A Spark of Hope

 

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Introductin

INTRODUCTION

It all started because of a stolen pen, a hotdog costume and cut brakes.

I was just a normal nineteen-year-old finding out how college life worked, procrastinating, eating way more than usual, living with my best friend. The usual. Until I accidentally got run over by a golf cart when dressed in a hotdog costume. Now I'm trying to make it through my college year while being blackmailed into outrageous situations and finding a way to deal with my first college crush.

This is the one where Lucy Moon, the notorious bad girl and sister of one of my best friends; runs me over and somehow manages me to make fall in love with her anyway.

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CHAPTER ONE

All stories begin with a name, a place and a time. I’d like to think that I’m more original than that. Even just a little. For that alone, let me tell you what’s relevant to the beginning of this tale. A stolen pen, a hotdog costume and cut brakes. The sequence of events is important and mesh together to form this odd story of mine

My name is Marissa Carter.

I’m your average nineteen-year-old, advancing within my first year at college and that includes making the transformation from an awkward teenager to an even more awkward adult, if that’s even possible.

I’d soon come to learn that yes, it was.

According to some, college was better than high school. I didn’t know why. If there were any opportunity to be had, there’d be a hunt for these individuals who spread that blatant lie and a presentation of a photo album that my best friend, Claire devised; it showed how tame my high school life was compared to my college experience.

Throughout my teens, I was one of those people who lurked in the shadows. I was never seen or heard. Mom didn’t receive much information at parent teacher meetings. They didn’t know who I was to compile a critical analyse. Of course, nothing was better than them dissing me. Flying under the radar wasn’t something to be discounted. Yup, I revelled in it.

College was a new way of living. I was consistently put in the spotlight and it wasn’t because I had a great personality or advocated for something humble or righteous. I was branded as someone who did ridiculous things, the comic relief of the campus, a jokester cloaked within nerdy skin.

The more you learn about me, the less surprising it would come that I fully expected to be broadcasted twenty-four-seven—not that conceitedness played much of a factor as to why I thought that way.

Okay, so maybe there were some normal aspects of campus life.

The campus’s café for example was welcoming. Everyone understood the horrors of failure to balance social life and studies, resulting in less than presentable clothing and dark shadows below eyes. It was a community of procrastinators—people who united in their rushed work. I always felt alone in the previous rural bubble.

They existed, just much quieter than me. Oh yeah, they so did. High schoolers cared more about reputation.

That café was where I was located when the reason for this story came about. It started this mess and set a full range of events into action.

I sat slumped in a seat in the corner of the café, a window positioned beside me so that I could quietly cackle at how people ran through the wind and rain. The amusement was cut short when my phone started violently vibrating against the table.

My laptop was on the table so it gave a clear message that I was a total nerd who didn't like it when strangers initiated conversations with me. If that didn't send the right vibe, then my blank stare when I made eye contact with perfect strangers did the job just fine.

The device was there to prevent people from looking at my artwork. People often took someone sitting and drawing as someone that wanted to be approached. Clearly, that wasn't the case.

For some reason, inBusy Bean Coffee Shop, people respected and learned to expect anti-social behaviour.

“Here’s your hot chocolate,” said the manager, Sabrina, placing said item onto the table.

“Thanks,” I said, smiling at the cup.

“We’ve got student discounts on the coffee,” she informed me, pointedly looking at the hot chocolate.

“Coffee’s not my cup of tea.” I looked up to see her pursing her lips in amusement.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said, awkwardly looking away and mumbling, “that was a poor beverage pun.”

The girl thumbed toward the counter. “The tea’s discounted too.”

I watched as she walked off. “Tea’s not my cup of tea either, I’m afraid.”

She laughed a little. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

I dropped my sunglasses from my hair to cover my eyes and glanced out the window every few seconds and back to my sketchpad.

Before I knew it, the once blank page morphed into something much like something you'd find in a cartoon, however it was drawn from something very much real.

A golf cart delivered a brown parcel. More importantly, it was Lucy Moon in the middle of her job.

My thoughts didn't linger too much on my best friend's sister, more so on the image she happened to be a part of.

I only knew of Lucy because of the fabrications that floated around campus and what stories I heard back in high school. And oh, what stories they were.

She didn't go to the same high school as her brother, but to a private school. That was mainly the reason our paths didn't cross. The other reason was due to her and Jasper's relationship not being all that great since she turned sixteen and him seventeen.

One moment, I mimicked blonde curls, waving in the wind and the next my heart stopped. Blue eyes bored straight back into mine. Of course, I didn't notice this until I looked up for the seventh time to get a firm grasp of the colour. Then it hit me. Lucy had caught me in the middle of capturing her beauty.

It came to no surprise that she wore a knowing smirk, just as she dropped a brown parcel onto a table, because for some reason I hadn’t noticed her walk into the café, but still managed to train my eyes on her.

I brought my hot chocolate closer to me, as she walked in my direction. I couldn’t formulate words as she took the seat opposite me. She still wore that smirk—only now that she sat down, she could see quite clearly what made me look at her.

“Can I help you?” I asked, pushing the glasses back down on top of my nose.

“I’d advise to avoid being caught, refrain from removing the glasses.” She tapped beside her eye, mockingly. “It gave you away.”

“Excuse me?”

“Normally when someone is caught staring, they either apologise or look away,” she informed me, propping her chin onto her fist, the intention of staying abundantly clear.

“I’ll reposition my line of sight then,” I offered.

“I think it’s gone beyond that point.” Lucy glanced at the piece of paper, sat underneath my cup. She flicked her eyes up to me and back down. “May I?”

For a moment, I thought of refusing. “Fine.”

She cracked a knowing grin. “Thank you.”

“So,” I said, as she studied the page. “Do they actually let you drive that thing around campus?”

“The golfcart? Yes. Not for pleasure, sadly.”

“Why use a golfcart though? You can use anything to deliver stuff.”

“Or people,” she said, smiling now. “I’ll toss the question back to you. Why not?”

I brought the hot chocolate up to my lips and sipped as I thought about an answer. Not once in our conversation since she looked at the picture, did she look up. I didn’t quite know what to make of that. Flattered that she admired it so adamantly or annoyed that my face wasn’t as pleasant as a picture?

“What are you drinking?” she asked, clearly not patient enough to hear my answer to her question.

“Hot chocolate.”

“Is it your favourite?”

“Maybe,” I said, frowning at the line of questioning. “Why?”

“The smell’s delightful,” she answered.

My eyebrows rose. “Was there any particular reason for you sitting here?”

Lucy trailed a finger across the page. “Yes.”

I looked on, expectantly. “And that reason is?”

“Curiosity.”

I sighed. “Seriously?”

She finally glanced up. “We’ve gone over this. You stared. You created this snippet of reality. In short, you intrigued me and here I am.”

“Aren’t you going to ask why I drew you?”

“Does an artist ever need a reason?” she countered.

“The space.” I pressed my fingers to the page and brought it back to my side of the table. I had finally offered an answer. “Or the lack of space.”

“If we were to use a car or some other vehicle instead of the golfcart, would anyone use the service? I’m going to say no. It’s original and stands out.” Lucy slid out of the seat, cocking her head to the side. “Just like your art work.”

“And do you often confront staring strangers?”

“Do you often stare at strangers?” Lucy tilted her head to the side, amused. “Stare at stranger, draw said strangers, you do a lot more with strangers than I.”

My lips pursed. “Can we stop saying that word?”

Her lips curled, still standing by the table. “Well, it is what we are without the exchange of our names. Want to end that chain?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then strangers we remain.”

“Sounds good to me.”

She looked toward the picture again. “I got to go. Glad to be ofinspirationto you.”

Heads turned to watch the girl leave. As soon as she exited, time spun onward and people returned to concentrating on what they were before. For some reason, I didn’t stop watching.

She climbed onto the golf cart, rested her feet against the dash board and started scribbling into a dark blue journal. Her co-worker chatted to the busy girl, as they drove away from café and out my sight.

The bell rang above the bakery's door. Claire, an excitable blonde blurred through the entrance and took a seat opposite me. Yes, there was a reason for everyone's uncanny head turns. No, it wasn't because of Claire's bubbly personality or her attractiveness.

"Hey," she greeted, smiling a little wider than usual.

"Hey, Claire," I returned, warily. "You're—"

"—late, I know."

I laughed. "That wasn't what I was going to say."

"ThenI don't want to hear it." She dropped her face into her hands, splatting wet hair against the table. "You wouldn't believe the day I had. First, this person totally stole my favourite pen. You know, the Mickey Mouse one? The one that makes my writing all curly and cute?"

I tried to hide my smile. "I know the one."

