Chapter Seven

Cue the Drama

Dave was doing well. He had monopolized Braelin's time so completely that I knew Cartier didn't have much opportunity to hang out with her during school hours, or even after school. For the next two days, Dave and Braelin didn't even appear during lunch, an occurrence so strange that even Quinn commented on it the second day of their absence.

"It's surprising that he would want Brae's help of all people," he said.

"Tell me about it," Vic grumbled. He stared at his pizza morosely. "I can't believe he's ignoring his best friends for a girl."

Aven suddenly stifled a wide yawn and scratched his head. "Maybe the two of them are getting it on." He winked and covertly cast a glance at Cartier. Cartier himself was staring at his hamburger stoically, his expression calm. It didn't look as if he was affected by the news. "She does have a history of cheating, doesn't she?"

My eyes widened and I stared at him in shock. I couldn't believe he had said such a thing. What did Aven think he was doing? Vic and Quinn exchanged a horrified look and I wondered if they considered slapping duct tape on his mouth.

Cartier paused in his motion of dipping a fry in ketchup when he heard Aven's words, and then he slowly raised his head. Aven met his gaze squarely.

Cartier's voice was eerily calm. "Where did you hear that from?"

"Everywhere. Who doesn't know about her infidelity? Just ask around."

He raised an eyebrow coolly. "I never knew you made it a habit of sticking your nose where it doesn't belong, Aven."

Oh. Shit. Aven had clearly struck a nerve.

My eyes darted to him and found that Giselle had an alarmingly type grip on his arm. It looked like he had just been about to launch himself across the table. I gave his leg a light kick under the table to remind him to keep calm, but he ignored me completely. Aven had a fiery glint in his eyes that I had trouble understanding. So he wanted to start an argument with Cartier... but for what reason?

"Are you scared your little secret will be revealed to the entire school?" Aven smiled and leaned back in his seat, arms crossed. "There's no need to take your anger out on me just because you can't keep your girlfriend loyal."

Cartier's glare was frosty. "And this is coming from a guy who barely respects his?"

Giselle let out a furious "excuse me?" and Aven placed a hand on his chest. "Ouch. You sure know how to strike where it hurts, Cartier."

I could slowly feel a headache coming on. Cartier appeared as composed as ever, but I was willing to bet he was fuming inside. I considered putting a hand on his shoulder to placate him, but something told me it would do little to fix his anger.

There was a moment of inaction as Aven and Cartier stared each other down. I briefly wondered if Cartier would simply let it go since he wasn't known for getting into fights, but when he opened his mouth, his words clearly weren't of the peacemaking variety.

And that was when Vic jumped in, both hands held out like a cop's.

"All right, all right, time out here, okay? Aven," he instructed, "shut your bloody mouth up. Cartier, don't listen to him. He doesn't know what he's talking about."

But Aven, as foolish as he was, wouldn't let up. He knocked aside Vic's hand and casually picked up the apple on his tray. "Oh don't be like that, Vic. Of course I know what I'm talking about, and I reckon the entire table knows as well. The only question is, does Cartier know?"

If Cartier was anyone else, he probably would've been spitting fire right about now. But since he was Cartier, he didn't say a word. And yet I saw the way his green eyes darkened and noticed how tightly his fists were clenched. Any tighter and he would be drawing blood.

Quinn rested a hand on the table. His expression had never been more serious and he gave Aven a look that suggested he would resort to inflicting bodily harm if it became necessary.

"Shut up," he demanded. "Just shut up, Aven."

Giselle let out a little squeak of fright, and I was certain that Quinn had never spoken to anyone like that before. Aven remained stoic and unflustered, but he nodded once, briefly, to indicate that he understood. And then he looked up and met my eyes.

I pursed my lips to show my displeasure, but he only rolled his eyes, and then his brows furrowed and he tipped his head. I watched in confusion as he repeatedly rearranged his features, as if he was trying to send me a telepathic message. When he realized that I clearly wasn't understanding him, he huffed in exasperation and turned away with a scowl.

I wanted to stomp on his foot in indignation, but a sudden movement next to me distracted me from doing so, and I turned to see Cartier push out of his seat. Without a word or even a glance at anyone, he walked away from the table. Quite a few people called out to him as he went, but he paid them no mind. I watched as he disappeared out the double doors.

