The Wanderers

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chapter 11

When I awoke in the morning, I looked down to see Tristan’s hand cupping my breast. I rolled my eyes and tried to lift his hand away, but all it did was cause him to move closer and reach around to my other breast. “Tristan!”

“Mm,” he moaned grumpily.

“Tristan, wake up!”

“Hmm?” He lifted his head to look at me.

“You mind?”

He smiled. “No, I don’t.”

I smacked him. “Ow Ella, I do bruise you know.” He sat up, stretching his arms above his head.

“I should go,” I said, getting up and making my way to the door.

“You don’t have to,” he said with a small desperation in his voice.

“I do. I have class and need to get ready,” I said, trying to avoid an awkward situation.

He laid back down and pulled the covers up over his head. I stifled an eye roll and headed back to my room. I carefully and quietly opened the door to my room and tiptoed in, cautious not to wake Josie. “Where have you been?” Josie yelled, startling me, and causing me to jump.

I put my hand over my racing heart and wondered if this was what it was like to have a heart attack. “Shit Josie, you scared me.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said, giving me that sour look she always did when she knew I was hiding something.

“I was in the bathroom,” I said defensively. I wasn’t about to try and explain me spending the night with Tristan.

“Since three in the morning,” she said, looking at me skeptically. “Either that’s some serious case of diarrhea or you’re full of crap.”

I sighed, knowing I’d have to tell her the truth or she wouldn’t drop it. “I was with Tristan.”

A giant grin splayed across her lips. “Tell me everything!” she demanded.

“There’s nothing to tell,” I said, heading to my dresser, taking out clothes to change into for class.

“Ella, you just spent the night with a guy who is notorious for hooking up with girls all over campus.”

“Don’t remind me,” I thought to myself.

“I didn’t technically spend the night. Besides, all we did was sleep. That’s it.” I emphasized the last two words making it a point I did not want to talk about it anymore. Josie got the hint and I finished getting ready for class.

When I left, I expected Jack to be waiting for me like he always did, but he wasn’t. I knocked on his door and his roommate said he already left. I didn’t give it a second thought and headed to my first class.

Outside, there were news vans and reporters everywhere, reporting about the recent tragedy that hit our campus. Some were interviewing different students, asking them how they felt about what happened, if they knew Skylar. I avoided them the best I could.

When I got to my first class I saw Jack, but he was already sitting with someone else. I waved to him, but he didn’t even acknowledge me. I sat down and got out my books, wondering why he was acting so weird. I figured I’d just catch him after class and find out.

Once the professor dismissed us, I collected my things, and hurried over to Jack, but he was too fast and I couldn’t keep up. At our next class, I sat near the door so he would have to pass me on his way out. “Jack!” I called to him, but he ignored me. “Jack, wait up.” Picking up my pace, I finally caught up to him. “Hey.” I grabbed his arm stopping him. “Are you mad at me or something?”

He glared slightly and I took that as a yes. “What did I do to make you so mad?”

“You of all people, you’d be the last one I’d expect to fall for his crap,” he said, turning to walk away again.

“Jack, what are you talking about?”

“I saw you Ella. I saw you coming out of Tristan’s room this morning,” he said with a harsh tone. “You are no different than all the rest.”

I gaped at him, taking a step back as if he had slapped me in the face. “First off, that’s none of your business and next time you should think before jumping to conclusions.” I stormed off.

The nerve of him to be mad at me for something he didn’t know anything about. What did he care anyway? God, guys are so ridiculous.

I wasn’t watching where I was going and nearly ran into Tristan. “Whoa, easy there love.” He looked at me, brows creasing. “You alright?”

“It’s nothing,” I said, brushing it off. “What are you doing up? I thought you’d still be in bed?”

“It felt too empty without you there,” he cooed, brushing his thumb across my cheek.

“Tristan.” I pulled his hand away and held it in front of me gently. “Last night was...”

“Amazing.” One side of his lip tilted up.

“Was a one-time only thing,” I finished.

There was a tiny flash of hurt in his eyes, but he quickly recovered. “You say that now, but I still managed to get you in bed with me and all I had to do was get arrested,” he said, throwing me his cocky smile. “I’m a little disappointed. I thought you had better morals than that. Hopping into bed with a guy you barely know.” He shook his head, tsking.

I rolled my eyes and pushed him playfully. “Is there something you wanted, besides bugging me and driving me nuts?”

“I thought I’d escort a pretty lady to class,” he said, extending his arm to me. I gave him one of my many ‘I’m not in the mood’ looks and he dropped it. I walked with him to art class in silence.

Jack had beaten us there and was waiting for me at the door. “Ella, can I talk to you?” he asked with a sullen expression. Tristan leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, watching. “Do you mind?” Jack asked, annoyed.

“Actually, I do,” Tristan said, standing up straight.

“Tristan, give us a minute.” He looked at me thinking I was kidding and I let him know I wasn’t. He gave Jack a caveat look before heading into class.

Now I was the one standing with my arms crossed waiting for Jack to speak. “Ella, I’m sorry. You’re right, it was none of my business, and I was out of line. I jumped to conclusions and I shouldn’t have. Forgive me, please.”

I didn’t blame him for getting upset. I couldn’t imagine what was going through his head when he saw me sneak out of Tristan’s room this morning. I decided to let him off the hook. “I’ll accept your apology this time, but next time I won’t be so forgiving.”

“Thank you and I won’t do it again, promise,” he said, biting his bottom lip, waiting for my acceptance.

“C’mon, we’re going to be late,” I said, giving him a slight smile and heading into the classroom.

Tristan had saved me a seat, but I thought it best if I didn’t sit next to either of them. Today, I chose to sit next to the smelly kid, forcing Jack to sit next to Tristan. I thought maybe forcing them sit next to each other would do them some good. Maybe they’d talk to each other and realize they had some things in common. Just maybe, maybe even start to like each other.

I guess it was just wishful thinking. The tension between them was felt through the entire room. I didn’t understand why they were that way towards each other. Obviously it was some weird guy jealousy thing.

