Friday, 22 January 2010

ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ The front door was open, Ella’s voice drifting through. “Please, stop it!” she practically cried. “I really can’t do this…” My heart started thudding and I burst in, slamming the door against the wall. Suddenly, all my thoughts of confronting her about the “Will thing”, was gone. The Billion Dollar Girl “Stop!” she begged. I ran into the dining room, my chest straining, panting hard. My eyes quickly searched the room, taking in the long, wooden table in the middle, laden with dozens of plates of food. I turned, and saw Ella. My breath caught. She was standing on one foot, tears streaming down her face and book on her head. Her eyes met with mine and this delicate position collapsed, the book slamming onto the floor as she collapsed next to it. I sighed, in relief. “I told you I couldn’t do it!” Lady Emily – one of my Mom’s old friends – glared down at Ella. “How come Lucy can do it? How come Alexis can do it? How come, all of my other pupils were able to pick it up in less than ten minutes, yet you…?” Ella glared back at her. “Maybe they just have really flat heads! It’s not my fault my head so egg-shaped –” Lady Emily sighed, cutting her off. She turned to me, pointedly ignored Ella, who was still sat on the floor like a little kid who’d been naughty. “Mr. Castillo, how are you?” “I’m fine,” I said, smiling. Okay, sometimes Lady Emily was harsh, but mostly she didn’t mean it. I’d met her a couple times before, as a kid. “But, wait…Lucy…Lucy Andre?” Both Ella and Lady Emily gave me a look. “Do you know of her?” Lady Emily asked. “Uh…yeah.” “More than know,” Ella muttered angrily, looking down. Wait, was she…jealous? Lady Emily glared at me now. “You know I don’t approve of adultery.” I knew. That’s why she and my Mom no longer talked. Because of what my Mom did. “I…didn’t…” I said, gritting my teeth, more for Ella’s benefit than anything. “How’s Ella doing?” I said, changing the topic. She shot Ella a look, as if remembering she was here. “Gabriella! Stand up.” I frowned. Gabriella? Ella stood up, looking like she was about to cry again. “Put these on,” she said, thrusting a box towards Ella. Hesitantly, Ella took the box from her hands and opening it up. Her whole fell crumpled. “Oh God, no…” she begged, dropping the box. It fell to the floor. “Please, no. I’ll do anything. Just don’t make me…” She was the only teenage girl who would react that way to a free pair of six-inch Jimmy Choos. *** The Billion Dollar Girl   Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ We sat side by side in the car, in utter silence, perfectly not touching (did I sense a new tradition forming?), and it was driving me crazy. There was some sort of energy in the gap between our bodies, some sort of tangible electricity in the air. What was Ash thinking about...? I bit my lip, clutching the thick book to my chest. Lady Emily had given it to me, telling me to memorize all the thousand and one color schemes inside it, so she could test me tomorrow. I balled my hands into fists, hating her. She'd also told me to practice my walking, and to pick out "suitable" clothes for our lessons tomorrow. "Gabriella? Are you okay?" "Huh?" I said, brilliantly. I looked up at him, surprised he was suddenly so close. He was leaning in, his face so close to mine. A stray strand of hair hung over his blue eyes, like it always did. I almost wanted to lean in, and brush it away. I didn't, though. That would be stupid. "Uh...what?" His light blue eyes were almost hypnotic, making it hard for me to concentrate. As he held my gaze, I almost stopped breathing. I could smell him again...the mix of spice, citrus, and raspberry...Was it his cologne? "I asked if you were okay." I couldn't help but stare at him lips as he talked. They looked so soft...What did they feel like, when they were against mine? I tried to absorb what he said. When I realized, my heart started thudding hard. Did he actually care? He seemed so worried about me... But the cynical side of me burst my bubble - no, of course he didn't. He was nothing but the idiotic, self-centered womanizer who'd bought me. This was probably some kind of crazy plan of his to...make me fall for him! Yeah, that's it! And I'm so not going to. I glared at him, shoving him away abruptly, cutting off the moment short. "I'll be fine," I said, roughly. "As long as you stay on your side of the car." *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ What the hell was wrong with her? She stomped moodily into our apartment, dumping the book onto the sofa, heading straight for the bathroom. A couple moments later, I heard the unmistakable frothy scrubbing sounds of hand-washing. Cautiously, I went in, so I wouldn't surprise her - I had no idea why she was mad, but I didn't want to upset her more - I mean, we are technically married and we have to live together. "What are you doing?" I asked, when I realized what she was doing. Ella dropped my bottle of cologne, blushing furiously. "Uh...nothing..." she stuttered. I couldn't help but smirk. She was really cute. "It looked like you were spraying my cologne." "No...I, uh, wasn't...I just liked it..." "Really?" I said, smirking, taking a few steps towards her. She retreated, banging into the mirror behind her. "Why do you like it?" "I...uh...I..." she stuttered, her cheeks coloring a delicate shade of red. She looked up at me, real fear in her green eyes, completely frozen. Ella looked so small, so delicate in that moment. I leant down slowly, still maintaining eye contact with her, giving her the option to turn away whenever she wanted. She held perfectly still, apart from the rapid rise and fall of her chest. I was only an inch away now. I could see every detail of her face...the splattering of freckles on her nose, her long eyelashes, her pink lips...Her eyes closed, like she was giving me permission...or maybe she was just scared. That triggered a thought. She didn't want this, right? She'd married me for money...nothing else. I can't... I used all my willpower to turn away, hating myself at the same time. Before I left, I pulled out a pink toothbrush from the cup, and threw it to her. "That one's yours." *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ I held the toothbrush to my chest, my heart still beating hard. I couldn't help feeling just a little bit disappointed. I glanced down at the toothbrush, and saw Minnie Mouse's knowing face smile up at me. A Disney toothbrush? Was he kidding? *** Over the next week we had established some kind of ritual. In the morning, we would drive together to Lady Emily's house, where we would do interesting things like learn how to drink tea (it's just tea, for God's sake), and she would tell me that things I'd been doing a lot of basic things wrong - generally things I'd always assumed I knew how to do. Like eating. You'd think, wouldn't you, that if I'd couldn't eat, then I wouldn't have been able to survive this long, given that eating is quite a valuable skill in life. But no, I had been doing it wrong. Because I was a "commoner". The Billion Dollar Girl So over the next week, I was re-educated in everything, from how you get out of a car, to what kind of underwear you should go for when you are wearing a slinky dress. I decided not to mention to her that I was only going to be married to Ash for three months (because that was kind of in the contract), and after that I was completely unlikely to use any of the skills she'd taught me. But it's obviously very helpful to know the exact way you are supposed to eat a mussel. With a spoon. *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ "You shouldn't work so hard, Mr. Castillo." "I have an important race coming up," I said, ignored the "Mr. Castillo" thing, pulling off my helmet. Now I was out of the race car, my heart rate was slowing down and smell of burnt rubber filled my nostrils. "I can't afford to stop now. Don't worry about me, okay? I'll be fine." He nodded, and turned away, but not before saying, "Oh, by the way, Mr. Will has come to visit you." I closed my eyes. Oh God. This turning into a habit. I should tell him to never come back. "Hey, Ash." I leant against my car's hood. "Hey." He definitely isn't planning anything with Ella. He has the exact same amount of reasons to hate me, and I have to hate him - but he wouldn't do this to me. He really wouldn't do this to me. "How's Ella?" I turned around, and slammed him against a wall. Will had grown. I used to be a couple inches taller than him. Now, we were almost the same height. His blue eyes sparkled maliciously, his lips curled up into a smirk. "What are you doing to her?" I snarled, gripping his arms, hard. "What are you -?" "Do you like her, then?" he asked, his tone teasing. "Has the Ice Prince finally fallen in love? Is it no longer 'business' anymore? Is it real?" I dug my fingers into his flesh, and a flash of pain flitted through his eyes. Then I let go. "You know I don't love, Will. You made sure of that." He gave a low chuckle. "Why are you so set of blaming me? Why don't you ever open your eyes and see who it really was? Who was the one who left your father? Who was the one who married her own brother-in-law? Who was the one who disowned you, her own son, and chose me instead? It was your mother -" I punched him, and he stumbled back, clutching his burst lip. I grabbed onto the front of his shirt. "Don't you dare talk about her like that," I hissed. "Don't you dare talk about her like she's dirt, because do you know what? You're worse. You're so much worse. You -" I pulled back a fist, about to punch him again. "You might want to stop right there," Will said, wiping the blood trickling from his lip. He flashed me a quick smile, and his eyes twinkled at me. "Because you don't want to start a fight with your new classmate, do you?" I faltered, my grip on his shirt loosening. He pulled out of my grip. "What?" "I'm joining your class," he smirked, smoothing out the front of his shirt, "in the new term. So I think we should learn to get along. What do you think?" "You -" "Ash, it isn't the thing you should be worrying about right now. You should call Ella. She could need help right now." His shoulder brushed mine as he walked away. My head spun. What the hell had he done to Ella? Suddenly, I'd lost all my energy. I collapsed, to my knees. I leant my head against the wall, trying not to cry. No. I've vowed never to cry again. Never again. "See you tonight, dear cousin," Will called, over his shoulder. "See you at the Debutante Ball." Pressing myself against that wall and breathing hard, I pulled out my phone, squinting to try and read the text. My fingers trembled, as I dialed the number. I held the phone against my ear, waiting for it to get through. My mind was completely numb...I just needed to talk to her. Ella. "Hello?" It was the Butler. "This is...Ash. Ash Castillo." "Ah, yes, Master Castillo. What can I do for you?" "C-can I speak to Ella, please?" I asked, my voice shaking uncontrollably. "Is she okay?" "Yes, she's here," he said, his voice confused. "She's fine. Young Master, is there something wrong?" The Billion Dollar Girl "No," I said, my tone ice-cold. "I'm fine." I hung up, and clutched my phone so hard my knuckles turned white. He'd tricked me. I'm going to destroy Will. *** The Billion Dollar Girl Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ “Madame Emily? Master Ash just called.” “What?” she asked, pulling at the strings on the back of my corset. I gasped, as all the air was pushed out of my lungs. My hairdresser pulled the iron thingy away from my hair, and my hair unraveled, my wavy ebony hair transforming into curls. “Ash?” I choked, my eyes watering. “Ash just called?” Lady Emily pulled at my corset again, and I cried out in pain. She ignored this. Sadistic woman. My makeup artist dabbed more eyeshadow onto my eye, and my hairdresser had to press me against my chair to stop me from thrashing around in agony. “What did he want to say?” Lady Emily asked, as I gasped, trying to breath. “He did not say terribly much, Lady Emily. He just asked for Ella’s whereabouts.” “Gabriella,” Lady Emily corrected, snapping. She adjusted a strand of my hair. “Tell him we will meet in the Debutante Ball,” she said, dismissively. Her manservant bowed low, and walked away. “Done,” Lady Emily pronounced. As always, I was surprised. I looked into the antique mirror, my make-up artist and hairdresser surrounding me, and I couldn’t help gasping. I’d been completely transformed. The bronzed tone to my skin, and thick eye-makeup made me look almost Egyptian. “Now, Gabriella,” she said, sternly. “You will do as you promised, will you not?” “But –” “Gabriella.” “Fine,” I groaned, giving in. “But can I just have one last one?” For a second, an almost sympathetic look crossed her face. It must’ve been some kind of Botox malfunction, because her face went back to normal almost a split-second later. “No. I cannot feed your addiction. Lollipops are made up of sugar. It is terrible for your teeth, and will give you spots. Now, you shall don your ring.” I glared at her, but backed down when she glared back at me. Damn, she was scary. Reluctantly, I pulled the stupid rock out of the little bag I kept it in, tied around my neck. Slowly, I slid on the cold platinum ring that proclaimed me Ash’s. “Now, Gabriella, you may tell me, what brand is the dress you are currently exhibiting?” “Uh…” I said, staring at my mirror, examining the beautiful, elegant ball gown. I ran my fingers through the corset, feeling the sewn decorations along the edge. I stared at the ruffled A-Line skirt. “It is in the style of Dior, but has not appeared in this season’s collection yet.” My voice was such dull monotone, it sounded almost textbook. That’s what spending a week with Lady Emily does to