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Rise, Fall, and Ruin

Summary

Tatiana Zaikov is a senior attending Acadia Academy in California. Here, she is one of the lucky few to be at the top of her school's social hierarchy. She has only ever known what it was like to be at the top in Acadia. That is until she manages to upset Acadia's Queen Bee, Mariah Wellis. Actions have consequences, and with her actions, Tatiana finds herself to be falling down the ladder faster than she can comprehend. Even though she is doomed, she puts up a brave front. But, Caspian King and Nolan Pierce, the kings of Acadia, know she is falling apart. So, they offer her an irresistible proposition. A proposition that will ultimately cause Tatiana's rise, fall, and ruin.

Will Tatiana be able to rise above what is thrown in her way, or will she be ruined?

Chapter One

'One must fall before they can rise.'

"I HATE YOU CASPIAN KING!"

My head jerks up from my locker as the shrill voice echoes through the main hall. Every student has immediately dropped what they were doing to watch the drama that's unfolding. I quickly and quietly close my locker, making sure to not disrupt the silence. I have to say that this is a very interesting way to start a Monday morning.

In the middle of the hallway, not too far from where I currently am, stands the kings and Caspian's latest girlfriend. And I use that term loosely. Everyone in this school knows he never stops sleeping around, even when he is supposed to be tied down to his girlfriends. But hey, it's his life not mine so he can live it as he wishes. Now that doesn't necessarily mean I like the guy. If anything, unlike almost all girls here, I'm repulsed by him.

Who is their right mind would even want to date a player? It almost seems as if girls think Caspian will change when they date him. That they will be the one girl to put an end to his player ways. Sorry honey, hate to break it to you, but this is reality and he isn't going to change his ways because of you. Girls know he cheats and, yet they still throw themselves at him. My only guess as to why is the status a girl gets when dating one of the kings, the status of Queen.

"Kate, darling, why would you hate Caspian King?" Nolan, the second king of this school, questions with amusement.

"He slept with four other girls during our one-month relationship!" Kate seethes pointing an accusatory finger at Caspian, who stares at her in boredom.

Nolan shakes his head and the small smirk on his lips says exactly what I'm thinking. "Sweetie, this has happened how many times before? Why did you think it would be any different for you?"

"I-I," Kate stutters and open and closes her mouth as she tries to find her words. They seemed to have escaped her for the time being.

Half a minute later, she speaks. "I thought I was different." Her voice is weak and a mere whisper. I had to strain my ears in order to hear her. But once I did, I scoffed.

And boy did that scoff turn everyone's attention on me. Nolan and Caspian turn their gazes from Kate to me. Their eyes meeting my own. My face stays devoid of the emotions running through my body. I hate attention and now I have at least twenty pairs of eyes on me. I move my hands in a sweeping motion, gesturing for them to carry on. Which they do, but a certain someone's gaze stays on me a little too long.

"We're done Kate." The man of the hour finally speaks.

"You can't break up with me! I'm breaking up with you!" Kate's face is now painted with the red of embarrassment and anger while Caspian scowls.

A sickly-sweet smile replaces Caspian's scowl within seconds, "It's too late Kate. I've already taken the initiative of breaking up with you.

Kate's mouth hangs open and she gasps. I can only imagine the feelings running through the poor girl's mind. Hurt, frustration, anger, embarrassment just to name a few. To be frank, I find it exceedingly difficult to feel any remorse towards Kate. The girl simply had it coming. She’d knew what was bound to happen. People don't change. And if they do, it's only a matter of time before they revert back to their old habits. Humans are creatures of habit after all.

Caspian and Nolan turn away from Kate and walk down the hallway in my direction. I step back to let the pair pass and could swear Caspian was looking at me from the corner of his eyes. Great, my little scoff has brought about the attention of the last person I'd ever want it from.

The bell sounds, alerting the student body of their tardiness to first period. Students scurry in their hurry to get to their classes. I sigh as I make my way to AP Calculus, knowing Mariah is going to have my head on a spike for being late. I decide to extend my tardiness by walking slowly and enjoying the last few minutes before I reach the class I die in every day.

The halls are deserted now, save for a few late stragglers such as myself. The sound of my heels meeting the floor reverberates as I walk. AP Calc is across the school from where the drama was this morning. It usually takes me a good five minutes to get to the class, but today the walk is more like ten minutes.

I don't bother knocking on the closed door as I walk right inside instead.

"Miss Zaikov, it's nice of you to finally make it to class. Care to explain?" Mr. Clarke questions.

I continue to walk to my desk as I answer. "I needed to pray to God for the strength required for me to get through this class."

I don't hear his response, if there even was one, because Mariah yanked my arm as soon as I took my seat next to her.

"Why are you so late?" She hisses in a low voice as she throws daggers at me with her eyes.

I roll my eyes at her. Poor Queen Bee can't stand when she doesn't have tabs on her best friend. Why? Good question. Make sure to let me know if you find out the answer.

Taking my Calc book from my bag I respond, "Caspian broke things off with Kate." Speaking of Caspian, I think he is in this class? Oh right. How silly of me to forget. Mariah only talks about him all the time.

"Oh, I know. Like I can't believe he even dated her in the first place."

I don't say anything in response because I know exactly what she is thinking. 'It's me he should have asked out already. I mean just look at me and then look at him! We would like make the perfect couple.'

Mariah played the role of Queen Bee well. She fit the stereotype perfectly. Beautiful, charismatic, blonde hair blue eyes, manipulative, entitled, a bitc- Opps. I got a little carried away there. Anyway, she's Queen Bee, as previously mentioned, and I'm her best friend.

Best friend. Another set of words that I use loosely. In an environment such as Acadia Academy, your friends are your worst enemy. When you have a status as high as mine, you're lucky if you even have true friends. Truth is that everyone is for themselves in this school. If you're not the predator then you're the prey, and being the prey in Acadia is damaging.

A pain shoots through my arm and I turn to face Mariah. "Did you just pinch me?"

She nods. "I called your name like three times." She says annoyed.

"Huh. Must have zoned out again."

"You've like been doing that a lot lately."

One of the things I cannot stand about Mariah is her ridiculous overuse of the word 'like'. I've contemplated many times about getting her a dictionary and telling her to find other words besides ‘like’ to use, but that would be a bitch move.

"Anyway, we like totally need a girl's day. Just you and I."

A girl's day with just Mariah and I. I have to keep myself from groaning out loud. I absolutely hate spending time with her outside of school. All she ever talks about is gossip, shopping, money, gossip, shopping, money, and then more gossip, more shopping, more money.

I know I seem like the bitch, but believe me when I say I'm really not. Compared to the other girls here I am an angel and that's says a lot. Besides, this school makes one ruthless. I just hope I never find out how ruthless I can be. I don't want to become the girls I despise. Even though in some aspects I guess I am already like them.

I plaster a fake excited grin on my face, "We so do!" Not.

"Tatiana!"

I look away from Mariah and towards Mr. Clarke. "Yes sir?"

"First you're late to my class and now you can't even at least act like you are paying attention?"

"Sorry sir. I'll act like I'm paying attention."

Quite a few people, Mariah being one of them, either giggled or snorted. Mr. Clarke just huffs out a breath of anger and continues on with his lesson.

My phone vibrates on my desk and I turn to look at Mariah thinking she texted me about the girl's day. Except it wasn't her since her phone is surprisingly nowhere in sight. Which is kind of strange. The girl can’t go a millisecond without it. Shrugging, I look up to see what Mr. Clarke is doing and find that he is helping another student with this lesson's work. I grab my phone and press its home button. The lock screen shows a mass amount of notifications, but one recent text message from a number that is not in my contacts. I unlock my phone and open the message.

'SunRise Café. 4:00.'

Strange. Don't know the number so I'm most definitely not going. The person could be a murderer, or maybe they have the wrong number for a drug deal? Yeah, definitely not going.

And just in case it's someone I know, I'll claim I had plans with Mariah. They'll understand.

I put my phone down, glance in Mr. Clarke’s direction to make sure he is still busy, and lean towards Mariah.

"What do you say we have a spa day after school and go shopping tomorrow? School is stressing me out too much." She smiles and nods her head in replace of a yes. 

She is being too nice. She must want something from me...

Chapter Two

This day is going agonizingly slow. It's just now lunch time, meaning I still have four classes left. Thankfully my last class is a free period.

"I can't believe she like actually wore those heels to school. They are from the last season's collection." Mariah grimaces as she speaks with utter disgust.

"I know right! Sometimes I wonder why you even let her in your group." Ahh, yes. Leave it to Carrie to kiss ass and jump aboard the 'fashion police train'.

I find myself questioning just why I am still with Mariah and her group. I don't like any of them. I suppose the only reason I am still here sitting at this table, listening to gossip, is so I can keep my position on the ladder of social hierarchy. Now that I think about, that is basically the same reason girls date Caspian and Nolan.

Here at Acadia Academy we have what we call 'The Zones'. Zone One consists of the kings, the Queen Bee, and their followers, which I'm included in. The girls that date the kings are considered to be the ‘true’ Queens of the school, and are also included in this group. Mariah is just the Queen Bee since she happens to be the wealthiest girl at this school. These are mostly your richy rich kids. Zone Two is the rest of the school's wealthy population. Athletes also make up this zone. Zone Three is the entire freshman population. However, some freshman can be in the upper two zones due to certain circumstances. But that's just minor detail. Zone Four is the zone you don't want to find yourself in. For one, it's below the freshman and two, it's made up of the social outcasts, geeks, nerds, and band members. And these students are picked on and harassed daily. Unlike most ladders, this one is easier to climb down than up.

Thank the Lord I have only ever been in Zone One. I can't even imagine how'd I'd be getting through high school if I was in Zone Four. Just thinking about it makes me shiver.

"TATIANA!!!" I turn to look at Mariah who has an annoyed expression.

"What?"

She rolls her eyes, "You zoned out.... again. You need to stop doing that when I'm talking to you."

I know she is serious and pissed since she didn't use like one time while talking. Great.

"Sorry, what were you saying?"

"I was asking you if you could like go talk to Caspian for me. Well, not really asking. More so demanding." There you go people. I was right, she did want something. 

"Ask him what?"

"If he will go to dinner with me tomorrow night." Why can't she do this herself. Oh, right because she has me, her loyal best friend.

"Time?" Maybe she will cancel our shopping plans. Fingers crossed.

"Well, if we like go shopping right after school and only do it for a couple hours, then around seven. That gives us like four hours to shop." FOUR HOURS. Lord help me.

If I don’t do this, then Mariah will be even more pissed than she was when I zoned out on her. I get up from my seat and make my way over to the table the kings and their friends are sitting at. I stand across the table from where Caspian is sitting next to Nolan. He looks up at me expectantly.

I keep a bored expression and a nonchalant voice, "Mariah wants to know if you will go to dinner with her tomorrow night at seven." 

He stares at me and Nolan answers for him. Can these boys read each other’s minds?

“No. Caspian is not having dinner with Mariah.”

I sigh and turn around to walk back to Mariah and give her the news when Nolan’s voice stops me.

