Chapter 9: a cruel disappointment
If Bellamy thought he was drawn to Clarke before, he fucking orbits around her now… It's like she has some magnetism that pulls him wherever she is, and he feels helpless to resist it.
He had absolutely no intention of escalating things like he did, and he's never been more split in how he feels about something. It was stupid to make things physical before he could explain everything, he knows. But it felt like it couldn't be stopped.
Clarke was an inevitability.
Now that he's had a little bit, he needs more. He knows how her lips feel when they touch his. He can't forget the taste of her skin, the dig of her nails in his shoulder. And her face when she comes – jaw slack and head thrown back, her tulip-pink lips parted in a perfect "O" – it's burned in his memory. Knowing he gave that to her is intoxicating. She's under his skin in the best way.
Twice this weekend, he planned to tell her about the bet, only to back out before actually coming clean. He knows, cowardice now is only going to make everything come down more harshly later. But knowing that and doing something about it are proving to be very different things.
Bellamy shoots Clarke a text before lunch to find out where she is.
She texts back quickly.
He doesn't mind the idea of having some quiet time away from their friends today. On second thought, it's presumptuous to assume she wants him there. He knows her senior project is going on display tomorrow. She's worked on it all semester, and she's understandably nervous about the unveiling. He starts to type out a text to get a feel for whether she wants company, but she messages him before he can finish.
Bring me a salad?
He grins and sends a message back.
Sure. Be there soon.
He picks up one of the prepackaged spinach salad kits she always gets, with packages of sunflower seeds, dried fruits, and crumbled cheeses. As he heads into the studio, he finds Clarke hunched over a frame with a scowl.
"You alright there?" He asks.
She lifts her head up with a laugh, "The packaging on this thing is stubborn."
He sets their lunches onto a nearby table. "You want some help?"
"That would be great," She blows her hair out of her face and stands up straight. It doesn't take long for Bellamy to dislodge the binding. She huffs, "Of course it takes you ten seconds." A smile cracks, "Thank you."
He hands it over with a laugh, "Not a problem." Then he steps back to the table to unpack their lunch.
Clarke stands up and begins to gather the sheet that covers the canvas. Just before pulling it off, she freezes, like she suddenly remembers she's not the only one in here. She gives him a glance, then looks back at the covered-up canvas, then back to him again.
"Do you want to see it?"
He can feel the smile stretch across his face when he nods, "Yeah, I do." He comes up behind her as she pulls the sheet off, letting it billow to the floor, revealing the creation she's worked so hard on. She steps back, colliding into his chest by accident. She looks apologetic, but before she can step away, he wraps his hand over her elbow and slides it down her arm until he reaches her hand, interlacing their fingers together. The way they're standing, it would be easy to wrap an arm around her waist and pull her body into his, but he doesn't. She doesn't appreciate being forced into anything, and despite the recent physical progression between them, he knows better than to push her now. Not when she's revealing so much of herself on canvas. Clarke worries her lower lip between her teeth, as if she's anxious about his critique.
"Clarke, this is-" It's stunning and he doesn't even know where to start. He can't seem to come up with the right words. He knows not to touch it, but he finds his free hand still hovers over the painting. The hands in the middle look so real, he half expects the fingers to move at any moment. They hold a pile of sand, and he sees right away that the tiny scar inside the right wrist matches the one on Clarke's.
"They're your hands." She nods but doesn't say anything. He points at the figure in the background, "Your dad?"
She clears her throat, "Yeah."
He nods, "It's a memory."
Her fingers tighten around his and he feels something clutch over his heart when she draws his arm across her front to wrap around her. Her free hand comes to his wrist, then slides tentatively up to his elbow, like she's still unsure if it's the right thing. He holds her close, feels her chest expand with a deep breath before she relaxes back into him.
"One of the last ones I have with him." A sentimental smile tugs at her lips and she gestures at the canvas. "He took me there to photograph a sunset over the water… I was fucking around in the sand while he was setting the camera up, kind of off in my own world, and I remember hearing the shutter click." She laughs, "He never passed up the opportunity to snap a candid. Some of them I hated, but this one-" She drops her head back again, "This one I loved."
He tightens his arm around her waist, "Candids, huh?" He thinks a moment, "Yeah, I remember seeing a photo of you of the hallways at your house. You were staring off at something, and you just looked… free. You were smiling like I hadn't seen before."
Clarke turns her head and tilts to face him, "The one near the stairs?"
Bellamy nods, "Yeah, pretty sure it was by the stairs."
