Chapter 16: Lull
The smarter students steered clear of her path as soon as they spotted the disgruntled scowl etched on her face. She saw surprise on a few faces, and a grimace on others, as if they hadn't seen this Al—the one that steamed around like a brooding bull—for a while. Al didn't want to think of the reason why, knowing that it would lead to thoughts that would just annoy her further.
She'd spent the rest of the weekend in a bit of a foul mood, and it had worsened whenever she let her mind slip to relive the minutes when she had made out with Jon. She hated that her thoughts and her body were unco-operating with her anger, and while she was stewing about it at home, Jon Conte had probably forgotten all about it. Even if he had been with Delia for close to two years, Jonathan was a popular jock, and there were bound to be other girls he had been with in the many times that he had "broken up" with Delia.
Al was just another stupidly willing face for him to kiss. And she wasn't even experienced like the rest of them.
Uncaring of her darkening expression, she stalked down the hall and up a flight of stairs. Upon reaching her locker, she swung it open wildly and threw her backpack into it. There was no use trying to bottle up her frustration—at herself, at Jon, at this physical thing that existed between them—for she knew that she'd go off like a firecracker when the time came to snap.
"Whoa, did someone pour acid in your cereal this morning?"
She ignored Nate and reached for her History textbook and Economics homework. "Not now, Salmalin. I'm in a shitty mood."
Her voice must have been more serious and quieter than she thought, for Nate placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Hey, do you want to talk about it?"
Pausing, she stared at his concerned frown and nearly considered the offer had it not been for the girls waiting around them nervously. Al took a few seconds to observe their surroundings and noticed that posters advertising the Coming Home dance were already up and gracing the school. "As if I'd talk about something so personal with you," she said snootily, glad that his responding eye-roll wasn't the least bit offended. This was why Nate was so easy to speak to. He never judged her; never directed any self-righteous philosophy towards her about her business. "Now, shoo."
Who was she to keep him away from his fans and prospective Coming Home date?
Slapping her back, his tall figure turned towards the trio of girls and they walked down to the exit leading to the quad. Rubbing her brow, she finished getting her things ready for her first few classes and locked her locker. It was odd not to be walking to homeroom with Jon, or even Doug and Zach, and she felt a little self-conscious of the fact. Stealing some quick glances, she noted with relief that most of the attention that had followed her for weeks were now non-existent.
Geoffrey and Jon had both been right; eventually, the novelty of her was dying down. Perhaps things were looking up for her, she hoped, and allowed a small smile to hover on her lips. Maybe this Monday wouldn't be so bad after all.
She was just about to head for Thom when she spotted Doug's familiar head in the crowd. "Doug!" Hurrying up to him, she stood on tiptoe and bumped his shoulder with her own. She was about to apologise again for declining his offer to catch a ride to school together—for it would have been an inconvenience for him since Thom was already at home—when she sighted the small girl he was chatting with.
A freshman, Al noted, and a leering grin broke out on her face at the girl's wide-eyed stare of unease and also Doug's abnormally red cheeks. "I see how it is," she teased, before pinning the girl with a drilling once-over. The girl might be uneasy, but Al didn't like the defiance glaring back at her. "Tread carefully, or else. You're a pretty thing, but squish Doug's heart and your face won't be as it was today. Oh, and I'm Al."
"Al," Doug warned, his face contorted in pain at her interference. "Could you be a little nicer?"
"Nicer?" Al echoed, and stepped past him into their homeroom. She made her voice as high and saccharine as possible. "S'not in my vocab, sorry. Don't be late now!"
Chuckling, she headed towards her normal seat where Zach was waiting with a raised eyebrow. Collapsing into the chair, she let out a deep sigh. It was good to have things back to normal with these boyos.
"D'ya check out Doug's new shortie?" Zach asked, a toothpick already poking out from the corner of his mouth. "Never knew our man was into the young'uns."
"And what about you, Zach? At least Doug has a girl."
As soon as Gary and Jon entered their History class, Al's lightened mood vanished. She made certain to project her pissed off state as much as she could, so The God could see how much he hadn't impressed her and how much he wouldn't be permitted to put his hands—or mouth—on her again soon. She deliberately chose the window seat in their little row of three, assuming they would get the message that she did not want to sit in the middle any longer.
She'd obviously assumed wrong, for Jon moved to sit beside her. Annoyed, she hooked her foot on one of the chair's legs and deliberately scraped it back, disabling her boyfriend-cum-fiancé from sitting there. He was about to say something, she could feel it, but he saw some of the curious looks they were getting and instead pushed Gary to trade places with him.
