In the end, it was Gabe who pulled me back.
Gabe, whose strong arms closed around my waist just seconds after I raced into the flames.
Gabe who dragged me, kicking and screaming, out of the Angelle’s house as he growled into my ear, “What the fuck are you trying to do, Ellis? Kill yourself?”
Gabe who saved me just moments before the chandelier came crashing down.
Now, whenever I close my eyes, I see that fucking chandelier and I smell the stench of ash that makes my stomach churn because I hadn’t been able to save him.
The worst part? That at first, I was convinced he made it out. Even when Loni or Henry gave me that sad look when I pointed out that I’d survived, that I was supposed to have died years ago and look how my story turned out, I swore that Saint was alright.
I hadn’t given up hope that first week or the week after it.
I hadn’t given up hope even when Laurel and her army of bitches came after me in the D-Hall, calling me a murderer because I’d heard it all before and honestly? They could all fuck themselves.
I hadn’t even given up when the truth started coming out in the papers: That there were bodies—or at least, what was left of them—buried in the creepy ass tunnels below the Angelle’s mansion. I kept telling myself that Saint was okay because he hadn’t been identified. Because Jameson hadn’t been identified either.
It wasn’t until the phone call that I realized he wasn’t coming back, that he was gone.
The call came shortly after midnight, two weeks before finals because I’m a masochist who wanted to see things through after all the death and destruction and heartache. My phone vibrating beneath my pillow had pulled me out of a restless sleep, and I’d stared down at the words RESTRICTED for a long time, my heart hammering in my chest, a flutter of hope in my belly.
When I finally answered, I was met with a pause and then a familiar voice.
Only, it wasn’t Saint’s drawl.
“I need a favor, little Jenn.”
My lips had curled into a snarl as my shoulders curled in defeat. “The cops are fucking looking for you, motherfucker. Your precious Nora—”
“You don’t think I already know, bitch?” Ghost had cut me off, and I could almost picture him staring down his nose at me. “I need to know what you told them about me.”
And it was the truth. I hadn’t said shit about Ghost because I’d wanted Nora to burn and the first thing that she’d done when she was arrested was place the blame on him.
When I was questioned, I’d claimed I had no idea who she was talking about.
A week later, she sent me a letter from jail claiming that she was glad that Saint was dead, so I stopped checking my mail.
“You’re lying,” Ghost had finally said, and I’d shrugged and squeezed my eyes shut.
“Believe whatever the fuck you want. I’m done.”
And I truly was because his call had extinguished the last of my hope.
Saint was gone and I was done.
A week later, I’d come back from my study session with Loni and Liam to find my door unlocked and a big envelope on my bed full of names and locations—graves, I’m assuming, though that still hasn’t been confirmed—that Ghost had left me. I knew it was from him because I recognized the handwriting on the note laying nearby.
Guess you’re set for life now, huh?
He’d left the empty pregnancy test box on my mattress as a special touch. Because why wouldn’t the sick bastard go through my trash? Why wouldn’t he rub it in that he was privy to my newest secret? Why would he give a fuck at all?
I’d cried myself to sleep that night, but the next morning, I pulled myself back together and turned his evidence over to the police, lying that I had no idea who it came from.
As long as it fucks Nora, I’ll keep up the façade.
“You know, I think purple is the perfect accent color to Laurel’s green gown,” Loni whispers from beside me as Headmaster Aldridge gives the opening remarks of the ceremony. She casts a look over her shoulder and snorts. “I just wish you’d broken a few teeth, too.”
“Aldridge told me I’m lucky to be graduating,” I mutter, but I can’t help but feel a wiggle of satisfaction when I think back to the other day. I’d just gotten back to school from a particularly awkward but emotional meeting with a grandfather I didn’t even know I had, my boobs hurt, and I was exhausted—mentally, physically, every-fucking-thing.
And of course, Laurel had started with her shit. She’d been waiting for me outside my building, one hand on her bony hip and an evil grin on her face even though I could tell she’d been crying.
That’s all she’s done since Saint died.
Walked around campus trashing my name and crying.
I had planned to walk right past her, but then she put her hands on me, and I had reacted without thinking—by headbutting her square in her pointy, expensive nose.
“Please,” Loni hisses, bringing my thoughts back to the present and graduation, “Carley would have ripped his balls off if he didn’t let you walk across that stage. Plus, you have your filthy rich grandpa in your corner now—even if he is senile.”
I manage a small smile but I don’t tell her the truth. That Phillip Jacoby might have spent the last several years in a home, but he’s still sharp and had sobbed because he recognized his son—my father—in me. I’d cried, too, because I’d spent so much time trying to learn Nora and Jenn’s past that I never tracked down links to my Benjamin.
