Author's Note- So, I had this written and edited at the beginning of this week, ready to be posted. But then I thought to myself, I had a good plan going when I was writing Rumored to be True and wrote chapters ahead of time, holding them hostage until I felt as if I was far enough on the next chapter before I released it. That way, my updates wouldn't take so long. Well, I'm doing that again, so I'll have you know that I'm working on chapter 7. And chapter 3 of Beautifully Cursed is already finished. I'll update next week… or sooner, depending on the feedback. ;)
To say the least, the weekend passed all too slowly, as I was both anticipating and dreading the return of my neighbor on Tuesday. Claiming that I was thinking too much about what he had said almost directly the previous week would be an understatement. It was all I thought about the entire weekend. While my house and everyday surroundings were quiet, my brain was like a summer Saturday at an amusement park. A cluster of noise and voices. Mostly of everything that had come to pass in the last week alone. Especially Derek's statement that was repeating relentlessly like a broken record.
'I've got Simon, Dad and, though I'm stuck with her, I've got Tori too. And that's all I need.'
What had he meant by that? Was he unwilling to meet new people? I could see that. But why was he so untrusting? Did he ever make any exceptions? Or was that comment just a hint? I had dug pretty deep with my questions. So was that his way of telling me to back off?
I had so many mixed emotions about that one statement.
I was impressed by him, but disappointed at the same time. I was conflicted, because I wanted him to be independent and right, that you only need the ones you trust, but I also wanted him to be wrong. I wanted so badly to be one of those people that he trusted no matter what.
Because I was jealous.
I would never admit that to anyone other than myself, but it was true. I was jealous of what Derek had. His family. What did I have? My Aunt and Dad were never home, Mom was gone, and my friends had betrayed me. I wanted what he had.
And, most importantly, I wanted him to be on my list.
By Monday evening, I found myself kneeling at my window, mentally exhausted from over analyzing all this, staring at my disheveled yard. More in particular, I was gazing at the patch of soil that used to be Mom's garden. My chin was resting on my folded arms that lay against the windowsill. The cool night breeze danced through my hair and tickled my face. I wasn't really paying attention to anything. Simply tired and zoned out. I just stared as memories flashed, playing in the yard before me like a movie reel.
Suddenly, there was a loud thunk. Something close and something big. I saw a blur of white out of the corner of my eye and, for a moment, I thought a bird had hit my window.
Still, I jumped back and yelped like a puppy that had just had something thrown at it. Little did I know, that was exactly the case.
I crawled back to the windowsill and stared at the glass still shaking from impact on the side that wasn't open. I looked down into the yard, startled to find a glossy new soccer ball laying there in the patchy, yellow grass.
"What the hell?" I whisper, confused. Where the heck had that come from?
I studied the neighbor's houses adjacent to mine, searching for some rambunctious kids missing a ball. But I knew the Miller's on my left and the Jones' kitty-corner to me had no kids. So, I wasn't entirely shocked to find Derek standing in the middle of his backyard, clad in a pair of gray sweats and- damn him- no shirt, hands stuffed in his pockets, gaze averted like a child pretending to act innocent after he had done something wrong. Something in my stomach fluttered when I saw his green eyes cast my way, almost in an inviting manner.
However, realization dawned upon me, halting my excitement of having Derek acknowledging me outside of his job. I stood and placed my hands on my hips, throwing him a disapproving look.
"What if you had broken my window with that thing?" My favorite little quirk of his lips took action as he answered. "Trust me. Simon and I have done our fair share of breaking things. That ball isn't hard enough, nor was the velocity strong enough."
"And what if you had hit me instead?" I scoffed.
"Huh. Guess I didn't think of that."
I glowered at him. He was toying with me. The bad part, though, was that I actually liked it. Still I continued to stare him down until he lost his patience. Finally, he huffed and rolled his eyes.
"Come on, Chloe. I knew what I was doing. I wouldn't have hit you. Now can you help me out and toss the stupid ball back over?"
I fought against my own smile and crossed my arms, deciding to bat him around a little. I learned the other day that I had to pry a bit to get solid information out of him. Like playing twenty questions. If he really wanted me to come outside, he was going to have to say so. But, I knew I was going to have to work for that.
