I’d never welcomed a Saturday that much like today.
The past two days ever since the Starbucks so-called “date” with Chase, I’d been the subject of attention at school. If it weren’t for Jez, Taryn would’ve crucified me. Isobel and Marcus were still distant, but I caught Isy staring at me with guilt a few times. Not that it mattered anyway.
Because she stared at me only due to the fact Chase started hanging out with Jez and me at breaks. Not all the time, though, but majorly he was with us than with his own friends and football teammates. I had no idea how did it happen, or what about me made him want to be so friendly with me, but I didn’t question it too much.
Jez also didn’t seem to mind, so it was all good and well, yet stressing. The stares, the whispers... I wasn’t used to this attention and hadn’t got it ever since Jez became a known face around school instead of the “hot new transfer student”.
But anyway, Saturday had finally come, which meant my day off training, and I felt a sense of peace, or even contentment, the moment I woke up. The only other person who was at the mansion at the same hour was Ryder, and we both ate breakfast together. He told me the others were out doing some business-related stuff and that I was to remain at the mansion. No arguments from me here. For once, I wanted to stay comfy and warm at home. Outside it was gray and raining and sad.
After breakfast, I decided to explore the mansion. I took Flanny with me and started with the third floor, where the lounge and other living rooms were. When I found nothing interesting there I moved on to the fourth floor, and then to the fifth. At the fifth, though, aside from the many doors, I found a circular, wooden staircase at the corner. Curious, I went up with Flanny right behind me, and found a door to another floor... or more correctly, an attic. I opened the door, which fortunately wasn’t locked, and went inside.
The attic was made of wooden floor and ceiling, but two of the four walls were made of glass, so I could see the view of the city and everything. And in the middle of the room, sat a black grand piano.
Excitement bubbled inside me. I used to play the piano for about ten years before I decided I didn’t want to learn anymore and just wanted to play whatever I wanted. When I saw the piano, I felt the familiar prickle in my fingers, the itch to play it. Seeing as Ryder only was in the mansion, I decided to give it a shot.
First of all, I turned on the heat, because it was freezing cold here. Then I opened the grand piano and slid into the piano chair. Rain tapped on the glassed walls, but it only added to the environment, so I closed my eyes and opened my senses to the sounds. The tapping rain, the breathing of Flanny and me.
Then, placing my fingers on the keys and, with my eyes shut close, I played.
The feeling of contentment grew stronger. It’d been so long since I last played, and now, in this hidden attic with this wonderful piano, I finally let my spirit be. My fingers danced on the keys, creating wondrous melodies. It wasn’t a classical piece or even a modern one; it was just some melodies I composed a while ago. Whenever I played them, I played in other variations every time anew. Now the variation was wintery and peaceful. It felt amazing, really, to be able to play like that.
Flanny, who always liked listening to me playing, lay down next to the piano chair and closed her eyes, as though content, too. And she probably was. For the first time ever since the murder, my smile lifted a little bit into a true smile. Not a grin or smirk. A smile.
I kept on playing, letting my fingers be. I didn’t notice anything. Just played as if my being depended on it – and it probably did. I felt so caged and lost and pained this whole time since the murder. Gunner and my crush on him then his distance. Isobel’s quiet betrayal and abandon. Danger’s closeness. Jez’s mystery. Taryn’s bitchiness. Everyone’s criticism.
Now, I felt almost free.
The rain stopped some time later, but the magic of my playing didn’t dissipate. I kept on playing, on feeling nothing and everything at the same moment, stretching the moment to no end.
But no matter how I wished I could keep playing, I couldn’t. Because when I heard the attic’s door opening I jumped stopped immediately the play and the turned around. My eyes widened when I saw Gunner, dressed in jeans, boys’ boots and black shirt with gray jacket – the most simple clothes that looked amazing on his sexy, tall and muscular body that was leaning on the door’s frame with arms folded and eyes on me.
I don’t know how long we looked at each other like that but then he broke the silence when he asked, “Why did you stop?”
I flushed stupidly. “Because I was s-startled,” I mumbled, looking away.
“I’m sorry I startled you then,” he said, and when I glanced back at him, he moved toward me, closing the door behind him. He reached me and the piano and looked at the piano chair. “May I?”
Not sure I could speak and dumbfounded he actually talked to me and stopped ignoring me and putting distance between us, I mutely moved aside so he could sit next to me on the wide piano chair and when he did, we were so close I felt the attraction more brutally than ever, but fought it.
