"Whoa, easy there," Dante murmurs, steadying me while I swing numb legs off the side of the seat. I make a face, tugging the helmet over my head. "Was that your first time on a motorcycle?" He asks, his hand still around my wrist, and puts the helmet on the handle of his motorbike. "You're a little pale...are you okay?"
"You mean white?" I laugh, shakily. "I'm fine, I just...that was really quick. Almost like living life on fast forward."
He raises his brows, tilting his head, that tell-tale sign of amusement.
"Thanks for the ride home...um..." I look at my door, then back at him, stretching my legs to get the blood flowing again. "Would you...like to come inside?"
Dante blinks at me, slowly, and steps back, leaning his motorcycle over to one side as he kicks out the stand. "Sure. If you don't mind." His voice is soft, gentler than it has been over the span of this day, but there's an undertone to it, something hidden and wary. "I wouldn't want to be a bother."
"You're not. Not at all," I wave him over to the door, digging out the key to unlock it and let us both inside. "Besides, it gets kind of lonely...living on your own."
He follows me into the living room, just past the dining table. "You live alone? No...family or anything?" His voice takes on a surprised note. "How old are you, anyway?"
"I'll be twenty in December," I shrug, bending to sit on the sofa. "My...parents were pretty adamant that I start living on my own by the age of sixteen. My dad helped me pay off this place, they both gave me a loan, and I was gone from their house. It's not so bad, I guess. I hear a lot of people are usually just kicked out by seventeen. They simply chose to give me a head start."
He turns to me, after having surveyed my lightly decorated house. Not very much to see, honestly... "You've been here for three years now, supporting yourself?"
I nod, rubbing my arms. "I've learned how to live with only the basics. Until Haylie came along, that is... She insists on going shopping for a new wardrobe sometime soon, and I have a feeling her idea of shopping includes buying the whole mall."
At her name, his expression shifts, darkening to edge of anger, definitely at unease.
"What is it?" I look up at him, leaning my elbows on my knees.
Dante frowns, his eyes flickering at the walls, the window near the door to my garage, anywhere but at me. "Nothing. I just...No, it's nothing."
"If it's about the way she asked about your scar, I'm really sorry, she means well and all, but she can get...pretty blunt sometimes." I hurriedly explain, worried at the way he seems ready to bolt. He hasn't even sat down yet. "She didn't mean to offend you, honestly."
"It isn't that." But he remains turned away, his face obscured by the shadow of the setting sun.
I stand up, padding closer to him, slowly. "Then...what is it?" At his sides, his fists clench repeatedly. "Dante?" My voice sounds uncertain, even to my own ears. Before I can question any further, he jerks around, a pained grimace on his face.
"Look, I'm not cut out for this type of thing. I don't interact with people. I don't have friends. I'm not going to be some pity animal for you two. You and your girlfriend can leave me alone. Just back off the emotionless monster that I am." He snaps, and, in this moment, it abruptly clicks that he could be the enraged, fighting cruelty that everyone said he was...that he could break under the anger that's inside of him and just beat me--maybe to the edge of death...like the one... "I know I told you to tell me if Kevin and his friend gang up on you again, but clearly you mistook that as a sign that I'm some good person, when I'm not. I'm not."
Breathing in sharply at the sudden sound of anger in his voice, I stiffen. Girlfriend? Haylie? Pity? "What are you--"
"And I'm sure as hell not going to be your toy, so you can just back off now." He lifts a hand, presumably about to dig into his jacket for the keys to his motorcycle. I snatch it, heart fluttering dangerously in my chest, because I know he's angry and this kind of anger could have me thrown across the room and beat senseless but I just can't let him leave thinking the most messed up thing about me and Haylie... "Don't--damn it..." His voice catches, his cold, slate eyes rising to look through me. "I don't need your sympathy."
"I'm not trying to give it to you," I say, both of my hands around his larger one. "I'm not. You're not some toy to us--to me, Dante, I swear it. I don't know what made you think that, but I wouldn't do that to you. I just wanted to be able to talk to you...to just...be near you, after that first day. I hear a lot about you, alright, I admit that, but," I look up at him, swallowing hard. "I don't believe it. I know you can fight. I know you can be dangerous. Hell, I know you could hurt me, right now, if you wanted to. But...I know you're kind, too. You wouldn't have stuck up for Haylie that day with her friends, or me with Kevin, or even that random kid that was getting jumped earlier today if you weren't. You gave me that makeshift ice-pack, remember? That helped the swelling? You even...saw me as a person."
I bite my lip again, hard enough to break the skin, trying to stall the tears from forming in my eyes. "So many people act like I'm invisible, it's not even funny after three years. My own parents didn't even really see me as me--just as baggage that stole part of their income. And I'm not saying this so you'll feel sorry for me and stay, because I know you aren't like that. I'm saying this to prove that you have a heart, just by being concerned about Kevin bullying me," My hands tremble on his, and I feel so pathetic, crying in front of him, so ridiculous for being this desperate to make him understand. But I lift my gaze back to his anyway. "And because I don't want you to leave."
At first, the stare I receive convinces me that he's listening, that he understands...and then he turns away from me, his hand slipping out from both of mine, a scowl on his lips.