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|9th Nov 2017, 1:53 PM||#76|
HA so that's the tie in to the story title. I'm betting Franz is gonna blow this whole operation to bits now that he's been forced out.
|12th Nov 2017, 7:50 AM||More to be Desired #77|
Chapter 36: More to be Desired
Tomorrow was the last day before the university resumed classes. Alanna hadn’t heard from Franz since the bake sale. He didn’t text her as often as she did him but considering what was happening with his mother, she’d expected him to get into contact with her sooner rather than later when she asked how his mother was doing. He was usually good about replying and because she had no answers to her texts, it made her worried that something bad had happened.
She had taken the bus back to her parent’s house that Sunday morning since all her study materials were there; she had planned for a good long weekend of getting extra studying done over the holiday but had been derailed, especially when she went to the robotics program the previous night.
She must admit, she went a little overboard in trying to prove her skills to Shane Calhoun. They had been there until nearly midnight going over the interior of his gardening robot to find where the issue was. It turned out that silly Shane hadn’t updated the stat firmware after they had checked all the components. To her annoyance, he didn’t thank her for taking time to help him but at least he sheepishly admitted that he wouldn’t have considered the firmware as the problem if she hadn’t been there. Small victories.
Anyway, Alanna had done her studying and then packed up her books and papers, bid her parents farewell and was waiting at the bus stop to go back to SSU when an idea struck her. The stop was only a few blocks from the the Isla Del Kashmire Community College and what would be the harm in just going to see Franz in person instead of waiting for him to text her back? She figured he’d be there since it was nearly nine o’ clock and he should have been done with his weekly family dinner by now.
Yes, she decided that was a better idea and it would put her mind at ease. She stood from her seat and began walking down the sidewalk toward the campus, crunching on the leaves that had begun to fall.
The Community College consisted of a few brick buildings, and she thought it was a really pretty place, nestled in the foothills of the island’s mountains, especially now that the autumn leaves were changing colors. She would have loved to attend and stay closer to home but they didn’t offer a medical program—that degree was only offered through Sim State University in Kashmire. Otherwise, she would have to go out of the region for schooling.
The dormitory where Franz lived was the second-largest building on the property; she could see a few students playing pool in the rec room from where she stood outside.
No one questioned her when she entered, probably used to the comings and goings of young adults at every hour—it was a college after all. She searched the doors of the rooms for one that contained Franz’s portrait. She finally found it on the third door in the upper hallway.
She hoped he didn’t think she was intruding but little surprises were nice once and while—even for someone as serious and steadfast as Franz. She knocked on the door and waited.
A few moments passed and she knocked again, just to be sure. A prick of disappointment hit her in the chest. Maybe he was still out after all.
As she turned, she finally heard a deep, tired voice from the other side of the door, “Who is it?”
“Alanna!” she replied and her joy skyrocketed because she was able to see him one last time before the holiday was over. She heard him unlock the door, then it opened.
“Come in,” Franz said and moved out of the way from the threshold. She’d never actually been in his dorm room before. They usually met in public places. Franz was a private person; she didn’t ever see his room when he lived at his mother’s house despite visiting often in her teenage years. He never offered to show her and she was too polite to ask to see it.
This room had white carpet and the walls were white cinder blocks—standard for every dorm room, she supposed. He had a few posters and a little bookshelf that was too small for his entire collection of books because she could see another row of them piled up underneath his bed. She’d wager that his favorites were stashed nearer to the bed for an easier reach for some night reading. His double bass was tucked in the corner. His bedspread had a musical motif.
His face was…different.
“What happened?” She asked with a concerned frown and reached out toward his cheek; he evaded her touch, seeming a bit ashamed.
“I got into a fight,” he answered but didn’t elaborate further as he took a seat on the edge of his bed. She noticed he was limping too. She had to wonder if this was the reason he hadn’t responded to her texts—if he didn’t want to open up the chance of her seeing him hurt like this?
She sat beside him, and tried to coax him to look at her so she could examine his injury. She was after all, studying to be a doctor. She tried reaching out again, to gently turn his face toward her. He let her with little resistance that time.
“Did you win?”
He was staring past her with an inscrutable expression now, hiding whatever he was currently feeling. She wasn’t unnerved as other people seemed to become in those instances; she was accustomed to that habit of his but had to often wonder why he was always trying to hide behind that mask of indifference? It was hard to gauge what he truly was thinking in those moments. Eyes were windows to the soul, they said—but Franz had the ability to close the world out entirely—leaving anyone blind against the blank yet murky blue depths that remained.
“Yes,” he finally answered. She didn’t know whether to feel happy for Franz or bad for the poor fool on the losing side.
She studied the bruise; it looked as though it was a head-on punch as it was slightly swollen and shaded a deep violet—his left eye was almost piercingly blue in contrast with the dark skin surrounding it. His cheek was reddened with a small amount of dried blood from a scrape on it but the coloring didn’t hide the abundant dusting of freckles underneath.
Her gaze dropped to his lips though nothing was wrong there, no blood nor signs of assault. Franz’s bottom lip was naturally a bit plumper that his upper one, which she never noticed before. They weren’t pushed into a smile or frown, just resting in that same neutral position to match his expression while she examined him. It was the face he most commonly wore, though there were rare occasions when he laughed or smiled and it was sort of a thrill for Alanna to see him in such a way. Better yet to have caused it.
She found herself smiling at remembering the last time she saw those lips curved upward in a grin.
It then struck her just how sensual his lips were—in fact, Franz was actually incredibly handsome, even now with such blemishes. She had always known he was a good-looking guy; it was a observation at the back of her mind but she never fully considered until now when she actually studied his face. Perhaps she had been studying a bit too much for classes and had failed to notice what was right in front of her. A tingle or some feeling equally as electric ran up her arms and she quickly withdrew her hand, her mind awash with a sudden awareness that she was, in fact, significantly attracted to her best friend. Maybe she had been, even subconsciously for a while now.
“What?” He asked, the sudden change in her demeanor wasn’t unnoticed.
She could barely look at him and avoided his question, “I’d say your eye will clear up in about a week or maybe two.”
“I’ve had worse,” he stated.
It made her wonder just how much. Reggie had indicated Franz had always been violent; she refused to believe that Franz would go looking for altercations and she didn’t doubt he could defend himself—but looking at him—who on earth would try to attack him? He was over six feet tall and built with broad shoulders. His defined arm muscles alone would be enough to deter anyone from having a go at him.
A fleeting wonder of how those arms would feel wrapped around her startled her consciousnesses even further. It was a slightly scandalized thought to entertain in the current situation, but her mind was suddenly a yo-yo of sorts—drudging up desires for her best friend she’d never have dreamed of and then refusing to continue the thoughts only to be reeled back in at the notion of kissing those lips which she had studied a few minutes before. Imagining giving him his first kiss…
Darn, it was kind of hot in there. Should she ask him to open a window? She decided not to and instead, she looked around his room, trying to avoid his line of sight and hers landed on the instrument in the corner.
“Do you still play?”
“The double bass, do you still play it?”
He shrugged, “I can, but I don’t practice much. I have it here because mom wanted me to get all my stuff out of her house when I left.”
“It has such a nice, deep sound,” Alanna commented, though couldn’t help thinking that her comment could be applied to Franz’s voice too. He spoke a lot more often than he used to, probably because she prompted him by having actual conversations with him—but his voice was like a distant thunderstorm; a low rumble that might put other people on edge, yet for her it was comforting. She liked curling up in her bed and reading on rainy, thunderstruck days.
She stood and walked over to the standing bass, plucked the thickest string so it thrummed its low note around the room, proving her claim. Then, she felt brave enough to look at him again with a smile. He’d positioned himself so that his long body was laying diagonally across his bed, his head resting on his folded arms and his tired eyes were half-obscured by his untidy blonde hair. Franz shrugged; it was a movement of mild agreement rather than a non-committal gesture. Franz shrugged in response to most questions as opposed answering with his words, but at least he was more expressive with his body language and she could read that well enough.
She felt an internal jolt suddenly, finding herself thinking more in detail about his body—wondering how hard his abdominal muscles really were underneath that tight shirt and if his lower obliques were defined enough to reveal a certain letter-form as they connected to his hip flexors. It wasn’t safe to look at him without feeling a wave of giddy desires which immediately turned to ashamed embarrassment and then no doubt manifested into a blush upon her cheeks. She needed to get her mind off that train of thought right away.
“How is your mom, anyway?”
“She’s in the hospital,” Franz replied in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice.
“What? What happened? Is she okay?” Alanna’s mind was momentarily cleared and her focus was on the well-being of Ms. Schoulsburg. She could look at Franz again, but wished she hadn’t because there was a striking vulnerability in his features despite the practical voice he had used. That disarmed expression increased her impulse to be near him even more so and only left her feeling guilty for thinking about him like that when she should be helping him cope with his mother’s sickness. Something a good friend would do. Speaking of which, she had to wonder why he didn’t text her back if this had happened just since the last time they saw each other—didn’t he know by now that she’d be there for him no matter what?
“She collapsed in the bakery last night. The doctors say that the VBT spread to her pelvis,” he replied with a note of despair and turned onto his back to stare at the ceiling. She knew he would wish it on himself rather than his mother, “I’m in charge of the bakery until further notice.”
“You mean until it’s closed?” Alanna took a seat next to where he lay and he looked up at her, his hair was falling away from his eyes for once due to gravity, leaving a clear view of his face and there was a sure worry creased in his brow.
She could tell there was something more he wanted to say, somehow, the way his eyes flickered away from the ceiling for a split second before returning to their blank focus behind her. He didn’t say anything, though, and turned to pull himself upward into a sitting position again, and she realized she probably had reminded him that the bakery was inevitably going away which would only made him feel worse. She slid her arms around him and hugged him from behind while pressing her cheek against his back. She hoped this would offer him some comfort. She noticed he didn’t smell of baked bread anymore but of clean body wash—maybe something woodsy scented like sage, and he was warm like fresh cookies.
“I don’t suppose you had time to make more chocolate chip cookies last night, did you?” She mumbled in wonder. Of course he wouldn’t. She immediately wanted to kick herself for asking, considering his mother was just admitted to the hospital. Franz was not a stress baker.
“No,” she could hear the deep, muffled rumble of his voice through his back, “Sorry.”
“It’s all right. I’m sure I’ll get to eat them again someday soon,” she replied and could tell he felt a bit more relaxed because of the way his muscles stopped tensing beneath her hold. He didn’t seem to mind that she was practically latched onto him; maybe he did like it when she hugged him after all.
They sat like that in comfortable silence for a while and she wondered what he was thinking about. She eventually let her arms go slack, released him from her embrace and removed her back pack. He turned to face her, for once looking at her straight on. She held in her breath and could feel warmth flood her cheeks again.
“Something is wrong,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Your voice was shaking. What’s wrong?”
What? How could he know? What kind of superpower observation skills did he have to notice a tiny change in her vocal inflection? She couldn’t tell him her struggling thoughts now—it was too soon and she had just realized her feelings maybe five minutes ago. No, she had to go home and think this through—to make sure it was real and not just a weird ball of hormones.
She swallowed the lump in her throat at being caught so unaware by his question, at being caught staring into his eyes which were no longer inexpressive but alive with concern.
“Um…” She said, scrambling through her thoughts to find something to say that wasn’t an outright lie because she wasn’t going to claim she was fine. She clearly wasn’t, “Why didn’t…why didn’t you tell me your mom was in the hospital sooner?”
“I know you don’t get a lot of free time and I didn’t want to interrupt you.”
She had been with Reggie. She wondered again, if Franz was jealous of her spending time with him? It wasn’t her intent to do that though if that was the case—she was just being nice and giving Reggie a second chance at being her friend.
“Listen, you are not interrupting me if you ever need emotional support. I’m here for you,” she insisted.
“I can manage,” Franz mumbled and closed his eyes while taking a deep breath, “I did it long before you came along.”
“Is that what you are doing when you close everyone out? Managing your emotions?” She couldn’t help but to ask with a note of frustration. They had been friends for four years, she told him everything and still he refused to open up to her at times. He opened an eye and looked at her sharply.
“I don’t enjoy burdening others with my problems.”
“Friends help each other. You’re my best friend and I care about your emotional well-being. So just let me know if you ever need to talk and get some of that off your chest. You aren’t alone anymore.”
Alanna had always wanted a close friendship. She had seen so many other people lucky enough to have best friends that they confided in and trusted their lives with and she wanted to achieve that kind of camaraderie with Franz but so far it had been mostly a one-way street. Franz opened up with her more than he had with any other person, but still held her at arm’s length. It was almost as if he was afraid to trust that deeply.
Franz seemed to hold in a sigh and closed his eye again, “Sometimes you care too much.”
“I’d rather care too much than be a cold-hearted bastard,” she retorted a little too harshly.
She immediately put her hands over her mouth realizing her mistake in the same instant Franz’s eyes snapped open and his face seemed to crash into surprised offense. That word held a significant unpleasantness for Franz; it was a weapon his peers had used against him and his sister to invalidate them and render them as lesser people. It was no secret in the small island community that the Schoulsburg twins were bastards. Neither he nor Fauna understood why it was such a big deal but apparently society viewed it as scandalous and improper that they didn’t even know who their father was, much less that the man hadn’t been wed to their mother at the time they were born.
But maybe if he had been more open with Alanna she would have known just how badly the word cut into his self-esteem and would have thought twice before saying it.
“Franz, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean that you were—” she began to apologize in earnest and reached out to him as if to heal any hurt she had inflicted. She was using the term more as a idiom and not an insult to him personally but it was careless of her to say it nevertheless.
He recoiled from her touch, leaning backward, obviously wounded at what she had blurted despite her heartfelt apologies.
“Why are you here?” he asked in a stony voice, once again pushing his emotions behind a mask of indifference.
“I wanted to make sure you were okay,” she said with guilt washing over her because she had done the opposite of make his mood better and still at the back of her mind she kept having those torrid, inappropriate thoughts about him despite this tense situation they were having.
Franz remained silent.
She stood abruptly and turned away, grabbing up her back pack, realizing she wasn’t helping anything by being there. She shouldn’t have even come.
“I should go, I’m sorry I said that. I hope you can forgive me. Just know that you are a lot more amazing than anyone gives you credit for, including yourself, and I just wish you could be as open with me as I am with you. Maybe…maybe someday…” she rambled, feeling a tight knot form in her chest and trailed off as she approached the doorway, putting her hand on the doorknob.
Before she had the chance to step over the threshold, she felt a pair of arms wrap around her, one across her chest and the other over her mid-section—startling a little ‘eep!’ out of her and nearly squeezing her breath away.
