Chapter Seventeen

By the second time around the rink, Adel's movements were hesitant but steady. She no longer kept her eyes down, watching her blue skates pick up shaved ice, but managed to stand up straight, watching out for the people before her. The sky was such a clear shade of gray, everything felt sharp white.

She still had to cling onto Tristan's hand, but at least, they were now coasting side by side, as opposed to her toddling after him.

He glanced at her and she returned his gaze, cheeks rosy red from the brisk wind. Her eyes sparkled, warm brown. "I can skate!"

His lips quirked in response. "Yeah, you're getting there." His hold tightened around her hand as he guided her around another skater.

She skittered along with him, wrinkling her nose at him. Will interrupted then, breezing past them before he drew to a halt. He did a double take and his face lit up. "Hey! I found you guys!"

Tristan sent her a sidelong look as Adel fumbled to steady her balance. Huffing a breath, she arched an eyebrow at the other boy. "Wow, Will, I thought you couldn't skate."

The boy blinked and then he rubbed the back of his neck, laughing guiltily. "Whoa, would you look at that? I'm a natural after all!"

"Uh huh," she answered dryly.

Will glided next to them. "I'm a genius!" He sighed, smoothly moving around a pair of skaters. "It really is quite unfair to be both so good looking and so good at everything I do."

"It must be a heavy burden," Adel remarked.

"Incredibly heavy." He nodded. "Like sumo wrestler heavy. Monster truck heavy - oh!"

Just across the rink, they caught sight of a flash of red as a slender figure slipped and crashed against the ground. Vincent's dark outline coasted to his knees beside Sammy as his arms slipped around her back to help her up.

"Oh, poor Sammy!" Will clucked.

Adel was aware of a sudden tightening pressure around her right hand and she glanced over at Tristan. His blue eyes were narrowed, fixated across the rink, as he watched Sammy struggle back up to her feet. Tensing, he leaned forward slightly and in a voice so soft Adel wasn't sure if he was talking to himself, he muttered, "How did Vincent manage to let her fall?"

The air must be really brisk then because all of sudden, it felt freezing. An intense sharpness swept into her lungs and there was a twist in her chest that was not so much as painful, but this uncomfortable numbing sensation. Adel looked down at their intertwined hands and then slowly, she disentangled her fingers from his.

Tristan looked at her, startled. "What's wrong?" His head dipped forward, leaning toward her.

She lowered her eyes. Then she laughed. One of those short, harsh laughs that sounded false even to her own ears. She flapped a gloved hand at him. "I'm releasing you from your duty."

He looked confused. Sharply, he said, "What the hell are you blabbering about?" His hands reached for her again.

Widening her smile, she shook her head, batting his shoulder with a light tap of her fist. "Idiot. I know you must be getting bored going at a turtle's pace so why don't you just take a break and head off for some real skating?" She cocked her head to one side. "Who knows? If you're really fast enough, maybe you might even catch up with Vincent and Sammy."

Tristan still looked a tad bemused, but a wry smile immediately slipped across his lips. "If I'm fast enough? Oh, I assure you, I'm a much better skater than Vincent will ever be."

"Really?" She eased into their familiar batter with a strange relief. An eyebrow climbed up challengingly. "Then perhaps once you reach them, you can even help Sammy too." She rubbed the back of her neck, nodding. "I mean, you're a pretty okay teacher with skating and I'm sure maybe Sammy will appreciate extra advice - I mean, she's much better than me so I'm sure just a few pointers will already have her, you know, not slipping and skating like a pro and -" She stopped, frustrated. "Okay. My brain is on ice. Please. Just go."

There was a certain uneasiness to Tristan's face now. "Uh -"

Adel jerked her head. "Have fun."

"But -" He brushed a finger against the bridge of his nose. Awkwardly, he said, "What about you?"

The sharpness in her chest was only getting tighter and yet, despite the iciness in the center of her chest, she felt warm heat spreading throughout her body, flushing up her neck. She laughed again and then lurched away from him, latching onto Will.

Will reached out to grasp her elbow, surprised. The boy steadied her and then glanced over at Tristan.

She nodded, breathless. "I'll be just fine with Will. He's a natural, isn't he?" She looked up at Will and the other boy blinked only once before he beamed in response.

Pleased, Will clapped an arm around her shoulder, nearly sending her sprawling on her front. "No worries, Tristan! I'll take super good care of her." He hauled her to his side cheerfully.

