Grace Lefrenz closed the door of her room at the Beaufort Hotel in London. She couldn't stay in that place any longer. She had to get out. Nine-thirty at night, and unseasonably cold, she started her way down Beaufort Gardens, making her way towards Brompton Road. Even if her body was protesting the coming twelve-minute walk, she pushed herself forward. Her shoulder-length, curly, red hair was coming undone from the bun she had, and any other day, she would have cursed her hair for finally being a messy bun. It has been rainy and cold in London the last few days, and it made her already sore body ache even more.
A light mist was in the air tonight, thankfully, since Grace wasn't really looking forward to walking in rain. For some reason, the late summer/early autumn rains in London soaked you to the core and causing you to shiver more than the rain you would have in her American Midwestern town. She could see her breath in the air a bit, and noticed that she was breathing hard, still. She sniffed as she put her sunglasses on, since the sun was just setting in the west, where the clouds seem to be less. She winced as she pulled up the hood of her gray and worn Clemson University sweatshirt and crossed her arms across her chest as she continued to walk.
As she turned left onto Brompton, she couldn't help but think about how her single room at Beaufort she shared with her boyfriend looked. She could just imagine the look of the maids' faces when they walked it. Sheets ripped from the bed, pillows thrown around the room (one might have even ended up in the bathroom), the chair by the desk that now has a broken leg. No doubt that the sponsors won't be happy with the extra charge, but that would be Brantley's issue, not hers. That put a weak smile on her face of what he would say why the room was trashed.
Brantley Hemingway. Six and a half feet of pure, lean muscle, bleach blonde hair, handsome face, piercing gray eyes, and thick Australian accent. Grace loved the idea of going along with Brantley to the World Swimming Championship in London. He was an excellent swimmer, had won five gold medals at last year's WSC in Toronto and one silver medal. The 4x100 Medley Relay was a rough one for the Australian swim team, losing a team member to an accident had them lose the gold medal to the United States. Grace had come to know more about swimming that she cared to admit. A time of 3:29.68 was a great time in the medley but when you're best friend's team beats you by two seconds, you can only settle for second best.
It was interesting to have your boyfriend as the best swimmer of one country and your best friend the best of another. Tripp Zanders was her childhood friend. Grew up next door, went to the same school, had the same babysitters, and best friends. Tripp was just like Brantley in built but in looks, Tripp had dark brown hair and green eyes that would twinkle when he was his usual mischievous self. If it weren't for the fact that she has known Tripp for so long, she would have been dating him instead. At least she knew how he was. Brantley is still surprising her, and not for the best.
Grace shook her head. She wanted to stop thinking for tonight. All she wanted right now was to find a safe place to be. When she looked up at the street sign, she found herself already on Thurloe Place with Victoria and Albert Museum to her back. She knew she would be at her "safe house" in roughly three minutes. She has walked this way many times in the last two days. The streets were not packed here, just the way she liked it. Another reason why she couldn't wait to go back to her home in the States, the small-town girl in her was yearning to be back where the streets weren't busy and the people knew you better than a stranger did. The wind picked up and the cold air went right through her sweatshirt. She cursed herself for not grabbing her jacket before she left, but she was feeling so much at that moment she just wanted out of that room. The wind was biting at her eyes under her sunglasses, causing the tears she was holding back to form. She quickly wiped her eyes. The last thing she wanted was to show up with tears.
The white building soon came in sight as she turned onto Cromwell Place. The Pelham Hotel gave her a wave a relief and walked in through the door and headed for room she knew well. She pulled down her hood and squeezed her hands as she stood in front of the door. She could hear the bass of music coming from behind it, and bit of her hoped that Tripp wasn't there. She knocked the few "notes" to Shave and a Haircut.
"Who is it?" a southern voice called from the other side as footsteps approached the door.
"It's Gracie, Vaughn," she answered quietly. She heard the lock click, and door opened. Next thing she knew, strong arms encircled her waist and pulled her into a bear hug. She winced inwardly, but took in the warmth of the hug. Vaughn stood at six feet even and was rather tanned. Guess that happens when you grow up in the south and have nothing else to do except be outside and swim.
His arms finally released her and he took a step back. Grace blushed a bit when she realized that he was only wearing a pair of gray sweatpants and they were worn a bit low. He had a toned swimmers body, tight curly brown hair and beautiful caramel eyes. She felt rather small standing next to him.
"Gracie Niamh, what brings you back to la casa substituta de Tripp?" He was walking back to the only bed that was made (Vaughn was a sort of a neat freak) and sat down. He grabbed a shirt that was lying on the bed and pulled it over his head. A punk-rock band that she knew only because of Vaughn. Grace smiled and sat on the other bed that was rather messy, still wearing her sunglasses.
