Chapter twenty four

I would say I didn't particularly see myself as one to hold grudges… but then I would be lying. I can be easygoing, agreeable, approachable (on most days), but the feeling of rejection always successfully put me into a black mood. I didn't like the feeling, but I didn't exactly push it away. I wasn't a saint; I wanted blood, and I wanted to burn Kari like she did me.

Therein lies my problem. While I held grudges, I wasn't the vengeful type either. I usually seethed and muttered, occasionally cursed their existence here and there, but to act on my feelings was a completely different matter. It left me feeling torn and apprehensive, mostly pissed off, because I knew the most likely outcome in the end, would be me watching every opportunity pass me by… and letting her think she won.

"What're you doing?"

"Plotting death," I answered absentmindedly before I could think of an appropriate response; before I even realized the heat seeping deliciously into my skin originated from Rick's body. Our position clicked in my mind, and I warily pulled away from his embrace as I watched him laugh.

"You would." He smiled as he planted himself next to me on the stool. "How was your day?"

"Me and skiing…" I made a face words could not describe. "I'm… going to try out snowboarding."

"You have no sense of balance whatsoever," Rick pointed out.

"I know. Shut up."

"Stick to skating." He cast a sidelong glance at my pause and a grin appeared on his face. "Hey, you do know how to skate, right?"

"Of course I do!" As long as I was holding tightly onto something sturdy. Still counted. "What about you?" Idly, I dipped the tip of my finger into my hot chocolate. "Bruises? Broken bones? Trying to hide that limp you got from falling on your face?"

"Hey," he said affronted, clearly trying to fight a smile. "Unlike you, I'm athletically inclined."

"Mmhm."

"I fell a total of three times." The pride in his voice made me smile and duck my head before he saw. "One was because someone crashed into me – that didn't count."

"Of course not," I agreed sagely. "You were thrown off. It wasn't your fault."

"Exactly." I looked at him when the pause stretched a few moments longer than necessary. He was looking so intently that I felt my back straighten and my eyes sharpen attentively. "What's wrong with you?"

My mouth had be poised to ask the very same question, until the words slipped out of his own. Confused, my lips pressed into a thin line. It was an odd moment, not exactly awkward, but not exactly ordinary, maybe a little spine-tingling…

Shaking my head roughly, I cleared my throat. "What do you mean?"

"'Plotting death'," he quoted. "You okay?"

My face automatically scrunched into suspicion, but he sounded genuine enough that I was able to offer a shrug. "Yeah." I stared off into the lounge, watching the relaxed faces of my peers. Feeling oddly comforted by the feeling that Rick's presence provided. At the thought, I had to laugh. "This is so weird."

"What is?"

"You. This." I gestured between us. "Talking. Me not hating you. You being civil." I looked into his eyes, and I smiled. "I have to say, I don't completely hate it."

His eyes flickered, but he seemed to relax. "I'm not a bad guy, Cass," he said softly, sincerely. For some unknown, stupid reason, I felt my heart start to beat a little faster at the unreadable look on his face. His eyes were so intent, and I couldn't seem to look away.

"Kari hates me," I heard myself blurt out, forcefully tearing my eyes from him. Then, I cursed myself inwardly. "I don't know why, and I called her out on it. I practically exposed myself to her and told her I wanted to be friends. She basically told me I was an idiot. Now I'm just so fucking angry at her."

There was a pause, and then he laughed. He was still laughing as I transferred my murderous glare in his direction.

"What's so funny?" I demanded. "Never mind, don't answer me."

"Ego bruised? Doesn't feel nice, huh?" He flashed a smile, and then I realized what he was talking about.

Instantly, I shot to the defensive. "But that's different!" I protested. "I wasn't as evil as… okay, you know what, I'm not telling you anything else. You're not being nice."

"Well, when you say the word 'evil' like that, not to mention the way you're squinting your eyes – okay, okay!" He laughed, trying to avoid my smacks. "I'm done, I swear."