“But, he will have dinner with you.” I freeze mid step. Nolan practically yelled it and now, all eyes were on me waiting for my reaction.

I look over my shoulder and see that Caspian is watching me with a serious expression and waiting for my answer. Nolan, however, is smiling in amusement while the rest of the cafeteria has fallen silent.

I let out a strained chuckle, “That’s a good one.” I go to walk back to Mariah when a hand grasps my wrist. I peer down at the hand. My eyes travel up the arm and finally to the face of Caspian.

His brown eyes pierce into mine. “Nolan wasn’t joking.”

Alright, my heart just dropped into my stomach. Mariah is going to murder me. She has been wanting to go out with Caspian since I moved here and met her, and that was freshman year. I look over at my table and see Mariah’s deadly gaze situated on me. Her face is contorted in unspoken anger and rage.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I say in a whisper returning my gaze to Caspian.

His lips fall into a hard line. He then gives me a sharp nod and releases my wrist. I walk back to my lunch table, taking my seat next to Mariah.

“So, the guy I sent you to ask out to dinner for me, asks you out instead?” Fan-freaking-tastic. She is now, somehow, going to turn this all on me.

I sigh, “If anything, Nolan was the one to say no when I asked Caspian. Maybe Caspian will still say yes?” I know this is a poor argument because of the fact that Caspian claimed he wanted to take me out for dinner. God, this whole thing is stupid.

“I’m not stupid Tati. He wanted to take you out for dinner.” She spits out with hatred. “Why would he even want to take you out when I’m here? You and I can’t even be compared! I’m blonde and blue eyes, the perfect combination! You’re a brunette and besides, your eyes aren’t even the same colour!”

I keep my mouth closed and look at my hands. The best thing to do in a situation like this is to say nothing. Then again, if I stay quiet, Mariah has time to think. And that, is never a good thing.

All of a sudden, Mariah jumps out of her seat, grabs my arm, and yanks me out of the cafeteria. I pull my hand from her tight grasp once the doors to the cafeteria close behind us.

“What the hell?!”

“I’ve got an idea.” Damnit. She thought of something.

“I’m not doing whatever it is that you want me to do.” I state.

“Oh, yes you are. You told Caspian you weren’t going to dinner with him, right?” I nod my head. “Good. I want you to go back in there and tell him you changed your mind. I have a plan.”

“No. no no no. I am not doing this. I am tired of doing shit for you.”

“Really Tatiana? You haven’t even heard my plan yet.”

“I don’t need to hear to know what you want me to do.”

“And what do I want you to do, hmmm?” She questions.

“You want me to go out with him, make myself look like a fool, and then proceed to tell him that I believe you are a better match for him.” She gives nothing away as I stare at her waiting for her reply.

“I’ve got to give it to ya. You’re pretty smart. That is precisely what I want you to do.” I shake my head rapidly. I am done with being her little puppy. I am tired of doing everything for her.

“Too bad cause there is no way in hell I am doing that for you. You want him, then you can get him yourself.” I turn on my hell and press my hand in the cafeteria doors to open them when she stops me.

Her voice is low and filled with anger, “You will be doing this. Are you forgetting that I can tear you down in the blink of an eye? That I can ruin you beyond measure? I know everything about you Tatiana, I know your secrets, things no one else knows. So, unless you want those secrets out and your life to be ruined, I suggest doing what I tell you to do.” Her face is in mine and I so so badly want to punch her perfect little nose.

But, I can’t do that. I need to be rational. She knows a lot about me, not all, but enough to do some serious damage. I need to be smart about this. Karma’s a bitch and I just hope to God she pays Mariah a visit soon because I can’t keep doing this shit.

“Fine,” I throw my hands up in the air. “Are you happy now?”

A wicked smile dances on her lips, “Very.”

I let out an exasperated groan, push through the cafeteria doors, and stalk my way back to Caspian’s table. His eyes were on me the whole way. I stop in front of him and get ready to start something I want no part in. Unfortunately, I do not really have a choice unless I want my secrets to be spilled.

“I’ll go to dinner with you tomorrow.” I state bluntly.

He tilts his head to the side, studying me. The boy is not stupid. He knows something is up. I mean wouldn’t anyone think something was up? I just came back from be dragged by the girl he practically rejected and am now giving him a different answer. Anyone would find it suspicious.

“I’ll pick you up at 6:30.” He knows where I live?

“Don’t you need my address?” I question in confusion.

“No.” What a short, clipped answer.

“Okay.” My voice rose at the end making it seem like a question when it was, in fact, a statement.

I walk back to my lunch table and see that Mariah is still not back. Her things are missing as well, so she must have came in to grab them. As soon as I take my seat, I am bombarded with questions from the eight girls sitting at the table.

“Are you dating Caspian now?”

“You’re going to dinner with him?”

You have soooo lucky Tati!”

“Are you the new Queen then? Oh, mer Gawd, you are totally the new Queen!”

I whisper under my breath, “I am not dealing with this.”

I grab my purse and walk out the cafeteria. Any minute now the bell for class will ring. A bell also singling the start of the gossip that’s bound to travel like wildfire. I still have to go to the spa with Mariah after school. Lord knows if I bail out she won’t let me hear the end of it. I can only hope I get out of shopping with her tomorrow because of the dinner date with Caspian. But, regrettably, we don’t always get what we want.

Chapter Three

School just ended, and I am currently on my way to the spa downtown. Mariah is already there, as she left school early. Typical her. It takes roughly fifteen minutes to get to the spa, giving me enough time to think about the dinner I will be having with Caspian tomorrow.

Just thinking about it makes me want to throw up. As I have said before, I am repulsed by the boy. But, no one can know how I feel about him. It is an unofficial rule at Acadia that one can not speak out against those superior to them. If you are caught saying the wrong things about Caspian King or Nolan Pierce, your life as you know it is over and down the ladder you fall.

However, if you do happen to be in Zones Three and Four, you can say whatever you want about the Kings, Queen, and Queen Bee. If you are in Zone Three, you can still drop to Zone four. But, it’s highly unlikely since those is Zone One tend to ignore the people below them. Unless of course they want to pick on them.

It’s not like I can talk to Mariah about my strong dislike towards Caspian. She would go to him right away and have me dropped. The only thing I can do is to keep my feelings towards him to myself. Meaning, I must keep my face impartial when around him.

I arrive at the spa and park my car next to Mariah’s new Audi. I make sure my phone and card are in my purse before stepping out of the car and heading into the building. My eyes instantly spot Mariah in the back of the room. She must have gone home and changed because instead of our uniform, she is wearing an extremely short dress. Sighing, I walk towards her and take the open sent beside her.

“Is that you Tati?” She questions. She is unable to see me because of the cucumber slices covering her eyes.

“Yes, Mariah.”

“Oh, good.” She replies before shouting out, “Ashley! Tati is here.”

A woman, likely in her forties, with dirty blonde hair approaches me and has me lean back into the chair. She proceeds to give me a facial. Once she is done, and I have cream resting on my face along with cucumber slices, Mariah gets down to business.

“Do you know what you are wearing to dinner tomorrow?”

“No, why?”

“Because, I am like picking you out something to wear.” She exclaims in a duh tone.

“And what will I be wearing exactly?” There was a bit of a waver in my voice because, frankly, I am terrified. She wants me to act like a total fool on the date. So, just imagine what she is going to make me wear.

“Don’t worry about it. Now, on to the more pressing matters… From the time Caspian picks you up to like the moment he drops you back off, you will be on your worst behaviour. You ruin the date. And at like some point, you are going to tell Caspian that you believe he is a better match for me.”

“And what if he just happens to like the way I am acting?” I ask to ruffle her feathers.

She snorts, “Oh trust me Tati he won’t. It’s like a wonder he even asked you to go to dinner. There is like absolutely no way he would want to go out with you, no offence.”

I want to reach over there, grab her neck in my hands, and squeeze the life out of her. She is such a bitch. Regardless to my inner thoughts, I remain quiet and keep my hands rested at my side the rest of the time. Only speaking when spoke to. Nothing more and nothing less.

After hearing, not listening, to Mariah gossip about the girls that are in our ‘friend group’ for half an hour, I’m more than ready to leave. Ashley just removed the cream and cucumber slices from my face and began to put on the finishing creams. As soon as she finishes, my phone vibrates under my thigh. I pick it up and find a text message from the same unknown number as this morning.

‘Don’t keep me waiting Tia…’

Who in the hell is this? I am getting concerned. It has to be someone I know, right? Otherwise, how do they know my name?

AM I BEING STALKED?!

“What’s with the face Tatiana?”

“It’s-It’s nothing.” She gives me a disbelieving look. Damn.

I come up with a quick lie. “Ok fine. Chanel is having a sale right now, but everything is sold out of my size.” Please tell me Chanel is having a sale right now Lord.

“Really? I like have to check then.” I need to leave. Now.

“I’ll catch up with you tomorrow. I have to get home and work on this AP English essay.” She nods her head and sweeps her hand in a motion that says, ‘Get outta here.’

I pay for my treatment, exit the building, and hop into my car. I start the car and sit with my hands on the steering wheel. Do I go to SunRise Café? Or do I not go to SunRise Café? You know what? I am just going to throw all caution to the wind.

SunRise Café is five minutes from the spa place, so it’s not like I am making a voyage. I make a left turn at the light and pull into the café’s parking lot. I park a good bit away from the building, turn my car off, and just sit there. This could possibly be a reckless decision on my part. Then again, it could be someone I know.

It could also be a serial killer.

My conscious never fails to terrify me. Screw it, I wasted gas to get here and can’t let it go to waste. I climb out of my car and start to walk across the parking lot when a certain car catches my eye. I look over to the right and see a red Maserati. Caspian King’s car.

What is that boy doing here?

I shake my head and continue walking to the café’s doors. SunRise Café is a bustling place where most kids hang out after school. Whether they be from Acadia or the other schools in this area, students are always here. I head towards the counter and peer at the menu board. I suppose since it is hot outside, I’ll just go with an iced coffee.

“Hello Miss. What can I get for you?” The guy behind the counter asks with a smile. The barista looks to be about my age and just happens to not be too hard on the eyes. Dark hair and light eyes, not a bad combination at all. Too bad I don’t have time for guys.

“I’ll just have a grande iced coffee, please.”

“That’ll be 7.50.” I hand him a twenty and tell him to keep the change.

He grabs a cup from behind him and lifts his gaze to mine. “Name?”

“Tatiana.”

“Alright, Tatiana, I will call you up when it’s ready.”  He winks at me. I offer him a small, polite smile.

I have an agenda and at this moment in time, boys are not on it. It is my Senior year; the time colleges are looking for incoming students. I need to keep focus on my grades and my sight on Yale. There is no time for distractions, especially when my future dreams are riding on me now more than ever.

“Tatiana.” I head back to the counter and he hands me the drink. He flashes me a pearly white smile. I thank him then turn and walk to sit at a table by the window with stools. Whoever texted me knows who I am. So, as far I am concerned, they can find me.

I look out the window and watch as people walk up and down the sidewalk. A bright neon pink shirt catches my eyes. A child, most likely five or six, skips beside her mother. The pair are holding hands and laughing. The mother was watching her daughter with pure love in her eyes.

