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Copyright ©2013 Black Arrow
Once, Twice, Sold
I knew from the second we entered the hall that I'd made a mistake. But there was no backing out now and Tori was so excited to have me out with her, I couldn't put a damper on her high spirits. Not tonight.
The place was amazingly decorated for a high school event. I guess I should have expected it since my super organized, events extraordinaire of a sister was behind it. The events committee spared no expense on this gala evening. Just between you and me, I did find it rather pretentious. These people were all really here for the good of the less fortunate, it was all about their vapid public imagery.
Tori who was here on duty as the eyes and ears of the student body was also part of the same committee that put together this event. Rather subjective reporting if you ask me, but hey, who am I to judge.
The hall was lavishly decorated, aptly for this elaborate occasion. The high ceilings had cream linens hanging over the entire venue. The fabric flowed delicately up and down almost as if in motion, partly due to the warm yellow light provided by the glass chandeliers, accentuating the contours of the material.
Aged stone pillars were situated in every corner and occasional space along the perimeter of the space. They were fakes, of course but added to the overall feel of the place. Ancient society and its customs hadn't lost its relevance in the minds of the social elitists clearly.
If I didn't know any better, I'd swear we were at a fundraiser in the Hamptons. Not my high school assembly hall. Though we did reside in the upper-markets of the city, the planners sure felt entitled. The space was large and open with plush dark chairs set in neat rows towards the stage. There at the very apex of the room was the raised podium where the auctioneer and MC would be standing shortly.
Several alumni, staff and local celebrities were here. Our school always drew a prestigious crowd when we opened up our doors for the public. I guess it doesn't hurt that the Mayor and some other district official were former scholars.
My sister was completely in her element. She was talking up these stuffy old coats and expensive dresses to squeeze more money out of them. Poised as the perfect young lady and gracious host, they stood no chance at resistance.
Our town situated just outside the large New York City metropolis has a rather large income per capita. Meaning a single night like this could easily raise $25000 or more. In retrospect, I guess the reasoning behind the donations is irrelevant as long as the money still reaches those without. A lot of the parents who chose to set up roots here actually work in the city, it's a convenient distance.
Tori drags me around with her as she mingles and shamelessly tries to bankrupt unsuspecting victims. The waiters i recognise are a few of the junior committee members, dutifully earning their stripes. I started wondering if I could get away from Tori long enough to sneak into the kitchen and grab a bottle of Champaign, since they were being painfully careful not to offer minors any alcohol. I needed it to get through the rest of tonight graciously. Tori promised me that the event was semi-formal. That I didn't have to labour myself dressing up. She lied.
I reckon she just said that because she feared I was going to back out had I known people were going for the red carpet look. In all honesty, I would have. Luckily I'd thought to go for a simple navy blue blazer, white T-shirt and black jeans. Not as dressed up as I'd have liked but at least I didn't look like I was headed to a football game instead.
Tori on the other hand looked gorgeous in a plum dress with a horizontal collar running along her collar bone. She kept it conservative at the top so she could get away with showing an obscene amount of her lengthy legs.
You never know with girls, they throw on a simple dress and whatever they pair up with it will determine if their going sophisticated or just pretty. They can dress up or down the dress with mere accessories. That's how I'm justifying the fast one that was pulled over me. That and my clear lack of sleep was fast catching up to me
After an hour of being paraded around the room like a national treasure I had to make my escape. I thought people at my school were used to me and would go about their own agendas, not likely. They weren't used to me attending these kinds of soirees, so again I was a novelty item.
I was forced in and out of so many trivial conversations I thought I was going to turn terminator just out of default setting. I can't control what my body does once my brain goes on auto-pilot. Soon one plastic smile blended into another and I couldn't have been bothered by what position in what sector each held.
Ryan was on the other end of the room, camera in hand. Not the slim silver device I caught him with in the halls with but a larger black tool of human vanity. It was laughable to see how some people seemed to gravitate towards wherever it was pointing. We sometimes hunger for glamour so much that we don't stop to think how foolish we look to an outsider who isn't enamoured by the pretence that is Hollywood.
