A/N Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry for the long hiatus but I've worked hard to update this story as soon as possible and, violà! Bon appétit!
Chapter Thirteen: Owned
Spencer drove me home that night. Neither of us spoke when she heaved me up- a wet ball of crying ruins- from where I'd been kneeling at the base of the tree and helped me to her car. Neither did she speak during the ride home. Spence needed only to see the state I was in to know I was in trouble, and so asked no questions and said nothing until I had been handed into Chrissy's custody.
"Call me if she needs me," she said, then left silently by the back door.
I was in my room now, alone, and staring up at the ceiling in the dark as I lay in bed. I couldn't think clearly, but perhaps that was because I didn't want to. I was scared of the crazy things my mind might come up with if I left it unguarded. For example, does James think that I don't love him because I didn't want to sleep with him? What if I had given into sex with him? Would I have regretted it? Would I…-?
I slapped myself over the forehead and groaned. This was exactly what I hadn't wanted- to remind myself of what happened tonight. Why couldn't I just leave it be?
Suddenly, there was a soft knock on the door before it peeled open, and a head peeked in along with the hallway lights.
"May I?" Chrissy asked.
I nodded and helped myself up on my elbows as she shut the door behind her with both hands. She looked at me with unusual timidity, as if afraid that by just opening her mouth I might burst into tears. Eager to prove I was no longer upset (at least visibly, anyway), I shifted over and patted the space next to me. Chrissy crept over and once in my bed, studied me closely as if to make sure I really was okay. I looked away and said nothing, and hoped that my features didn't betray me, either.
After a while of silence, Chrissy sighed. "I was kind of mad at Mitch, too, today. He accused me of not liking his cat, and I said he never liked my friends or Bucket to begin with, so if I wasn't mistaken, we were pretty even. In the end, we patched things up and we're okay now." She smiled. "The point is, whatever happened between you and James can be resolved too, no matter how big or stupid the fight was."
"It wasn't a fight, it was… me. He-" I stopped and Chrissy watched me expectantly. I didn't know if this was something appropriate to talk to anyone about, but I trusted Chrissy enough to want to confide in her. "He wanted to have sex but I didn't want to; and the thing is, I don't think it was because I didn't want to or because I wasn't ready, but I just didn't want to do it with him. And I felt disgusted, like I was cheating. At first, I thought it was cheating on myself, or even him, but it's neither, so I don't know what the hell is wrong with me! Why didn't I want to have sex with James?! Is that even normal?" I cried, and grasped my hair like a madwoman. Then, all of a sudden, I turned silent as the passion within me started to make me tremble. What surprised me the most, though, was I actually thought this way.
"Look, I'm not going to be Oprah Winfrey about this, but I really thought you had a little more self-respect than that. Just because you didn't want to sleep with him doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. Maybe you just don't want to be that intimate yet, and if he doesn't understand that, well, maybe he's not the guy you thought he was. You just have to find the one who will accept it and wait for you."
I thought about it for a moment, trying to process what she said. "How about the fact that I didn't want to sleep with him?"
Chrissy fidgeted. "Maybe it's your heart's way of saying something's not right."
It was Sunday night, and after an hour of raiding my wardrobe I was dressed and ready for the evening ahead. It was only a dinner to meet the proud parents of the boy neanderthal I was tutoring; yet I felt strangely uncomfortable in the gut. My only consolation was that tonight could well serve as a distraction for my thoughts; James was going to be a no-show and that was what I wanted- and needed- right now. Thus, with a sharp intake and exhale of the breath, I laid my feelings down as nerves and took a last look at myself in the mirror before I left the house. Donning my flats, I began my walk to the Moore Mansion.
It was 6.30 and the evening was still young. A cool swirl of wind swept across my cheeks and played with my hair, while an autumn aroma lifted its scent to my nose and engulfed me in its calming sense of familiarity. At first I had been pretty bummed that I couldn't find anyone to drive me but the stroll over to the upper part of town was nice and- one might say- even therapeutic. In less than thirty minutes, I had reached their front door and a moment later, was ushered inside by Waylon, the snobbish butler who had greeted us the last time I was here. Without a word, I was led to a large, formal sitting room that was empty save for a white Abyssinian kitten curled up by the fireplace, lazily pawing at a straw ball. Waylon gestured for me to take a seat on one of the stiff white lounges and refused to leave until I had done so, staring at me with a suspicious eye as he stood with his hands behind his back.
It was not long before I was received by my hosts. I had always imagined the Moore family dined in Gucci and slept in Armani, but the impeccably-dressed couple that entered the room still impressed me to the point where I felt shabby and frumpish in my best navy-colored dress and nude flats. The woman I gathered to be Logan's mother. She wore a neat black chiffon evening gown and looked to be in her early forties, with a prominent but refined jawline, wide thin lips, a sharp upturned nose and piercing pale grey eyes that seemed to judge and condemn my very soul. The man beside her was undeniably Logan's father; they had the same laidback but alert expression around the eyes and mouth, though he was a little shorter and rounder by the waist than his younger scion. Logan, himself, was dressed more formal than I had ever seen him in chinos and a white button down shirt. He also looked a little distressed, and constantly rubbed the back of his neck.