I nudged Vic. "Does Cartier always walk away like that?"

He looked troubled. "Never. What Aven said must've really struck a nerve." He scowled at the culprit then. "Nice going, you git."

Quinn sighed laboriously and stood. "I guess I'll go see how Cartier's doing."

There was a sharp kick to my leg and I jumped from the suddenness of it. Aven was giving me a very significant look, and when I saw him nod towards the cafeteria's doors, I finally understood what he was getting at earlier.

I immediately stood and practically shoved Quinn back down into his seat. "You stay, I'll go. He'd probably be better off with a girl's opinion at this point."

Quinn thought about it for a moment and obliged. Vic told me to "whip that idiot's arse back into gear" and Giselle wished me luck. I bade them a quick goodbye before heading out of the cafeteria. Seeing as there was no way I could guess where Cartier had gone, I snagged a nearby sophomore who had witnessed his departure, and she directed me towards the soccer fields.

The bleachers were mostly empty when I got to the fields, except for one sole person sitting on the highest row. His head was angled towards the floor, his entire figure exuding a certain degree of unhappiness that made my stomach clench in an unpleasant sort of way.

A part of me, a very miniscule part, felt slightly guilty. So maybe I was wrecking his relationship, but another part of me – the bigger part – firmly believed that Braelin deserved it. Cartier needed a better girlfriend; even Dave had agreed, which meant I wasn't being completely unreasonable with my mission to get Cartier to break up with her.

I slowly ascended the bleachers and seated myself next to Cartier. He didn't look up or even acknowledge my presence, and it just seemed to be the wrong time for me to greet him. And so we sat in silence.

Needless to say, it was an extremely awkward silence. I was forced to distract myself with the various activities going on down at the fields. The frisbee club had monopolized one field and the lacrosse club had taken over the second field. But from the numerous wayward balls and confused plastic discs flying around, I was very certain that both teams needed quite a bit of professional help.

I watched them for a few minutes, but when I was bored of that, I turned to Cartier again. He was gazing out over the field, but from the faraway look in his eyes, it was evident that he was looking but not truly seeing.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I asked quietly.

He offered no response.

I wet my lips. "Cartier, you can't stay in this funk forever. Besides, I doubt Aven's right. He's always had a severe lack of tact so his mouth has no filter. Don't listen to him."

Cartier let out a small scoff at that.

"Err..." What was I supposed to make of that?

Thankfully, he spoke up before I was forced to twist my brain into several knots. "Is this all a part of your grand scheme, Tess?" he asked with little humor. "You decided you weren't enough so you had to rope your cousin and my best friend into this?"

Now I wished he hadn't spoken. My mouth opened and closed uselessly as I tried to get over my shock. How was it that he could be spot-on with one guess? How was it that he could see through everything so clearly and so quickly? It didn't make sense. No one could be that good...

Unless of course, it was just a lucky guess.

Cartier angled his head to observe me. "You're speechless," he said. "I don't know if I should be worried or not."

I needed to be calm, I told myself. Even if he had guessed correctly, there was no way he could prove anything. As long as I kept my head and both Aven and Dave didn't tell, we'd all be home safe.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I managed to say, injecting just the right amount of shock into my voice.

He smirked unkindly. "I wouldn't put it past you."

That prompted a glare from me. "I may be chasing after you, but I'm not that much of a bitch." Lies. Lies. I really was that big of a bitch.

"So you're pleading innocent."

I flicked a piece of dark red hair out of my eyes. "If that's what you want to call it," I said rudely. "I won't lie and say I'm not happy about what's happening, if what Aven says is true. Braelin doesn't deserve a guy like you."

Cartier lifted a brow sardonically. "And you think you do?"

"Are we really going to go back to that topic again?" I asked pointedly.

"You started it," he grumbled.

"No," I corrected. "I came out here to cheer you up, but it looks like I'm not welcomed here. I'll gladly leave, if that's what you want."

Cartier didn't look at me or respond, and I wondered if maybe he had been trying to get me to leave all along. I sighed and stood up, but he reached out at that moment and grabbed my hand, pulling me back down again.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, so quietly that I barely even heard him. "I'm taking my anger out on you when it's not even your fault."

