Hoooooly crow this is a long chapter! I hope you guys enjoy it. I’ve just been so busy lately that it wasn’t possible for me to sit down and write. I hope that the next three thousand, six hundred and seventy-eight words are awesome. :3 Byebye!
Just as the words were out of my mouth, the doorbell rang. Lana skipped happily down the stairs to greet our guests while I followed her, struggling to keep a normal pace. I slowed to a stop as I reached the landing, my hands stiff, clenching the railing for dear life. I heard Austin's familiar tenor and along with it, a new voice that I could not classify as quite unappealing. Now, I was getting nervous. I didn't want to do this anymore. I could always just run back to my bedroom. I knew I still had enough time to accomplish at least that. I could lock myself in and not even have to face Craig tonight—or any other night, for that matter...
But of course, I didn't move. I just stood there, staring down the hallway just like a deer in the headlights.
"You can do this, Celia," I whispered to myself. "It's not even a big deal. You're not marrying the guy."
I stepped off the landing and walked down the hall towards them, in the foyer. I lifted my chin and straightened my back a bit in an effort to appear—and not to mention feel—more confident.
The first person I saw was Austin. His red hair was steadily growing back; maybe an inch long, now. Just recently, he had shaved off his hair that he had been growing out and donated it to Locks of Love. What a nice person my "brother" was, huh? He couldn't be any more of a softie even if his insides were composed entirely of marshmallow.
"Hey, Lee," he greeted me, suppressing a grin. It may have been a knee-jerk reaction, but for some reason, that annoyed me. I felt a very powerful urge to punch him in the face. He was lucky that he had his arms around Lana or I would have attacked him, good Samaritan-made-out-of-marshmallow or not. I could totally take him. I think.
“Ginger,” I answered coolly, crossing my arms.
He chuckled. “You're polite as always."
My gaze shifted to the other male, standing to the left of Austin. He had dark hair; messy in a perfectly casual, perfectly adorable—I mean, acceptable way.
In other words, he had hair just like Max. However, whereas Max's hair was a light brown, almost hay colour, Craig's was nearly black.
"Hi," he said, smiling easily. "I'm Craig. You must be Celia. It's nice to finally meet you."
"Nice to meet you, too," I managed a small smile. I felt so incredibly awkward. It was horrible. The kind of horrible where you think that disappearing suddenly from the face of the Earth would be a wonderful idea in comparison to what was going on in front and around you.
It was too much for Lana to handle, apparently because she was the first to escape. She took her boyfriend by the hand and dragged him out the front door. "I'm so hungry! Lee, can you lock the door? I can't find the keys. We'll be in the car!"
I sighed, grabbing my keys off the closet doorknob. It was so typical that she'd misplace her keys. Even more typical for her to bail when the going got painfully uncomfortable. I yanked a cardigan off the coat rack and turned to face Craig who seemed as lost as I felt.
"She's not very subtle, is she?" he asked with a smile. I couldn't tell if he was smiling because he was nervous or because he really thought it was funny. Either way, it was kind of cute.
"Lana is shameless," I replied, trying not to stare too much at him. He was dressed casually but his jacket was open and it was showing me that his navy blue shirt fit him extremely well.
"If I had known you were going to get so dressed up, I would have dressed up more too," he said as we stepped out in the cool, autumn air. Apparently, he had noticed me checking out what he was wearing. I just hope he didn't get that I was imagining what was under his shirt.
"It was Lana's idea," I said slipping my keys into my purse after the locks had been... well, locked. "She treats me like a doll."
He looked as if he wanted to add onto that, but refrained. Instead, he smiled again. "I know this is probably really awkward, but let's have fun tonight, okay?"
I nodded and despite myself, I grinned. Maybe tonight wouldn't be so bad after all.
The car ride to the restaurant passed by quickly enough. I sat in the back with Craig and we discussed everything and nothing from movies to books, to food to high school...
Moreover, that's when my thoughts turned to Max. Gradually I fell quiet while Craig talked at me. How did everything get so complicated and confusing? Why did he have to show up now? I mulled over these questions, staring blankly out the window without really seeing anything. The memory of his lips against mine was still fresh in my mind. Sure, it was three years too late but it was still a kiss, nonetheless. Just what exactly was he up to, anyway? Maybe back then, I would have just accepted that it was meant to be, that it was romantic (okay, it's a little bit romantic when your first love hunts you down three years later and kisses you) but not now. The whole Spencers incident just made it creepy. Was he trying to be funny or was he being serious?
