It's been a year or two... Anybody still out there?
I tried to go to my room afterward but Melanie didn't let me off the hook that easily. She had followed me to my room and forced me to talk for a little more than an hour, or three. After telling her the details (not including Hayden or Scarlet) of the day, more than once, she finally believed that I was exhausted. She left me after saying a goodnight, her giggling voice muffled by the bedroom door. She seemed to have enjoyed those hours more than I did. This was a surprise to me. I expected her to be terrified of the possibility of there ever being a me and Troy. Melanie made me want to talk about Troy until I could no longer breathe, but I refused to do that. I couldn't get too excited yet.
This could still go terribly wrong.
Just as I was slipping into bed, there was a light knock on my bedroom door, making me jump from the interrupted silence. The knock was so light that I waited and made sure it was for me. After a couple of more knocks, I quietly stepped to my door. But before I opened it, I couldn't help the thoughts overwhelming my mind.
'He's canceled the engagement.'
'I can kiss him now.'
'How did his father take it?'
'Are we going to be kicked out? Is Richard angry?'
'What if it's not him...?'
'If it is, can I kiss him now? Please let it be a yes.'
I opened the door. Troy stood there, in his T-shirt and sweatpants, a relieving difference. With clothes like that he looked pretty normal. He didn't seem so intimidating; it didn't look like he had millions of dollars in his disposal.
"Hey," he said nervously as he ran his fingers through the back of his gel free hair.
"Hi," I murmured back, glancing down the halls, instinctively keeping watch.
"Um," he said, noticing my glances. He let out a breath of exasperation before he stepped into my room. He closed the door behind him without an explanation. I was forced to step back with surprise.
"What are you doing?" I asked him in alarm.
For some reason, being alone in a room with him was so much different than it had been the night before - before the kiss. Now, my heart pounding was painful and my breath was catching in my throat.
The room seemed to be getting uncomfortably warm.
"I can't sleep," he admitted.
I stared at him for a moment as I processed the disappointment I received with his answer. My reply was unintentionally snappish.
"How is that my problem?"
He chuckled lightly, but he immediately stopped when he realized my tone. Troy went on with his explanation. "Your head, it still hasn't healed."
"I'm fine," I insisted.
Troy was not at all offended by my evasion. In fact, I think he expected that of me. He straightened himself up to make a point with his next words. "I'm staying here tonight."
My eyes widened, my skin tingling at the thought. But even though my body was jumping with the idea of having some personal time alone with Troy, my mind was quick to disagree.
"You must be joking."
"I'm just keeping watch," he assured. He tried his best to hide his smirk from me, but he failed.
My mortification amused him.
"What if my parents find out?" I had a hard time getting out. "They'll get the wrong idea. I'll lose their trust forever."
"They won't find out," Troy said. He suddenly took my hand, silencing me completely. "It's not like we're going to be doing anything. I just - I'd like to make sure you wake up in the morning. Okay?"
When I don't answer, he tugged at my hand and pulled me close to him, his arms embracing me like I was a treasure he never wanted to let go of. The side of Troy I was introduced to that day was only baffling me.
"Okay?" He asked again.
We really shouldn't. It was different now. The fact that he wasn't asking me what the difference was from last night and this night proved that he knew this too.
"Fine," I murmured into his shoulder, returning his hug with eagerness.
And we stayed there for a long time. I was so comfortable that I could feel myself falling asleep, something that forced him to tighten his hold on me just so he could keep me upright.
"I would love to sleep like this, Autumn, but I doubt gravity would let us," Troy eventually said, pulling himself away. It took me a moment after he backed away to realize how stupidly I had fallen for his spell, but it was too successful for me to care. His fingers brushed away a few lazy strands of hair from my face.
"Go to bed," he said. "If you need me, I'll be on the couch."
Troy let me go and went where he said he would go. Not once did he come near the bed that night, and not once did I ask him to. Although I wouldn't have minded him embracing me in my sleep, I slept well just knowing he was in the room.
Melanie woke me up that morning. I had quickly sat up in search for Troy, but he was already gone. This was a relief, but I couldn't help be feel a little disappointed that I had missed him.
"What is it?" I asked Melanie when I noticed her anxious state.
"There is a party tonight - a big one," she said hesitantly.
"What's the occasion?"
"Troy's engagement," she proceeded carefully.
I felt myself grow pale, my insides growing cold.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"I hear he is out of town with his father. I don't know why." A pause. "I'm so sorry Autumn." Melanie reached for me and gave me a tight hug.
It wasn't over yet. Whether Troy knew of this party or not, I don't know. I guess I won't know until he explains it to me. All I could do at that moment was wait.
Our mother suddenly walked in without knocking - she knew she never had to. I was just glad that she hadn't done that a few hours earlier, when Troy was here.
