A.N.: I literally just typed for two hours like a madwoman to get this in on time. As of now it is 10:56 CST, so it is still Saturday. :) I don't really have time for an author's note, because I'm exhausted, so I'll leave you with this.
Hope you enjoy the chapter, and WATCHMEN was amazing on film. Loved the comic, and the film was really good too. Props to Jackie for playing Rorschach so amazingly.
I was awake again. I knew because I wanted to die.
My limbs twisted, convulsing and lashing out with each new pain. Every singe of skin belted an ear-shredding scream, tarnishing and ripping away at my throat. The acid in my lungs burned the air I breathed, and each inhale left me choking on ash. With each second collecting dust, the moment lasted an eternity.
Another inhuman, devastating scream gurgled in my head, hitching in hoarseness when it reached my tongue. I coughed and my entire body jolted, my nerves crackling like a broken circuit in water.
The freezing boil began again.
A frigid wave of numbness crashed down on me, and I mentally barricaded myself, preparing for the quench of crackling flames hovering above me. I waited for death to rake its claws over me—to finish me off—but its pincers were agonizingly slow and icy.
"Please…just k-kill me." The words burned holes in my tongue, but I had to try. I had to beg someone to do something—anyone who was near me. Someone had to end it.
But what if I was alone? I couldn't remember where I'd fallen asleep…what if there was no one to help me?
"Please…" I coughed, unable to say any more. My chest quivered like an earthquake.
Something had a grip on me; a hard cold grip. The freezing, smooth texture soothed the heat, it heightened the ice plunging through my veins. I shivered, unsure if I should pull away. Not that I could, I had no control over my own body.
A soft touch to my forehead sent a comforting shiver through me before disappearing. Someone was with me.
"Please…" The words slipped from a longing deep in my head screaming: let me die.
That soft touch again. "I can't. I'm sorry, Jillian. I won't."
That voice. Why can't I remember the name? I knew it, and it was on the tip of my tongue, it just wouldn't leave there. I braced my mind, pushing my thoughts away from the pain and trying to recall the name.
"Jill, I'll do anything for you. Anything in the world, except that. I'm sorry."
He sobbed. I'd never heard him sob. The sound filtered through my ears and into my teeth like copper; sharp and cruel tasting.
He was trembling—convulsing in silent tears.
The only reason I could tell was because my body had gone still and the pain…the pain was fading.
I blinked, feeling my tear-streaked face stretch. I blinked again, almost not believing it was possible that the fire had finally been quenched. My eyes adjusted to the small amount of light illuminating the room—my room, I realized.
"Jill…" he pleaded, still clinging to me. "Please don't ask me to. Not again."
I opened my mouth, but the fire returned, staining my lips with heat. I winced, but tested my vocal chords, determined to respond.
The first sound I made didn't have any form to it only a weak raspy noise. I tasted the singeing smoke again but I ignored it more easily this time.
"Ger—" I coughed, every miniscule movement sending electricity through my nerves, frying them to a flimsy, seemingly useless wire. The flare of pain was nearly unbearable this time, but I clenched my jaw shut and waited motionlessly until the embers reduced to smoke and ash.
"Gerard…what are you talking—" I coughed again, but continued, despite the stinging in my chest. "What are you talking about?"
Sharp, invisible needles pricked my skin when he pulled me closer.
"Don't ask me to kill you, again." He swallowed and kissed my forehead, the cold momentarily lulling the flames to a dim candlelight. "I can't stand it—"
He stopped shaking, suddenly frozen. Slowly, his hands moved from my back, up my spine, to my neck, and finally surrounded my face. As carefully as I could, I looked up at him, my eyes burning.
His skin was the color of milk, but his eyes were surrounded by beaten red circles, the veins in the white like the bare branches of a blood-tree—red and tangled. The green encircling his pupil was a dull emerald, the hue clinging on for dear life. His face shone in the lamplight, gleaming from the tear-stains, his lips chapped and cracked, but bloodless. Every strand of hair stood in a different direction, his black mane in complete disarray. In all of the flaws, just the sight of him dissolved the numbing pain radiating through me. I managed to smile without wincing. His eyes widened.
"You…" He swallowed, and cleared his throat, composing his face. "You're not shaking anymore."
I nodded, enduring the pain. "I guess I'm not." Cough. "It was bound to stop sometime."