you. “Well done,” she said, briskly. “You are quite right. It has not appeared in this season’s collection, because it has been especially designed for you. Mr. Castillo ordered it himself.” I blinked. “Wow…Ash really got me this dress? That’s…” I’ve never gotten a present from anyone before – well, apart from my parents, but do they really count? “A husband’s duty,” Lady Emily finished. “Yeah…I get so.” But I couldn’t help smiling. Just a little. *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ “Wow…” James said, gaping. He was the heir to S.T.H Corporation. “Who’s that?” Soft, classical music was playing in the background, as everyone waited for the main event to start – the descending of the stairs, or whatever it was called. I’ve never actually been to one of these before, as last year I was way too young to be considered an eligible bachelor. “Gabriella,” I replied, archly. “Gabriella Castillo.” I was kind of annoyed. I’d been here for what, ten minutes, and she still hadn’t greeted me. What kind of crappy wife was she? “Gabriella…Castillo…” he murmured, dreamily. “Do you think she’ll be interested in me?” Annoyed, I shrugged. How did he not realize her last name was “Castillo”? I glared down at the glass of champagne in my hand, watching at my glinting ring through the golden liquid. “Wait,” James hissed, hitting me on the chest painfully. “She’s looking at me…she’s smiling…she’s coming over…” I kept my eyes on my champagne glass, still angry, refusing to look up. She would have to apologize to me first. “Hey,” she said. I still didn’t look up. “How are you?” “I’m awesome,” James breathed, entranced. Idiot. The Billion Dollar Girl “Oh…uh…hello,” Ella said awkwardly to James, before turning back to me. “Ash, uh… Lady Emily was looking for you.” So she didn’t wasn’t here to apologize. I grit my teeth, annoyed. “I’m coming,” I said, in my coldest voice. When I passed James my drink, I sneaked a glance at Ella’s face. She looked confused and kind of hurt. Good, I thought stubbornly, though it was accompanied by a twang of guilt. We left James standing there, holding my drink and gaping. I couldn’t help but stare at Ella as she walked ahead of me. She’d had a major transformation – Lady Emily was amazing. But I think the thing that really complete the picture, was the graceful way she held herself – almost like she was born into this society. The graceful arch of her neck, the way she walked… Then she stumbled and tripped on the hem of her dress, almost decapitating a waiter. Okay, maybe not the way she walked. Plenty of guys were staring at her, just the way I was. I glared at them, but Ella didn’t seem to realize. I should send out a message. I caught up with her, as we reached Lady Emily, and I wound my arm around Ella’s waist. Ella looked up in surprise. “Lady Emily,” I said, ignoring her. “I heard you wanted to say something to me.” “Yes, well…” she said, glaring at Ella. “I was rather hoping we could talk alone.” I felt Ella pull away, and I reluctantly let go. When she was gone, Lady Emily smiled. “How were Ella’s lessons?” I asked. “Is she as slow as you thought she was? “No, actually. Gabriella’s a bright girl, and learnt a lot faster than any of the other young ladies I have trained.” “So why d’you give her such a hard time?” I asked, frowning. “Because she’ll learn better. Enough of the amicable small talk, Ash,” Lady Emily said, cutting through the bullshit, the way she always did. “I have something I want to tell you. Several days ago, she told me something quite interesting. About her mother’s maiden name…” “What was it?” “Beaumont.” “So? There are thousands of people with Beaumont as a surname.” “Her mother’s name was Eleanor Beaumont, Ash.” “Oh. That Beaumont.” *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ Across the room, I watched Ash leave Lady Emily, with a complex look on his face. Immediately, he was ambushed by about ten giggling girls. A smile spread over Ash’s face, and my heart strings panged. Didn’t they know that he was married? No, wait, didn’t HE know that he was married? Lucy Andre made a spectacular entrance into the hall, and then walked straight up to Ash, joining the ten girls. Bitch. I shredded the lily in my hand absentmindedly, wrecking the flower decoration and earning a death-glare from a waiter. “Hey, beautiful.” I jumped. “Will! What are you doing here?” He passed me a champagne flute and I took it gingerly. How was I meant to hold one, again? Oh, right. Will was wearing a black suit and I was glad to see he wasn’t actually a homeless person who wandered the streets. “I came over here to talk to you,” he said, his light blue eyes raking up and down my dress unashamedly. “You never called me.” I smiled, subconsciously adjusting my dress. “You’re Ash’s brother. I’m married to him.” “…and that meant you couldn’t’ve called me?” he asked, with a small smile on his lips. “How are those two sentences linked in any way?” “I don’t know…they’re both vaguely accusatory.” “Actually, there’s a very important difference. My sentence was true, and yours was a lie. I’m Ash’s cousin, not his brother.” “Oh.” “Yeah,” he said, smiling. “Anyway, I only came over because…well, you looked depressed.” I looked over his shoulder, at Ash, surrounded by the group of tittering girls. Will followed my gaze. “Oh, right,” he said, smirking a little. “Jealousy.” “I’m not jealous!” “Aren’t you meant to be jealous? You’re married.” “But I –” I bit on my own tongue, suddenly remembering the contract. It wasn’t a normal marriage at all. Technically, he owned me. “Oh, right, I remember. You don’t love him.” I glared at him now, opening my mouth, but he beat me to it. The Billion Dollar Girl “You should know something, though. Ash definitely likes you.” I blinked, surprised. “Huh?” I said, intelligently. “That’s right. You should be surrounded by guys right now, but Ash was secretly sending out signals to all them. The way he put an arm around your waist before, showed everyone in this hall that you were his. And no one’s going to mess with Ash Castillo.” I stared at him, before bursting out laughing. “You’re kidding, right? Ash hates me.” “I’m not kidding. Take a look around you, at all the guys staring.” I did as he said, and took a glance around the hall. About thirty pairs of eyes quickly looked away. “Well, it’s a horrible thing to do,” I said, indignantly. “Doesn’t Ash want me to make any friends?” Will chuckled. “You’re cute, you know that? You think the guys here just want to be friends with you? When you look like that?” I felt my cheeks hot up. “Shut up,” I said, weakly, staring at my champagne flute. Okay, I wasn’t experienced, but was he flirting with me? That was wrong on so many levels. He knew I was married to Ash, his own cousin. Hell, he probably came to the wedding. But at the same time, I couldn’t judge. I meant, it could just be a compliment, or it could be flirting. Was it flirting? My head almost exploded, as I tried to work it out. “Will. I see you’ve arrived.” I looked up, into a pair of light-blue eyes. Ash. “Hey, cousin,” Will said, breezily. “I was just talking to your beautiful wife, here. She was just telling me about how she felt kind of left out.” “Shut up!” I complained, embarrassed, ribbing Will. He laughed. “Get away from Ella, now,” Ash said, his tone ice-cold. I glanced over at him, and I was kind of shocked by the threatening look on his face. His eyes narrowed. “Now!” “Alright, cousin,” Will said, looking hurt. “I’ll go. Sorry.” When he was gone, Ash turned to me, glaring. “Why were you talking to him?” Ash said, his tone dark. My heart thudded. I’d never seen him look so scary. “Because he was your cousin. Ash, that was really mean, what you did there. Go apologize to Will. You’ve hurt his feelings.” Ash gave a laugh, which was somehow still beautiful. I tried to remain stern, and not drool. “Right.” “Ash, I mean it! Or I’ll…I’ll…” “What, Gabriella?” “Never forgive you.” His blue eyes held my glare for a moment, but then he faltered, and gave in. “Ella, I will, if it’s that important to you –” “Debutantes, this way please,” Lady Emily said loudly, in her crisp tone. Apparently she was the host of this. We both looked up, the moment ruined. “The main event is about to start.” *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ We were all lead up a lift. I sort of get why – it kind of ruins the effect if we all walk up the stairs and then walk down again. We were then told to stay in a room, as they got everything ready. I leant against one of the walls, trying to remember everything Lady Emily had taught me. If I don’t I might do something stupid like trip and fall… Oh God, I feel sick. I absentmindedly felt at my thighs, trying to find the lollipop I always kept in my pocket. My fingers met nothing but silk. Damn it. “Hey! Are you Gabriella?” It took me a while to realize she was talking to me. Apparently, Lady Emily was spreading my new name around. I looked to up, blinking, suddenly affronted by a six-foot-tall ball of orange zebra-striped satin, and strawberry-blonde hair. Her strong perfume hit me with as much force as a fat kid rolling down a hill. “Uh…hi. Yes, I am,” I said, feeling slightly intimidated. Now that I wasn’t so deep in thought, I noticed the twenty-or-so other girls in the room with me, all beautiful and skinny. I vaguely knew a couple of them from school – namely Lucy, and three of her more high-class friends. “I’m Kimberley,” she said, blinding me with a flash of her whitened teeth. “I just wanted to ask…Is it true? What they’re saying? You know, about…” “What?” “About how you’re married to…Ash Castillo?” So that’s what she wanted to talk about. Of course. I took a deep breath, preparing for the onslaught of interrogation, trying to remember every detail Ash had told me to memorize. I wasn’t meant to tell anyone the truth about how we “met” (in a gym, which he’d broken into), or about how we’d “dated” (he kidnapped me, and forced me into a dress, and ALMOST gave me Botox), or about how and when he “proposed” (about 8.6 seconds into our first “date”). “Yes,” I said, forcing back a sigh. “I am.” “So could I just ask…” she gave a nervous giggle. “What’s he like in bed?”  “What?” I spluttered, feeling my face heat up. I was suddenly aware that all the other girls in the room were listening. “I mean, we’ve all heard the rumors,” she said, smirking at me. “After all, he was a little of a slut before he got married. I just wanted to know if he was as good as some of the girls said.” I gaped at her, trying to work out what to answer. Ash had never told me what to say in this situation. Logically, we should have an active sex life, right? If we were married… Kimberley’s eyes widened. “Wait… you have… done it, right?” she said, with another nervous laugh. “I mean, you’ve been married for about a week already…” “Come on, Ella,” Lucy said, smiling at her friends. I knew she would say something. And all I’d wanted was to quickly get this stupid event out of the way. “Tell us all. I mean, you had to be pretty dirty to get a guy like that. What did you do with him?” Her friends giggled smugly and Kimberly looked confused. “What are you talking about?” she asked. “Why would Gabriella…?” Lucy stood up, using her three-inch height advantage. “Kimberly?” she said, pretending to look confused. “You really didn’t know? I mean, I won’t tell you, if Ella doesn’t want me to…” Meaning, ‘I’ll tell you even if she doesn’t want me to. And I know she doesn’t’. “Know what?” Kimberly asked, her green eyes very wide. “What are you talking about?” “Ella went to our school,” one of Lucy’s friends intercepted. “But she was poor. Like, trailer-trash poor. She had to clean our school gym just to scrape enough money to pay for her school fees. Everyone knows that her Dad’s a coke-addict, and her Mom’s a whore.” I gasped. “That’s not true! How could you say something like that?” “Sasha!” Lucy chastised, acting like she was shocked. “You can’t just say something like that! You’ll be leaving a bad impression on her new friend... Kimberly, right?” My eyes started to fill with tears, as all the girls in the room started whispering. “It’s not true!” I yelled “My parent’s aren’t those people! You can’t just make up things like that, and…and…” “Girls!” It was Lady Emily. She stood at the door, with a fake smile plastered onto her face. She didn’t seem to notice my tears. “We shall all proceed to the hallway, where you will stand out of sight. You shall be quiet, and descend the stairs when your name is called. Your partner will be waiting for you at the bottom, and you shall take his hand, and walk to the doors at the other end of the Butterfly Ballroom. The doors lead to the main Ballroom, where you shall be spending the remainder of the evening. I imagine it will be quite easy, as you have all practiced.” She glared at me. “Good luck, girls and congratulations in advance for becoming Debutantes.” The Billion Dollar Girl I quickly wiped my tears, careful not to smudge my makeup. Lady Emily’s vast teachings had included how to cry without messing up your eye-makeup – which is actually easier than it sounds. I looked up at the ceiling, and captured a tear between my index finger and thumbs. The girl filed out of the room, one by one. Kimberly grabbed my arm, as we left the room, and lined up, just of out sight from the many high-class bachelors who had turned up for the event. “Listen, Gabriella, or Ella…” she whispered, into my ear, as the sound of polite applause reached our ears. “I just wanted to tell you, those girls are really horrible. You shouldn’t pay any attention to them, okay? I think you’re really pretty. You can’t let them get you down.” I nodded, wordlessly. Of course she would think to compliment me on my looks. That was the only thing that mattered, right? That was the only thing she could think to