Chapter 15

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November 2014

"Do you want me to take you home or to Caroline's?" Jared asks when we finally come up for air.

"That depends..." I look him over again not believing how I can still want more of him; how it never seems to be enough. "Do you have to go home?" I suggestively run my hands up over his chest and down through his hair. He grins and pulls me closer, deeply kissing me once more.

"You're gonna be the death of me Ellie Blackwell," he groans. I slide off him and slip back over to my side of the car growing cold at the thought, knowing that I just might be.

"I do have to get home though. I'm sure my Dad's got an earful for me." I sigh heavily. Our time together is up.

"I'll go to Caroline's." Whipping out my phone, I quickly text her before noticing Jared staring at me. "What?"

"Are you going to see Derrick?" I smile at his misplaced jealousy.

"It is his house too Jared." He looks at me out of the corner of his eye as he starts the engine.

"You know what I mean Ellie. Are you going to tell him?" I shrug.

"I'm not sure." He frowns at the uncertainty of my answer.

"You know I feel bad about this don't you? I can't imagine how it's been for him. I just don't think this is the answer to his problems." He keeps his eyes on the road so I can't see his face. He's right though; he's always right. This lie is like using a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. It doesn't stop anything from bleeding out. It never has.

"Jared you don't have to feel bad for not wanting me to pretend to date Derrick! It is ridiculous, but I owed it to him to ask. You get that, right?"

"Yeah, I just wish there was another way we could help him." I reach over and kiss him on the cheek.

"I know you do."

Awhile later I've said goodbye to Jared and the maid lets me into the Allston's house. Caroline isn't home yet but she tells me that Derrick is. I might as well get this over with. I drag myself up the stairs and knock on his door.

"Go away!" he shouts gruffly through the walls. I take a slight step back before regaining my courage. He'll want to see me.

I knock on the door again and when he doesn't answer I open it. The shades are drawn making it feel much later than it actually is and there is a low haze of smoke hanging in the air with the strong aroma of pot clinging to it. Derrick is sprawled out on his bed wearing only pajama bottoms. It's been a long time since I've seen Derrick in his pajamas. I look away as he scrambles to his feet.

"Ellie! Shit. Sorry, I didn't know it was you," he explains as he shuts the door. His eyes are red-rimmed and surrounded by the still fresh bruises. It hurts to see him like this. I gently touch his face. "It looks worse than it is." He lets out an empty laugh and pulls away from my hand. I know he's lying; I've said those same words before. Derrick takes one look at my expression before figuring out why I'm here. "So the new boyfriend said no." His shoulders slump as he plops down on the bed and grabs an open bottle of clear liquor from the floor. My eyes go wide as he takes a deliberate swig of it right in front of me. I shake my head as he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and laughs coldly. "Don't act so shocked Ellie. I'm dealing with shit."

"Like this?" I ask, cocking my head towards the bottle.

"You're not my girlfriend." He points at me. "You don't get a say." I realize just how drunk he is.

"Very funny Derrick. Come on; you've put me in a bad spot. I'm either a crappy friend to you or a crappy girlfriend to Jared. How is that fair?"

"You just met him Ellie." I can hear the faint pleading in his voice and close my eyes, afraid that looking at him will make me chicken out and change my mind.

"Don't make me choose." I peek up at him and am stunned to see that he's smiling back at me; it's unnerving.

"You've already chosen Ellie. Don't worry, I understand. I'll figure something else out." He stands up with the bottle still in his hand and walks me over to the door, letting me know my involvement in this is over. I remember the last time I said no and his reaction then. His maniacal behavior isn't easing my concerns any. We both jump apart when the door swings and we see his father, Theo Allston, standing on the other side.

"Oh. You have company," he says, unable to contain his surprise. He looks me over more than once before recognizing me, and then smiles appreciatively. "Eleanor, this is a surprise."

I see straight through him. He's not only been Derrick's tormentor all these years but mine too, and now to find out he's been hitting him again, it's too much. I imagine his shock at finding the son he's always deemed unworthy, here, half-naked with a girl in his bedroom. I haven't shocked him in a long time. I feel the desire to push him further now. I slide my arm around Derrick's bare waist and pull him closer to me.

"I'm sorry for bothering Derrick during his studies Mr. Allston. I know we shouldn't have been in his room alone." I force a demure blush for his benefit as Theo Allston's eyes grow in disbelief. To make my point more clearly, I stand up on my tip-toes and kiss Derrick right on the side of his mouth. "Call me later?" I ask in a breathy whisper as Derrick looks dumbfounded.

I brush past Mr. Allston with a rushed goodbye and charge down the stairs before the realization as to what I've just done hits me. It doesn't matter though, seeing Theo Allston's face was priceless. It might even be worth the added grief it's going to cause. As I wait for the bus, I text Caroline to let her know that I've gone home. She's taking too long anyway and I certainly don't want to wait around for her.

I board the bus and sit back in the plastic seat staring out the window. Derrick gave me a pass. He allowed me out of his web of lies and I went and got myself tangled right back up in there. I smack my forehead. How could I be so stupid? I remind myself to relax; it was just his father, not the whole school. Nothing happened that can't be undone.

When the bus pulls up at my stop, I notice Max's car parked in front of my apartment building. It's hard to miss with its shiny metallic paint job, standing out next to the broken down Fords and Chevys in my neighborhood. One thing Max isn't, and never has been, is understated. I guess it was wishful thinking to believe he really had decided to leave me alone. As I hop off the bus I spot him leaning against my front door before I even reach the pavement. He looks so out of place, like a model who stumbled off the runway and got lost here in the slums. Apprehensively I walk up the pathway, keeping my eyes on him the whole time. A hungry smile spreads across his face when he notices me but he doesn't move or say anything.

"What are you doing here?" I demand as I get closer, not wanting to deal with him today. He lifts up a cheap red umbrella and twirls it around his finger as he flips his hair out of his eyes.

"Your mother lent me this last night. I'm just returning it."

"You could have just left it at the door. You didn't have to stick around."

"I could have," he smiles, "but in a neighborhood like this..." He looks around us critically. "Besides I wouldn't get to ask you why you were dodging me at the country club today." Caroline was right, he had seen me. I fold my arms across my chest, feeling defensive.

"I didn't want to talk to you."

"Why?" His voice has gone cold again and lost all of its playfulness.

"Because of things like this," I point at him. "Showing up at my house uninvited, causing trouble; Max I'm with Jared."

"You seem to forget that I don't care." He raises an eyebrow at me. I throw my hands up in air. He's made my point for me.

"Exactly! That's why I avoid you Max." I unlock my front door and snatch the umbrella from his hand. "You make it too difficult to do anything else." I sigh deeply with exasperation and slam the door in his face.

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