He placed his fingers on the keys and glanced at me, place turning from nonchalant to slightly amused. “Have you ever played with four-hands?” he inquired.
I shook my head no and stared at his hands. “Do you play?” I asked dumbly.
“Yeah,” he answered nonetheless, making me look back at his face. A small grin played in his mouth. “Wanna try playing with me?”
Gulping, I nodded and turned my attention to the keys. He motioned for me to start, and mutely I did so. Stiffly, I played one of the melodies I composed, and he joined me, adding another theme that connected well with my own. We both improvised as we were playing, but somehow it sounded good and not a conglomeration of notes. He probably made sure of it, making me lead the melodies as he took the role of filling in notes and other sounds.
He was a great pianist; I could tell from the movements of his fingers to the sounds he made the piano give him. He was probably even better than I was, but I still managed to keep up the pace with his. Maybe I wasn’t that far behind him.
My stiffness disappeared as we kept playing and I got used to his presence next to me. My body, which I didn’t realize was tensed as hell, relaxed the longer we played, and my fingers started to flow more easily on the keys. I was so into the the melody, the playing, that I almost forgot Gunner was right there, sitting next to me. Almost, though, didn’t mean entirely. I was conscious to our arms and fingers brushing against each other from time to time, and each time it happened a shot of electricity purged into me. I was conscious to our legs, that although covered, whenever they touched, my heart skipped a beat. One time, I glanced at him, and was astonished to see an expression of pure, total contentment and peacefulness on his handsome face. When I wasn’t looking at him, I felt him glancing back at me, trying to see what my own expression was, probably.
I never knew I could be this content with someone. Especially not with Gunner, whom I was hyperaware to his presence. But I managed being content and peaceful with the world – and with him – and all through the piano and sounds we made together.
Even playing the piano, we fit. Like the time we danced. We just fit so well.
Why only I saw it, though? Why couldn’t he see it too?
We ended our endless melody with a matching chord, and we both took our hands off the the piano. The magic of our combines melodies was still in the air, until it slowly disappeared. I was suddenly scared that he would go away now that we finished playing, and before I could stop myself, my hand grabbed his arm. He snapped his head at me, and I lowered my head, letting my mess of red hair to cover my face from him. “Rae?” He said, question in his voice.
And again, my self-control was as good as nonexistent. “Why did you ignore me these past almost two weeks?” I blurted out, feeling like a child. But I didn’t care at the moment. I wanted answers.
Gunner tensed, and I felt it under my grabbing hand, but I didn’t let go. I needed him to answer me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said in a flat voice and I risked raising my eyes to his. His expression was unfathomable and it angered me. Why did he have to be so closed? Why wasn’t he honest and had to deny everything?
I squeezed his arm hard, and he didn’t even flinch. Instead, his greenish-blue eyes locked mine in unmovable gaze. But I didn’t give up. “Don’t act clueless, Gunner,” I said, my voice a little shaky, and it almost sounded as if I begged. “I want to know why did you distance yourself. What have I done to you that you hate me so much?” My voice cracked at the end, and I felt tears coming, but letting them out was out of the question so I swallowed them back.
The only indication he felt something was the hardness of his muscles, that seemed to be getting harder and harder, like he tried to restrain himself or something. “I don’t hate you,” he said calmly. Too calmly.
“Bullshit,” I hissed, grabbing him harder. “You despise me and I have no idea why. You barely talk to me. You always so business-like with me. You avoid me like I have an infectious disease. I want to know why.”
“You’re talking nonsense, Rae,” he said, and for the first time his voice wasn’t so even anymore. “I don’t despise you - “
“Don’t you dare to deny that you didn’t ignore me!” I snapped. “I deserve to know the truth!”
Before I could do something, he grabbed my nape with a quick motion and held my head straight so I couldn’t move it whether I wanted or not. His eyes bore into mine, and I was so surprised at the act I gasped and released his arm. He took the opportunity to grab mine like I did his, like he was afraid that I would run away. Probably he just wanted to show his strength or something. He didn’t care about me at all. Why would he want me to stay? Besides, it was not like I was running anywhere. I was more afraid that he would do so.
