About Damn Time...
I've never noticed it before but I spend my entire morning with the Court. US History with Nathan first thing in the morning (I can barely manage taking notes over Morrow's lecture with his cold gaze burning into my back the whole time). In second period Physics, a new project is announced and suddenly here comes Paris proclaiming he's going to be my lab partner for the rest of the semester. At least it’s nothing as dangerous as Chemistry... I guess.
And of course, the Prince himself in third period Writing. After Friday and the whole walking into the Prince playing tonsil hockey with the queen bitch herself... God, I think I might go throw up all over Nathan's expensive Italian leather shoes now. Honestly, I don’t even want to think about it. Anyhow, after a long morning putting up with all of them he'd deserve it.
I've never been more glad to have a weekend full with a heavy work schedule and an older brother who wants help with homework and sports practice at every spare moment.
Argh, I shouldn't be bothered by this! It's the Prince.
That damned sexy Prince. I shouldn't have to be the one stuck thinking about this. He was the one who went crazy and kissed me. I didn't ask him to. Hell, I didn't even want him to! It's not like I go around kissing every boy who asks me to give him some pointers on how to write. Especially him. I mean the Prince kissed me. Like he wanted to... I mean, how can that really be explained? He walked into my lips? Yeah, right.
What the heck really happened? Cael was nice to me. We had fun studying together. Then he kissed me. No matter how often I write that line it doesn't make any more sense. And therein lays the problem. I mean, yeah, I panicked. I ran away. Does that really mean that it's my problem that the Prince is a homophobic ass? I mean for a minute--
There I go again! I guess I just can't get him out of my head as much as I want to. What I was attempting to get to was that it doesn't help my fragile psyche much to have his posse of goons stalking me through all my classes.
I slammed my locker door closed and turned around only to find He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named walking down the hallway, his court right behind him. His arm was loosely wrapped around Jessie's waist and her fingers were playing with the hem of his dark blue sweater as she giggled in his ear. I couldn't help the frown that found itself on my face as I watched the happy couple. In my mind some of Jessie's taunts were replaying themselves. This school doesn't need Fox Towers trash like you. I shook myself and turned to follow the group since they were heading in the direction I needed to go anyways.
Ty was in a good mood. With the first soccer match coming up this week he was already decked out in his dark blue and black jersey. A soccer ball looked at home in his arms and occasionally he would hang back to talk with other members of the team. Nathan was impeccably dressed as always in a black dress shirt and jeans with a deep green tie wrapped around his neck. Casual for the blond. Of course next to him was Paris, who was toting Nathan's computer for him. Paris wore fashionably ripped jeans and a dark red t-shirt. As they traveled down the hall he was chatting happily into Nathan's ear, though it didn't appear his fellow dog was listening to him. I almost felt sorry for him.
Then I remembered he was part of the Court.
Jessie turned her head just in time to catch a glance of me watching. Or at least I assume she did. The smile dropped right off of her face and she gestured to Nathan. A few whispered words in his ear and he smiled brightly and looked at me. About that time I decided to beat a hasty retreat to the library for study hall.
I love the library. Well, alright, most libraries are the same even when you read as much as I do. Ask Trey. I've definitely dragged him to enough of them. It drives him crazy that he has to take me back and forth every few days. But he's a good brother like that. The school library isn't really all that impressive. I've already been through at least three quarters of the fiction section. The librarian makes it special though.
Her name is Florence, or Flo to all of her favorites. She's about seventy years old and I'd say there's not another old lady like her in the rest of the country. She's the kind of administrator who loves to do anything to bend the rules. Flo is an ex-hippy, ex-political activist, and ex-history teacher. I'm convinced she has a story for every situation.
Today wasn't much different. I walked in on her entertaining a bunch of delinquents with the story of her first march for equal rights. I rolled my eyes as I exchanged my text books with the library books waiting behind the desk in a neat little pile for re-shelving. I was just putting up The Picture of Dorian Grey when he arrived.
"I beg your pardon." Nathan smirked at me. "Could you help me find a book, please?"
Immediately my eyes went to Flo, still deep into her story, then back to Nathan. "Of course. Do you know the title?" I put the rest of the books down on one of the tables to hide the fact that my hands were already shaking.