After a few beats of silence, she heard his soft baritone, “I know…I know that you didn’t mean it, Alanna.”
She felt like melting in utter relief. The knot unwound and was replaced with another tingling feeling from head to toe—because it was the first time she could recall that he had ever initiated a hug between them. She would have liked to stay in that position awhile longer, but she needed to sort out these feelings about him and truly had to put a distance between them to begin that process.
“I need to go before I miss the next bus, but I’ll contact you sometime this week if I have any free time. I’d like to go to the bookstore again.”
She felt him give a nod from behind her and couldn’t help but to smile; even without the sudden complicated feelings of attraction swimming through her mind—she still had hope that he would come around and be the best friend she had always wanted and would ever have—if not more.
|19th Nov 2017, 7:08 AM||Unexpected Turn #78|
Chapter 37: Unexpected Turn
Nick decided to try his luck with Tara again. Fortunately, she must have liked him a little better than her sorority sisters because she agreed to meet up with him for dancing and drinks while the rest seemed to have shunned him for going rogue on the Greek Society.
If he was as good as he thought he was with the ladies, then he’d have her back at his place by the end of the night, and on his own terms—not with the effects of Torporia to aid him.
“I’ll be right back,” Tara announced, pointing toward the powder room.
Nick smiled and halted his movement, taking a drink from the beer in his hand, “Don’t keep me waiting too long.”
She only rolled her eyes playfully.
He fell to the back of the dance floor and leaned against a wall, taking in the sight of what everyone else was doing, glancing between the dancers and the people at the bar. The joint was packed though and it was more than a bit toasty inside.
His concentration was disturbed when someone bumped into his elbow–a woman on her way out from the same powder room that Tara had just entered. He spilled a bit of beer from his bottle and looked at her with an inconvenienced frown but it lifted as soon as he saw who she was.
He was struck with disbelief at first, but it was momentary. He didn’t expect to see her at a place like this but there was no question it was Illyana Sanchez, the girl who had once been his very best friend. He took a step closer to her and leaned forward with a familiar smirk playing at his lips.
“How many years has it been?”
It took her a moment to recognize him as her wide eyes roamed over his features like she was putting a puzzle together.
It had been four.
"Not enough, Nicholas,” she replied coolly, finally discerning his identity. Apparently, she hadn’t forgotten their last encounter when he yelled at her for no perceived reason.
“Do you go to to SSU?” he asked, trying to determine why she would be at this place.
“I don't—just driving through and getting drinks with Alarie on the way back to Isla Del Kashmire.”
He looked around and failed to see Alarie in the vicinity, “Where’s Alarie?”
“She left with Rafael awhile ago,” Illyana admitted. Nick felt a bit bummed that he had missed seeing the one decent bro from his old frat.
“So what are you doing these days? Why are you passing through?” He asked.
“Don’t stand there and pretend we’re old pals, Nick. You’ve made it clear that we aren’t,” she said as her brows plunged into a deep frown and she brushed past him.
He caught her arm to halt her, “Ill…”
“Stop,” she bit harshly and stared forward, “Why don’t you go back to pretending that I don’t exist? It’s worked well so far.”
She gave her arm a vicious tug that made him release his hold and she disappeared into the crowd without a backward glance. He looked down at his bottle of beer and felt a lump of regret form in his chest. He’d wondered about how she was doing these past years, but never had the courage to reach out because he had been such a shitty friend to her—selfish, presumptuous, inattentive, arrogant, and a whole bunch of other undesirable adjectives he’d tried to recognize and change in himself since then. She didn’t deserve any of that. The fact was, that after that summer night, he had thought himself unworthy of her friendship and that’s why he removed himself from her life. Of course, she couldn’t have known his reasons and would only interpret his avoidance as pretending she didn’t exist. She could be dramatic like that.
But seeing her sparked something in him. He wanted to try again—to prove he was worthy of her friendship and show her that he was a better person now.
Tara returned from the powder room then and gave him a sultry kiss, before pulling him back to the dance floor. It was a good enough distraction to keep his thoughts from wandering back to Illyana and stewing too long.
The DJ was on a roll with the house mix. One fast song after another and the beat thrummed through the bodies of the patrons The lights and noise were enough to get dizzy, but the drinks were not enough to get fuzzy. Nick had built up too much of an alcohol tolerance from so much house parties.
“Having fun yet?” Tara asked, twisting her pelvis even closer to Nick to match his idle shifting that was supposed to be a dance while he half-pondered what needed to be done to get another fight night rolling. There had been double the amount of people at the second event—and if that trend kept going then he’d have his tuition ready in time to pay it all back and avoid getting kicked out of college.
In reply to Tara’s question, Nick downed his beer, wiggled it to gesture he was empty and going to get another. Tara made a tepid pout but continued to dance without him. He edged his way through the throng of people toward the bar, laying his empty bottle on the surface and then looked around to catch the attention of the bartender.
He spied Illyana leaning against the bar down at the other side; some guy was suggestively flirting with her, his back turned on Nick’s vantage. Illyana seemed to like the attention; she was smiling, her eyes weren’t their usual brightness but a bit sleepy-looking, and her posture was a little slumped.
When she reached for her drink, her hand made a few grabs at the air before settling on her glass.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.
“Another beer,” Nick momentarily stopped studying Illyana and requested. He snuck a few real simoleons into the tip jar and the bartender whisked the empty bottle away, uncapped the new one and handed it to Nick. Nick lifted his chin in thanks and took a drink.
He nearly spit it out as he turned back to observe Illyana and saw none other than Marshall Cosgrove drape his arm around her waist and pull her a little closer, whispering something into her ear.
Knowing Marshall’s skeevy ways, he had probably slipped some Torporia into Illyana’s drink. Nick clenched the neck of his beer bottle in anger at the thought of Marshall doing that to her. Their close proximity didn’t help diminish his suspicions either. If he still knew anything about Illyana, it was that she had a low tolerance for being grabbed by people she didn’t know, and Nick doubted she knew Marshall in any capacity because if she had, he would have been the recipient of one of her infamous grudges by now—on account of Cosgrove being such a raging asshole.
“Hey!” he felt a hand clasp his around his arm and turned to see that Tara had gotten bored on the dance floor and had come over to find him.
“Hey,” he replied, putting his arm around her shoulders while giving another glance to Marshall and Illyana before focusing on Tara again.
“Are you tired of dancing already?”
He gave a shrug of one shoulder and looked at the pair again, it was obvious he was distracted and his earlier cheeriness had been taken down a notch.
“Have you had enough drinks to tell me what happened after you left your frat?” Tara asked and curiosity was brimming in her voice.
Nick cracked a grin and held up his beer, “I’m only on my second. It takes more than that to get me to spill secrets.”
Marshall suddenly threw his head back in a loud, obnoxious, laugh and Illyana was popping giggle after giggle at one of his lame jokes. The sound directed Nick’s attention back to them and it was almost painful to watch how bad at flirting they were.
“Buy me a drink then?” Tara suggested and Nick flagged the bartender down again, leaving it to Tara to order what she wanted. He absently held out a wad of cash for the bartender to take, not bothering to count it. What was the point? It was mostly counterfeit anyway.
Nick’s glare drew Marshall’s attention. Marshall gave him a smug grin, silently taunting him. Why? Then it happened. In a move that to anyone observing, just looked as if Marshall was putting his arm around Illyana again, he stealthily dropped something small into her drink without her notice. She picked it up a moment later.
Without considering the consequences, Nick gave a shout of warning and shoved a few patrons out of the way before slapping the glass out of Illyana’s hand. It shattered when it hit the ground and a few drops of the drink began to soak into Illyana’s shoes. She made a cry of protest and vacated the spot quickly.
“What’s wrong with you, Calhoun?” Marshall feigned outrage but Nick knew he was just goading him at this point. There was no way he was going to be able to prove that Marshall had drugged the drink when the evidence was dissolved in the spill now spreading across the tiles with a hundred shards of glass in between.
“How many pills have you given her?” Nick demanded.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Marshall smirked and lied. He had no idea of Nick and Illyana’s past, much less that they knew each other. To Nick’s best guess, the asshole just wanted to prove to him he could keep on drugging women and Nick’s little tantrum of leaving the Greek Society was in vain. Nick loathed violence but in that moment he wanted nothing more than to cause Marshall inexplicable pain.
Nick grabbed Marshall by the front of his shirt and jerked him forward, he was nearly a head shorter and Nick could easily pummel him if he didn’t mind getting slapped with an assault charge and prosecuted by the finest lawyers, “How many?”
Marshall still had on a self-assured grin as he replied quietly, “What does it matter? She’ll have her clothes off in less than an hour.”
Nick felt absolute and utter rage fill him, and he probably would have hit Marshall right in his smug little face if not for the feel of a pathetic attempt of a punch to his arm—a familiar coiled fist aimed right for his bicep which would have been downright painful if she had been sober.
“You. Always. Ruin. Everything.” Illyana said angrily, punctuating each word with a hit to his arm.
Plumbobs, she didn’t have the slightest clue to the situation she could have found herself in if Nick hadn’t intervened. How dare Alarie leave Illyana and Marshall alone together, where was that woman’s sense?
“Shall we visit the Nest of Vipers?” Nick ignored Illyana and suggested in a low acidic tone that only Marshall could hear. Marshall seemed to immediately understand the implication and held his hands up in surrender and only then did Nick release the vile and cowardly fraternity president.
Obviously, word about the Nest of Vipers had traveled around significantly since the first night, just as Cain had predicted. Not only that, but its violent reputation. Not surprising, considering some of the Greek Society had been present at each fight night. They were all horrible gossips.
Illyana was still attempting to punch Nick’s arm; her fists had unraveled quite a bit and didn’t pack any kind of bruising potential he was used to. He caught her next punch in his hand, and led her away, at least to where it was quieter and cooler. They emerged outside and Nick tried distancing them from the bar and from Marshall especially, now that he knew Illyana was drugged.
She didn’t struggle much, but she dragged her feet in wordless protest. He just needed a moment to explain to her what was happening.
“Illyana…” he took a breath and faced her as soon as they were far enough away, but her opposite fist caught him in the side of the head. Startled, he let her go and watched as she attempted to run back toward the joint. She stumbled and tripped, then rolled across the sidewalk until she was laying on the flat of her back.
He rubbed his head in the spot where she had hit him—it wasn’t a painful blow my any means but he still didn’t expect it. He jogged to catch up until he was standing over her. To his dismay, he saw that she was crying! Her makeup was running down her face and leaving mascara trails. Since when did she wear make up? The last time he’d seen her cry was in the third grade when Trent Ziegler threw away her valentine. She probably still had a grudge about that too.
He assumed she had hurt herself on the concrete and that’s why she was blubbering but when he asked her if she was all right he was surprised to find she was crying for a different reason altogether.
“I was having fun for once and you..you…ruined it,” she choked with despair.
“He drugged you,” Nick snapped, “Would you find it fun if he took advantage of you? You wouldn’t even remember it!”
She closed her eyes and continued to sniffle out tears. He realized, in his anger, he was scolding her and that wouldn’t help anything. This wasn’t the way to get through to her.
Nick rubbed his temple some more and looked away while mumbling, “You probably won’t even remember this conversation."
"Will too!” She responded in obstinate tears, having overheard.
He almost smirked at her familiar stubbornness but instead held out his hand, still doubtful of her claim, “How do you feel?”
“Like I hate you,” she sat up and wiped at her eyes, glowering, and refusing to take his hand again.
“Come on, don’t be like that,” he gently chided and wrapped his arm around her midsection to lift her into a stand. She put her weight on him in objection but lost the battle when both her feet were planted firmly on the ground.
“I’ll call you a cab,” he pulled out his phone and started swiping through it to look for the number. He felt a melancholy tightness in his chest at hearing her say that she hated him. However, he knew he deserved it—how could he hope for anything better from the way he had acted in the past?
“Nick,” he heard her say his name. Her tone had lost all ferocity and it caused him to look at her in concern. She leaned into his arm and looked up at him, “Why aren’t we friends anymore?”
He gazed into her half-lidded eyes and felt déjà vu because she was echoing a question he once posed to her. Her answer made him realize just how conceited and immature he could be—just how much like his father he could be.
“Because I ruin everything,” he said in a despondent tone after a moment of consideration.
The memories weren’t a good enough excuse anymore. She had been his best friend when they were children but they both had changed too much; those times had passed and all the nostalgia in the world couldn’t be the foundation that held a friendship together. He just needed to be a better person.
The phone was ringing.
“Hello, Kashmire Taxi Service, where are you headed?” the customer service rep asked on the other end of the line.
“Hi there, I need a lift from the Endless Blue Lounge…” Nick began but a weight slumped into his side and he nearly dropped his phone to catch Illyana, “Sorry one moment!”
She was suddenly dead weight in his arms, “Illyana!”
In his attempt to try and regain balance, he accidentally hung up on the Taxi Service and cursed.
“Illyana!” He called her name again, giving her a hard shake and worried stare, “Are you all right?”
Her eyes flew open, panicked and wide, darting around as if she had forgotten where she was until she looked right in front of her and saw his face.
“I can’t rem…remember,” she said, her eyelids gradually falling to that same languished state while her speech became sluggish.
He couldn’t put her in a taxi like this.
“Give me Alarie’s number. I’ll have her come get you,” Nick said.
“I cabnt rebember,” Illyana repeated, though it was less enunciated. She swayed and started to pat herself down, seemingly unable to find her cell phone.
“Did you leave it at the bar?” He asked with slight exasperation and also a growing sense of anxiety at seeing how horribly discombobulated Torporia could render someone. Technically he’d been under it’s influence before, most of the frat and it’s guests had to have been when Marshall started adding it to the party drinks but Nick didn’t remember being so out of it that he lost motor functions. Maybe it just affected people differently and Illyana, unfortunately had the worst of it and he still didn’t know how much Marshall had given to her.
“I-cbt rrrmber,” she said thrice and seemed to give up and turn in a wobbly, disoriented circle, her voice ever softer and downright incoherent.
He wasn’t about to go put her in a car and drive her himself. For one, he didn’t have a car, and secondly, he’d had more than a few—not enough to be wasted but over the limit for legal driving. He shouldered her weight and said, “Okay. Fine. Crash at my place until this junk wears off.”
The house was only six blocks away and it was with immense difficulty that he was able to help Illyana walk and stumble her way down the street while she clung onto his arm and mumbled words he couldn’t understand because they were so slurred. After two and a half blocks of that, he gave up and just hauled her onto his back to carry her the rest of the way.
