Author: 735WishesandMiracles PM
Do we ever really know how we feel, or are we always just pretending? Inspired by Secondhand Serenade's song "Pretend."Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Friendship - Words: 2,674 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 11-16-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3074853
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Any and all similarities between my work and the story of King Arthur are purely coincidental.
She woke up in the same position that she fell asleep. His arm draped across her waist, legs tangled with hers. A few strands of her hair rhythmically tickled her bare shoulder as he breathed, still deep asleep. She liked the way his hand covered hers, and the way she fit perfectly into the curve of his body. Usually, if this happened - her somehow rousing herself at an unthinkable hour in the dead of night - she would convince herself to fall back asleep, snuggled a bit closer to his warmth.
Tonight was different.
It wasn't just that she couldn't get herself to fall back asleep within the minute. There was some inexplicable urge in her heart to escape the confines of the stifling down covers.
"Where ye'goin', love?" he mumbled as she cautiously pulled her leg out from between his.
"Just getting some water."
He nodded blearily and rolled onto his back, giving her more room to maneuver herself out from under the blankets. "Turn on the light, babe."
"Will do," she replied automatically.
But they both knew she wouldn't turn it on. While he hated being in the darkness, she too often found herself going to sleep right after the sunrise on the days she didn't stay over at his place. There was something she found incredibly comforting in the way the night blinded her. She liked measuring her way across the hall with bare feet, dragging her fingers down the cool banister, and judging the indeterminable distances before her with outstretched arms. The inevitable bumps and bruises were things she relished. Discovering the scars and feeling their pain somehow gave her a sense of satisfaction and comfort.
The darkness was less enveloping tonight; the curtains of the balcony hung open. She paused on the last step, watching a breeze dance through their sheer layers. Someone had obviously left the glass door open as well. Two steps into the living room, she caught the whiff of an all-too-familiar scent of smoke floating about her. She needn't take another step to figure out who was outside.
Her re-directed paces turned into tiptoed steps when she reached the cold linoleum of the kitchen. Sleep-heavy eyes squinted through the blinding refrigerator light, but hands navigated their way around the forests of food and valleys of bowls with accustomed ease.
He turned the moment she stepped a silent foot onto the balcony. Her nose wrinkled at the puff of smoke he inadvertently blew at her. Even though her eyes smarted from the grey matter, she noticed how his gaze skimmed over her bedtime attire, or lack thereof. The pools of deep brown met her eyes not a moment later. She'd hardly parted her lips to utter a single sound by the time his eyes were filled to the brim with any and all sorts of denial.
"What are you doing up?"
Practiced hands offered him one of the two bowls of cereal she had prepared just moments prior in the kitchen.
"Woke up and felt like a midnight snack."
"Frosted Flakes?" He took another drag on the cigarette.
She pursed her lips but otherwise ignored his last action. "With Cinnamon Toast Crunch."
"Just how I like it."
"Yeah." She smiled a sad, half sort of smile as she watched him put out the offending object on the metal railing before flicking it lazily into the ashtray in the corner. The gold butt landed among a handful of its companions. She counted seven of them before he obstructed her view of the dirty tray to accept the bowl.
"Does Liam get this sort of special treatment?"
She shook her head. The wind blew her already-tousled hair into her face. "No, he just -"
"Knocks out at night."
"You must have a boring sex life. ...Either that, or you're not a screamer."
"Would you like me to be?"
"Naw, I'm good this way, thanks."
"Then kindly fuck off."
His laughter only grew louder when she punched him in the arm. "Watch the cereal, man. I'm eating it."
"The cereal I prepared, mind you."
"And I thank you very much for it, Briony."
"You're not welcome."
He snorted. "So what brings you out here to my territory at this hour? I never see any of you on the other side of midnight especially when I..." The end of his sentence trailed off as he chased a cluster of cereal around the perimeter of his bowl.
"When you just get up for a quick smoke?"
"Yeah..." He examined a spoonful of milk with great interest.
