The Wanderers

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chapter 16

In the morning there was a frantic knock on the door. “Ella...Ella,” I heard Josie whisper. I rolled over, forgetting I was on the couch, and fell right off with a loud oomph. “Ella?” Josie opened the door letting herself in. She took one look at me on the floor and in my underwear and said, “I’m not even going to ask.”

Tristan, now waking up, looked down at me. “What are you doing on the floor?”

I rolled my eyes and stood up, brushing myself off. “What is it Josie?” I asked while I got dressed.

“Huh?” she mumbled. She was staring at Tristan, shirtless, too distracted to remember what she came here for. Tristan noticed her expression and sat up. He stretched his arms above his head, and then brought them down, pausing slightly to flex his muscles. He winked at Josie and she gave him a half-cocked smile.

I threw a pillow at him and turned back to Josie. “Josie! Focus!”

“Huh? Oh yeah, your mom.”

“What about my mom?”

“She’s here.”

“What?” I yelped.

Josie shushed me and closed the door. “She’s in our room, with my mom too.”

“What are they doing here?” I asked panicked, looking for my shoes.

“Well since you never called her back, she decided to come here and inspect things for herself and brought my retched mother with her.”

“Great,” I said.

“Leave your shoes.”

“What, Why?” I asked confused.

“I told her you were in the bathroom,” Josie said, looking nervously over her shoulder. “Hurry up before they decide to look in the closet.”

“What’s wrong with them looking in the closet –” I started, then realized. “You didn’t.”

“What was I supposed to do? They just showed up, unannounced,” she said, throwing her hands up, flustered.

“I can’t believe you stuck Billy in the closet,” I said, making my way to the door.

Tristan laughed at poor Billy’s misfortune. “You better not tell anyone,” Josie threatened. He just smiled and imitated zipping his lips.

I left without another word.

Once at our room, I took a deep breath before opening the door. “Mom, hi.”

“Well it’s nice to see you’re okay,” she said, eyes narrowed. “You know if you had just called, I wouldn’t have had to drag poor Mrs. McNaughton all the way out here just to make sure our daughters were still alive.”

I stifled an eye roll. I knew it was just an excuse she used to convince my dad to let her come here. She was quite aware that I was alive and well. Dean had told me he called her when he got back to school letting her know everything was fine. “Well don’t just stand there, come give your mother a hug.” I walked over and wrapped my arms around her. Despite her need to be overbearing, I was happy to have my mom. I squeezed her a little tighter, holding on a little longer, inhaling her sweet scent.

I felt her exhale at the embrace. When I pulled back she gripped my hands and her face instantly frowned when she saw my bandaged hand. “What happened?”

“Oh it’s nothing. I accidentally broke a glass and cut my hand. It’s fine, really,” I said, pulling my hand away and hoping she was buying it. It wasn’t a complete lie. I brushed it off like it was nothing so I could avoid a million questions.

“Oh Ella, honestly, you need to be more careful.”

“I know.” I bit my lip and looked at Josie. She had an anxious look on her face, her eyes constantly shifting to the closet and then back to me, giving me a look that said hurry this up. “Why don’t we go get some breakfast,” I suggested.

“What about your classes?” my mom asked.

“We don’t have classes today,” Josie said, speaking for the first time. I turned to her and gave her a look that said, ‘what the hell are you thinking?’ “It’s Friday Ella, Skylar’s memorial? Classes are canceled today so we can pay our respects.”

I had totally forgotten. With everything going on I lost track of time and didn’t even realize what day it was. “Oh right. Just let me change and then we can be on our way.”

I quickly put on jeans and a nice shirt and gestured for everyone to leave when my mom stopped me. “Ella, where’s your coat? It’s freezing outside.”

“’s fine. I don’t need one.”

“Don’t be silly. Where is it, in the closet?” She turned and put her hand on the handle to the closet door.

“NO!” Josie and I both yelled. My mom turned to us, a suspicious look on her face.

“I just remembered I...uh...”

“Left it at a friend’s,” Josie finished for me.

“A friend’s… yeah. Why don’t you guys go head down to the lobby? I’ll go get my coat and Josie and I will meet you two down there.” My mom looked back at the closet; forehead wrinkled, but agreed to meet us downstairs. Relieved, I opened the door to let them out only to find Tristan standing there, hand in air, as if he was about to knock, my coat and shoes in his other hand.

“Hey I was –” he started until I shook my head as a warning; eyes wide.