I felt something warm on my shoulder. I was now quite aware that the car had stopped moving, my door open and inches away from my face, there was Craig's, with his warm, chocolate eyes, concerned for me.
"How are you feeling, Celia?" he asked me. I blinked a couple of times, not understanding. How did I feel about Max, anyway? "Are you okay?"
"Am I...?" but that's all that would come out of my mouth. That's when I realized he wasn't asking about Max. Why would he be? I felt my cheeks flushing. How embarrassing. "Oh, I'm fine. I'm, um, not usually so spacey. I just... I don't know. You had me thinking about too many things at once. I guess my brain overloaded."
"Don't sweat it," Craig laughed. "I'm sorry I overloaded your brain?"
"You should be," I said jokingly, stepping out of the car and closing the door behind me. "I was in such a crisis. I didn't know who I was, where I was, where my life was going..."
"Cute." I had him smiling again. His arm brushed against mine as we walked beside Lana and Austin who were—pretty much—glued together at the hip.
Moxie's, the restaurant we were going to, was located on the second floor along with the rest of the mall's food court. Because it was a dine-in type of restaurant, Moxie's stayed open way later than the mall's regular closing hours. At Lana’s insistence, we took the escalator instead of being sane people and riding on the elevator that would take you straight to the restaurant’s front. The hostess who stood behind the front counter gave us a friendly smile. She was tall and skinny, with long, blonde hair that was impossibly straight. I should also mention that her attire, completely compliant to the Moxie’s dress code was a little... well, it waslittle. This particular hostess’ dress was black and so short that I would be afraid to sit while wearing it. As Lana was deciding on the dining room or the lounge and for how many people, I snuck a glance at Craig. He kept his gaze politely averted from our hostess and her very short dress. He was such a gentleman.
The hostess led us into the dining room, gesturing to a booth for us. I slid in after Lana did, seating myself right beside her. The boys were taking off their coats and just about to get comfortable, which left a few moments for us to exchange a couple of words, just between us.
“He’s nice,” I murmured to her. Lana smiled triumphantly—as if I had just told her that she had won a gold medal in matchmaking.
“You’re welcome,” she whispered, smugly.
“You’re evil,” I hissed at her, narrowing my eyes. “Spawn of—”
“What’s with all the whispering over there?” Austin said in a mock-stern tone, leaning forward in an attempt to hear what we were saying.
“Girl talk,” I answered coolly with a sideways glare at Lana who simply shrugged it off and threw me a sly smile. “I guess we should include you too then, Aus.”
Craig said nothing but he grinned, while Austin just rolled his eyes. “Haha, Lee. You’re so hilarious.”
I smiled back sweetly at him and picked up my menu. Footsteps stopped beside our table. I looked up to see another girl, equipped with a pad of paper and a pen, poised to write. She gave us a bright smile, her high ponytail of light brown hair swinging as she looked at each of us. She was dressed in a very modest pair of black dress pants and a black polo shirt, with a black apron tied to her front.
“Hi!” she squeaked happily. Good god, that scared me. How can anyone be sohappy? “My name is Hillary. I’ll be your server tonight. Can I start you off with anything to drink?”
“Nestea,” I responded immediately. I didn’t want to give her any opportunity to speak again, as bad as that seemed.
“Just a water for me,” Lana chirped out.
“Coke,” said Austin in one of the most polite tones I’ve ever heard him use. What a fake little bugger. He almost soundednice.
“I’ll take an iced tea as well,” Craig gave a small, polite smile.
“Alrighty! So two Nesteas, one Coke and a water. Did any of you want to hear about our specials tonight?”
I’m pretty sure someone said yes, because I heard her squeaky, overly happy voice going on very confidently. I almost felt bad that I wasn’t listening, but it was really just too much. I needed to grasp onto anything to distract me from our too cheerful server. I thought I felt my phone vibrate, so I checked it, feeling like some higher power had taken pity on me. I had one new message. Yay for me! I opened it and nearly peed myself. That higher power who had taken pity on me? Yeah, nevermind that. They’re a jerk.
“Where are you? PS, it’s Max.”