He shook his head in disbelief, staring at me like he was seeing me for the first time. "I was starting to lose faith. You've been in so much pain…I was starting to think it was never going to stop."
"That might've…" Another cough. "Been bad."
He tiredly rolled his eyes and playfully pecked my forehead. "Such an understatement."
He pulled back a little, seeing that his embrace was causing me pain, but I clung to him, trying to cool my body, the sheen of sweat sticking to me like a second skin. I shivered but he misunderstood the comfort it gave me. I tugged on his shirt to make sure he didn't pull back, but I immediately regretted it.
He laughed, concealing a leftover sob behind it. I hated that sound. "You probably shouldn't move too much. I'm sure your body is sore from fighting off the infection."
"Infection?" I echoed.
He nodded. "We had a doctor come in because we were afraid to move you. I've studied medicine a few times, and I didn't really understand what he was saying. I think your dad got it better, though. I'm probably rusty. I haven't studied in the medical field since…fifty-one, I think."
I laughed. "Geez. So you don't know what happened to me?"
"Not really," he murmured, carefully nuzzling my cheek.
As much as I loved his gesture, it felt like a flaming poker. "Ow."
There was a calming silence before Gerard sighed, and muttered, "How selfish of me. I'll be right back, Jillian."
Confused, I nodded and blinked once before he was gone. The pain had nearly ebbed away now.
There was shuffling from down the hallway, a few yells, and a myriad of stomping feet lumbering towards my room. Even though I knew it was coming, the echo of the door slamming against the wall caused my heart to sputter and momentarily burst like a rocket.
When I caught my breath, I had to get over the shock of how many people filed into the room in a disorderly manner. All their faces were painted with exhaustion.
Gerard was first, followed by my father, Nory, Jeremy, Mischa, Liv, Liam, and, much to my surprise, Caullin.
The surprise etched on my face must have been blatant because everyone was expressing relief, except for Mischa, who looked utterly annoyed to be alive.
My dad embraced me first, nearly crushing my fragile ribs. Luckily, Nory happened to see my predicament, and she kindly pulled him off of me and gave me her short-lived, but less painful, hug. Everyone else followed suit, most muttering words of relief. Mischa stayed over to the side when Jeremy carefully embraced me. Caullin was last, and he gave me a rare smile.
They all stood in silence, watching me as my father rubbed my back. Gerard stood slightly to my left, not sure how to display his affection with my father so near. I realized they were all waiting for me to say something. What, I wasn't sure. I cleared my throat.
"Um…so no offense to anyone, but…" I paused, confused and alarmed by the shifting expressions. Gerard was awkward but ecstatic beneath it. Liam and Liv were looking at me like it was graduation night and Caullin looked pitying. "Why are there so many people here?"
None of them appeared offended; if they were they didn't show it. A few of them opened their mouth to speak, but quickly shut it when they saw someone else was going to speak. In the end, everyone was slightly embarrassed that the silence had lasted so long.
"Okay." I laughed. "Um, can someone at least tell me what happened? To me, I mean."
This time, there was mixed expressions of eyes flitting between glances and perplexing stares. It occurred to me that none of them might fully understand what happened to me either.
"Does…does anyone know what happened to me?"
My father sighed. "Well, Jill…I don't think the doctor himself knew. He had some idea, but he admitted he'd only seen two cases in all his years in the medical field."
"Well…what was it?"
He exhaled heavily again. "He said you contracted a rare case of pneumonia that occurs around six hours after the time you're first infected by the disease."
My eyebrows rose apprehensively. "Dad, I've had pneumonia before. It wasn't that painful."
"The doctor said it was the severest reaction he'd ever seen. He thought you might have been allergic to the bacteria that caused it."
I blinked, trying to soak it all in. "Is that…is that even possible?"
He shrugged. "I didn't think so, but apparently it is. It would explain why you were in so much pain. I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was something like if you were allergic to the bacteria, your pain wouldn't be…uh…what was the word…isolated or centralized. Considering how loud you were screaming, I'm guessing that wasn't the case."
I shook my head, shivering. "It definitely wasn't isolated, but…if it was the severest reaction he'd ever seen, why didn't he admit me to a hospital?"
"Well, he was afraid to move you," my dad admitted sheepishly.
"Anytime any of us tried, you screamed and lashed out at us," Nory explained. "I thought you were having an exorcism."
I laughed, regretting it again. I winced in pain, not bothering to conceal it. Gerard sat down next to me and rubbed my back, fingers twitching. I knew he wished that he could do more to make me feel better.
