Billionaire's Childhood Love

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LVI. Independence

Hailey’s POV:

Josh smiles, “Hay Bug. Do you want to sit together?”

I return his smile, “No.” His smile drops. “I’m actually sitting together with-” My eyes roamed around, and immediately when Ricardo came close enough, I grabbed him. “Ricardo. We agreed to sit together on the way back.”

Josh’s lip twerks slightly. “When did you guys decide that?”

“When you were busy making out with Jasmine.”

Josh exhaled, “Hailey. That-”

I tugged Ricardo, “Come on. Let’s go before all the good seats are taken.” I pull him towards the bus. I stopped and turned towards Josh. “I wouldn’t want to take your girlfriend’s seat.” And with that, I left.

With a deep huff, I flopped down, and Ricardo sat beside me.

“Mind letting go?” He asks.

I looked down at our tangled arms and released them. “Sorry.”

He adjusted in his seat. “No need. I mean, if I liked a girl and I caught her making out with another guy in front of me. I’d be pissed too.”

I ground my molars. “I’m not pissed!” My voice was a lot louder than I intended, startling the people beside us. “And I don’t care.”

Ricardo nods, “Not pissed at all.”

I folded my arms, “Good. You know.”

When Josh passed me, I turned my head.

“Wow,” Ricardo said. “He’s actually sitting with her.”

I peek back to see Josh sitting beside Ahmend. He looked up, and I sat back down. “You lied.”

“Well, at least you’re not the only liar here.”

He pulls out a book and reads it. Ricardo may seem like a tough guy, but all he does is study, work out, and read. The only fight I’ve ever seen him in was with Josh. Other than that, I don’t ever see him do anything else.

Soon, the bus left the mountain and headed back to school.

I scratch my nose to feel the buzz on my phone for the hundredth time. I ignored it. I know I should listen to Josh’s explanation because if he does have a girlfriend, he would tell me. Even if he doesn’t like me, I’m still his best friend. But I want to be mad for a little while.

If we talk now, I may blow things out of proportion.

During the time of boredom, words accidentally slip from my lips. “Why are you so boring?” I gasp at my question. I didn’t know where that came from.

Ricardo looked up from the third book he read. He’s either a fast reader, or he’s faking it to ignore me. My body shuttered from his stares. “I’m...boring?”

I shook my head. “N-No.”

“You called me...boring.”

“N-N-No.” Please, don’t kill me.

He exhales and returns to his book. “Good.”

“Good?”

“I want to be boring.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Why?”

He exhales, “Mamma wants me to become a boring man.”

That’s some goal his mamma has. I chuckle anxiously, “Like an average salaried 9-5 office worker with a wife and two kids. Maybe, one dog and a picket white fence?” I joked.

His lip twerks upward slightly, “Yeah. That would be her ideal life goal for me.”

Somehow, the air feels lighter. “That’s some high goal. My parents only want me to graduate from high school.” Which seems impossible at this school.

“Seems like our parents have high expectations,” he mumbled.

The tip of my fingers plays against one another. “Because they care,” I said. I move my hair behind my ear. “My parents always tell me that it’s okay if I’m not the best as long as I’m the best version of myself.”

Then, the guilt came.

I know I’m not the best version of myself. Whenever I wake up, I always see the fat introverted girl staring back at me. No matter how much weight I lost, everything was still the same.

Nothing changed.

Even if no one is bothering me right now, I know it wasn’t me who made it happen. I wasn’t the one who changed my situation. I’m still the same weak girl who happened to lose some weight.

I cover my mouth.

I want to throw up.

“You okay?” Ricardo asks.

I swallow the sensation, “Yeah.”

Ricardo’s lips tighten as he stares at me. I blinked a few times and made circles around my stomach. “You shouldn’t do that.”

Everyone on the bus was laughing or talking with one another, distracted by whatever it is they’re conversing.

I turn towards him, “What?”

His body scrolls down and his already long limbs scrambled to find space. His eyes level with mine. “You shouldn’t purposely throw up.”