How in the hell did he get my number?! Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I commended him for being respectful and minding his spelling and punctuation while texting me. It was a pet peeve of mine, not to spell full words, even via SMS messages.
“None of your business. Leave me alone.”
I sent the message back with something a little nastier at the end, but it wouldn’t have been right to admit to it, being a lady and all. I shut my phone, shoving it into my purse again and trying to ignore the little demon. Hillary was gone, so I stared absently at my menu. I wasn’t feeling that hungry to begin with, but now I was absolutely not hungry. Was there the option of just ditching now?
“What are you getting, Celia?” Craig wanted to know. I paused for a second. Crap. I guess I can’t back out now. I scanned the words quickly, picking the first thing that I registered in my mind as a valid order.
“Citrus chicken salad,” I answered smoothly, sounding way more certain than I felt. To ease some the pressure off me, I turned to Lana. “What about you, Lan?”
“Hmmmm,” was her pensive reply, scanning the list of options in front of her. “I think I’ll start off with some sweet potato fries… And I don’t know if I want a burger or pasta. Nachos sound good, too, don’t they Aus? Oh—Lee, did you want any avocado spring rolls? I share with you. I think I’m set for what I want to order.”
Craig raised an eyebrow at her, in both curiosity and disbelief. “Can you even finish a quarter of that much food?”
“Of course, I can finish all of it by myself,” Lana said brightly, sounding almost proud of herself. “I can eat more than Austin.”
“And that’s definitely saying something,” he teased. “I usually tone down the food inhalation in public, though.”
Lana stuck out her tongue, going back to the menu, arguing playfully with her boyfriend as Craig joined in, taking either side when he thought the other was losing a little. I smiled and laughed along with them, sliding my purse into my lap, trying to be discreet as I felt around for my phone. Normally, I was totally not like this; texting during dinner, glued to my cellular device. It’s rude and quite obnoxious. But… it was Max. And well, no matter what, Max Andrews always, always threw me off. He obliterated any and all normalcy in me; he always had. I lay my mobile phone on top of my purse, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Then of course, the little demon had to go and vibrate. I would have jumped out of my seat, if I hadn’t been trying to brace myself and half expecting it. I flinched a little bit, my gaze travelling down to read the words on the tiny LCD screen.
So, I did. I don’t know if I gasped or just stared. I couldn’t even tell if I was angry or pleased. There was a whole swirl of emotions that were definitely not there the last time I saw him; I couldn’t even begin to tell them apart. He only stood there for a few seconds before walking out of the restaurant, but I caught his gaze for those brief moments.
“I’m gonna step out for a second,” I mumbled, sliding out of the booth. “Can you order for me, Lan?”
“Sure thing,” she looked at me, her expression shifting from playful to worried, concern in her eyes as she watched me get up. “You okay, hun?”
“Yeah, I just need some air,” I reassured her hastily. “I feel a bit warm, is all. I’ll be right back.”
I didn’t wait for her reply. In the back of my mind, I honestly and truly felt really bad. There would be time to think about that later. Yelling at Max was on the top of my priority list. I hurried out of the restaurant into the food court and found him waiting for me, leaning against the second floor railing, casually as if he was a model. Where did all this confidence come from? I really wanted to stop noticing how good he looked in those dark jeans and white dress shirt. Like, really. It was almost criminal. He looked amused too; I could see it in his eyes, even if they were partially obscured by the mess on his head. I wondered if he knew that I definitely liked what I saw, even if I never would tell him that out loud. I swallowed hard. He had been working out since three years ago and it showed. His arms never looked better.
“Hey,” was all he said to me, grinning.
“We need to talk.” I was balling my fists, wondering if anyone would believe me if“he fell before my very eyes!”or if that seemed too unrealistic.
“Not here.” Max gestured to the elevator. “Outside.”
I pressed my lips together tightly and said nothing, though I moved towards the elevator, all the same. A million scathing comments filled my head, just waiting to burst out and attack him.
Not one of them even reached my mouth.
“I hate you,” I said quietly. He looked over at me, with one eyebrow raised, pressing the down arrow button with his index finger. “I hate you so much, Max.”
“I’m sorry,” was all he said. I expected him to make a sarcastic response, but he hardly uttered a word.
That’s when something snapped within me. Sorry?Sorry? That’s all he had to say to me? That’s all he could come up with All the anger and humiliation and frustration I thought I had buried, let go of, came flowing out of me, through my lips.