Something drips onto my hand, and only then do I realize that I am crying. Crying in public… I quickly wipe at my eyes, being careful to not screw up my makeup, ridding myself of the tears.

Get yourself together Tati. It is what it is. There is no changing that.

Unfortunately, my conscious is correct. It has been years since my mother has shown me an ounce of love. I suppose she thinks she shows me, but maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. With the comments she makes I have no idea how I still hold on to the hope of her loving me. It will just have to stay the way it is. After all, you can’t change or help people if they believe they do no wrong.

While gazing down at the cup in my hand, I realize more than just my name was written on the side. I shift my hand over and my eyes widen in surprise.

‘The name’s Leo. Call me 669-221-6251.’

Well, that’s interesting.

“What the fuck. It’s four thirty Tia. What happened to you being a stickler for being on time?”

Instantly recognising the voice with the Italian accent, I turn around in my chair. I should of known it was him. He is the only one to call me Tia. A smile finds its way onto my face and I jump down from the stool. I throw my arms around the boy in front of me. He wraps his hands around my waist and brings me closer as his embrace tightens.

“I’ve missed you Eros.” I sigh into his neck. He chuckles, pulls out of the hug, and holds my shoulders at an arm’s length.

“I think I’ve missed you more, Tia.” We sit in the stools of the table I was just sitting at.

“So, why are you back here in California and did you get a new number?”

“Damn Tia. I see your bluntness is still here.” I shrug my shoulders and sip from my coffee. “Honestly, I couldn’t stand our once to twice a month Facetimes. Seeing you in person is much better than through a screen and I did get a new number a few days ago.”

Eros and I have known each other since our preschool days. I still remember the day we met as if it were yesterday. It was the second day of gym class and we were tasked with running laps around the gym as warm-ups. Being preschoolers, we all ran in different directions. Eros and I ended up colliding and since then, we have been best friends.

We went to the same school as each other until middle school. In middle school, he had to go back home to Italy. We tried to keep in touch by FaceTiming every night, but they grew to be too difficult after a few months with the different time zones. Instead of calls every night, we opted to calls once or twice a month.

I smile at him. “Seriously, why are you back Eros?”

He looks down at the table and smiles lazily. “I could never get a lie past you. Okay, I am here because my parents practically banned me from the estate and their sight.”

My jaw drops and I look at him disbelievingly. “What did you do?!”

“I may or may not have caused some trouble that could possibly tarnish my parent’s reputation.”

“I’m not even going to ask you what you did to achieve that. I’m afraid of the answer truthfully.” At this, he chuckles and nods his head.

“That’s probably a good idea. Oh, and do you mind if I stay with you at your house? My parents not only banned me from the estate in Italy, but also our place here.”

“Damn Eros. You are seriously scaring me right now, but no I don’t mind. I’m positive my mother won’t either. She likes you more than she likes me.” I sigh.

He places his hands over mine, which are resting on the table top, and fiddles with my fingers. “You know that’s not true.”

I scoff, “She is the same as when you left. If not worse.”

“Well, let’s go find out.” He stands from his chair and holds a hand out to help me down from my chair. I take his hand and step off the stool. I try to remove my hand from his as we walk out the café, but his hold tightens. Whatever, I’m sure it’s a onetime thing.

Once Eros and I are out the doors, I notice a figure leaning against the front of my car. As we get closer, I finally see just whose figure it is. It is none other than Caspian King. My eyebrows draw together as I try to think of why he would be at my car. Eros takes his hand out of mine and snakes his arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him. I look up at him and see him smirking at Caspian. Switching my gaze to Caspian, I find him with a stoic expression.

Eros and I stop in front of Caspian and I ask the sole question that is on my mind. “What are you doing here?”

He shrugs his shoulders, “Just thought I’d remind you that I will be picking you up tomorrow night at 6:30. Make sure to wear this.” He pulls a black box wrapped with a red ribbon from behind him and extends it out for me to take. I eye it warily and grab it with caution.

He stands from the car and acknowledges Eros with a nod. Eros returns the acknowledgement with a nod of his own. Boys, strange creatures they are. Caspian leaves, walking back to his Maserati while Eros stares down at me.

“You and Caspian? Never would have guessed.”

I open my car door, slide in behind the wheel, and place the box on the passenger’s seat. “Please, it’s just a set up.”

If only I knew how ironic that statement was. 

Chapter Four

I drive to my house with Eros following closely behind me in his sports car. It doesn’t take too long to get home and before I know it, I am stepping out of my car and waiting for Eros to do the same. Once he does, we walk up to the front door where I pause. I look over to him at my side. He notices and glances down at me in return.

“What’s on your mind Tia?”

“Nothing.” I lie. When in truth, I am not exactly excited for my mother’s reaction when she sees Eros. She has always taken a liking to him. She honestly loves him more than her own daughter. Pushing my trivial worries aside, I open the door and walk inside. Eros closes the door behind him.

“Everything still looks the same.” He smirks.

“Well, looks can be deceiving.” With that I head into the kitchen and grab an apple off the counter.

“What? You aren’t going to show your dear friend around?”

I chuckle. “You said it yourself. Everything looks the same in here. The guest room you stayed in when you came over is still the same as before. Wouldn’t surprise me if your stuff is still in there from last time.”

“Thanks again for letting me stay here Tia. You have no idea how much this helps.” He says with pure gratitude.

I take a bite of the apple and shrug my shoulders, “No problem. Make yourself at home. I’m sure you remember where everything is?”

“If not, I’ll figure it out.”

I nod my head at him and start to walk out the kitchen to go upstairs when a question enters my mind. I stop and turn around in the kitchen’s doorway to face Eros once more.

“What school will you be going to?” I question with slight interest and curiosity.

He gives me a devilish smile. “Acadia Academy starting on Thursday.”

I smile with joy. “Awesome! Can’t wait. Goodnight Eros.”

“Goodnight Tia.”

I head upstairs and throw the box Caspian gave me on my vanity. I then change into my pajamas. Nothing like good ole’ Kermit the Frog jammies. I throw my hair in a messy ponytail, not really caring what I look like. After all, it doesn’t really matter since my hair will be a bird’s nest in the morning. I climb into bed and under the grey cashmere comforter. I close my eyes, but find myself unable to fall asleep.

Thoughts invade my mind and they have no intention of leaving anytime soon. All I can think about is the dinner with Caspian tomorrow. Every bone and cell in my body doesn’t want me to go. But I have to go, or else Mariah will run her mouth around school. No way in hell can I drop down a Zone. Because once I drop down one, I am bound to drop again. Mariah won’t stop with me in Zone Two.

‘You don’t want what happened in middle school to happen now T.’

I grab the pillow next to me and stuff it on my face. I hate this so much and yet, no matter what choice I make, I will have to go through something I don’t want to. I suppose it comes down to which choice has the better outcome. And right now, that choice appears to be going through with Mariah’s plans.

“Uggghh. I am so not looking forward to any of this.” My voice comes out muffled since I am speaking into my pillow.

Another thought has also invaded my mind. A thought that involves Eros. Just what did the guy do to practically get kicked out of his family? He was always the bad boy type, but never did anything too serious. Just what happened all these years with him while he was in Italy? I’ll just deal with all this tomorrow. No sense in losing sleep over things I can’t necessarily control.

I remove the pillow from my face and put it back next to me. Turning on my side, facing the door, I close my eyes and try to fall into a peaceful slumber. Just as I am on the verge of falling asleep, I hear the steps creak slightly with the weight of a person. Footfalls travel down the hall and stop in front of my door. My door slowly creaks open and the hallway light shines through the crack.

A soft voice whispers my name, “Tia?” The accent gives who it is away.

“Hmm?” I groggily respond. He shifts his weight around and nervously runs a hand through his dark hair.

“I-I… Uh just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“And why wouldn’t I be Eros?” I close my eyes and question.

“No reason. Goodnight.”

“Night.”

He closes the door softly and I can hear him sigh before he walks to the guest room. He had meant to say something else, but reverted to making sure I was okay instead. I would question him on what he meant to ask me, but I am just too far under the influence of sleep to do so.

*^*

A horrid beeping noise fills my ears and I groan knowing precisely what it is. I turn the alarm on my phone off and lay in my bed staring at my ceiling. I don’t have the greatest feeling about today. Let’s just hope my intuition is wrong.

With sloth like slowness, I climb out of bed and head into the ensuite bathroom. I turn the shower on and set the water to the hottest temperature. Stripping out of my clothes, I walk into the shower and stand under the hot stream of water. My tense muscles relaxing instantly. I wash my hair and body before shutting the shower off and drying myself off. After wrapping my hair in a towel, I walk back into my room and into the walk-in closet.

The one plus of going to a private school and having to wear a uniform is the fact that I don’t have to waste time choosing an outfit for school. Acadia’s uniforms are simple. A red plaid skirt for girls with a white or black top. We can choose what kind of top to wear as long as it is white. We can also choose to wear the black uniform blazer or one of our own. Again, as long as it follows the colours of the uniform, the faculty doesn’t care. We even have a choice in what shoes we wear. Most girls wear name brand clothing and shoes.

I grab the uniform skirt from a hanger, a simple white button up top, and a black blazer with Acadia’s symbol. I throw everything on my bed and walk back into the bathroom to do my hair. I style my dark brown hair naturally in its loose curls. Next, I quickly do a little makeup, but not too much. Once finished, I get dressed, pick out a pair of Louboutin’s, grab my purse and phone, and head downstairs to the kitchen.

I am met with voices as soon as I walk into the kitchen. Eros and my mother are sitting at the counter and it appears that they are having a lively conversation. But, that all seems to change once my mother’s eyes land on me. Her smile turns into a frown and her laughter dies out immediately.

“Tatiana, what are you doing here? Get to school.” I hold myself back from rolling my eyes. If I did, nothing good would come from it. Besides, I have enough on my plate as it is.

“I have time mother. I don’t need to leave for another fifteen minutes.”

Her eyes narrow. “Did I ask you how much time you had? No. Go to school now.”

I look over at Eros who looks at me with concern. I give him the ‘I told you so look.’ My mother is worse than she was, but I suppose that is my fault too. I walk out the kitchen and out of the front door. Off to school I go. Yay…

I arrive at Acadia ten minutes early and park in the Zone One parking spots, which are the closet to the school. To waste some time, I sit in my car and watch all the students walking into the building. For the most part, they all seem to be carefree and happy. I wonder just how many of them are faking it.

I try to see through what people show others to find out if there is more to them than meets the eyes. A majority of people have two versions of themselves. The version they are when they are around others and then the version they are when they are alone. Some may have more than two versions and some may only have one.

Knocking on my window takes my attention off the students walking around. I look over at the person standing beside my car, Mariah. I close my eyes and take a deep breath before exiting my car.

“Good morning Mariah.”

She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, whatever. We have like stuff to go over right now. I like totally have the worst outfit for you tonight.” She smiles in delight. “Caspian like won’t be able to look at you without puking.”

Lord, I know I am a sinner, but please help me out here.

“That’s great Mariah. I will see you later.” I try to move away from her, but she grabs onto my wrist and pulls me back to her.

