Aaron didn't want to go clubbing.
So, Athena threw a small party for him in her luxurious flat. I did not expect for her to go all out on it, but I learned that if there was anything Athena loved, was celebrations. She had refused help from us, opting to do everything by herself, so Beth, Aaron, and I spent a whole day shopping. And by the time seven o'clock rolled over, the party was in full swing.
Athena was already on her fourth drink and dancing around with two other guys. She stood out among the twenty people in the flat with her green hair and colorful dress. She was really living her best life, while we lounged near the bar, Beth laughing hysterically every time Athena wobbled on her feet and pushed her hips out. The girl was so bad at dancing, but she didn't care. No one was staring at her though. They must be so used to her weird dancing that it didn't faze them anymore.
Aaron, the birthday boy was sitting with us and I could not for the life of me know why he decided to hang around us when it was his party when he should be mingling with his friends or going wild, because that's what most people do on their birthdays, right?
"Is someone going to get her out of there?" he voiced what I was thinking, watching Athena grab onto a pillar for support as she swayed her ass around, and the two guys behind her were slapping on it.
Beth leaned forward and laughed, slapping on her thigh. "No, please, don't. This is the best thing I have ever seen and I think I'm going to explode from laughing. My stomach can't take it." I shook my head because I knew Beth loved it when someone drunkenly made a fool out of themselves. "Give me your phone, Lauren. I need to record this with two phones so I can watch it from different angles and die."
I didn't deny her request and she quickly took it, bursting another bubble of laughter when Athena grabbed an empty cup and kept thrusting into it, her tongue poked out from her mouth. It was bloody hilarious and I could not stop myself from joining in on the laughter.
"We should stop this," I commented, yet I didn't make any move to get up, my eyes glued to my green-haired friend. This side of her was something I never got to see.
Aaron nodded in agreement. "It's funny and fascinating at the same time. Does it make me a bad friend that I want to see what she is going to do next?"
"We're bad friends if we are enjoying this."
Beth leaped up from the couch and whistled at Athena, followed by a series of clapping. "You go girl!" she yelled at her, even though Athena was not going to hear her from the music that was blasting in the room. "You're a star!"
I used my hand to pull her down on the couch and she laughed at my non-threatening glare.
"She's going to kill you tomorrow, you know that? She won't hesitate to go ape shit on you when she learns that you took a video of her." Aaron stared at Beth with a look that said he would dearly love to see that happen.
Any indication of fear was absent from Beth's face, while a smile of amusement took over. Aaron's words broke through her concentration long enough for a single glance. "Well, don't be so quick to rat me out. Besides, I don't care," she stated, her eyes going back and forth between my phone and hers. "These are gems."
With a shake of my head, I grabbed another cocktail from the table and leaned back to drink, sparing a glance at Aaron. "Where's your boyfriend at, anyway?" The mysterious boyfriend we had never met before but heard so much about. Not even his best friend, Athena had seen a glimpse of Rolland, and we had jumped into the confusion ship.
At the mention of Rolland, Beth was able to drop the phones and took her gaze off Athena, now engrossed in the new topic of conversation, or better yet, a topic where she could to take a dig at Aaron. "We all know Rolland doesn't exist. Aaron has been telling us about his boyfriend for months and we still haven't met him. I think it's time you admit you made him up."
Teasing was a trait of Beth that everyone who knew her had noted, and sometimes when she teased someone, it got out of hand. She ended up making them mad because she knew which buttons to push. Aaron's mysterious boyfriend had become her favorite thing to tease about.
He sent her a quick glare that wasn't mean, but still managed to send his message. "He exists. You're just jealous that I have snagged a hot man while you're still shagging a six." Now it was his moment to grin in triumph.
Beth's latest toy wasn't much to look at, but she had said it was his junk that mattered. Until she would get bored with him and move on to another one. Ever since I moved out of the flat, Beth had other activities that filled the hole that I left. I wouldn't say that I liked it, but whatever made her happy.
"So you say," she retorted. "but at least everyone can see Kai. Unlike you, I don't blow my imaginary boyfriend."
