26. THE STORM
There’s a certain amount of tiredness that equates to insanity, I’m about to reach that limit. Tonight, I might have to take the sleeping pills that I have barely touched since they have been prescribed, otherwise, I will turn into a literal walking zombie. I have a quick and unpleasantly cold shower to wake me up and get ready for classes.
I slowly walk down the stairs hoping that Ace is still in his room. His door is shut, and I let out a small breath that I didn’t realise I was holding. I have no desire to talk to him today, my head can’t take the shit that comes out of his mouth. And yes, you could say I’m pissed about the situation that unravelled yesterday but it’s not any of my business. Ace can do whatever with whomever he pleases.
I open the front door and my eyes widen. I am face to face with Asher’s hand that was raised and about to knock.
“Hey! Umm...” Asher begins, looking a little nervous. “I was just thinking we can walk to campus together... and uhh I got you coffee,” he hands me the takeaway cup and flicks the small golden curl that obscured his vision. I bring the cup to my nose and inhale; the smell of coffee hits me and I’m on cloud nine. I think I enjoy smelling coffee more than drinking it.
“Caramel latte on almond,” Asher says proudly, and I’m surprised he even remembers after the cherry incident.
“Thank you, I needed this,” I tell him and stifle a yawn with the back of my hand.
“Are you still not sleeping?” he asks me, looking at the undereye bags that I tried to cover with a ridiculous amount of concealer, but it did little to help.
“Is it that noticeable?”
“No, no, you look beautiful,” he tells me, and I take a sip of my coffee unsure how to respond to the unwanted compliment. I’d rather him tell me I look like shit and make a joke out of it instead of lying.
We had only spoken briefly since he drove me to see my dad in the hospital. I figured it was because of Ace, but it seems like Asher is over it now as he is grinning from ear to ear. I wonder what got him in such a chirpy mood this morning.
I’m about to step out onto the porch but I notice the dark, angry clouds forming and it looks like it’s going to storm. I love the rain, especially storms, something about them is extremely soothing. “Hold on, I think I’ll get a jacket,” I say, turning around but stop in my tracks when Ace’s door opens.
The early morning sun hits his body in all the right places, accentuating his already tanned and toned figure. He runs a hand through his damp hair and lifts his gaze to meet mine.
I hold my breath.
My heart accelerates and... nope. Not today.
“Actually, don’t worry, let’s go,” I tell Asher, quickly turning back around and almost bumping into him.
“Huh? What about your jacket?” he asks me, not noticing Ace and blocking the doorway.
“Don’t need it, let’s go. Now.” I tell him and push him towards the porch with one hand, holding my coffee with the other. I close the door behind us but not before I notice the way Ace’s eyes dart from me to Asher and then back to me. His expression shifts immediately and his whole body tenses.
Asher walks me to my class and tells me about some camping trip that apparently the whole college is going to for Halloween. I think he’s overexaggerating, but I told him I’ll think about it.
We stop by the door of my lecture room, “You know I’m always here for you, whatever you need,” Asher tells me.
“Yeah, of cour—”
I don’t even have to turn my head to know who that voice belongs to.
“Dude, I’m not even in the way,” Asher argues.
Asher is right, we’re not in the way but I stand further to the side, pulling Asher with me. I don’t have the energy to deal with Ace today.
“What’s his problem?” Asher asks me when Ace walks into the room with looks that could kill.
I shrug my shoulders and tell him I have to go. Asher surprises me by wrapping his hands around my waist and pulling me into a hug. I quickly return it, patting him on the shoulder so he gets the message to let go.
Theo isn’t in class today, so I don’t have to sit anywhere near Ace. I choose the furthest spot away from him, at the back. But just as I thought, it would be no use because Ace makes his way next to me.
“Calla,” he says, sitting down and facing me.
I ignore him and keep my eyes on the professor, but I can’t seem to concentrate on anything that he is saying.
