The Wanderers

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chapter 10

When I got back to my room I collapsed on the bed and glanced over at my alarm clock. It was one pm here so that meant it was eleven am back home. I pulled out my phone and scroll through my contacts. My thumb hovered over Home. I hadn’t talked to my mom since I got here and that was over a month ago. She was probably freaking out by now.

Letting out a breath, I hit call. “McCallister residence,” Danni answered.

“Hey, Danni.”

“Ella, how are you?”

“I’m good.”

“Oh no, what happened?” Danni knew me better than anyone and could always tell when something was wrong just by the sound of my voice.

“I don’t want to get into it now, but I promise it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“Okay, well you know I’m always here when you need to talk.”

“I know Danni, thanks. Is my mom there?”

“Actually no, she’s at a meeting.”

“Okay thanks, Danni,” I said a little disappointed.

“Do you want me to tell her you called?” she asked.

“No, I’ll try and reach her later.”

“Okay, you take care now.”

“I will. Tell Hadley I said hello and give her a big kiss for me.” We said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone and lay back on my bed. I closed my eyes hoping I’d fall asleep, wishing that when I woke, this would all had been just a bad dream.

I had no such luck. I tossed and turned for an hour until I finally gave up.

Josie strolled through the door not saying a word. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. She went straight to the mini fridge, dumped some ice into a bag, and tossed it at me. “You should put that on your face,” she said.

I picked up the bag and watched as she made one for herself. “Does this mean you’re not mad at me?” I asked softly.

“Oh no, I’m mad at you, but not because of the fight.”

“Then what?”

“Because you gave me a black eye,” she said, pointing to the small bruise below her left eye.

“Josie that was an accident.”

“I know but it still hurt,” she replied, sitting next to me on the bed.

“I really am sorry,” I said, laying my head on her shoulder.

“I know you are but that still doesn’t mean I’m not going to milk this for everything it’s worth,” she said, making me laugh. “What the hell happened, anyway?”

“Ugh!” I groaned, throwing myself back on my bed. “It was stupid and totally not my fault.”

“Uh-huh,” Josie said, moving to her bed.

“What? It wasn’t. She started it,” I declared.

“And you didn’t say anything to provoke her?” She tilted her head to the side.

“She pushed me first,” I said defensively.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” she laughed.

“Whatever.”

“I’m pretty sure she deserved it. A lot of people don’t like her. I think the sisters only tolerate her because they have to. She can be a real bitch,” Josie confessed.

“Tell me about it.”

“Hey, I have a surprise for you,” she said, getting up and heading out into the hall. She returned with a TV on a roller cart. “I bribed one of the A.V. guys into letting me borrow this for the night. I thought maybe we could have a Glee marathon,” she said, popping one of the DVDs into the DVD player.

“Sounds perfect.”

“I’ll ask Peter across the hall if we can use his microwave to make some popcorn.” Josie returned shortly, with a giant bowl of freshly popped popcorn and plopped down on the bed next to me. I readjusted myself and the ice pack before pressing play on the DVD player.

We spent the next four hours watching our favorite episodes of Glee. By six, Josie and I were hungry again so she ordered us a pizza. We sat and ate while she told me all about the date she had on Saturday. She said this one might be a keeper, which just meant it would last a month instead of a week.

I looked at the clock. It was close to nine. My guess was Tristan was still mad at me and changed his mind about helping me with my painting. I sighed, thinking, I wish I could have handled the confrontation with Skylar better.

“What’s wrong?” Josie asked noticing my sullen mood.

“It’s nothing,” I said picking at my nails.

“It’s not nothing. You’ve been staring at that clock for the past two hours. Did you have other plans tonight?”

“No. Not really.”

“What is it, Ella? You know you can tell me anything.” She knew I was lying. Josie could always tell when I was lying.

“I know it’s just...” There was an unexpected knock at the door. I gave Josie a questioning look. She just shrugged her shoulders. I got up to answer it.

I was surprised to find Tristan standing on the other side of the door.

“You ready?” he asked. I bit the inside of my cheek, unsure. “To finish your painting.”

“Oh...um...” I glanced at Josie. She waved me off. “Okay, just let me grab my coat,” I said going over to the closet. After slipping my arms through my jacket, I closed the door behind me. “Since when do you knock?”

“I thought I’d try being polite.” He gave me a soft smile.

A simple, “Oh,” was all I managed.

“And I thought you were mad at me.” He kept his face forward.

I stopped. “Me? Why would I be mad at you?” He shrugged his shoulders. “I thought you were mad at me,” I confessed.

“No, I was mad at Skylar for the way she acted.”