My mom pulled the door open the rest of the way to be nosey. “Ella, don’t be rude, introduce us to your friend.”

Oh, this just gets better and better.

I sighed.

“Hi, I’m Tristan, McKinnon,” he said, extending a hand to my mom in a gentlemanly manner.

“Jamila McCallister, Ella’s mother, and this is Jade McNaughton, Josie’s mother.” Jade gave Tristan a flirtatious smile and winked at him. I fought back the bile that was rising in the back of my throat while my mom kept her attention on Tristan. “And how do you know my daughter?”

Great, here come the million questions.

“Ella and I have an Art class together,” he said simply. My mom looked at the coat he was holding and then back at me, eyes suspicious. “I was just returning Ella’s coat. She left it in the art room.”

My mom turned to me wearing her ‘I just caught you in a lie’ look. “I thought you said you left it at a friend’s?”

“I thought I did. I was at the Art room, then went to a friend’s and thought I left it there,” I said, biting the inside of my cheek hoping she was buying it. I knew she could tell something was off, but left it go.

“Do you have any plans this morning, Tristan?” My mom asked him.


I knew it. And now she was going to embarrass me by inviting Tristan along, pretending to be all polite when really I knew she was just preparing for an interrogation.

“No ma’am,” Tristan replied, clearly having no idea what he was getting himself into.

“Please, call me Jamila,” she said charmingly. Only I knew there was venom behind those fangs she hid. Sensing my irritation, she chastised me with just a single look. I shifted my weight and played with the hole in the door frame to keep myself distracted from opening my mouth and causing more trouble.

“No Jamila, I do not have any plans,” he said. My head snapped up and I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Well then, you should join us for breakfast.” I stood behind her, shaking my head and waving my hands no; a silent protest to save us all from the upcoming torment.

“I’d love to,” he said, smiling charmingly as I glared at him.

“Perfect and now we don’t have to wait for Ella to get her coat. Come on girls.”

“Uh,” I stuttered, trying to find a way to stall. I nudged my head in the direction of the closet.

“If you don’t mind, I will meet you lovely ladies downstairs in the lobby. I have to put on more, suitable attire,” Tristan said, winking at me when they weren’t looking.

“Don’t go all out on our account. I’m sure whatever you put on will be fine,” Jade purred, dragging a nail down his arm.

Tristan coughed uncomfortably and Josie pushed her mom out the door. “Gross mom,” she mumbled.

“We’ll see you in the lobby?” My mom asked, looking at her watch.

“Five minutes top,” he replied. My mom gave him one last look and followed Josie and Jade down the hall.

Once they were out of earshot I hit Tristan in the chest. “Why did you say yes?”

“What, I thought it would be nice to get to know my future mother-in-law,” he teased with his cocky smile.

“You never stop do you?”

“I believe now this is twice that I got you into bed with me,” he said, holding up two fingers and smiling proudly.

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” I said, quoting my grandmother. He went to retort but I stopped him and pushed him in the direction of my room. “Just get Billy out of the closet,” I said, taking off after my mom. I heard him chuckle under his breath as I walked away.

Ten minutes later, Tristan was in the lobby and Billy was following a few feet behind. He winked at Josie on his way out and she blushed smiling bashfully at him.

At breakfast, my mom instantly started with the questioning. “So Tristan, you said your last name was McKinnon, correct?”

“Yes ma’am, sorry, Jamila,” he said, stumbling over his words a bit. I found it funny to see Tristan tense and nervous. He always seemed to be on top of his game, but for some reason he had this look like my mom had just gripped him by the balls and wasn’t going to let go until she got the information she needed. This was surprising to me considering he was usually good in these types of situations. He was always so suave and debonair. If I looked close enough I could swear he was sweating a little. Although I didn’t blame him, my mom could be intimidating when she needed to be. I was kind of enjoying watching him squirm though, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before he regained himself and said something that was going to make me want to hide under the table.

“Any relation to Kenneth McKinnon?” My mom asked.

“Yes, he’s –” he stopped and corrected himself. “Sorry, was, my great grandfather,” he said, emphasizing the word ‘was’. I looked at him curiously but he kept his eyes on my mom watching her reaction to his mistake.

“Ah yes, he was a great man and dear friend,” she said, emphasizing the word was as well. I looked at her, not having any memory of meeting him. “You never met him honey. You were too young at the time,” she said, reading the odd expression on my face.

“I am to assume then your father is Caleb and your mother Bitsy?”

