Chapter Nineteen

Looking worried, Will appeared behind Sammy in the opening. His eyes flickered in surprise, darting between Tristan and Adel and his steps faltered. The wind ruffled his hair, making him squint. Breaking out into a grin, Will said, "I see you've taken my advice, Tristan. Except it might be more helpful if you actually ride the bike rather than, you know, each other."

Sammy turned red enough for both of them and she stumbled back with a stammer. "Um, sorry. I didn't – I – sorry. Excuse us." Grabbing hold of Will's sleeve, she dragged him along with her as she turned around.

Will twisted around, adding loudly, "Unless you're into kinky acrobatic cycling!"

Tristan tried to stand up. Unfortunately, Adel was still partly on top of him. Sliding right off his lap, she tumbled onto her backside with a muffled grunt. Dazed and mortified, she could only blink as an equally flustered Tristan blanched and made some gesture at her, eyes darting between Adel and tracking Sammy's movements. With a helpless growl in his throat and another desperate, rueful glance at Adel, he stepped over her reposed body and hopped over the bush, hurrying after the other girl.

"Sammy. Sammy, wait. Wait!" Tristan called out. "Is something wrong?"

Sammy shook her head, apparently too shaken to speak. Tristan stopped in front of her, peering down at her in concern. He touched her shoulder. "Sammy?"

Will took over. "There's something wrong with her brother." The humor gone from his face, Will seemed disturbingly uneasy about how to go about wording the rest of the explanation. "The hospital called and said he had a relapse during his physical therapy."

Sammy's voice was soft as she kept her eyes on Tristan's shoulder. "I'm not too sure about the details, but they say Terry's pretty down about it and –" She stopped short, fingers plucking at the sleeve of her coat. "I want to see him." She threw up her hands with a light, bitter laugh. "I mean, it's not like I can do anything to help him out right now, but I just want to … see him." The girl's face was stark white as her hands wrung together, visibly upset.

Sammy continued haltingly. "I had just wondered if – if you could possibly give me a ride to the hospital." She added in a hurry, "But it's okay. It's okay. I could just take the bus and –"

Tristan shook his head. "It's alright, Sammy." Gently, he reassured her, "I don't mind. We could go right now if you want."

"And me too!" Will added. "I want to see how Terry's doing too."

"You sure?" Sammy asked Tristan, slipping Adel an uncertain, apologetic look. By this time, Adel had picked herself up from the ground and was brushing herself off. Adel automatically flashed a smile at her roommate and dipped her head in a slight nod.

Shoulders sagging, Sammy smiled weakly in gratitude. "Thank you so much. I wouldn't have asked you if I'm not such an idiot who likes to panic every five seconds and –"

A small smile touched Tristan's lips and he shook his head again and repeated, "It's alright, Sammy."

Adel looked down, uncomfortable. Uncertain about what to do now or what to say, she toed the dirt awkwardly and cleared her throat. "Uh –"

Tristan turned his head to her and said, "I'm going to take Sammy to the hospital. Sorry about –" He stopped, appearing a bit flustered before his expression smoothed over. "Sorry about cutting our lesson short."

"It's okay." It was starting to feel funny with all of them taking turns to reassure each other. "No problem. Um, can I –"

"Yeah, you should probably head back inside where it's warm, I guess." Tristan hesitated, brushing a finger against the bridge of his nose. His eyes focused on her, a startling clear blue. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed immediately. Except what she had really wanted to ask was if they wanted her to go along with them to the hospital too. But after thinking twice, she realized that of course, she couldn't go. It wasn't like Terry knew her. It wasn't like she was really part of their circle.

Tristan nodded briskly and then turned away, herding Sammy and Will away.

Will called out with a flap of his hand. "Bye, Adel! We'll be back soon!"

"Bye," she echoed. One of the wheels on the collapsed bicycled spun lazily, catching the gleam of the sun, and she hugged herself, bracing against another gust of wind. Alone, she murmured, "Bye."


The wheels threw shadows across the ground that was strewn with leaves, the spokes a crisscross web of lines. The bicycle emitted a soft squeak as she turned and her legs pumped lethargically on the pedals. Again and again, she looped around the area, taking the bicycle in slow rotations around the small opening.

