“Morning, Liz! How come you’re wearing those ugly clothes again?” Vincent snickered. Elizabeth, who had just finished off a granola bar, stopped and stared at the atrocity on her doorstep.
“WHAT,” she gasped. “Are you doing at my house?!”
“I’m walking you to school!”
She stood stock still. Vincent smelled the impending danger.
“Before you kill me, I just want you to know that I came to pick you up today because I wanted to ask you-”
“What’s wrong, Lizzy?” a voice came from inside the house. The door creaked open, and James waltzed right out with a backpack slung over his shoulder. The two boys stared.
“You!” James glared. “You’re that guy who lost it yesterday at Elizabeth’s festival!”
“Why is he at your house?!” Vincent asked Elizabeth impassively.
“Oh?” Elizabeth tilted her head. “I didn’t tell you? This guy’s my-”
“B- o- y- f- r- i- e- n- d-,” James spelled out with a smirk, swinging both arms around her waist and giving her a tight bear hug.
“I told you; relax!” Elizabeth huffed. It was self study time and Vincent was killing her with a tirade of questions.
“How can I relax when this guy is your lover?!” Vincent scowled. He fidgeted in the hard chair of the library, glaring at James who was kicking a soccer ball across the field in his PE class.
“Like I said, he’s NOT my lover.”
“Are you joking?! He spent the night over at your house and he’s your childhood friend! You let him call you Lizzy, though I’m not allowed to call you Liz.”
“You do anyway,” she grumbled.
“That’s not the point!” Vincent slammed his hands on the desk. “What is he to you?”
Elizabeth looked at James down in the field. She sighed, and turned to stare at Vincent. “To me,” she said perfectly calmly, “he’s somebody I love, but not the way you think.”
“So what,” Vincent glared. “He’s like a best buddy to you?”
“Not exactly,” Elizabeth frowned, looking up at the ceiling in deep thought. “It’s hard to explain. I’ve never fallen for somebody before, but I know he’s not the one. He couldn’t be.”
“And why is that?” Unbelievable. Unacceptable. He’d lost to an idiot with a letter of the alphabet on the side of his face!
“Well, he’s my cousin,” Elizabeth smirked.
“Your-” Vincent choked, “cousin?”
“Why didn’t you just tell me earlier?!” he groaned, slumping in his chair.
Elizabeth looked around in suspicion. There weren’t a lot of kids in the library, but she couldn’t tell who was listening behind the bookshelves. “Come with me,” she growled. Elizabeth dragged him out of the library and down some stairs.
“Where are we going?”
“To the back to the school; but first,” she suddenly turned to look at him. “You have to swear that after I’m done explaining, you won’t mention our conversation to another soul. It didn’t happen.”
Vincent sighed. “Fine.”
Elizabeth walked to the back of the school, and after checking the area, she leaned tensely on the brick wall of the building.
“I,” she started, “had a dad at a point in time.”
Vincent raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.
“But he’s no relative of mine anymore,” she whispered. “James is a cousin of mine from my dad’s side. He moved away a while ago and-”
“Wait,” Vincent interrupted, putting his hands up. “Why is your dad no relative of yours anymore?”
“He,” she sighed impatiently, “left my mom and me for another woman named Stacy when I was around twelve. The guy took all our savings with him, leaving us in a state of poverty.
“Anyways, James and I used to be very close, like brother and sister. After my dad left, James’s mom, my aunt, followed her brother to Michigan and brought James with her. Mom and I found out that James was shipped here because he called Stacy a shameless- well, you get the idea.”
Elizabeth looked at Vincent’s shocked face expectantly. “What do you think?”
Vincent blinked a few times before finding his voice. “I don’t think you need to be pitied.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. That was unexpected.
“Look, I know I’m not supposed to say this in this kind of situation but… You see,” Vincent explained with an embarrassed mutter. “You know you’re poor, but it’s almost as if you’re glad that your dad left you guys. I think you’re relieved that you found out what kind of person he was. To be honest, that’s how I would feel.”
Elizabeth’s mouth quivered. Then, she threw her head back and laughed to the blue sky she felt was getting brighter by the second.
“You think so?” she snickered. Vincent rolled his eyes.
“You don’t have to laugh that hard,” he said sourly.
“But it’s funny! I never thought you were the deep and emotionally understanding type!”
He blinked. “I was right?”
“Pretty much,” Elizabeth laughed, wiping her eyes. Suddenly, the bell rang, its shrill voice reverberating throughout the school.
“Crap!” Elizabeth groaned. “Our stuff’s still in the library and we’ve only got three minutes to make it to Mechanics class!”
Vincent sprinted off to the library. “I’ll get your bag for you! Head over to the classroom already!”
Elizabeth hesitated, and then ran off to the technology building at full speed. He was going to be fine. Even if he turned up late, the guy ditched most of the time anyway.
