The next morning, I woke up with little pain. I was a big mover when sleeping, so the countless times I managed to roll onto my back also caused me to wake up, a weak moan always joining in. I was too exhausted to remember that I wasn't alone in the room, and that I should keep my groans on a low.
It must have been at the brink of dawn when Troy carefully ushered me awake. All I could see, through my drowsy eyes and the dim light, was his messy hair, the messiest I've ever seen it. He helped me faintly sit up, ignoring my questioning murmurs.
"Drink this," he ordered.
I felt the cup on my lips, and a couple of distasteful pills landed on my tongue. Troy then served me some water for me to swallow it down. Once my ear fell back onto the pillow, I dozed off again. The pills were what allowed me to sleep like a baby for the next few hours.
I didn't wake until right before noon.
Once I mustered up the energy to sit up, I was surprised to see Troy still there, on my couch. He looked fresh, like he had washed up already, and dressed in new clothes. He seemed to be reading something. That is, until he noticed me.
"How are you feeling?" He asked me.
"I'm fine," I muttered, wiping away the drool from my cheek that I hoped he hadn't noticed it. "What are you still doing here?"
"I told you that I couldn't leave you alone. I'm making sure you don't stop breathing."
I sighed, both from disbelief and exasperation. I slipped off my bed, the headache not worsening as I expected, and made my way to the bathroom. Troy was up on his feet in an instant, and I shot him a look.
"What? Are you going to shower with me too?" I asked him.
I don't know why those words made the room grow warm, my heart resisting in my chest, but I kept my chin up with indignation.
Troy watched me for a moment, with only confusion spreading onto his features. "Of course not."
Without another word, I walked into my bathroom and locked the door.
I tried not to make my shower long, fearing that Troy might actually do the extreme and knock down the door if he thought I had passed out in the tub. When the water fell onto my head, it brought back the prickling pain. I could feel the bump as I carefully padded over it. I still had some leftover red paint behind my ears and in between my fingers, even if I had tried to wash it all off the night before; before Scarlet managed to stain me in another red liquid - blood. So I didn't really put much effort in cleaning myself up. I was out of the shower in less than ten minutes. I then covered myself in the white silk robe the bathroom provided.
There was a slight hesitation as I put my hand on the doorknob, but I ignored it. It wasn't like I was naked. The robe was long, reaching about a foot under my knees, and the sleeves were long too. Even my chest was covered enough for the winter time.
Troy was back on the couch again, holding an open book but staring at the frames settled on the coffee table. The pictures were of my parents, Melanie, and I, during the first weeks of our summer vacation, before the earthquake occurred and permanently changed our lives. My mother had put them there and it was my job to not put them away. I never liked the idea of family pictures hanging out in the open like that. Memories were personal; pictures held memories.
Troy's eyes nonchalantly swayed away before noticing me. He quickly swung his legs off the couch and accidentally dropped the book he was reading. He smiled apologetically and picked it back up to set it on the table.
I took this time to rush over to my dresser and take out some clothes for the day.
"How's your head?" Troy asked.
"You complained a lot about it in your sleep."
Once I had my clothes piled up in my arms, I shut my dresser and leaned against it, my eyes staring down. "I'm sorry if I kept you up." Because I must have annoyed him, or else he wouldn't have made the trip to get the pills that would help shut me up. "The medicine helped. Thanks."
"It was no problem."
Was it just me, or were my conversations with Troy feeling more awkward every time? I was beginning to feel it necessary to think thrice before answering him, and looking into his eyes proved to be more difficult.
"I'm going to go change now," I told him after a moment of silence.
"Okay," he replied.
I walked back into the bathroom to do just that - change. There wasn't much brushing I could do to my hair without pulling at the throb, so I did what I could to not leave my hair too messy. I added some sneakers to my outfit and I was done.
When I stepped out again, Troy was looking out my window, which gave a simple view of the fountain at front of his mansion.
"Ready?" I asked him.
He turned to me and nodded.
When we stepped out of the room, my first turn was toward Melanie's room, but Troy stopped me before I could lift my fist to knock.
"She went out with your mom," he said. "I told them you were feeling a bit sick today. They went into your room and tried to wake you up, but you only complained about your headache. They should be back in a couple of hours."