After class, both Tristan and Jack waited for me. I didn’t know what to do. They both had uneasy expressions on their faces. “Jack, can I talk to you for a minute?” The professor asked.

Jack looked at me. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up with you later,” he said, looking a little defeated.

Tristan smiled cockily and escorted me outside. “What is the deal with you and Jack?” I asked, getting straight to the point.

Tristan let out a long sigh. “Something about him just bugs me.”

“Would that be jealousy, maybe?” I teased.

He looked down at me, eyes slanted, and I knew I struck a nerve. “I don’t get jealous.”

“Please.”

“What do I have to be jealous about? I can have anything and anyone I want.”

“Not anyone,” I corrected.

“In due time la mia bella stella,” he said, flicking my chin with his finger. I just shook my head as he draped his arm over me. I removed his arm. He seemed to think nothing of it as he followed me back to the dorms.

“What are your plans for tonight?” Tristan asked when we reached my room.

“Homework,” I said, opening the door. He followed me in. “Are you lost?” I questioned as he made himself comfortable on my bed.

“I thought we’d take a nap,” he said, padding the spot next to him.

“Uh-No,” I replied, dropping my bag by my desk. I leaned up casually against my chair with my arms crossed waiting for him to leave. He cocked his head to the side gesturing for me to join him again, flashing me an enticing smile. I was tempted, but stood my ground.

When I didn’t join him, he lied back, and pretended to go to sleep. “Tristan.” He didn’t answer. “Tristan,” I said a little louder this time – still nothing. Annoyed, I walked over to the bed and shook him. “Tristan, I know you’re not really sleeping so get up.” He still ignored me. I leaned over him, checking to see if he was faking. A slight smile spreads across his lips. He grabbed me, pulling me over top of him. “Tristan!” I yelped. He hugged me tightly with my legs still draped over the side of him.

He nuzzled his head against my chest. “This is much better,” he purred.

“Oh, I’m sure,” I laughed.

“You can’t deny that last night wasn’t the best sleep you had in your life,” he said matter of fact.

It was true, but I wouldn’t admit that to him. “You call getting groped in your sleep a good night’s rest?”

“No, I call that a great night,” he smirked. I smacked him playfully and he laughed. I tried to get up but he just held me tighter. “Don’t go.”

“This is my room, remember. You are the one who needs to go.”

“In a minute.”

“You’re never going to let me go, are you?”

“Nope.”

As much as I wanted to stay this way forever, I couldn’t, and the longer Tristan held me, the more comfortable I became in his arms. I couldn’t risk myself falling harder for Tristan more than I already have. I knew we would never work and it was better not to even get involved. I found my strength and forced myself to get up. I managed to get myself into a sitting position and then I swung my legs over to the other side so I could get up. “Where are you going?” Tristan complained.

“I have stuff to do.”

“No you don’t,” he said, grabbing me again and pulling me back down.

“Tristan,” I complained, pushing him back.

“What could be more pressing than staying here and snuggling with me?”

“Everything.”

“Just for that I’m not letting you go.” He wrapped his arms and legs around me.

I pushed and pulled with all my might, but he wouldn’t budge. “Okay seriously?” The more I struggled the more he laughed. “It’s not funny jerk! Let me go.”

Eventually he loosened his legs allowing me some breathing room. I believe he only did that because I threatened to punch him in the nuts if he didn’t. He kept his arms wrapped tightly around me. I slipped my one arm out by pinching him. “Ow Ella, you’re so abusive,” he whined.

“That’s what you get,” I said, sticking my tongue out like any mature adult would. I climbed off the bed needing to distance myself from him.

“That’s it. I had enough of your abuse,” Tristan said, wrapping his arm around my waist and pulling me back down on the bed. I screamed as he tackled me. We wrestled back and forth, laughing. I found his tickle spot giving me the advantage, but he was fast and kept getting the upper hand. He had me pinned with my arms above my head and his body pressing down on mine. I stopped resisting, but he didn’t let go. He was panting and smiling over his victory. He stared deep into my eyes making my heart race.

This was it, I thought.

He was going to kiss me.

And I wouldn’t be able to stop him.

At such close range it would be harder to fight. I waited for him to make his move and braced myself when he tilted his head slightly and leaned in. “Ella,” he whispered.

“Yes?” I asked breathless.

“Will you go out with me?”

“What?” I said, caught unaware.

“On a date, you know dinner and a movie type thing.”

“Tristan, I...”

“Just one date Ella, one date. What’s it going to hurt?”

That was the nagging question in the back of my mind. Would I get hurt when this was all over?

I stared into his hopeful eyes. “If I say yes will you get off of me?” He smiled and sat back releasing me. Now that I could breathe again, my head started to clear. I looked up at his face to see he was wearing a goofy grin. “What’s so funny?”

He shook his head and laughed. “You’re too easy.”

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing,” he said, smiling slyly. “So what time am I picking you up?”

“I never actually said yes,” I retorted.

“I let you go, did I not?”

“Fine,” I huffed. “Seven o’clock, dinner, that’s it, and no funny business.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he winked and took off. He knew by now if he stuck around he would press his luck and I would change my mind

“What have I done,” I groaned, falling back on my bed.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Josie commented as she came into the room. “Do I even want to ask?”

“No.” I threw my arms over my head.

“What is it?” Josie asked. She lied on her bed resting her head on her hands waiting for a further explanation.

“Tristan asked me out,” I mumbled.

“Doesn’t he always? What’s so different this time?”

“I said yes.”

“No...way.” I looked over to see she had the biggest grin on her face. “Ella, oh my God!” She giggled. “This is so exciting! What are you going to wear?”

“Only you would be excited about this,” I grumbled.

“Why? Aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” I sat up and turned to face her. “I mostly said yes so he would leave me alone.”

“Oh,” she said a little disappointed. “But aren’t you the least bit curious to see what he’s like on a date?”

“Kinda,” I confessed. “I mean, in a way, yes I want to go, but at the same time I’m kind of scared.”

Josie got up and sat next to me on my bed. “Oh honey, what are you afraid of?”

