Chapter 17: The Rose of Dreyson Academy
I gulped as I watched James quickly fold the fitted sheet cover.
Yeeah.. I didn't know how to do that.
I tried to move to the other side of the bed and picked out one, crisp, white pillow case.
"Ah!" James called out before rushing to my side. He got the pillow case out of my hands and hurriedly placed a big, fluffy pillow inside it.
"I know how to do that, you know," I haughtily said to him.
He did a double take down at me and smiled awkwardly.
"I know you know," he quietly replied.
Yish. Freaky random goosebumps.
"Then let me do this."
He ignored me and got another pillow ready for stuffing.
"You're not a real maid."
True. "But your mom is paying me. A thousand dollars suddenly appeared in my bank account. I can't just do nothing."
"Don't mind it. Anyways, I didn't want a maid in the first place."
"Didn't want anyone telling on you?"
James chuckled. "Yes."
"Hm. Well, I plan on using those dollars for my own needs anyway. I should help."
He frowned. "What for?"
I rolled my eyes. "You forget I'm not as rich as you."
"Yeah, but scholarship..."
"Will not really cover everything, would it?" Then I groaned and waved the topic away. "You wouldn't understand," I said, dismissing him.
"And Cedric understands you more," he said while absentmindedly fluffing a pillow.
I stared at him for a second. He looked fidgety. I took advantage of his momentary loss of concentration and grabbed a pillow and a pillow case.
"Nope," I replied. "Cedric is still one of you. He understands nothing about me." I paused. "Actually, he's a lot like you. Yeah. Come to think of it..." I trailed off while placing the pillow neatly by the head board.
Cedric and James have this douche-y streak.
They both like goofing off.
They're both awesomely smart, though they have their own fields of expertise.
They're both womanizers.
They like tormenting me.
"So... would you like me then too?" James suddenly blurted out. I whipped my head to look at him. He blinked and stared at me too. Then his face cracked into another awkward, sheepish grin. He laughed awkwardly.
"I-I mean, 'coz, you know if we're kinda the same... then...I... I'm just joking, Claire. Ignore me."
I narrowed my eyes at him. He's not gonna pull that "I love you" thing again, is he?
He looked quite red in the face and I noticed that he made a few steps away from me.
I smoothed the heavy, silk covers and marveled at its texture. I took a step back and admired our masterpiece.
"You're right. The white is more beautiful."
I nodded. James had chosen pink for the bed sheets and pillow case. Typical boy who thought all females loved pink. I chose white instead. The covers and pillow case had embroidered sprigs of lavender on them. I grinned.
"She'll love this," James said with soft smile.
"Don't be too sure. I mean, you don't really know what she likes, do you?"
James cocked his head to the side, the small smile still on his face.
Luisa is the daughter of James' father with his first wife. After a rather messy divorce, James' dad got married again to the now Mrs. Sterling and had James. Luisa lived with her mother and rarely visited the Sterling household. I never once saw her, and I was James' next door neighbor plus I usually got to visit his house a lot since my aunt and his family are kinda tight.
I only heard stories about Luisa, and even those were pretty rare.
As far as I know, James did not have much contact with Luisa. I doubt he'd know much about her.
"I know Luisa enough to know she wouldn't mind having to fix this room by herself than have a maid do it."
I raised a disbelieving eyebrow. Luisa was coming here straight from London. I highly doubt she'd be pleased to come home to a messy room with dusty furniture covers.
James snickered. "It's my mom who'd go ballistic. She's paranoid that Luisa would tell everyone how lousy a host she is. Which, Luisa would never, ever do."
See? Luisa is an angel.
"Then why are you both so scared of her?"
James' eyes grew considerably wide. "Who? Me?"
"And Cedric." Most especially Cedric.
His mouth turned into an o-shape.
He gave a nervous, extremely fake chuckle. "W-We're not scared of-"
"Why did Cedric leave in a hurry then?"
He scratched his head and looked away. "Isn't it obvious? Mother is coming. We're not exactly supposed to be chums with the Westons-"
"And let me guess, Luisa and Cedric used to be in a relationship."
James blinked at me.
Just as he opened his mouth to reply, a steady stream of beeps interrupted us.
He cleared his throat. "Doorbell."
"What?! They're here already? We haven't prepared dinner yet!" I panicked and ran out of Luisa's room.
"Uh, actually, I just went ahead and ordered something from the nearest resto. No time to cook something acceptable for mother dearest"
I stopped in my tracks to look at him. He looked flustered as he pulled out his wallet and fumbled with the numerous credit cards.
"Awesome," I whispered. "Thanks," I mumbled a bit louder this time.