She smiles, and his breath catches in his throat because he recognizes it from the photograph in question. Radiant and open. Truly content.
She laughs and turns back to the painting, "That was this one."
"It's beautiful." He presses a gentle kiss to her temple, breathes in the flowery scent that clings to her hair from her shampoo. She looks like she might ask him if he's talking about her painting or the photograph, but seems to know he means both.
After a few more moments, she turns in his arms with an easy hum. "Thank you."
His lips quirk in a grin as she rises on her toes and kisses him, slow and sweet, her thumb brushing over his cheek before she coaxes his mouth open. He groans at the intoxicating taste of her tongue against his own and his arms tighten their grip around her. Her whole body responds, languidly curving into him. Each moment grows more insistent and next thing he knows, he's picked her up and dropped her onto a table. Her thighs are strong, her muscles lithe when she wraps them around his waist and squeezes him close.
With one hand, he teases his fingers along the waistband of her shorts, grazing the skin of her lower back the way he knows drives her crazy. His other hand is wrapped up in her hair, tugging back a bit to bare her neck. She already chastised him this morning for the two hickeys she had to cover up from the weekend, so he's mindful not to make more. Still, the taste of her soft skin under his tongue is addicting.
Clarke winds her fingers into his hair and pulls, hard, and who knew she had that in her already? He chuckles, laving his tongue over her pulse again before she yanks, this time more painfully. That's when he hears the exaggerated clearing of a throat.
Clarke's art teacher walks through the door to the studio, eyebrow cocked, and takes a seat at her desk. "You all may think I'm the cool teacher here, but it doesn't mean you can turn my studio into lover's lane, Clarke."
"Sorry, Luna." Clarke's skin flushes a deep pink, from her chest to her cheeks as she straightens her posture. Bellamy ducks his head down onto her shoulder with a laugh, because how the hell did he get that caught up?
Clarke tugs his hair again and pulls his head up, trying to stifle her own laugh. "Lunch?"
He clears his throat and takes a step back so she can slide off the table. "Yeah, let's eat." He sits in the stool next to Clarke and slides her salad over so she can unwrap the contents. She looks over at Bellamy, then they both glance quickly behind at Luna, who is languorously sorting through a stack of paper, before meeting each other's gazes again.
She hisses, "I can't believe a teacher caught us making out…" She shakes her head, "Could we be any more like high school stereotypes right now?"
He snorts, "I can't believe you let us get caught."
She gives a mocking gasp, "Oh, it's my fault?" He takes a bite of his sandwich with a shrug while she rolls her eyes and drizzles dressing over her salad. "Please, enlighten as to how it was my fault?"
"I can't be expected to pay attention to my surroundings when I'm lost in you." He gestures broadly at her.
Clarke rolls her eyes, "Oh my god, how lame can you possibly be?" He laughs with a shrug and takes a sip of his water. She flings a sunflower seed at him with a grin, "God… Also, I was trying to get your attention. It's not my fault you misread me trying to rip the hair out of your scalp."
Bellamy waggles his eyebrows, "Also not my fault. You set a precedent yesterday for hair pulling." It's true. She's fucking into it, and she gives as good as she gets.
She huffs, "Precedent… there's the lawyer talk again, Bellamy." She elbows him, "I think it's a sign."
He gives her an uncomfortable laugh, "Yeah, yeah."
Clarke laughs, "You've tarnished my reputation."
"Well, until today I'd never gotten side eye from a teacher for tainting a desk surface."
He can't hold back his bellowing laugh this time, "Tainting? Oh, that's not tainted, believe me. That's nothing."
Clarke stiffens and she gives him a terse smile. "Oh, I believe you…" Her fork stabs into the salad greens and she uses it to gesture toward the outside door. "If anyone knows about desecrating horizontal surfaces, it's you and what's-her-name." She takes a bite and he could swear the temperature in the room just dropped ten degrees.
He straightens up a bit and gives her a sidelong glance. "Okay… What just happened?" That's a stupid question. He knows what just happened. He managed to invoke the topic of his ex-girlfriend in exactly the wrong context.
Clarke closes her eyes for a minute while she finishes swallowing her food, then huffs a quiet laugh, "What happened is, I just slut-shamed you."
He chuckles, "You totally did."
She nods her head with a small smile, "Yep."
Bellamy grasps his chest in jest, relieved by the quick recovery.
She rolls her eyes and pats his forearm, "Sorry."
He shrugs, "In your defense, I'm a little ashamed."
She laughs, "Yeah, you should be. You guys were gross."