She shrugged and leaned on the railing beside him. "I didn't feel much like sleeping."
"Even with Liam all nice and warm beside you?" In spite of the teasing words, his tone intended no malignant jests at her sleeping habits.
"A lot on my mind," she confessed softly.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
There was a long pause. He didn't seem at all fazed when she failed to respond to his query.
She chewed her bottom lip and brushed a wild lock of hair back behind her ear, only to have it tossed out into the wind again. "I just don't know, Mason."
"You think too much, Bri."
"I'm a girl; it's-"
"-in your nature to over think, I know. You've only got to say things about ten times to a normal person before they start remembering it, but it only takes me -"
"-thrice to remember things with you: the first time, I register it; the second time, I remember it; the third time-"
"I say it before you do," Mason finished with her. "I know. Hell, we both know."
Her next words came out in a messy jumble. "But don't you ever wonder? What if things had happened differently?"
A shock of his chestnut brown hair bounced with his vigorous head shaking. "No 'what if's. Those are the worst."
"But you told me that -"
"Forget what I ever told you, Briony. Or do you want to tell Liam that you want to take a break so you can try things out with me? That'd be low blow, even coming from you."
Her eyes smarted with tears and she turned away before he could realize that her view had blurred violently out of focus. "Forget it. I'm going back to bed." She'd hardly moved an inch before his hand caught her arm, forcing her to retreat the little space she'd gained.
"Bri, stop. I'm sorry. I am."
Mason had never been one to apologize; his nature was that of a self-assured and vaguely pompous asshole, but rightfully so. Growing up as the eldest child and only son with his mom and three sisters, he'd long since learned how to take charge of a situation and manipulate it to his advantage while still appeasing any and all other parties involved in the matter. He was quick-witted; intelligent; suave; and tall, dark, and handsome. And he knew it almost better than anyone else.
"Bri, stop. Look at me."
"I'm fucking crying, and I don't want you to see my ugly face, okay, Mason? Could you just leave me be for once in your life?"
He let go of her arm at her acrid tone, but was not at all surprised when she didn't try to slip back into the apartment.
A tense silence hung over their heads. The only sound between them was Mason taking a tentative bite of cereal as she silently swallowed her tears.
"I know. It's fine. I'm being stupid."
"You're not. You're being you and God forbid there be something wrong with that."
"Do you ever wonder?"
He sighed. The spoon clinked on the side of the bowl as he let it slip through his fingers. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't."
"Then why didn't you ever try harder?"
"Because it didn't feel right at the time. Because I knew from the get go that Liam needed you more."
She spluttered helplessly. "Being in a relationship isn't just about being needed, Mason."
"Definitely contributes to it."
"But how is being completely dependent on another person healthy in any way, shape, or form?"
"I never said you were completely dependent on him, nor the other way around. You two just...balance each other out and support each other through whatever shit life throws at you, and that's how it ought to be."
"But so do we."
Mason swallowed hard. He didn't turn to meet her eyes, instead choosing to keep his gaze locked out on the cityscape below them. "You and me, Bri... We're two sides of the same coin. Liam's on the other side."
"Maybe it's better being on the same side."
"No, it's not."
"How do you know when you haven't even tri-"
"You can't know these things, Briony. You can't ever know these things. These aren't things about knowing. It's about feeling it."
"So you trust your emotions over rationality."
"How is any of this even remotely rational?"
"You like me, I like you. We care about each other and we get along so well, and sometimes I feel like Liam's suffocating me and every time I'm with him, I just feel like a little part of me dies a tiny bit inside."
"Can we tone down on the drama queen? It's fucking three in the morning, and I'm not able to function at full potential even after having a proper smoke."
"No, please don't."
She turned away to suppress the urge to scream at him. "Mason."
"Are you calm now?"
"Go on, then."
"What about this do you not feel?"