I know there’s a surprised look on my face. My body froze before my fingertips twirl around the loose thread on my shirt. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Ricardo exhales lightly, “Who would’ve expected. Someone who looks and behaves as innocent as you can lie so well.”

“Excuse me?”

“Wait. Innocent isn’t the right word. Stupid.” He glances at me. “You’re acting stupid.”

I suck in my lower lip, and my hands balled into fists. “What I do is none of your business,” I hissed right into his face.

It hasn’t happened for a while, and I nearly forgot about it. The frustrating and angry emotions Ricardo always manages to bring out from me.

“Is this what you always do?”

“Do what?”

“Push people who’re trying to help you away?”

“Oh,” I tilt my head. “You’re a therapist now?”

“You’re not denying it.”

I huffed a deep breath and turned my head. I wish I could ride with someone else, but I don’t know anyone else on the bus beside Ahmend. Everyone else was assigned to the other bus. Maybe I should’ve asked him and tolerate his sexual jokes.

“My mamma-” Ricardo’s voice was still low. When I looked at him, his eyes were closed. He had his arms crossed across his chest. “Whenever she’s stressed. She would also throw up.” With the mention of his mamma, Ricardo’s face softened. He seems to have a good relationship with her. “But, she doesn’t do it on purpose.”

I tug against my fingers, “I know you’re judging me.” I stared at the cushion in front of me. “Stop it...please.”

“Why would I?” When I looked at him, his eyes were entirely on me. “It’s normal to have problems. To feel stress. To dislike the situation, you’re placed in. One where you don’t feel like you’re good enough.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” The volumes inside the bus seemingly fade. I couldn’t hear anything except Ricardo’s voice. “You feel like you don’t belong here.”

I swallow the lump inside my throat. “And what makes you think that?”

“Because I also don’t belong here.”

“And where-” I exhale, “Where exactly do you belong?”

“Not here.”

“Where do you want to be?”

“Home.” Someone opens the window, and the cold air thrust into the bus. “I want to go home and hold my mamma.” His honesty got me taken aback. I would never expect someone like him to look so weak.

“Have anyone ever told you, you’re brutally honest?”

“Better to be brutally honest than a pitiful liar.”

It felt hard to breathe. I tried my best to hold back the tears. “That hurts.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to feel otherwise.”

His hot breath scattered across my face. My hands held firmly onto the jacket. It’s hot. “Please, don’t tell anyone.”

“Do I have the right to tell anyone?”

“What?”

“Do I have the right to tell anyone?” he repeats.

“You don’t.”

“Then, I won’t tell.”

A single tear drops down my cheek, “Promise?” I wiped it off.

“As long as you promise not to do that again.”

“Why would you care?” As far as I know, Ricardo and I rarely interact with each other. This, by far, is the most we’ve ever spoken.

“Because my mamma told me always to help someone who’s walking down the wrong path.”

“Your mamma sounds like a good person.”

He smiles, “She’s not.”

“What do you mean?”

“If she’s a good person, she wouldn’t have chosen to stay with my papa.”

It was weird. Having this type of intimate conversation with someone other than Josh. And I would never expect to have it with Ricardo Winston. “You’re...weird.” That’s all I could say.

“I could say the same about you, bionda.”

“Can you please stop?”

“Stop what?”

“Calling me bionda.” I search up the word. It doesn’t seem insulting unless he puts stupid in front of it.

“What? Afraid it will make Joshie Pooh uncomfortable?”

I look down at my feet and nod.

“If you didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable, then you wouldn’t have asked me to sit with you.” I tilt my head towards Ricardo. “You wouldn’t have purposely sat beside me at the resort. Nor would you have asked me to join you guys when we were in town.”

I ran my hair away from my face. “I didn’t want you to be alone.”

“I choose to be alone.”

“Why?”

“I notice you have a talent for diverting topics.” He smiles, “Don’t ever use that talent on me.”

I tuck my lips over my teeth. “I felt uncomfortable being the third wheel between Josh and Jasmine.”