"Mom; Dad, this is Annabel."
"Welcome to our home. I'm Katherine, Logan's mother." She came towards me with both hands extended and pulled me in to peck my cheeks while her husband smiled lazily and took his hand out for a shake. "Albert," he said as way of an introduction.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr and Mrs Moore."
"The pleasure's ours. Please sit." She directed me to a chair and sat across from me with her husband. Logan, on the other hand, stood by the fireplace and decided it'd be more fun to poke at a fire than to sit with us and engage in what would appear to be one notch down from a CIA interrogation. For this, I did not know whether to be grateful or incensed. "Tell us a little bit about yourself."
I've always disliked these kinds of nosey questions. How does one differentiate the fine line between giving too much and too little information as civility required? "Well, I'm seventeen. I live with my family on Kentwood Street which, if you know, is on the east side. Um... I like to read in my spare time, and-" I wracked my brains for something else to say but could think of nothing. "I guess that's it." A trickle of nervous laughter fell from my lips and I felt more like an idiot than ever under Mr Moore's curious stares and his wife's frequent narrowing of the eyes and tight, polite smiles.
"And how did you come to know our Logan?"
I did not know whether Logan had been listening before, but now his ears pricked up as he half-turned and waited expectantly.
"We go to the same school, and I think we've been in some classes together." I snuck another glance at Logan and thought I discerned a slight smile playing at the edge of his lips. "And now I'm dating James, so..."
"Ah!" Katherine's eyes glistened as if this was the missing piece of the puzzle.
Logan stirred. "Everyone's here. Why don't we go to dinner?"
"Not yet," Katherine answered. "We're still expecting someone."
I was wondering who this last guest was and it looked as though the same question was on the tip of Logan's tongue when the door swiftly opened and James appeared. My heart caught in my throat as I stared at him, not quite believing he was there. James looked around and our eyes met, and for the first time, I did not know how to act. I did not know whether I should remain silent and turn away, yet doing anything but would be awkward given our current situation. As James continued to watch for some kind of reaction from my part so, too, did I await some sign from him. Seconds passed and neither of us giving or receiving encouragement, he broke the contact and walked towards Logan's parents to give his greetings. They looked particularly happy to see him, especially Katherine, who persistently glimpsed from me to him in a manner difficult to decipher, if there was indeed any meaning behind her actions which I did not doubt.
Amidst their friendly banter in which I neither took part in nor was asked to join, Waylon came in to announce that dinner was ready. As the rest filed out of the room, I noticed James lingering by the door. He watched me shyly as I neared him, and being the last person remaining besides himself, I figured he must be waiting for me.
"I thought you said you weren't going to come."
"I wasn't. But Katherine called me and..." He paused and looked away at the ground, frowning heavily. Though I was only a few steps from him, I felt the distance closing in on us. "I wanted to talk to you. About last night." His eyes traveled up to meet mine again and my breath caught as I realized this was the last conversation I wanted right now. I swallowed, trying to rid the stone of fear that had lodged in my throat.
"I don't think we should make them wait," I said, referring to the Moores and made to go when James caught my hand and prevented me from going.
"Please don't do this to me, Annabel."
He held onto my hand gently, but resolutely. James was not going to let go. I turned to him silently and waited. He released his hold.
"I know you're hurt; maybe you're even angry at me for what happened and I don't blame you. But if you give me a chance to explain myself, you might find it in you to understand and forgive me."
I gave him a look that I was listening. He continued.
"I was jealous. I didn't have any reason to, but I was. I was scared for our relationship, and I thought that if we sealed it, I'd have more comfort knowing that we were real. That you were mine. But I guess it backfired. I don't know what we are now."
"I told you I wasn't ready," I said accusingly, but without completely meaning to have sounded so.
"I know. I was out of line."
"How could you question my feelings for you? I'm not yours to keep like some toy."
"That's not what I meant!"
"You can't exercise ownership over me like that."
"I'm sorry. Can't you forgive me?" he pleaded.
I looked at him but really, I was searching within myself for the courage to forgive him. It took me a while to realize that I didn't have it in me.
"You'll have to get back to me on that one."
James and Annabel came in a few minutes after us, James trailing a few steps behind her. Both had expressionless faces, yet each was hurrying- Annabel into the hall, and James to Annabel.
"There you are. We were wondering where you two had gone."
James froze and turned to Katherine as if he'd just noticed we were there.
"I'm sorry," he replied. He glanced at Ann. "We got caught up." Annabel said nothing and took a seat at the table. James followed suit and sat beside her.
Dinner began as a quiet affair. For a while, no one spoke in length on any serious topic other than the occasional murmur of 'great soup' or 'excellent wine' from James. It was only until the entrée had been cleared and the main brought over that Katherine decided to grace us.
"So how long have you and James been dating?"
Annabel choked and James' cutlery clattered on his plate. I stared at Katherine, as did the couple.
"What?" Katherine asked innocently, looking at us. "Don't be so shocked. I've known James all his life; I care about him like my own son."
I could not help but raise an eyebrow at this.
"So?" she pressed.