"Okay, break it up," I intervened, knowing if I didn't stop them, they would start bickering like they always did. But I felt the need to ask, "What's with the secrecy, anyway? You've given us reasons to doubt you, Aaron."
"Hah!" exclaimed Beth, pressing her lips together when I threw her a glare as she tried to swallow down a chuckle.
"You know I won't lie about having a boyfriend, Lauren. Rolland is always busy. He's a photographer and he's always traveling for his projects."
Before I could open my mouth to clarify that I didn't think he was lying about it, but was simply just confused about it, Beth quickly jumped with a condescending tone, "Photographer, huh? Think he can capture my portrait with his imaginary camera? I can throw in my imaginary million pounds."
"I'm sure we can work something out," said a smooth voice to our left.
Turning slightly, we met the gaze of a man, a tall man who was flashing us his perfect smile. His blue blazer fitted across his shoulders, a white shirt peeking out and his leather pants clung to his muscled thighs. Big blue eyes, perfect cheekbones, and dark hair made this man so attractive.
Beth and I leaned against each other without noticing, our gazes fixed on the man standing above us.
"Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" Beth asked in a placating voice. "Please, tell me you see him too. I can't afford therapy."
"No shit, captain obvious," she returned sarcastically. "How long do you think he's been standing there? You think he heard the whole conversation?"
"Maybe." Maybe not.
Aaron stood up and walked over to Rolland as the two shared a hug and a quick kiss. "You came."
Rolland grinned at his boyfriend, a familiar spark shining in his eyes. "Sorry, I'm late, babe. Traffic was mad."
Aaron nodded and turned to us. "These are my friends; Lauren and Beth. Guys, this is my boyfriend, Rolland," he finally pronounced with a swift gaze towards Beth, who was still trying not to appear embarrassed at what she had said about Rolland.
"Hi, it's good to finally meet you."
I smiled when he took a seat beside Aaron, with his own warm and inviting smile. "You too. We heard so much about you."
A chuckle was released from his lips as he spared a glance from us to his boyfriend. "Good things, I hope." Aaron's expression was on the very edge of a smile as he handed his boyfriend a drink.
Beth peeked up with a grin. "Can I just ask you why you're going out with this one?" She jerked her thumb at Aaron. "You could do so much better."
"Of course, I'm joking," she was quick to defend and grinned into her cup.
We spent the next hour talking and laughing amongst ourselves. Rolland was funny, I realized, a bit charming if I could add, and he was starting to grown on us. He would be good for Aaron, and I was almost jealous that he had someone that was easygoing and likable....and at that moment, my mind had drifted me to my own hotheaded man with grey eyes and a permanent scowl.
Athena joined us, and it didn't take her much longer before she started intimidating Rolland, asking him questions she had no right asking, but then, she began to ease up when she realized Aaron was on the verge of choking her.
Drinks and laughs were the highlights of the night. Athena and Beth brought out Aaron's birthday cake despite his disapproving stare. We ate the cake, we toasted and we danced through the night. Despite having so much fun, my mind kept drifting to one man only. I wished he was here with me. I wished he could have experienced the feeling of being surrounded by friends and just having a good time.
When Beth excused herself to go to the bathroom, she came back holding my phone. Apparently, someone was asking for me and I steered towards the balcony, somewhere more private and quiet.
The cool breeze hit me like smelling salts, and I leaned briefly against the railing, putting the phone in my ear. I had already checked the ID before coming out, and it was not a number I had saved in my contacts.
"M..ma'am?" Coop's voice sounded weird and panicky. I was hit with a wave of nervousness when I heard it. When his next words came, I thought I would collapse. "I drove sir to a place, but there was a commotion. Something happened and I can't find him."
Every nerve in my body went still. "What do you mean you can't find him?" I pushed my voice to sound firm and calm, although my heart was threatening to burst at the feeling I thought I only had for my dad. The complex and ever-changing emotions inside my chest were hard to give words to.
"I've searched everywhere, ma'am. It's been ten minutes and he's just....not there. I don't know what to do."
