Authors: Ashley Beale
The amount of people that have arrived has nearly tripled. I wasn't expecting this many people to actually be here. The sad part is that I do not recognize one of them. Stephanie isn't here and she is the only person I've actually spoken with. I've only had a glance at two others in the entire building, aside from Roman. Neither of which I see here either.
It’s a shame to hide such a gorgeous dress, but I'd rather not get blisters on my feet from standing around not speaking to anybody, so I opt to sit down at one of the long wooden tables. It gives me a chance to place my purse down and get a glance at my phone.
My only message is from Clarissa asking how things are going. I text her back:
"I do believe I have not been given the satisfaction of meeting your acquaintance." I look up to an older man, most likely rounding his way to fifty. He looks like your typical Wall Street junkie. Greying hair, nice suit, smells of amber liquid and cigar smoke.
I smile politely. He could be the man who runs the entire company. Even if I want to tell the creep to fuck off, I can't. "Hi. Liv Donovan." I put out my hand to give him a firm shake.
"Wait... the Rusty Greenland?"
Rusty Greenland is a well-known politician in Arizona. He isn't the dirty kind that promises you one thing, gives you another, and pockets the profit. He actually gives back to the community. He makes a promise, does just that, and any profit made is used to make the environment around us an even better place.
This man is a very powerful man. He may not run the company I work for, but he is most certainly someone who I want to impress. It's possible as a future in journalism that I'll need his connection a few times in the future.
Rusty chuckles. "Yes, the one and only. What brings you hear tonight?"
"I just got employed at DRX two days ago. Mr. Pelletier required my presence tonight." I do my best to stay formal with Rusty. I want to show him I'm professional in my work. After all, first impressions are the ones that stick with us the longest.
When I mention working for DRX, I see a flash of something in Rusty's eyes. Anger? Jealously? Honestly, I can't tell, but those are the first words that pop into my head. Maybe he isn't a fan of Roman, or the company, and is here for business purposes only.
"Is there a reason you're sitting here by yourself if your presence is required?"
"I don't know anyone," I admit. "Aside from Mr. Pelletier, who... isn't here." I look around to double check my facts, in which would prove that I'm correct. He isn't communicating with his guests like an admirable host should.
Rusty reaches out his hand. "Then join me while I introduce you to colleagues of mine and yours."
With a smile, I place my hand into Rusty's and stand. I leave my purse behind, but since the room isn't too crowded I trust leaving it where it is. He walks us over to a group of business executives. Now that I'm closer up, I do recognize many of them. The mayor, the governor, three other politicians, Rodney Steele- who owns a hotel chain around the state. How had I not known these people were here when I first glanced around the room?
They must all have stocks with DRX or something. I can't imagine any other reason why they'd be here.
Rusty formally introduces me with each one, then vice versa. I'm in heaven right now. My emotions are exploding. For once, I feel like a somebody. I'm known by higher ups in our state, and they're talking with me casually, as if I'm one of them.
I'm asked about my current job, my goals in college, my ideal future in journalism. I'm given contact information, names, and many other things. I find myself laughing while we mingle. I'm even served a glass of chilled champagne at one point in the night, making feel even more mature.
Several hours pass by without any boredom. I walk around the room to mingle with different guests, and am called by my first name by most. I thought for sure it was going to be a traitorous night but I was wrong. Extremely wrong.
When I have to use the bathroom once more, minutes before I'm ready to leave, I find myself panic. I haven't seen Roman since I walked away from him early in the evening. He hasn't visited with his guests even once tonight.
I ignore the panic in my stomach, especially since my bladder is being feisty, and I walk back down the hall towards the stairs. It’s the only restroom I know of in this place. I've watched others exit the room and go back towards the main entrance, so I'm sure there is one down there, but I'm not willing to get lost again.
Reaching the top of the stairs, I'm actually surprised not to see Roman walking about. Especially since his fire place is now going. The room glows in the different shades of orange and yellow, glistening from the flames. It makes an already incredible room more majestic.
I slowly walk through the room, trying to be silent so that I don't disturb Roman in case he is around. I'd rather go unnoticed. And I do, until I come out of the bathroom that is. Roman walks out of the door almost directly across the hall from me when I exit the bathroom. I smile bashfully at him before looking down at the floor and walking away.
When I reach the parlor, he stops me by calling my name softly.
Being magnetized by his voice, I stop instantly. The hair on my arms tickle as they stand on end.
I can't hear him move but I know he gets closer because I can literally feel his presence. His scent surrounds me just before his hands come around to grip my waist. "Roman," I screech. I try to step away from him but he pulls harder.
"Stop," he orders harshly. "I need to talk to you."
"Then talk. Don't touch me." I attempt to pull from him again to no avail.
I thought I was scared of him before. Now I'm fucking petrified.
"All those men in there talking to you."
I stop any attempt of pulling away from him. My body freezes. He was watching me? I'm not sure how I feel about that.
He continues when I don't open my mouth.
"Those are the men I hired you for."
