(A/N: Short chapter, I know, but I'm in a bit of a hurry and I really wanted to get this out.)

Meant To Be

 

            Liandra's time at the high school seemed to be passing relatively quickly.  She had perfect marks in all her classes, something her newly found friends had never really paid attention to and still didn't quite understand why Liandra was so obsessed.  When they asked her about it, she only smiled and changed the subject.  Academics weren't that popular a past time it seemed.

            That was something Liandra didn't understand.  Sure, college wasn't necessary but everyone professed to want to attend a good University, and yet they didn't do a damn thing.  Just enough to pass seemed fine for everyone, including Liandra's new 'friends' – Tom and Danny.  Tom had moved to a different seat next to his best friend, but Danny seemed bizarrely content next to Liandra.  Lia thought she'd caught him gazing at her as she worked a time or two, but decided to pay no attention to it, assuming he was just glancing her way. 

            Carissa mostly ignored Liandra.  Once in awhile she'd make an offhand remark about all the guys Liandra hung out with and how she herself did the same thing and understood perfectly what was going on, and until a day or two ago Liandra hadn't bothered to reply (which infuriated her classmate even more).  Until Carissa said something particularly nasty about how it was easy to use Vicky's friendship to get to Luke.  Very loudly.  That had caused Liandra to respond, equally loudly, that there was a fairly big difference between herself and Carissa; while they both had many male friends, Liandra was not giving sexual favors to any of them in rewards for attention – the boys liked her for herself, not what obscene things she was willing to do to be noticed.

            That had done the trick and the faux redhead had yet to do much more than glower.

            Friday afternoon of her fourth week, she was out in the pot lot at lunch, watching everyone smoke.  Nath and Vicky stayed with her, Nathan mainly so he could flirt with the two girls without Luke present to glower at him every few seconds, and Vicky so she and Liandra could girl-talk.  That was precisely what they were doing at that moment.

            "I dunno.." Liandra was saying, shaking her head slowly.

            Vicky's expressive eyes widened.

            "But – have you seen him, Liandra?" The petite brunette pretended to swoon.

            "He's a pop musician," Liandra waved a hand dismissively, "And anyway – there's just something so – fem about him.  I can't put my finger on it, but it's there."
            "Maybe 'cause he's prettier than a girl?" Vicky suggested, innocently enough.

            "Maybe.  I bet he's gay, though."

            "Nooooo," Vicky wailed, dramatically, flinging her arms all about, "Don't say that.  There's that video on MTV – you've seen it, right?  It's got women in it!"

            "I still say George Michael is gay, Vicky."
            Vicky sighed, quite over-exaggerated, and said with the air of a martyr at the stake, "I am in denial."

            Liandra only laughed.

            Nathan cast them an amused stare, stubbing out his cigarette with the toe of one of his boots.  Vicky eyed the smushed cig thoughtfully before lifting her head to smile at Nathan hopefully.

            "Can I snag a smoke from you, Nath?"

            He thought it over and actually looked at Liandra as if for permission, which pleased the curly-haired girl all out of proportion – not because it was Nath, but because she was considered close enough to Vicky to know the best for her.

            "You smoke too much, Vic," Liandra told the other girl.

            "Yeah, how much do you spend on packs in a week?"

            "A lot," Vicky confessed, "I haven't got any now 'cause Luke stole them from me.  I'd run out and buy some but I've got sixth period soon.  Sure you can't loan me one?"

            As Nath was shaking his head, Liandra quirked a brow.

            "You're eighteen?"
            Vicky nodded, "Yup, me and Luke were born on August twenty-seventh."

            "Just in time for school.  Y'all" – Liandra's accent had not faded – "Ought to have told me, I'd have bought you presents."
            "Nah," Vicky smirked, "Luke would be happy with just you as his present!" With that proclamation, the girl fled, most likely to harass another of her friends for a cigarette.  Liandra shook her head slowly.

            "What in the hell did she mean by that?" She asked Nath, who suddenly had a dark look in his brown eyes.

            He didn't answer, still looking a bit annoyed.

            "Nath?" Liandra pressed, a touch worried.

            "You haven't noticed?" He asked, finally.

            "Um.  No."
            "Liandra, you flirt with the guy constantly, do you honestly expect him not to like you?"

            The girl stood there, stunned, for a second.

            "No way – he hardly knows me.  He wouldn't.."
            "Don't lead him on, Liandra," Nath said, a little tiredly.  He sounded as if he didn't want to be saying this.

            "I'm not intending to – honestly, I'm not.  I flirt with everyone, including you – I didn't realize.."
            "I know you don't mean anything by it," he sighed, raking a hand through his curly dark hair, "But you'd have to be fairly blind not to notice the guy is at the very least wildly attracted to you."

