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Sense of Rumor (The Bancrofts Book 6)

Sense of Rumor (The Bancrofts Book 6)

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Arnella Bancroft was the wild, passionate Bancroft, the creative loner who didn't mind living dangerously; but when a terrible thing happened to her at her friend Tracy's party, it changed her. She found that courting rumors can be devastating and that only the truth could set her free.
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Chapter One

“What's up, Arnella? You good?" Cory waved to her from the other side of the pool where she was lounging and winked.
Arnella ignored him. He had been pestering her to date him since high school days. Now that he was attending Mount Faith and entering the second year of the Medical Technology program, he thought that he was a good catch. He could be, she supposed. He was cute in a nerdy kind of way. If only he didn't try so hard to get her to like him—that was a big turn off for her.
She adjusted her dark glasses and lay back in the floating donut. She was bored; it was the kind of boredom that was bone deep and fueled by a lack of meaningful activity. Most of her friends, if she could call them that, had moved on from high school and were either in their second year of university or had found jobs, which they constantly complained about.
She was doing nothing. Even Tracy, her only true friend in the world, whose birthday party she was attending, seemed as if she was moving on without her. Tracy had different friends and was talking more maturely. She didn’t find Arnella as entertaining anymore. In the past, she was the one that Tracy looked to for advice. Now, Tracy rarely asked her for anything or about anything. She was in her second year at university now, and Arnella had been relegated to just her wild high school pal who she hung out with to spite her conservative parents.
She glanced around the poolside and could count, on one hand, the people here that were from Tracy’s high school, there were Cory, David, and Jeff. They were the only three persons she knew from high school, and all three of them were now at Mount Faith. The other persons were Tracy’s university friends.
Tracy's spacious backyard was full of them—Mount Faith people. Some were in the pool, and one or two of them had initiated conversations with Arnella, but she was self-conscious about being among strangers.
She glanced at her root beer bottle. She had lined them up at the poolside. She had had five beers, and now she was feeling tipsy. She thought Tracy had said that they were non-alcoholic. She didn’t touch alcohol: not with her history.
“Hey, Nella,” Tracy gestured to her from poolside. “He’s here,” she whispered fiercely. “Alric is here! What should I do?”
Arnella lazily lifted her glasses and stuck it in her hair, “Say hi, and stop acting like you like him.”
Tracy had a panicked look on her face as if she were going to expire. "I don't know how to do that thing you do."
“What thing?” Arnella squinted at her in the sunlight.
“The bored thing, the nothing can touch me thing.”
Arnella laughed dryly, “My attitude comes from years of hard living and growing up with an alcoholic mother.”
Tracy stood up and looked at her petite friend. “I can’t believe that I have a handicap because I’m from a regular, happy nuclear family.”
Arnella nodded, “It is a handicap. Regular families are so yesterday.”
She laughed as Tracy shook her head in exasperation, then twisted around in her tube and spotted Tracy’s crush.
He was standing near the makeshift bar with his hands covering his ears from the extremely loud party music. Arnella had warned Tracy that he was too straitlaced and stuck up for this crowd, but Tracy asked him to attend anyway: Alric Peterson, son of Pastor Peterson, the university’s church pastor.
Tracy had dragged her to the university church one night to check him out, even though she had told her that she already knew Alric. He was the goofy kid who lived in the big house on her street in Fair Ridges, a suburban community on the outskirts of Santa Cruz.
According to Tracy, he had grown into his looks. She was right. Arnella could not reconcile his grown-up look with the image in her head of an awkward big-eared kid from her childhood days who used to ride past her house slowly and watch her with a smirk on his face.
She had lived at the top of the street in an old turn of the period house with an unkempt yard. It was the sore thumb on the block. Arnella could still remember the first time Alric said hi to her. She had just arrived in Jamaica, and his parents had welcomed her mother to the neighborhood. His mother had baked a cake and handed them a tract to attend some crusade or the other.
Her mother hadn't been interested, and the Peterson's didn't reach out to them anymore. Alric and Arnella were like night and day in every way, including their social standing, so they had not managed to rub shoulders, even as children.
She looked him over, standing there now: tall, lean, and handsome. Somebody must have told him that a complete baldhead, coupled with that goatee, gave him a certain look. He was killing it. No wonder Tracy was jittery over him: he was very handsome. He was so not her type though—he was attending a pool party in dress pants and a long-sleeved shirt, though the light green shirt flattered his smooth nutmeg color nicely.
“Hey, Alric,” Arnella shouted, wanting to see him squirm when he recognized who was calling to him. He looked around when he heard his name.
Arnella waved to him, and his eyes widened when he saw her. At first, she wasn’t sure why he looked so shell-shocked then she realized that he was probably shocked at her half-naked state.
Her bikini was a caramel shade, just like her skin. The poor guy probably thought she was naked. She looked down at her chest and realized that her nipple ring was showing through her bikini top.
She shrugged. If he has never seen a nipple ring before, too bad. She decided to shock him even more and stick out her tongue. She had gotten it pierced just last month. It no longer felt sore, but she was yearning to stop wearing it. Like all her piercings, she had been making a statement. Her body was hers to do with as she pleased, and to hell with anybody else. She was planning to get tattoos next but was too scared of anybody putting inferior artwork on her body, given the high cost of getting tattoos removed.