For some reason, I was disappointed by this; that they went out to have some mother/daughter time without me. On the other hand, I was also a bit relieved that I wouldn't have to come up with creative ways to keep Melanie busy and distracted.
"I don't remember that," I muttered.
"You were out once you drank the pills."
My eyes grew wide on my second thought. "They found out you stayed in my room?"
My mom wouldn't forgive me if she knew that. I would have to be expecting a full hour lecture on how I shouldn't try anything funny before marriage; how I couldn't trust any guy who refused to wait. If it were up to her, I'm sure she would have created human kind to not even kiss before saying the "I Do's".
"No," he assured. "I was on my way back from my room when I crashed into them. We're safe."
"You," he corrected with uncertainty, like he didn't understand why the word 'we' didn't suit with me. I didn't understand it either.
Just as we were walking down the stairs, a maid was making her up. Her eyes landed on Troy and she immediately rushed over to him, a slight panic in her face.
"Sir, Mr. Rhys has been searching for you all morning," she said to Troy. "He's been frantic. He says he'd like to see you and that it's urgent."
I looked at Troy questioningly, trying to read his expression to see if he knew what his father wanted to speak to him about. When the maid ushered us to follow her, Troy met my gaze with the same puzzlement and gave me a shrug.
"I should go," I muttered when I found myself up the stairs and walking through the corridor opposite the one that led to my room. I had never been through this side of the mansion before and I was beginning to feel out of place.
"No," Troy said, stopping along with me when I halted in my steps. "This shouldn't take long."
I hesitated for a moment, wondering why he wanted me to wait with him in the first place.
He seemed to read my mind when he continued with, "I wanted to take you out for breakfast."
"I'm capable of feeding myself," I insisted.
"I know you are," he said.
Troy kept his gaze fixed on my face as he waited for me to give him the answer he wanted to hear. Any other day I probably would have ignored his offer and just walk away, but for some reason, that day I couldn't say no to him.
"Fine," I said muttered.
We hurried our steps to catch up with the maid. The door we finally stopped in front of was near the end of the corridor, giving us a good ten minute walk. The maid knocked almost desperately at the door and I could hear the muffled voice coming from inside.
The maid popped in her head to say a few words before opening the door completely to let Troy step in.
I figured I would be staying outside, but when the maid said that Richard gave me permission to enter as well, I was surprised. I was hesitant as I walked inside behind Troy, the click of the closing door nearly making me jump.
"It's about time we find you," Richard said with a bit of frustration. He stands up from behind his marble desk and walks over to his son. "Where were you?"
"I was just taking a walk," Troy said. "I'm sorry to have worried you."
"Next time, try answering your phone, won't you?" Richard said before turning his attention to me. When his eyes landed on mine he smiled a greeting. "Good morning, Autumn. How have you been? I haven't had the chance to ask you that question directly."
"I'm good, thank you," I replied with as much kindness I could muster.
It wasn't that I hated Richard; it was just that he sort of changed my whole life, something I would have preferred not happening.
"I'm glad to hear it," he said.
"You wanted to talk to me?" Troy asked. Richard turned his gaze back to him.
"Yes, I did," he said. "I'm quite curious to know why you failed to mention your imminent engagement."
I swore that my mind had misunderstood that. I was sure that Richard was talking about a business engagement. What else could it be?
"Engagement?" Troy repeated with a hesitation that gave pressure to my chest. I couldn't understand why. Not yet.
"Yes, your engagement. Don't you think you should at least discuss your marriage plans with your father?"
I froze, and for a moment, I was sure the world was about to end. I was waiting for everything to crumble around us and for the world to swallow us up into an infinite darkness.
"But I suppose you knew I would agree with your choice," Richard went on. "Grace comes from a respectable family and I believe you two will-"
"Father, we haven't said anything because it was never a certainty," Troy said sharply, in a way that was still a respectable way to speak to your father.
"It is now." Richard smiled before turning back around to take a seat behind his desk again. "You can thank me later but, I've already ordered invitations for a celebration we'll be having for the engagement. They should be sent out tonight and we'll be having the celebration next weekend. You've kept this secret far too long already, son."