Blankly, she dropped her eyes to the ground, studying the way the wheels crunched through the leaves. It was freezing and her fingers were reddened as they clutched the handlebars. She sniffled, sneezing and she sighed as she brought the bicycle to a gradual halt.

Shaking her head, she looked up just in time to catch a gleam off in the distant just beyond the gates of the schools, behind the straggly, black branches of the elm trees. Squinting, she moved off of the bicycle, holding it next to her hip. Unhurried, she wheeled in the direction of the gates. She thought that the lawyers must be losing their touch if she was able to catch one of the cameras going off.

"Adel?"

The voice made her turn and she was surprised to see Justin standing behind her. He was wearing a thick, forest green down jacket and the tips of his ears were red from the cold. "What are you doing out here?" he asked, curious.

"Oh, I was –" She gestured lamely at the bike. "Biking."

Justin looked at her weirdly, but nodded. "It's kinda cold, isn't it? You're a brave soul."

She shrugged. "I actually got dragged out by Tristan."

"Oh." He glanced around. "So what happened to him?"

"He … had to drive Sammy somewhere."

As if that cleared up everything, he nodded sagely. "Ah, yes, they've always been close, haven't they? Even though I didn't go to Crestan long, everything knew about their group."

"Right. Right," she murmured. Of course there was no way in hell Tristan was like her. Loner, my ass. For a moment there, she'd let herself get swept up by those stupid blue, blue eyes and what she wanted to hear.

And all of a sudden, she felt furious and it wasn't something she could particularly label with a target – she just felt angry with everyone and everything. With Tristan for trying to empathize with her when he could never really understand, with Sammy for being so nice all the damn time, with Will for insinuating that there was something between herself and Tristan, with Lee for being an awful uncle who wouldn't even answer her calls, with her father for making her feel so useless all the time, with the bicycle just because it belonged to Tristan, with the weather because it was so freaking cold, and more importantly, with herself because she no longer knew what she wanted to do next. It felt like she had drawn to a stop, uncertain of how to proceed in any direction because she no longer had any defined purpose. She was angry with the whole world. How quaintly bitchy of her.

"Adel?" Justin asked.

"What?" she snapped. Instantly, she regretted it and she amended her tone, "What – what's up?"

"Is something wrong?"

She could only shake her head, shrugging her shoulders casually.

"Are you and Tristan … okay?" Justin ventured hesitantly.

"We're fine," she answered too quickly.

"Really?" He sent her a dubious look, hair ruffling in the wind as scattered leaves skittered across the ground.

"We have our on and off moments," she hedged.

"Really?" This time, he sounded almost surprised. "You guys get into arguments?"

She snorted. "That's an understatement. We fight more than we …" … like each other. Her mouth snapped shut.

"But Tristan doesn't seem like the type to pick a fight with someone."

Adel threw him a look. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Justin hurried to add, "I mean, you seem pretty easy to get along with too so it's just surprising that you two would have … so many problems."

She didn't want to dwell too long on this topic before she opened her big mouth and started picking out reasons why she wasn't exactly Miss Congeniality for Justin. "Well, I'm sure not everyone shares your opinions. I mean, just look at Victoria. And your friend, Calhoun."

"Calhoun?" Surprise swept across Justin's features. "What about him?"

"I don't know," she mumbled. "I just get the feeling sometimes that he doesn't particularly like me that much."

"Oh." Justin glanced away, but he didn't make a move to protest. "It's not that he doesn't like you. Really. It's just that he has certain preconceptions –"

"Adel?" Another voice broke in then and they both turned to find Caine standing beside the doors leading inside. He watched them curiously and then beckoned at her. "Someone's asking for you at the office."

Justin threw her a close-lipped smile and waved good-bye as Adel walked away from him, leaving the bicycle leaning against a tree as she headed over to Caine.

As soon as she stepped through the doors, the warmth embraced her and she stifled a sigh of pleasure. Her fingers still felt icy but her ears were already prickling from the rush of blood. "Who is it?" she murmured, cocking her head at Caine.

"I'm not too sure. They made an announcement over the speakers for you to come to the office, but I figured you were still with Tristan outside and wouldn't be able to hear." He cast her a sidelong look. "Speaking of which, where is he?"

