When I got to the apartment, Layton wasn't there, and I wondered how he knew I wasn't getting ready. I reckoned he had stopped in or something, but I didn't really care. I went into my room, or rather Layton's, and began curling my usually unruly hair. I didn't often need to get dressed up for any occasion, but my mother had taught me how to curl my hair into a bun with a few strands hanging down. She was really good with all the girly tricks, but unfortunately my lack of dating record in high school left her constantly teaching me the techniques and secrets of the trade with no rhyme or reason, as if this was precious information she didn't want to go to waste. I was glad I was finally able to use some of it.
After I finished with my hair, I carefully applied some makeup. Like my hair, which I usually let fall down past my shoulders or pinned up in a ponytail, I didn't often wear makeup, but it was one of those things my mother had insisted I learn. I painted on a thin mask of smoky eyes and red lips, and I put on some jewelry.
It all felt rather silly to me, for some reason, like I was playing house or dress up. I looked through my garbage bag of clothes and pulled out the one, fancy dress I owned. It was subtle, since I didn't like clothes that drew attention to myself, but my mother had insisted I own at least one dress like it. It was long and fell to the floor in a long, gossamer skirt, and although it didn't have straps, it modestly covered my upper body. It was a midnight black color, also, and the ethereal fabric made it look almost like there were stars in the velvety darkness of the dress. I really did like it, even if it was a bit tighter than I would've preferred. I slipped on a pair of low heels and looked at myself in the reflection.
"Not too shabby, Cunningham," I heard a voice say, and I turned around so quickly I almost fell.
"Jesus, how long have you been there?" I cried out as I regained my composure.
"Relax, I just got in," he said. He looked at me appraisingly. "You look… decent," he said, then a smile spread on his face. "For a commoner, that is."
"Oh, har har har," I said. "Well, you look dashing, my king," I said sarcastically. I let a satiric tone seep through my words, but he really did look like a king. The tuxedo he wore suited him perfectly, and my heart took on an erratic pace when I looked at him. His silver eyes were playful, and a smile tugged at his lips.
"Well, it is in the name," he said. "Come on, the party starts in a less than twenty minutes, and it's in George Lindor's house."
"How far away is that?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I guess it's a half hour away."
"We'll be late then!" I cried out.
Layton gave me a curious look. "Well we wouldn't want to show up exactly on time, now, would we?"
I rolled my eyes. "Is this one of those rich mannerisms? Act like Europeans and never show up on time for anything?"
"Money makes you bored, and bored people never rush to go anywhere," he said, lightly tapping my head like that should've been obvious. He smiled lightly as I raised an eyebrow condescendingly. "You ready to go? There's a car out front with Morgan, Jack and Sinclair." I nodded and we made out way down together and into a luxurious limousine.
"Courtesy of Mr. Lindor himself," Sinclair said as we got in. "He ordered them for all his guests." I looked around the limo, feeling overwhelmed. "What, what's wrong?" Sinclair asked, frowning.
"It's, um, it's a bit much," I said. The men all looked at me confused. "I don't know, I just feel a little ridiculous, that's all." I was blushing now at their critical looks. "I feel like a fake."
"You are," Jack said, ever the realist. He looked kind of like an older version of Ben, in a way, though he was still very young, but his eyes always looked kind of bored and his gaze was always blank. He looked around at the peeved faces of everyone in the car. "What, isn't she? It's an act."
"You don't look fake," Morgan said with a smile, as if he was apologizing for Jack's bluntness. "You look divine, really gorgeous."
My blush deepened, but when I looked up at Layton he looked somewhat annoyed. Our eyes met but he quickly looked away. "You do look wonderful," Sinclair chimed in agreement, and I smiled my thanks but I kept nervously glancing at Layton as we drove to Mr. Lindor's house. The men talked lightly as we drove out of Fairisle and down past little cities around the town.
"Oh," I said quietly, more to myself, but all the men stopped talking when they heard me speak up. I looked up at them. "Sorry," I said, biting my lip. "It's just, I recognize this place." I smiled to myself as I looked back out the window and past the park. "I used to go for walks there all the time when I was younger."
There was a brief pause, and I felt myself become self-conscious. "What was your childhood like?" Sinclair asked, putting his chin in his hand.
"What, my childhood?" I asked, incredulous. I laughed a little. "Oh, I'm not really sure. Average, I guess."
"Tell me about it!" Sinclair demanded.
"Well, I didn't live in Fairisle, but close by, so I was always visiting when I got older," I said. "But when I was a kid, my parents would bring me up here all the time when I had a bad day at school, which was more than you'd think," I added with a self-deprecating chuckle. "Kids used to pick on me a lot. I mean, I wasn't especially nerdy or geeky or anything, I just always stuck up for the underdog, I guess. I hated when people bullied each other, it drove me crazy. So the mean girls and guys at my school would just lump me in with the rest of the targets because whenever I saw them being mean to someone, I'd always tell the bully to get lost and leave whoever was being taunted alone." I sighed a little. "But I didn't have a lot of friends, so my parents would feel bad and take me up here, even though it was a couple hours away, just because they knew how much I loved it."