But then I realise I'm being a bit harsh. We all like to feel some form of validation and I guess acceptance for our existence. For some of these teens in the room it was by conforming to some societal expectations of what a young woman should look like at a gala event.
For me...well we know all about me.
I stand in that room filled to the brim with chatter and even more egos and suddenly feel like an idiot. Why did I really come here? With some misguided idea that I'd walk up to Ryan and say what exactly? This plan was not carefully thought out. Besides, he's clearly busy working tonight. No time to be looking around for me. I doubt he even knows I'm here. With that thought I gained a new resolve.
Where is that kitchen?
To say this was one of my easier heists would be an understatement. I literally waltzed right into the area claimed my trophy and walked out. No hassle or fuss.
I make a hasty retreat out of the hall trying to avoid catching anyone's eye that might try to make conversation. Out in the night air I finally take my first real breath since I arrived here. I shuck off the blazer and find a good spot by the fountain which would hide my presence from any one inside.
I even swiped their corkscrew to boot. Wonder if they have extras? Probably. I take a hug swig of the sparkly liquid, no table manners necessary in this party of one. As the liquid coats my throat I finally feel at ease. I think I'll stay out here for the remainder of the evening. Tori wouldn't miss me.
There was a cooling wind dancing across the school courtyard and the steady stream of water all added value to my sweet escape. The tranquil splatter of the fountain lulling my anxiety of being trapped here for another few hours. I was so far gone, consumed by my own thoughts. Thinking back on earlier today and my reaction to Mason and the red yeti, how was I so affected by it? I mean it drove me to the point of volunteering to this pretentious outing. That's equivalent to suicide.
"Mind if I sit down" comes a voice that barrels through my musing. I look up and its none other than the photography extraordinaire. I'm in a state of complete penance that I'm not even willing to act hostile. It's too consuming and I'm running low on fuel right now.
He doesn't wait for an answer.
"Why aren't you inside?" he asks.
"I don't do socials".
"Then why come?" he asks.
"Being a good brother, Justin is not quite civilised enough to behave at one of these".
He chuckles at that. "I didn't know you had a sense of humour"
"I don't ".
We sit in a surprisingly calm silence after that little bit. I'm keenly aware that I somehow amused him just now. I feel him staring at me. I decide to play nice and return the favour.
"Why are you out here and not in there" I say finally making eye contact with him. Before that I was lazily staring off into the dark night sky. I'm actually appreciating the architecture of our and landscape of our part-time prison, it's not all that bad.
"Bunch of posers, it could be contagious. I try to get away as soon as I can" he replies prying the bottle from my hand and taking huge gulps. I eye him for a while deciding if I'm offended by his assumption that I liked to share.
"So we both don't fit in then "he says with a lingering stare. I never got the bad boy appeal before that seemed to ensnare the mass populace attention. I just believed it was a sad ideal that people who live vanilla lives craved to get a reprieve from their own mundane reality. But running my eyes over Ryan for the first time tonight. It's all very clear to me.
He has this brute sensuality, every move smooth and achingly calm. He seems like a man with no worries at all. The first three buttons of his dress shirt were open and his thin black tie is hanging loosely off his neck. I can see the start of silky dark chest hair. His dark curly locks and angular face gave him this international look, like he should be walking some runway in Milan instead of taking pictures at a school function.
I give a weak smile and look away. I don't know how I feel about my clear attraction to him. It's never happened before so I find myself feeling like a fish out of water. He returned my gaze for a while, seeming to read something off of it.
"Look, I know Tori told you that I like you" he says cutting to the chase. That's another trait of his I'm made aware of. He isn't pretentious or trying to act cool. He's a straight shooter. With Ryan what you see is what you get. And right now he's trying to get me.
It's a strange twist to my repertoire. I've always been the hunter, whether I was actively pursuing the target or not. Even luring my prey in on their own accord- I was still the chaser. This scene with him though, was different.
"You don't know me" I say simply. Meeting his gaze.
"I want to".
"Why?" I ask really trying to get a read on this guy. What's his angle? I just don't understand him. With most I can assess their intent long before they make it known. He's like a crossword-rigged not to have a right answer. Rendering my guessing pointless.