“You better not fuck this up Tati.” You’d think she was a snake with all the hissing she does.

I remove her hand from my wrist and smile at her sweetly, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

*^*

The school day goes by far too quickly. It also seems like the day goes faster when you are not anticipating what’s to come. But when you can’t wait for something to happen, the day goes slower than a snail stuck in honey.

Since Mariah cancelled our shopping spree, I am currently sitting on my bed staring at the monstrosity Mariah expects me to wear tonight. It is absolutely hideous and will cover every ounce of my body. It consists of a long maxi skirt only grandmothers would wear, a pink sweater, and a purple cardigan.

“There is no way I am wearing this.” I mumble under my breath. I am going to be making a fool out of myself as it is by ruining this dinner. I don’t need to make a fool out of myself by wearing this too. I’ll just wear what Caspian gave me. I hope it’s decent because I haven’t open the box to see for myself yet.

Caspian is picking me up at 6:30 and it is 4:45 now. I have more than enough time to get ready. I take a shower, straighten my hair, touch up my makeup, and now to get dressed. I take the black box and sit on my bed as I remove the red bow holding it together. A gasp escapes my lips as I pull out the short red dress.  

The Gucci dress was stunningly beautiful. It was a deep cherry red and compliments my tanned skin perfectly. I put in on and peered at my reflection in the mirror. It is truly a gorgeous dress, just not on me. It is a body hugging dress ending at mid-thigh and I am not the skinniest girl. I am a slightly curvy girl with a little extra skin here and there.

To finish my outfit, I throw on a pair of black Versace pumps and wrap a black shawl around my shoulders. The nights are beginning to get chilly.

The doorbell rings and I look at the time on my phone. 6:30. Huh, turns out more than enough time was the right amount of time. I grab my COACH bag, throw my phone and wallet in it, and head downstairs.

I find Eros blocking the doorway and holding the front door open. I tap his shoulder once I am behind him to get his attention. He looks at me over his shoulder, his eyes widening, before finally moving away from the doorway.

There, on the porch, stands Caspian King in an Armani suit.

His light brown hair looks like he had been running his hand through it repeatedly. It doesn’t hamper his appearance in anyway, it actually does the opposite. If anything, it makes him look better. But, looks are just looks. The personality is where everything’s at. If you were to put the world’s hottest guy with the worst personality in front of me, I can guarantee you that I will have no attraction to him in anyway.

“Red is a good colour on you.” Caspian comments while taking in my appearance.

I casually lean against the doorframe as I respond. “Ah, yes. Did you know that powerful people wore red in Ancient Rome?” Caspian has always struck me as the domineering and dominant type. Maybe this will be a shot at his ego? Probably not, but a girl has to try when it comes to ruining a dinner without embarrassing herself too much.

The corner of his lips lift up a bit and a devilish glint lights up his dark brown eyes. “It is also the colour sin and passion,” he winks.

Damn. He’s smooth.

I feel a heated gaze on the back of my head. I look over my shoulder and see Eros watching me with an overpowering stare. He had never liked Caspian, and I am not entirely sure as to why.

“Bye Eros. I’ll see you later.” He nods his head once at me and turns his steely gaze to Caspian, who stares back with a wicked smirk. Ugh, guys.

I roll my eyes and shut the door after I have steeped out onto the porch. Caspian takes my hand in his and walks me to his Maserati. He opens the passenger’s door and closes it once I am seated inside.

The drive, to whatever restaurant we are going to, is quiet and overwhelmingly awkward. I don’t want to break the silence to try to make things more comfortable between us. I have a mission tonight and if I fail, I can say goodbye to my life as I know it.

No words were exchanged between Caspian and I. He parks his car, opens my door, and we walk to the entrance of the posh five-star restaurant. We are seated in a secluded section of the overcrowded and bustling restaurant where barely anyone resides.

“My name is Micah and I will be your waiter for the night. What can I get you to drink.” Micah smiles warmly. I smile flirtatiously at Micah and twirl a piece of my hair with my finger. Step one of Mission Ruin this Date had begun.

Micah’s eyes widen a bit and he quickly steers his gaze in Caspian’s direction. From the corner of my eyes, I can faintly see Caspian watching me with curiosity. Really? Curiosity?

“We will have a bottle of your best red wine.” Micah looks between Caspian and I with his eyebrows scrunched together.

“I’m sorry, but you neither of you appear to be twenty-one.”

Caspian sighs heavily and says two words that change everything. “Caspian King.”

Micah looks surprised and apologises before running off to fetch the red wine. Caspian can get anything in the world as long as he has his name.

Micah brings a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and asks us for our orders. Caspian looks at me waiting for me to give my order. I order an entrée consisting of chicken with a sultry voice while Caspian orders one with steak. I ordered the chicken entrée as a bonus step to my mission. Everyone knows that red wine does not pair well with chicken and the look on Caspian’s face says it all. He doesn’t comment on my order, instead he tries to spark up conversation.

“Why is E-.” He is cut off by the sound of my phone receiving a text. I smile at him apologetically and reach into my purse, grabbing my phone.

The text is from Mariah. I told her earlier today to start texting me a around six. Nobody likes a girl who is on their phone during a date, or at dinner.

“Go on. I’m listening.” I tell Caspian as I text back and forth with Mariah about mundane things. He begins speaking again and I ignore everything he says. I haven’t heard a word of what he has been talking to me about.

My phone being ripped from my hands brings my attention to the boy sitting in front of me. He is not happy, at all. His glare and scowl tell me just how he is feeling.

“I have asked you a multitude of questions only to not get a single answer in return. You’re not acting like yourself Tatiana. Why is that?”

I scoff. “Oh, so now you know how I act? Hate to break it to you Caspian, but this,” I move my arms in a sweeping motion, “Is acting like myself.” I say in a snotty tone.

His jaw clenches, but he is unable to say anything as Micah arrives with our food. I flutter my eyelashes at him and rest my hand on his arm as he places my plate in front of me.

“Thank you so much Micah.” He gulps nervously, quickly places Caspian’s plate down, and rushes away.

“I’m going to the bathroom.” Caspian stands abruptly and walks in the direction of the men’s room.

God, I am a horrible person. I should have never agreed to go on with Mariah’s plan. Then again, I don’t want to drop down a zone. What happened in middle school can’t happen now.

By the time Caspian gets back, I have already eaten half of my food. A polite person would have waited for their date to get back. A person attempting to sabotage their own date would do what I have done and what I am about to do.

Once Caspian is seated, I switch our plates. I now have his food and he has what is left of mine. Strangely, he doesn’t seem phased by this as all. I narrow my eyes and find that he is trying to hide what is either a smirk or a smile.

The date ends when I accidentally spill wine all over the table, Caspian, and myself. This, however, doesn’t upset Caspian. The boy is amused.

He drives me back to my house and as I about to open the car door, the lock sounds. I turn to Caspian confused and just a little worried.

“Don’t forget this.” He pulls my phone from his pocket. I had completely forgotten that he had it this whole time. I take my phone from his hand and he unlocks the doors, allowing me to leave.

“Oh, by the way, before you are loyal towards someone else, make sure they are loyal to you.” He tells me with a wink.

What is that supposed to mean?

“Okay?”

I get out of the Maserati and walk inside my house. What exactly did he mean by, ‘Before you are loyal towards someone else, make sure they are loyal to you?’

What all do you know that I don’t Caspian King?

Right before I go to bed, I text Caspian. Thus, ending my mission and saving myself from becoming a possible social outcast.

Hey, its Tatiana. I don’t think we have what it takes to be with each other. I believe Mariah Wellis would be a much better match for you.

I hit send and turn my phone on airplane mode for the night. I fall asleep believing that everything worked out just the way I needed it to.

Chapter Five

I arrive at school and park in my usual spot. Mariah meets me as soon as I step out from my car.

“You like didn’t text me last night. How did it go?”

“He’ll be coming after you in no time.” Hopefully, for my sake.

Mariah squeals and launches herself at me, giving me a tight and excited hug. I awkwardly pat her back willing her to let go of me. She does. After, oh say about three minutes.

“You just like saved yourself from falling down the ladder. Congrats!”

Yeah, go me.

“We are like so going shopping after school today since we didn’t go yesterday!” I nod my head going along with what she is saying.

We start to walk towards the school and head in the direction on our first class, AP Calc.

The day, as all days do, goes by slowly. There has been no drama today besides the fact that everybody is questioning me about what went wrong on my date with Caspian King. He must have started a rumour that him and I just aren’t meant for each other. That, along with an incident he refuses to speak about, whatever that may be. I am glad that things have turned out this way. Although, his behaviour after he returned from the restroom last night at dinner was a little odd with him trying to hide smirks and smiles.

I am just overthinking things per usual.

The bell rings saving me from having to present a presentation on climate change in AP Biology. It is now lunch time, a time I look forward to everyday. I mean, who wouldn’t look forward to a time when they can eat food?

I push open the doors leading into the cafeteria and head over to the table Mariah and our 'friends' sit at. I take my seat next to Mariah and wait for the lunch line to die down before getting my food.

I must have zoned out again because a scream, followed by shouts, draws me from my thoughts and places me back into reality. The cafeteria has grown quiet. Everybody's looking behind me, so I naturally turn to have a look myself.

I never knew Mariah got up, but there she stands in the center of the cafeteria. Mariah has her mouth hanging open and is pulling her shirt away from her body. It is now that I see it is soaked with some dark liquid. A girl, a freshman I believe, is cowering and stepping away from Mariah with fear written all over her face. I cringe because any second now Mariah is going to explode. Trust me when I say that you don't ever want to be on the receiving end of her fury.

"WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!"

"I-I'm sorry."

"This blouse cost me five hundred dollars." Mariah fumes as she slowly stalks towards the freshman. The girl doesn't respond and is now shaking.

"I am going to make sure your life for the next four years is hell at this school and any school you go to if you transfer thinking you could get away."

Well shit. Things just got real.

The girl's eyes start tearing up. This isn't the first time Mariah has made that declaration, or promise. One thing about Mariah is that she will make sure she follows through on her promises. Truthfully, I'm not positive I can watch another person suffer from Mariah's wrath.

Sure, I may sound bitchy a majority of the time, but I draw the line at stuff like this. Next thing I know, I'm doing something I've never done in a situation like this before. And I'm not entirely sure why I do what I am about to do. Maybe it is because I do not want others going through what I've gone through before. If what I'm about to do means I have to go through what happened in my past all over again, then so be it. As long as I can save someone else, I will go through the emotional pain a thousand times over.

I stand and walk over to Mariah and the freshman. My stomach starts to churn from every pair of eyes being on me right now. I can feel my body heating up and I can only hope my face hasn't turned red. Have I mentioned that I can't stand attention?

I pull the six hundred dollars from my purse I was going to use to buy the new COACH bag with. (Yes, I carry around wads of cash. Sue me.) I hold it out to Mariah who is looking at me with shock. Shock that quickly turns to outrage.

"Go buy yourself another blouse, Mariah." My voice comes out sounding clear and confident. A total contrast to the multitude of emotions flittering inside of me.