“Why don’t you just say you don’t like that Jasmine girl.”

“Is it obvious?”

He sucks in a deep breath. “Yeah.” I stay quiet. “I don’t understand females. Why do the vast majority of you pretend to like someone you clearly can’t tolerate?”

“Jasmine is Josh’s friend.”

“Oh? I thought she was his girlfriend,” he teases. Ricardo straightens his back. “So what if she’s his friend. Does that mean you have to like her? Or are you afraid that he may choose her over you?”

I continue to stay quiet. There’s a part of me that believes that Josh may choose Jasmine. They have so much in common. They’re both smart, wealthy, athletic. And I’m the complete opposite. I know that if our parents never met, we would never interact. Even if we somehow still go to the same school, he would never look twice at me.

Ricardo places a hand on my head and pats it. “Don’t devalue yourself.”

I have low self-esteem, and I know it.

I couldn’t help it.

No matter what I do, these thoughts continuously rage in my mind.

How I’m not good enough.

The temperature inside my body increases. My head hurts. I shouldn’t have skipped breakfast. I rest my head against the cold window. My eyes feel heavy.

A bump in the road forced me to wake up. I groan slightly and look upward to see Ricardo’s sleeping face. When I lowered my head, I saw his jacket wrapped around the upper part of my body.

The worst thing?

Josh was standing in front of us.

Oh...no.

He stares at me, and I could only stare at him in return.

My eyes drop towards his hand. There was a pink bag of colorful candies. I look back towards him. Josh sucks in his cheeks and walks towards the back of the bus.

When the bus stopped in front of the restroom, Josh got up and went out with a few other people. I got up, “Excuse me.” I told Ricardo but didn’t wait for him to move his legs. I almost tripped, but I continued to move.

It’s cold outside.

I realized I forgot my jacket.

I only had a tank top and a sweater on top. With my hands over my arms, I bounced on my heels.

“Hayley!” Crystal jumps me. Her smiles disappeared. “Aren’t you cold?”

I smiled and stopped bouncing. The coldness resumed. “A little. But, I’m waiting for Josh.”

“Oh, well, do you want to go get some cocoa first?” I noticed that the food station was on the other side. If I got there and waited in line with Crystal, I may miss the chance to talk to Josh.

I shook my head, “No, it’s fine.”

“Okay, but don’t stay out here too long. My butt is about to freeze.” She shutters and rushes towards the other side.

The cold that seems mild at first now numbed my face. The heat from the bus was long gone, and I could bounce on my boots. I sneezed and covered my body again.

Ahmend left the restroom.

“Hey,” I said.

He looks at me, “Why the fuck are you doing out here? It’s so fucking cold. My balls are shrinking.”

“Is Josh in there?”

“Oh yeah. I think he’s washing his hands or something.”

I nod, “Thanks.”

“If I were you, I would go back to the bus. Fucking cold.”

I smile, “I need to talk to Josh about something.”

Ahmend nods and rushes back into the bus. Josh headed out of the restroom and threw the paper towel inside the trash can. He stopped when he saw me. His eyes scanned my body momentarily before he said: “What are you doing out here?”

I licked my dried lips, “I-I wanted to t-talk.”

Josh took off his coat and wrapped it around my body. Immediately, I could feel the heat. “Go back inside.”

I grab his arm, “A-About Ricardo. We...We-” I wanted to tell him that nothing was going on, and I fell asleep. But, somehow, the words wouldn’t come out. Why would I even bother explaining it to Josh?

It’s because I don’t want him to misunderstand.

Josh shrugged off his arm. His boots crunch against the snow when he turns back towards me. With each breath, more heat rose in puffs. Each gust of wind seemingly dissipated the heat into whiteness. “You don’t have to explain anything to me,” he said. “You could do whatever you want.” There wasn’t a speck of emotions on his face.

I reached for his hand, but he withdrew it.

“You mention before that you wanted independence, right?” Josh said, stepping further away from me. He gave me a tight smile, “Well, Hailey Vaughn. You got it.”

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