The following week, I worked with the local band that
Denise hired to perform at the concert. They’re called ‘Dark
Rose’. I was quite happy because Dominic, the guy I used to
work with at Strung, was part of it.
“I have missed you, girl!” he greeted me with a hug.
“You too!” I hugged him back.
I heard Chaise coughing behind me, forcing me to pull
away from Dominic’s embrace.
“Oh, Dom, this is Chaise. Chaise, this is Dominic. We
worked together at Strung.”
Chaise shook Dominic’s hand. I didn’t miss the warning
look he gave him. Dominic merely raised a brow, giving
Chaise a smirk.
Boys! And I’m not even romantically interested with
either of them.
Dominic turned to me. “You should play with us.”
“Good luck convincing her,” Chaise murmured.
I shook my head. “I’m not exactly stage material, you
“No, I don’t know,” Dominic said. “Because I’ve always
thought you were pretty.”
I was pretty sure he said that just to spite Chaise.
Dominic was never attracted to me. I’d met his girlfriend,
and she was gorgeous.
“Come on. In case you haven’t noticed my scars, let me
show them to you,” I said, pulling my hair away from my
“I see a patch of broken skin,” Dominic said. “Nothing
makeup couldn’t fix. I’m sure you have concealers for that.
Or better yet, let’s highlight it. Get a temporary cheek tat.
That would look really cool.”
“A tattoo?” I echoed.
Dominic nodded. “Yeah. You get those erasable ones. Or
we paint some flower designs on that. It would hide the
scars and it would look cool.”
“Please, let’s not get there. I’m not going to play,” I said
firmly. “Now, you guys practice and Chaise and I will listen.
Pretend we’re not even here. We’ll choose a list of songs for
you to play.”
“Alright. But if you ever change your mind in the coming
days, just let me know.”
Two days before the concert, Denise stepped up her
game. She was pressuring us more than ever. The concert
was the final highlight of the immersion program and she
wanted everything to be impeccable. That was why I was
making sure Dark Rose performed well on Friday night.
I sat in the cafeteria alone. Denise was obviously busy
with a lot of things, and maybe she asked Chaise to run
another errand for her. I quickly ate my sandwich because I
wanted to call Dominic and give him some additional
“Why are you curious about her?” I heard somebody say
from the table behind me. I think it was Chelsea. “No one is
interested in her. If someone ever was, it’s because she
Yep. No doubt she was talking about me again.
As if that would affect me. That wasn’t the first time
Chelsea or one of her myriad of brainless followers talked
down on me.
“Some of our boys are curious,” another girl replied.
There was a series of laughter.
“I’m sure they’re only curious because of her scars. But
other than that, nothing about her was ever interesting! I mean… maybe she could have been cute if she was
flawless. But she’s not. She’s a monster.”
In fairness to them, I think they were really unaware
that I was on the table behind them and I could hear every
word that they were saying.
“Well, there were rumors that somebody saw her with
Hunter on the beach.”
“Seriously? Hunter Vaughn?”
“That’s why Tania was so worried. She heard the rumors
that Hunter was carrying that girl around on the beach.”
I wish I could turn around to see their white, shocked
faces. But I didn’t want to give up my position yet, and
reveal that their conversation wasn’t really private anymore.
“That’s absurd! Why would Hunter Vaughn even give
her the time of day?”
“He’s probably the snobbiest person on the planet. He
ignores everybody. He doesn’t know how to smile, he looks
angry all the time. Why would he even look at that vermin?”
“Tania was fuming when she heard. She confronted
Hunter about it.”
“And what did he say?”
Suddenly, I was curious about the answer to that
“See? That means that’s not true,” Chelsea breathed in
a sigh of relief. “Hunter won’t even bother explaining her to
his girlfriend. She’s not worth the effort. Tania shouldn’t be
worried. That girl had nothing on her.”
“Even if it were true, I’m sure Hunter would never admit
it. I mean… maybe she needed his help for something.
Maybe they were just in the same place at the same time.
But he won’t even tell people about it because… he’d be
ashamed to be seen with her.”
I sank on my seat. That girl had a point. Hunter wouldn’t
even bother talking about me. I have a big hunch that he knew who I was. But now that he could finally see again, he
was ashamed of our past.
“It’s bad enough that she got Chaise under her spell…”
“Yeah. I think she’s practicing voodoo. Tell Tania not to
let Hunter near her again. Maybe he’s her next target.”
