Chapter Twenty Eight- AireeMature

                 A week has come and gone, almost too quickly after that night with Hayden. In my head I keep telling myself telling him I was done would turn out for the best but, my heart just plain hurts. Since then, most of my week was spent at the house. Only towards the later part of the week did my parents finally give me the ultimatum and force me to go to school. Of course, I've avoided him but, for how long? Our school isn't big, and I'm afraid I've run out of places to hide. Today though is the school carnival, the one everyone's been talking about. Posting up flyers, and making dates as well. For me, Kali dragged me into signing up to run a booth. I can see why she did it, to get me out and meeting new people. I haven't been spending much time with the friends that I did have since, since they're all now close with him too.

             I just cant get over what he said, I mean, could he seriously believe that he wouldn't be the one I would want? The one I truly love? "Love," I whispered the word aloud to myself. Could I still be in love with him myself? If the roles were reversed, would he have even felt the same for me as I do for him? Even now? No, I thought. He wouldn't. This is after all Hayden I'm talking about. Knowing him he would probably fall back to Laurie, and have her ease his mind with, with, "No," I told myself. "I cant think of that."

"Airee," Kali's voice rang in my ears then. Drowning out my own thoughts. I turned along the hallway, and she appeared somewhere off to the side. Leaning against her locker with Gavin and Kyle. What were they talking about, I wondered? Though abruptly, she pushed off the row of lockers, and came over to me. "You ready for tonight?" she asked.

              "Well, I don't know if-"

"Its going to be so much fun." She interjected. Interrupting me, and raised her voice. "All the lights, and rides. Oh, and guess who is dying to meet you?"

              "Who?" I asked, though I didn't entirely care. At this point I was just going along through the motions. Riding this night out like an illness, waiting for it to be over and done with.

"Todd McDodger." She smiled, clapped her hands excitedly, and linked my arm with hers. "The buzz is that Todd has a crush, and that you are the lucky girl!"

              "Oh Kali stop it, I'm so not in the mood for it."

"What's your deal?" Kali asked then. Her expression serious as she pulled me to a stop in the middle of the hall.

               "What do you mean?"

"I mean, ever since this whole Hayden thing, you've turned into a different person." She said, and rolled her eyes when I didn't seem to understand. "Look, I am in no position to judge you because, come on, I am like Queen of the Drama but, you? You were never one to let something like this bring you down. But as of lately all you seem to want to do is mope, I mean, have you even seen Count lately?"

                 At that my heart sunk even further down my chest, and came to rest in my stomach. Count, I thought. How could I forget? "Oh my gosh, I am a horrible owner. How is he, should I go see him before my shift starts? Do I have time?"

"Airee that's what I'm talking about." Kali sighed, and stepped back. Her eyes locked with mine as she kept her focus on me. "You haven't even been around to hear the new. Count is gone."

              "He got out?" I yelled, my mind instantly spinning a mile a minute trying to think of what I could do. Depending on how long its been, who knows where he could be. "I have to go look for him. I'm sorry I cant-"

"Adoption, Ree." Kali said, her voice stopping me cold. "Count was adopted the other day. I'm sorry."

             "No," I yelled again. Tears already forming in my eyes. "By who?"

             She didn't say a word then, just shrugged her shoulders, and gave a grave expression. "I know how hard these past few weeks have been for you but, you have to bring the old Airee back. This one just isn't the same." she said, and placed a hand on my shoulder. "I'll see you in a bit."

              Watching her walk away I was frozen in my helplessness. She was right, I had been overly gloomy lately. With Hayden, and my friends. I had even managed to forget about Count, and now, now he's gone. Tears bit at my eyes again thinking about him, and some stranger. Looking around, I had caught an audience. Wiping my eyes, I took off down the hall. Only when I turned the corner, Hayden was there blocking my way, and by then I couldn't stop myself.

"Airee, what's wrong?" He asked, his tone alert. Almost out of habit, he pulled me into him, and I watched from blurry eyes as his own searched around the space behind me. As if he were looking for someone to be chasing me, or worse. No one came. "Airee, talk to me. Are you alright?"

              I let him hold me for a little while longer before I pushed gently from his chest and looked up into those bright blue eyes, I had come to know so well. He brushed a strand of my hair back then, and pulled me into a small alcove along the wall. His back blocking others from seeing me. I smiled briefly, and then closed my eyes. "Airee, look at me. I need to know you're alright?"

I felt his hand on my chin, forcing me to look at him. When I opened my eyes, and for a moment, I had forgotten why I was crying. My heart suddenly fluttering alive, my breath catching. Then the moment passed, and I blinked remembering it all. "Count's gone." I finally said.

              "Is that all?" He smiled, and then leaned forward towards me. Both hand pressed against the cold tile of the walls, myself trapped inside them. "Airee-"

"No, Hayden," I said, rolled my eyes, and then laughed dryly. "It's not just that. Its this. "I said, and then motioned to the space between us. "Its you and me too. Mostly it's who I've become from it all. You know me, I am not the type of person to get upset over puppy love."

                "Love?" was all he said, but I forced it from my mind and continued.

"Ever since you came into my life, things haven't been normal, and for me, I need normal. My life is a mess on its on. Now Kali is dragging me to the carnival so that I can meet up with a new guy, all because she thinks I need to move on from you. Kyle and Gavin have been acting weird ever since the party, and everyone is just watching me. Expecting me to shrug it all off and act as if none of it hurt me when it did. And-"

               "Airee, stop." Hayden said, smiled and then continued. "You have to calm down."