His lips curled into a smile. "You really aren't supposed to help. I'll tell mom you're uh, contract is done... or something."
I gulped and wondered why my heart sank when he said that.
After James paid the delivery guy, we went ahead and fixed the awesome dining room he had. Just like the rest of the house, it was designed exquisitely. Even if it looked far from cozy. The overall look was formal, with the glass and marble table, the crystal chandelier, and the elegant black and silver chairs. The room didn't feel like it belonged in a bachelor's pad type of place.
"Wow. You have parties here every night and all the breakables are intact. What, you replace the crystal and china from time to time?"
He rolled his eyes and laughed. "I can lock certain rooms, you know."
Right. Of course.
"But it's so big, and... I mean, you're the only one living here. I mean..." I ran my finger down the glass dining table as I looked around and marveled some more at the expensive-looking artwork on the wall.
"Well if you have dinner with me every night, it wouldn't be so lonely."
I stopped in my tracks.
"I... I mean... Cedric rarely comes by. I think you know that already. There's actually nobody else who'd eat here. Actually, not even my parents. And..." He trailed off after hurriedly explaining himself.
"You have your friends," I flatly said. You have your big gang of bullies who scared off anyone who dared befriend me.
"Don't fucking tell me you're lonely," I said under my breath.
I went towards the food and began unpacking what he had ordered.
"Where are the plates and dishes and stuff?" I quietly asked, daring to change the subject.
"Let's just get these done and over with."
I didn't like the hurt look in his eyes. It just made my blood boil some more. So I ignored him while trying to make the dining table presentable enough.
A good thirty-six seconds after we made finishing touches, the doorbell rang again.
"They're here," James said wearily.
We both ran to the front door, only to see that Mrs. Sterling and Luisa had already let themselves in. I couldn't help but feel the wave of being starstruck. I knew Mrs. Sterling was awesomely gorgeous, but Luisa was on this whole new level.
She's wearing a simple mint dress with nude heels. And if you slapped that ensemble on me then it'd look as plain as day, but on her, she looked supremely princess-like.
There's no mistake about it. Cedric and Luisa probably had this past together. Man, I could see them together as a very gorgeous couple. They belong in each other's level. Maybe Luisa surpasses Cedric a bit, though. She's the most gorgeous, magnetic, ethereal, and sparkling girl I've ever seen. I swear I could see a halo on her head.
Hmm... Maybe she's too good for Cedric.
Hah! Imagine that! There's a girl who's too good for one of the hottest guys I've ever laid my eyes on.
"Mom," James greeted Mrs. Sterling with a soft peck on her cheek. Then he hugged Luisa. "Sis."
Mrs. Sterling seemed quite pleased with how James and Luisa seemed to get along. I couldn't blame her. I kinda expected them to be awkward with each other.
Luisa leaned her head to the side a bit and smiled at me.
"Hello," she greeted. She had a smidge of an accent. But of course. She studied in London.
"Hi," I replied shyly. I felt like a peasant greeting the queen.
James stepped towards me. "Uh, Sis, this is-"
"Claire," she finished. My lips parted a bit in shock. She knows me?!
Luisa's eyes turned to slits as she grinned widely, excitedly. Without warning, she rushed towards me with open arms. I stayed rooted on my spot as she gave me a big bear hug.
"It's so nice to finally meet you!" she gushed. She released me at arms length and gazed upon my face. Um. Awkward. I just met you.
I took a peek behind her and saw that Mrs. Sterling seemed not a bit shocked with Luisa's behavior. James looked uncomfortable.
"James, you didn't tell me that she's here," she gently admonished her brother.
"She works here," Mrs. Sterling supplied.
Luisa blinked multiple times. "Works here?"
"Um, I'm the maid, Miss-"
"Call me Luisa," she cut me off. "And maid? Why would you be the maid? James?" Oh, she was frowning now and looked extremely confused.
"I need to save for college. So I... I decided to work part time." It was the same BS lie that James and I agreed upon. I couldn't understand why he ended up with an uninspired "Uh..."
She didn't look convinced. Shit.
"The food is getting cold. I'm sure you're hungry, Sis."
I cracked into the most nervous, plastic grin I never knew I could accomplish while I led them towards the dining room area.
"There are only three seats set up," Luisa noted.
My panicked eyes quickly darted towards James. He had promised me that I'd be free to go after helping him set up everything. We have an exam tomorrow and I can't afford to stay late here.
With a frown, Luisa turned to me.
"You're eating with us."
Wow. Even the angel has the trademark Sterling bossiness.
"We have an exam tomorrow and I have to leave-" I attempted to explain.
"Leave? Who will clean the dishes?" Mrs. Sterling haughtily cut in.