"Tristan? Oh, he had to drive Sammy to the hospital with Will. She wanted to see her brother because he had a relapse," she explained. They walked side by side through the hallway, light spilling through the tall windows in kaleidoscopic shadows. She unzipped her jacket as the heat grew more prominent.

"Ah," was all he said.

"Uh huh," she responded just because she didn't like the quiet, awkward pause. Funny how she didn't seemed to mind the silence with Tristan quite so much.

Caine turned to look at her, opening his mouth to speak when something caught his attention. "Hey." He pointed at her neck. "Nice necklace."

Adel looked down and she flushed when she realized that she had on the ruby necklace she'd gotten from Tristan. It'd probably slipped out from where she'd tucked it inside her shirt when she'd fallen on her ass after Tristan neatly dumped her off his lap. Her cheeks burned and she hoped that her zipped up jacket had prevented the boy from seeing the necklace before. Instinctively, her fingers flew up to close around the gem and she coughed. "Thanks."

Caine's eyes crinkled as he said, "Guess you girls like to match? Or is it a fad now? That'll give me some ideas about what to get for girls."

"Hmm?" Bemusement furrowed her brows.

He waved a hand at the necklace. "It's almost like the one Tristan got for Sammy when he returned from his China trip over the summer. Except her ruby is carved into this rose design and is encrusted with these crystals, I think." He chuckled. "Of course, Vincent absolutely hates it so Sammy's probably only going to wear it on special occasions, I think."

Adel's stomach plummeted and all she could do was blink very slowly at Caine.

Caine was completely guileless as he continued, "So is it a big thing now to wear ruby necklaces? Or did you get it from China too? Or –" He stopped short as his face took on an expression that said it all: Oh shit.

Adel looked away, dropping her hand from the necklace. It swung free and the silver chain slid against her skin, the cool touch making her shiver.

"Did Tristan give that to you, by any chance?" he asked tentatively.

She forced a flippant laugh and shook her head. "Nah, I stole it from him back in China."

Caine's lips parted in an awkward grin, his eyes still uncertain. He tried to joke, "What? You jumped him?"

"Yup. In a dark alley and all." Her voice was light, but she still couldn't quite meet the other boy's stare and she kept her hands jammed into her pockets. Her skin felt numb and her eyes had that familiar prickling sensation as if her face had been struck by the wind, except that was no longer the case because she was inside now within the warmth, wasn't she?

The necklace had never been meant for her, she reminded herself. Duh. Why would she even been be surprised? Tristan had bought it for Sammy and she had accidentally gotten a hold of it. When he'd asked for it back, she'd – oh, god – she'd made a big fool of herself by clinging onto it like it meant something to her and then he actually gave her the stupid thing because he tried to be nice, because he pitied her. And because she had fretted over her guilt, she had to continue to do something childish again to reinforce her idiocy by sending him money and a stupid Big Bird doll. All while he had already bought something much nicer, much more elaborate and intricate for Sammy and this – her hand touched the smooth, round gem – this no longer had any meaning for him.

She yearned to tear it off from her neck now, but with Caine still watching her, he'd know something was up and he'd probably end up telling Tristan, who would probably get it into his head that she – that she liked him or something and then he'd try to console her while thinking of some way to put her down gently – the ass!

She was building up her temper all by herself now just imagining a blow-by-blow of what their argument would be and how his remarks would sound and that could only mean one thing: she'd somehow caught schizophrenia.

Caine added cautiously, "Well, Tristan only got it for Sammy because it was a souvenir thing. I mean, he got the rest of us these T-shirts that were all misspelled and your necklace kicks our things' butts any time. I mean, it's round. And glossy. And smooth. So pretty."

His attempts to comfort her actually made her feel worse and even more embarrassed. She struggled to tamp down any sign of her apparent relief as they neared the headmistress' office.


The mood in the car was not as tense as the ride over now that Sammy had seen and talked to Terry for herself. Her brother had been mortified that she'd shown up practically in tears and it was exacerbated when Will flung himself through the door following her footsteps. He'd sat up straight in his bed and tried to roll himself off, bringing his blanket with him even as he tried to swat Will's hands away.