She swats my hand away, "I don't want your money."

Shrugging, I respond in what I hope is a careless tone. "Suit yourself then." I stuff the money back into my purse. Maybe I can still buy that bag?

Turning to face the girl, I make eye contact with the one and only Caspian King, who his sitting at his usual table. He tilts his head to the side as he watches me with a small knowing smile. I look away from his scorching brown eyes and offer a small smile to Mariah's victim.

I wrap my arm around the shoulders of the trembling freshman and I pull her along with me towards the cafeteria doors.

"If you walk out those doors don't expect to be in my friend group anymore!" Mariah shouts.

"And that's a bad thing? If we were truly friends, then something this insignificant wouldn't ruin our friendship." She knows just as well as I do that we were never truly friends. If anything, we were just acquaintances of circumstance. Shit, I am not sure if I would even classify us as acquiantances.

I reach the doors when her voice shouts out again. "I'll make sure you're not in Zone One anymore! That's a promise!"

My step falters. I never thought the day would come when I put my social position in jeopardy. Not too long ago I was thanking the Lord for only ever being in Zone One and was having a hard time imagining what it would be like to be in the lower Zones.

A small voice reaches my ears, "You don't have to do this." I peer down at the girl at my side who is avoiding eye contact by staring at her shoes.

"You're right. I don't," She nods her head slightly in understanding. "But I am."

I glance over my shoulder at Mariah. "So, I'm guessing this means our shopping spree is cancelled?" She lets out a frustrated screech.

With that I take the final steps out the cafeteria doors and across the threshold, completely oblivious to just how shitty my life was about to get. Of course, I expected it to take a plunge, but not a plunge so far down to where it was bound to go.

That threshold was not only a gateway out of the cafeteria, but also a gateway to my new fate.

The girl at my side still trembles as we walk down the deserted hallways. Maybe conversation will help calm her? I don’t know what to do. I never have been good when it came to people and their feelings.

"What’s your name?" I ask in a soft voice.

"Amelia."

"Well Amelia, I'm Tatiana." I smile.

The sadness etched on her face falls away as a small smile dances on her lips. "I know."

I have no idea what to say so we continue to walk down the empty hallways in silence.

"Where are we going?"

"To get you situated." Poor girl has streaks in her makeup from tears.

She nods her head catching my drift. "Can’t we just go into one of these restrooms?"

I shake my head back and forth. "No. Too many girls go in these restrooms. We are going to the one that’s rarely used."

The restroom is, of course, on the other side of the school. I know about it because it’s the one I go to when I just want to get away from the people attending this school. For some reason, not many girls use this restroom. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s on the other side of the school and they just don’t want to make the trip, or for some other odd reason unbeknownst to me.

"I never knew there was a restroom over here." She states as I push open the door.

"Not many do, and I’d like to keep it that way."

A half an hour later and you can’t remotely tell that Amelia was crying and was threatened by the school’s Queen Bee.

I place my hands on Amelia’s shoulders and look into her eyes. "If Mariah comes up to you, tell her to come to me. If you are having any problems because of her then come to me. Understand?" Her face brightens up and she encompasses me in a hug.

"Thank you so much!"

I just chuckle and awkwardly pat her back. Not only do I hate attention, but I also hate contact such as this.

"No problem." If Mariah keeps her promise, which she will, of making this freshman’s life hell, then the girl will need someone there for her. She has no idea how lucky she is. I know I just met her and all but from this last forty-five minutes, I can tell she is a lot like me when I was younger, and not just because of the situation she is in.

*^*

I have a minor issue.

I share practically every class with the she-devil herself. Strangely, she hasn’t done anything yet.

Is she glaring at me as if I’m a pair of Steve Madden heels compared to Louboutin’s? Yes.

Is she imagining running her stilettos through my eyes? Most likely.

Am I afraid of what she is planning? Just a tad.

Delightedly, this is my last core class and there is roughly five minutes before the bell rings. After this, it’s my study hall. Which is basically a free period. I begin to pack my books into my bag as I anticipate the ringing of the bell.

My phone suddenly vibrates with a text notification. I pull it from my bag and unlock it. The text is from Mariah.

‘Don’t be surprised by what happens next:)’

I turn my head to the side and glance over at her. She has a knowing smirk plastered on her face. I have a bad feeling that shit is about to hit the fan. I don’t give her any indication of fear as I smile innocently at her.

As soon as the bell rings, I slowly stand up, feeling anxious all of a sudden. It’s my free period, maybe I should just leave? Or will Mariah’s surprise take place before I can reach my car? Oh Lord, why can’t I just have a normal teenage life? Is that too much to ask?

I cautiously walk down the crowded hallways and head down to the first level. I’ve decided that I’m just going to leave early.

Everyone’s eyes are on me as I slowly make my way to the front doors. I start to tremble under all their gazes. Adjusting my purse's strap on my shoulder, I pick up my pace and look down at the ground.

I finally reach the school’s doors and hastily push them open. I'm met with the mild mid-September wind and a sight that makes my heart skip a beat.

What the fuck?!

A crowd had gathered in the student parking section. All of them are trying to contain their laughter. They have gathered right around the space I parked this morning. My face pales. She wouldn’t do anything to my car, would she? She knows how much it means to me.

I slip my feet out of my heels, rush down the stone steps, and jog to where the people have gathered. I shove my way through the throng of students until I reach the front. A gasp escapes my lips and i drop my purse and bag as I take in the sight before me. The Jaguar XJ Supercharger my dad passed on to me is ruined.

Tears start to build up behind my eyes as I stare heartbroken at the car, the car my father passed to me before he died.

No. She is not going to get the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

This car was the only thing I had left of him. It meant the world to me and now it was keyed, had missing paint, smashed headlights, multiple dents, and missing side mirrors. The windshield was decked in red painted lettering. I walked around to the front to read the words.

‘I WARNED YOU. ZONE 2’

 Damn her. She knows how much this car means to me and she still ruined it. I can deal with being bumped down a step on the hierarchy ladder, but vandalising my car? That’s pretty freaking low, even for Mariah. I inhale a deep breath. No one needs to see how troubled I am over something like this. Something all these half brains would find trivial.

"I told you I’d make sure you weren’t in Zone One. How does it feel?" I turn around at the sound of Queen Bitch’s voice. She’s smiling in satisfaction.

"I don’t care about what stupid zone I’m in anymore. I thought I made that clear when I walked out the cafeteria doors." I point towards my car, "However, I do care about you vandalising my car."

She laughs. "Oh Tatiana. You have a lot in store for you yet. Did you think I’d stop with you in being in Zone Two? For each Zone you drop, there will be a surprise. Maybe I should institute a fifth Zone just for you?"

I stare at her with anger. "Why are you even doing any of this? All I did was save someone from your wrath. That hardly constitutes your behviour. Stop acting like a child. If you have a problem with me, talk to me." Her smile is swiped off her face instantly at my words.

She stalks towards me with fire in her eyes. "You disobeyed me and gave me the perfect reason for what I have waited almost four years to do."

What the Hell?

My face scrunches in confusion. Four years? Why has she been waiting to do this? And why now? She’s basically a Queen of the school, she could have done this at any time.

"You see Tatiana-"

I cut her off. "No, you see Mariah, I honestly don’t care why you’re doing this. All that really matters is the fact that you are doing this. 

"This is only the start." She states in fury and turns, strutting back to the building. Everyone is once again watching me. All their faces hold shock.

"What are you lot looking at? Get on with your lives!" I snap at the crowd. Looks of surprise cross their faces before they turn to hurry back inside the school.

I swipe my hand down my face and sigh once I’m left alone in the parking lot. This is utterly ridiculous. I do something good and then my life becomes hell. It hasn't even been three hours since the lunch incident. If Mariah goes to the trouble of ruining my car right away, then I can only imagine what’s bound to come my way.

I turn back to face my car. I can’t believe she went this far this soon. It’s going to cost thousands to repair the damage. I can’t press charges against her because her parents will just pay everything off. Her parents pay it all off and nothing is placed in her record. It would be a waste of time.

I’m about to get in my car to take it to the shop when a voice stops me. 

"Got yourself in some trouble, princess?"

I whirl around to find Caspian and Nolan leaning against Caspian’s Maserati. Parking is set up according to the hierarchy. The higher up you are, the closer to the school you can park. Zone ones get the closet parking, followed by Zone Two and so on.

"Nothing I can’t handle." I reply in a nonchalant voice. There is no need for them to know I’m lying and that I am quaking in my boots.

“You intrigue me Tatiana.” Caspian says coolly while watching me closely.

How is one supposed to respond to that?

I cross my arms over my chest and tilt my head to the side. “How so?”

“Because you are a contradiction, love. Unpredictable yet predictable at the same time.” I roll my eyes. What does this boy want?

“What do you want Caspian?” I question starting to get annoyed.

“I want you Tatiana.”

I am positive I look hilarious at the moment while trying to contain the laugh threatening to spill from my lips. The key word in that sentence is trying. I was trying, and I failed miserably. The laugh comes out and it takes me a good amount of time to collect myself.

Is he serious? Does he honestly believe that I will buy that?

Caspian rolls his eyes in agitation and Nolan is also trying to contain a laugh. Unlike me, he succeeded.

“What do you take me for Caspian? One of your love-sick puppy followers? Hate to break it to you, but that is definitely not the case. Your words have no effect on me.”

“Is it so hard to believe that I want you Tatiana?”

I lose my smile as it is replaced with seriousness, “Yes.”

“Damn. Good luck with this one Cas. You’re in for it.” Nolan chuckles while slapping his friend on the back.

“Listen, I know I don’t have the best reputation when it comes to dating. But, for you, I am willing to change that. In other words, I am willing to change my ways.”

I start to sneeze out of control. When I finally stop, Caspian speaks.

“What the hell? What’s wrong with you?”

I start to walk back to my vandalised car when I reply to Caspian. “Sorry dude, but I am allergic to bullshit. And with the amount of bullshit you’re spewing, I need to leave.” I turn to face him as I open the driver’s side door and speak to him across the car, “Oh and by the way, people don’t change Caspian. Especially people like you.”

I don’t wait for his response. I get into my once spotless car and pull out of the parking lot. I glance in my rearview mirror and see Caspian and Nolan engaged in conversation. Caspian seems to be greatly upset and pissed off. While Nolan appears to be a bit distressed, not as bad as Caspian though. Surely this can’t be because of me? That would just be plain stupid.

An estimated eight thousand dollars and a rental car later, I am finally opening the door to my house after a long ass day. As soon as I step through the door and into the foyer, I can here laughter stemming from the living room. I can guarantee, with upmost certainty, that the laughter is from Eros and my mother. As I have said before, my mother absolutely adores Eros to no end.

I walk into the kitchen and grab some fruit and yoghourt from the refrigerator. I quickly scoop yoghourt from the container into a bowl and place some berries on top. I put everything away and take my bowl, along with myself, upstairs. I have no energy to deal with my mother. I will be doing enough of that during dinner. Of course, that is if she is even here by then.

A soft knock on the door resonates throughout my room interrupting my studying and essay writing, not that that is necessarily an issue.

“Come in!”