"Mom," James nearly snarled.
"What? I pay her a thousand dollars-"
"I ended her contract already."
"So quickly?" Mrs. Sterling raised a shoulder before positioning herself at the head of the table. Maybe I was imagining things but I thought I saw a ghost of a smile quirking at the corners of her mouth.
"The house is too far from school. It takes too much of her time going back."
"Well then why doesn't she just stay here?" Luisa airily suggested.
My eyes almost popped out of their sockets.
"Uh, no. That would be scandalous?" Are you for real, princess?
Mrs. Sterling scoffed. "Scandalous? You practically lived in our house when you two were younger."
And it was pure hell for me.
"I'm going to tell Gladys that you're staying here," Mrs. Sterling suddenly said while fishing out her phone.
"Mom! That's totally not necessary." James rushed over to stop his mother.
She quirked a perfectly groomed eyebrow.
"S-She's aiming for Harvard. She's got no time to be a maid. Plus she got a scholarsh-"
"She's aiming for Harvard?" Luisa beamed. "Aren't you also aiming for Harvard?" She whirled towards me in that princess-y way, complete with her hem ballooning dramatically. "James also wants to go to Harvard."
"That settles it then! You need a study buddy. And this house has never looked this good since you started living here. Plus, I'll double her salary."
Two thousand freaking dollars per month?! Is she insane?! And the house looked good not because of me.
And I wasn't even the one cleaning the house! I haven't stepped foot in here since that time James got sick.
Before James and I could protest. Mrs. Sterling imperiously declared that she wanted dinner to start. With me included.
"Claire, I'm so, so sorry." James said when we had a bit of time alone as we prepared to serve the dessert. I cautiously looked at the kitchen door, and relaxed a bit when I heard Luisa's airy laugh while Mrs. Sterling told some gossip.
I blew my bangs up and nodded. "We have to figure out how we can dissuade them."
James made this slight bite on his lower lip and lowered his gaze.
"I... I mean, life would be hell again, James. Once people found out, they'd think... things. You know what happened. People will try to kill me again, bully me again. And we've been going through this on good terms. I mean, we're being civil. I'm back to being invisible. And it's all good. A-and..."
I noticed that I had been rambling. And I was holding my breath.
It also kinda sounded like I was trying to convince not him but myself that staying in his house would be a very bad idea. Crazy, huh? Why the hell would I need convincing? Haha.
"I understand," he quietly said. So quiet that his footsteps on the marble floor while walking away seemed louder.
I carried the silver platter with creme brulee-filled ramekins and shakily entered the dining room again.
"Ugh. My goodness. I can't imagine going back to high school again," Mrs. Sterling was saying while rolling her eyes.
Luisa was smiling slightly, while swirling her red wine.
"Do they still have that Red Rose Queen going on?" Mrs. Sterling asked me.
"Uh, yeah." I whipped my head towards James. For some reason, he looked worried. "They, uh, had it reinstated again this year."
"Really? Reinstated? They had it removed?" Then she laughed. "What, some girls finally killed each other for the title?"
Mrs. Sterling's brow furrowed.
I guess nobody could answer her. James and I, we never heard about the Red Rose Queen thing until this morning.
"What's the big deal about the Red Rose thing anyways?" I found myself musing aloud as I served the creme brulees. "Isn't it just a glorified, Dreyson version of the homecoming queen?"
Mrs. Sterling sneered. "You're a senior and know nothing about Dreyson history?"
"Mom," James scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Let's not bore Claire about useless tidbits."
Wait, James knows?
"Wait, I wanna know."
"Claire," James said with a forced smile. Ooh, he's hiding something. This might be good.
"James, a girl told me this afternoon that I had better chance of getting into Harvard if I win that competition. I'm kinda curious."
"You're nominated?" Luisa asked me, and I realized that she hadn't spoken for quite a bit.
I nodded and smiled wryly. "It's only because of my grades, though. I don't really expect to win." I raised both palms and shook them.
"Well, the whole tradition started many, many years ago. Dreyson being an old school is expected to have some really interesting stories. And the Kng and Queen of the Red Rose is one of them."
Mrs. Sterling looked a bit too pink-faced, and she's still pouring a glass of wine for herself. Now I know drunks. My father had been one. It's never a good idea to try and stop her from telling her story. I looked at James who appeared to have surrendered to the situation.
It's not really a bad situation. Just a mom telling an old story about Dreyson. Of course, we had planned to dissuade her from letting me stay but... You know, I was thinking, maybe Mrs. Sterling could get drunk, tell her story, then I could sneak away. Then we could all pretend that I was never in the house in the first place. We'll just have to convince Luisa to play along. A somewhat simpler task, I guess.
