Chapter 34: Giving Up
Aaron was in a very good mood after lunch. His plan was working.
If Lacy was all Keeley was worried about, that wouldn't be a problem forever. He was already keeping a close eye on her to see if she would try to pull anything.
Pushing Keeley's boundaries as they ate benefited him twofold. First, he was able to enjoy being close to her. Second, he was able to test Lacy's spy network by seeing how quickly the news reached her.
He knew about Max's involvement due to his last life but he might not be the only informant.
Aaron also wanted to test her reaction time. In the past, she didn't start playing truly dirty until after he was married because everything was kept very hushed until the engagement was announced. She didn't have time to act then.
Things were different now. Aaron realized that shielding Keeley from the darker side of his world had only hurt her in the end.
He wanted to love her out in the light like a normal couple and nothing would get in the way of that, least of all an insect like Lacy Knighton.
He wouldn't hide her away this time. After he made the mistake of kissing her at the dance, the secret was basically out anyway. There was no point trying to hide it. He could use it to his advantage if he played his cards right.
He shouldn't have gotten angry at her yesterday but it was a special kind of insulting to hear that the woman he loved wanted nothing to do with him straight from her own mouth right after doing something nice.
It ended up working out in his favor though. If he ignored his feelings about how much she doesn't want to be around him, he could manipulate the situation so she would spend time with him anyway.
Aaron was convinced that the more Keeley was around him, things would go back to the way they used to be. He refused to accept the alternative.
The rumor mill worked faster than he anticipated. People were already whispering about Aaron's mystery girl—the hood actually worked—by his last class of the day.
No one would dare talk about it to his face but he had keen hearing. Lacy had to know by now. He wondered how quickly she would act.
There wasn't much she could do right now. She was catty and cruel but she was also a mere student. She didn't have the resources to plan anything truly treacherous yet.
Aaron wanted her to trip up now while they were still in high school so she would be exposed and lose the chance to pull anything later on.
Lacy acted faster than he thought. Within a week, the whole school was buzzing that Keeley Hall was a gold digger. The rumors were fueled by Aaron's insistence on eating lunch together out in the open like normal students.
He could tell Keeley was uncomfortable to the extreme with their arrangement so he backed off a little since the first half of his goal was achieved.
There would be plenty of time for closeness later. Right now he just wanted her around him.
Once the rumors included her name Keeley stopped bothering with her hood. Everybody knew it was her anyway.
She radiated defeat, which was a blow to his ego. She really didn't want him at all. He wanted a real answer out of her as to why but she always brushed it off with obvious lies.
Their conversations also left much to be desired. Trying to drag more than a handful of sentences out of her at a time was like pulling teeth. She had always been so talkative before.
These days she dully answered his questions but it was entirely perfunctory. She didn't want to talk. The spark in her eyes had faded.
It reminded him of a rather unpleasant memory. Keeley was like this after losing their baby too. She was giving up.
"Are you going to eat your apple?" she asked tiredly.
"No, go ahead." He handed it to her eagerly, glad that she wanted something. "Would you like my cake as well?"
"Sure." Keeley accepted the apple and the slice of strawberry shortcake wearily.
The circles under her eyes were a permanent fixture now. She needed a pick-me-up of some sort. That ought to set her right.
"Keeley, meet me after school."
"I have a surprise for you."
Her lack of protest was a bit concerning even though it was the result Aaron wanted. She had been far too compliant the last couple weeks of their arrangement.
It didn't even matter that they weren't seated next to each other anymore since he saw her every day at lunch but the agreed upon month was up in a week and a half and he had nothing else to make her stay.
After school, Keeley waited for him leaned up against her locker with her eyes closed. Aaron tapped her shoulder to make sure she was awake.
"Keeley, I'm here. We should go."
Her eyes snapped open. "Where are we going?"
Carlton drove them to a luxury hotel and she looked at him with obvious questions in her eyes.
Aaron explained that the spa here was the best in the city and everything would be on him. He just wanted her to relax.
A bit of her old fire returned as she tried to protest that it was too expensive but he insisted and she gave into the pressure.
"You go enjoy yourself. I'll be out here," he encouraged before pulling out an English-to-Italian dictionary to help him read a classic Italian novel in case he got stuck.
Aaron sighed as Keeley reluctantly let the attendant lead her into the spa. A couple hours in there and she should be good as new.
He hated seeing her so lifeless. By the time she died, his Keeley was a shell of the vibrant woman he loved.
It took many years of lonely reflection before he realized it was mostly his fault.
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