I looked back at the guys and noticed Layton immediately. He had a strange look on his face, filled with an emotion I couldn't place. He gave me a small smile. "Always the hero," he said quietly, to himself. I blushed.
"That's admirable," I heard Morgan say, and I looked over to him. He was smiling warmly. His words felt kind, but Layton's made my heart race.
"It's really nothing," I murmured. "Just morality. It's in everyone."
"Not Jack," Sinclair said with a smile. "Jack's a certified psychopath."
I laughed uneasily as Jack's emotionless eyes bore down on me. "It's true," he said. I swallowed my laughs.
"Well," I said, desperate to change the subject, "it's a very nice park. Have you guys ever been there?" I looked at Layton, but he seemed distracted.
Sinclair shook his head. "No," he said, with a reluctant look. "We didn't have much time to play," he said.
"Busy, busy, busy," I heard Layton mumble.
I felt relieved that he was speaking and I smiled. "Vonnegut?" I asked. He looked up at me and my heart caught in my throat for a moment, so my words came out strained. "From Cat's Cradle." He blinked, staring blankly. "Busy, busy, busy is what the people always say on the island."
Before I could feel too self-conscious, I saw a smile bubble up onto his lips. "You…" he said quietly, but he shook his head. "So surprising, you know."
I wanted to ask him what he meant but Sinclair cleared his throat and started talking about something. The conversation seemed mostly targeted towards the other guys in the limo, so I continued to stare out the window, pressing my face against the cool glass. Occasionally, I felt a pair of eyes on me, though I didn't look to see.
We finally pulled up at George Lindor's house, and I gasped slightly at the splendor. "Wow," I said, whistling. "Lindor doesn't do anything half-assed."
Layton chuckled at my word choice. "I guess not," he said, but there was some bitter resentment in his voice. Oh right, I thought to myself. He's in love with the man's fiancée. I got a pain in my chest. "Shall we?" he said, sticking out an arm for me. The pain in my chest subsided and I took his arm eagerly. We walked through the intimidatingly large doors, but I felt safer with Layton by my side.
It was certainly, in no way shape or form, a casual get together. In my mind, that would've constituted having a few guests over and ordering pizza, but for Lux, casual meant getting dressed up to the tens and inviting half the town. I shuddered to think what her wedding would be like. Would guests have to ride in on horses or something?
"Layton!" Lux said, emerging from the crowd in a way that I imagined Moses would've parted the Red Sea. She wore a tight light gold dress that only she would've been able to pull off. Again, she looked splendid, and I self-consciously looked at my rather plain dress and felt embarrassed. "You look so handsome," she cooed. She looked me up and down. "My, Linda, who died?" She laughed in a cruel way. I looked down at my feet, but Layton wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me closer.
"Hello, Lux," he said. "You look very nice."
Lux gave a strained smile at his distant tone. "Tripp's here," Lux said, and she made a gesture with her hand towards a man with the girl I recognized from the other night as being Eleanor. "Tripp, Elle, come over here!" she shouted. They walked over, giggling and falling over each other.
Tripp was, legitimately, likely one of the handsomest men I had ever seen. His hair wasn't very long, shorter than Layton's, certainly, and was the same vivid gold color as Lux. His eyes were lighter than Lux's, with more of a green color than blue, but still gorgeous. He was tall, about as tall as Layton, and very muscular. He wasn't really my type, but I still could appreciate the fact that he was a good-looking man.
"Oh, wow, hey Layton," Tripp said. I guessed the relationship between Layton and Tripp was icy, since Layton had broken his sister's heart. "It's really good to see you."
Layton gave him a kind smile. "It's nice to see you too, Tripp." There seemed to be an awkward tension between the two, and I figured perhaps I should leave. I slid out of Layton's grasp and took a step in the opposite direction, hoping to find Sinclair or someone, but I caught on the hem of my skirt and started to fall forward. I closed my eyes, bracing myself for the pain and humiliation, but I felt warm hands catch me.
I turned around to see Tripp had caught me, his strong, muscular hands clutching my small waist tightly.
"Very smooth," I heard Lux mumble.
"Jeez, Layton," he said with a smile. "Your girlfriend's a bit of a klutz. Cute, though." His tone was playful as he helped me to my feet, a kind smile on his face, and I wondered how he could be so nice but his sister such a …
"Are you alright, Grace?" Layton asked, his face full of concern, but I could detect embarrassment and perhaps even shame on his face. His face had become so familiar to me, yet he still remained an enigma of sorts, impossible to fully read.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," I said quickly, not wanting to make a scene. Thankfully, when I had been returned to a standing and solid position, the tension seemed to break and Layton and Tripp talked a little more freely. I felt happy and relieved. Lux looked annoyed and stormed off, dragging Eleanor's arm. I walked away, taking in the sights and sounds of the party. It really was amazing.