She peeked up at me. "I can sense your outrage. Thank you for your support."

"You're welcome." I motioned for her to carry on.

"Right," she rushed out. "So, next somethingstrangehappened. That same person placed three bananas on the desk beside me during the lecture. Like cool girl, snacks are what keeps passion alive."

I took in her wrinkled nose. "That doesn't sound strange..."

"Wait for it," she snapped.

“Fine. Go ahead.”

"So, I, trying to be you know, relatable or whatever, put two bananas beside theirs."

"Maybe that's why I don't have friends, I don't show them mine when they've shown me theirs."

Claire snorted. "Marissa, you're a dork."

I shrugged. "That's the strange part? A banana ritual?"

"No!" She banged her fist onto the table. "They didn't even see me put the bananas there. Their head was shoved into their bag."

"So, you didn't get to talk about how you both share an interest in eating bananas?" I asked.

"Well yeah, but this person just looked at the bananas and just quietly said to themselves 'I have so many bananas', then shoved the freaking lot into their bag."

I leaned forward, captivated by the story. "They stole your pen. Then they stole your bananas."

"Yeah, a sick and twisted individual, right?"

"Now we know the definition of evil."

"Mars, I swear, I'm not joking." Claire displayed her version of a sneer that left kittens looking ferocious. "If I see this person, you might have to hold me back."

I cocked my head to the side. "Do they identify as they?"

"No, well, I don't know," she interrupted, wrinkling her nose. "I couldn't tell what they were or didn't get the chance to ask how they identified. They had a huge ass hoodie that covered everything so I don’t even know what they look like."

I flipped open the laptop lid as my response.

The thing was when Claire entered the café and strolled through the tables until she reached me—she left a trail of water that accumulated to a miniature stream across the ground.

Every time she moved throughout our less than normal conversation, she whipped water from her hair and jacket onto people who walked by or those sat either behind us or directly beside us. My point being, there was only so much understanding from those people.

It was common decency the people from the Busy Bean learned to expect—not entering the establishment if you endured the wrath that is the wet and freezing weather. To bring that inside with your own miniature lake was something that made the late teens and early twenty-year olds, see a clear divide in the community and thus, everyone hated us.

They could all band together, to gain some sick pleasure of unified hatred.

It was one of my favourite places just to chill out and I couldn't have Claire Carter ruin that for me.

"Claire," I said.

Claire removed hands from her face. "Yes, honeybee?"

"You're soaked."

"Babe, not in public, please," she crooned.

“Ugh.”

"How many times do I have to tell you?"

I snapped my mouth shut and tried not to let the fact that she spoke louder than the average human—render me completely speechless.

The intercom above us let out a horrible crunching noise.

Everyone in the café shot glares upward as if the little disruption ruined their entire day or dragged their attention away from something pivotal in their lives.

"Clean up in aisle..." There was a long pause. "Everywhere. Every aisle."

I stared at my friend with a pointed look.

"What?" Claire asked, oblivious.

"Nothing."

"Then stop staring at me," she demanded.

I rolled my eyes. "Don't tell me what to do."

Sabrina took out a mop and bucket and scanned the floor with a disgruntled expression. When she snapped her head toward me, I looked away, only to look back a second later.

She mopped the floor and shoved the stick so hard that when it slammed into a table's leg, a mug of coffee knocked to the ground and spilled a gush of brown everywhere.

The whole café froze. The carnage killed their mood and so Sabrina watched helplessly as customers left the establishment. Her attention was earned when the dude whose cup she shattered cleared his throat.

He was a small enough guy. His chest was thin and his shoulders curled inward. The position wasn't forced. It was natural and I would guess the posture came from lack of confidence in high school. The mop of hair on top of his head stole the onlookers gaze—rather than his pimpled and red face and widely spread eyes.

A large brown parcel was positioned next to his table, the same one that I witness being dropped off earlier, the same one sketched on the page below me.

"Watch where you're going," Afro Guy snapped, cheek twitching in irritation.

"Sorry, sir," Sabrina apologised, sending a death glare in our general direction.

Afro Guy watched her clean. "I want a new cup."

Sabrina nodded. "Sure, thing and your next order will be on the house too."

He nodded in satisfaction. “Good.”

Claire didn't notice the entire ordeal. She was too busy spilling the entire contents of her pencil case onto the table. Markers flew from the it and onto the flooded floor. Pencil toppings became airborne and drifted through the air until a guy with an afro inhaled and started to splutter and cough.

But there Claire sat, scowling down at her pencil case with a stare so intense that it made the entire café's simultaneous scoffs of disgust seem miniscule.

"Do you have to do that right now?" I complained.

"Yes," she answered, quickly.

I flicked the laptop lid down and mocked. "Babe, not in public please."

"It's only funny when your straight best friend says it," she muttered, dragging a finger across the pens and pencils.

"No, you're my cousin—it's not funny, it's incestuous."

“It can be both,” she said.

I shook my head. "What are you doing anyway?"

She stopped her finger and glanced up. "I'm looking for a replacement for Mickey."

I leaned back into my seat. "Right."

"This is supposed to be our study date, is it not?" she asked.

"I'm drawing," I stressed, crossing my arms.

"In preparation for your Advanced Life drawing class, I classify that as studying."

I pinched the pencil in-between my fingers. "Get to your point."

"Stop being all stroppy," she ordered and started her search again. "I can't study if I can't find a suitable replacement for Mickey. I mean, if you can't enjoy the simple pleasure that is placing pen to paper—then what's the point in studying? I'll think back to this material and grieve over my penmanship. I'll be too busy crying—to write anything down."

The strange this about her passionate speech?

It was completely true.

Not that I'd ever admit to it, because it was a ridiculous notion that something as tiny as a pen could destroy our futures.

So, the café was okay. It was one good thing about college. My social life was easier. I could eat straight after class and didn't need to travel far to see my friends. I could eat after every class and no one would judge me for it because I was surrounded by strangers all the time.

So, after swallowing my third chocolate chip bun of the day, self-loathing kicked in.

"This,is why people say you gain weight in college," I expressed my new-found revelation.

Claire stared at me strangely. "Babe, the only thing you've gained is a cup size or two. Count your blessings."

I looked down toward my chest and shrugged.

I left the table and went to the bathroom. I took the long way around, so I didn't have to stomp all over the coffee and didn't have to face Sabrina's wrath.

The toilets were pristine and yes, that was a big shocker because campus bathrooms were usually in such a bad state that it made me want to hold it in until I got back to the apartment most days.

A couple of girls giggled down at their phones.

When I peeked at the screens when washing my hands, it was videos of Sabrina smashing a cup to pieces and a dripping Claire strutting her way toward the table. There was a couple of emojis on the screen, but I couldn't make out what they were.

One of the girls shot me a cold look and shoved her way out of the bathroom.

I could breathe easier once I exited. It was like the air was tainted by bitchiness and it was only for so long that I could take in that air before transforming into the thing that I hated.

Claire eventually found her second favourite pen that was shoved into the handbag rather than the pencil case. It was wrapped in bubble wrap because it neededprotection.

I slumped into the chair opposite her and sagged downward. "People are so hateful."

Claire grinned. "You're only figuring this out?"

"No." I pouted as her smile widened. "Instead of helping that girl out, they recorded it. What's so funny about coffee spraying everywhere and cups being destroyed? Or people in the service industry being treated like they are here for our entertainment?"

"Marissa," Claire said, mostly fondly.

"Yeah?"

She sighed. "Sometimes, I wonder how I'm friends with such a good person."

I sighed back. "You didn't choose it. We're family."

Claire blinked. "Oh yeah."

A girl tapped on my shoulder with the nametag of Sabrina. "Excuse me?"

I ignored the fact that this girl looked the same age as me. "Yes?"

"We're going to have to ask that you and your..." She glanced at Claire with a confused expression. "Friend, to leave the premise. Uh,immediately. Thanks."

Claire stood up with a bright smile. "Marissa, come on, I have to prepare for an important project this afternoon anyway."

But yeah, sometimes the café sucked too.

College wasn't some magical portal into the adult world. Leaving high school didn't necessarily mean growing up or maturing. I had a feeling that a lot of people would be put through some situations that might enlighten them of the real world. I could only hope that it happened quickly and painlessly.

Earning and spending money was another thing that wasn’t all that appealing about third level education.

I shared an apartment with my cousin which was inside a clean and shiny apartment complex with occupants ranging from students, families-to single and old cat ladies that weren't allowed pets in the building. That didn't stop them from owning cat mugs and stuffed animals.

It wasn't your typical student accommodation and that's why the price range was higher than your typical student's too, hence the constant thought of money.