I turned away from the door and covered my face with my hands. "He can't just disappear, Coop." My words burrowed between my ribcage and expanding until it felt almost painful. "Call him! Call his phone and text him." Even as I ordered that, I knew that was the first thing Coop must have done before he called me, and I could barely feel myself breathe, my chest tight and ears ringing, my heart beating so hard I could feel it throbbing in my temples.
He had to be alright. He had to be safe.
"Where are you? Text me the address and I would meet you there." I rested one hand on my hip and cupped my forehead with the other. Coop hesitated and didn't reply until I found myself snapping at him, "Coop!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't disclose that information."
"Mason is missing! And you don't want to tell me where you are right now?! Are you kidding me?" Panic and anger didn't go well together, but that was the two emotions I was feeling at that precise moment.
"I'm so sorry, ma'am, but I wish I could tell you. Sir has said under no circumstances am I allowed to disclose this location."
"I'm his wife!"
"Even to you, ma'am," he uncomfortably replied, sounding almost embarrassed to say that and hell, I should be the one to feel embarrassed and not him. After all, I was the one who thought that title meant something to Mason. And really, I was not about to stand there and not feel the tears at the corner of my eyes. It was unexpected and I found myself shocked into silence because...I didn't expect this.
And you know, the realization that I didn't mean to my husband as much as I did hurt, being reminded that I was just like everyone else, but most of all, I was on borrowed time. Our relationship had an expiration date.
Deep down, I felt as if I should have known though, after all, I didn't think I was going to stay with him or have access to every part of his life. There were still things I didn't know about it, things being hidden from me that only a select few knew about, so why should it bother me that my temporary husband was out there, missing and still putting restrictions on me?
But it did. So much. If anything happened to Mason, I didn't think I wasn't going to fall into a dark place.
"Ma'am," Coop's voice broke through my head and I sucked in a heavy breath, trying to ease the heaviness of my heart. "I will find him. I promise, ma'am. Sir is alright."
But of course, he was alright. If something terrible had happened to Mason Campbell, the sky would have cracked. If he was shot five times, I believed he would be too stubborn to embrace death and would fight to bring himself back to life. I strongly believed he would not die so easily.
That was the only thing keeping me sane.
The knowledge that Mason Campbell would come back to me.
And that was why I accepted that I wouldn't get into the car and end up dying from reckless driving because I had been too busy worrying about my husband and not how much I had been speeding.
Even as Coop promised to find him, I didn't think he would. If Mason wanted to be found, he would be found, and if he didn't, then, he would appear when it was time.
But I strove to calm myself and think clearly. I needed to decide how to proceed from here, and there was no point in smashing Athena's expensive furniture. Go back home and be worried sick about him alone? Or Stay here where my friends could provide comfort and support?
Soft creaking through the glass door gained my attention and I turned, Beth slowly walking towards me like she was tentative to my reaction. She paused right in front of me and surveyed my face.
"What's wrong? Is it your mum?"
I felt a laugh that didn't belong surged up my throat, but I didn't let it loose; instead, it seemed to choke the words on my tongue. "Mason is missing."
"Missing? Like no one knows where he is?" At my slight nod, she added, "How can a grown ass man like Mason be missing? And I'm sorry, but it's Mason Campbell. Him being missing is laughable and unrealistic."
The disbelief in her voice was enough to make me grit my teeth. Because she was right.
"You don't look too good. Do you want to leave? I can cover for you."
I huffed out a noise, my eyes rolling to the sky and I hated that I could do nothing but wait. "I don't even know where to look, Beth."
She offered hesitantly, the voice of someone who wasn't sure of what to do. "Should we go to the police, then? We can file a missing report if it will ease your mind."
"It's hasn't even been an hour." The tone was indifferent, but the words were definitely more than they let on.
"I'm sure if we tell them who we think is missing, they'd throw their 'file a report after twenty-four hours' out of the window and send the bloody SWAT team." Beth almost smiled at that ridiculous certainty.
I snorted despite myself. "Yeah, let's do that and face the consequences after. I'm sure Mason would love to hear that we announced to the world that he's missing."
"I'm only trying to help, Laurie."
"I know, I'm sorry. I'm just frustrated, angry and worried."
She stared at me for a few moments before muttering, "Do you love him?"
