Home > In the Arms of the Elite (Rich Boys of Burberry Prep #4)(7)

In the Arms of the Elite (Rich Boys of Burberry Prep #4)(7)
Author: C.M. Stunich

“You got me addicted to this place,” he says, pausing as one of the pretty young waitresses bounces down the steps with a bag of to-go food.

“I've got your order, Zack,” she says, biting her lower lip and blinking long eyelashes in his direction. Then she notices me standing there and looks at me like I'm getting in her way.

“Thanks, Lucia,” Zack says, reaching into his pocket to pull out a wad of cash. “Keep the change, okay?” She takes it and gives me another sassy look before storming off.

“Come here a lot, huh?” I ask, glaring at him, but it's tempered with a smile. “Lucia seems to really like you. And you're on a first-name basis, too?”

Zack gives me a cocky grin and leans down, close enough to kiss.

“I don't know if you're aware, but I'm a fucking football star. I can have any girl I want.”

“Uh-huh,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest. But I do feel better. I mean, as well as anyone could considering what Dad's going through. My body starts to tremble and Zack notices, frowning slightly and standing up as the front door to the diner opens again and Charlie comes down the steps.

He's still not Zack's biggest fan, but we're getting there.

“Zack,” Dad greets, looking between the two of us like he can't quite figure out our relationship.

“Mr. Reed,” Zack says, and I feel another pinch of guilt that I came between their friendship with that video. Maybe I went a little too far with that one? “I was just here picking up a to-go order, and ran into Marnye.”

Dad nods, turning to me with this inscrutable expression on his face.

“I'm going to head over to the winery and start installing those arches.”

“You shouldn't be working,” I tell him firmly, feeling my body get hot with frustration. “I have that poker money—”

“Which you'll need for college.” Dad reaches out and touches the side of my face with a thin hand, a hand that used to be strong and sure. “I want to work, Marnye. I like it. Ironwork is like an art form for me. If I stop doing it, that's like giving up. Do you want to drop me at home, so I can grab my truck?” Dad gestures at the rose-gold Maserati, sitting so conspicuously in a row of rusted old cars that to me, have just as much life and beauty to them as the birthday gift from the prince.

“Here.” I hand Charlie my keys with a smile. “Take my car, but put your seat belt on, and don't do anything reckless.” Dad laughs and gives me a quick hug. “I'm cooking you dinner tonight. I'm experimenting with a vegan recipe I found online. Also, I bought Bagel Bites in case it totally sucks.”

“You're on,” Charlie says, giving me a kiss on the forehead before he heads for the convertible, cursing under his breath and running his hand along the door before he climbs in and takes off.

“He's dying, you know,” I tell Zack as Dad drives away.

“I know,” he whispers, and since Charlie's gone, I give myself a few minutes to cry while Zack holds me. He does it so gently, so selflessly … I'm positive then that I've well and truly forgiven him.

Lower Banks Middle School is surrounded by a chain-link fence. There are security cameras, but I doubt anyone's watching the feed. More than likely, they're just there in case of any major vandalism. Once upon a time, there was a trio of full-time police officers who used to rotate their shifts, so there was someone here, rain or shine, whether the campus was open or closed.

Not anymore.

Budget cuts have hit the school so hard, it makes me feel both grateful and guilty that I've been blessed enough to study at Burberry Prep. Not everyone has a dad like mine though, someone who worked extra shifts to give me harp lessons, to push me to work harder, to fight with everything I had.

The round circle of grass in the middle of the courtyard is yellow and brown with patches of dry dirt. When Zack and I went here, it was always green and well-tended.

“It's gotten worse,” he says after he helps me crawl through one of the many holes in the fencing, and we stand there in the center of the dead lawn, looking back through time.

“So much worse,” I say, feeling this stirring in my belly. One day, I'm going to make it a mission to help schools like these. How many smart and talented kids are tossed aside by the system? They deserve a chance, just like I had.

A charity case. A piece of trailer park trash. The bullied girl.

“Let's go to the bathroom,” I say after a minute, and Zack stiffens up beside me. I walk across the lawn and pause near one of the posts holding up the outdoor awning. Once upon a time, Zack encouraged a group of girls to throw me up against this exact post and dump my entire lunch down my shirt.

“Marnye,” he says, his voice cautious and fractured, like the memories are almost as hard for him as they are for me. No, maybe harder. He made the choice to treat me the way he did, and for no other reason than Lizzie picked me. And she picked me because of a stepdad that encouraged Jennifer to leave me at a rest stop because I cried too much.