The thing about job hunting was it's a never-ending cycle-well, in the case of beginners. When applying for any sort of job they want a C.V with all your experience. Seeking yourfirstjob for work experience which requires experience-well it didn’t turn out all that well.

Claire told me that the library was looking for people to stock shelves and that's where I headed straight after our study session, in which we curled up in a corner of the main building's hallway and studied as people stalked from one lecture to the next, ignoring our very existence, just how I liked it.

The library was on the outskirts of the campus. It was tall and majestic looking with its wooden door with a tree stump design carved into it. Inside was just as wonderful with chestnut wooden shelves and dark red couches placed in random corners. Then there were the books that had no speck of dust because they were taken care of that well.

"It's like you've never seen a library before."

I tossed a look to the left. "You know I have.”

“Then what’s that face for?”

“It’s my adult applying for job, face. Not enter a foreign environment and don't know how to use the facilities provided, face. They're vastly different."

"Oh, I’m sure they are." The dirty blonde-haired guy sat up, smiling broadly. "They're hiring?"

"Don’t even think about it.”

His smirk dropped. “Think about what?”

My glare hastened. “You know what. Go find another job opportunity. This is mine.”

He looked toward the reception. “Fine. Since when are they hiring anyway?”

“I don’t know. Claire said they were," I said, unsure because she said a lot of things.

"Claire works at a hotdog stand," he told me, as if I didn't already know that.

I stole his book and held it behind my back. "And Claire is the only one of the three of us that has a paying job."

He pulled the beanie over his face and groaned. "Iknow, but still."

The librarian hushed us.

Just like that, I lost the confidence to beg for the job, so I slumped down next to Jasper and covered my face with the book that he was reading, planning to be quiet and pretending to not exist at all. That was my go to stance when I was unsure of what to do.

Jasper Moon sat in the nearest couch to the entrance. I had a feeling he chose that seat so he could escape as quickly as he came in. He was one of those mysterious guys that always managed to disappear without a trace. He could enter a place without being detected.

Objectively, he was handsome.

That being said, I'm exclusively attracted to girls.

He had dark blue eyes and nice curly blonde hair. Jasper had a lean body type and muscles that most girls liked.

Personally, I thought his attractiveness was a curse, for his personality set. He liked people, but only certain people. They found him interesting because of the way he caught their eye on a train or a school bus and thought nothing of it when they struck up a conversation with him. Those were the situations he found hardest to slip away from.

My hand froze as it glided over the smooth cover over the book.

"Jasper," I said warily, studying the book cover.

He took it off me and placed it in his lap. "Hmm?"

"Why are you studying that?" I asked. "Do we have a test that I don't know about? OhGod. I'm so screwed."

"No, no," Jasper assured me. He lowered his head, sheepishly. "They won't let me sit in here if I don't have a book. I'm just waiting for Lucy. I'm giving her a ride."

"Oh." I heaved out a deep breath. "Freak out over."

"Your freak out never ends," he joked.

I laughed. "I know."

He flipped open his book again and promptly shoved me off the couch with his knee.

It was a bit shameful because I always assumed I could take on any attacker-yet a simple knee nudge took me down. He lowered the book and all I could see was the disappointed shaking of his head, as if I let him down by my inferior strength. The attempt at a death glare that I sent his way, didn't justify the betrayal of my body.

I managed to get my limbs off the ground and strolled around the library. I pretended to look for something when really, I was building up the courage to speak to the librarian about a job placement.

The subtle touches to the spine of the books and examining the book covers were just an act of normalcy.

Ruth Charity was a woman in her late forties with greying hair and large round glasses. She frequently rounded the library and ventured into book shops and as she walked with her walking stick-she looked frail, vulnerable andsweet.

She was anything but.

The first week of college, Jasper, Claire and I took a tour of the library. It lasted all of twenty seconds because 'stoners aren't allowed in this building'.

I could still envision the bruises from her walking stick on the back of my thighs-they were that brutal.

So, when she snapped her beady eyes in my direction?

I ducked.

My knees brushed against the carpet in my crouched position. I took a random book from the shelf and stood back up again like a spring. Mrs Charity was behind the reception desk, clicking mindlessly on the mouse for the overly large computer that had three screens. I had a sinking feeling one of them provided security footage and my hiding stunt was being replayed.

I pushed that aside and tried my best to strut over to her, because strutting meant confidence and confidence was needed when speaking to this lady.

"Hello..."

"Ms Carter," she greeted, eyes on the monitor. "How can I help you?"

I smacked my lips. "I was wondering if-"

"-Honey," she slithered out, wearing a pompous smile. "You've been running holes in the carpets. I know a broke student when I see one."

I cleared my throat. "Right. True. Way too true."

"You're in here plenty, so I'm assuming you know most of the layout."

“Yup. Uh, I mean, yes, ma’am?”

She finally faced me, scanning the library as she did so until her gaze landed solely on me. "I'll need you here Mondays, and Fridays. Your shifts will be four to five hours long, depending on the day. Minimum wage. Your training and trial run will commence, starting Friday. Understood?"

"Completely," I said, trying not to break out into a smile.

"Now." She turned back to the computer and waved her hand dismissively. "Get out of here. I don't want to see your face unless I have to."

I left her line of vision before she changed her mind.

It was something she was known for.

I slowed my walk. Jasper still sat in the same place, with the book perched upside down within his hands. He paid no attention to the book. In fact, he seemed infatuated with something else-orsomeoneelse.

I snatched the book off him. "I thought you would have left by now."

"Same. Still waiting on her." He glanced at me. "Lucy's just finishing up."

"You sound strange."

"You look strange," he countered.

“Oh, how you shattered my confidence.”

I walked around the couch and hovered my head over his shoulder so I could get a good look at whatever kept him occupied. There was nothing substantial across the library-except for his sister with what I guessed was a friend.

I skimmed over his sister and caught on to what was happening.

I rested my chin on his shoulder. "Jasper, you have itbad."

"Ugh." He grunted, not even bothered that I caught him out. "I can't even deny it because look at her! She'sperfect."

"What's her name?" I asked, smiling.

"Ruby," he answered, quietly. "She's Lucy's best friend, so I see her at the apartmentall the time."

I chuckled. "Let me guess, you stay hauled up in your bedroom when she visits."

He let a silence stretch out before dragging out a regretful, "Yeeeaaaah."

"Oh. That's why you started taking naps onmycouch."

He reluctantly nodded. "Yeah, that too."

"Just ask your sister to put in a good word for you and take it from there," I suggested.

"Do you know my sister?" Jasper blinked a few times. "Wait, youdon't. Have you ever spoken to her before?"

"Nope," I said, standing up again.

“Wow.”

"You said she thinks all your friends are stoners so..."

Jasper smiled. "She wasn't wrong. Most of them were, myself included. You too."

“That was one time,” I mumbled.

“One time too many.”

"Hypocritical much? And you wonder why she ignored you for two years."

"We're talking now, that's all that matters."

I patted his shoulder, feeling bad. "That's good, Jaz."

I noticed that Ruby and Jasper's sister were packing up and that was the only prompt I needed to charge out into the rain.

It wasn't that I was that socially inept, it was just meeting Jasper's sister after being his best friend foryearson one random afternoon in a library, seemed strange. Even if we had already met. But she didn’t know that. Not really.

I had a feeling that no matter who I was or what I did, Lucy wouldn't like me. After hearing all the stories from both Claire and Jasper of the notorious bad girl of Northpass High School, maybe the thought of meeting her was scary.

I left Jasper with a departing pat to the head and shot out of there evenfasterwhen Mrs Charity's nails dragged across the reception desk, creating a sound worthy of goose bumps.

Dark and ugly looking clouds made a home above the campus and let rain hurdle from the depths of its tormenting existence.

There was this guy I saw around campus every day and I never cared to learn his name until that moment. He had a sturdy black umbrella hung over his head and a large iPad held in his other hand.

It was the Afro Guy from the café.

I'm not proud of what happened next, but do I regret it?

Nope.

I sauntered up to him. We were positioned beneath the roof. "Hey...you."

"You were kicked out of Busy Beans," he deadpanned, once he looked at me.

"That's one thing about you that I like," I lied. "Your observations skills are top notch."

He twirled his umbrella, blushing. "I try."

I leaned against the wall next to him. "So, you are waiting for your friends?"

"Ah." He fiddled with his iPad. "No, my mom's picking me up."

"Oh, how far out do you live?"

His blush hadn't lessened. "Around an hour. Why, do you need a ride? I don't think my mom will mind. In fact, she's been pestering for me to bring some friends home, so maybe you can stay for dinner? I think we're having horse burgers."