Satisfied, Al tugged the chair forward again and swivelled in her chair to face the front properly. She greeted Gary cheerfully and, to his amusement, she ignored his cousin as she would a tittering gossipmonger. Evidently, Jonathan had informed Gary about their little mishap after the party on Saturday. Did Gary also know about the six missed calls and four text messages she'd purposely not bothered to check?
"So what'd you do yesterday?" Gary chattered, making small talk. "Didn't see you at breakfast, and you didn't come to church."
"No," she replied, and opened up her notebook when Mr Olau began writing on the board. "I went home like I was supposed to and did my homework. Quiz next period for Econ." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jon zipping and unzipping his pencil case repetitively, knowing that he was more alert than ever that their fellow classmates could be watching him and his little "problem".
He usually avoided his OCD tendencies when she was directly beside him as a distraction.
"So you studied?" Gary continued, sounding like he couldn't believe it.
When she didn't offer anymore, he nodded. "Are you confident for your quiz?"
"We can swap—are you sure you don't want to sit in the middle?"
"You're going to keep answering with 'yeah', aren't you?"
"Do you want to kiss Jon and make up?"
"Gary, knock it off."
"Dammit," Gary calculated, and leaned back in his seat with a grunt. "You two are the strangest, most peculiar two people ever in the history of… ever. Ooh, get it? In the history of ever?"
"I can't believe we're related. Al will speak to me without your help."
What arrogance! Al leaned forward to spell it for Jon Conte. "Or maybe I won't speak to you without Gary's help."
He glared at her for the first time, and Al was instantly reminded of that day he offered her shelter under his giant orange umbrella. It was almost as if he was reverting back to his stupid mask. Pot meet kettle, that taunting voice whispered inside her mind. Shut up!
"Then so be it," he commented, his eyes light with aggravation. "Continue being childish. You seem to be good at that."
The nerve of the guy! Al bit down on her lip, not appreciating his little accusation. Determined to be the better person, she stuck her nose in the air and paid attention to Mr Olau's lecture about Heracles and his 12 Labours. When Mr Olau turned off the lights to put up the overhead slides, Al tried to block out Jon and Gary giving each other significant looks. It proved to be successful, because the small whisperings of her peers began to grow like wildfire, and Al was caught between wanting for it to stop and wanting Jon to suffer.
Corus High's Gossip Column
The latest HOT GOSS brought to you by Miri & Dee
Monday, 10th November
10:12am by Miri
Our resident golden couple has had a lover's tiff, as witnesses from Mr Olau's first period Modern History class claim! According to onlookers, Alanna behaved "like a kid throwing a tantrum" and refused to allow a repentant Jon to sit beside her. It was left to Gary Naxen to settle the fuse between the two… but I know I'm not the first to express my outrage at Alanna's lack of decorum. Jon must be so embarrassed!
If any of you know the reason behind their dispute, then don't be afraid to tell us. As much as we'd hate how much pain it must cause Jon to have their lover's paradise shattered and made public, perhaps he needs to be shown Al Trebond's true colours.
Get it true and first here at corusgoss dot com!
By lunch, half of the student body seemed to be aware that Jon and she were on the outs with each other. Al instantly despised them all: one, for presenting her with smiling, solemn faces—only to turn around and whisper about her behind her back, and two, for treating the debacle as if she and Jon had broken up. Sure, they weren't exactly talking or being civil, but they were still together. An engagement wasn't something easily broken—especially one as negotiated as theirs. Did her peers really have nothing else to do but speculate obsessively over what was Not Their Business?
Grabbing a random sandwich, Al manoeuvred her way between the tables and headed for the gymnasium. She heard Raoul and Gary's loud banter before she saw them, and quickly ducked her head as the group turned into the hall. Several of the guys from the basketball team surrounded them, and she made a quick exit before any could spot her. It wouldn't do well to be around people who'd just make her crankier from their obnoxious comments, and she was feeling particularly spiteful about her situation.
Sighing, she strode into the gymnasium and seeing it empty, hopped up onto the highest row of bleachers. It would be just her today, she thought distantly, and unwrapped the turkey sandwich with relish. Would anyone even notice her missing?
Later that week, the silence was broken. Al, disliking the fact that she might have gone overboard, gladly placed all the blame squarely in Jon's lap. He didn't, after all, make a move to clear things up between them until three days had passed since their little spat in History class. Her nasty conscience did remind her that she hadn't made any efforts either, and that it required two people to work at a relationship.
