Taking a side glance to look at the woman holding onto him, Grayson observed how she held herself, filled with superior pride and displeasure, all at once. He brought her to the steps that led to the beach, which was the perfect position to look out at the view. The true beauty of this resort was when night fell and the blue haze of day revealed the stars in the sky. There was a promise of life in the darkness and the ocean reflected that welcoming sight. Truthfully, to those that took a moment to slow down and appreciate their surroundings, it was remarkable.
Letting out a sigh, revealing the level of tension he had reached, he tried to relax his shoulders and lighten up. It wasn’t every day he stood beside the woman of his childhood dreams. Subconsciously, he patted her hand that held onto his arm. This was his way of saying ‘you can let go if you want to’, and her response? She refused to do so. A comforting action on her part. Turning his head toward her, but keeping his body facing the beach, he broke the ice by apologizing, “Sorry about that.”
A far more genuine apology than what he had given at the bar. Something he felt was more justified than his stunt to assist adults with their own burdensome and toxic damage.
He gave a gentle smile, which contrasted the storm in his gaze that emitted only emotional indifference. Shifting gears, choosing to focus on the present and not the unsettling feelings he felt, he buried any loving empathy he had deep inside him to protect himself from his classmates and
from her. A precaution he felt inclined to take, just in case this conversation turned sour. As past events have proven, he wasn’t the luckiest guy in the world. “My baggage from our school days seems to have caught up with me.”
If there was anything he had control over, it was how he handled this moment with his highschool crush — regardless of the direction it may go. “Don’t apologize,”
Amanda told him sternly, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder and shaking her head. “It’s not your fault some people keep living in denial and refuse to understand individuals can change in a decade. It reminds me of why I left in the first place, and why I would never consider coming back.”
Raising an eyebrow to her response, pleasantly surprised how understanding she was, since really, all his ideas of her were solely based on him watching her from a distance, Gray chuckled out loud (mostly to himself than at what she said), “I feel that. Where are you now, anyways? I’m in Chicago, working for the P.D.”
Tired of talking about those at the bar, the charming and easily misunderstood detective diverted things toward common reunion topics, like work. Simple chit-chat to know Amanda better.
The mention of his career choice and his new home state definitely peaked Amanda’s interest, and it showed on the way she raised a curious eyebrow. From what she remembered of Grayson Chambers, he was the quiet, introverted kid that hung out with Jace and the other King’s Men. With that in mind, it was surprising that he’d chosen such a community-centered profession. Then again, it was always gentle souls like that who were the best people to look after others.“A cop, huh? You’re one of my allies, then,”
she told him with a small smile. “I’m an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Homicide. You pick up the perps, I put them behind bars. Best partnership out there, if you ask me.”
Taking a sip of his whiskey as she answered his question, he carefully watched her in silence, studying her small gestures, cute mannerisms, and smile. Still enthralling as ever and still something he would never deserve. At least, she was intrigued by him. This was good. Better than good. This was great
. “Homicide? Looks like we got another thing in common. That’s my unit.”
The conversation was flowing better than he expected. Never in his twenty seven years would he have seen Amanda Woodall-Cross and himself talking about how similar they were. “And, I don’t just arrest, I help bring forth indictments and convictions to the criminal proceedings. So yeah, I’d be a great partner to you.”
He teasingly admitted, even giving a playful wink for extra measure.“Really now? With credentials like that, I bet you would,”
came Amanda’s reply in the same playful manner, followed by her suggestively wiggling her eyebrows at him before letting out an amused chuckle and briefly resting her head against his shoulder.
He didn’t immediately say anything in response. When was the last time he had a woman this close to him that wasn’t family? Let alone AMANDA? He never
had her at arm's reach before this day. In contemplative silence, getting the hint but not wanting it to get to his head
, he took another long swig of his drink, before clearing his throat, “Maybe later, I can show you exactly what I can do.”
Oh man.He said it.
With courage of being a grown ass man, he finally made his attraction known and he wasn’t fucking it up.
There was no denying the way Amanda’s lips curled up into a smile at his suggestive words. A moment of silence transpired between them, in which Amanda and Grayson simply stood staring at each other: hazel eyes on hazel eyes, as if measuring each other up. It was a common and disappointing practice for the young woman to make the first move whenever she was interested in someone. To finally find a man with the guts to approach her- and so smoothly, at that- truly was refreshing… And an opportunity she wouldn’t pass up.“I think that can be arranged…”
she cooed softly, closing the distance between them by throwing her arms around his neck and never once breaking eye contact with Grayson.
While his nerves were going just the slightest bit crazy, Jace managed to make his way over to where Grayson and Amanda stood. Perhaps it wasn’t the best choice. While Grayson had offered a cease fire - for lack of a better term - Jace still wasn’t completely sure of how to go about talking to the guy. Amanda had never liked being interrupted. With his fingers metaphorically crossed, Jace took his chance.