say. “I only talked to you because you’re joining my class,” she continued. I looked at her, blankly. “You know, at Harvey school? I think we’ll be great friends.” She smiled sweetly at me. I could see she was the type of girl I’d revered as a child – a kind-hearted, graceful, delicate princess. A Cinderella. I smiled back, trying not to feel sick. I’d just managed to forget about that part of Ash’s Dad’s deal. I had to go to that school. Closing my eyes, I prayed that it’d all be over soon… I squeezed my hands together. And I suddenly realized something. Oh, God. Pushing past a surprised Kimberly, I ran back into the room we were kept in, and scrambled around it frantically. It has to be here… It has to be… My ring was gone. *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ We were lead to the side of the stairs, and told to wait in the designated order – and Will was in front of me. I sighed, remembering what I promised Ella, and tapped on Will’s shoulder. He turned around. “Hey,” I said, calmly. He blinked, and looked kind of surprised. I gave him a small smile. “Why aren’t you yelling at me? Why aren’t you getting all angry and scowl-y at me?” My smile faded. God, he was annoying. “I just wanted to call a truce, okay? I got kind of mad at you back there. I guess I’m…sorry.” He gaped. “Ash Castillo, apologizing? What’s happened to the world?” “Shut up,” I snapped, turning away. “The only other time you’ve apologized to me, was when my Dad died,” Will said, almost thoughtfully. “Something as important as my Dad dying must’ve happened.” I froze. Why was he bringing something like this up now? I couldn’t meet Will’s eyes. Because he had every right to hate me as well. I’d taken everything from him, everything that had been his. He was the rightful the heir to my Dad’s company. *** ʘ Will Castillo ʘ I watched Ash turn away, pretending to be interested in the girl who was currently descending the stairs. But he was just trying to avoid my gaze. Are you sorry, Ash? You should be. You have everything. You have the parents, the company and the girl. I’m going to make you pay, Ash. I’m going to make you suffer. Do you know what’s funny? I only returned to take back my company. But that would be stupid. That couldn’t affect you, because deep down, you don’t give a crap about that company my Father spent years building up. No, I will take away the thing you care about most in the world. Ella. *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ My head spun, as I tried to think, as Lady Emily’s grating voice came up the stairs. There was massive applause as Kimberly descended. Where could I have left the ring? Oh God, what the hell am I meant to do? Ash will kill me… I can’t have lost it… I can’t… The Billion Dollar Girl “I need to go to the restroom for a second…” Sasha whispered to Lucy. They were both in front of me. “I think I had some bad lobster earlier… Tell my escort I’m sorry…” And she ran past me, her hands covering her mouth. I cupped my head with shaking fingers. No, Ella, you have to concentrate now. You have to concentrate, or you’ll miss your slot, or trip, or be sick…or something… But the blood pounded against my ears so hard I could barely hear. “…Castillo.” Crap! Did she just say Castillo? I looked around, and no one seemed to be moving. She’d said Castillo! I scrambled to the top stair, trying to remember my training. Graceful…graceful… I tried not to hurl as I gave my best smile, holding the hem of my dress, and walking down the stairs. I think it’s going okay…my posture is exactly as she taught me…I looked down at the sea of surprised faces. What was I doing wrong? Had my makeup smudged, or something? What my dress ripped? I kept up my smile, until my eyes fell on the guy standing on the bottom stair. It wasn’t Ash. It was Will. *** The Billion Dollar Girl Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ What is the fight or flight instinct? When a human is put under pressure where he or she might be in some danger, it reacts instinctively. Without conscious thought, the mind assessed the risk, and in a snap-second, it makes the decision. Fight, or flight. It’s almost completely impossible to oppress. These useless facts buzzed around my mind, the ones I’d learnt in Biology, almost a whole lifetime ago. But nevertheless, it meant to same thing. It wasn’t my fault. I’ll maintain that if Ash yells at me. I stood, panting. I had no idea where I was, but that was okay. As long as I was away from that place. The cold air cut into my exposed skin, as I stood in the middle of the street, wearing nothing but a designer dress (and those were approximately the size of bikinis) – for the second time in about a week. I closed my eyes, leaning against the dirty wall, getting my breath back. I didn’t think anyone was following me. Good. When I opened my eyes, I took in my surroundings. First of all, it was late. Like, seriously late. I glanced at my hand, out of habit. My tacky plastic watch was long gone. I mean, sure, it’d been cheap and plastic, but at least I could tell the time. Now, I had no idea. Number one thing to do – call a taxi. I didn’t want to be here alone, on this side of town, especially since my dress, that was bought to scream “designer expensive hot”, now seemed to scream “I’m a person worth mugging”. I had to get out of here… I bit my lip, suddenly feeling guilty. I had to go visit my parents…it’d been a week since I’d last talked to them. I’d been so busy with the stupid training, I couldn’t even spend Christmas with them. I’d promised I would at least spend a little of New Year’s Day with them, at least… *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ Mutters reverberated through the Ballroom. No one was playing attention to the Debutantes now. They were all talking about Ella. I leant against the wall for strength, perfectly motionless. “What happened?” James asked, looking at me, concerned. “Wasn’t Gabriella meant to be your Ball partner?” I didn’t reply. The look on her face, as she flew directly past me, her long dress trailing out behind her. She’s run, again. Where would she go? I couldn’t think, over the loud whispers. I hit the wall, hard. The sudden noise shut everyone up. “Ash…” James said, tentatively. “Are you okay?” I pushed past him, weaving in and out of the surprised people, and finally ran out into the streets. I had to find Ella. *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ The door opened. I stood on the doorstep, shivering violently. My teeth chattered and my arms were practically blue. “Ella!” Mom cried, pulling me into the warmth of the cottage that she and Dad now lived in. I’d suggested a penthouse, or a mansion, but they wanted a cottage – a small and warm place to raise a child, they said. “What happened to you? Come inside, you have to be freezing!” Her warm hands rubbed my numb arms, as she draped a big jacket over me. My Mom looked great. Her skin glowed, the way a pregnant woman’s always did. Her eyes – the exact shape and color as mine – shone, and even though she looked concerned, she was obviously pleased to see me. “Your Dad and I were worried you wouldn’t be able to make it,” she said, ushering me into the sitting room. There was a blazing fire in the corner, and the same little plastic tree we’ve had for years, next to it. “Not that we would’ve blamed you if you didn’t…I mean, you are busy nowadays, what with being a huge superstar and everything…” “I’m not a superstar,” I protested. My lips had almost thawed out, and I could talk again. “I’m just…known.” “Modest, honey. You’re a superstar.” A superstar just because I married the world’s biggest douche. She waved a hand at one of the wall. Already, almost one-quarters of it were covered in press clippings. Some of them had my face in it, either looking pasty and depressed, or freakishly perfect and fake-smiling. I stared at these pictures. I really can’t believe I’m this person now. Around my face, were headlines like, “New York’s Very Own Cinderella”, and “Cindy on Crack?” My whole life, plastered on this wall. The Billion Dollar Girl Somehow, it depressed me. This was me. This was all I was, all I ever could be. Everything I’d ever done or said, everything I could do or say. Everyone knew. My fingers clenched into a fist. I hadn’t really talked about the eventual divorce with Ash, but I suddenly prayed that it would come quicker. I wanted this done. I wanted it all over with. I wanted out. “So, what do you want to do today? Oh, should we make those homemade Christmas cars we make every year? It’s a bit late, but…” “I want to make a calendar,” I said, determinedly. I’m going to make a calendar, counting down to the day Ash and I divorce, and all this is over. *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ I turned my head, around and around. I ran through the dark, empty streets, ignoring the stitch in my chest and the biting cold. “Master Castillo, get into the car!” my chauffeur yelled at me. He drove along the sidewalk in my limo, matching my speed. “You can look for her in the car!” “No! I can see better this way!” “Then at least let me be the one to look for her. You can drive –” “No!” I snapped. Ella, where are you? How dare you run away from me, again? I thought things we changed…I thought we had an understanding…how dare you run away? If I find you, I’m going to lock you up, and never, ever let you go again. “Master Castillo!” “Leave me alone!” I yelled, bursting into a sprint. There was traffic ahead, and so four-hundred yards on, I looked back, satisfied. My driver was stuck behind a long queue of cars, and he wouldn’t move for long time. For the first time, I thanked New York City’s bad traffic. Now he was gone, I could find her in peace. I wove in and out of streets, some long, some short. Eventually the dark trees became a blur and the shadowed house seemed identical. I stopped. I had to admit it. I was lost. The chilling cold burnt into my skin. I sneezed. I cussed, and pulled out my phone, calling for help. *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ “Done!” I said, looking pleased. I smiled down at my calendar. “What’s it for?” “Uh…for our three month anniversary,” I lied. Mom smiled. “That’s sweet, honey. What are you going to give him?” “Maybe some, uh, aftershave.” “Nice. How was Christmas with Ash?” “Uh, great.” Truth was, we didn’t even celebrate it. Some husband he was. I checked the clock. “Mom, I have to get back home. Sorry.” “No, it’s fine, dear. Just visit as often as you can, and we’ll be happy.” I gave her and my Dad a hug, before calling up the taxi rental service. In ten minutes, the yellow taxi came, and I slid into it, waving my parents goodbye. *** The Billion Dollar Girl Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ I slid my key into keyhole, and slowly, agonizingly, I twisted my wrist. There was a satisfying click. I pushed against the tall, ornate door as slowly as possible. It opened. I tiptoed in, before turning around to slowly close the door. The door closed silently. Slam. I jumped, as a hand came from behind me, slapping the door. I turned around, and smiled. “Ash, you scared me…don’t do that…” I said, putting a hand over my rapidly beating heat. “Where did you go?” he asked, through tightly gritted teeth. He leaned in, his face only a few inches from mine. His light blue eyes, almost grey in the light, were seething with rage. I took a step back, but met nothing but door. He had me trapped. “To…visit my parents,” I said, my voice very small. “It’s…uh, New Year’s Day.” “Did I give you permission to go?” I glared at him. “Do need your ‘permission’? You don’t own me, Ash.” “There’s a paper in my lawyer’s office that says I do.” “Why do you even care, Ash?” I yelled, putting two hands against his chest, and trying to push him away. He didn’t move. His close proximity was unnerving me…or rather my reaction was. When I was this close to him, when I was so close could smell his cologne, I imagined doing unimaginable things… “You don’t like me anyway!” My tone was bitter. “Who says I don’t?” He sounded as angry as me. He was such a good liar. I didn’t know what kind of stupid game he was playing now, but I didn’t want to get roped in. I can’t believe him. Even if he was telling the truth, it meant nothing to me. I hated him. “It’s obvious you don’t!” I yelled. “If you did, would you treat me this way? If you did, would you be this obnoxious?” I glared into his eyes, and I blurted out, “If you did, why didn’t you spend Christmas with me?” I covered my mouth quickly. What did I just say…? “Did you… want to spend Christmas with me?” he asked, hesitantly. “No…I just…” “What do you want, Ella…?” He took step forward, so his body was literally millimeters away from mine. The heat from his body was making me delirious. “Because, I can give you anything, anything at all. Just promise me you won’t ever run away again.” “I’ll go where I want, when I want,” I said, trying my best to sound outraged, but failing miserably. My eyes were focused on his lips. “You can’t bribe me.” “Really?” Ash gave a small smirk, as he leaned in further. I could feel his hot breath against my parted lips, against my tongue. “Well, if bribery doesn’t work… Blackmail…” My eyes fluttered shut, as Ash’s smirking lips moved closer, and hovered over my neck. I knew I should stop him. In fact, my mind was screaming at my body, telling it to push him away. But the sweetest, most beautifully painful prickle of electricity ran through my skin as his soft lips touched my neck. My eyes flew open, and I bit back a moan. He was engulfing me, everything about him – his body, his touch and even his smell – it was making it so hard for me to say no. His lips left a hot trail of kisses along my collarbone, his mouth never meeting mine. My fingernails cut into my own palms, as I fought back the urge to pull