I choked on air. Then I choked even more when I noticed his eyebrows were just as bushy-if not more than the hair on top of his head. I almost regretted coming up to him, but my original intention had not panned out yet and I was determined to go through with it.

Horses that gallop incidentally in fields and sometimes let children hop on their backs at zoos,being eaten? There was something so pure about horse's eyes that made guilt flood my system when I thought about their hard labour. Other animals like chickens and cows-well, they're tasty so I force myself to block out any cute images.

But horses?

They barge through that barrier of submerged guilt and whinny and neigh right into my dreams.

"Um." I looked up to the sky. "It's a long car ride."

"I get it," he said, nodding. "Maybe another time."

"Yeah," I sounded dull, even to my own ears. "Maybe."

I was akin to a predator-waiting patiently for the time to strike.

The moment came with his mom's jet-black jeep entered the parking lot and pulled over just beside the footpath. She rolled down the windows and music that had people screaming roared from the radio and to go along with that sound, the ginger haired lady with hair volume like her son, headbanged and missed the steering wheel by half an inch each time she thrusted forward.

The guy just grinned and started rocking his head back and forth whilst he was busy putting his iPad into his backpack.

I snatched the umbrella when his head was down. "I'll see you around."

"Maybe we can meet at the café, Marissa," he suggested, struggling to pull up the zipper.

I didn't respond. I was too busy fixing the umbrella so it hung above my head. When it was positioned properly, I sped walked in the opposite direction of the mother's car and turned as many corners as I could and emerged myself within student crowds as fast as I could.

In my book, it was sweet retribution for the horse he was about to eat.

Something else was just annoying about college. You couldn't just yell out mom or dad and have maintenance issues upkept or life problems fixed through words because they are all knowing creatures that somehow made everything better by just existing. It made me more creative in fixing problems and independent—which mostly meant complaining about the problem until someone got sick of my voice.

I spent maybe ten minutes trying to get inside my apartment. The elevators in the apartment complex were being upgraded or fixed, hence the reason that I needed to climb a flight of six staircases. I didn't find that too bad, I knew I could just faceplant my sweaty-self onto the couch in my apartment.

But, then the unforgivable happened.

I tried the keys first, twisting it at all angles to unlock the ancient door. Then I cursed and shouted at the door—throwing in some of,‘why is life so hards?And‘why do inanimate objects hate my guts so much?Then I resorted to whacking the newly acquired umbrella at the door. It was only when the umbrella was smashed to pieces did the door creak open.

A shadow stood on the other side, with little pants of breath.

"—Marissa?"

I shoved my way through the crack. "Why didn't you answer the freaking door?"

Claire looked away. "I thought someone was breaking in."

"Claire," I said, laughing at her. "You thought someone was breaking in so—you what? Stood on the other side of the door and hoped their heart would give out?"

"Maybe," she admitted.

"And you callmea dork."

"Well, you are."

"A dork that can defend herself if need be."

She grunted. "Shut up."

I slapped my hand against the door. "No."

Claire opened the door fully and plucked pieces of the umbrella off the ground. She made a face when picking up smithereens of the wooden part, but offered no comments about the state of it. I think, after knowing each other for our whole lives, things that were considered out of the normal, weren't really all that abnormal. I didn't offer any explanations.

She brought it inside and threw all the bits onto the coffee table and sank back onto the red couch with a long and dramatic sigh. Ink was smudged on her hands, which made me question whether she had been in my room because all my art supplies were in there. I quickly decided that I didn't care enough to start an argument.

I face planted onto the couch as previously planned, I just didn't imagine flopping down on top of Claire's body.

"So Marsy," she dragged out.

“Yeah?”

“Did you get the job?"

I moved my head against the armrest. "Somehow, I did, yeah."

"You do realise, you're in debt now," she pointed out.

“Nope.”

“Yes, indeed.”

"Uh." I sat up and wrinkled my nose. "No, I'm not. That's not how friendship works. You did this out of the kindness of your heart."

"We're not friends—we're family," she stressed, as if it were something pivotal.

"Same thing."

"It really isn't," she disagreed.

“In this instance, yes.”

"No. We hoard secrets over each other, eat all your food, beat you into a pulp if you touch said food. Then there's the debts that must be paid or face the possibility of being disowned."

I shrugged and slumped back down. "I guess I'm disowned. Pack your things and get out."

Claire peeked at me. "That's not how being disowned works."

I grinned. "It is if I'm the one disowning you."

She heaved a sigh. “You have no concept of disowning.”

“I’ve got enough to do it to you.”

Claire rolled my body off her and went into her bedroom.

I assumed that was her getting her crap out of the apartment because she's extra like that.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Claire huffed and puffed as she dragged a large and squeaky object out of her room. I rolled onto my side and watched as she displayed some brute strength that was impossible for a girl her size. Claire's arms bulged. She pulled a transportable whiteboard into the sitting room—right behind the coffee table.

Our apartment was small. All I had to do was twist my body around on the couch and I could see everything that there was so see. So, I was shocked to admit that I never seen that whiteboard in the apartment before. I blinked, dazed by her craftiness—until she snapped a cap off a marker and stared at the board, determined.

She proceeded to use her mouth to remove the cap from a marker and slapped the board with a proud smirk.

"This is my project and it needs to be done pronto," she informed me, tapping the marker against the board. "Your favour to me is working my shift in twenty minutes."

I blinked up at her. "This is your project?"

"Yes."

"And you need to do it right now?"

"Unfortunately, yes—I need to start it while the iron is hot." She drew a huge question mark on the board. "I need to find Mickey's kidnapper."

“Why am I not surprised?”

She cracked a small smile. “Time is of the essence.”

I thumbed to the door. "I'll show myself out."

That was how I found myself squeezing into a smelly hotdog suit—outside the campus bar because that's where most the traction happens, according to Claire.

My job wasn't to serve any customers, because that would've be too easy! No, my job was to garner attention for the hotdog stand by waddling around and letting dogs sniff me and people take my picture. The odd time people would slowly back away as if I were on a murder spree. The anonymity of being in the costume was the only thing keeping me from taking a nap back in the apartment.

A friend of Claire's was working on the stand, a sweet guy called Lucas with ruffled black hair and innocent brown eyes. Maybe if it wasn't a rainy day, I wouldn't have minded so much. But it was raining and with this rain came the higher definition of death smell from within the hotdog suit that almost made me vomit repeatedly.

"So, how did Claire rope you into this?" he asked, squirting some ketchup onto a sausage.

"Claire, well she's starting a project."

"Oh." A look of understanding crossed his face. "You'll be in my prayers. Make sure to keep her hydrated and leave some small snacks for her to find."

I smiled at his concern. "I'll shower her with a hose if I have to."

He breathed out a sigh of relief. "Good."

I huffed as I shifted the costume so it didn't pull all my weight to the left. "How long have you known Claire?"

"Uh." He scratched his chin. "I think three years? Why?"

"Just wondering," I admitted.

"She mentions you a lot," he said, after an awkward silence.

I winced, thinking of all the things she might've said. "Yeah?"

He shrugged. "Nothing bad though."

I eyed him. "Are you going to make me ask or what?"

"No." He started to grin. "She made you out as if you're a mute. I'm an awkward guy. I know that. It's hard to believe that someone like her would talk to me, never mind trust me to run the business with her. I figured she must have someone close to her that's like me, socially awkward. She just made you out like, well, like you were like me."

"You're not that bad, Lucas."

"I thought she was going to set us up but that never happened."

"Probably because you're a dude."

"Oh." He looked to me. “Ohhhh.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s cool,” he said, turning away.

“Awesome.”

“Yep, sir.” He frowned, looking away. “Sorry. Not a sir. Ma’am. Yep.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s okay.”

Lucas, he clearly knew how obsessed Claire came when it involved a mission of sorts. The fact that he stuck around and opened a hotdog business with her made me respect him as a person and his patience was a bonus. It was a shame that they were only platonically compatible. It would have been a perfect lifelong partnership that kept her grounded.

He ushered me to take a walk because it was still early enough in the day so people were still rushing from one place to another.

I waddled my way across the campus and when taking tentative steps across a road—well my life flashed before my eyes inextremeslow motion.

"Hey! Get out of the way—loser!"

I could barely see a white speck from the corner of my eye because my costume only allowed me to look straight ahead. "I'm trying!"

"I think we're going to crash into the hotdog," the same girl admitted.

"—Just overtake her," a brooding voice ordered.

"I would if I could, but I can't!" the driver shouted. "She's taking up all the freaking road!"