“That I might actually have fun.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” she looked at me like I was crazy.

“Because if I allow myself to like him, I know I’m going to get hurt.”

“Ella, you can’t worry about the ’what ifs’ all the time or you’ll never let yourself have any fun. Sometimes you have to take some risks.”

“Yes, but is this a risk worth taking?”

“I say hell yes!”

“That’s what you also said about me going blond and we both know how well that turned out,” I glared, remembering I had to cut all my hair off because of how damaged it was. Never let friends color your hair.

“Okay, that was a bad example,” she said sheepishly. Her way of making up for it was buying me tons of hats. “Besides, this is totally different. I just so happen to know, for a fact, that this boy is crazy about you.”

“And what makes you so sure?”

“I can’t reveal my sources, but just trust me on this one.”

“You can’t reveal your sources because they don’t exist,” I said knowingly.

“Whatever, I don’t need anyone to tell me. I can see with my own eyes how much he likes you.”

“And what if this is just a phase?”

“Uh!” Josie groaned, throwing herself back. “Stop over thinking everything! That’s your problem you know. You think too much.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” I said defensively.

“You need to live outside the box Ella. For once, make a decision without analyzing it to death.”

“Yeah, but what –”

She slapped her hand over my mouth. “Stop it. Don’t say it,” I mumbled behind her hand. “Shh, no thinking.” She paused before she dragged her hand away. I opened my mouth to say something, but she just shushed me again. “I’m going to help you get ready!” She jumped up giddily.

“Josie, the date isn’t till seven,” I looked at my watch. “That’s not, like, for another three hours.”

“Then we better hurry,” she said, yanking me off the bed.

Josie insisted we go shopping. She said I had to wear something that would knock his socks off. I informed her I could wear a trash bag and Tristan would still be happy. She rolled her eyes and threw several different outfits at me, shoving me into a dressing room. Everything she picked out was too low cut or too tight and revealing. I warned her she needed to go another route or I was leaving her ass at the mall.

We both finally agreed on a blue strapless dress that fell just above my knees. I had no idea where he was taking me and I was starting to feel apprehensive about the dress. Josie was persistent though, reminding me this was Tristan we were talking about so most likely he’d take me to some expensive restaurant.

By the time we got back from our shopping excursion, I still had more than enough time to get ready. Josie fussed with my hair while I worked on my makeup. “Ow!” I yelled as she yanked at my hair almost causing me to smudge my eyeliner.

“Sorry, knot,” she giggled. I shot her a warning look in the mirror to take it easy while I finished my makeup.

Dressed, I did a small spin. “Oooh, you look so good,” she gushed. “I always knew blue was your color.”

“That’s funny because you said that same thing about purple last year.”

“Whatever,” she said, fussing with my hair again.

“Josie, it’s fine,” I said, smacking her hand. I still had another half an hour before Tristan would arrive so I laid back on my bed and waited.

“What are you doing?” Josie squealed. “You are going to ruin your hair and wrinkle your outfit.”

“Josie, relax, you’re driving me nuts!”

“Sorry, I’m just so excited. I feel like a proud mamma. Like my baby is going on her first date,” she clapped, giggling.

“You are such a dork. Sometimes I wonder why I’m friends with you in the first place.”

“Hey!” she said, throwing her pillow at me.

“Oh, you’ve just gone and messed up my hair,” I teased. She gasped and I started to laugh. “I’m kidding, it’s fine.” There was a knock at the door. I looked at Josie and she shrugged her shoulders. “He’s early.”

“Maybe he was too excited to wait,” she clapped excitedly again. I narrowed my eyes at her. “Okay, I’ll stop.” She tucked her hands underneath her legs.

I opened the door to find a note.

Running late had a few things to prepare beforehand. Meet you downstairs in fifteen minutes.

- Tristan


“Of course he’s running late,” I sighed, putting the note on the desk. “I’m going to head downstairs a while,” I told Josie.

“Okay, good luck,” she said, giving me two thumbs up. I rolled my eyes and closed the door on her.

“Good evening, Ella,” George, our dorm’s security guard, greeted as I passed the desk.

“Hi, George,” I smiled politely.

“Have any big plans this evening?”

“No, not really,” I replied.

He smiled as if he knew some secret I didn’t. “Well, you look lovely,” he said, reminding me of something my dad would say.

“Thanks, George.”

George was a retired cop. He was shot in line of duty causing him to have to retire earlier than expected. Josie and I got to know him from our late night soda runs and the one time we locked ourselves out of our room. George was one of the good guys. He treated us all as if we were his own kids and everyone respected him.

I wandered around the lobby waiting for Tristan. The longer I waited the more nervous I got. Maybe I made a mistake. I shouldn’t had said yes. This was a bad idea. Right as I convinced myself to go back to my room and cancel, George had stopped me. “Ella, you have a phone call,” he said, handing me the receiver.

“Hello?” I answered skeptically.

“Hi Beautiful.”

It was Tristan.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I got a little derailed, but no worries, all is well. Give the phone back to George.” I did as he said with a little confusion. George and Tristan exchanged a few words and George looked up at me smiling. He hung up the phone and radioed for someone to take his post at the desk.

When his replacement arrived he escorted me out through a back door. “Uh, George, where are we going?”

“We’re just taking the back exit. Less commotion,” he said.

“Should I be worried?”

“No, dear,” he said, patting my hand. “You know, you remind me a lot of my eldest daughter.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

He chuckled lightly. “Both. Like her you’re very smart. In the end you’ll know you made the right decision even though it might not seem that way right now.” I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about so I just smiled and pretended as if I did.

I turned to him once we were outside. “Thank you, George,” I said, giving him a kiss on the cheek and making him blush.

“Have fun tonight, but not too much fun,” he said in a fatherly tone.

I gave him a shy smile as he walked back into the building. Turning back around I looked for Tristan. The only thing I found was a large, black Hummer. I peered to the side and out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Tristan stepping around the side of the truck. My breath hitched slightly when he came into full view. He was wearing a dark blue button down shirt that matched his eyes and a nice pair of gray slacks. He looked amazing and I had to remind myself to breathe. His grin widened and his dark blue eyes sparkled in the moonlight. He stopped a few feet before me, his eyes traveled down my body slowly and then back up again.