him closer. One minute he was there, and then he was gone. I opened my eyes, dazed. Now he wasn’t supporting me up and my knees were weak, I collapsed into an exhausted pile on the cold floor. “Next time you run away…” he said, walking away, throwing me a smirk over his shoulder. “I’ll do that to you again.” I heard the bedroom door click closed. I brushed the tingling skin of my neck with my fingers, the places Ash had kissed. They felt hot. My breathing slowed, as I regained my senses. Now I kind of want to run away more. *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ “Hello,” I said, as Ella walked into the kitchen. She glowered at me. Probably still mad about last night. She’d slept in the second bedroom. The maid handed me a cup of coffee, and I sipped it, still staring at Ella, who was studiously ignoring me. Like she hadn’t enjoyed it. Suddenly, I spluttered. “What the hell is this?” I yelled, banging down the cup. They both jumped. “Didn’t I tell you yesterday how I wanted my coffee? Where is the chef?” The Billion Dollar Girl “Ash!” Ella said, putting an arm around the maid. I glared back at her. “Don’t yell at people like that! It’s not nice!” I narrowed my eyes. She clearly wanted more education. “Can I talk to you in private, Ella?” I hissed. “No!” Ella blushed, clearly thinking about the night before. “You can’t talk to me in private! Now apologize.” “No,” I said, stubbornly. I’m a Castillo. I never ever apologize. She stood up taller, trying to look menacing by frowning at me. In reality, it just made her look kind of cute. “Now!” she growled. We glared at each other for a couple moments longer, before I gave in. “Sorry,” I mumbled, staring at my undrinkable coffee. “Properly,” Ella snapped. “I’m sorry!” I said again, looking the maid full in the eye. “I’m sorry for yelling.” I turned back to Ella. “Can I go now?” “Sure.” I stomped away, feeling quite grumpy. *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ To my surprise, once Ash had left, the maid – Molly – giggled. “What?” I asked, frowning. “Why are you laughing?” “Mr. Castillo is so cute,” she said, through her giggles. “I’ve never seen him apologize before, but one word from you, and he’s just like a little boy. You’re amazing.” I felt kind of stupid. “Really…? Oh…” “You two make the best couple. He loves you a lot.” “Right,” I said, laughing now. She gave me a quizzical look, and I shut up. I couldn’t tell Molly that he actually hated me – damn contract. So I changed the subject. “You should stick up for yourself, though. You can’t let him talk to you like that. He’s younger than you, right?” “Oh, Miss, I don’t know…” “You have to!” After I gave Molly a long speech on feminism, I left to put on my uniform. It was the first day at my new school, and I was so worried. Being a posh private school (even more prestigious than Charlotte Private School for Girls), there was a uniform. That I totally hated. Mainly because, as a girl, skirts were enforced. And unlike all the dresses I’d been forced into, it was incredibly short. As in bend-down-and-the-guy-behind-you-will-be-awarded-with-a-glimpse-of-your-panties short. I was planning to order another, longer skirt at school, but for today at least, I was going to have to go to school like that. I knocked on the bedroom door (my uniform was in the wardrobe). There was no answer. I opened the door, and slammed it shut again. Blood rushed to my cheeks, and I clutched my heart. I’d just seen a glimpse of Ash…semi-naked… Oh God. Swallowing, I knocked on the door again. “Ash?” I said, tentatively. “Can you, uh, get d-dressed and come out now?” There was a moment’s pause, and then Ash came out, with nothing but a towel slung low around his hips. I backed away, trying my best not to look. Ash leaned forwards, and pushed my head up with the tip of his finger. I was forced to meet his eyes. The look he gave me made me melt. I could feel my knees soften. His lips opened, and I wondered if he would kiss me. “I’m going to have a shower,” he said, leaning away again. His smile was innocent, like he had no idea he was driving me crazy. “Get dressed, and we’ll leave in ten minutes.” He turned away. Damn it. How did he do that? *** He slid into the car, about twenty minutes later. We were late for school, something the good girl inside me cringed at the thought of. Ash closed the door with a thud, and the driver started the engine. I gaped at Ash in dismay. His blonde, wavy hair was dripping with water. I watched the droplets slide down his uniform – a black jacket and grey blazer, with a red tie. “Aren’t you going to catch a cold?” “What?” he asked, blinking at me confusedly. “Your hair…aren’t you going to dry it?” “No,” he said, saying like I was redundant. “Why would I dry it?” “You’re going to get a cold,” I snapped. “No, I’m not.” “Yes, you are! Dry your hair! Or you’re going to be ill.” I pulled the cover off the back of my chair. I tried to rub it against Ash’s head, but he pushed me away. “What are you doing? Get that thing away from me!” The Billion Dollar Girl “Shut up! It’s good for you!” He grabbed my wrist, stopping me. “I told you, I don’t want you…” His eyes focused on my hand, and he frowned. “Where’s the ring?” My heart stopped. I hoped he hadn’t noticed that. “What?” I asked, trying to buy myself more time. “Where is the ring?” “It’s in the bedroom. You didn’t expect me to seriously wear it to school, did you?” I tried to give a carefree laugh, but it just sounded like I was in pain. “Sure.” I couldn’t tell if he believed me or not, but I tried to distract him by rubbing the fabric against his head again. “Hey!” “Shut up, Ash,” I said, smacking his head. “Just bear with it.” His hands fell down, and I dried his hair in silence. “Thanks for caring, Ella,” he said suddenly, his voice hoarse. I felt my heart skip a beat, and my cheeks reddened again. “It’s not for you,” I snapped. “I don’t want you catching a cold, and then spreading your germs onto me.” “Still…thanks anyway.” I smiled. “Isn’t this what you paid me for?” Suddenly, he was silent. My hands slowed, and I wondered what I had said wrong. “Yeah,” he eventually said, his voice cold. “It’s what I paid you for.” *** “Whoa,” I said, my face pressed up against the tinted windows. “It’s amazing!” Ash stepped out of the car, and the balance shifted. He came around the other side, and opened the door for me – something I was only just getting used to. I stepped out elegantly, one leg at a time, careful not to show my underwear. The cold hit my bare skin, and I shivered as I stared up at the biggest place I’d seen in my life. It looked more like a hotel than anything. A beautiful building made of marble and stone, massive in proportions, about as big as a University. Carefully trimmed hedges lined the front lawn, marble fountains spewing water everywhere. Students, dressed neatly in matching colors littered the grounds, all talking, laughing and reading. I gaped. This was amazing. This was my dream school. For the first time in weeks…maybe things were looking up for me. I could learn here. I really could learn here. “What’s up, Ash? How was your weekend?” I turned around, and smiled at Ash’s friend. It was a guy. I approved. I think I’d met him before, at the Ball. What was his name again? Jack…John…Jeremiah… “Hi, James,” I said, smiling at him. James gaped at me, when he saw my face. His eyes went to the shirt I had on. I tugged at it self-consciously. I knew it. The neckline was way too low. I needed to get a whole new uniform. “Hey, G-Gabriella,” he stuttered. “You come to this school?” “Yeah, I transferred here today.” Why was he so nervous? “James, let’s go,” Ash said, rolling his eyes. He pulled James away by his arm. “Leave Gabriella. We’re going to the race track.” Wow. This school had a race track. They left. I swung my backpack over my shoulder, and prepared to go to my homeroom – massive challenge, given the size of the school. I was staring so hard at the map in my hands, that I wasn’t looking at where I was going. I could’ve been lucky, and gotten to my destination safely, without any hassle. But this was me. And God hated me. I smashed into someone, and all my books came tumbling out of my hands. I dropped to the floor, immediately scooping them up. “I’m so sorry,” I cried. “I didn’t mean to…” Then I saw his face. Oh my God. “Zack?” *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ He looked down at me, his familiar brown eyes crinkling into an expression of surprise. Quick as a flash, it disappeared again. “Close your legs,” he said, disdainfully. I looked down at my legs, which were spread-apart. Oh, perfect. Everyone had seen my underwear. I immediately snapped my legs together, blushing. I gathered up my books quickly. Why wasn’t Zack helping me? The Zack I knew was helpful. I sneaked a glance at his face. His expression was bored – exactly the way he used to look at the stupid, brain-dead Jocks back in our school in Brooklyn. Why was he here? How did he get into a place like this? When I was done, I stood up. He was gone, already making his way to what was labeled on my map as the “Main School”. I ran after him, grabbing his hand. Zack shook me off. I stared at him, hurt. This was Zack. He used to be my best friend. We’ve known each other for so long. I can’t believe. “Zack…Why are you here?” I clutched my books to my chest, struggling to match his pace. He didn’t reply. I ground my teeth. I hated it when people ignored me. And I thought, after I signed the whole contract thing, no one would be able to ignore me any more. Because I had money. And money equaled respect. “Zack?” I yelled, shoving his arm. I was walking backwards, in front of him, trying to get his attention. A tall boy swerved out of my way, and glared at me. I mouthed sorry. “Stop!” I shouted, putting a hand on the centre of his chest, forcing him to stop. He still wouldn’t look at me. “Zack! Zack? Hello?” He was still staring above my head. His forehead creased, and his mouth curved into a little O shape. Did he just see something? Was there something behind me? Don’t turn around and look, Ella. You’ve fallen for this, so many times. Don’t turn around. There’s never anything behind you. Ah, the power of human curiosity. I turned around, and when I turned back, Zack was walking away. “Zack!” I screamed. “I thought you would be my friend!” He stopped, and turned back again. His brown eyes betrayed nothing. Then he frowned. “Wait, do I know you?” *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ “When did she come to this school?” James rambled. We were sitting on the seats of the stadium that lined the racing track. “I had no idea Gabriella would be the new girl in the other homeroom…” “Shut up, James.” There were a couple girls training on the racing track. James made me come here every so often to “check them out”, as they pranced around, stretching and chatting, pretending that they were oblivious to us, when we all knew they were putting up a show. Sure, they were cute, but completely and utterly fake. I’d been to school with these socialites since practically birth (my Dad is very keen on surrounding me with the ‘right’ people), and I’ve seen them go from cute, to geeky, to cute, to either skinny or fat, and then suddenly perfect. You didn’t have to be a genius to work out that the “suddenly perfect” stage was achieved through plastic surgery. So sure, they were cute, but not real. Not like Ella. Why am I thinking about that idiot? I shook my head, trying to clear my mind. “I mean, I know she’s your wife,” James said, quickly. I focused on him again. “So I can’t, you know, go for her. But she’s really pretty. Not in that way,” he hastened to say, when I shot him a glare. “You two love each other. I get it. I’m not stupid.” “I don’t love her, idiot.” I snapped. “Don’t you know me at all? How could I love someone like that?” James’s eyes went very wide. “What?” he choked. “Then…why are you married?” “Well… You know that picture that got splashed over the news, internet, everything?” “Yes, the one with you holding a cigarette, but everyone said was a joint.” “Shut up. Well, basically my Dad flipped out, said I was a wild party animal, or whatever, and made me get married.” Just by saying the word cigarette, James made me crave one. No. I’ve been trying to quit, ever since Ella told me she didn’t like the fact that I smoked. Not that…that mattered to me. It was bad for my health, anyways. The fact that it was after Ella had told me she hated me smoking was a complete coincidence. James didn’t help matters, by pulling a cigarette out of a pack, and lighting one up. He breathed, and grey smoked hovered around my face. I closed my eyes. Damn, I wanted a smoke. The Billion Dollar Girl “Gabriella’s family must be pretty rich, then,” he said, inhaling again. My eyes were focused on the glowing butt. “To be a girl your Dad set you up with. I mean, how many billions does your family have now? This school was practically built for you.” “Ella’s not rich at all –” I started saying. Then I remembered. Beaumont. Eleanor Beaumont. James gave me a quizzical look. “Yeah, she is. Extremely rich.” There was a silence, as James exhaled the beautiful cloud of poisonous air. Offer me a cigarette, you bastard. We’ve been friends since Kindergarten. Damn it, give me a cigarette! Blissfully ignorant to my cravings, he smirked at me. “If you don’t like her…Can I have her?” “Who, Ella?” I said, casually. “Yeah, sure. I mean, why should I care? She means nothing to me.” My hands balled up into fists, as I smiled sweetly at James. *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ The bell rang. Immediately the two groups were prominent, as everyone settled into their spaces. The rich, lazy, arrogant, brain-dead, surgery-enhanced losers were at the back, stabbing away on their little phones and clutching at