The Wanderers

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chapter 12

When I woke in the morning I had the worst headache. My head throbbed and pounded. It felt like a ping pong was bouncing around in my brain. Memories of the hang-over I endured my first weekend here came flooding back. Only a date with Tristan would end in a massive migraine. I sat up slowly and made my way to my dresser to search for some aspirin. “Hey Josie,” I called out. When I didn’t receive an answer, I craned my neck to look over my shoulder only now noticing she wasn’t here. I scratched my head confused looking around for clues as to where she was.

My search was brief due to the wrapping on the door. I opened it to find Tristan on the other side. He was dressed as usual, his hair the normal messy arrangement, and smelling ever so deliciously good. I looked back over my shoulder at my clock that read seven am. “What are you doing up this early?”

I could feel him gawking. His eyes lingered longer then they should have. I stepped further behind the door trying to keep myself covered. “I thought I’d take you to breakfast,” he offered with a smile. He leaned up against the door frame, one leg crossed over the other. I could tell he was trying to get a better look at me through the door. I wouldn’t have cared, but I was in my pajamas, and no bra.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I think I’m going to sleep in a little longer. I kind of have a headache.”

“You don’t look so well, are you okay?” he asked a little concerned.

“Yeah, just a headache,” I said. “Did I...did I drink last night?” I was almost positive I didn’t, but it was the only reasonable explanation for my headache.

“Not while you were with me,” he said, frowning. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look kind of pale.”

“I’ll be fine. Just need some rest,” I assured him and closed the door. The longer I stood the worst my headache got. I felt guilty for abruptly ending the conversation, but the bright lights were blinding. My vision started to get blurry as my head started to spin. I slipped and knocked my books off my desk producing a loud thump. “Ella, are you alright?” I heard Tristan call. I knew if I just made it to my bed I would be fine. I pushed off my desk forcing my legs to work. “Ella?” Tristan knocked.

I took a step on shaky legs and collapsed onto the floor.

I hadn’t realized I had blacked out until I opened my eyes to see a troubled Josie and Tristan standing over me. I lifted my hand to my head and felt a damp wash cloth. “Here,” Josie said, handing me two pills and a glass of water.

“What happened?” Tristan asked. Concern plagued his expression. I looked up and noticed the dismantled door. There was a large splinter in the middle and it was barely hanging on by one of the hinges. He followed the direction of my eyes and turned around looking guilty. “Uh, sorry about that,” he bowed his head. “I kicked it down when you didn’t respond.”

I nodded slowly. Tristan sat patiently while he waited for my answer as to why he found me passed out. Josie pushed the pills at me again and I took them knowing well what happened. “I had a bad migraine,” I told him.

“Ella that was more than a migraine. You were passed out cold on the floor when I found you. You weren’t responding. If Josie hadn’t stopped me I would have taken you to the hospital,” he said, shaken up.

“I told him it was probably just a migraine and you’d be fine and you’d be pissed off if he took you to the emergency room,” Josie said, narrowing her eyes at him.

“How was I supposed to know?” he said, glaring back at Josie. Clearly there was something I missed.

“I’m sorry you had to see that, but Josie is right. This is something I’ve been dealing with since I was little. It happens, no big deal,” I shrugged, used to it. I’d already been to countless doctors who tried to figure out what was wrong. Every single one said they found nothing. And that unfortunately I would have to suffer from time to time with a migraine so blindingly painful that I would pass out. Nothing they could do except recommend extra strength aspirin. None of the prescription migraine medicine worked.

Tristan didn’t seem so confident about it being no big deal. “I promise. I’m fine and thank you, for…um, helping me. I probably would have had a killer kink in my neck if I was still on the floor,” I said trying to joke, hoping he would relax a little.

He gave me a small smile, but I knew it was forced. “I’ll have your door fixed,” he looked away contemplating what he should do. “I guess I should let you rest.” He stood and left without another word.