"You're perfectly capable of hopping the fence." Derek's smirk returned and he mimicked my stance.
"You're the one who said that it freaks the neighbors when they see someone jumping fences."
"I also said you were allowed to use the side gate." With that one, Derek's demeanor faltered. Only a little. His jaw tightened just slightly and I could tell that he was getting frustrated. Good. I wasn't going to just get tossed around by him, bending by whatever emotion he was feeling at the time. Whether he was stoic and keeping a distance or concerned and understanding, I was not going to freely ride his emotional rollercoaster, because he sure as hell wasn't riding mine. If he was going to make me work for his answers, then he was going to have to work for my cooperation.
Too my surprise, though, Derek got this look. A cocky one almost. He released his arms from their crossed position and shrugged before trotting up to the fence and climbing over.
"Whatever. I doubt you have any game anyways."
I blinked, taking a second to comprehend what he had just said. Then I blanched and I swear a growl bubbled up from my chest as I glared daggers at him.
"Chloe, you're the most uncoordinated person I've ever met. I find it hard to imagine you even kicking a ball without tripping over it." Derek stated while picking up the instrument that inspired his insults.
"What's so hard about kicking around a ball?"
Was he seriously challenging me? Sure, I haven't played soccer in a while, but it couldn't be that difficult. When Derek gave me a look that said, 'You tell me,' then turned back to the fence, I bolted through my bedroom door, hardly thinking through what I was doing. One of the reasons I didn't was because I was too focused on proving him wrong. Not just about this, but every other notion he had about me. Additionally, I wanted to spend time with him that had no relation to work.
When I was staggering out the back door, Derek was just slipping over the other side of the fence. I jogged up to it and clambered up the wooden support beams that were just barely holding the old thing together.
"I'll have you know," I called over to him as I was making my way over the top of the gate. "That my Aunt had signed me up for a soccer team when I was seven, and I played up until my last year of middle school." Granted, I didn't like playing, but I wasn't about to tell him that.
When my feet touched the ground again, I was momentarily preoccupied by the feel of the grass grazing against the skin exposed from my sandals. It was soft and the shade of green was so vibrant and healthy that I was left envious as to why my grass couldn't look like this.
The sleek, white soccer ball invaded my admiration as it rolled up to my feet. I search for Derek's gaze and found that triumphant look on his face, along with that liveliness I had seen a couple days ago.
When I realized why he looked so cocky, I ignored my own pride, not wanting to disturb that excited gleam in his jade orbs and said, "You may think you have me all figured out-"
"I don't." Derek interrupted. "I just applied a theory."
"So, what? I'm like some sort of science project to you?" Derek's smirk broke, but not into his signature scowl. Instead, the corners of his lips pulled up just slightly into a small, crooked smile.
"Something like that."
Before I allowed myself to be mystified by the phenomena of Derek smiling, or the fact of how that small gesture lit up his face and did strange things to my heart- as if I wasn't already having a hard time trying to skip over the idea that he was shirtless- I grinned back, beginning to juggle the ball between my feet.
"Well, my point was that you didn't have to trick me to come out here. You could have just asked."
I kicked the ball forward while Derek processed my words, taking him by surprise. He lunged, trying to get in my way. One thing I learned when I had played was that, if your opponent was bigger than you- considering my size, most were- then you would use that to your advantage. I pivoted one way, psyching Derek into moving that direction, then shot off the other way, veering around Derek as he recovered.
If we were actually playing a game, that would have been my point.
Or so I thought.
Suddenly, Derek was to my right. He shot his foot out and halted the ball before pulling it back and rolling it in the opposite direction.
"Hey!" I shouted accusingly and chased after him.
"You're going to have to do better than that." Derek called back to me, dribbling the ball across the yard. "You seem to know what you're doing and I'm used to playing Simon. So don't think I'll go easy on you."
"Oh please," I mutter, shadowing him and his big ego. It came to my attention that I had caught the two of them out here playing before. Whether it was soccer or football, they were almost always together. I hardly ever saw Derek alone unless he was working. "Where is Simon anyways?" I ask, flitting in front of him and intercepting my target. He curses and instantly turns on the spot, falling into my trail quickly.