some alien concoctions in white and green Starbucks cups. The penniless, hard-working, modest, law-abiding, natural scholarship students sat at the front, holding cheap biro pens and flicking through their carefully-organized lever-arch folders. I’ve lived as one of those biro-holding, folder-flickers for all my life, and so naturally I felt a strong affinity towards them. My head turned towards the stupid, obnoxious phone-stabbers. I was meant to be one of them, right? I sighed, and looked to Zack. Thank God I had him. This place was so different, so foreign. It was hard to cope. We’d looked through our time-tables, and I had all my sciences, math and Gym with him. “Where do you want to sit?” I asked. He nodded towards the middle-y area. Fine with me. I settled down, and threw him one last glare. “I still can’t believe you didn’t recognize me.” “I’m sorry,” he said, holding his hands up in protest. “How many years have we been friends now, Zack?” “I don’t know…three?” “Thirteen years, Zack. Thirteen years.” “Three, thirteen, whatever! It’s not my fault you look so different now.” I glared at him. “Shut up.” “No, I mean it in a good way. You look…pretty.” Suddenly, my cheeks flushed. Zack had never said anything like that to me before. At the same time, I frowned. Since when had I become pretty? I wasn’t wearing make-up now. I wasn’t even bothering to look ‘elegant’. I was just…being me. Wait…did Ash do secret plastic surgery on me?! “Are you okay?” Zack asked, frowning at me. “You look like you’re about to kill an imaginary man.” “I’m fine, Zack,” I said, through gritted teeth. There was a silence. “Well, okay,” Zack said, huffily. “What?” “You’re supposed to say I’m looking nice as well. You’re all take-take-take with the compliments, but you can’t even say one nice thing to your best friend?” I smiled. Of course he’d only complimented me as a friend. I was reading too much into it. “Oh, best friends now, are we?” I snapped. “A moment ago you forgot who I was. Now you’re playing nice.” “I’m always nice.” “Sure, sure.” Behind his head, I noticed a couple kids settle down onto our row. I frowned. They all look pretty tough. Wait…am I in the “delinquent” row?! There’d never been a delinquent row in Charlotte School, but there’d been one in the school I’d attended in Brooklyn. But the one in Brooklyn was right at the back, the row that the rich kids were now filling. Maybe it was different in Harvey? I turned to Zack. “Zack…are we in the ‘bad kids’ row?” “What?” “You know…the ‘delinquent’ row. The ‘gang’ row. The ‘bad kids’ row.” He looked around, dazedly, at the other guys in the row, all of which were sporting expensive-looking, yet scruffy t-shirts. That was weird. Were they some kind of generic mutants, breed from the scholarship students and the trust fund students? The Billion Dollar Girl “Uh, sort of.” Zack was a relatively open guy, but he seemed kind of reluctant to say more. “Zack, I never asked…why are you here? This school is expensive, you know.” “I never asked why you were here as well. Unless you suddenly inherited some money from those rich-ass grandparents.” I rolled my eyes. “Like they would ever leave me anything in their will. They so hate me. Zack, stop changing the subject and tell me how you got in.” “You first.” “I asked first. Answer.” He rolled his eyes as well, mimicking me. “I’m a scholarship student, okay?” “What?” I was astounded. I’d always known Zack was some kind of genius. From the way his parents treated him, and the way he seemed to effortlessly ace all subjects. But he never bothered back in Brooklyn. He was always messing around. What changed? “Now you. Tell me.” He really didn’t know? I thought news of my humiliation had been spread world-wide. Well, this was Zack. He never bothered with celeb gossip. But how should I begin to explain? “I got married,” I blurted out. Zack’s eyes widened with shock. At the same time, the classroom door swung open and a teacher came in. Everyone fell silent and reluctantly, I turned from Zack. I would explain later. “Right, class. Shall we start?” *** The Billion Dollar Girl Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ I could feel Zack's eyes on the back of my head during the whole of the Biology lesson. I tried to ignore it, but it was hard. Was he that shocked? Was I that unmarriable? He must've been really shocked, because even when the teacher had brought out the pig hearts for us, he was still staring at me. The class burst into mayhem, everyone shouting and yelling. Totally anarchy. The teacher tried to get some order, but people were already throwing the hearts around. This was worse than my last school. I toyed awkwardly with the pig heart, stabbing it with a scalpel, before giving in. "What?" I snapped at Zack, annoyed. "Why've you been staring at me?" He grabbed my hand, and I dropped the scalpel onto the heart in surprise. "You don't have a ring," he said. I pulled my hand back, and glared at him. "Do you expect me to wear a stupidly big diamond like that?" I muttered, letting my wavy ebony hair cover up my flaming cheeks. I'd completely forgotten that I'd lost it. I'd called up the building we'd had the Ball in, but they said they didn't hadn't seen it. "It's so embarrassing." His eyes widened. "It's a diamond? I proper one?" "Yeah." "So..." Zack said casually, turning to the heart we were meant to be dissecting. "Who did you marry? Someone rich?" "Uh..." Oh God, I was going to have to explain everything. Zack deserved to know the truth, right? He was a friend. No, I'm sure Ash will be okay with it. Yeah. Totally fine. "What happened was -" Behind Zack's head, I saw the door opening, and a tall boy with straight brown hair, in the school uniform came in. He was clutching several folders, and a book. I gaped. Will! He came to this school? Why didn't Ash tell me? "Sorry, Miss," Will said, biting his lip. "I couldn't find my way here, and I lost my map, so..." He had a map? So he was new... It was weird that his first day seemed to coincide with mine. "Don't worry about it, Mr. Castillo. Settle into your seat." The teacher seemed kind of flustered. Did she know who he was? I just stared at Will. The whole class was silent, but soon whispers broke through. "Did she just say Castillo? Is that...Will?" "Is that Ash's infamous cousin? I thought he was studying abroad!" "Does Ash even know?" Will scanned the class, until his eyes met mine. His lips spread into a smile that was so similar to Ash's. "Ella!" he said loudly, waving at me. I could feel everyone's eyes on my face as Will wove in and out of the rows, to the empty seat next to mine. I remained frozen, unable to look away from his face. I could feel my cheeks slowly warm with blood, as people's whispers grew more pronounced. What the hell was he doing? I'd been trying so hard not to draw attention to myself! Zack leaned over, and whispered, "How do you know that guy?" Will threw his bag onto the table, and climbed over it, smoothly settling into the seat next to mine. "Hey, sister-in-law," he said, smirking. "How've you been?" "Oh," Zack muttered. "You married Ash." *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ My phone buzzed, interrupting the tranquility of the study room. A teacher shot a glare in my direction, his mouth already open, about to give me detention or something. He wilted when he realized it was mine. "Is there a problem, sir?" I asked, innocently. "N-no," he stuttered. "No problem." "Then why don't you just carry on telling us about the American Civil War? I was just getting into it." "Right. I will." I smirked, as I tapped my screen. A text from Sam popped up. My eyes widened at the message.   Ash, Will's back. He's in Biology Lab 3, talking to Ella.   I suddenly stood up, my chair pushing backwards and clanging loudly against the floor. I could feel everyone's eyes on my back, but I didn't care. Blood pumped against my ears, making it hard for me to hear the muted whispers. My fingers shook as I shoved my stuff into my bag. "Mr. Castillo," the teacher said, trying his best to be stern, and retain the authority he had over the other students. "What do you think you're doing? Class hasn't ended yet!" I smirked as my fingers touched the doorknob. "It has now." *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ "I had no idea you came to this school," I said to Will, holding my folder to my chest, to stop the pervert in front of me try to look down my (admittedly low) top. I had to get a new uniform. The Billion Dollar Girl The bell had just gone, and we were walking in the corridor. Zack had walked off into the other direction, mumbling how he had to get to Geography. I sensed we would need to do some major talking later. "Didn't Ash tell you?" Will asked. We were walking slowly, through the crowded halls. Everyone was making their way to their next lesson. I assumed that Will knew where we were going, but he probably didn't. "No, not really," I admitted. "We don't..." "Do much talking?" he suggested. "No! I mean, we do talk...but not about...important things." "Well, what do you have in common?" "Uh..." Will laughed. "You couldn't have picked a better guy mooch off, huh? Do his billions make up for his personality?" he teased. "That's not why I married him!" I protested. "Then why did you marry a guy you have nothing in common with, you don't love, and is a bit of a tool?" I smirked. "You think he's a tool too?" "It's universally known that Ash, Mr. Cool Guy, King of the Delinquents, is a tool." I raised an eyebrow. "King of the Delinquents?" "Well, his friends aren't know. Ella, have you even consummated the marriage?" "...Consummated?" "Slept with him." "What?" I gasped, blushing furiously. "No! Why would you ask something like that? Of course I haven't!" "Just checking," Will said, with a smirk. 'Checking'?! What the hell did he mean? How could he ask such a question? "But, look," he said, stopping in the corridor. He looked at me seriously. "Ash is a good person, once you get to know him." I glared. "You mean, he's a tool, but I'll get used to it." He leaned against the wall, and laughed. He smirked at me. "Cute, Ella. Really cute." I felt my cheeks redden, as I looked away awkwardly. What did he mean, cute? Was I over-reacting again? I mean, we were meant to be sort of related now, and everything. Maybe he was just being nice. But the way he looked at me didn't seem like it. "Actually," Will said, drawing my eyes back to him. He was searching through his pockets. "I have something that might be yours..." And he pulled out my ring. I gaped and grabbed for it, but Will held it over my head, just out of my reach. "It was in the Debutante Ball waiting room..." "I know," I said, jumping up to try and reach it again. Will only smirked and, held it up higher. "Now, Ella...shouldn't you try and keep something this important safe? What would Ash say if he knew that you lost it?" "I don't care," I snapped angrily, trying to pull his arm down. Was this all a joke to him? Did he find this funny, torturing me? "I don't care what Ash says." He leaned down, and I could feel his breath on my neck. "Yet you seem surprisingly desperate to get your ring back." "That's because...because I..." This was nothing like me and Ash. Even when Ash was being forceful, his touch was gentle, if sometimes slightly over-excited. He was never scary, like Will. It was a look in Will's eyes that scared me like hell. I didn't understand him. Sometimes, he could be sweet, if slightly imposing. Right now he was so painfully in control of this situation, so sure of what he was going to do and say, it was almost like he's scripted it out in his mind. I looked around for help, but the corridor was completely empty. Everyone was in their classes. There was no one. "Tell you what..." he whispered. His breath sent shivers up my spine, and I bit my lip. I was so scared I couldn't move. I was completely rooted to the spot. With Ash, I knew I had some slight control. Will terrified me. I'd thought his blue eyes were exactly like Ash's, but they had none of Ash's slightly cocky, self-confident softness. Will's eyes were cold barriers of steel, demanding yet dominant. "If you kiss me...I'll give you back your ring." I gasped, and suddenly found my legs. I stumbled back. Did he just say that? "Don't you want your ring?" he asked, smirking, holding it up. It would've been taunting, but the way he said it was almost nice. I made one last desperate grab for it, but he darted out of my way, just in time. "Kiss me, Ella." He closed his eyes, and waited. I sighed, and leaned in... The Billion Dollar Girl I punched his jaw, and grabbed the ring as he staggered back. "Did you really think I would kiss you?" I asked, smiling now. I walked away, rubbing my swollen wrist. That'd been close. Before, I definitely hadn't been over-reacting. Will had issues. Serious issues. *** ʘ Will Castillo ʘ I rubbed my jaw, almost thoughtfully. I leaned against the wall, staring down at my feet. Suddenly, I burst into laughter. You really are cute, Ella. I'm starting to like you more and more. I turned around, and faced Ash. His face was pained. I hid my surprise, giving him my best smile. "Please, Will..." he whispered, his eyes full of agony. "Don't do this to me..." I took a step towards him, my own eyes hardening. "I want you to feel what I felt, Ash. When you took everything away." "You have everything! You have money, a Father that loves you, a future you're allowed to choose for yourself." "But you have more." "How?!" he yelled. "How do I have more?! My family hate me! I have no choice in my life, at all, it's all written out for me. And money...well, you soon realize it means nothing." "Will you give me the company, then?" I asked. He was silent. I laughed bitterly, the cold sound echoing through the corridor. "Too bad. I wouldn't have accepted, even