Author: IndiLovely PM
"Did the sun come out, or did you just smile at me?" "I prefer to call it 'baring my teeth'." "Ooh, aggressive. I like it." Running a chocolate shop, victimised by domestic abuse, tutoring to avoid expulsion, and now fighting off a flunking, abrasive classmate? Life isn't too difficult. I could be facing an unrequited love of the most gorgeous guy in the school too. Oh... wait.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Drama - Chapters: 7 - Words: 27,632 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 14 - Updated: 09-04-12 - Published: 05-06-12 - id: 3019995
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It was a day of early autumn. People were kissing the sun goodbye as dull skies and crispy yellow leaves settled back into their annual routine. They made refreshing, whisper-like sounds as they danced with the breeze.
Well, I imagined they would. But I couldn't hear them. Why? Because I was stuck inside, staring longingly out at the teenagers getting in their cars to go home, or discussing their summer stories with their groups of friends, without having to worry about an old lady shouting so violently at them that her spit almost flew at their faces.
"This is the last straw, Antoinette! Do you have any idea how much this will cost? Potentially thousands! You've already cost us before, and we've punished you time and time again, but each time you try again. It does not seem to be working, so I'm afraid we need to turn to more drastic measures."
I sat there in the uncomfortable wooden seat that snitched on me with a great creak whenever I moved. The old hag continued to lecture me, but I was hardly paying any attention. I knew the drill: she'd continue to try to initiate a response from me, before sighing and sending me out with a raspy 'detention for three weeks'. We really needed a new principal. This one looked like she could drop dead if I so much as spoke back to her.
However, I had to hand it to her; she was a strong little greying woman. She snapped witty retorts to respond to each of my own. I would eat my hat (if I was wearing one) if she hadn't been exactly like me when she was young.
But really, this time, she was just overreacting. Ok, so it had been one statue of some long-gone founder of the school. So what? It had been in the way of the hockey stick I'd borrowed off my friend. Totally not my fault.
I was still looking out the window while she rattled on. "And not only does that statue have value in terms of money, it also has sentimental value. You making a mockery of that brought shame to this school. You need to understand how disrespectful that was."
Would she notice if I put my iPod in? I thought absently. "Sorry," I said airily. "Tell you what, Miss: I'll ask my brother really nicely to pay for that old guy's head, and then we can put this little incident behind us. How's that sound?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Well, you see, Antoinette, there's this little thing we have at schools, if you haven't already realised: it's called punishment. It helps our students realise that what they did was wrong… Well, sometimes it helps them realise." The hag leaned forward in her seat, placing her chin on her hands and her elbows on the table separating us. Her hawk eyes bored into my brown ones. "But seeing as you're so… reluctant to learn, I think I might just have to take it a step further and expel you. It's such a shame, because you're top in many of your classes."
My eyes widened with shock at the sudden threat, and I stood up. "Are you being serious? You can't expel me over something so small!"
She raised an eyebrow, staying calmly in her seat, now smug in her satisfaction for gaining control of the situation. "I think you'll find that one, it's not small, and two, I can."
I gritted my teeth together and clenched my hands to contain my frustration. Come on, Toni, use your sweet side. I looked at the pruning woman desperately. "Please! There must be something I can do to make up for it – anything!"
The principal pressed her fingers to her temples as if trying to cure a killer headache, closing her eyes. "I'm sorry, Antoinette, it's ove–" But she was interrupted by the phone on her desk ringing shrilly. She picked it up, answering with a tired, "Principal Rogers. Yes… oh. Ok… Yes, thank you very much. Goodbye." She heaved a great sigh.
But then her eyes lit up, and I practically saw a flashing light bulb appear over her head. The way she looked at me, so calculatingly, made me feel uneasy, like I really wasn't going to like what she had to say next.
"So," she spoke slowly, as if trying to be casual. "You said you'd do anything to stay?"
I paused, mimicking her actions earlier by raising my eyebrow. "Anything within reason."
Her lips quirked up at the sides, creating a small smile on her pruning face. "Well you see, Miss Roux, I have just received news that my son, Daniel Rogers, is failing in his mathematics class. Since you are so skilled in that area, why don't you tutor him to make up for your mistakes?"
Danny Rogers. Everyone knew him to be a prominent member of the football team, and to pay as much attention to his grades as he does to the geeks that gawked at him while milling about the math classrooms during lunch. "Anything within reason," I repeated agitatedly. "I'm sorry to say it, but he's kind of a lost cause."