"It's a simple story, actually. A simple love story. They say that whoever gets crowned King and Queen will live happily ever after. That's what happened to Edmund Dreyson and Clarissa Royce. A son and daughter of political rivals, the Romeo and Juliet of the early 1900's. Edmund's family owned Dreyson, an all boys' school. Clarissa went to St. Mary's, the all girls' school counterpart.
"A dance was hosted by Dreyson Academy back then and that was where Edmund and Clarissa met. It was love at first sight. As host of the dance, the class president of that time, Edmund, was the one to name the belle of the ball. Back then, people don't vote for the King and Queen. The King chooses the Queen.
"Clarissa was beautiful, they said. But not beautiful enough to cover the fact that she's a Royce. A Royce in Dreyson territory."
I exhaled the breath that I had been holding as Mrs. Sterling refilled her glass of wine. She had a magnificent voice for storytelling. I mean, it's not full of elaborate descriptions and imagery but the way she told it made me feel that this really happened. That this wasn't some legend. This was history.
I turned to look at James and saw him anxiously staring at Luisa. I frowned as I stared at the girl. She had her head bowed. Her hair fell in a beautiful blond curtain to cover her face.
"In the end, Edmund chose Clarissa. Family names be damned. He was absolutely smitten."
I sighed, all tingly with the romantic sparks. That was incredibly sweet.
"Clarissa thought it was all a joke played by the Dreysons. So she refused to approach the stage. She wanted no part of it. Still, she couldn't deny the fact that she already has romantic feelings for the boy. And so instead of going up to the stage, she sent her rose corsage to Edmund before leaving the ball. Now that only made Edmund immensely interested to meet the girl. Bordering on crazy, even. He wanted the girl, not the roses. And so he wooed her. Gave her roses everyday. He snuck in to her convent school and had roses planted all around it. The whole shebang. The rest is history."
"And they lived happily ever after?" I asked eagerly.
Mrs. Sterling stared at me for a few seconds before shrugging. "They... faced a lot of trials, as expected. The families pulled all tricks in the book to separate the couple. It was a scandal back then. They were both disowned by their families and never heard of again, actually. The final bit that everyone knew was that they were able to get married and have children." She snorted. "That counted as a happily ever after back then, of course."
Huh. Not a really rosy-pink happy ending then.
"But to the chagrin of the Dreysons, the tradition stuck. A legend has been created. Years later, when the younger Dreysons took the reigns, they formalized having a King and Queen of the Red Rose every year. And rumor has it that the pair will live happily ever after."
Where's the Harvard part?
"So how come it's gonna be easier for the King or Queen to get into Harvard?"
Mrs. Sterling wrinkled her nose. "Isn't it obvious? You have to be spectacular in some aspect to even be nominated. And then you have to be popular to win. Of course, there's the fact that the King and Queen are Dreyson students. It's that sort of breed that really gives you massive extra points."
Meh. So that's it? That's all the hullaballoo? I thought there were extra perks. Like a scholarship prize or something. Something actually useful.
Forget it then. I'll just continue studying, work hard, etcetera.
Mrs. Sterling waved her hand. "But most of the girls want the title because of the promise of a happy ending. Not because they want to get into an Ivy League." She rolled her eyes.
"But... is it true? The happy ending?" I snorted.
"Nope." Mrs. Sterling bluntly replied. Then she paused mid-sip. "Not anymore," she chuckled.
And just then, the noisy creak of wood on marble made me jump in my seat. Luisa had pushed back her chair and gotten up. I could barely hear her "Excuse me," as she hurried towards the door.
"Hm. Bad creme brulee?" Mrs. Sterling chuckled. Her words were beginning to sound slurry now.
James was angrily glaring at her.
"It's time you go home now, Claire," he announced.
Mrs. Sterling had no reaction to that. She kept on happily drinking her wine, oblivious.
I reluctantly stood up and followed James out of the door too.
"What was that all about," I whispered to James once we got out of the house, and I was already a hundred percent sure nobody could hear us.
" My mom was just being a bitch. No worries."
"How was she being a bitch? She just told us some old story."
James laughed lightly. "She never tells a story for the heck of it. Damn it, I grew up with the help reading the bedtime stories, not her. What she did was grade A vicious, and fucking inconsiderate. Classic Samantha Sterling. No, that was not storytelling time back there."
The black Jaguar swerved in front of us. Mr. Hanson got out of the car and opened the door for me.
"You're not going to explain to me-"
"Maybe tomorrow. It's late and I have a drunk mother to attend to."
A/N: Ultra late. :(( Been doing my best, guys.
Belated happy birthday to EmeraldLily. I hope you had a blast. :)