Tristan had dragged the other boy out of the room to allow the siblings a moment of privacy and by the end of their visit, Terry was no longer huddled underneath his covers in the middle of his bed and had even cracked a smile as he waved them off, the tips of his ears still red from his sister's fussing.

Now that they were heading back to school, Tristan allowed the conversation in the car to fall into silence. He couldn't put off thinking about certain things now. Like Adel's distinct fragrance and the way her eyes fell half-lidded when he drew her close to him, as if afraid to close her eyes. Like Adel's stunned expression when he dumped her in the dirt and how he practically tripped his way away from her. He'd been so rattled, he hadn't even offered a hand to pick her up. What was he thinking? What had he been thinking when he'd nearly kissed the girl? Just thinking about Adel made him want to groan in mortification, his pulse quickening and palms turning clammy.

All he hoped for now was that she wouldn't try to slap him upside down the head the next time they saw each other.

He cracked a smile.

Tristan's hands flexed on the wheel when Will broke the silence, "So you two totally reminded me of Sims." He said it matter-of-factly as if he was merely continuing a previous conversation.

"What?" Tristan's eyes narrowed on Will through the rearview mirror. "Who?"

"Sims. You and Adel." Will explained slowly. "Like, you know, that game where you get to control all these little people and click on options for them?"

"Oh. So you spend your time on a game that involves you playing God with the lives of virtual characters," Tristan commented. "Shocking."

Sammy chuckled while Will ignored him, continuing blithely, "So when you two were making out in the garden before –"

Tristan made a sound that was only slightly better than outright choking.

"I could totally see the bubble options floating over your heads!" Will exclaimed.

"What?"

"Cuddle, Kiss, Tender, Romantic, Make-Out, Woohoo!" Will rambled off.

Tristan stewed in silence for a second before saying, "Again, what?"

"They're all these romantic options a Sim can participate in," Will lectured. "Kiss! Kiss! Woohoo!"

Sammy giggled as Tristan remarked amusedly, "What are you? Homer Simpson?"

"Concentrate, Tristan," Will said with exaggerated patience. "Not Simpsons, Sims. They cuddle, make-out, and then they go play between the sheets, Woohooing! their way to orgasmic bliss," Will sighed. "Ignorant being."

"Says the guy who's explaining the mating behavior of what amounts to computer pixels," Tristan drawled.

"Well, technically, I was trying to point out your foreplay steps toward making your own Woohoo! with Adel –"

Tristan cut him off desperately. "Must you scream every time you say woohoo?"

Will arched a brow superciliously. "I like to think of it as being both capitalized and punctuated with an exclamation point since it is supposed to represent the supreme act of love so naturally, how else am I supposed to pronounce it besides … WOOHOO!" He dipped forward to bellow the last word in Tristan's ear.

Tristan almost swerved off the road and he muttered a curse as he glared daggers through the mirror at the boy. Sammy winced and tried to make herself even smaller, squeezing closer against the window in the passenger seat. Will sat back in his seat, unperturbed as he watched the scenery outside his window. Tristan's fingers tightened around the steering wheel as they yearned to throttle a certain someone's neck.

It was the first time Tristan actually wished Vincent was there. The other boy would probably have climbed into the backseat already with both fists doubled.

Even with Sammy's calm presence beside him, Tristan couldn't wait to get back to school. That, and the fact that he was actually anticipating another bicycle lesson with Adel, complete with their bickering and all. If he was lucky, he just might get her to tackle him again.

And that's when he realized that he was probably going crazy.


Tristan pulled up to the front of the school, thinking to drop Sammy and Will off first near the entrance before he made his way around to the parking lot in the black but there was another car at the front doors. It was a nondescript black sedan with dark, tinted windows and with mild curiosity, he parked his car behind it.

Leaving the engine running, he started to turn around to Sammy when the doors opened and Adel appeared in the front entrance. She lingered there for a moment before stepping forward, her attention on the ground. Her hair was pulled up in a loose ponytail and she swiped the hand that held the strap of her backpack across her forehead wearily. That was when he realized that she was lugging a suitcase in her other hand.

He was out of his car before he realized it, slamming the door closed behind him.

Rounding around his car, he met Adel at the gates just as she trudged down the steps.

"What are you doing?" His words came out tersely.

She looked up, lips parting. "Tristan."