"Nobody's a lost cause, except for you, unless you accept this very kind offer I'm making. There are a few people I would like you to tutor in this school. It would not only develop good relationships between the students of this school, but it would also act as a sufficient punishment for you. Yes. I like it." She sat up in her seat, seemingly pleased with herself.
I groaned and collapsed in the seat, staring at her disbelievingly. Tutoring? How much of my free time would be robbed by clueless students trying to factorise a simple polynomial?
"Think about it, Miss Roux," said the principal firmly. "I look for your response by tomorrow after school, and if you do not reply by then, you will receive automatic expulsion."
She gestured for me to leave, looking all high and mighty and I'm-better-than-you-and-I-enjoy-making-you-suffer. I shot her a seething look before standing up and dragging my feet to the door, slamming it behind me.
I left the building into the now only half full car park. People were crowded around my car, talking and waiting anxiously for me.
Gene caught my eye first, and met me half way across the parking lot. "So? What's the verdict?"
I sighed heavily at my best friend. "Expulsion… unless I become a math tutor." I shuddered at the thought.
We began to walk back to my car, as Gene, being Gene, started to look at the optimistic side. Her green eyes brightened, and she started to walk with a skip in her step, making her manic ginger hair bounce around her face. "Well, you've helped me with my Calculus more times than I can count, so you've already got experience. What's the problem?"
I banged my head on the white hood of my beloved Volvo c30 (and just for the record, I had it before I realised Edward Cullen did) when I reached it. "I've already got enough going on at the minute – I'm gonna have no time to myself!" I turned to Zach, one of my closest friends out of the group, next to Gene. "Zach, you're on the football team with Danny, right? Can't you tell him to convince his mom not to do this?"
Rolling his blue eyes, Zach said, "No can do, Toni. That old woman's like a two-tonne boulder; she won't be moved by anything, and she'll probably just decapitate anyone who tries. So, if you don't mind, I'd quite like my head staying right on my shoulders."
"Whatever, you awful friend. You guys coming back to mine tonight?"
Gene hesitated. I knew that face. "Well, um, I've kind of got a lot of work, but…"
I snorted. "I'll bring in some chocolate tomorrow for you," I promised. Her face lit up with exuberance.
Why did my chocolate provide her with such happiness, you may ask? Well, my father was the owner of a French chocolate shop here in Portland, Maine; upon becoming an enormous success back home in France, he'd decided with my mother to transfer it to America when I was seven to increase sales. And boy, was that a good decision. The shop now acted as a small café, so people could come in and order something sweet during their break at work, or after a long day at high school. I was a waitress there (because my father was too suspicious of too many people stealing his recipes) and so I knew how busy it could get on most days.
I couldn't deny the fact that the chocolate from the shop tasted absolutely exquisite; each piece of chocolate was handmade by workers with incredible attention paid to decoration and flavour. But I'd been exposed to the chocolate for so long that I didn't even bother stealing bits for myself anymore.
However, the same couldn't be said for Gene. She had an insatiable craving for the chocolate, so every now and then, when she had a particular need, I would sneak a bit out for her, or she would just go straight to the shop herself, and I'd give her a discount. She'd already done it so often that I knew all her favourites… which consisted of about half the shop's content.
Zach got into my car with me after we said goodbye to everyone. We'd shared lifts since the moment I learnt to drive, since he lived just down the road from me. He was in here so often that when I got in, I caught his familiar smell. It was musky, which I knew was because he spent practically all his time outdoors, but it also had some unnameable, pleasant addition that made the scent Zach's.
"Watch out," he whispered loudly once the doors were shut. "Here comes Mr Dreamboat."
I slapped his arm, knowing who he was talking about, and my eyes immediately scanned the parking lot to find him. Sure enough, there he was, his long stride carefree as he made his way to his car from the school. Landon Grey: the (unrequited) love of my life, as of about three months now. I didn't know how I'd resisted his jet black hair and gorgeous green eyes before. The boy had a bit of a playboy reputation, which I promptly dismissed as enjoying life to the fullest. Besides, he'd only ever been nothing but nice, from what I'd seen of him. Unfortunately, though, I was a junior and he was a senior. It was rare if I caught more than one glance of him in a day. But boy was that glance worth it.
A sigh escaped my lips. And, predictably, with a shrug of his shoulders, Zach said for the thousandth time, "I seriously do not get why you're so into that guy."
I whipped my head round to glare at him. "Unless you're secretly in the closet, you really just wouldn't understand."