"Well, sorry about the 'lashing'. I don't think I was exactly in my right mind," I apologized, trying to lighten the mood. Everyone looked like they were ready to spring into action at the first sign of my discomfort. As I glanced around at each of them, I noticed Gerard, Nory, and my father had a good number of scratches lining their arms—a couple outlining their faces. Gerard had one right across the bridge of his nose—one I hadn't noticed before.
"Did we get a cat?"
Their eyes flickered to one another, silently deciding who was going to answer me. In the quiet my eyes found their way to my hands and I realized my fingernails had been clipped off unevenly. Still, no one spoke.
"I…" I cleared my throat, shame stalling me. "I did that to you didn't I? The scratches, I mean…"
No one said anything. There's your answer.
"I'm sorry," I muttered, unable to look them in the eyes.
"Don't apologize," Gerard pleaded, guilt threading his own words. "Like you said, you weren't exactly in control of your actions."
"That doesn't mean I didn't do it," I mumbled.
"Let it go, Jill," a voice commanded, one I instantly recognized when the speaker entered the room. I was momentarily stunned by her sudden presence, so she took the opportunity to try and insult me. "You're always so selfless. It makes me look terrible."
"I wasn't aware being selfless was a bad quality, Rochelle," I replied tonelessly.
She rolled her eyes again. "It's not. By the way, the wedding is on August fifteenth and you're my maid of honor. So be prepared to wear a dress and get all prettied up."
"I'd take pneumonia over that any day," I murmured under my breath.
Gerard snorted, containing his laughter.
"I'm going to choose to ignore that remark and not kill you, but only because I don't think I'd be able to find another maid of honor before the wedding. So, I still love you."
I coughed into my hand for what felt like half an hour, eventually regaining my rattly, wheezing breath.
"Sorry…" With my next cough came another pressing question thumping in my dizzying head. "Um…if I was having an allergic reaction, how am I…not in pain right now? What cured me?"
My father jumped in, leaving no hesitation to my question. "The doctor gave us shots for you, since we couldn't get you to a hospital. We've had to hold you down to get anywhere near you with the needles, but we have been giving them to you. And apparently it worked. So, if your arms are sore for a couple of days that's why."
"Currently, all of me is sore," I informed him.
"The doctor said when the pain stops it'll take a couple days before you start to feel normal again. He said you'll probably cough for about a week and you'll be really sore for about three days," Dad replied again. From his tone, I was guessing he'd been taking notes during the explanation and had read over his writing to either reassure himself, or relay it to me accurately. "So, you won't be going back to school until Wednesday, if you feel up to it, that is."
I groaned. School.
"I'm sorry, Jill. School happens to still exist."
"It's not your fault, Dad," I assured him. "it's just…it all seems so unreal. School is just so…normal.
"But you're probably right. How many days of school have I missed so far."
They all exchanged sidelong glances.
"It's only been one day, Jill. It's late Sunday right now," Gerard stated quietly, still rubbing my back. "It probably felt like a lifetime for you."
I nodded, speechless. All that pain in one day seemed nearly impossible. "You had a doctor make a house call, and cured me in twenty-four hours?"
Dad nodded. "I don't know if you remember my friend, Doctor Galvestone, but he owed me a favor for a lawsuit I won for him, and once I called, he got here right away."
"Thank him for me next time you see him," I requested resting my head on Gerard's shoulder. I would play along with my father's lie for now. And I wasn't entirely sure that it was a lie—maybe he was just panicked, maybe they all were. However, I knew that curing a normal case of pneumonia took a lot longer than just one day. Of course, if he was lying, what had happened to me? I yawned.
"Well, kiddo, I can see you're tired—and you definitely need some sleep," Dad replied, silently urging everyone to begin their exits. "We'll leave you alone now. Oh, and to answer your question from earlier—about why there are so many of us here: it's because we all care about you. I…" He swallowed. "I thought you weren't gonna make it through 'till tomorrow. I'm just glad you're alright. We all are."
I sighed. "I know. And, thank you. All of you," I looked at each and every one of them, met with a smile on each face—minus Mischa's.
"Even me?" Caulling asked, cheeky grin splayed on his features. "Even though I haven't visited in two years?"
I smiled, and rolled my eyes. "Yeah, even you Caullin."
"Good." He winked and left first. They all said their goodbyes, until Gerard and my father were the only ones left.