I squeezed my eyes shut, because no. I was not going there. "Ask me another day."
"Do you want to leave?"
I glanced at her. "Yes, please."
I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to Rolland. I didn't even remember Beth driving me home and offering to stay with me, which ended up in me declining. I remembered looking at the driveway and not seeing the car Mason usually drives in, the spot empty.
When I walked inside, I was greeted with silence. I had already called Coop on my way home and he never picked up, confirming that Mason hasn't been found yet.
Going upstairs, I stopped short when I reached my floor, my eyes landing on other stairs that led to Mason's floor, and before I could stop myself, I was moving. I was forbidden from going into his room, but I wasn't big on following the rules. Besides, if I didn't go into his room, I would feel worse than I already did. I just needed something to ease my nerves.
I pushed the door open and stepped inside, but stopped dead at a sight. I was not prepared to open the door and see him.
My veins pulsed with awareness and sudden, unexpected calmness. The relief was flowing through me and I could finally breathe properly. He was alright. There were no traces of injury on his body. But he seemed to be in a hurry.
I eyed Mason for a few seconds, at the big duffel bags on his bed, wide open and carried his clothes. Sucking in a breath, I marched forward.
I expected him to jump in surprise at my voice, but he was perfectly calm and slowly zipping his bag, then retreating to his walk-in-closet.
"Where were you?" I asked coolly. If he noticed the change in my tone, he was careful not to show it. He still wasn't looking at me as he tried to grab his things, putting them in another bag.
"I'm here, aren't I?"
I clenched my jaw. "I was worried something happened. Coop couldn't find you."
He didn't say anything.
"Mason, I'm talking to you."
He sighed, finally looking up at me with a stare that made me want to claw his eyes out and at the same time, sparked something in me. "What do you want me to say?" he asked with little softness.
I could see what was happening. He was trying to be mean Mason, the one who got irritated by questions he didn't like. But if this was the Mason that I met from the beginning, he would have come right out and told me it wasn't any of my business, but this Mason was gentler, who would rather feign confusion than say what he was actually thinking. In all honesty, sometimes, I preferred the old Mason.
As I glared daggers into that handsome face, I thought he should have politely explained to me what I wanted to know. I was not so stupid that I would not understand anything. I was not some woman who cared more about myself than his worries.
"Really? That's all you've to say to me? How about the fact that something happened tonight at wherever you went, and Coop couldn't find you. A place that I am not allowed to know. And where do I find you? Here. While you left me to wonder and worry about you." I could not believe this! He couldn't even look at me or give me a proper answer. He was determined to keep everything to himself and my anger was eclipsed only by the outrageous hurt that began to constrict my breathing.
"Is it an apology you want?"
"If I think you'd apologize to me right now, I really don't know you at all." My eyes glanced on the bed. "And what's with the bags? Where are you going?"
My rage threatened to escape in a shrill scream when he looked inordinately pleased. "Somewhere."
"Why does everything have to be a secret with you? If there's something going on, just tell me, please. I need to know, Mason. I can't stop worrying that something might happen to you."
His face darkened and he leaned forward, glaring at me with eyes of cold stone. "Your curiosity is not my problem, Lauren." It was a rude statement designed to send me running.
But I moved closer to him until we were toe to toe, our faces were only inches apart, with an equally scathing gaze.
"Oh, really? Then fine. If you want to be a dick, I can as well be stubborn." I sidestepped him to get to the bed, my hand grabbing the zipped bag and pulling it off the bed. When it was settled on the ground, I positioned it so that I was able to sit on it. "I guess it's going to be a long night." Mason was fighting the urge to glare for my remark, especially when delivered with such an enticingly sweet smile. He forced himself not to glower at me.
"I do not appreciate childish antics. Get up," he said gruffly.
"I'm only responding to your stubbornness."
"Lauren, enough. I have several things to do before I'm expected at the airport," he said matter-of-factly, then glanced surreptitiously at me through his long lashes. "Get up."
I smiled sweetly, working to keep from laughing. "See how we are able to make progress? At least I know it's a long trip, so now, where are you going, Mr. Campbell?"
