As happy as I was to get back on land and out of the air, I was dreading returning to my apartment. If my mom was half as serious as she’d sounded, then I was dead the instant I walked through the door.
“Relax, Arielle,” Griffin said with an eye roll as I drummed my fingers absently on his leg. He took my hand in both of his, forming a cage around it. We had dropped Cordelia off at the mansion and were now in a cab on the way to Brooklyn. “How bad can it really be?”
I glared at him. “Let me put it this way: they’re the prosecutors, and you’re guilty. They’ll stop at nothing to get you behind bars.”
Griffin turned my hand over in his. “I highly doubt it’ll be that bad.”
As was expected, my mom and Mark were perched on the bar stools, ready to pounce on us when we entered the door. Mark didn’t really seem all that interested in the meeting, his eyes flickering lazily back and forth between Griffin and I. My mom, on the other hand, took everything in with one glance. She glared at Griffin first, and then her narrowed blue eyes settled on me. She seemed to be saying, ‘Invite him in. I dare you.’
My shaking hand gripped Griffin’s tighter.
“Mrs. Crayton, Mr. Crayton, pleasure to meet you.” Griffin dropped my hand and stepped through the doorway and into the kitchen. He shook both my parent’s hands in turn, and I watched the scene with growing anxiety. “Thank you so much for allowing me the pleasure of coming over.”
My mother smiled a polite smile- despite whatever thoughts were running through her head, she would not forget her manners. “The pleasure is all mine…”
“Griffin Barrett,” he replied quickly, bowing his head slightly. She nodded slowly.
An awkward silence had settled over us, which Mark soon broke by standing and saying, “Who’s hungry?”
My mom had actually cooked her Chicken-Broccoli Casserole, the one thing she’s ever made that was guaranteed to be successful.
Three bites into the meal, the interrogation began.
“So, where did you say you lived, Griffin?” My mom asked between bites.
Griffin held up a finger until he’d swallowed, dabbed his mouth with his napkin, and taken a breath. “I didn’t,” he said. “Fifth Avenue, near the Metropolitan Museum.”
She nodded, pausing only for a second before throwing the next question at him. “And you go to Billiards?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Junior class,” he answered just as quickly as she’d asked.
My mom’s eyes narrowed slightly. Watching the exchange was much similar to watching a tennis match. I could hardly turn my head fast enough to keep up. Griffin did manage to catch my eye for a split second, offering me a small crooked smile as he did.
And then it was back to the questions.
“So, then, you’re sixteen?”
“I’ll be seventeen in February.”
“Any plans for college?”
“I’m looking into a few different art schools right now.”
“How did you meet Arielle?”
“In English class.”
I was amazed at how easily Griffin breezed through the questioning, un-intimidated by my mom’s prosecutor ways. There was barely a pause between her question and his reply, as if he could predict what she would ask next.
I could tell when my mom was out of questions, but by the way she sucked in her next breath, I could also tell, that she’d saved her biggest bomb of all for last.
This time, Griffin was not prepared.
“Tell me about your parents.”
I gasped a little, but it was inaudible. I watched Griffin’s reaction intensely- pain flickered across his face, fire burned in his eyes- but he recovered quickly.
“They died,” He said in an almost-steady voice. “Last June.”
My mother was silent for a long while, staring at Griffin- no, staring through Griffin- at something only she could see.
Finally, her bar stool slid back across the linoleum floor. I let out a sigh of relief- I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding my breath. She looked at me purposefully.
“Arielle, a word please?”
We left the boys in the kitchen and went into the bathroom, the only place we could really talk one on one. I pulled myself up onto the counter, waiting for the verdict to be announced.
“Don’t think that you are in any less trouble about the California thing,” she prefaced. I nodded dumbly. “But he really seems like a nice boy.” I could hear the reluctance in her voice. She hated to admit she was wrong.
“You two really seem to connect,” she continued. “Almost like there’s some unnatural force pulling you two together, one you can’t fight.”
I realized my jaw had dropped a little, and I closed it quickly. Since when had my mom been so… insightful? It was kinda freaky.
“Just be smart, Arielle.” Oh great. Now she was going to make up for never giving me that sex talk. “You’re a good girl, and he seems to really care about you.”
She turned to go, but not before I could call her back. “Mom.”
She faced me once again; I slid off the counter and hugged her tightly. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Arielle.”
“So what has the jury decided?” Griffin asked as I took him by the hand and led him into my bedroom. Just to prove to my mom that she could trust us, I left the door open. “Am I innocent?”
I wrapped my slender arms around his neck. “Nope. Guilty as charged.”
Laughing lightly, Griffin kissed my pale lips gently. As always, I felt the world around me fade away, disappear until nothing remained but Griffin and I, immaculate and invincible. I stood up on my tiptoes and kissed him harder.
Griffin pulled away, and reality came crashing back down on me.
“Arielle, need I remind you that your parents are right outside?” he murmured into my hair. He was still cradling me to his chest, so my words came out muffled.
“She already approved you.”
Griffin stroked the side of my face gently. “Exactly. I don’t want her to change her mind after only one night.”
I knew that there was no point in arguing with Griffin, so I dropped the subject and let my arms fall to my side.