"This is gonna sound a little creepy but that day in the hall wasn't the first time I took pictures of you" he says.
Now he has my attention.
"One day you walked past the Chancellors' building while I was shooting. I didn't even see you do it. I only noticed when I was at home developing the pictures. I thought you were the most interesting sight on campus, I had to find you. You're really photogenic you know?" he says all of this with a glazed expression as if reliving that moment his describing to me.
" So I asked around, it was pretty hard because not a lot of people know you. And the ones that did found you...glacial. Then I'd sneak a pic here and there. It was your eyes that caught me at first. I just... I sound like a complete psycho right now" he says hitting his forehead. Slipping out of the trans he was under during his monologue.
He runs a hand through his hair and takes a deep breath. I guess to compose himself. I think I may have needed the recess more than he did at the time. First I was upset at myself. He said he'd sneak a couple of pictures of me here and there. How did I not notice those other times?
Then something else spoke over all my over-analysing and made me realise he has no agenda. This guy was simply admiring me from afar because I'm so unapproachable. There was a new sensation I was feeling that I didn't quite know how to place but it wasn't a guarded feeling. It was good.
"Mark said I should play it cool- I lost cool somewhere between the doors and hi" he says breaking the silence.
"Who's Mark?" I ask following he's change of subject.
"My older brother, he's in college. I told him about you" He mumbled the last part. It was barely audible.
That scene there just altered my entire view of Mr suave. He put himself out there at the risk of being humiliated. I'm not the easiest person to talk to. Yet he was being genuine. There are very few people I know who wear their hearts on their sleeves and are as transparent as Ryan. I actually only know one other... Forget about him tonight!
Funny thing is he loses his stoner chill when he talks to me and just becomes animated. I like that I bring that out of him. I don't know if it's in any part due to my charisma but maybe I just have the same pull to him that he does to me. No words needed just carnal attraction. I found that contrary to my first assessment, I didn't want him to leave. I like being in Ryan's presence.
We end up stealing another bottle with us and headed over to the bleachers far away from the hall and all the noise that came with it. Alone in the starry sky we float into an easy conversation. Well he does but I learn a lot about him. He plans on opening his own gallery someday. A space he can live out his artistic vision and share it with like-minded individuals. I loved hearing how passionate he was about this; it's what he lived for.
"I'm going to study photography and graphic design next year. You have to start somewhere "he says with a faraway look.
"You wanna smoke a joint?" I shake my head and he puts it away. I'm glad I wasn't completely wrong about everything Ryan related. I have a reputation to uphold. Character profiling is one of my best skills; I couldn't be trumped by a high school kid.
"I don't mind if you do though" I say and honestly I don't. I'm captivated by this guy's sincerity. He had this energy- a light to him that attracted me. I wanted to get near it; I couldn't explain my inclination-just knew that I felt it.
I'd always accepted the fact that I can't be in a relationship with anyone because –one, I was emotionally unavailable. Or so I thought -it's being a gradual climb but lately I've been doubting the validity of that notion. But it doesn't change the fact that all this around me. It isn't real; it isn't really mine to keep. We are all simply biding our time. When the order sounds... and it will. I'd have to act against the country that raised me. And do what needs to be done to ensure the surrender of the US government.
If that included blowing my cover to get it done, that is what would be expected of me. That fact made any prospect of ever getting involved seem so foolish and meaningless. So I'd always let it go. Yet something about this guy was making me optimistic. Making me want to risk that and chance being normal a little. Take a sip from the devils cup I guess.
"I have to go find my sister" I finally say at 21:40.
"The auction should be done by now" I finish.
"Yeah sure, let me walk you" answers Ryan getting up.
"Hey uhm, rather not"
"And why is that?" he asks quizzically not looking put off in the least. I found that he was amused by my aloof responses and odd demeanour. If he was the science type I bet he'd write a paper about me like I'm some rare species. To say I thought it was endearing was an understatement.
"I'd like to have peaceful passage home. If she spots me with you, that horse will be shot in the face."
"Fair enough" he nods and leans back in this totally relaxed way only someone with complete self-assuredness can pull off. He has this content smile playing off his face and its oddly infectious. I guess he like how tonight played out.
