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Just To See Her (The Bancrofts Book 8)

Just To See Her (The Bancrofts Book 8)

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Will she choose Khaled or Clay? Jessica Bancroft was devastated when her favorite artiste, Khaled, announced his retirement. She always had fantasies that she would meet him, he would fall in love with her, and they would live happily ever after. However, reality had a way of intruding on fantasies and Clay Reid, a fellow student at Mount Faith, was as real as it gets and he liked her and she liked him, but when Khaled, her dream guy, announced that he was coming to Mount Faith University, she knew she would have to choose.
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Chapter One

"I can't believe it," Jessica said, walking into the science lab where her best friend, Ramon, was writing his lab paper.
"What?" Ramon removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Did someone die? You look like you were crying."
"I am devastated." Jessica slumped onto the stool that was in front of Ramon and tried to blink away the tears that were in her eyes. "I am shell-shocked. I can't believe it."
Ramon was quite used to Jessica's melodramatic ways, so he patiently waited to hear about the latest event in her life.
"I just can't process it," Jessica said, bowing her head and shaking it vigorously. "It's like the end of the world, the end of an era, the end of..."
"Just tell me," Ramon gritted out. "I have to finish this lab report."
"Khaled is retiring from music and performing," Jessica said tremulously. "They just announced it on Entertainment News. I heard it while eating lunch, and I couldn't swallow another bite of my turkey burger. It's as if a piece of my heart were ripped from my chest and thrown to the ground, its bloody entrails fluttering as I sat there watching it slowly stopped beating."
Ramon grinned. Not only was Jessica melodramatic but she could be poetic as well.
"I swear my life is over." A tear slipped down her cheeks. "I spent three years studying music, hoping that one day I would meet Khaled and write some songs, or produce something for him."
"And you dreamt that you could be with him and have his babies," Ramon said, grinning. "Boo hoo hoo."
He bent over his lab book and continued writing, not an ounce of sympathy for Jessica and her sadness.
"You are supposed to be my best friend," Jessica hiccupped. "I can't stand you!"
She looked around the lab. Two other guys were in the farthest corner; one of them was looking at her sympathetically. He waved when her eyes met his. The other was scribbling fast in a book; he looked like he was writing a lab report as well.
Jessica looked away from the one who was watching her with sympathy in his eyes. She watched his reflection in the glass; he was still staring at her even though she had turned away her head.
She closed her eyes. She couldn't process having a new guy checking her out right now. This must be the worst day of her life to date. Everybody thought that she was a little bit too obsessed with Khaled, and maybe she was, but she loved his music. His music was soulful and profound. His lyrics spoke to her. They had been speaking to her since she was fifteen, and now, at twenty-one, her precious Khaled was retiring. It was as if she were losing her best friend.
There would be no new songs and no more news about him in the media so that she could keep up with what's happening in his life. His retirement devastated her in a way that nobody would understand.
"Hi, I'm Clay." The guy who had been sitting at the other end of the lab was standing in front of her, and she hadn't even noticed. "I couldn't avoid hearing what you said about Khaled. Is it true that he is retiring?"
"Yes," Jessica said miserably. "Are you a Khaled fan too?"
"I guess you could say so. I like his music." Clay looked at her closely. "You are Jessica Bancroft, aren't you?"
"Yes," Jessica nodded. "How'd you know?"
"You have been coming to see Ramon all summer. When you stand at the door, I usually admire your curly golden hair." Clay looked over at Ramon who was steadily working and ignoring them. "I thought you were Ramon's girlfriend."
"Not likely," Jessica scoffed. "He mocks me all the time. I can't even grieve properly without being ignored."
"You act like a teenybopper, not a grown third-year university student," Ramon said, still studiously looking over his paper. "If I had a girlfriend, she'd have to be mature and...." He held up his head and smirked, "She can't like Khaled. I would prefer if she outright hated his music. I can't stand that twits name; I've had too many years of you talking to me about him. He has a nice voice, and he sings—what's the obsession?" He slapped his lab report in frustration. "Are you done with your lab report?" he asked Clay.
Clay nodded. "I am; it wasn't so hard."
"What were your conclusions?"
Jessica sighed. They were about to talk science. "I am outta here." She grabbed her rucksack, which she had thrown over the top of the desk. "I knew I shouldn't have come in here to share my pain with you, Ramon ‘Heartless’ Rodriguez."
"Wait, Jessica," Clay said, hurrying to get his books. He handed his lab report to Ramon. "Everything is detailed here. I even gave it a little extra attention. You can give it back to me in tomorrow's Advanced Chem' class."
"Oh, cool." Ramon gratefully took the paper. "Thanks, man." Ramon looked over at Jessica dispassionately. "Bye, Jess. Please call me only when you are done grieving."
Jessica snorted. "You are some friend."
She headed through the door with Clay following in her wake. She hurried up the steps leading to the lobby area on the second floor of the science building while Clay kept pace with her.
"My hair is not golden; it's just light brown," Jessica said when they exited the science building. She had no destination in mind. She had one class later that evening. Her day was wide open, and she was feeling down.