“Is it too much?” I asked self-consciously, looking down at my dress, thinking maybe I should have worn something else.

“No,” he said, closing the small distance between us. “You look perfect,” he smiled. Taking my hand he walked me to the truck and opened the door for me. Inside, on the seat, was a bouquet of blue flowers. He picked them up and handed them to me. “Forget-me-nots,” he referred to the flowers.

“What, no roses?” I joked.

“You’re not the rose type girl,” he smirked.

He was right. I always thought roses were too ‘formal’ and overdone. “They’re sweet, thank you.” He helped me into the truck and closed the door before he jogged over to the driver side and hopped in. “So where are we going?”

“Just a small place a short distance away,” was all he said.

I sat back and tried to calm my nerves. “So what’s with the secrecy?” He looked at me unclear. “You picked me up in the back,” I said, trying to clarify.

“I was trying to avoid the madness,” he said, pointing a finger in the direction of the press. I nodded understanding.

“So a Hummer, I would have thought you more of a Porsche guy.”

“Nah, no back seat.” I narrowed my eyes at him and saw the slightest smile dancing on his lips. I just shook my head and gazed out the window as we drove off.

After a few minutes of silence Tristan asked, “Are you nervous?”

“No, why? Why would I be nervous?” I replied unconvincingly. He laughed under his breath and I narrowed my eyes at him again.

“It’s okay if you are. I won’t hold it against you.”

“I am not nervous,” I snapped. Now I was just irritated. He laughed again and I whipped my head around. “Stop laughing, it’s not funny.”

“I can’t help it. You’re so cute,” I glared at him. “Especially when you’re angry,” he smiled.

“I have no idea why I agreed to this,” I growled. “It hasn’t even been ten minutes and I’m ready for this to be over.”

“Oh c’mon, you know you don’t really mean that.”

I didn’t answer him, afraid he might discover he was right. Resting my arm on the door, I stared out the window again trying to release some of my nervousness. Sensing my uneasiness, Tristan stopped teasing me.

The small distance he referred to earlier turned into an hour drive. Neither of us spoke the whole way, but the silence was a comfortable one. He pulled up to a small corner restaurant, with Cafe style seating outside. Tristan held the door for me as we stepped inside. He asked the hostess if we could have a table outside. She escorted us through the restaurant to the patio. We were the only two patrons out here. The only lighting came from a dim glow of candles in the center of the tables, creating a very romantic ambiance.

“Impressed?” Tristan asked, pulling out my chair for me.

“I’ll let you know when I’m impressed.” He threw me a half smile and took a seat across from me. “How’d you find this place?”

“I was,” he hesitated a moment, “taking care of some business,” he said carefully. “In the area and drove past it.”

I eyed him suspiciously for a moment before I figured it out. “Are you kidding me? You were screwing some girl around here,” I said, louder than intended. “Why does this not surprise me?” I should have known better.

Our waiter approached and cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Can I offer you something to drink?”

“Water is fine,” I told him.

“I’ll have a scotch on the rocks.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Aren’t you driving?” It wasn’t a question.

“Make that two waters.” He held up two fingers. I folded my hands in my lap finding it hard to look at him without feeling a little uncomfortable after his confession.

Tristan leaned back in his chair studying me. “We’re off to a great start, aren’t we?” I laughed sarcastically. He rubbed the back of his neck, his eyes watching me. I avert my gaze and smooth out my skirt. “What did you want me to say? Hey I was banging this chick that lives not far from here and afterward I got hungry and stopped here to grab a bite.”

I stopped fidgeting and looked up. “Clearly that is so much better,” I said sarcastically. “You could have just said a friend told you about it.”

“That would be lying.” His shoulders relaxed as he leaned forward on the table.

“Have you ever heard of the word tact?”

“I like to speak my mind.” His cocky smiled returned.

“So I’ve noticed.”

Not sure where to go from here, I sat with my hands in my lap, picking at my cuticles and wishing he would say something that didn’t make me want to smack him. Tristan twirled his glass by the stem and watched me with curiosity, all his normal bravado gone. “Are you nervous?” I teased.

“You are a little intimidating,” he confessed.

“Me?” I said, finding that hard to believe.

His eyes searched mine. “You know how beautiful you are?”

“Flattery doesn’t work on me,” I said, hoping he couldn’t see my reddened cheeks.

The waiter returned with our drinks and asked if we were ready to order. “I’m sorry I haven’t even had the chance to look at the menu.”

He offered to come back when we were ready. Tristan told him there was no need and ordered for both of us. “You’ll like it,” he said when he noticed my skepticism.

“Do you come here often?” I took a sip of my water.

His fingers circled the bottom of his glass as he pondered his answer. “Not as much as I’d like. But I get here when I can.”

“It’s nice here. I can see why you would want to keep coming back.”

Leaning back, he lays his arm on the side of the chair and sipped his water, his eyes never leaving mine. Feeling my cheeks get hot, I decided I needed to keep the conversation going. “So what is it you do?”

“That’s a very open ended question. You have to be more specific.”

“Do you have a job?”

He laughed like this was something that appalled him. “I have no need to work, nor do I have the desire.”

“So basically you’re a spoiled brat who does whatever you want just because you can.”

“Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”

His words hit harder than I thought they would. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, offended.

“You sit there and pretend to be humble when we both know that you too come from a wealthy family.”

“I never denied I was privileged. But that does not make you and me similar. While I am grateful for my upbringing, I don’t throw it in people’s face and act like an immature, arrogant asshole.” I crossed my arms tightly over my chest.

Despite my insult, my answer amused him. He had a satisfied smug look on his face making me want to dump my water on him. “Let me guess, you volunteer and donate to several different charities.” I had no need to respond. He already knew the answer. “Somehow you believe this makes you better than me.”

“I never said I was better than you. I was simply stating our ideals and upbringing are different.”