Vincent ran around the corner and burst through the door. Looking around wildly at the empty library, he spotted their backpacks. Vincent grabbed them both and turned to leave the library when he slammed right into a tall guy in gym clothes. James.
“Oh, sorry,” he said reflexively without really meaning it.
“Wait. I need to talk to you about Lizzy.”
Vincent, already at the doors, stopped and turned around with a suspicious glare.
“I’m just her cousin, but-”
“I know. She told me everything.”
James blinked in surprise. “She told you about Stacy?”
“Well,” James sighed with a relieved smile. “That makes things a lot easier.”
“Makes what easier?”
“Like I said; I’m just her cousin, but you should know that I don’t love her like a friend.”
“I know; you love her like a sister,” Vincent replied stubbornly. “She feels the same.”
James chuckled and shook his head. “You know perfectly well what kind of love I’m talking about.”
“That’s just wrong,” Vincent growled in disgust.
“Is it? You’ve seen Lizzy can do to change a person. She’s smart, cute, radiant, and her smile makes you feel light headed,” James smirked. “You know how I got this?” he asked, pointing to his scar.
“My mom was a drunkard. She got up one day and carved it into my face with a penknife. And you know what Elizabeth did? She gave Mom one to match; on her brand new car.”
Vincent felt his mouth twitch upward, but forced himself to keep a straight face. James grinned. “That was when we were in elementary school. You know, Lizzy’s not very good at showing her feelings, but she’s the best person you’ll ever meet.
“I feel that if I can see her laugh from the bottom of her heart for the rest of her days, the world would be a gentler place. You feel the same, right?” he winked knowingly.
Vincent scowled. “As if.”
“What a childish kid.”
“Shut up,” Vincent retorted as he barged out of the library.
“You seemed depressed. What happened?” Elizabeth asked. Vincent had simply dropped into his seat and sullenly worked on his computer memory chip without a single word through class.
When it was over, he’d rushed right out of the technology building. It took ages for Elizabeth to find him, all alone on the rooftop, sitting against a wall and looking up at the clouds drifting by.
“I bumped into James.”
“Wonderful. I’m so glad you guys had a nice chat,” she smiled satirically as she leaned against the wall.
“Gross, more like it,” he muttered without looking at her.
Vincent growled and turned around to face Elizabeth very curtly, getting an eyeful of sun as he looked up at her. “James loves you.”
“I know,” she replied perfectly calmly.
“Not that way,” he waved impatiently.
“No, I think I which kind of love you’re talking about.”
“Look, he doesn’t see you as-”
“A sister or a friend,” Elizabeth finished gently for him. “He sees me as, well, a female.”
Vincent blinked a few times. Sighing, Elizabeth let her hair down so that it hung in a wavy brown cascade and squatted down next to him. She pulled slim fingers through it and massaged her scalp a bit. “I’ve known since yesterday night.”
“He confessed?!” Vincent choked.
“It was after dinner,” she said incredulously. “I couldn’t believe it at first, but it seems he was very serious.”
Vincent felt his heart stop. That meant… “You can’t accept it, Liz!” he said frantically. “He’s your cousin and-”
“I-di-ot!” she sang with a snicker. “I turned him down.”
“Oh,” he blinked. Their conversation plunged into silence.
“I was wondering,” Elizabeth said after a while, “do you want to go to the mall with me again after school?”
Vincent drew in a quick breath.
“We could bring James along, too. What do you say?”
So it wasn’t anything special. He would have to spend an entire evening watching James cuddle with Liz? Pass.
“Oh,” Elizabeth blinked. “Alright then. Sorry I mentioned it. I suppose it wasn’t my responsibility to ask in the first place. Go out with some friends tonight, okay?”
Without another word, she got up and left. Vincent fumed as he watched her walk away. How dense could a supernaturally gifted and talented prodigy be? He made up his mind. He’d get Liz to go with him to the mall; without James.
“Liz!” Vincent called Elizabeth’s distant figure. Elizabeth turned around with irritated eyes.
“Do not call me Liz.”
“About that thing I wanted to ask you this morning…”
Vincent realized how many people were staring as they walked out of school.
“Come with me.” He was about to drag her off when James walked over to them. “Hey Lizzy. Let’s go back to your house where this imbecile won’t be there.”
“Back off,” Vincent spat. “I need to talk to her.”
“But you don’t love her the way I do,” James smirked as he swung an arm around Elizabeth’s shoulder. She slapped it off with an embarrassed face. Oh, this guy was pushing it too far.
“ELIZABETH!” a woman with shiny black material over her face shouted a few meters away from her old mini van. “TAKE JAMES WITH YOU! IT’S URGENT!”
“Mom?!” Elizabeth gasped.