Tristan stared at them. A flicker of something Adel couldn't read shifted across his features, but it disappeared as fast as it came. Face impassive, he nodded slowly. "If you insist."

She rubbed her gloved hands together and tucked her chin low against the collar of her jacket. Softly, she murmured, "Have fun."

And then with a scrape against the ice, he was gone. Adel stilled, trying not to watch Tristan as he drifted through the skaters to make his way to Sammy and Vincent. Tipping her head back to Will, she piped up, "So are you ready to be burdened by me?"

Will's eyes crinkled. "Hell, man, I totally forgot that I can get girls to cling onto me just as well as me clinging onto others. Awesome!"

Adel couldn't help laughing.


"Dude, what the hell are you doing over here?" Vincent hissed, swiping the back of his gloved hand across his forehead.

"And hello to you too," Tristan remarked as he skated up to them.

Sammy's cheeks were rosy from exertion and her breaths came out in foggy white clouds. She leaned against Vincent, tucking her hair out from her eyes. "Not that we don't welcome you -"

Vincent snorted.

Without batting an eye, her elbow prodded him in the ribs. "But … where's Adel?"

"She's with Will."

They stared at him. Tristan resisted the urge to look away awkwardly. Vincent frowned. "You left her alone."

"I did say she's with Will, didn't I?" Tristan drawled as he glanced down at his jacket, pretending to fix a button.

"Yeah." Vincent played with the ends of Sammy's hair. "You'd have been better off leaving her in the middle of the rink."

Annoyance swept through Tristan. "She specifically said she wanted me to go off by myself and leave her alone."

"Why?"

He sighed. "She said she didn't want to be a burden and that I should go skate and have fun."

"How fun is it to skate by yourself?" Exasperation swept across Vincent's face.

"She said I should find you guys." Impatience roughened Tristan's tone and he cleared his throat.

"Why?"

He was getting tired of all the questions. "Because Sammy fell."

Vincent's expression turned ominous. "And she sent you because you make a good first aid kit?"

Tristan shrugged. He wasn't too sure why he had come anyway, but something about the way Adel had nudged him away clearly indicated that she didn't want him to be around her any longer. He frowned. Well, something about that didn't sit too well with him, but far be it for him to force his presence on her. He mumbled, "She wanted me to take a break and hang out with you guys or something."

Vincent groaned, "Why is it that you guys can never just -" He sliced his hand through the air. "- move along in one straight linear line?"

"What?"

Sammy coughed and her lips pressed into a smile. She took over for her boyfriend, explaining, "You two - you seem to be getting along and then one of you runs off in the opposite direction or you make the other mad. You never seem to just sit together for a day."

Tristan didn't know what to say. The first thing that came to mind, which was It isn't my fault - she did it, seemed a bit trite, not to mention juvenile. Jamming his hands into his pockets, he shrugged.

"Commitment phobia?" Vincent nodded knowingly.

Tristan threw him a dirty look.


Adel grabbed the edges of the wall as she stepped off the ice. Hobbling on her skates, she headed inside toward the stands. After one more round around the rink, she suddenly felt drained and decided to stop for the day. For some reason, Will's cheery mood made her even more tired and since she knew that her fatigue generally came packaged along with grumpiness, she figured she'd better isolate herself before she started baring her canines or something.

Will dropped her off at the exit, calling after her, "You sure you don't want me to come with you?"

"No, I'm just going to get something to drink and I'll be right back," she lied, waving him off.

Pulling off her gloves, she continued to waddle off, balancing on her skates. The floors were covered with black rubber mats so it wasn't so hard to walk. She thought it was certainly easier than slipping around on ice. Glancing around, she wondered if she should take off her skates, but then she remembered that Tristan had locked both their shoes up together and she hadn't bothered to ask him what his lock combination was.

Stuffing her gloves into her pockets, she squeezed through the crowd and headed toward the line in front of the stand where they sold hot drinks. Adel tipped to the side and squinted her eyes, trying to read the menu over the head of a particularly tall guy.

Something brushed against her elbow then and she automatically drew her arm forward to move out of the way.

But fingers tightened around her arm and she turned her head, confused. She immediately thought that it was one of her friends coming to join her, but the man who towered behind her now was a stranger. The man was Asian with a short crew cut and he wore a thin black windbreaker that seemed out of season. He was really tall, probably taller than Tristan and while he appeared thin, he wasn't by all means emaciated. Lean and mean, those were the first words that came to mind. Dark, reflective shades covered his eyes, but she had the uncanny feeling that his eyes must be boring into hers. Blinking, she offered him a quizzical smile, figuring that he had mistaken her for someone else and they'd laugh off the mistake, but he didn't let go.