"Jill, you need your rest," Gerard began, studying me as he stood. I knew he was going to leave too, by the tone of of his voice. "I'm going to go home with Liv and Liam. That way I can tell Simon and Aimee you're alright."
I just stared at him, baffled. "Simon cares?"
He laughed. "Hard to believe, I know. Despite his attitude, I think he's gotten attached to you. And Aimee's been really concerned."
He chuckled. "Don't look so surprised. She likes you, a lot. You're more of a sister to her than Mischa is—and Mischa lives in the same house."
For some reason, I was happy to hear that Aimee liked me. The whole LeVeau family's approval was important to me, but since Gerard was close to Aimee, it felt like her opinion of me mattered more.
"Well, tell Aimee I say 'hi'," I requested, shuffling myself under my blankets. My skin was sticky with leftover sweat and that's when I caught a whiff of myself. I nearly gagged and started coughing again. I uncovered myself, wincing from the movement. "I really need a shower."
I stood up, but a hand came down on my shoulder and pushed me back down.
"Whoa, kiddo," my dad warned. "I'm not so sure you should be standing just yet."
I grimaced, inhaling my odor again. "But I smell. I mean I really smell."
He rolled his eyes. "You don't smell that bad, Jill."
"Then you've clearly lost your sense of smell in the past twenty-four hours."
His forehead puckered, like he'd just had a revelation. "Hm. I wouldn't doubt it—I've been too worried to really concentrate on anything else. But you should still rest before you shower."
"I stood up fine," I argued.
He crossed his arms over his chest, his lawyer face setting in again. "True. If you can stand up and walk to the door—all on your own—you can take a shower. If not, then you wiat until tomorrow morning."
I glared at him, determined to was the pungent smell off of my skin. I pushed myself off of the bed, steadying my throbbing legs. Slowly, I took one step in front of the other, confidence gaining the closer I got to the door. Suddenly my knee unlocked and I started to fall, only to be caught by Gerard.
Dad smirked and walked out of the room, hollering, "Goodnight!"
I took a deep breath, restraining my frustration. "I'm so pathetic. I can't even walk."
Gerard helped me back to my bed, saying, "You're not pathetic, you're just weak."
I scoffed and gave him a look.
"Sorry," he apologized, tucking me in. "He kissed my mussed hair. "That didn't come out right."
"It's okay. It's true," I mumbled, burying my face in my blankets, trying to mask my own smell. I yawned again. "I'm kind of tired anyway."
"Good. You need your rest," he replied, stroking a strand of my hair.
"Yeah," I agreed, closing my eyes. "Now get out of here before you collapse from the smell."
He laughed, biting his lip. "Actually…you smell amazing."
My eyes flew open. "What are you talking about?"
He shook his head, still smiling. 'I'm not sure myself. I can smell every other human's sweat, the way you smell it—pungent and kind of repulsive. But you smell absolutely invigorating right now."
"That's beyond weird," I said, words muffled by my blanket. "Despite the way you smell me, I feel gross."
He rolled his eyes and let his lips linger on mine longer than normal. I was wrapping my arms around his neck when he pulled away. I pouted a little.
"Sorry. If we do that, I won't be able to leave. And I need a shower as well. There'll be plenty of time for that when you're better…that is if you still want me around."
"We've already discussed this," I reminded him, taking his hand. "I'm not backing out of this if you aren't."
"There's no backing on this side."
"And there's none on mine either. Well, there's not really standing either, but you get my point."
He grinned. "It's crystal clear."
"Good," I squeezed his hand. "Now go."
He kissed the back of my palm and was gone before I shut my eyes.
The first day back was exactly what I expected it to be: Gerard and I being followed by a shower of malicious whispers down every hallway and into every class I had. The rumors I first heard started out mild enough; Gerard and I had attempted to run away together, only to be tacked down and brought back by our feuding parents. The next one was that one of us had gotten into a fight with our family and had lived at the other's residence until things were sorted out. But, of course, there were worse lies; the ones that were so obtuse, it didn't take any effort to figure out who started them.
The most ludicrous was Savannah's doing. It was something similar to how I'd slept with Jeremy and Gerard found out and resorted to abusing me. After my father found out about the alleged "beatings", he opted to sue the entire LeVeau family for all they were worth and just when all of chaos was about to ensue, Gerard apologized for abusing me, and I apologized for sleeping with his brother and we were currently in a recovery period.