I should really have a sit-down conversation with her.

“It's okay. Come on.” I turn toward the girls' bathroom, surprised to find the door unlocked. When I step inside, I see the splintered door frame and realize that somebody broke in here recently. Not surprising.

I pause at the entrance, my right hand on the door, my eyes locked on the large stall at the end, the one where I sat and swallowed all those pills.

“We don't have to do this,” Zack says, stopping behind me. “I'm sorry I even suggested we come over here. I don't know what the fuck I was thinking.”

“You were thinking we needed to face this together,” I tell him, moving into the room and walking over to that stall, the place I almost lost my life. I push the door in and stare at the floor. It smells like bleach, and there's no debris on the old tiles. The janitor must've been in here recently.

I sit down on the ground next to the toilet and curl my arms around my legs.

Zack joins me, sliding down the wall to sit on the floor.

For a while, we wait there in total silence.

“How did you know where to find me?” I ask finally, because we haven't really talked about the things that happened here. We've touched on them, but I want to confront them and move on.

“I didn't. I just saw that you weren't in class. You were always in class, so …” He pauses and exhales, stretching his legs out in front of him. “I don't know why I went looking really. I …” Zack stops talking and runs his fingers through his chocolate-brown hair. “I thought maybe you'd be in here crying or something. Then I saw your legs under the stall door.”

I watch him, and I can see that he's hurting, but I … I'm not. I try to decide if I'm just numb on the inside, but that's not it. No, I'm just in a different place in my life. I've gotten stronger. “I saved you, and then I told Lizzie about it.”

“Wait.” I look up and narrow my eyes. “You saved me and then told Lizzie about it? I was under the impression she'd already rescinded her end of the bet?”

“No, it was after …” Zack looks up at me. “Why?”

“I … never mind.” I turn my arms over and look for the marks on my wrists. There are faint scars, so faded that I can barely see them anymore. After my failed attempt with the pills, I rested at home for three days, and then I tried to cut my wrists in the shower.

Dad had just gotten these new kitchen knives with a magnetic board, and beautiful galaxy prints on the blades. They had brightly colored handles, and they were sharp as hell. It hadn't hurt nearly as much as I'd thought, but there was so much blood, just ribbons and ribbons of red, swirling down the drain.

I panicked then and ran to get Charlie.

It was the dizziness that really scared me, the weakness that swept over my body. It was that realization that I'd never be anything or anyone in this life, that I’d let Dad down, that I was giving up the most important thing in the world: a chance. I had a chance to turn things around, and I was saying no to that. It’s just not in my nature to give up, I guess. The feelings of loneliness and helplessness though, they were so strong. I wish someone had noticed beforehand how much I was hurting.

After that, I spent some time recovering in the hospital, and once they decided I was no longer a danger to myself, they sent me home. Zack and I started dating, and then we shared our first kiss. He broke up with me, and that was that. I didn't see him anymore.

Not until he stepped out of that limo outside Burberry Prep.

“What are you thinking about?” he asks me, and I look up, remembering him pulling my body against his, his fingers opening my mouth, making me throw up. I sobbed and sobbed as he rocked me, my fingers clinging to his shirt. He brought me that low. For a bet. For a game. For the fucking Infinity Club.

“How did you feel when you found me in here like that? What was going through your head?”

Zack curls his arms around his legs and rests his chin on his knees. His gaze is so far away, I can tell he’s not here in the moment with the current me, but rather in the past with the girl he tried so hard to destroy.

“Shame. Anger. Hatred. Not toward you though, but toward myself. I don’t know if you remember me screaming. I don’t think I stopped until they took you away, and I punched the wall so hard I broke my knuckle.” He sits up and points at a tile, still cracked from that incident so long ago. It’s like life, I guess, how one small action can change the fate of the world forever.

“And your grandfather … why did he cut your parents off in the first place?” Zack’s mouth tightens into a thin line, and he looks away, focusing on a dick drawn in Sharpie next to the toilet. It says Emily Loves Brad’s Cock. I stand up and dig around in my purse for a moment, pulling out my own permanent marker and scratching the words out with the squeak of pen on tile.

“My dad, and his dad, they don’t exactly see eye to eye on … well, anything. Politics, religion, economics. They’re polar opposites. They got in some huge fight over the direction of the company. My dad never joined the Infinity Club. He wanted to make an honest living with the business. My grandpa …” Zack scoffs as I turn back to look at him. “He said there was no chance to make real money without the Infinity Club. He’s right, by the way.”

   
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