Tristan gave her suitcase a pointed look. "What are you doing?" he repeated.

"I –" She looked stricken and a bad feeling formed in the pit of his stomach. "I have to go."

His eyes narrowed. "What do you mean you have to go?" He tensed, anger coursing through him. "Were you suspended? Was it Victoria again? Did you beat her up and the Headmistress found out?" Torn between fury and exasperation, he shook his head and sighed. "You couldn't even wait for me to get back before you got yourself into trouble again?" He headed for the steps, hand reaching out to close around her wrist as he passed her, tugging her along with him. "Don't worry. I'll find a way to fix this and then we'll deal with Victoria."

But she pulled away from him. Startled, he turned to her and she drew back, hugging her backpack to her chest. She didn't look at him, but she rolled her eyes. "I didn't fight with Victoria."

"Then what –"

A man in a black suit and dark shades came down the steps then. Ignoring Tristan, he came over to pick up Adel's suitcase. "The paperwork's been finalized, miss. We can go now."

Tristan's brows snapped together. "Wait a minute ..."

Sammy and Will came up behind Tristan. "What's going on?"

There was a loud tussle from the doorway and Caine all but fell out of the doors, jerking his arm away from another man in a dark business suit. "Man, just get the hell –" His eyes fell on Tristan and he heaved a breath of relief. "Thank god you're back. For a minute there, I was worried these guys were going to drag Adel off without even giving her a chance to say good-bye."

Tristan stiffened and he narrowed his eyes on Adel. "Good-bye?"

Adel still refused to meet his eyes and she murmured, "I have to go."

"Go where?" His voice rose.

"Back home. Beijing."

Will squeaked, "You're leaving us? Why!"

Sammy added, "Is there a family problem or something?"

Adel twisted the strap of her backpack between her hands. "No … not exactly. I just … have to go."

His gut clenched and there was an odd, detached, ringing sound in his ears. Calmly, he asked, "And how long is this going to take? When will you be back?""

Adel's face crumpled for a second and she ducked her head low. A numbing sensation swept over Tristan. Taking a moment before lifting her head resolutely, her features were devoid of all expression as she shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not too sure." Then, in a voice quieter still. "I may not … come back."

The man who had picked up the suitcase reached out to touch Adel's elbow. "We have to hurry if we want to catch the flight, miss."

Stunned, Tristan watched as the man started to lead Adel over to the car. The man had gotten the door opened before Tristan found himself crossing the space within two steps and suddenly, he was there beside Adel, pushing the man away and shoving the door closed. Tristan turned his back on the guy and grabbed Adel's arm, whipping her around to face him. She lost her grip on her backpack and it tumbled to the ground with a thud as he snarled, "What the hell is going on?"

The loud commotion drew some students to the doors and a handful stood at the top step, watching in avid curiosity.

Adel spoke quickly in a low murmur, "Tristan, please."

"Please what? All I'm asking is that you tell me what's going on." His fingers dug into her arms, but she didn't wince. If anything, she seemed to let herself sag forward against him. "What about the will and the -"

She interrupted him, "It's okay now, Tristan." She looked up at him and the look on her face made his insides twist. "Everything's over."

"What are you talking about?" Tristan couldn't seem to filter anything through his mind except for the fact that the two men in dark suits were hovering somewhere behind him, breathing down his neck. They would probably have tackled him to the ground and tasered him or something if Adel hadn't directed a warning glare at them over his shoulder.

Regret softened those brown eyes of hers. "I –"

"Oh, come on, Tristan. Why do you even bother with her?"

They both stiffened as Victoria pushed her way through the crowd and headed toward them, her heels clicking against the ground. A mask of remote irritation, she sauntered up next to Tristan and flicked a hand in Adel's direction. "If the girl wants to go, just let her go. She's totally not worth this."

"It's none of your business, Victoria," Tristan replied in a clipped tone, keeping his eyes firmly on Adel. Adel's face closed up, her lips tightening noticeably.

Victoria cocked her head, leaning forward to splay her fingers across Tristan's upper arm. "Tristan," she crooned softly. "Honestly, the girl doesn't even want to tell you why she's leaving. I think that pretty much says something about what she feels for your so-called relationship."