My feet tried with all their might to take longer strides but the only progress was inches. The fabric beside my ankles kept restricting my movements and the vehicle's engine became much louder with even frantic little hop.

"You better not run me over!" I yelled, panicked.

"I amsosorry, but the breaks are well...non-existent?" the driver explained, still yelling.

"Then why the hell are you driving?" I yelled back.

"Girl, brace yourself. Maybe your extra padding might lessen the blow of your death. Really sorry, 'cause I love your hotdogs."

The passenger let out a low, "We're about to murder a hotdog."

"Again, so sorry in advance for running you over."

I growled. "Apology not—"

The whole right-hand side of my body took the full force of the hit, making me topple over onto my side. Pain shot up my arm and I heard a snap of bone.

Of course, yelling started and continued until my voice turned hoarse. My head was cushioned on either side of the costume but my hip and arm were certainly damaged.

It was chaos. It felt like chaos.

Apparently, my body weight managed to stop the vehicle because it didn't ride over me once I was forced to the ground.

"We totally killed hotdog girl," the driver squealed, so loud that she must have been close my body.

"I don't know why you're including me."

"You were in the vehicle that murdered her."

The girl growled. "I wasn't the driver!"

Then my body was turned over so I laid on my back. Rain drops poured into the eye holes and my vision went blurry. It wasn't long before a red jacket was used to stop the water drenching my face completely. There may have been black spots covering my vision. I didn't really notice.

The pain was too blinding to categorize my injuries.

There was more panic and screaming. An ambulance was called. If I wasn't busy groaning and grunting in pain I would have yelled at them to shut the hell up.

"Hotdog, girl, you're fine, not dead or anything," the driver said. "This isn't a hit and run and not because we can't get the golf cart back standing."

"You better run," I muttered, through gritted teeth.

They didn't hear me.

Or if they did, they didn't respond. They were too busy bickering amongst themselves.

For some reason, one of them decided to put me onto my side, the side that hurt the most. I heard something about making sure that I didn't choke on my own vomit. By that point, tears were steadily making its way down my face, only some were wiped away by a freezing finger, trailing against my upper cheek.

There was a voice I recognised, yelling—but it wasn't my name. "Lucy, what's—you killed Claire! Claire? Marissa is going to kill me! My sister killed her cousin."

Amidst my pain, I struggled to think. But I knew for sure that this wasn't how I wanted to meet Lucy, so I kept quiet and let him rant about me possibly murdering his entire family for revenge. I even kept quiet when he noticed that his crush was also by my side and started to stumble over his words. His reaction was embarrassing.

"It wasn't me," Lucy snapped. "It was Ruby, she thought we could deliver thesewithoutbrakes."

"Nope, you're not placing the blame on me, Lucy. Hotdog girl," Ruby placed a hand on my leg, "orClairetook up the whole road. It's not my fault she crossed the road."

"Claire," Jasper called, quietly. "You're okay."

I heard the camera clicks more then I saw the flashes.

It deserved a place in Claire's photo album of my misfortune college adventures, that was for sure.

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CHAPTER TWO

People are rushed to hospitals and are given emergent responses, that can be their last moments breathing or it can be the moment that decides whether they will live to see another day. Basically, it was either a person's saving grace or their final resting place. When put into terms like that, hospitals were scary and nothing could've prepared for me the emotional roller coaster.

The ambulance was cramped and stuffy. A male and female paramedic hauled me into the vehicle and introduced themselves as Marty and Kendra. My costume didn't leave them much room to move around inside and that's what caused the most problems.

Perhaps it was ridiculous that my working fingers as well as all ten toes curled up and dug into the hotdog costume, preventing the fabric from moving. It seemed like the best course of action and nothing anyone said could’ve disrupted that thought process.

"Ma'am," Marty urged, leaning his head over my shoulder. "We need to cut this costume off you..."

"You'll guarantee my death if you do that." I grunted and rolled away to the best of my ability when I heard scissors start to snip. "I do not give my consent!"

Marty sighed. "She's delirious, I say we just-"

"-What? Hold her down and accidently clip her?" the woman returned. "No, look, she's stable. We can wait."

"She's obviously not in the right state of mind," he argued, back, sounding just as fierce. "She threw herself into a golf cart in a hotdog costume!"

"I didn't do that," I mumbled, offended.

The woman grabbed the scissors. "We wait."

I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we wait, Marty.”

I was transported into the hospital on a gurney with the hotdog costume still very much intact. People had swarmed me and apparently, the pain became too much at that point. Communicating wasn't an option unless grunts and hissing counted as such. It wasn't productive so, no. It didn't count.

The paramedic that defended my costume made sure that the doctors took great care in removing it.

I swore to myself in my painful daze that I would buy her loads of chocolates. The question was whether I'd remembered that sentiment.

Probably not.

The process of x-rays and all the medical jargon wasquick.

From watching numerous hospital TV shows, I thought I was an expert on all things medical, but the pain overdid that and it left me feeling like a baby. The fact that I knew I was being ludicrous infuriated me. I mean-people with blood spurting from their stomachs were braver than I was when the doctor snapped my arm back into place as quickly as placing a puzzle piece into its correct position.

The emergency room was a crazy place to be in. One area could be where doctors and nurses freaked out themselves and the next was where simple stiches were applied to exposed legs.

Fortunately, my situation didn't contain an ounce of craziness.

"We're just going to keep you here until we give you the discharge forms," the doctor said, smiling politely.

I looked down to my arm and up again. "So, I get this off in two months?"

"That's the plan." He adjusted his glasses. "Just follow the guidelines we've given you for the cast. Take your painkillers and you'll be just fine. We're only keeping you in a little while longer because of your dizziness and dehydration at the scene."

"Thanks..."

He sprinted off before I could express any proper form of gratitude.

It was different seeing a guy with a screw driver imbedded into his skull on a TV show, to watching a gurney go by my bed.

He was crying, his tears were like a waterfall and the doctors and nurses crowded around him in awe, disgust and total bewilderment. Whether they were questioning as to how it was driven into his skull or how to get it out of the skull-I'll never know because someone cleared their throat and closed the curtains shut, so the only thing that I could see was blue and a new, more cleaned up doctor.

"Hello, Marissa," a brunette greeted. "I'm Doctor Sullivan and I'm here to...check in with you."

"Doctor King already prescribed me some pain medication," I said, then nodded toward my cast position in a sling. "And my bones are in one piece again. I'm getting the discharged forms when he comes back, so-"

"-Why am I here?" she asked, reading my mind.

I forced a smile. "Yeah."

"Your chart suggested that you were delirious in both the ambulance and emergency room," she told me, whilst skimming the chart. "Do you recall the travel from the scene of the accident to here? What you said?"

"Most of it, yeah," I confirmed. "I wasn't delirious, just sore."

She nodded, thoughtfully. "You were extremely protective of the ah, costume you were wearing."

"It's not mine," I explained. "It's my cousin's. She would havedisownedme if it was destroyed."

"Hmm. And do you face this pressure often?"

I narrowed my eyes. "What?"

"Do you feel that your family uphold you to certain expectations?" she clarified, with a clear note of pity. "There are always options that are less permanent then death, Marissa. We can offer you help. For example-"

"-Oh." I bit on the inside of my cheek because it didn't seem like the right time to outright burst into laughter for a topic as sensitive as this. "You think I'm suicidal."

The slight twitch above Doctor Sullivan's eyebrow told me all I needed to know.

Despite being in the calm area of the emergency room, I was in the 'craziest' situation. From the context of this conversation and maybe the refusal to let the costume get cut up into pieces I might have appeared unhinged or unstable. That coupled with the story of how my accident occurred, well, it didn't exactly look good for me.

As much as I respected the concern for a patient's mental well-being, I didn't want to have to justify my reaction during my accident and pain. It was what it was.

Doctor Sullivan spoke, but I didn't hear a word she said.

I probably looked deranged when I started to smile. It started off small and grew gradually.

I had my reasons.

From my position on the bed and behind the blue curtains, I could still hear the chaos that I couldn't see and among that destruction zone was the shouting of two very familiar voices, sounding like they would hit and punch their way through hell to get to me.

"Ms. Carter," Doctor Sullivan removed her glasses. "I'm going to refer you-"

The curtain was ripped to shreds by sharp red nails. "Bitch, I swear you better be awake."

"Claire," Jasper scolded. "Open the curtains like a human, not a cat and maybe we'll be able to see for ourselves."

I rolled my eyes. "Guys."

Doctor Sullivan took the initiative to open the curtains and with that revealed a red Jasper whose haired was tangled into knots from the amount of times he ran his fingers through it. His eyes were brimmed red and that was unacceptable.

I was the one injured, not him. He had the chance to talk to Ruby too! His day should have been awesome.