They all laughed. “Oh no. No amount of love potion can
come between those two. They have a long history together.
Their parents were friends. They knew each other from
kindergarten. Maybe they’re even arranged to be married to
each other. If Hunter didn’t get into an accident, they
wouldn’t have separated.”
“Tania is convincing Hunter to come back to
Jacksonville. He had a perfect life there. He had nothing to
stay for here.”
“Hunter’s father asked Tania to talk sense into him. He
refused to see his father, that’s why he’s here. But if there’s
anyone who could convince him, it’s Tania.”
I felt like my heart was somewhere on the floor and
those girls were trampling on it over and over.
“Even if he stays, Tania has nothing to worry about. If I
can’t even successfully attract Hunter Vaughn, no one will.”
Chelsea said, and they all laughed.
I figured I’d heard enough. I quietly slipped out of my
seat and walked away without getting noticed.
All afternoon, I recalled their conversation in my head.
Tania was Hunter’s girlfriend in Jacksonville. Funny that I
discovered that, because he told me that I was the best
date he’d ever had and he never mentioned having a
girlfriend when we were dating at the center.
The girls were right. Tania was gorgeous. I wouldn’t hold
a candle to her and seriously, why would Hunter choose me
over her supermodel body and Hollywood starlet face?
The girls echoed many of the insecurities I had with
myself, but they said something I didn’t agree with. They
said nothing about me was noteworthy but my scars, and
my scars did nothing but make me hideous.
Maybe Chaise was right. It was time I showed these
brainless morons what I was really made of.
I went to the girls’ room and dialed Dominic’s number.
“Hey, girl. What’s up?”
“You’re right. Maybe I can play a song or two with you.”
“Atta girl! Let’s practice tonight.”
When I hung up the phone, I stared at my reflection in
the mirror. I turned to the side to study the broken skin on
my cheek. It reminded me of what my stepfather did to me.
He tortured me, broke my body and my spirit. But here I
was, standing on the grounds of the most expensive school
in town. I had been wounded, but nothing was gonna stop
me from living. I was moving on. I was moving forward.
I touched the rough skin on my cheek.
These are not something I should be ashamed of. These
do not make me look like a monster. These are my battle
scars. They were meant to remind me that I fought… I
survived. I won.
It was the night of the concert. I was nervous but what
the heck! I came here for a battle, and I had every intention
to win. I was tired of people at Leighton High thinking they
were better than me. They were not! So they shouldn’t
really look or think down on me.
When I told Denise and Chaise that I agreed to play a
song with the band, they were over the moon. They went
out of their way to support me.
Denise lent me a checkered skirt that ended a few
inches above my knees and a pair of black boots that she’d
never worn. She also got me a black long-sleeved cropped
top that teased a peek of my flat tummy.
Dominic brought his girlfriend Kaia, who happened to be
a body painter. She took time to paint flowers and swirls on
the side of my cheek where my scars were. She also braided my hair to reveal her handiwork on my face. When I looked
at myself in the mirror, I was surprised. I couldn’t even tell
that I had a scar on the skin she painted on.
“Wow!” Chaise breathed behind me. “You look… beyond
I smiled at him through the mirror. “Kaia did a great job
on my face paint.”
“She did. But you’re pretty without it anyway,” he said.
He spun me around so he could look at me in the eye. “Are
you ready to show them who you really are?”
I nodded. I was nervous but at the same time, I was
excited. I knew I had nothing to worry about. When I got up
the stage, I would have a guitar in my hands, and a
microphone in front of my face. I would be in my element.
The rest of the people who would watch me? Well, I only
cared about one of them. And he didn’t give a shit about
So what if I fuck this up? Which I doubt I will.
“I’ll be here at the side,” Chaise told me. “Remember,
I’m your biggest fan.”
I laughed. “Denise will disagree with you.”
“So will I,” Dominic said behind us. “You look gorgeous,
“We’re ready for you.” He handed me the electric guitar
that I was going to use.
I slung the guitar string over my body, then I took a
Here we go!
As I stepped out of the backstage, I could hear the
crowd going wild for the band.
“We have a guest performer with us,” Dominic said on
the microphone. He took over the role of lead guitarist. He
would be playing the guitar with me. It was great because I
knew him and I felt more comfortable. “She is one of you.”
