Once outside, I understood why it had taken Josie so long to get here. We were bombarded again with reporters. Billy did a good job, the best he could, with keeping them away from us. It took us twenty minutes to drive the three blocks to the fraternity house to get Dixon and another half an hour just to get off campus.
After eluding all the madness, I told Billy to head to one of the most exclusive hotels in town. If I was going to be forced out of my room I was going to allow myself to be spoiled for the time being. As soon as we checked in my mom was blowing up my phone again. I answered right away and told her I was fine. She insisted I fly home or call Dean to come stay with me. I told her that wasn’t necessary, but she wouldn’t let it go. She said she was going to hire a guard for me and Josie if I insisted on staying.
I pleaded with her not to, saying it would be too embarrassing and make me look nuts. I even went as far as saying dad would never allow it, but she said it was his idea. I didn’t believe her so she put my dad on the phone. “Dad, you can’t be serious? A bodyguard, come on...please don’t do this to me,” I begged.
“Ella, I’m sorry, but until I know this maniac is caught I feel better knowing you’re protected. Since you refuse to come home this is your only option.” I sighed, knowing there was no arguing with my father. “I will have someone there within the hour.”
“Dad please, can’t it at least wait till tomorrow. We checked into a hotel for the night and they have their own security. We’ll be fine for the night.”
There was a long pause before he finally caved. “Alright, first thing tomorrow morning.”
“I expect you to be on your best behavior.”
“Yes, dad,” I said, ending the call. I couldn’t believe this. I couldn’t catch a break.
“How bad is it?” Josie asked.
“Tomorrow morning we will have our own personal bodyguard.”
Josie rolled her eyes. “I guess we should be glad that’s all they’re sending. I’m surprised my parents didn’t already have someone snatch me up and take me back home kicking and screaming.”
“You guys are getting your own bodyguard? That is so cool,” Dixon said, adjusting his scarf.
“To you, not me,” I whined.
“Enough with the sourpuss faces,” he said, throwing his arms over Josie and I. “We’re in the most expensive and exclusive hotel in town. I say we make the most it,” he smiled.
“Agreed,” I said, slipping my arm around his waist and leading us to the elevator.
After we checked out our rooms we decided to hit the spa and get the works – mani, pedi, facial, and a massage. Billy told us he was going to skip the salon and meet us later for dinner. Dixon, Josie and I enjoyed a whole evening of pampering. Dixon switched his black fingernail polish for a dark purple to match his converse, while Josie went with a dark green, and I stuck with a traditional French tip. The manicures and pedicures were a nice touch, but the cherry on top was the soothing massage. Something my body was aching for.
When we were done at the spa, we took the boys to one of the shops to buy some nice clothes for dinner and bathing suits for the hot tub later. “Well it looks like I made friends with the right girls,” Dixon teased as he rummaged through the racks for the perfect outfit.
Josie helped Billy pick out a nice suit and made him try it on. I could tell he wasn’t happy with being Josie’s personal dress up doll but he complied without much complaint. Dixon was more eager to put on a little fashion show with all the different things he picked out. After about the fifth outfit he finally settled on a nice black suit, with a skinny red tie that matched the streak in his hair. “What do you think?” he said, doing a twirl.
“I think the purple converse are a nice touch,” I teased.
“Oh don’t worry, I have a pair in red,” he said, messing with his bangs in the mirror. Dixon fit the profile for Indie rocker. From head to toe he was dressed the part. Everything from his wide Mohawk, to his tight black shirt and skinny jeans, screamed tortured artist. I was surprised to see him actually pick out a suit.
Once the boys had what they needed, Dixon helped Josie and I pick out some cocktail dresses. Josie went with a short, purple dress that tied around the neck and cut low at her chest. The dress flared out at the bottom giving it a more cutesy appeal. She even went with a pair of strappy heels instead of her normal boots.
Dixon had picked out a long, sparkly black dress for me. I was a little apprehensive about it, but he insisted I at least try it on before I made my final vote. This one also tied around the neck, but wasn’t cut as low as Josie’s in the front, thankfully. Instead it dipped low, having a concave effect and only showing minimal cleavage. The back was another story.
There was no back.
That was the main reason I didn’t want to try it on in the first place, but I was shoved into a dressing room before I had the chance to put it back. Once on, the material clung to my body like silk. There was a high slit on the side I hadn’t noticed before, but didn’t mind because it showed off my long legs. I turned around to find the back of the dress hit just a few inches above my waist making me feel a little better about the open back. I stared at myself in the mirror in the dressing room. The dress did fit great and hugged my body perfectly at all the right spots.
“Ella, what’s taking so long? Let’s see.” Dixon whined impatiently.
I let out a breath and stepped out of the room.
“Oh. My. Gawd,” Dixon said, jaw dropped.
“Ella...WOW!” Josie grinned.
“You like it?” I asked, standing in the middle platform and facing a three way mirror.
“Honey, if I wasn’t gay, we’d be upstairs right now and I would be tearing that dress off of you.” Josie and I cracked up at Dixon’s comment.
“Billy, what do you think?” Josie asked.