"When's the new album coming out?" she asked, pointing at the shirt.
"In a few weeks. Rather eager to listen to it." He leaned forward and cocked an eyebrow at her. "Sunglasses Gracie? You know the sun probably already set."
"I know. But I feel a migraine coming on, and it helps," Gracie lied. She felt horrible lying to Vaughn, but she didn't want to really repeat the story over and over again. She just really needed Tripp. "So, where is Tripp?"
"He's over at Declan and Liam's room. I was just about to go over there." He got up and held out his hand to her. She took his tanned hand and grimaced as she stood up. "You sure you okay, Gracie?" Vaughn's voice was full of concern.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just lead the way," she forced a smile as the left the room, walked out into the hall and to the next room to the right.
Vaughn knocked on the door and she stopped behind him. The door opened and a tall, dark man, wearing Pac Man boxers and a white beater, stood in the doorway. His dark skin was the bi-polar version of her milky white skin.
"G? Is that you? Girl, you should just move in with us instead of walking your ass over here every day," Liam said, engulfing her into a bone crushing hug, that, on other days would feel great, made her ribs ache and eyes shut tight. Again, she was glad she still was wearing her sunglasses.
"Hey, Lee. I like the twelve-minute walk. It's good for you," Grace said, forcing a smile.
"So whatcha doin' here, G?" Liam asked. He backed up to let her and Vaughn come in. There on one of the bed reading was Declan, Tripp's younger cousin, who, like the other two, was over six feet tall and built very lean and athletic. He waved to her, and went back to his book. "Hey Tripp! Your girl is here!" Liam yelled.
Grace always preferred to be around Vaughn to Liam. Liam was just a few decibels too loud for her. Vaughn was a quiet southern guy. She wondered if all southerns were like that. Her thoughts were interrupted by another set of arms surrounding her frame. She could tell these arms belonged to Tripp. She could feel his bare chest against her cheek, and she inhaled his woodsy scent that was his own. She felt safe now. Completely safe.
"Hey Grace," he whispered in her ear. She smiled at the intimate greeting. She always loved the way he greeted her when there were people around. Nothing public, except a hug. His deep voice brought her back to reality. "What you doing back here? Just here last night." His strong arms left her and her head hung forward.
"Oh, you know. Just needed a walk and ended up here," she said, sniffing. The cool, damp weather has made her nose a bit runny, which was a great way to cover up the feelings she had.
"And the sunglasses?"
Vaughn answered for her. "She said she had a migraine coming on." His southern drawl made it sound like an innocent thing.
Grace could feel Tripp's eyes studying her. She knew that he didn't believe the lie that Vaughn was retelling. He put his arm around her shoulders and leaned in to her ear. "Grace, is that really true?" She swallowed hard and slowly shook her head. She looked up and to her right to look at Tripp's face. His jaw was clenched and his eyes were turning into slits.
Declan got up from the bed and walked over to them. He took Grace's hand and led her over to the bed he was sitting on. She sat down, gingerly, and put either hands behind her and leaned back.
"Gracie, why are you wearing you're sunglasses then," Declan asked quietly, taking a seat next to her. She knew he was just putting distance between her and Tripp. He's been through this before and he knew what had happened without her explaining it.
"I really don't want to talk about it," Gracie answered. By this time, Vaughn and Liam sat on the adjacent bed and were gaping at her. Tripp was still over by the now shut door staring into space. She bit her lip, waiting.
"C'mon, G, let us in," Liam said, as he leaned forward and rested his hand on her knee. This act caused her to hiss in pain, and she regretted the reaction almost instantly because it set Tripp off.
"Where is he, Grace?" Tripp shouted his demand. He always got this way. Why couldn't he be more like Declan, and just calmly comfort her?
"Where is this asshole? What did he do to you this time?" His demands were getting louder.
Grace felt Declan leave her side. She looked up and saw him go to his cousin, whose face was as red as Declan's hair, and put his hand on Tripp's shoulder. "Dude, she doesn't need this. Think about what she went through first." Declan. Always the calm one.
"Went through?" Vaughn asked, turning his head from Declan to Grace. Grace could feel her face get hot, and knew that all four men were studying her now. She sighed, knowing that there was nothing like an audience for the chaos that was about to erupt between her and Tripp.
She pondered on if she should take off the glasses or not, but she knew there was no good reason to keep them on. She didn't have a migraine and the sun had already set. She slowly took off the glasses, her arms protesting the movement. She looked up and she didn't' see Tripp move. He was gone.