Richard's face became distorted from my blurry sight and I looked away. My chest felt frozen, which was almost a relief. It almost felt like the cold was numbing the strange agony I wanted to feel; the agony I shouldn't feel.
"Are you unwell, Autumn?" Richard asked. When he said my name, I was temporarily snapped out of my shocked trance.
"Actually, yes. Please excuse me," I said quickly and quietly, afraid that they'd catch on to my lie.
I rushed out of there without glancing once at Troy. I couldn't look at him. I was afraid to look at him. Doing that would only confirm my reason to react like I was. I didn't need a confirmation. I needed to stop the reaction from escalating, not encourage it.
I found myself running. All I wanted to do at that moment was go somewhere alone where I could settle my thoughts. I needed to convince myself that the recent news I received would not change me or my life, and that I would be okay.
Even if I knew I wouldn't be.
Why did I know that? Why can't I see Troy getting married with anybody else? Anyone else but... Me?
I tried deleting that last thought in my head as soon as it formed.
Hearing Troy's voice made me panic, and I found myself quickening my pace, acting as if I had not heard him.
"Slow down," he said. I could hear him getting closer, and even though I tried to lose him without looking too obvious, he eventually caught up to me.
I felt his hand grab my wrist and pull me back, his other hand gripping my waist. I stumbled into him, his arms the only thing keeping me on my feet for that short moment. I only managed one second glare at him right before I felt his lips crush mine.
The sensation came as a shock to me, freezing my limbs in place and erasing every single thought that had been running through my mind.
The soft lips on mine, moving with a hesitating desperation, made it hard to breathe. And for a moment, when I was deep into the daze, I allowed myself to kiss him back. Because for that moment, I felt like he finally understood everything I didn't want to feel but felt. It was like I could tell him almost anything and I was sure he would understand me.
But then I remembered something important - he was getting married.
This should have stopped me from kissing him as soon as I remembered the fact, but I found myself... taking my time. My hand tightened onto the top buttons of his shirt as I relished his lips for one second more, and then, I mentally cursed myself for my actions and shoved him away. My plan to dash off as soon as I let go was shattered when Troy's grip on my wrist maintained. So next, I did what I should have done a bit sooner: I snapped.
"You are sick," I said angrily, in a desperate yell I've never heard myself use. "You just announce your engagement to your father and you suddenly decide it's a good idea to kiss me? What kind of guy does that?"
Troy only looked at me, his narrowed soft eyes scanning my face in a way that was so slow that it made me nervous.
"What does she see in you anyway?" I proceed when he only stares. I have to do something or I will go mad under his gaze. "You don't even pay any attention to her. She deserves someone who will actually show affection for her in public."
He would just watch me, and I was trying, with so much difficulty, to hide my tears; to hide the fact that I didn't want to see him get married to anyone except, maybe, me. And I say "maybe" because I've only known Troy for so long and imagining me as his future bride would make me... silly. Stupid. Ludicrous.
I tried to twist out of his hold, and just as I feel like I'm about to succeed, he surprised me with yet another form of physical contact - he touched my face with his free hand.
When he placed his palm onto my cheek, his fingers carefully mixing into my hair, I felt myself flush. It was too quick for me to react immediately. There was something about being treated like a fragility that made my breath go still. His fingers traced my hair as he swallowed hard, his eyes nearing mine.
"You don't think I should marry, Grace?" He finally spoke.
"She deserves better," I snapped.
"Is that really why you think I shouldn't marry her?" He said.
No. I think you shouldn't marry her because, for some stupid reason, I would prefer it if you were mine.
"Yes," I said.
"So," he went on reluctantly, "you're saying that you're crying because you are worried about Grace, the girl you've only met a few times in the past weeks?"
I was surprised to hear him say that my tears have slipped, because I was so sure I had been successful in hiding them. I felt mortified by this revelation, which only led to my attempt to escape Troy again. But he didn't let me. His hand left my face and grabbed my other wrist just as I was pulling away.
"What are you doing?" I tried to snap at him, but again, I sounded almost desperate. "Let me go."
He scrutinized me for a few seconds before saying, "No."
