Fighting to be free, p.9
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.9

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 

  easy to be around. When his truck roared to life behind me, I turned and waved good-bye, watching as he drove up the street.

  Stacey came bounding over, hugging me excitedly. “Have fun, young lady?” she teased, grinning knowingly as she handed me the books and schoolbag that I’d left at her house.

  “Lots of fun, actually,” I confirmed. She linked her arm through mine, directing me through the crowd of people who were still after the gossip about Miles. I smiled gratefully at her as we made our way to my locker, pretending not to see or hear the people whispering about me.

  “So, are you seeing him again?” she asked once we were out of earshot of others.

  I laughed and nodded. “Just casually, though. I told him I’m not interested in a relationship, which he was fine with.”

  “What do you mean, just casually?” Stacey probed.

  “Casual, no dating, just booty calls.” I grinned, chewing on my lip. I had always been the good girl, always done the expected—mundane, even—but this was something entirely new. The casual agreement with Jamie was thrilling and made me feel more alive than I had felt in ages.

  Stacey squealed before bursting into a fit of laughter. “You? Seriously, that’s too funny! Little Miss Innocent making booty calls?” she choked out around her giggles. I nodded, laughing too. It did sound a little weird when you put it that way. “No wonder he seemed to like the idea, what the hell kind of guy is going to turn down casual sex?” she teased. “So, when are you seeing him again?” she pushed, obviously not finished hearing about him yet.

  “No idea. We’ve exchanged numbers; maybe he won’t even call me …” I trailed off, frowning, disappointed at the thought.

  “Are you kidding? Trust me, he’ll call!” She scoffed. “On another note, give me your phone, I have a song for you that you’ll love,” she added, holding out her hand for it.

  Obediently, I dug my phone from my pocket and put it in her hand.

  Stacey was always sending music to my phone; we didn’t really have the same taste so I just humored her most of the time. Suddenly a heavy arm draped across my shoulder. I jumped, looking up to see Miles just as he leaned in and kissed my cheek. I could feel all eyes on me again as the student body seemed to fall silent as one, eagerly watching to see what would happen.

  Stacey shot me a sympathetic smile. “I’ll see you in class. Give you two some time to talk.”

  I resisted the urge to groan as I watched her walk away, waving for everyone else to leave and go to class, too. Once we were alone, I discreetly shrugged his arm off and stepped back.

  “I’ve missed you,” he said softly. “And you didn’t call me back all weekend.” He cocked his head to the side as he reached out, brushing my hair away from my face. I suddenly got flashes of Jamie doing the exact same thing, and how soft and cute he’d been last night.

  I raised one eyebrow. “Miles, I told you Friday night—we’re done.”

  He shook his head and stepped closer, taking hold of my hips and pulling me against his body. “Don’t be like that, baby. That was just a fight; we’ve had them before.”

  “Miles, seriously, I can’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust me.” I put my hands on his chest, pushing myself back to get some personal space.

  His eyebrows knitted together and his eyes hardened as I moved away from him. “Screw that, Ellie! I love you. You can’t just call time on us because we have a damn fight!”

  I shook my head. “This has been over for a long time, Miles, it’s just that neither of us wanted to admit it. I’m done playing around now and putting up with your shit. We’re over,” I stated, turning to walk off. Our relationship was long since dead; it had fractured and turned into something destructive a long time ago—around the time that he’d begun prioritizing his image and status over me, and when he took it upon himself to assume I was one of his possessions instead of his partner. We were broken beyond repair, and now I was finally strong enough to admit that I deserved better.

  His fingers closed around my wrist, thwarting my escape. “No fucking way! We’ve been together for two and a half years, Ellie. You can’t just walk away.” He looked at me pleadingly, so I quickly averted my eyes. This relationship wasn’t good for either of us; he had to see that.

  “I’m sorry, I really am,” I whispered.

