He was having the time of his life and Ally was continuing to surprise him. Beer pong … and she was a Champ at one point? He would have never guessed that. But he had to admit, he was also impressed. Many of the girls he knew wouldn’t put themselves out there and try, even if they thought the game looked fun. That was another thing that surprised him about her, how could she be so shy … but yet so confident at the same time? She was truly a mystery, a puzzle he wanted the satisfaction of putting together, piece by tantalizing, piece. But focusing on the present, there was no way she was going to win this.
She was better than he thought she’d be. Scoring two cups in a row, and yes, he was starting to feel the buzz, but he knew for a fact that he was better than her … and that he couldn’t wait to see her face after he won.
He smiled thinking of what she would look like, she was so unpredictable, he didn’t know if she’d be angry or nonchalant about it. Would her confidence die down again once the game was over … he sure hoped not. He was trying his best to keep things light with her, kidding with her … flirting with her, which he couldn’t help, so she wouldn’t build up that wall again. It seemed to be working.
“Do you really think you can win this, Ally?” He questioned, fingering the ping pong balls in the bowl sitting beside him. She smiled at him, eyes shining and he had to catch his breath. How was he supposed to stay control in control of himself when she could so easily unbalance him? She could simply look at him and he had to fight to stay standing. What had he become in such a short time after meeting her …
“We’ve already gone through this. I know I’m going to win, so don’t you worry about me.”
“Oh I’m not worried, just feeling a little sorry for you, if you really believe what you just said, that’s all.” He shrugged and he let his eyes smolder her again, she blinked, startled and he was back laughing silently to himself. She was playing along well, but he could tell that he was getting to her … and he loved it. It seemed he could put her off balance as well.
“Well you shouldn’t be,” she said in a quieter tone and gave him a look that made him feel as if she was reprimanding him for startling her, and he laughed. “Just take your turn.” She said, arms still crossed. He smiled again and then turned his attention back to the table in front of him.
He plucked out one of the various balls in the bowl and looking at her the whole time, lobbed the thing. It landed in the cup and he buffered her slight glare with a grin. Selecting another ball, he did the same thing, but this time he made sure the ball landed in the same cup as the other ball had.
“Woah!” Drew called over the loud speaker, amongst the cheers that had erupted at the shot he made. “Looks like he's pulled one on you Ally. That shot made his turn worth three drinks on your part.” Jared looked back at Ally, eyebrows raised, but she was grinning.
“You’re good.” She said, reaching for a cup and pulling out the two balls inside.
“So I’ve been told. Regretting the taunts now, luv?” He asked, running a hand through his hair and grinning back. She drank the beer, tossing the cup and reached for the next one, and he guessed she was trying to only remove the easy shots. Smart girl.
“Not at all, just makes this a bit more interesting. I thought you were just all bark and no bite for a minute there.” She said, downing the cup in her hand, tossing it.
Like elementary schoolers, after she said that, many people in the room threw out a loud and extended, “Ohhhhh!” Making him roll his eyes. Whose side were they on anyway?
“Wasn’t there a certain brunette who, not too long ago, told me not to think so much?” He tossed back at her, still grinning, enjoying the banter. The Ohhs started up again, but this time they were in his favor, so he held nothing against them for it of course.
She smiled back, shaking her head and drug down her last cup, throwing it away. She blinked a few times afterward, but her smile was back quickly. She must of have had quite a buzz at that point. Poor Ally … his grin spread. He looked at the table again, he had four cups and she had three. There was a way for her to win this, easily. He had no doubt she was going to make an attempt.
She pulled out two balls again; one in her left, another in her right like before, and positioned herself for the shot. He couldn’t deny any longer that he was looking at the hottest girl he’d ever seen or ever would see, and he couldn’t help himself from admiring her ... again. She looked so focused aiming that ball and so … kissable. Was he being stupid, yes. But a guy could dream, right?
Ally threw the ball; it bounced on the table, arced back up in the air and landed in the cup closest to the front. She didn’t cheer or even smile, like the watching crowd who was pressing closer, did. That shot was worth two cups, one more like that … and Jared might be eating his words.