"I'm afraid not. I need to write a research paper for my sociology class. It's about homosexuality in America. In the business world in particular."
Nathan's words dropped like lead in my mind and I swallowed heavily. "Right, um, well... I can just show you how to use the school's search engines. The internet would probably be your best resource."
Nathan's smile grew as I tripped over my words and led him to the computer. I wondered for a moment if he thought I was stupid enough to actually think he needed help. Nathan knew more about technology than his darling Prince, who is heir to the Aeturnus Corporation. I traversed the school's website showing Nathan how the different academic searches worked while Nathan watched closely enough that I could feel his warm breath exhaling on my neck.
"It would be nothing for me to destroy you." Nathan whispered suddenly. "Your brother's scholarship… gone. Your mother's job… easily finished. And any hope in your poor drunkard father… well…," Nathan laughed.
Over my shoulder our eyes met and for a moment he stilled, watching my reaction. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that Nathan could do every single thing he had threatened me with. After all, there was a lot of power in money and that wasn’t the only tool in his arsenal. But looking at him... I don't know. Maybe that stupid kiss had made me crazy, but I felt like there was something missing from his threat. He wasn’t scaring me, not the way I had always thought that he would.
Nathan was the first to look away. "Stay away from the Prince. Don't dare to even look at any of the Court wrong. You're just Fox Towers trash. Don't ever forget that."
This day just keeps getting better and better.
After that amazing study hall period, I held onto Art as if it were a lifeline. I barely scraped through math by keeping my head down every time the teacher glanced my way and pretended to take notes all period.
In art I slid into my seat and pulled out my sketchbook, finally trying to lose the tension that had been riding through my body since my little run-in with the Dog. I'm already drawing furiously by the time Ash takes her seat next to me. For a moment she just watches. Under my fingers a boy is coming to life, looking up from a book with a wide grin on his face. The more lines I add, the more familiar the face is becoming to the both of us. For a moment my hand stills, then I push my sketchbook away and bury my head in my arms with a groan.
"Rough day?" Ash asks gently.
I nod without looking up at her, content to hide for the rest of my life in my arms.
"Looks like you've got Cael on the brain, sweet heart." Ash rested a hand on my shoulder and I sigh again, just in time for the instructor to come in and tell us to take a free day. Ash looked curious and I sighed. The damn Prince was probably going to spill it all later anyway.
"We were studying and getting along great. He was even making really awful jokes. And then... he kissed me."
I avoided Ash's eyes at all costs. Telling someone their best friend is experimenting, or even just mocking the resident queer, is never pretty.
"I freaked out. Ran away, but forgot my stuff. When I went back Jesse and the whole Court were there too. And they were… err… doing their coupley… thing." I could feel the heat of the blush on my face and finally looked at her, sighing. "And now I can't get that damn Prince out of my head. It's making me crazy."
I paused, waiting for her anger or denial. But what I got instead was laughter. I don’t know what it is about Ash, but it seems like she almost always makes me forget that she's freaking insane!
"Boy, you do have it bad. And you don't even realize it yet." She gasped, before breaking into laughter again.
I went back to my sketch after glaring at her for a few short moments. I added a few more lines before I began to tear it from the binding.
"Hey! Wait. Let me have that if you're just going to toss it." Ash gave me a sly grin before demanding that I even sign the page. Girls. No wonder I'm gay if all girls are like Ash.
I spent the rest of the period painting random abstract figures, more interested in watching the colors mix than on what I was doing. When the bell rang Ash waved goodbye before heading off to whatever class she had for study hall while I continued to toss her words back and forth in my mind.
For days all I could think about was what she was telling me. Between attempting not to face my glaringly obvious crush on Cael and the Prince's kiss, I was almost as mad as Ash.
Luckily most of the week passed by without any more interference from The Court. Though to be fair, I was doing my best to pretend to be invisible. I avoided the lunch room, not wanting to end up wearing my food again, didn't make eye-contact during class and stuck by Trey's side as much as possible between work and his practices. Despite all of this, Ash's sly looks and hints that I needed to "expect the unexpected", nothing became of the one-time kiss from the Prince. Until Thursday, that is.
When I got to Art, Ash was practically bouncing off her seat with excitement. I guess it didn't really seem all that out of character for her, so I kind of blew it off. I just pulled out the canvas that I was supposed to be working on. That was when she pounced.