  Suddenly he let go of my wrist, stepping back and shaking his head. “This isn’t over. Not at all,” he stated confidently, touching his hair, making sure it was in that perfect style he prided himself on. “I’m coming over for dinner tonight with my parents, remember? This will all blow over, I promise. I love you, baby.” He kissed my cheek before turning and strutting off in the other direction, leaving me standing there utterly speechless.

  I’d forgotten about him coming over for dinner tonight. Our parents were friends, so they regularly got together for fancy dinner parties and boring conversation. My parents adored Miles, as did all of the school, probably because he didn’t show them the dominant, angry side of his personality. He could certainly be charming when he wanted to be.

  Groaning from frustration, I went to class. I’d just have to worry about dinner later. Maybe when I reminded my parents that we’d split up, they’d cancel their plans. In the back of my mind, though, I knew it wouldn’t work out like that.

  * * *

  My day passed much as I thought it would. The girls were consoling me, asking if I was okay. The boys asked if I was now free to date. All I’d wanted to do was go home and curl into a ball. Of course, I couldn’t do that, though; I had an image to uphold. People whispered wherever I went, but I kept my head held high. People looked up to me. I was the head cheerleader, and I needed to show people that I was still Ellie Pearce, with or without Miles Barrington.

  Much to my surprise, there were no further incidents with Miles; in fact, I didn’t even see him for the rest of the school day.

  When I finally arrived home after school and cheer practice, I slinked straight up to my room, firing up my laptop and then digging in my bag to find the ripped photo that I’d stolen from Jamie’s room while he was in the shower this morning. He hadn’t said much about it, but I’d seen how upset he was about it last night. He’d been totally devastated seeing the ruined photo of his sister—and that was when I’d devised my plan.

  Just as I was scanning the two halves of the picture and saving them to my laptop, my phone beeped with a message from Jamie asking about my day. A smile twitched at the corners of my mouth at his thoughtfulness. I sent him a quick text back and then clicked on my laptop, opening up Photoshop.

  When I was finished with it, I smiled proudly at my efforts. I wasn’t exactly a whiz at Photoshop, and the newly restored photo wasn’t perfect by any means, but hopefully Jamie would like it. I printed off a copy and then saved the image to a spare flash drive I found in my drawer so he could make more copies if he wanted. After, I headed to the shower.

  When I was out and dry, I pulled on a pair of ripped jeans and long-sleeve fitted black top, leaving my hair down to dry naturally. I didn’t bother with makeup. There was no need to dress to impress tonight. Once I was ready, I headed downstairs to help my mother prepare dinner.

  “Ellison, shouldn’t you get changed?” Mom asked, her tone disapproving.

  Of course, she would request that I change. For my mom, everything was about appearances, money, and status. She believed you had to look your best at all times; she wouldn’t even do housework without a full face of makeup. It was one of the reasons she approved of Miles—his father was a big-time lawyer, and she liked that our relationship enabled her to associate with a different class of people. She was shallow, and I worked my hardest so that I would never end up like her.

  My father, on the other hand, was incredible, and supported me wholeheartedly. I was a complete daddy’s girl. I could do no wrong in his eyes. His attention made up for the years of disapproving looks I’d gotten from my mother when I climbed a tree or played foot
ball with the boys instead of holding tea parties with my dolls.

  “No, I’m fine in this. Do you want help with dinner?” I asked politely, ignoring her disapproving glare.

  “You could chop those.” She sighed and motioned toward the vegetables. “You do know the Barringtons will be here in an hour, don’t you?” she asked coldly.

  Bitch.

  “Yeah, I know. You do know Miles and I have broken up, don’t you?” I countered, trying to mimic her hard tone but failing miserably.

  She waved her hand dismissively. “You two will get back together.”

  I didn’t say anything; let her think what she wanted. Tonight was going to be extremely awkward. Miles always did know how to twist me around his finger and get me to do what he wanted; I just prayed I was strong enough to say no this time.

  CHAPTER 8

  WHEN THE DOORBELL rang an hour later, my heart sank. I’d been secretly hoping that Miles would cancel, but wishful thinking never really got you anywhere. My dad, who had arrived home only ten minutes before, was still changing his clothes in the bedroom, so my mother looked at me expectantly.