"Out. So is Tori and Dad's working late."
I don't reply, concentrating more on twisting and weaving out of every attempt he makes to steal the ball. It made sense that Simon and Tori would be out on a beautiful summer night like this. They seemed to be more social than Derek. But I wasn't judging or complaining. Because, if a guy like Derek was more of a social butterfly, there would be no way I would have this opportunity or see him like this. He almost seemed childlike, hardly as cold and distant as the Derek I had first met.
We continued to play a small game of 'keep away,' for nearly ten minutes straight, stealing the ball from one another, neither of us really making a goal. Though, after about two minutes, we weren't really playing by the rules either. Whenever I would take the ball back, Derek would shove at me- lightly of course- and snag it for himself. Then I would swat at him or trip him up before taking it from his possession.
Finally, the two of us collapsed in the middle of the yard, the ball rolling off to the side, forgotten.
"Still think I don't have any game?" I asked as I was attempting to catch my breath. Derek snorted in response.
"You didn't score any points."
"Neither did you."
The two of us remained silent for a while and I stared up at the sky, admiring the first few stars that touched the dark blanket that had enveloped us as we played. All I could think was that I hadn't had that much fun in a long time. Possibly since before Rae and the gang had ditched me back when we started high school, or maybe even before Mom died. It didn't really matter. Because I was here now, laughing more than I ever had and feeling more alive.
"I never thought all that practice would come in handy one day," I laughed. I heard Derek shift in the grass next to me as he asked, "Why did you stop playing?"
I shrugged. "I never really wanted to start. At the time, my Aunt thought it was a good idea."
"She made you do something you didn't want to do?" I looked over at Derek then to find his features set in disapproval, as if he really didn't like the idea.
"Well, let's just say that I wasn't really feeling okay, and it was more like she was trying to get me to do something. Anything. Besides, I wasn't exactly listing things I wanted to do or participate in."
"Why didn't she just leave you alone?"
"What do you-"
Before I could finish, Derek propped himself up on his elbow, facing me and holding up his free hand to silence my perplexed questions. His persona took a serious turn and there was a spark of chagrin in his eyes.
"I wasn't going to say anything," He rumbled, his voice low with sincerity. "It's not my right to know. But your father mentioned something while he was going over his itinerary. I know about your mother. And my point is that your Aunt had no reason to shove you into activities while you were upset about the situation. It's normal. Especially when you're that young. She should have given you space and time."
Derek was so earnest and almost angry about the subject, I wondered if he was really talking about me anymore. I had never seen him speak so passionately about something, nor say so much at one time. And, for him to understand that what I had wanted back then was infinite space showed that, though he hardly knew me, he really did have me more figured out than the people who should did. Hell, Dad couldn't ever tell when I was suffocating my disappointment each time he left, yet Derek had been able to see right through me.
However, Derek understanding so well must have also meant that he could relate. When I opened my mouth to ask, Derek sat up abruptly, all the openness he had just been expressing vanishing in a blink of an eye.
"I'm sorry. I know my opinion isn't really necessary." He said quickly, then stood and added, "I should head back inside. Simon and Tori will be home soon."
"Wait!" I blurted, staggering up and lunging after him. Refusing to take the time to think over my actions, I stretch out my hand and catch his shoulder, my palm touching warm, bare skin. He stops and turns to me, brows furrowed in question and eye swimming with something akin to uncertainty.
"Wait, Derek," I interrupt, then freeze, desperately searching for something to say. I didn't want him to go. I had so many questions. Aside from that, I didn't want him to leave me alone. Especially if he was going to suddenly close himself up again. I panicked at the thought.
"Take a walk with me." I demanded, releasing my hold from his shoulder. But, instead of losing complete physical contact from him, I allow my fingertips to gently glaze down the length of his arm before resting near his wrist, holding his intense gaze the entire time.
For a moment, Derek seemed conflicted, his eyes waging an internal war. He glanced between me, my hand near his and me again. Finally, something seemed to resolve the storm in his orbs and he nodded.