When they entered, the lights were on, signaling Orion and Cypress were either home or had left and assumed the other would shut off the lights. Nick erred on the side of caution and tried to be as quiet as possible. That goal was shattered once he tried to let Illyana down and she fell to the floor onto her rear with a grunt of protest. No movement was heard from upstairs. Orion and Cypress were gone for the night after all.
Nick went straight to the kitchen to get her some water, to at least and try to help flush the drugs out of her system. When he returned to the living room with a glass of it in hand he was shocked to find Illyana was stripping out of her clothes.
“What are you…?” he asked in alarm but trailed off, blinking several times as his brain processed the sight of her colorful, rainbow heart-shaped patterned panties.
“Toooooohaww,” she whined and pulled her shirt over her head to reveal a supportive white midriff tank top and some kind of hybrid-dragonfly tattoo inked onto her waist. The movement also loosened her braid and her hair started to uncurl into dark wavy locks. Nick didn’t know what to do in this situation but when she started trying to tug her tank top off, he bolted forward and pushed her into a sitting position on the couch which interrupted her process.
“Here, drink this—it will cool you off,” he instructed and swallowed to rid the sudden tightness in his throat among other places, trying to avoid staring at her half-unclothed figure as she took the glass of water and started guzzling it. He decided that studying the bookshelves across the room would be less troublesome.
When he started out the night he knew he’d have a girl back at his place, but he didn’t expect it to be in this particular circumstance and Illyana to be the one. He didn’t expect to be involved with Torporia anymore.
He’d have to apologize ten-fold to Tara for leaving her at the bar, that is if she’d ever speak to him again. He had abandoned her and left with another woman. Plumbobs, he realized that must have looked really bad.
He decided to text her real quick:
Sorry! Had an emergency!
A second later she replied:
Drop dead u jerk!
He sighed. Hoping for any more chances with her was pushing his luck.
Illyana took his hand and jiggled it before placing the glass back into it. A signal that she wanted more. He wasted no time walking back to the kitchen to fill it up. He frowned while thinking, hypothesizing that her increased body temperature could have been a sort of secondary side-effect of the drug. A person would certainly start trying to take their clothing off faster if they weren’t comfortable in them and didn’t have the mind to keep them on.
Then it struck him just how those dots connected.
That was the answer to why Marshall knew she’d be out of her clothes within the hour.
What utter scum. He really should have hit that little shit when he had the chance. The least he could do was report the guy to the authorities and have an investigation opened. He never did in the first place because he thought it was futile—Marshall being from one of the most affluent and influential families in the region. But for Illyana’s sake, and any other past or future victim of the drug at Marshall’s hands, Nick would call first thing in the morning and get it done.
When Nick arrived back in the living room he found that Illyana was passed out in an awkward angle on the couch. He sighed and set the water on the coffee table. He couldn’t leave her here like this. What would she think?
After a few unsuccessful tries to shake her awake, Nick carefully shoveled his arms beneath Illyana and lifted her. She was more manageable when she wasn’t obstinately working against him. He carried her up the stairs and delivered her into his bed, trying to shift her into a position that looked somewhat comfortable, before stuffing a few of the pillows underneath her head. That movement resulted in some of her long mess of hair to fall into her face.
He sat on the edge of the mattress and brushed the loose strands back; his hands lingered there for a moment and ended up cupping her face to study it in its rare state of stillness.
Illyana was really…beautiful.
She looked like some kind of sleeping princess with her sooty lashes and sun-kissed complexion, not to mention those pouty lips of hers that had him wondering just how kissable they really were. A princess could always use a Prince Charming and he did after all, have a lot of charm.
He began to lean forward, drawing his face closer to hers but then stopped himself, his smirk melting into a dark frown. He’d absolutely be no better than Cosgrove if he went through with it—just another asshole who only cared about himself. He felt deeply ashamed for even considering such a move while she wasn’t conscious and pulled back with a sigh—it proved that even after all these years, he wasn’t a better person after all.
He noticed that there was still a flush in her cheeks and that she felt warmer than normal so he left her uncovered and cracked the window open, hoping that the night air would continue to cool her. The Torporia would wear off and she would be fine come morning. For now, she just needed rest so the drug could get through her system.
He gave one last look to the sleeping beauty before grabbing his pajama bottoms, shutting the door behind him, and leaving her in peace.
|19th Nov 2017, 11:05 AM||#79|
Nick won't have to report Marshall at all. Once Illyana learns what he did to her, I am sure she will teach him a really hard lesson!
|26th Nov 2017, 8:01 AM||Morning After #80|
Chapter 38: Morning After
Illyana couldn’t decipher between a memory and a dream when her eyes gingerly blinked open. The sunlight had been hitting the outside of her eyelids and they were warm enough from the heat to rouse her. She felt like her head was a watermelon–heavy, and over-sized. Her bladder seemed like it was going to explode. She made a small moan of discomforted annoyance and arched her back, managing to pull herself up and overcome the gravity. She had to rub sleep out of her eyes before she realized that nothing around her was recognizable.
Where the plumbobs was she?
The room had brick walls, covered in different art canvases. Paintings, she realized at seeing an easel against the wall with a canvas half complete with a similar style as the completed ones. Was this a dream? She shivered a bit and realized a breeze was blowing on her through an open window. When she looked down at herself she let out a gasp. Where were her clothes?
She put her hand to her foggy head as a small pang of panic pricked her in the gut. She didn’t remember any detail of how she got here. Wherever this was, it was not a dream. She began to feel anxious and closed her eyes.
She felt a bit calmer but no less concerned at her predicament.
The bed was a queen, the blankets looked like they were a dude’s. She spied hair ties on the night stand and reconsidered her former thought.
She quietly slipped out of the bed and tip-toed on the wooden floor, over to the dresser to further investigate. The top drawer was a mix of unmatched socks and boxer briefs. Okay, so it was a dude’s room? Who’s? That blond guy from the frat? She remembered some intense flirting from him, what was his name? It started with an ‘M’. Her last clear memory was that Alarie and her went to visit Rafael but then after that, details started to blur.
She pulled open a middle drawer and found a collared shirt one might wear to a party. It was long enough anyway to cover her decently, made for a tall man’s torso and ended at her upper-thigh. She threw it on and buttoned it up, feeling a bit better about investigating the strange domain all the while racking her brain for clues or memories to where she was.
Alarie had kept insisting that a rebound would bring Illyana out of her post-breakup moping but if she couldn’t remember any of it what was the point? She really hoped she hadn’t randomly hooked up with a stranger. She closed the window and decided she needed to find a bathroom.
There were two doors in the room. She cracked the left one open and found the toilet and sighed in relief. After using it, washing her hands and bit more of sleep out of her eyes she continued on her quest to find her clothes.
She searched around the room and got a bit distracted by the paintings. They were very good. Colorful, fantastical, enchanting even. They looked like something in a dream. That reminded her that presently, this wasn’t a dream, and she still needed to find her clothes.
After looking everywhere, she concluded that her clothes were not in the bedroom.
She found herself outside the second door, in a hallway with a stairwell and the first thing that hit her senses was the smell of something delicious. Pancakes?
The stairs creaked as she descended into a main room. She saw a drum kit and a stand up bass, also a computer desk. To the left was a living room and the right was the dining room, and beyond that she assumed a kitchen. She had the feeling it was not the frat she had visited with Alarie.
She stopped and tensed with utmost apprehension–someone was there in the kitchen, she could hear them shuffling around!
“Hello?” She asked with a hint of nervousness, feeling a lot like Goldilocks inside a stranger’s house and not knowing what she was about to run into.
“Good morniiiiiing Sunshine,” she heard the drawl of a vaguely familiar male voice and then he stepped out from the kitchen to reveal himself.
So many things did not make sense to Illyana in that moment.
Nicholas Hart, someone she knew for a fact wanted nothing to do with her, was standing there and smiling. He looked like some kind of model, wearing nothing but bright green pajama pants, with his very long hair loose and hanging around his shoulders. He was holding a plate of pancakes.
Maybe it was a dream after all.
Or a nightmare.
Had she drunkenly hooked up with him of all people!? Her cheeks flared red in horrified mortification as she imagined what had transpired between them.
“I bet you’re hungry,” he said and placed a plate of food on the table, gesturing her over to eat. She was in fact, ravenous, but made no move to join him. Her mind was still jumbled.
“Wha…what’s happening?” she finally asked, trying to remain calm.
He cut into his stack of pancakes with a smirk, “Breakfast.”
She frowned; that was not the answer she was looking for and he knew it! She wanted to know why she was there, why she had woken up in a state of undress, and why she couldn’t remember anything. She knew he could fill in the blanks. She stood stiffly with the smell of pancakes beckoning her to eat.
His smirk melted and he took on a more serious air, “Come here and eat. I’ll explain everything.”
That was acceptable.
She dug into her stack of pancakes and listened intently as he made it clear, to her relief, that they had not slept together. Then he began to recount the night that had slipped through her memory.
It was hard to keep her eyes off him because Nick looked so different with such long hair. He’d always let it grow to shaggy proportions when they were younger but nothing this drastic. It wasn’t a bad look on him though, it was actually rather attractive but it was inappropriate for her to be checking him out while eating breakfast. Yet, she found that her stare kept wandering back to him as he told her about Marshall Cosgrove and the Torporia, her following disorientation, and her alarming need to undress herself.
“So you saw me in my underwear then?” She asked with a startled tone, her heightened anger flaring, losing focus on his features and interrupted his story.
“Well, yeah but it’s not a big deal,” Nick shrugged. She scowled, her cheeks turning red again.
“I mean, I saw you in your underwear all the time when we went swimming in my pool,” he cocked his head to the side and widened his eyes innocently.
“Yeah, but I was like eight, didn’t have a real swimsuit and I didn’t want to get all my clothes wet!” She protested, recalling those summers, years ago when they were kids. She was already livid that someone like Marshall Cosgrove thought he could drug her and get away with it and also couldn’t help but feel discouraged that she had such awful luck in picking men.
“See? Not a big deal,” Nick nodded like his point was made and popped another forkful of pancake into his mouth. “Anyway, I called the police and told them what I saw him do.”
“Did you mention my name?”
“No, I didn’t think you wanted to be dragged into an investigation; you’ve been through enough.”
“How do you do it?” She asked, frustrated and still amazed, setting down her own fork with a little too much force on the table-top.
“What?” He raised an inquisitive brow.
“Sit there and speak to me like we’re still friends,” she finally looked away and crossed her arms. What he had done for her last night–it was something a friend would do. Or at least, what someone who cared about her would have done. She couldn’t figure him out anymore. The summer before their senior year of high school, they had begun to mend their friendship and then it was all destroyed within a night, and she never understood why. He didn’t speak to her after that. He hadn’t cared anymore, and to be honest, it hurt her immensely. “You told me we aren’t.”
“I was also really stupid back then,” Nick said in an obvious tone. She snapped her gaze to him and her hard, scrutinizing expression demanded more of an explanation so he continued, “The reason my set sounded so bad during Battle of the Bands was because someone sabotaged my amp settings and I assumed you had gotten a little too competitive and messed them up.”
Illyana’s eyes widened in shock, her mouth opened to protest but Nick already knew it wasn’t her fault and held out his fork to shush her before she began.
“I realized later that you didn’t do it but I also realized I was a bad friend anyway for jumping to conclusions and blaming you and that’s why I stopped talking to you. I figured you didn’t need someone so immature and selfish in your life.”
She winced, remembering those were the words she had once said to his face to summarize his character. He really must have taken her critique to heart for him to have such consideration for her well-being. Last night was proof he wasn’t so self-centered after all; here he was making her pancakes even. He had changed. He did care. “I guess I owe you a solid then, for seeing me out safely.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” Nick insisted. He stood and picked up his empty plate. She had eaten her share minutes ago so he stacked his on top and took it too. She gave him a smile, the first he’d seen in years and it was breathtaking. Seeing this girl he’d known all his life, who at one time he knew like the back of his hand, and now he knew so little about, beaming up at him like that while wearing nothing but one of his shirts. It was enough to make him take a chance to try and know her again. He put on his smirk, "Though, if you feel so inclined, you can still let me take you out on that date.“
Illyana mirrored his smirk, thinking back to how he assumed his band would win the Battle of the Bands and he would never suffer the consequences of that bet. If he were to win, she had to let him take her on a date.
“You lost that bet."
He knew it. So did the whole school who had seen him streak as a consequence of losing it. That was her brilliant idea. She remembered sitting in study hall that day when suddenly Alarie shrieked and pointed out the window and they all looked up from their homework to see Nick sprint past in all his glory.
She had honestly forgotten about their bet by the time school has started and was impressed he still went through with it even though he had stopped talking to her at that point. Nick was always good for a laugh, he rarely took anything seriously and was an unapologetic flirt.
Nick dumped the dishes into the sink and turned around to face her, all hint of that signature smirk wiped away, "Really though, I’d love to take you out sometime and catch up."
The laughter fell out of her lively eyes; she stood from her seat abruptly and blurted, "What? That’s dumb. Are you really being serious?”
He paused before holding his arm and sheepishly asking, ”Why is it dumb?“
It more of a knee-jerk response to any of his ideas that she didn’t agree with, but it was dumb because he could pick any other person to ask out on a date. Not someone who was so fundamentally and mentally unfit to be involved in anything romantic at the moment.
"I’m…I have a lot of issues I need to work through. I’m not really…I…don’t…” She stumbled over her words feeling her cheeks start to get warm again.
“I’m not your type?” He tried to make her rejection of him easier, and she could detect a note of disappointment in his words despite the smirk that reappeared on his face.
His type–that long hair, pale, freckled, bluish-green-eyed jock was something she could find herself attracted to, but it was still Nick. He of all people knew how to stoke the fires of her temper, sometimes even unintentionally. Their chemistry could be quite volatile.
Even more importantly, she was rejecting him because she was still trying to mend from her breakup and she didn’t need any new romantic complications. She felt like she couldn’t just sit down and tell him all of this now and pour her issues onto him, she didn’t even know him that well anymore. So she mumbled, “I just can’t.”
He didn’t call her out for her vague reason, and she appreciated it.
“You can’t blame me for trying though,” he teased and pointed toward the living room, “By the way, your clothes are in there. I also found your phone in your back pocket, it kept buzzing me awake this morning and you have about a hundred texts from Alarie.”
He pulled open a kitchen junk drawer and found a spare hair tie which he used to gather up his hair to it’s usual style so it wouldn’t get in his face as he washed dishes.
Illyana considered going to fetch her clothes and phone but she didn’t want to leave that awkwardness of rejection hanging between them. She watched him scrub the plates clean with his back turned on her, noticing his shoulders were slumped but his back muscles subtly rippled as his arms moved. She didn’t know why the view caused a little shiver to run down her own arms, but she did know that she was greatly appreciative for all he had done for her last night. She couldn’t imagine that she was the easiest person to deal with in such a state.