I had to admit, I was shocked stiff by his apology. I didn't think he had it in him to apologize, but to be fair, I had never really kept an open mind when it came to Cartier.

I rearranged my skirt so it wouldn't reveal anything embarrassing. "It's all right. You're frustrated. I understand."

"I'm confused," he admitted. He ran a hand through his black hair and gave it a slight tug. "I love Brae, I really do. But then she just... she does these things and I just can't help but wonder what she's thinking."

I frowned. "You're really worried, aren't you?"

"I don't understand what she wants. Every single time, she comes crying to me, pleading for me to take her back because she was an idiot and she clearly didn't realize just how much she needed our relationship until it was gone. And every time..."

"You take her back," I finished.

His smile was bitter. "Yeah. Because as sad as it is, I believe her. I can't stand seeing her like that, and God knows what people would say about her if I don't."

"It isn't exactly a secret that she's cheated on you before," I said tentatively.

"No, it's not," he sighed.

I tried to sound positive. "Well maybe you're just over-thinking this time. It's Dave we're talking about. He's your best friend. He wouldn't do this to you. And Braelin would know better than to go after your best friend."

Not unless someone coerced Dave to, that is. And not unless Dave purposefully seduced Braelin... Oh God, I could be such a horrible person at times.

Cartier shook his head with a wry curve of his lips. "Now that's where you're wrong, Tess. I know Brae. She hasn't been happy with me lately, and unhappiness to her equals a necessity for revenge. She wouldn't think twice about going after him. I'm just surprised that Dave would..."

He trailed off then, as if he desperately didn't want to continue down that train of thought.

I fiddled with the hem of my shirt as Cartier returned to staring at nothing. He was leaning forward slightly, elbows resting on his knees. His hands were loosely clasped together, and it made me wonder if he was considering giving Dave a good beating. Giselle had said he was the calmest of his friends, but when it came down to his girlfriend potentially cheating on him with his best friend...

I cleared my throat. "So are you going to confront them about this?"

Cartier shook his head. "I don't want to assume the worst. Until I have solid proof, I won't say anything."

I was in awe. Anyone who professed to even have an inkling of understanding about Cartier probably should've reevaluated their knowledge. He managed to throw me with every conversation we had, and I hated to say this, but he was heightening my interest in him. He was just so different and so distinctly... Cartier.

"Wouldn't you be mutely accepting defeat then?" I couldn't help but ask.

His voice was dry. "This isn't a war, Tess. No one could possibly win in this. The way I see it, it's a lose/lose situation, and I'm just trying to prolong the inevitable."

I sighed. "I suppose you're right."

We lapsed into silence again, but this time, I could tell that the conversation was pretty much over. The bell that signaled the end of lunch would ring any minute, and then we'd all be going our separate ways. But before that happened, I had one last question to ask.

"Cartier, why did you tell me all this?"

He glanced at me out of the corner of his eyes and offered me a brief teasing smile. "We're friends, right?"

I rolled my eyes. "Well yes but you have so many friends. Why me?"

"I guess it's because you're new here. You don't know many people so you have few to gossip to. That, and you don't seem like the gossiping type."

I nodded fervently at that. "Of course not."

"Good," he said. "Then I'd appreciate it if this conversation remains between you and me."

I made the motion of zipping my lips. "Mum's the word," I promised.

That afternoon, I got a pass from my teacher to leave sixth period early, and I waited in front of Dave's AP Psychology class so I would be able to catch him before he went to soccer practice. I wanted to see how far along he was in our plan.

I didn't have to wait long.

The bell rang a few minutes later and students poured out of the class. Dave had his head bent over his notes as he walked out of the room, but the moment he heard his name and saw me, he snapped his notebook shut and hurried over.

"Tess! Oh my God, I'm so fucking glad to see you." And he honestly looked like he wanted to pull me into a hug.

I tipped my head curiously. "What's the matter?"

He looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then pulled me off to the side so we weren't easily spotted. "Tell me the truth, Tess," he said. "Cartier hates me, doesn't he?"

I fidgeted. "Well I wouldn't exactly call it hate..."

"But he wants to run a knife through me, yes?"