if you had said yes. You see, taking Ella from you is far more fun. She's so cute, Ash, I don't know how you refrain yourself. Don't you ever feel like just...jumping on her? How do you have so much control? I've never been able to inhibit myself well, Ash, you know that. Who knows what I might do." "Please," he whispered. "Please, Will." "You're in love, Ash," I continued. "Do you even realize it? Why else would you be here, begging me? Have some bloody pride, and be a man. We'll both go for Ella. Let her choose." To my surprise, he smirked. I blinked. "Sure." *** The Billion Dollar Girl Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ History being over, I managed to find Zack, so we could go to Lunch together. Ah, it was almost like old times. "Hey, Zack," I yelled, waving an arm. He ignored me, again. I sighed. Were we back to playing this stupid game? I ran out in front of him. He didn't stop moving. I glared at his non-responsive face for a moment, and then changed my tack. I arranged my face into a vaguely surprised expression, as I pretended to stare at something over Zack's head. It didn't work. He wasn't looking, and was still ignoring me. "Look, Zack -" I said, angrily. I hated it when Zack was like this. "Oh my God," Zack interrupted, staring over my head. I turned around. There was nothing. When I turned back, Zack was gone again. I hated this game. There was only one way I knew to get Zack out of this hissy fit. I didn't want to do it, but I had no other choice. I silently caught up with him again, my fingers reaching up his back. "Argh!" Zack yelled, like he was having an electric shock. He started laughing, uncontrollably, squirming under my death-grip. "Stop it! Stop tickling me!" "Promise not to ignore me, for ever an ever?" "I promise! Stop it!" "Promise not to ever have a hissy fit again?" "Okay, okay! Stop!" "Promise to call me the Ultimate Supreme Ruler of the Universe? For the rest of our lives." "Fine!" he cried, and I relaxed my fist enough to get him squirm out of it. He pulled away, and awarded me with a long glare. "Why did you have to do that? It's not fair." I stuck my tongue out at him, skipping along beside him as we started walking again. "Whatever, Zack. You were the one ignoring me. You know how I hate that. Why were you mad at me, anyway?" He sighed. We were approaching a large building, roughly the side of football field. I guessed it was the cafeteria. He pulled open the door, and let me walk in first, which I considered kind of weird - I mean, he was treating me like a proper girl. He'd never pulled open doors for me. I practically had to beg him to do as much as pick up a piece of paper from the floor for me. What'd changed? Was it the "new" way I looked? Or was it just the fact that we hadn't talked to each other for so long, and his attitude had changed? I walked in, and the smell of delicious food hit me. My mouth started watering. Wow. This was definitely quality food. In Charlotte, the food there was mushy and tasteless, as almost everyone there ate about ten calories a day. This meant we didn't have anything processed, with gluten, with wheat, and it had to be suitable for vegetarians. Basically, it was a lot of fruit. I stared at the rows and rows of colorful, varied food. There were so many to choose from. Oh, God... I think I'm in total heaven. I unconsciously ran my fingers over grooves in the credit card in my pocket. A small smirk came to my lips. Ash, I'm going to put a good dent into your Billions. I hadn't bought anything at all on the credit card. I wasn't used to it at all, and there was no need for me to go out. When you were poor, you could think of a million things to do with the money you didn't have. When you had the money, you couldn't think of anything to do with the money you did have. "You've sold out," Zack said quietly, pulling me back from my reverie. He was so serious, I was kind of shocked. "What?" "That's why I was mad at you. You've sold out, Ella -" "Ultimate Supreme Ruler of the Universe." He sighed again, in a weary way that made him seem almost...mature. "Ultimate Supreme Ruler of the Universe," he repeated, exasperated. "I was mad at you, because you've sold out. Do you remember the time, when we used to hate the rest of the world together? The stupid, shallow people, all obsessed with money and looks? And look at you now. You've been bought, just like the rest of the world." I glared at him, absentmindedly pulling out a tray from the pile. "I have not sold out. Just because I marry someone rich does not mean I've sold out." "Doesn't it? Who pays for your school fees?" "Ash..." I mumbled. "Who pays for your school uniform?" "...Ash." "Who's paying for your food right now?" he said, indicating the tray full of delicious food. I felt the credit card in my pocket burn red-hot against my thigh. "Ash," I admitted. "But that doesn't mean I've sold out. I'm still the girl who hates big companies ruining small town businesses. I'm still the girl who hates carbon emissions. I'm still the girl who laughs at those stupid skinny models, wearing expensive clothes that are worth enough money that could fund an entire school in Asia. I'm still that girl." The Billion Dollar Girl "Right," Zack said, picking up a sandwich from the refrigerated section. He handed over the money. "Married to a douche who I'm pretty sure puts small businesses out of practice with his big company, has billions of air miles, and regularly dates skinny models. Face it. Ash is a total tool. He gets the worst grades in the school, has the attendance of a person with constant, incurable mono, and has behavioral problems of a small child." Zack seemed to really hate him. I guess I didn't blame Zack. After all, Ash was the stereotypical, spoilt rich boy, the stereotype we'd both hated together for the last thirteen years or so. But I wish Zack could see the Ash I saw. That's the problem with stereotypes. They hide the true personality. I frowned. There was one part of Zack's statement that stood out. "Ash dated skinny models?" "Didn't you know?" Zack said, rolling his eyes. I handed over the credit card to the till person, and put in my pin code (Ash's birthday. He's such an egotist). "He was a total playboy. I was surprised he was your type, Ella - I mean, Ultimate Supreme Ruler of the Universe." "He's...not..." I mumbled. Contract. "I mean...uh..." What was still kind of bothering me was the thing Zack had said - Ash liked skinny girls? I suddenly looked down at my huge tray laden with dishes. I glanced around, at some other tables. All the other girls' trays were completely empty. I wasn't so hungry any more. Zack picked a table, and I sat down next to him. "Do you know what I'm saying?" Zack asked, continuing our conversation. I looked at him, feeling kind of sick. The food that had smelt so heavenly a moment ago, was suddenly disgusting. I didn't want to eat. But I didn't know what to say to Zack. If I didn't eat, he would clearly think of me as another superficial girl, obsessed over weight. I gingerly picked up the bread. "I never told you, but, USRU - short for Ultimate Supreme Ruler of the Universe," he added, when I gave him a look. "It's late, now, but...ever since Kindergarten, I kind of always -" "I know I must seem kind of shallow to you," I interrupted, ripping the bread apart in my hands. I really didn't want to eat it. "But there is a reason I married him. You're right, I don't love him at all. I married him for another reason. I married him because -"  "Gabriella?" I looked up, and gave James a courteous, yet steely, smile, the one I'd been taught. It was the one you gave people who secretly annoyed you, or interrupted you. It was meant to intimidate them, in the least threatening way possible. It didn't work. James just stared at me, dreamily, in a new way I was just learning to recognize. "Yes, James?" "Uh...well..." he said, flustered. "Ash said that he wanted to see you...or something." I glanced at Zack, who was looking away. I turned back to James, an apologetic smile ready. "Uh, I'm kind of busy here. Can you tell him that?" "He said it's urgent," James pressed. "Then tell him to come here himself," I snapped, giving up with the courteous, diplomatic thing. "Tell him to stop sending his friends to do his dirty work, and drag his lazy butt here if he really wants to talk to me." Zack smirked. "But...he said he needs to talk..." "Fine," I sighed, getting up, putting down my bread. I was secretly quite glad that I didn't have to eat. I started picking up my tray, when James looked at me. "Why are you taking your tray?" His eyes widened as he took in the amount of food I was about to eat. " empty it." He looked at me like I was crazy. "Leave it here, and let's go. Someone else will take care of it for you." "But -" I glanced back at Zack, but he was too busy staring at his own tray. "Come on." I gave up on Zack, and followed James, as he led me to Ash. *** "What does Ash want to talk to me about?" I asked James, as we made our way through a maze of corridors. I felt kind of nervous. It was almost like being taken to see the Dean. And I had a hunch Ash was more important than the principal around here. The Billion Dollar Girl "Uh...maybe about what happened today?" he offered. "What happened today?" He stared at me, making me feel stupid. I didn't appreciate that feeling. "You know...the Will thing." I gaped. How did Ash know? Did he know what Will did? I mean, Will was sick and everything, but I had the feeling that there was more to it. "Uh, this might seem like a stupid question..." I started. I was uncomfortable under his probing gaze. I didn't like the way he stared at my legs. "But why does Ash hate Will so much?" "You don't know?" he asked, incredulous, leading me up a flight of stairs. "You're married to him, and you don't know?" "Uh..." "Well, it's something you'll have to talk to him about, I guess. This is you." The stairway abruptly stopped, at a badly-painted white door, that didn't go well with the rest of the school. I could hear car horns and wind on the other side. "Good luck," James said, gesturing at the door. I gave a grimace, and rapped my knuckles against the wood. *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ There was a tentative knock. "Come in," I called. The door opened, and Ella walked in. I leaned on the railings, staring over the school. Ella joined me, and I glanced at her face. She looked surprised. "This is the school roof? Wow, I never imagined it would be this..." "Pretty?" From this vantage spot, you could see the sports stadium that reflected light into a million over directions. You could see the school forest, crystallized from the winter, and almost see the rustling branches that swayed to the breeze. You could even see the school planetarium, a small black blot set in the distance. Ella gave me a look. "Wow." "What?" "I didn't know you appreciated things like this. I mean, you must've been to so many places already, right? Rome, Moscow, Hong Kong...All around the world. I would've thought that, after so long, you wouldn't find simple things like this pretty any more." I smiled at her, and leaned in, enjoying the blush that instantly colored her cheeks. I wasn't going to lose her to Will. Never. "Yet I still do," I said, smirking. I ran a finger over her soft cheek, feeling her shiver. Her breathing accelerated, and I could almost see her pupils dilate. She looked at me, alarmed at my sudden closeness, but not backing away. Instead, she closed her eyes, and leaned in. I smiled. When I had her like this, I could do whatever I wanted. I could do anything to her, and she wouldn't care. But that wouldn't make her choose me. I turned away, leaving her hanging. "I know you don't like it when I kiss you," I said. Her eyes opened at the sound of my voice, and blinked, dazed. "So I'm not going to kiss you again...unless you ask me to." I cleared my throat. "That's all I wanted to say. You can go, now." Her eyes flashed, angry. She glared at me. "Is that all you called me for?" "Yes," I said, frowning. Did she sound...disappointed? What had she been hoping for. She stomped on my foot, as I cried out in pain. "Next time, don't call me," she snapped, disappearing down the stairs again. For a moment, I held still. Then I burst out laughing. Ella...What is it about you? *** The Billion Dollar Girl Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ It was the end of the school day. I packed my bag, sighing. The subjects here were a little different from my last schools. Everyone in my year had started Economics, Sociology and Latin since last semester. I mean, I was going to be alright. Most of it was easy, and so I just had to learn it, plain and simple. And there was no way around that. My bag now weighed down with the thick volumes of the new subjects I had to take on, I managed to follow the general flow of the students, and made my way towards the exit. Most students were getting into the various limos and shiny BMVs that were slowly filing in through the school gates. A couple rebellious-looking tough guys had bikes. There were only three people who rode bicycles – the scholarship students. I watched them pedal home. “Hello.” Ash was suddenly behind me, one of his arms pulling me close to his chest. How did he do that? It was so unnerving. “Get off,” I yelled, pushing him away. I glaring at him, desperately hoping he wouldn’t notice the fact that I was blushing red. I’d smelt his cologne, again.  