Clay stopped beside her.
"You are right; it's light brown with a golden hue. It matches your eyes too. You are pretty."
"Thanks." Jessica shrugged. "I hear that all the time."
"And modest," Clay said, grinning.
"I have never really seen you around here before," Jessica said, looking at Clay as she took off in the direction of the garden in front of the president's building. Maybe a garden setting would be perfect for her now.
"That's because you only have eyes for Ramon." Clay was keeping up with Jessica's long-legged strides but almost bumped into her when she slowed down.
"That's ridiculous." Jessica frowned. "I don't have eyes just for Ramon."
"Well, okay then, if you say so." Clay shrugged. "Where are you going?"
"I don't know," Jessica looked confused. "I am going through a tragedy right now. I need to think. Maybe sit down with all six of Khaled's albums and mourn."
"Ah," Clay shook his head. "You feel that strongly about him retiring? Think of it from his side though: six albums in six years, plus touring must have been hard on him. He needs a break."
"He is just twenty-eight," Jessica said feelingly. "He could quit when he's older. This was sudden and disturbing. What is he going to do now?"
Clay shrugged. "What does a handsome millionaire singer do when he quits? Have a long vacation in some exotic place with lots of naked girls and liquor."
"Not Khaled!" Jessica said vehemently, "not Khaled. He is different. Not once have I ever heard him being linked to any female or going to parties or anything like that. He's not the typical celebrity."
"Are you kidding?" Clay said, laughing. "Every other month he has a new girl on his arm at some premier or the other."
"That's just it: They are just props for photographs," Jessica said. "In an interview, Khaled admitted that his producers required that of him. It is just the business."
Jessica stopped at the garden and sat on one of the three stone benches, which were positioned at scenic spots in the small garden. It was a small area that had hibiscus flowers that were blooming profusely in many different colors. It was a short distance from the fountain and the steps of the president's building. Students usually came there to take pictures.
There was nobody there now though, and it was quiet except for the breeze that was rustling the shrubs and the lone willow tree. It was the perfect spot to be right now. She was surprised when Clay followed her and even more surprised when he sat down across from her on the stone bench.
She pulled out her iPod and then paused. Clay looked like he wanted to talk but she was so not in the mood, even though it was refreshing to talk about Khaled with someone who did not immediately jump to conclusions about her mental state or accuse her of being obsessed. Besides, Clay was cute, in an understated kind of way. He had the kind of face that her writer friend, Sabrina, would say is perfect for the front of a novel.
He was slim without being too thin. A sculpted nose, level thick eyebrows, and almond-shaped eyes with just a little crinkle at the sides indicating that he laughed a lot, or probably squinted into too many microscopes. He had medium brown, evenly colored skin, and straight white teeth.
She could see that he had worn braces as a kid, like her. That almost made her interested in him. She had vowed that she would only date someone who liked music or art, not someone who was overly 'sciencey' and analytical like Ramon.
This Clay guy was a science geek, even more so than Ramon. He had even finished his lab report before Ramon had finished his. Maybe he was only humoring her about Khaled to talk to her. It would not be the first time someone had used that strategy.
Jessica put down her earphones and decided to test him to see if he was a true fan.
"You say you like Khaled," she rubbed her chin, "what is his favorite color?"
"Red," Clay said. "He always has this red hibiscus design on his album covers. I heard that when he was younger, his mother got sick, and before she died, she planted a hibiscus bush in her garden just so that he could remember her."
Jessica nodded vigorously. "That's true. You really are a fan."
Clay raised his eyebrow. "You were testing me?"
"Yes, because you are a science type, and I have no interest in science guys. They are too logical." Jessica straightened up dramatically and flashed her hand expressively, "I am more into the arts and music."
Clay struggled not to smile. "I can see that, but have you ever really thought that the Khaled story could be a hoax, a crazy story his people made up to sell more records, and make him look good?"
"Is that what you think?" Jessica said furiously. "One moment you are cool and the next moment you are not. If you want to talk to me, don't say anything bad about Khaled! You hear me? Never!"
"It wasn't something bad," Clay defended. "Okay, sorry." He held up his hand when Jessica growled at him. "Remember, I like his music too."
"You know, I write material for him. When all my friends were fantasizing about which local guy they wanted to be with, I would be picturing how I would meet Khaled, and he'd instantly know that we were meant to be together, and then we'd do music together," Jessica mused. "I have a whole hardcover book of songs written just for Khaled."
"He's not dead, so technically he is not gone forever," Clay said. "Maybe one day he'll pop out of retirement. Artistes do it all the time."
Jessica shrugged. "I guess, but I am beginning to believe that it's growing up time for me. I have to put to rest my impossible fantasies about me and Khaled being together." She struggled so she wouldn't start crying. She didn't want Clay to think that she was a moron. "I am strange, I know," her voice choked up, "but I feel so sad about this whole thing. I feel sad and empty and..."