"I'll see you around Ryan" I say walking down the bleachers and towards the hall. He says something that I miss on my descent.
"What?" I ask.
"I said when?"
"I don't follow" I state. He has these statements I often have to decrypt the meaning of. Sometimes he's a bit too creative even with his speech. Simple words carrying several meanings. The ambiguity ran rampant all through the night along with all the innuendos. And it wasn't because he was trying to sound smart. It was a by-product of the easy chemistry we had going on.
I enjoyed flirting with him. It was a game that didn't grow old in the 3hours I spent with him alone and considering we didn't know each other from Adam just before tonight made it that much more significant.
"When will I see you again?" he asks looking me in the eye.
"Uh around?" I say not sure where he was going with this.
"How about tomorrow after school?" he asks with that cocky grin back on his handsome face.
"I have practice" I say which isn't a lie; I really did have an early afternoon session in the gym.
"The day after then?" he presses on.
His persistence was impressive, even by my standards.
I give him a genuine smile and say "Maybe".
With that I take my leave and walk into the hall again looking for my sister hoping we'd be headed out soon.
On the drive back home Tori was rather quiet. I was grateful for that reprieve. That is until she found her voice again.
"Where were you tonight?" she asks.
How could I possibly dream that I'd slipped past her radar for an entire night?
"I was out in the yard. Needed some air" In all fairness that wasn't a lie. I really did leave because I needed to breathe.
"Were you alone?" she inquires.
Seriously? Who's the spy here?
"No" I couldn't chance lying because I think I was found out long ago.
Although this was her normal line of questioning, she wasn't doing it with the same amount of vehemence I've accredited to my sister. She seemed distant. Even though I was driving us home, I could tell she was staring out the passenger window the entire trip. Her quiet reflecting making me feel uneasy like I'd done something wrong. It was her that wanted me to get with Ryan right?
"A while into the auction I went out looking for you" She says flatly.
"Oh" was all I could manage at the time.
"I thought I'd take Ryan with me to go out on the Hunter chase. But he was missing too, so I guess you were with him huh?"
Okay she clearly knew. Yet that didn't explain her sombre mood.
After a few minutes of strained silence she speaks up again.
"I got a text from Scott".
That explains everything. Scott is her most recent ex-boyfriend. Not one of those you date and label douche bag and go on your merry way kind of exes. But those that have you going through a box of Kleenex like oxygen and become a serial ice-cream eating sasquatch kind of boyfriend. Although I couldn't relate, I knew that he was `the ex' and that he has that effect on her.
Damn my new found sense of humanity. To spare her the pain of reliving her romance with Scott I had to bite the bullet and give my blonde pit bull something else to bite on.
"He wants to hang out after school" I say staring straight ahead of me.
"What?" she says being broken out of her reverie.
"Ryan, he wants to hang out with me some time after school"
"Oh my gosh, please tell me you said yes" she says perking up. Yeah, I should be worried that she's trying to live out her love-life through me at some point. For tonight though, I'd humour her.
"I'll think about it"
"What's there to think about? He's gorgeous, interesting and so into you" she rambles animated.
"You like him so much, how about you have him" I say regretting this choice of conversation.
"If he was into girls like that I would" she says shamelessly. I look at her and we both start laughing. That was the good thing about Tori, her natural inclination to be happy always won out over whatever she was going through. It made her really easy to cheer up.
The rest of the drive home was spent by her reviewing all the reasons why Ryan was good for me. I kept silent in all of this but for the first time since she broached this Ryan subject, I was listening.
Later that week I did bump into Ryan a couple times at school. Every time our cat and mouse game would start out the same way.
"You know school isn't the best place to hide when you're trying to avoid someone" he whisper in my ear while I was facing my locker. I knew it was him from the heady-indecently erotic smell of his cologne mixed with his own natural scent.
"Who said I was hiding?" I ask turning to face him.
"Well, I figure if a guy ask you out on a date and you don't respond-you're evading" he says not seeming offended at all. This lets me know he's teasing.
"Now it's a date? That escalated fast" I say side-stepping him and walking to class. I know he's already beside me working on he's next line.