"Maybe," I grimaced.

Dave groaned and buried his face in his hands, looking terribly distraught. His notebook fell to the ground with a thump. "I knew it," he muttered. "I just knew it. God, he's never going to forgive me for this."

Now I was growing more and more confused. Cartier had sounded incredibly hurt and distraught during lunch, but it clearly hadn't gotten to the point where he wanted Dave dead. But from the way Dave was acting, it was as if he had murdered Cartier's favorite pet.

"What happened?" I asked. "What did you do?"

Dave muttered something incomprehensible.


"I kissed her."

My jaw dropped. "You what? You kissed Braelin?"

He nodded miserably.

"But... but why? That doesn't make sense! Why would you possibly want to-"

"To be fair, it was mostly her fault. We were just talking and I was telling her about this girl I desperately wanted to ask out." At my look of surprise, he added, "The girl doesn't exist. I just made her up." I nodded and he continued talking. "That's what we were basically doing these past two days – she was helping me come up with ways to woo my mystery girl. But towards the end of lunch today, we were talking a little... intimately, I guess you could say, and then it just happened."

I threw my hands into the air in frustration. "Dave, kisses don't 'just happen'."

"I know, I know," he said, absolutely anguished. "But one second I was talking, and the next second later, her mouth was on mine and it just kind of went from there."

I tried to get my thoughts straight. "In that case, she kissed you then."

"That's what I thought, but she claims that I kissed her, and if this gets out, she's going to put the blame entirely on me. And Cartier..."

This was the real clincher, I thought. This was what had Dave so miserable. Cartier. "And Cartier?" I prompted.

"He saw us when he was heading to class." Dave tugged on his hair rather viciously. "You should've seen the look on his face, Tess. It was... God, it was painful."

My stomach clenched uncomfortably, and I knew, when I felt it, that this was guilt. I didn't even think I was capable of feeling so much remorse, not after all the errands that Aven and I had completed for Liana. But now, watching Dave and remembering how dismal Cartier had been, the feeling struck me with a vengeance.

"I'm so sorry for asking you to do this," I said. "I just wasn't thinking."

But instead of blaming me, Dave shook his head. "It's not just you, Tess. I agreed, and for good reason too. Cartier probably hates my guts now, but in the long run, it'll be good for him. Brae has her claws in him too deeply. It's about time he breaks free."

I mustered up a weak smile. "Will you be okay in practice later?"

"I hope so," he said, but there was little inflection in his voice. "It'll be a tough practice though. Cartier gets pretty rough on the field when he's angry."

He's also rough when he's not angry, I thought dryly.

"All right," I said instead. "Good luck to you then. I think you'll need it."

His smile didn't reach his eyes. "Yeah."

I glanced down at my feet and noticed the notebook Dave had dropped earlier. I picked it up swiftly and dusted the cover off. "So what are you going to do about Braelin? Do you think Cartier will break up with her now?"

Dave thanked me when I handed him his notebook and he stuffed it in his backpack. "I'm sure their relationship will end now. I don't think he'll be willing to take her back this time, especially since..." He trailed off then, and he cast me a twisted smile.

I touched his arm gently. "Hey Dave? Thanks." And I meant it, to my own surprise. "I know this wasn't easy for you, and yet you still went through with it."

He gave my hand a comforting pat. "Anything for a friend, especially one as good as Cartier." He chanced a glance at his watch and then let out a mild curse. "Sorry I have to run, Tess. Coach will have my head if I'm late."

I watched as he jogged towards the locker rooms, shifting his backpack as he did. Speaking with Dave made me feel oddly touched. All along, I had been thanking him because he had helped me with my goal, but he had been doing it for Cartier. And yet Cartier would never see it that way, which meant this practice was going to be very, very intense. I desperately wanted to see how it went, but I knew Snyder had strict rules against allowing bystanders to watch the team practice. So what was I to do?

And then a brilliant idea came to me, an idea so brilliant that I wanted to pat myself on the back for thinking of it. It was one that would successfully kill two birds with one stone. Why hadn't I thought of it before?

And thus, with these thoughts in mind, I hurried after Dave to the soccer field. There were already a few players on the sidelines when I arrived, and I looked around for Snyder. He was standing by one of the goals, talking very seriously with what looked to be the goalie. I hovered on the side, waiting, and when Snyder finally finished the conversation, I scuttled up to him.