‘Bitsy,’ Josie mouthed to me mocking the name. I looked down trying to hide my smile.

“Yes,” Tristan confirmed. “And stepmother.”

My mom nodded her head approvingly and Tristan relaxed a little. “Very nice people as well. I’ve worked with your mother, sorry, stepmother,” she corrected, “on quite a few charity events. I can’t wait to tell her I’ve finally met the son she’s always talking about.”

“Don’t believe everything she’s told you. It’s not all true,” he smiled, gaining back some of his normal bravado. My mom just smiled as if she and Tristan shared some inside joke.

“You’re from California?” I asked abruptly and annoyed I never knew this before. He nodded in response. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“You never asked,” he said casually, taking a sip of his water.

I scowled at him.

“So Tristan, what is it that you do?”

“I’m the Resident Advisor,” he said proudly, which I thought was a joke. Tristan was not the ideal candidate for the job and how he got it was baffling to me.

“I’m pleased to know someone with such a fine background as yours is the Resident Advisor. I know my daughter is in good hands.”

“She certainly is,” he smirked. Only I knew what he really meant by that and wished I was close enough to kick him.

“What are you majoring in?” she continued with questions.

“I’m undecided at the moment.”

“Surely there’s something that interests you.” Tristan’s gaze locked on mine, making me blush.

Hoping my mom didn’t catch that, I quickly intervened to diffuse her somewhat scrutinizing stare. “Tristan’s actually a very good artist. You should see some of his work.” Her head sprung up, interested.

“Actually, Ella has offered to model for me,” Tristan snuck in slyly.

“Really? Ella?” She set her arms down on the table and looked at me surprised.

“Well, I...I said maybe. If I had time,” I stuttered. I really wish I had a stick. I couldn’t reach him to kick him, but with a long enough stick I could poke him, really hard.

“Yes dear, I understand how busy you are. I couldn’t imagine when you would have time considering you’re so busy that you can’t even take ten minutes out of your day to call your own mother and let her know how you are doing.” She tilted her head showing her ever impressive act on making others feel sorry for the ‘neglectful’ daughter she had. I rolled my eyes; I’d seen this look a million times and knew better. I will give her credit though. I was slightly rapt with how long it took her to start the guilt trip.

I sighed and fought the urge to start a ridiculous fight. “Ella, you should be ashamed of yourself. Worrying your lovely mother like that. Seriously I’m sure you can take a few minutes away from your studies to call your own mom,” Tristan barked and looked at her sympathetically. He even went as far as reaching across the table and patting my mom’s hand for comfort.

“OH Please!” I said, not able to contain myself. My mom narrowed her eyes at me thinking I was being disrespectful. Tristan smiled wide, pleased with himself.

I wrapped my fingers tightly around my knife grinding it into the table and shooting looks of death at Tristan. “Now Ella, no need to be rude,” my mom said, noticing my burning stare. She patted my hand like she was correcting a misbehaved child. I took a breath and released the knife. I caught Josie trying to hide her giggles. She herself was a witness to my mom’s many over dramatic guilt trips. “You’re not helping,” I mouthed to Josie. She put her head down, unable to wipe the smile from her face and seeming to enjoy every bit of my agony as much as Tristan was.

“I’m sorry, where were we?” my mom asked, erasing the distraught look from her face and replacing it with her million dollar smile.

“We were discussing Ella letting Tristan paint her,” Josie chimed in. I shot her a look of disapproval.

“Oh yes,” my mom said, clapping her hands, delighted. “Ella, honey, you should let Tristan paint you. I would feel honored if someone offered to paint me.”

“Well, maybe that could be arranged,” Tristan offered.

“How about two for the price of one?” Josie’s mom asked, flirting shamelessly and making Josie roll her eyes.

“Tristan’s also Vice president of his fraternity,” I said, changing the subject, no longer feeling comfortable with the one we were on.

“I love frat boys,” Jade cooed, wiggling her brows.

“God mom, could you be any more embarrassing,” Josie said, burying her head in her hands to hide her flushed cheeks. Tristan just chuckled lightly not minding Jade’s advances. Something I was sure he was used to.

“What fraternity?” my mom asked, trying to diffuse the awkwardness.

“Theta Pi, the brother fraternity to Ella’s sorority,” Tristan answered, throwing the attention back on me. He was pretty good at that.

“You didn’t tell me you joined a sorority?”