When I told him that I’d come back to visit, Phillip said that it wouldn’t change my inheritance and that the money was still mine.
I promised to come back anyway, and he’d smiled and requested that I graduate as a Jacoby and not an Ellis.
Which is how I end up accepting my diploma a few seconds before Alondra James.
After the ceremony, I force a smile as Carley bombards me with hugs and congratulations, and I even pretend to be a normal human when she and Titus take us out for dinner. I make myself eat and play an active part in the conversation, but inside I’m screaming because I don’t know what my next move is. I don’t even know how to tell Carley about the baby, though I know I’ll have to eventually.
That’s the only decision I’m sure of anymore.
I’m grateful when Carley and Titus drive us back to campus so I can return to my room and start packing, but I don’t even make it to the elevator when my phone vibrates and I recognize the name on the screen. Chandler Branson. The attorney Saint had hired for me when I was being investigated earlier this semester.
I answer, barely able to breathe as I take the elevator up to the third floor, but Chandler keeps it short and sweet. Saint had tasked his firm with handling a real estate transaction a month before his death and he needed me to stop by his office first thing in the morning to pick up my keys.
“For?” I demand, and Chandler sucks in an exasperated breath.
“The property that Mr. Angelle purchased for you,” he explains. “A graduation gift.”
My chest is cold as I step off the elevator, and my stomach churns as I stumble toward my dorm room. “I thought you were a criminal defense attorney,” I blurted out.
“When Saint Angelle texts, I don’t hesitate to act,” he tells me, reminding me of what he said the first time I met him.
“Texted. When Saint Angelle texted.”
“Hmm. I’ll see you at 9 tomorrow morning, Miss Ellis.”
I don’t pack anything, nor do I sleep. I just pace my floor, anxiety gnawing away at me until I finally drag my tired ass into Chandler’s office the next morning. The entire process takes less than an hour, and by the time I get back into my Uber, I’m the owner of a beach cottage in Malibu.
Even though Carley’s supposed to be meeting me at my dorm in three hours so we can spend the night in a hotel room before we visit Jenn and then fly back to Georgia tomorrow, I find myself unlocking the front door of my new house thirty minutes later. It’s pretty, light and airy, but I swear my heart weighs a hundred pounds as I wander through the house.
It’s not until I cut across the patio and into the master bedroom that I realize that something is off.
That someone else is in this house with me.
I hear noises in the bathroom—the shower turning off, footsteps pounding across the floor, the sound of a deep male sigh—and my heart leaps into my throat. My Uber driver is long gone, and I am truly alone. I dart toward the French doors leading back out to the back porch, but I freeze in place when the bathroom door creaks open and a voice that makes my heart race washes over me.
“It took you long enough, little masochist.”
Over the last year and a half, I’ve dreamt of crazy shit. I’ve seen James in my dreams and Jon Eric in my nightmares, but I’ve never hallucinated them. Not like I do with Saint when I turn around and find him there, a white towel wrapped around his waist and droplets of water falling from his blond hair to his face.
“You’re not real,” I whisper, backing up as he stalks toward me, a predatory grin on his face.
“Should I show you my dick? I promise you it's not transparent or anything.”
“This is just me being hopeful.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Ellis, but no—”
“This is just my fucked-up pregnancy brain playing tricks on me and—” I gasp when he finally cages me against the wall and grasps my chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing my face to his. “Saint,” I whisper, melting into his touch, but he narrows his eyes at me, his icy blue gaze intense.
“Fucked-up pregnancy brain?” he repeats, and when I swallow hard and nod, his lips quirk. His free hand presses against my abdomen, which is still flat but his fingers spasm anyway. “You’re pregnant.”
“Saint … where have you been?”
“I’ve called you for the last month, Ellis. I’ve written you letters. Tried everything to get in touch with you without giving myself away. I’ve gone crazy trying to get to you, and you’re pregnant. With my baby.”
It’s not a question but a statement, but I nod anyway.
And to my surprise, he grins. Stares down between us at my stomach like I haven’t just revealed something that would ruin any other eighteen-year-old boy’s life.
Then again, any other eighteen-year-old boy wouldn’t be playing dead.
I could ask once again where he’s been. Really, I should ask him that, but for the first time in weeks, I feel the fire in my veins. Feel as if breathing makes sense. So, I decide to save the why and the what and the how for later and let the first words that touch my lips tumble out. “I love you, Saint.”
“Fuck, I love you too, little masochist,” he growls before pressing his lips to mine and stealing away the last of my doubt.