"Rion! Hey ya!" She practically squealed. "How are you on this ever-so-lovely afternoon?"
"I'm alright… I guess." I muttered. I couldn't help the odd look that was sent her way with it because of her behavior. "… How are you, Ash?"
This seemed to be the right question to ask by the way the smile on her face brightened even more. I somehow couldn't help but to be scared.
"I have something for you." She proclaimed. She thrust a small scrap of paper, folded into a paper crane. I laughed and shook my head.
"That's great, Ash. I love these things. Really." I tried to find something to say about the grubby looking animal. But Ash just rolled her eyes.
"It's a messenger crane, doofus." Ash pulled the little animal apart and showed me the message written on the inside.
I had to have read the note over a dozen times before I even looked at Ash.
"This is another one of their pranks isn't it? He expects me to show up mooning over him. Then he'll proceed to try and mock my life. Isn't that usually how these things work?" Ash frowned at me as I crumpled up the letter and shoved it back into the bottom of my backpack. I shook my head and started to pull out my paints and brushes.
"Rion, it's not like that. Why don't you trust me?" Ash stuck her hands on her hips, attempting to be intimidating.
"What, you mean I'm supposed to let one piece of paper cancel out the years that he and his friends have tortured me?" I demanded, barely keeping myself from slamming my brushes down on the table. "He had his dogs threaten me this week and I'm supposed to be dumb enough to welcome him with open arms?"
"No one is asking you to forgive them, Rion. Not me. Not even Cael." Tears were growing in her eyes and I could already sense that the conversation would end with me caving in. "All I'm trying to do is give you a chance to see that Cael can be someone other than the Prince that you know. You two can be what your brother and Ty should have been. You could be more than that."
I turned away, eyeing the marks left on the table. "Fine. But if he screws this up you should expect to hear a lot of I told you so. A lot."
It takes a few seconds for Ash to regain her ever perky demeanor and she's hopping up and down and grasping my arm and talking about how exciting the night is going to be and wondering what I should wear. By the end of the period, not only am I going on a date with the Prince, but Ash is dragging me to the mall tonight. She is officially more excited than I am for tomorrow night. Though to be fair, that's extremely easy. Dread. Dread is a much better word for how I feel about tomorrow night.
But first, according to Ash I need to "spiffy up" a bit. So onward to my favorite little hell-on-earth. The mall. Hooray.
"Are you sure that this isn't... too much?" I pulled at the tie around my neck and brushed my fingers down the sleeves of the forest green shirt I was wearing.
"You loved it as much as I did yesterday." Ash complained as she forced me into the bathroom to fix my hair.
"Yeah, but that was before I realized that it makes me look like some silly pretty-boy." I couldn't help but grumble.
"Oh, quiet." Ash told me, filling her hands with some mousse. "You look amazing and it's only going to get better. You're just nervous."
For a moment I just watched her hands work through my hair in the mirror. She was concentrating so hard she was biting her lip and her own hair had fallen into her face. It kind of reminded me of when she was busy at work sculpting a masterpiece. Of course I'm nervous. I'm about to go on a date with the Prince! Not only the Prince, but the guy who has basically spent all of his free time attempting to make my life as miserable as possible. And, naturally, there's only one person who I could possible blame for this. Ash. Damn her and her tears.
"Alright. Looks like we are all done." Ash stepped back and gestured at the mirror. "What do you think? I'm awesome, right?"
I hate to hand it to her, especially today of all days, but… wow. I almost looked like a completely different person. I resisted the urged to run my fingers through the loose ponytail she'd managed to make and instead pulled once again at the tie around my throat.
"It's great, Ash." I looked over at her and away from my reflection in the mirror. "It's almost too bad it's all for the Prince. Sure I can't sweep you off your feet instead of going with him?"
"Rion. This is not for Cael. This is for you." She smirked. "You look hot and you feel great. You're going to blow him out of the water." How is it that Ash always knows that to say? I mean, really. I need that skill. Anyone know where they give classes on it? But the words didn't help when I heard the knock at the door about ten minutes later. My stomach sank into my feet as I heard Ash answer the door.
"Hey Ri, your Prince has arrived." Ash gestured towards the door with a flourish. I took a deep breath before stepping around the corner.