“Um, yeah, Josie and I joined Theta Kappa.” I braced myself for the lecture. I was pretty sure my mom would not approve of this. Jade mumbled something unintelligible in response to hearing that Josie was a member as well. The look on Josie’s face was enough to just ignore the comment and move on. Jade was already on her third mimosa, so we knew better than to pay her any mind.

“I think that’s wonderful,” my mom said, surprising us all. That was not the reaction I was expecting. I thought for sure she would argue about it taking time away from my studies and use it as another excuse as why I was too busy to call. “I would love to meet your sisters. You know, I was a Theta Kappa in the California chapter,” she admitted to my surprise.

“We can head over after breakfast if you like?” I offered.

“Perfect,” she said, squeezing my hand.

I managed to make it through breakfast without any more eye rolls or dirty looks shot in the direction of Tristan. I continued the conversation by talking to my mom about my classes and the upcoming charity work we were going to be doing with the sorority. Tristan jumped in, taking the lead, and even impressing me with his extensive knowledge on the charity cases we’d be working on. Thankfully everything ended on a good note. I gave a sigh of relief when we said goodbye to Tristan and headed to the sorority house.

In the car ride over my mom let me know how fairly impressed she was with Tristan. She especially loved that, according to her, he came from quite an elite family that was well respected. By the way she was regarding him I wouldn’t be surprised if she had us married by next May. If she only knew what he was really like, I was sure all that would change.

“I really like that boy Tristan,” my mom said. “He’s a very nice young boy who comes from a good family. He’s also a, what do you kids say...a hottie?”

Oh. My. God.

She did not just say that.

I gave my mom a sideways glance from the driver’s seat. “Mom, you did not just say that.”

“What, I’m not allowed to comment about another person’s looks? I may be older but I’m not dead.”

I just shook my head and heard Josie giggle from the back seat.

Inside the sorority house, Cadence greeted us in the living room. “Good morning Ella, Josie, to what do we owe the pleasure?”

“Good morning, Cadence,” I said, returning the greeting. “Josie and I were surprised with a visit from our mother’s this morning and they wanted to see the house. I hope that’s okay?”

“Of course it is. Mrs. McCallister, Mrs. McNaughton, welcome,” Cadence said kindly. “It is such a pleasure to meet both of you. We were so honored to have Ella and Josie join our sisterhood.”

“My mom was actually a Theta Kappa from the California chapter,” I said.

“I know, she was quite the legacy,” Cadence replied.

My mom blushed and waved if off like it was an exaggeration. I wondered why Cadence never mentioned that little bit of known information. “Help yourselves, look around. I’m sure Ella should have no problem giving you the grand tour. Unfortunately I cannot stick around.” Cadence bowed her head. “Due to the recent tragic loss of a sister, I have much that needs to be done today to help with honoring her memory,” Cadence said, sullenly. If I didn’t know any better I would have said her approach was more of a well-practiced act. But then again maybe being the head social speaker required that. The show never ended.

“Of course, it was a pleasure to meet you,” my mom said, giving Cadence a friendly hug as she retreated to the door.

I decided to make it a quick tour. I was getting a creepy vibe being in this place. I chalked it up to everything that was going on. Whatever it was, I was eager to complete the tour. We had reached the photos of the sisters throughout the years and I recalled the strange picture I had seen of the guy who had a striking resemblance to my father. I brought the picture to my mom’s attention and her eyes went wide at the sight of it. Her shock quickly dissolved and she returned to her normal perky self. “Well you know what they say, everyone has a twin,” she shrugged, brushing it off like it was nothing.

“But with the same name? Surely he has to be some relation?”

“It’s just an odd coincidence Ella. I can assure you there is no relation.”

“But –”

“But nothing Ella, drop it,” she said forcefully. I took a step back, surprised by her reaction. “Now, show me the rest of the house,” she smiled as if nothing happened. I glanced back at Josie and she shrugged her shoulders looking as puzzled as I was.

After we were done with the tour of the house, we took our moms on a tour of the campus and to a few shops in the area before we said our goodbyes. They had an early flight, both having to attend important meetings in the morning. Despite the unexpected visit I was happy to see my mom. I didn’t realize how much I actually missed her until she was here, but at the same time I was glad she wasn’t staying. I loved my mom, but another day spent with her would drive anyone insane.

“I’m glad to know you’re doing well, honey.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“Would it kill you to call once in a while?” she complained.