"Where you will be going is to your friend's for a few days while I sort things out. Staying here alone is out of the question, and you will do as I say without saying anything about it."
"I'm not sure I can do that. See, you think you can have your way while I can't have mine. Does that seem fair to you, Mr. Campbell?"
"Stop calling me that."
"Is that not your name?" A devilish little smile played on my lips as I stared hard at him. If I could annoy him a little, I would feel so much better.
In three strides, he moved to stand directly in front of me, peering down at me with his hands planted behind him, and a grim face as he could muster. "I strongly recommend you not to say my name with that tone."
"What tone, Mr. Campbell?" I responded quietly. His eyes narrowed with undisguised annoyance. I stood unsteadily, my hands still wrapped around the handle of the bag. "I seem to have forgotten the chip that allows you to control me." I looked him directly in the eye, brazenly daring him to say anything more.
"Fine. You win. I'm going to the states and that's all you have to know."
"Okay, and what happened tonight? Where did you go?"
His gaze shifted to my face with a distinctive look of cool impatience. "What happened tonight had nothing to do with me. I went to meet someone and it didn't seem fit for Coop to know who I met with."
"Are you doing illegal things?" He cocked his brow at that one and I shrugged. "I'm only making sure."
"Is there anything you'd like to ask, Lauren, or can I get going? My flight is in an hour."
Hearing the sharp note of impatience in his voice, I worked hard to suppress the hurt I felt over it. "Can I come with you?"
He shook his head gently. "Ask me something that's possible."
"How long will you be gone?"
"I'm not sure. It depends on whether I achieved my motive on time or not."
"You're not sure? Then no, you can't go. Unless you agree to take me with you. You can dump me in the hotel and lock the room so I won't follow you."
He pressed two fingers to his forehead and released them with a sigh. "Lauren, I can't," he declared in a soft tone.
"Please." I did not know why I was pleading, or why I wanted to go with him. I just knew that I wanted to be with him. The reason didn't matter.
"I don't want to miss you, okay?" I confessed truthfully. I felt compelled to tell him everything I was feeling. The thought of being away from him hurts me; the idea of losing him was entirely unthinkable at the moment.
His eyes shone with surprise. "Lauren."
I pressed my lips together before speaking in a dejected voice, "Forget it. Let me just pack my bags and go to Beth's. Have fun at the states," I declared, as I moved to go past him.
"Lauren." The spark in those gray eyes was captivating, and he surprised me by suddenly catching my upper arms and jerking me to his chest.
He held me close, my slender body pressed against the full length of his hard, muscular frame. His gaze swept from my flashing eyes to my mouth, pursed with nervousness. "I'm not abandoning you," he continued, a little more softly. "I will come back soon."
I could not think straight and stared helplessly at him. He seemed different now, almost sad. Almost like going away for a few days was not something he wanted to do, but was obliged to. Fuck the feelings I was feeling. It was ridiculous to feel like I was losing him or something. But I feared that I might not see him again, that he would leave me just as my mother left me.
My eyes stung with tears of bitter disappointment; I blinked and looked down. He gingerly slipped two fingers under my chin and tilted my face up to his. A raw of emotion was flashing in his eyes, almost like he could read my mind.
I didn't want to feel like this.
"I hear Americans are hot and alluring," I said jokingly, but more seriously. "You may hate women before, but I've grown on you. You're becoming soft."
He grinned devilishly. "I think I would stick with the annoying Brit in my life," he drawled as he let go of me to zip up his last bag, grabbing it from his bed and holding them in his hands.
My heart pounded erratically, and for one insane moment, I could not decide if it was from his eyes or from the sheer power of his words.
"Very funny, Mason." I followed him out of the room, shutting the door behind me. "But really, have fun at the states." Smiling to myself, we strolled down the hallway.
Mason paused by the stairs and turned to me with a thin smile playing at the corner of his lips. "A few days without you pestering me? Of course, I will."
I glared deeply at him. "Oh, you're just dying for me to come with you, aren't you?" I rolled my eyes with exasperation and, pivoting on my heel, began to walk down the bottom of the stairs, hearing his own footsteps behind me.
His chuckle was the last thing that echoed.