Having resumed gazing at Landon, I barely registered what Zach said next. But I turned to ask him to repeat what he said to see him with a grin on his face that just screamed at me, 'I'm about to act like an annoying little brother'. Before I could stop him, he reached across me and honked the horn of the car. My eyes widened, and my stomach clenched with dread as I glanced over to where Landon was.
And just as I'd feared, his head was turned in this direction, and his green eyes were alight with curiosity. I felt my cheeks burning; there was nothing I could use as an excuse because everyone else in the parking lot had already left – it was just us and him.
"Wave, then!" Zach hissed to me.
I lifted my hand tentatively, and gave a robotic wave with a forced smile. But it turned genuine when I realised he was looking at me. Really looking at me, and noticing me, for the first time ever. Looking at me and smiling. Smiling with a twinkle in his eyes and dimples that made my insides melt like chocolate in a microwave.
He gave me one casual wave of his hand. I could see that he was chuckling softly as he headed in the direction of his car again. When I was sure he was out of sight, I slumped against the wheel, very careful not to honk the horn.
"You're a fucking sadistic moron," I muttered to Zach, my cheeks still flaming.
I felt a pat on my back, and his warm laughter filled the car. "You'll thank me later, Nettie."
I elbowed him right in the ribs before starting up the car, and heading home.
"You coming to mine? Mason's got a new recipe today that we need to try," I tried to tempt him as I turned onto our street.
Zach heaved a deep sigh. "Well I suppose, if you insist. You'll make me chubby with all this trying stuff out, though," he pointed out.
Pulling into my drive, I smirked at him. "Knowing how much time you spend at football practice, I find that kind of hard to believe."
Zach was one of the sportiest people I knew. When he wasn't with his team, practicing, he was at the gym, or on a jog. I'd driven past him while yelling, 'keep working on that layer of flab Zach' more times than I could count. But the truth was, while he wasn't one of those meat heads whose muscle to brain ratio was a little higher than usual, he did have a great body. He was at least half a foot taller than me, but his build made up for his height, so he was nowhere near the lanky type.
I parked the car in front of my home. It was a modest, two-storey house, not including the basement. With how successful the shop had been we could have bought a much more spacious, larger home, but this one was more homey, and plus, we needed a house that was near to the shop.
As predicted, inside the house, my brother was working in the kitchen. Like the rest of the house, it had a cosy feeling, but everything had its place and due to Mason's borderline obsession on it staying clean, everything was in its place.
I pecked him on the cheek after we walked in, and stopped next to him. Although he liked to keep the kitchen clean, he held hardly any care for his own appearance. His blonde hair was dishevelled and his fingers were coated in chocolate, which had also managed to reach his already-dirty apron.
He looked down at me with a proud grin. People looked at me disbelievingly when I told them that Mason Roux was my brother; we looked nothing alike. Whereas I had my father's sharp features, his height (although mine didn't compare to his) and his olive-toned skin, Mason had inherited our mother's appearance: he had fair hair, a bit lighter than Zach's (and a whole lot messier), and her soft blue eyes.
"Antoinette, Zachary, behold my newest invention: le château du chocolat." He spoke with a French lilt as he gestured to the dessert in front of him. It lived up to its name: dark walls of decorative chocolate icing built a small structure on the table, inside of which was some sort of chocolate cake with creative, vibrantly coloured icings on the top. "The perfect cake for any occasion, or even if you're just in a bad mood and need something to lift your mood." He scrawled something onto a notepad which looked like a recipe, but it was difficult to tell because of all the chocolate smudges, along with the fact that his letters, although elegant, were almost impossible to read for any eyes but his own. "Would you care to try a slice?"
Zach rubbed his hands together, a hungry look on his face. "If I'm worthy of this spectacular creation."
Mason let out a delighted laugh. "You flatter me, Zach." Humming a tune under his breath, he cut a portion of the cake and put it on a plate. Zach took it gratefully, and got a fork out from a drawer. (The fact that he knew where they were surely said something about how often he was stuffing our food in his face, right?)
"What about you, Nettie?" He asked hopefully, but he should have known that he'd get the same answer as always.
"As delicious as it looks, I'm gonna have to give it a miss," I said with a sigh. Mason believed that I was around chocolate so much that I'd grown a disliking for the taste, but the real reason was much more complicated.
The truth was, whenever the glorious taste of chocolate graced my taste buds, I was dragged back to that day. The day I lost my mother.