Ace pokes my arm lightly with the tip of his pen and trails it along my skin, leaving goosebumps as if he had touched me himself. I snatch the pen with my other hand and place it too forcefully on his desk.
“For fucks sake, Calla!”
“What!?” I hiss, still not meeting his gaze.
“What was that?”
“You and Asher? Don’t you think he’s a little too comfortable with you?”
I glare at him, trying to figure out if he’s joking but his jaw tenses in annoyance, “You are such a hypocrite!” I scoff.
“You’re mad at me.”
I roll my eyes, at least he’s figured that out.
“You missed me? Is that why you’re mad?” he smirks. Is he trying to piss me off even more because it’s working. I bite the inside of my cheek and count to ten before replying.
“You have to be the most egotistical creature I have ever met.”
“Egotistical creature?” he laughs, leaning back in his seat and placing his hands behind his head. The low sound echoes through the entire room and some students turn around in their seats, looking back at us, “Is that an insult?”
The professor’s head snaps up to us, “Mr Blackwell and Miss Maven, I see you two have a lot to say about each other. How about you share some things that you learnt about each other with the class?”
I shoot Ace an annoyed look, “Well, my partner is an arrogant asshole with an ego bigger than his head but I already knew that from the start,” I mutter under my breath, loud enough for some students to hear but not the professor.
“Sorry, could you speak up, Miss Maven?”
Ace raises an eyebrow and smirks in a challenging manner. If it was any other day, I would have apologised to the professor and put my head down but today I am already irritated, and Ace is not making my day easy.
I smile at him sweetly before clearing my throat, “Ace has multiple personalities and I still don’t know if it’s an actual issue or just him being a conceited hypocrite.”
I look over to him and he’s grinning, so I continue, “He almost always contradicts himself and if I didn’t know any better, I would say that it’s on purpose. And I still haven’t discovered any of his secrets that he is adamant on keeping because he thinks he needs to suffer for his past.”
Ace’s grin is wiped off his face and now he’s gripping his pen so hard that it looks like it’s going to snap.
I catch my breath before continuing, “He doesn’t let new people in and the only time he is himself is when he’s telling you how bad of a person he is and when you finally think you’re making some progress he puts on an even bigger shield.”
“But don’t we all put on a front?” Ace asks me.
“To some degree, yes, but –”
“And wouldn’t you say that you’re not all that you’re making out to be?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I cross my arms and narrow my eyes at him.
“Well, look at you. You’re trying so hard to blame yourself for something that wasn’t even your fault and in the process of doing that, you have changed who you really are.”
Ace has no idea what he is talking about and I can’t believe we’re having this conversation in the middle of class, “You don’t even know who I am.”
He cocks an eyebrow, “I know that you’re not the person that you make everyone believe you are. You’re not ignorant, antisocial or even shy for that matter and you always have something to say. But no one here, in their right mind, would have guessed that you were the cheer captain in high school and also the hmm...what do they call them? The Queen Bee?”
My eyes widen, not because it’s not the truth but because I don’t remember telling Ace any of this.
“In fact, now, you’d rather keep your mouth shut and have people assume things about you than to have them know the truth and feel sorry for you.”
There’s silence and everyone is looking at us. I want the ground to swallow me up.
I’m grateful when the professor finally speaks, “Please keep the rest for your paper and don’t interrupt my class again Miss Maven and Mr Blackwell.”
I sink lower in my seat and wait until everyone goes back to taking notes, “How did you know all that about me? I never told you.”
“I didn’t but it’s not hard to guess. Asher wouldn’t have even looked at you twice if you weren’t all those things, all he cares about is his image.”
“You may think you somehow figured me out, but you don’t know anything about Asher,” I tell him not even knowing why I am defending him. Everything Ace has said is the truth, but I don’t want to admit it, neither to myself nor him.
Ace shrugs and doesn’t say anything for the next twenty minutes. I can’t stop replaying what he said. I’m not trying to blame myself for anything because everything is my fault.
“I’m sorry,” Ace finally says quietly. “For not calling you.”