"Alright," He murmured quietly. "Give me a minute."
Derek ran inside his house really fast and came back out wearing a dark shirt. Five minutes later, we were taking our time down the street, observing the dark shapes of the tessellated and organized neighborhood. The silence between us was comfortable enough, but I had too many questions and so much to say. I knew after what Derek said about his opinion, he wouldn't ask again. So that left me to bring it up.
"Mom and I used to spend every day in that backyard." I started, slow and unsure as I've never really talked to anyone about it before. Not even Rae, who had used to be my best friend. And yet, I had this urge to just spill it out. As if, after eleven years of keeping it bottled inside, the emotions were just slamming against the glass, cracking the barrier, desperate for release. I didn't look at him, but I could feel Derek's attentive aura and I continued.
"She would work in her garden and I'd play or hide behind the shed until she found me. Dad would come home from work and kiss her before chasing me around the trees or scooping me up and tossing me into the air. That was always my favorite. I-I had everything a six year old girl could ask for."
I could feel tears welling, but I blinked them back. I refused to cry while explaining this to Derek. I wanted him to know so he could fully understand, more so than he already did. I did not want his sympathy, though.
"One day, I was waiting to be picked up at school. I had some friends that lived here in the neighborhood and I usually played with them by the slides until Mom got there. But, soon enough, they all started heading home with their families and I was left waiting on the curb. I was there so long that I started to wonder if Mom had forgotten about me, though she had never left me before. Then, our neighbor, Mrs. Enright pulled up. Mom had always said that she was the exception to the stranger rule, that I could trust her and, in case she and Dad were busy, she would be there to watch me."
"Mrs. Enright gave me a ride home and whenever I asked a question about Mom, she would come up with a question of her own, jumping around mine. But, she was never a very patient person, so when she finally heard enough of my nagging, she said that my father was taking care of a few things concerning Mom and that my Aunt Lauren was on her way. She still wouldn't tell me what was going on, but her face was a giveaway that something was wrong. I remember being so frustrated and confused by not knowing what was happening."
"When Aunt Lauren showed up later that night, I begged her to help me. I explained to her that both Mom and Dad were gone and that I was scared. Then she told me. I finally got my answers, but, they weren't the ones I wanted to hear."
I paused. We were at the park now, occupying the only two swings as we lazily swayed back and forth. I hadn't once looked at Derek yet, afraid of finding pity where I didn't need any. He remained silent, though, and, after a few deep breathes, I pressed through the worst part.
"She told me that there had been an accident. A pick-up had run a stop light and hit the driver's side of Mom's car. Dad was at the hospital, and my Aunt said that he had refused believe that she was g-gone. To be honest, I can't recall what happened that night. I only know that I was angry and sad. As time went on, I saw less of Dad and more of Aunt Lauren as she constantly visited. After a few months of me hiding from most of reality, she finally approached Dad and said it wasn't healthy, that I needed to get outside and move on. But, she was talking to the wrong man. Even today, I don't think he's ever moved on. So, Aunt Lauren took it upon herself and signed me up for the first thing I didn't kick and scream against. She paid for my soccer lessons up until I was thirteen and finally had the guts to tell her that I hated it."
Finally, I shifted my gaze over to my companion and found him studying his hands clasped in his lap. I could see that he was listening, though, by his body language. His back was slumped and his shoulders were rigid. His expression was steely and a disdainful aura floated about him.
"I think you were right, though," I said, causing Derek to meet my eyes. "They should have given me some space. I had friends and I was young. I still had my entire life to experience and help me cope with the loss without my Aunt shoving me into it. Unlike my father, where his life ended with hers, as if it revolved around her existence."
"Forcing a little girl to move on can cause more damage than allowing her to do what children are naturally programmed to do. If you want to grieve, you should be able to. If someone wants to help, all they have to do is be an ear and listen, then explain that it isn't your fault. That's all you ever needed to hear, Chloe. That it wasn't your fault."
He was right. He held my attention intently as he said this and I wouldn't have believed anyone else if they had uttered the same words unless they expressed as much sincerity and empathy as he had. The mixture of his words and the release I felt threatened to overwhelm me. Whether it's of sadness or a sense of closure, I'm not sure. So I concentrate my thoughts on a different matter, not knowing how I would externally react from this liberation.