"It's not the same, though."
Clarke raises an eyebrow, "Swapping spit? I'm pretty sure the mechanics are the same, no matter who you're doing it with."
He shakes his head, "No, I mean, with her, it was PDA on purpose." He thinks on it for a moment, "Strategic." It was never heat of the moment with Roma. It was about being seen, gawked at, and admired. And he totally went with it, because he figured he'd be an idiot to turn down the opportunity to make out with the hottest girl in school.
She frowns, "Strategic PDA?"
He shrugs, "Yeah. I guess it was her way of marking territory."
Clarke nods hesitantly, "Right…" After a moment, "You were definitely doing it wrong."
He laughs, "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. You shouldn't kiss someone to stake claim on them…" She smiles, "You should kiss someone because you want to kiss them." His eyes drop to her lower lip, where she worries it between her teeth.
He nods, "Yeah."
She laughs quietly, "You agree?"
His voice goes a little lower, "That's a smart policy…" He brings his hand to her face, catches his thumb on the dimple of her chin. "…Kiss someone because you want to kiss them."
The loud bang of the stapler jars him out of the moment. Luna pipes up, "It's a fantastic policy. But not in my studio."
Clarke laughs, "Sorry!"
"Save it for prom, kids…" Luna murmurs while lazily flipping through more paperwork. She looks bored, and Bellamy is pretty sure she's only here now to keep them from defiling her classroom.
Now would be a perfect opening to tell her. Just slide it on in there - Hey, funny story, I made a bet with Cage Wallace that I could turn you into prom queen… He thinks telling her at lunch might not be the best idea. At least if he waits until after school, he'll have a better chance and more privacy to explain himself. After school, it is.
Bellamy frowns, "Speaking of… It dawned on me, I haven't actually asked you."
"Asked me what?"
"Oh. Yeah…" She smiles to herself, "No, you haven't." She looks up at him and teases, "You're cutting it kinda close to the buzzer, aren't you?"
He playfully knocks his knuckle against her elbow, "Maybe."
She cocks an eyebrow, "What makes you think I don't already have other plans?" She makes a valid point.
"I'm kind of hoping you don't."
"I guess…" She sighs a long breath, "If you really need a date, I could be convinced to go with you." She lowers her lips to his ear and whispers, "But only if you make it worth my while."
Her skin jumps under his fingers when he lands a playful pinch on her abdomen and she lets go a squealing laugh while she tries to scramble away from him. She doesn't put up a fight when he pulls her close.
He turns her to face him, "So, you'll go with me?"
She smirks, "Yeah, but you'd better put out."
Clarke leaves her final class of the day and makes an unhurried trip across the campus to her locker. Bellamy texted her to meet him there because he has something he wants to talk about. She makes an effort not to feel too uneasy about that. But seriously, what the hell couldn't be at least previewed over a text? He wouldn't give her an inkling of what it's about. Just wanted her to meet him by her locker.
She's sorting through the photo gallery on her phone when Cage sidles up next to her. "So you and Blake…"
Clarke raises an eyebrow, "What about us?"
"You two a thing now?"
Clarke shrugs, uncomfortable with the inquisition and wishing he would find someone else to hassle. "We haven't exactly defined anything."
He huffs, "You guys looked pretty cozy this morning."
"Oh." Clarke feels a flush of embarrassment crawl up her chest. She should have known someone would see her and Bellamy, but all decorum went to the wayside as soon as his tongue swirled over that spot he knew would make her knees weak.
Cage continues, "I've got to hand it to him. As long as I've known him, I've always pegged him as all talk. I didn't think he had it in him…" he trails off, clearly baiting her.
Against her better judgment, she bites. "Didn't think he had what in him?"
He snorts, "Getting physical with his little project… I mean, I know he'll go to some great lengths to get his way, but-"
He gives her a sympathetic look, "Oh, Clarke."
She bristles, "Project?"
"Sweetheart, he's always got a project to work on… You're just another one of his fucked-up games." He shakes his head, "I just didn't realize how fucked up until now."
She snaps, "What are you fucking talking about?"
"It's just this stupid bet we made." He winces, and the gesture is so contrived, Clarke wants to slap him for it. "I admit, I started it. I just didn't think he'd go through with it." He sighs, "I probably shouldn't even be telling you this."
Her chest pangs with a dismal sense of apprehension. "Just get to the point, Cage."