“I promise I’ll try better to keep in touch,” I smiled, giving her a hug and kiss. I held on a little longer wanting to feel her warmth and comfort. When I finally let go she placed a gentle hand on my cheek, smiling proudly, before getting into the car. We waved goodbye and I sighed at the surprising feeling of sadness in my heart as I watched them pull away.

After a much needed nap, I woke up and began to get ready for Skylar’s memorial. “How weird was the way my mom acted about that photo?” I asked Josie. “I mean, hello? That was almost like ‘Mommie Dearest’ come to life.”

“That was a bit out of sorts for her.”

“Which makes me think she’s hiding something? How about at breakfast, the weird conversation about Tristan’s grandfather, even Tristan kind of –”

“I don’t know Ella, I wouldn’t think too much of it. She seemed pretty adamant about you dropping it.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said, letting it go for now and finishing getting ready.

Once I did my hair and got dressed, I dug through my jewelry box and pulled out my grandmother’s bumble bee pendant she bought me when I was little. Even though it seemed like such a childish thing it made me feel safe.

“Here, let me help you with that.” I jumped slightly at the sound of his voice. He gestured to the necklace when I didn’t respond. I turned back around and lifted my hair. He hooked the clasp and when his fingers brushed my skin I felt a small rush. I thanked him and stepped away, needing to find some air. “What are you doing here and how did you get in?” I didn’t hear the door open nor did I hear him approach. It was almost as if he appeared out of thin air.

“The door was open,” he said, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. Josie, I groaned, rolling my eyes. “And I’d thought I’d escort you ladies to the memorial,” he finished. I noticed now he was wearing a dark gray suit with a black tie and looking incredibly handsome.

“That would be nice.” I shot him a smile and he took a seat on the bed while I touched up my hair. “You know, you really did a number on my mom. I wouldn’t be surprised if when she gets back she’ll get together with your step-mom and start planning our wedding.”

“Of course, that was my scheme all along,” he said, smiling coolly. I couldn’t help but laugh. I got up and grabbed my parka. “You’re not wearing that, are you?”

“What’s wrong with my outfit?” I asked, checking myself out in the mirror. I was wearing a long sleeved gray and black dress that fell just above the knee and Josie’s knee-high black boots.

“Not the outfit, your coat. You don’t have a dress coat?” he asked.

“No, this is the only one I have,” I said annoyed.

“Well lucky you, I thought ahead,” he said, getting up off the bed and leaving the room. He returned with a garment bag. “Open it,” he smiled. I drew down the zipper and peeled back the sides. Inside was a white, button down pea coat. The coat was knee length with a matching belt and hood.

I wondered when he had time to do this or even thought to do this. “I knew you wouldn’t have a nice dress coat so I came prepared,” he said, answering my question.

“Thank you, it’s beautiful, but you really didn’t have to,” I said as he helped me put it on.

“Of course I did. Can’t have my future wife looking shabby,” he said, adjusting the collar of the jacket. I shook my head and pushed him away. “What?”

“Why do you always have to ruin it?” I sighed.

“Ella, you can pretend all you want, but I know you feel something for me. Maybe not as much as I feel for you, but in the end you’ll realize we’re meant for each other,” he said as brushed his hand across my cheek.

I closed my eyes. I could feel his warm breath close to my lips. “Hey, Ella?” Josie said, coming back into the room, and causing me to jump back away from Tristan. She bounced back between our startled faces and smiled coyly, knowing clearly what she almost walked in on. Her attention was quickly attuned to a new subject when she noticed my coat. “Nice coat, when did you get that?” She frowned, imagining that I did the unthinkable and went shopping without her.

“I didn’t, Tristan got it for me.”

She raised a brow and smiled again. “I think you should have a talk with Billy. I definitely would appreciate him more if he bought me things.”

Tristan chuckled. “Duly noted.”

“You almost ready?” I asked Josie.

“You guys go ahead. I have to wait for Billy.”

Tristan gestured with his hand for us to leave. I reluctantly followed him out the door. I was worried showing up at the memorial with Tristan would turn some heads considering the last time both Tristan and I saw Skylar alive was when we had a not so private fight. It was no secret, her dislike for me, but the last thing I needed was to spark rumors. I felt if Josie was with us it wouldn’t look like Tristan and I were together, but now I wasn’t sure.

Tristan tried to take my hand as we walked out of the dorms but I pulled away afraid of what people would say. I felt bad when I sensed his hurt at my rejection and wanted to explain it to him, but I didn’t know how. Instead I kept my eyes forward and my head up as we approached the quad.