"You know, don't you? Because that's what you needed? Someone to understand and allow you to move at your own pace without interfering?"
Derek eyes widen a fraction in surprise.
"I know you're Mr. Bae's adopted son. Like you said about my mother, I don't have a right to know. But, the Committee has their way of getting their hands on information, and word spreads around this town fast. Especially when most of the Committee's kids go to high school."
For a second, the astonishment set on Derek's features remained, then his lips curled down into a scowl. Had I crossed a line? I thought that maybe, if I had shared a little, then Derek would open up some more as well.
Did he not trust me enough yet?
"What's the deal with this Committee anyways?"
"Before you and your father showed up while we were moving in, some prissy blonde woman and this brunette chick come barging in and start discussing the regulations of living in the neighborhood. Then they start talking about meetings and block parties. We'd hardly been here ten minutes and we were already being bombarded with pamphlets on book clubs and neighborhood volunteering."
"You turned them down," I stated evenly and Derek nodded.
"Of course we did. Shouldn't a community be inviting? Because a neighborhood government does not sound inviting."
"The Committee wasn't always like this. The woman you met is Mrs. Enright."
"The lady that watched you when you were waiting for your Aunt?"
"Yeah. She used to live in your house, actually, and she wasn't always the head of the Committee. However, over the past eleven years, I figured that she had always wanted to be."
I watched as Derek tossed this piece of information around in his head until realization dawned upon his features and he gave me an incredulous look.
"Your mother used to be the head of the Committee?"
"Yes. When she was running things, there were no regulations or standards for curb appeal. There weren't any mandatory meetings or anything else ridiculous like that. It was just a way for the neighbors to get to know each other if they wanted to. Like a giant, glorified icebreaker. But, after Mom died, Mrs. Enright took over."
"And she created a false utopia."
"Something like that." I muttered. Derek was absolutely right. This neighborhood used to be a friendly and welcoming place. But now, every little thing was organized and governed. Whether someone was a member or not, this way of living was simply miserable.
"Why do people put up with all that bullshit?" Derek snapped. I shrugged.
"Dad asked her to leave us out of it, thinking she would have some form of sympathy. At first, she kept her distance. But, when Dad neglected to take care of the yard for a few weeks, her and her horde started to hound on us. Soon enough, Mrs. Enright moved down the street, not wanting to be associated with our slobby image."
"What about the friends you have here? You can't seriously tell me they desire being controlled by a bunch of middle-aged women going through menopause."
When he took in my serious look, he snorted and shook his head, turning to survey the shadows of the park.
"These, 'friends,' aren't really around anymore, I'm assuming?"
"Nope. Like I said, word goes around fast. There are so many rumors about my father and I, I lost count as well as the care I give for any of them. I suppose I'm like you, in a way. I've got Dad and that's all I need."
Lies, of course, but I didn't want Derek to think that I was pathetic or that it bothered me more than I let on.
Still, he gave me that neutral look, eyes hard with calculation as though he could see right through all the bullshit. Uncomfortable, I quickly cast my eyes elsewhere, unsure of what emotions he might find. After a lengthy silence, I heard Derek suck in a long, audible breath.
"Dad was the first one." He said quietly. I whipped my head in his direction and gave him a perplexed look.
"Everyone always thought there was something wrong when, really, it was just that no one could comprehend what I was feeling. Dad was the first one who had even an inkling, an idea of what I wanted. He was the first person who understood me. And now-" He met my eyes with something similar to relief and appreciation swimming in his own. "You-"
"Well, well. If it isn't Chloe Saunders." A sharp voice called. Derek and I turned, catching the sight of four figures sauntering our way. The one who spoke- who's voice I'd recognize anywhere- the shorter and slightly stouter silhouette, lead the way. Behind her, I could make out Brady Hirch's big build, much like Derek's, as well as Nate Bozian's lanky form and Liam Malloy's tall and lean figure.
"Great." I muttered, then hopped off the swing and started making my way back towards the street. "Let's go, Derek."