He manages to manufacture an expression of guilt, "Alright, fine… He wanted to get back at Roma – You know she humiliated him when she dumped him for that idiot she's dating now." Clarke narrows her eyes, ready to call bullshit, but a prick of doubt begins to creep up her ribcage nonetheless. Cage continues, "Bellamy knew she wanted to be prom queen. He wanted to put her in her place, and claimed he could groom any girl here to beat her." He shrugs, "I told him to put his money where his mouth is, so we bet on it." He tilts his head, "You were the girl picked."
Clarke shakes her head, because no… That doesn't sound like Bellamy. That doesn't make any sense… A gnawing pain screws through her gut when she gives it a second thought, because it makes perfect fucking sense. A twisted and cruel amount of sense. A dry, bitter laugh heaves from her chest just as Bellamy rounds the corner.
Her face must reveal her queasiness, because his bright smile changes quickly to concern as he makes his way to her. He gives Cage a murderous glare, "What's going-"
"Was I a bet?" She cuts him off, because this isn't something she feels like drawing out. Either Cage is telling the truth, or he isn't. Bellamy freezes in place, like he isn't sure of the question. She asks again, the words nearly sticking in her throat. "Was I a fucking bet?!" The rush of blood in her ears is deafening. She's overwhelmed by a cutting sense of anguish as she feels herself being cracked open, helpless to do anything about it.
Each second without a response stretches into agony. Bellamy's mouth opens and closes while he fails to formulate a response, and her stomach drops because, oh god, it's fucking true.
Finally, "Clarke-" He reaches a hand out as if to steady her.
"Don't!" She backs away from him, her gaze fixed on his hand where it's suspended in the air. A hand that just hours ago, was tangled in her hair while his other one worked her into a trembling mess. Regret churns through her, and she swears her scalp stings with embarrassment, thinking of the little tug he gave to draw her head back while he dragged his lips over her jawline. She slaps her hand to her neck, like maybe she can wipe away the memory of his breath on her skin. A stubborn ache builds deep in her chest and she blinks to try and rid herself of the persistent sting behind her eyes. Her gaze snaps to his and she vaguely registers the regret in his eyes before she steels herself. "Don't fucking touch me!" She snaps, startling even herself with the force of her yell.
Clarke retreats, nearly tripping over her own feet as she spins around and makes a beeline for the parking lot. She hears something slam into the lockers behind her but pays it no mind as she digs her hands into her pockets for her car key. She pulls it out, and hates, hates how much her hands shake as she jams her thumb against the button. Once in, she closes and locks the door. With a shuddering breath, she presses her palms against her eyelids, refusing to let tears fall. Not here. Not for them to see. The engine turns over and she takes a deep, cleansing breath. Pushing her sunglasses up on her nose, she shifts into drive and pulls out of the already-empty lot. She considers driving to the beach, but it's at least an hour's drive from here, and traffic will be making that even worse, soon. So, she heads farther inland to a place she and her mom used to take walks.
She pulls into a parking spot on the far end of the stretch of crumbling asphalt and turns the car off. When she steps out, she can hear the soft noises under the hood as the car settles itself. She takes a deep breath of the fresh air, reminding herself that there's more to life, and certainly more to come, than the trivial shit that plagues her right now.
She makes her way to the scenic overlook, concentrating on the sound of the gravel that crunches under the soles of her shoes as she walks. If she focuses on that, she gives her mind time to rebuild the walls she so carelessly let him take down. How the fuck could she have been so naïve? She shakes her head, trying to dislodge word project from her mind, but nothing will drown out Cage's contrived sympathies playing on loop, "Oh, Clarke… just another one of his fucked-up games… His little project… fucked up little project…"
Because of course that's what all of this was. A challenge. A much-needed distraction from what she's sure are stressful life factors that she can't find in herself to give a single fuck about anymore.
He isn't worth her tears. She repeats it like a mantra, enough times that she almost believes it.
Her phone chimes, so she turns the screen over to find a text message. Her finger hovers over the bubble for a solid minute before she finally taps it.
Despite her best efforts, her tears burn a searing trail down her cheeks while she taps out a response before turning the phone off.
Go to hell, Bellamy
End Chapter Notes:
Welp… We all knew it was coming. Had to get that last cute bit of fluff in before showering everyone with angst.
You guys seemed to appreciate last chapter, which pleased me greatly! As always, thank you guys so much for your COMMENTS. They give me life! It's always really motivating to hear back from you guys! Like I said above, a lot of life got in the way over the past few days… It happens. Please keep them coming ~ Chapter 10 is still "in progress" and I'm trying to work through a bit of writer's block with it. Comments are a godsend in this situation :)
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