The whole school was in attendance for Skylar’s memorial, including the professors, the Dean, and even Jack. He tried not to look too disappointed at the fact that I showed up with Tristan, but I knew it bothered him. I excused myself from Tristan and walked over to Jack to try and smooth things over. “Hi.”

“You came with Tristan.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“No, he just walked with me.” I could tell he thought I was lying. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” he said, not even bothering to look at me. Clearly he was upset that I was here with Tristan and not him.

“The sisters and I are going to some club downtown afterward. I’d really like it if you’d join us,” I asked, hoping he’d say yes.

“I don’t know.” I forced him to look at me and pleaded with my eyes. “I’ll think about it,” he said.

“I’ll you see you around?” He gave a slight nod and I left it at that, not wanting to push it. I slid my hands inside my pockets and walked back over to Tristan who was now joined by Billy and Josie. Once the memorial started I reached for Tristan’s hand. He squeezed it gently, appreciative for any simple touch I would allow.

The memorial lasted about an hour long; when it was over, we all parted ways and Tristan offered to drive to the club. I texted Jack on the way hoping he had changed his mind, but I got no response. I felt it best not to dwell on the matter. We met all the sisters and brothers along with a few friends downtown. When I got out of the car Cadence handed me an ID. “A fake ID?” I asked skeptically.

“Relax. You look like you’re thirty. He probably won’t even card you anyways, but just in case,” she said, shoving the ID in my hand. Thanks, I thought not so sure that was a compliment.

I examined the so called ID. The woman I was claiming to be was a heavy set woman in her forties with blond hair and brown eyes. “This is not going to work,” I said to Tristan, checking out the ID again.

“You’ll be fine,” he assured me and pulled me up to the door. I automatically handed my ID to the doorman out of nerves. He flashed a small pen light over the ID and then at me. He scrunched his eyes looking over the ID again as I fidgeted with my fingernails. He handed back the ID and waved us in. I knew he had to know it was a fake, but I guessed he didn’t care and was thankful he didn’t call me out on it.

Once inside the music was so loud you could barely hear anything anyone was saying. “What do you want to drink?” Tristan asked.

“Huh?” I said, cupping my ear and trying to understand him.

“Drink?” he pointed to the bar.


“A Long Island?” he suggested smiling, remembering the other night.

“No!” I said and he just laughed.

“How about just a rum and coke?”

“That’s fine,” I agreed, having no idea what he just offered, but tired of struggling to hear him. He kissed my cheek before he walked away to get us drinks. I blushed and looked around hoping no one caught the small display of affection. I spotted Josie and made my way over to where she was standing with some of the other sisters. I took off my coat and had a seat while I waited for Tristan to return with our drinks.

When I saw him looking around for me, I waved my hand catching his attention. He weaved his way in and out of the crowd finally reaching us and handed me my drink. When everyone else was in attendance, Cadence called over one of the waitresses and ordered a round of shots for everyone. Once the shots were dispersed and in hand, Cadence stood to make a speech. “This is for our fallen sister, may she rest in peace.”

“Or hell,” Cassidy said under her breath and Cadence shot her a dirty look. Cassidy seemed to have cared less and downed her shot walking away.

Cadence ignored her and continued. “For Skylar,” she said, raising her glass while the rest of us followed suit.

Another three shots and a few drinks later, I was feeling pretty good. I had no intention of drinking that much, but every time I turned around a shot or drink was shoved into my hand. I could have said no, but they all went down so smooth and tasted so good. The girls pulled me out on to the dance floor and we all let loose. I danced around with Josie until I caught sight of a girl that was in one of my classes. She was dancing atop one of the bars. I thought it looked like fun so I decided to join her. All the girls cheered me on while I wiggled my behind like Beyoncé. Tristan stood just beneath me with a worried expression his face. I ignored him, determined not to let him spoil my fun.

Unfortunately, my foot slipped and I lost my balance, falling off the bar. Tristan caught me before I hit the floor. “My hero,” I cheered, wrapping my arms around his neck and giving him a kiss on the cheek.

The look on his face told me he wasn’t feeling very heroic when he put me down. “I think you had enough, Ella.”

“What are you, my father? Relax, I’m just having fun,” I said as Cassidy handed me another drink and pulled me back out onto the dance floor. Tristan didn’t follow. He stayed right where he was and watched from a distance. An older man - with the worst taste in clothes - came up behind me and started to dance with me. Too drunk to care, I let him. His hands started to wander so I pulled back some hoping he would keep his hands to himself.

