Chapter 16

Cherry

"I CAN'T BELIEVE WE'RE FINISHED!"

It was the last day of school. Ever. All of us were buzzing excitedly as we came out of the exam hall.

The last few months of school had been one big whirlwind of preparation for exams. I had thrown myself into studying hard to make my dad proud. Anyway, it wasn't like I had other distractions like Vanilla and Evelyn with their boyfriends. I did spend some time getting to know my father, and our group still hung out together, but there wasn't as much time for it. I even stopped my job at the local store so I could focus more on my grades. There were times when one of the girls would try to get me to go out a bit more.

"You don't have to work so hard, Cherry," Zoë complained, "Your grades are fine, but you hardly have time to spend with us anymore."

"If I want to get into a good college, I have to do well," I turned away from my desk to look at her.

"Cherry!" she stood up and shook me by the shoulders, "Seriously, what's gotten into you? You're topping your classes, girl! And you're not getting enough sunlight…look how pale you are!"

I glared at her, "I have naturally pale skin."

She had given up then, and left in a huff, but Vanilla was a little more persistent since she lived in the same house.

"Cherry, why are you studying so much?" she asked one evening, putting her handbag over my study notes, "We're supposed to be having dinner together tonight."

"I'm not going," I shoved her bag out of the way, "I still haven't finished the readings for English next week."

"Cherry," Vanilla sighed, "Are you avoiding us because Pierre might be there?"

"No, why would I be avoiding anyone?"

"Cherry, look at me! Why have you been avoiding Pierre?"

"I have not! Can't you see I have work to do? What does it have to do with him?"

"Look, you study enough; even dad is saying how you don't get out enough now."

I may have growled at her for pulling the 'dad card' out on me, but I reluctantly went out that night once she promised me Pierre couldn't make it. After all, like I had said, I wasn't avoiding him. I merely preferred to not keep company with him anymore, since I couldn't trust him.

Yet, today, as everyone went around in the typical fashion of re-discussing exam questions and wishing others well for the future, I couldn't help but wish that he was here with me. I wouldn't have minded rehashing things about the test with him and talking about colleges to apply to. My eyes wandered over the crowd and caught his eyes from across the yard. My stomach flipped as I quickly turned away, mentally yelling at myself for getting caught staring and for being unable to stop myself from blushing. It really was rather annoying being a redhead in situations like these. But, it wouldn't matter in a few weeks time once we'd gotten our results and school leaving certificates. We'd head off in our separate directions and I wouldn't have to think about him anymore.


She'd seen him watching, he knew. But, he didn't know what to do anymore. Not that he knew in the first place. After the Gloria incident, she had studiously avoided him – quite literally by studying nearly all of the time. She'd stopped coming out with their little group of friends, and she somehow had the amazing ability to slip away from him whenever he tried to approach her. Once, he had attempted writing a letter; as he recalled the same way; Vanilla had a long time ago to Frank. He could now only understand the agony she must have had gone through waiting for a reply from Frank as he now waited for Cherry to read it when he slipped it between her book. But from across the classroom, he saw her take it out glance at the writing, then deliberately crumple it and throw it into the trash.

He'd tried talking to Frank about it, but his words didn't come out right.

"Just tell her you care," Frank had given some advice, "She'll understand if you just explain to her."

The thing was, she never gave him a chance to even talk to her. And Vanilla had simply said to let her be until she was ready to talk. So he had 'let her be' for the rest of the time, while all the while he was torn up inside, waiting to tell her he loved her and always had…and always would.

He sighed and sat down on a nearby bench with his head in his hands. Most of the students were gone now, to celebrate the end of school. He'd join the others later, but this gave him a bit of quiet to just sit and think. He had to tell her before they all left for college. If he didn't do it soon, she'd be gone forever.

"I don't know…"

"Frank will be here in a minute. You must join us for lunch."

Two familiar voices sounded from around the corner. Pierre sat up straighter, unsure whether to leave and risk being caught unintentionally listening, or to stay behind the building and wait for them to leave first.

"What's wrong?"

"Oh, Vanilla, it's just that…this was all so pointless."

"What do you mean?"

"All the studying…and for what? You were right; you were all right, I wish I'd spent more time with you all. Now we'll all be going different ways…"

"We'll still keep in touch you know. And I'm pretty sure you and I are going to the same college."

"Yes…but,"

"Oh no! I left my jumper in the hall! Stay right here I'm just going to run and get it before the cleaners take it away!"

"Oh…kay…"

The sound of hurried footsteps faded away and Pierre was left alone again with his thoughts. But, no, what was he thinking? He wasn't alone! He was alone with Cherry around the corner. This was the perfect chance to talk to her.

With purpose to his movements, he stood up and quickly rounded the corner.

Cherry was sitting forward with her head in her hands. Hearing the footsteps but not looking up, she sighed deeply.

"Look at me, Vanilla, I mean I know you all care for me, but someone would have to be crazy to love me the way Frank loves you…absolutely crazy…"

Without further thought, Pierre reached down and took her hands in his gently pulling them away from her face. She stood up in surprise with a small gasp as he looked straight into her eyes – those emerald eyes that had captured him from the moment they'd met.

"Then," he said softly, "I must be out of my mind," and he kissed her.


Epilogue

The house was in a mess as things went flying into boxes and dust went flying everywhere.

"VANILLA!" an excited Cherry waved something in the air, "Look what I found!"

"What is it?" Vanilla picked her way across the mess.

"It's our heart collection boxes…remember? When we first moved here?"

"Of course I remember!" Vanilla excitedly took her box and turned it over in her hands but didn't open it.

"Did we ever decide what we'd get if we won the bet?" she grinned at Cherry.

"Nooo…" Cherry absentmindedly rubbed some dirt off the lid of the box, "I suppose it mattered then, but it doesn't really matter now. After all, you've got Frank now, the only heart that mattered to you."

"And you have Pierre! The dearest heart…" Vanilla said teasingly. Cherry gave her a weak smack on the arm while blushing.

"Shhh…don't say it so loud, he might hear you and his ego will get bigger," Cherry glanced behind her in mock alarm.

Amongst the sound of shifting boxes, a voice came through from one of the rooms: "I heard that!"

"Girls!" another voice came from close by, "Enough chit-chat. Just because the boys are helping load the boxes doesn't mean you can stand idle. I'm already done packing my things!"

"Yes, dad!" they chorused, then had a giggle together for a moment. In silent agreement, they both threw the boxes into a large garbage bag.

"There, that's done with that!" Cherry dusted her hands off, "Off to a new beginning again! Together! No more silly bets about collecting hearts."

"Yes! I think the best heart collection can't be kept in any box," smiled Vanilla.

"Agreed!"


A/N: Wow! What a journey this has been! This story has been more than FIVE YEARS in the works! I had the ending with Pierre and Cherry sorted out way before the thought of writing this story at all came about, so I'm awfully glad to have finally reached it. Thank you to all the readers who endeavored to finish reading this and supported me with reviews. The characters definitely grew as I did and there were some unexpected adventures they had along the way (unexpected for me as much as it was for you I think!), but I've learned so much writing this and seeing it through to the end. Maybe one day I'll fix up the random, un-cohesive parts…or actually, maybe I'll leave it as a remembrance.

Hope you've all enjoyed the story and please don't forget to R&R (that's read and review) because it means a lot!