“Nick?” she said his name and stepped a little bit closer. He wiped his hands on his pajama pants and turned around only to make a surprised grunt as she suddenly grabbed him into a hug.
“Thank you,” she said quietly; the words muffled into the skin of his shoulder.
After a moment of stunned silence, he wrapped his arms around her and returned the embrace, “Hey, what are friends for?”
|30th Nov 2017, 3:47 PM||#81|
Yea! The picture of the well placed flower makes a come back
|25th Dec 2017, 6:12 AM||Family Breakfast #82|
Chapter 39: Family Breakfast
There was something a bit abnormal going on when Cypress woke up in his old bed, in his old room at his parents’ house. There was a distinct noise above him, as if someone was walking around. If he knew any better, it couldn’t have been Cedar, because his younger brother was notorious for sleeping in when he didn’t have somewhere to be in the morning. School hours never agreed with Cedar’s sleep schedule and Cypress knew it all too well being the one who had to constantly make sure Cedar was awake in time to make the bus.
Cypress popped open an eye and rolled over, grabbed his phone off the night stand and flipped it open to see the time. 9:00 am.
He pulled himself out of bed to investigate the movement. When he emerged upstairs in the kitchen he had a moment of surrealism because both his parents were shuffling around in their pajamas. In normal times, he might have been lucky to see a glimpse of either of them hurriedly exiting the door with a piece of toast in their mouth on the way to work.
Instead, his mother was in her pajamas, bending over the breakfast bar reading a newspaper already with a cup of coffee and his father was in the middle of making omelets. The last time the planets had aligned and his family was in residence together for breakfast like this was when he was about seven or eight and it had been Mother’s day.
“Hi sweetie,” his mother, Willow, said and looked up with a smile as he entered. She wasn’t into her silver years yet but considering how much pressure she was under at work, in the lab, he was surprised she didn’t have any silver strands standing out in her regular red hair.
“Don’t you guys have work?” Cypress asked dubiously.
“I’m on call,” his father, Lee, mentioned.
“I must go back to the lab this afternoon,” Willow added, “Luckily it’s a soft holiday so they could afford to let me have a late morning.”
That seemed a bit more typical; when would they both have a Monday completely off? His father was a specialist at the Mercy Medical Center in Scandalica City while his mother was a researcher with top-level clearance in a government lab. Between their work and family, the work had taken more and more of a priority over the years, especially as they excelled in their respective career ladders—earning acclaim and accolades for their contributions to their respective fields. “Anyway, how have you been, sweetie?”
Cypress folded his arms across his chest and found himself smiling, “I’m great; I have my own two-hour radio show at the station now.”
“That’s wonderful! You get a lot of listeners then?”
“Well, maybe not the most—it’s a later time slot…on Thursdays. I just got one of Orion’s songs approved by the director so the station can play it on request and put it in regular scheduling too.”
“Oh, how nice!” Willow beamed and took a sip of her coffee. “I bet Orion is over the moon to know that.”
It occurred to Cypress that Orion didn’t even know of the new development yet! He would be over the moon once he knew. He wondered if he could surprise Orion somehow, such as tell him to listen at a specific time and then play it for him. In reply to his mother, Cypress just smiled wider.
“Anything else going on?” she asked.
He raised a brow, “What is this? A crash course catch-up?”
They both suddenly smelled distinctive burning and looked over at Lee who was fanning trails of smoke away from the pan on the stove.
Her and Cypress exchanged faces of half-mocking grimaces followed by knowing smiles of sympathy since they were going to have to eat burned food in order avoid hurting Lee’s culinary pride. Her smile faded to something of an apologetic look, “I’m sorry I haven’t been available to talk the past few weeks. You know how work goes.”
“I know,” Cypress said and didn’t need her to elaborate. Usually communication with his parents only consisted of emergency subjects like injury or financial crisis—neither of which he had suffered recently so there had been no reason to call either of them since the start of semester. They weren’t the type of people that had a lot of time to simply ‘chat.’
“Breakfast is ready!” his father scooped the omelets onto individual plates and called loudly even though Cypress and Willow were right there in the room. Cypress figured it was meant to carry all the way down to Cedar and rouse him.
They took their plates and sat at the dining table. The omelets were straight up brown from pan-charring. Lee Wellington liked to dabble in cooking when he had time to do it but he clearly hadn’t practiced making omelets enough for them to come out perfect every time.
“If you aren’t doing anything next Saturday, we all got an invite to your uncle’s election-watch party—it’s at his house around 8:00.”
Cypress grimaced. Uncle Elm was repugnant, even at his best.
“I don’t really want to go…” Cypress said and poked at his breakfast, trying to find unburned parts.
“Are you even voting in the election?” Lee wondered with a slight frown, “Or are you going to refrain like most young people today?”
“I’ll vote, but it probably won’t be for Uncle Elm,” Cypress replied honestly.
His mother looked slightly offended. After all, Elm was her own twin-brother. He didn't understand why though, since she often complained about Elm's problematic ego.
“Oh, by the way, Nick moved in with us,” Cypress mentioned, being reminded of it since they were discussing Nick’s father.
Both his parents looked at him with surprise and stopped eating.
“Wait, what? Why?” Willow asked incredulously, “I thought he was all set at that fraternity Elm loved so much?”
“Well, he quit the fraternity.”
“Why did he quit!?”
Cypress shrugged, “I don’t know, why don’t you call and ask him? He didn’t offer up a reason so I figure it’s something private. I’m not gonna nose in on his business, Mom.”
Willow frowned, thinking hard, “He’s probably just doing it to ruffle his father’s feathers. He’s always been that way—even as a kid. No better time than right before an election.”
Cypress bit his tongue and stopped himself from snapping out that Uncle Elm usually deserved it. Cypress and Nick had been close all their lives and Cypress had seen the toxic behavior that Uncle Elm had subjected his sons to. It wouldn’t help to tell her that Elm dropped Nick’s tuition payments either. He didn’t want her to get involved and try to help and only make matters worse. His mother, unless she could be proven wrong, had a very stubborn personality and assumed her way was always the right way.
Cedar wandered upstairs then, still wearing his pajamas like the rest of them. He was just as surprised at the sight of his entire family being…family-ish. Then his eyes landed on what they were eating.
“Burnt Chicken Zygotes. How Appetizing.”
The sarcasm was palpable until Lee cleared his throat, “Actually son, these would be ovums, the state of an egg before fertilization.”
The disgusted look on Cedar’s face didn’t lift at the clarification and he ignored the plate of steaming omelets and instead went to open the fridge to find an alternate breakfast. Unfortunately, Lee didn’t realize his son disliked eggs even when they weren’t burnt. That was the drawback to never being around for a family breakfast.
Cypress could see his father was a bit disappointed that Cedar wouldn’t even give his omelets a chance, even after all the effort he had gone to make them for his family. Cedar had taken a seat at the breakfast bar with a can of instant breakfast drink which couldn’t have tasted much better. It was the ultimate offense to their father’s cooking. Cypress cut off a piece that was burnt and tasted it, to make up for his brother’s blatant refusal to.
“I can’t remember, but did you pick a major yet?” his mother asked.
Cypress gagged, simultaneously from the taste of burnt egg and the thought of having this conversation.
“Not yet,” he choked out and beat his fist against his chest to stop himself from coughing.
His mother’s brow creased ever so slightly, “Still? I thought your advisor would have given you a deadline by now. Have you still not found a career path?”
Cypress shrugged, “I’m working on it.”
“The longer you drag your feet, the longer you will be in school. Your general education credits can only get you so far. If you were looking into something in one of our fields—” Willow gestured at herself and then to Lee—"That’s at least five more years of grad school if not more on top of your remainder of undergraduate classes.“
"Trust me I’m not looking to go into either of those fields,” Cypress said.
“And what’s wrong with studying science or medicine?” his mother arched a brow, anticipating offense.
“Nothing really, though I’d like to have time to spend with my family,” Cypress said, the insult was blatant but yet veiled in a nonchalant tone. Both his parents’ faces filled with guilt. On some bitter level of his subconscious, he had meant it to hurt. On the surface, though, he felt bad as soon as he said it and saw their reaction. They were providing for their family, they were a part of the greater good—helping people overcome ailments or disease—but at the cost of nearly being strangers to their children.
No one said anything more on the subject and they continued to eat their burned omelets in silence.
When they were done, His parents vacated the room to go about their regular morning routine of getting dressed for the day, leaving their pajama-clad sons in the kitchen.
“Wow, I never thought you’d call mom and dad out like that,” Cedar said in slight awe as soon as he knew their parents were out of hearing range.
“I shouldn’t have. They have enough to worry about as is,” Cypress replied. He hoped he hadn't set a precedent for Cedar to start smarming at them for their lack of time to spend with him.
“Still though, maybe they’ll think twice before they agree to work on Christmas again.”
Cypress shrugged, but hoped so too.
“Oh hey, I was meaning to ask you...” Cedar clasped his hands together nervously, “I have next Friday off of school and wanted to know if I could shadow you on campus. I’ll get extra credit if I write a paper on the experience.”
Cypress grit his teeth, thinking it would be a bad idea since it would certainly expose his little brother to how much he hated college classes. He didn’t want to jeopardize Cedar’s chance at higher education just because his opinions were unfavorable. But Cedar was looking at him so hopeful and they’d get to hang together again which was usually a good time.
“Shouldn’t you ask Mom and Dad?”
“They think it’s a great idea!”
“Did you really ask them?” Cypress arched a brow.
Cedar’s smile wavered, “Well…not exactly…but please? I’m dying to know what it’s like at college!”
Cypress let out a sigh and rubbed his neck, “I guess it’s okay for you to tag along but don’t draw attention to yourself. They’re mostly lecture classes–no attendance call–so you can probably slip in unnoticed.”
Cedar gave a shout of triumph and thanked Cypress and not without a huge hug of gratitude.
As much as he liked being home with his family, he figured it was time to leave so he got dressed and bid his dad and brother farewell. His mother was on her way out the same time he was. She was going back to the lab.
“Cypress,” she said his name and it made him pause in front of the door. She set down her work briefcase and looked at him with a troubled expression, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Cypress knotted his brows with mild confusion.
Willow crossed her arms and looked away, “For being a bad parent, for leaving you boys alone all the time, for forcing you to take responsibility for your brother, for pushing you into college when you clearly hate it…”
Cypress grabbed his mother into a quick, fierce hug, “Don’t apologize, Mom. It’s hard…for all of us but you and Dad do your best–you both do good work. Don’t feel bad about that. And don't worry about me, I'll find something to major in.”
She hugged him back and then pulled away, touching his cheek, “You know, whatever you decide to do with your life I’ll be proud of you. You’re smart, and talented, and driven…”
Cypress brushed her hand away with a small laugh, “Stop, you’re embarrassing me.”
“In front of no one but yourself, and what kind of mother would I be if I didn't?”
It was a rhetorical question. She gave a quick peck of a kiss to where she had just touched him and picked up her briefcase, “It was great to see you again, sweetie.”
She opened the front door and a blast of cool air gusted into the house. It was the coolest it had been so far in the autumn season and Cypress momentarily regretted not packing a jacket to wear back to his place.
“You too, Mom,” Cypress wiped at his cheek, still smiling as he watched her leave. He’d grown up watching her leave to go to work–at least a thousand times, and this was first time he didn’t feel a pang of sadness about it.
Cypress was slightly surprised to see Nick awake before noon on a day that there were no classes. He caught sight of his cousin sitting in the living room.
“Hey,” Cypress greeted and leaned against the archway, “You finally doing your laundry?”
“Yeah, figured I’d so something productive on our day off,” Nick folded a plaid shirt and stacked it on top of a pile of the same he’d already done. He leaned back into his seat on the sofa with a thoughtful expression, “Where did you run off to?”
“Oh, just to visit my brother. He convinced me to sleepover,” Cypress replied. “I had a family breakfast.”
Nick raised a semi-surprised brow, “And how was that?”
“It was nice. Dad burnt the eggs but it was…different.”
Nick nodded, seeming to retreat into thought. He seemed different, ever since he had moved in with them. Usually Nick was highly sociable but his unusual bouts of quietness threw Cypress off a bit. Nick also often over-shared information but he hadn’t offered any reasons for leaving his frat nor hints of where he disappeared to on some nights. Nick only mentioned he was taking care of his 'tuition problem.'
“Well, it was probably a better experience with your parents than mine,” Nick finally said and stood, placing his piles of folded clothes into his laundry basket. Cypress could agree with that assessment. With his parents’ tenancies for being workaholics, they didn’t have time nag nor ridicule their sons–not that they would–not like Nick’s father did.
“So what’d you do last night?” Cypress asked, following his cousin up the staircase.
“Dude, so much happened. I don’t even know where to begin,” Nick replied in an exasperated tone. He seemed thrilled and frustrated, two very different emotions that he somehow could pull off at once. Nick opened the door to his bedroom and his lips quirked at the sides, “Though I think I have a chance to be friends with Illyana again.”
Cypress couldn’t help to smile at that news; he had wondered if she and Nick would ever patch up from the last time that turbulence had cracked their friendship apart. Illyana was close with Nick, even before Cypress. She’d always been Nick’s first friend and whether Nick admitted it or not, Cypress could always tell she meant a lot to him.
“That’s great news!” Cypress nodded in approval. Speaking of great news, he still had yet to tell Orion about getting his song played on the radio! Cypress turned from Nick’s room and crossed the upper hallway to the door across from his own and knocked. He figured Orion was still asleep so popped open the door a moment later. He was greeted by an empty bed.
He was mildly caught off guard at Orion’s absence.
“Hey! Where’s Orion?” Cypress called back across the hall toward Nick.
“He never came home last night!” Nick answered but didn’t seem too worried about the fact.
Cypress knotted his brows, trying to think of where Orion could have gone as he looked around the room. There was the usual pile of records Orion needed to sort and put away, some of his clothes strewn about the floor. But something different, something small, caught his eye just under Orion’s bed near the night stand. Cypress walked over and bent down by the side of the bed to find a pill bottle. It was labeled as Tranquilicis.
He stood up while studying the bottle in his hand. The name on the prescription was not Orion’s. It was scratched out but from what was left, the name looked to be ‘Sun Per’
Cypress pulled open the drawer of the night stand, intending to put the bottle in it so it wasn’t just laying around but he stopped suddenly. There was a pile of empty bottles in the drawer already. He took them out one by one and read the labels, all for Tranquilicis, all for ‘Sun Per’ or ‘Ha Pi’; the full name was never in full view. Where had Orion obtained these? A horrible thought struck Cypress all of a sudden.