Alric didn’t move. Arnella Bancroft was calling to him in a friendly manner. He wasn’t sure how to respond.
He had spent most of his life thinking of Arnella as Satan incarnate. The entire Fair Ridges neighborhood, where they lived, thought so too. Her mother had had a hard time reigning her in from she was little, and there were rumors and counter-rumors about Arnella that could fill a tome of books; most of those rumors were bad and portrayed her as being indecent. For instance, there was one rumor that she ran away, at age fourteen, and lived with a priest as his concubine, and another rumor that she had chain-smoked marijuana since she was eight. He wondered how she could still be alive.
Arnella got out of the pool and stretched, arching her back and showing off her belly ring with a skull on it. Her G-string bikini left little to the imagination. She was perfectly shaped, like a centerfold in one of those men’s magazines, and was casual about her state of undress.
Her hair was loosely pinned up on top of her head; wet tendrils snaked down her back and clung to her skin like a kiss. From where he stood, he could see a birthmark on her shoulder.
Alric’s eyes swiveled to Tracy, who was dressed in a more modest one-piece bathing suit. She was a more wholesome picture to look at in her full black ensemble. She didn’t inspire thoughts of impurity in a man.
He had no idea why he had agreed to stop by Tracy's birthday party. His only excuse was that her house was on the way to Mount Faith and that he had work today. He knew Tracy liked him, but she had Arnella Bancroft as a friend, and that was a big turn off. It was Tracy's big fault, but his brain reminded him that Arnella was also Tracy's draw. He had always been interested in Arnella. She was like a fascinating train wreck. He wondered how Tracy tolerated her as a friend. How could anyone tolerate such a stubborn, headstrong girl for long without being burned in the heat of her rebellion?
He almost resented the fact that her hard living was not showing on her face or her body. He glanced at her again. She had been a pretty little girl with a propensity to cuss like a fisherman, but now she was a beautiful woman with a killer body, who was not afraid to show it off. Several persons, including women, had stopped to watch as she stretched. Some stares were filled with jealousy, others with pure lust.
He felt like grabbing a towel from somewhere to cover her up. She would have laughed at that. He remembered that she had an evil sounding cackle that irked him. Sometimes, when he was walking home from school, he would hear her laughing in her yard. It wasn’t a laugh that indicated that she found something funny; it was just one of those evil sounds.
Though Tracy walked over to him and pulled him into a quiet area in a gazebo where the music wasn’t pulsating in his chest, he found himself looking around for Arnella. Where did she go?
Then he spotted her with three men. She was talking to them and laughing at something one of them said. One with a buzz cut handed her a drink, and the next thing he knew, she was leaning into him and rubbing on him like a cat.
He felt unaccountably angry. “Why are you friends with Arnella?” he asked Tracy a bit too harshly when he saw what was taking place right there in Tracy’s backyard.
She looked at him; her mouth opened slightly, a bit taken aback by his harsh demand. “I don’t know; she is a nice person when you get to know her.”
He watched as Arnella was hugged tightly by one of the other guys. The thin one with the buzz cut had let her go but was openly cupping one of Arnella’s butt cheeks with one of his hands, caressing it and laughing at something that one of the other guys said.
“Can’t you see what she is doing, in broad daylight, at your party?” he asked Tracy with incredulity.
Tracy frowned and took her time to look around. “What? I don’t see her.”
“Because she has gone off with those men,” Alric shook his head, “maybe to a private room. She has no boundaries and no sense of decency, that girl. It’s your house Tracy; you can’t encourage that kind of thing.”
Tracy was looking at him, a hint of displeasure crossing her features. “Those are our friends from high school. Arnella is not interested in young guys, and she is an adult. She can go wherever she wants to go and do whomever she wants to do.”
“That may be true,” Alric growled, “but I am a Christian. I don’t just go to church. This type of lifestyle is not for me: free sex, booze, and do what you want because you can. Sorry!” He spun around, “I have to go. I’ll see you around school next semester, okay.”
“But, Alric,” Tracy spread her arms, beseeching him to stay, “Arnella is not around anymore. See: she is not by the poolside. Why are you so upset?”
“Find out what she is doing in your house and stop it,” Alric said, seething. Images of Arnella at this moment, having indiscriminate sex were enough to raise his blood pressure to heights he feared was not at all healthy.
He felt irrational anger when Tracy shook her head.
“Seriously, Alric! She is an adult! I can’t go around searching for her like I am some sort of mother hen.”
“It’s your house,” Alric said. “Where are your parents?”
“Work,” Tracy frowned. “Alric, please stay. The music is not that bad. I can’t play Rock of Ages or Amazing Grace at my party, and it’s not real alcohol. It’s fake champagne and root beer.”
Alric shook his head, “I have to go to work. See you around.”
He cast his eye across the back of the building. There was a sliding glass door, which was heavily tinted and probably led to a changing room. That was probably where Arnella went with those guys. He was itching to go in there, and he almost did, but he thought about how ridiculous he would look; instead, he stormed off from the pool area and walked around to the side of the house, angrily brushing aside the overhanging hibiscus as he made his way to his car.
He still felt angry toward Arnella even when he was driving along the avenue and into the town of Santa Cruz.
It wasn’t until he was making his way up to Mount Faith to his summer job as a lab instructor that he recognized that what he was feeling was jealousy. When he recognized it, he had to stop at the side of the road, gasping from the intensity of it. He had to squash this feeling. There was no way that he was jealous about Arnella, no way.