Then there was Claire who looked perfectly normal, if you didn't consider that she was dressed like a spy. She had leather trousers, steel toe boots, sunglasses, gloves and what appeared like a hat with two holes ripped for eye sockets. It was allblack.

"Oh." Claire swallowed. "I thought..."

Jasper grimaced. "Ow. Are you okay, Mars? You look extremely pale."

"I was expecting bloodshed. Somegore," Claire admitted, extremely disappointed. "Not this, whateverthisis."

"Wow, thanks Claire," I said, tossing Doctor Sullivan a cautious look.

"You know what I mean." She looked to Doctor Sullivan and offered a bright smile. "Did you see the video, Doc? It looked way more savage than what? A broken arm?"

Doctor Sullivan frowned. "A video?Yourecorded it?"

"Oh no, I was...busy. I wasn't even there. Marissa wasn't supposed to be there either. You see-Marissa was covering for me." Claire handed her phone to the woman. "At first, I thought it was one of those sketches online, but then I sawmyhotdog costume and well, here I am, here to support my fam in her time of need."

Jasper scratched the back of his neck. "When she started running toward me and screaming-I thought she escaped hell and was about to bring me back with her."

"Right." Doctor Sullivan left the phone on the end of my bed. "It was...interesting talking to you. All of you. Now, if you'll excuse me-I must talk to Kevin, ah, Doctor King."

"Okay Doc." Claire grinned. "See ya around."

Doctor Sullivan barged her way through Jasper and Claire and slid the curtains with so much force that the ringlets keeping the fabric up popped open-leaving it dangling awkwardly to the side.

Through the hole that she created, we could see her giving Doctor King hell whilst throwing pointed looks in our direction. It was safe to say that Doctor King was akin to a fish-bobbing his mouth open and closed.

The phone on the bed still played the video so I got an unmistakable sound of how I screamed and the girls in the golf cart screamed.

"Marissa." Claire sat on the bed and gripped my good hand.

I sighed. "Yeah?"

"You're fired."

"I know."

"Lucas was crying, blaming himself for the entire thing," she informed me, rolling her eyes. "I think he's permanently scarred, just like you're permanently fired."

I tickled her hand. "Did you find out who stole Mickey?"

"Mickey?" Jasper asked, furrowing his eyebrows.

"Mickey's my favourite pen," she answered, then shot a glare at me. "No, I didn't. I recognised their hoodie when they went into the library but then you just had to get yourself run over. Who did I findthatout from? Afro Guy. He wascrying."

"Oh..."

"Crying in laughter," she corrected.

I smiled a little. "Nowthatmakes more sense."

Doctor King came in with his curly brown hair and shooed Jasper and Claire out of the cubicle.

Claire refused to leave until she had the costume safe and sound in her hands. Once a nurse handed it to her, she couldn't have appeared more relieved. The hospital staff shared an uncomfortable look when she rubbed her cheek against the fabric.

The discharge process was just as quick as the treatment, you know, when I wasn't being psychologically analysed. He reaffirmed my treatment and urged for me to pop in to my local G.P or him if I had any questions.

Jasper brought me some of his spare clothes since he didn't have access to our apartment.

So, I walked out in the largest sweatpants and football t-shirt whilst everyone gawked at the hotdog costume in Claire's firm hands. I was directed into Jasper's car and once inside-we burst into a fit of laughter.

"My sister ran you over." Jasper gripped the steering wheel. "I was going to introduce you soon and well..."

I shook my head. "That wasn't why I was laughing."

He glanced at me. "What then?"

"Yourcrushran me over."

"What? Back it up a second." Claire leaned her head between the front two seats with the most perplexed expression. "You have a crush on Ruby White? Ruby? My nemeses?"

Jasper glared down at his lap. Then he smirked. "Marissa,"

"Hmm?"

He tossed me a card. "Here. For you."

On the front was a lovely golf cart. I shook my head, wondering how he had the time to hand pick something in relation to this situation. I opened it up and read the inside. All the while, Jasper was whispering with Claire. Just as I read it all-they burst into another round of laughter, obviously at my expense.

Dear Hotdog girl,

I'm glad you're not dead.

--L. Moon.

The problem with a broken arm whilst doing my course was that I needed my hand to function, to get credit for my module. Well, that was what I expected.

In my Advanced Life drawing class, there was a continuous assessment that required mostly one hundred percent attendance. If absent, a doctor's note was required for an explanation. I could fail the exam at the end of the year and pass overall, only if I was consistent with my work. I often got nervous for examinations so that was a blessing dressed as a disguise.

With my recent accident, I got Jasper to email my lecturers about a leave of absence, (using one hand to type was tedious) but apparently Mrs. Morgan had other ideas.

There was a new model for the class, which wasn't out of the ordinary. Every few weeks or so, a rotation took place. In the middle of the first semester, an elderly man sat stark naked in the middle of the class, a beer belly, scratchy double chin, nipple piercing—it was an interesting time. Then there was a middle-aged woman who claimed she liked the idea of allowing kids the opportunity to enhance their artistic skills. That comment was made whilst winking at one of the guys.

There were only fifteen students in the class and Mrs. Morgan who took great delight in roll calling like we were still in high school, motioned for me to join her. I swept the hair from the back of my neck and made it swarm around my neck as if that could cover up the rising blush from speaking to an authority figure.

"Mrs. Morgan," I said, standing in front of her desk, pinching my top with my fingertips.

"Marissa," she greeted, coolly.

"Hi. Yeah, okay so, in your email, you said I'd have to do something else for credit and you'd talk to me about it today?"

"I know what I said." She stood up from her chair, taking in my broken arm with a twisted smile. "I'm sure I can predict your protests, don't let my assumptions be correct. I'm not in the mood for a squabble. Are you?"

I shrugged. "Not really, no. Maybe tomorrow?"

She rose an eyebrow. "Marissa."

"No, no squabbles here," I corrected, frowning.

She wore a pleased smile. "Good. You can participate in the class, using your non-dominant hand."

I eyed her suspiciously. "I won't lose marks?"

"That all depends on you and your effort. If I see the effort then you have a great chance at equal marks." Mrs. Morgan sat back against her desk. "Attendance is mandatory. It goes toward your final grade. After your arm's healed, you can retake the module later or in the meantime you can turn up, try your best and visualise and take in the techniques."

I nodded, accepting her response because there wasn't much else that she could do to help me out. It was reasonable.

I took my seat beside some stranger and shuffled about until my arm didn't feel like much of a weight against my chest. The guy next to me, watched as I moved with an amused, as if he knew me well enough to mock me.

He then proceeded to whistle as a girl entered the room.

Our model was a woman this time around, young—much younger than I had ever anticipated seeing in a room full of horny college students. The woman's light shaded hair rested against her middle back, escaping the beanie she wore. There was something about the way her lips parted beneath large sunglasses that screamed fierceness.

"Damn," the guy muttered next to me. "Can you imagine all the hard ons after this one?"

"Okay. That's not exactly the image I want in my head."

"Same though," he muttered, shaking violently.

I rolled my eyes. "Why mention it then?"

"The honest images never stop existing," he said, grinning.

"What's your name?" I asked, as politely as I could.

"Frankie, Frankie Padden."

"Keep it in your pants, Frank."

He winked. "Take it from me. Girls are lucky. Their arousal can't be shamed because its hidden. So lucky dude."

I stared at him. "That's creepily true."

Frankie sighed. "Like I said, you're so damn lucky."

I turned away from him and watched as the model spoke quietly to Mrs. Morgan, speaking too low for me to decipher underneath the clatter of pencils and parcel. Mrs. Morgan directed the model to a behind the divider in the corner of the small room where she disappeared to get undressed.

"Alright, class. Settle down, settle down," Mrs. Morgan instructed.

"I don't think that's possible," Frankie muttered.

I backed away from him, muttering, "Ew."

She waited until the chatter died down before she continued, "Now as you all may already know, our former model, Caleb, has had a family emergency and will not be joining us this semester. So, I'd like to introduce you all to Lucy. Lucy, if you may?"

The woman, (the way too familiar woman) Lucy, reappeared then. Rather than wearing those large sunglasses that covered most of her features or the beanie she had showed up in, she transitioned to only dressed in white slippers and a matching loose-fitting bathrobe. I leaned back in my seat as far as I could and turned my head to the side, cursing myself and the girl who ran me over for putting me in this delicate situation.

As quietly as I could, I managed to place the charcoal back down on the board and pulled my hood over my head in a failed attempt to hide my identity. There was no way that I'd allow my first proper meeting with Lucy Moon, be me drawing her naked. Having to tell Claire, or god forbid Jasper of our first face to face meeting wouldn't be the most fun experience.