“Holy crap,” Josie said once he was gone. “Do you see that door? I didn’t think Tristan had it in him. Man that had to be one powerful kick. Must have been some date,” she winked. I rolled my eyes and took another sip of water. “Are you really okay?” I could tell Josie was trying to play it off like everything was fine, but underneath she was worried.

“Yeah Josie, I’m good now.”

“I’ll let you get some rest, but as soon as you wake up I want details,” she said.

“That’ll be hard to do with no door,” I replied.

“Maybe you could sleep in Tristan’s room,” she said with a smirk.

“Uh-no, I think I’ll just get ready for class.” I stood up and carefully made my way to my dresser.

“Ella, I really think you should just rest. You still don’t look so good.”

“Josie, I’ll be fine. This isn’t something that I haven’t already dealt with a million times. Really, it’s all good.”

It took me a little more convincing Josie I would be okay despite the fact that I still felt like shit. I managed to get dressed and made it to my first class, barely. I found Jack sitting in the back at our usual spot. “Here, I got you some coffee,” he said, handing me the cup. “You look like you could use it too.”

“Thanks,” I said, graciously taking the cup.

“You okay? You look kind of run down.”

“Thanks,” I said, sarcastically.

“I don’t mean you look bad. I just mean, you know, you don’t look so good,” he stuttered. His attempt at correcting himself was a miserable fail and made me feel worse.

“I’m fine. Just had a real bad headache this morning,” was my only reply. I wasn’t in the mood to go into details. Jack let it go sensing I wasn’t going to give him any more information. I could tell by the look on his face he regretted saying anything at all.

Jack followed me to our next class as normal and offered only minimal conversation. I was thankful for that since my early morning debacle was still weighing heavily on my mind. I felt like crap and wasn’t in the mood to engage with anyone.

Tristan wasn’t in Art today and I was surprised how his absence made me miss him. I started to feel woozy towards the end of class. I thought it be best if I went back to my dorm and rest for a while. When I returned, our door was fixed as promised. I threw my books on my desk and crashed on my bed. I slept all day and into the night. I woke up around midnight with the horrible feeling of being watched, but when I opened my eyes and searched my room, the only thing I found was Josie sleeping soundly on her bed. I laid back down and pulled the covers up over my head. I had a hard time falling asleep after that. I couldn’t shake the feeling of someone watching me.

By morning I was exhausted. My skin looked shallow and ghostly white. I tried my best to hide my under eye circles with concealer, but I still felt and looked like the walking dead. I fought the urge to stay in bed all day again and went to class. Tristan was absent again today and I was starting to wonder what was going on? I decided I would stop by his room afterwards and find out for myself.

When I reached his room I heard music and several different voices. I knocked on his door and got no answer. I figured he couldn’t hear over the music so I pounded harder. I was surprised when a girl answered and mortified at the fact that she opened the door in her underwear. “Can I help you?” she asked kindly, despite the fact that I was obviously interrupting something.

“Um, is Tristan here,” I said, almost wishing I didn’t bother. But I had to know what was going on. I wasn’t going to jump to conclusions until I knew for sure.

She pulled the door open looking over her shoulder. “Tristan, you have a visitor.”

“Whatever you’re selling I don’t want any,” he slurred.

I peeked my head in the door and spotted his arm hanging off the side of his bed clutching a bottle. Through further investigation I discovered he too was half naked. He had on no shirt with pants that were unbuttoned at the top. I sucked in a breath not believing what I was seeing. He sat up and the look in his eyes told me this was not meant for me to discover. A second later he played it off like it was no big deal. “Ella,” he said cheerily. “You’ve come to join us?”

“Are you drunk?” I asked appalled.

He held up his half empty bottle and took a swig. “Not yet,” he smiled cockily at me. I looked at him and back at the girl, eyes blazing. I felt like I had just gotten punched in the chest. To make matters worse, another girl sat up from the bed.

“I already donated to The Make a Wish foundation last week at the grocery store,” she said, sliding her hand up Tristan’s chest. I shook my head and laughed humorlessly. He removed the girls hand from his chest expressing disinterest. His face was hard. I turned around and went straight back to my room without a comment.