I don’t take my eyes of my laptop as the person walks into my room. I know it is Eros without looking up because if it was my mother, then she would have either just barged in or she would have knocked harshly. I scoot over the other side of my bed to make room for Eros. He takes the spot beside me and leans his head on my shoulder. 

He doesn’t say anything and neither do I. The sound of my typing fills the silence between us. There is no awkwardness between us. It’s crazy, really. We haven’t seen each other in person for years and yet, nothing has changed between us. Maybe it is because of our Facetimes?

A weight is lifted from my shoulders as soon as I send in my essay. Thank the Lord that that is over and done with. Even though this bliss won’t last long because I am sure I will be getting another essay prompt tomorrow in AP English.

Closing my laptop, I place it next to me and peer down at Eros, who is still resting his head on my shoulder. My eyes meet his and he smiles softly at me.

“You start school tomorrow, right?” I ask him. He nods his head in response.

We sit in silence for a while. With Eros and I, we never needed to speak or talk to each other. We could sit, just as we are now, and be comfortable. I missed moments like this with Eros. I wonder if middle school would have been easier if he hadn’t moved. I am sure it would have been, which means I never would have gone through the trouble I did. But, there is no point in wondering about the past. What happened, happened. And there is nothing that I can do now to change that.

“Want to watch some movies?” He nods his head again.

He shifts so he is no longer resting his head on my shoulder and I get up to grab the tv remote and turn the wifi on. I throw the remote on the bed and head over to my dresser. I grab a pair of shorts and an old tank top before turning around to speak to Eros.

“I’ll be back. Just going to change.” He nods, but he looks slightly worried. He is not one for words today I suppose. I will have to ask him about it when I’m finished.

I enter my en suite and change before walking back into my room. After shutting the lights off, I climb into my bed next to Eros. I get under the covers and lift them up for him to get under as well. He does, and I grab the remote to turn the tv on that is mounted on the wall opposite of my bed.

While waiting for Netflix to update, I turn to face Eros. “What’s wrong? And don’t say nothing is bothering you because that would be a lie.”

He sighs heavily before turning on his side so that he is facing me too. “I don’t want to talk about it right now Tia.” He says softly.

I bite my lip and move closer to him, pulling him into a hug. “I’m here for you when you’re ready to tell me. Whether that’s tomorrow or years from now… even though I hope it’s not something that should affect you years from now.”

He pulls me close to him. I rest my head on his chest and listen to his steady, but quickening heartbeat. “We’ll see.” He says it so lowly that I doubt I was supposed to hear him at all.

Does that ‘we’ll see,’ apply the first thing I said or the last? He is probably just exaggerating what’s bothering him.

Netflix finished updating and Eros and I decide to watch an action movie. Not even halfway through the movie, I hear a quiet snore. I crane my neck to look up at Eros’s face and find that he is asleep. My eyebrows scrunch together as I take in his facial features. Even while sleeping, the worry that was slightly etched on his face remains. Whatever is bothering him must be serious.

I will ask him once more about it tomorrow after school. I don’t want to pester him, but if he is unable to relax while sleeping, then I need to know what he is going through.

Picking my phone up to turn on my alarm, I see a text from Caspian. I blow a sigh out through my nose and decide on ignoring the message. After setting my alarm, turning my phone on airplane mode, and shutting the tv off, I close my eyes and try to fall asleep.

Between what I am going through and what is bothering Eros, sleep is farther away than I would like. After almost an hour of trying to shut my mind off and sleep, I get up from my bed and grab an extra blanket from the end of my bed. I walk to the doors leading to my terrace. As I open them, the cool night air wakes me up more than I already am. I take a seat on one of the reclining chairs, drape the blanket over my body, and stare into the cloudless night sky.

I have always had a soft spot for the stars. Who wouldn’t? Staring up into the endlessly vast sky and at the stars makes my problems seem so insignificant. And maybe, just maybe, they are. It also makes me realise just how alone I am in this world. The only real friend I have ever had, has been Eros.

I had gone through my middle school years alone. It’s not like my mother would do anything to help me. And now, something similar seems to be taking place. Everything I have built to keep me from getting hurt again is falling apart. It’s all bound to come crumbling down, and Mariah Wellis will make sure of that.

At least I have Eros this time. 

Chapter 6

I rode to school with Eros today seeing as the only car I have at the moment is a rental. He seems to be in a more positive mood this morning than he did last night. I can tell he is trying to play off whatever he is going through, but I know him better than he realises.

With it being his first day and him not really knowing anyone, I have the privilege of showing him around. We just arrived in the school’s office to pick up his schedule when my phone vibrates in my pocket. I ignore it as I speak to the secretary about getting Eros his schedule. It continues to vibrate even as the secretary goes to retrieve the printed paper.

“Are you going to see who keeps bothering you?” Eros questions with amusement.

I sigh as I remove my phone from my pocket and look at the mass amount of texts and social media notifications.

The text messages are all relatively the same. They are all either making fun of me or bashing me. I should really start blocking people’s numbers.

However, the social media notifications make me grow paranoid.

‘Lol, I can’t wait for Mariah’s surprise for Tatiana!’

‘Tatiana is in for a huge surprise! Can’t wait to see her face! Haha’

‘She is going down faster than the Titanic! No?’

‘Tati should have never spoke out against Mariah yesterday. Can’t believe I used to actually talk to her.’

“What’s wrong, Tia? Why have you gone so pale?”

Shit, Tati. What happened to not showing your emotions?

I do not know my dear conscious, I do not know.

I power my phone off completely and slid it into my purse instead of my pocket before I respond. “Oh, nothing. It’s just that Kylie Jenner is pregnant.”

He gives me a disbelieving look, but lets the topic drop. He will find out sometime today anyway.

The secretary returns with the schedule and Eros and I make our way around the school. It’s a good thing we got here early, so I don’t have to face the people of this school and so Eros doesn’t find out just yet.

After about twenty minutes of walking around to Eros’ classes, students start to poor into the building. I need to get away from Eros right now before he finds out and starts to interrogate me.

“I’ll catch up with you after school, Eros. Good luck.” He tries to speak to me afterwards, but I quickly power my way through the crowd of students to get away from him. I don’t need him questioning me this early in the morning.

Eros and I don’t have any classes together and I am not entirely sure if this is a good thing or not. It can be considered good because that means he can’t question me about what is going on in my school life at the moment. On the other hand, it can be considered a bad thing since I have no one with me in my classes. They all hate me and enjoy trying to bring me down. However, Eros and I do have the same lunch period.

I stop at my locker for the first time today in order to grab a book for one of my afternoon classes. We haven’t needed it in a while. In fact, I don’t think we have used it yet this year. I put in my locker combination and am just about to open my locker when I notice that the students in the hallway have grown silent. I glance over my shoulder slightly. There are at least a hundred students crowded amongst each other staring at me in anticipation.

Shit.

With my hands sweating and my heart erratically beating, I slowly open the door to my locker. A small gasp escapes my lips and I hurriedly stumble back, covering my nose with my shirt. My eyes take in the sight before me and my brain tries to process just what I am looking at.

Blood is smeared all over the inside of my locker and a huge ass fish hangs from one of the hooks on the side. But that’s not all. No, that just wasn’t enough. Maggots completely cover the inside. Two of my Gucci bags are completely destroyed along with all the other things I kept in my locker. Loud obnoxious laughter fills my ears.

I slam the door shut and stalk down the hallway to my next class without my textbook, but with laughter following me the whole way

I skip lunch.

I spend my half hour lunch period in the bathroom that I brought Amelia to yesterday. Right now, it really helps that no one comes in here. I don’t know what I’d do nor where I would go if girls regularly used this bathroom just as they use the others.

Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I let out a strained sigh.

You can do this. Don’t let anyone see how troubled you are. Put up a brave front, keep your head high, and give them no satisfaction. This is all meant to be happening. You are precisely where you need to be at this point in your life. The universe makes no mistakes. Learn and grow from this all.

I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths to centre myself.

The bell rings, signifying the end of my joyous lunch. I brace myself for the rest of the day as I push the bathroom doors open.

*^*

I left the school twenty minutes before the final bell to go and sit in Eros’s car. I have had enough excitement for today and didn’t want to be caught up in all the unwanted attention I was sure to get at the end of the day.

My eyes are closed and my head rests on the window. Good thing I took Eros’s keys this morning after I got the texts and social media notifications. I knew I would most likely need to be alone for a bit.

What am I going to do to get out of this mess?

A knock on my window makes me shoot up and open my eyes. I look out and find one of the people I want nothing to do with. They motion for me to exit the car and I roll my eyes complying.

“Yes?” I ask in boredom.

“Rough day, sweet cheeks?” Nolan frowns down at me.

“Quit acting like you care. What do you want?”

“So blunt.” He winks at me before continuing, “I like it.”

I throw my head back and groan.

“Fine fine. I’ll get to the point.” He chuckles before turning deadly serious. “Caspian and I have a proposition for you.”

“Goodbye.” I re-enter the car and go to close the door when Nolan blocks it.

“Come on, Tati. At least listen to what we are offering.” He pleads. I just stare at him stoically.

Accepting a proposition from the kings is no different than signing your own death certificate. They are simply one and the same. Although one can argue that I did just that when I pissed Mariah Wellis off.

“There is no point in me wasting my time and you wasting your breath when I am going to say no. Now, I’d appreciate it if you left me alone.” Nolan holds the bridge and lets out a long sigh. He unblocks the door and walks off as I close it.

I sit and stare at all the students that begin to poor out of the school. I would say that none of them really belong here, but I am beginning to acknowledge that I am the one that doesn’t belong here.

“How do you have my keys?” Eros questions while sliding into the driver’s seat.

“I stole them from you this morning?” I smile lightly.

“That you did.”

Neither of us say anything else as he takes the keys from me and puts them in the ignition. Not a word is spoken the whole way home. I can tell from his body language that he wants to ask me about what’s going on. That is if the sideway glances and constant foot tapping is any indication. We pull into the driveway and neither of us make a move to leave the confines of the car. Eros shuts the car off and we just sit in the silence, both of us afraid to break it.  

He is looking out his window when he speaks, “What’s going on, Tia?”

“Oh, you know just the usual high school drama.” I play it off.

“You’re lying.” He turns his gaze to me and peers at me with concerned eyes.

“I’m not lying, Eros. None of it’s important.”

“Really? Because accourding to the rumours going around I’d say it’s something and important.” He now looks at me with doubt, clearly not believing me in the slightest.

“What rumours?” I ask lowly.

“Ones that are pretty damaging. Bad enough for me to not tell you.”

“…. I’ve pissed someone off.”

“I know that much, Tia. Just… let me know if you need someone. I know you are a strong person with a strong will, but at some point, every strong person will fall.”

Why did he word that last part in a weird way? ‘Every strong person will break’ sounds much better than ‘every strong person will fall.’ Why am I looking into this so much? Whatever.

“Same goes for you, Eros. I know something is bothering you.”

“I can handle what I am going through. I’m just not sure if you can handle what’s to come.” I furrow my eyebrows and my forehead creases.