He nearly jumped in surprise when he saw me. "Ms. Tyler? What do you think you're doing on my field?"

"I'd like to be a part of this team, sir," I said.

His eyes widened. "Excuse me?" he all but roared. "Ms. Tyler, if you wish to join, there is a girls' soccer team. This is no place for you."

Snyder moved to push past me, but I held my ground and moved so that I was standing in front of him again. "That's not what I meant, sir. May I keep my position as the water girl for the team?"

A few of the players were so shocked that they stopped what they were doing to watch. Even Snyder had the grace to look flabbergasted. He blinked, seeming unable to come up with a response of some sort. "Have my ears deceived me? You would like to volunteer as the water girl?"



"Because I love this team." I tried to inject as much emotion into my voice as possible, but it was getting ridiculously difficult with the expression on Snyder's face. He looked like he was about to faint. "I learned a lot the last time I was here and I'd really like it if I could continue offering my support."

It was probably the cheesiest line that I had ever delivered, but from the look on Snyder's face, he had lapped it all up. As tough as Snyder made himself out to be, it was clear that he really was just a softy when it came to praise for his team that he was willing to believe almost anything. And that was how I found myself, five minutes later, wearing a jacket that only members of the soccer team were entitled to, thus officially dubbing me as the varsity soccer team's water girl. It was a strange accomplishment, but a blissful one all the same.

After I had filled the huge cooler with an ample amount of water bottles, I sat back on the first step of the bleachers to watch the practice. It became clear, pretty quickly, that Cartier and Dave were the stars of the team. Cartier was ruthless when it came to the offensive, but Dave was a brilliant center back and he played the game well. By the end of their practice game, the teams had tied at 1-1, and Snyder was none the happier.

"Good game," he called out gruffly. He then moved on to lecturing individual players, but from the lack of bite in his tone, it was clear that he was already very satisfied with how the team had played.

I grinned at several of the players who came up to talk and handed them each water bottles. They were soaked to the core, but from the wide smiles on their faces, they were pleased. I glanced around and happened to spot Cartier speaking with the secondary striker. I grabbed two waters and walked up to them.

The secondary striker, who I learned was Travis McDonnell, flashed a smile at me. "That speech you gave Coach was brilliant. The poor man was close to bawling his eyes out."

I grinned. "It was true, for the most part."

"So why did you want to join the team so badly?" he asked.

I adopted an innocent face. "I came here because I love you guys. You don't believe me?"

Travis rolled his eyes, but his smile was still playful. "Yeah, right." He gave Cartier a nudge that held volumes of hidden meanings. "Anyway, I'd better run. My mom's holding a dinner party at the house and I was supposed to be there a half hour ago. Later, guys."

Cartier nodded and I waved, before glancing at the figure next to me. He was eyeing his water mutely, and though he was obviously exhausted, he wasn't rapidly inhaling the liquid unlike his other teammates.

I handed him a towel. "You okay?"

He shrugged and wiped his forehead and sweat-soaked hair. "Yeah, sure."

"Um, did you speak to Dave yet? I saw him a bit before he came to practice and he looked pretty upset."

"Uh huh."

I growled and resisted the urge to stomp my feet. Playing the shrink was such hard work. It was no wonder I had never even considered being a counselor in the future.

Cartier must've sensed my aggravation because he shook his head and tossed me the unopened bottle. "Go bother someone else, Tess. I'm not really in the mood to entertain you right now."

My jaw dropped. "What?"

But he had already left, taking his duffel with him. I sighed in exasperation and then decided to seek out Dave, but he was nowhere to be found. By then, the players had already begun retiring to the locker rooms, which meant I was in charge of tugging the cooler back into the supply room. It took quite a while for me to pull out all the unopened bottles so I could place them back in the pack to be used for next time. I dumped out the ice, wiped the cooler clean, and set it back to where it originally was to be used again tomorrow.

By the time I was done with all this, a good twenty-five minutes had passed, and I swung my backpack onto my shoulders and walked out the room...

… and right into the center of the drama.