“Ella, wait!” Tristan called. “It’s not what you think.”

I spun around so fast he jumped back in surprise. “Let me guess, all their clothes magically fell off?” I said sarcastically. “Studying for an anatomy project?” I could tell he was getting ready for some bullshit excuse. I put up my hand to stop him. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care. Really it’s no big deal.” He looked at me unclear. “I mean c’mon, Tristan. It was just one date. You don’t have to explain anything to me. You’re free to do whatever, or should I say whoever, you want.”

He leaned up against the wall and looked me over. I crossed my arms over my chest. “I see the ice queen has returned,” he smiled. I glared at him for his comment. His smile fell and his eyes instantly narrowed. If I didn’t know any better, the expression on his face looked like he had just walked in on me with someone else.

“See you around,” I said casually and turned to open my door. I stopped and looked back over my shoulder for one more retort. “That is if you’re not afraid of your heart turning cold from being around an ice queen.” With those final words I left him in the hall speechless.

I closed my door behind me and let out a harsh breath. I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit I was hurt. At the same time I wasn’t surprised which just made it all that much worse. I wasn’t sure who I was more disappointed in, myself or Tristan. I let myself feel something and now I was paying the price.

Instead of letting my emotions get the best of me, I thought I’d go for a run. I threw on some sweats and sneakers. Tied my hair in a tight ponytail and took off to the exit. With my headphones plugged in and music blaring, I took off in a sprint. My feet pounded the pavement hard. I wasn’t a runner. The only time I ever ran was when I was required to in gym class, but I needed the air. I needed to work out my frustration. I needed to get as far away as I could and running was my safest and fastest option.

I made it only a half mile before my legs started to cramp up. I stopped and bent over, hands on knees. I was gasping for breath. I fell against the closest tree and wiped the sweat from my brow. “Okay, so maybe running wasn’t the best idea,” I told myself while still trying to catch my breath. I slid down until my butt hit the ground. I leaned back against the rough bark and closed my eyes. I sat there for a while, just listening to the different sounds of nature.

Once I felt relaxed and calm, I opened my eyes to find the sun setting. Holy crap, how long was I here? I stood up and brushed the dirt from my pants. I think the only thing I accomplished was reminding myself how much of an athlete I was not. I hadn’t realized how far I actually gotten until the walk back. I was only half way there and the sun had already set. Clouds darkened the night sky, the air still, giving the atmosphere that creepy vibe. The streets were deserted and the only sound was the cricket’s song.

I got the strangest feeling of another presence. I stopped and looked behind me.

Nothing.

I continued walking.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was lurking nearby. I wasn’t far from the dorms, but I picked up my pace not wanting to be out at night alone. I took a risk and looked over my shoulder. I didn’t see anything. I heard a rustling behind a tree and quickened my step. I wasn’t looking where I was going and slammed right into someone. I screamed.

“Ella?”

“Jack,” I breathed, grateful. “I’m sorry, I...” I felt so embarrassed.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I shook my head trying to shake off my earlier fear. “Sorry I was out for a run and I thought I heard something.”

“I didn’t know you were a runner.”

“I’m not actually, but I thought I might start,” I quipped.

He flashed me his crooked smile. “Can I walk you back?”

“That would be great,” I replied with a grateful smile. I took a risk and looked back over my shoulder one more time. For a second I thought I saw a shadow of someone behind the tree. I moved closer to Jack and told myself my mind was just playing tricks on me.

I thanked Jack for the company and told him I’d see him tomorrow. Then I crashed face down on my bed and prayed for sleep.

I got up early and took a shower so I could avoid Tristan. He wasn’t in class again and for that I was thankful. I didn’t want to see him. I was afraid of letting my true emotions show and no way in hell was I going to let Tristan see how I really felt. He didn’t deserve it.