There were two pills left if in one of the bottles. He opened it and dumped them out into his palm to study them. They seemed to be in tact, not the kinds of street pills that were pulled apart and stuffed with other illicit drugs in order to smuggle them around indiscreetly. His father had warned him about those kinds of pills when he entered college on the account there seemed to be an overabundance of ER visits from young adults who overdosed on them.
He let out a breath of relief to know they weren't those types of hard, disguised drugs. However, he felt a knot form in his chest, because the alternative was just as bad and he was not finding a way around the truth to what he was seeing. He sank to a sitting position on Orion’s bed and set the two pills on the night stand while rubbing his head in frustrated worry. There was only one assumption he could make and that was that his best friend was abusing prescription drugs.
|22nd Jan 2018, 1:05 AM||Strike of Melancholy #83|
Chapter 40: Strike of Melancholy
What was the best feeling in the world? To Orion, it was to not be burdened by anxiety—having no worries or thoughts that could make him feel bad—and to be held by someone who loved him. His nerves were calm, the smell of fresh coffee grounds permeated the room, but that comfortable warmth that had been at his back all night was absent. They were gone. That fact hit his consciousness, rippled through him, and caused his eyes to snap open. His nerves were no longer relaxed.
A wave of teal and orange patterns blurred together as his vision focused on the room that he was in. He hadn't noticed how bright the colors were when he entered the night before when it had been dark. He pulled himself up and crossed his legs against the cooler air outside the bed covers that he had tangled himself up in. Then came that familiar, awful hitch of panic in his chest followed closely by an onset of numbness in his limbs. He set his head in his hand, closed his eyes, and held completely still, willing his body to not tremble as his breathing began to rapidly accelerate. He tried to focus on something, anything other than the current whirlwind of thoughts. Cypress always told Orion hum his favorite song in these instances but it felt like his voice was trapped in a painful vice and he couldn't make a sound.
Orion wished he had taken a Tranqulicis before he fallen asleep but had been a bit too distracted to remember. He finally caught the reins of his mind and instead controlled them into thinking of the lyrics of the song he had been writing, the one he had sung in front of Cypress at the radio station.
“I never knew what love was until I met you. So, thank you for helping me discover what I felt was true.”
After a few minutes of reciting the words in his head, his quick exhales subsided and his legs could move again. He opened his eyes and looked straight to the top of the dresser in the room where many bottles of Tranquilicis sat. Wasting no more time, he got up and plucked out two pills, tilted his head, and threw them to the back of his mouth and swallowed dry.
He followed the scent of coffee out of the bedroom and to the kitchen to find that Cain had made a fresh pot. "Hey," Orion greeted him with a shaky smile.
He was so relieved that Cain was still here. Logically, it made the most sense—why would Cain up and leave his own place? However, Orion always had a worry at the back of his mind that Cain would all but disappear like he had in the past, and then not contact Orion for weeks. It made Orion feel clingy to want to know where Cain was all the time and he knew he shouldn't worry but couldn't help to.
"Mornin' Star Boy," Cain answered in a rough voice, still unused and throaty sounding. He didn't turn to look at Orion but poured himself a cup, "You want any?"
"No thanks," Orion said and pulled out one of the chairs from the small table to sit. Cain liked to drink his coffee black. Orion preferred a handful of sugar and cream in his. Nick liked to joke about it by asking how much coffee Orion would like with his cream and sugar when they went to get any between classes.
Orion glanced around the kitchen and the connecting living room. It all was so colorful—following the same scheme he had seen in the bedroom. Cain had moved places in the months between the last time Orion had been with him. Usually Cain opted to crash in Orion's room but something last night prompted Cain to ask Orion over. Of course, Orion was curious to know what that reason was, but knew pressing Cain for answers would make him irritable.
"I didn't know you had such a love for teal and orange," Orion mentioned.
Cain took a seat while sipping on his coffee and shook his head; he pointed to the walls, "I'm sub-leasing from an art student who is doing a semester abroad. This is all her doing."
Cain raised a thick brow and seemed to study Orion as he sat there. It made Orion self-conscious, but luckily the drugs had kicked in and his anxiety was dissipating.
"What's wrong?" Cain asked.
Orion slumped forward and held his chin in his hand, "I had an anxiety attack after I woke up."
"Didn't you take Tranqulicis?"
"I forgot to before going to bed, it's my own fault," Orion lamented, his nerves weren't tangled anymore but he still felt...sad. He shouldn't have. Last night was great, and something he had been hoping for—to be alone with Cain with no distractions for once. He didn't know why he felt this way.
Orion's stomach made an audible grumble just then. Maybe he was just hungry.
"Sorry, I don't have much food here. I need to go grocery shopping," Cain said at hearing the discontented noise.
Orion's head shot up from his hand with a sudden eagerness, "We could go get brunch somewhere! There's a boxcar café next to the quad that does the best omlette—"
"Actually, I need to go downtown today to run some errands. You wanna go get something to eat on the way?"
Orion was momentarily shocked that Cain was offering Orion a chance to tag along. He had to jump start his train of thought again to think about it, "There's that Deli by the bay that has pretty food. Want to hit that up?"
Cain considered and then nodded, "Yeah, sounds good.”
That heavy sense of melancholy Orion felt just a moment before lifted, as if it were a cloud and the sun had just broken through. Errands were a mundane task but yet the offer to join him gave Orion a hint of hope that maybe he and Cain could ever be something more than just each other's go-to hook up.
After finishing his mug of coffee, Cain set it in the sink without bothering to wash it, just like the empty bottles of beer stacked up near it that he was meaning to recycle that they had consumed last night. Cain was usually a very easygoing persona, independent, chill—last night Orion could tell he'd been shaken by something. Cain was worried. Whether it was by the late hour he'd called Orion, the uneasy quietness between them before they'd cracked open the six pack, or the rush of physicality then ensued—it wasn't the normal experience with Cain.
Orion followed Cain back into the bedroom. His clothes had been discarded at the foot of the bed and he supposed he should get dressed if they were going to go out. Cain approached the dresser to look through a pile of his shirts to find something to wear. There was a mirror on the wall above the dresser and through the reflection, Orion could see Cain frowning—deep in thought.
He felt compelled to comfort Cain and so approached from behind, slid his arms around Cain's torso and nuzzled the back of his neck. "Are you okay?"
"What makes you think something is wrong?" Cain asked, looking up sharply and meeting Orion's eyes in the reflection of the mirror.
Orion hated prying, but he also hated not knowing what was going on with those he cared about, especially if they were suffering in some way. Cain never explained himself, and it was frustrating to care about someone when they didn't open up. Orion lowered his gaze and focused on where he had just nuzzled, seeing a dark spot on Cain's skin he hadn't noticed last night. It looked like the start of a bruise.
"Where'd you get this?" he brushed his fingers over the mark and Cain reached up and snatched his hand in his quite abruptly.
"Don't worry about it," Cain replied flatly, then he realized his mistake—because Orion worried about everything it seemed. His tone softened a bit, "It's nothing."
Orion sighed and laid his head onto Cain's shoulder. He had to keep reminding himself that Cain wasn't his boyfriend, so he had no business worrying over Cain like this. But it was hard. He felt Cain let go of his hand and it was left resting at his collarbone, though soon enough he used it to take a bottle of Tranqulicis Cain was holding out to him meaning for him to have it. Cain made a half smile, trying to reassure Orion, "Let's get dressed and get some grub."
They took the bus line to downtown Memosa Bay. By the time they were seated at the delicatessen, Orion’s stomach was full on growling for food. They wasted no time in ordering some. Soon enough their meals were delivered and they dug in with eager appetites.
“So, how did you do on that midterm? Did you ever get your grade posted?” Cain asked between spoonfuls of soup.
Orion was in mid-bite of his burger but stopped and smiled, touched that Cain would have remembered or even cared about it.
“I got a ninety-five percent!” he felt a bit foolish for worrying so much about it before. He had done an ungodly amount of studying for it, sacrificing so many hours of sleep.
“That’s good. Your G.P.A is doing much better than mine I’m afraid.”
“What happened? Are you skipping classes again?” Orion gave a slight frown and made to take a drink before eating more of his food. He and Cain had shared business courses over the last two years and sometimes Cain didn’t show up to class. Orion would usually provide him with the notes he’d missed from the lectures.
“I missed my midterm,” Cain explained nonchalantly.
“Are you on probation?” Orion’s eyes widened in worried surprise and he nearly choked as he took another bite of his burger.
Cain waved his hand outward as if not to worry, “Technically, yes, but I’ll just ace the final and be fine again.” Orion wouldn’t be able to live as Cain did—to just skip a midterm and decide to get a hundred percent on the final like it was nothing. Cain’s confidence was infinite and borderline terrifying.
“Relax, you look like you’re going to have another anxiety attack,” Cain said and Orion realized he had been struck momentarily immobile at the news. He willed his hands to lift his burger to his mouth so he could finish it. It was a bummer that Cain had failed his midterm and Orion wondered what was so important for Cain to have skipped it without a second thought.
They finished their meal; Cain offered to pay, but Orion insisted he would take the bill since he suggested the place to eat.
They emerged downtown, and Cain led the way down the sidewalk toward the business district. Orion’s family lived in Memosa Bay and he loved the tall buildings. He craned his head back to look at the skyscrapers’ vertical rise into the clouds, in comparison it made him feel like he was at the bottom of an urban canyon. The autumn wind had picked up and he was glad he was wearing a sweater. Suddenly he felt Cain take his hand and his attention snapped back to the ground. He thought maybe Cain was guiding him another direction and he hadn’t been paying enough attention to have followed but to his surprise, Cain was holding his hand...just to hold it. Orion felt that same warm feeling from earlier and clasped Cain’s hand tighter with his own. This is what he imagined he felt it would be like to have a boyfriend—someone to take walks with and run errands with—dull daily things that were made so much better by having someone there to enjoy it with.
They walked a few more blocks before Orion began to wonder what errands Cain needed to do. If it was groceries, they were going in the entirely opposite direction of the nearest grocery store.
Cain stopped them in front of an older brick building that had marks of graffiti on it. He abruptly pulled Orion close and gave him a long kiss. The move took Orion by surprise and he was still blinking in confusion when Cain pulled away and said “Hey, why don’t you go back to my place and I’ll catch up later?"
“What about your errands?”
“You wouldn’t want to waste your day off with them, I’ll handle it,” Cain said with in a light, casual tone but look in his eyes was hard. His suggestion was a request.
A strike of melancholy hit Orion in the chest. So this day wasn’t what he hoped it was, and Cain still refused to let Orion into his life. Orion nodded apprehensively and made to go back to the bus stop, “Yeah, see you later.”
He hoped it was true and this wasn’t one of those times ‘later’ would be in a few months. Hopefully, Cain wouldn’t suddenly be ‘too busy’ to reply to Orion’s texts, hopefully Orion could cope when his Tranquilicis stash had run out, because he had a feeling his anxious nerves couldn’t handle another ghosting episode from Cain.
He got a block away before turning to look back at his wayward lover, hopefully not for the last time, but was startled to see Cain wasn’t in sight anymore. Orion frowned and started walking in the opposite direction, back to where he had been.
He stopped short of the alleyway, hearing voices floating outward from it. Cain’s was recognizable but the other sounded feminine...it was a woman!
“I’m not asking for much, it’s one bottle,” the woman’s voice seemed displeased, cracking with hoarseness. He heard the click of a lighter follow her statement.
“You’re out of your mind,” she snapped.
“Look, you can only get it from the lab right now and I'm risking my neck here, it’s not approved by the regional drug association, and it can have some really adverse affects when mixed with alcohol.”
“I’m counting on that,” the woman replied chillingly and then seemed to sigh, “Knock it down to three hundred and I’ll give you two bottles of that anxiety med you are always happy to have.”
Orion felt dread rise in him at what he was hearing. Hoping this was all some misunderstanding and it couldn't be what it clearly sounded like.
“Deal. Also I’m starting up a little underground venture you might be interested in. Know any gamblers who like to take risks?”
Orion couldn’t take it anymore, he swallowed a breath and and quickly peeked around the corner into the alley to see the woman—who looked to be of a mature age—handing a wad of money to Cain as he exchanged it with a bottle of pills. It was a different type of bottle than what Tranqulicis came in. No matter, the scene was shocking.
The woman scoffed, seeming slightly amused. “I can get you a hook up to some high rollers but I want a discount on all future transactions. It’s not easy swiping my husband’s meds.”
“Sure thing, Marge. If you can get some of your compadres in Pandora up here to see what kind of betting opportunities await, I’ll give you whatever discounts you want.”
Orion nearly threw his back against the brick exterior, out of sight before Cain saw him eavesdropping; his nerves were trying to rise to alarm but the effects of Tranquilicis were thankfully keeping them at bay as well as the inevitable anxiety attack after witnessing such a scene. Cain was dealing. How long had this been going on? Why was he talking about gambling? Orion began walking briskly toward the nearest bus stop in a state of disbelief.
Orion would ask Cain directly but he always had the fear that too many questions would spook Cain into another long absence. He didn’t know what to do. If he brought it up, Cain would know he’d been prying into his private, illegal affairs. If he didn’t the truth would eat him alive. He finally made it to the bus stop and he didn’t remember the time in between leaving the alleyway and arriving here. Time was a blur, and he felt his life was a tangle of strings. Couldn’t he for once, just have them laid straight and orderly to be at ease?
He fumbled the bottle of Tranquilicis out of his pocket that Cain had given him earlier that morning and swallowed two more—just in case this latest development sent him over the edge. He closed his eyes and held his head in hand so he could think. He couldn’t afford to be a helpless ball of nerves in public. He wished Cypress were there at that moment. Cypress may have thought Cain was a low life but at least he listened.
“I never knew what love was until I met you. So, thank you for helping me discover what I felt was true.”
The lyrics calmed him at first—however, he wasn’t exactly imagining them this time in his head. He opened his eyes with a new sense of dread. It was...it was being played over the speakers in the bus stop! How?
Cypress must have recorded the song when Orion performed it at the Radio Station last week. He had aired it live, which he didn’t have permission to do and still miffed Orion a bit thinking of it—but he also didn’t have permission to record it either. Orion’s emotions caught in his throat and the sense of melancholy deepend, engulfed him even, as he realized that those he cared about were no longer a bit trustworthy.
|22nd Jan 2018, 2:09 PM||#84|
Nice pics as always! Orion is sooo handsome in pic number 6! He looks so calm and relaxed, contrary to his state of mind, which is really a mess right now.
|29th Jan 2018, 5:00 AM||Relationship Troubles #85|
Chapter 41: Relationship Troubles
One would think that if one had a whole extra day off from classes, that one would be spending it having fun. Alarie was not having fun. She was miserable.