I wasn’t so lucky. His hands slid down my back and grabbed my butt. “Okay that’s enough,” I said, walking away when he wouldn’t get the hint.

“I’m not finished yet,” he said, pulling me back. He held me so close the sweat on his nasty chest hair was wiping off on me. His tacky gold chains hit me in the chest every time he swung me back and forth. His arms spit out like snakes, slithering up and down my body.

“Okay really, I’m done,” I said, having enough. I pushed him away with a little more force but he wasn’t taking no for an answer. I found Josie and gave her a pleading look to help me. She wrapped her arm around my waist and tried to pull me away, but he grabbed her too. Josie managed to slip out of his grasp allowing him to have two hands to grope me with again. He held me tighter, grinding his knee in between my legs. I fought back, but he just gripped harder. He tried to kiss my neck; slobbering all over me and making me gag from his cheap cologne. That was the last straw. I stomped my heel on his toe and he released me instantly, cursing under his breath. I gave him a smug look of satisfaction letting him know that was what you get when he suddenly lunged for me.

I jumped back in time making room for Tristan. He stepped in front of me and shoved the guy so hard he flew back into a crowd of people. I touched Tristan’s shoulder; he flinched, and then turned on me. His eyes were dark and his face was hard. I’d seen this look before and I knew the outcome would not be good. “Tristan,” I said, carefully reaching for him again. “Let it go. I’m fine.” I pulled him closer to me and made him look at me. I placed a hand on his reddened cheek. He closed his eyes and I felt him relax.

“What’s your problem, man?” The sleaze growled.

Tristan’s eyes whipped open and I felt him tense up again. “Don’t,” I pleaded. “Tristan please, I’m begging you to let this go.” I tugged at his shirt trying to pull him away, but he refused to budge. I tried one last plea. I held his hands and slowly tugged him in the opposite direction.

“Whatever, take the slut,” yelled the sleaze.

And that was it.

Tristan dropped my hands and leapt at the guy with fists flying. I tried to stop it but the girls pulled me out of the way. A stranger signaled for one of the bouncers to come over and help. I was shoved back by big, burly men in bright green shirts trying to break up the fight. They ripped Tristan off of the guy and shoved him in the direction of the exit. Then they helped the other guy up and began to escort him out.

That was when I caught a glimpse of his bloody shirt. My eyes shifted up and I saw blood dripping from his nose. He held his hand up to stop the bleeding but I could tell it pained him to touch his nose. Tristan had hit him so hard I think he broke it. I stood there, not able to take my eyes away from all the blood. There was a puddle on the floor and a stain on his shirt that pooled into a circle around his heart. I watched as it dripped down his lip and into his mouth, down his hand slipping between his fingers and staining the sleeve of his shirt. I watched it all in slow motion not able to tear my eyes away for some reason.

“Ella!” Josie shouted, snapping me out of it. “Go!” she said, handing me my coat and shoving me in the direction of where Tristan had went. I fumbled to put my arms through my sleeves as I walked outside to find Tristan. He was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk mumbling something in a language I didn’t understand.

Before I had the chance to acknowledge him, he stopped, whipped his head to the side, and glared at me. I paused not understanding and waited for his reaction. He stomped over and grabbed me angrily by the arm. Then he dragged me to the car and threw me inside slamming the door. I sat there silently; too afraid of what he might do if I angered him further. The last time I saw him this irate was when he attacked Jack. That was not something I wanted to relive.

He still didn’t say anything when we got back, but he did seem calmer than before which I took as a good sign. He got out of the truck and walked away, not bothering to look back. I opened the door and followed him inside, thinking it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave him alone. I found him in his room lying down on his bed with his hands covering his face. “Tristan?”

He sat up, his anger slowly dissipating when his eyes found mine. “Ella...I’m sorry,” he said, shoulders slumped. He ran a hand through his messy hair. “When I saw that guy with his hands all over you...I freaked...and I shouldn’t have.”

“It’s okay,” I said, sitting next to him on the bed. While I didn’t approve of his actions, I didn’t want to upset him anymore than he already was and in a way I understood. When I saw him with those other girls I wanted to tear their eyes out.

“No, it’s not okay. I know you think I’m a monster,” he said.

I put my hand under his chin, lifted his head, and forced him to look at me. “No, I don’t.”