"And… done!" I'd said gleefully, having just put the final berry in position on top of my first ever invention. The berries had formed a heart shape that mimicked the heart-shaped cupcake beneath it. I'd spent hours trying to get the taste of that icing just right, and finally, the cupcake was sitting in front of me, the recipe written neatly on a piece of paper beside it.
"Très bien, ma belle fille!" Papa had exclaimed as he examined the cupcake from each angle. "A beautiful invention! What will you call it?"
I'd paused dramatically, building up to the moment of revelation. "I'm calling it… mon chéri!"
Papa had applauded, and then rubbed his hands together. "So, who will be the first to try it…?"
"Ah ah ah," I sang, grabbing the cupcake and dancing away from my father. "It's saved for Mama. Don't you dare go near my chéri!"
Obviously, he'd laughed good-naturedly and stepped back, his hands held up in surrender. "Alright, alright. What do you say we call Mama and see what's taking her so long?"
I'd nodded eagerly, oblivious as we'd made the worst decision of our lives. The phone rang slowly, building our anticipation, and then my mother's smooth, gentle voice had sounded: "Hello?"
"Mama! I made my first invention!" I'd been desperate for her to approve, since she'd been the one who had made most of the cakes in the family. She'd had such a talent for it, one that neither my father nor I could ever compare to.
She laughed, her voice creating a melody as beautiful as wind chimes in a breeze. "Well done, baby! I'm so proud of you!"
"And I'm saving it for you," I'd said smugly, with a wink from Papa. "Not even Mason gets to try it before you."
"It won't last for long, though," Papa had warned, his voice taking on that warm tone it always did when he talked to Mama.
"So hurry back – we need your criticism." I finished.
"Oh, I will," she'd promised. "I'm just about fifteen minutes away, but if I hurry, I can make it ten –"
But she'd never finished her sentence. Because she was interrupted by a deafening crash… from her side of the phone.
For a moment, the two of us had stood, dumbstruck, as the chaotic sound of metal screeching and windows shattering thundered through our ears.
And then, there had been nothing but silence.
I'd been twelve when it had happened. She hadn't even made it to hospital, so when we had reached her, she'd already left us behind.
So up to this day, I hadn't made one more dessert, or even gone near making chocolate. I hadn't even tasted any it for four years. It sucked, but it hurt too much to relive that memory and the guilt that weighed upon my shoulders up to this very day. If I hadn't made that cupcake that day, if we hadn't called my mother due to our impatient natures, she may have been standing right here beside me.
Papa blamed me, too. That was why he hit me whenever he stumbled through the doorway, intoxicated. And when Mason defended me, Papa saw how much his son looked like his dead wife, and Mason would get double of what I received.
"Wow!" Zach said with his mouth full of what was undoubtedly chocolatey goodness. "This is great! You lived up to expectations again, Mace."
My brother gave a modest chuckle, and turned to me. "You see, Nettie, this is why I like having your friends over. I need the encouragement of the hip youngsters of today."
Zach covered up his guffaw with a cough while I groaned. "Mason. You seriously didn't just say that. Plus, you're only twenty one!"
He gave me a wink. "Old enough, ma soeur. I think I'll get this one on sale by the end of the week and see how it does. We haven't had a new one for a while, and we won't after this one for at least a month – when we start working on Christmas." The idea excited him like it would a five year old kid. I smirked at his immaturity.
Deciding to break the news to him now rather than drag it out, I tried to lean casually against the counter behind me as I said, "So, I got in trouble again today."
At that, Mason's happy mood faltered, and he looked at me sadly. That was what I hated about telling Mason about what I got up to in school. He just had this look that had disappointed written all over it. "Nettie… what's the penalty?"
I flinched under his intense gaze. "I have to be a tutor… or I get expelled."
Usually, Mason never asked what I did to deserve the detentions I always ended up with, but this time, upon hearing the 'e' word, he practically exploded. "What the hell did you do?"
"I, uh, broke a statue with a hockey stick." So it was okay when the girl from 'Wild Child' did it but not when I did. Whatever.
He covered his face with his hands and swore in French.
"Should I leave you guys alone?" Zach asked tentatively, looking to me for aid. I shrugged helplessly.
For a moment, we all stood in awkward silence, but then Mason regained his composure. "No, that's alright, Zach. So long as you do the tutor thing, it'll all be fine. Dad doesn't have to know." Mason looked at me meaningfully, and I got the message. Because who knows what Dad would do to you if he found out; he's screwed up enough already.
I gave him a roll of my eyes as a response. No matter what my dad did to me, I'd never admit that I was afraid of him. In this house, now that my mother was gone, without my strength, I had nothing.