I didn’t know why I was so mad at him. I just knew that I was. I would never admit it was because he hadn’t kissed me. Because it wasn’t. It definitely wasn’t. But deep down, there was a voice inside, asking: Didn’t he find me attractive? I shoved away my insecurities, and glared at him with renewed vigor. “I don’t want to see you ever again.” “We live in the same house,” he pointed out, looking amused. “It might be kind of hard to avoid. And we have to go home together.” I smiled at Ash. “No, we don’t, actually.” I ran over to Zack, past Ash. I could feel his gaze boring into my back, but I carried on running. “Zack,” I said, smiling a little too strangely. He looked at me, like I’d just grown an extra eye, or something. “Can you give me a ride home?” “What?” He looked confused. “I don’t think I live anywhere near you.” I glanced back over my shoulder at Ash, who was still looking pleasantly amused. I shot him a vindictive smirk, before turning to Zack. “Please, Zack. Just this once.” I batted my eyes, the way I’d seen girls do at guys in bad cheerleader movies. He blinked, and looked even more dazed. “Uh, sure. But I don’t understand –” I threw my head back and laughed, like he’d just said the funniest thing ever. A quick glance told me Ash was still watching, and was no longer looking happy. With a smirk on my lips, I climbed onto the back of Zack’s bike, making a show of wrapping my arms around his waist, and pulling him close. “Shall we go?” I asked. “Uh…yeah…” he fumbled with the controls, and we were away. Ash glared at us as we left. *** I jumped of the bike, and fell to my knees, resisting the heavy urge to throw up the lunch I hadn’t eaten. Bile rose up my throat, and I retched, but luckily nothing came out. Zack patted my back. “Are you okay?” he asked, sounding concerned. “Yeah.” My voice was strained, but it was my fault. I’d been trying to make Ash jealous. It was stupid and immature, and probably didn’t work, since Ash didn’t like me. I stood up, breathing in the fresh air heavily. That’d been one of the worst experiences of my life. How can any girl like boys who ride on motorcycles? It was terrifying, the sheer speed of it… I was too busy screaming to actually tell Zack to stop. The worst part – Zack didn’t seem have helmets, which meant that throughout the whole ride I was convinced that we were going to crash, smash our skulls, and die. “Is this where you live now?” Zack asked, giving out a low whistle of appreciation. “It’s amazing. I’m guessing the penthouse.” I nodded, still feeling sick. “Thank you,” I mumbled, before turning away. Zack grabbed my wrist, stopping me from leaving. “Ella…did you ride with me because you were trying to make Ash jealous?” I winced. He’d caught on. “Uh, maybe…” A look crossed his face, and I immediately felt guilty. “I’m sorry about that. I just –” “Do you love him?” The question caught me completely off guard. Why did everyone ask me the same question? His eyes stared intensely into mine, trying to read my mind. “Uh…No,” I said, rolling my eyes like he’d just asked the stupidest thing in the world. I tried to laugh off the shock. “Have you met him? I would never fall for someone like him.” The Billion Dollar Girl Zack seemed to relax. His grip on my wrist loosened. He even gave a low chuckle. “You’re right,” he said, smiling at me. “He’s a self-deluding, narcissistic player. You’ll have to be really stupid to fall for him.” My chest constricted, and suddenly I wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t bring myself to meet his eyes. *** ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ I heard the door open, slowly. I fell backwards, onto the bed, sighing in relief. She was safe. I’d been so worried about her. Now she was back, I could think about bigger and more important things. The boy who’d given her a ride home… my fist clenched. He’d looked familiar, somehow. *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ I opened the fridge, looking for something good to eat. I gaped. Wow. It was stocked. I ran my fingers through all the shelves, filled to brim with cheese, milk, meat, yoghurt, fish… Now, what should I make? Ash didn’t really seem to eat anything, and so I guess I would have to start making my own meals around here. It was hard, surviving on takeout meals for dinner alone. I needed some real nutrients, and I really didn’t want to bother the maids, who already made us breakfast. I dithered, and finally picked out some chicken, rice, and spices. I could make a stir-fry really quickly, and then go to back to my room – the second bedroom. I was definitely no longer sharing with Ash – and study. I had to catch up, fast. I turned the stove on, and found a wok and a wooden spoon. Soon, the sounds and sizzling chicken filled the kitchen. Was Ash wondering what I was doing? The delicious smell of food must be reaching him, by now. Did he even know about cooking? Did he even know that it took work for the delicious omelet to appear before him, every morning? He barely even ate it. I sprinkled in the spice, and add the rice. I poured in some warm water, and suddenly the sizzling sound of oil was dampened, slightly. While I was waiting, I went into my room to unpack my books onto my desk. I checked my watch. The rice would take another ten minutes, at least. I decided to wait in my room, and get started on the homework. It was about eight already, and I had at least three hours’ worth. As I finally solved the last quadratic formula on the sheet, a purring sound reached my ears. I froze. What was it? It sounded like a kitten. It was coming from my balcony. Cautiously, I stood up, being careful not to scrape my chair against the ground. There was silent for a second, as I stood still, waiting. A few heartbeats later, there was another purr. I tiptoed to my balcony door, my fingertips brushing against the cold steel of the handle. I opened the door, and the hinges groaned. The cutest cat I’d ever seen in my life slipped through, in between my legs. Its fur was silvery grey in the moonlight. I scooped down, picking it up gently, so not to scare it. It gave a little yelp of surprise at the sudden change of gravity, but purred when I stroked its head. “Where did you come from?” I whispered. “Huh?” It yawned, stretching its jaws wide. It looked at me pleadingly. “Did you just say you’re hungry?” It purred again. I wondered vaguely if I had the power to communicate with cats. I left my bedroom, thinking about the tin of tuna I’d seen in a cupboard somewhere. Ash was in the kitchen, staring at my stove, looking too scared to actually touch it. “What the hell did you –?” I clamped a hand over his mouth, putting a finger to my lips. I glanced back at my bedroom, hoping the cat hadn’t gotten scared at Ash’s outbreak, and run away. I motioned for silence again, my eyes asking Ash to shut the hell up. He nodded, and I pulled my hand away. His eyes followed me, as I made my way to the food store, and pulled out a can of tuna. I opened it, and pulled out a plate, dumping the tuna out onto it. “What are you doing?” Ash whispered. I just looked at him, as I tiptoed back to my bedroom. I heard him follow me, and I opened my bedroom door again, my eyes turning to my bed – where the cat had last been. It was gone. I frowned, just as Ash entered the room behind me. The Billion Dollar Girl Suddenly, there was a purr from the balcony. A small smile lit up my lips, as I walked out to the balcony, Ash following me. Outside, it was cold, but when I found the little grey kitten, I kneeled down, and set the plate in front of her. My knees ached against the freezing stone balcony. Ash kneeled down beside me. There was gentle night breeze. It made my hair sway. I closed my eyes, enjoying the feeling of it against my skin. There was a full moon tonight, and its light bleached my skin a pale ivory color. My ring was back, and it shone beautifully in the moonlight. “Did you ever have a pet?” he asked, the softness of his tone surprising me. It suddenly struck me that we’d never had a proper conversation before. I shook my head. “My family never had a pet. We couldn’t afford one.” I didn’t meet his eyes, as I practically heard his brain processing the information. We were two different people, born into different worlds. It was almost natural that we would never get on. “Let’s give it a name,” Ash said, surprising me again. He had sentimentality. My eyes flashed up to his. In the moonlight, his blue eyes were completely silver. “Uh, sure,” I said, frowning, while trying to think straight. Ash was being…different. He was almost being nice. What kind of game was Ash playing now? That’s all he ever did, right? Play games? “What do you like?” “Dog.” I smiled, despite myself. “I like the irony but, uh, no.” “Joe.” “No.” “Graham.” “No. “Zack?” My eyes snapped up to his, and I wasn’t breathing. Did he know? No, he couldn’t…he definitely didn’t… Ash looked at me, his forehead crinkly adorably. I couldn’t help but admire how the moonlight brought out the sharp angles of his high-cheekbones, and strong jaw. He looked good. Almost too good to be allowed. His body radiated so much heat, I couldn’t help but lean towards him. Ash looked at me, waiting. I realized it’d been a while since I’d talked. My cheeks flushed, and I suddenly hoped that the moonlight hid it. “How about we smush our two names together?” I asked, trying to change the subject. “So… Asla?” He looked at me so indignantly, I had to find him cute. I had to. “No! How about Esher?” I frowned, trying to work out where he’d gotten that from. Then it dawned on me. “…You’re full name is Asher?” “Uh, yeah. Didn’t you know that?” I shook my head. “I never use it for anything, and it’s not my legal name, but it’s what I was christened.” I smiled, storing away that little piece of information about him. I was finally learning more about his life. I felt like he knew everything about me, but I knew nothing about him. “So…Gasher?” I said, still playing along. I watched the kitten lick enthusiastically at the tuna lump. “Gabriella? You’re finally accepting that name? I thought you hated it.” “I do. It’s awful. But…when did I ever tell you that?” “You didn’t, but…” He mumbled something else and looked away, clearly embarrassed. I smiled, again. Ash was making me smile a lot tonight. I was really beginning to see a whole new side to him. “Well…Elash?” “Eyelash?” “No, Elash – wait… Eyelash…Yeah. Eyelash. Good thinking…Asher.” He glared at me. “Don’t call me that!” “Right,” I said, with a badly concealed smirk. “Sorry.” We were both silent for a while, watching Eyelash finish her tuna. A cold wind rushed upon us, raising goosebumps on my skin. I shivered involuntarily, and Ash pulled me close, towards his heat. For once, I didn’t stop him. Eyelash finished her tuna, and yawned. She gave a small purr of content, and turned over, her eyes closing, as she fell asleep. She looked so peaceful, I felt tired too. I leaned gently on Ash’s shoulder, as we both stared up at the moon, and the black, empty sky. For the first time in the long time, I didn’t feel alone. I felt protected, like nothing could hurt me. I’d forgotten everything, every shred of pain, anger or longing that had ever been inflicted upon me. I closed my eyes, just as I had a vague thought. A girl, leaning on a boy’s shoulder, as they stared up at the night sky…The rings on their fingers, symbolizing their eternal love for each other, twinkling in the moonlight. The Billion Dollar Girl Suddenly, there was a purr from the balcony. A small smile lit up my lips, as I walked out to the balcony, Ash following me. Outside, it was cold, but when I found the little grey kitten, I kneeled down, and set the plate in front of her. My knees ached against the freezing stone balcony. Ash kneeled down beside me. There was gentle night breeze. It made my hair sway. I closed my eyes, enjoying the feeling of it against my skin. There was a full moon tonight, and its light bleached my skin a pale ivory color. My ring was back, and it shone beautifully in the moonlight. “Did you ever have a pet?” he asked, the softness of his tone surprising me. It suddenly struck me that we’d never had a proper conversation before. I shook my head. “My family never had a pet. We couldn’t afford one.” I didn’t meet his eyes, as I practically heard his brain processing the information. We were two different people, born into different worlds. It was almost natural that we would never get on. “Let’s give it a name,” Ash said, surprising me again. He had sentimentality. My eyes flashed up to his. In the moonlight, his blue eyes were completely silver. “Uh, sure,” I said, frowning, while trying to think straight. Ash was being…different. He was almost being nice. What kind of game was Ash playing now? That’s all he ever did, right? Play games? “What do you like?” “Dog.” I smiled, despite myself. “I like the irony but, uh, no.” “Joe.” “No.” “Graham.” “No. “Zack?” My eyes snapped up to his, and I wasn’t breathing. Did he know? No, he couldn’t…he definitely didn’t… Ash looked at me, his forehead crinkly adorably. I couldn’t help but admire how the moonlight brought out the sharp angles of his high-cheekbones, and strong jaw. He looked good. Almost too good to be allowed. His body radiated so much heat, I couldn’t help but lean towards him. Ash looked at me, waiting. I realized it’d been a while since I’d talked. My cheeks flushed, and I suddenly hoped that the moonlight hid it. “How about we smush our two names together?” I asked, trying to change the subject. “So… Asla?” He looked at me so indignantly, I had to find him cute. I had to. “No! How about Esher?” I frowned, trying to work out where he’d gotten that from. Then it dawned on me. “…You’re full name is Asher?” “Uh, yeah. Didn’t you know that?” I shook my head. “I never use it for anything, and it’s not my legal name, but it’s what I was christened.” I smiled, storing away that little piece of information about him. I was finally learning more about his life. I felt like he knew everything about me, but I knew nothing about him. “So…Gasher?” I said, still playing along. I watched the kitten lick enthusiastically at the tuna lump. “Gabriella? You’re finally accepting that