“Are...you two...together?” I asked even though I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know the answer.

“No.” We started walking again.

“Were you?” I pressed wanting to know more.

His shoulders dropped as he let out a sigh. “Skylar and I...we just kind of hung out.”

“You mean you played cowboys and Indians?” I teased. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, giving me the faintest smile.

“She was more of a cops and robbers type girl.”

“Please, spare me the details,” I begged, not wanting to hear the orientation of his so called intimacies with Skylar.

His lips quirked up at the corners and he shifted closer to me. His hand brushed mine and I instantly pulled away, sticking my hands in my pockets, afraid of how his touch would affect me.

We didn’t speak the rest of the way to the Art studio and when we arrived the professor was still there. “Good evening Ella, Tristan,” she said, looking at her watch. “I expected you two an hour ago.”

“Sorry, I got caught up with something,” Tristan explained. The professor just pushed up her glasses and went back to her paperwork.

Tristan took my coat and hung it up while I grabbed our supplies. We immediately went to work. Tristan explained to me everything he felt I was doing wrong and showed me how to correct it. I listened carefully to each suggestion. When he thought I got it, he let me try it on my own. “You know Tristan, for someone with your precision, skill, and knowledge, you would make a great teacher,” the professor praised. “It would be a shame to not put those talents to good use.”

“That’s just because I have a good student,” he said, smiling at me. “I find my talents are better used for party planning.”

The professor just shook her head and walked back to her desk. “I’m heading home for the night. Feel free to stay as late as you need. Just remember to please lock up when you’re done.”

“Thank you professor,” I replied as she left.

Tristan worked on a new painting while I finished mine. An hour later, it was complete. “Done,” I said proudly.

Tristan put his paintbrush down so he could inspect it. Standing, he examined it while he rubbed his chin with his paint stained hand, face serious. I got impatient after a few minutes of him not saying anything. “Tristan!”

He laughed. “It’s good, but it’s missing something,” he said, tapping his finger on his chin.

“What?” I asked, looking at my painting and wondering where he was going with this.

He picked up my paintbrush. “It needs a little something right, here.” He turned to face me and painted a blue line down my nose. He smiled, thinking he was slick.

I decided to play along.

“You know what, I think you’re right. It needs a little more red.” I picked up a paintbrush and drew a big squiggly line across Tristan’s face. Placing the brush down, I tried not to laugh.

“I think you could use some green,” he said, painting both sides of my cheeks.

Taking a breath, I picked up the yellow. “I think it needs a touch of yellow yet.” I grabbed a bigger brush and slapped two big lines on his shirt.

“Okay, now you’ve done it,” he said, moving away. Not able to hold it in anymore, I started to crack up laughing. “Oh, you think that’s funny do you?” He picked up the yellow paint. “I think you’re in need of some hi-lights.”

“Don’t you dare,” I warned, getting up from my seat and grabbing the nearest bottle of paint.

He crept closer and with each step he took toward me, I took one back. “Tristan, I’m warning you. You try it and I will dump this whole bottle on you,” I threatened.

“No you won’t. You don’t have the guts,” he taunted.

“Really,” I said with a big smile on my face. He lifted his foot and I didn’t hesitate as I tossed the entire contents of the bottle on him.

He stood there, arms held out by his sides, shocked.

I covered my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Blue paint covered him from the neck down. “That’s it.” He came after me.

“No,” I squealed and tried to run in the opposite direction, but he caught me and dumped yellow paint all over my head. I reached for the next closest color and fired away. It turned into an all-out war.

We were chasing each other around the room with different colored paints trying to dowse one another. He got a hold of my arm and tried to dump more paint on me, but we both slipped and crashed to the floor, laughing hysterically.

He laid flat on his back. “Okay, I give up,” he said.

“Truce,” I said, extending my hand and offering to help him up.

“Truce,” he accepted.

I looked around the now paint covered room. “We have a big mess to clean up.” I turned back to Tristan. He was resting with his arms on his knees, closer to me than he was before.

“What?” I asked, feeling uncomfortable under his stare.

Reaching up with his hand, he gently brushed his thumb across my cheek. His eyes met mine as he inched his way closer. I closed my eyes and held my breath. I could feel the slow exhale of his breath on my lips. I moved closer, allowing his lips to graze mine.

“Ella!” I sunk down on my heels. Tristan dropped his hand and turned away from me. “Ella, hey...um...what happened?” Jack asked, looking at us covered head to toe in paint.

“We had a disagreement on colors,” I said, giving Tristan a coy smile which he returned while helping me up. “What’s up, Jack?”

