I was tempted to ask Nic why he was just sitting at my workplace, staring out the window. He looked so tired and… sad? The enthusiastic, smirking guy from last night was long gone, and to be honest, I didn’t like seeing him so out of energy. What he said about his perfect life stayed on my mind. I’d seen hate in his eyes when he said it.
I couldn’t understand why he’d be angry with his life, or why he would hate it, but I did understand the look in his eyes. I knew painfully well what it was like when people didn’t see past the surface, and I did not know anything about what was going on in Nic’s life, so I tried not to judge. Besides, if everything was alright with him, he wouldn’t be sitting in our shop, staring out the window for hours with such a tired expression on his face. He was not tired because of a sleepless night.
More than an hour had passed since he asked me to let him sit there for a moment longer, and he still wasn’t getting up. I focused on working, but still stole glimpses of him whenever I had the chance. For some reason, the fact that he chose to come to our shop made me feel things I didn’t want to feel. He was here because of me, and that… Fuck…
There was no one else around, so I went to grab a big cup of cola and brought it to Nic. He glanced at it, then at me in surprise.
“On the house,” I said as I put it down in front of him. “I can get you coffee too.”
“Thanks,” he said with a smile. “But you don’t have to give me anything.”
I ignored his words as I sat down.
“Did something happen?” I asked.
He stared at me for a brief moment, his smile fading. “No…” he finally muttered and looked away. “It’s just…”
He shook his head with a sigh. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“No, I’m being serious. Everything is fine. Everything is perfect.”
“You keep saying that,” I noted. “But perfect sounds more like a curse word coming from your mouth.”
He snorted with a smile, but he wasn’t amused. “I’m grateful for everything I have in my life.”
I tilted my head as I watched him. “You still hate it. Or at least parts of it.”
“I have no reason to,” he said.
“Are you telling that to me or yourself?”
He suddenly laughed and looked at me. “What’s with the interrogation?”
I shrugged. “I’m just trying to understand you better.”
His smile turned softer, and his posture relaxed. He was about to say something, but his phone started ringing. I didn’t miss the immediate change in his behavior when he glanced at his phone. And I did not miss the name Dad on the screen just before he answered the call.
“Yeah?” Nic said shortly with a cold tone.
I didn’t hear what his father said, but it was nothing Nic wanted to hear. He was practically grinding his teeth as he listened, trying to get a word in a few times, but his father continued interrupting him.
Daddy issues, huh?
“Fine. I’ll come home. Ten minutes. Yeah, sure. Bye.”
Nic let out a heavy sigh, looking like he wanted to throw the phone to a wall.
“I have to go back,” he said, giving me the ugliest fake smile I’d ever seen as he stood up. “I’m sorry you wasted your cola on me. I can pay for it.”
I stood up as well and stopped him from leaving. Not like this.
“Fuck the cola,” I said sternly.
He stared at me, then took a deep breath, and his posture softened. “I’ll see you at school on Monday?”
“If you can find me,” I said with a wink.
“Is that a challenge?” he asked, now with a genuine smile.
“Maybe,” I said, and tried to turn my back on him, but he grabbed me by my arm and twirled me back around.
“A kiss for good luck?” he asked.
“Oh, so you do know how to behave,” I said.
“I don’t want to get burned,” he said with a smirk.
“You will get burned with me,” I said quietly and pecked his lips. “But you already knew that.”
He laughed lightly as I walked away, waving at him over my shoulder.
“I’ll come find you,” he promised just before he exited the shop.
I didn’t want to return home. I would’ve gladly sat there in Jax’s shop until closing time, but Dad was already mad at me just because I wasn’t spending enough time studying. I knew I was in for another annoying lecture. He’d hover over me to make sure I studied. I just knew it.
And surprise, surprise, I was right.
The second I arrived home, he walked me straight to his study, to his desk that was now filled with his old schoolbooks.
“I was fine with you going out last night, but enough is enough,” he practically spat at me. “I will not let you ruin everything we’ve worked so hard for.”
“I was just grabbing breakfast,” I said in annoyance.
“You were gone for hours! I expected more from you! This is your final year in high school! You need to start paying more attention or you will ruin everything!”