"What would you like to call it then?" he asks already knowing which class I'm going to. He was fully intending on seeing me to it.
As we reach the door I turn and place my hand on his chest to stop his movement. The hard skin below reminds me of how taut his body is and how I'd like to be doing more than just a casual graze.
"Call it what you want, I have to go to class" I state.
"You can't run forever" he says with an easy arrogance. Not overwhelming and off putting but cocky enough to have my inner animal baying at him.
"I don't intend to" with that I'm walking away well aware that he was staring at my backside and loving it.
The rest of that week goes off smoothly for a number of reasons. First I finally got enough rest after my last mission. Second, training was going great. I was working on a new vault, one that would give me a high enough start value that I could contend for a national title this year. That used to be the most exciting thing I had going on.
Lastly I was falling into a comfortable pace with Ryan. I could see this whole dating thing working out because he didn't make it feel like a job. Like I'd have to labour away to make him happy. He was content with my quirky personality and actually embraced it.
With the recent developments on the Ryan front, it was no wonder I had no time to stay upset at Mason. Fine I was taken by surprise last week by his PDA with She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. However now, I'm okay with it. He deserves to be happy so if he likes her, great. It doesn't mean I have to though.
Tuesday night was always mine and Mason's. Since... like forever. It didn't matter what we were doing as long as it was together, it would do. As we reached the higher grades and school became more demanding it became apparent we had to fit homework in there somehow.
So that's what we were doing. It was around 7pm and I was helping Mason out with his algebra homework.
"It's just a simultaneous equation Mase, you've done those a thousand times over" I say lying down on my bed while he's planted at my study desk.
"Then why don't they just say so" he says annoyed.
Mason hated math but honestly, sometimes it would become comical just how much. Right now he was pouting saying the teachers speaks in riddles that's why he missed most of the coarse work. Truth is he misses most of the coarse work because he's busy waiting for me to explain so he doesn't have to pay much attention during class.
"If they did, what would they be testing you on? You have two variable missing. However they may phrase it" I say chuckling a bit because he's being a goof.
"Oh, my eternal suffering is funny to you?" he says swivelling in my office chair.
"Only slightly" I say. Still not hiding my amusement. Mason is the only person in the world that can bring out this side of me with just his mere presence. He doesn't have to even say anything, just flash me those dimples or those brown eyes and I become someone else.
With that I see him stand up from the corner of my eye since I'm adjusting the playlist on my ipod. We mainly listen to indie and house music but it usually included whatever sounded good regardless of the genre. With that said, I refuse to have to pain through `Get lucky' while I can still do something about it. Honestly, it has to be the most played song, ever.
Caught up by that I wasn't paying attention where I should have. Next thing I know there's this huge weight on me, pinning me down. I know what's coming and I'm cringing at the thought of it. Mason holds my wrists down over my head in one of his large hands and with his sheer size keeps my legs locked between his.
"Apologize" he breathes over my face.
"You sure about that?" he asks with his eye brow raised.
"You're such a sadist" I say staring intently into his orbs.
"All it would take is a sincere apology to your captor" he says grinning down at me.
"I'd rather die" I say sucking in a deep breath. This wasn't going to be pretty.
And as predicted Mason digs his large fingers into my sides and begins a relentless assault. I'm not an overly ticklish person but I HATE it. Mason knows this, that's why it's his chosen weapon of grievous torture.
Had this been 7 years ago or someone else, they'd have a couple broken ribs and internal bleeding to worry about. But Mason takes advantage of my weakness for him. In many ways he's like an over grown Mathew, I can't say no to either one.
The only thing that spares me the rest of the agony is the throat clearing sound from the door. It's my mom staring at the sight in front of her.
"Yes aunt Kat?" Mason asked unashamedly making no moves to get off of me. The way we were laying meant our heads were at the foot of my bed facing the door.
"When you're done mauling my son, dinner will be done in 20" she says with a fond smile. She's caught us in this same position maybe with slight variants several times over the years.
Food was to Mason what water was to a fish. A default setting that over -rode whatever program you had running.