“I stopped by your room to see if you were okay and Josie said you were here. I thought it was kind of late to be here all by yourself so I came to check on you and make sure you get back safely.”

“Thanks Jack, I appreciate your concern. As you can see Tristan’s here with me and I’m sure he’ll make sure I get back safely.”

“Yeah, I’m here. And I’m perfectly capable of keeping her safe,” Tristan said defensively.

“Really, where were you earlier today? When she had to defend herself against Skylar,” Jack spat back.

“Where were you?” Tristan growled, puffing up his chest.

“Stop,” I yelled, looking between the both of them. The sudden increase of testosterone in the room was making me anxious. I turned to Jack. “Jack, thank you for your concern, but I’ll be fine. I’ll see you back at the dorms, okay?”

He paused, unsure if he really wanted to leave me alone with Tristan. I begged him with my eyes to leave. He nodded, understanding, but made sure he gave Tristan one more foul look before he left. “What’s his problem?” Tristan asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted honestly. “Let’s just clean this up and go.”

We spent the next hour cleaning up the Art room in silence. Neither of us knew what to say. Tristan had almost kissed me and if Jack hadn’t of walked in I would have let him. Now that ‘what if’ was lingering in the air as if we were on a bad first date. There were so many things I wanted to say, but couldn’t figure out how to form the words.

When we were finished, Tristan handed me my coat and locked up. “I guess I’m going to have to get a new jacket now since this one is covered in paint,” I joked, trying to break some of the tension. Tristan didn’t respond. He just walked quietly beside me. I wondered why he suddenly had a sour attitude. Was it because of Jack? Or was it because he felt I was leading him on with no intention of ever being with him?

I tilted my head slightly to peek at his face. He wouldn’t even look at me. He just kept that same stone face as we walked down the hall. When we got outside, the campus was crawling with cop cars and ambulances everywhere. “Oh my God, what happened?” I asked.

“I don’t know. There’s Josie, let’s go ask her,” he said, pulling me along.

“Josie!” I called out to her.

She came running over to us. “Ella, oh God, it’s so horrible,” Josie cried.

“Josie, what happened?”

She opened her mouth to speak, but then took one look at Tristan and I covered in paint. “What the hell happened to you two?”

“Never mind that, what’s going on?”

“Oh right,” she said, trying to refocus. “It’s Skylar, they found her body.”

“What?” I gasped.

“Oh Ella, it’s so horrible. They found her tied to a tree, stripped down to her underwear with the words slut and bitch carved into her.”

“Is she?” Josie shook her head choking on a sob. I felt Tristan’s hand graze mine. This time I didn’t pull away. I let him twist his fingers in mine for a silent comfort.

“They’re calling an emergency meeting at the sorority house. We have to be there in an hour.”

“You should go, get cleaned up. I’m going to see if I can find out more information,” Tristan said. I eyed him warily. “Go, I’ll see you at the house later.” Tristan dropped my hand and I felt like a piece of me was ripped away. I watched him walk off and get lost in the swarm of police.

“Come on, we should hurry,” Josie said, taking my hand.

When we got back to the dorm I quickly hopped in the shower and scrubbed all the paint off of me. Most of it came off easily, except for the paint in my hair. I had to wash it three times to make sure I got it all. I threw on anything I could find and then remembered the inside of my coat was covered in paint. I grabbed a hooded sweatshirt instead. That was the best I could do for now. I threw my wet hair into a messy bun on top of my head as Josie and I rushed out the door.

“Ella,” Jack stopped me.

“Jack, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now.”

“I just wanted to apologize for earlier,” Jack said.

“Ella, we have to go,” Josie pushed.

“Jack, it’s fine. We’ll talk about it later, but I really have to go.”

“Skylar, I heard. It’s so horrible what he did,” he said, bowing his head.

I stopped. “He? You know who it was?”

“No. I just assumed it was a guy. Someone who really hated her, maybe an ex-boyfriend?” he said suggestively.

“What are you implying, Jack?”

“I just think whoever this was had to be a heartless monster. The way they mutilated her body with those words slut and bitch. Sounds personal to me. I heard the cops say they wanted to question Tristan.”

“What for?” I asked angrily.

“They say the last time she was seen was when she was arguing with him.”

Instinct told me to bite my tongue.

“Ella, we have to go now!” Josie yelled, pulling me away.

I was so appalled by Jack’s accusations that I just let Josie pull me to the car. I couldn’t believe what Jack was implying, that he would believe Tristan was even capable of such a horrific thing. I wiped the thought from my mind. Jack was probably just acting out of jealousy. Of course the cops would want to talk to Tristan, they were...I don’t know what you would call them but they were close and...

“Shit!”