On the contrary, his grip increased until it was almost painful.

Brows snapping together, she tried to extract herself out of his hold as she asked in a loud voice, "Is something wrong?" She wasn't certain if he needed help, but something about the way he stared at her made her skin crawled.

He didn't answer and then to her shock, he started to drag her forward toward him.

Eyes widening in alarm, she tried to jerk her arm away, but his fingers bit into her skin in a bruising manner and her mouth went dry. "What are you doing?" Her voice was sharp as she brought up her other hand to pry him off.

Both his hands came around her and he turned slightly, pulling him along with her as he headed for the doors outside. Her stomach rolled and her pulse kicked in.

"What are you doing?" She repeated, struggling. When he didn't answer, she snarled, "Get the hell off of me!" She tried to aim a kick at his shin, but he yanked at her and the sudden momentum sent her off kilter on her skates and she wobbled, clutching at him. He moved forward briskly, half dragging her.

For all the judo classes she'd taken, it wasn't entirely in her favor that she could fight him especially if he could drag her out of the doors alone. At least here, amongst the crowds, she had witnesses. Throwing her body backward, she pitched back as dead weight. The man grunted with the force of trying to hold her upright and she opened her mouth to scream even as she registered dimly how ridiculous she must look and how Tristan would probably just look at her and shake his head and –

The man seemed to realize that she was going to scream and before she could let out a sound, he shook her once and growled, "Do you want to know about your mother or not?"

She stiffened, freezing in place. "What?" was all she could manage.

But that was all he needed as his hands clamped down around her and he lifted her clear off her feet, pulling her –

"Adel?" Someone called out from behind them and the man faltered. She jerked her arm away from him but before she could rethink, her hand fumbled out, grasping the edge of his sleeve. Her voice came out harsh, guttural. She had to know. "What about her?"

He didn't register her question, roughly shoving her away from him, and she went sprawling against the ground, legs awkwardly splayed with her skates still on. He was already out through the doors by the time she caught her breath.

She continued to sit there, stunned, and then someone was beside, touching her shoulder. "Adel? Are you okay?"

She turned to find Caine kneeling beside her, peering at her worriedly. "Adel?" He repeated. "Who was that guy? Did you know him?"

Mutedly, she shook her head and as she did so, she realized that even though they were practically sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, the people around them didn't seem to be aware of them at all. Groups breezed past in clouds of laughter and joking and while one or two sent them a curious look, their eyes slid away from them just as easily. Had no one seen what had just happened?

Caine dipped his head low, appraising her. "Adel, are you hurt?"

She shook her head again and then licked her lips. Her voice croaked, "I'm fine. I just –"

"Why are you sitting on the floor?" Tristan interrupted, coming up to stand over her. His back straight, he stared at her calmly almost as if he was just inquiring about the weather or something. Stripping one of his gloves off, he meticulously folded it. Behind him, the rest of the group stopped short.

He glanced at Caine. "What's wrong with her?"

Adel tried to stand up, fumbling to prop the blades of her skates against the rubber mats as she pressed her hands behind her against the ground, trying to propel herself up. "Nothing's wrong with me," she said. "I just –"

Tristan came forward, pulling her up easily. His hands lingered around her arms to make sure she'd caught her balance even as he quirked an eyebrow at Caine.

His friend shrugged, straightening up and brushing the back of his jeans. "I don't really know. The girl I was with had to go so I came in with her to see her off and when I turned around, I saw this guy holding Adel."

"Holding her?" Tristan's brows snapped together. He cast Adel a look. "Holding you?"

"He didn't hold me. He grabbed me," Adel answered, rubbing her elbows. She was trying to collect her thoughts, wondering exactly what the man had meant when he'd mention her mother and she really didn't know what was going on at all, but her head was spinning enough to make her feel nauseous.

"He grabbed you?" Tristan's voice was sharp. "Why?"

She shook her head, shrugged, and she hugged herself, running her hands up and down against her arms.

"Why didn't you flip him or something?" Tristan said slowly.

Bending her elbow up and down, she touched the back of her arm. Adel squinted at him, making some face between a glare and a grimace, and growled, "I don't just flip anyone."

"Oh, right. No, you just flip me," Tristan retorted. "So I guess the one time it actually matters, you can't do it."

