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CHAPTER 16 - PART 1

Ashley had promised herself she wasn't going to search for Maddox like she had the day before but it hadn't worked. Instead she had found herself looking for him in every crowd from one class to the other. And in their shared class it took all her will power to ignore him and not look over her shoulder to see him.

 

On her way to the cafeteria she saw Jim walking toward her and usually she would look away but this time she was determined to look him in the eye. He smirked and looked her up and down suggestively. It made her skin crawl and she shook her head. Not even in his dreams.

 

The main topic at the table with her friends she got her lunch out was her quitting cheer leading.

 

"But you love it," Diane argued.

 

"Do I really?" She looked down to her half eaten salad. "I don't think I ever even liked it."

 

"Really?" Sally asked from beside Diane, opposite her.

 

She shrugged. "It was something I just did because it was something I thought I should do. But honestly I don't think I ever really wanted to do it."

 

"Well then it seems you made the right choice even though I'm going to miss you during practice," Diane said.

 

"You'll be fine," she assured her friend.

 

She remembered back to the rumour Jasper asked her about. "Have you guys heard the rumour about me emptying a drink in Jim's lap."

 

Sally nodded. "I heard it yesterday."

 

Wasn't it weird that it was circulating so long after it really happened.

 

"Why, did someone say something about it?" Diane asked.

 

She shook her head. "No."

 

She wasn't going to tell them that Jasper had asked her about it because that would open a whole other can of worms she wasn't ready to talk about.

 

No one knew about her arrangement with Maddox to hang out and speaking of which, she wasn't sure if Jasper knew. She was sure his interest in the current rumour was only because of how the previous rumour had exploded in such an awful way.

 

"Carson alert," Sally murmured under her breath and Ashley frowned.

 

Her friend had only given her a few seconds of warning before Carson approached her side of the table.

 

"Hi," he said, looking from Diane and Sally to her.

 

"Hi," she said, feeling unsettled.

 

She hadn't had a chance to go back to him about the date and was nervous to talk in the middle of the cafeteria.

 

"Could I speak to you for a moment?" he asked.

 

"Sure," she said, thinking it was best to talk without ears close by.

 

He headed to the exit and she followed behind. Just outside the cafeteria he turned to face her.

 

"Whats up?" Ashley asked him.

 

"I wanted to know if you had time to think about what I asked you?" he asked softly.

 

He was really putting her on the spot. 

 

"Um I…" She was trying to find the right way to let him down but nothing came to mind. "It's just I…"

 

No matter how hard she tried she couldn't seem to string a complete sentence together. She had been unprepared for this. She rubbed her brow, trying to give herself a few more moments.

 

"I'm kind of…interested in…someone." The words were out before she had a chance to realise what she had admitted.

 

"Really?" he asked, with a raised eyebrow. 

 

She shrugged. "It's not serious."

 

She had no intended to tell anyone until she was comfortable with the idea but it was out now. At least she hadn't revealed who it was and thankfully Maddox hadn't even looked in her direction the last two days so no one was likely to suspect her.

 

"It's fine," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders. "I thought I'd give it a shot."

 

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

"It's really not a big deal," he assured her. "I'll see you around."

 

She nodded and watched him reenter the cafeteria. Well at least that was done, even it had been awkward.

 

She returned to sit beside her friends. Just as she reached the table she caught Maddox's eyes on her. His expression was unreadable, then he looked away. She frowned and sat down beside Diane.

 

“What happened?” Diane elbowed her.

 

“Nothing,” she murmured. She wasn’t ready to tell anyone about Maddox so her only alternative was to be vague or lie.

 

Her friends watched her expectedly. 

 

She shifted. She had already admitted the truth to Carson and the fear her friends would find out from someone else made her rethink her decision not to tell them about Maddox.

 

“I told him I…was interested in someone else,” she admitted, reluctantly.

 

Diane’s eyes widened and Sally smiled knowingly.

 

“What?” She mumbled, making an attempt to stab her salad so she didn’t see the ‘I told you so’ looks from her friends.

 

“Uh…can you say that again?” Sally promoted.

 

Ashley rolled her eyes. “No. You heard me the first time.”

 

“So are you going to tell us who the lucky boy is?” Diane teased.

 

Ashley frowned. “I’m not playing this game.” She folded her arms and gave her friends an annoyed look.

 

“So if you like him and he likes you why aren’t you guys like… official?” Sally asked, looking toward Maddox’s table. Maddox was talking to Jasper.

 

She shrugged dismissively. There was no point in denying it was Maddox. "I just wanted a change to get used to the idea before…you know…letting everyone know."

 

Or had she feared their connection may not have survived out in the open? Her eyes drifted to Maddox's table and she studied him. The sight of him was enough to make her heart race making her feel more alive. It scared her.

 

Then her eyes met the sneer coming from Jim. She pulled her eyes from his and back to her table. He was still annoyed with her about the incident in the diner. It served him right. He couldn't just say what he said without any repercussion. She smiled to herself. Maybe he would think twice before doing that to someone else.

 

"I think you guys will be good together," Sally murmured.

 

She wanted to believe her friend but she was too pessimistic to hope. There was a part of her that wanted to hope it would work out but there was the other part that didn't believe it was going to end well. But the part that wanted him outweighed any fear of how badly it could end.

 

"Enough about me. How are you doing?" Ashley asked Diane.

 

Diane shrugged, there was still a sadness Ashely could see when Diane didn't think anyone was looking. 

 

"I'm fine. I see him for who is truly is." Her eyes flickered in the direction of Noah's table. "Besides he has moved on like it never happened."

 

Ashley reached over and touched her hand. "You're better off without him."

 

Diane nodded. Their table fell silent.

 

This is what she feared the most, being in a situation where someone had the ability to hurt her in the way Noah had Diane. Up to this point she had never dated a guy who had that power over her. It reminded of her of how she searched for Maddox in the hallways and when she turned at the sound of his voice. It had only been a short time and he was already so important to her. 

 

She bit her lip as she wondered if he felt any of that for her. Other then the brief look when she had returned from talking to Carson outside the cafeteria, he didn't look in her direction at all. It made her feel like she was the only one struggling to contain her feelings for him. 

 

The worry knotted her stomach and she pushed her plate away.

 

It was only a few days and already he was playing havoc with her thoughts and left her dealing with a mountain of doubts. Could she really do this? Feeling a need to connect with him in some way, her eyes found his. This time he was looking at her. This time she felt a shiver of awareness and every doubt she had harboured evaporated when she felt the power of his presence. Just a look across the room could make her heart stutter and gallop in her chest. It was as addictive as standing on the cliff, feeling the wind blow across her face. That same freedom. Nothing about how she felt about Maddox made any logical sense.