“Are they?” He challenged making me question his sanity. “Just because you donate to a few charities doesn’t make you any less selfish than me.”

“How is that selfish?”

“Do you not feel a sense of pride when you do these things? Do you not get a good feeling?”

“Yes.”

“Exactly my point,” he said as if he just stated the obvious.

“That makes no sense whatsoever. I still don’t understand how that makes what I do selfish.”

“There is no such thing as a selfless act. You and I are the same. The only difference is I choose to serve myself, which in the end is the same.”

I opened my mouth for a retort. I had nothing. Tristan’s smug smile grew wider. He lived to push my buttons and was good at it. “Did you like take a class on how to piss people off or something?”

“I don’t understand why you’re so upset. There’s nothing wrong with admitting we’re the same.”

“Hardly,” I scoffed. My irritation, to my understanding, was something that brought joy to Tristan.

“I’m not that bad. In fact, I know tons of people who would kill to be just like me.”

“Yes, I can imagine, unfortunately.”

“Have I struck a nerve?” He tormented. He wanted a reaction from me. I refused to give him one, forcing him to find another source of entertainment. I crossed my legs, pulling my dress down. “If I’m so horrible, then why did you agree to go on a date with me?”

“It was kind of hard not to when I was being held hostage.”

His eyes shimmered at the memory. “You say tomato, I say tomâto.”

“You are the most irrational person I’ve ever met.”

“Yes, but at least I can say I enjoy my life.”

“I never said I didn’t like my life.”

“Of course you wouldn’t. How could you? You’re too busy living someone else’s to realize this so called life of yours isn’t really your own.”

“Where does this stuff even come from? Do you actually think things through before you speak or you randomly throw stuff together and hope it makes sense? Because the only life I’m living is my own,” I said.

“Are you sure about that?” He cocked his head to the side checking me out. “Tell me this. Those business courses you’re taking, whose decision was that? The car you’re driving, who picked it out? Who picked out that dress?”

I stared, not believing what I was hearing. No, it was not true. I made my own decisions. My life was my own. I crossed and uncrossed my legs, fidgeting in my chair. I was not comfortable with where this conversation was going. “I’m gonna take another stab here and say you were class president, or head of Student Counsel. Never stayed out past curfew and had a 4.0 grade average.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being smart,” I said, crossing my arms annoyed at how accurate he was. On paper I was the perfect student, but just like any other high schooler I had my fair share of fun.

“You must be slipping. If you were really that smart you wouldn’t have said yes to a date with me,” he said as he broke off a piece of bread and tossed it into his mouth, flashing me a grin. I couldn’t argue with him on that one.

Thankfully the waiter showed up with our food. I no longer had the strength to engage in a battle of wits. I dug into my steak needing the fuel in order to have the energy to keep up with his logic.

He didn’t say much while we ate and for that I was thankful. I did find it a little disconcerting when he would watch me eat. I was half tempted to shove the whole steak in my mouth hoping he would be so repulsed he would turn away. But my luck, he would find something provocative about it. I had a feeling everything was intriguing to Tristan.

When we were done, the waiter cleaned up and asked if we would like dessert. I declined, wanting to hurry the date along. Once the waiter was gone, Tristan stood and offered me his hand. I was puzzled as to what he was doing. “Dance with me,” he requested.

“There’s no music,” I declared.

“Then we’ll dance to the rhythm of our hearts.”

I rolled my eyes and tried to keep down my steak. “There isn’t a dance floor.” I mentioned, hoping to find a way out of it.

“What’s the matter? Scared someone might think you’re crazy for dancing in the middle of the restaurant without music.”

“I do not care what people think of me.” I straightened my spine and lifted my chin higher.

“Who’s the snob now?” His smile grew and I knew he was tormenting me on purpose. Determined to prove him wrong, I stood up. He gave a slight bow and rolled his arm out to me. I reluctantly slipped my hand in his as he guided me a few feet away from our table. He pulled me close to him; one hand placed strategically on my lower back while the other cupped my hand.

I waited for him to take the first step. His eyes bore down on mine before he flashed me his cocky smile and took the lead. I followed in step trying to keep a safe distance between us. The further apart I moved, the closer he would inch his way back in. We waltzed in small circles trying to avoid a collision with the nearby tables. “Tell me something, Ella. Why’d you really agree to come on a date with me?”

“Honestly? Curiosity, I guess.”

“Didn’t you ever hear the expression curiosity killed the cat?” He said with a slight edge to his voice.

“Are you gonna tell me next that you’re some double O agent and my life is in danger?”

“The only thing you’re in danger of is loving me.” His face softened. I felt something change in his mood when he said it. It was almost as if he truly believed his own words.

“No worries, that is one charity I don’t plan on donating to,” I said, hoping to lighten his mood.

He chuckled lightly before spinning me away from him. He pulled me back so fast I whipped around and slammed right up against him. I felt like the air was sucked right out of me. Tristan grazed the side of my cheek and stared deeply into my eyes. “Promise me one thing Ella,” he whispered. “Promise me you won’t fall in love with me.”

“I think that is one promise I can keep.”

He smiled but his eyes said something completely different. The waiter cleared his throat indicating his presence. I pulled away abruptly and hurried back over to my seat. The air was so much clearer over there. I didn’t want Tristan to know I lied to him. One of the things I picked up on was that he had a sixth sense about people’s true feelings. I couldn’t risk him discovering that I felt something when I wasn’t even sure myself.

He paid the check and returned to the table. “Are you ready?” he asked. I nodded, suddenly not wanting the date to be over. “No worries. I’m not finished with you yet,” he smirked sensing my dissatisfaction. Perplexed at his once again accuracy of reading my feelings, I allowed him to pull me along to whatever destination he had in mind.

We walked two blocks down to an ice cream shop. He held the door open for me as I sauntered through. “I thought you didn’t want dessert?” I asked.

“Not there. This place has the best cakes and ice cream and I didn’t want you to miss out,” he smiled. He chose a small table in the center with heart shaped chairs. He pulled out the chair for me and I sat down, trusting his judgment to pick something that I would like. But who were we kidding here. It was cake and ice cream. I have yet to find any flavor I did not like.