The crowd applauded once again.
“Give it up for… Alice!”
The crowd clapped and whistled.
I felt Chaise give me a gentle push towards the stage.
“Break them, babe!” he said.
When I stepped into the stage, the crowd stopped
clapping. I felt everyone’s eyes on me. I heard some people
say ‘What the fuck?’ but I also heard some say, ‘Wow!’
I stood in front of the microphone, and strummed the
strings of my guitar, making sure they were in tune. Dominic
also played some notes to cover up for the crowd’s shocked
Then finally, Dominic gave me a nod, signaling me to
Before I strummed my first note, I said in my mind, I
hope you’re out there, Hunter Vaughn! I hope you listen
hard. See how much I can challenge your guitar prowess
And then I played the intro to Sweet Child O’Mine.
Shortly after, Dominic played his part. We looked at each
other and he gave me a nod of approval as I walked towards
the microphone and started singing, “She’s got a smile and
seems to me…”
Hunter Vaughn had been ignoring me far too long now.
He would recognize the song that he taught me to play
every day at the center. He should definitely remember my
voice. After this, he could no longer say that he didn’t
remember me. I was done being shoved at the back of his
I played the guitar solo too. It used to be difficult for me,
but right now, I played it flawlessly. After the solo, I could
hear the crowd cheering already.
When we finished the song, the applause was
deafening. Dominic himself was clapping for me.
“Amazing!” he shouted at me.
The audience was shouting, “More!”
I stared at Dominic, waiting for his cue.
“To all you, lovers, out there!” Dominic said to the
crowd. “You are welcome to dance to this.”
I strummed a more mellow tune. Then I sang, “Dancing
in the dark, middle of the night…”
It was a very romantic song, and I had to concentrate on
playing and singing because if I didn’t, I would cry.
The crowd was singing along, and many couples were
I remembered the time that Hunter told me, “I swear,
someday, you will play and sing in front of a crowd and you
will wow every single one of them… I may not be able to see
you, but I sure would hear you.”
If he could hear me now, I wonder what he would be
Before I strummed my final note, Chaise walked up the
stage beside me and gave me a long-stemmed rose.
People were clapping and cheering. The applause was
deafening. I could hardly believe these were the same kids
who were making fun of me on regular days.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Allison Harley!” Dominic said.
I pushed the guitar towards my back and gave a curtsy
and then Chaise took my hand and guided me back to the
“Oh my God!” I screamed. “I can’t believe I pulled that
Chaise pulled me to him and gave me a hug. “You were
amazing! Your voice didn’t buckle at all. You weren’t
nervous. You were truly in your element! I’m so proud.”
“Thank you! I couldn’t have done that without you and
Denise! Thank you for making me do that!”
“I’ll bet these people didn’t see that coming.” He
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t do it for them. I did it for
And for Hunter.
We enjoyed the rest of the show backstage. When it
finished, Denise went up to us.
“Alice, you were amazing!” She hugged me. “People
were raving about you!”
“She was really great, wasn’t she?” Chaise said. “I hope
Chelsea and her band of brainless bandits got to hear her
“Oh, they did! So did a bunch of all the other people
who were mean to you,” Denise smiled proudly. Then she
looked over at Chaise. “And you better watch out. A lot of
the guys from Jacksonville were asking about her already.”
“Wait, are you serious?”
Denise sneered at him. “It would be nice to have
somebody new tailing her for a change!”
“Ha-ha! You’re very funny!” Chaise gave her a sarcastic
Denise turned to me. “Who taught you how to play that
song? Your stepfather?”
I shook my head, remembering Hunter once again. I
gave her a bitter smile and shook my head. “Not my
stepfather. But someone else who… was once very dear to
I knew Denise didn’t miss the sad tone in my voice. Her
eyes drifted to my necklace. “H?”
I didn’t answer.
“So, the bugger knows how to play too, huh,” Chaise
muttered under his breath.
I just shrugged and decided to change the subject. “I’m
all done here. Why don’t we all go?”
“I was planning to grab something to eat after this. You
haven’t had anything to eat yet,” Chaise said.
“Great. I’m starving too!” Denise agreed.
Chaise groaned. “Seriously, you have to come again?”
Denise narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m sure she hasn’t
said ‘yes’ to any of your attempts to ask her out for a date
“Well, this wasn’t a date. I was merely looking after her
“Then great. There’s no problem if I tag along.”