At first I had trouble understanding what was happening since I wasn't able to see past the mob that had gathered. But then I heard a voice, a voice so familiar that I couldn't have possibly missed it, and I automatically knew what was happening.

The confrontation was finally occurring.

I squeezed myself through the crowd so I had front row seats to the drama.

Cartier and Braelin stood in the center of the circle of a small group of people, their stances indicating that they were on warring sides. Dave hovered in the middle, glancing anxiously first at Cartier and then at Braelin. He appeared unsure of who to support, but if given the chance, I was willing to bet he'd gladly step behind Cartier.

"Do you even know what you're saying?" Braelin was asking, her voice quavering just a bit. She sounded like she was near tears. "You want to break up with me?"

Cartier's expression was solemn. "Yes."

"But... but why? Why would you possibly... I mean we're perfect together. Can't you see that, Car? We're perfect!"

"No we're not, Brae. You made it clear long ago that you weren't satisfied with what we have. I'm just finally giving you what you want."

She shook her head insistently and grabbed his hands. "No! This isn't what I want! I want to be with you. Only you. No one else but you. Can't you see that no one else matters?"

Cartier's eyes were dark. "So Jake Sanford didn't matter? Daniel Colbrooks didn't matter? Not even Gavin Lopez, who you proclaimed your undying love for? And now Dave, who you just secretly told you wanted to spend an eternity with. Not even he matters?"

"Of course they don't," she said desperately. "I was just trying to let them down gently. They were throwing themselves at me and I couldn't just-"

"I did not throw myself at you!" Dave said hotly. "You were the one who-"

"Shut up!" Braelin screamed, her voice shrilly. Her long black hair nearly whipped him in the face when she whirled on him. "Shut up, Isaacs! This is all your fault!"

"My fault?" he protested incredulously.

Braelin turned her attention to Cartier again. "Car, please. I love you. You know I love you. We've been together for two and a half years already. You can't just throw that away."

He gritted his teeth. "When will your lies end, Brae?"

"I'm not lying!" she shrieked. "I love you!"

"Then why did you cheat on me?" he roared.

Braelin was shocked into silence. In fact, it was so quiet that I could practically hear a pin drop. The people around me looked completely bewildered, and I was willing to bet that no one had really ever seen Cartier lose his cool before. This was definitely a first.

Braelin let out a small sniffle. "I just... I mean I..."

Cartier closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. "Brae, I took you back, again and again, because I always thought you finally realized just how wrong you were. Each time, I thought you'd be willing to stay with me. But you... you just never learned." His eyes opened. "And now, I find you with Dave and I'm just... I'm done."

"No, no, it wasn't like that," she insisted. "No, it can't be. You've never cared. Every single time, you never cared. Why is this time so special, huh? Tell me, Cartier. Why..." And then her eyes fell on me, and I could practically feel her fury shoot through the roof.

"You!" she snarled. Braelin reached out and grabbed my shirt, yanking me into the circle. "You! Tess Tyler, it's all your fault!"

There were startled murmurs in the crowd.

I was shell-shocked. How had Braelin reached such a conclusion?

Cartier's stormy eyes never left her face. "This has nothing to do with anyone else, Brae. It's between you and me."

"Like hell it is," she snarled. "Ever since Tyler came into the picture, you've been different. You think I don't know how much time the two of you spend together? You think I didn't know about that little rendezvous in Cloverfield Park? You honestly think I'm stupid?"

Yes, I thought, but didn't dare voice it.

"Brae, just what are you trying to say?"

She sneered and shoved me forward. "You like her, don't you, Cartier? She's the reason you want to break up with me."

Author's Note: And the drama rears its ugly head. I was personally getting a little upset with Cartier for being so good to Brae, so this chapter is a bit of a relief for me as well :)

Thanks for all your fantastic reviews for the last chapter! You guys really overwhelmed me with the responses and you have no idea how happy that makes me. So thanks a bunch! Here's a cheer to my anonymous reviewers: sanzo-reload (Three cheers to Tess for putting up with Cartier and his mysteriousness! :P), esoteric (I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far!), and Tra-vation (Yes, Cartier certainly has more personality this time around.)

Please let me know what you think of this chapter! The action is definitely coming up. Remember that Tess and Aven only have a week to complete their errand.