Uneasy, she attributed such a tender issue to her lack of experience.
It was nearing five-thirty and getting progressively darker when Al saw the wheels of the shiny Porsche slowing down to cruise beside her on the curb side. With her heart suddenly beating faster, Al forgot her customary scowl and tightened her jacket around her to ward off the cool breeze. Perhaps she wanted to protect herself too, in advance, for any potential barbs that could arise and fly this way and that.
Heaven knew that Jon's pride was as great as hers, and she was seeing a different side of him that she knew existed, but had never bargained on actually seeing. He was always supposed to remain that imperturbable mystery; nothing more.
"Alanna," he called out softly, the window of the passenger seat half-way down. "Get in. It's getting cold."
"The rest of the walk to the nearest bus stop isn't that far. I can take care of myself."
He let out an exasperated sigh, and Al felt a small amount of guilt. She was making it difficult for him, especially since the first words she'd spoken to him in three days weren't particularly nice. She slowed down her pace, but didn't stop walking. As much as she felt annoyed at him for ignoring her for the past seventy-two hours, she missed sitting on the soft leather seats and warmth interior of the car. Her nose, while usually meticulous, longed for the scent of his cologne.
"Please. Just don't be stubborn about this. We need to talk."
Wanting to stomp her foot like a kid, she hesitated before throwing caution to the wind. Damn cologne, she thought, and threw open the passenger door. Upon settling in, she inhaled like a crazy addict and ignored the smirk that Jon hadn't the courtesy to hide. "What are you doing driving around these parts so late, anyway?" she asked, and then frowned. "You weren't waiting around for me, were you?"
"Maybe," was the cryptic reply. Resting the back of her head on the seat, she watched her companion from under her lashes, unaware of the sheer image she was projecting from exercising an age-old feminine gesture. Rather, in her own bubble, she trained her greedy eyes on Jon, with his concentrated expression and strong arms. Her gaze lowered to his thighs, which were encased in tight dark jeans. "Stop staring," he whispered, and cleared his throat in a way that jolted Al out of her staring and brought an embarrassed flush to her cheeks.
"Why haven't you been talking to me?" she wanted to ask, and by the way that his hands tensed on the steering wheel, she realised that she actually had. "Do you want to break up or something? Is this what normally happe—"
"You said you didn't want me going near you." Al fell silent when he spoke. "And then in class, you put Gary between us, and I didn't want things to get worse. You're different to the other girls I've been with, Al. I didn't—still don't know—how I'm supposed to deal with you—us." He paused then, and sent her a quick glance out of the corner of his eyes before turning his attention back onto the road. "And my pride wouldn't let me come and beg or something equally lame like that. Especially when you wanted nothing to do with me. So I chalked it up to you needing time."
Unintentionally chastised and slightly impressed, Al bit her lip and played with the zipper on her jacket. It hadn't truly crossed her mind that this relationship was a first for Jon, too, and the knowledge that she was so different made her both anxious and smug at the same time. All up, it was good to know that she wasn't the only one affected by what was between them, nor the only one worrying about it so much. The genuineness in his voice convinced her of that.
He was in this as much as she was.
"It just all went so fast," she offered quietly, pleading with him silently to understand. "If you know what's good for you, you won't laugh or say a word, but—it scared me a little." The sudden intensity of her feelings, and her—her lust was overwhelming.
He nodded. "I get it now. We got a little too excited. Maybe we just need to get to know each other."
"But we already do," she pointed out.
Jon fiddled around with the headlights, seeing as it was now dark enough to warrant their use. "Do we really? What's my middle name? Why is pizza my favourite food? Did you know that my parents are really Croatian?"
"Your parents are Croatian?!"
"No, my father's Irish, and my mom originally comes from Greece."
"Conte doesn't sound Irish," Al commented, inspecting Jon's poker face. She had no idea about any of this!
He winked at her and stopped at the traffic lights before the endless roundabouts that would lead to her house. "That's because it isn't. My parents are neither Croatian, Irish, nor Greek." At her glower, he chuckled. "Do you get my point? We really have no idea about the small, simple things about each other that we should."
Crossing her arms, she sniffed. "Okay, fine, so we don't. What are you proposing? That we get to know each other? This sounds absolutely rotten, by the way, but it does have its advantages." If it would keep her hormones under control, then all the better.