"Sure." I sniffed, trying to keep my expression neutral, but my grin won out.

"Kari's not so bad," Rick said, looking at me from the corner of his eye. I only pressed my lips into a slight smirk. "She's not. You just get under her skin… you get under everyone's skin."

"… Thanks." I squinted at him, unsure of how to take his words. He said it nicely enough, but I could never be too sure. Rick only shrugged so I took that as a sign to let it go. For a while, we sat in silence.

The lounge was slowly emptying, seeing how it was nearing ten o'clock and the teenagers were ready to have parties in their rooms without, of course, the supervisors knowing. The second day of the trip coming to a close, I mused, and I never imagined it to be sitting next to Rick. Then again, I never imagined talking to Rick as much as I did in the past few days. He liked to force his presence, and to be honest, it was amusing me with the way I didn't mind him.

Hot chocolate gone cold, I pushed the cup away from me. The brown haired boy next to me lazily turned his gaze away from a couple of girls he was blatantly staring at to raised an inquisitive eyebrow at me. I had to laugh.

"Don't make them feel nice now," I muttered playfully under my breath, subtly watching the girls whisper to each other as they threw glances at Rick now that he wasn't looking.

"I wasn't checking them out," he said, the smile clear in his voice. "I was wondering what made you so different from them."

The smile fell off my face slowly, until I was staring at him almost strangely. "What the hell?"

"I don't know," he said in a sigh, slouching back against the counter. I turned myself slightly to get a better look at his rueful face; at the way he was staring so intently at his hand, and then realized exactly how confused I was. Why the hell was he comparing me in the first place? That was beyond random. "Let's face it," he said, waving an absent hand in their direction, "the girl in white? She's hot."

Almost instinctively, I looked over his shoulder and realized that yes, indeed, she was attractive. "Yeah," I said warily. "Okay. That's cool."

"So it should be easy to like her, yeah?"

"Yeah. It should," I agreed, trying not to seethe. Rick was such a guy. What the hell – why was I even sitting here, letting him tell me who he thought was hot or not? I had better things to do with my life!

"She asked me out," he said nonchalantly, swinging his legs to have his body directly in front of mine. My back was stiff, and I nodded in acknowledgement. Okay, sure, that was nice. Now, was I really supposed to care? Because I didn't. I opened my mouth to tell him just that, but he didn't seem to want to hear anything from me. "She asked me out," he repeated, almost thoughtfully, "and I turned her down."

"You heartbreaker, you," I said dryly, discreetly rolling my eyes. "Do you want a congratulations? Remorse? There, there," I said impassively, patting his knee which was almost touching mine. "There are other fish."

"So that got me thinking – okay, I lied. Seth hit me upside the head and asked me why the hell I did that." He grinned momentarily. "That got me thinking if you were to ever ask me out, would I turn you down too?"

I couldn't do anything else but stare at him, wide eyed, because… "What the hell?" I said incredulously, only vaguely aware of the way my face began to heat. "That's so – so inconceivable, first of all," I said, managing to throw a glare in there somewhere. "And – and –" Mortified, I shut up. I was stuttering. I did not stutter, lest of all, because of Rick.

"Like I said," Rick drawled, clearly trying to stifle his laugh. "You're different."

"Shut up," I grumbled. "Just because I don't fall into a hormonal heap at your feet doesn't mean I'm strange."

"Anyway," he said breezily, "the answer would be no."

I rolled my eyes. "Of course you would –"

"No." He cut me off, his eyes losing their mirth. Stunned, I pulled back to stare at him. "If you asked me out, I wouldn't turn you down. That's what I meant."

"Ah." Uncomfortably, I fidgeted in my seat. Well. This was a little awkward. Was I supposed to thank him for not hypothetically rejecting me if I hypothetically asked him out… hypothetically? "Well, that's great," I said as sincerely and gratefully as I could, even when I wanted to give him the most exaggerated what the hell face of life. "I won't, er, reject you… either," I said. Right. Time to leave.