Down stairs everyone was going through the usual chatter that goes on at the dinner table. Dad was missing since he had some business in Boston to attend to. I was going about my usual routine- don't draw undue attention to yourself when I received a text. Normally phones are barred from family time but it could be Dario.
I sneak a quick peak at my screen when I see it's from Ryan. I look at it and a smile permeates my usually neutral demeanour. Tori is first to notice.
"Are you talking to Ryan?" she says excitedly. Nice way to expose me to the whole table Judas.
"I don't know what you're talking about" I say going back to dinner. I didn't want to go over this with my entire family present. Well minus dad of course. I know how this will turn out; I'd like to be spared the embarrassment.
"Who's Ryan" asks Mason with genuine interest.
"Your new competition bucko" chimes Justin...of coarse Tori told him.
Now I was in for it. The back and forth banter at my expense began in full swing. Tori told the tale of this apparent CW romance that I was apparently staring in. And Justin, he was being Justin and soaking this up.
This was a new topic at the table. My love life was non-existent until now. So mom wanted all the details.
"There's nothing to tell, I barely know him" I say staring at my peas suddenly losing my appetite.
"I'm sure he's a nice young man if he has you swooning sweetie" mom adds. She's supposed to be the adult in all of this. Usually dad is here to balance her quirky nature. Unfortunately he isn't here tonight, I'm on my own.
"I'm done eating, may I be excused" I say not trying to play a part in their comedy riel.
"We're just teasing darling" mom says placing her hand on mine to keep me from getting up.
That went on for a while until they found a new topic to run with. In this family it was rather easy for them to shift focus animatedly into the next thing. That's how the rest of dinner went.
Later back in my room, I started on our reading assignment, The Crucible. I was actually getting into the novel when Mason pipes up.
"I'm officially over this; if I see one more `solve for x' I'm going to shoot someone" he exclaims with his hands in the air in defeat.
"Then start with something else" I say absentmindedly because I'm wrapped up in the story of how an entire town could be brought into complete chaos by a single girl. Sometimes power lies where you'd suspect it the least. I'd know all about that. I guess because I somewhat related to the premise of the story, It didn't feel like a chore.
"I don't have anything else" he whines like a little kid.
"How far are you with the reading" I say gesturing to the book in my hands.
He groans and I understand. He has another major aversion -to reading. This boy has so many kinks...and I'm the messed up one.
With a sigh "I'll read it to you".
That gets him to perk up and jump on my bed with a bit more enthusiasm then I'd like. I said I'd read to you, not offer you a million dollars. He's just excited that he wouldn't have to read it by himself for our quiz coming up.
He does something that surprises me though. While I'm reading at first he's shifting a lot and making the whole bed shake ,then he finally settles on resting his head on my lap and facing the ceiling.
I look down at him questioningly.
"What? I wanna be comfortable" he says like it's the most obvious thing in the world. Yeah Mason and I are comfortable in each other's space but even this is a bit too familiar, even for us. I disregard this thinking and carry on reading the next act.
While reading to him I find myself mindlessly playing with his hair. Just casually running my fingers through his dark strands. It's a natural and strangely intimate calm we've fallen into, unconscious of how it would appear from a third person's perspective.
"Do you like him?" he asks me out of the blue.
"Huh?" that caught me off guard. I didn't noticed that for the past few moments he'd stopped listening and had a thoughtful expression on his face. Usually a change like that is pretty obvious on Mason's face because quite frankly he didn't do thoughtful very often.
He stares at me for a while indicating that he expects an answer.
"I don't know... he's different" is all I offer carrying on with The Crucible.
"I'd like to meet him" he says still looking up at me.
"You're my best friend, if you like him. I need to check him out" he says with a resolve that's a typical Mason trait. He's as stubborn as they come. Once he sets his mind on something, it's very hard to dissuade him. So I won't even try.
Instead I just resumed the reading. We'd cross this bridge when we got to it. If I had any say in when that would be... how about a little past never?
Well that's the next instalment guys! As always feedback is much appreciated. Hearing from you guys is encouraging and gives me the added motivation to keep this story moving. Hope you enjoyed it, you can email me at: email@example.com