chapter 6 - fake dating?

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My eyes feel like sandpaper and bloodshot, stinging from hours of muffled crying into my pillow. Cassie's bullying has reached a new level of cruelty; she anonymously posted the awful picture of me on the school's social media app. A notification chimes again, another cruel taunt delivered through the cold, blue light of my phone, adding to the already hundreds of comments. I can't seem to tear myself away from reading them, even though each one chips away at whatever confidence I have left.

Melody_033: OMG, someone needs to teach her how to use makeup properly. That's a train wreck.

SunnyBunny16: Why even bother coming to school? You're a waste of space, and can't even afford it.

Captain_K: How does it feel to know that nobody likes you? Must be pretty lonely.

I give up and shove my phone under my pillow, wishing I could bury all the hurtful words with it. Wiping away the fresh tears that have been streaming down my face, I try to muster some strength, but how am I supposed to be strong when it feels like the whole world is against me?

A tentative knock interrupts my thoughts, and I quickly pull the comforter over my head, trying to hide any evidence of my emotional breakdown, even though my back is facing the door. "Hey Elle, dinner's ready." My dad's voice cuts through the gloom as the door creaks open a sliver.

"I don't feel good, dad. Maybe later." I mutter, my voice heavy with exhaustion.

"Okay, we'll save you some food," he responds. There's a brief pause as if he wants to say something else, but he closes the door, and the last sliver of light from the hallway disappears, plunging me back into darkness.

I lower the comforter back down a little, close my eyes, and fall asleep within minutes, seeking temporary refuge from the overwhelming feelings and negativity. Outside, the sound of rain pattering against the roof matches the somber mood in my room.

A timid knock on my bedroom door startles me awake, and I groggily stir in bed, still feeling the heaviness of sleep clinging to my limbs as I grip the comforter against my face. "Elle, you're going to be late for school," my mother's voice calls through the door. "Did you forget to set an alarm?"

I let out a deep sigh, already dreading the day ahead at Harlock Academy if she forced me to go. "Mom, can I just stay home today? I'm really not feeling well. Just today, please." My voice comes out raspy and pleading.

"Alright, come down for breakfast at least. You didn't even eat dinner last night," she responds before closing the door.

Dragging myself out of bed, I realize I'm still in my wrinkled and stained school uniform. With a frown, I change into an oversized white t-shirt and a pair of worn pajama bottoms. Each step down the stairs feels heavy and sluggish as I make my way to the kitchen, but as soon as I reach the bottom step, I freeze at the sound of hushed voices coming from the kitchen. Despite their attempts to keep their conversation quiet, the words carry through the walls with perfect clarity.

"Mr. Daniels offered me a new case," my dad says, but there's something unsure or hesitant about his tone that catches my attention. It was almost as if he wasn't sure whether to accept or reject the opportunity.

"That's good news!" My mom's voice rings out.

"It is, and I accepted it, but Mr. Daniels asked for a favor," Dad reveals.

"A favor? Like in return for the job?" Mom asks, the tone in her voice suddenly lacks enthusiasm.

"No, he's set on working with my firm because he truly believes I was right in taking that case against Richards Finance Group," Dad responds. "His favor is in regards to his son. It seems Elle had an encounter with Ace, and he thinks she could help him avoid bad press by fake dating him for PR purposes. He doesn't think that Ace denying the rumors will make the press back off." The room falls silent as I process what my dad just said.

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