He returned with one bowl and two spoons. “I thought we’d share,” he said, offering me a spoon. “It can be a little rich sometimes so it’s hard to finish one on your own,” he explained. I dug in right away without a second thought. He smiled softly at my eagerness.

“This is really good,” I said, wiping away the small bit that dribbled down my chin.

“I love coming here and watching the scenery,” he said, never taking his eyes off of me.

“That’s kind of hard to do if you’re not actually looking around,” I said, feeling a slight chill.

He reached across the table grasping my hand in his. He brushed his thumb across the top in gentle circles. “I don’t need to look when I have the best view right in front of me.”

I stifled an eye roll. “Could you be any more pathetic?”

“You really don’t know how to take a compliment do you?” he sighed, pulling back leaving me with a slight emptiness where his hand had lingered.

“Maybe it’s because with your flattery comes ulterior with motives.”

I played with my spoon in the ice cream as he studied me, contemplating his next move. “It’s no secret I’ve had my fair share of women, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. I’m not going to pretend to be someone I’m not.”

I paused at his sudden turnaround in the conversation. I collected my thoughts and answered as honestly as I could. “I would never ask you to be anyone other than who you are. But see that’s the difference between you and me. We come from two different worlds.”

“Don’t you think it’s time you ventured outside your bubble?” He challenged. I stared at him not sure where he was going. Tristan had so many random thoughts it was hard to process what he was talking about half the time. In retrospect, if you thought hard enough, you could find the underlining meaning. But sometimes it was better to not even bother with the headache.

He stood up reaching for my hand. “We’re not going to dance again are we?” I asked with reluctance.

“No,” he laughed, “I have one more place I want to take you.” I turned back to the half melted ice cream and silently took his hand. Once we were outside, I got hit with a cold chill. I rubbed my hands vigorously up and down my arms trying to warm them. “You cold?” he asked.

“Yes. All that ice cream probably didn’t help,” I admitted.

“Hold on a sec,” he gestured. He jogged down the two blocks to his truck and retrieved something from the backseat. He returned with a jacket that he placed over my shoulders like a gentleman. “Better?”

“Yes, thank you.” He took my hand and led me to a back alley. I stopped, jerking his arm back. “Where are we going?” I asked, suddenly not liking the situation.

“Relax,” he said, pulling me along. “If I wanted to kill ya, I would have picked a less populated area,” he winked.

I glared at him not amused. “That’s comforting,” I said, sarcastically.

“C’mon,” he tugged. I reluctantly followed. We ventured down the alley until we came upon a fire escape. Tristan jumped, more like floated, into the air to pull down the ladder. He shook it a few times and once he felt it was secure he turned to me. “Ladies first.”

“Uh-ah, I’m not going up there first so you can look up my dress,” I replied, giving him the evil eye.

He rolled his eyes at me. “Fine,” he said, stepping onto the first rung. I followed him shortly after. Perched on top of the first landing, he turned around and offered me his hand.

We climbed all the way to the top of the building. “Now what?” I asked, trying not to look down. I was hoping I didn’t suddenly develop a fear of heights. I never had a problem before, but I had also never been that high off the ground either. I set my fears aside and pressed my back tightly up against the wall to help myself feel more secure.

Tristan smiled playfully at me then turned his attention to the window behind us. “Tristan, what are you doing?” I asked as he jimmied the window open. “Are you breaking in?” I panned the area nervously.

“Relax, it’s abandoned.” He pushed the window aside with ease, and then lifted his one leg over the sill while holding onto the frame for leverage. Once he was safely inside, he waved for me to join him. I looked around once more to make sure no one was watching. I swung one leg through the open window then the other trying to make sure he couldn’t see up my dress, which wasn’t easy. Tristan helped me down from the edge and gently onto the floor.

Taking my hand, he guided me through the pitch black room to a door that led to a hallway. I kept close not able to see no more than two feet in front of me. A small shiver crept over my skin. I was unaware if it was the cool chill in the air, the rush of doing something we’re not supposed to, or his close proximity. Regardless of the cause, my body felt a rush unlike no other.

We ended up at another door, with another pair of stairs. I somehow managed to make out the writing on the door from the dim light of the outside street lamps. “Roof access… we’re going to the roof?”

“Trust me, you’ll love it,” he promised. I figured I’ve come this far I might as well follow through.

After we exited onto the roof, Tristan wedged a brick in between the door so it wouldn’t lock us out up there. He directed me towards the center of the roof and had a seat. I mimicked him while carefully adjusting my dress as I sat with my legs crossed out in front of me. When he found I was situated, he lied back offering I follow suit. So I did.

I was amazed at the brilliant sight before me. “Wow, look how bright they are.”

“This is one of the few places you can come and really see all the stars,” he told me. “In the city there are too many lights.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“I’ve seen better.” I knew his comment was directed at me from the warm breath I felt on my cheek. Feeling a sudden rush of heat, I made myself answer keeping with our normal commentary.

“If that was an attempt at a pickup line, I would have to say you’re slipping.”

He regarded me closely before responding. “Il mio cane ha mangiato I miei compiti.”

The way he said it made my heart sputter. “What does that mean?” I asked breathlessly.

“My dog ate my homework.” I searched his face, wondering if he was kidding. The slight twinkle in his eye told me he wasn’t pulling my leg.

I laughed so hard I almost snorted. “Charming.”

“Well, I knew you were too good to fall for any lines.”

“Right,” I said, hoping he hadn’t noticed I almost had. “Tell me more.”

“You don’t want to hear them.”

“Yes I do, please,” I begged.

“I’ve never seen a star twinkle as bright as your eyes.”

“Wow,” I said, trying to contain my laughter. “Give me another one.” He sighed and thought for a moment. “Is that all you got?”

“No, it’s just...I usually play to the situation.”

“How so?” I folded my hands over my stomach.

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully before giving me his answer. “Okay, so say it’s raining outside. I’ll walk up to a girl and ask, ‘Do you know why it’s raining out?’ When she says no, I’ll turn her to face me and say, ’the Heavens are crying because they’re missing an Angel.”