            "Maybe that's just 'cause I'm so sexy," Liandra said, brightly, trying to dissuade him from this delicate subject with a joke.

            "Yeah, I'll give you that," he said, honestly, causing her to blush slightly, "But do you understand why it's like that now?"

            She nodded, frowning slightly, "If he knew me .. if he really knew me .. he wouldn't like me."
            "Liandra, it's fairly obvious just by the way you act that you've got a past, but c'mon, it can't be that bad, can it?" He quirked an eyebrow at her, teasing, and she tried to smile.  'You have no idea .. and if you did, you'd probably not want to talk to me ever again.'

            He was staring at her, noting her expression when he said that.

            "What?" She looked away, not wanting to know what he was thinking of her.  'Does he think I'm some kind of tease?  Dear god, does he think I'm like Carissa?  I'm not going to hurt Luke like she did.'

            Vicky had told her all about the torrid thing (Liandra was loathe to call it an affair or even relationship) that took place with Luke and Carissa – the redhead had convinced him he was in love with her, slept with him more than once (a fact Liandra really wished she hadn't heard) – all while carrying on a secret relationship with, yep, you guessed it, Tom Carter.

            And then!  And then the 'wench' as Vicky had referred to her, convinced Luke to go to prom last year with her.  Luke wasn't really a dance type of guy, but for 'the love of his life', and here Vicky and Liandra had both felt vaguely ill, he had gone.  And Carissa had broken up with him, publicly, harshly, citing Luke as being 'last week's garbage' and Tom as 'this week's diamond ring.'

            The damned fool girl wanted to marry Tom Carter.  Liandra simply couldn't fathom it, until it had occurred to her – they were both perfectly wretched, it would be a match made in, oh, Hell.

            "Lia?" Nathan's voice broke her train of thought and she looked up at him, a faint half-smile flittering across her face.

            "Yes?"
            "Let's go to the garage today and see if we can't get you a job."
            She thought it over briefly before nodding and flashing him a real smile this time.  That seemed to make him happy and he slung an arm companiably around her shoulders.

            "Now, here's the thing.."
            "I sense a catch."
            "You sense correctly," He confessed, "Take off for sixth and seventh.  They'll excuse you if you tell them you went to a job interview.  We can stop at your place and you can change – I don't think I've ever seen you not in school uniform, Liandra."
            She grinned sheepishly.  She didn't have that many clothes and it just seemed practical to wear her uniform as much as possible.  God knows she didn't have to pay for the thing, having stolen the money a long time ago.

            "So we go now?"
            "We go now," he said, "And you can drive."
            "Because my car is sex?"
            "Err," – he looked at her, amused – "Something like that."
            "Vicky," Liandra called over to the girl who was flirting relentlessly with a couple of bewildered sophomores who would, ultimately, Lia knew, surrender their cancer-causing menthols to the older girl, "We're gonna go.  I'll see you later?"
            "Sure," Vicky yelled back, quizzically looking from Liandra to Nathan with a touch of suspicion in her eyes, "I'll come over at like five, okay?"
            "Okay," Liandra grinned, linking her arm through Nathan's.  He looked down at her, strangely somber for a moment, before breaking into a smile.

            "You never stop, do you?" he asked, raising a brow at her as they walked towards her car.

            "Stop what?"
            "I don't know.  Whenever I look at you" – he paused to open her car door for her, despite the fact that she was driving- "I don't know what to think.  Part of the time I can see you cheerleading some football player on and being just, normal, I guess, and the other part of the time it's like you're not even there."
            "That's about how it feels," she replied, revving the engine playfully at a cute junior who was walking by, "Anyway, why so curious?"
            He shrugged.

            "You're a mystery is all," he said, and seemed to realize his mistake when she lifted both brows and jerked the car forward a little more, so he went on hastily, "I mean – every pretty girl in the world has some jerk telling her she's a mystery, but with you .. I mean, it's not normal for a new girl to get this much attention.  You know?"
            "Yeah," she said, quietly, pulling up in front of her apartment, "I do."
            "And I'm thinking it's cause no one knows anything about you.." he trailed off as she got out of the car.

            "I like things that way.  Anyway, I'm just going to rush in and change and rush out again, okay?"
            He nodded, "Am I supposed to babysit your car?"

            "No," she responded, walking towards the main doors to her apartment building, "My car's supposed to babysit you."
            She heard his laughter fade as she shut the door.  She ascended the stairs quickly and ducked into her apartment, not bothering to shut the door, digging up a long dark gray skirt with a slit up one side and a black camisole to go with, leaving her clunky black boots.  After she pulled off her oxford she heard, much to her alarm, a male voice utter a 'whoa'.

            Liandra wheeled around very slowly.
            Mark stared back at her, eyes wide and horrified, "Liandra, your.."
            "Get out.  Now."  She was tense and wired, exposed before him, clutching her oxford shirt to

            "Liandra –"
            "I am not joking!  Get the fuck out!"