Coming to a stop, a few feet away from them, it took a second to realize what was going on. Were Amanda and Grayson flirting
? Was she really giving that creep her
puppy dog eyes? Dude. Chill. It’s been ten years. She probably forgot all about you. Grayson’s changed too. You all have. Grow a fucking pair.
Taking a deep breath and shoving any angry thought that he currently had out of his mind, he took his chance to speak.“Hey guys. Mind if I join you?”
The sudden interruption pulled Grayson out of the trance that the class president had him in, and without changing any distance between him and his future quest, he brought his attention to, of course, her ex. Jace couldn’t let him have this moment with her. Not even three minutes, and he was already up her ass. He should’ve expected it. It felt like highschool all over again where he rarely had an opportunity to even approach Amanda because Jace had his tongue deep down her throat. But this time, Grayson had the advantage.
Yet, internally, he reprimanded himself for such childish thoughts. They were past this. No one had claim over Amanda. She could do whatever and whoever she wanted. He needed to be the better man and keep things civil. Not for her, not for Jace, but for himself. He had enough problems at this reunion.
After inhaling and exhaling, he calmly responded, “Yeah, sure man. We were just talking about how our jobs align. She with criminal justice, and me, law enforcement.”
The playfulness in Amanda’s expression vanished the second her ex-boyfriend’s face came into view, replaced with an overwhelming amount of bitterness laced with (dare she say it?) satisfaction. A decade previously, the perfect relationship she and Jace had shared for over a year had come to an end. He liked to say it was a mutual understanding, but the blonde didn't see it that way. The second Amanda had told Jace of her decision to follow her dreams to Cambridge, Massachusetts, he'd been quick to call it quits with the excuse of 'not wanting to hold her back'. This, of course, didn't sit well with her. She was of the belief that as long as two people really cared about each other, distance wouldn't be an obstacle for their love. Obviously, Jace seemed to disagree. And as petty as it sounded, it was nice to see her ex knew deep in his heart that setting her free to be in the arms of another man had been one of the biggest mistakes of his life.“Will you look at that? Ten years later, and he’s still every bit as territorial as I remembered,”
Amanda drawled, her scowl digging right into his soul. “What’s the matter, Jace? Can’t fathom to see me flirt with someone else?”“I was honestly just looking for conversation, but okay. Don’t know why the sudden bitchiness, but if you’d rather me leave, I’d be more than happy to oblige, Your Highness.”
Jace really was
puzzled. While there was a bit of an ulterior motive, was it so wrong of him to try and join the conversation? Amanda had organized a class reunion. Did she expect old friends and enemies to spend three days in the same place and not socialize?
The blonde couldn’t help but scoff and shake her head in disbelief. If there was anybody at this reunion that knew Amanda inside and out, it was Jace. The man knew all about her quirks, her likes, her dislikes, the things that made her smile, the things that made her happy, or sad, or mad… So why was he actively choosing to push all the wrong buttons already?“Excuse me?”
she heard herself sharply saying, raising a challenging eyebrow in her ex-boyfriend’s direction while crossing her arms in front of her chest. It took all of her self-control to not go off on him with every bit of the venom her words could carry.
Separating himself from Amanda now, Grayson looked between the two and came to terms that there were unresolved issues that needed to be discussed. He was trying to have a little fun, she played along, and it led to a Mexican standoff. “Do you guys need a minute?”
Getting in Amanda’s underwear was not this pressing and he was fine with keeping it a fantasy if it meant these two didn’t kill each other.
He didn’t think he overstepped boundaries, but maybe he did. This reunion made him feel like around these individuals, faces of his past, he was not as smart as he thought he was — but in Chicago? Away from ALL this? He was at peace
. And, he was well liked, making sacrifices and paying a price for his job, his family, and his mental health. No one knows how hard anyone has it, and they shouldn’t assume. Yet, like the days he was bullied by his father and those at school, he felt like by the end of the night he’d be ostracized and have no reason to stay.
Thirty seconds in to this conversation and Jace was already done. Amanda would yell and tell him that he was being childish. (It was one of her favorite go to’s.) Jace didn’t feel like he was being childish though. Maybe he should say everything that was on his mind, but how would that go? Would him and Grayson fight? Would Amanda laugh? Would there be rainbows and unicorns? He took another deep breath, allowing him to stop gritting his teeth. “I don’t have time for whatever game that you’re already trying to play. Sorry I interrupted your foreplay. Grayson acted like he wanted to talk. I feel like me and you have some catching up to do. I figured two birds, one stone. Yada yada. But no: I get over here and you guys are halfway to Fuckville.” That
was uncalled-for. Not giving Amanda a chance to speak, even going out of his way to lift his hand to stop her, knowing she probably had choice words prepared, Grayson shook his head in aggravation, “You do have time if you went out of your way to interrupt us. I don’t care what you say to me, but don’t put your insecurities on her because you chose to let go of a good thing. If you have shit the say, say it. Stop acting like a child because you’re not. At least not the Jace I know.” “That’s because the Jace you know was always too busy being balls deep in your fucking high school crush, dude. Wanna know what I have to say? Fine. First off, fuck you. You were always creepy. I’d bet money you had a freaking shrine built to her in your basement. If you’ve actually changed, I’m sorry, and we’ll deal with that later. I didn’t let go of any fucking thing. In the end it was a mutual understanding that long distance would be hard. I was destined to stay in Palms. Manda was going to inherit an empire. She was first in our class and you think I was honestly going to hold her back?”