He noticed her deep breath and then she released the ball. It flew from her fingers, bounced, arced, and almost like the moment was in slow motion, headed straight for another cup. But it didn’t go straight in, the ball teetered on the edge of the cup, and it felt like everyone in the room was holding their breath. Finally the ball … went in. The crowd roared. Sam ran over first, picked up a protesting Ally and set her on his broad shoulder.
Everyone in the room clustered around them. Andrew nudged his way through the crowd a crown in his hand that Jared swore was from Burger King, and hopped up high to place it, haphazardly, on Ally’s head. She laughed, the crown falling into her face as she repositioned it on her head.
Jared just sat back and watched the spectacle. Derek made his way over and Sam let Ally down who landed in Derek’s arms. He whispered something to her, smiling and she threw her head back laughing hard. Jared couldn’t help but wonder at their relationship. On Ally’s end, yes, there was a love in her eyes, but it seemed to be in friendship, pure and unadulterated. A love induced from an old friendship.
On Derek’s end … the same couldn’t be said. The way he looked at her, while they paraded around the room, was concealing something greater, but Jared could see underneath, and it wasn’t something that screamed, “I just want to be friends.” Wow, I wonder if she knows. Then it hit him, that must have been what Derek had wanted to talk about earlier.
He didn’t know what Derek would think about him and Ally. But actually ... there was no “him and Ally”, so there was no problem … right? Jared noticed Ally say something to Derek, who nodded and set her down gently, she wobbled a bit, but he didn’t think it was from her shoes at that point. She smiled at him a last time, and then found Jared with her eyes. She made her way toward him, stopping for random high fives, or congratulations.
When she reached him, she stood close and said, “It’s loud down here, and it’s not helping the ringing in my head at all. Why don’t we find that quieter place, and have that talk now?” She smiled at him and because of that, he knew that was exactly what she meant.
Another girl, he could imagine would get the both of them to that “quieter place” and have at him. But he could tell there was no hidden meaning behind her words. No lust in her eyes, which was always a promise of much dirtier things to come, and he smiled. She hadn’t surprised him on that note, she was pure through and through.
He nodded, “Lead the way,” then thought better of it, she did seem a little unsteady. “If you can.”
“Yeah I’m good.” But she linked her arm with his anyway, and he swore sparks flew off of him. She tugged him gently along, and they headed for the stairs.
What felt like four flights of stairs later, they emerged onto a balcony, at what had to be the very top of the house, and wrapped the whole way around the upper most level. The space was huge, giving them more than enough room. Potted plants adorned the place, along with lanterns that were strung up around them, swaying in the slight breeze, resembling fireflies, making it seem more like a lit, and floating garden.
“We used to come up here all the time.” Ally said wistfully, removing her crown, setting it down somewhere, and pulling away from him to grasp the railing a few feet in front of them. She smiled back at him, her features softened by the glow of the lanterns, hanging around them. “It’s funny, I never realized that I missed it until now.” Jared joined her at the railing, resting his arms on it. They stood close, but neither of them moved.
“Funny how that works, isn’t it?” He said softly, listening to the sounds of the night. “How you only miss things when they're gone, and whatever that is could be something so normal. Something that you’re so used to, that you don’t realize is there … you don’t appreciate it … until it just isn’t there anymore.”
“Yeah,” She said as quietly as he had, “I’ve felt a lot of that, lately.” He looked over at her, and his heart actually ached at her expression. She looked so forlorn, as if something had been taken away from her, as if she’d been through hell and back. An expression like that should not be on someone with so much potential, so much of life left to live. How did she hide this side from anyone, he had to wonder. How many sides did she have ...
He’d never suspected anything … until that moment. He wanted to help her, get into her head, take some of that burden weighing her down and carry it on his own shoulders. But would she let him in if he asked? As if sensing what he was about to ask she opened her mouth first.
“So, you and Greenville High? I’d love to hear about that, did you transfer here from somewhere?” She asked, still staring off into the darkness. He sighed, this wasn’t the track he wanted to be on, but maybe it was too soon, he could wait … he would wait … for her.