  “I’ll get it then, shall I?” I asked, rolling my eyes and heading for the door without waiting for her to answer.

  I opened it to see the Barringtons standing there, smiling politely, holding an expensive-looking bottle of wine and a basket of fruit. Miles’s parents were extremely wealthy, so it probably pained them to think that their son was dating a girl like me. Not that we were poor or anything; actually, my dad did really well for himself. He was a financial adviser, and we certainly weren’t short on money, but compared to the Barringtons I would imagine that we looked like vagrants.

  “Good evening, Ellie. How are you tonight?” Susan asked politely.

  How am I? Uncomfortable, embarrassed, harassed, and annoyed.

  “I’m fine, thank you, Mrs. Barrington. How are you?” I replied, smiling and ignoring the way she was looking me over in my casual clothes.

  “We’re very well,” she replied, smiling awkwardly.

  “That’s great. Come on in, dinner’s almost ready,” I offered, opening the door wider, trying not to make eye contact with Miles. As the three of them stepped into the hallway, I regretted my choice of attire for tonight. They were dressed formally. Susan, Miles’s mother, was in an immaculate red cocktail dress that probably cost thousands, and both Miles and his father were wearing tailored gray suits—though Miles had elected for no tie. They definitely made me feel underdressed. Thankfully, my mom appeared almost immediately and took them off my hands, showing them into the living room for drinks. I took their coats and headed to the closet to hang them up.

  Miles followed me, as I knew he would, and wrapped his arms around me from behind as I hung the coats on the rack. “Hey, forgiven me yet?” he breathed down my neck.

  I elbowed him in the stomach and pulled out of his arms. “Miles, seriously, stop it! I told you I don’t want—” I started, but he caught my hips and turned me to face him. I didn’t have time to think about what was about to happen before his head dipped and he forcefully pressed his lips against mine. I gasped, shocked that he would have the nerve to kiss me after I’d insisted we were over. Whipping my head back, I shoved my arms between us and pushed him away with as much force as I could muster.

  “You are really starting to piss me off! Don’t keep thinking that I’m going to change my mind; I won’t!” I hissed quietly, not wanting our parents to hear.

  Miles’s face immediately turned pleading as he stepped closer to me again. “Ellie, please, I said I’m sorry, what more do you want? What can I do? I’ll do anything. You want me to beg? I’ll beg,” he said, dropping down to his knees and taking my hands in his. “Please, Ellie?” he whispered, kissing the back of my hand.

  My insides clenched and I squirmed on my feet with embarrassment and unease. If he were like this all the time, then things would certainly be different, but he wasn’t.

  “You like my shirt, Miles?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. He would hate it if I went out in this; it was just an ordinary black fitted top, but it had quite a low V-neck that exposed more cleavage than he usually tolerated.

  His eyes dropped to my chest and a frown lined his forehead. “Yeah, it’s nice,” he answered immediately. The tiny twitch to his eye showed me he was lying, though.

  “Yeah, I have it in white, too. I’m going to wear it to school tomorrow, with that denim skirt, you know, the short one that you don’t like …” I trailed off, smiling sweetly.

  That did it; he jumped to his feet, glaring at me. “Fuck that! You can’t wear that to school, you’ll look like a slut and all the guys will think you’re easy. Don’t you fucking dare!” he growled angrily.

  Now there’s the guy I broke up with! “Thanks, you just made this night a lot easier for me.” I yanked my hands from his and walked off quickly before he could stop me.

  All through dinner I ignored Miles playing with my hair and drawing a pattern on the back of my neck with his finger. I smiled when I was supposed to, and added my piece to the conversation when I was expected to. When the talk turned to Miles and me going to college, I gritted my teeth. Clearly he had neglected to mention to his parents that we’d broken up.

  “So, obviously, what with you two applying to the same schools, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time together. Do you think maybe you’ll be considering living together?” Miles’s dad asked, making me almost choke on my drink. He turned to my dad and smiled wickedly. “What do you think, Michael, are the kids going to live in sin for a while or will you be insisting on a proposal?” he joked, winking at him.