I laughed even harder this time. “And this works?”

“Hasn’t failed me yet.”

“Where do you find these girls?” I had a hard time believing that any girl would fall for such a cheesy line. He just shrugged, not caring to elaborate. “How come you never tried any of these on me?”

“Because you are more worthy than any cheesy come-on or cheap move.”

“And you want me to believe that wasn’t a line?” I said, turning to face him. His head was lolled to the side, making our lips only an inch apart. I subconsciously licked my lips, biting the inside of my cheek. We both knew he never needed to use a line to get me. Just a look and a simple touch was all it took for me to melt.

He gently grazed his thumb along my jaw line. He wet his lips while his eyes trailed the soft curve of my bottom lip. My breath hitched at his touch and I braced myself for the sudden impact I would feel from his kiss. Only our lips never made connection. I was startled by a loud noise coming from behind us. “What was that?” I asked, sitting up abruptly. I turned my head in every direction looking for an explanation to the noise.

Tristan sighed and brought himself into a sitting position. From the perplexed look on his face I knew he was frustrated from the interruption. He hadn’t responded to my earlier question making me feel at a loss for what to say. My emotions were in a whirlwind. I felt trapped in the middle of a cyclone with no way out. Tristan’s finger danced dangerously close to mine. Our skin made contact and I laced my fingers through his feeling a rush of heat.

He relaxed at the embrace of the tender touch. “Look up there,” he pointed to the sky.

“What am I looking for?”

“In about one minute...there,” he said.

“Was that...oh my God, it’s a meteor shower.” I gazed in awe. “I’ve never seen one before. It’s so...”

“Magical.”

I shifted towards him, and then quickly looked away feeling the power of his draw. “Yeah, it’s pretty neat.” We both sat there silently.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” I asked once the moment was gone. I wanted to keep the conversation light.

“No,” he said as if there was a void inside his heart from being an only child. “You?”

“Two older brothers.”

“I bet they feel lucky to have a sister like you.”

“Hardly,” I scoffed. “They torment me all the time.”

“I’m sure it’s all out of love.”

“You sound like my dad.” He gave me a wry look making me laugh. “Tell me about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?”

I thought it over for a moment and decided to ask what has been in the back of mind since the first day we met. “Have you ever had a serious relationship?”

“Define serious.”

“I’ll take that as a no. What’s your major?”

“Sorry, one question at a time, it’s my turn now.”

“Okay, ask away,” I said, preparing myself for whatever he was going to throw at me.

“What about you, any serious relationships?”

That was one question I wasn’t ready for.

I thought a moment, deliberating how much I wanted to share with him. “One,” was all I said.

“What happened? Did he break your heart?” he asked with a playful smirk.

“No, he um, died.”

He clenched my hand tighter feeling my sorrow at the mention of my ex. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t know, it’s fine.”

He hesitated a moment before he asked, “How did it happen?”

I played around with the hem of my dress before I answered. “Car accident,” I replied, not wanting to divulge any more information. I could see that he suddenly regretted asking so I quickly changed the subject. “My turn now and I get to ask three because apparently you can’t follow your own rules of one question at a time.”

“That’s fair,” he replied. I could tell he was still stuck on the fact that I just told him the only serious relationship I had ended in death, but I didn’t want to dwell on it. I was finally feeling okay with it and I knew if I drudged up bad memories I would be stuck in the past and I worked so hard to move forward. So I moved on with the questions.

“If you could pick any place in the world to go where would it be?”

“Ireland,” he said without a second thought. I noticed he relaxed a little with the change of subject.

“Why Ireland?” I asked, wanting to know his reasoning because if I had to choose, I would have said Ireland also.

“That’s where I’m from.”

“You don’t have an accent.”

“Don’t I?” He said, attempting a try at an Irish accent. I smiled. It was hard not to blush. His interpretation was pretty accurate.

“What happened?”

“I moved to the states when I was five. I guess you can say I left my accent back in Ireland.”

“Do you miss it?”

“The accent?”

“Yes the accent,” I rolled my eyes. “No, Ireland.”

“All the time. I still have family there so I try to go back every chance I get.”

“I’ve never been and always wanted to go,” I replied with a twinge of jealousy. Being Irish I would had thought my parents would make frequent trips to Ireland, but it was quite the opposite. For some reason they had constantly found excuses for us not to go. I never pushed the issue.

“Well maybe someday we can go together,” he smiled.

“That would be nice,” I said before I realized those words actually came out of my mouth. He smiled sweetly at me making me feel all warm inside.

“Ella, can I tell you something?” He spoke as if what he had to say might make me run.

“You can tell me anything,” I encouraged. “You never held back before so why start now?” I teased, bumping his shoulder.

He looked into my eyes and I saw something different. A longing, a desire so intense I thought he might burst. “I like you,” he said. “I mean I really like you. I’m crazy about you,” he confessed, making my heart pound.

“I will agree you’re crazy,” I said laughing, hoping to calm the erratic beating of my heart. He smiled and shifted himself so he was facing me. He tentatively reached over and caressed my cheek with the hand that wasn’t holding my own. I closed my eyes and welcomed his soft touch. His fingers burned my skin, but in a good way. I could feel how badly Tristan wanted to kiss me, but was afraid I might reject his efforts.

I tilted my head slightly, giving him the okay. He brought my face closer to his, leaned in slightly, and softly pressed his lips to mine. The kiss was sweet, not forced or rushed. He pulled back all too soon. I wanted more and I could sense he did too. His face was strained and his jaw tight, letting me know he was resisting the urge to go further and I knew it was killing him inside. With a gracious smile, he brushed a piece a hair away and tucked it behind my ear. He traced my jawline with his finger, making my skin tingle.

Just when I thought he was about to kiss me again, I felt a drop on my cheek. I pulled back and looked up. “Is it raining?” It was like the sky had opened up. Buckets of rain poured down on us. I yelped, jumping to my feet. Tristan and I ran to the door only to find it closed. That was what the noise was I realized. Somehow the brick had slid out allowing the door to close and lock us out.