I merely laughed. I was definitely glad that Denise would
come with us. I would be a bit uncomfortable being out
alone with Chaise at this hour.
As we walked out, I could feel a lot of people looking at
me. Some were even calling out my name, telling me I was
amazing up at the stage.
I merely nodded and smiled shyly at them.
At the parking area, I saw Hunter with Tania. My heart
pounded inside my chest. I was glad I was with Denise and
Chaise. I was pretty sure I would not be able to walk in front
of Hunter at all. But it was inevitable because they were in
front of the space where Chaise parked his car.
Tania looked stressed. It seemed like she was shouting
at him. Hunter was quietly leaning against a red car, holding
the pendant of his necklace in one hand. His face was
flushed and he looked like he was struggling to control his
emotions. He didn’t even look like he was listening to Tania
He looked up and saw us walking past them. He caught
my eye and held my stare. I couldn’t understand the
emotion on his face as he looked into my eyes.
Did he hear me sing? Does he recognize me at all?
I had a feeling he knew who I was. Unfortunately,
remembering me and admitting that he knew me were two
totally different things.
Hunter’s glance drifted off to the rose I was holding in
my hand. I saw the bored expression on his face before he
“Burger Inn?” Chaise asked as we all hopped in his jeep.
“No! Half of the people who were in the concert will be
there too! And I just want a moment of peace, please!”
“Me too,” I agreed with her. “Because of what I did
tonight, I’m sure a lot of people would recognize me there.
And I don’t want to be the subject of table conversations,
whether good or bad. I just wanna be left alone to eat a
hearty meal with my friends.”
“Agreed,” Chaise nodded.
“God damn it, Hunter!” we heard Tania shout in
“You know why!” Hunter bit back at her.
We all turned to their direction.
Tania looked like she was on the verge of tears.
“I swear, I will tell your father about this!” she wailed.
A few of Tania’s friends from Jacksonville approached
I saw Hunter shake his head. “I don’t care,” we heard
him say. His face looked stoic. “Knock yourself out.” Then he
walked away from her.
“Aarrghh! Can we go?” Denise groaned. “I have too
much of this at home already, I can’t bear any more of the
Hunter-Tania drama! Come on, Chaise, drive!”
“Oh, I thought you girls wanted to listen. That sounded
juicy,” Chaise chuckled as he pulled out of the lot.
“What was that about?” I dared ask, trying to keep my
“That’s Tania being the brat that she always was,”
Denise answered. “She hung around the house a lot, even
when Hunter wasn’t at home. God, I hate her guts!”
“Why wouldn’t he be at home when she visits? Weren’t
they sort of a thing?”
“Tania kept chasing Hunter and he was being difficult. I
don’t know. He must be getting kicks out of seeing girls
make a complete fool of themselves in front of him.”
“His ego?” I echoed.
“Don’t know. Don’t care. Who knows what’s going on in
Hunter’s mind nowadays?”
“Maybe he’s not really interested in her,” Chaise
“Come on, just look at her! Who wouldn’t be interested
in her?” Denise pointed out.
“Ahh… me?” Chaise asked, looking at Denise like she
was out of her mind. “I’m totally not interested in her.
Maybe she’s pretty and she has all sorts of clothes you
would find in a fashion magazine. But I’m not interested in
“You are an exception. All you see is Alice,” Denise
“Denise!” I hissed at her.
“Well, that is true,” Chaise said, grinning at me.
Chaise took us to Shrimp and Lobster Palace, a cozy
Chinese restaurant that served the best Chinese food in
“This is my treat, by the way.” Denise announced as we
sat on our table. “You both had been so helpful to me. Even
you, Chaise. The principal was so pleased. The immersion
program was a total success.”
“Are you sure you’ll get the bill for this?” I asked.
Denise nodded. “I won’t hang out with you anymore if
you don’t make me pay.”
“Oh, in that case, I’ll tell the manager now that this is all
on me, if that’s what it will take for you to leave me and
Alice alone,” Chaise teased.
“Don’t you dare!” I warned him. Then I turned to Denise.
“Okay. But don’t get used to it.”
“By the way, I have another favor I need to ask you
“There it is!” Chaise said. “I knew there was a catch to
“Shut up,” Denise glared at him. Then she turned to me.