“What do you mean by ‘what’s to come,’ Eros.”  His eyes widened by a fraction and his eyebrows slightly rise, but he was quick to collect himself.

“I mean, with the things I’ve heard Mariah had already done to you, I can only wonder if you can handle what she throws at you next.” I narrow my eyes and survey him as his eyes bore into my own.

He knows things. There is no doubt about it. Question is, what all does he know? Can he be trusted? I sure hope so. Eros is the only person I have at the time. I can’t imagine what I’d do without him right now.

I grab my bag and exit the car. Eros does the same and he follows me through the front doors. I am greeted with the sight of my lovely mother, who holds a scowl on her botoxed lips. Her bleached blonde hair sits in a high tight bun. She walks right past me, ignoring my existence, heading straight towards Eros. Her face lights up and she pulls him in for a hug.

“How was your first day, sweetie?” She questions in a motherly tone. A tone I don’t believe has ever been directed at me. Actually, I can’t even recall the last time I really talked to her.

Eros watches me closely as he responds. Naturally, I don’t here his response since I have tuned it all out. I head right upstairs and to my room and fall back onto my bed. For a long period of time, I just lay on my bed and stare up at the ceiling thinking… about everything and anything I can.

Eros is acting strange and I have no clue as to why. Nolan and Caspian seem to have a plan of some sorts in the making that involves me. A proposition that in no way can consist of anything good. And while we are on the topic of Caspian and Nolan, why is it always Nolan approaching me first and speaking on behalf of Caspian? Mariah is, and will, continue to surprise me at school. In other words, she is the same bitch she was. My mother continues to be cold towards me and I can only ponder why she is the way she is with me. Basketball season starts soon, and I pray all these conflicts will be resolved by then. But, as usual, that’s just wishful thinking.

I am interrupted by a knock on my door. Believing it to be Eros, I call out for them to enter. I don’t move from my spot and continue to stare at a certain spot on my ceiling.

“What, did you get tired of my mother’s self-centered and egotistical conversation?”

“No, but I did get tired of Eros speaking in general. Even though he said less than ten words.”

I shoot up from my bed at the sound of his voice. My eyes immediately narrow and I frown at the boy casually leaning against my door’s frame.

“Why in God’s name are you here?” Caspian smirks and pushes off the door frame. He starts to walk towards me before stopping, leaving not enough room, for my liking, between us.

“What? I can’t visit the infamous Tatiana Zaikov?” He asks in a childish tone.

“No.” I deadpan.

“Tsk tsk. That is no way to speak to someone willing to help you.” I stare at him incredulously. Seriously? He comes into my hom- my mother’s house and tsk me?

Caspian struts to my bed and takes a seat much to my disapproval. He looks around my room, taking in his surroundings. His demeanor takes a complete turn around once his eyes land on me. He turns serious in a matter of milliseconds.

“I need you to listen to what Nolan and I are offering with this proposit-“

I cut him off. “No, you need to listen to me. I am not accepting a proposition that has anything to do with you. You’re nothing but bad news and debt I have no interest in drowning in.”

Caspian stands from my bed and walks up to me. He is so close to me that I am virtually left with no personal space. I don’t move away because he could think one of two things by that seemingly innocent action.

1.      He makes me uncomfortable and possibly fearful.

2.      He might think I can’t stand up for myself.

He leans towards me so that his lips lightly graze my ear as her speaks. “Trust me, Tati, with what Mariah has planned for tomorrow’s zone drop, you’re going to be begging to hear the proposition.”

I shiver. Not in pleasure or fear, but rather disgust and disdain. However, Caspian must believe he has me right where he wants me because I can feel his lips turn into a small smirk. This boy thinks he can get whatever he wants. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is paying Mariah to treat me like I’m worse than shit.

But, unfortunately for him, two can play, or at least attempt, this game.

I lean and graze my lips against his ear. “Tell me, Caspian, what game are you playing at?”

He steps back and throws me a dazzling smile that would have any normal girl drooling. “A game of kings, players, and traditions.”

Traditions? Hmmm… thanks for the informational hint, dumbass.

“You know what game I’m playing?”

He tilts his head to the side and looks at me curiously, “What?”

“A little game I call, ‘leave me the fuck alone’.”

He frowns in disappointment and shakes his head back and forth. “You have no idea what you have gotten yourself into.” He looks away from me and speaks again, “I am going to do something I’ve never done before. Come to either Nolan or I when you need us.” With that, Caspian leaves me to ponder about what will just happen to me tomorrow at school.

*^*

It’s finally Friday, the end of this horrid week.

I took the rental car to school today and because of my zone drop, I now must park in the Zone Two area. Which in turn, means I have a longer walk to get to the school.

Today is worse than yesterday so far. Nobody’s eyes leave me as I hurriedly maneuver my way through the halls. Their laughter following me wherever I venture. Pushes and shoves into walls and lockers leaving me with quick forming bruises. Nasty words and insults being spit into my face every other minute. My things are being ripped from my hands and my bag, then thrown into the crowds of students watching where they are then stepped on and ruined.

And, it’s only second period.

If today gets any worse, then I am asking Hell if they have an exchange program.

The bell signaling the end of second period has just sounded. I am one of the first to exit the room and to be in the hallway. I thought this was a good thing, but quickly release how wrong I was to think that. Mariah stands with her followers waiting for me by my third period class. I haven’t seen her all day and I suppose I am about to find out why.

Queen Bitch smiles maliciously when she sees me. “Ready for your next Zone drop, Tatiana? Or, should I start calling you Thotiana?” She laughs at the last part while I watch her apprehensively.

“Alright enough fun. Let’s get down to it.” She turns to one of her followers and says two words that helped to destroy my life, “Send it.”

My eyes widen and my lips part. ‘Thotiana,’ and ‘send it.’ Oh God.

The students that have since gathered in the hallway from exiting class, all pull their phones out at the exact same time. I know instantly what was just sent to everyone in the school once I hear the video.

A year ago, when Mariah and I were ‘friends,’ we were at a party playing a game of truth or dare. This game, however, got out of hand real quick since we all were beyond drunk. I had no idea that what I was dared to do was recorded. In short, I was dared, along with five guys, to do a couple things that would classify me as a hoe, or in the term of my new name, a thot.

Laughter erupts just as lava erupts from a volcano around me. My cheeks flush instantly from embarrassment.

“Hope you have a great time in Zone Three, Thotiana. Oh, don’t get too, like, comfortable. You’re Zone Four drop is coming sooner than you think.” I regain my composure since I have a few words of my own for Mariah. Where I found this courage, I have no idea.

I clap slowly before I speak. “Congrats, Mariah. My middle fingers salute you. But, between you and I, everyone knows who the real thot is. And FYI, it’s not me. Everyone in this school is just too afraid to say it to your face in fear of what will happen to them. I am the perfect example of what could and would happen to them. No one else here has the guts to stand up to you, but I do. So, bring it on, Mariah. Throw everything you can at me because at the end of the day, you’re the one that has to live with yourself and the things you did. So, fuck you.” I turn to face the crowd, “None of you are any better than her. You’re all just a bunch of gutless sorry excuses of humans. You’re all afraid of your reputation being trashed and your egos being bruised. Well newsflash, grow a pair and do something. You shouldn’t fear saying something wrong, doing something wrong, or acting wrong in a school. The only reason Queen Bitch has any power over you is because you give it to her. But, who am I to say anything? All I am is just a girl who said no to Mariah Wellis. All I am is just a girl who had the balls to do something none of you could.”

Everyone is staring at me with wide eyes and dropped jaws. Except, of course, Mariah. Who, instead, is looking at me with pure hatred. Having enough of this, I turn to walk away. I push through the crowd when one last thing comes to mind for me to say.

“Oh, by the way, for any of you who has jumped upon the bandwagon of treating me like I am less than any of you, fuck you, too.”

Instead of heading to my third class of the day, I head to ‘my’ bathroom. I’m jittery from the confrontation between Mariah, the rest of the school, and me. Hating attention is the worst thing to hate when you are in a position such as my own.

I have a feeling things are about to get much worse and I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do anything about it. At least, I have two days away from this school. I can only hope Mariah has nothing else planned for today.

Chapter Seven

My weekend was uneventful and mundane, thank the heavens. I needed a break from people and from the antics they pull. Eros, however, would not leave me alone. He kept making sure I was okay and to let him know if I need anything. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that he is there and concerned for me, but I’ll be fine. I can get through what I must get through.

I haven’t heard from Caspian or Nolan since I told Caspian to leave me alone. Maybe they have forgotten about the whole proposition and everything. That would just be grand.

Oh, and I finally got my car back. It’s practically brand new. It was nice to drive it to school this morning. It’s Monday morning. A week since I was forced to be a part of a little scheme created by none other than Mariah Wellis herself. A week of my life being a living Hell.

I am currently sitting in my car, which is parked in the designated area for Zone Three residents. I don’t want to go into school today, but I have no other option but to go. I could skip, but then people would see me as weak and Mariah would feel the satisfaction of finally getting to me.

I had a decent amount of time to think this weekend and I came up with a few rules. The first one being to not show any form of weakness. As far as anyone knows, or needs to know, is that I am emotionless.

Sighing, I leave the safety of my car and start my trek into my own personal Hell on earth. And what a Hell I am greeted with when I open the school’s doors.

I try to maintain a straight-face that’s gives off nothing as I take in the scene in front of me. It’s exactly like my middle school years all over again. Insulting posters of me line the walls and cover virtually everything. Crude remarks are written on the posters. Sad thing is, it doesn’t end there. Three people I thought I had gotten away from stand mere feet away from me with jeering and hostile facial features along with the rest of the school. I swear, they have nothing better to do than to watch my life be ruined.

Mariah has really out done herself if this is a Zone drop. And I mean really out done herself.

Alexander Reed. Kayla Marks. Grayson West. The three people that made my middle school years torturous.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t our dear Tatiana Zaikov.” Kayla says in a sickly-sweet voice with her hand on her hip.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the walking STD and her two bitches.” I say in the same tone.

Show nothing, Tati. You are emotionless and if you need to break down, you can do that later when no one is around.

Alexander’s jeering expression turns to one of… surprise?

“Huh,” Alexander looks at Kayla and Grayson before looking at me. “It appears that our Tatiana has become quite daring and courageous, yeah?” I roll my eyes.

I go to comment when Mariah enters the scene yammering. “Yes, she has. Now, I do believe you have some dirt on Thotiana, isn’t that right?” She asks my three nightmares.

“Obviously. That’s why you contacted us and why we are here.” Grayson says. Mariah huffs and crosses her arms across her chest.

“Get on with it then.”

Show nothing, Tati.

“Well, I doubt any of you know about Tatiana Zaikov’s past. She moved here for her freshman year for a reason, and that reason was us.” Kayla motions between herself, Alexander, and Grayson. “For starters, she was a loser in middle school. She had no friends and was a freak from the time she first stepped foot into that middle school her sixth grade year.”

I look away from Kayla and into the crowd. I make eye contact with the last person I wanted to, especially since he is already worried about me. Besides, I left more than a few details out during our facetimes when he was away.

Eros is peering into my being with his searching and pained gaze. I look away just as quickly as I had looked into the crowd. Now, he wouldn’t be leaving my side anytime soon.