“Good-bye,” Elizabeth called over her shoulder as she and James raced to the car. Vincent watched as they got in and sped away. In the name of God, why was he ALWAYS interrupted?
Vincent saw neither Elizabeth nor James the next day. Where did the idiot run off to? What was so urgent? Elizabeth’s absence was forcing him to realize how boring life seemed when she wasn’t there.
Really, Vincent thought angrily to himself all day, did he honestly feel the same way James did? About her, the monster woman? Her, the shape-shifting demon? But was there another explanation for his obsession with this girl?
The following day, Elizabeth finally showed up during Trig, the same as ever.
“Where were you?” Vincent hissed.
“James’s mom called and demanded that he go back to Florida straight away yesterday. She sent a huge envelope of cash for a plane ticket and was throwing a huge fit since it hadn’t arrived here in a day.”
“I think she got her personality from my dad,” Elizabeth replied to the unspoken question. Vincent smothered a laugh; a little too late.
“You two!” the teacher snapped crossly. “Pay attention!”
“So James if gone for good?” Vincent asked cheerily as they strolled over to the library building.
“Until the next time Her Highness ships him off to beautiful NorCal, yes.”
“You miss him, don’t you?” he scowled.
“Yes,” she admitted. “But I’m also relieved he’s gone.”
“And why is that?”
“James didn’t show how hurt he was about being rejected,” she whispered as she kicked a loose pebble. “But that doesn’t mean he felt any better about it.”
Vincent rolled his eyes. Oh poor James. “It never would have worked out between the two of you anyway.”
“That’s what I told him. It’s not as if he wasn’t prepared. He said he knew it was strange, and he didn’t pressure me to accept or anything.”
“What did you want to ask me anyway?” Elizabeth asked curiously.
“Oh, uh… I’m not sure you want to hear it right now.”
“Of course I do!”
“No, really, you’re dense, but you’re not insensitive.”
“Dense?!” she protested, outraged at the fact she was being called stupid in any category of life.
“Yes,” Vincent said firmly. “Dense.”
Elizabeth charged off to the library, leaving Vincent to call after her in peals of laughter. He was relieved. Their relationship was stable once again. Today was going to be perfect for asking her.
The two bickered the whole time in Mechanics, earning a stern talking to from the teacher and a few jealous glares from both genders.
All the way until after school, Vincent still didn’t have time to ask her; until they got in another fight.
“I’m telling you!” Elizabeth stamped her foot, “Stop going out of your way to contradict me!”
“I’m not going out of my way; I seriously think that World War II was a war of greater magnitude than the Civil for the US!”
“Than you’re a bigger idiot than I thought.”
“Why do you have to insult everything people have to say?”
“Why to you have to be so stubborn instead of submitting to my superior mind?”
“Don’t answer my question with another.”
“Don’t stave off boredom by interjecting with solid facts!”
“Your opinion is not a fact!”
“It’s always a fact because I’m always right!”
Vincent was having the time of his life. Sparring with her was seriously amusing.
“Aha!” Elizabeth yelled, reading his face. “You think this argument is amusing!”
“So what?” he retorted, trying to conceal his surprise.
“So I was right about me being quick entertainment to you.”
“That’s not even possible,” he spat.
“And why is that?”
“If I only saw you as a plaything, then I would have fallen in love with you!”
A few of the witnesses fainted, while most girls gasped in shrill disappointment. Guys felt their eyes bulging out of their sockets and one person simply dropped his cup of coffee with a gaping mouth.
Elizabeth stared at Vincent, who realized he had just confessed in front of over twenty eye witnesses.
“You’re joking, right?” Elizabeth asked nervously after a while. Vincent took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and looked her in the eye.
Elizabeth couldn’t believe it. “When did you ‘fall in love with me’?” she made air quotes with her fingers.
“I’m not sure,” he confessed. “I was in the middle of it before I realized what was going on.”
She was speechless. This was ridiculous! She had always despised and used Vincent, not to mention locking him in a janitor shed. Why on earth did he like her?!
“I think you’re amazing,” Vincent explained, as if reading her thoughts. “You’re incredibly smart and that thing you pulled off at the festival was legendary.
“You walk around with your head held high in mismatched socks, and from the very first day of school, you made your mark on everybody. I still think you’re a bit too violent at times, but it’s not as though you’re insensitive,” he smiled.
“Elizabeth Blackburn, you motivated me to show up to classes and study hard with your straight forward attitude and love for competition. I’ve never felt so alive with anybody else. Go out with me.”
A few members of the crowd cheered her on, saying that she should accept. Vincent was right. The girl was really something, and they’d been able to tell that the two love birds would’ve ended up together eventually.
Elizabeth looked into Vincent’s bright eyes; the same ones that pleaded people from different stalls for supplies on her behalf, and the same ones that surveyed the making of her big pink card that was taped on her wall this very moment.