“What are we going to do now?” I asked, not knowing another way down. We were completely drenched having no shelter from the rain. The heavy drops felt like ice making me shiver uncontrollably. Tristan held up his finger indicating he’d be right back. He jogged over to the side of the building and looked over the edge. After a few seconds of deliberation he returned to me pushing back his soaking wet hair.

I looked at him worried. “We’re going to jump.”

“Are you nuts? There’s no way I’m jumping off the roof,” I said panicked. I paced back and forth biting my nails. “There has to be another way,” I tried to convince myself.

“Ella,” Tristan said, interrupting my incessant rambling by grabbing my shoulders. “It’s the only other way down. You will be fine.”

My eyes darted around the roof checking for other options. I pulled my hair over my shoulder and twisted it around trying to stall. Deciding I needed a little push, Tristan gripped my waist and tugged me along over to the edge. I peered over the side and quickly backed up. “There’s no way I’m jumping.” It was at least an eight foot drop from the roof to the fire escape.

“Ella, it’s not that far. I’ll go first.” Before I could protest again he was already swinging his legs over the side and descending. It happened so quickly that if I would had blinked I would had missed it.

“Tristan!” I called out. It was hard seeing anything through the downpour of rain.

“Your turn,” he called up. I looked over the edge again and was able to make him out enough to see he was on the fire escape. How he did that with such ease I had no idea.

“Tristan, I don’t think I can do this,” I called down nervously over the hammering of the rain.

“Just jump. I’ll catch you,” he said, holding his arms up.

Yeah, easier said than done.

I climbed up on the ledge and swung my legs over the side. “You promise you’ll catch me?”

“I promise I will not let you fall,” he said. I closed my eyes putting my faith in Tristan. I let out a tiny shriek as I pushed off the ledge. Tristan caught me in his arms as promised. “You can open your eyes now,” he chuckled.

“Right,” I blushed as he put me down gently.

“Be careful,” he warned. “It’s going to be slippery.” I kept myself pressed close to the wall as Tristan and I cautiously made our way down the fire escape. Once we were safely on the ground, we made a mad dash for the truck. Inside the refuge of the truck and out of the treacherous rain, we turned to each other and started to crack up laughing. “Well that was unexpected.”

I smiled. The way he was looking at me made my stomach do that flip flop thing. “What?” I asked, teeth chattering.

He brushed aside a wet piece of hair making me shiver. “You cold?” I nodded unable to stop shaking. He started the truck blasting the heat. I held my hands out in front of the vents trying to warm them. It was almost no use. I was drenched head to toe. Tristan reached behind him and grabbed a blanket from the back seat. He helped wrap the blanket around me for warmth.

“You totally looked up my dress when I was coming down the ladder, didn’t you?”

He smiled bashfully. “No. I did not,” he said, looking away.

“Liar,” I teased.

“I should get us back.” He said, putting the truck in drive.

I couldn’t fight my chills on the way back. I pulled the blanket tighter around me noticing a dark spot on the corner. I pulled the stain closer to examine it. It was dark so it was hard to tell for sure, but from what I gathered, it was more than I wanted to know. “Is this blood?” I asked, looking at Tristan uncertain.

“No, of course not,” he replied to easily.

I wasn’t so sure and I couldn’t let it go. “Yes it is. Why do you have a giant blood stain on this?” The moment it left my lips I knew I said too much. I started to get an unsettling feeling in my stomach.

Tristan pulled the truck over to the side of the road and spun around in his seat. His eyes went dark when he said, “There is no blood spot on that blanket.”

I felt dizzy all of a sudden. He kept his eyes on mine making my head spin. I sat back into the seat and stared out the window confused. It was almost like I lost a lapse of time. I wasn’t sure what just happened. I turned to Tristan. “Why are we stopped?” I didn’t even remember him pulling over.

He sank back in his seat, expression grim. “You asked me to pull over,” he said, keeping his eyes forward.

“I did?” He nodded stiffly. “Why did I do that?”

“You said you didn’t feel good.”

“Oh, well, I’m okay now,” I said confused. Without another word, Tristan put the truck in drive, and pulled back onto the road.

Tristan kept quiet on the way back and I wondered what went wrong. I remembered laughing and then him telling me I felt sick. The more I thought about it the more my head hurt. I stole a glance at him. Frown lines marked his face as he worked his hand over his jaw, never once taking his eyes off the road. His body was rigid as his hand white knuckled the steering wheel. I wondered if I had done or said something wrong, but the hard part was, I couldn’t recall anything. I let it go, not wanting to add major headache to my repertoire of ailments.

The rain had let up by the time we got back to the dorms. Tristan helped me out of the truck and escorted me back to my room. I hadn’t realized I was still holding the blanket he gave me. I took it off and handed it back to him. He flinched for a second, but then took it. “Thank you,” I said. “I had a nice time tonight,” I told him, surprised by my own confession.

“Me too.” He gave me a small smile, but it seemed forced.

“I’ll see you around?” He nodded and I couldn’t get rid of this feeling that I did something wrong. I gently tugged on his shirt sleeve. When he was close enough I stood on my tiptoes and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. “Goodnight, Tristan,” I whispered.

He gave me a genuine smile this time and rested his hand on the wall just above my head. He leaned in closer, lifting my chin with his free hand, and pressed the sweetest kiss on my lips, ridding me of any negative thoughts that something was wrong. The kiss was so soft and tender. I thought I might break him if I pushed back. I opened my eyes to see the first real smile he had ever shown me. I bit my bottom lip feeling the heat rise all the way from the tips of my toes to the top of my ears. “Goodnight, la mia bella stella,” he whispered before he turned away and walked to his room.

I jostled with the door handle having a hard time getting it open. When I finally did, I dashed into the room and quickly shut the door behind me. I touched my lips still feeling the rush of his kiss. I never wanted this feeling to go away. I twirled and danced my way to my bed falling back and giggling like a school girl who had her first crush. I sighed throwing my arms back. “I am in so much trouble,” I said to myself.

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