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For the rest of the week, I was on edge. Between sitting exams and thinking about the scarred man, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
Lazarus tried to distract me at school, insisting I needed a break. I thought revising would keep my mind off him. I could tell he was worried as well but he hid it better than I did.
He pulled me away on Wednesday and told me, Leah, Dexter, and Marianne were out searching the town and the woods every day, hoping to find him. However, they couldn’t even pick up his scent. That was even more alarming. It meant none of them could know if he was close by.
Somehow, he could evade their senses.
I had already completed five exams. I only had a few more to do the following week and then I could rest. We were nearing the end of school already; the summer holidays were upon us.
Late Saturday night, I found myself at the library with the gang. Georgia thought we could revise for our English exam better together. Jamie was also present. It was the first time we hung out together properly since I rejected him. He seemed so much happier now. He was smitten with Sammy.
“Why do we have to learn about all of this? It’s so pointless,” Georgia groaned, rubbing her eyes tiredly. We had been testing each other for the past hour. I was surprised I could remember as much as I did.
“Because everyone thinks we’ll need to know it one day,” Ellie answered, leaning back in her chair.
I rolled my shoulders, hoping to relieve the tension in the upper part of my body. I had no such luck.
“So, what are the important themes in Macbeth?” I asked the group, scanning the page in my notebook quickly. I could faintly remember learning this. We studied Shakespeare at the beginning of the year.
“Uh—love?” Ellie guessed whilst the others shrugged their shoulders.
“Close,” I replied, “Think more broadly.”
They all seemed to be in their own worlds. None of them could focus on the answer. Even I was struggling.
“Matt? Jamie?” I directed it to them. Matt jolted in his sleep, coming out of his thoughts. Jamie pursed his lips, pushing his mind to recall it.
I sighed, “So, the three main themes are ambition, loyalty, and guilt.”
They all nodded their heads, tiredly.
“Okay, what’s wrong with you guys?” I questioned all of them, arching an eyebrow. They weren’t acting like themselves.
“I don’t know, I think the exams are just really getting to me,” Ellie was the first to answer, dragging a hand through her messy blonde hair. There were bags under everyone’s eyes.
Whilst they hated the idea of studying, I enjoyed it when it took my mind off something. It was one of the few things keeping me sane right now.
“I think we should do something when school ends.” Georgia blurted out, drawing the attention to her.
Matt cocked his head to the side, “What were you thinking?”
“Well, my parents recently bought a lake house in Pennsylvania. We could go there for the week.” She suggested, her hazel eyes brightening at the idea.
I liked the sound of it. Pennsylvania was far away. There was no way the scarred man could find me there. Plus, it gave me something to look forward to.
We hadn’t been away anywhere as a group for a long period of time.
“It would have to be the first week in July because my family is taking me to Europe, of course. And I know the rest of you have holidays in August.” She added.
Their families liked to take them away from Stowe as much as possible. Every summer, they all traveled around the world, leaving me alone. Usually, I would get a summer job at a diner or something. I wondered if Lazarus would be staying at Leah’s once school ended. Or would he go back to the kingdom?
I tried not to think about that right now.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Ellie chirped, springing up in her seat.
Murmurs of agreement came from the rest of us.
“We could go as soon as school ends and come back on the following Saturday? It gives us more time together,” Jamie inputted, darting his eyes to all of us.
“Can I invite Wilder?” Ellie asked Georgia.
“Of course,” Georgia replied. “You can invite Lazarus and Sammy too. Actually, open the invite to Marianne and Dexter as well. I bet they’d be down for a week of drinking.”
I had a feeling she might be right. They seemed too stressed all of the time. They needed to let loose too.
I was glad Lazarus could come. It would make me happier.
“Is there enough room for everyone?” Matt queried, hesitantly.
“Oh, yeah, there’s plenty of room. Ellie and Wilder can share, so can Celeste and Lazarus and Jamie and Sammy. If you want, we can share too, Matt.” I was surprised Georgia suggested that. But then again, it wasn’t like they hadn’t shared a bed before.
“I’m so excited about this! Wilder can drive us in his dad’s van, I’m sure he won’t mind. I’m sure Lazarus can drive the others as well.” Ellie started blabbering, quickly.