Josie bombarded me with questions the moment I returned to our dorm room. “How was the date?” she asked excitedly.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said a little bitterly.

“Oh come on. I’ve been dying to hear about it. I didn’t bug you the other day cause of your migraine. Do you know how hard that was?”

“I don’t want to talk about,” I said, sitting down at my desk and cracking open my books.

“Was it that bad?”

I slammed my book shut and ran my fingers through my hair frustrated. “No. It was actually kind of nice,” I admitted.

“Oh,” she said confused. “Then what’s with the sour face?”

“Just Tristan being Tristan,” I grumbled.

Josie immediately picking up on my irritation asked, “What did he do?”

“Josie, it’s not important. I should have known better. Let’s just say I learned my lesson. A leopard can’t change it’s spots.”

“Oh Ella, I really thought this would work out. I’m sorry I pushed you to do this,” she said, placing a friendly hand on my shoulder.

“Josie you didn’t push me to do anything. I could have said no.”

“His loss,” she said, squeezing my shoulder. “There’s no point in letting some jerk ruin your day. Come on, I have the perfect plan to chase away those blues.” Josie ripped me from the chair and out the door.

Her plan to cheer me up consisted of a day at the spa. We got Mani’s and Pedi’s and I even let her convince me to get my hair done. I opted for a few caramel hi-lights and a much needed trim. She was right. This was just what I needed to lift my spirits.

At the salon, I changed my mind and told Josie all about the date with Tristan. “Okay, I don’t understand what the problem is then?” she said confused. I left out the part about walking in on his little ‘group orgy’.

“I just, well,” not finding a way around it, I confessed to Josie what I walked in on. She said I was overreacting and should make my move to show him I was the better choice. I highly disagreed. I decided I was just going to stick with Tristan and my normal everyday camaraderie.

Tristan was actually in Art today. I decided I was not going to let him get to me. I sat down in my chair and Tristan scooted closer to me. I pushed myself away. I still felt a certain attraction to him and being this close wasn’t helping. I needed distance. “Did you have lucky charms for breakfast? Because you look magically delicious,” Tristan said, running his finger along my arm.

I jerked back feeling that spark I did when our skin made contact. Tristan took my reaction as a sign of irritation. “Somebody’s testy today,” he smirked. “What’s the matter,” he leaned in closer and whispered, “that time of month?” he questioned.

“Were you dropped on your head as a child or something?”

“No,” he said like he thought it was a serious question. “I was spanked a lot though,” he winked. I turned away not in the mood to tolerate him today. He grabbed my chair and scooted it right up to his.

“What are you doing?” I snapped. Clearly I was still harnessing some bitter feelings towards him.

“I just wanted to be closer to you,” he smiled, sliding his hands around my hips and giving me a nasty whiff of alcohol.

“Are you drunk?” I asked, pushing him away.

“I’m not drunk, I’m just intoxicated by your presence,” he said, flashing me his cocky grin.

“Ugh! What is wrong with you?” He looked at me not understanding, like I was the crazy one all of a sudden. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but just stop. You’ve had your fun now so leave me alone,” I said louder than intended and got a nasty look from the professor.

“What could I have possibly done this time to piss you off?” he whispered. “I thought we had fun the other night. I mean I like you and you…” he left the question open.

I laughed humorlessly. “You have a funny way of showing it.”

He crinkled his brows at me. “Perhaps I bit off more than I can chew.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked annoyed.

“Like you said, it was just one date. No need to get upset,” he said, challenging me to say something smart.

“Thank you for clarifying that for me,” I said, turning my attention back to my work and pulling my chair as far away from him as I could.

I should have never expected anything more from him. Tristan would never change. I let myself hold more emotion for him than he deserved and now I had become the fool. Lesson learned.

Tristan continued to pester me all throughout class. I ignored him just how I had in the past, which, unfortunately, seemed to entice him to try harder. I could only take so much before I completely lost my composure. Thankfully the class had ended allowing me to escape his incessant barrage of flirtation.

