I was mostly silent at the lunch table, pushing my food around without ever really eating it. Across the table, Lexi was babbling about Dakota, apparently oblivious to the way Melissa and Loren barely even looked at each other. I'd come to realize that they were beyond comprehension.
Cole played with my hair gently, twisting strands around his fingers. "We should chill tonight," he said quietly. I only shrugged.
In my pocket, my phone suddenly vibrated. It was a miracle I felt it over the clamor of the Commons. Scanning for any teachers, I pulled it into my lap. One new message. From Xander. Missing your smile. Hang tonight?
I ignored the shiver running up my spine as I replied. Of course. Cant promise any smiles tho.
I let the phone rest on my legs, suddenly desperate for a drink. I downed a lengthy gulp of my milk. Just as I set it down, my phone went off again. Ill get you to smile <3 wait at your locker for me.
Sending a quick okay, I slid my phone back into my pocket. A small grin had snaked onto my lips. Xander had already managed to get a smile out of me. No one but him had that effect.
The day dragged by as I counted the moments until I would see Xander once again. Since that fateful October day when everything had begun to come crashing in around me, Xander and my close friendship had slowly been deteriorating. Yes, I still clung to him. It was still his face haunting my dreams. It was still his voice that set shivers up my spine. It was still his name engraved upon my heart.
I practically sprinted to my locker after the bell, throwing in the books and notebooks I toted around but seldom opened and yanking out my thin black sweatshirt. Then I leaned casually against it, waving anxious hellos to familiar faces as they passed.
When Xander arrived, my heart quickened instantly. I bit down on my lip and forced myself to control my breathing. I tried not to think about how beautiful he was, with his pale skin and his disarray of black hair and those damned eyes. He approached with his usual flourish of confidence, slinging his arm around my waist in a tight hug.
"Reina," he whispered. Or maybe I only imagined it. When he pulled away, his lips had curved up into a half-smile. "Let's get out of here."
We'd hardly gone two steps when Xander's name was called out. The price he paid for being so loved. We both looked back to see Loren standing about a foot away. I could tell he and Xander were having a conversation, though no words were spoken. At last, Xander sighed, and the frantic look on Loren's face, the crazed expression in his deep brown eyes, began to fade away. "Yeah, come on," Xander said in a perfectly calm tone. "I can take care of it."
Xander's car was a golden sort of SUV, one that did nothing to capture his dark and eccentric personality. We all climbed in, and Xander locked the doors immediately. Turning his upper body so he could face Loren in the back, he simply said, "You got money?"
Wordlessly, Loren reached into his pocket for a fifty. His face was blank as he handed it over. Or almost blank. But I could see the unshakable ache, the thirst that could never be satisfied. Loren had, like the rest of us, chosen his poison.
Xander reached into the center counsel and pulled out a plastic bag, handing it to Loren. "There's about three grams, okay? And only because you're my friend." Loren thanked him repeatedly before climbing back out into the blinding sunlight.
Xander was silent as we began to drive. Not even the radio was there to comfort me. I told myself it was a comfortable silence, that it could never be awkward for us. He was still my best friend. He was still the one who held my heart in his hands.
"I hate selling shit to him," Xander muttered when we'd finally parked in his driveway. "I tell myself it's not my fault, but I still feel like I'm killing him a little more."
I reached over to place a hand on his bare forearm. Just that little amount of contact sent electricity coursing through me. "You cant save everyone, you know," I told him softly. "Or you'll never be able to save yourself."
Xander's response was barely a whisper. "I'm beyond saving now. I feel so dead, Reina. I cant stand this anymore."
Because tears were welling up, and I couldn’t even bear the thought of him giving up, I did the one thing I could think to do. I leaned forward and lightly pressed my lips against his. After but a moment, Xander began to kiss me back, slowly at first, but gradually more passionate. His hand came up to fist in my hair, holding me in place against him. He traced my bottom lip with his tongue, slipping in into my mouth as it parted beneath him. Chaos ensued, showing itself in the heat between us and the subtle moan that arose from in my throat.
The perfect moment was shattered when Xander pulled away. He was breathing deeply, staring at me intently with those goddamn eyes. I knew my own expression was frantic, pleading. Wondering why he'd so carelessly snatched my moment away, and what I'd done to deserve it in the first place.
Xander's fingers were wrapped around the door handle lightly, but his body was still leaning towards me. We sat like that for what must have been ages, suffocating even while we gasped for air. Then he pushed open the door and came around to my side. I thought the door might come right off, the way he tore it open.
"Xander-" I began, but I was cut off when he literally scooped me up and carried me to the door.
I let my eyes close, let my mind wander. Then Xander whispered my name, and I heard the sound of a closing door. Opening my eyes in a flutter of lashes, I took in the familiar atmosphere of Xander's room, the abattoir that was his life. The blood-red color of the walls, mostly covered with posters and photographs. The piles of papers, love notes and unfinished assignments. The tangled mess of his bed.
His clear eyes were pleading when they met my own. "Reina," he said again. "I think...I feel...different with you. You make me feel like there’s something in me worth saving."
I wrapped my arms tighter around his neck, my lips brushing the skin of his neck. "Everything about you is worth saving," I told him. "Why cant you see that you're perfect?"
I thought he might reply, but instead he crossed the room and dropped me down onto the bed. I landed with a slight gasp, but before I could compose myself Xander was on top of me, kissing me yet again. I arched my back to press myself closer to him as Xander's hands explored all the contours of my body. With trembling fingers, I pushed at the edge of his shirt, tracing the smooth skin of his stomach.
Xander's fingertips trailed down my sides, across my chest and back, over the metal studs of my belt. Only then did he pull away, still staring down at me as he propped himself up on his elbows. And I just kept my gaze locked with his, because I was terrified to look away and discover it was only in my head.
I never would have predicted what came next. Xander trailed a finger down my jaw line, touching just enough to raise goose-bumps. "You’re everything, you know," he told me quietly. "You're the light in my blackness, Reina. You're the thing I'm holding onto."
I took a deep breath. "What is it you're trying to say?" I asked him in a delicate whisper.
Xander adverted his gaze for but a moment. When he looked back, he simply said, "I love you."
I realized I'd been holding my breath only when I let it out in a giddy laugh. I used my elbows to hold me up so that I could kiss him again. "Prove it," I whispered against his lips. And so he did.