Vomit starts to rise in my throat. "What does that mean exactly?"
"I hired you to protect you." His lips come close to my ear. Too close. The warmth of his breath when he speaks again sends shivers down my spine. "And I'll do anything to make sure you stay safe, Liv. You don't see it yet, but you will."
He lets go of me, ending the vague conversation. Once again I have more questions when he decides to forfeit saying any more. I stand my ground though. If my safety is threatened in any way, I have the right to know about it.
Spinning around, I face him to show just how angry I am with his vague ways. "If I'm in danger, tell me. If I'm not, leave me alone unless it’s work related. I'm sick of this game of yours."
"Trust me when I say that it’s not a game."
"How can I trust you? I don't know you, but what I do know pisses me the fuck off and creeps me the hell out."
"I scare you? Liv." He shakes his head. "I can be a monster but only to rid the true beasts of the world. There is so much you don't understand. I couldn't begin explaining it to you."
Roman continues to look at me. I can tell he is conflicted about telling me the truth.
"I can handle it," I add.
He shakes his head at me. "That is half the reason I can't tell you. You'll think you can, but you can't, Liv. I have it under control. Just... just keep a distance from people."
When Blaise didn't
answer the phone last night, I immediately tried for Clarissa. I told her about the entire night, starting off with the good things and slowly making my way towards the two stressful conversations with Roman. The conversations I cannot figure out. The ones I'm not sure I want to figure out.
The bed this morning dips down, waking me from the sleep I so desperately fought for all night. I peek open an eye to discover Clarissa in a barely there summer dress with her barely there bikini poking out from the underneath. "Ugh," I had groaned. "Go away."
It didn't work though. She got me out of bed, into my bathing suit, and out the door.
Now we're currently driving to Lake Pleasant just outside of Phoenix. Clarissa says she has a surprise for me. One that requires a large iced coffee apparently, because there was one waiting for me in the car that I was told to drink. Maybe she assumed I'd feel like shit today from the way my night ended last night.
The perplex conversation I had with Roman last night ended when he told me I needed to keep a distance. I grabbed my purse from the grand room, said goodbye to the people I saw while walking out, then left. I cried halfway home before calling Blaise. When he didn't answer, I almost started crying harder. That is when I called Clarissa, half sobbing from my emotions. She managed to her work magic, as always, by perking me up.
We arrive to one of the smaller beaches along the lake coast. This area is less for boating and more for exploring or swimming, unlike the majority of the massive lake. "Leave everything in the car," she tells me.
I show her my phone and she tells me even that. I sigh and place it in the glove box. She rolls down the window enough to keep the car from overheating on the inside and grabs only her keys. Before closing the door, we both strip from our clothes, only wearing our bikinis down to the beach.
We walk straight to the kayak shack. She didn't tell me we were renting kayaks but I had an assumption when she said not to bring anything. We've been up here quite a few times before, but the only times we've rented kayaks was once with her parents. It's similar to a private oasis when you kayak through the coves, especially on a gorgeous day like this.
The shining sun lightly brands our shoulders as we make our way around some of the cliffs surrounding the shoreline. It certainly feels nice once we start going through the coves, getting into the shadow to cool us off. I watch as a school of fish swim past me, reminding me we're not as alone as we feel. When I reach down into the water, they scatter off under the boat.
The water is nice and warm though. "I want to swim," I yell to Clarissa.
She peeks over from in the kayak in front of me. "Hold on, I have another plan."
Of course she does. It wouldn't be Clarissa if not.
We round the corner to a more secluded beach. Less than a dozen people are sprawled out on the sanded area. Clarissa paddles to the shore and I follow behind her. Once the kayaks hit sand, we both climb out and pull them higher onto the beach to keep them secure.
My body is craving a swim in the luxurious water. I head straight for it but Clarissa stops me. "Wait."
"What?" I turn to face her.
She waves her hand for me to follow her and walks away without a word. There really isn't anywhere else to go- just cliffs and field. It isn't a public beach like the one we parked at.
I groan once I realize that she is in fact heading towards the cliffs. Especially since I'm in only sandals and a bikini. I catch up as quickly as I possibly can and push at her shoulder. "Seriously?"
Clarissa grins at me. "Yup."
"I'm going to die. I just want to swim."
"Oh, we're swimming."
I stop mid step. "I'm not jumping off these cliffs. That is a death sentence."
"Stop overreacting." She continues walking without me. "Hurry up."
With a groan and a few choice words under my breath, I decide to finish following after Clarissa. She'll end up dragging me by the hair if I don't anyways.
Once we're both at the top of the closest cliff, Clarissa sits on the edge, dangling her feet below. Although I'm scared of heights, I breathe through my anxiety to join her. The first thing I do is look down at the water below. We're definitely higher up than I realized we'd be.
"How high do you think we are?" I ask.
"Forty feet maybe."
All of a sudden the distance between the water and myself is much further apart. "What are we doing up here?" We're obviously doing more than jumping or we would be standing up right now.