The lie was so farfetched it was almost hysterical, almost as unbelievable as what had actually happened. As angry as her blasphemy made me, I reminded myself that only someone with a twisted mind could concoct such slander.
Although I was able to counter the annoyance I felt from all the rumors floating around, and I was capable of ignoring the imploring eyes of every other student, I found it increasingly difficult to accept the fact that it was obvious Gerard and I were in a recovery period.
Technically, Gerard and I agreed to allow our relationship to progress as if the past two weeks hadn't happened. Of course, I knew Gerard only agreed to it because of the guilt weighing down on him after the attack and my near death experience following the feeding incident. And then I felt guilty for using his guilt to get the solution I wanted. It was obvious he would have rather spent a few months pining over the fact he'd given me a few bruises and a neck wound, but I didn't want him to distance himself any farther away from me than it already had. I needed the drama to end; I needed my foundation to stop crumbling underneath me and in order to do that, he needed to let go of the past.
The first half of the day, my mind never strayed from Gerard, but a sudden time lapse consumed me when I glimpsed at the clock.
Gerard watched my expression. "What's wrong?"
He cautiously wrapped an arm around my waist. Even though I was distracted, I was still thankful he was trying to comply with my solution.
"The clock's broken, "I told him, nodding to it."
He chuckled. 'Not, it's not. We're on an assembly schedule today. Didn't you notice?"
"I guess not," I mumbled. I wasn't looking forward to sitting in a crowded gym with my study hall class. That meant Gerard would be sitting with his class, which would most likely be nowhere near me. Maybe Andrew would sit with me, although, I wasn't sure that was such a good idea anymore. We'd hardly said a word to one another since the night of the concert. Maybe it was time to restore that friendship…
The bell rang. Gerard took my hand and kissed me timidly, and even though everything in me wanted to force his lips to mine and hold him there forever, I knew it wouldn't be the wisest decision on my part. He was still rebuilding his restraint, and I needed to be patient, for the time being. And I would be. He smiled reluctantly and disappeared down the hallway.
As it turned out, Andrew was absent for study hall. When the whole school was cramming into their assigned bleachers, I spotted a head of blonde hair towering over the rest of the crowd.
"Andrew!" I yelled, jumping to try and glimpse any angle of his face—to confirm that it was actually him. I stepped on someone's foot and heard a string of curse words shot in my direction. I absently muttered, "Sorry."
Pushing, I wove through the students and into a small break in the crowd. I stood on my tiptoes and forcefully tugged on his shoulder. He turned and stared down at me, eyes wide in surprise.
"Jill?" he yelled over the noise.
"The one and only," I yelled back, trying to ignore the other students pushing at my back.
"You're talking to me again?" He raised an eyebrow.
I nodded. "I guess so. Are you talking to me again?"
He held his arms out at his sides. "I'm standing here and speaking words, aren't I?"
I shrugged. "I guess. Friends?"
I held out my hand, and he shook it. "Friends. Why are you with Cooper's class, though?"
"Why aren't you?" I countered.
"I have to speak at the assembly."
That wasn't the answer I'd been expecting. He wasn't even an official factually member. "Why?"
"You'll see," he smiled, eyes bright and eager like a small child's." It's a surprise. Go sit down before you get in trouble."
"Come on, Jill. He's right."
I jumped at the closeness and smoothness shattering the harsh buzz around me and turned around. Gerard was smiling in a godly manner, the way he used to when we first met. My heart thumped wildly at his sudden change of mood, and it felt somewhat foreign in my chest, like there wasn't enough room to contain that amount of happiness anymore. Yet with each new beat, my lungs expanded, but I didn't fill to the brim with oxygen; I recognized the feeling of breathlessness. I found that I could return the smile, and I allowed him to lead me up the bleachers without a backward glance.
"I'm supposed to sit with my study hall," I remembered out loud as we took our seats near the top corner of the gym.
His fingers squeezed mine reassuringly. "I've already spoken with Mrs. Cooper, and she's agreed to let you sit with me today."
"Oh. Okay." I didn't even bother to ask how he managed to get her to comply to his request. She was a good teacher, but she did have a strict side. It didn't surprise me that his charm had outmatched her policy.
When I realized many of the voices around us were whispering, I avoided all eyes except Gerard's. What they said about me didn't really matter, though. I was just glad that Gerard's attempts to return to normal had just been shoved in the direction of regularity. But what had triggered it?