“Is that all you’re sorry for?”
“I’m not going to apologise for saying the truth,” he says nonchalantly but that’s not at all what I meant.
“How was your night last night?” I prompt, hoping he would understand that I know about him and Lexi and leave me alone.
He raises his eyebrows, “My night?”
“Mmm, did you have...fun?” I ask, looking straight ahead.
He considers his answer for a moment, “If by fun you mean getting thrown around and sweating up a storm then I guess so,” he winks at me.
I stare at him in disgust. I wasn’t expecting for him to tell me what dirty things he’s into. I know he’s an asshole, but I didn’t think he would go down to this level.
I pick up my stuff and walk out of the lecture room without saying anything. I mouth a quick ‘sorry’ to the professor who is glaring at me on my way out. I bet he will deduct marks from me for this show that is the result of Ace’s behaviour.
A pounding begins to build in my head, I can’t deal with this today. I rub my temple, trying to rid the feeling.
I hear footsteps behind me, knowing that it’s him and I walk faster.
“Calla! What did I say?”
I want to punch him. I have never been a violent person, but I guess Ace just brings out the worst in me, that’s why I need to stay away from him.
“Ace, I’m not going to play these games with you,” I tell him when he almost catches up to me.
I continue walking, needing to get away from him, needing fresh air and a clear head. I open the door to walk outside and it’s raining. Of course it fucking is. I’m stubborn so the option to turn around and face Ace is not an option at all.
I place one foot in front of the other until I feel the coldness of the raindrops running down my heated body. The calmness that I usually feel when it rains is masked by my sudden urge to cry and I blame all these emotions on my period which came a few days ago.
Ace grabs my hand, twirling me around to face him and pushing me up against a building so we are both away from the rain.
He doesn’t give up, does he?
His body is almost pressed up against mine and I focus on my breathing because being around him does something to my lungs.
“What the fuck are you talking about? I’m not playing games, not with you,” his voice is filled with anger, but his eyes are soft and piercing into me.
“Then what are you doing?”
“Calla, I fucking like you, isn’t it obvious?” he tells me and goes to take my hand, but I cross my arms in front of my chest. If he had told me this before yesterday, my head would be spinning from his words, but I know it’s nothing but a joke to him.
“Like you like Lexi?
“No... why do you keep bringing her up?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Would you rather me act oblivious to the fact that I saw her walking out of your room last night? I’m sure that would solve all your problems.”
His eyebrows furrow in confusion and I swear he’s too good at this. A smile suddenly grows on his face, “Is that why you’re angry?”
He thinks this is funny, I snicker and try to push him away from me. But his hand grips my waist and he brings his face closer to mine. I try to ignore the fact that my heart is fluttering like the wings of a hummingbird.
“Calla, I didn’t come home till late last night. I was at the club training. Did you even see if my bike was there before jumping to fucking conclusions?”
My mind tries to recollect memories from last night and now that he mentioned it, I don’t remember seeing his bike there when I came home. Shit. I feel my cheeks heating up in embarrassment.
“If you don’t believe me, we can go straight to Dean if you like...I was with him since I left the café.”
I try to figure out who Dean is... oh, the school chancellor and the guy who runs the illegal fighting club, like that’s a reliable source.
I look up at Ace and his expression is filled with sincerity. I don’t know how, but I know he’s telling the truth.
“I have no fucking idea what she was doing in my room. Fuck! She has a key to the house; I’ll sort it out. It won’t happen again.”
He’s looking at me, waiting for me to say something and I need to make something very clear to him, “Just so you know, I’m not a second option.”
“I’m not even an option, Ace. It’s just me or –”
He doesn’t let me finish and presses his soft lips to mine. I didn’t realise how much I missed his mouth and the things it makes me feel. I really hope I’m not making an idiot out of myself by trusting him.
He pulls away for a second, “Just you,” he promises, running his fingers down my cheekbone, leaving a burning sensation that makes me crave more. More of him.