"Shake on it?" He was smiling as he held out a hand, and Al wished that she could be the road so that those brilliant blue orbs could be focused on her so intently. Exaggerating her sigh, she gripped his hand and froze when, instead of letting go, he brought her hand up to his lips and gently kissed the knuckle of her thumb. "I know we said that we'd be back-tracking for a while, but how about a kiss for each fact we exchange?"
Tugging her hand back, she snorted and tried to wipe away the tingling in her fingers. When he leaned towards her in the dark, she pressed her foot deeper into her sneakers. "Jasson," he murmured. "Jasson is my middle name."
Jonathan Jasson Conte. It made sense, yet—"In your dreams," she replied back smoothly and tried not to laugh at the humour and crest-fallen tone to his sigh. "No kisses. Just drive."
Finishing their last game for the season was a load off Al's shoulders. As she let the hot water beat down on her shoulders and relax her sore muscles, she pondered wistfully over all the shortcomings that the team could have avoided if they'd made the effort to play better as a cohort.
Volleyball was very much a team sport, and if half the girls had taken the high road and spent less time trying to compete with Al for the ball, then they could have very much slotted a position for the team into the semi-finals. But alas, they were out of the competition as a losing quarter-finals participant, and while the taste of disappointment lingered on everyone's tongues, Al made it a point not to dwell too much on her own failures.
She knew that she could have been more pleasant to those girls, but they made it difficult for her with Josiane leading their actions like a trooping commander. If it wasn't for the fact that Al was on such good terms with Coach, and that she could throw a killer spike, then Al would probably no longer be on the team. While she was friends with half of them, the other half just didn't get along with Al's peculiar brand of personality.
Turning off the shower taps, Al reached for her towel and soaked up the silence of the changing rooms. She'd been unable to sleep on the mini-bus ride back to school from the courts; the girls' chatter too much to handle after such a tiring morning, as well as the marked absence of her much needed iPod to tune them out. The redhead made a mental note to never forget her beloved music player.
Having waited till the others were finished in the showers, Al made certain that she'd be the last one.
She wasn't in the mood for idle chit-chat, or the snickers and sly looks from Josiane and the friends that the blonde had made when she'd joined the team. She just wanted to wash away their small defeat in the comp, and go home to relax. They'd been given the day off from classes, and Al was a little more optimistic in finishing off the day to start a new one. Even the team's loss couldn't overshadow the relief and excitement from yesterday afternoon. Jon had even been the one to drop her off to school at 5am to catch the mini-bus that would take the team to the volleyball quarter-finals.
He'd have AP English right now, she mused, picturing his schedule.
Drying off, she slipped on her underwear and her bra, and wrapped the towel around her, making sure to tuck in the end under her armpit. Exiting from the stall, she padded to the benches, and stopped mid-step. Blinking, she looked around furtively for her clothes and found nothing but an empty trash can and two towels left behind on the hooks. The other stalls were devoid of her t-shirt and jeans, and the lockers were all bare and open in the change rooms, as was required after using the female showers.
As the water dripped from her hair all over her shoulders and chest, so did her anger. Stay calm, she willed herself. Maybe you didn't leave your clothes on the benches. But Al was certain she did, for it was her customary and automatic routine and there was nowhere else to place them. Her clothes had never been bothered before, so why now? She hadn't a single doubt that they had been taken, because no one else had been in the shower rooms when she'd gone in.
Could someone have mistakenly thought that her shirt and jeans had belonged to and been left behind by one of the other girls, and hadn't realised that Al was using the last stall at the end? Countless possibilities flew into Al's head, and she knew that she couldn't just accuse someone of grabbing her clothes for the sake of it—with no proof, above all. Tapping her foot to try and control her temper, she breathed in and out a few times before concluding that she would have to go out into the hall half-naked and in only a towel. Fucking hell.
She shivered and crept towards the doors, praying that there was no one outside of class. The sophomore lockers were directly in the vicinity, and perhaps there would be a fellow female student walking through the area. Gathering her infamous steel resolve, she counted to five before standing at the door to the changing rooms proudly, as if her barely covered state was an everyday occurrence.
Luck did take pity on her somewhat, for there was no one in the hallway. Letting out a relieved whoosh of air, she contemplated making a dash for it all the way to her locker on the floor below. But there were so many risks! Any second now, people could pour in from everywhere, turn corners, go up the stairs—or worse: the bell signalling fifth period could ring. If only she had her cell with her. But the pathetic piece of technology was safely ensconced at the back of her locker. She was, indisputably, the stupidest person alive.
