Chapter 1: The Day Our Heroine Faces the Most Pointless Challenge Ever
"So how come we haven't heard any juicy gossip about you?"
Randee looked up from the iPhone she was pretending to be busy with. She had quickly understood that it was considered a cool trait to be constantly fiddling with the tiny thing even in a company, while mostly ignoring what was happening around her. It was absurd but she didn't question it. After all, it gave her a perfect excuse not to participate in some conversations, without making the others feel like she's too dull. There was nothing more awkward than a quiet girl picking at her fingers in a noisy group.
The phone was a new acquisition – a gift from her aunt. She had insisted that it was necessary, considering the new circumstances, and Randee hadn't put up a fight. She knew well enough that rich kids were all about the branded goods. She had never owned a cell phone before that, thinking it bothersome and intrusive, and it was taking her forever to figure out the workings of the machine. To make it worse, she hadn't even learnt how to send text messages by the time she had somehow ended up with nearly a hundred numbers stored in the address book. Her peers were too much into modern technology for her comfort.
"What kind of juicy gossip did you have in mind," Randee asked sweetly.
She was sitting together with four other girls at a corner table in the ridiculously luxurious cafeteria of the school. She had gotten close to the girls fairly early in the school year and had managed to impress them properly, so that they considered her an honorable member of their elite little group. In her opinion popularity never hurt. They were good girls and she liked them well enough, as long as she didn't see them acting stuck-up with the scholarship students. At least they never actively bullied anyone, and were only a little more air-headed than what she was used to. As long as they were her friends, they only showed their cute sides.
"What do you think," the tall blonde, Michelle, answered. "Of course I mean guys! All of us here-" she gestured with her hands to the other three, "have had out share of hotties. Don't tell me you haven't actually gone out with anyone yet?"
"Personally, I think tall athletic guys are the best," Sandy, a petite blond, piped in. "They can totally lift you up while they-"
"Yes, we know your preferences. This is not about you right now." Michelle interrupted her before she could go into any details, then turned to Randee again. "Surely you have your eye on someone."
Randee held her sigh back. It was quite the crime to be popular and single, which was probably the only downside of her newly gained status. Luckily, being the thoughtful girl that she was, she had already predicted that such a problem might arise, and had prepared a suitable solution.
"It's true that I'm into somebody, but he's taken. Nothing I can do about it really."
"Why not steal him? Whoever he's with can't be hotter than you!" Of course Rebecca would think that, Randee mused. Rebecca was a known seductress with no rivals. With her gorgeous dark and glossy hair, sultry green eyes and pouty lips, it was no wonder. Getting complimented by her made Randee blush, though she was certain the comment was mostly from female solidarity.
"I don't think I have the skills to keep him with me after that," she answered diplomatically, trying not to hurt any feelings. Saying what she really thought about stealing boyfriends was out of the question.
"Well, who's guy? Don't keep your friends in the dark. Maybe we can help and scare the bitch away from him," Michelle said. Randee glanced at her startled. It was a good thing she had picked the one guy no one would dare mess with. Even someone like Michelle wouldn't willfully antagonize him.
"Alexander Haith." All four gasped.
"Alexander the Great?!" Sandy exclaimed a little too loudly. Randee noticed with alarm a few heads turning their way. She didn't need this to get out of hand.
"Aiming a little high, aren't we?" Rebecca grinned. Even she hadn't taken that challenge yet.
"High?! That's like aiming at the sun!" Sandy was getting overexcited. "He's the only heir of, oh, a few BILLIONS! And counting! Nothing less than a princess would satisfy his parents, trust me on that."
"He doesn't seem to care what his parents want," Michelle said. "He's been dating all kinds of girls. At least you don't have to worry about his girlfriend. She'll be out of the picture soon. He has notoriously short relationships and this one's time is running out. Still, if you want something lasting, and you seem the type, he's not the perfect choice."
Randee smiled enigmatically. She had no intentions of dating him. She hadn't even spoken two words to him. They had crossed paths here and there, but he preferred the company of his male friends. She imagined he held a certain contempt for women. His behavior towards them was always polite but cold, his conversations short and to the point. She had no idea how he entertained his girlfriends, and it seemed reasonable to her that they wouldn't last more than two months with him. In fact, two months appeared to be his longest relationship yet. It was big news in the school and the students found amusement in speculating whether the girl had managed to capture the icy prince's heart. They had broken up the next day. Such was the man she claimed to be interested in.
"You can't choose who you fall for," she said, hoping that was the last she had to talk about it.