He snorted at her derisively scoffed last word but let it go otherwise. "I feel like you and I are way too similar to even try pursuing a relationship. We're far too comfortable to give each other the proper honor a lover deserves, and while yes, I do think we'd have a lot of fantastic sex, I'm not going to get into a relationship just because of the sex and physical aspect of it."
"How are we too similar? Our lifestyle habits hardly ever coincide, and when they do, it's only because we've adjusted them in a way so we don't just see each other at these ungodly hours of the day."
He sighed. "Do you agree that we have a bit too much of an abrasive, tough love, love-hate dynamic going on between us?"
She faltered, "...yes, but-"
"Then you'd also agree that we would have to somehow change our relationship dynamic from the way that it is now - completely and utterly normal, no qualms about sharing anything, no worries about being judged and offending the other - to be lovers rather than best friends."
A lump caught in her throat. "...well, yeah, b-"
"Then why would you want to try a relationship, Bri? We'd be pretending to be people we're not, and that wouldn't feel right at all. This feels right. This - being idiots together for the absolute hell of it - feels right. So why do you want to change that just for something that won't even work out?"
"But you don't kno-"
"I feel like it won't work out. And you can feel it too, Briony. Stop being in denial."
She knew he held the upper hand, and he did too. By the simple way he turned his body, she could tell he was preparing to make his leave and end, having said the final word.
"He's suffocating me, Mason."
"He's not. He's giving you a place to call home, he's someone you can go home to. You're just not used to being in a commitment like this. You've always grown up having random flings and hook-ups, and not needing to feel tied down. And Liam? He's been far too nice to you about all the fuck ups you've had in the past. If you really want to break up with the one guy who's always given you that one more chance to take me - his best friend - for a spin, then I can't stop you. But if you do, I'm taking myself out of the equation. I'm not going to fuck him over like that."
Their eyes met for the first time since she stepped out onto the balcony. His were cold and hard, hers were rimmed with tears.
"You're going to kill yourself smoking someday," she snapped as a goodbye before turning on her heel. The sliding door clanged shut behind her. The resolute click of the lock never came. He didn't give her enough credit sometimes. He should have learned his lesson the first time around.
Mason's chin dropped. He swallowed his bottom lip and played with the mushy cereal dregs. It wasn't Briony's fault. None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for him in the very first place. He had been the one who'd first approached her when he and Liam were wandering through the mall.
She had been folding clothes at a display in Urban Outfitters, her knelt form framed by the open double doors. At first glance, all of her features were nondescript: her plain blue eyes were too small, her hair lacked proper combing, and her legs were hardly runway worthy. Liam insisted he needed some new shirts, so Mason had had no choice but to follow his friend in. She stood up just as he passed.
He faltered, glanced back, and walked into a rack of clothes two steps later. Her first word to him was an apology, as if it had been her fault for startling him, like she was sorry for literally crashing into his life. That was when he noticed the charm of her flaws.
Every part of appearance was offset in the slightest of ways, somehow giving off the impression that she had every t crossed and every i dotted. The moment he saw her too-big smile, he knew in a heartbeat that Liam would love her to pieces. And Liam did.
But then, Mason did too.
Liam understood Mason's every intention. The two had been friends for far too long to assume that either one of them would ever try to underhand the other. Mason simply enjoyed Briony's company. She was open-minded, opinionated, and accepting of everything, including Mason's newly acquired smoking habits. He found solace in the way her spirit was so akin to that of his sister's. Or rather, that as his sister's had been. He had never told her, and she had never pried, knowing it was a highly touchy subject for the normally bluntly candid man.
Perhaps he should have said something. He ought to have done so already. His doubt was the one thing that kept him from doing so. He was scared of losing Briony, just as he had been afraid of losing his sister a few years ago.
It ended up being his fear that caused the tragedy.
He had confessed his worries to his sister, who called him silly and reassured him that everything would be all right. This time around, he knew better than to admit to his apprehensions. He wasn't afraid of losing Briony, and he refused to let himself think otherwise. Because if he wasn't afraid of losing her, he knew it wouldn't ever happen.