He looked at Amanda. “I’m sure you see it that way too though, right? All of the ‘why aren’t you fighting for me’ bullshit? I was too busy fighting myself trying to do what I thought was best for you to even be able to fight for you, Amanda. And while we’re busy getting it all out in the open… I still love your dumb ass. There. I said it. Is that the Jace you remember?”“Glad you got that off your chest.”
Turning to Amanda, he decided it was his time to dismiss himself. Grayson gave her a smile, “Thank you for showing me kindness tonight. I’m sure we’ll catch up later.”
Taking a step toward Jace, who looked like he wanted to punch him in the face, Gray sighed and touched his shoulder, forfeiting fighting for the night and trying to show people that he was a changed man. “You too.”
After he said his piece, he left his past behind him. His highschool crush and the guy she undoubtedly still loved. His grip tightened around his whiskey glass.
Maybe he shouldn’t have come. Maybe he was in over his head. Maybe… he was just unlucky. If there was anyone he wanted to see right now, it was his daughter. His shining light. His princess. His world. Fuck
The speechless, helpless Amanda watched the situation between the two men escalate from a spark to a raging wildfire. While Grayson had chosen to bravely stand up for her and tell Jace the blunt truths to his face, her ex-boyfriend had gone straight for the jugular like a saber tooth tiger. The words directed at his old friend had been sharp and cruel, clearly meant to hit where it hurts most. Then he brought up the supposed reason behind their breakup: using the same cowardly, age-old excuse of not wanting to hold her back and acting on her best interests instead. And to top it all off, there was the loud admission that his love for her had withstood the test of time, done at the worst possible time.
By the time the defeated Grayson left, furious, outraged tears were rolling down her cheeks. She didn’t know when it was that she did it, but the next thing she knew, the arm of the red-sighted Amanda was swinging backwards, then forwards, and eventually felt her open palm connecting hard and loudly with the right side of Jace’s face. “Have you lost your fucking mind?!”
she said through gritted teeth for the second time that night, afraid that if she spoke any louder she’d follow the devil in her shoulder and start yelling and punching him. “When did you turn into such a heartless monster? Because the Jace I knew ten years ago might have been a smartass at times, but he would never say such cruel things to anyone.”
The slap stung potentially worse than anything Amanda could have said. “Cruel?”
he questioned her. “I wasn’t trying to be cruel. I was being brutally honest. I didn’t mean to drive off your new friend. I really did want a conversation. But then you started attacking me. I hadn’t even said anything yet!”"Why the fuck are you blaming me for your shitty actions?!"
Amanda retorted, the fury she was feeling very obvious in her raised tone of voice and the increased use of profanity. "That little jab I took at you didn't warrant you starting this whole thing by calling me a bitch, much less to go after Grayson like that! The truth of the matter is you're acting like a fucking asshole, Sebastain Russo: and that's nobody's fault but your own. Stop using me as an excuse for your appalling behavior!"
Jace sighed in resignation. “Jesus Christ, Amanda. I don’t even know why I came over here in the first place anymore. I felt like maybe I needed to look out for you. I don’t know. You’re a grown woman. Maybe it’s just best if I go back to the bar, get drunk, and pack my things. I know you always thought me and Gray were friends because we were both part of the glorious ‘King's Men’, but that wasn’t the case.”“It doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t think! You’re behaving like an immature, bitter, childish bastard. Then again, it looks like not much has changed about you in the last ten years if that’s the case.”
Jace held up his right hand, a slight silent laugh escaping his lips. “I’m going to try and enjoy the rest of the reunion now. I hope you do the same,”
he said, turning and walking away. He didn’t owe her any explanation, did he? Yeah, she had been aggressive at first, but he really was the one who overreacted.
Oh, well. Time to get black-out drunk. "Oh yeah? Well I hope you fall into the pool and drown!"
Amanda yelled at his retreating figure, grabbing a fistful of sand from the floor and angrily flinging it at his head. Jace knew
how much she hated not having the last word in an argument, and how much it angered her when he walked away from her when she wasn’t done speaking. So, of course, the petty son of a bitch would use that against her. What a- "Fucking asshole!"“I’m not that fucking lucky!”