Adel's eyes flashed and she'd gone so pale, Tristan automatically trailed his hands down her arms soothingly until they reached her wrists, encircling them softly.

Adel swallowed, shaking her head. "Tristan, there's –"

Victoria rolled her eyes. "Excuses. Excuses."

Tristan wanted to throttle the girl. Gritting his teeth, he said, "Can you just give us a minute?"

The man with the dark shades placed Adel's suitcase in the trunk of the car and slammed it shut. "Miss, are you ready –"

"No!" Tristan snapped over his shoulder.

Adel said, "Tristan –"

"I don't know what's going on, but this is all insane. What? Did your father have another one of his brilliant ideas for you again?" Tristan asked sarcastically.

"Stop it," she bristled.

"I might if you'd just clue me in on what's going on."

"You already know what you need to know! Everything's over now. Everything's back to normal. You'll have everything back to the way you wanted –"

"Don't tell me what I want –"

"I won't be a nuisance to you anymore –" she started bitterly.

"Stop trying to distract me because I know your father's forcing you into something again, isn't he?" he snarled.

"You don't even understand what's going on. If you knew what your –" She stopped short, fumbling as she tried to recover.

"What? If I knew what?" He scrutinized her through narrowed eyes.

Adel shook her head mutely and tried to extract her arm from him, but he closed in on her. She sighed, "Tristan …"

"No more of these games. Please," Tristan said. "What's going on?"

Adel seemed divided and as she struggled to form the words, Victoria apparently had enough. The girl protested loudly, grasping his arm. "For god's sake, Tristan, just let her be. She can't even talk properly."

Tristan growled, "Stay out of this, Victoria."

Victoria scowled, annoyed. "Why the hell do you even care so much?"

"Because she's my fiancée!" Tristan exploded, ripping his arm away from Victoria's hand.

Victoria staggered back, astounded. Caine gaped. "Say what?"

Sammy sucked in her breath as Will clasped his hands together, practically vibrating on his feet. "Oh my god, weddings! Dibs on best man. I mean, I could either be your best man or have your best man, I'm not picky as long as he's hot -"

"Actually, I believe you're mistaken." The cool drawl caught everyone's attention. Justin and Calhoun stood on the second step, just before the small crowd of students. Justin stared at Adel intently while Calhoun just looked indifferent with his hands tucked in his pockets, but his jaw clenched spasmodically and his eyes bore into Tristan's.

Will looked confused. "What? The best man isn't hot?"

"What?" Adel whispered. Tristan turned to find the girl just as stunned as he was.

Calhoun barely looked at her as he repeated, "I believe I'm your real fiancé."

"Say what?" Caine repeated.

Adel's uncle came out from the building then with a folder tucked underneath his arm and he shoved through the crowd, barking, "What the hell are you guys milling around here for? Don't you have anything better to do? Go read a book!"

The horde dispersed and Lee turned the full force of his glower on Calhoun, "Was that really necessary?"

Calhoun crossed his arms in front of him, staring him down. "What? Were my efforts not appreciated? I'd rather thought we were in some soap opera." At that, he slipped Tristan and Adel a look of disgust. "Cue dramatic music and shocking revelations."

Will held up his hand slowly. "I like men. And women."

Caine's eyes turned skyward. "Shocking new revelations, Will. And now's not really the time, is it?"

Lee grabbed Adel's backpack off the ground and hustled the girl away from Tristan, breaking their contact.

Still a bit dazed, Tristan demanded, "Wait. What is this all about?"

Lee tore open the car door and shoved Adel in before he turned around to face Tristan. Keeping his back to the opening, he blocked Tristan's view of Adel. "Sorry, kid. Trust me when I say that we both had no choice in this." His lips twisted in a bitter smile. "At least, you can think of it this way - you're free of this mess now." His eyes slipped to the left as he addressed his niece. "Right, Adel?"

There was a moment of silence. Softly, her whisper filtered out from somewhere inside the car. "Right. I'm sorry for having dragged you into this, Tristan."

Tristan took a step forward, shaking his head. "Wait …"

"And … thanks for everything," she murmured.