My question hesitated in the back of my throat throughout the assembly, and we mostly sat in silence, listening to the principal speak and the coaches talk about all of the spring sports and their victories, conveniently leaving out the losses along the way. The principal—Mr. Shmitz—took the microphone again and the students shifted in their seats, sensing that the assembly was about to come to a close.
"Hey, don't start gathering your things yet," Mr. Shmitz commanded. Many students groaned, while I was content sitting next to Gerard loner. He'd been randomly toying with my hands and my hair, his fingers sliding curiously over my arm every once in a while. The way his eyes swept over me almost made me feel like he was retracing my silhouette, like he was seeing me in a new light. I didn't mind in the least, though. It didn't seem like this new 'light' had revealed any of my flaws. The few times his movements ceased, I would catch him staring at me, and he would smile sheepishly and peek around the room to make sure none of the teachers were watching before pecking me lightly on the lips. An absent grin stretched over my face.
The principal continued. The school has a special event for you, generously donated by a student teacher that works here. I think you'll want to attend this event."
Some of the crowd snickered at this and muttered a few "yeah, right"s to one another. Mr. Shmitz took notice.
"Hey, I'm not kidding," he retorted, silencing the room again. "Since I don't know all of the details, I'll leave it up to our gracious donator to explain. Andrew…"
From the corner of my eye, I saw Andrew stand up and make his way to the middle of the gym; some people clapped, probably unsure of what was going on.
I sat up straighter, wondering if this was the 'surprise' Andrew had been talking about. At my sudden rapt attention, Gerard stopped distracting me and wrapped a cool arm around my waist. I thanked him silently.
"Alright, I know most of you have seen me wandering the library, helping Mrs. Cooper out," he began, gesturing to her. "But, I haven't really spoken to many of you. However, I did hear about your 'end of the year' party being cancel because of some financial problems."
The response was a resounding grumble. I hadn't heard anything about this, though; it was new news to me. I guessed that something had occurred within the past couple of days that caused the district's money to fall through. But what did that have to do with Andrew?
"I thought it kind of sucked that the year I'm a student teacher is the year that there's no celebration," he went on. A few students leaned on the edge of their seats, probably coming the same conclusion I was. "So, I talked to Mr. Shmitz and the district has agreed to allow me to pay for the party."
The crowd finally seemed to snap out of the stupor it had been sleeping in the entire assembly and the echoing applause nearly ruptured my ear drums. I winced, but couldn't help but smile at Andrew's reaction. He was obviously pleased that the news was being intercepted gratefully. He allowed the praise to go on for another moment before signaling for silence.
"Good to know the donation isn't unappreciated," he joked, and having the crowd on his side, there as a reverberating chuckle. "Although, I'm sad to report that The Loft has already been booked, so, the festivities won't be there this year."
Immediately, people began to whisper to one another, but Andrew shushed them almost right away. "The location is nothing to worry about because—in my opinion—I think a party on a yacht on the Columbia River is much more suitable."
A gasp travelled form person to person, and I noticed even my jaw was slightly slack. I snapped it shut when I glimpsed Andrew staring directly at me his grin widened in satisfaction. This time, Andrew allowed the chatter to continue and die out on its own before he continued.
"Now as I have been informed, this will be a family-oriented event, as always. You might want to warn your parents about the bands, though. They may not enjoy the music. " There was a confused murmur. "Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. I've booked two bands to play—some of you may know them."
The excited conversations' crescendo to a roar and then was wiped away to dead silence as he announced the first band.
My jaw dropped at the name, as did a few other students'. They weren't mainstream, but they had a large, loyal fan-base on the internet, which I was part of. Andrew caught my eye again and I composed my face. He smirked.
"I also booked…"
My mind went blank. There were a few screams from girls, and boys were high-fiving each other as the crowd was completely lost to the speaker and consumed by their own conversations. I was suddenly aware of fingers tracing lightly over my knuckles, and a glorious face watching mine. I shook my head, snapping out of the shock. Gerard chuckled.
"I am—" I started to say before I had no more air to talk with. I rolled my eyes, and took a deep breath, composing myself.
"This will all be courteously provided through my family funding. Which means that , unlike previous, years, this will be a free even for all of you."
More cheering. If the student body hadn't known Andrew all year, they certainly did now. A few people looked on the verge of groveling at his feet and changing 'we're not worthy'. The girls, in particular, were gazing at him in a new light, as if they'd never seen someone of the male species before.