“It’s easier that way, Rae,” he said, voice low, deep and dangerous. His tousled jet-black hair blew in the warm air of the attic, and displayed the piercings he had in his ears. It was so sexy I gasped a little, but I returned my eyes to his. He narrowed his sea-eyes. “I know what you... feel about me. I see it in the way you look at me, or rather, check me out. It’s fine and understandable; you’re a teenage girl with hormones going wild. I’m not surprised. But I can’t let whatever you feel for me get in the training. You need to be strong, and not only because Mad said so. You need to be strong to be able to protect yourself. You’re involved with the Prestons, whether you wanted to or not, and people may come after you to try and hurt us. They don’t know the whole story of why you’re with us; they might think you’re now another Preston adopted sibling. I can’t let you get hurt because it’s my duty you’d be able to save yourself. Therefore, I can’t let you feel what you feel for me, that’s why I tried to make it easier for you to handle and put some distance.”
He looked serious and intimidating, yet I couldn’t be bullshitted. Sure, it was the first time he acknowledged his knowing of my feelings for him vocally but it didn’t ring like the reason for ignoring me. It sounded like he wanted to cover something up.
But why? And what could it be?
The tears I worked so hard on keeping inside threatened to fall. “Why?” I asked him, my voice no louder than a whisper. “Why are you lying to me?”
His hand on my nape loosened a bit, but the warmness and electricity from the touch wasn’t gone yet. “It’s what you need to know for now,” was all he said, his face so closed that if his eyes didn’t narrow, I wouldn’t have known he was capable of feeling anything.
“Stop saying that,” I was begging now. “There’s not ‘need to know’ or any shit like that. I need to know everything that concerns me. So why do you keep on resisting? Why don’t you just tell me?”
I wasn’t sure, but I think he was glaring at me now. Gunner didn’t glare, not the whole time I’d known him. Maybe I was imagining stuff? “There are some things,” he said, voice so low and rough and intimidating I shivered, “young girls like you should not know.”
“Stop pushing me away,” my voice was so tiny, it was a wonder he could hear it.
“I am not,” he then released my nape and arm. “I’m doing what’s right, and putting a distance between us is right.”
“It’s not!” I protested, my sight blurred as the tears were on the verge of falling.
“You’re emotionally involved with me,” he stated the obvious, looking at me with pity. “In order for you to stop feeling like that, I need to avoid you.”
“It’s not helping!” I yelled now, tears almost spilling. “I still feel things for you!”
“You’re being irrational,” he said sternly. “You saw me kill, remember?”
“There’s nothing rational going on in my life right now!” I practically screamed in frustration.
His face became devoid of any emotion, his eyes inscrutable, and then he said in his most sharp, flat, low voice, “I don’t feel for you the things you feel for me.”
The words were meant to cut, and they did exactly that. My chest tightened in pain and I jumped on my feet, sending him my most hateful glare, but it was a little hard with the tears that started streaming down my face. “Don’t you think I know that already?!” I shouted, more hurt and insecure than I’d ever felt. “I’m not blind! I know when a guy doesn’t feel the same! I know that whatever I feel for you is unrequited! I know you think of me as a burden, as a child! I know all that! So don’t come and rub it in my face when you know it will hurt me, you asshole!”
Then, before I humiliated myself any more than I’d already done, I stormed out of the attic, crying, with Flanny running right after me.
For the first time, I liked and hated a person at the same time. Now I knew what it meant when people said that there’s a thin line between love and hate.
I spent the rest of the day in my room. I wasn’t hungry – which was very uncharacteristic, I know – and I wanted to be left alone. Danger tried to get me out of my room, but I pushed him away. Even Jez tried once to ask me if everything was okay – she could deny her feelings for all she wants, but I knew she thought of me as a friend already – but I told her to leave me alone. I just wanted to sulk.
When evening came, I came to a decision, after a whole day of thinking. I would not let Gunner Murray mess with me anymore. I would not let his actions and words dictate my life. If I wanted to talk to Danger and Jez, I would do so. If I wanted to eat, who was he to deny me that? So yeah, it would hurt like hell seeing him everyday for training and for meals, but he made himself very clear. He was all-business, and if he could do it, so could I.
I was done lusting after him.
Sure, it’s not like I had a switch for crushing on someone or not, but I intended to subdue the attraction to him as fast as I could. Starting with hanging out more with Chase.
I didn’t think I could fall for Chase again with my mind all over Gunner. But I wanted to at least spark an interest for him. Sexual and romantic interest. I had no idea if Chase would be all for it, but I had no choice but trying.
Because even though I told myself it was impossible, some part of me still hoped, even a little, that Gunner had felt the same. Now that he rubbed it in my face that he wasn’t, I needed to stop being naïve and start do what I needed to do, which was to stop paying so much attention to him.
Chase Montgomery, here I come.