"Well, you're in luck," Min-ah finally contributed to the conversation as she lifted her eyes from her phone. She had been so busy with it that Randee was sure she hadn't heard anything. Apparently, the girl was far too skilled in multitasking. She turned the screen to the others. It showed the gossip column of the school's online journal. "Alexander and Catherine just broke up for all to see. She made a scene and everything. Wish I was there to see it..." she sighed ruefully.
Randee blinked at the screen. That was unexpected. They had started going out only two weeks ago, and Catherine was known to be a proper lady-like girl. What could have possibly made him dislike her?
"You have to ask him out right now!" Michelle jumped up from her seat and grabbed her shoulders. "If you don't go yourself, I'll be forced to drag you there!"
Randee's eyes widened. "Isn't that too brash? They just broke up!"
"He'll be snatched by tomorrow if you don't act now. You think you're the only one aiming for him? Wake up!"
Randee listlessly let herself be dragged away from her seat and out of the cafeteria. Min-ah, ever craving for drama, followed suit with a big grin on her face.
Things were officially getting out of hand. Randee felt cold chills running up her back just at the thought of facing Alexander's icy glare. Worse than that, she had to lower herself to him and admit to feelings she didn't even have. No, no. It was too early to feel doomed. Odds were, he wouldn't agree, or someone else would have gotten to him first. It was nothing to worry about. Her heart a bit lighter, she followed Michelle's confident strides towards Alexander's usual hang-out spot – the bleachers.
Sure enough, he was there together with his buddies. When they saw the girls approaching, a guy said something to him and the rest burst out laughing. Randee cringed. She could guess what the joke was about. And did she have to ask him out in front of everyone?
Thankfully, Michelle called him over and he came down to them, looking bored out of his mind. "This is the third one already," Randee could hear him mutter under his breath. He probably knew she heard him too. She guessed it was on purpose, just to embarrass her.
"Well?" That was all he said as he stood in front of her. Michelle had tactfully retreated, grabbing Min-ah on the way. They were out of earshot, patiently waiting for the outcome.
Randee swallowed hard, and couldn't tear her gaze away from his eyes. She couldn't even blink. She wasn't exactly scared of him. There was no rational reason to be. His glare wasn't filled with hatred for her. It was emotionless, if not a little bored. He seemed harmless from a glance.
"I-" she started, but her words got stuck in her throat when he narrowed his eyes. Her muscles clenched in preparation to run away. She couldn't explain the reaction. Maybe he was too intense for her. It didn't help that she barely reached his shoulders, making looking at his face a strenuous task.
"I'm sorry!" She said quickly and turned to walk away. Consequences be damned! She wouldn't embarrass herself like that, when she was sure he was just waiting to turn her down. And even if he agreed, she couldn't pretend to love him like she claimed.
She had barely taken two steps when her arm was suddenly grabbed, and she was spun around to face him again. He firmly grasped her shoulders and leaned down till he met her eyes. "Don't just walk off, and finish what you started," he stated darkly.
Her heart thudded loudly in her ribcage, and the skin under his hands pulsed in time with it. It wasn't fear, she concluded. It was a twisted sort of pleasure. He had held her back. For what purpose, she couldn't begin to guess. Maybe he liked the feeling of turning someone down. Maybe he was actually interested. Perhaps she had unwittingly found the exact type of persona that had him intrigued. In any case, she had gotten herself in that situation, so she had to at least finish it. Let him think of her whatever he wanted.
"I like you," she said, her eyes looking straight at his. Saying words was easy, nothing to fret about. "So..." she paused. She hadn't actually asked anyone out in her life. How did someone go about it? She searched her mind for movie lines.
"So?" He prompted.
She closed her eyes and laughed softly. It was getting ridiculous. She had just confessed for the first time to a guy she didn't understand one bit. And really, what was there to be tense about. He was just another human being. And if she got humiliated, it wouldn't last her whole life. She would probably never meet him again after high school, even accidentally. It was all a big joke. This school, the iPhone, and Alexander Haith with his icy glare.
With the usual mirth back in her eyes, she continued. "So. I'd like to date you. How about it?"
It was that easy. It was all up to him now.
He raised an eyebrow. His expression had changed from bored to irked. She smiled at him with all the relaxation of a person freed from their worldly worries. His hands gripped her a little harder before he let her go. "Sure, I don't mind. Third time's the charm." He smirked at her humorlessly.
"There are only two things I ask of you. One – don't pester me on the phone."
She nodded. Easy as pie.
"And two – if I need you, I'll look for you. You don't look for me. If you ever break one of the two, we're over."