“What is it?” Josie asked as she buckled her seatbelt.

“Me.”

“Huh?” she said confused.

“The cops are going to want to talk to me,” I said, anxiously gripping the door handle.

“Of course they are, Ella. They’re going to want to talk to all of us.” She adjusted the shoulder strap.

“No Josie, the fight,” I bit my nails nervously. “What if I’m a suspect?”

“Oh don’t be silly Ella, there’s no...” she turned in her seat. “Your dad used to be a lawyer, right?”

“Thanks, that’s not helping.”

“You have nothing to worry about. Really Ella, it’s fine.” She squeezed my knee and smiled at me reassuringly.

Walking into the sorority house felt like entering a funeral home. Girls were consoling each other and handing out boxes of tissues. The fraternity brothers were spread out amongst the house. Their expressions ranging from sadness to pity and anger.

Josie and I were some of the last to arrive, so we stood in the back. Cadence took her position up front with the president of the fraternity. “This is a very sad and tragic event. One of our fellow sisters has been brutally murdered, mutilated, and hung on display for all to see...”

A familiar hand slipped into mine. I looked up to see Tristan standing next to me; stripped clean of all evidence from earlier. He gave me a small smile and I squeezed his hand back gently for comfort.

“Rest assured, we will find the person who did this,” Cadence bellowed, rousing the brothers.

Bailey spun around and got in my face. “You did this!” she screamed, pointing at me. I instantly dropped Tristan’s hand. “You did this. This is all your fault!”

I stepped back, stunned at her accusation.

“Please, she did us all a favor,” Cassidy said, causing a sudden outburst amongst the crowd. Chaos started and Cadence tried to calm everyone down but had no such luck. To make matters worse, the cops had arrived. They walked right through the door and straight to me.

I froze, panicked. Josie grabbed my hand and pulled me back slightly. “Ella, don’t worry. I’ll call your dad and this will all be over before you know it,” she whispered.

“Tristan McKinnon?” An officer addressed. His eyes darted around the room looking for the person in question.

Tristan stepped forward, turning himself over. “That’s me.”

The officer gripped his arm and flipped it behind his back. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Skylar Hawkyns.” He slapped hand cuffs around Tristan’s wrists. “You have the right to remain silent...”

“Wait! He didn’t do this!” I yelled, jumping in front of them. “You can’t take him. You have the wrong person.”

The cop ignored me and continued to read him his rights. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law...”

“Wait!” I pleaded.

“If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

“Don’t worry, Ella. Deputy douche bag over here can’t hold me long,” he smirked.

“Watch it, smart ass,” the officer warned, pulling tighter on the cuffs.

“I’ll be there five minutes tops. They know I didn’t do it. They just need somebody to blame and I am the easiest target. Trust me Ella, they have nothing to hold me on,” he said, trying to reassure me.

“We’ll see about that,” the cop said, indicating he had something up his sleeve.

Tristan laughed at him and threw me his cocky smile. I watched as the police escorted Tristan out of the house. Cadence approached me from behind. “Don’t worry Ella. No one blames you.”

Not able to see Tristan anymore I turned around to address her. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” I nodded in Bailey’s direction.

“She’s just upset. She blamed Cassidy earlier too. Why don’t you and Josie head back to the dorms. It’s been a rough night for everyone and we all need a good night’s rest.” I agreed and weaved my way through the crowd to find Josie.

The whole house was in disarray. The brothers were flipping out on the cops for arresting Tristan while others were busy mourning the loss of a sister. A few of the girls agreed with what Cassidy said. I heard the whispers as I worked my way through the masses. “She got what she deserved,” “She was a bitch and a slut.”

So much for sisterhood.

I found Josie talking to Bailey, trying to calm her down. I was afraid to approach, thinking Bailey might have another outburst. But to my surprise she apologized to me. “Ella, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have acted that way. I’m just devastated.”

“I understand,” I said, giving her a hug. Then Josie and I headed back to our dorm.

Jack came running out of his room. “Ella, did they find anything else out?” Are you okay?”

“No, there are no leads and I’m fine, just tired.” I didn’t want to tell him they arrested Tristan. I felt that would only feed his suspicion and I believed Tristan was innocent. “I’m going to go to bed. You should too, it’s late,” I told him and head down to my room.

Jack stood outside his door, watching us until we were safely inside. I gave him one last look before I closed the door. “He’s really clingy,” Josie complained.

“He just worries.”

“Yeah, well, he’s starting to creep me out.”

I sat on my bed and took off my shoes. “Ella, are you scared?” Josie asked nervously.

“Of what?”

“That maybe there’s some crazy killer on campus?”