Before Tristan could react, Lee pushed him back and ducked into the car, pulling the door closed behind him as the two other men slid into the front seats smoothly. Tristan stared at the car, stepping forward to try to tug open the door, but it was locked. The tinted windows made it possible to see inside, but Tristan pounded on the glass furiously. "Adeline, you better get out of there right this minute and give me a proper explanation before I –"

The engine started and Tristan grew desperate, pounding his fist on the roof of the car. "Adel! What are you doing? You can't just leave like this! I'm going to –"

The car pulled away from the curb and Tristan stumbled a few steps after it, heart thudding leadenly in his chest as the vehicle coasted away.

Will tore past him, flapping his hands in the air as he wailed, "Adel! Come back! Don't you love us anymore?"

Spinning around, Tristan tried to head for his car, but Victoria blocked his way. "Tristan, come on, you don't need to do this," she implored.

Sammy stepped forward, glowering at the girl. "It's none of your business what he does!"

Tristan shrugged the girl off only to have another hand clasp his shoulder. Calhoun's eyes glittered as he stated evenly, "She's really not your problem anymore, Harland. Remember? She's my fiancée."

Banked fury lit his blue eyes as Tristan hissed, "What did you have to do with this?"

"Me?" Calhoun shook his head. "I had nothing to do with that girl's problems." His expression darkened, turning lethal. "But more importantly, neither do you. Not anymore."


"Why does he do this to me?" Adel whispered woodenly.

Lee cast his niece a distraught look. "I tried to talk to him about it, but you know how your father is."

Adel looked away, fingers rubbing the smooth crimson gem she wore around her neck. "I should talk to Tristan."

"Don't."

"I owe him –"

"You owe him nothing," Lee retorted. "Don't get yourself involved, Adel. This isn't your problem."

"I'm already involved!" Adel snapped.

"Don't let yourself get caught in the middle again, kid," Lee warned. "Your father is angry enough as it is." He shot her a warning look. "Besides, do you really think the boy would appreciate the information? You know what happens to the bearer of bad news - you'd both only end up taking sides and getting into another fight."

She persisted stubbornly, "I think he'd understand –"

"You're in no position to roam free now and we both know it," Lee proclaimed resolutely.

"So what? Am I going to be kept locked up now?"

"If that's the way it has to be," Lee retorted.

Adel sagged back against her seat, clenching her necklace so hard, her nails dug into her palms. Brokenly, she murmured, "If it weren't for our mothers …"

"Come on, kiddo. I know it sucks to have to leave a school in the middle of the semester, but it'll be alright," Lee said cheerfully.

She looked away from him.

"We're going back home, where everything's all familiar and nice. Isn't that great?"

Silence.

"And plus, you can finally stop having to force yourself to deal with that Harland kid. No more fights, no more getting upset because of him, no more –"

A soft sniffle broke his train of thoughts and he froze when he realized that Adel had turned her head completely away from him, cheek resting against the seat as her head lolled back to watch the rolling scenery pass outside the darkened window.

"Adel?"

Adel didn't turn around. "Hmm?"

"You okay?"

Her muffled voice answered him. "Mmhmm."

Lee softened and turned away to sit back in his seat and stare out his own window. "Alright. If you say so."

She didn't answer him.

"Fine. Then I'm gonna take a nap. I flew back from China just to pick you up and now we have to go straight back. The jetlag alone is going to kill me."

There was silence and Lee, torn, let his eyes close.

In her corner, Adel allowed the tears to trail down her cheeks before she brushed them away with an angry swipe of her hand. Pressing the droplets that clung to her bottom lashes away, she watched the cloudless sky. Never would she have imagined it would have to end this way. She should have known of course that at some point, their game would have to come to a finish, but somehow, she had never thought that it would be so … emotional for her.

It was all business, wasn't it? They were supposed to work together to fulfill the will's purposes and then they'd shake hands and walk away from each other. So why, now that they haven't even spent the full year carrying out the will's terms, was it so difficult for her to extract herself away from Wrenfield? Why did it feel so wrong to be leaving like this?

And why did the anger in his voice leave her so shaken this time?

They were on the highway now and the trees along the side of the road whipped by, the tops of the black arching branches a blur against the vast sky. Even if the sky was a clear blue, she wouldn't know. As long as she was within this car with its tinted windows, everything outside would always be bathed in grey.


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