name? I thought you hated it.” “I do. It’s awful. But…when did I ever tell you that?” “You didn’t, but…” He mumbled something else and looked away, clearly embarrassed. I smiled, again. Ash was making me smile a lot tonight. I was really beginning to see a whole new side to him. “Well…Elash?” “Eyelash?” “No, Elash – wait… Eyelash…Yeah. Eyelash. Good thinking…Asher.” He glared at me. “Don’t call me that!” “Right,” I said, with a badly concealed smirk. “Sorry.” We were both silent for a while, watching Eyelash finish her tuna. A cold wind rushed upon us, raising goosebumps on my skin. I shivered involuntarily, and Ash pulled me close, towards his heat. For once, I didn’t stop him. Eyelash finished her tuna, and yawned. She gave a small purr of content, and turned over, her eyes closing, as she fell asleep. She looked so peaceful, I felt tired too. I leaned gently on Ash’s shoulder, as we both stared up at the moon, and the black, empty sky. For the first time in the long time, I didn’t feel alone. I felt protected, like nothing could hurt me. I’d forgotten everything, every shred of pain, anger or longing that had ever been inflicted upon me. I closed my eyes, just as I had a vague thought. A girl, leaning on a boy’s shoulder, as they stared up at the night sky…The rings on their fingers, symbolizing their eternal love for each other, twinkling in the moonlight. The Billion Dollar Girl Wasn’t that a nice picture? The Billion Dollar Girl ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ “Don’t fall asleep,” I muttered, under my breath. Crap. She was asleep. I shifted around awkwardly, her body leaning heavily into my shoulder. Ella mumbled something and I froze, terrified I’d woken her. I found myself staring at her sleeping face. She was pretty. No doubt about it. I wondered if she even knew. It wasn’t the obvious, almost plastic beauty that resonated in all teenage girls, if they tried hard enough and had splashed enough money. Ella’s beauty was more elegant. Her skin so clear, that it was almost translucent under the moonlight. Hesitantly, my fingers reached for her cheek. They lingered there for a few moments, just over her skin, her body heat warming my cold fingers. I was even too scared to touch her – it felt like if I did, she might break and shatter into a thousand pieces. I watched her breathe in and out, her chest rising and falling, the tips of her long hair wrapping around her face in the cold breeze. I felt a shiver run through her body and I suddenly realized she’d been curled up into a little ball. She must’ve been cold. I immediately pulled off my jacket, and draped it around her shoulders. Slowly, I felt Ella’s muscles relax as she snuggled into the jacket. I watched her, enthralled. She snored softly, shifting and suddenly the alluring smell of her coconut shampoo filled my nostrils. Her lips parted as she mouthed as she dreamed. Watching her sleep was fascinating. I’ve been with a lot of girls. I’ve held them, kissed them and even done more. But none of that experience could prepare me for the electrifying experience that was simply watching Ella. We weren’t even touching. Just observing the gentle movements her delicate shoulders made, the corners of her cherry red lips that curled up into a smile, even the soft snoring that came from the back of her throat, was more magical to me than anything else I’d ever experienced in my life. How can she mean so much to me? How is this feeling even possible? I don’t know how long I sat there, on the cold balcony, just watching her. Time had stopped and for me nothing else existed, apart from the silver moon, the pitch-black night sky and Ella. I only moved when smoke filled my lungs. Moving as little as possible, I shifted to try and see what the smell was. My eyes widened when I saw the cloud of grey smoke. I cursed under my breath. The food Ella had been making earlier… I stood up slowly, keeping Ella’s head up with my head. Her head fell, banging against my knee. She didn’t wake up and I silently thanked God that she was a heavy sleeper. Regarding the scene before me, I tried to figure out what to do. On one hand, I really didn’t want to leave Ella lying on the cold, hard floor. What if she got sick or something? On the other hand, the stuff in the pan was probably on fire right now and I didn’t want to risk burning myself to death. I had to get my priorities right. Ella being cold for a while was certainly the lesser evil. Right. I had to get a move on, or we’ll both be dead. The fire alarm wasn’t sounding. Maybe something was broken. If I didn’t go know, I could be burnt alive. And I was too important to so. So why wasn’t I moving? I stood there, Ella’s head resting against my leg, waiting expectantly for my body to move. But I couldn’t just leave her there. That would be unchivalrous of me. She could get cold. In the end, I positioned my hand behind her back and another under her knees. On the count of three, I stood up, pulling her weight with me. Ella was surprisingly light. I stared at her face, waiting for her to wake up and yell up me for being a “pervert”, or whatever else she called me. But the thing is, if she did wake up, I would have trouble denying it. I was enjoying this position – Ella’s dainty body pressed against mine – a little too much. I shook my head, ignoring those thoughts. Right now, I was on a mission. I had to stop the penthouse burning down. I shifted my foot forwards, trying to keep my weight even. My movements were slow, until I inhaled a lungful of the gas that was floating through the open balcony doors. Once I was in, a thought flitted through my mind. I’d just carried her over the threshold. In normal circumstances brides and grooms did that as soon as they came back from their honeymoon. But these weren’t normal circumstances. I’d blackmailed her, made her sign that contract and live with me. The threshold thing hadn’t happened after we came back from our honeymoon, because one, we hadn’t had a honeymoon. Two, if I’d did, she would’ve probably knocked me out. Three, this wasn’t a real marriage. The Billion Dollar Girl I almost wished it were normal. I would’ve wanted to do the normal stuff with Ella – feed some pigeons, watch some bad movies and go out to restaurants. It would’ve been nice. I gently lay Ella on her bed, pulling the covers up, high enough to cover her torso. I gazed at her face for one last second, before turning around and breaking into a sprint. Everything was surrounded by grey smoke. I choked, as I pulled out a fire extinguisher and made my way towards the place I thought the smoke was thickest. My eyes watering, I blasted the burning pan, cursing. Foam sprayed everywhere, coating the surfaces, but I saw that the fire had gone out. A few seconds later, most of the smoke surrounded the pan had diffused away and I was left blinking and surveying the damage. White bubbles covered the kitchen, sliding down the walls and expanding on the counters. The smell of burning in the air was now only slightly tinged with the sharp sting of fire extinguisher foam. Coughing, I made my way to the stove and stared in horror at the black charcoal mess that was left in the pan. Suddenly, I was struck by a thought. Had she been hungry? Was that why she’d been making the stuff? I ran my fingers through my messy hair, mentally cursing at myself. I was so self-absorbed. How did I not notice that my own wife was hungry? Now that I think about it, normal people eat dinner, right? I’d thought I’d seen her eat something every so often, but I’d never thought she actually needed to eat… I mean, I eat breakfast and lunch, but I’d never thought… I hit my head with the back of my head, suddenly feeling incredibly guilty. I was such an inconsiderate idiot. My eyes turned to unidentifiable mess in the saucepan. All of a sudden, I felt very noble and brave as I rolled up my sleeves and picked up a whisk. *** Ͼ Ella Castillo Ͽ I woke up with Eyelash’s huge cat eyes staring into mine. I yelped out if fright, blinked and suddenly Eyelash was gone. I sat up, bright sunlight spilling from the balcony doors and onto my face, causing me to squint. I saw a blond boy, grinning down at me. “Ash!” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes. My head pounded furiously and I looked blearily around for a clock. “What time is it?” “Five AM,” Ash said brightly, grinning, his hands behind his back. I stared at him suspiciously. “Oh, God. You’ve done something, haven’t you?” “What?” he said, taken aback. Why would you think that?” “The look on your face. Let me have it. Did you break something? Doodle some immature messages on my schoolwork? Prank call my parents?” “None of those things,” he snapped. “I did a good thing!” “Show me what’s in your hands, Asher,” I sighed. “Don’t call me that!” We glared at each other, equally ferocious, until he finally gave up and looked away. A sly smile reappeared on his lips. “Okay, I’ve got something behind my back. But when you see it, promise not to be too happy.” I looked at him doubtfully. Ash looked incredibly excited, like he was a little boy about to confess to his first love. First love? Where the hell did I get that from? Love wasn’t a word that could ever, ever be used to describe the relationship between me and Ash. I tried to ignore the blush spreading over my cheekbones and just nodded. Ash, still grinning, brought his hands out in front of him. It was a plate with some mush on it. “Uh, Ash… What’s this?” “Scrambled eggs,” he said excitedly, smiling wide. “Oh…” I didn’t know how to react. Was he kidding me? Maybe he was. I tried to keep my expression neutral. “They’re…nice. Why did you, uh, make them for me?” Make was a bad word to describe whatever he had done to the little curdled thing on the plate he held before me. I was suddenly glad I wasn’t an egg. Ash was a dangerous guy. “Because you were cooking something before,” he babbled eagerly, thrusting the plate under my nose. I tried not to blanch when I smelt it. “But it caught fire and burnt, so I thought you might be hungry and so I made you this egg –” The Billion Dollar Girl “Wait,” I said, frowning. “My food burnt?” I suddenly noticed the acrid smell of burnt food. “Yes. Now, aren’t you going to eat it?” I looked at the plate doubtfully. Ash was grinning sweetly at me as showed me the fork in his hand. It was hard to say no to Ash, especially when he acted like this. Flashing him a queasy smile, I took the fork from his hand and stuck it into the plate. I frowned. “Ash…?” “Hmm?” “Why are there egg shells in this?” “Aren’t there meant to be?” he asked, uncertain. I stared at him disbelievingly. Did he really not know, or what he just planning to pressure me socially into eating this? “Ash?” “Hmm?” “Why is there a leaf in this?” “Isn’t that an herb?” We looked at each other for a while longer, his wide, confused eyes staring into mine. This time, I broke eye contact first. I shifted my fork around the yellow gunk. Finally, I threw down the fork. It hit the plate with a clatter. “Ash!” “What?” Ash look worried. “There’s a lollipop in this. Do you know anything about that?” “Oh…I thought you liked lollipops.” I glared at him, crossing my arms. He was totally kidding me now. “I’m not eating that, Ash. It’s disgusting.” Ash’s smile faded and he looked crushed. “What?” “Throw it away. I can’t believe you were trying to force-feed me that gunk.” His eyes hardened into a glare. “You know, Ella,” he said, quietly. “I’ve never cooked before. You are the first person I’ve ever cooked for.” I blinked. “What?” “All night, I slaved,” he snapped, turning around and starting to walk away. I stumbled out of my bed and followed him, barefoot, into the kitchen. “I didn’t sleep. You know that, right?” I noticed the dark circles under his eyes. Wow. I was dumbstruck. He’d really done that for me? My heart squeezed in my chest. Ash stomped over to the trashcan. “But since you won’t eat it,” he muttered darkly. He pressed the pedal and the lid flew upwards. He tilted and the mush slid down the plate. “I guess I’ll just have to throw it away.” “No!” I said, grabbing his wrist, stopping him. “I’ll eat it! Please, Ash, I want to eat it!” I immediately regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth, but it was too late. Ash stared at me with eyes suddenly filled with hope. “Really?” “Sure,” I said, laughing. “Give me that thing.” I stabbed a fork into the plate, and lifted a small blob of egg. Just as it touched my lips, I saw the look on Ash’s face. His blue eyes were wide with happiness, as he watched me intently. Ash was being so damn cute, I really couldn’t say no. I swallowed the egg bravely, my expression not even faltering as it made its way down my throat. I smiled widely at Ash. “Delicious.” When Ash returned my smile with a dazzling one of his own, making my heart skip, I knew my sacrifice had been worth it. Anything to see him smile. *** The Billion Dollar Girl ῼ Ash Castillo ῼ   The technician examined the fire alarm, trying his best to ignore the plates and plates of failed dishes I'd tried to make for Ella. The maid would have a hard job clearing it up. I'm glad Ella liked the eggs, though.   "So have you pinpointed the problem? Why didn't the alarm work?"   "Well, uh, I..." He shifted, trying not to brush against the precariously balanced plate of burnt cheese. Then he frowned, leaning into the plastic, his forehead creased. "The wire's been snipped."   "What?"   "That's right. The wire's been cut. I'm glad you called me on this. It could've been very dangerous. I will get a replacement up here, as soon as possible. I don't know why, but I think someone broke the fire alarm on purpose."   "Wait," I said, stopping him. I lowered my voice, not wanting to worry Ella, who was in the other room. "Someone purposely cut it?"


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