“I have some cousins coming over. I need to take them out
of town for an overnight swim in a family-owned lake house.
Please come with me!”
“What do we have to do with your cousins?” Chaise
“Actually, I’m not asking you, but if your presence there
will make it easier to convince Alice to come, then I will
“Why can’t you handle your own cousins?” I asked.
“Yeah, really. I’m sure they couldn’t be any worse than
Hunter Vaughn,” Chaise quipped.
“We were close when we were growing up. But we
haven’t seen each other in a long time. I would be very
uncomfortable. And besides, I entertained a whole school
delegation for almost two weeks. I’m tired. I could use some
help on this one too.”
Denise looked desperate. After all the favors she did for
me, this seemed like a small favor in return.
“Okay,” I said. I turned to Chaise. “We could use your
Chaise sighed. “Okay, you know I can’t say no to you.
And besides, it would be better if I’m there to make sure
nothing bad happens to you.”
Denise smiled “Great! You didn’t have to bring your
guard dog, Alice. But still, I’m so glad you said yes.”
I laughed while Chaise glared at her. My days would sure
be boring without witnessing these two murder each other
with their words.
Chaise dropped Denise off first and then he drove to my
“Isn’t your aunt home?” Chaise asked. He was looking at
my house. It was completely dark inside.
“She’s still at work.”
“You’re gonna be alright on your own?”
“Sure. Our house doesn’t really scream luxury. Breaking
in would be a complete waste of time.”
I hopped off the car. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Call me if anything happens, okay?”
I nodded. “Night, Chaise.”
I walked towards the porch and opened the front door.
Before I went in, I noticed a white SUV parked opposite our
house. I could hear the faint sound of the engine, like
somebody was inside, but all the lights were completely off.
I hadn’t seen that car in our neighborhood before. And I
knew that the house opposite us was vacant. The car didn’t
fit quite right in our neighborhood because it looked
After getting ready for bed, I took Hunter’s diary out
from my bag. It had been a while since I wrote anything on
it. Since finding out about Tania, I couldn’t find the strength
to write anything to him. He had asked me to keep this diary
when he was blind, when I thought he really cared for me.
But he felt like a completely different person to me now.
The boy I met in CRC was flawed but beautiful. And he
loved me. The boy I see now was perfect but full of anger
and arrogance. He didn’t want to remember our time
together at all. And apparently, there was another girl in his
past that he forgot to tell me about.
I took my pen and started writing.
If I could shout at you now, I would.
If I could hit you over and over so you would feel the
same pain I feel right now, I would.
If I could show you how angry and hurt I am, I would.
But I couldn’t…
The boy I used to know had gone to a place I couldn’t
reach him. And I was reduced to a memory he would rather
Before we come to an end, I wish I could shout at you,
hit you, show you how mad I am right now. But even if I
could, I don’t think you would hear… or feel… or see.
Tears ran down my cheeks. I hugged Hunter’s diary in
my chest and I cried myself to sleep.
The next day, Meredith was calling me at six in the
morning. She left her key and asked me to open the door for
“Good morning,” I greeted her sleepily.
“Thank you so much!” She kissed my cheek. “I’m sorry
to disturb your sleep. I know you’re pretty tired with the
concert last night.”
Before I closed the front door, I noticed that the white
SUV was still there.
“Was the house in front of us rented out already?” I
“No. I still saw the ‘For Rent’ sign at the front yesterday.
“Nothing,” I replied. “So how was work?”
“Great! Exciting stuff going on. How about you?”
“It was great!” I told her everything that happened
during the concert.
“I’ll bet you felt really good,” she beamed. “I would have
given anything to see you perform on stage.”
“It’s okay, Mer. Someday, who knows?” I smiled at her.
“I could sing for a living.”
“You have to go to college. You can sing on the side, but
my sister’s dream is for you to get a degree. I won’t fail
“But you know it’s expensive, right? I need to work too.”
“Maybe you’ll get a scholarship. You can work on the
side, and I will help. Don’t worry. We’ll manage.”
She gave me a hug. I suppressed the tears because I
really felt bad for Meredith. I knew in my heart that she
deserved a better life than this. She was not even a decade
older than me, and she was taking full responsibility for the
messed-up eighteen-year-old her sister left behind.
I hugged her back. “I promise, Mer. Give me a bit of
time. You won’t have to carry this burden all by yourself.”
The following week, I worked with the local band that