“Honestly, I’m not sure why I chose to pick on her exactly. But, boy, was it worth it. We’ve got some good memories. Don’t we boys?” Alexander and Grayson nod their heads and smiles illuminate their faces.

“Yeah, we sure do. Remember the time when a box of tampons fell from Tatiana’s bag while she was leaving class early? I kid you not there were at least twenty tampons scattered across the floor. And to embarrass her even more, the next day we tapped over thirty tampons on the outside of her locker and stuffed hundreds inside.” Grayson stops because he is unable to continue due to the laughter he is incapable of controlling. “That was a good day.” Yeah, for you.

After that story, the students around me begin to laugh as well. With all their laughing, you’d almost think something was funny.

“Man, my favourite was when Tatiana fell asleep during lunch and we carried her outside to throw her in the dumpster. The look on her face when she woke up as we were tossing her over, priceless.” Alexander added in his own story.

“Bro, I remember that!” Grayson and Alexander fist bump. “She was left in there for hours since she couldn’t get it open from the inside. She smelled like trash for the rest of the week!”

By now, my cheeks are stained red, for eternity most likely, and everyone surrounding me is in hysterics. Nice to know that none of my words were able to enter their thick skulls yesterday. Nice to know that others find humour in my situation because I sure can’t.

“Boys, you are totally forgetting the best one. It was when….”

I don’t stay and listen to what Kayla was saying. I shoved my way through the thick crowd to get to the main entrance. No way was I staying at school today with what just happened. Oh, and fuck whoever sees me as weak for leaving.

After all, I am no longer a wolf among wolves, but rather a lone wolf in the midst of a pack.

A lone wolf, whose only wish is to find a pack in which she belongs.

*^*

It’s one thirty.

I have been at SunRise café since eight o’clock this morning.

I have ordered a plethora of mochas, lattes, and frappuccinos. But no matter how much coffee I have drank, I am still not even an inch within being happy.

I stare at my folded hands that rest in my lap. I am positive that my little middle school reunion was Mariah’s big surprise, making me in Zone Four. I don’t know how much longer I can deal with everything. Everything is only going to get worse from here and I doubt I can handle it. I’d love to talk with Eros about everything, but for some reason talking about things make them more real than they already are.

The whole school knows about my past now and I can only imagine what other stories were shared after I left. Surely, none of them can be good.

Everyone puts up a brave front in order to get through what they need to. A façade, of sorts, that fools people into thinking you can handle anything and everything. A mask to hide true feelings and true intents. The thing with facades and masks is that they not only fool the people around you, but they also fool you. They fool you into believing that you can, in fact, handle everything and that you are okay. Then a realisation comes. The realisation that you can’t handle everything, that you are not okay. And then the façade you built comes crashing down. Your façade breaks in a very public place and there is nothing you can do to stop yourself from shattering.

This realisation came to me at this exact moment. I have been lying to myself. By hiding and burying my emotions, I have only made myself worse. I have buried years’ worth of emotions deep inside of me, only to have them fester into something greater. Not anger or hatred, but a deep never-ending sadness. A feeling of being alone in a world of seven billion.

I am alone not only with myself, but with everyone else.

How am I supposed to do get through school at this point? The teachers or the administration are no help since they are paid by all the rich kid’s parents. Scandalous, I know. They won’t do anything to help me out unless they don’t want to get paid. My mother doesn’t even act like a mother, so why would she help me? I know Eros has his own problems to deal with, so I don’t want to burden him with my own.

The only option I really have left is… Caspian and Nolan.

I place my elbows on the table in front of me and grip my head with my hands. “Oh, God. I can’t believe I’m considering this.” My voice just above a murmur.

What other option do I have?

Four more days. I’ll give myself four more days before I go crawling to Caspian King.

*^*

It’s been four days which means that it is Friday. For four days I have avoided Eros at all costs which has been tremendously difficult seeing as the boy is currently residing with me.

School has gotten worse. This is all because of a stupid bitch who goes by the name of Mariah Wellis. A girl who gets what she wants and when she doesn’t, she makes people pay. First, I pissed her off by walking out on her. Then I enraged her to the point of no return when Caspian King decided he wanted me and not her. These all stupid reasons and they absolutely do not constitute her actions. And now, I’m paying for it all. My life is in shambles all because the Queen Bee continues to sting me. Over and over again.

On Wednesday, I dropped to a Zone made just for me, Zone Five. I am no longer in Zone One. I’m not in Zone Two, Three, or Four. No, I’m in a Zone just for me. A Zone for the lowest of the low. A zone with one lone occupant, Zone Five.

I have had to arrive late to each of my classes to avoid the bullying. The posters of me still hang in the hallway and additional ones are being adding every school hour. Inappropriate and demeaning words are being written on my locker and practically everything I own. I attended lunch yesterday only for an assortment of drinks and foods to be spilled ‘accidently’ on to me. My collection of bruises is continuing to grow daily from the pushes and shoves. A paint bomb was placed in my locker, which covered me in a nasty green-brown colour.

My nightmares don’t happen at night, but rather while I am very much awake.

Mariah is wining, achieving. Mariah Wellis is breaking me.

However, there is a solution that goes by the name Caspian King.

I have noticed Caspian watching me closely this week. Almost as if he can sense that I will be coming to him soon to hear about his proposition. Well, if that was what he was thinking, then he is one smart cookie.

Powering my phone on for the first time in over a week, I ignore all the notifications and go straight to my contacts. I find Caspian King and click on the name. I stare at his number for a decent amount of time weighing the pros and cons. I groan and plop down on my bed. I am just overthinking as usual. I don’t have to accept the propositions and besides, I haven’t even heard it yet. There is no harm in listening to what he has to say and then going from there.

With a deep breath I press my finger on the call icon. Right now, I am either about to make the best decision in all my seventeen years, or quite possibly the worst of life.

Putting the phone to my ear, I listen to the ringing. After about the fourth ring, a deep voice greets me.

“I’d thought you’d never call.” I can practically hear the smirk that is playing on Caspian’s lips.

“Cut the bullshit, Caspian. What’s your proposition?” I demand in a cold tone.

“Not so fast, love. Tell me, why are you calling me at eleven thirty on a Friday night? A man like me has plans at such times.”

“You know why. I am up shit’s creek without a paddle right now. So, naturally, I am going to the one person who is capable of getting me a paddle.”

“I just wanted to hear you say it, dear.” This boy is infuriating.

“Tell me about your proposition.” I order.

“Hmmm, only if you ask nicely.” He says in an amused voice that makes me want to scream at him.

I sigh heavily, “Fine. Please do tell me about your proposition dear Caspian.” I say in a feigned sweet tone.

“Nah, I think it’s time for me to get some sleep. Call me in the morning.” He teases.

“NO. no no no. I am not playing this game.” I grind out.

“Oh, but you are playing a game, love. Go out with me?”

What? What? WHAT? WHAT?!

“No!” I yell. “Why on God’s green earth would I do that?” Even I am surprised by the audible disgust in my voice.

A fake gasp sounds from his end, “You wound me, Tatiana, but that’s the proposition I’m afraid.”

“The proposition is for me to date you?” As I speak, my voice raises in disbelief.

“I said that already. If you date me then you will be on the very top at Acadia along with Nolan and myself. This will take care of all your problems dealing with the rest of the student body as well as Mariah. You’ll be the Queen of the school and will be able to do whatever your heart may desire.”

There is a long pause since I don’t respond to him.

“Just think about it, Tati. You can do things worse to Mariah than what she has done to you.” He sounds… frustrated and exasperated. Almost as if this is urgent.

Hidden agenda? I do believe so.

“You know what? I think I can handle this myself. Thanks for the offer though.”

I go to hang up when I hear a faint agitated, ‘Damn it,’ on the other end. Shrugging, I end the call and throw my phone across the room in vex. Where it lands, I have no idea, nor do I really care.

Caspian and Nolan’s proposition won’t be going away. It will always be on the table because they seem to need me for something more, whatever that may be. Caspian, if his faint words were any indication, is upset by my rejection. I don’t think it is because I won’t date him once again, I imagine there is more to it.

“Tia! Someone is at the door asking for you!” My mother shouts from somewhere downstairs.

I throw my arms up in the air, “Is a break too much to ask for?” Slowly making my way downstairs, I wonder just who could be asking for me at the door. I stop mid step as soon as I see the person standing in my foyer. Mariah fucking Wellis. She smiles deviously when she lays her eyes on me. My mother is nowhere in sight, per usual. I don’t walk any closer to her, instead I stay standing where I stopped.

Crossing my arms over my chest and tilting my head to the side, I spoke in an indifferent and emotionless voice. “Can I help you?” Her smile widens into one of a malicious and menacing caliber. She twirls a strand of her blonde her around her finger while answering me.

“Not really. I just, like, wanted to see your reaction to what’s about to happen.” My face scrunches in confusion.

“You ready to go, Mariah?” Just then, Eros walks into the foyer and it all clicks. I can’t help it. My eyes widen to the size of saucers and my eyebrows rise to my hairline. He falters when he sees me but even so, only glances at me briefly before going to stand next to Mariah, who smiles wide enough to catch a thousand flies.

“I can’t understand how you, like, live with that.” Mariah sneers, pointing at me. Eros says nothing and neither do I. I am too shocked to say anything. In fact, I am barely comprehending what my eyes are seeing.

He knew. He knew Mariah was, and is, out to get me and ruin me. Yet, here he is taking her out. The bastard can’t even look at me. And here I thought I had at least one person I could trust. Guess I really have nobody.

All at once, my built up and buried anger escapes the place deep within my being where it was shackled and restrained. My face hardens, and my arms fall from my chest to my sides, hands curling into tight knuckle-white fists. The overwhelming urge to tackle Mariah and beat the shit out of her with her Louis Vuitton pumps. I also have the undeniable urge to strangle the life from Eros. But, being the good person I am, I do not act on my urges. No matter how tempting they are. My jaw clenches and I am sure anger lights up my eyes.

“Yep. I, like, totally got what I came here for. Let’s go.” She taunts as she places a hand on Eros’ chest and pulls him by his jacket out the door. The double meaning of her words does not get past me.

I have enough excitement for today. I head back upstairs to my room. Laying in my bed with my eyes closed, I try to fall asleep. I try to clear my mind, but I can’t. It is filled with way too many thoughts and every one thought leads to hundreds of others. A few thoughts do, however, stand out more than the others.

I am, officially, alone. Eros is in kahoots with the opposing party. What an asshole. He seriously chose her over me? Sure, we may not have talked much this week, but we have known each other forever. Now that I no longer have him, how will I survive?

Well, I didn’t really have him throughout this whole week and I did a moderately fine job. Ah, who am I trying to fool besides myself? This week has been the absolute worst.

Maybe, just maybe, come Monday I will be the Queen of Acadia. Maybe.

No. You don’t need anybody. You, Tatiana Zaikov, are a strong independent woman that can handle the petty shit being thrown your way. The only person you need, is you.

Sleep evades me until the early hours of Saturday morning when the hues of pink, orange, and blue streak across the sky.