“So, now what?” I questioned, dropping down onto my bed.
Griffin sat down beside me.
“Now, we enjoy the moment.”
Ink fell from my quill like a drop of blood, pooling at the corner of the paper. I cursed under my breath, knowing full well it was worthless to try and save it.
It was barely even noticeable, for the picture itself dominated the page. Here I had portrayed my angel in full glory, her jet black wings extended and her ethereal glow shown in the form of an ink wash.
Another drop fell.
Stifling any remark, I turned around towards my doorway. Cordelia was there, of course, wearing a black skirt and pale green shirt.
“Yes?” I asked through gritted teeth. I was not in the mood for any of her mind games or lecture. I was not in the mood for much of anything, except perhaps to see Arielle.
“I am leaving for mass,” she replied softly. “I won’t be long.”
Turning away from her again I nodded slightly. “Alright. I’ll cook something up for you to eat when you get back.”
Cordelia said nothing in response. She seemed… off. But I was going to let it be. Like I said, no lectures.
When I thought the silence had grown too thick for comfort, I glanced back over my shoulder to the doorway, only to find it empty.
Tiny snow flakes were swirling around us as Griffin and I hurried toward the townhouse. My head was lowered and Griffin’s arms were wrapped tightly around me as we stepped through the puddles of slush splashed up onto the sidewalk from the passing cars.
Griffin pushed open the mahogany front door and ushered me into the foyer. Shivering slightly, I hung my coat on the row of hooks behind the door.
Griffin smirked at me as I ran my shaking fingers through my tangled hair. “Arielle, you looked fine before.”
I rolled my eyes as I took his hand. Griffin led me up the spiral staircase and into his room, shutting the door and pulling me towards his bed. I allowed him to lead me where he would, all the while wondering what exactly was on his mind.
Without delay, Griffin came and sat beside me. We looked at each other in comfortable silence before the inevitable happened. He kissed me. I kissed him. I loved the feel of his hair twined in my fingers. The softness of his lips against mine, until the world just faded and it was just Griffin and me alive and in love.
As the moments passed, his mouth grew more demanding, more insistent, and I trembled in his arms. This was a new side of Griffin. An out of control Griffin, he was usually so careful, so gentle and as his hands pulled me so close I didn’t know where he began and I left off.
I wanted to speak, to at least have some say in where I felt this whole thing was going. Just when I thought I couldn’t breathe anymore, Griffin tore himself from my arms leaving them bereft as he left me. He rose abruptly and crossed the room to sit at his desk. He was almost trembling as he lifted a piece of charcoal and began to draw absentmindedly.
“Griffin,” I whispered softly, although I wasn’t entirely sure he’d heard me at all. He continued to draw. “Griffin?” I repeated, this time it was a question.
Finally, he turned to me. His eyes were downcast, and in the shadows he looked especially forlorn. I knew that expression all too well.
“Griffin,” I said for a third time, helplessly. I so badly wanted to reach out to him, to hold him. But the chances of him coming within a mile of me for the rest of the night were slim to none.
He raised his gaze to meet my own, and underneath all the sorrow, the longing, the hate, I could see something else- hope. And that made me hopeful too.
“Thou shall not give into temptation,” he murmured. “That’s what Cordelia would always tell me when I was younger. Of course,” he added, and I watched as the sarcastic, amused look returned to his beautiful features, “there was never a girl involved before.”
I allowed myself a shaky, nervous laugh and to my surprise, Griffin laughed along with me.
“So I tempt you, do I?” I asked quietly.
Griffin let out a sigh. “Don’t flatter yourself, Arielle. But, yes, if you must know the truth, I do find you rather hard to resist most days.”
I felt a blush rising to my cheeks and I lay back down as Griffin returned to his paper. Closing my eyes, I replayed the moment over in my head, trying to make sense of it. Quickly giving up, I turned over and focused on Griffin at work.
He was, as always, totally and completely focused on his art, watching but not really watching as he dragged the charcoal across the blank cardstock.
I sighed a little, allowing the question on my mind to slip out.
“Griffin, are you alright?”
A low hiss escaping through his teeth, he set down his charcoal harshly and looked up at me. “Why wouldn’t I be?” he snarled.
I was taken aback by the rough tone he was using with me; Griffin had always been so gentle and soft with me, but suddenly everything about him seemed violent. And much as I hated to admit it, I was scared.
“You just seem upset.” The words came out in a mangled whisper; my fear and concern was evident in my tone.
Griffin had lifted his pencil once again and was twirling it distractedly. His face was expressionless and impossible to read. He adverted his gaze to the window, the curtains were drawn.
“Talk to me, Griffin,” I begged. I couldn’t stop the hot tears from stinging my eyes, threatening to pour over.
“We talk all the time, Arielle,” he said through clenched teeth. The words came out uneven and forced.
The tears gave way and then I was crying freely, tiny black droplets falling in miniature puddles on Griffin’s burgundy comforter.
Where had this turning point occurred? One second we’d been basking in each other’s happiness and love, and the next we were… here. And I did not want to be here.
I realized the double-meaning of my own thought, and I rose quickly from the bed. Griffin did not look at me as I left his room in silence.