Clarissa looks out over the water, watching some boats sail, others pulling people behind on tubes. A couple jet skis pass by shortly after. She still doesn't speak. I watch below at all the activity as well, waiting on her. Something is obviously bothering her.
"In case things do change between us," she turns to look at me, "I wanted at least one more last memory that we'd cherish forever."
"I cherish all our memories," I reassure her.
"I know. Me too. Still." She pauses to look back over the lake. "I'm just going to miss you."
We've definitely both been stressing about this way too much. I feel like I'm losing my sister, not my best friend, even if it’s still not much of a distance between us. In reality, we could see each other the same amount we do now, I just know it won't end up happening.
"Then let’s make it memorable, not sad. Let’s do something entertaining."
I stand up and strip my sandals from my feet. Grabbing them in my hands, I look at the surroundings below me. Nothing seems to be in my way. I could live the rest of my life without doing something so thrilling but for Clarissa, I'll certainly do anything.
Clarissa starts to stand but I don't wait for her. With my adrenaline pumping, I take several steps back before running straight off the cliff.
The cool breeze feels good on my heated skin as I quickly descend. I close my eyes seconds before my body rips through the water, enveloping me. My body pushes itself back up before I'm even close to touching bottom. Just as I come up, inhaling a large breath of fresh air, a large splash hits me. I watch as Clarissa disappears under the water quickly before also making her way back up.
We both start laughing when she catches her breath. "That was..."
"Thrilling," she finishes my words.
We both take the opportunity to swim around, this time exploring the coves a little without the help of the kayaks. Once our bodies become a bit exhausted, the two of us make our way onto the sanded area. We both lay out, sans the towel, risking sand getting in our bikini zones. It’s a perfect day and location to absorb some sun, especially with no phones around.
I needed a day away from everyone but my best friend.
A half hour of nothing but sunshine and happiness, Clarissa speaks up. "How are things with Blaise?"
I peak over at her with only one eye open. "Things are great."
"Why did he stop in yesterday?"
I knew eventually she'd ask about that. "He was worried. I hadn't been texting him back and didn't call when I said I would. He just wanted to check in to make sure everything was alright."
"He couldn't just call?"
"Guess not." I turn my head away, closing my eyes again as the sun radiates down on me.
There is a slight pause when she whispers. "I don't like him."
"You don't even know him," I snap.
"No. You don't even know him."
"What?" I sit up fast and look down at her. "Really, Clarissa? There is a lot to learn, but I've learned what I need to know for me to fall in love with him."
She sits up and faces me as well, giving me her full attention along with a look of... disgust. "That's disturbing. You truly think you love someone you met last week?"
"It’s not exactly orthodox but don't make me out to be an idiot. I know what I'm talking about. I've never felt this away about someone before, especially so fast. He loves me, too."
I bring my legs up and wrap my arms around them, resting my head on my knees. When Clarissa doesn't say anything to me, panic settles in. She has never hated a boyfriend of mine. I've only ever heard that I can do better after a breakup, not during a relationship, one that makes me so happy. When I realize that she truly doesn't like him, I know there is something more to the story. "What do you know?" I whisper.
Clarissa shakes her head. "I don't
anything. I've heard a lot though. And what I've heard, Liv, it isn't good."
She stares at me with a nervous gleam in her eyes. "What?" I snap again. The more she looks at me, the more nervous I become. "You need to tell me. You brought this all up for a reason, so tell me." I grind my teeth with frustration while I wait for her to finally admit what’s been bothering her this week.
"He is involved with drugs, Liv."
I roll my eyes. "Oh big deal, we've smoked more joints that I can count."
"No." She shakes her head. Her voice becomes weaker. "Cocaine. Heroine. The big stuff. The stuff that kills people. That ruins families. That'll put him away for years, and you too if you're with him when he gets caught."
"Really?" I snap. "I can't believe you. You really do think I'm an idiot. This is how you wanted to spend our last day together? You accusing my boyfriend of being a mule! What is it exactly that you're accusing me of?"
A tear falls from Clarissa's eye and although I feel bad that she is only trying to be a friend, I'm still pissed she'd just blurt out that he was such a bad guy. I know where he works and what kind of money he makes, he has no reason in the world to be dealing drugs too. Even if he were that dumb to do be dealing, it’s obvious it’s not when I'm around. I'm smart enough to see the signs.
I stand up and walk towards the kayaks. "I'll meet you at your car. I just need my phone and I can get a ride home." I push my kayak into the water before I climb in. I don't even glimpse at Clarissa because I simply can't. I'm so angry right now, and I want to be angry. I deserve to be angry. I wouldn't accuse any of her boyfriends of anything without knowing the facts, and I wouldn't make her feel guilty for being in love with someone, no matter how long she's known them.
I'm not standing at Clarissa's car more than five minutes when she comes walking up to it. Without looking in my direction, she unlocks her car and slides into the driver seat. I open the door to reach into the glove box and she snaps at me, again without even looking. "Just get in the fucking car. I'll drive you home."