All of a sudden, his face brightened considerably, and that familiar light in his eyes set off the warning bells in my head. "Cool," he said casually, swinging his legs over the stool and got to his feet. Almost with a mischievous grin, he walked away. "I'll keep that in mind. Night, Cass!"

Stupidly, I watched him wave cheerfully over his shoulder before he disappeared around the corner.

"What the hell," I muttered under my breath. I hate to say it, but I sat there idiotically running our conversation in my mind before deducing that yes, this was a waste of my time, screw this I don't want a headache, and stood from the stool. It was time to face the inevitable… and pretend that Kari didn't exist to me.

I was grimacing all the way to my room.


Honestly, sometimes I amazed myself. For instance, I thought I was completely doomed that day I had a calculus test and I only studied the night before because I was guilt tripped into helping Amy with her kids in tutor all week because she was sick. Well anyway, I aced it. Let's not forget that Halloween night I accidentally made that rip in Lina's costume much more noticeable when I promised to 'quickly patch it up'. I managed to fix that rip before she got home and made her think I made it even better. What about the day I totally saved Alec's arse by super gluing mom's favourite vase when he broke it during one of his indoor 'b-ball games'?

Yeah. That's right.

So I shouldn't be surprised by my abilities. Except standing in this particular room with particular people made me curse myself and immediately psychoanalyzed who I was. I was the type of person who helped people when they needed it. I shoved that black monster inside me back to the depths of my mind telling it to shut up – that it was good to be offering my time like this – that altruism was a wonderful way of life!

The black monster was currently cussing me out and I welcomed the abuse. What state of mind was I in when I agreed to help Amy with whatever she needed. I even stupidly said, 'You can ask me anything, Ames! Seriously,' I had to add at the dubious look on her face.

And to be honest, I was ninety-five percent sure that she was going to forget that offer.

"Try not to look like you want to be somewhere else," Amy said from beside me. The room was small but it was big enough to hold twenty people. Six people were from the student council, five from leadership, and nine were volunteers.

"Better?"

"No. You look like a serial killer. Just – yeah, don't smile. No! Don't glare either. CASSIDY. Now you look like you belong in jail."

"Sorry, I was aiming for the I was guilt-tripped into coming down here by a promise I don't even remember making, so I'm pretty sure you made it up but I'd look like an ogre if I refused so I'm here anyway look."

"…In that case, good job."

"Yo!" Seth bellowed from the front of the room. Chatter died into silence and the blonde grinned at the crowd. "Thanks. All yours, Kari."

Said girl's expression was amused as she stood next to Seth. The beauty thanked us for coming so late in the night and asked if we were enjoying our time ("HELL YEAH!" was the general response). There was a vote among the senior students and it turns out that the majority voted for a party at the end of the week.

"When the hell did we vote for this?" I hissed to Amy, who was looking intently at the front.

"Oh, I filled yours out for you. You were too busy antagonizing Rick at lunch."

"He was antagonizing me! Why would I put pasta in my hair in the first place?"

"Safe keeping?" came a snigger from behind me. I glared him down until his amused expression faded and uncertainty filled his face.

Shaking my head, I turned my attention to the front.

"We have three nights to get everything together, so I'll really appreciate it if you dedicate yourself to this." Kari's smile was sweet, but even I saw the threat behind her eyes. There was a brief pause (her diabolic effects, I noted knowingly). Papers were handed out, our names were recorded. Tasks were assigned, phone numbers exchanged. Kari worked like a madman, getting the initial aspects out of the way. I was surprised to see her talking civilly to Nicoletta, who was nodding along, her face neutral.

"Thought you were going to bed?" Rick yawned next to me.

"I thought you were going to bed." I mimicked his yawn and wrapped my sweater tighter around me. "I was ready but Amy came by."

"Seth did the same," Rick smiled, looping an arm around my shoulder. "I wouldn't mind if you borrowed my shoulder again, Cass Summer. You kept me awfully warm that night outside."