I could see the struggle in his eyes. He wanted to believe what I said was true, but something was telling him he was wrong. I needed to tell him he wasn’t. I needed him to believe me. Prove to him how much he really meant to me. I did so the only way I knew how. I knew no words would convince him so I had to take action. I took off my coat and pushed him down on the bed. I straddled him and kissed him forcefully, showing him how much I wanted him. He kissed me back letting me know he wanted me just as much. I started to unbutton his shirt, kissing every inch of his exposed chest. I sat up and took my dress off in one swift move. When I leaned back down to kiss him, he held my shoulders to stop me. “Ella, what are you doing?”

“Proving to you how I feel about you,” I said, kissing his neck.

“Ella, stop,” he pleaded, but I refused. I continued to trail down his body with my lips, across his collar bone and then chest. “Ella! Damn it!” he yelled, pushing me off of him.

“What the hell is your problem?” I said annoyed, as he stood up from the bed. “You’ve been after me since the moment you met me, trying to get me into bed. I throw myself at you and you say no!?!” I reached for my dress and pulled it on back over my head.

“Not like this. Not when you’re –”

“When I’m what?” I snapped.

“You’re drunk, Ella. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Since when did you grow a conscious?” I glared at him. “I don’t get you. What game are you playing here?”

“I’m not the one who’s playing games,” he spat.

“Oh really? That’s funny considering how much you claim to care about me, but then it doesn’t take you long to get over that before you’re screwing someone else!” There it was. I said it. There was no going back. I let him know how much it bothered me to see him with other women. Even though we weren’t together it still hurt to see him with someone else.

“Maybe if you weren’t so hot and cold all the time. One minute you want me and then the next you want nothing to do with me. What am I supposed to do with that?” he yelled frustrated.

“That’s just perfect. Blame it all on me. ’Cause you know that would be easier than actually taking responsibility for your own actions.”

“When have I not owned up to anything? I never lied to you. I’ve been honest from the very beginning. You’re the one who’s holding back. You just won’t admit it because admitting it will mean it’s true and we both know how you like to hide from the truth.”

“I’m not hiding anything.”

“Bullshit! You can’t be honest with me because you can’t even be honest with yourself.”

“You just think you know everything, don’t you?”

“The only thing I know is how much I care about you and how much I want to be with you and only you.”

I grabbed him and pulled him into me. “Then let’s be together,” I said, kissing his lips. He pulled back and gripped my shoulders. I slapped his arms away. “You’re so pathetic,” I spat with distaste. “I make it so easy for you and you say no.” He stared at me blankly so I continued. “I get it. It’s because I came on to you. You get your rocks off by being the dominant one. You have to be the initiator.”

“Shut up!” he growled, making me flinch. “You have any idea at all how I feel about you! Any idea at all!?!” he ran his hands through his hair and grunted in frustration. “I’m crazy about you, Ella.”

I walked over to him and put my hands on his shoulders. “Then prove it,” I said, bringing his lips down to mine. I kissed him with such a force I thought I might lose my breath. He kissed me back but for only a moment.

He pushed me back, breath ragged. “Damn it Ella, enough!”

I threw my hands into his chest shoving him away this time. Tired of him telling me no, I turned too quickly and stumbled, falling to the floor. He tried to help me up but I slapped his hand away. “Don’t touch me,” I snapped. I dug my hands into the carpet begging myself not to cry. I bit the inside of my cheek and forced myself to stand up which was a lot harder than I thought. I didn’t realize how badly I was shaking until I had to stand on two legs. “You’re right, I think I had enough,” I said, dusting off my dress. “I’m done with this game. I’m tired of being your pawn. Don’t talk to me. Don’t come looking for me. In fact just forget I even exist.”

“You think it’s that easy? You think you can walk out of here and forget everything?”

“Watch me,” I said, storming out and slamming the door behind me.

He followed me out into the hall. “Typical spoiled brat behavior,” he called down the hall. “Ella finally shows her true colors. When she doesn’t get what she wants she throws a temper tantrum.”

I snapped my head around so quick I thought I might spit split pea soup. “Don’t you dare turn this on me. I am nothing like you!” He came down the hall toward me with determination in his step. I moved back until I was pressed up against my door.

He stared me down, making me feel small. “For once be honest with yourself. Make a decision that’s your own and not one someone made for you.”

“I just did,” I said, opening my door and closing it behind me. I slid down until my behind hit the floor. I waited until I knew Tristan was gone. When I could hear only silence, I knew it was safe. I buried my head in my hands and began to cry.

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