The previous evening had gotten off to a good start when she was reunited with Rafael. Illyana, who had been moping around since her break-up was even having a good time with a new guy, so how could Alarie not encourage a hook up for her friend?
Rafael could think of a few reasons, and as soon as they were alone together he had expressed his vast disapproval with them leaving Illyana with none other than Marshall Cosgrove. He argued that Marshall was an asshole and his attentions were always bad news. Alarie insisted Rafael was being dramatic. They fought. She eventually decided not to spend the night like she had originally intended to and waited for Illyana to return.
However, Illyana did not and that was when she began to worry. She ended up taking a taxi to her parents’ house. Her father worked in law enforcement and she wanted him near in case Illyana didn’t turn up safe and sound.
Even fifty-eight texts later, Illyana still hadn’t answered, but Alarie was surprised to find that Raphael did swallow his anger at her and reach out.
Rafael: Marshall came back
Me: Illyana w/ him?!?
Rafael: No :/
Me: WHERE IS SHE???
Rafael put her through a grueling ten-minute wait before responding.
Rafael: He says she left the bar with Nick Calhoun. Nick is a good guy though, so I wouldn’t worry
It took Alarie a moment to remember that ‘Nick Calhoun’ was the same person they all knew as Nick Hart. Alarie raised an eyebrow at Rafael’s statement. The Nick she had known was always somewhat selfish and egotistical. She highly doubted they had hooked up but couldn’t help but to wonder. In any case, she knew Illyana could handle Nick—they had been friends long before the Thackery family moved to Isla Del Kashmire.
But Alarie’s worry had spiraled into frustration by the time morning came around; Illyana still hadn’t texted her back and her calls kept only going to voicemail. She didn’t know Nick’s number but if she had, she would have called him and demand he put her friend on the line just to confirm she was okay.
So here she was, on her day off from classes—alone, frustrated, and staring at her lump of a brother who was sleeping in the middle of the living room right where she had left him two mornings ago when she had left to go to Pandora.
“Antoine, you are a fool,” she blurted.
Her elder brother stirred and opened his eyes to see her looming above him from behind one of the sofas with a cup of coffee in hand, clenching the handle.
“Wha…?” he blinked tiredly with confusion.
“You could have slept in our old room last night. There was an extra bed. Why are you still bumming in the living room?”
Antoine made a few grumbles and mumbles, stretching his arms over his head, seeming annoyed that she had woken him up asking questions and now was making sensible points. Alarie should just mind her own damn business for once. He soon halted his stretching, propped himself up on his elbows, and put his full attention on her.
“What’s with your hair?”
Alarie’s frown deepend. She didn’t appreciate how he avoided her question and then made it sound like her hair was weird. It was rather voluminous at the moment.
“Leona doesn’t mess around when it comes to braids, and I just took them out this morning. But stop deflecting—why are you still sleeping in the living room?”
She shouldn’t have mentioned Leona’s name because her brother’s face lit up and it nearly broke her heart because he didn’t know what Leona had done. Alarie made a movement to leave the room, “Fine if you don’t have a reason, I’m just assuming you forgot we had an extra bed. You need to come home more often before you forget everything.”
“No, I remembered but it’s just I thought Alanna would be staying over again so assumed the room was full. Did Leona come back with you?”
Alarie froze in her steps. She should have just kept on walking and pretended not to hear the note of eagerness in his voice. She took a sip of her coffee and then sighed.
“No, she’s not here. She got an offer to tour with Edric King while we were in Pandora and took it.”
“How long will that be for? She said she would come look at apartments with me this week. I have a few today scheduled,” Antoine frowned slightly at the news. She didn’t know so just shrugged to show it.
“I wouldn’t keep waiting around for her, Antoine. She’s always going to pick her career over you and do anything she needs to get famous,” Alarie advised sadly.
“Why would you say that? You’re the one that told me she would even be here in the first place!” He sat up fully, bringing his knees under himself to sit on them and stared hard at her for an explanation for her change in heart. She had been nearly as giddy as he was to have them to be in the same place at the same time in over a year.
Alarie felt like a horrible sister, and maybe she just was for getting his hopes so high only to crush them. She had wanted her brother and friend to be together—they had always seemed like a perfect match but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be, not after Leona had spent the night with Edric King.
“I’m sorry,” was all she could say and did leave the room that time. Her words left Antoine staring after her with an expression of bewildered sadness but a growing inkling of what she meant by her apology.
Alanna, on the other hand wasn’t necessarily miserable but was restless, unfocused, and had been ever since she had left Franz’s room at the community college. She knew Alarie wouldn’t be one to give her sound advice, and in all actuality would make fun of her if she brought up her feelings for Franz but she needed to talk to someone about her sudden burst of desires and get advice about it. So she called her brother.
“Hey ‘Lanna, what’s up?” he said when he answered. She could hear a faint echoing so figured he had her on speakerphone; she heard a car honk. He was driving.
“Oh, I wanted to see if you had time to talk about something…” she said and the connection crackled with static or some other interference before she could hear clearly again.
“Hey! So I’m on my way to Memosa Bay to look at apartments. I just drove through the tunnel under the river so it cut you off.”
“Oh, that’s exciting! I didn’t know you were moving,” Alanna replied cheerily though her issue at hand was still very distracting and gnawing at her to voice it to someone.
“Yeah. Hey, did you want to come with me? I could use a second opinion and you’re the smartest person I know,” he offered and it made Alanna smile. “After me, of course.”
He just had to go ruin the nice moment with his brotherly teasing. She rolled her eyes and thought about it. It wouldn’t be so bad to hang out with Antoine for a bit. It had been a long while since she spent quality time with her elder brother and besides, she couldn’t focus on studying at the moment. Maybe an opportunity would present itself during his apartment hunt where she could bring it up to him!
“Sure. I’ll tag along!”
Antoine picked her up from her dormitory at the SSU campus and they proceeded north to Memosa Bay. He talked about his work, his reasons for moving, his experiences from the different places he had traveled and Alanna listened politely with great interest the entire ride, but the thoughts of Franz were still nagging at the brim of her consciousness.
They pulled in front of a three-story apartment building on the east side of the city, it was a few blocks from the heart of the downtown. Antoine had a rental car paid for by his company; he didn’t need his own car since he was always travelling and the buses were a decent option to get around otherwise. Alarie and Alanna even still relied on the bus lines.
“What’s your first impression?” Antoine asked putting his hands on his hips and craned his head back to take the view of it in.
“I think it looks nice,” Alanna replied.
“You think everything is nice.”
She stopped and gave him an annoyed look. Why did everyone always accuse her of that? True, it was easy for her to find the good or beauty in things but it was incorrect to say she thought everything was 'nice.’
They met with the apartment’s manager—an older woman who was very chipper and welcoming on behalf of hoping to rent out to Antoine. She showed them into one of the ground floor units.
“This one is the only available apartment at the moment. It’s one bedroom, one bath,” she explained as Alanna and Antoine looked around the main room in consideration. To Alanna, it was adequate, though she felt it was bit small for Antoine. He always needed room for tinkering with robotic parts and other electronic items, and this place looked like it lacked room for that necessity.
“Does the unit have laundry?”
“Unfortunately, no—we do not have washers and dryers to rent per unit but there is a common area on the second floor that has these facilities,” the manager stated.
Antoine nodded in understanding and rubbed his hands together, turning to Alanna, “Should we go take a look?”
Alanna didn’t see why they needed to but agreed. The manager made a move to lead them to the area but Antoine insisted they could go alone to see the laundry area. She seemed a bit put-off but allowed them to go without her.
They climbed a spiral staircase to the laundry area but it was pretty small too—two sets of shiny green washers and dryers stacked upon each other and then a table in the corner to fold clothes on. It looked like one of the apartment’s residents had left a basket of laundry sitting underneath but was no where in sight.
“What?” Alanna asked her brother because it was clear to her he wanted to get her alone to discuss something without the manager hearing.
“I think it’s too small,” he blurted her very thought on the matter.
“Okay, then tell her you were looking for something with more space and thank her for her time,” Alanna instructed, unsure of what his internal dilemma was exactly. “Besides, don’t you spend most weeks travelling for your job? It’s not like you will actually live in your apartment a majority of the time.”
He twisted his lips into an unsure expression, “Well I think I may getting promoted after I’m done with my next demonstration tour.”
“Really!? That’s so exciting! So, does that mean you will be in Kashmire more often?” Alanna felt a surge of happiness at the news. She had missed Antoine while he was away for his job. Not that she had much free time either with school but she did go to her parents’ nearly every weekend and it would be nice to have family dinners like Franz did with his sister and mother.
“I’m pretty sure I will be. This apartment is a fifteen-minute walk from the headquarters and only five by bus.”
“Is being cramped up in a small apartment worth the reduced commute?” Alanna wondered. She wouldn’t think so, personally, but the reality was that she did. She made do in her small dorm room that she shared with another girl. It saved money and it was nearly a five-minute walk to all her classes which was extremely helpful if she accidentally slept past her alarm.
Antoine didn’t answer right away, seeming to weigh the question in his mind, “I guess I’d rather have more space, just in case…” he cut himself off; the rest of his thought was not spoken.
“Well, what other apartments are you looking at today?” Alanna asked, to urge him back on track, though still curious to what he was going to say about wanting more room.
“There’s a duplex further west I was supposed to check out,” he answered.
That sounded like a lot more space. Expensive too.
“I guess if you don’t want to give up on this place, you can just let the manager know you will call her if you decide to rent it,” Alanna suggested and Antoine seemed to think that was a decent way to leave it for now. Antoine wasn’t the most decisive person she knew. He fretted often in his teen years between decisions as minor as what to eat for breakfast. He had gotten a lot better though, and she supposed that just came with growing up.
The next place to check out was across town and right next to the largest park in Kashmire. It wasn’t the average manicured park they would usually spot in a city. It had a large swimming lake, many trees, and some hiking trails. It was beautiful, how the city of Memosa Bay could preserve such a piece of land in the middle of the bustling metropolis.
It was clear Antoine really liked this option—he clasped his hands together in approval at the sight of the building exterior. It looked roomy from the outside at least. Since they were not meeting anyone for a tour of the vacant duplex, Antoine found a key lock container and punched in a code so that the container would open and retrieve the key. He explained that he received the code from the owner when he called to inquire about the vacancy.
Alanna immediately liked this place more than the small apartment as well. The kitchen was nice and roomy, and there was a lofted area above that looked over the main room. She could imagine living in a place like this with Franz in the future…and he could bake all the chocolate chip cookies she could ask for…
She had to put the breaks on such a thought, realizing she was indeed daydreaming about living with Franz. That was a new development. It also made her realize the probable reason her brother wanted more room. Leona. Was he going to propose to her?
Promotion at work.
Being in Kashmire more often.
Bigger place to live.
It made sense to Alanna that was what would be going down soon and she prickled with intense joy for them. It didn’t escape her notice that Leona had lingered downstairs with her brother the other night.
“I like it a lot,” Alanna blurted her opinion.
“I do too,” Antoine smiled.
“I think Leona would as well.”
She thought that by mentioning Leona, that he would be happy to dish on his plans, which she assumed to be something romantic. He had always been so taken with Leona Hillenburg, ever since he was in high school. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t propose marriage right off—it was a well-known fact Leona’s father hated Antoine but she always thought Antoine and Leona were a good couple and, in all honesty, was a bit jealous.
However, her speaking Leona’s name didn’t send his face into an expression of joy but of forlorn sadness.
“What’s the matter?” she asked as he crossed his arms and turned away, “I thought you two made up the other night?”
“We did but…”
“I don’t know. It’s something Alarie said to me this morning.”
Alanna frowned. Alarie had a sharp tongue and often didn’t think before she spoke. She had learned to shrug off Alarie’s words years ago and not let them get to her.
Antoine gave a sigh, “She said I shouldn’t wait around for Leona because Leona is always going to choose her career over me.”
Alanna felt a prick of anger at Alarie for telling him such a thing and make him lose hope. Alarie was just being sour grapes and she got that way if she was having her own relationship problems. Alanna put a comforting hand on his shoulder, “Don’t listen to Alarie. She was probably just in a bad mood.”
He considered her words but then said quietly, “Leona is now touring with Edric King so it may be while before she’s back in town.”
That was shocking news to Alanna! She had heard of Edric King; some of the girls in her dorm had pictures of him in their rooms. From what she did know, he was as handsome as they came. Then she understood the other half of her brother’s worried sadness.
“Leona wouldn’t hook up with Edric King.”
“How can you be so sure? He’s a star! He has money, looks, and we all know Leona would do anything to achieve her singing dreams! I’m sure King has lots of connections,” Antoine all but bitterly exploded, stunning Alanna enough that she took a step back.
After a beat, Alanna’s brow plunged into a deep frown, “Leona is tenacious but she’s not going to sleep her way to fame. That’s not who she is. You wouldn’t love her if you actually believed that.”
He seemed to take in a few breaths to calm himself and nodded, “You’re right.”
He walked in circle, considering the room but not really looking at it. Wiped his hand over his mouth and in a fluid motion rubbed the back of his neck. He looked to his sister again and repeated, “You’re right. Thank you.”
“Not letting me doubt Leona. I should be thrilled for her…she is doing what she loves,” he actually smiled that time. Alanna gave a small smile and nod in reply. She was the best at bringing a good mood back to her family and friends, and maybe that’s why people always assumed she thought everything was nice too.
They climbed the stairs to the lofted area and saw there was a set of double doors that led out to a small balcony. Alanna unlocked them and emerged outside.
She made a squeal of delight all of a sudden as the sun broke from behind some clouds and revealed the amazing view this place had. There weren’t a lot of tall buildings in front of it like the first apartment, which allowed a sweeping glance across the city toward the skyscrapers that were further away. Because it was on the edge of the park, there were also an abundance of trees on the side, giving off the feeling one was living in a forest.
“Antoine, you gotta get this place! Look at this view!”
Anotine laughed, “I see it, I see it. It’s a bit over my budget…but…”
“But…if you get that promotion?”
“Yeah, I could rent here no problem,” he crossed his arms and grinned. Alanna flashed her teeth in a smile. She didn’t know why she was so excited, it wasn’t like she was moving into the place but her imagination wandered back to the scenario of her and Franz laughing and baking together in the large kitchen or sitting on this balcony and cuddling while looking at the sun setting behind the distant skyscrapers and high rises. It filled her with a warm, happy, melting feeling. Plumbobs, what was she? A slice of butter?