I let out a breath of disbelief, unsure on what I should be feeling at that moment. Of course, I knew what I wanted to feel - fuzzy and warm. But given the circumstances, it was almost impossible to feel that good.
I closed my eyes to avoid looking into his.
"My head hurts," I managed to say. "Let me go." But his hold doesn't ease on my wrists, and I proceed with the lie, "you're also hurting me, Troy."
He hesitated after I said that, glancing at his hands to confirm my words. With a sigh, he reluctantly let my wrists free. I took my chance, twirled around, and began my quick pace again.
For some reason, I expected him to run after me, to stop me. I even find myself slowing down for a second, to allow him the chance to catch up to me again. He doesn't.
Just as I'm giving up on the wonderful possibility that he might actually care, my room already in sight, I feel the hand I was waiting for grab my hand.
"Let me explain," Troy said when I stopped walking, my back facing him.
"You shouldn't have to explain anything," I muttered. Which was true. Troy shouldn't have to explain his engagement plans to me at all. I had nothing to do with that part of his life.
"Maybe not, but for some strange reason I want to explain everything to you," he said with aggravation. "So will you let me?"
"No," I said.
"Why not? What do you have to lose?"
You, maybe? No, I've already lost you.
I tried to swallow down my tears and my grave disappointments of the recent news before forcing myself to turn to Troy. But once I met his confident gaze, I found myself breaking again, so I was quick with my words.
"I'm sorry," I said in almost a squeak. "I didn't mean to speak so rudely and bluntly. I'm sure you really do love Grace, just in a different kind of way I've never seen."
"I wish you two the best," I interrupted him.
"I don't love her," Troy said before I could resist his hold on my hand.
As he probably expected, his words surprised me. It took me a moment of hesitation before I managed a word.
"What?" I asked in a breath.
His grip on my hand tightened.
"I don't love Grace," he repeated a bit more quietly. "I need you to understand that."
I bit my lip, mostly because I had no other way of controlling this weird relief I was being overwhelmed with.
"Yes," he went on when I said nothing, I guess taking advantage of the fact that I was actually listening, "I agreed to marry Grace, but that was almost a year ago. We thought we'd be a good match for each other. Her parents like me, mine like her. They've encouraged our marriage before, and we thought, why not? I could tolerate Grace. She's nothing like Scarlet or Violet, and I respect that about her. We're also wealthy, and unfortunately, that was important to me in the past." He forced a shameful smile. "We made a plan to announce the engagement a year later, so I could enjoy my last months as a single man. I took advantage of the girls I could lure in with my money, never once worrying that they'd change my mindset on my engagement plans." A pause as he sucked in a breath. "I don't know who told my father about the engagement."
I could only stare at him, not trusting my voice.
"Okay?" He prompted. "I don't love her."
It took a while, but I eventually nodded. I was mortified by the way I had run out of the office, ashamed that I allowed Troy to see too much of my vulnerability.
Someone cleared their throat, causing me to step away from the sound in surprise.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, sir," the maid who had interrupted us said. She was the same one who had searched for Troy earlier, and I was immediately relieved that it was only her; that it wasn't my mom or anybody else I'd need to give an explanation to. Troy was still holding my hand. "Miss Grace is here to see you."
Everything inside me tense, and I immediately landed my gaze on Troy, my eyes wide. I had hoped I would be able to hide my reaction, but he saw everything. His eyes were still on my face.
"I'll be right there," he said gravely. "Please bring up some breakfast for Autumn."
"Yes sir," the maid replied.
When she was gone, he said, "I need to go talk to her. I don't know how long I'll be."
"It's fine," I said.
I wanted him to leave already. I wanted to go back to my room and act like nothing had happened. Maybe after that I would feel better.
"Dinner," he said hesitantly. "Will you go out with me? Just the two of us?"
Despite the fact that I was angry at him for getting engaged secretly, which was now an inevitable truth, and then getting un-engaged, basically all on the same day for me, I still nodded my head. My answer seemed to have relieved him. He gave my hand one last squeeze before letting me go and making his way back.
It wasn't until he was no longer in view that I realized he never really said if he was going to marry Grace or not. Two people don't have to love each other in order to get married, do they?
I'm trying to post faster! PS: you guys are still awesome.