And Andrew, being himself, was soaking in the glory, smiling broadly in the midst of all of the attention.
A hot burning in my chest started, and surprisingly enough, I identified the feeling as annoyance.
What did I have to be annoyed about/
The feeling escalated when I glimpsed Andrew speaking into the microphone again. His voice was drowned out by the monotonous roar of applause even though I wasn't paying much attention to his words, but rather how much the rest of the crowd was giving him the satisfaction he was obviously expecting. But it was still no reason for me to be irritated; he was just being himself.
Maybe in the time I'd been absent from school, I'd unconsciously expected him to be humbled by my rejection. Obviously, that hadn't happened.
"Alright, I think I'm done for now. You'll be handed a sheet of paper with all of the specifics on your way out the door. And you might want to start asking around for your dates. You only have two weeks."
People started gathering their things as Mr. Shmitz took the microphone again and said, "You're all dismissed to your last block. File out in an orderly fashion and make sure you get a piece of paper with the information on it. Thank you for being a patient audience and thanks to Andrew's family for providing the funds necessary to have our end of the year celebration again."
Gerard and I remained seated at the top of the bleachers, waiting for the rest of the school to clear out. He held my hand, the pad of his thumb running over my fingers. I leaned into his shoulder, and he kissed my hair, our closeness so peaceful, I could have fallen asleep.
My eyes flew open.
"Come on down here. We've got to fold the bleachers up."
I groaned and Gerard kissed my hair again, urging me to stand up. I winced, legs still sore. For some reason, going down the stairs was ten times more painful than climbing them.
As soon as we stepped onto the gym floor, Lenihan and a few of the burlier boys began putting the bleachers away.
"So, is that a great surprise or what?"
I pivoted as Gerard's arm curled around my waist. Andrew was grinning from ear to ear.
"It was…okay," I understated. He smirked.
"Aw, come on, Jill. Give me more credit than that. You know I'm the most awesome person ever, " he bragged.
My eyes flicked to Gerard, who seemed relatively serene.
"Maybe not the most awesome. But this definitely earns you brownie points," I muttered.
He scoffed. "I don't think the rest of the student body would agree with you. Did you see the way they cheered?"
I rolled my eyes. "You haven't changed a bit."
He leaned closer. "Did you really expect me to?"
I shrugged, taking Gerard's hand within my own. "I guess not."
He smiled widely, his teeth almost blindingly bright. Something neon shuffled in his hand, and I looked down at the paper he'd thrust into my open palm. It included a fancy picture and intricate lettering, as well as the times for loading the yacht, the location and the names of the bands. He reluctantly handed one to Gerard, as well.
"Alright. My job's done," he concluded, turning away, but stopping and pointing to me almost instantly. "Save me a dance?"
Uh oh. "Um, Andrew, I'm not sure that's such a good idea…"
He rolled his eyes. 'Come on, Jill. You can give up one dance for me."
I raised one eyebrow, and he placed a hand over his heart seriously. "I promise I won't try anything."
I bit my lip, ready to shake my head, but he interrupted me. "If you want, Gerard can stand over to the side, and if I do anything inappropriate, he can slug me one. 'Kay?"
I glanced up at Gerard, who was trying to keep a polite smile on his face. He shrugged. "One dance won't kill you."
Looking back at Andrew, I replied, "I guess I'll save you a dance, then."
He grinned, showing his luminescent teeth again. "Alright. See you later, Jill."
Andrew flicked his eyes to my right and nodded his head. "Gerard."
He waved at me one last time and took off in the other direction. I was pulled by the waist against Gerard and he kissed my hair again, ruffling it lovingly.
"The paper says it's a formal event…" he trailed off, examining the neon sheet. "I have no idea where my suits are…."
"Wait—you mean formal like…prom dress formal?" I clarified, starting to panic. "I t wasn't formal last year."
He shrugged. "Last year it was funded by the school."
I groaned. "I don't even like dresses."
"I'm sure Nory will love to hear that," Gerard muttered sarcastically.
"Oh, I did."
I turned around at the voice.
"We are so going shopping this weekend," she declared, leaving no room for argument. "And Gerard, I hope you have a green tie. Preferably a dark green."
Please, help me, I thought, conveying my plea through my eyes.
He replied, "I think I can manage that."
The message in his eyes was very clear.
Sorry. I can't even save you from this one.
Great. Just great.