I heard the chains of his swing clank as he got up to follow me.
"Derek? Huh, two surprises in one night." I could hear the smirk in Rachelle Rodger's tone. "It's nice to see you again."
I froze, Derek doing the same beside me. I looked up at him in surprise and question.
"Again?" Derek's brows knit together and he waited for the group to get closer to us so that he could have a better look as to who was addressing him. When Rae came into view, her dark, amber curls vibrant against the glow of the moon as well as the leering look in her brown eyes, Derek's frown fell into a scowl and he snorted, his demeanor taking a form of sarcasm.
Said girl slinked closer to Derek, dark orbs flashing from oppression to desire in less than a second. The look she was giving him made my toes curl and an uncomfortable heat boil inside my stomach.
"Come on, Derek. I told you before to call me Rae."
"And I told you before that I'm not interested." Derek stated lowly. It was then that I realized how long it's been since I had witnessed Derek's blunt honesty and, to say the least, I loved that it was directed towards Rae instead of me this time. My questions as to how they knew each other, however, were silenced as I felt the others approaching me instead of Derek like Rae had done. This time, Liam was the one being flanked by the other two.
"Hey, cutie. Haven't seen you since school ended. Where have you been hiding?"
I've dealt with Liam and his predator-like behavior for a long time. Unfortunately, a dark abandoned park was somewhat different than the crowded halls at school. I took a slow step back and swallowed the anxiety that was beginning to bubble up my throat.
"Liam," I acknowledged, keeping my tone light but refusing to hold back the hint of warning that lingered there. "I'm surprised to see you hanging out with these guys. Where's you little sidekick at?"
"Night classes for summer school." Liam stated nonchalantly as he took a step closer. "You know how Ramon's grades are."
"Right, and Russell can't have his son failing if he wants to make a good impression on the head of the Committee. Knowing Ramon, he wouldn't willingly go to summer school."
"Oh, Chloe, I'm touched. You know us so well."
"Unfortunately," I mumble, still backtracking with each attempt he made to get closer to me.
"If that's the case, cutie," Liam said, his tone sadistic and heavy with an almost hunt-like lust. "How come you haven't returned any of my calls? I've missed having my pretty, little Chloe around." A dangerous smile touched his lips and he was close enough to reach out and snag my wrist. I tried to yank myself back, but I wasn't fast enough. I felt Liam's fingers squeeze and I winced, a gasp escaping my lips.
Suddenly and thankfully, Derek was there, standing in front of me, hand grasping Liam's outstretched forearm. He narrowed his eyes threateningly and met Liam's dark blue glower. They were almost the same size, though, Derek was noticeably bigger than Liam.
In reality, if there was to be a fight- and God I prayed that there wouldn't be- Derek was greatly outnumbered and this wouldn't have ended very well. But, Derek had this aura radiating from him that said, 'Try anything and I will take you down. All of you. No matter what.'
That feeling sent my heart racing even faster than it was already running. Whether it was in fear or relief and admiration that he was even sticking up for me, I wasn't sure.
The vibe being sent Liam's way must have worked. He released his grip on my wrist and retreated a step, not once breaking eye contact with Derek. In the end, though, he wound up smirking, and as Derek wrapped his arm around my shoulders and turned me away from the group, he said, "See you around, Chloe."
Derek was walking so fast, I had to jog a little to keep up. I stole a quick glance at him and I could tell that he was not happy. At all. If I thought his scowl couldn't get any deeper, any more disdainful, I had been painfully wrong.
As we were leaving the park, I took one last look at the group who had just surrounded us. Not only were Liam's intimidating and lustful eyes on me, but so was Rae's furious glare. I swallowed anxiously and pulled myself closer into Derek's side, grateful for the safety and warmth it provided as my two enemy's stares sent shivers down my spine.
Oh man, some conflict. I feel as if it's a bit rushed, but there's so much to get in if I only want this to be ten chapters.
Did you guys enjoy?
Well, don't just sit there! Review!
Also, please check out Beautifully cursed. Personally, I think that story is turning out better than this one. Mostly because it has my angsty style I just love so very much. :) However, it needs some love. :)