Despite his drunken stupor, Tristan managed to catch up to Jack and me outside. “So...where you off to now?” Tristan asked.

I stopped abruptly causing him to almost slam right into me. “Tristan, I think you should go sleep it off,” I said annoyed, turning back around.

He was beside me again in one quick step. “Is that an invitation?”

I stopped again, this time addressing Jack. “Jack, do you mind giving us a few minutes.”

“Yeah, I’ll just catch up with you later,” he said with understanding.

“Nice job getting rid of the little squirt. I always thought three was a crowd,” Tristan said.

“He’s not the problem and since when did you think three was a crowd? You didn’t seem to have a problem with it the other day,” I spat, letting my jealousy show through.

Tristan picked up on it and used it to his advantage. He flashed me his charming smile. “I didn’t think you were into that, but I’ll remember to keep you in mind for next time.”

“You’re a pig.”

“Let’s go make some bacon.”

“Please stop!” Despite the animosity I was feeling towards him at the moment, I still couldn’t help but laugh. He was persistent. To the point I no longer had the energy to argue. So I just gave in.

“You wanna come back to my room and help me celebrate?” he asked.

“Celebrate what?”

“Hump day,” he cheered, throwing his arm over my shoulder.

I threw his arm off disgusted. “It boggles my mind how you can make me irritated, laugh, and annoyed all in the matter of five minutes.”

“What can I say, I’m just that awesome,” he smiled, taking it as a compliment.

“I would have gone with crazy, but that would make me just as insane considering the company I keep.”

“Ella, you’re not crazy,” he said, rustling my hair completely oblivious to anything I just said. I opened my mouth to comment but Tristan was distracted by the flashy red Porsche parked over near the curb. “Ooh, nice car,” he sang.

There was a small crowd of girls surrounding the owner of the car. One of the girls stepped off to the side to expose the mystery man they were all swooning over and I nearly dropped my books. “Dean?”

“You know him?”

I completely blew off Tristan and marched right over to where Dean was standing in front of his brand new car – no doubt a bribe from our parents. For what, I didn’t know, but I was about to find out. “What are you doing here?” I asked, not even bothering with pleasantries.

“Is that anyway to greet your big bro?” he said with a show off smile. I narrowed my eyes at him. “You’ll have to excuse me ladies. I need some time to catch up with my lil’ sis here.” The girls pouted, showing their disappointment. “No worries, we’ll catch up later,” he said, winking and kissing their hands.

“Who’s this guy?” Tristan asked, taking a spot next to me.

“My brother...and your competition,” I replied. Tristan furrowed his brows questioningly.

Dean spread his arms wide. “How about a hug?”

“What are you doing here?” I repeated.

He dropped his arms and even before he said it, I already knew. “Your little school here made national news.”

“Mom,” I groaned, letting him know he didn’t even have to bother finishing his explanation. “I can’t believe she sent you here to check up on me.”

“Believe it,” he said, dusting a spot off on his brand new car.

“And let me guess, the car was to get you here? Your bribe?”

“I wouldn’t call it a bribe. It was a gift, for being a caring older brother.” I choked on a laugh. “Hey, just be glad it’s me and not mom.” True, I couldn’t argue that. “How about we go figure out our sleeping arrangement,” he said, pushing off his car.

“You’re staying the night?”

“It is a bit of a drive you know, and if mom had it her way I’d be transferring here. So just be glad it’s only one night.”

The day just kept getting better and better.

Dean and Tristan gave each other the once over. I wanted to laugh. They had no idea how alike they were. Tristan took the initiative to introduce himself when I didn’t. “Tristan,” he said, extending a hand and keeping a guarded look on his face.

“Dean.”

We stood there awkwardly for a moment while Dean and Tristan studied each other. Having enough, I told Dean to follow me to my room. “You stay,” I said, turning on Tristan not wanting him to follow. For once he listened.

“Dean?” Josie called out as we walked through the door. She got up off the bed to give him a hug.