Luckily for me, her nails seemed more interesting to her than anyone else in the room—besides Mrs. Morgan.

"Uh, Marissa, right?" Frankie whispered, leaning closer to me than I would've liked. "The hotdog girl?"

"Yes," I managed to respond, through gritted teeth.

"Are you okay?" he asked, quietly.

I turned to him, allowing him to see my face. "I'm perfect. Thanks for asking."

He frowned and faced forward. "Okay, weirdo."

"Same policy applies," Mrs. Morgan announced, glaring at a corner of the class. "If I hear anyone make a single inappropriate comment or gesture, I will not hesitate to throw you out of my class for the remainder of the semester. Understood?"

Quiet murmurs echoed around the classroom as Mrs. Morgan stood by Lucy and gestured to the stool, indicating what position to take up. Once the lights dimmed, my eyes never strayed as Lucy shimmied out of her slippers, slipped out of her robe and lays it atop an adjoining chair.

My heart jumped straight to my throat.

"... a little to the left. Yes, just like that, thank you." Mrs. Morgan cleared her throat and referred to the class, "We'll start with charcoal for now. Remember class, twenty minutes. You may begin."

I didn't catch a single word of that, at least not until Mrs. Morgan glided out of the circle to the desk she had in the back of the small classroom and then I was lost to the feeling of uncertainty trembling in my gut. It was no coincidence that Lucy Moon was in my class, the only class that I didn't have with Jasper. It couldn't have been. Yet, I couldn't offer up any other explanation other than her needing some cash or practicing modelling skills.

I was always told that the human figure was filled with imperfections, that that's what makes it beautiful. To capture the essence of those imperfections and lay them down on paper, that takes on a beauty of its own.

I realized I never saw someone lacking those imperfections until now. Lucy's skin was slightly shadowed beneath the dim lighting, smooth. Her curves were defined by gentle sloping lines as she sat motionless on the stool, angled towards me so her face was plainly visible. It was placid and calm and over all neutral, and I found that I couldn't stop staring at it. It's a piece of artwork all on its own.

Perfect, was the word.

"Psst. Earth to whatever your name is." Frankie prodded me sharply in the ribs. "Get your shit together. Stop staring."

"Pfft." I wrinkled my nose. "Who's staring? I'm not staring."

That snapped me out of my trance, earning the attention of several classmates and a few chuckles. Blue eyes briefly shift in my direction and before I knew it, Lucy's lips quirked into a knowing smirk.

I blushed hotly and got to work. I was normally a quick drawer, able to get the contours down within the first five minutes before I worked on the detail. But for some reason I couldn't get Lucy's face out of my head. It lingered in my mind as I focused on the detail, on the way Lucy's breasts curve and the flat planes of her stomach slope down to the apex between shapely thighs and -

No, no, no.

Hell no.

I dropped my stick in frustration. I just broke my first rule of art class.

Don't ever get turned on by the subject.

Twenty minutes ended far too quickly and soon Mrs. Morgan circled the room like a hawk, making a comment here and there as she examined the drawings. By the time she reaches me—well let's just say I wanted to slam down the easel repeatedly until it was bits and pieces on the floor.

"Have you ever drawn with your left hand before?" she asked, studying the piece thoughtfully. "Normally you work much faster than this—but this result..."

"Yeah... Sorry. Guess today's not my day."

"For the first time using this hand?" Mrs. Morgan, wore a small smile, which quickly snapped back into something considered professional. "Your lines are too firm. Stick with lighter strokes when you're sketching the form."

"Okay."

"Oh, and Marissa?"

I looked up, biting my lower lip. "Yeah?"

"There's other ways to get attention. Getting a video of you in a hotdog costume run over by a golf cart? Insanely hilarious, but incredibly sore and potentially life altering."

"I'll take that into consideration next time," I mumbled.

She said something else about my technique. I knew this already. It was extremely hard to do with my left hand. I nodded in acceptance, not really knowing what to say and she scampered away, not before looking at Frankie's easel. After that it got a little easier to breathe.

I managed to sketch out a more detailed outline of the subject, but somehow always ended up refining the details of Lucy's face instead. The way her eyes seem to sparkle even in the dim lit room, distant with a touch of melancholy. It was beautiful and I wanted to capture it repeatedly in every way possible.

By the time class ended I had four sketches in total, which I promptly shoved into my bag as soon as Lucy donned her robe again and headed to the back of the room.

"You've got it bad," Frankie teased.

"Shut up," I muttered, but didn't bother to deny it. "She's just interesting to draw."

"And nice to look at apparently. Why not just ask her out?"

"Because I'm not stupid," I snapped beneath my breath, because the model is back out minutes later, dressed in the top and designer heels she had arrived in, and I held my breath long enough for Frankie to roll his eyes and completely shatter any illusion of peace.

"Hey!" Frankie called loud enough to catch Lucy's attention. "Do you do private sessions?"

"No," was the snapped response.

"Oh. That's too bad," he said, standing up, wiping his hands on his jeans.

"I'm sure it is," she called back, walking out of the room.

I laughed a little. "Well, that was embarrassing."

He looked at me, like I was crazy. "Dude, at least I said something."

I shrugged and lifted my bag. "Something embarrassing. That wasn't a good come on."

"Like you could do better."

"I don't hit on people."

"Because they hit on you?"

"No, because I avoid people."

Frankie snorted and shoved me out of the classroom.

At least she didn't pay too much attention to me, no more attention than she paid anyone else.

My friends were glued to my side the night of the accident.Literally.Bythat I mean they snored right by my ear on either side of my body in the single bed. That left me lodged right in the middle.

The one good thing I could say about that experience was that their bodies refused to let me turn over on my side as I slept. Then again, the heat meant sleep was nearly impossible to get.

There was some reflection of my friendship with these guys that night and thus came the conclusion that they were my rocks and thorns on my side, all at the same time.

Their reaction to the entire ordeal might have been laughter and teasing at first. Yet, they were attentive when it came to writing my notes or feeding me.

Maybe a little too invested in my education and health.

So, attentive in fact, that Claire was the one that forced me to attend that class with Mrs. Morgan and the next day proceeded to drag me out of the apartment and forced me to attend my only two lectures of the day.

Only two people so far had said anything about the hotdog incident and that was excluding the people from the emergency services.

I figured the only thing that could dampen the rest of the second semester was the fact that my arm was in a cast.

The sky was blue and no hellish rain pelted against the ground. This meant everyone was free to wander the campus.Thatmeant most students dragged themselves out of bed and travelled to their classes on public buses or walked.

Claire was in desperate need of coffee after spending most that morning convincing me to leave the apartment for the second time since my accident.

Busy Beans Coffee Shop. Well, let's just say it wasn't Claire this time that attracted the attention of the many customers. It wasn't until that I was inside that I fully noticed the stares and ultimately what that meant.

I covered my eyes with the back of my hand as the door swung open to the café. The sun's rays blinded me enough to make me oblivious to the penetrating looks directed at my arm. I only removed my arm from covering my sight when I stood at the front of the line of the very busy establishment.

My mouth might've dropped in disbelief and discomfort at the amount of people looking directly at me.

"Babe." Claire gawked at everyone. "You go first."

"Hot chocolate?" Sabrina asked, biting her lower lip.

"Yes please," I said, distractedly, looking downward.

Claire tutted. "You'refamousnow, Marissa. She even knows your usual."

I wrinkled my nose. "Just order, already."

"I want the double ristretto venti half-soy nonfat decaf organic chocolate brownie iced vanilla double-shot gingerbread frappuccino extra hot with foam whipped cream upside down double blended, one sweet'n low and one nutrasweet, and ice."

Sabrina grew flustered. "Er—"

"On Marissa," Claire added, as an afterthought.

Sabrina turned to me as Claire claimed our table and sprawled a bunch of pens on it. "Does she at least tip?"

I plucked a piece of paper from my pocket and slid it across the counter. "She does and that's her order. Huge tip, so it might be worth getting it right."

She smiled. "Want extra milk in your hot chocolate?"

I shook my head, already walking away. "No thank you."

Yeah. I wasn't paying for Claire.

I was only nice to a certain extent.

Sabrina looked uncertain, but took the note and started working on it. Someone took her place taking orders. He leered at me before cackling to himself—probably at the realisation of who I was.

The sling was a dead giveaway.

Like I said, even withthatincredibly stupid order—Iwas the one being stared at. The café was full to the brim with students and this time rather than everyone working on assignments, they had their phones and all other sorts of technology out. It provided video services which displayed a gigantic hot dog run over by a golf cart.