Gripping onto the door ledge, she was ready to cry defeat and wait for the next batch of girls to come into the change rooms—surely, a class had PE right then—when two freshmen girls turned into the corridor and caught her attention.
Al had never in her entire existence felt so happy to see a pair of giggling girls swinging a hall pass between them.
"Psst!" she hollered discreetly as they approached, and smiled sweetly as they slowed down with wary eyes at her appearance. "Listen, I'm in a bit of a tangle right now. Someone has, er, accidentally taken my clothes and I need you to—shit," she croaked and jumped back further into the change rooms when she saw the figure that had just entered the hall.
The girls looked behind them nervously and just about sizzled at the sight of the tall, handsome blue-eyed man striding towards them in concern. "Shouldn't you be in class right now, ladies?" Al heard him ask, and reddened at the stickiness of her situation, and his appearance in it. God, could the day get any worse?
"Um, there's a girl in there and she needs some help," one of the freshmen girls piped in, and Al groaned inwardly in annoyance.
"I'll see what I can do," Roger Conte replied kindly, and shooed the girls off. What the fuck was Jonathan's cousin doing at Corus High, and why the hell was he prowling the hallways? "Alanna. What's the matter? Don't bother hiding, I saw you the first time. Do you need me to call a teacher or…?"
Holding the door firmly in front of her, she poked her head around cautiously and found him waiting politely with his hands in his trouser pockets. She couldn't help but be attentive to the way that his grey suit fit him to a T. It was really such a shame that she was so cagey around him; otherwise he was a fine sight for sore eyes. "I left my clothes in my locker," she lied mechanically and with such finesse. "Erm, I need someone to get my brother so he can lend me a pair of his clothes."
Roger was gazing at her intently, as if trying to spot falsehoods. When he seemed to have found none, he gave her a gently comforting smile (that successfully shocked her to the core) and took out his Blackberry. What was it with Contes and their Blackberries? "I can arrange someone to give you a change of clothes much quicker, if that's alright with you. Jon's sitting a test right now and I'll try and get a hold of your brother to tell him the situation. Hold still for a few minutes, okay?"
Al nodded mutely and hitched the towel higher in an attempt to stop herself from chewing the door in humiliation. Roger texted someone, and then moved a few steps away to call Thom. As much as Al didn't trust Roger Conte, she was glad that Thom had been friends with Jon, and thus in close acquaintance with all the Contes. When Roger was done, his face brightened and Al knew that her source of clothing had finally arrived.
Curiously, she turned her head to see who he had called and then gritted her teeth.
"You needed clothes?" Her saviour's drawl was painted in delight, and the chuckle that followed it was perfectly charming. No one but Delia, Queen Bee, could ever make Al feel so ill from dread and confusion.
Author's Note: Please don't kill me! I know I'm horrible for not updating for nearly 4 months, and I can't express how sorry I am for how late this chapter is (and how lacking in flow it appears to be). Uni started up again a few months ago, and I've been suffering from evil writer's block in regards to this story. I can only pray that it'll GTFO soon.
I just wanted to thank all of you for your reviews and continued patience. I do have to shout out to the anonymous reader, Unknown, who left such an amazing review and got me writing this chapter again in the past few weeks. Thank you, whoever you are, for your kind and moving words.
I haven't gotten around to replying to the reviews for the past 2 chapters, but I promise to begin again from now on. Much appreciation to: Syril Silverleaf, Tortall101, soccerchick-08, Itarille Celebrindal, Tishica, Rowena of Naxen, LadyKnight0207, bclovr-22, Sodie, lacking a better name, they-call-me-Squire, LittleMissGiggles'94', Ozymandyas, AlannaXJon4ever, studentofwords, Madame Star, silverphoenix, Ainsaboo, streetsass, FateStryke, SarcasticLoner, elf warrior princess, Elfsquire90, hixy, Cutiepay, Blip-chan, Crews, Daughter of Nature, still-unwritten-4-now, Light of Polaris, 90sgurl, flammingirl, LadyLilian, joe, hallie, Libby, and all the anonymous reviewers for leaving feedback!
You guys are simply incredible, and I'm flattered and ecstatic at the 148 members who have added this story to their alerts, and the 101 of you who have made this a favourite story so far. Even if it takes me forever, I'm determined to finish DD, at the very least for you all. That aside, thanks for reading and may good fics be with you always.