“Hey JoJo,” he said, returning the hug.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I’m here to protect you, my ladies,” Dean said, pretending to pull out a fake sword, making Josie laugh.

“I guess your mom heard,” she replied. “I’m surprised she didn’t hire bodyguards.”

I slumped my shoulders, knowing that was still a possibility and probably should not be ruled out yet. I was lucky she only sent Dean, for now at least.

“So, what’s the plan for tonight?” Dean asked, making himself comfortable on my bed. He lay with his hands behind his head and ankles crossed.

“First thing is finding you a place to sleep.”

“Your bed will do,” he said, picking a piece of lint off of my comforter.

“Then where am I supposed to sleep?”

“You like to rough it. You can sleep on the floor,” he suggested.

“If anyone’s sleeping on the floor it’s you,” I told him.

“No worries. I’m pretty sure I’ll find a place to sleep tonight,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a handful of notes with girls phone numbers on them. I swiped all the papers from him and ripped them into tiny pieces. “What the hell, Ella? Talk about a buzz kill,” he groaned, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You are not going to come here and take advantage of some poor girl. You can sleep in my bed. I’ll share with Josie.”

“Or I can share with Josie,” Dean said, throwing Josie a come hither smile.

Josie stood up from the bed and leaned in closely to Dean. “Dean, I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last guy on earth.” He shrugged not caring the least bit. “Ella could always stay with Tristan,” she said with a smirk. “Then no one would have to share.”

“You dating that guy?” Dean asked, getting ready to bust out what I was sure would be some big brother lecture.

“No and no one’s going anywhere. Josie and I will share. Dean you can have my bed. It’s only one night I think we can deal.” I looked back and forth between them and they nodded in agreement.

“Now that’s settled, let’s get some grub. I’m starving,” Dean whined. I agreed when my stomach started to complain at the lack of fulfillment.

Just as we were about to head out, Tristan came barging into our room. “Evening, so what’s on the agenda for tonight?”

“Dinner than rest,” I exhaled.

“Your brother came all this way and you’re not even going to take him out? That’s not very hospitable of you,” Tristan said.

“Well, unlike some of us, I like my sleep,” I replied, holding back a yawn.

“Okay, than what’s for dinner?” Tristan asked, taking a seat on Josie’s bed. Making it clear he wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.

“We’re going out to eat,” I sighed.

“Great, I’m in the mood for Chinese,” Tristan said, inviting himself along.

I looked to Josie for some help, but she just shrugged her shoulders. I thought maybe Dean might protest, but he was too busy with his blackberry. I doubt he even noticed Tristan was here.

I sighed, not seeing a way out of this, and agreed to let Tristan tag along. “Fine, but no Chinese.”

“I’ll drive,” Dean said on the way out.

“Dean, your car only fits two people.”

“Then how do you suggest we get there?”

“I do have a car you know,” I said, flashing the lights on my SUV.

“I’m still driving though.” I threw him the keys and hopped in the back with Josie.

We went to one of the local restaurants a couple blocks away. They had a huge menu to choose from so everyone was happy. “This seems like a boring town. What do you guys do for fun around here?” Dean complained.

“Not all of us are all about partying Dean. Some of us are actually here to get an education.”

“Seriously Ella, you need to lighten up,” he said.

“I know of some places we could go tonight,” Tristan chimed in catching Dean’s interest.

“Would these places have naked ladies and good booze?”

“That could be arranged,” Tristan said, flashing a wicked smile.

“I like your style,” Dean said.

“Well you can count me out.”

“Me too,” said Josie.

“You ready?” Tristan asked Dean. “It’s just a few blocks away. We can walk from here.”

“How are you guys going to get home?” I asked.

“We’ll take a cab,” Dean said, throwing some money on the table for dinner.

Tristan gave me a wink on the way out. “Catch ya later.”

“Should I be worried about those two hanging out together?” I asked Josie, concerned. One of them was bad enough, but the combination of them could be catastrophic.

“How much trouble could they get into?” Josie declared.

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