The procrastinators were procrastinating by not watching cute dog or cat videos. Nope, that wasn't the thing in right now.

Our bickering and screams echoed through the campus, on loop.

I took a seat across from Claire and refused to look at her. Instead, I faced the window.

Claire was vibrating. The table shuffled left to right across the floor and her phone lit up with in succession so fast that I was surprised that her phone didn't implode.

The attention from both real-life people and those from her social media accounts made her giddy and that, was the only version of Claire worse than investigator Claire. Much, much worse.

"You're a GIF." Claire slid her phone across the table. "That's the premium level of viral, in case you didn't know."

I scowled. "I thought that stupid costume would at least give me anonymity."

"For a second, same," she agreed, sighing.

"Explain."

"People thought it wasmeat first, because of Jasper's heartfelt tears, declarations of my name and whatnot." She rolled her hand. "Hello? I'm practically famous on twitter now."

I grimaced. "Lovely."

"Itwas. But then people saw thatIwasn't the one with injuries today and saw you next to me and well, they pieced it together." She didn't attempt to hide her disappointment. "Our generation, hey? The investigators of this century."

"You're saying." I paused to gather my thoughts. "If I just stayed at home, they wouldn't have figured it out?"

"Probably," she agreed. "But these people are smart cookies. Your absence might have clued them in."

I took her phone. "They've made remixes."

Claire shot me a big smile. "Your screams were surprisingly great material."

"Oh, my God."

"Don't get too big-headed, Marsy." She took her phone back and sighed. "Lucy and Ruby have been pinned as yourBig Bads. People are taking your side in this."

"My side?" I asked. "Why are there sides?"

Claire waved her hand. "Look around, Marissa. People are either wearing Hotdog t-shirts or paying for trips on the golf cart. Their taxi slash delivery business isbooming."

"Why aren't you on the hotdog stand then?"

She leaned across the table and smirked. "I can afford staff now! Staff that make and sell t-shirts!"

I took out my own phone and scrolled through my social media.

My accident was in nearly every picture and there were many statuses claiming they were at the scene. These people also said that the two popular girls had a vendetta against me; that they were currently trying to frame me for removing the brakes out of the golf cart. Then there were others claiming that I removed the brakes and orchestrated the whole thing so that if I was run over—I could pin my assault on them.

Either way—the entire situation had gone bonkers.

We were like pro boxers and everyone took one person's side and hyped them up to the highest decree.

Sabrina left our orders down on the table. I only noticed her presence when Claire kicked me under the table. I forced a smile and gave her a nod. Claire took a sip of her drink and dismissed Sabrina as soon as she knew the order was done correctly.

The whole universe came to a screeching halt.

Just like two days prior, the bell of the café rang out and everyone's attention was snagged by a blonde. This blonde wasn't' Claire and she wasn't drenched from the rain.

Lucy had long, wavy; honey-blonde hair, and deep cerulean blue eyes. Her eyes were a little bluer and wider than Jasper's, her hair was lightly darker and her waist undeniably thinner. She had a heart-shaped face, bow shaped lips, and a lithe figure. Jasper claimed she was the more 'beautiful' sibling and of course, those who compared them would agree.

My reflex to danger kicked in.

That also happened to be the exact same response to pretty people.

What a coincidence.

I slumped further into my seat.

Apparently the 'hype' got to me as well and I just wanted to prevent any bad interactions that might have derived from the accident or the media's influence.

"You know, what happened to you was karma." Afro Guy slid into the table next to us and smirked. "Justiceand boy, did I embrace that. Momma nearly died when I showed her the video."

Claire scoffed. "And who the hell areyou, exactly?"

"I'm the guy thatthisbitch stole an umbrella from yesterday," he told her, sneering.

"Because running five feet to yourmomma'scar was that bad," I muttered.

"You mean the one you bashed to shreds?" Claire directed her question at me.

His sneer widened his nostrils and he stood up. "You what?"

I shrugged. "In my defence, I had to get some sort of payback for the horses you eat."

"He eats horses?" Claire blinked back tears. "You monster!"

I will put my hands up and admit that I'm not a fighter. I liked to talk things through with people until we reached some sort of understanding. Verbal communication was a good thing. Physical fighting wasn't my go to instinct. With my broken arm, I was no match for the—well, okay he was nerdy with spaghetti arms, but his hair made him look humongous. Besides, he had the unfair advantage of functional limbs.

He pulled back from me. I thought it was over. My face was about to become mega bruised.

That was until instinct kicked it.

I flicked his coffee cup out of his hand and a rush of brown splattered against his plain, white t-shirt.

Any ounce of guilt that I felt for stealing his umbrella vanished. There was no ghoul of moral compass shadowing my every move or awakening when the rain started to pour. As I stared up at Afro Guy—watching as his face succumbed to surprise then to quick rage, I felt justified in my response to his aggression.

"Marissa," he seethed, bounding toward me until my back hit against the window, "you, owe me thirty bucks."

I glanced toward Claire who looked like a deer caught in headlights.

Afro Guy's shirt was yanked backward and that revealed something totally and utterly shocking, Lucy's expression was one of absolute fury, but it was too beautiful to feel the sting.

"You, whatever your name is," she demanded. "Sit back down or better yet,leavebefore I start delivering yourpackagesto everyone's front door."

"T-that's against your policy."

Lucy scoffed. "I canchangethe policy."

Afro Guy shrank back and it was amazing to see because this girl was tiny in comparison to him, yet she appeared way more powerful. It was her stance, I concluded, it oozed with confidence, there was no hint of backing down. He swarmed out of the room before I could even blink. With him gone, that left us to deal with the clearly agitated Lucy and no, I didn't want to get on her bad side.

EvenClairestarted to leave because she was that scared.

"Not you," Lucy said, sharply, blocking her exit.

Claire sat back down and reached for her cup. "My coffee's cold. Damn."

"Isn't it supposed to be cold?" I asked.

"Uh." She sipped it. "I don't know, to be honest. I always get consumed by its fabulous taste that my taste buds don't register temperature?"

I rose my hands defensively when Lucy turned her cold stare to me. "I don't want any trouble, okay? I just want a nap. Maybe a four-hour nap. Is that too much for a girl to ask for?"

She studied me, her face went from rage to blank in a second. She looked me up and down and came to some sort of conclusion.

"I was searching for you," she admitted, ominously.

It dawned on me. "Oh. Didhehire you to run me over?"

"What?"

Claire slammed her head against the table. "Jasper always did say Lucy was super unpredictable. Afro Guy sending them bitches from hell to run you over?" She looked to Lucy who stared at her intensely. "You can't finish the job. Iwon'tlet you. I will supply her with so many hotdog costumes that it will be impossible to feel a thing. You hear me? Not. A. Thing."

The fury was back and this time the full force was directed at me and had its intended effect because I never felt coldness like that seep through my body before.

Lucy stalked forward. Once she placed her perfectly manicured fingers on my desk—something changed.

A charming smile crossed her lips. "My friend's mom is a lawyer. The best lawyer. We will counter-sue if it comes to it. Trust me, you don't want that."

I licked my lips, nervously. "Suing? Who mentioned anything about suing?"

Claire inclined her head. "Told you so."

It was funny how Lucy had many expressions of outrage. It wasn't all that funny that they all derived from me.

"Okay," she said, backing away and somehow, she was calm again. Eerily calm. "I came to find you to talk. I was going to offer a truce."

"Was?" I asked, put out. "Youranme over."

"Well, are you dead?" she asked, lightly. "Also, no, that was Ruby."

Claire placed her phone down on the table and tapped my hand so that I'd stop talking. What we heard next was baffling.

"Was? You ran me over--/--Well, are you dead? Also, no that was Ruby."

We both turned to Claire who looked smug. My cousin, my smart cousin recorded the conversation.

"Lucy," Claire cooed, pleased with herself. "You transport goods and students across campus."

Lucy curled her lips back. "Yes. That's relevant because?"

"So, you must have keys to buildings," she continued.

"Why are you asking me this?"

Claire grinned and shared a look with me—as if I was supposed to know what she planned on doing.

"You, Lucy and your friend Ruby are going to help me tonight," she declared, tossing me a sideways look. "Bring your keys."

"Clarissa, right?" Lucy tilted her head to the side. "You have no idea who you're dealing with."

Claire smirked. "Apparently, you don't either."

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CHAPTER THREE

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CHAPTER FOUR

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CHAPTER FIVE

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CHAPTER SIX

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CHAPTER SEVEN

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CHAPTER EIGHT

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CHAPTER NINE

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CHAPTER TEN

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

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CHAPTER TWELVE

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

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~

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