"Yeah but,-"

               "But nothing," he interrupted. "You cant worry about everything all the time, you're only one person. You and I, well, maybe we were never meant to be, and that's life. But in regards to everyone else, forget them. Don't worry about it. You want to point out that I was a deceptive asshole, then do it. I was, or am?" He hesitated only slightly as if thinking about it. I laughed, and then he continued. "I hurt you, and for that I am sorry. Only I can know how much I wish I can take it back but, I cant. And Kyle, and Gavin? They are just being themselves. I don't know if you've noticed but, they've always been a little weird."

"Oh whatever," I laughed, and pushed him slightly. "They are not."

                "There it is." he said then. His expression one of longing. "I wondered how long it would be before I would see that smile again. I love it almost as I love those white wash cut offs of yours."

"You're terrible," I shoved him harder, and then covered my face. I was blushing horribly. "Wait, love?"

              He had stopped smiling then, his face serious. For a second he starred at me, his eyes not wavering at all. Then, as if realizing what he was doing, he blinked. Stood up, and cleared his throat. Suddenly I felt embarrassed, and vulnerable again. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"No, no." He said, cleared his throat again, and then continued. "Its just, I just remembered what time it was. Kali will be looking for you soon."

                I checked my watch, it was a quarter till school let out, and my shift at the carnival would begin. Leaning off the wall, Hayden shifted, and let me by. The halls had emptied by now, student all in their classes waiting for the bell that would release them to ring. I wondered to myself, what Mrs. Goldblum must be thinking  Hayden and I had been all period but, then I felt his hand on my wrist , and forgot all about it. Drawing me back to focus on him, I dubiously tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, and let him pull me to him. "I," he began but hesitated.

               My back pressed against the cool wall then, as I looked up to meet his eyes only to find he wasn't looking at me. Instead, he leaned into my ear, his breath tickling my neck as he breathed. I could feel his hand move then, barely holding my waist, his other lost in my hair. Even without him saying a word, I knew what he was struggling with, and it was my fault. Rolling my eyes, I wrapped my arms around him then, and pulled him closer to me. I could feel his heartbeat, loud and strong against my chest, and I wondered if he could feel mine.

"It's okay," I said finally. "I'll be alright."

                He pulled back in that moment, and then wiped a straggling tear from my cheek. "I know, I'm sorry," he said, exhaling as he did. "Its just, you don't know how much I've missed you."

"I'm right here." I said, though through what all has happened lately, I feel miles away. It was then, I noticed his breath missing from my neck. His lips themselves moving closer to mine. I swallowed, and felt my breath catch again. I didn't dare move. "I'm-"

             "Shh," he whispered then, his lips barely brushing mine.

                Suddenly my heart began to race again, my mind trying to wrap itself around what was happening. When, almost as if on purpose, the bell for school to be over rang. The sound of student suddenly filling the halls. In my pocket, my phone buzzed with a call, Kali coming to mind. Hayden sighed, and then pulled away. Turned towards the hallway, where others had already begun grabbing their things to head home, and then let out another drawn out breath.

"Hayden, I-" I offered, and reached out to him.

                    "Airee!" Kali's voice broke through the moment then. She looked to Hayden, and then back at me. Hayden just pushed a hand through his hair thought, and stepped out into the crowd of people. "That was weird." Kali said. The two of us watching after him.

"You can say that again." I said breathlessly. I was totally, and utterly confused.

                "What happened?" she asked when she more than noticed my strange behavior.

               Looking at her, I smiled, and linked arms. Maybe Hayden was right, I thought to myself. Maybe I didn't have to worry about what everyone else thinks, or expects. I had fallen in love, and got hurt. That was normal but, I think it may be about time I start picking up the pieces and move on. I smiled then, remembering what had all just happened. Could Hayden and I have just reconnected, I wondered briefly? Then shook my head, and forced the thought from my mind. I cant think about that.

"What's gotten into you?" she asked then when I hadn't responded.

                "Nothing," I said, smiled, and then continued. "I just think you're right. I think its time, I brought the old Airee back. Being upset is just too much for me."

            Kali laughed, and together we started walking down the hall. Only, when we reached the door to the back parking lot, I saw the carnival outside already set up and roaring to life. Turning then, I looked back down the hall. My heart fluttering slightly, when I caught Hayden's eyes starring back at me from down the hall. He was leaning against his locker, his shirt pulled slightly revealing a thin line of tan skin. He looked, as always, amazing and sexy though I doubt he had to put any effort into it. I smiled, and waved. He did the same. It was then, I realized just how easy it had been for me to lose myself in him. I remembered our first day at the clinic, and the first time he came to a game or out to IHOP. Things with Hayden had never been easy but, life never is. I turned back to the door, and let Kali walk us outside.

             I remember all of the times Hayden had done things normal people would draw the line at, and call it quits over. But I never did because there was always that one moment, that one look, which told me he still had something good in him. Something worth trying for. That there was still hope. It was in that moment, as we reached the kissing booth, that I deleted Laurie, and everything that went along with her out of my mind. It was time I went back to the old Airee. The girl who didn't let others past define who they are now, in the present. It was time, I went back to being me.

The End

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