I stopped in front of a very large painting that hung in Lindor's living room. It was a painting that practically screamed, "I think I'm better than all you peasants!" But it really was beautiful, all the detail, so I stared absentmindedly at it, admiring the work. I heard a familiar laugh, and when I turned around I saw a recognizable girl with thick, red hair and gleaming green eyes, laughing gaily. Something about her seemed sickeningly familiar, and I felt my stomach turn.
She laughed again, and the high pitched ringing sound brought back far too many memories about getting teased, made fun of, and laughed at throughout high school by a familiar face. I felt like I was going to be sick and I took a step backwards.
"My, my, my Grace," I heard a voice say. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
My heart plunged deep into my stomach, settling itself at the bottom, and I turned around slowly. I finally made eye contact with a handsome, chiseled face and two golden-green eyes. I swallowed back the tremor in my voice and said, "Thomas? Thomas Summers?"
Thomas freaking Summers was at the party.
"What are you doing here?" I stammered wildly as he stared at me. He had gotten even more handsome since high school.
"That's a question that I really should be asking you," he said. Just as he said this, the red headed girl looked over at me.
"Grace?" she called out. She didn't conceal the disgust in her voice. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Hi, Sally," I whispered weakly. Thomas Summers and Sally Beauregard, the dynamic duo that had terrorized my teenage years, were here, together. And apparently, I noted as Sally walked over and looped her manicured hand through Thomas', they were also together.
"Grace," Sally said, with a reprimanding tone. "You shouldn't be here." Her words reminded me of all the times she had told me I didn't belong in the girls locker room, that I should go change with the guys since I was, according to her, a "slut." Why was her presence bothering me so much? High school was over.
I gave her a placid smile. "I'm here with my fiancé," I said with a frosty voice, though on the inside I was shaking.
Sally snorted. "What, you?" Thomas' grin widened. "Please, Grace, no need to lie." She laughed that same, high-pitched, prom queen laugh.
"Uncle?" Thomas said, flagging someone over. "What is she doing here?"
George Lindor, in all his vast glory, came over. He was so rotund and small and his moustache was so full that he reminded me vaguely of Colonel Sanders. "What is, my dear boy?" he asked, clapping his nephew on the back. His eyes lit up with recognition when he saw me. "Oh, Grace, isn't that right? It's wonderful to see you again." I mentally thanked the Heavens that he didn't call me 'Linda.'
"It's nice to see you too, Mr. Lindor," I said, shaking his outstretched hand. I saw the mouths of Sally and Thomas drop a little, and I couldn't help but feel some small, smug satisfaction.
"You… you know her?" Sally asked, bemused.
"Yes, she's Layton's fiancée, of course!" he cried out, his hearty voice jovial. I wished I had a picture to capture a photo of her shocked face.
"Layton?" Sally repeated slowly, as if every syllable was difficult. "As in, Layton Kingsley?"
"The one and only!" George cried out. He slapped Thomas' back again, for good measure, and excused himself.
Sally narrowed her emerald eyes at me, crossing her arms. "Yeah, right," she said sarcastically. "You just told him that, right? There's no way someone like you could be…" her voice trailed off and she looked behind me with horrified eyes.
"There you are," I heard a voice say, kissing my cheek from behind. I spun around and wound up pressing my face against Layton's chest. His flickering grey eyes had a mischievous look, like they had in the grocery store when he knew I needed a bit of help and saved me from those girls. "I've been looking all over for you."
Sally looked as if she had just smelled something unpleasant, and Thomas had a look of curious wonder on his face. "Well I'll be damned," he murmured, smirking.
At that moment, Lux came over, and I guessed that she was following Layton around. "Sally!" Lux cried out, as if that had been the whole reason she came over. She embraced the girl warmly, and Sally looked a little surprised, but her demeanor became ecstatic quickly. Girls like Sally depended on social acceptance from others, and Lux was certainly at the top of the food chain. "I see you've met Grace!"
"Yeah, we've known each other since high school," I said, grinning.
"How darling," Lux said, and Sally gritted her teeth. Layton's warm arms still encircled me, and I felt like I had an impenetrable wall built around me, strong and steady. Lux's eyes became hard. "You two are always so close to one another," Lux said. "But I've never seen you kiss!"
"Oh, um, well," I stammered foolishly, looking at Layton for help.
"C'mon, you two! If you're really a couple, kiss!"
I nervously laughed at the request, thinking nothing of it, when Layton suddenly spun me around and I felt his lips on mine.
I hope you guys are fangirling as much as I was when I wrote this chapter.
Old childhood crushes? Jealous girls? KISSING? If you guys don't remember who Thomas is, Grace has been mentioning him throughout the story, just in passing, and talked about him a lot when she went out with Layton.
Thanks to Dauntless Gryffinjay, daisyxduck, beverlyamethyst16 (who I think, it's safe to say, is a veteran of the Marry Me? series and is hereby granted the Loyal Reader and Reviewer Trophy), acherontamovebo, NeverLast690, echo-echo, and mylittleprincess for reviewing. 3 3 3
If you guys have any questions/comments, please let me know! I love to hear reviews, sososo much, so please do!