“We can plan the logistics later,” Georgia interrupted her, calmly. “I’ll have to ask my parents but they won’t object.”
“Well, I’m down,” Jamie and Matt said at the same time and fist-bumped. Boys.
“So am I,” I told her.
“You can count me in,” Ellie smiled, enthusiastically.
“That’s settled then. We’ll go there in two weeks’ time,” Georgia declared with finality.
The corners of my lips quirked upwards. For the first time in a few weeks, I had something to look forward to. I’d have to ask Officer Martinez and my mom to make sure they were okay with it but with reassurance, they would be. After all, there was no way he could follow us down without us noticing. He wouldn’t know where we were either.
When I got home, I was met with an awful surprise.
My mother was on the couch with none other than her boyfriend. His light brown eyes settled on me with unease. He was worried about how I would react.
Mom leaped to her feet instantly and smoothed her tidy hair. A faint blush tinged her pale cheeks.
“Honey, I didn’t realize you would be home so early,” She said, casually. Her boyfriend—whose name I still didn’t know—remained sat on the couch. I thought he might be too scared to make any move and draw my attention to him.
“We finished early,” Was my cold response.
I couldn’t help but hate the current predicament I was in. I had not accepted this man yet—I didn’t know if I could.
Having him in my home was unsettling.
“I invited Simon to tea. I thought you would have tea out with your friends,” She explained, biting her lip nervously.
“Oh,” I blinked. Did I have to eat tea with him? “I’ll just go upstairs then.”
“No, don’t do that sweetie,” She protested, desperately. An idea popped into her head because her blue eyes flashed. “Why don’t you eat with us? You can get to know Simon more.”
I sucked in a breath and glanced at the man. He was a completely ordinary man who was probably nice but I didn’t want anything to do with him. I didn’t want to give him the impression he could step into my father’s place. That would never happen.
“It will be good for you—for us,” She cut in, narrowing her eyes.
I wanted to scream I didn’t want anything to do with him but that would only make me look childish.
“I have a lot of studying to do mom. I don’t have time,” I pressed, refusing to back down.
Neither of us wanted to say what we really wanted to, not in front of him. Mom didn’t want to upset him and I didn’t want to look like a baby.
“You can make time, sweetie,” She retorted in a sweet voice.
Simon—as I came to learn his name—stood up and finally contributed to this. “Fran, I think we should leave Celeste alone.”
I nearly reared back. Did I hear him right? Did this man who was ruining my small family just defend me? Why on earth would he do that? Maybe he didn’t want anything to do with me? Or perhaps he wanted to get on my good side.
He took a peek at me, hoping he made the right move.
So, he wanted to get on my good side. Fat chance!
“Simon, I want Celeste to get to know you more. She will eat with us.” Mom dragged her pointed gaze to me. “And that’s the end of it.”
I had lost.
Defeated and embarrassed, I went into the kitchen and had a glass of water. Mom came out a few seconds later.
“I’m sorry I’m making you do this, Celeste but you can’t avoid it forever. Simon has been dying to meet you properly for a while now. Please, for my sake if nothing else, make an effort.” She implored, staring directly into my eyes.
I placed my cup on the counter, “I don’t want to get to know him though. I don’t want him to think I want him in my life.”
She released a long breath, starting to get fed up with my position in this.
“Celeste, this man makes me so happy. After your father died, I never thought I could find love again yet I did. I always used to think when you’re off to college, I’m going to be alone, with nobody. But I have Simon now and I don’t want to lose him.” She revealed. Her eyes began to tear up. I realized I had never thought of that. I would eventually leave home and she would have nobody in this big house. “Please just be civil.”
I knew I had to suck it up and be on my best behavior for a little while. “Fine, I’ll sit with you for an hour.”
Mom smiled triumphantly and embraced me.
When I entered the lounge again, Simon was drinking his wine. At the sound of my arrival, he straightened his posture and smiled at me awkwardly. I attempted to lift my lips into a smile but I’m sure it turned out more like a grimace.
“So, Celeste, your mother says you are taking your exams. How are they going?” He asked me, politely.