She held herself back from rolling her eyes. The guy obviously didn't want a girlfriend. Who knew why he always had one. Maybe he loved seeing them struggle with his dumb rules.
He extended his hand to her and without thinking she brought hers forward. He shook it off. "Your phone." He said exasperated.
She took it out of her pocket obediently and paused. "Why?"
"Obviously, I need your number." He snatched the device from her and dialed his, then gave the phone back. He took his out and stored the number from the missed call under "girlfriend", overwriting an existing number. Randee snorted before she could stop herself. It figured that he couldn't be bothered with small details.
He ignored her outburst, and instead grasped her chin roughly to tilt her face up. Before she could react, he touched her lips with his and moved away. "We're officially dating. Go along and boast to your friends now." He dismissed her in a cold voice, and walked back to his buddies.
She smiled at his retreating back and waved at the group of guys. There was no reason to take insult in his words. What did he matter? She looked at the new number on her screen and stored it under 'dumbass'. There. All better.
Michelle and Min-ah could barely contain themselves on the way back. The second they were at their table with the others, they started bombarding her with questions. The other two girls also joined in. Randee couldn't make out a single word from their collective noise, so she finally raised her hands. "One at a time, please!"
"Did he agree?" asked Sandy, all excitement. Randee opened her mouth but before she could say anything, Michelle answered for her.
"He kissed her, so he obviously agreed, right?" Randee once again attempted to say something but Min-ah interrupted.
"She almost ran away, but he grabbed her arm to stop her."
"Wow! He did?" Sandy exclaimed, already into the story. The girls continued to chatter away, Michelle and Min-ah describing the whole thing from the point of view of observers, sometimes retelling certain parts again for more effect. Several other listeners drifted closer to their table, and Randee was certain the gossip column was being updated as they spoke.
She rested her head on her hands. Granted, she didn't want a stale school life, but she never wished for an overly exciting one either. Before she had entered the private school, she figured that becoming friends with the popular girls would be a sure way to not get bullied. She was sick of confrontations, of standing up for herself every day without a single ally. Bullying never broke her down since she just couldn't take it seriously enough. But it was irritating. The petty pranks were annoying. The silly insults made her brain numb. Sometimes she had felt like she would push someone out the window.
Now it seemed like popularity had its own irritating points. It was still a hundred times better than being bullied, she admitted. So might as well play along.
After school, the group of girls went to Michelle's place to continue their discussions in private. They arranged themselves on the king-sized bed, while Michelle sat down at her vanity to look at them.
"Now that you're dating the school's most sought-after hottie, there's a new problem to face," she said solemnly.
"Oh, that. The duration," Rebecca quickly caught on. She too switched to a solemn tone. "Indeed, it's a problem. I wonder how long you'll last."
"He said he'll break up only if I break his rules." Randee supplied laughing. "It might last forever, for all I know."
The other girls shared a look.
"This calls for a bet, I think." Michelle suggested. The others quickly backed her up. Randee felt like they were ganging up on her.
"The longest one was two months. I say we wager for three."
Randee paled. She had actually intended to call Alexander a few dozen times over the weekend and effectively break up. After that, the plan was to act too heart-broken for any new flings and remain single for the rest of her time in school. Dating that ice cube dumbass for three months? Certainly not impossible, but highly unpleasant.
"Let's not..." She said weakly.
"What, not confident? Don't worry, love will triumph over all. Let's bet ten thousand each."
Randee swallowed her gasp in time. Ten thousand?! That was insane. She could never afford that bet, but she couldn't tell them that, obviously. They all thought she was as rich as them. All her half-lies were coming back to bite her in the butt.
"10 grand? That's a bit steep, isn't it?" Min-ah said, bless her heart.
"It's a bit much, I admit, but it won't make for such a good bet otherwise." Michelle was quite stubborn when she had made up her mind. "We can all afford it anyway."
Randee flinched. Since no one else raised any further complaints, Michelle went on to state the rules of the bet. "If Randee here manages to keep Alexander for at least three months, she'll receive 40 thousand from us. If she fails to do so, she'll surrender 10 thousand for us to buy shoes with."
Everyone laughed at her words, and Randee had to force a smile on her face. Why did they need to bet on something as ridiculous and insignificant as that. Rich girls really had too much free time. Well then, she just had to follow two dumb rules for three months. Couldn't be simpler than that. She decided not to let the ten thousand give her any pressure. No need to get nervous over money and screw things up.
A/N: A bet with a twist kind of story :D. Hope you enjoy~