you wait.”
I grinned a little back. “That’s okay,” I said and we both started going toward the parking lot. “How was training?” I asked.
“Great,” he replied with a broad smile. “We were kicking ass. I’m so proud of us.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” I chuckled. “I can’t wait for you to win this year. I don’t think our school can suffer another loss.”
“Well, this year I’m the captain,” he smirked, blue eyes on me. “I can say our chances are pretty high.”
If I didn’t know better – and I did know – I would’ve said he was flirting with me... though after what had happened in the cafeteria, I couldn’t be sure about anything anymore.
“You’re not arrogant at all,” I said, deciding to not overthink or overanalyze everything.
“Nope, I’m just stating the facts,” he winked and I chuckled a little. We arrived the parking lot, and I was relieved to see no Gunner or Danger or Ryder was waiting for me. I sighed in relief as we reached Chase’s car – an expensive white Mercedes. We entered the car and he turned it on. When we were on the road, I smiled inwardly. For the first time, I felt, even if a little bit, free.
“So Chase... I can call you that, right?” I asked, mimicking his own question earlier today.
He laughed. “Yes, Rae?”
“Tell me something about yourself,” I said, meaning to be as friendly as I could. I didn’t get to befriending people nowadays and I wanted to make the most of it.
He glanced at me. “What do you want to know?”
I shrugged. “Something. For example, what’s your favorite color?”
He chuckled. “FYI, it’s yellow,” he replied and I scowled in disgust.
“Yellow? Really?” My disbelief was obvious.
“You got a problem with yellow, Rae?” he laughed, and I realized how open he was about laughing and chuckling and smiling all the time. No wonder everybody liked him; he was like a walking sunshine with this happiness and goodness all the time.
“Nope,” I said, “it’s just a very odd choice. Why not blue? Or red? Some other vivid color? Yellow is so... yellow.”
“Well, blue is so blue and red is so red,” he joked and I rolled my eyes, feeling a little comfortable with him, like I felt with Danger.
“Come on, you know what I mean,” I gazed at him expectantly.
He laughed. “If you’re really that interested, so yellow is the color of the sun. I love the sun, love the warmth of it. I was always told that I should aspire to shine like the sun, because that way everyone will want to be near me. And apparently, it’s right. So yellow it is.”
That was a great insight into his mind. “That’s pretty deep,” I said. “But why don’t you just pick a prettier, livelier color? I get that it’s the sun and everything but frankly, yellow is a very boring color.”
For some reason, when he retorted, it sounded as though we weren’t talking about favorable colors anymore. “Because not every color that’s pretty and lively is necessary preferable.” He glanced meaningfully at me, but I didn’t get why. Did he try to hint at something? Because I was really clueless about stuff like that. I like being told straightforwardly everything. Hints didn’t bode that well.
But he didn’t elaborate, and all I was left to do was wondering and pondering his words.