“Uh, yeah.” He said, scratching his head, trying to think of what to tell her, “Well, I used to live in Marlow, England … and –,”
She cut him off before he could finish the sentence, “Wait you lived in, Marlow, England? Isn’t that where a bunch of millionaires live?” He had been hoping she wouldn’t know that.
“Yeah, how do you know that?” He asked.
“Social Studies, in like, fourth grade, but never mind that, you were saying something.”
He smiled, “Yeah, well I was born and raised there by Mum and Dad, lived there all of my life, until …” He paused, he’d almost slipped there.
“Until … what?” She prompted, looking over at him curiously.
“Until, we moved here, last year.” He covered, “Greenville High was great, is great. Last year, my friends … our friends, really just accepted me and it helped with all the transitions I was going through then. Now I’m pretty settled, what about you? Tell me about yourself.” Somehow in the time that they’d been talking, they’d come to stand even closer to each other, arms touching, the loose strands of Ally’s hair brushing his face. The minute he realized this, he locked up. Afraid she was going to move when she noticed, but when she looked down at their touching arms … she smiled.
“Well, I’ve lived here all of my life. I’ve known all of … our friends, since I was a baby,” She paused laughing a bit, “Maybe even before that. But anyway, we were in each other’s cribs. My parents … my parents they were family friends of all of theirs, going almost as far back as we do. My dad … well, he’s a CEO of some major company somewhere in California, but he’s refrained from moving us all there, but you can imagine how often he’s home.
“My mother’s always on a vacation somewhere. Italy, the Caribbean, Prague, those kind of places. She’s in Paris right now I think …” She cut off abruptly, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to jabber your ear off.” She said, looking away again.
He’d set his chin in a palm and had just been standing there, listening to her talk, enjoying the lilt of her voice, and watching her as she shared a part of herself with him. He didn’t want her stop. He told her as much and she looked over at him startled.
“Really?” She asked, surprised. “I was rambling there.”
“And I was enjoying it while you were, don’t stop now.” He said, motioning her with a hand to continue.
“Okay, well … I have the house to myself most times, except for the cooks, that come rarely and ... Meredith.” She paused, looking happier mentioning this person than her own parents. “She’s the housekeeper, but she's more than that, you know? She's been there since the beginning. I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t. She doesn’t live at my house, but she checks in every other day. She leaves meals and money, sent in from my parents I guess. They trust her with everything … even their daughter …”
She stopped again, and he could see in the dim light, her eyes clouding. He wanted to do something, to comfort her, but he didn’t know what.
But she continued without him having to say anything, “But umm … yeah, I wasn’t Greenville High last year because … I went to a different school, but I came back for my senior year. I wanted to be here, with my friends, with the people I love and know love me too ...” She paused again. “I guess we just missed each other, huh?” He had noticed the little places where she stopped, when her voice drifted off and her eyes became distant, and though they were the places and things that most interested him and made him want to know more, he knew not to ask.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess. What do you like to do with your free time?” He asked trying to lighten the mood again.
“Oh,” She smiled and he was relieved to see it. “Well, I was sort of forced into piano lessons as a kid, I hated it then… but then something changed I guess, because I started to love it. Something about it … I don’t know really, but it’s like an escape.”
“Really?” He said, turning himself to face her fully. Looking at her seriously, “I tried piano at one point when I was younger, and the music teacher quit. She said when it came to music and I quote, “I was as tone deaf as a door knob.” Ally bit her lip, obviously holding in laughter and looked at him as if she were expecting to call, what he had just said, back as a joke. But when he didn’t she couldn’t hold it in any longer apparently, because she started cracking up. She looked liked she was trying to stop, and even wheezed out a thin, “Sorry …” But she couldn’t contain herself. She was holding her stomach from laughing so hard and looked like she was in some kind of pain.
Jared laughed with her, holding nothing against her for finding his experience funny. That had been his intention. He had wanted to hear her laugh again. When she finally stopped, she stood in front of him, breathing hard.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to – ,” She started but he cut her off.
“Don’t worry about it, anything else you like to do?” He asked her.
She was still smirking, when she said, “I like to run.”
That was when the sky cracked open and the rain soaked them to the bone.