James peeked at his flushing girlfriend but Annabel's eyes remained glued to her plate. "Not long. About three months."
"How long have you been tutoring Logan, Annabel?" Albert asked as he sat back and contemplated her with a glass of red in his hand.
"We've only had two lessons so far."
"And what motivated you to teach him?"
If it was possible, Annabel's blush deepened into a darker red as she turned to me. "I, uh-"
"She thinks it'll look good on her college applications. You know, the whole community volunteer thing that colleges just love nowadays," I answered and took a bite of my steak.
Katherine frowned, looking displeased at the idea that her son sounded like a charity case. Nevertheless, she continued ruthlessly. "And what are your plans in the near future?"
Annabel finished her mouthful before she answered. "I was always set on becoming a pilot when I was a little girl but since my eyesight isn't too good, it kind of shot that horse in the face. So now I'm thinking of eventually entering law."
James turned to her. "I didn't know that," he noted quietly.
Katherine raised her eyebrows in a look of pleasant surprise. "Superb. Your report must be immaculate, seeing how you're not just tutoring Logan but aiming to study law, too." She beamed. "Your parents must be so proud. Pray, what do they do?"
This time, Annabel placed her cutlery down. "My father's an accountant in a small firm in the city; and my stepmother works as a part-time baker."
"Stepmother?" Katherine echoed, and took a quick peek at Albert who shared her look. I clenched my fork. "Your mother is-?"
"Honestly, I don't know."
"But you are happy?"
Annabel made a slight contortion of the face. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"
Katherine gave a simpering smile. "No reason, darling. How's everyone enjoying their steak? We must give the chef a raise."
I could not believe what she was doing. Annabel had stopped eating and looked affronted, while Katherine seemed to be basking in the glory that she had apparently discovered something grand and significant.
"How're your folks, James?" Albert asked.
"They're great, thanks. Sorry they can't come to the fundraiser you're holding next week, Katherine."
"And your sister? Last I heard, she was applying for an internship to work with Senator Brown."
"She got it. Been working for him about a year now, and up for a promotion next month." James beamed, always the proud brother of Ania, his older sister by a few years.
"What colleges are you looking to apply for next year? Make sure they're close to Maple Falls so you can still see Annabel every so often," Katherine said, and winked.
Annabel stared at Katherine. "Excuse me?"
"Well, I assume you're only applying for nearby community colleges-"
"Actually, I have higher expectations than community college," Annabel shot back.
Katherine raised her eyebrows. "Naturally. I just thought that, with your parents' income-"
"With all due respect, Mrs Moore, what do you know about my family?" Annabel's voice sounded restrained, but was saturated with an anger that shone in her eyes.
Shocked at having been thus spoken to, it was a while before Katherine rejoined, "Your manner of accosting me, your host, is sufficient evidence of your poor upbringing."
Annabel returned a steely gaze of her own to match the one that Katherine was shooting her. "With all due respect, Mrs Moore, but you are grossly mistaken about me and my family. And as for your pretensions which have been founded on self-worship and a narcissistic satisfaction with yourself, may I suggest you pull your head out of your own ass and perhaps start reflecting on your own upbringing, lest you pass it on to your children! Now," Annabel stood up, "if you will excuse me." She left the table and exited the room. It was a while before James, plagued by shock, realized what had happened and scrambled up from his seat with muffled apologies to run after his girlfriend.
"The nerve of that girl!" Katherine seethed..
"The nerve of you," I said between gritted teeth.
Katherine looked at me, stunned, before her features hardened into an expression of aloof coolness. "Watch your tone, young man."
I threw my napkin on the table. "How could you say things like that? You invite her here and then insult and humiliate her with your insinuations. What did she ever do to you?"
"She caught the eye of our naive son," Albert answered.
"We've seen the way you act around her; the way you look at her. Don't go there, Logan, it can never happen."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Katherine snorted. "Oh, please. You think we don't know you? You're our son."
"And we want the best for you. That girl is not that."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "You're crazy."
"We were not born yesterday, Logan. That wretched girl has ambitions, however unfounded and unrealistic they may be, but she is ambitious nonetheless, and she will use you to fulfil them. Guard yourself."
I shook my head. "You don't know anything about Annabel. Regardless of your suspicions, however unfounded and baseless they are, you should not have insulted her family like that!"
"Did you not see the way she just spoke to me, your own mother? Judge for yourself the sort of character that girl has."
"Your mother only asked those questions to make you realize how different she is to you. Her family is broken- she doesn't even know where her mother is. They are not rich, and she is not even pretty. She is a nobody and will amount to nothing, and so, too, will you should you continue down this path."
I stood up. The next thing I knew, my hand had taken hold of the nearest glass and hurled it at the wall. Shards of glass shattered everywhere and red wine splashed onto the marble floors and spilled down the walls. Katherine gasped, giving me angry pleasure at having drilled her out of her usual composure.
"You do not talk about her like that in front of me! She is not what you describe her to be." As I made to go, my father made a last attempt to dissuade me. He spoke in a calm, quiet voice but his words made me tremble as they sank in and hit me, hard, in the stomach.
"I will only remind you, son, that she is your best friend's girlfriend. I will say no more."