I darted my eyes at my mother and when her gaze hardened, I knew I needed to answer without any spite.
“They’re going okay, I guess,” I told him, sitting on the edge of the couch uncomfortably.
He nodded his head. “That’s good. You still have one year left, right?”
We made small talk until tea was ready. I jumped to my feet when mom announced it and rushed to the dining table. Simon sat at the head of the table, to my annoyance.
Mom served the food proudly. It was rare for her to cook something so big.
“Dig in guys,” She smiled graciously. I started eating it, enjoying the taste. It was better than I thought it would be. She had been practicing.
“It’s lovely, Fran,” Simon complimented her, honestly. I hated the look of love that shone in his eyes.
She placed her hand over his, gently. “Thanks, dear.”
They were acting as if they were a married couple who had been doing this for years. It made unwanted feelings arise once again.
“So, did you do anything else when you were out today?” Mom queried.
I stopped chewing on my food and slowly swallowed the mouthful of food. I might as well bring it up now. “Um...Georgia invited us to her lake house in two weeks’ time.”
Mom came to a halt. “What?”
“The Stem family recently bought a house by a lake in Pennsylvania. Georgia invited us there for a week.”
Mom’s face twisted—a protective look overcame her. I knew she was going to object. The look in her eyes told me she wasn’t going to let me go. We were in for an argument.
“Celeste, going there now is not a good idea,” She began, treading carefully. “With that crazy man on the loose, it would be too dangerous. I want you to stay somewhere where you know the environment and the people.”
I huffed, “I will be perfectly safe. I’ll have the gang and Lazarus and—”
“I’m sorry, Lazarus? What good is that teenage boy going to do?” She snorted, placing her fork on the plate loudly.
If only I could tell her Lazarus could do more than any cop...
Simon watched our interaction uneasily. He felt extremely uncomfortable.
“If you want, I can ask if Marco comes. Georgia says they have plenty of rooms there,” I reasoned, hoping it would ease her mind.
She loosened a breath, “Officer Martinez is nice and all but I don’t trust him to look after you if anything goes wrong.”
I wanted to yell at her.
“Please mom, this gives me something to look forward to. Don’t you think I should have a moment of peace and live like a normal seventeen-year-old?” I begged her.
Sympathy marred her face. “What’s happening to you is unfair and I would never wish it on anyone else but that’s beside the point. What’s most important to me is your safety. That man can find you anywhere. He could see this as a perfect opportunity to take you.”
“For f*ck’s sake! I just need to get out of this wretched town!” I screamed, rising to my feet. “I’m being suffocated! I can’t f*cking breathe. I need to get out of here for a little while and feel normal. Just let me have this week, please. I will do whatever you want as long as you let me.”
She appeared startled.
Surprisingly, the next person to speak was Simon.
“Fran, I think you should let her go,” He mumbled, risking a glance at me.
I refrained myself from saying anything and stared at him in shock.
She pursed her lips, “Why are you on her side? Don’t you see how this is a bad idea?” She questioned her boyfriend.
“I know things are...complicated right now but I think she should have the opportunity to see her friends,” He defended himself. “You can set rules.”
She hesitated, pondering if it could work. I thought it could. If it meant I could go then I would follow her rules.
Her piercing blue eyes met mine. The inner turmoil was obvious. “If you go, then Officer Martinez would need to agree.”
I knew Marco would.
“Of course,” I nodded my head. Joy washed over me. I needed this—I really did. Now that mom had basically agreed, I felt happier. The atmosphere was less tense. I even asked Simon a few questions. He seemed pleased.
After tea, I went to my room and messaged the others, saying mom agreed. I only had to tell Marco.
They all replied with happy emojis.
Brilliant! Remember to let Lazarus his two friends know they can come too! Georgia messaged me separately. I was glad Georgia invited him—I wouldn’t feel the same without him.
Thanks for doing this Georgia...I need this. I replied to her message.
Hello! I hope you enjoyed this chapter. What do you think of the trip? Do you think it's a good idea?? My next update will be this Thursday.
If you haven't already, head over to my Instagram page and find out what those two announcements were about. You won't be disappointed.