His eyes went wide and Josie had to close his mouth for him. “I’ll take that as a yes,” Dixon chuckled.
“I don’t know you guys?” I took a look at myself in the mirror again. “Don’t you think it’s a little much?”
“No, absolutely not, you should get it. You need to get it,” Dixon demanded.
I looked back down at the dress and delicately touched the sparkles, watching them shine brightly in the light. “I agree, only you could pull off a dress as stunning as that.”
My head snapped up at the sound of his voice. I stared back at his reflection in the mirror. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Same thing you are. We’re not allowed in the dorms until further notice,” Tristan said.
“Why not stay at the frat house?”
“Please, that place is filthy. I can only tolerate it for so long. Why you think I live in the dorms and have my own room?” True. That explained a lot. “Well...I just wanted to let you know you should get it. And you don’t have to worry about me. I won’t bother you,” Tristan said, brooding as he walked away.
I watched him leave and as I did I felt like he was walking out of my life for good. As much as I claimed that was what I wanted, deep down it wasn’t true. On the surface it was easier to pretend I didn’t care for him anymore, but on the inside I was falling apart every time I saw him. I turned around and opened my mouth but no sound came out. I wanted to tell him I loved him too. I always had and always would, but I couldn’t make my lips work. Instead I turned back to the mirror to catch a glimpse of his back as he walked out the door. “Ella, what’s the matter?” Josie asked, standing next to me.
“Nothing,” I shook my head and looked at the dress again.
“Get the dress,” she said, smiling.
“Okay,” I said. Josie gave Dixon a high five while I went back in the dressing room to change. Once changed back into my normal clothes, we gathered up all our items and headed to the register. We had all our stuff delivered to our rooms while we went to the salon to get our hair done. Once again Billy told us he’d meet us later. I had no doubt he was going to check on Tristan, but I tried not to care.
The salon was able to get us in right away which I was thankful because if I had to sit around and think I would drive myself nuts. They called us back and even were kind enough to accommodate us so we were all sitting next to each other. Dixon looked apprehensive as he sat down in the stylist’s chair. I learned that Dixon’s hair was his prized possession. He took great care to get it to look the way it did. He decided he would let them touch up his color, figuring if they screwed up he could always fix it. I couldn’t imagine how they could. His hair was black with one large red streak in the front. Even I could had handled that.
Both Josie and I had our hair set in rollers and then went to get our makeup. I sat in the chair quietly while Dixon and Josie gabbed back and forth about all the latest celebrity gossip. I wasn’t much in the mood to talk. “Ella, what’s wrong?” Josie asked, noticing my sullen expression. “It’s not Tristan is it, because if it is I will totally tell the hotel he’s using a stolen credit card and have him kicked out.”
I laughed at Josie’s undying loyalty. “No, it’s not Tristan,” I sighed.
“Then what is it, honey?” Dixon asked, joining the conversation.
“Do you think it’s wrong?”
“Is what wrong?”
“A student at our campus, in the same hall as us no less, was just brutally murdered and we’re here getting pampered acting as if nothing happened, like this has all been an inconvenience.”
“Oh, Ella,” Josie said sympathetically. “It’s not wrong. This is just our way of not letting it get to us. To help us realize how lucky we are.”
“Yeah sweetie, would you rather sit in your room and sulk and worry? Or forget your troubles for a little while? Life goes on, you can’t pause your own life every time something bad happens to someone else or you’d never live.”
“I guess,” I said, not totally convinced.
“Now come on, turn that frown upside down,” Dixon said, giving me an exaggerated smile.
“Dixon, you are so lame,” I laughed.
“Whatever, I still made you smile.”
I was glad when the stylists told us they were ready to take our rollers out. The weight of these things in my hair was giving me a headache. Josie decided to have her hair pinned up while I chose to have mine down to help cover what the dress didn’t. Dixon chose to style his hair himself not trusting the stylist to do a good enough job. I watched him fuss with his hair in the mirror while my stylist brushed my curls out into a soft wave. Dixon was very meticulous and spent the same amount of time on each spot. He spiked up his Mo-hawk in the back and pulled the center and front pieces to the side. He twisted and pulled the front bangs to a side part while fluffing up any pieces that fell. I’d never seen a man spend so much time on his hair, even Dean wasn’t that bad.
We still had to wait for Dixon to finish after we paid. Annoyed at his OCD over his hair, I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back up to the room. I warned him on the way up if I had to wait again because he was messing with his hair I was going to shave it off in his sleep. He took the hint and resisted the urge.
Once dressed, we headed back downstairs to dinner. The hotel had a five star restaurant with a guest chef tonight. I didn’t care who cooked my food just as long as it was hot and filling.
Both boys were perfect gentleman and pulled our chairs out for us. Before we ordered Dixon had mentioned seeing Tristan sitting at a table by himself. “Maybe we should invite him to join us?” Dixon offered.
Josie looked to me for an answer and I believe my face said it all. “Dixon, I don’t think that’s such a great idea,” she said. He took one look at me and understood.
Somehow Dixon had managed to get us champagne. Billy was the only one old enough to drink so I was surprised they still served us. I think the waiter had a crush on Dixon so his flirtatious smile won him over. I had finished my second glass before the food even arrived and thought I should slow down, but it was kind of hard because I liked the way the bubbles tickled my nose. I managed to resist the best I could.