I had to smile at his flirtatious tone, flicking his stroking fingers off my shoulder. "It was the bonfire, Kingsley. And keep your hands to yourself if you prefer it attached to the rest of your body."

"Your sweetness make my heart aflutter."

"I'm too tired to exchange loving words," I said, laughing at his wounded expression. Rick, a moment later, pulled back with a normal smile and bade us goodnight.

The look on Amy's face wasn't all too comforting. It was knowing and expectant. A tad smug. Slightly worried.

"I know what you're going to say." I held up a hand to keep her from speaking, and with the same hand, beckoned her towards the exit. "And just because I get along with a guy other than Seth doesn't mean I like them."

Amy innocently held her hands in front of her. "Didn't say you did. Why? Has that thought plagued your mind?" We ascended the stairs. The room we were in was in the basement of the lodge. The lounge was on the first floor, and as we made a right exiting the hallway, I saw the silhouette of the black leather couches from the dim light of the vending machines.

I only smiled an indulging kind of smile that made my friend roll her eyes.


The next two days involved a lot more pain (i.e. humiliation) than I imagined. There was a lot of time spent viciously wondering why all athletic genes were passed down to Lina and Alec, conveniently skipping out during the shuffle in my birth. I didn't even have hand-eye coordination! What was this?

Amy managed to convince me to hug those red ski slopes (for beginners), and like the good friend she was, patiently waited for me to spit the snow out of my mouth and straighten myself again… and again… and again. Let me remind you that she was the one who believed I could improve – and I proved her wrong. I knew where my abilities lay.

The next day, Seth wrestled me into a snowboard after I had an introductory class. Let's just say the fact that my feet were restrained made me lose whatever pathetic control I previously had on my body. After rolling down that hill for the ninth time, I decided to call it quits and made a mental note to show my mother the bruises and ask her if mothers really did know best.

(I had every intention of flaunting my marred skin under her nose if she said 'yes'.)

On our fourth night, I discovered Amy and Seth giggling at my (nonexistent) athletic grace. Bruised, aching and tired, I opted for subtle revenge.

"Seth, do you remember how you lost your mp3 last year? Amy dropped it in the toilet when she stole it – I mean, borrowed it from you. Convenient how she found the exact same one the next day minus all your songs, isn't it? Strange indeed.

"And Amy? Do you remember when you asked Seth why he didn't have a girlfriend, and he said that he didn't think there was a point because he already –"

At that point, Seth slapped his hand over my mouth and dragged me off to the side, muttering furiously into my ear and studiously ignoring Amy's bewilderment.

Seth yelped, springing away from me. "You licked me!" He spun to face me in horror.

"You were blocking my air supply," I retorted, and then smugly said, "your face is red, Seth. Is it hot? I don't feel hot. The room is pretty warm, actually –"

"You dirty, conniving –"

"You were making fun of me!"

"Yeah! Behind your back!"

"AND THAT MAKES IT BETTER?"

"WOULD YOU RATHER IT TO YOUR FACE?"

"Children, children," Amy approached us with an amused smile. "I do believe lack of sleep makes you crazy." Then as she peered a closer look at Seth, worry slipped into her eyes. "Are you okay? You're all red."

His face turned a deeper hue, and the glower he directed at me made me want to laugh and run away at the same time.

"Fine," he said mulishly at the dubious look on her face. Grunting, he jerked his head in my general direction. "Can we strap her to a snowboard and ship her to the top of the highest slope?"

I saw her slight nod and glowered at them both.

It was this fourth night that I let myself relax. The fifth night made sure my decision was not in vain.


Two days had passed since I last spoke to Dante and my heart didn't lurch when I caught sight of him. A sense of calmness stole through my entire being that I hung myself back for a few moment to gaze at his profile. "Dante."

His head turned and the curl of his lips made my own lips tilt upwards. "Oh, you're talking to me? Voluntarily?"

"Strange, isn't it?" I gestured to his skates. "Coming in or going out?"

He glanced down, then he nodded to own blades hanging around my neck. "If I say going, will you join me?"