  Miles laughed and answered before I could even open my mouth. “Maybe we could share a place; it would be easier if we rented together. And I’m not opposed to a proposal,” he replied, smiling over at me, ignoring my attempts to kill him with my icy glare.

  This had gone far enough now. As much as he was annoying me, though, I still couldn’t bring myself to embarrass him in front of his parents.

  Picking up my plate and my dad’s, I stood. “Miles, how about you help me with the dessert?” I asked through my teeth, trying to keep my face neutral.

  He stood and took the plates from my hand, smiling sweetly. “Sure thing, baby.”

  I stomped off to the kitchen, taking deep breaths, trying to calm my frayed nerves. As soon as he stepped through the kitchen door, I rounded on him. “What the hell was that? Are you not listening to me? It’s over! This needs to stop; I want you to leave, right now. Tell your parents you’re not feeling well or something and leave!” I hissed angrily.

  He closed the door to the kitchen and shook his head. “You don’t mean that, baby. I love you, and you love me.” He wrapped his arms around me again, trapping me against his hard chest.

  “If you don’t get off me right now, I’m going to scream,” I warned him.

  He grinned, looking at me knowingly. “No you won’t, you don’t like to make a scene, you hate being the center of attention,” he whispered, leaning in and kissing my neck. Suddenly he pulled back, his mouth popping open in shock. “What the fuck is that?” he spat through his teeth. He sounded so angry that I actually flinched.

  “What?”

  “That!” He pointed an accusing finger at the back of my neck. “You have a fucking hickey! I didn’t do that! Where the hell did you get that from?” he growled. I had a hickey on my neck? I winced. Jamie must have done it and I hadn’t even realized. “Well?” he demanded.

  “We’re broken up,” I rebutted, as if that answered his question.

  He slammed his hand down on the counter next to me. “No. We. Are. Not!” he spat, saying each word slowly. “I’m not letting you see someone else, Ellie; you’re mine!”

  “Screw you! I’ve had enough of your bullshit. What are you gonna do, Miles, huh? Nothing, that’s what you’re gonna do. Let’s just go finish dinner, then you can leave. You’re seriously pissing me off right now,” I retorted,
pulling my shoulders back, trying to appear more confident than I felt.

  I turned to walk away, but he caught my wrist, forcibly yanking me to a stop. “Who was it? Who are you letting put their fucking hands on you?” His grip on my wrist tightened to the point of pain.

  “You’re hurting me!” I yelped, twisting my arm to get free. “It’s none of your business who did it; we’re over. Let me go.”

  He stepped closer, his nostrils flaring. His hard eyes latched onto mine as he leaned in so that our noses almost touched. “When I find out who it was, he’s dead. You’re mine; sooner or later you’ll remember that.” Without another word or an apology for hurting me, he marched out of the room. I blinked, shocked at his outburst. The skin on my wrist burned, but he hadn’t squeezed enough to leave a mark. He’d never physically manhandled me before, or frightened me. I didn’t quite know how to deal with what had just happened.

  Thankfully, before I got too wrapped up in trying to process what had transpired, the kitchen door opened and my flustered-looking mother walked in.

  “Are you getting the dessert or not? People are waiting!” she snapped, already headed to the refrigerator. I nodded, forcing a tight smile as I went to help her, praying for this night to just end already.

  JAMIE

  “Kid, seriously, you still have time to back out,” Ray said, looking at me worriedly.

  “Honestly, I’ll be fine. I need to do this.” I pulled out my last twenty-five bucks and handed the money to Jensen. “So, what are my odds?” I asked him.

  He smiled and withdrew a little notebook from his pocket, scribbling my bet inside. “Kurt’s pretty badass, so I’ll give you four-to-one odds. People won’t bet on you; he’s won the last three competitions he’s entered, and no offense, Kid, but you don’t look that tough,” he replied.

  Ray dug in his pockets, pulling out a wad of cash. “I’ll
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