After dinner we ordered dessert. I had about two bites before I had to push the plate away. I was so full from dinner I couldn’t even look at my delicious dessert without my stomach grumbling at me. We sat around the table digesting, but it wasn’t long before Josie dragged Billy out on to the dance floor. From the look on Billy’s face I could tell he wasn’t one for dancing and from Josie’s angered expression I knew he had two left feet. I even think I heard her say she would kick him if he didn’t stop stepping on her toes.
“Come on, let’s show’em how it’s done,” Dixon said, pulling me out of my chair and onto the dance floor.
With my arm on his shoulder, his on my hips, and our hands clasped together, we glided gracefully across the floor. “Wow, you’re pretty good, Dixon,” I said, amazed by his agility and grace.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” he winked, dipping me back. I giggled as he brought me back up. That was when I caught a glimpse of Tristan over Dixon’s shoulder. I sighed at the sight of him sitting by himself at the bar and drinking alone. Dixon noticed the sudden shift in my mood. “Why don’t you go talk to him?”
“It’s not that easy, Dixon.”
“Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. I’m sure you can work it out.”
“Considering I basically called him a murderer earlier I highly doubt he wants anything to do with me.”
“I’m sure he’s been called worse,” he replied. I gazed over at Tristan. Wondering what I could possibly say to him that would make everything okay. I told him I wanted nothing to do with him. I told him I felt nothing for him. I told him I suspected him of a heinous crime when really it was just my paranoia feeding my brain lies. Lies that Jack planted into my head. Jack, who was the only person who recently made me feel sick in the stomach being around him. I knew I couldn’t fight these feelings anymore. Being away from Tristan hurt more than I ever could had imagined. I wasn’t as strong as I thought, but in this case giving in would not be considered a weakness.
“Ella?” I turned back to Dixon. “He’s crazy about you. Trust me, I know,” he said, rolling his eyes. “And I know you’re crazy about him, too. I can see it written all over your face. Whatever doubts you have, you don’t need to worry. He’s one of the good guys.” I knew Dixon was right. I also knew Tristan was right when he said I needed to be honest with myself. “Go get him,” Dixon said, nudging me in the direction of Tristan.
I thanked Dixon for the dance, gave him a slight curtsy, and made my way over To Tristan. I prepared myself for rejection. I placed a hand on the chair next to his. “Is this seat taken?” He gestured for me to take it without so much as a glance my way. “Tristan look, this isn’t easy for me. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to talk or even forgive me for the way I’ve been acting. I just wanted you to know...” I stopped, not able to say the words I so longed to admit. “I just wanted you to know –”
“Dance with me,” he interrupted, finally facing me.
He finished his drink and stood up. “Dance with me,” he repeated.
“Tristan I –”
“Humor me, please,” he said, holding out his hand. I took it and followed him to the dance floor. I draped my arm over his shoulder, clasping my other hand to his. His arm tightened around my waist pulling me closer. I stared softly into his eyes as his thumb made small circles on my back, brushing the exposed flesh and setting my skin on fire. Neither of us spoke. We didn’t have to. We had an unspoken bond that let our bodies and hearts do all the talking for us.
I moved a little closer and he just held me a little tighter. We hadn’t even noticed the song had ended. We just kept dancing until they started to play another. I laid my head on his shoulder feeling so relaxed, so comfortable in his arms, and at that moment I knew. I knew this was where I belonged. Where I’d always belonged, but was just too stubborn too admit it.
“Ella?” I lifted my head to gaze into his beautiful blue eyes. He brushed a piece of hair off my cheek and gently cupped the sides of my face with his hands. His eyes were burning with a fiery passion as he stared back into mine. “I love you,” he whispered.
I closed my eyes and took him in, took all of him in. His scent, his touch, and the way he made me feel when I was around him. His eyes, his passion, his love for me, I took it all in and held it there. When I finally opened my eyes and looked up at him, I was ready to tell him how I felt until he stopped me. “You don’t have to say it back. That’s not what I want. I just want you to know I love you and only you. It will always be you Ella, it always was,” he said, leaning down to kiss my lips before I could protest.
I melted under the embrace. My whole body tingled from his touch. I pulled him closer to me wanting more. He pulled back, smiled and placed a sweet kiss on my forehead. I rested my head on his chest and held him tighter, never wanting to let go.
“Should we tell them the music stopped?” I heard Billy say to Josie. And then Josie smacked him and told him to be quiet.
I laughed and found the courage to tear myself away from Tristan. He gave me a loving look, ready to walk away, when I pulled him back to the table with me. “It’s the dress, I knew it,” I overheard Dixon whisper to Josie. I just smiled, happy that I could finally accept Tristan for whom he was and finally able to let myself go.
The restaurant was closing so we paid our bill and headed back to our rooms. When we reached our floor, we stepped off the elevator, and I turned back to Tristan. “I’m the next floor up,” he said.
Just before the door closed, I jumped back in the elevator. He looked at me unsure. I just smiled and pressed the key to go up.