I finally smiled. "Saved me the breath of asking you."

The walk to the rink was a comfortable and familiar silence, like an old friend wrapping itself around me. It was the kind of silence where you didn't have to worry about what to say next, but rather basked in the tranquillity it brought. These were the silences that made me appreciate Dante greatly back then. Still did.

"Having fun?"

Dante's smile made me press my lips together. "I am. I saw you take those falls, and I've been meaning to ask… are you having fun?"

The playful tease in his voice didn't go unnoticed; in fact, I scrunched my face unattractively. "I'm planning revenge against Seth and Amy. I'd rather wobble on the ice."

Dante's teeth flashed. "That's right. You and skating – hazardous."

"I've gotten better, for your information."

"You've advanced from crawling to shuffling on your knees?"

"Shut up, no!" I had to laugh at the grin on his face. "Okay, I'm still bad at it," I admitted, "but at least I'm not afraid of falling anymore."

"You shouldn't be," Dante said. "Being afraid takes away from the worthwhile of the experience."

I gazed at him. "But sometimes being afraid but taking it on nonetheless – that's what makes it special."

There was a pause, slightly confused but mostly familiar. Dante sighed and ran a hand through his hair. My eyes averted. It was inevitable, falling into some sort of whimsical, nostalgic whirlwind that took us back into a moment where we were smothered by the baggage our history had. We couldn't move on if we kept pretending it didn't happen. I knew that now, and Dante did too. It was time.

"This has to stop," Dante said, and even though I wasn't looking at him, I knew his lips were thinned and his expression stony. "Jesus, Belle… I'm so sick and tired of tip-toeing around you. We were best friends – hell, we were in love!"

My chin dipped and I had to smile at his words. Yeah. We were.

"We grew up together. We lived life together." Dante's voice was soft. I noted the tenderness in his words, and I knew what he felt. It was stupid – this was stupid. False words, sugar-coated conversations. This was no comparison to what we had. What we had was extraordinary. Life changing. And this – this was nothing. "I taught you how to count, and you taught me how to spell. You – you've always been there." There was a catch in his voice, and when I looked up, I saw his clenched jaw. Then he continued in a quiet voice. "I hate knowing that we don't have that anymore. I really do."

"What do we do?" I said, my grip on my skates tightening. We were still walking, but our pace was so slow we were almost going backwards. "It can never be the same, Dante. Too much damage." I shook my head. "Do you think I don't think about you anymore? Because I do. I always wonder what would happen if we didn't turn away from each other that night. If we stayed and faced what happened together." I had to laugh, but it was an ugly sound. He turned his head sharply to sear my eyes with his, and I stopped walking. The moment was suddenly thick with memories and feelings we locked away. I had the feeling so desperate to feel his arms around me – to hold him tightly and know that he was in love with me just as I was so in love with him. It was suffocating.

"We can't keep wondering what if forever," Dante said quietly, face unreadable. I swallowed hard. Exhaling, he smiled slightly. "Not going to lie though – saw you with Kingsley the other day and it took everything in me to stop myself from coming over there and punching his pretty face." He grinned, but his eyes were sober.

My traitorous heart jolted at the news, and I squashed any inkling feelings of hope blossoming in my chest. "Pretty face – you're the one to talk." Almost in uncertainty, we looked at each other. Despite that feeling, there was a fresh, almost cleansing feeling of the moment. We didn't know if we could ever go back to what we had. But despite telling myself this, my heart ached for it. I wanted Dante. It was a physical ache knowing and reminding myself I didn't have the right anymore.

Swallowing, I started to walk again. Dante followed, and for a while, we let the words settle in our brains. My heart was thudding hard against my ribcage, and I had to force myself to breathe evenly. We entered the rink and automatically sought a clear bench and began our business of swapping footwear. Dante silently took my boots with his and got us a locker. I was left waiting for him.

Wordlessly, he took my hand and guided me onto the ice. It was almost natural the way my body moved with his that I had to smile. It seemed like a lifetime ago I let myself relax like this. It was nice.