"There will be no breakfast with the Rhys today," my mom said. "Everyone will be getting ready for the party. I had asked them to bring us up some food as we do the same. Both of you go shower, and be sure to be extra clean."
While her words sounded commanding, her voice seemed worried to me. She hadn't had a chance to go to a party yet. There would be lots of people of every age and of higher class. I could understand why she wouldn't want anyone to see us as the inferiority of the group.
Melanie quickly rushed out of my room to listen to our mother, but before I could escape as well, my mother softly gripped my wrist.
"You look sick this morning," she said delicately. "You don't have to go, you know?"
Could she know everything? Did it take only one moment of seeing Troy and I together to convince her that I was in love and incapable of joining a party that should have been cancelled?
Should I not go?
But I already knew what I would decide. A ridiculous part of me still wanted to give Troy a chance. I wanted to see him; I wanted an explanation. The soonest way I would get one was by going to the party. Plus, avoiding the party would bring forth suspicions that we didn't need.
"I'm fine," I said as calmly as I could.
My mom watched me for a moment as I tried, with difficulty, to keep my face composed. I couldn't help my paleness or the tears that threatened my eyes, but I kept my chin high and pretended to have no notice of them.
"Are you sure?" She asked me, her hand squeezing my shoulder in an attempt to comfort me.
"Yes," I cracked.
"Okay," she said. "Go on then."
My mom let me go and I rushed into the bathroom. I wouldn't let myself cry or break until after Troy told me the news himself.
The party began at six. My mom took us out into the city. There, we bought a new gown, big ones that reminded me of the movie Cinderella. I had tried to convince her that we had enough dresses at home, but she insisted they weren't formal enough. I was worried we would spend all our money before my father had a chance to get more.
My mother only said that I had nothing to worry about.
We then went on a search to find special people to do our makeup, hair, and nails. I won't lie, it was an interesting adventure, and if it weren't for Troy in my thoughts, I would have quite enjoyed it. But I was getting ready for his engagement party after all... the man that I suddenly wanted to spend every minute of every day with.
We were some of the few who arrived early to the party. Troy wasn't there. Richard and his wife were though. To my surprise, Scarlet was also there with Violet. When they noticed me, I got two disgusting looks, whispers, and an eerie smile from Violet. They knew everything.
They wanted to see me crushed.
Melanie grabbed my arm and helped me keep walking. My legs were shaking.
Richard introduced us to the dozen other people there, leaving out my family's background as well as he could. He introduced my father as his "new co-worker" and "old friend." Nobody asked us where we came from. They didn't seem to care. But they weren't all dreadful, that I will admit. We had a few kind people here and there who at least tried to make conversation. Their smiles were genuine and their touch gentle.
"Where is Troy?" Richard would occasionally mutter to his wife. "He's late."
When Grace arrived, her grand entrance gaining a clap from her audience, Richard greeted her as if she were the queen of England. Behind her, her tall father followed, who gained twice as much of attention as his daughter. I was sitting on one of the chairs at the end of the room, watching this unfold.
Melanie had found Carter and they were currently dancing. It was a slow dance. His hands carefully set on her waist; her arms wrapping around his neck. She was having fun. He looked at her as if she were the moon and he was seeing it for the first time. It was hard not to get lost in their magic as I watched them.
I kept my eye on her, mostly worried that Scarlet might be up to something. Hayden had warned me about her and that warning was slowly terrifying me. Why would he do that? Why would he warn me about the girl he once very much cared for?
Then I saw him, and all my worry vanished. The world around me vanished and all I wanted to do was run to him. I wanted him to tell me that it would be okay, that I have been worrying for no reason.
I got to me feet when Troy caught my gaze. His hard features softened when he saw me and I watched as he tried to get to me unnoticed by his family. But then a man he passed by recognized him and stepped in front of him. My hope was shattered when this man called out to Richard, who immediately rushed over to his son and called out to Grace. The soon to be wed were suddenly standing side by side as someone handed Richard a microphone. The music stopped and he spoke.
"As many of you know, this celebration is to congratulate my boy, Troy, and the love of his life, Grace, on their engagement." A cheer was then heard as my heart sunk to the ground. Troy caught my gaze and I had to look away from the scene. "The wedding date is still uncertain, but it seems that they are eager. They will be married by the end of the year. Check your mailboxes for your invitations!" Again, the crowd cheered, and the people near Troy and Grace hugged them and shook their hands. "And now, Grace and Troy will like to say a few words."
I watched as Richard motioned the microphones over to Troy, who tried to kindly refuse it. But his father would not take his rejection and whispered a few words in his son's ear - it was probably a warning. Grace took the microphone before Richard could finish.
"We just want to thank you, with the bottom of our heart, for coming today, and we hope you enjoy your night!" Grace turned off the microphone and ended the speeches by taking Troy's shoulder and kissing his cheek.