“Sorry? Oh sonowyou’re sorry?” I laughed bitterly as we stepped into the elevator. “After all that’s happened, after I humiliated myself so
badly that I begged my mom to move away, it only took you what, three years to apologize?”
He sighed, looking perplexed. “Cee—”
“I really hate you, do you know that?” I interrupted him, moving closer so I could stare right into his face. My heart was pounding and my eyes, I’m pretty sure, were bright with tears that I refused to let fall. “I was getting along finally, just fine without you. I should be inside right now, with my friends and the cute, nice guy who is interested in me but you just had to ruin that. You always have to ruin it for me, Max.”
I took a deep breath and the door closed. He looked down at me intently. There was something in his eyes that I didn’t understand.
“Celia,” he said my name once.
“I hate that I can’t forget you, that you won’t let me forget you. I hate you, Andrews.” In that moment, I don’t know what came over me. I was so close to him and he smelled good. He just looked so expectant…
My lips were on his a mere second later. I clung to him, kissing hard, with all the intensity of my conflicted and muddled emotions. Somehow, it didn’t really surprise me that he pulled me impossibly close, all the while kissing me in return just as fiercely. I felt his tongue slip into my mouth and I fought it back with my own. I heard the door of the elevator open and just as suddenly as I had started it, I pushed against his shoulders and quickly stepped out. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone close enough to see what had transpired between us.
He followed me silently, as I left the building. I couldn’t even look at him, now. I was even more confused than I was in the car. This time, I couldn’t really blame it on him. I was the one who kissed him. It was all me.
“That wasn’t what I had in mind when you said we needed to talk,” he sounded so pleased while he wrapped his arms around me from behind, pressing his nose into the side of my neck.
“I need to know why you’re stalking me,” I said quietly as I closed my eyes.
He sighed. His breath against my skin made my knees weak and it was proving difficult for me to stand. Max tightened his grip just a little.
“Stalking isn’t a nice word,” he answered lightly. “I prefer ‘conveniently running into each other’.”
“Max,” I was getting exasperated.
“I didn’t know you’d be here, honest,” he murmured into my neck. “I was with some friends. I saw you and said I forgot my wallet in the car.”
“I don’t want to play games, Max. I was finally moving on with my life.”
He was silent for a moment. In a tiny voice, he asked me, “Were you happier without me around?”
I turned to face him, kissing his lips gently, and my fingertips brushing against his cheek tenderly. “I don’t know if I was. But now that you’re here, I know that I don’t want you to go.”
Max just stared at me, almost helplessly with those green, green eyes of his. He looked so much like the sixteen-year-old boy I had held so dearly, the clumsy one with the crooked grin and intelligent jokes. The best friend I had met on the playground when we were just kids, the first boy I had ever loved and had to say goodbye to. I placed my palm against his cheek.
“I love you, Celia,” he said in a small voice.
I smiled a little, melancholy. “Do you love me enough to want to be with me?”
“I’ve always wanted to be with you,” Max whispered. He closed his eyes, one of his hands lifting up to press over my own. It killed me inside to hear him say this.
“The last time you told me you loved me, you ended up dating the prettiest and most popular girl in school,” I said flatly.
“We’re not in high school anymore, Celia.” Max’s tone was reminiscent. I wondered, with a sudden pang of jealousy, if he missed Casey. I wondered what even happened to her. I let my hand drop away from his face.
“No, we’re not. I’m not going to be like some tragic, romantic comedy heroine and pine for you while you get your life in order. This isn’t a movie. You need to figure out what you want and I do, too.” I leaned forward, pressing my lips against his cheek. It took all my strength not to steal a kiss from his mouth one more time. “Bye, Max.”
“Wait, Cee.” Max grabbed me by the wrist. I shook my head, giving him a half-hearted smile.
“I can’t,” I said gently, peeling his fingers away from my wrist. “I have to go. I’m sorry.”
“Celia,” he said one more time.
I kept walking. I didn’t look back, not even one. I couldn’t. If I did, I knew I’d get caught up in this stupid, disastrous movie scene perfection that my imagination craved for but I would not allow myself to indulge in. With Maxwell Andrews, it was all or nothing.
And this time, I refused to be the one left with nothing.