“What’s with that smile?”
“What?” Alanna’s daydream broke and she realized Antoine was regarding her with a puzzled grin.
“I don’t know, I just never seen someone look so happy about real estate.”
Alanna took a few steps back and propped herself up to sit on the edge of the balcony. It was a half wall, thick enough to hold her weight. The sunshine dimmed a bit, as did her smile because the fact was Franz didn’t know anything about what she felt. She didn’t even know if he would return the feelings. She didn't even know if she was brave enough to tell him...if this was, in fact, the real deal.
“How do you know if you are in love?”
Antoine’s brows rose to his hairline and he nearly choked out a surprised laugh, “Say what?”
“Love. How can you tell the difference between it and simple infatuation?”
Antoine took a seat next to her and studied her, “Why are you all of a sudden asking me this?”
Antoine was smart but he could be thick. Why else would she be asking him?
She swallowed the lump in her throat because she finally was about to tell someone, outloud, the feelings that had been growing inside of her. Franz occupied the majority of her thoughts, he was featured in all her day dreams, and it was exciting—wonderful—but terribly confusing because she’d never felt so strongly for a man before. She’d always been too practical to get involved with a serious romance, or rather, too inexperienced and frightened to start one. So she sighed.
“I think, I may be in love.”
|31st Jan 2018, 10:28 PM||#86|
So heartwarming chapter <3 can't wait to see her reaction when she meets Franz again. And the pics are amazing - as always. I think you should drop the 10 pics maximum, in each chapter, you should share more!
|1st Feb 2018, 1:51 PM||#87|
Just catching up ... please, please, please, keep that art student (first few pics in Chap 40) away from my house!
|4th Feb 2018, 7:41 AM||A Moment of Peace #88|
Chapter 42: A Moment of Peace
Orion couldn’t go back to Cain’s place after what he had witnessed. He figured it would be better to go back to the house and try to settle his thoughts at the fact that his main squeeze was a dealer. As soon as he saw Cypress’s car parked out back, her knew his friend was home, however Orion still felt an uneasy anger toward Cypress after hearing his song being played publicly on the radio and he knew Cypress would become silently judgmental if he learned that Orion was gone all night because he had stayed with Cain. He didn’t know why Cypress cared so much about Orion’s love life–it was Orion’s choice! It was the first time in a long time he’d been able to be with Cain and didn’t regret it.
He entered the house, grabbed the stair railing, and climbed the steps with a frown on his face until he got to the top.
That was odd, the door to his room was open…he could have sworn he had closed it when he’d left the night before. As he approached he stopped cold because he found Cypress sitting on his bed, his face resting on his fist and a look of complete and utter disappointment in his eyes as Orion came into his view.
It caught him off-guard but before he could defend himself, thinking the expression was because of Cain–he noticed a few of the empty Tranquilicis bottles were pulled out of his night stand and placed on top of it.
“What’s going on?” Orion asked, growing uneasier by the second.
“I could ask the same of you. Why do you have all these pills?”
“They help with my anxiety,” Orion told the truth and refrained from pointing out that technically, there were hardly any pills left from those bottles.
“Okay, but Tranquilicis isn’t something you get over the counter. It’s something a doctor has to write a prescription for. Do you have one?”
Orion wouldn’t outright lie to Cypress’s face, and besides Cypress had already probably found the scratched out name on the labels of the original prescription recipient. If he thought about it, he could have guessed Cain wasn’t doing things above board because Orion too, had found it odd the name was scratched out. He just didn’t question Cain because Cain was going out of his way to get Orion the meds.
“It doesn’t matter if I do or not, they help. That’s enough,” Orion grew terse and defensive.
“Are you sure you aren’t developing a dependency? This is a lot of empty bottles,” Cypress nodded to the side towards the bottles. He sounded like his mother.
Orion belted out a scornful laugh, “Yeah, like you have the ground to lecture me on becoming addicted to a substance.”
Cypress stood with frown and came closer, “Hey, we’re talking about something that’s technically illegal here. Besides, I won’t die from an overdose of nicotine.”
Orion rolled his eyes, annoyed that Cypress happened to conveniently forget all the other gross chemicals that caused health issues in cigarettes.
“I’m doing fine. You don’t have to worry about me,” Orion crossed his arms with growing frustration that Cypress was hassling him about it.
Cypress looked a bit hurt at Orion’s abrupt dismissal. But it was Orion who should have felt hurt. Cypress had stolen his music.
“So why do you look so miserable?”
“I heard my song on the radio,” he mumbled. It wasn’t the only thing that had made him miserable but it was the one thing that directly involved Cypress.
“Why would that make you miserable?”
“Because you stole it. You recorded it, aired it, and gave it to the station without even asking me permission. I wasn’t even done with it yet–it was a work in progress and now it’s in a final form as far as anyone listening is concerned.”
“You should be recognized, and since you’re not really playing live anymore how else is your music going to reach the masses? You should be thanking me for putting my neck out on the line for you!”
“I don’t want or need to be recognized for anything!”
“But you deserve it!”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t need anything like that – I have seen how recognition leads to fame that in turn results in an interrupted life. I am fine with just playing my music for my friends and maybe small audiences if I work up the nerve but I don’t want to be recognized for it—I just want people to enjoy it.”
“You can’t have it both ways. If you want people to enjoy it, you will have to be recognized. People don’t just listen to music in a vacuum and not want to know where it came from or who sang it, especially if they want more.”
Orion just looked at the floor, not believing he was having this argument with Cypress. They never argued.
“Besides, it was just a song about Cain, it’s not like it’s going to be your biggest hit,” Cypress couldn’t help but to seem to snark.
“Fuck off,” Orion blurted angrily. He grabbed his acoustic guitar case from the corner of his room with a rare, heightened temper and left. He stomped down the stairs while Cypress chased after him asking what his problem was and for once in his life Cypress was the problem. Orion knew he had to remove himself before he’d say anything else he’d regret.
What would Orion do without an instrument? Without a way to make music? His prickled nerves smoothed over gradually as he strummed out some of his favorite melodies from where he sat on the park bench before surrendering to whatever music formed as an idea in his head and came out in between the strings. It was still a brisk temperature outside, now slightly breezy and the leaves were starting to turn bright oranges and golds. He had to stop thinking about the feeling of betrayal. Cypress had been so rash and judgmental–about Tranquilicis, and Cain–but if he would stop and open his eyes he would realize that Orion didn’t write that song about Cain.
He wrote it to communicate his heartbreak over Cypress.
Cypress was the catalyst that made Orion realize he was attracted to men in the first place. He had been ambivalent to dating and romance in general, probably an attitude he picked up from Cypress’s asexual tendancies, but after that fateful day when he was sixteen and found Cypress’s hand in his, something just clicked inside him. It felt right.
Cypress had made it clear he couldn’t be anything more than just Orion’s best friend and Orion would rather die than lose such a cherished relationship but a part of him still loved and longed for Cypress in ways Cypress wasn’t able to give to him. Maybe that’s why he tolerated such abhorrent behavior from Cain because as long as he had someone else to give his love to, he could suppress his desires toward his best friend.
So, being with Cain helped Orion in more ways than Cypress knew.
Cypress also didn’t understand how much Tranquilicis had been helping Orion manage his anxiety. It was hypocritical, for Cypress to chide Orion about the dangers of addiction when Cypress was smoking a pack of cigarettes a week.
Orion closed his eyes and played whatever melody popped into his head, inspired by natural beats he could hear and pluck from around him—from the sounds of the city to the rustling in the leaves. This garden was a calming place, a place of refuge for artists who wanted to paint or play music. Orion had come here a few times with Nick perform for tips but that wasn’t his reason for being here now. He did it for the pure enjoyment of creation and solace. His poor brain needed a break.
His melody must have attracted a dog, for one trotted up and looked at him expectantly. A fluffy, black-furred animal that looked to be a somewhat exotic breed.
“Hi there,” Orion said, though the animal didn’t understand him. Orion felt himself smile and slapped the surface of his guitar to make a purposeful rhythm as he played and the dog sat promptly, seeming to enjoy the change by evidence of its wagging tail.
Orion couldn’t resist the dog’s fluffiness any longer. He sat his guitar on the bench and knelt down to pet it. It seemed fond of having its head rubbed right between the ears. He’d always wanted a dog but his father and sister were allergic to animal hair so all they had were birds in his family for pets.
“Sebastian!” the dog perked up at a call and Orion glanced up to see a man in a long, expensive-looking gray jacket smiling from down the path. The man said “come” in Takemizese and the dog stood and cantered over to its master.
“I’m sorry, but was he bothering you?” The man asked Orion in Simlish but there was no need. Orion was actually fluent in the first language.
“Not at all,” Orion answered in Takemizese and stood, “I ponder if he might be an admirer of music.”
His comment made the man laugh in delighted surprise and he continued to speak in his native tongue, “Sebastian has particular tastes, though I never knew he was partial to music. What name do you play under? Am I able to buy him an album to listen to?”
It was Orion’s turn to laugh, not sure if the man were joking or not, but couldn't help but to be reminded of Cypress's argument that people would want more of his music and therefore Orion must be recognized for it, “I have not created any albums yet, but if and when I do you could find it under Orion Loche.”
“I should not keep you from your playing Mister Loche; thank you for indulging my dog though,” the man inclined his head and said to the hound, “Follow.”
Orion picked up his guitar and started strumming it again, “I could indulge him to a greater capacity if that is acceptable to you; I have never had an animal as an admirer before.”
“I would be delighted if you would accompany us around the gardens,” the man smiled, “Sebastian would be too.”
It was only proven so as the dog began to wag his tail again with exuberance and sniff around Orion’s shoes.
Orion realized he was being rude and hadn’t asked the man his name, “Many apologies, but what is your name? I should have asked during our introduction.”
“It is no worry; I am called Yuzan Bao,” the man replied with a smile and then made a slight eye-roll paired with a chuckle, “Though we can continue our conversation in Simlish—I find my native language to be full of burdensome formality.”
“Fair enough,” Orion agreed with a grin and made the lingual switch.
“It’s not common to find a Kashmiri who can speak fluent Takemizese. Where did you learn?” Yuzan asked with amusement.
Orion plucked his guitar strings absent-mindedly as he explained, “I lived there when I was a child.”
“Really? Which area?”
“Takemizu Village. My parents had a home there. They were big into the Blue Jasmine Music Festival—did all sorts of shows for it so decided to just live there year-round and perform across the region for many years.” He smiled remembering his youth. Takemizu Village was a small town nestled between the mountains and so when his parents played their instruments outside, the sound carried back and forth across the valley. It was pure ambrosia for the ears.
“We moved back here when I was nine. So I had a lot of time to learn the language and I kinda had to because of school.”
Yuzan made an exasperated face of sympathy, “Unlucky, schools there are so rigid. I hated the drilling—and the punishments for getting out of line.”
“I know right!?” Orion agreed, remembering how he was commanded to recite a poem from his readings and he stuttered the words, being too nervous to do it front of the class and then the teacher hit his knuckles with a yard stick for his bad etiquette. He momentarily stopped playing his guitar and flexed them, the memory triggering a ghosting sensation of pain.
That experience was probably one of the reasons he got so anxious to perform in front of people and why he was so anxious about the possibility of screwing up. This man was the first person he’d ever talked to who even could understand and related to Orion’s experience with Takemizu schooling.
Sebastian made a loud woof to remind Orion that the music had stopped. Yuzan frowned and snapped out “Rude” in Takemizese and Sebastian lowered himself onto his belly and turned over so it was exposed to Orion.
“He is apologizing,” Yuzan explained in Simlish, “If you give him a belly rub then he knows you have forgiven him.”
“Wow, you’ve trained your dog very well,” Orion mused handing over his guitar for Yuzan to hold while he knelt down to pat Sebastion on his belly. The canine immediately stuck out his tongue and started wagging his tail happily.
“It takes a lot of practice and discipline,” Yuzan replied, returning the guitar and then made an upward motion with his hand. Sebastian returned setting onto all four paws. Yuzan reached into a pocket of his long coat and withdrew a baggie of dog treats, opened it, and tossed one at the dog who caught it mid-air in one bite.
“You seem to have plenty of it,” Orion smiled. Yuzan regarded him with a raised brow and it made Orion blush a bit. Here he was, passing judgement on someone he’d just met and he felt like he was in second grade again while stumbling over his words, “What I meant is…that you look so…world class and formal and I thought…”
Orion clamped his upper lip over his bottom one and decided to play more of his guitar medley instead.
Yuzan started laughing aloud at Orion’s blunder, but it wasn’t one of ridicule—just abject amusement.
“I assure you I am not as formal as I appear—I suppose by Kashmiri standards it could be seen that way but in fact, any Takemiseze citizen would claim I’m not formal enough. It’s my curse in life.”
“Not the worst curse to have, all things considered,” Orion noted. He was thinking of his own curse, to forever be burdened by anxiety. Thank Plumbobs for that Tranqilicis and music. They were the only two things to seem to work for him anymore. Both men passed a under an arched trellis that had ivy and white flowers climbing it; where the petals were in the midst of falling off the vines and covered the path. Sebastian kept pace next to Orion, looking upward and almost seemed to be grinning with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.
They passed a garden wall in front of a fountain and Orion took a lean against it and closed his eyes. He felt a slight thump next to him and opened one eye to see that Yuzan had joined him–his back against the wall and with his hands stuffed inside his pockets. Sebastian sat patiently in front of them though made no more barks of protest but only because Orion was still playing his music.
Orion shut his eyes again and continued, feeling a deep sense of peace playing in the gardens on this autumn day, it was in such contrast to how he felt coming into the place earlier and the turmoil he had been through since he’d woken up. He picked up the tempo of his song. The song wasn’t really a song, just a winding, improvised string of musical notes. He wouldn’t remember it all enough to write it down. It was like a wild animal that couldn’t be caught and tamed—never to be replicated again. Yuzan and Sebastian had the privilege to listen to it and ever know it even existed.
Eventually, Orion checked the time and realized he been out far longer than he had anticipated. He walked back to his guitar case and set it inside despite the heartbreaking whimpering noises Sebastian was making as he walked away.
“I’m sorry but have to go,” he said as he clicked the case closed and pulled it over his shoulder, “It was a pleasure playing music for you and your dog.”
“Do you come to these gardens often?” Yuzan wondered, following after Orion as he made his way to the garden exit.
“I come every once and awhile,” Orion shrugged and admitted.
“I visited it for the first time this weekend and I think I have found it’s my favorite public spot in the city.”
“Why is that?” Orion slowed his pace and Yuzan passed him, turning around and began to walk backward so they could continue to converse face-to-face.