“I don’t even want to think about that, but I doubt it. We all know how Skylar was. Maybe she finally pissed off the wrong person.”

“She didn’t deserve to die though...and not that way,” she said, pulling the covers up to her chin.

I let out a breath. “No she didn’t. No one does.” I head over to my dresser and pulled out my pajamas. I changed my clothes and then climbed into bed.

I couldn’t sleep. I was too worried about Tristan. Every time I would close my eyes I would dream. I hadn’t had the dreams since I left home and was confused as to why they would start up again. Maybe it was the recent trauma that brought it on or maybe because it was my punishment to relive this nightmare over and over at any given time.

Not being able to keep my eyes open anymore, I gave in to exhaustion. The dream started as it always had, but something was different this time. I could feel it. I wasn’t smiling, happy, like normal. Instead I had a bad feeling, a gut instinct that something was wrong. I looked over at Kyle and he smiled back at me like he always did.

Except this time when we crashed, I saw him, the man with the glowing yellow eyes.

It was Tristan.

This time I didn’t scream. I just closed my eyes. When I opened them I couldn’t see his face anymore. This time I also saw my rescuer, and he too, was Tristan. When I looked into his eyes, I saw they were different. They weren’t the deep, dark blue I knew. They were something else, something evil.

“Tristan?” I managed to get out.

His eyes glowed bright gold and within seconds his hands were around my throat.

I sprung up in bed, gasping. I put my hand on my neck and tried to slow my breathing. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement. Too afraid to look, I closed my eyes and told myself my mind was playing tricks on me. I forced myself to face my fear by opening my eyes and look over in the corner to see...

Nothing.

I ran a shaky hand through my hair and chastised myself for being a big scaredy cat. Just then the door to our room blew open about an inch. “Josie,” I said out loud to myself. I got up to close it properly when I heard someone down the hall. I peeked out to see Tristan unlocking his door.

As if he knew I was there, he turned his head up to look at me. “Ella?” he said softly. “What are you still doing up?”

I stepped out into the hall closing the door behind me. “I couldn’t sleep,” I confessed.

“Do you...want to come in?” He offered. His hesitation told me he wasn’t sure if he should ask or not. The dark circles and bags under his eyes indicated he’d been through enough tonight and shouldn’t be left alone.

I quickly checked on Josie and then joined Tristan in his room. I know I should have been concerned about the dream I just had about him. I knew I should be afraid, but wasn’t. I was conflicted. Part of me knew Tristan would never harm me. The other part was just not so sure of anything anymore.

He didn’t bother to turn on the lights. He just guided me to the bed to sit down. “Is your roommate here?” I whispered.

“I don’t have one,” he said, making himself a drink.

I didn’t feel as comfortable now knowing Tristan didn’t have a roommate. It wasn’t that I felt he was dangerous, it was more dangerous in the way that I might not be able to stop myself if he tried to kiss me again.

I shifted nervously. “What happened?” I asked, finding the courage to speak.

He set his drink aside and sat next to me on the bed. I tucked my hands in between my legs. Being this close to him was making my stomach twist up in knots. But I was afraid if I got up he might think I was afraid of him and I didn’t want him to feel worse than he already did. I bit my lip to try to control my uneasiness. I waited patiently for his response. When he didn’t answer me I figured he didn’t want to talk about it.

I was about to say something else when he said, “They had nothing on me so they had to let me go.” I kept quiet. “You believe me, right? You know I didn’t do it.”

“Of course I do.” And I really did. Despite my disturbing dream, I knew enough to know Tristan wasn’t capable of something like this. My gut was telling me he didn’t do this, he couldn’t have done this. I was taught to always go with my gut instinct and that was what I was doing. I believed he was innocent.

“Ella,” he looked up at me. There was pain and sadness in his eyes. “Stay with me,” he said in a hushed voice.

I didn’t say a word.

I just pulled him down on the bed and wrapped his arms around me. Then I closed my eyes and prayed that everything would be okay. I prayed that I wouldn’t have any more dreams tonight. I prayed that everyone would make it through this tragedy and that the monster that did this would be caught.

“Ella?”

“Yeah?” I said, voice shaky.

“You know what would really make me feel better?”

Before I even said it, I knew I was setting myself up. “What’s that?”

“If you got naked.”

I didn’t have to see his face to know he was wearing his cocky smile. I didn’t even respond. Instead I just elbowed him in the ribs and smiled to myself. “Ow!” he complained.

“Goodnight, Tristan.”

“It was just a suggestion.”

I sighed and tried to hide my smile. “Goodnight,” I repeated.

He just gripped me tighter until we fell asleep.

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