"Well, I'm sorry, but I guess the guy just isn't as weak as you," she snapped as her fingertips massaged her upper arms.

The boy glowered at her for a long while, features darkening, and then he finally snarled, "Oh, would you just let me –" He didn't finish, moving near her as his hands pushed away her fingers away and he latched onto her right arm. He shoved up her sleeve, which wasn't a very easy matter considering the fact that her jacket was still on. The sleeves bunched up around her elbow in a clump, but it was enough. Peering at her bare arm, his touch was gentle upon the reddening bruises. He held her wrist loosely in his other hand as he stroked the skin, sending chills down her spine, and then he muttered, "Only you could attract the nearest nutjob in this city."

Her temper flared. "What, you think I wanted this?"

He ignored her outburst. "He only tried to grab you? He didn't do anything else?"

"What do mean only? It isn't enough that he tried to haul me out the doors?"

He stared at her blankly for a moment and she was unnerved to see his blue eyes darkening ominously. His jaw clenched, flexing. Glancing over at the exit, he returned his attention back to her and then added in a rough voice, "Well, good thing he must have decided you weren't worth it after all."

God, he made it sound like she was defective for not getting kidnapped. "Gee, thanks," she retorted, trying to yank back her wrist, but his grip tightened.

They glared at each other.

His eyes slid away from her as he cursed beneath his breath and then he leveled her with an intense scowl. "Next time, do me a favor."

"What?" She bit off.

His lips thinned, eyes dark with what she imagined to be fury. "Don't send me off skating by myself."

Startled, she stuttered. "What?"

"Don't tell me to leave you alone. Don't skate by yourself. Don't go anywhere by yourself." His fingers flexed around her wrist, smoothing over the red patches. His voice was low, soft. "For god's sake, you collect five fresh bruises for every old one."

Adel dropped her eyes immediately, feeling suddenly short of breath. Was she going into shock or something? Had the man scared her more than she had thought? She swallowed thickly. "Well, I didn't really know. And he may not be a … nutjob. I think he mentioned my mother. I thought -"

His eyes widened in alarm. "Don't tell me you were tempted to follow him."

She spluttered. "Of course not." She waved a hand down at her skates. "I'm still wearing these."

Disbelief washed over his features and she had the feeling that she hadn't cleared herself in his eyes yet. She continued, "And I fought him. I'm not some kid. I definitely didn't want him dragging me off somewhere. I just –" She licked her lips. "I just wanted to talk or something."

Tristan shot her a look. "Man assaulted you and you don't run. You want to talk."

Jack coughed. "Typical woman?" Carrie swatted his arm.

Adel flushed. "I wanted to find out what he meant about my mother. What if he has a clue about –"

"Or, what if he's really a lunatic who thinks your mother is some queen alien and he wants to sacrifice you to her?" Caine supplied helpfully.

"Or probe her!" Will gasped. His eyes scanned over Adel worriedly as if he expected to see neon green antennas sticking out of her. "Or neuter her!" His eyes zoomed toward her crotch.

Vincent smacked him.

Adel threw them all a quelling glare, but Tristan's face had already turned blacker than she could ever imagine it to be. Without another word, Tristan turned around, striding off.

A few steps away, he halted and then he came back around, clapping his hand around hers and he dragged her along with him. She staggered behind him as they made their way toward the lockers and she thought he was ignoring her until he said without turning around, "Get your stuff. We're heading back to the school."

She protested, "But I'm fine. We don't have to go back so soon –"

"If you want to see if our stalkers got any pictures of your nutcase, then I suggest we get back as fast as we can and track down your uncle," he stated flatly.

The rest of the group cast each other confused looks, but decided it was better off to stay quiet. For once, Adel tried to stay out of Tristan's way as he stormily threw open their locker and handed her shoes to her. Normally, she had no problem fighting with him because it was usually her picking a fight with him or her rubbing him the wrong way. This time however, she didn't think she'd really done anything to piss him off so she had no idea why he was so angry.

Or maybe she did, but the way her pulse quickened indicated that it just might be something she wasn't ready to face yet.


Author's Note

Sorry about the lateness. Been brainstorming. I finally got a blog up (link under homepage) and cleared up the clutter in my bio, transporting all of my old notes over. I have a new post up there with some outline of certain plans for False Facades too.

Until next time, thanks, everybody for the support and patience! I will try to keep you posted.

Thanks, Secret Heart 01. :)

- Maeven


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