"Damn it Grace Niamh!" She heard his voice come from the bathroom area. "When is this shit going to stop?"
Declan looked down at the floor, knowing better than to stare or to speak. Grace felt uncomfortable under Vaughn and Liam's gazes. It's like they never seen a bruise on a person before, or, in this situation, a girl. At that moment, it seemed the pain just started back up by her eye, just as bad as the first initial hit. She knew there must have been a nice shiner around her left eye now.
"What happened Gracie?" Vaughn asked, getting up to take a closer look at her. She flinched when his hand came to her face, just a reflex that was born over the last two years. But Vaughn's touch was soft and angelic compared to the one that left the mark.
"I'll tell you what happened," Tripp yelled, as he came back into the room with a bag of ice in his hand.
"Tripp, calm down. The other rooms are going to complain," Declan insisted, still looking down, but making his way back to Grace. He resumed his spot on the bed next to her.
"I will not calm down! You know damn well, Ducky, that Hemingway is responsible," seethed Tripp.
Tears start to sting Grace's eyes. She hated putting Tripp through this. It was like watching a re-run of the first time she told him two years ago. "Tripp, please," began Grace, but she couldn't finish due to her throat constricting with the feelings that were starting to surface.
Tripp ran his hand through his dark hair and handed her the bag of ice. Declan took it and held it to her swollen left eye. The coldness brought a wonderful sensation. The burning sensation of the discolored skin was now gone.
"Hemingway? As in Brantley Hemingway?" asked Liam, looking at Grace.
Tears were stinging her eyes, and Grace, out of impulse, rubbed her eyes, trying to get the moisture to go away, but it made the bruise burn. She winced in pain, but Declan replaced the ice to it again, soothing the throbbing.
"Brantley," Grace started, looking at Liam, "he didn't mean it. I mean I was the one pushing the buttons." Her throat refused her to go on.
"The fuck it is, Grace. No girl, no. NO one deserves what happened to you for the past two years. You know that!" Tripp was kneeling in front of her now, hands resting cautiously on her knees. "What else, Gracie? What else did he do?" His voice was now soft as his eyes were pleading her to reveal the full extent of the damage that Brantley did.
"Tripp," she began, but she couldn't protest looking at him. His face was full of anger and concern. She knew he loved her like family, and anything that happened to her, he felt like he was responsible. She sighed her defeat and slowly standing up. Her muscles were relaxed too long, her body now disapproving her movement. Declan helped her as she tried to remove her sweatshirt, revealing at orange camisole, but it did not hide what the sweatshirt did.
"What in the name of God and all that is holy!" Vaughn shouted. A weak smile played at her lips; Vaughn and his conventional nature.
Grace could feel four sets of eyes on her slender frame. What they saw made their eyes huge, except Tripp's. His went into slits as he studied each area of skin. Her milky white skin showed marks that were not suppose to be there. Bluish purple marks on her chest and upper arms. Some red marks around her wrists, greenish marks around her forearms, and some yellow marks by her shoulders. Her body was riddled with bruises. She bit her lip as she took off her jeans and rolled her camisole up to show even more purple, green and yellow marks on her abdomen, back, and legs. She seemed more decorated for Mardi Gras than an Irish girl. No one could say anything.
She tried to get her jeans to pull them back up, but her back criticized the shifting so Tripp helped her to sit back down on the bed. Declan was already holding out a pair of black track pants the boys use while they wait by the pool. Tripp helped her put the pants on, holding up her frame as she slid them over her hips.
Grace thought her eardrums were going to burst from the silence. It was an odd thing to have all four of them silence at once. The silence was broken, but it wasn't by Tripp, which is who Grace thought it would be.
"Explain," asked Declan. His face was red, matching his hair.
"I don't need to hear it," said Tripp softly. He got up off the ground and stood in front of Grace. "Declan, what is there to explain?" His voice was oddly calm. "The ass beat the shit out of her. For how long this time?" He looked at her.
"Since we got here." Grace bit her lip. She waited.
"You're telling me, that every time you were over here, you had these bruises. Not once mentioned them. Until know?" Liam stated.
Grace swallowed the lump in her throat. She nodded the confirmation, afraid that she was going to break if she used words. She felt arms around her, hugging her delicately. It was Tripp.
"Grace, I am so sorry."
Tear welled up in her eyes and her throat burned. She cleared it, took a deep breath and said, "Tripp, please, let me just tell you what happened?"
Tripp pulled away and looked at her. He nodded. "Okay, but I don't want to agree with you."
"You don't have to, but I want no interruptions, you hear?" she scolded him.
"And there cannot be any tragedies done to Brantley."
"Okay. The floor is yours," Tripp said.