“Could you just stop breathing down my neck?! My grades are perfect enough as they are!” I nearly yelled at his face, surprising both myself and him.
I never dared to raise my voice with him.
His expression turned into an angry glare. “How dare you speak to me like that! Is this how you repay me after everything I’ve done for you?!”
“I am grateful for everything you’ve done for me, but you need to back off and give me room to breathe,” I said as calmly as I could.
“So you can go out and have fun with your little friends?” he said and snorted. “Absolutely not. I will not let you fail, and you will thank me later. You’ve had enough fun, but now it’s time for you to start taking your education seriously.”
“I am taking it seriously!”
“You clearly are not or you wouldn’t have sneaked out first thing in the morning! Now sit down and grab your notebook. We have a lot to go through today.”
I stayed up on my feet, trying to calm down. I had never fought with him like this… Part of me liked it.
“I don’t need to learn all this now,” I said. “I’m supposed to learn this in college.”
He took a threatening step toward me, pointing at my seat in an angry manner.
What else could I do…? Slowly, I took the seat and turned my attention to the books in front of me. I wished I’d had the guts to stay with Jax…
“I will not let you make a fool out of me,” Dad said as he sat down on the other side of the desk. “The annual celebration is in a few weeks, and you better be ready for it.”
I suffocated a groan. Of course this was about that stupid anniversary party his company was throwing every year.
“It’s just a party. Why would I need to be ready for anything?” I asked, feeling sour.
“Because you’re going to meet our biggest clients, and you better make a good impression. I’d die from embarrassment if my own son, my future partner, doesn’t know the first thing about running the business.”
I stared at the book in front of me, feeling so goddamn tired. I knew this weekend would be horrible as long as Dad was home.
And again, I was right.
Monday morning was a blessing. It meant Dad had to go back to work, and I got to stay away from home. Home was slowly turning into a place where I didn’t want to be, and that feeling was slowly growing worse. It was unsettling. The anxiety was unsettling.
After arriving at school with Jessica, the first thing I wanted to do was go find Jax, but I didn’t really have time for it. I didn’t see a glimpse of him as I followed Jessica to our first class. She already knew I had a bad weekend, so she let me have the space I needed. I really wasn’t in a talking mood, so I appreciated the silence.
Once the first class ended, I headed to the roof. I really hoped Jax wasn’t going to make me search for him. The break between classes wasn’t long enough for that, and I just wanted to spend a moment in his deadly presence to get my mind off things. I needed that.
So when I climbed up the stairs, exited the stairwell and saw Jax leaning against the railing, I smiled. He heard me, but only gave me a quick glance before he continued smoking without saying a word. I walked up to him, and as the brave boy I was, I put my arms around his waist and rested my head on his shoulder. He didn’t even flinch, so I carefully hugged him.
“So you have arrived to harass me,” he said.
“Yes,” I muttered, enjoying his scent. I didn’t even mind the smell of his cigarette.
He didn’t reply to me. When he didn’t seem to mind me holding him, I snuggled my face against the crook of his neck and closed my eyes. I really liked this calmness between us. I was glad that he was finally warming up to me, and I hoped it meant I didn’t have to worry about getting assaulted again.
But for some reason, at that moment, I wasn’t able to feel joy over making progress with him and winning the bet. After such an annoying and tormenting weekend with Dad, I just wanted a place to rest. It was easy with Jax. For one, he didn’t talk much, and two, he wasn’t faking anything. He didn’t fake interest to stay on my good side and then turn around and make fun of me behind my back. I knew he was annoyed with me right now, but he was kind enough to let me harass him.
And I realized he wasn’t a complete asshole, after all. He did have a nice side, too. It was simply extremely difficult to reach, and highly dependent on his mood.
It was a shame that he hated everyone. I really liked his company even when we didn’t say a word. There was no need to force a conversation with him, no need for small talk or try to get to know him – he wouldn’t even tell me anything if I tried. I didn’t have to be or act entertaining or funny or charming if I didn’t have the energy for it. Jax didn’t seem to mind if I was just being myself.
Even when I was feeling down.
The bell rang too soon. With a heavy sigh, I let go of Jax, and he turned around to look at me.
“Still not in the mood to harass me?” he asked, tilting his head.