            He got out.

            She stood there, irrational fear of many kinds coursing up and down her spine, breathing finally slowing.  The jitters hadn't ceased, though, and she was still shaking somewhat after she'd pulled on her camisole and walked out to where Mark was.  The bleach blonde boy still had an unreadable expression on his face, that lightened somewhat when he saw her emerge.  He leapt to a standing position, having been sitting on the ground near her door.

            "Liandra, I'm so sorry.  I really didn't realize.. your door was open.."

            "I know," she replied, trying hard to keep her voice clipped, trying hard not to break down, "But I'm sure that's not what you were wondering about."
            "Can I ask.." He trailed off, and then his eyes widened, "You're shaking." He put both arms around her and she tensed up, trying to pull away, but when she managed to reason with that irrational voice inside her head that told her all men were trying to hurt her, she could relax slightly.
            "A beer bottle hit my back," she said, glibly, "Someone threw it once."
            Mark just stared at her, disbelievingly.  Her back didn't have the rough, imbedded look a beer bottle smashing against her skin would have – the scars were smooth and perfect and pearly pale against her fair skin, and also plentiful.  They looked precise.  Someone had carved her.

            "Don't lie to me, Liandra."
            "You saw them.  You figure it out."
            "Who?" He was a touch angry, now – not with her.  With the unknown assailant who'd .. this explained a lot – how scared she was when he saw her without her blouse, how she looked at him as if he were going to lunge at her.

            "Someone long gone," she said, softly, looking up at him.  Remarkably, her eyes were clear.  Liandra did not cry, especially not over ghosty memories.  He was about to speak but she lifted one hand and pressed a fingertip to his lips in a wish for quiet.   He wrapped his much larger hand around her lifted one, watching her dark blue eyes shift to another emotion, one he couldn't place.  At least it wasn't fear anymore.

            Nathan found them like that a second later, having wondered what was taking Liandra so long, and he merely quirked an eyebrow at the sight before him.

            "Am I interrupting something?"

            Liandra pulled herself away from Mark slowly, looking a bit embarassed.

            "Mark knows a little something about me, now.  I think he can tell you while I finish getting ready."
            She left her door open again as she strode into her apartment, mainly so she could eavesdrop.  She didn't know what exactly Mark had assumed from the scars on her back, and wanted to find out.

            "What the hell's going on, Mark?" Nath demanded, a touch indignant.  She smiled to herself.

            "Well – er – I sort of walked in on her changing," Mark began, carefully, "And I was a bit surprised .."
            "I'm surprised you're still breathing," Nath interrupted, sounding a little less annoyed.

            "Yeah, only – Nath, she's got these scars up and down her back.  It looks like somebody cut her up but not in a fighting kind a way."
            "What kind of way then?"

            "It looks like somebody held her down or she let them or something."
            There was a long pause.  Liandra was putting her hair into a half-ponytail and touching up her black eyeliner (the only make-up she wore for the most part) as she eavesdropped.

            "What did Lia say about it?" Nath's voice asked, quietly.
            "You know how she is – vague, mostly, said something about a beer bottle, but ..I'm mostly wondering who, y'know?"
            "Right, 'cause she's going to answer that."
            The boys chuckled softly, and Liandra decided to step out into the hall again, shutting her apartment door behind her.  She cocked an eyebrow at them and flashed a half-smile.

            "Shall we?"
            "Going someplace?" Mark inquired, tugging on one of her loose curls casually.

            "Job application."
            "You're wearing a skirt to go apply at a garage?" Nathan canted his head and she grinned up at him sheepishly.

            "Well – I figure I'll make a good impression."
            "And if all else fails, flash some leg?" Mark looked down at her, amused.

            "You know me too well," she replied flippantly, leaning on Nathan lightly, "Come on, let's go."
            He slipped an arm around her shoulders.  Mark's expression changed minutely as he regarded them, as if trying to detect any possible sparks between the good-looking Hispanic boy and his neighbor.  Liandra smiled at him impassively, well aware of the male posturing that was going on.  Privately, she thought Nathan and Vicky would make a cute couple.

            "See you later, Mark?" Nathan lifted a brow, just smirking slightly.  Liandra fought to keep from rolling her eyes, 'Do they think I'm some kind of prize?'

            "Sure," Mark acknowledged, "Don't let Lia kill anyone."
            "Unless its you," Liandra said matter-of-factly.  She heard Mark's laughter trailing behind her and Nathan as they moved down the stairs and towards her car.

            "You look cute," Nathan noted, eyeing her less than modest camisole, "I never pegged you as a skirt person."
            She shrugged, smiling slightly, and pulled out of the parking lot.  She had to go get herself a job.