Chapter 39

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December 2014

"My parents invited you to Caroline's birthday dinner."

"Your parents or your father?" I ask, frowning into the phone. Derrick laughs like he's been caught.

"Okay, my father. My mother is still less than pleased about us." I cradle the phone in my neck and lean back against my pillow. At least he has the decency to sound a little embarrassed by his mother.

"I thought you were leaving for Hawaii in the morning?" Suddenly I'm confused as to when this dinner is supposed to take place.

"Not tonight, sometime after the holidays," he laughs warmly.

"Does Caroline know about this?" I can tell by his slight pause that she doesn't. "Derrick..."

"Listen I'll deal with Caroline, just tell me that you'll come." I can't help but smile despite having promised myself never to dine with his parents again. It's just things have been so much better lately. Thanks to our brilliant acting, the rumors have stopped and so has most of the fighting. He's been a little bit happier-- no, relieved, I think.

"Derrick I don't think that's such a good idea. I mean they know I'm your girlfriend already. There's no need to hang out with them."

"Ellie they know you're my girlfriend, but here's an opportunity to show them that you are. Please? Do it for me." He's impossible.

"Fine, I'll go, as long as it's alright with Caroline." I know that I have no reason to fear the Allston's, at least not yet. Plus, we'll be in a group setting so all I'm really in for is an attack on my character by Allison, and an insult on my dignity by Theo.

"You're the best Ellie. Merry Christmas. I'll bring you back a coconut bikini."

"Merry Christmas Derrick and a shell from the beach will be just fine."

"I know, I know, the same order as always. See you at the end of the month." I laugh as I hang up the phone.

"You want a shell?" Jared asks curiously from where he's laying on my bed. I look over at him and smile, climbing up onto my knees next to him.

"It's this stupid thing we've been doing since we were kids," I explain, probably more excitedly than I should. "Every time Caroline and Derrick go away they compete to get me the best present that represents the place they're visiting."

"So a shell?" Leaning over the edge of my bed, I pull a box out from underneath. I open the box as Jared leans onto his side to examine its contents.

""They've been to Maui a lot. I have a pooka necklace, a lei, a miniature hula dancer who shakes her hips when you shake her, a shot glass, even a pearl;" I frown, holding it up for him to inspect. "But no shell." Jared smiles at me.

"Why do you want all this stuff?" He asks picking up a baggy of sand from the Egyptian pyramids and a rock from the floor of the Parthenon. Feeling suddenly protective of my stuff, I swipe the baggie out of his hand and shove it back into the box.

"I don't know," I shrug, "I just do." He leans his head into me, smiling.

"Ellie..." I laugh, trying to cover my embarrassment over how juvenile the whole thing really is.

"It's just this is the closest I'll ever get to some of these places," I explain lamely, turning a deep shade of red. Jared doesn't laugh at me. Instead he takes me in his arms and lays me down next to him.

"You're only seventeen Ellie and you weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth like everybody else around here. I don't have any doubt that you'll have your chance to see the world. I just hope I get to see it with you." He kisses me on the top of my head. I'm glad he can't see my face and the single tear that I'm unable to hold back.

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