I laughed a little but ended it with a sigh. “I guess not… But I promise to continue harassing you soon, don’t worry.”
He squinted his eyes. “I didn’t give you the permission to harass me.”
“Ah, but then it wouldn’t be harassment, right?” I asked with a smirk.
“I suppose,” he said slowly, trying to hide his amusement.
That there gave me enough courage to step back to him. “Are you free today?”
He squinted his eyes at me harder. “I suppose,” he said again.
“Good. I want to hang out with you,” I said. “Wait for me after school?”
“If I feel like it,” he said, slipping out of my reach.
I smiled as I watched him go. Why did these little moments feel so rewarding…?
The rest of the day went by way too slowly. Jax was constantly on my mind, and I preferred it that way. I was slowly getting into a good mood, and I didn’t want to ruin it by thinking about my life, future, and especially my father.
The last class finally ended and I nearly skipped my way to the entrance to see if Jax was there already. Jessica followed me with a smirk on her face, but her expression turned to an apologetic one when we both found out Jax was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s probably still making his way here,” she said.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said.
“Oh? So you’re not expecting to meet up with anyone?” she asked, her knowing smirk returning.
Since I couldn’t stop looking around, I had no choice but to admit I was indeed waiting for someone.
“Jax said he’d wait for me if he feels like hanging out with me,” I told her quietly.
She raised an eyebrow at me, her smile changing into something else. “I just realized you haven’t told me about how the challenge is going.”
“Don’t say that out loud,” I whispered to her.
I knew perfectly well that Jax wasn’t there, but I still feared he had somehow heard her.
“It seems to be going well,” she said, ignoring my words. “Too bad you’re actually starting to like the guy.”
I stopped to stare at her. “I do not!” I then said, but she just laughed.
“Are you saying you’re eager to see him just because of the you-know-what?” she asked.
“Of course. I’m only hanging out with him because of that thing. I’m so close to winning, and I can’t wait to get this over with so I can wipe the smile off Caleb’s face,” I told her sternly.
She simply raised her eyebrows at me without saying a word. I still wanted to argue, but since she wasn’t taking the bait, I turned my back on her. And tried to find Jax.
Most of the students had already left for the day, but Jax still was nowhere to be seen. Minutes passed slowly as Jessica and I stood there, waiting for him without speaking. When the stream of students had turned into a few people here and there, I sighed again and faced Jessica.
“I’m sorry he ditched you,” she said quietly.
I shrugged. “He did say he’ll wait if he feels like it…”
“Maybe he forgot?” Jessica offered.
“Maybe…” I muttered and turned around one last time. The yard was empty, and there were no more people coming out of the building.
I glanced at her when she took a step closer to me.
“Just forget the bet. Pay Caleb and be done with it. We can pretend it never happened,” she spoke in a pleading tone.
“No. Didn’t you listen? I’m winning. I still have plenty of time to make him fall for me,” I told her.
“No, Nic,” she said and sighed. “You’re losing, but it’s not too late to change things. Just pay the money, then tell Jax what was going on so you can have a fresh start.”
“What? I’m never telling him about it, are you kidding me? You know how well that will go,” I said, taking a few steps away from her.
“Then pretend it never happened. But you can’t continue like this. You both will end up hurt if you do,” Jessica continued.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” I told her and started walking.
If she replied to me, I didn’t hear it. My foul mood was making a comeback, but then I saw something that completely wiped the entire conversation with Jessica from my mind.
Jax was waiting for me by my car, looking annoyed.
“Finally! What took you so long!” he asked me with a frown.
“Sorry!” I said, smiled and ran the rest of the way to him. “I was waiting for you by the entrance.”
“Oh,” Jax said as I stopped in front of him. “Now here I thought you got detention.”
“Me? Never, unless it involves you,” I said and chuckled.
“I would never get you into that kind of trouble,” he said, faking innocence.
“Right,” I said with a grin. “Ready to go?”
“I was ready ten minutes ago,” he said and walked to the passenger’s seat.
I had a big smile on my face when I sat down behind the wheel and asked Jax if there was something he wanted to do. I was really happy that he hadn’t ditched me, after all.
But that did not mean I was starting to like the guy enough to forget the bet.