I should have been expecting it, but Cael looked amazing. He was in tight, dark blue jeans, an icy blue polo, and leather coat. I could feel my face heating up as I realized I was staring.
"Uh… hi." I tangled my hands in my tie and glanced down at my shoes in an effort to avoid his eyes until I could recover.
For a few minutes we both stood there, not saying anything more. Then Ash pushed me towards the door and towards Cael. My hands instinctively reached for his shoulders as I stumbled over the rug. I looked up at him, my face burning even more and then turned to glare at Ash.
"Stop mooning at each other and get on with it already. I've much better things to do than deal with you two."
Cal was smirking when I turned back to him. He met my eyes. "You heard the lady." He smirked and took me by the arm leading me to his car. I gave Ash one last look then followed with a sigh. God knows what I’m getting into here.
"I hope this isn't too boring for you."
Cael pulled his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door for me before heading over to the driver’s side. I smiled at him before turning to glance at the sun setting outside the window.
"It's really nice," I reassured him. "I don't have much time to go to the movies between school and work." I watched Cael drive for a few minutes before I heard a strange rumbling noise. Immediately my face turned bright red. Cael laughed softly and put on his turn signal.
"I've got this great idea for dinner. If you have time, I mean." Cael glanced over at me after he stopped at a light. I shrugged.
"I don't think they expect me to be home for a while."
He was smiling again. I don't know what it is but there's just something about Cael that makes me want to forget that the person that I knew him to be was a jerk. Like when we had gotten to the movies and he walked up to the window and paid for both tickets. Then when he was putting his wallet back afterwards apologized for assuming he should be the one to pay. Or the way that I'm pretty sure he was watching more of me than of the movie that he had paid for.
I may be beginning to see what Ash means when she says that Cael and the Prince are two different people. The Prince seems so calm and sure of himself. I think Cael was just as nervous as I was most of the night.
Cael pulled the car over in front of a small shop and disappeared inside for a few minutes before reappearing with a bag in his hands. Without a word he got in the car and drove to a lightly wooded area before beckoning me out of the car. The sun was still barely peeking over the horizon, but Cael seemed comfortable leading me through the shadows that were growing across the ground. I can't help the slight paranoia that's beginning to grow in my mind. There's nowhere in Fox Towers you can go after dark dressed like we were and not expect to get mugged.
"It's alright. This is a private park. My father had it built for-- my father designed it." Cael explained as he led the way down the path. "It's patrolled by armed guards at all times. Come on. It's just around this corner."
The corner led to a small clearing, surrounded by flowers. Cael dropped down into the grass and opened the bag. He pulled out two sandwiches. After a moment’s hesitation I sat next to him and accepted the food he handed me. It was as deceptive as Cael. It looked like a plain ham and cheese, but after a bite I couldn't stop eating. It was delicious. The fresh bread practically melted away in my mouth leaving the sweet taste of the ham. Indescribable. I let out a soft moan and flopped backwards into the long grass.
"This is possibly… no, definitely the best sandwich that I have tasted in my entire life." I told him as I finished off the last couple of bites and turned to admire the stars that were just beginning to show in the sky. With a full stomach I knew I could watch them practically forever. Especially here, away from the noisy streets of Fox Towers. This was a little Eden hidden away in the heart of Mana.
"Do you know any of the constellations?" Cael asked as he lay down next to me.
"Not really." I admitted. "Only the ones that are common knowledge. Like the dippers, Sirius, and Cassiopeia. It just seems a shame to complicate something so beautiful with astronomy."
Cael sighed. "If only everything were so simple."
I looked over at him, inching closer until our shoulders were touching. The heat from his body was intoxicating. Prince or not, I felt an almost palpable need to reach over and clasp his hand in mine. To kiss him. Maybe even without running away this time.
"Some things can be, Cael." I didn't realize I was whispering, but it was as though saying it any louder would break some kind of spell. The one keeping us both here and in this moment. I had leaned forward to look at him, not realizing that he had done the same. Our faces were mere centimeters apart.
"Maybe." Was his answer. But he sounded distracted, which was fine because with Cael's eyes watching me so closely, I was distracted too. I moved forward and met his lips with my own in a soft, steady pressure. Then moved back, opening my eyes to meet his again.
"We can be that simple."