“The flowers,” Yuzan waved his hand out with a grin, gesturing at the blooms around them that were slowly wilting with incoming colder weather. First frost had yet to occur but they were hanging onto life.
“What’s left of them at least.”
Yuzan nodded, his smile fading at that fact, “Do you have a favorite?”
“Oh, the blue ones for sure,” Orion smiled in remembrance as he kept walking forward, “They remind me of Takemizu. We had tons of them outside our house growing in giant bushes. My mother refused to have them trimmed so they ended up taking over our front entrance.”
He noticed Zan had visibly straightened himself and his grin was ever broader, “I have them growing in abundance inside my home here in Memosa Bay where they will never wilt—you should come see them if you miss them once winter comes.”
Orion stopped walking, unsure what to make of Yuzan’s offer. He usually wasn’t this talkative or open with strangers but he felt an agreeable yet uncanny connection with the Takimizese man. He finally nodded, “I’d like that.”
“To be my friend?”
He was so forward about it. Orion could understand however, why the question was asked in such a way. In Takemizese culture it was considered rude or even cowardly to be anything but straightforward with someone.
Orion had never just been asked directly to be anyone’s friend before. In his experience it was a gradual occurrence. He hesitated ever so slightly to think on it. Yuzan looked to be a few years older than himself though dressed more expensive and sensible than a college student would be. Perhaps he was already graduated with an office job somewhere in the city? Orion hardly knew anything about the man except he was from Takemizu, liked dogs and flowers.
“It is, after all, hard to make new friends when you move so far away from home,” Yuzan lamented, taking advantage of Orion’s pause and plucked a leaf that looked about to fall from a small hedge. Orion agreed. He’d had to start all over when he moved back to Kashmire. Luckily for Orion, on his first day of school in Kashmire, a boy name Cypress Wellington was tapping out the beats to a rock ‘n roll song on his desk that Orion recognized from his father’s album collection and it prompted Orion to ask him about it. That led to conversations about music, instruments, and the best friendship they had ever known. He remembered those times with Cypress fondly and had to forgive his friend for earlier because he realized there wasn’t a deceiving bone in Cypress’s body, and he really was trying to look out for Orion’s best interests. It seemed this man was looking for something similar.
Yuzan still was waiting for an answer. He seemed so hopeful. Orion could understand the struggle at being a newcomer to the region and it wasn’t pity but understanding that made him nod in sudden earnest and stick his hand out, “Yeah, I’ll be your friend.”
Genuine happiness erupted across Yuzan’s features and he took Orion’s hand in his to give it a cordial shake, “Call me Zan.”
|5th Feb 2018, 6:24 PM||#89|
Where can I get a dog like Sebastian? He is lovely <3 Just like Zan. Don't they say that a dog resembles their owner? And a reply to your reply. You could keep tumblr with 10 pics per post and if you have more nice pictures for a chapter, you could upload them in the MTS version of the chapters. Unless it is time consuming for you, of course
|11th Feb 2018, 6:26 AM||The Art of Friendship #90|
Chapter 43: The Art of Friendship
One thing Nick had never cared for involving Illyana was the old, beat up, red Jeep she drove. It was an accident waiting to happen and he was amazed it still was running after all these years. He often saw it sitting in Illyana’s yard when he was a kid, and he assumed it was always just junk. Imagine his surprise when she got her driver’s license and was tearing around Isla Del Kashmire in it.
She just never could let it go because it used to belong to her father, who had passed away shortly after she was born. It was the one last thing that connected her to him; Nick really didn’t understand her need to keep it because he actually knew his father and it wasn’t all it was cut out to be. It was horrible of him to think it, but Illyana was lucky she didn’t know hers.
“Watch it!” he shouted as she barely made it past a yellow light. The seat belt didn’t work either, so he folded his arms across his chest to feel more secure.
She didn’t acknowledge his worry, but pulled up in front of the Metro Museum of Modern Art in Memosa Bay with a abrupt slam to the breaks and cheerily announced, “We’re here!”
She had insisted that he let her do something for him in thanks for taking care of her the previous night. He maintained the opinion it was what any decent person would have done but he missed Illyana’s company so agreed to join her that afternoon after she returned freshly showered and ready to roll.
He’d never actually been to the art museum, despite his interest in subject. It was built when he was in junior high; his parents never took him and he was too busy trying to be a rock star to remember to visit on his own in high school.
“So what are we doing here?” he asked, nearly kicking open the passenger door and exiting as fast as possible.
“We are going to look at the art exhibits and then I am buying you lunch.”
“So how is this not a date?” Nick wondered out loud as they walked inside. To the left was a gallery and he could see some promising paintings hanging on the bare white walls.
“It’s not romantic,” Illyana rolled her eyes and continued to toward the gallery.
“Anything can be romantic,” he argued, catching her swinging hand in his and interlaced their fingers, “See? I’m holding your hand. That’s romantic.”
She swiveled around and took it back quickly with red-hued cheeks, “I swear you flirt with anything that has a heartbeat.”
“You know, you make the cutest face when you’re trying not to blush,” he tilted his head and studied her while smirking. She just pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows to prove her point before marching ahead without a backward glance. He followed her into the gallery and she stopped abruptly. She didn’t move for a moment, as if she had been frozen in place, but then she turned around–her lively eyes were round with excitement. It nearly took his breath away.
She drew closer with a smile spreading across her face, “You should do an art show!”
“Excuse me?” he choked out in surprise.
“I’ve seen your paintings and they are amazing! You could do an exhibition…like have the coffee shop display them or…” she was winding herself up in excitement and seemed to have ideas come to her faster than she could say. She snapped her fingers with a sudden clarity, “You should hang them at the Harvest Gala!”
“The Gala?” he repeated and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
The Harvest Gala was a yearly autumn exhibition in the city hall that doubled as a major schmooze-fest for Kashmire’s elite citizens.
“Yes, since your father rubs elbows all the time with city officials, I don’t see why you couldn’t use the Gala as an opportunity to show your art.”
“Okay there’s a lot wrong with your idea,” Nick replied, his expression was less amused than before, and Illyana opened her mouth to retort but he held up a finger and didn’t let her interrupt. “One – my dad hates my art and would never use his power to allow me to embarrass him at a city event with something like an art show. Two – do you realize how bizarre it would be for a pre-law student to have an art exhibit?”
“What if you got your mom to convince him?”
His mother was more apt to entertain the idea, that was for sure. She didn’t fully approve of his art school idea either but she at least hung his drawings on the refrigerator when he was a kid before his father took them down. “That’s a big what-if.”
“Also who cares if you’d be a pre-law student with an art show? It shows you’re well rounded and you have outside hobbies not related to…defending criminals, cross-examining, a witness stand…or objections.”
Nick smirked, “Are you just naming off things you know about lawyers from watching television?”
Illyana frowned but didn’t confirm or deny that was the case.
Nick openly laughed, “You crack me up.”
She didn’t seem to appreciate being laughed at so cleared her throat and tried again, “It’s a good idea. The only reason you don’t want to do it is because I thought of it first.” She had the audacity to stick out her tongue afterward which was reminiscent of how she ended all her arguments with him when she was a little girl.
“Fine. I’ll ask about it,” Nick acquiesced to Illyana’s delight. It resulted in her breathtaking smile returning to her face.
“Come on, there’s more art and stuff to see,” she held out her hand and raised her brows as if to say ‘well what are you waiting for?’
He took it with a bit of apprehension since she, not just a few moments before, had been displeased about him holding her hand. She was right, though, it wasn’t romantic. It was the way she would hold his hand when they were kids when she tried to take him somewhere and didn’t think he would keep up with her pace–a hard grip and vicious tug to pull him along. Illyana didn’t know her own strength and no one would suspect it from her lithe build when she wasn’t flexing.
She led him across the art museum, stopping in front of large canvases to ask him what he thought. It was kind of obvious that Illyana didn’t really know much or have a great enthusiasm about art; and Nick had to explain negative space and contrast to her at one point when they appraised a series of paintings. He found he was appreciative, though, that she would take him there when she didn’t have much of an interest in it herself.
They sat on a museum bench in front of a large, abstract but colorful painting to rest their feet after trouncing through exhibit after exhibit. He felt hunger grumble in his gut. It was probably about time for that lunch.
Illyana’s dark, expressive eyes were searching across the large canvas adorned with streaks that looked almost as if they were melting. It was in contrast with the sleepy, nearly uninterested expression he had observed on her when looking at the previous works. Nick watched her as she studied it and found himself losing thoughts of food very quickly. He could feel his heart positively thumping against his rib cage as he watched her consider the brush strokes and the color palette, taking it in and finding a new appreciation for it all, evident by the grin subconsciously pulling at the corners of her lips.
He’d been attracted to many women in his life, but never the sense of pure adoration that he felt toward Illyana in that moment.
“Hey Illyana?” he asked, scooting a bit nearer.
“Hey, whoa…what?” she turned and was slightly alarmed by his sudden close proximity.
“What do you think of me?”
She didn’t seem to understand what he was asking. Her brows knotted together to try and figure out what he wanted to hear. Honestly, he wanted her to confirm that he wasn’t conceited or immature, that he wasn’t a bad person, and he hoped she would want to know him again. He could count on Illyana to always tell him the truth; she had a history of not holding back with him.
He already knew he wasn’t her type but he could at least try to be better. If she saw him as a better person then he’d feel like he was worthy of her friendship and this wasn’t just them hanging out because she felt like she owed him; because if it was, then they’d just drift away again after they left the museum and he couldn’t abide it; he couldn’t let her slip away yet again.
“Um…” She said just to fill the silence as she studied his earnest expression, “In what context?”
“As a person.”
She seemed relieved, and uncrossed her legs “Oh, well you’re pretty decent.”
He couldn’t mask his disappointment at her assessment.
“We don’t really know each other anymore, Nick, I’m probably not the best person to ask,” she said after seeing his downcast expression. He knew it shouldn’t affect him so much but he felt very disheartened to hear those words of truth.
“I want to know you again,” he quietly admitted and hoped she could feel the same.
A moment of silence passed between them before he heard her say, “Well, I got a few tattoos since the last time we hung out.”
“I saw the dragonfly one,” he replied with the start of a smile, “But I thought butterflies were your favorite?"
He recalled her hobby of catching butterflies and stacking the jars in a row in her bedroom that she took care of until she freed them or they died. She got so upset when they did that.
"It has butterfly wings. I wanted it to be special because everyone has a butterfly tattoo nowadays,” she said, lifting her shirt up slightly and pointing to her waist so he could see.
“I don’t have one,” he laughed, more at the fact Illyana was still marching to the beat of her own drum, even when it came to tattoo choice. She’d never been one to follow the crowd, and in some respect, he had always admired her for it.
“But you do have an eyebrow piercing, what’s up with that? I’m surprised your dad allowed it,” she nodded toward his left brow where the small silver piece hung. He touched it, feeling the cold metal sphere. He often forgot it was there.
“I got this right after graduation before I was supposed to intern at a law office in Scandalica City. Man, dad was super pissed and I thought maybe it would prevent him from making me go but I ended up being the most rock ’n roll assistant to a paralegal that summer.”
Illyana started laughing then, and he smiled in return. They were learning about each other, catching up on lost time–hopefully on a path to become friends again.
“So, what’s something you’ve done in college that I’d be shocked to hear?”
He wondered what brought her question on and had to think; if she had considered him an arrogant jerk then something non-self-serving would probably shock her.
“I left my fraternity because I found out they were drugging drinks at parties, much like the way yours was drugged the other night. My dad stopped paying tuition, even when I told him the reason.”
He realized then, this fact was something he hadn’t even explained to his room mates yet, but it worked–llyana looked shocked, then her face fell into a glower at nothing in particular, “Your father was always such a winner.”
He had to grin at her acid sarcasm. His father was never very inviting toward Illyana, unlike Grams who insisted she could stay over as long as she liked after school and gave her as many cookies as she wanted.
“I hope he doesn’t win the election,” Nick admitted quietly, and then looked to Illyana—she was still glowering outwardly at the painting but it was not the painting’s fault, and she didn’t seem to hear Nick’s added comment. “What about you? Any shocking developments?”
She seemed struck for a moment, as if she didn’t expect him to ask her the same question but how could she not? She filled her cheeks with air and let out a long breath. Then another. Finally a third. He was about to tell her that she didn’t have to tell him anything if it was such an internal dilemma but she beat him to speaking.
“I had a boyfriend for three years and then he cheated on me.”
The statement came as a rush of an exhale but he could hear the pain in her voice and it took him a moment to process that string of words and understand them. He’d never been in a situation like that, in fact he was impressed and maybe was a bit shocked that she had held down a relationship for so long with her short temper. He never had long-lived relationships; never felt the need to have them in college, or rather, had never met anyone that would give him the idea it would be worth it.
Then he knew without a doubt that the reason why she rejected him, why this could never be a date, wasn’t because he ‘wasn’t her type.’
It was because her heart was broken. It was like Trent Ziegler all over again. Except this guy, whoever he was, didn’t just throw away her Valentine; He threw away something far more precious.
Nick reached out and set his hand over hers where it rested on the bench surface. She didn’t flinch nor make a move to remove her hand either. For once, he wasn’t flirting her—it was time for him to prove that he was a better person; a better friend.
“I’m sorry Ill,” Nick said, truly. He hated to see her hurting. He hated to think that a person existed who could be lucky enough to have Illyana’s love and then throw it away like that. He couldn’t help adding, “The jerk didn’t deserve you.”
“Sorry to ruin your outing,” she mumbled, seeing his downcast face, as her voice caught on her emotion and it cracked. She pulled her hand out from under his and hid her face behind it, and her body went stiff as if she’d rather be one of the statues outside in the sculpture garden.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” he assured and found that she was crying again–seeing that a tear must have rolled down her cheek to drip of her chin. It was so…weird…witnessing her in this vulnerable state when she’d always seemed to wear an armor made of anger to cover it up before. She had changed more than he realized. They both had.
He used to think that removing himself from her life would lessen her pain but now knew it had been the wrong thing to do. He should have stuck it out and kept trying.
She allowed him to pull her into a hug so she could hide her face better in the folds of his shirt. He was thankful he’d done laundry that morning after she’d left and was wearing something clean for her put all her sniffles into now. Her body shuddered in a silent, despairing sob and then relaxed a tiny fraction as he tightened his embrace, “Just know that I’m here for you this time.”
|11th Feb 2018, 12:12 PM||#91|
Nice chapter <3 I am a person that values true friendship more than true romance. The best is when those two are combined, I think The bonus material was very nice and artistic, my favorite was Alanna with Franz <3