"Tell me about Laurita."

If I wasn't so focused on him I wouldn't have noticed the way he stiffened. But then he searched my face, and I only nodded slightly.

Exhaling, Dante tightened his grip on my hand. His pace was slow and accommodating and I was able to slide along with him without struggling. "Well… she's beautiful."

"I know," I said when he didn't elaborate. I regarded him searchingly. "Please don't tell me you only fell for her looks. It wouldn't look too good on you," I had to add dryly.

Dante barked a laugh. "No, no. She's an angel." His smile made his eyes light up. "She's the sweetest girl you'll ever know, but damn, she has a temper. She's usually helpful and laidback, but if she gets the feeling that you're walking over her…" Dante's grin widened, and watching him, I knew he was thinking back to her. I swallowed hard through my smile, and turned my eyes forward, his words passing through me slowly, almost deeply, the ache from his happiness telling me to be happy that he was able to move on. Dante chuckled. "I… she's just…" He sighed, glancing at the sky. "She was there when I needed her."

It was like a punch to the gut. I inhaled sharply, glad like hell I wasn't looking at him. He didn't have to see the sick look on my face.

"I fell in love with her," Dante continued, but this time his voice was quiet. "She made me forget what happened – made me forget about you. Even for a little while."

I looked at him, unable to smile, but felt no pressure behind my eyes to cry. He stared back, face solemn. There was no regret in his eyes, only compassion that made me want to step back and tell him to shove that compassion –

But I couldn't. All I did was nod.

"Belle…"

"I thought about suicide," I said abruptly. Dante stopped so suddenly I almost fell on my face. Instead, I felt his hand gripping mine tightly, and when I looked at him, he was staring at me with wide eyes, a furious expression creeping onto his face. I looked away. "It wasn't fleeting either. I thought about all the different ways I could go. Whether or not I wanted anyone to find me."

"Cassidy –" His voice was tight, body tense. But I ploughed on.

"I thought about drugs, about the meaning of life, about how much I'd affect my family's lives." My breath caught, and I felt the familiar pressure in my chest. Roughly, I shook my head. I had to tell him. I had to. "When we came back, they were worried, but I didn't – they didn't know." Almost angrily, I ripped my hand away from his. "I thought girls were stupid for thinking about death when they weren't with someone they thought they loved. I felt stupid, but I also felt helpless. I cried every night, and I hated it. I hated missing you, I hated knowing it was better that way."

When I looked at him, I knew his expression mirrored my own. We must've looked strange standing in the middle of the rink. I felt tortured, and Dante looked the part. I could hear his hard breathing and practically hear the grinding of his teeth.

"You're an idiot," Dante told me sharply, lowly and furiously.

I nodded. "I know."

Neither of us moved.

"What made you change your mind?" he finally asked, but this time his words were hoarse, almost as if he had to force himself to say it.

"Overheard Mom talking to aunt Claire about you and Laurita. Darkest night of my life, but also the happiest in a long time." I looked at him thoughtfully, taking in his frozen stance and expression. I had to smile, "Suddenly thinking of killing myself felt absurd. I felt stupid. If you could move on, why couldn't I? I was glad… for you."

The ache I always buried away enveloped my whole chest but I felt relieved that I was able to tell him. I felt like another burden was lifted from my shoulders and I could one day look at what we had with a smile rather than bittersweet pain.

"You're an idiot," Dante repeated, but his voice was strangled, almost choked. I frowned, but didn't have time to look at him, for he pulled me to his chest and wrapped his arms around me so tightly I felt myself gasp.

He shuddered. Then I felt his tears.


Author's note: I accept lectures, yelling and mild expletives for my late update.

Like I said before I am aware of this 'drag' in this particular relationship, but I'm not going to hurry it along. The story is focused on their development, and like what they're doing, I'm trying to feel my way around their relationship. It takes a while (if you hadn't noticed, haha). Thanks for reading!

xoxluurve