"Lost," Clay finished for her. His deep brown eyes were gazing at her with empathy. "That usually happens when we give up our idols or when they die."
"He's not an idol to me," Jessica said faintly. "I know I am unusually attached to the singer, but I don't worship him. I go to church. I read my Bible."
"And you have Khaled in very high esteem," Clay said, musing. "You have to admit he is good looking. You have pin-ups of him on your walls in your room, don't you?"
Jessica nodded reluctantly. "I do, but only because I like his voice."
Clay chuckled. "That makes sense."
"No, seriously," Jessica said. "If I didn't like his voice, he wouldn't be a pin-up. I mean I look at him, and his songs come to mind."
"So, can we hang out sometime?" Clay asked, changing the subject. He could see that if he wanted to get to know Jessica, he would have to do some serious battling for her affections, and it was going to be a hard war. He had serious competition: Khaled, her obsession, and Ramon, her childhood friend with whom she had a great rapport. He was going to have to work hard to make it into Jessica's affections, but he was up for the challenge.
Jessica looked at him, "I don't think..."
"I can write poetry," Clay said quickly, "in fact, I have a whole book of them. I am somewhat of a hybrid. I love the arts and the sciences, and I do a fairly decent poetic rendition."
"Really?" Jessica's golden eyes sparkled at him. "You are putting me on. What's your poem about: acid and alkaline kissing in a tube?"
Clay grinned. "You are funny. No, I write everyday-life sort of poems. I have been at Mount Faith for four months, since summer, trying to finish a degree that I started a long time ago. My family didn't like the decision, especially since I already had a job."
He smiled, "I have a lot of poems about loneliness, poems about following your dreams, and poems about God and his goodness."
"Oh," Jessica said. "Well then, the poetry society is having a poetry recital on The Greens this evening, at six. You can sit beside me. It is not a date."
Clay nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
Jessica got up. "I am going to my room to mourn in peace." Then she frowned and turned around. "So, if you are just coming back to finish a degree, how old are you?"
"Twenty-seven," Clay looked away and then back at her. "Is that too old?"
"No," Jessica said. "What were you doing before?"
She's interested in me. Clay's heart sung. Up until now, she had been so preoccupied with Khaled that she had half-heartedly engaged him in conversation, but now he could see it in her eyes that she was registering that he was there.
"I worked with my uncle," Clay shrugged, "at a recording studio."
"You did?" Jessica's eyes widened. "Why didn't you say something? Did you know I am doing a degree in Music Composition and Technology?"
"You kinda alluded to that when you said you wanted to produce songs for Khaled," Clay said, shifting uncomfortably on the bench. He knew where this conversation was going, and he didn't want to go there.
Jessica nodded. "Yes, that's right. Which studio were you working with?"
Clay paused so long that Jessica cleared her throat. "It's not a hard question you know unless you were lying."
Clay sighed. "I was working with iJam."
"That's one of the biggest, most well-known studios in Jamaica." She squealed, "That's Khaled's studio. Oh, my! Do you know Khaled?"
Clay nodded reluctantly. "Yes, I do."
"You do?" Jessica sat back down across from Clay and swallowed. "I have never met somebody who knows Khaled personally."
Clay was already regretting telling her. He could see her gearing up to ask him a million and one Khaled questions, and then it occurred to him that that would not necessarily be a bad thing. He could get to know her better in the process.
He thought about the first time he had seen her at the lab waiting at the glass door and peering at Ramon. Her short corkscrew curls had framed her piquant face. After a shaft of sunlight hit her hair, it had seemed that her curls turned to gold. He had dubbed her “the golden girl” in his thoughts.
He had started looking out for her after that and wished that he could talk to her, but she was always hanging with Ramon, and now he was finding out that she was obsessed with Khaled. He wished that he hadn't opened his big mouth and told her that he knew Khaled. Now she would never want to find out anything about him. It would always be about Khaled.
He looked at Jessica, who still had her mouth opened. Her lips were naturally pink, and she was licking them in anticipation of asking him questions. He stared at them for a while and then said, "Well, here I am. Somebody who knows Khaled."
"What is he like in real life?" Jessica asked. "Is he a nice person? Is he nice to old people and kind to animals?"
Clay wondered if she wanted to hear the truth or the sanitized version meant for the public. He settled for an answer that wouldn't dim the stars he saw in her eyes for Khaled, but then he wondered if he was crazy.
"I guess he is okay. He doesn't interact with the staff much, but I have never seen him kick a dog."
"But," Jessica said, "he said in an interview once that he hangs out at the studio with the guys, and that you are all like a family."
Clay shrugged. "He's not a talker. Maybe he said it so that he could look better like he was a sociable kind of person, you know, or maybe his people crafted the script for him."
Jessica grimaced. "I get it. You don't like him much, do you?"
"Why'd you say that?" Clay frowned.
"Because every time I mention anything about Khaled you end up saying something snarky."
Jessica got up again. "See you later at the Greens. Don't be late either. I am keeping the seat beside me for no more than five minutes."
Clay grinned. "Okay. I'll keep that in mind."