My heart was suddenly bleeding and I found it difficult to breathe. It was all a lie. Troy was looking for me so that he could personally tell me that it was a joke. He didn't really care for me as I thought he did. He didn't want to seek a new life of freedom and kindness. He was going to stay exactly where he was and probably be more successful because of it.
I ran out of the room.
The sound of my heels echoed in the empty corridor. The tears were there, ready to come out, but I tried to keep them in until I made it to my room. There, I could lock myself up and hide away from everybody. I couldn't be interrupted or reminded of what happened. I wouldn't be the pathetic girl who actually believed she had a shot with a handsome, wealthy stranger.
I suddenly felt a hand grip my wrist and yank me back, wrapping me in a tense embrace. "Please," Troy murmured in my hair, "Let me explain."
I tried to desperately pull away, my skin jumping at his touch as if he were some huge bug. But all I managed to do was back up enough to see his face, which I refused to do by shutting my eyes. I couldn't see his face - the face that disappointed me and hurt me in a way I never wanted to be hurt. His hand was holding tightly onto my wrist, his other arm gripping my waist. It almost hurt, but this made being angry at him much easier.
"You stopped having the right to explain the day you got engaged to Grace." My words choked on me, a large shadowy hand wrapping its claws around my heart and lungs. For some reason, I found it extra hard to breathe.
Troy sucked in a quick breath but he did not let me go. In fact, he only pulled me closer to him, as far as my struggle allowed him to. "You don't understand," he whispered.
"I don't care anymore Troy! It's over. I'm done trying to listen to your flatteries! Your lies! God," I let out a shaky breath and so weakly added, "You lied to me." It was hard to keep my tears in, but I refused to begin sobbing in front of Troy. I wouldn't give him that advantage. I wouldn't let him know how much I actually fell for him.
"I don't want to marry her."
"It doesn't matter! After what I saw today, it seems like you're going to go through with it. Whether you want to marry her or not, you are going to. You're ridiculous enough to choose what is most convenient for your life."
I managed to pull away my wrist, but Troy only wrapped his other arm around my waist, trapping my hands in between our chests. I squirmed for several seconds before finally giving up and resting my forehead on his shoulder, trembling as I still did my best to hold in my tears.
It hurt so much. Why did it feel like my heart was actually dying?
"I wanted to call it off," he said quietly, "I tried. I am still trying. Please believe me, Autumn. I really am." His voice faltered and it sounded like he was dying too. This didn't make me feel any better and I finally let out my first dramatic sob.
His hold on me was tighter than ever. I could almost feel him trembling with me, but I later decided it was my imagination.
"Her father is the one who made my father who he is. If I don't marry her, he threatened to take everything he could away from us. Which, wouldn't make us poor, but it would make us live lives we never had to live before."
I sobbed again, all hope lost within several minutes.
"I'm trying to find a way out of this," he tried to persuade me to believe. "I really am."
"Please let me go," I begged. I tried to pull away, but he only let me go so far again. He wanted to see my face, but I still refused to see his. My eyes didn't open.
"Are you never going to look at me again?" He asked me brokenly.
"I can't look at you, Troy," I said, failing to keep my composure. "I won't let this be my last memory of your face."
"Is this the last time you will ever see me?" His voice was only getting quieter and weaker.
"If I can help it."
"I will come look for you," he said. "I'm not giving up on us yet."
"Then I will hide, because I have."
"Don't be stupid, Autumn." He hugged me again, my insides aching. "Please," he begged. "I can't live a life where you don't exist."
"I can't live a life where I'm forced to be in the sidelines," I forced. "I would never ask you to leave this life for me, but please don't ask me to settle my life for yours." Because at that moment, if he asked me to meet him as a married man, I probably would have said yes.
Right before I could take a step, I heard Grace's voice echo in the corridor, right before she reached the top of the stairs. A wide smile brightened her face, all until she turned to us. It seemed like a melancholy cloud suddenly shaded her face, her smile suddenly coming out forced. The fact that she was trying to seem okay made something inside me break. This time, Troy didn't object when I stepped away, but his hand remained secure on one of my wrists.
"Is everything okay?" She asked us, reluctantly stepping over.
"Yes, of course," I said quickly, hoping she wouldn't notice my faltering voice. "I just don't feel very well. Please, excuse me."
"Autumn," Troy pleaded quietly, his hand not willing to let me go.
"I'm tired," I said, wiping the tears from my face. "Please let me go."
It took him a while, minutes, before he finally complied. Without glancing back at Troy, I rushed down the corridor with long and quick steps.
When I made it to my room, it took some effort to turn the knob. I stumbled inside, locked the door, and just stood there for a moment, staring at the plain darkness. But I did not turn on any lights. Instead, I stepped forward blindly, tripping on my own feet a few times, until I crash into my bed. I fall onto it, set a pillow under my head, and finally allow myself to cry.